“How much longer, Daddy?” Grant Moreton asks from the backseat of the ’74 Impala. The boy catches a glimpse of his father’s eyes in the rearview mirror. They aren’t angry or even stern. Just tired and sad—the way they’ve looked for the past year.
“We’re five minutes closer than the last time you asked. Do you remember how long I said it would be then?”
“That’s right. So what’s twenty minus five?”
Grant glances over at the girl with braided pigtails sitting beside him. He is two years older than Paige, but his five-almost-six-year-old sister already understands math in a way he never will.
“What is it?” he whispers. “What’s the answer?”
“No cheating,” their father says. “Your sister helps out too much with your homework as it is.”
Grant stares through the window as he tries to calculate the answer. There are mountains out there, but nothing to see at this time of night beyond the occasional glint of light from a distant house or a passing car.
On the radio: game six of the World Series. The Phillies are on the brink of beating the Kansas City Royals and the roar of the crowd comes like white noise through the speakers.
Grant feels a thump on the side of his leg. He looks over. Paige leans in, whispers, “It’s fifteen.”
He glances at the rearview to make sure their father hasn’t noticed this treason.
“Fifteen,” he says.
“You sure about that?”
Grant shoots her a sidelong look.
She responds with an almost imperceptible nod.
“That’s right. Nice job, Paige.”
Grant flushes with embarrassment, but in the mirror, his father’s eyes are gentle.
“No worries, kiddo. That’s what sisters are for.”
Jim Moreton rolls down his window and flicks his cigarette outside. Grant glances back, watches it hit the pavement in a spray of sparks.
A sharp chilled blast of Douglas-fir fills the car.
They ride on in silence listening to the game.
Through the windshield, the road ahead of them winds, steadily climbing, the double yellow emerging out of nothing into the burn of the headlights.
The boy rests his head against the window. He shuts his eyes and retrieves the square of fabric from his pocket. Brings it to his nose. Breathes in the smell of his mother’s nightgown. If he closes his eyes, he can almost pull the scene together, the way it should be—her in the passenger seat, his father’s arm stretched across the back of her headrest. Grant is having a harder time picturing her face lately without help from a photograph, but the timbre of her voice retains sharper and truer than ever. If she were in the car right now, she’d be talking over the game. Playfully arguing with Jim about the volume of the radio, how fast he was driving, the graceless way he slingshots the car through each hairpin turn. Grant opens his eyes, and even though he knows she won’t be there, the shock of the empty seat still registers.
Just fifteen minutes until we’re there.
More than a year has passed since their last visit to the cabin, and so much changed it’s like the memory belongs to someone else. They had driven up into the Cascades in the middle of summer. Their family place backed up to a small pond that stayed cold even through July. They’d stayed a month there. Days fishing and swimming. Hide-and-seek in the groves of hemlock that surrounded the property. The cold nights spent reading and playing games by the fireplace. It had been his and Paige’s job every afternoon to gather sticks and fir cones to use as kindling.
Everything about that summer is so clear in his mind. Everything except for the little boy, because he had a mother and Grant doesn’t and it hurts to remember.
“All right, here we go,” Jim Moreton says, turning up the volume on the radio, the crowd-roar swelling. “Bases loaded. Come on, Phillies. Willie’s got nothin’.”
Grant has no idea who his father is talking about, just knows that he’s done little else but watch baseball this last, awful year.
“My ears hurt, Dad,” he says.
“Mine too,” Paige echoes.
Grant’s father opens the center console and fishes through its contents until he finds an old pack of spearmint gum.
“Chew this. It’ll help.”
He passes two sticks back to the children.
A moment later, he forces a yawn and unwraps one for himself.
“Pay attention, guys,” he says through a mouthful of fresh gum. “You’ll remember this game one day.”
As a man, Grant will know everything there is to know about this game. It will assume an epic aura, in particular these final moments, this last at bat—Tug McGraw throwing to Willie Wilson, Phillies up three, but the bases loaded—Kansas City one swing away from total defeat or the comeback of the century.
