cover missing

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Lisa Unger

Title Page

Dedication

Prologue

Part One: Parting

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Part Two: Dead Reckoning

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Part Three: Deliverance

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Author’s Notes

Acknowledgments

Copyright

About the Book

Sometimes the wounds go too deep . . .

In a smart New York apartment, Isabel Raine is having breakfast with her husband. After her tragic childhood she has only ever wanted to be loved. And in Marcus Raine she thought she’d found the man she would be with for ever. When she says goodbye to him that morning, little does she know that within twenty-four hours he’ll have gone missing, and life as she has known it for the past five years will be fractured beyond repair.

But Isabel’s nightmare has only just begun. Desperate to unravel the truth behind the lies, she finds herself thrown into the centre of a violent underworld – one driven by betrayal, corruption, deceit and murder. And it seems no one is safe from those who are determined to make sure that the truth never comes to light . . .

Also by Lisa Unger

Beautiful Lies

Sliver of Truth

Black Out

Die for You

Lisa Unger

 

 

For Elaine Markson . . .

My unflagging supporter, fearless champion,
and wonderful friend.

About the Author

Lisa Unger is the New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Lies, Sliver of Truth, Black Out and Die for You. Her novels have been published in more than twenty-six countries. She lives in Florida with her husband and daughter.

Author’s Notes

This book might not have been written if I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit Prague for five weeks in the summer of 2007. My family and I embarked on a home exchange with a lovely Czech family and spent five weeks wandering the streets of Prague, one of the most magnificent cities I have visited. I was truly inspired by its winding cobblestone rues, its hidden squares, grand buildings, and aura of mystery. If you haven’t been there, go. If you have, go again.

During my visit, I was fortunate enough to meet the acclaimed screenwriter and poet James Ragan. A Czech who returns every summer to teach at St. Charles University, James showed me his city, taking me places I never would have known to go without him, telling me about its evolution since the fall of communism. He and his lovely family embraced us and enriched our experience more than they might have guessed. His wonderful book of poetry The Hunger Wall continued to inspire me and feed my dreams of Prague long after we returned home.

I was also welcomed to Prague by the talented team at my Czech publisher, Euromedia Group. Denisa Novotna, the PR manager, was a smart, funny, and lovely woman who endured my many questions, while arranging a stunning lineup of media interviews. During my stay, I was on television and radio and had multiple newspaper interviews—which caused me to learn how to get around the city by taxi, subway, and on foot. There’s really no better way to get acquainted with a strange place (where you can hardly speak a word of the language!) than to insist that you can get yourself around without help—and then prove it.

Through one my law enforcement connections, I had the opportunity to share a few hours with a CIA agent who has spent many years in the Czech Republic and has an intimate knowledge of Prague since the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism. His anecdotes and information heavily influenced my imaginings. I am not at liberty to reveal his name.

I also relied on The Prague Post online (www.praguepost.com) and the city’s tourist site www.prague.cz, as well as the BBC online (www.bbc.com) for all gaps in knowledge and experience.

All mistakes I have made, liberties I have taken, and geographic alterations committed in the name of narrative flow are my own.

Prologue

A light snow falls, slowly coating the deep-red rooftops of Prague. I look up into a chill gunmetal sky as the gray stones beneath me are already disappearing under a blanket of white. There’s a frigid hush over the square. Shops are closed, chairs perched upside down on café tables. In the distance I hear church bells. A strong wind sighs and moans, picks up some stray papers and dances them past me. The morning would be beautiful in its blustery quiet if I weren’t in so much pain—if I weren’t so cold.

The side of my body that rests against the ground is stiff and numb. With difficulty, sore muscles protesting, I struggle to sit. I use the back of a park bench to pull myself to my feet. With the harsh wind pulling at my cuffs and collar, I wonder, How long have I been lying on the freezing stone, in the middle of this empty square? How did I get here? The last thing I remember clearly is a question I asked of a young girl with tattoos on her face. I remember her eyes—very young, damaged, afraid. I asked her:

“Kde?” Where? She looked at me, startled; I remember her darting eyes, how she shifted from foot to foot, anxious, desperate. “Prosim,” I said. Please. “Kde je Kristof Ragan?” Where is Kristof Ragan?

Distantly, I remember her answer. But it’s buried too deep in my aching head for me to retrieve. Get moving, a voice inside me says. Get help. I have the sense that there’s an imminent threat, but I’m not sure what it is.

Still, I find myself rooted, leaning heavily against the bench, afraid of the tilting I perceive in my world, afraid of how hard that stone will feel if I hit it again. I am wearing jeans. My leather jacket is unbuttoned to reveal the lace of my bra through a tear in my sweater. My chest is raw and red from the cold. My right pant leg is ripped open, exposing a wound that has bled down my shin; I am having trouble putting weight onto this leg. My feet are so cold, they have gone completely numb.

The square is empty. It is just after dawn, the light gauzy and dim. A tall Christmas tree towers, its lights glowing electric blue. Smaller trees, also decorated, are clustered about, glinting and shimmering. The square is lined with wooden stalls erected for the Christmas market, the ornate black lampposts wrapped in glowing lights; wreathes adorn windows and doors. The fountain, dry for winter, is filling with snow. Old Town Square is a fairy tale. I think it must be Christmas Day. Any other day the tourists might already be strolling about, locals heading to work, bachelors stumbling home from a late night of partying. I used to love this place, feel as though I was welcome here, but not today. I am as alone as if the apocalypse has come. I’ve missed the action and been left behind.

