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Thread of Suspicion
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:38

Текст книги "Thread of Suspicion"


Автор книги: Jeff Shelby






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Текущая страница: 9 (всего у книги 13 страниц)

THIRTY-SIX

Peter Codaselli crossed his legs at the knees and folded his bony hands together. “My son is alright?”

I’d left Isabel in search of coffee and after I’d found some, I drove over to Codaselli’s building. I was taken to his office immediately and we were in the same seats as before, Anchor at his spot at the conference table.

“He’s a little roughed up, but he’ll be okay.”

“Roughed up?”

“He was trying to protect the girl,” I explained. “He was outnumbered and they went to work on him. But he’ll be fine.”

Codaselli nodded, coughing. He held a fist to his mouth until the spasms subsided. “But he’s not with you.”

“No. He’s not.”

“May I ask why?”

“He’s an adult,” I said. “I can’t force him to go anywhere. If I put him in a car and brought him here, he’d be within his rights to call the authorities.”

Codaselli turned his head, his eyes toward the window. “Right.”

“I encouraged him to come see you.”

“And?”

“And I don’t know what he’ll do.”

He blinked several times. “Did you tell him about…my condition?”

“No. That’s not my place.”

“Will you tell me where he is?”

“He’s safe,” I said. “He’s probably asleep at the moment. Needs a shower and some more rest. But he’s safe.”

A thin smile spread across his face. “So, you won’t tell me.”

“I don’t think it’s the best idea.”

“And you know what’s best? For myself and my son?”

Anchor shifted in his chair, his elbow now perched on the tabletop.

“No, I don’t,” I said. “But I can tell you that I think if you give him some space, he’ll come. I think if you rush him, you’ll make it worse.”

He turned his eyes back to me. “Interesting. And would you do the same if you knew where your daughter was right this second?”

“Different set of circumstances.”

He shrugged his bony shoulders. “Perhaps. Unless I were to die this afternoon and he was still making up his mind. Then it would be slightly tragic, I think.”

He had a point. But I truly thought that having Anchor go pick him up would be a mistake. It would create hostility, more fighting, and he might not get the opportunity to tell his son anything.

“I think you should trust your son,” I said.

“Trust him?”

“To make the right decision,” I said. “He seems bright to me. I explained to him that the deal you two struck was no longer binding. That his debt was paid off. That having him come see you was not about those things. I think if you trust him, he’ll do the right thing.”

He stared at the window again. Anchor was taking a look at his phone, thumbing away at the screen. I sat and waited.

“I won’t wait long,” Codaselli finally said. “I’ll give him a day. Maybe two.”

“And then?”

“And then I’ll come find you if I need to,” he said. “Or, I’ll find those two young men who now work for me. I think they might be a better choice. Perhaps easier to convince than you.”

“Maybe.”

“Nonetheless, I’m grateful that you found him,” he said. “Thank you.”

“Wasn’t just me,” I responded. “But you’re welcome. I’m glad he’s alright.” I paused. “But I have a question.”

He raised an eyebrow, waiting.

“You told Stevie to tell me he had knowledge of my daughter,” I said. “So I’d help.”

Codaselli tilted his head in Anchor’s direction. “John?”

“Yes, sir,” Anchor said. “I did suggest that he use any tactic necessary to engage Mr. Tyler’s services and that was one I thought might work.”

Codaselli looked at me, as if that explained it all.

“Do you?” I asked. “Know anything about her?”

Codaselli again deferred to Anchor.

“I don’t,” he said, shaking his head. “And given that you were able to find Mr. Codaselli’s son, if I had any information, I would share it with you immediately.”

It was my turn to stare out the window. When Stevie told me that he was lying, I’d been angry. But I’d also managed to create in my head the idea that maybe Codaselli and Anchor had learned something that I hadn’t been able to find out about Elizabeth. That, maybe they did have a piece of information that would help.

Another if that had turned into nothing.

I stood. “Okay.”

Codaselli pushed himself out of his chair and Anchor rose at the conference table behind him.

Codaselli studied me for a moment. “You really believe that if I wait, he’ll come?”

I hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. I do.”

He stuck his hands on his hips. “I don’t trust many people, Mr. Tyler. But I’m inclined to trust you. I’m irritated that you didn’t bring my son to me, but I also appreciate that you’re looking out for him. That you really believe this is in his best interest.” He paused. “It may not make me happy right at this moment, but I respect that.” He held out his hand. “Thank you.”

We shook hands.

“John will see you out,” he said, sinking back down to his chair and fixing his eyes again on the window.

