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Home > Caught(2)

Caught(2)
Author: Harlan Coben

I should go right now.

In fact, I will. But then I flashed back to Chynna’s call, to the words she’d said, the trembling in her voice. I sighed, leaned my face toward the opening, peered into the foyer.

Darkness.

Enough with the cloak and dagger.

“Chynna?”

My voice echoed. I expected silence. That would be the next step, right? No reply. I slipped the door open a little, took a tentative step forward. . . .

“Dan? I’m in the back. Come in.”

The voice was muffled, distant. Again I didn’t like this, but there was no way I was backing out now. Backing out had cost me too much throughout my life. My hesitation was gone. I knew what had to be done now.

I opened the door, stepped inside, and closed the door behind me.

Others in my position would have brought a gun or some kind of weapon. I had thought about it. But that just doesn’t work for me. No time to worry about that now. No one was home. Chynna had told me that. And if they were, well, I would handle that when the moment came.

“Chynna?”

“Go to the den, I’ll be there in a second.”

The voice sounded . . . off. I saw a light at the end of the hall and moved toward it. There was a noise now. I stopped and listened. Sounded like water running. A shower maybe.

“Chynna?”

“Just changing. Out in a second.”

I moved into the low-lit den. I saw one of those dimmer-switch knobs and debated turning it up, but in the end I chose to leave it alone. My eyes adjusted pretty quickly. The room had cheesy wood paneling that looked as if it were made from something far closer to vinyl than anything in the timber family. There were two portraits of sad clowns with huge flowers on their lapels, the kind of painting you might pick up at a particularly tacky motel’s garage sale. There was a giant open bottle of no-name vodka on the bar.

I thought I heard somebody whisper.

“Chynna?” I called out.

No answer. I stood, listened for more whispering. Nothing.

I started toward the back, toward where I heard the shower running.

“I’ll be right out,” I heard the voice say. I pulled up, felt a chill. Because now I was closer to the voice. I could hear it better. And here was the thing I found particularly strange about it:

It didn’t sound at all like Chynna.

Three things tugged at me. One, panic. This wasn’t Chynna. Get out of the house. Two, curiosity. If it wasn’t Chynna, who the hell was it and what was going on? Three, panic again. It had been Chynna on the phone—so what had happened to her?

I couldn’t just run out now.

I took one step toward where I’d come in, and that was when it all happened. A spotlight snapped on in my face, blinding me. I stumbled back, hand coming up to my face.

“Dan Mercer?”

I blinked. Female voice. Professional. Deep tone. Sounded oddly familiar.

“Who’s there?”

Suddenly there were other people in the room. A man with a camera. Another with what looked like a boom mike. And the female with the familiar voice, a stunning woman with chestnut brown hair and a business suit.

“Wendy Tynes, NTC News. Why are you here, Dan?”

I opened my mouth, nothing came out. I recognized the woman from that TV newsmagazine . . .

“Why have you been conversing online in a sexual manner with a thirteen-year-old girl, Dan? We have your communications with her.”

. . . the one that sets up and catches pedophiles on camera for all the world to see.

“Are you here to have sex with a thirteen-year-old girl?”

The truth of what was going on there hit me, freezing my bones. Other people flooded the room. Producers maybe. Another cameraman. Two cops. The cameras came in closer. The lights got brighter. Beads of sweat popped up on my brow. I started to stammer, started to deny.

But it was over.

Two days later, the show aired. The world saw.

And the life of Dan Mercer, just as I somehow knew it would be when I approached that door, was destroyed.

WHEN MARCIA MCWAID FIRST SAW HER daughter’s empty bed, panic did not set in. That would come later.

She had woken up at six AM, early for Saturday morning, feeling pretty terrific. Ted, her husband of twenty years, slept in the bed next to her. He lay on his stomach, his arm around her waist. Ted liked to sleep with a shirt on and no pants. None. Nude from the waist down. “Gives my man down there room to roam,” he would say with a smirk. And Marcia, imitating her daughters’ teenage singsong tone, would say, “T-M-I”—Too Much Information.

Marcia slipped out of his grip and padded down to the kitchen. She made herself a cup of coffee with the new Keurig pod machine. Ted loved gadgets—boys and their toys—but this one actually got some use. You take the pod, you stick it in the machine—presto, coffee. No video screens, no touch pad, no wireless connectivity. Marcia loved it.

They’d recently finished an addition on the house—one extra bedroom, one bathroom, the kitchen knocked out a bit with a glassed-in nook. The kitchen nook offered oodles of morning sun and had thus become Marcia’s favorite spot in the house. She took her coffee and the newspaper and set herself on the window seat, folding her feet beneath her.

A small slice of heaven.

She let herself read the paper and sip her coffee. In a few minutes she would have to check the schedule. Ryan, her third grader, had the early Hoops Basketball game at eight AM. Ted coached. His team was winless for the second straight season.

“Why do your teams never win?” Marcia had asked him.

“I draft the kids based on two criteria.”

“That being?”

“How nice the father—and how hot the mom.”

She had slapped at him playfully, and maybe Marcia would have been somewhat concerned if she hadn’t seen the moms on the sideline and knew, for certain, that he had to be joking. Ted was actually a great coach, not in terms of strategy but in terms of handling the boys. They all loved him and his lack of competitiveness so that even the untalented players, the ones who were usually discouraged and quit during the season, showed up every week. Ted even took the Bon Jovi song and turned it around: “You give losing a good name.” The kids would laugh and cheer every basket, and when you’re in third grade that’s how it should be.

Marcia’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Patricia, had rehearsal for the freshman play, an abridged version of the musical Les Misérables . She had several small parts, but that didn’t seem to affect the workload. And her oldest child, Haley, the high school senior, was running a “captain’s practice” for the girls’ lacrosse team. Captain’s practices were unofficial, a way to sneak in early practices under the guidelines issued by high school sports. In short, no coaches, nothing official, just a casual gathering, a glorified pickup game if you will, run by the captains.

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