The Last Thing He Told Me (19 page)

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
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“And where does Owen come in?”

“Owen helped Nicholas set up an encryption system that Nicholas ultimately used to send these messages, to record these messages when they needed to be recorded,” he says. “After Kate was killed, Owen hacked into the system and turned everything over to us. All the emails, all the correspondence… Nicholas served more than six years in prison for conspiracy to commit. Which we were able to prove directly from those files. You don't betray Nicholas Bell like that and come back from it.”

This is when it hits me—the piece that has been gnawing at me, the piece that Grady hasn't been addressing.

“So why didn't he come to you then?” I say.

“Excuse me?”

“Why didn't Owen come straight to you?” I say. “If the only way this ends well, if the only way to truly keep Bailey safe now is for her to be in witness protection, for Owen to be in witness protection, then when everything in The Shop blew up, why didn't Owen reach out to you? Why didn't he show up at your door and ask you to move us?”

“You'll have to ask Owen that.”

“I'm asking you,” I say. “What happened with the leak last time, Grady? Did you guys nip it in the bud or was Bailey's life compromised?”

“What does that have to do with what's happening now?”

“Everything. If what happened made my husband think you can't keep Bailey safe now, it has everything to do with what's happening now,” I say.

“The bottom line is that WITSEC is the best option that Owen and Bailey have for staying safe,” he says. “Period.”

He says this without apology, but I can see that my question got to him. Because he can't deny it. If Owen were really certain that Grady could keep Bailey safe, that he could keep all of us safe, he would be here with us now. As opposed to wherever he is.

“Look, let's not get sidetracked here,” he says. “What you need to do now is help me figure out why Bailey left the hotel room.”

“I don't know why,” I say.

“Wager a guess,” he says.

“I think she didn't want to leave Austin,” I say.

I don't add the details. She probably didn't want to go yet, not when she was so close to finding answers of her own—answers to questions about her past, answers Owen left me ill-equipped to even begin to deal with. It calms me somewhat to believe this is the reason,
to believe she is alone somewhere but safe, searching for answers she doesn't trust anyone else to find for her. I should recognize that trait in someone. I have it myself.

“Why do you think she wants to stay in Austin?” he says.

At the moment I tell him the only piece of truth I know. “Sometimes you can sense it,” I say.

“Sense what?” he says.

“When it's all up to you.”

Grady gets called into a meeting and a different U.S. marshal, Sylvia Hernandez, leads me down the hall and into a conference room, where she says I can make a phone call—as though the call isn't being taped or traced or whatever else they do here to make sure they know everything you do. Before you even do it.

Sylvia sits outside the door and I pick up the phone. I call my best friend.

“I've been trying to reach you for hours,” Jules says when she picks up. “Are you guys okay?”

I sit down at the long conference room table, holding my head in my hand, trying not to fall apart. Even though it feels like the moment to fall apart, when I am safe to—Jules there to catch me.

“Where are you?” she says. “I just got a crazy call from Jake, screaming about how your husband is putting you in danger. Can't say I miss that guy.”

“Yeah, well, Jake is Jake,” I say. “He's just trying to help. In his incredibly unhelpful way.”

“What's going on with Owen? He didn't turn himself in, did he?” she says.

“Not exactly.”

“What exactly?” she said. But she says it softly. Which is also her way of saying I don't need to explain right now.

“Bailey is missing,” I say.

“What?” she says.

“She took off. She left the hotel room. And we can't find her.”

“She's sixteen.”

“I know that, Jules. Why do you think I'm so scared?”

“No, I'm saying, she's
Sometimes disappearing for a bit is what you need to do. I'm sure she's fine.”

“It's not as simple as that,” I say. “Have you heard the name Nicholas Bell?”

“Should I have?”

“He's Owen's former father-in-law.”

She is silent, something coming to her. “Wait, you don't mean Nicholas Bell… like,
Nicholas Bell? The lawyer?”

“Yes, that's him. What do you know about him?”

“Not a lot. I mean… I remember reading in the papers when he was released from prison a couple of years ago. I think he was in there for assault or murder or something. He was Owen's father-in-law?” she says. “I don't believe it.”

“Jules, Owen's in big trouble. And I don't think there's anything I can do to stop it.”

She is quiet, thoughtful. I can feel her trying to add up some of the pieces that I'm not helping her see.

“We'll stop it,” she says. “I promise you. First we'll get you and Bailey home. Then we can figure out how.”

My heart clutches in my chest. This is what she has always done—what we have done for each other. And this is why I can't breathe suddenly. Bailey is wandering the streets of this strange city. And
even when we find her—and I have to believe they'll find her soon—Grady just informed me that I'm not going home. Not ever.

“Did I lose you?” she says.

“Not yet,” I say. “Where did you say you were?”

“I'm home,” she says. “And I got it open.”

The way she says it is loaded. And I realize she is talking about the safe, the small safe inside the piggy bank.

“You did?”

“Yep,” she says. “Max found a safecracker who lives in downtown San Francisco, and we opened it about an hour ago. His name is Marty and he is about ninety-seven years old. It's insane what this guy can do with a safe. He listened to the machine for five minutes and opened it that way. Stupid little piggy bank, made of steel.”

“What's inside?”

She pauses. “A will. The final will, for Owen Michaels né Ethan Young. Do you want me to tell you what it says?”

I think about who else is listening. If Jules starts to read, I think of who else will be listening to Owen's will—not the will I pulled up on his laptop computer, but the will that the other will alluded to, as if in a secret message to me.

Owen's real will, his more complete will. Ethan's will.

“Jules, there are probably people listening to this call, so I think we should stick to a few things, okay?”

“Of course.”

“What does it say about Bailey's guardians?”

