THE HOME BELONGING to retired Essex County investigator Frank Tremont was a two-bedroom Colonial with aluminum siding, a small but perfectly manicured lawn, and a New York Giants flag hanging to the right of the door. The peonies in the flower boxes burst with so much color that Wendy wondered whether they were plastic.
Wendy took the ten steps up from the sidewalk to the front door and knocked. A curtain in the bay window moved. A moment later the door opened. Though the funeral had ended hours ago, Frank Tremont still wore the black suit. The tie was loosened, the top two buttons of his dress shirt undone. He had missed spots shaving. His eyes were rummy, and Wendy got a whiff of drink coming off him.
Without a word of greeting, he stepped to the side with a heavy sigh and nodded for her to come inside. She ducked into the house. Only one lamp illuminated the dark room. She spotted a half-empty bottle of Captain Morgan on the worn coffee table. Rum. Yuck. Several open newspapers lay strewn across the couch. There was a cardboard box on the floor, loaded with what she figured were the contents of his work desk. The television played some exercise-equipment infomercial, featuring a too-enthusiastic trainer and many young, beautiful, waxed six-pack stomachs. Wendy looked back at Tremont. He shrugged.
"Now that I'm retired I figured I should get some washboard abs."
She tried to smile. There were photographs of a teenage girl on a side table. The girl's hairstyle had been in vogue maybe fifteen, twenty years ago, but the first thing you noticed was her smile-big and wide, pure dynamite, the kind of smile that rips into a parent's heart. Wendy knew the story. The girl was undoubtedly Frank's daughter who died of cancer. Wendy looked back at the bottle of Captain Morgan and wondered how he'd ever crawled out of it.
"What's up, Wendy?"
"So," she began, trying to buy a moment, "you're officially retired?"
"Yep. Went out with a bang, don't you think?"
"Save it for the victim's family."
"You've been in the papers a lot," he said. "This case has made you quite the celebrity." He lifted the glass in mock salute. "Congratulations."
"Don't say something stupid you'll regret."
Tremont nodded. "Yeah, good point."
"Is this case officially closed?" she asked.
"From our perspective, pretty much. The perp is dead-probably buried out in the woods, which I guess someone smarter than me would find ironic."
"Did you pressure Ed Grayson again to give up the body?"
"As much as we could."
"He won't talk. I wanted to offer him blanket immunity if he told us where Mercer's body was, but my big boss, Paul Copeland, wouldn't agree to that."
Wendy thought about Ed Grayson, wondered about trying to approach him again, see if maybe now he'd talk to her. Tremont knocked the newspapers off the couch and invited Wendy to sit. He fell into the BarcaLounger and picked up the remote.
"Do you know what show is on soon?"
"Crimstein's Court. You do know that she's repping Ed Grayson, right?"
"You told me."
"Right, I forgot. Anyway, she made some interesting points when we questioned him." He picked up the Captain Morgan and poured some in his glass. He offered her some, but she shook him off.
"What sort of points?"
"She made the argument that we should give Ed Grayson a medal for killing Dan Mercer."
"Because it was justice?"
"No, see, that would be one thing. But Hester was trying to make a larger point."
"If Grayson hadn't killed Mercer, we would never have found Haley's iPhone." He pointed the remote at the television and turned it off. "She noted that in three months of investigating, we had made no progress and that Ed Grayson had now provided us with the only clue to Haley's whereabouts. She further made the point that a good detective might have looked into a well-known pervert who had connections to the victim's neighborhood. And you know what?"
Wendy shook her head.
"Hester was right-how did I overlook an indicted sex offender with ties to Haley's town? Maybe Haley was alive for a few days. Maybe I could have saved her."
Wendy looked at the confident, if not creepy, depiction of Captain Morgan on the bottle's label. What a frightening companion to be alone with while you drank. She opened her mouth to argue his point, but he stopped her with a wave of his hand.
"Please don't say something patronizing. It'd be insulting."
He was right.
"So I doubt you came here to watch me wallow in self-pity."
"I don't know, Frank. It's pretty entertaining."
That made him almost smile. "What do you need, Wendy?"
"Why do you think Dan Mercer killed her?"
"You mean motive?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I mean."
"Do you want the list in alphabetical order? As you somewhat proved, he was a sexual predator."
"Okay, I get that. But in this case, well, so what? Haley McWaid was seventeen years old. The age of consent in New Jersey is sixteen."
"Maybe he was afraid she'd talk."
"About what? She was legal."
"Still. It would be devastating to his case."
