POPS GROUSED THE entire way home. "I had that shawty in the palm of my hand."

"Sorry." Then: "Shawty?"

"I like to keep up on modern terms for chicks."

"Good to keep up."

"You should only know."

"Please don't elaborate."

"Oh, I won't," Pops said. "So this is important?"

"Yup. Sorry you lost your shawty."

"Fish, sea." Pop shrugged. "You know the deal."

"I do."

Wendy hurried into the house. Charlie was flipping channels with two of his buds, Clark and James. They were sprawled on the den furniture as only teenage boys can, as though they'd removed their skeletons, hung them in a nearby closet, and slid to a collapse against whatever upholstery was nearby.

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"Hey," Charlie said without moving anything but his lips. "You're home early."

"Right, don't get up."

He smirked. Clark and James muttered, "Hey, Mrs. Tynes." They didn't move their bodies, but they at least rolled their necks to get a glance. Charlie stopped on her suddenly former station. The NTC News was on. Michele Feisler, the annoying, new, and very young anchor they should have fired instead of Wendy, was reporting a follow-up to a story from a couple of days ago about a man named Arthur Lemaine who had been shot in both knees while leaving the South Mountain Arena in West Orange.

"Ouch," Clark said.

"Like one knee wouldn't be enough."

Arthur Lemaine, Michele recapped in that pseudo-serious news-woman inflection Wendy hoped that she didn't have, had been shot following a late-night practice. The camera now panned over the South Mountain Arena, even showing the sign that said the New Jersey Devils practiced here-like that added something important to the story.

The camera came back to a properly grim Michele Feisler at the anchor desk.

"I hate her," James said.

"Her head is, like, way too big for her body," Clark added.

Feisler continued in that milk-curdling voice: "Arthur Lemaine is still not talking to authorities about the incident." Big surprise, Wendy thought. If someone shoots you in both knees, it was probably best to see, hear, say nothing. Even James bent his nose as if to indicate mafioso. Charlie flipped stations again.

James turned around and said, "That Michele chick isn't in your league, Mrs. T."

"Yeah," Clark added. "You kick her lame ass."

Clearly Charlie had filled them in on her recent employment woes, but she was still grateful. "Thanks, boys."

"Seriously," Clark said. "Her head looks like a beach ball."

Charlie added nothing. He'd once explained to his mother that his friends considered her a major MILF. He said this without embarrassment or horror, and Wendy didn't know whether that was a good thing or not.

She headed upstairs to the computer. Farley was an unusual first name. Sherry Turnball had said something about holding a political fund-raiser for him. She recalled the name and remembered hearing something about a sex scandal.

The speed and thoroughness of the Internet should not shock her anymore, but sometimes it still did. Two clicks and Wendy found what she was looking for:

Six months ago, Farley Parks had been running for Congress in Pennsylvania when he was waylaid by a scandal involving prostitution. It had only gotten minor play in the press-political sex scandals were not exactly rare nowadays-but it had forced Farley out of the race. Wendy went through the first few Web sites on the search engine.

Apparently, an "erotic dancer" (read "stripper") named "Desire" (maybe not her real name) had given the story to a local newspaper. The story spread from there. "Desire" had set up a blog, describing her trysts with Farley Parks in rather horrifying detail. Wendy considered herself pretty worldly, but the specifics made her cringe and blush. Yowza. There was a video too. Eyes half shut, she clicked it. No nudity, thank goodness. "Desire" sat in silhouette. She offered up more graphic details in a breathy, machine-altered voice. Thirty seconds in, Wendy shut it down.

Enough. Got the point. And it really wasn't a good one.

Okay, slow down. Reporters are taught to look for patterns, but there was nothing subtle about this one. Still, she needed to do the research. The search's first page of "Farley Parks" hits was loaded up on the scandal. She clicked for the second, found a dry biography. Yep, there it was-Farley Parks had graduated from Princeton twenty years ago. Same year as Phil Turnball and Dan Mercer.

Coincidence?

Three men in the same graduating class from the same elite university ruined in the past year by scandals-the rich and powerful have a way of drawing these sorts of troubles. It could be just that. A coincidence.

Except that the three men may have been closer than classmates.

"Suitemates." That was the word Phil Turnball had used. Phil and Dan were in the same suite. A college suite implied more than two people. If it were just Phil and Dan, you'd say roommates. Suitemates? That implied at least three, maybe more.

So how to find out if Farley Parks was in with them?

Wendy only had the Turnballs' home number. They'd probably still be at Blend. So who else would know about roommates?

Jenna Wheeler, Dan's ex, might.

It was getting late now, but this was hardly the time to worry about being phone appropriate. Wendy dialed the Wheelers' home number. A man-probably her husband, Noel-answered on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"This is Wendy Tynes. May I please speak to Jenna?"

"She's not home."

Click.

She stared at the receiver. Hmm. That seemed rather abrupt. She shrugged and put the phone down. Turning back to the computer, a strange thought hit her: Facebook. With silly quasi-peer pressure mounting, Wendy had opened a Facebook account last year, accepted and requested a few friends-and pretty much did nothing else with it. Maybe it was an age thing, though there seemed to be plenty of folks older than her populating these social sites, but when Wendy was younger-not to sound like an old fart-when a man "poked" you, it meant something, uh, different from what it did on Facebook. Intelligent people she respected were constantly sending her silly quizzes or throwing things at her or inviting her to Mafia Wars or posting on her wall-were the double entendres intentional?-and she felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Big, the part where he keeps raising his hand and saying, "I don't get it."