I make my way slowly toward the road, holding on to the sides of buildings and benches, careful not to stumble. Tall spires reach into the sky; moaning saints look down upon me. I catch sight of myself in a shop window. My hair is a rat’s nest; even in this state, vanity causes me to run my fingers through it, try to smooth it out a bit. There’s a smear of mascara under each eye. I lick my finger and try to rub it away. My jacket is ripped at the shoulder. There’s a bruise on my jaw. I am angry at the woman I see in this reflection. She’s all ego, sick with her own hubris. I release a sharp breath in disgust with myself, creating a cloud that dissipates quickly into the air.

I move on, unable to bear my own reflection any longer. Up ahead I see a green-and-white police car. It is small and compact, barely a car at all—more like a tube of lipstick. I wish for the blue and white of a Chevy Caprice with screaming sirens and two tough New York City cops. But this will have to do. I pick up my pace as best I can, lift a hand to wave.

“Hello!” I call. “Can you help me?”

A female officer emerges from the driver’s side of the vehicle and moves toward me. As I approach her, I see she wears an unkind smirk. She is small for the bulky black uniform she wears. Her hair is dyed a brash, unflattering red but her skin is milky, her eyes an unearthly blue.

“Do you speak English?” I ask her when we are closer.

“A little,” she says. Uh leetle. She narrows her eyes at me. Snowflakes fall and linger in her hair. A hungover American stumbling through the streets, her expression reads. Oh, she’s seen it a hundred times before. What a mess.

“I need help,” I tell her, lifting my chin at her disapproval. “I need to go to the U.S. Embassy.” She’s looking at me harder now, her expression going from some combination of disdain and amusement to outright suspicion.

“What is your name?” she asks me. I see how she slowly, casually rests her hand on her gun, a nasty-looking black affair that seems too big for her tiny white hand. I hesitate; for some reason I’m suddenly sorry I flagged her down. I don’t want to tell her my name. I want to turn and run from her.

“Please show me your passport,” she says more sternly. Now I see a little glimmer of fear in her blue eyes, and a little excitement, too. I realize I’m backing away from her. She doesn’t like it, moves in closer.

“Stay still,” she says to me sharply, pulling her shoulders back, standing up taller. I obey. There’s more dead air between us as I struggle with what to do next.

“Tell me your name.”

I turn and start to run, stumble really, and make my way slowly, gracelessly away. She starts barking at me in Czech and I don’t need to understand the language to know I’m in deep trouble. Then I feel her hands on me and I’m on the ground again; this small woman is amazingly strong with her knee in my back. She’s knocked the wind out of me and I’m struggling to get air again with her weight on top of me. I can hear my own desperate, rattling attempts to inhale. She’s on her radio, yelling. She’s pulling my hands behind me when I feel her whole body jerk as her weight seems to suddenly shift off of me. I hear her gun drop and clatter on the stones. I scurry away from her and turn around. She has fallen to the ground and is lying on her side, looking at me with those shocking blue eyes, wide now with terror and pain. I find myself moving toward her but I stop when her mouth opens and a river of blood flows onto the snow around her. I see a growing dark stain on her abdomen. She’s trying to staunch the flow with her hand; blood seeps through her thin fingers.

Then I look up and see him. He is a black column against the white surrounding him. He has let the gun drop to his side, is standing still and silent, the wind tossing his hair. I get to my feet, never taking my eyes from him, and start to move away.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask him.

He comes closer, the muted sound of his footfalls bouncing off the buildings around us.

Why?” I scream, voice echoing. But he is impervious, his face expressionless, as though I’ve never meant anything to him. And maybe I haven’t. As I turn to get away from him, I see him lift his gun. Before he opens fire, I run for my life.

1

THE LAST TIME I saw my husband, he had a tiny teardrop of raspberry jam in the blond hairs of his goatee. We’d just shared cappuccinos he’d made in the ridiculously expensive machine I’d bought on a whim three weeks earlier, and croissants he’d picked up on his way in from his five-mile run, the irony lost on him. His lean, hard body was a machine, never gaining weight without his express design. Unlike me. The very aroma of baked goods and my thighs start to expand.

They were warm, the croissants. And as I tried to resist, he sliced them open and slathered them with butter, then jam on top of that, left one eviscerated and gooey, waiting on the white plate. I fought the internal battle and lost, finally reaching for it. It was perfect—flaky, melty, salty, sweet. And then—gone.

“You’re not a very good influence,” I said, licking butter from my fingertips. “It would take over an hour on the elliptical trainer to burn that off. And we both know that’s not going to happen.” He turned his blue eyes on me, all apology.

“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.” Then the smile. Oh, the smile. It demanded a smile in return, no matter how angry, how frustrated, how fed up I was. “But it was so good, wasn’t it? You’ll remember it all day.” Was he talking about the croissant or our predawn lovemaking?