Anchor nodded at me and we exited the office.

We reached the office lobby.

“Do you mind if I walk out with you?” Anchor asked.

I shook my head and we stepped into the elevator together. He pressed the button for the main floor.

“He doesn’t have many days left,” he said, staring up at the panel of numbers. “He’s in a great deal of pain. He’s trying to ignore it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Anchor nodded. “Me, too. In his own way, he’s a good man.”

I didn’t think I was in any position to judge who was good and who was not. That line had been blurred for me for a long time. Just because Peter Codaselli was one thing didn’t mean he couldn’t be another.

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. We stepped out into the main area of the building.

“Mr. Codaselli has asked me to tell you that he appreciates your help,” Anchor said. “If you are ever in need in a way that we might be able to repay the favor, please don’t hesitate to contact me.” He handed me a plain white business card with a phone number on it. “And please understand. This offer will stand even in the unfortunate event that Mr. Codaselli passes away. Call me. If I’m able to help, I will.”

I stuck the card in my pocket. “Thank you.”

He adjusted his glasses and held out his hand. “Thank you.”

We shook and then his face took on an odd expression, something I couldn’t read.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he said, then nodded at the doors behind me.

I turned to look.

Marc and Jessica were on the other side of the glass doors. She had him by the arm and they were making their way up the walk. The swelling had subsided around Marc’s eyes and I could see that his eyes were brown, like his father’s.

They stood on the other side of the door, unsure as to what to do. They exchanged a few words and then Jessica held the door open for him. They stepped into the foyer, stomping their feet to shake the snow loose.

“Guess you were persuasive,” Anchor said.

Jessica and Marc saw us, hesitated, then came toward us.

“Isabel said we might see you,” Marc said. He looked at Anchor. “Hey, John.”

“It’s good to see you,” John said, smiling. He held out his hand to Jessica. “I’m John.”

Jessica took his hand. “Hi.”

Marc turned to me. “We borrowed Isabel’s car.”

“Good,” I said.

“Is he upstairs? My dad?”

Both Anchor and I nodded.

He looked anxiously at Jessica. She just smiled and nodded at him.

Marc looked at Anchor. “Is it okay if we go up?”

“Of course,” Anchor said.

Marc squinted at me through his swollen eyelids. “I thought about what you said. That’s why I’m here.”

I nodded.

“Thanks,” he said. “Really.”

I nodded again.

He and Jessica moved toward the elevator. Anchor lingered for a moment, then turned to me, adjusting the glasses again.

“Anytime, anything,” he said. “You call me if you need something.”

He followed Marc and Jessica to the elevator, stepped in behind them and the three of them disappeared behind the closing doors.

I didn’t know what was waiting for them upstairs, but I guessed that Codaselli would be surprised. And pleased. I hoped Marc would be glad that he’d made the decision to come. And I hoped they’d have some time together.

My phone buzzed as soon as I stepped outside. The number on the screen was unfamiliar.

I pushed the button. “This is Joe.”

“Joe, it’s Tim Barron. You free to stop by this morning?”

“I’m on my way,” I said.

THIRTY-SEVEN

 

 

Tim Barron smiled across his desk. “You look beat.”

It had taken me almost an hour to get from Codaselli’s office to his. The roads were plowed but the roads were slick. Spun-out vehicles peppered the ditches and other cars proceeded cautiously, heeding the warning. I found myself tapping the steering wheel with my fingers and not sharing their patience as I made my way across town.

“I’m a little tired,” I said. “Late night.”

“Hope there was a good reason.”

I gave a non-committal shrug.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ve got a few things that I think may help. Again, I’m sorry for the wait, but I hope you understand.”

“I do and I appreciate you doing it.”

“All I ask is that if you do find something here that helps, that it stays between us,” he said, staring across the desk at me. “I’m violating a boatload of things here—and don’t get me wrong, this seems worth it—but I also like my job. The vaguer you can be about where you got the info, the better.”

“Understood.”

He laid his hands down on the desk. “Great. Okay. The exact class rosters weren’t available. I kinda figured they wouldn’t be. I thought we might be able to take a look specifically at the Detwiler girl’s classes and see who she was in a room with but our system doesn’t have those. I don’t think we have them anywhere at this point.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“But what I was able to pull up was the entire grade enrollment,” he said. “Doesn’t separate it by class, but gives us a complete list of names for everyone in the grade level.”

He slid a manila folder to me across the desk. “I ran the list for each year Detwiler was enrolled. I know you said fourth or fifth grade, but this shows the rosters from kindergarten to fifth.”