Years later, Grant will watch the last strike on a videotape. See Willie Wilson swing and miss, thinking how strange it is to know what was happening to that ’74 Impala, to his father, his sister, himself, on a remote highway in Washington State at the exact moment Tug threw his arms into the air and danced off the pitcher’s mound, a World Series champion.
Riding in the backseat of the car as the world waits for the final pitch, Grant sees the headlights fire to life a sign on the side of the highway.
But the pitch never comes.
There is no end to the game.
Grant is trying to slide the patch of his mother’s nightgown back into his pocket when Paige screams. He looks up, a wall of blinding light pouring through the windshield. As the tires begin to screech, he’s thrown violently against his sister who crashes into the door. The last thing he sees is the guardrail racing toward them, glowing brighter and brighter as the headlights close in.
The violence of the bumper punching through is cataclysmic, and then the noise drops away.
No sound but the revving engine.
Tires spinning like mad and nothing underneath them.
Grant’s stomach lifts with the same weightless ache he experienced the time he rode a roller coaster.
The radio is still on, the airwaves now riddled with static.
The play-by-play announcer, whose name Grant will one day learn is Joe Garagiola, says, “The crowd will tell you what happens.”
Paige says, “Daddy?”
Their father says, “Oh shit.”
Grant opens his eyes.
The engine is hissing and the tires still barely spinning—above him.
The Impala is inverted. The radio gone silent. One headlight is busted; the other blazes intermittently. Through the fractured windshield, he sees the beam shining into an upside-down forest where mist lingers between the tall, straight trunks.
An image that will haunt him to the end of his days.
He calls out to his father.
Jim Moreton doesn’t answer. He’s crumpled into the steering column, the side of his face gleaming with blood and sparkling with bits of glass.
He is so terribly still.
Grant looks over at his sister. Like him, she hangs by her lap belt. Grant reaches down, unfastens his, and falls onto the ceiling, crying out as a flare of pain rides up the bone of his left leg.
Tears stream down his face.
His head throbs.
She groans. He’s lying under her now. Reaching up, he takes hold of her hand and gives it a squeeze.
“Paige, can you hear me?”
It’s too dark to see if her eyes are open.
“What happened?” she asks quietly.
Something wet is dripping on his face.
“My chest hurts.”
“It’s okay, Paigy.”
“It hurts really bad. Why are we upside down? Daddy?”
“He’s hurt,” Grant says.
Her voice kicks up an octave. “Daddy?”
“It’s gonna be okay,” Grant says, though he has no idea if there’s even a shred of truth to the statement.
“I want my daddy.”
“He can’t hear you right now, Paige.”
“Is he dead?”
That possibility hasn’t occurred to Grant until this moment.
“Touch him,” she cries. “Make him answer.”
Grant turns his attention to the front seat. His father is upside down, still buckled in, a string of blood dripping from the corner of his mouth onto the roof. The boy reaches out, touches his father’s shoulder.
His father makes no response.
Grant strains to hear if he’s breathing, but the noise of the spinning tires and the hiss of the dying engine make it impossible to tell.
“Dad,” he whispers. “Wake up.”
“Is he alive?” Paige begs.
“I don’t know.”
She begins to cry.
“It’s gonna be all right,” Grant says.
“No,” she screams.
Grant leans in closer. He will never forget the smell of blood.
“Dad,” he whispers. “It’s Grant.”
His father’s hands still clench around the steering wheel. “Please do something if … if you’re okay. If you can hear me. Just make a sound.”
He will never recover from the silence.
“What’s happening, Grant?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is Daddy okay?”
The tears are coming. Grant tries to hold back the sob, but there’s no stopping it. He lies on the glass-covered roof and cries with his sister for a long time.
The engine has gone silent.
The last spinning wheel creaked to a halt.
Cold mountain air streams in through the busted windows.
Grant has unbuckled his sister and helped her out of the seat, and now they lie side-by-side on the roof, huddled together and shivering.
The air becomes redolent of wet evergreen trees. Rain is falling, pattering on the pine-needled floor of the forest and on the Impala’s undercarriage.