“Yes,” I said as he kissed me, a strong arm snaking around the small of my back pulling me in urgently, an invitation really, not the goodbye that it was. “I will.”

That’s when I saw the bit of jam. I motioned that he should wipe his face. He was dressed for an important meeting. Crucial was the word he used when he told me about it. He peered at his reflection in the glass door of the microwave and wiped the jam away.

“Thanks,” he said, moving toward the door. He picked up his leather laptop case and draped it over his shoulder. It looked heavy; I was afraid he’d wrinkle his suit, a sharp, expensive black wool affair he’d bought recently, but I didn’t say so. Too mothering.

“Thanks for what?” I asked. Already I’d forgotten that I’d spared him from the minor embarrassment of going to an important meeting with food on his face.

“For being the most beautiful thing I’ll see all day.” He was an opportunistic charmer. Had always been that.

I laughed, wrapped my arms around his neck, kissed him again. He knew what to say, knew how to make me feel good. I would think about our lovemaking, that croissant, his smile, that one sentence all day.

“Go get ’em,” I said as I saw him out of the apartment door, watched him walk to the elevator at the end of the short hallway. He pressed the button and waited. The hallway had sold us on the apartment before we’d even walked through the door: the thick red carpet, the wainscoting, and the ten-foot ceilings—New York City prewar elegance. The elevator doors slid open. Maybe it was then, just before he started to move away, that I saw a shadow cross his face. Or maybe later I just imagined it, to give some meaning to those moments. But if it was there at all, that flicker of what—Sadness? Fear?—it passed over him quickly; was gone so fast it barely even registered with me then.

“You know I will,” he said with the usual cool confidence. But I heard it, the lick of his native accent on his words, something that only surfaced when he was stressed or drunk. But I wasn’t worried for him. I never doubted him. Whatever he had to pull off that day, something vague about investors for his company, there was no doubt in my mind that he’d do it. That was just him: What he wanted, he got. With a wave and a cheeky backward glance, he stepped into the elevator and the doors closed on him. And then—gone.

“I love you, Izzy!” I thought I heard him yell, clowning around, as the elevator dropped down the shaft, taking him and his voice away.

I smiled. After five years of marriage, a miscarriage, at least five knock-’em-down, drag-’em-outs that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, hot sex, dull sex, good days, hard days, all the little heartbreaks and disappointments (and not-so-little ones) inevitable in a relationship that doesn’t crash and burn right away, after some dark moments when I thought we weren’t going to make it, that I’d be better off without him, and all the breathless moments when I was sure I couldn’t even survive without him—after all of that he didn’t have to say it, but I was glad he still did.

I closed the door and the morning was under way. Within five minutes, I was chatting on the phone with Jack Mannes, my old friend and longtime agent.

“Any sign of that check?” The author’s eternal question.

“I’ll follow up.” The agent’s eternal reply. “How’s the manuscript going?”

“It’s . . . going.”

Within twenty minutes, I was headed out for a run, the taste of Marc’s buttery, raspberry-jam kiss still on my lips.

WHEN HE STEPPED onto the street, he was blasted by a cold, bitter wind that made him wish he’d worn a coat. He thought about turning around but it was too late for that. Instead he buttoned his suit jacket, slung the strap of his laptop bag across his chest, and dug his hands deep into his pockets. He moved fast on West Eighty-sixth Street toward Broadway. At the corner, he jogged down the yellow-tiled stairway into the subway station, was glad for the warmth of it even with the particularly pungent stench of urine that morning. He swiped his card and passed through the turnstile, waited for the downtown train.

It was past nine, so the crowd on the platform was thinner than it would have been an hour before. A young businessman kept alternately leaning over the tracks, trying to catch sight of the oncoming train lights, and glancing at his watch. In spite of the rich drape of his black wool coat, his expensive shoes, he looked harried, disheveled. Marcus Raine felt a wash of disdain for him, for his obvious tardiness, and for his even more obvious distress, though he couldn’t have explained why.

Marcus leaned his back against the far wall, hands still in his pockets, and waited. It was the perpetual condition of the New Yorker to wait—for trains, buses, or taxis, in impossibly long lines for a cup of coffee, in crowds to see a film or visit a particular museum exhibit. The rest of the world saw New Yorkers as rude, impatient. But they had been conditioned to queue one behind the other with the resignation of the damned, perhaps moaning in discontent, but waiting nonetheless.

He’d been living in this city since he was eighteen years old, but he never quite saw himself as a New Yorker. He saw himself more as a spectator at a zoo, one who’d been allowed to wander around inside the cage of the beast. But then he’d always felt that way, even as a child, even in his native home. Always apart, watching. He accepted this as the natural condition of his life, without a trace of unhappiness about it or any self-pity. Isabel had always understood this about him; as a writer, she was in a similar position. You can’t really observe, unless you stand apart.

It was one of the things that first drew him to her, this sentence. He’d read a novel she’d written, found it uncommonly deep and involving. Her picture on the back of the jacket intrigued him and he’d searched her out on the Internet, read some things about her that interested him—that she was the child of privilege but successful in her own right as the author of eight bestselling novels, that she’d traveled the world and written remarkably insightful essays about the places she visited. “Prague is a city of secrets,” she’d written. “Fairy-tale rues taper off into dark alleys, a secret square hides behind a heavy oak and iron door, ornate facades shelter dark histories. Her face is exquisite, finely wrought and so lovely, but her eyes are cool. She’ll smirk but never laugh. She knows, but she won’t tell.” This was true in a way that no outsider could ever really understand, but this American writer caught a glimpse of the real city and it moved him.

