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Home > Caught(14)

Caught(14)
Author: Harlan Coben

Nice thought, but there you are.

Wendy checked her e-mail. True to his word, Dan Mercer had sent her the meeting place for two PM: an address in Wykertown, New Jersey. Never heard of it. She got directions from Google. It would take an hour. Fine. She had almost four.

She showered and got dressed. The letter. That damn letter. She ran downstairs, dug through the garbage, and found the plain white envelope. Her eyes studied the penmanship, as though that might offer up some clue. It didn’t. A knife from the kitchen block worked just fine as a letter opener. Wendy pulled out two sheets of lined notebook paper, plain white, the same kind she’d used in school as a kid.

Still standing, Wendy read Ariana Nasbro’s letter right there—every damn horrible word—at the kitchen sink. There were no surprises, no real insight, nothing but the all-about-me crap we are spoon-fed from day one. Every cliché, every namby-pamby sentiment, every hackneyed excuse . . . they were all present and accounted for. Each word felt like a blade ripping into her flesh. Ariana Nasbro talked about the “seeds of my own self-image,” about “making amends,” about “searching for meaning” and “hitting rock bottom.” Pathetic. She even had the nerve to talk about “the abuse in my life and how I’ve learned to forgive” and “the wonders of that—forgiveness” and how she wanted to grant that “wonder to others like you and Charlie.”

Seeing this woman write her son’s name filled Wendy with rage like nothing else ever could.

“I will always be an alcoholic,” Ariana Nasbro said toward the end of her diatribe. Another I. I will, I am, I want. The letter was full of them.

I, I, I.

I know now that I am an imperfect being worthy of forgiveness.

Wendy wanted to puke.

And then the last line of the letter.

This is my third letter to you. Please let me hear from you, so that the healing may begin. May God bless you.

Oh, man, Wendy thought, you’ll hear from me. Right friggin’ now.

She grabbed her keys and stormed to her car. Wendy plugged the return address into her GPS and headed toward the halfway house where Ariana Nasbro currently resided.

The halfway house was in New Brunswick, normally an hour away but with her foot pushing the pedal, Wendy made it in less than forty-five minutes. She threw the car into park and stormed through the front door. She told the woman at the desk her name and said she would like to see Ariana Nasbro. The woman at the desk asked her to take a seat. Wendy said that she would stand, thanks anyway.

A few moments later, Ariana Nasbro appeared. Wendy had not seen her in seven years, since the trial for vehicular manslaughter. Ariana had looked scared then, pitiful, her shoulders hunched, her hair a wild mousy brown, her eyes blinking as though she expected to be smacked unawares.

This woman, the postprison Ariana Nasbro, was different. Her hair was short and white. She stood straight and still and met Wendy’s eye. She stuck out her hand and said, “Thank you for coming, Wendy.”

Wendy ignored the outstretched hand. “I didn’t come for you.”

Ariana tried a smile. “Would you like to take a walk?”

“No, Ariana, I don’t want to take a walk. In your letters—the first two I ignored but I guess you can’t take a hint—you asked me how you could make amends.”

“Yes.”

“So I’m here to tell you: Don’t send me your self-involved AA nonsense. I don’t care. I don’t want to forgive you so you can heal or recover or whatever the hell you call it. I have no interest in your getting better. This isn’t the first time you’ve tried AA, is it?”

“No,” Ariana Nasbro said, her head held high, “it’s not.”

“You tried it twice before you murdered my husband, isn’t that right?”

“That’s correct,” she said in too calm a voice.

“Have you reached Step Eight before?”

“I have. But this time it’s different because—”

Wendy stopped her with a raised hand. “I don’t care. The fact that this time it might be different means nothing to me. I don’t care about you or your recovery or about Step Eight, but if you truly want to make amends, I suggest you walk outside, wait by the curb, and throw yourself under the first passing bus. I know that sounds harsh, but if you had done that the last time you reached Step Eight—if whatever wronged person you sent this same me-me-me crap to had told you to do that instead of forgiving you—maybe, just maybe, you would have listened and you’d be dead and my John would be alive. I would have a husband and Charlie would have a father. That’s what matters. Not you. Not your six-months-sober party at AA. Not your spiritual journey to sobriety. So if you truly want to make amends, Ariana, stop putting yourself first for once. Are you cured—totally cured, absolutely one hundred percent positive you’ll never drink again?”

“You’re never cured,” Ariana said.

“Right, more of that AA nonsense. We really don’t know about tomorrow, do we? So that’s how you should make amends. Stop writing letters, stop talking about yourself in group, stop taking it a day at a time. Instead, do the one thing that will guarantee you’ll never murder another child’s father: Wait for that bus and step right in front of it. Other than that, leave me and my son the hell alone. We will never forgive you. Not ever. And how selfish and monstrous of you to think we should so you, of all people, can heal.”

With that, Wendy turned around, headed back to her car, and started it up.

She was done with Ariana Nasbro. Now it was time to see Dan Mercer.

CHAPTER 6

MARCIA MCWAID SAT ON THE COUCH next to Ted. Across from them was Frank Tremont, an Essex County investigator there to deliver their weekly briefing on the case of her missing daughter. Marcia already knew what he would say.

Frank Tremont wore a suit of chipmunk brown and a threadbare tie that looked like it had spent the past four months crinkled in a tight ball. He was in his sixties, near retirement, and had that seen-it-all, world-weary aura that you find in anyone who has been at the same job too long. When Marcia had first asked around, she’d heard rumors that Frank might be past his prime, might be coasting through his last few months on the job.

But Marcia never saw any of that, and at least Tremont was still here, still visiting them, still in touch. There used to be others with him, federal agents and experts in missing persons and assorted members of law enforcement. Their numbers had dwindled over the last ninety-four days until it was just this lone, aging cop with the horrible suit.

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