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Home > Caught(12)

Caught(12)
Author: Harlan Coben

“You think you know a kid,” Pete Zecher said. “But they all have secrets.”

“Even Haley?”

Pete spread his hands. “Look down that row of lockers. I know this sounds obvious, but every one belongs to a kid with dreams and expectations, going through a hard, crazy time. Adolescence is a war, filled with pressures both imagined and real. Social, academic, athletic—and all the while you’re changing and your hormones are out of whack. All those lockers, all those troubled individuals trapped for seven hours a day in this place. My background is science and whenever I’m here, I imagine those particles from the lab trapped under intense heat. How they need to escape.”

“So,” Marcia said, “you think Haley ran away?”

Pete Zecher kept his eyes on the photograph from Disney World. He too seemed to focus on that heart-splitting smile. Then he turned away and she saw tears in his eyes.

“No, Marcia, I don’t think she ran away. I think something happened to her. Something bad.”

CHAPTER 5

WENDY WOKE UP in the morning and flipped on the panini maker, which was a fancy way of saying “toasted sandwich maker” or “George Foreman Grill.” It had quickly become the most important machine in the house, and she and Charlie pretty much lived on paninis. She put some bacon and cheese between slices of nice whole wheat bread from Trader Joe’s and lowered the heated top.

As he did every morning, Charlie thudded down the stairs as if he were an overweight racing horse wearing anvil shoes. He collapsed more than sat at the kitchen table and inhaled the sandwich.

“When you going to work?” Charlie asked her.

“I lost my job yesterday.”

“Right. Forgot.”

The selfishness of teenagers. Sometimes, like right at that moment, it can be endearing.

“Can you give me a ride to school?” Charlie asked.

“Sure.”

The morning drop-off traffic by Kasselton High was ridiculously congested. Some days it drove her mad, but other days, the morning commute was the one time she and her son might talk and maybe he’d share his thoughts, not in an open gush, but if you listened, you could pick up enough. Today, though, Charlie had his head down and texted. He didn’t say a word the whole ride, his fingers a blur on the tiny handheld.

When she stopped, Charlie rolled out of the passenger door, still texting.

Wendy called out to him: “Thanks, Mom!”

“Yeah, sorry.”

As Wendy pulled back into her own driveway, she spotted the car parked in front of her house. She slowed, pulled in to park, kept her cell phone nearby. She didn’t expect trouble, but you never know. She punched in 9-1-1, kept her finger near the send button, and she slid out of the car.

He was now squatting by her back bumper.

“Tire’s low,” he said to her.

“Can I help you, Mr. Grayson?”

Ed Grayson, the father of one of the victims, stood, wiped his hands, squinted into the sunshine. “I went to your TV studio today. Someone told me you were fired.”

She said nothing.

“I assume it’s because of the judge’s decision.”

“Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Grayson?”

“I want to apologize for what I said to you after court yesterday.”

“I appreciate that,” she said.

“And if you have a minute,” Ed Grayson continued, “I really think we need to talk.”

AFTER THEY WERE BOTH INSIDE and Ed Grayson turned down her offer of a drink, Wendy sat at her kitchen table and waited. Grayson paced a few more moments, then suddenly pulled the kitchen chair right up to her, so that he was sitting less than a yard away.

“First,” he said, “I want to apologize again.”

“No need. I get how you feel.”

“Do you?”

She said nothing.

“My son’s name is E. J. Ed Junior, of course. He was a happy kid. Loved sports. His favorite was hockey. Me, I don’t know the first thing about the game. I was a basketball guy growing up. But my wife, Maggie, was born in Quebec. Her whole family plays. It’s in their blood. So I learned to love it too. For my boy. But now, well, now E. J. has no interest in the sport. If I bring him near a hockey rink, he freaks out. He just wants to stay home.”

He stopped, looked off. Wendy said, “I’m sorry.”

Silence.

Wendy tried to shift gears. “What were you talking to Flair Hickory about?”

“His client hasn’t been seen in over two weeks,” he said.

“So?”

“So I was trying to find out where he might be. But Mr. Hickory wouldn’t tell me.”

“That surprise you?”

“Not really, no.”

More silence.

“So what can I do for you, Mr. Grayson?”

Grayson started playing with his watch, a Timex with one of those twist-a-flex bands. Wendy’s father had one way back when. It always left a red mark on his wrist when he took it off. Funny, all these years after his death, what you remember.

“Your TV show,” Grayson said. “You spent a year hunting down pedophiles. Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why pedophiles?”

“What’s the difference?”

He tried to smile, but it didn’t quite hold. “Humor me,” he said.

“Good ratings, I guess.”

“Sure, I can see that. But there’s more, isn’t there?”

“Mr. Grayson—”

“Ed,” he said.

“Let’s stay with Mr. Grayson. I would like you to get to the point.”

“I know what happened to your husband.”

Just like that. Wendy felt the slow burn, said nothing.

“She’s out, you know. Ariana Nasbro.”

Hearing the name said out loud made her wince. “I know.”

“Think she’s all cured now?”

Wendy thought about the letters, about how they turned her stomach.

“She could be,” Grayson said. “I’ve known people who’ve kicked it at this stage. But that doesn’t really matter much to you, does it, Wendy?”

“This is none of your business.”

“That’s true. But Dan Mercer is. You have a son, don’t you?”

“Also none of your business.”

“Guys like Dan,” he went on. “One thing we know for certain. They don’t get cured.” He moved a little closer, tilted his head. “Isn’t that part of it, Wendy?”

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