It was the river of ink-black curls, those dark eyes, jet in a landscape of snowy skin, the turn of her neck, the birdlike delicacy of her hands, that caused him to seek her out at one of her book signings. He knew right away that she was the one, as Americans were so fond of saying—as if their whole lives were nothing but the search to make themselves whole by finding another. He meant it in another way entirely, at first.

It seemed like such a long time ago, that initial thrill, that rush of desire. He often wished he could go back to the night they first met, relive their years together. He’d done so many wrong things—some she knew about, some she did not, could never, know. He remembered that there was something in her gaze when she first loved him that filled an empty place inside him. Even with all the things she didn’t understand, she didn’t look at him like that anymore. Her gaze seemed to drift past him. Even when she held his eyes, he believed she was seeing someone who wasn’t there. And maybe that was his fault.

He heard the rumble of the train approaching, and pushed himself off the wall. He’d started moving toward the edge when he felt a hand on his arm. It was a firm, hard grip and Marcus, on instinct, rolled his arm and broke the grasp, bringing his fist up fast and taking a step back.

“Take it easy, Marcus,” the other man said with a throaty laugh. “Relax.” He lifted two beefy hands and pressed the air between them. “Why so tense?”

“Ivan,” Marcus said coolly, though his heart was an adrenaline-fueled hammer. The moment took on an unreal cast, the tenor of a dark fantasy. Ivan was a ghost, someone so deeply buried in Marcus’s memory that he might as well have been looking at a resurrected corpse. Once a tall, wiry young man, manic and strange, Ivan had gained a lot of weight. Not fat but muscle; he looked like a bulldozer, squat and powerful, ready to break concrete and the earth itself.

“What?” That deep laugh again, with less amusement in its tone. “No ‘How are you’? No ‘So good to see you’?”

Marcus watched Ivan’s face. The wide smile beneath cheekbones like cliffs, the glittering dark eyes—they could all freeze like ice. Even jovial like this, there was something vacant about Ivan, something unsettling. It was so odd to see him in this context, in this life, that for a moment Marcus could almost believe that he was dreaming, that he was still in bed beside Isabel. That he’d wake from this as he had from any of the nightmares that plagued him.

Marcus still didn’t say anything as his train came and went, leaving them alone on the platform. The woman in the fare booth read a paperback novel. Marcus could hear the rush of trains below, hear the hum and horns of the street above. Too much time passed. In the silence between them, Marcus watched Ivan’s expression cool and harden.

Then Marcus let go of a loud laugh that echoed off the concrete and caused the clerk to look up briefly before she went back to her book.

“Ivan!” Marcus said, forcing a smile. “Why so tense?”

Ivan laughed uncertainly, then reached out and punched Marcus on the arm. Marcus pulled Ivan into an enthusiastic embrace and they patted each other vigorously on the back.

“Do you have some time for me?” Ivan asked, dropping an arm over Marcus’s shoulder and moving him toward the exit. Ivan’s gigantic arm felt like a side of beef, its weight impossible to move without machinery. Marcus pretended not to hear the threat behind the question.

“Of course, Ivan,” Marcus said. “Of course I do.”

Marcus heard a catch in his own voice, which he tried to cover with a cough. If Ivan noticed, he didn’t let on. A current of foreboding cut a valley from his throat into his belly as they walked up the stairs, Ivan still holding on tight. He was talking, telling a joke about a hooker and a priest, but Marcus wasn’t listening. He was thinking about Isabel. He was thinking about how she looked this morning, a little sleepy, pretty in her pajamas, her hair a cloud of untamed curls, smelling like honeysuckle and sex, tasting like butter and jam.

On the street, Ivan was laughing uproariously at his own joke and Marcus found himself laughing along, though he had no idea what the punch line had been. Ivan knew a lot of jokes, one more inane than the last. He’d learned a good deal of his English this way, reading joke books and watching stand-up comedians, insisted that one could not really understand a language without understanding its humor, without knowing what native speakers considered funny. Marcus wasn’t sure this was true. But there was no arguing with Ivan. It wasn’t healthy. The smallest things caused a switch to flip in the big man. He’d be laughing one minute and then the next he’d be beating you with those fists the size of hams. This had been true since they were children together, a lifetime ago.

Ivan approached a late-model Lincoln parked illegally on Eighty-sixth. With the remote in his hand he unlocked it, then reached to open the front passenger door. It was an expensive vehicle, one that Ivan would not have been able to afford given his circumstances of the last few years. Marcus knew what this meant, that he’d returned to the life that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.

Marcus could see the front entrance to his building, gleaming glass and polished wood, a wide circular drive. A large holiday wreath hung on the awning, reminding him that Christmas was right around the corner.