I opened the folder and pulled out the printouts. Columns of names looked back at me from the paper.

He stood. “Look those over for whatever you’re looking for. I gotta run down the hall for a minute.”

He left and I wasn’t sure if he was really going to look for something else or if he was just giving me a few minutes to look at the lists alone.

I started with Bailey Detwiler’s third grade year. I thought about the photo Mike had given me. There was no way Elizabeth would’ve been enrolled in a lower grade, given her age when she’d disappeared. I saw two students listed with the last name Tyler, but both were boys. I grabbed a pen from Tim’s desk and quickly crossed off every name that I identified as belonging to a boy. I took a highlighter from the same cup of writing utensils and highlighted Bailey’s name on each sheet. It left me with about sixty names in each grade.

I took a deep breath. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but for once, I felt like maybe there was something truly tangible in my hands. The paper felt like hope.

There were four Elizabeths in the third fourth grade, so I highlighted those. The fourth grade listed the same four. On the fifth grade list, there was one new one.

Elizabeth Sansero.

I circled that name and stared at it for a long moment.

Then I shook my head, irritated with myself. I didn’t see any possible way that my daughter had been abducted and been allowed to use her real first name. It was a foolish, wistful thought. The only reason it made sense was because I wanted it to.

I pushed the list away. It had random names that wouldn’t mean anything to me. It might as well have been written in a foreign language. The hopelessness and frustration washed over me like a bucket of water dumped over my head. I’d gone from optimistic to pessimistic in about half a second. My entire trek to Minnesota seemed like an utter waste of time at that moment.

“Anything?” Tim asked, walking back in, a small stack of books in his hands.

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” I said. “I think I may be wasting your time.”

“Well, I wondered how names might help, given that I’m assuming your daughter’s name was changed,” he said, sitting back down in his chair and setting the books in a neat stack on the desk. “But you’re the expert so I figured you knew something I didn’t.”

“I don’t,” I admitted. “Grasping at non-existent straws.”

“Maybe these will help then,” he said, pushing the stack on the desk toward me. “Yearbooks. I picked them up yesterday from the district office. Left them in my car this morning because I had my hands full of other stuff.”

I hesitated, then reached for them. There were three of them, all hard-covered with the name of the school, the school year and a small emblem with the school’s name on it.

“I wasn’t sure if we had them or not,” Tim explained. “We don’t do them at every school because of the cost. But the parents at Hawkins formed a club and covered the expense.” He motioned at the books in my hands. “Same years as the years I printed out.”

And on a dime, the pessimism morphed back to optimism.

I paged quickly through the first one, the year that Elizabeth would’ve been in third grade. I scanned the small black and white photos of the kids. I stopped at Bailey Detwiler’s photo. Her face was slightly younger, slightly chubbier than the photo in my pocket, but I had no doubt she was the girl in the photo next to Elizabeth.

I scanned the faces again, but didn’t see Elizabeth’s.

I handed that one back to Tim. “Not this one.”

He nodded and took the book. I appreciated that he wasn’t chattering just to make noise and was just letting me look.

I opened the fourth grade book and found Bailey Detwiler again. Her face had thinned from the photo a year earlier and more closely resembled the photo in my pocket. I started at the beginning of the class, taking a moment to stare at each girl’s face. I didn’t want to rush and I didn’t want to miss my daughter if she was there.

After ten minutes, I handed the yearbook back to Tim.

“No luck?”

I shook my head.

I opened the last one and paged to the fifth grade section. I found Bailey Detwiler again. Big smile on her face. Her hair in braids. Definitely the girl in the photo with Elizabeth.

I started back at the beginning of the class. Kids with braces, some sulking, some seemingly caught in mid-smile or looking just off to the side. Fifth grade kids who hadn’t reached those awkward, sullen middle-school years. They were still excited for picture day and smiled wildly for the camera.

And on the fourth page, third row down, fifth kid in, I found my daughter.

I inhaled sharply, needle-like shock coursing through me. I forced my eyes to focus on the image in front of me.

Her hair was pulled back away from her face and she was missing a bottom tooth, just near the left corner of her mouth. Her smile seemed forced, like someone had told her to smile. She was wearing a dark-colored t-shirt in the black and white photo.

And she was identified as Ellie Corzine.

But there was no doubt.

Ellie Corzine was Elizabeth Tyler.

My daughter.

THIRTY-EIGHT

I traced the photo with my shaking finger. “This is her,” I said slowly. “This is Elizabeth.”

Tim arched an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

My heart rate went into overdrive, even as I tried to calm myself and remind myself it was just a picture. I didn’t have her back.