The headlight dims away, now just a feeble swath of light.
The boy has no concept of how long they’ve been upended on this mountainside.
“Can you check Dad again?” Paige asks.
“I can’t move my leg anymore.”
“It hurts a lot and it’s stiff.”
In the darkness, the boy finds his sister’s hand and holds it.
“Do you think Daddy’s dead?” she asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Are we going to die?”
“Someone will find us.”
“But what if they don’t come?”
“Then I’ll crawl up the mountain and find someone myself.”
“But your leg is hurt.”
“I can do it if I have to.”
“What’s it called,” she says, “when you don’t have a mom or a dad?”
Grant braces against another push of fear-fueled emotion. So many questions springing up he feels like he’s drowning.
Where will they live?
Who will pay for their food?
Will he have to get a job?
Who will make them go to bed?
Who will fix their meals?
Make them eat good food?
Who will make them go to school?
“Is that what we are now, Grant?” Paige asks. “Are we orphans?”
“No, we’re brother and sister, Paige.”
“No matter what happens, I’ll take care of you.”
“But you’re only seven.”
“You don’t even know how to add.”
“But you do. And I can do the other stuff. We can help each other. Like how Mom and Dad did.”
Grant turns over in the dark, his face inches away from Paige’s. Her breath smells faintly of spearmint gum. It warms his face sweetly.
“Don’t be scared, Paige.”
“But I am.” Her voice breaks.
“I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“I swear to you, Paige. I’ll protect you.”
“Will we still live in our house?”
“Of course. Where else would we live? It’ll be just like it was only I’ll be taking care of you.”
She draws in a labored wheeze.
“It hurts when I breathe.”
“Then don’t breathe hard.”
Grant wants to call out to their father again, but he fears it might upset her.
“I’m cold, Grant.”
“How long until someone finds us?”
“They’ll be here soon. Do you want to hear a story while we wait?”
“Not even your favorite?”
“The one about the crazy scientist in the castle on the hill.”
“It’s too scary.”
“You always say that. But this one’s different.”
Through the windshield, the beam of light has weakened such that it only offers a yellowed patch of illumination on the nearest tree.
“How is it different?”
“I can’t just tell you. It’ll ruin it.”
“Okay.” Paige moves in closer.
Outside, the headlight expires.
Pitch black inside the car now.
The rain is falling harder, and for a moment, Grant is paralyzed by the horror of it all.
“Come on,” Paige says.
She nudges him in the dark.
Grant begins, his voice unsteady: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Paige.”
“Just like me?”
“Just like you. And she had an older brother named Grant.”
“Just like you.”
He blinks through the tears reforming in his eyes.
Fights through the tremor in his voice.
The mantra for a lifetime.
“Yes, just like me.”
“Did they have parents?”
Everything inside the car is terribly still, but the woods around them have become alive in the silence. Rain pelts the carpet of leaves on the forest floor. Things snap in the darkness. The hoot of a lonesome owl goes unanswered.
The world outside is huge—so many things for a little boy to be afraid of.
“No. Paige and Grant lived in a beautiful house all by themselves, and they were very brave.”
THIRTY-ONE YEARS LATER
“Where’d you go for lunch?” Sophie asked.
Grant shook his head as he typed Benjamin Seymour and Seattle into the Google query box.
“I’m not playing this game.”
“Come on. Don’t make me go through your receipts.”
“Will my participation in this conversation make it end sooner?”
“The Panda Express at Northgate?”
Grant frowned at his partner across the border fence that divided their desks into equal surface areas—two messy inboxes, stacks of files, blank narrative forms, expense reports, a shared, miniature artificial Christmas tree.
“Subway it was.” Sophie scribbled on a pad. She looked good today—a charcoal-colored pantsuit with a lavender blouse and a matching necklace, turquoise with silver fringing. She was of African and Native American descent. Sometimes, Grant thought he could see the Cherokee lineage in her dark almond eyes and hair so purely straight and black it shimmered like the blued steel of his service carry, an H&K P2000. They’d been working together since Benington had transferred to the North precinct two years ago.