He watched as a young mother who lived there—was her name Janie?—left with her two small children. He found himself thinking suddenly, urgently, of the baby Isabel had wanted. He’d never wanted children, had been angry when Isabel got pregnant, even relieved when she miscarried. Somehow the sight of this woman with her little girls caused a sharp stab of regret. Marcus turned his face so that they wouldn’t see him as they passed on the other side of the street.

“You’ve been living well,” Ivan said, his eyes, too, on the building entrance. In the bright morning light, Marcus could see the blue smudges under Ivan’s eyes, a deep scar on the side of his face that Marcus didn’t remember. Ivan’s clothes were cheap, dirty; his nails bitten to the quick. He didn’t look well, had the look of someone without the money or the inclination to take care of himself, someone who’d spent too many years indoors. Ivan still wore a smile, but all the warmth was gone. It was stone cold.

“And you? Are you well?” Marcus asked, feeling a tightness in his chest.

Ivan gave a slow shrug, offered his palms. “Not as well.”

Marcus let a beat pass. “What do you want, Ivan?”

“You didn’t think you’d see me again.”

“It has been a long time.”

“Yes, Marcus,” he said, leaning on the name with heavy sarcasm. “It has been.”

Marcus felt himself moving toward the car; there was really no way around it. As he put his hand on the door, Marcus saw his wife leave the building, her hair back—the chaos of it barely tamed with a thin band—her workout clothes on, an old beat-up blue sweatshirt, well-worn sneakers. He thought of the breakfast they’d shared, how she’d worried about the calories. He ducked into the car and watched her pause, look about her. She had that steely expression on her face, the one she got when she was forcing herself to do something she didn’t want to do. He could see it, even from a distance. Then she turned, quickly, suddenly, and ran away. Everything in him wanted to race after her but Ivan climbed into the driver’s seat. The car bucked with the other man’s weight, filled with his scent—cigarettes and body odor.

“Don’t worry,” Ivan said, issuing a throaty laugh. “I only want to talk. To come to a new arrangement.”

“Do I look worried, Ivan?” Marcus said with a cool smile. Ivan didn’t answer.

As they pulled into traffic, a line from the The Prophet came back to Marcus: “It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.” Marcus could feel the life he’d been living shifting, fading. With every city block they passed, he left a gauzy sliver of himself behind. The strand that connected him to Isabel, he felt it pull taut and then snap. It caused him a pointed and intense physical pain in the center of his chest. But he took comfort in a strange thought: The man she would grieve and come to hate, the one she would not be able to forgive, had never existed in the first place.

2

“RICK,” I SAID, fifteen hours after Marcus left for the day. It was going on ten P.M. Lasagna sagged in a glass baking dish, untouched on the counter. A salad wilted in the fridge. “It’s Isabel.”

“Hey, Iz!” he said brightly. I picked up on a strain to his voice, though, as if he was trying hard at that brightness. “What’s up?”

“You guys working late tonight?” I struggled to keep my voice light, my tone easy. I had the television on, the volume too low to even hear. CNN news bites flashed quick fire on the screen—there was an insurgent bombing in Iraq, a celebrity had shaved her head and checked into rehab, a police officer in Chicago was shot. I could hear the water running though the pipes in our wall; our neighbor was taking a shower.

The hesitation on the other end caused my stomach to flip.

“Yeah,” he said too late, drawing the word out, mock-forlorn. “You know how we do around here. No mercy.” He gave a little laugh—a fake one, uncomfortable. He’d slipped immediately into cover mode.

“Can I talk to my husband?” I heard the edge creeping into my tone; I wondered if he did, too.

“Sure,” he said. “Hold on a second.” A flutter of relief then, my worry dissipating. He’s working late, forgot to call. Nothing he hasn’t done before. You’re being paranoid. I waited.

“Iz,” said Rick, back on the line. “I think he ran out to grab a bite. I’ll tell him you called?”

“His cell is going straight to voice mail,” I said, apropos of nothing.

“I think he said the battery was dead,” he answered softly.

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.” You liar.

I hung up. He’d put me on hold and tried Marc on his cell phone, didn’t get him, came back and lied to me. It wasn’t even just a suspicion; I knew it was true. I’d seen them cover for each other like that with clients; I knew Rick, my husband’s business partner, had done it to me before for various reasons, some worse than others. I’d always found their dynamic a bit strange; they weren’t friends. In fact, I sensed an antipathy between them, even though they worked well together. And one never failed to lie or cover for the other.

I poured myself another glass of wine, my second from the cheap bottle of Chardonnay we had in the fridge. As much as I loved my husband, nights like this reminded me about the hairline fissures in our marriage, the ones that creaked and groaned when pressure was applied, threatening to break us apart.

BY MIDNIGHT I was mildly drunk, zoning out on the television set, barely paying attention to what was on the screen. I was listening for the elevator, for the key in the door, for the ringing of the phone. My cell phone was warm in my hand; I’d been holding it for hours, pointlessly trying his number every few minutes. He’d been late before, MIA for half a day, but never like this, never without calling. He might ring drunk from a bar after a fight we’d had, or with some vague lie about work. But this was not like him. It was too . . . conspicuous. I took to watching the digital clock on the cable box.

12:22.

12:23.

12:24.

Where is he?

