IN SOMETHING OF A DAZE, Wendy finished her phone call with her old (and current again?) boss Vic Garrett and hung up the phone.
Haley McWaid's iPhone had been found under Dan Mercer's bed.
She tried to process this, sort through her emotions. Her first thought was also the most obvious: She was sick to her stomach for the McWaid family. She hoped like hell that it all somehow turned out okay for them. Okay, go deeper. Wendy was shocked, yes. That was what this was. Too shocked maybe. Shouldn't there be some kind of dark relief here? Wasn't this vindication, that she had been right about Dan all along? Justice of some sort had been served. She had not been a cog in some plot to take down an innocent man trying to do good.
But there, on the screen right in front of her, was the Facebook page for Dan's graduating class at Princeton. She closed her eyes and leaned back. She saw Dan's face on the day they first met, that first interview at the shelter, the enthusiasm for the kids he rescued from the streets, the way those kids looked at him with such awe, the way she'd been drawn to him. She flashed to yesterday at the damn trailer park, the horrible bruises on that same face, the dimming in those eyes, the way she wanted, despite all she knew, to reach out.
Do you just dismiss all that intuition?
The counter, of course, is that evil comes in all guises. She'd heard a dozen times the example of famed serial killer Ted Bundy. But the truth was, she had never found Bundy remotely handsome. Maybe it was hindsight, knowing what he was, but you could see the vacancy in the eyes. She would have, she was sure, found him oily, slimy, charm hiding villainy. You can feel evil. You just can. Or so she thought.
Either way, she hadn't seen or felt that with Dan. She had felt, even on the day he died, kindness and warmth. And it was more than intuition now. There was Phil Turnball. There was Farley Parks. There was something more going on here, something darker and more insidious at work.
She opened her eyes and leaned forward. Okay, Facebook. She had signed on, found the Princeton class page, but how could she join? There had to be a way.
Ask the resident Facebook expert, she supposed.
From downstairs: "What?"
"Can you come up here?"
"Can't hear you."
"Come up here!"
"What?" Then: "What for?"
"Just come up please."
"Can't you just yell down what you want?"
She grabbed her mobile and sent a text telling him she needed emergency computer help and if he didn't hurry, she would cancel all his online accounts, even though she didn't really know how to do that. A moment later, she heard a deep sigh and the sound of heavy footsteps as he ascended the stairs. Charlie poked his head in the door.
She pointed to the computer screen. "I need to join this group."
Charlie squinted at the page. "You didn't go to Princeton."
"Thanks for that in-depth analysis. I had no idea."
Charlie smiled. "I love when you go all sarcastic on me."
"Like mother, like son." God, she loved this kid. Wendy had one of those waves, the ones that sneak up on parents and crush them and make them just want to wrap their arms around their kid and never let him go.
"What?" Charlie said.
She shook it off. "So how do I join this group if I didn't actually go to Princeton?"
Charlie made a face. "You're kidding, right?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"Hard to say, what with your sarcasm and all."
"I'm not kidding or being sarcastic. How do I get in?"
Charlie sighed, bent over, and pointed to the right side of the page. "You see that link that says 'Join Group'?"
"You click it."
He stood upright.
"That's it," her son said. "You're in."
Now Wendy made a face. "But, as you so wisely pointed out, I didn't go to Princeton."
"Doesn't matter. It's an open group. Closed groups say 'Request To Join.' This one is open to anyone. Click and you're in."
Wendy looked dubious.
Charlie sighed again. "Just do it," he said.
"Okay, wait." Wendy clicked it-and just like that, voila, she became a member of a Princeton graduating class, albeit the Facebook version. Charlie gave her a told-you-so glance, shook his head, and clumped his way back downstairs. She thought again about how much she loved him. She thought about Marcia and Ted McWaid getting word from the police about that iPhone, one Haley probably really wanted and squealed with delight when she got, being found under a strange man's bed.
The page was up, so back to work. First Wendy scanned through the ninety-eight members. No Dan, no Phil, no Farley. Made sense. All three were probably keeping a low profile. If they had ever joined, they were probably off Facebook now. None of the other names were familiar.
Okay, now what?
She checked the discussion boards. One about a sick class member, offering support. Another about regional gatherings of class members. Nothing there. Another about the upcoming reunion. She clicked around that page and landed on a link that held promise:
"Dorm Pics-Freshman Year!"