Yet.

I nodded. “Ellie Corzine. That’s not her name. Her name’s Elizabeth Tyler. But this is her.”

He leaned forward across the desk and turned the yearbook so he could see. “No doubt?”

“I know my own daughter.”

My voice must have had an edge to it because Tim sat back in his chair and had his hands up, cautioning me to take it easy. “Okay, I gotcha. But if I’m gonna open up someone’s file and share info, it could get me fired. So I want to make sure the one I open is the one that will help you.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Right. Yeah. I’m sure this is her. No doubt.”

Tim nodded and swung toward his computer, his fingers tapping at the keyboard. “Only way I can direct access student and family files is on this computer. Would be pointless for me to try from anywhere else. But looking up families and addresses is pretty routine. Shouldn’t raise any flags.”

I kept my finger on Elizabeth’s photo. I kept tracing the outline. I wondered what she knew. I wondered if she was sad. Or worse for me, happy. I wanted to pull her out of the photo and take her home to Lauren.

And it gave me hope, taking me back to Rodney’s belief about her. Yes, the picture was old. I understood that. But it also meant that she wasn’t one of the unfortunate victims killed immediately by an abductor. Whoever had taken her didn’t kill her. She’d been alive for at least two years after I’d last seen her.

That was as much hope as I’d been given since the day she’d disappeared.

“Corzine, Ellie,” Tim said, staring at the screen. “Was enrolled that year. Listed as a move-in to the district. Says she was homeschooled prior to that. No siblings. Parents listed as Valerie and Alex Corzine. Address in district boundary.”  He squinted at the screen. “Completed at Hawkins, moved onto Barrington Middle School and completed there.”  He paused, turned to me. “Currently a junior at Brookdale High School.”

My breath caught. I couldn’t swallow. My stomach churned.

Currently a junior at Brookdale High School.

Alive.

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I couldn’t organize the thoughts racing through my head. I felt paralyzed.

Tim grabbed a piece of paper and wrote quickly on it. “I’m giving you the home address and the school address, but I’ll tell you right now—no way you’ll get on campus and I can’t do anything to get you on.”

“Why not?” I asked, my voice sounding foreign to me.

“Two reasons. One, our campuses are as secure as any school campus out there,” he said. “No one just walks in and starts exploring, not even parents. Doors are locked and IDs are run through a system before you can go anywhere. If you don’t have a reason to be there, you’re going to be sent packing.”

“I’ve got a reason to be there.”

“I get that. But to the office and school personnel? No, you don’t.”

I shifted in the seat. “What’s the other reason?”

“I gave you the info,” he said, frowning. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to help. I trust Isabel, like I told you. But giving out information on a student in our district? You go in there and say you just came from my office, I’m done and there are gonna be all sorts of hurdles for you to get to your daughter.”

My fingers tingled and my heart hammered inside my chest. I tried to organize everything racing through my head.

The printer buzzed behind him and he pulled a sheet of paper off the tray, examined it, then handed it to me. “There’s her info sheet. There’s a home address and phone number on there as well. You want my advice?”

I didn’t, but Tim had helped me more than anyone had over the last eight years. “Okay.”

“Call the police and go to the home,” he said, his hands folded on his desk. “I’m sure the temptation is to go bull-rush the school and find her. I don’t blame you. But making a scene at the school is not what you want.”

I nodded slowly, staring at the paper he handed me. An address and a phone number. Where Elizabeth lived.

“I’ve seen custody disputes before at schools,” Tim explained. “I know it’s not the same thing, but a parent shows up, wanting to see their kid and for whatever reason, they aren’t allowed because of a custodial agreement or whatever.” He waved a hand in the air. “The cops get called, the school will lock down, the child will be embarrassed and it all goes to shit.” He paused. “Like I said. I know that isn’t your situation, but hopefully, you can see what I’m saying.”

I did. He wasn’t just covering his ass. He was making sense.

“Call the police or whatever authorities are involved in your daughter’s search,” he said. “That’s the best course of action.”

I stood. “Thank you. I won’t get you in trouble.”

Tim stood as well. “I’d appreciate that. If you can’t, you can’t and I’ll deal.” He shook his head. “Can’t imagine what you’ve gone through and I hope it works out.”

I extended my hand. “I’ll let Isabel know you were able to help.”

He nodded and we shook hands.

“And I won’t get you in trouble,” I said again. “It’s the least I can do for what you’ve given me.”

He shrugged, set his hands on his hips. “Don’t worry about me. Just go find your daughter.”


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