ONCE, NOT QUITE two years ago, Marc had been unfaithful with a woman he’d met while away on business in Philadelphia. The relationship lasted for two months, or so he told me later—long phone calls, a couple of last-minute trips out of town. Once she came here to New York while I was away at a writers’ conference—though he swore she never set foot in our apartment. Not a love affair, exactly, but not a one-night stand, either.

I suspected something right away—on the first night he made love to me after returning home from Philadelphia after they’d met. It’s the details that give people away, the things that writers notice that other people might miss. I don’t mean the mundane things like lipstick on a collar, or the scent of sex. I’m talking about essence, the gossamer strands that connect us.

There was something absent about him, an emptiness to his gaze, that told me his thoughts were elsewhere. Our bodies didn’t seem to fit together right. His kiss tasted different. I couldn’t climax, couldn’t cross the distance between us. This had never happened before; even our bad sex was good. We’d managed to make love well even when we were furious with each other, bone tired, or sick with the flu. We’d always been able to connect physically no matter what else was going on.

I wasn’t as upset as one might imagine. There were no histrionics, no thrown dishes, or screaming assaults. I just waited for something tangible to prove or disprove my suspicions while the distance between us grew. I didn’t blame myself, worry about what was wrong with me, where we had failed. It wasn’t like that—I wasn’t like that. He’d met someone, they hit if off and had sex. The sex was good and he wanted more. I knew this on an instinctive level. I knew him, how he admired beauty, how powerful were his appetites. She must have been something, though, for him to stray—that was less like him. I’d met people, too, over the years. I’d been tempted. In a way, I even understood. But it wasn’t in my nature to be unfaithful or dishonest; I couldn’t even lie about how much my Manolo Blahniks had cost. But this is barely even a shoe! It’s like a tongue depressor with some dental floss tied around it. You couldn’t walk a city block in these, Isabel.

The tangible proof turned out to be a text message on his cellular phone. He was in the shower; it was next to me on the bedside table. It was unusual for him to leave the phone out. Usually it was on his person, or tucked in his laptop case. I heard the buzz indicating that a message had been received. I couldn’t stop myself from picking up the phone and opening the message.

A note from someone identified only as “S” read, I can’t stop thinking about you. I can still feel you inside me.

Marcus emerged from the bathroom, a plume of steam following him into the bedroom carrying the scent of a sage-mint body wash we’d been using. I turned to face him. He saw the phone in my hand and, I suppose, the look on my face. We both froze, locked eyes. He seemed strange and unfamiliar to me, as though I was seeing him for the first time emerging half naked from our bathroom. There was an odd tightness from my throat into the muscles of my chest. The air around us was electric with tension.

“Are you in love with her?” I asked finally. I was surprised by the flat, unemotional quality to my tone. I suppose it was the last safe question, its answer determining everything else that followed.

“No,” he said with a quick dismissive shake of his head. “Of course not.”

“Then end it.”

A pressing forward of the shoulders; a slight nod as if he was agreeing to meet me at a café somewhere. “Okay,” he said easily.

“And go sleep somewhere else tonight. I don’t want to be near you right now.”

“Isabel,” he said.

“I mean it,” I said. “Go.”

I was injured—my pride bruised, my heart cracked, if not broken. But mainly I was just disappointed. It was not that I had any illusions about him, about our marriage—hell, about marriage in general. I just thought he had more self-control; I thought he was a stronger man. To think of him lying, sneaking out of town, sleeping with a woman in a hotel somewhere—it cheapened him somehow, made him seem less to me.

We spent a few days apart, had some long phone conversations during which we agreed that there were problems in our marriage that needed to be addressed. There were tears, apologies made and accepted on both sides. He came home. We moved on. I don’t know that I got over it, exactly. But the incident was slowly stitched into the fabric of our relationship; from that point on everything was a slightly different color, a different texture. Not necessarily bad, but not the same. We didn’t seek therapy or hash over details or talk late into the night about why or when or could it happen again.

Those problems that we agreed existed—his workaholic nature, and mine, for that matter, his unavailability, my various neuroses and insecurities—were never actually addressed. I didn’t struggle with new-found trust issues. I saw the incident as an aberration. And neither one of us ever brought any of it up again. At the time, I just thought we were being so intellectual, so sophisticated about it. But was it just denial? I never told anyone about it, not Linda, not Jack. I don’t know. Maybe it was more like fear-induced laziness. You notice the lump under your arm but you can’t bring yourself to have it examined, feel unable to face the diagnosis. You don’t want anyone else to know; their concern would just make it real.

BY THREE A.M. I was thinking of his affair, wondering about her, about all the things I hadn’t wanted to know at the time—her name, what she looked like, her dress size, what she did for a living. Redhead, brunette, blonde? Stylish? Smart? I was wondering: Is he with her now? Or someone else? Has he left me?

Funny that I never imagined he’d been in an accident—pushed onto the subway tracks by a deranged homeless person, hit by a city bus, suffered a head injury from the crumbling facade of a postwar building, all those New York City–type accidents you hear about now and then. It just didn’t seem possible that something like that could befall him. He was too, I don’t know, on his game. He was a man in control of his world. He didn’t believe in accidents.