She found the three of them in the fifth photograph of the slideshow. The caption read "Stearns House" and featured about a hundred students posing in front of a brick building. She spotted Dan first. He had aged well, the curls shorter as an adult, but otherwise, he looked the same. No question about it-he'd been a good-looking guy.
The names were listed on the bottom. Farley Parks, ever the politician, was front and center. Phil Turnball stood on the right. While Dan was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, both Farley and Phil were decked out for the cover shot of Snooty Prep Monthly. Khakis, collared shirts, loafers without socks-the only thing missing was a sweater tied around their necks.
Okay, so she knew the name of the dorm. Now what?
She could Google every other guy in the picture-the names were listed below-but that could take a while and might not give her what she needed. It wasn't like people listed their freshman roommates on the Web.
Back to it: Wendy started scouring through the Facebook page again. Ten minutes later, she hit pay dirt:
"Our Freshman Face Book on Facebook!"
She clicked the link, downloaded a PDF file, and opened it with Adobe Acrobat. The freshman face book-Wendy smiled at the memory. She had one at Tufts, of course. Your high school yearbook picture along with your town of origin, high school, and-best of all for her purposes tonight-your freshman room assignment. Wendy clicked the M button, jumped two more pages, and found Dan Mercer. There it was, his freshman picture:
Daniel J. Mercer
Riddle High School
Stearns Suite 109
Dan grinned in the photograph, his whole life supposedly in front of him. Wrong. Probably eighteen years old when this picture was taken. His smile said he was ready to take on the world, and yep, he'd graduate from Princeton, marry, divorce... and what?
Become a pedophile and die?
Did that add up? Was Dan already a pedophile then, at the age of eighteen? Had he abused anybody? Were there tendencies as a college student-or more than that? Had he really kidnapped a teenage girl?
Why was she not buying that?
Didn't matter. Focus. The entry gave her the room number in Stearns. Suite 109. She clicked to the Ps to double-check. Sure enough, Farley Parks of Bryn Mawr, P.A., and Lawrenceville School was also in Stearns 109. Philip Turnball of Boston, M.A., and Phillips Academy Andover looking very much as he did today-yep, Stearns 109 too.
Wendy hit the search button and put in "Stearns Suite 109."
Philip Turnball, Daniel Mercer, Farley Parks-and now the two new ones: Kelvin Tilfer, an African American with a cautious smile, and Steven Miciano, who wore one of those ropey necklaces with a big bead in the middle.
The two new names meant nothing to her. She opened another browser, typed "Kelvin Tilfer" into the search engine.
Nothing. Almost literally. One hit from a list of Princeton graduates-and that was about it. No LinkedIn. No Facebook. No Twitter. No MySpace.
Wendy wondered what to make of that. Most people, even the most innocuous, you can find something about them online. Kelvin Tilfer, especially when you consider his roommates, was a ghost.
So what did that mean?
Maybe nothing. Too early to hypothesize. Gather more information first.
Wendy typed "Steven Miciano" into the search engine. When she saw the results, even before she clicked on any of them for details, she knew.
"Damn," she said out loud.
From behind her: "What?"
It was Charlie. "Nothing, what's up?"
"Do you mind if we head over to Clark's?"
"I guess it's okay."
Charlie left. Wendy turned back to the computer. She clicked the first hit, a news article from four months ago from a paper called the West Essex Tribune:
Local resident Steven Miciano, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Barnabus Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, was arrested last night and charged with possession of illegal narcotics. Police, working on a tip, found what was described as a "large haul of illegally obtained prescribed painkillers" in the trunk of the doctor's car. Dr. Miciano was released on bail pending a hearing. A spokesman for St. Barnabus Medical Center said Dr. Miciano would be put on leave until the matter was investigated fully.
That was it. Wendy searched the West Essex Tribune for follow-ups. Nothing. She went back to the Web and found hits on blogs and even on Twitter. The first was from a former patient talking about how Miciano sneaked him drugs. Another was from a "drug supplier" who had turned state's evidence in nailing Dr. Miciano. Still another blog entry came from a patient who said Miciano had been "inappropriate" and "definitely seemed high on something."
Wendy started taking notes, checking the blog sites, checking the Tweets, the postings on various boards, the links to MySpace and Facebook.
This was too crazy.
Five freshman roommates from Princeton. Nothing on one. Okay, subtract Kelvin Tilfer out for a second. The other four: a financial consultant, a politician, a social worker-and now a physician. All four had been taken down by scandals within the past year.
That was a hell of a coincidence.