“That you're her primary guardian,” she says. “In case of Owen's death, but also in case of his inability to care for her himself.”

Owen prepared for this. Maybe not exactly this, but something like this. He prepared for it in a way that Bailey would get to be with me—that he wanted Bailey with me. At what point did he trust me
enough to do that? At what point did he decide that being with me was what was best for her? It breaks something wide open in me to know that he got there, that he thought I could do it. Except now she is missing, somewhere in this city. And I allowed that to happen too.

“Does he mention any other names?” I say.

“Yes. There are different rules based on whether you can't care for her or based on Bailey's age,” she says.

As she reads, I listen to her carefully, taking notes, writing down the names I recognize. But really, I'm listening for just one name—one person who I am trying to figure out whether to trust, whether Owen trusts, despite any and all evidence that he shouldn't. When I hear it, when she says Charlie Smith, I stop writing. I tell her I need to go.

“Be careful,” she says.

This instead of goodbye, instead of her usual “I love you.” Considering the circumstances, considering what I need to figure out how to do now, it's the same thing.

I stand up and look out the conference room windows. It has started raining, Austin nightlife active below, despite it. People walk the streets with umbrellas, heading to dinner and shows, debating about a nightcap or a late movie. Or deciding they've had enough, that the rain is getting harder, and they want to go home. Those are the lucky ones.

I turn toward the glass door. U.S. Marshal Sylvia sits on the other side. She is looking at her phone, either disinterested in me or busy with something more important than her babysitting assignment. Perhaps she is busy with the one thing I know about too well. Finding Owen. Finding Bailey.

I'm about to walk into the hall and demand a status update, when I see Grady walking down the hall.

He knocks on the door as he opens it, and smiles at me—a softer Grady, who seems to have thawed somewhat.

“They have her,” he says. “They have Bailey. She's safe.”

I let out a breath, tears filling my eyes. “Oh, thank goodness. Where is she?”

“Up at campus, they're bringing her back here,” he says. “Can we talk for a minute before they do? I just think it's really important that we are on the same page with her about what the plan is going to be.”

What the plan is going to be. He means the plan to move her, to move us. He means that he wants me to help hold it all steady when he tells her that life as she knows it is over.

“And we need to talk about something else,” he says. “I didn't want to get into it before, but I haven't been completely transparent with you…”

“I wouldn't have guessed.”

“We received a package yesterday with a zip drive of Owen's work emails. I had to verify they were real, and they are. He kept meticulous records of the pressure Avett was applying to push through the IPO, despite Owen's objections. And all the work he did after to try and make it okay…”

“It wasn't just a specific guess then?” I say. “About Owen's culpability in all this?”

“No, I guess not,” he says.

“So it's really my husband who tamped it down?” I say.

My voice rises. I try to check it, but I can't. Because Owen is doing everything to protect us, even from wherever he is now. And I just don't trust that Grady knows how to do the same.

“He has certainly helped,” he says. “WITSEC can be challenging about who they're willing to help out, and these files plus his history
underscore why he didn't blow the whistle until now. Why he felt he had no choice but to stay on board.”

I take this in, feeling a weird mix of relief and something else. At first I think it's irritation at Grady for withholding this, withholding that he'd heard from Owen, but then I realize it's something more sinister. Because it's starting to crystallize for me—what else Grady's been withholding from me.

“And why are you sharing this information with me now?” I say.

“Because we need to be a united front when Bailey gets here,” he says. “About WITSEC, about the best way for you guys to move forward. And I know it doesn't feel like it, but you won't be starting over, not completely.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that money Owen left for Bailey? It's legitimate earnings. It's money Owen kept clean,” he says. “You'll be entering WITSEC with a nice nest egg. Most people in our program don't have anything close.”

“Sounds to me, Grady, that you're saying if we decline, the money goes away…”

“If you decline, all of it goes away,” he says. “Being a family again, safely, goes away.”

I nod, knowing that's what Grady's trying to convince me of—that I should be on board with Bailey and me entering protection. That I
to be on board because everything is set up for Owen to join us in this new life. Everything is set up for our family to be reunited. New names, but reunited. Together.

Except this is what I can't let go of despite Grady's insistence, what I know Owen doesn't want me to let go of. My doubt. My doubt when I think about the leak at WITSEC and when I think about Nicholas Bell. My doubt when I think about Owen's hasty exit and
what I know about him, which would explain it. The only thing that would explain it. Everything I know about Owen is convincing me of something else.

Grady is still talking. “We just need Bailey to understand that this is the best way to keep her as safe as possible,” he says.

As safe as possible. That stops me. Because he doesn't just say safe. Because there is no safe. Not anymore.

Bailey isn't wandering the streets, but she is on her way to this office and to a world in which to be
as safe as possible,
Grady is going to tell her she is going to have to become someone else. Bailey, no longer Bailey.

Unless, of course, I manage to stop it. All of it.

Which is when I brace myself against it. What I need to do now.

“Look, we can get into all of this,” I say. “The best way to handle Bailey. But I just need to go to the restroom first… splash some water on my face. I haven't slept in twenty-four hours.”

He nods. “No problem.”

He holds the door open and I start to head out of the conference room, pausing in the doorway, pausing when I'm right next to him. I know this is the most important part, making him believe me.

“I'm so relieved she's safe,” I say.

“Me too,” he says. “And look, this isn't easy, I get that. But this is the best thing to do, and you'll see, Bailey will get comfortable with it sooner than you think, and it won't all seem so scary. You'll get to be together and we'll get to bring Owen to you as soon as he reemerges. I'm sure that's what Owen's waiting for now, to make sure you're safe, first, make sure you're all set up…”

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
2.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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