“What are you writing down?” Grant asked.
“Keep in mind I haven’t adjusted for wherever you eat on the weekends, but so far this year, I have seventy-nine documented visits to Subway.”
“That’s the best detective work I’ve ever seen you do, Benington.”
“Got a few more numbers for you.”
Grant surrendered, setting his work aside.
“Fine. Let’s hear them.”
“Forty. Three hundred sixteen. And, oh my God, one thousand five hundred eighty.”
“Never mind, I don’t want to know this.”
“Forty is the approximate time in minutes you’ve waited while they toasted your sandwich, three hundred sixteen is the number of cheese slices you’ve eaten this year, and finally, one thousand five hundred eighty little round meat shapes have given their lives during the spicy Italian genocide of twenty-eleven.”
“Where did you get those numbers?”
“Google and basic math. Does Subway sponsor you?”
“It’s a solid restaurant,” Grant said, turning back to his computer.
“It’s not a restaurant.”
On the far side of the room, he could hear the sergeant chewing someone’s ass through the telephone. Otherwise, the cluster of desks and cubes stood mostly empty. The only other detective on the floor was Art Dobbs, the man on a much quieter, more civilized phone call.
Grant studied his search results which had returned a hundred thousand hits.
“Damn,” he said.
“Getting no love on my search. Guy was pretty quiet for a big spender.”
Grant appended the word attorney to the string and tried again.
Just twenty-eight hundred hits this time, the first page dominated by Seymour’s firm’s website and numerous legal search engine results.
“Was?” Sophie said. “That’s kind of cold.”
“He’s been missing …” Grant glanced at his watch “… forty-nine hours.”
“Still possible he just left town and didn’t feel like telling the world.”
“No, I spoke with a few of his partners this morning. They described him as a man who played hard but worked even harder. He had a trial scheduled to begin this morning and I was assured that Seymour never let his extracurriculars interfere with work. He’s one of Seattle’s preeminent trial lawyers.”
“I never heard of him.”
“That’s ’cause he does civil litigation.”
“Still say he went off on a bender. Probably licking his wounds as we speak in some swank hotel.”
“Well, I find it interesting,” Grant said.
“That your missing guy—what’s his name again?”
“That Talbert has such a similar work hard/play hard profile. Real estate developer. High net worth. Mr. Life-of-the-Party. How long’s he been AWOL?”
“And you think he’s just off having some ‘me time’ too?”
Sophie shook her head. “He missed meetings. Important ones. We sure these guys didn’t know each other? Decide to run off to Vegas?”
Grant shook his head. “Nothing points that way, but I’m wondering if there’s a connection we’ve missed.”
The roasted earthiness of brewing coffee wafted in from the break room.
The copy machine began to chug in a distant corner.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“This is just a stab in the dark, but what sort of trouble might two wealthy, workaholic playboys such as these get themselves into?”
“Sure, but I didn’t get the sense that Seymour was into anything harder than a lot of high-end booze and a little weed. It’s not exactly a life-and-death proposition scoring in this city.”
Sophie smiled, a beautiful thing.
She said, “So you’re theorizing our boys were murdered by a serial killer prostitute?”
“Not ready to go that far yet. Just saying let’s explore this direction.”
“And this hunch is based on …”
“Nothing at all.”
“Glad to see you don’t let your training get in the way of your job.”
“Can’t train instinct, Sophie. You’re on Facebook, right?”
“What do you call it when you ask someone to be your friend? Other than pathetic.”
She rolled her eyes. “A friend request.”
“Send one to Talbert and Seymour. I’ll call my contact at Seymour’s office and see if they can log into his account and accept your request. You do the same with Talbert’s people.”
“You want me to go through and compare their lists of friends.”
“Maybe we get lucky and they share some female acquaintances. Facebook is the new street corner.” Grant glanced at his watch. “I gotta get outta here.”
He stood, grabbed his jacket.
“You’re just gonna leave all this to me?”
“Sorry, but I have to drive out to Kirkland. Haven’t been in six weeks.”
Sophie’s eyes softened.
“No problem. I’ll get on this.”