By five A.M. I had run the gauntlet of emotions—starting with mild worry, moving through cold panic to rage. There was a brief period of nonchalance, then a return to fear, then on to hatred, through despondency ending with desperation. I was about to call my sister when the cell phone, still clutched in my hand, started to ring. The screen blinked blue: Marc calling.

“God, Marc. Where are you?” I answered, so angry, so relieved, so dying to hear that voice offering me a reason for this, something I could buy: Come get me at the hospital, Isabel. I was mugged, hit over the head, just regained consciousness. Don’t cry. I’m okay.

But there was only a crackling on the line, the faint, distant moaning of some kind of horn or siren. Then voices, muffled, both male, tones angry, volume rising and falling, words impossible to understand.

“Marc!” I yelled.

Then there was screaming, a terrible keening. A horrible, primal wail that connected with every nerve ending in my body, causing me to cry out. “Marc! Marcus!

But the screaming just went on, rocketing through my nervous system, until the line went suddenly dead.

3

WHAT MAKES A great marriage? The kind you see on the diamond commercials—the shadowy walks and the glistening eyes, the held hands, the passionate kiss beneath stars, the surprise candlelight dinner. Does that even exist? Aren’t those just moments, studded in the landscape of a life where you floss your teeth together, fight about money, burn the risotto, watch too much television? Did I have a great marriage or even a good one? I don’t know. I don’t know what that means. I loved him, couldn’t imagine my life without him, showed him all the places inside me. In spite of all our individual flaws and the mistakes we made in our lives and in our marriage, we’d come together and stayed together for a while.

But those last moments in the kitchen when we’d shared croissants and kisses, when if there’d been more time we’d probably have wound up back in bed, making love again—they were just moments. If you’d tuned in on another day, you might have found us bickering over who was supposed to do the grocery shopping, or ignoring each other, him reading the paper, me staring out the window thinking about my current novel. You might find me crying over my miscarriage and how I hadn’t been able to conceive since, him withdrawing, arms crossed. We’d been ambivalent about children in the first place. My pregnancy was an accident. You might hear him say so, as if that should make me feel the loss less profoundly. Each moment just a sliver of who we were; only he had the full picture.

BY NINE A.M. I was standing on the street outside Marc’s office building. His software company leased the top floor of a small brownstone on Greenwich Avenue. There were other offices at that address, too—a lawyer, a literary agent, a mystery bookshop that occupied the store-front on the basement level. I’d tried the key I had to the street door but it didn’t work. I remembered then, the break-in a month ago—someone used a key to get in and steal nearly a hundred thousand dollars in computer equipment. The locks had been changed after that, a new alarm system installed.

So I waited. I huddled near the stoop, trying to keep out of the brutal, cold wind. Across the street, the shops—a trendy boutique, a pharmacy, a sex shop—all had windows decorated in red and silver for the holidays. I watched people hustling along in their busy lives, coffee in one hand, cell in the other, big bags slung across their chests. They were thinking about work, about getting their shopping done, whether or not it was too late to send cards. Yesterday that was me—hustling, always one step ahead of myself, not present in the least. Twenty-four hours later I felt as though I’d been in a life wreck; my life was a crumbled mass of metal and I’d been hurled through the windshield. All the initial panic I’d felt when Marcus didn’t come home, the shock and dread that gripped me after the horrifying phone call, had drained. At this point, I was stunned, bleeding out by the side of the road.

After the phone call, I’d dialed 911 for lack of any other action to take in my terror. The woman who answered told me a missing adult wasn’t an emergency unless there was evidence of foul play or a history of mental illness. I told her about the screams, everything I’d heard. She said that maybe it was a television or something else—some kind of joke or prank; husbands did cruel things all the time. She told me the police couldn’t even accept a missing-person report without evidence, a history, especially for someone over eighteen, especially for a man. The phone call didn’t count as proof that something was wrong.

“Physical evidence, ma’am.”

“Like what?”

“Like blood, or a sign of forced entry into the residence, a ransom demand—things like that.”

She gave me a phone number to call, and an address where I could report in person, bringing photographs and dental records. Dental records.

“Most people just turn up within seventy-two hours.”

“Most?”

“More than sixty-five percent.”

“And the rest?”

“Accidents. More rarely, murders. And sometimes people just want to disappear.”

Something about the tone of her voice made me feel foolish, ashamed. Like I was one of a hundred women she’d talked to that night whose husbands just hadn’t come home. Honey, he left you, she wanted to say. Wake up.

The natural thing for me to do then would have been to call my sister and her husband, Erik, to tell them what was happening, to get their support. But I didn’t do that. I couldn’t bring myself to call Linda; I’d have to tell her about the affair then, wouldn’t I, to give them the full picture? I couldn’t face it. For all the same reasons, and a few others, I didn’t call Jack, either. His antipathy toward Marcus was unexpressed but palpable just the same.

Jack and I had a complicated history. And beyond that, if Marc later learned that I’d called Jack in a moment of crisis, it would confirm all Marc’s past accusations about our friendship. Marcus disliked our closeness, how often we spoke, claimed it was a shade beyond appropriate for a professional friendship. In fact, my relationship to Jack had come up in my worse arguments with Marc. He thought that I told him too much, that we saw each other too often, that the way he touched me was too familiar.