"So he killed her to keep it quiet?" She shook her head. "Did you find any sign of a previous relationship between Mercer and Haley?"
"No. I know you tried to peddle that at the park-that maybe they met at his ex's house and started something up. Maybe, but there is absolutely no evidence of that, and I'm not sure I want to go there for the parents' sake. Best bet is that, yeah, he saw her at the Wheeler house, became obsessed with her, grabbed her, did whatever, and killed her."
Wendy frowned. "I just don't buy that."
"Why not? You remember the maybe-boyfriend Kirby Sennett?"
"After we found the body, Kirby's lawyer let him be more, shall we say, forthcoming. Yes, they dated secretly, though it was rocky. He said she was really wound up, especially when she didn't get into Virginia. He thought that she might have even been on something."
He shrugged. "The parents don't need to hear about this either."
"I don't get it though. Why didn't Kirby tell you all this right from the get-go?"
"Because his lawyer was afraid if we knew the nature of his relationship with her, we'd look at the kid hard. Which, of course, is true."
"But if Kirby had nothing to hide?"
"First, who said he has nothing to hide? He is a low-level drug dealer. If she was on something, my guess is, he provided it. Second, most lawyers will tell you that innocence doesn't necessarily mean anything. If Kirby had said, yeah, we had this rocky romance and she was maybe popping or smoking something I gave her, we would have crawled straight up his ass and built a tent. And when the body was found, well, we'd have really started probing, if you know what I mean. Now that Kirby is in the clear, it makes sense he'd talk."
"Nice system," she said. "Not to mention anal analogy."
"Are you sure this Kirby didn't have anything to do with it?"
"And, what, planted her phone in Dan Mercer's hotel room?"
She thought about that. "Good point."
"He also has an airtight alibi. Look, Kirby is a typical rich-kid punk-the kind who thinks he's badass because maybe he toilet-papers a house on Mischief Night. He didn't do anything here."
She sat back. Her gaze found the picture of Tremont's dead daughter, but it didn't stay there long. She looked away fast, maybe too fast. Frank saw it.
"My daughter," he said.
"We're not going to talk about it, okay?"
"So what's your problem with this case, Wendy?"
"I guess I need more of a why."
"Take another look at that picture. The world doesn't work that way." He sat up. His eyes bore into hers. "Sometimes-most times maybe-there isn't any why."
WHEN SHE GOT BACK TO HER CAR, Wendy saw a message from Ten-A-Fly. She called him back.
"We may have something on Kelvin Tilfer."
The Fathers Club had spent the last several days working on locating the Princeton classmates. The easiest to find, of course, was Farley Parks. Wendy had called the former politico six times. Farley had not called her back. No surprise. Farley lived in Pittsburgh, making a drop-by difficult. So for right now, he was sort of out.
Second, Dr. Steve Miciano. She had reached him by phone and asked for a meeting. If she could help it, Wendy didn't want to tell them what it was about over the phone. Miciano hadn't asked. He said that he was on shift and would be available tomorrow afternoon. Wendy figured that she could wait.
But third, and in Wendy's view, the big priority, was the elusive Kelvin Tilfer. There was nothing on him so far. As far as the Internet was concerned, the man had simply dropped off the planet.
"What?" she asked.
"A brother. Ronald Tilfer works deliveries for UPS in Manhattan. He's the only relative we've been able to locate. The parents are dead."
"Where does he live?"
"In Queens, but we can do you one better. See, when Doug worked at Lehman they did big business with UPS. Doug called his old contact in sales and got the brother's delivery schedule. It's all computerized now, so we can pretty much track his movements online if you want to find him."
"Okay, head into the city toward the Upper West Side. I'll e-mail you updates as he makes deliveries."
Forty-five minutes later, she found the brown truck double-parked in front of a restaurant called Telepan on West Sixty-ninth Street off Columbus. She parked her car in an hour space, threw in some quarters, leaned against the fender. She looked at the truck, flashing to that UPS commercial with that guy with long hair drawing on a whiteboard, and while the message "UPS" and "Brown" did indeed come through, she didn't have a clue what the guy was drawing about. Charlie would always shake his head when that commercial came on, usually during a crucial time in a football game, and say, "That guy needs a beat-down."
Funny what occupies the mind.
Ronald Tilfer-at least, she assumed the man in the brown UPS uniform was him-smiled and waved behind him as he exited from the restaurant. He was short with tightly cropped salt 'n' pepper hair and, as you noticed in these uniforms with shorts, nice legs. Wendy pushed herself off her car and cut him off before he reached the vehicle.
