Tell No One, Page 9Harlan Coben
Shauna and Linda rent a three-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive and 116 Street, not far from Columbia University. I'd managed to find a spot within a block, an act that usually accompanies a parting sea or stone tablet.
Shauna buzzed me up. Linda was still out at her formal. Mark was asleep. I tiptoed into his room and kissed his forehead. Mark was still hanging on to the Pokemon craze and it showed. He had Pikachu sheets, and a stuffed Squirtle doll lay nestled in his arms. People criticize the trend, but it reminded me of my own childhood obsession with Batman and Captain America. I watched him a few more seconds. Cliche to say, yes, but it is indeed the little things.
Shauna stood in the doorway and waited. When we finally moved back into the den, I said, "Mind if I have a drink?"
Shauna shrugged. "Suit yourself. "
I poured myself two fingers of bourbon. "You'll join me. "
She shook her head.
We settled onto the couch. "What time is Linda supposed to be home?" I asked.
"Got me," Shauna said slowly. I didn't like the way she did it.
"Damn," I said.
"It's temporary, Beck. I love Linda, you know that. "
"Damn," I said again.
Last year, Linda and Shauna had separated for two months. It hadn't been good, especially for Mark.
"I'm not moving out or anything," Shauna said.
"So what's wrong, then?"
"Same ol' same ol'. I have this glamorous high-profile job. I'm surrounded by beautiful, interesting people all the time. Nothing new, right? We all know this. Anyway, Linda thinks I have a wandering eye. "
"You do," I said.
"Yeah, sure, but that's nothing new, is it?"
I didn't reply.
"At the end of the day, Linda is the one I go home to. "
"And you never take any detours on the way?"
"If I did, they'd be irrelevant. You know that. I don't do well locked in a cage, Beck. I need the stage. "
"Nice mix of metaphors," I said.
"At least it rhymed. "
I drank in silence for a few moments.
"Your turn now. "
She shot me a look and waited.
I thought about the "Tell no one" warning at the end of the email. If the message were indeed from Elizabeth - my mind still had trouble even entertaining such a notion - she would know that I'd tell Shauna. Linda - maybe not. But Shauna? I tell her everything. It would be a given.
"There's a chance," I said, "that Elizabeth is still alive. "
Shauna didn't break stride. "She ran off with Elvis, right?" When she saw my face, she stopped and said, "Explain. "
I did. I told her about the email. I told her about the street cam. And I told her about seeing Elizabeth on the computer monitor. Shauna kept her eyes on me the whole time. She didn't nod or interrupt. When I finished, she carefully extracted a cigarette from its carton and put it in her mouth. Shauna gave up smoking years ago, but she still liked to fiddle with them. She examined the cancer stick, turning it over in her hand as though she'd never seen one before. I could see the gears churning.
"Okay," she said. "So at eight-fifteen tomorrow night, the next message is supposed to come in, right?"
I nodded. "So we wait until then. "
She put the cigarette back in the pack.
"You don't think it's crazy?"
Shauna shrugged. "Irrelevant," she said.
"There are several possibilities that'd explain what you just said. "
"Including insanity. "
"Yeah, sure, that's a strong one. But what's the point of hypothesizing negatively right now? Let's just assume it's true. Let's just assume you saw what you saw and that Elizabeth is still alive. If we're wrong, hey, we'll learn that soon enough. If we're right. . . " She knitted her eyebrows, thought about it, shook her head. "Christ, I hope like hell we're right. "
I smiled at her. "I love you, you know. "
"Yeah," she said. "Everyone does. "
When I got home, I poured myself one last quick drink. I took a deep sip and let the warm liquor travel to destinations well known. Yes, I drink. But I'm not a drunk. That's not denial. I know I flirt with being an alcoholic. I also know that flirting with alcoholism is about as safe as flirting with a mobster's underage daughter. But so far, the flirting hasn't led to coupling. I'm smart enough to know that might not last.
Chloe sidled up to me with her customary expression that could be summed up thusly: "Food, walk, food, walk. " Dogs are wonderfully consistent. I tossed her a treat and took her for a stroll around the block. The cold air felt good in my lungs, but walking never cleared my head. Walking is, in fact, a tremendous bore. But I liked watching Chloe walk. I know that sounds queer, but a dog derives such pleasure from this simple activity. It made me Zen-happy to watch her.
Back home I moved quietly toward my bedroom. Chloe followed me. Grandpa was asleep. So was his new nurse. She snored with a cartoonlike, high-pitched exhale. I flipped on my computer and wondered why Sheriff Lowell hadn't called me back. I thought about calling him, though the time was nearing midnight. Then I figured: tough.
I picked up the phone and dialed. Lowell had a cell phone. If he was sleeping, he could always turn it off, right?
He answered on the third ring. "Hello, Dr. Beck. "
His voice was tight. I also noted that I was no longer Doc.
"Why didn't you call me back?" I asked.
"It was getting late," he said. "I figured I'd catch you in the morning. "
"Why did you ask me about Sarah Goodhart?"
"Tomorrow," he said.