You don’t understand our friendship.

An angry laugh. Then: I understand your friendship perfectly. I think it’s you who doesn’t understand. You’re too naive, too trusting.

Please.

Of course, since his sleazy affair, Marcus had less to say about Jack. His commentary was reduced to annoyed glances.

BUT I WASN’T thinking about any of that now. I was just hearing that horrible scream, my mind alive with dark imaginings. As I’d dressed and gathered photographs, I tried to calm myself by thinking of explanations for the phone call—maybe he’d lost his phone, or it had been stolen, and what I heard had nothing to do with him. Maybe he had left, was curled up in someone else’s bed right now, had tossed his phone in a trash can on his way out of our life. Obsessively, I kept hitting Send on my phone, getting his voice mail over and over. Eventually, with the sun rising, I’d headed out to report him missing but I’d wound up at his office instead, standing outside, hoping for something to end this nightmare before it began.

FINALLY, I WATCHED Rick strut up the street past the cute shops and trendy cafés, tapping on his BlackBerry, oblivious to my waiting by the staircase. He was tall, lanky with a mass of black curls, a thin, carefully maintained beard and sideburns. He wore a pair of faded denims, a T-shirt that read Love Kills Slowly beneath a thick leather jacket hanging open in spite of the cold. He walked right by me, took the stairs easily, light on his feet.

“Rick,” I said.

He looked up startled from the slim black device in his hand. It took him a second to place me in this context. He didn’t look well, pale and exhausted, harried.

“Isabel,” he said, a frown sinking into his forehead. “What’s wrong? What are you doing here?” He looked around, behind me, up and down the street.

“Marc didn’t come home last night,” I said. I watched his brows lift in surprise, his eyes glance quickly to the left, then come back to me—thinking of a lie, a way to stall. Before he could come up with one, I asked, “Was he really here when I called?”

Rick shoved the BlackBerry into his pocket and looked down at the concrete. I noticed the debut of coarse, wiry grays in his hair, of ever-so-faint crow’s-feet around his eyes.

“No,” he said simply. “He wasn’t here. He never came back after his meeting yesterday. Never called.” I felt the cold wash of disappointment, a deepening of my fear. “Come inside, Iz. It’s cold.”

I followed Rick up the stairs, thinking, trying to establish a time line. Marcus hadn’t phoned me after his meeting as he’d promised to do. I’d starting calling around three in the afternoon to see how it went. At that point I wasn’t even remotely concerned; he was so often absent-minded about our personal life, totally focused on business during the workday. It wasn’t uncommon for him to forget promises to call. My calls to him went straight to voice mail—not uncommon, either. I wasn’t even that concerned when he didn’t come home for dinner. But as Rick and I neared the top of the creaky slim staircase, I had the ugly dawning that no one had heard from Marcus since early yesterday.

On the landing, I wrestled with the hope that we’d find him inside, having slept on the couch in his office, maybe hungover. Izzy, I’m sorry. Things went badly at the meeting. I went to have a drink and had too much. Forgive me. Even though nothing like that had ever happened before, I imagined it vividly as Rick punched in his security code, turned the key in the lock, and pushed open the heavy metal door. I imagined it so hard that for a moment it was almost true; I almost felt the flood of relief, the blast of fury.

But no. The office was silent, empty. Rows of desks, huge gleaming monitors, industrial-cool exposed vents and pipes in the ceiling. Marc’s glass-walled office was dark, orderly. As we moved into the space, the electronic tone of a ringing phone sounded like a bird trapped inside a computer. Ricky dropped his bag and ran for it.

I watched him until he gave me a head shake to let me know it wasn’t Marc or anything to do with him. I wandered into my husband’s office, opened the light on the desk. I saw Rick glance at me through the glass, the phone still cradled between his ear and shoulder, as I sat in Marc’s large leather chair, put my fingers on the cool metal of his desk. I stared at our wedding picture; we both looked so blissfully happy, it almost seemed staged. Behind us, a glorious sunset waxed orange, purple, pink. I sifted through a pile of papers and manila folders, glanced at sticky notes on the lamp and on the phone, looking for what I didn’t know. Then I booted up his computer. Rick entered while I was doing this; he looked uncomfortable.

“He doesn’t like anyone to be in here, Isabel.”

“Fuck off, Rick,” I said quietly, without heat.

He glanced down at his feet again, shoved his hands deep into his pockets, and hiked his shoulders up so high he looked like a vulture. I thought he was too old for the urban-chic look he was sporting. He needed a visit to Barneys, needed to maybe grow up a little. Marcus was the polished one in suit and tie, classic fashion with a trendy edge. Rick had fully cultivated his programmer-punk look and aura, down to the pasty white skin that seemed permanently bathed in the glow of a computer screen. I always thought it should be Marcus who interfaced with people, but he hated that part of the business. It was Rick and a team of account managers who pitched prospective clients, fielded inquiries, handled the ever-escalating needs of their customers. Marcus was the brains of the company, rarely seen but controlling everything. Rick was a little bit of a marionette. I wondered if he ever resented it.

“Do you know where he is?” I asked him. He opened his mouth to answer but I interrupted. “Do not lie.”