"My name is Wendy Tynes. I'm a reporter for NTC News. I'm trying to locate your brother, Kelvin."
He narrowed his gaze. "What for?"
"I'm doing a story about his graduating class at Princeton."
"I can't help you."
"I just need to talk to him for a few minutes."
He started to move around her. Wendy slid to stay in front of him. "Let's just say Kelvin is unavailable."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He can't talk to you. He can't help you."
"I really need to get back to work."
"No, you don't."
"That's your last delivery today."
"How do you know that?"
Let him dangle, she thought. "Let's stop wasting time with the cryptic 'he's unavailable' or can't talk or whatever. It is hugely important I talk to him."
"About his graduating class at Princeton?"
"There's more to it. Someone is harming his old roommates."
"And you think it's Kelvin?"
"I didn't say that."
"It can't be him."
"You can help me prove that. Either way, lives are being ruined. Your brother may even be in danger."
"Then maybe he can help some old friends."
"Kelvin? He's in no position to help anyone."
Again with the cryptic. It was starting to piss her off. "You talk like he's dead."
"He may as well be."
"I don't want to sound melodramatic, Mr. Tilfer, but this really is about life and death. If you don't want to talk to me, I can bring the police in on it. I'm here alone but I can come back with a big news crew-cameras, sound, the works."
Ronald Tilfer let loose a deep sigh. Her threat was an empty one, of course, but he didn't have to know that. He gnawed on his lower lip. "You won't take my word he can't help you?"
He shrugged. "Okay."
"I'll take you to see Kelvin."
WENDY LOOKED at Kelvin Tilfer through the thick, protective glass.
"How long has he been here?"
"This time?" Ronald Tilfer shrugged. "Maybe three weeks. They'll probably let him back out in a week."
"And then where does he go?"
"He lives on the street until he does something dangerous again. Then they bring him back in. The state doesn't believe in long-term mental hospitals anymore. So they release him."
Kelvin Tilfer was writing furiously in a notebook, his nose just inches from the page. Wendy could hear him shouting through the glass. Nothing that made sense. Kelvin looked a lot older than his classmates. His hair and beard were gray. Teeth were missing.
"He was the smart brother," Ronald said. "A freaking genius, especially in math. That's what that book is filled with. Math problems. He writes them all day. He could never turn his mind off. Our mom worked so hard to make him normal, you know? The school wanted him to skip grades. She wouldn't let him. She made him play sports-tried everything to keep him normal. But it was like we always knew he was heading in this direction. She tried to hold the crazy back. But it was like holding back an ocean with your bare hands."
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's a raging schizophrenic. He has terrible psychotic episodes."
"But, I mean, what happened to him?"
"What do you mean, what happened? He's ill. There is no why." There is no why-the second time someone had said that to her today. "How does someone get cancer? It wasn't like Mommy beat him and he became like this. It's a chemical imbalance. Like I said, it was always there. Even as a kid, he never slept. He couldn't turn off his brain."
Wendy remembered what Phil had said. Weird. Math-genius weird. "Do meds help?"
"They quiet him, sure. The same way a tranquilizer gun quiets an elephant. He still doesn't know where he is or who he is. When he graduated from Princeton he got a job with a pharmaceutical company but he kept disappearing. They fired him. He took to the streets. For eight years we didn't know where he was. When we finally found him in a cardboard box filled with his own feces, Kelvin had broken bones that hadn't healed properly. He'd lost teeth. I can't even imagine how he survived, how he found food, what he must have gone through."
Kelvin started screaming again: "Himmler! Himmler likes tuna steaks!"
She turned to Ronald. "Himmler? The old Nazi?"
"You got me. He never makes any sense."
Kelvin went back to his notebook, writing even faster now.
"Can I talk to him?" she asked.
"You're kidding, right?"
"It won't help."
"And it won't hurt."
Ronald Tilfer looked through the window. "Most times, he doesn't know who I am anymore. He looks right through me. I wanted to bring him home, but I have a wife, a kid..."
Wendy said nothing.
"I should do something to protect him, don't you think? I try to lock him up, he gets angry. So I let him go and worry about him. We'd go to Yankee games when we were kids. Kelvin knew every player's statistics. He could even tell you how they changed after an at-bat. My theory: Genius is a curse. That's how I look at it. Some think that the brilliant comprehend the universe in a way the rest of us can't. They see the world how it truly is-and that reality is so horrible they lose their minds. Clarity leads to insanity."
Wendy just stared straight ahead. "Did Kelvin ever talk about Princeton?"