But she remembered now that her Tufts graduating class had its own page, complete with photographs old and new and information on classmates. Could there be a page for those who graduated Princeton twenty years ago?

She signed on to Facebook and did a search.

Pay dirt.

Ninety-eight members of the Princeton class had signed up. The front page had tiny photos of eight of them. There were discussion boards and links. Wendy was wondering how to join the group so she could get access to everything when her cell phone started buzzing. She checked it and saw the little logo signaling a phone message. Call must have come in while she was at Blend. She scrolled through the incoming call log and saw the most recent had come from her former place of employment. Probably something about her nearly nonexistent severance package.

But, no, the call had come in less than an hour ago. HR wouldn't call this late.

Wendy dialed in for the message and was surprised to hear the voice of Vic Garrett, the man who'd fired her on... was it really just two days ago?

"Hey, sweetums, it's Vic. Call me pronto. Hugely important."

Wendy felt a tick in her blood. Vic was not one for hyperbole. She dialed his private line in the office. If Vic was gone, he'd forward it to his mobile. He picked up on the first ring.

"Did you hear?" Vic asked.

"What?"

"You may get rehired. At the very least, freelance. Either way, I want you on this."

"On what?"

"The cops found Haley McWaid's cell phone."

"What's that have to do with me?"

"They found it in Dan Mercer's hotel room. Apparently your boy is responsible for whatever the hell happened to her."

ED GRAYSON lay alone in his bed.

Maggie, his wife of sixteen years, had packed up and left while he was being interrogated for the murder of Dan Mercer. No matter. Their marriage was dead, had indeed been dead for a while, he guessed, but you still go through the motions and hope, and now that hope was finally gone. Maggie wouldn't tell. He knew that. She wanted to wish problems away. That was her way. Pack the bad away in a suitcase, stick it on the top shelf of some closet in the back of your mind, close the door, and plaster on a smile. Maggie's favorite phrase, something her mom in Quebec had taught her, was "You bring your own weather to the picnic." So both women smiled a lot. They both had smiles so great you sometimes forgot that they were meaningless.

Maggie's smile had worked for many years. It had charmed young Ed Grayson, swept him off his proverbial feet. The smile seemed like goodness to him, and Ed wanted to be near that. But the smile was not goodness. It was a facade, a mask to fight off the bad.

When the naked pictures of their son, E. J., first surfaced, Maggie's reaction had shocked him: She wanted to ignore them. No one has to know, Maggie said. E. J. seems fine, she went on. He's only eight years old. No one actually touched him-or if someone had, there were no signs of it. The pediatrician found nothing. E. J. seemed normal, untroubled. No bed-wetting or night terrors or extra anxiety.

"Let it go," Maggie urged him. "He's fine."

Ed Grayson was apoplectic. "You don't want this scumbag put away? You want to let him keep doing this to other kids?"

"I don't care about other kids. I care about E. J."

"And this is what you want to teach him? 'Let it go'?"

"It's what's best. There's no reason the world has to know what happened to him."

"He did nothing wrong, Maggie."

"I know that. Don't you think I know that? But people will look at him differently. He'll be defined by it. If we just keep it quiet, not let anybody know..."

Maggie flashed him the smile. For the first time, it made him cringe.

Ed sat up and made himself another Scotch and soda. He flipped on ESPN and watched SportsCenter. He closed his eyes and thought about the blood. He thought about the pain and horror that he'd inflicted in the name of justice. He believed everything that he said to that reporter Wendy Tynes: Justice needed to be done. If not by the courts, well, then it fell to men like him. But that didn't mean there wasn't a personal price paid by those who delivered it.

You often hear that freedom isn't free. Neither is justice.

He was alone, but he could still hear Maggie's horrified whisper when he got home:

"What have you done?"

And rather than make a long defense, he kept it short and simple:

"It's over."

He might as well have been talking about them, Ed and Maggie Grayson, and then you start to look back and you wonder whether it was ever really love. It was easy to blame what happened to E. J. for their demise-but was that accurate? Did tragedy cause fissures, open them wider-or did tragedy merely turn on the light so you could see the fissure that had always been there? Maybe we live in darkness, blinded by the smile and facade of goodness. Maybe tragedy just takes away the blinders.

Ed heard his doorbell ring. Late. The sound was immediately followed by an impatient fist pounding on the door. Reacting more than thinking, Ed jumped up and grabbed his gun from the night-stand. Another doorbell ring, more fist pounding.

"Mr. Grayson? Police, open up."

Ed looked out the window. Two Sussex County cops in brown uniforms-neither was that big black sheriff, Walker. That was fast, Grayson thought. He was mildly surprised rather than shocked. He put the gun away, came downstairs, and opened the door.

The two cops looked about twelve years old.

"Mr. Grayson?

"It's Federal Marshal Grayson, son."

"Sir, you're under arrest for the murder of Daniel J. Mercer. Please put your hands behind your back while I read you your rights."