"It's late, Dr. Beck. I'm off duty. Besides, I think I'd rather go over this with you in person. "
"Can't you at least tell me-?"
"You'll be at your clinic in the morning?"
"I'll call you then. "
He bade me a polite but firm good night and then he was gone. I stared at the phone and wondered what the hell that was all about.
Sleep was out of the question. I spent most of the night on the Web, surfing through various city street cams, hoping to stumble across the right one. Talk about the high-tech needle in the worldwide haystack.
At some point, I stopped and slipped under the covers. Part of being a doctor is patience. I constantly give children tests that have life-altering - if not life-ending - implications and tell them and their parents to wait for the results. They have no choice. Perhaps the same could be said for this situation. There were too many variables right now. Tomorrow, when I logged in at Bigfoot under the Bat Street user name and Teenage password, I might learn more.
I stared up at the ceiling for a while. Then I looked to my right - where Elizabeth had slept. I always fell asleep first. I used to lie like this and watch her with a book, her face in profile, totally focused on whatever she was reading. That was the last thing I saw before my eyes closed and I drifted off to sleep.
I rolled over and faced the other way.
At four in the morning, Larry Gandle looked over the bleached blond locks of Eric Wu. Wu was incredibly disciplined. If he wasn't working on his physical prowess, he was in front of a computer screen. His complexion had turned a sickly blue-white several thousand Web surfs ago, but that physique remained serious cement.
"Well?" Gandle said.
Wu popped the headphones off. Then he folded his marble column arms across his chest. "I'm confused. "
"Tell me. "
"Dr. Beck has barely saved any of his emails. Just a few involving patients. Nothing personal. But then he gets two bizarre ones in the last two days. " Still not turning from the screen, Eric Wu handed two pieces of paper over his bowling ball of a shoulder. Larry Gandle looked at the emails and frowned.
"What do they mean?"
"I don't know. "
Gandle skimmed the message that talked about clicking something at "kiss time. " He didn't understand computers - nor did he want to understand them. His eyes traveled back up to the top of the sheet and he read the subject.
E. P. + D. B. and a bunch of lines.
Gandle thought about it. D. B. David Beck maybe? And E. P. . .
The meaning landed on him like a dropped piano. He slowly handed the paper back to Wu.
"Who sent this?" Gandle asked.
"I don't know. "
"Find out. "
"Impossible," Wu said.
"The sender used an anonymous remailer. " Wu spoke with a patient, almost unearthly monotone. He used that same tone while discussing a weather report or ripping off a man's cheek. "I won't go into the computer jargon, but there is no way to trace it back. "
Gandle turned his attention to the other email, the one with the Bat Street and Teenage. He couldn't make head or tail out of it.
"How about this one? Can you trace it back?"
Wu shook his head. "Also an anonymous remailer. "
"Did the same person send both?"
"Your guess would be as good as mine. "
"How about the content? Do you understand what either one is talking about?"
Wu hit a few keys and the first email popped up on the monitor. He pointed a thick, veiny finger at the screen. "See that blue lettering there? It's a hyperlink All Dr. Beck had to do was click it and it would take him someplace, probably a Web site. "
"What Web site?"
"It's a broken link. Again, you can't trace it back. "
"And Beck was supposed to do this at 'kiss time'?"
"That's what it says. "
"Is kiss time some sort of computer term?"
Wu almost grinned. "No. "
"So you don't know what time the email refers to?"
"That's correct. "
"Or even if we've passed kiss time or not?"
"It's passed," Wu said.
"How do you know?"
"His Web browser is set up to show you the last twenty sites he visited. He clicked the link. Several times, in fact. "
"But you can't, uh, follow him there?"
"No. The link is useless. "
"What about this other email?"
Wu hit a more few keys. The screen changed and the other email appeared. "This one is easier to figure out. It's very basic, as a matter of fact. "
"Okay, I'm listening. "
"The anonymous emailer has set up an email account for Dr. Beck," Wu explained. "He's given Dr. Beck a user name and a password and again mentioned kiss time. "
"So let me see if I understand," Candle said. "Beck goes to some Web site. He types in that user name and that password and there'll be a message for him?"
"That's the theory, yes. "
"Can we do it too?"
"Sign in using that user name and password?"
"Yes. And read the message. "
"I tried it. The account doesn't exist yet. "
Eric Wu shrugged. "The anonymous sender might set up the account later. Closer to kiss time. "
"So what can we conclude here?"
"Put simply" - the light from the monitor danced off Wu's blank eyes - "someone is going through a great deal of trouble to stay anonymous. "
"So how do we find out who it is?"
Wu held up a small device that looked like something you might find in a transistor radio. "We've installed one of these on his home and work computers. "
"What is it?"
"A digital network tracker. The tracker sends digital signals from his computers to mine. If Dr. Beck gets any emails or visits any Web sites or even if he just types up a letter, we'll be able to monitor it all in real time. "
"So we wait and watch," Gandle said.
Gandle thought about what Wu had told him - about the lengths someone was going through to remain anonymous - and an awful suspicion started creeping into the pit of his belly.