"My mom was so proud of him. I mean, we all were. Kids from our neighborhood didn't go to Ivy League schools. We were worried he wouldn't fit in, but he made friends fast."
"Those friends are in trouble."
"Look at him, Ms. Tynes. You think he can help them?"
"I'd like to take a shot at it."
He shrugged. The hospital administrator made her sign some releases and suggested they keep their distance from him. A few minutes later they brought Wendy and Ronald into a glass-enclosed room. An orderly stood by the door. Kelvin sat at a desk and continued scribbling into his notebook. The table was wide, so that Wendy and Ronald were at a pretty good distance.
"Hey, Kelvin," Ronald said.
"Drones don't understand the essence."
Ronald looked at Wendy. He gestured for her to go ahead.
"You went to Princeton, didn't you, Kelvin?"
"I told you. Himmler likes tuna steaks."
He still had his eyes on his notebooks. "Kelvin?"
He didn't stop writing.
"Do you remember Dan Mercer?"
"Yes. And Phil Turnball?"
"Unleaded gas gives the benefactor headaches."
"Your friends from Princeton."
"Ivy Leagues, man. Some guy wore green shoes. I hate green shoes."
"The Ivy Leagues."
"That's right. Your friends from the Ivy League. Dan, Phil, Steve, and Farley. Do you remember them?"
Kelvin finally stopped scribbling. He looked up. His eyes were blank slates. He stared at Wendy but clearly didn't see her.
"Himmler likes tuna steaks," he said, his voice an urgent whisper. "And the mayor? He could not care less."
Ronald slumped. Wendy tried to get him to look her in the eye.
"I want to talk to you about your college roommates."
Kelvin started laughing. "Roommates?"
"That's funny." He started cackling like, well, a madman. "Roommates. Like you mate with a room. Like you and a room have sex and you get it pregnant. Like you mate, get it?"
He laughed again. Well, Wendy figured, this was better than Himmler's fish preferences.
"Do you remember your old roommates?"
The laugh stopped as though someone had flicked an off switch.
"They're in trouble, Kelvin," she said. "Dan Mercer, Phil Turnball, Steve Miciano, Farley Parks. They're all in trouble."
"Yes." She said the four names again. Then again. Something started to happen to Kelvin's face. It crumbled before their eyes. "Oh God, oh no..."
Kelvin started crying.
Ronald was up. "Kelvin?"
Ronald reached for his brother, but Kelvin's scream stopped him. The scream was sudden and piercing. Wendy jumped back.
His eyes were wide now. "Scar face!"
He stood quickly, knocking over his chair. The orderly started toward him. Kelvin screamed again and ran for the corner. The orderly called for backup.
"Scar face!" Kelvin screamed again. "Gonna get us all. Scar face!"
"Who's scar face?" Wendy shouted back at him.
Ronald said, "Leave him alone!"
"Scar face!" Kelvin squeezed his eyes shut. He put his hands on either side of his head, as though he were trying to stop his skull from splitting in two. "I told them! I warned them!"
"What's that mean, Kelvin?"
"Stop!" Ronald said.
Kelvin lost it then. His head rocked back and forth. Two orderlies came in. When Kelvin saw them, he screamed. "Stop the hunt! Stop the hunt!" He dropped to the ground and started scuttling across the floor on all fours. Ronald had tears in his eyes. He tried to calm his brother. Kelvin scrambled to his feet. The orderlies tackled Kelvin as if this were a football game. One hit him low, the other got him up top.
"Don't hurt him!" Ronald shouted. "Please!"
Kelvin was down on the ground. The orderlies were putting some kind of restraint on him. Ronald begged them not to hurt him. Wendy tried to get closer to Kelvin-tried to somehow reach him.
From the ground, Kelvin's eyes finally met hers. Wendy crawled closer to him as he struggled. One orderly shouted at her, "Get away from him!"
She ignored him. "What is it, Kelvin?"
"I told them," he whispered. "I warned them."
"What did you warn them, Kelvin?"
Kelvin started crying. Ronald grabbed at her shoulder, trying to pull her back. She shrugged him off.
"What did you warn them, Kelvin?"
A third orderly was in the room now. He had a hypodermic needle in his hand. He shot something into Kelvin's shoulder. Kelvin looked her straight in the eye now.
"Not to hunt," Kelvin said, his voice suddenly calm. "We shouldn't hunt no more."
"Hunt for what?"
But the drug was taking effect. "We should have never gone hunting," he said, his voice soft now. "Scar face could tell you. We should have never gone hunting."