I passed through the master bathroom, gave the hot tub a smile, and entered the next bedroom. It was tidy and empty. The faux-walnut dresser, chest, matching bed and nightstand all looked cheap but respectable. The drawers were empty, the bed was made. The closet was two dozen empty hangers, evenly spaced.


Amanda’s room. She’d left nothing behind but hangers and the sheets on the bed. On the wall, she’d left a framed Red Sox jersey, signed by Josh Beckett, and a Just Puppies calendar. It was the first hint of sentiment I could attach to her. Otherwise, all I got was the same impression of precision I’d been getting off her trail from the beginning.

The bedroom across the hall was another story. It looked like someone had tossed it in a blender, pressed STIR, and then removed the cap. The bed hid under a patchwork of comforter, blanket, jeans, sweater, sweatshirt, denim jacket, capri cargo pants. The dresser sported open drawers and a vanity mirror. Sophie had tucked photographs into the left and right sides of the mirror, between the glass and the frame. Several were of a boy in his late teens. Zippo, I assumed. He usually wore a Sox cap turned sideways. A stripe of hair extended from ear to ear like a chin strap and a matching tuft of hair sprouted from the space between his lower lip and chin. Tats on the side of his neck and silver rings protruding from his eyebrows. In most of the photos, he had his arm around Sophie. In all of them, he was brandishing a beer bottle or a red plastic cup. Sophie wore big smiles but she seemed to be trying them out, looking for one that fit what she thought people were looking for. Her eyes seemed sensitive to light—in every photo she looked one step from squinting. Her tiny teeth peeked out uncertainly from her smile. It was hard to imagine her happy. Tucked above and below the photos were club postcards for dates long past—last spring and early summer, mostly. All the venues were over-21 clubs.

Sophie definitely cultivated an over-21 look. But you couldn’t overlook the baby fat that hung, pupa-like, from the underside of her chin or covered her cheekbones. Any club let her in knowing she was underage. Most of the photos were of her and Zippo; two were of her and other girlfriends, none of whom I recognized and none of whom was Amanda, though both photos had been cropped on the left-hand side, amputating Sophie’s shoulder at the point where it had presumably touched someone else’s.

I tossed the rest of the room and found some pills I didn’t recognize, with a holistic-medicine vibe to the labels. I snapped photos of them with my Droid and moved on. I found several wristbands, enough to suggest a fetish for wristsbands or a purpose. I took a closer look at them. Most of them were stacked in a pile on the upper shelf of the closet, but a few were strewn in with the general mess.

I pulled all the covers off the bed and pushed the clothes out of the way and found the laptop waiting for me, the power light blinking. I flipped it open and was greeted by a screen saver of Sophie and Zippo, flashing the universal two-fingered “gangsta” sign, which immediately defined them as white non-gang members. I double-clicked on the Apple icon in the top left corner of the screen and worked my way into the main control panel without a single password prompt. There I discovered the IP server info Angie required. I copied it all onto my Droid and texted it to her.

I clicked back to the main screen and then clicked on the mail icon.

Sophie wasn’t a big deleter. Her inbox had 2,871 messages dating back over a year. Her SENT folder contained 1,673 messages, also dating back over a year. I called Angie and told her what I’d found. “With the IP info, you can hack this?”

“Candy from a baby,” she said. “How long have you been in there?”

“I don’t know. Twenty minutes.”

“That’s a lotta time to be in the house of people who don’t have predictable work schedules.”

“Yes, Mom.”

She hung up.

I put everything back the way I’d found it and worked my way downstairs. In the dining room, I found a cardboard box filled with mail on the card table in the center of the room. Nothing out of the ordinary about the mail—utility bills mostly, some credit-card bills and bank statements—until I looked at the names and addresses of the recipients. None of them lived here. There was mail for Daryl Bousquet in Westwood, Georgette Bing in Franklin, Mica Griekspoor in Sharon, Virgil Cridlin in Dedham. I thumbed through the stack and counted nine more names, all living in nearby towns—Walpole, Norwood, Mansfield, and Plainville. I looked through the portico into the living room at the bank of computers. A barely furnished house, what furniture there was from a discount wholesaler, and no sense that anyone intended to make this a ten-year abode. Nine computers. Stolen mail. If I had another hour, somewhere I’d find birth certificates for babies who’d died decades ago. I’d bet every dime I had on it.

I looked at the mail again. Why so stupid, though? Why password-protect the computers but forget to turn on the house alarm? Why pick a perfect spot to do this kinda shit—in a house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a stalled development—and leave stacks of stolen mail in a box?

I looked around the kitchen, found nothing but empty cabinets and a fridge filled with Styrofoam take-out containers, beer, and a twelve-pack of Coke. I closed a cabinet and remembered what Amanda’s classmate had said about the microwave.

I opened it and stared inside. It was a microwave. White walls, yellow light, circular heating tray. I was about to close it when I got a strong whiff of something acrid and I took another look at the walls. They were white, yes, but there was an extra layer of white. When I tilted my head and adjusted my eyes, I saw the same film on the yellow bulb. I found a butter knife and scraped one of the walls very lightly, and what came off was a fine powder, as white and light as talc.

I closed the microwave door, returned the knife to its drawer, and went back into the living room. That’s when I heard the front door knob turn.

I hadn’t been face-to-face with her in eleven years. I’d kind of liked it that way. But here she was, four steps into her living room when her eyes locked on mine. She’d gained weight, mostly in the hips and the face, the sides of her neck. Her skin was splotchier. Her cornflower eyes, always her most attractive feature, remained so. They widened under her feather-cut ginger hair, the roots showing gray by the crown, and her mouth opened into a tight, wrinkled oval, then formed a hesitant P.

It wasn’t like I could claim I was here to fix the garbage disposal. I gave her what I’m sure was a hapless smile, held out my arms, and shrugged.

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