Read The Last Flight Online

Authors: Julie Clark

The Last Flight (15 page)

Dear Mr. Cook, I wanted to follow up on our earlier conversation regarding the section of the plane where your wife…

I'm tempted to open it, read it, and then mark it
. I need to know how that sentence ends. But I force myself to wait.

I stand and pace the room, never taking my eyes from the screen, silently urging Rory to check his email. Finally, after fifteen minutes, the message shifts to
, and I immediately race back to the desk to click on it.

Dear Mr. Cook, I wanted to follow up on our earlier conversation regarding the section of the plane where your wife was seated. I've just been informed that despite the relatively intact condition of the fuselage, recovery workers report that your wife's seat was empty. We will continue to prioritize the recovery of her remains, and I will update you on any new developments.

All the air leaves my lungs in a white-hot rush, everything I'd believed shifting and turning into something completely different.

Rory's reply pops up below this email immediately.

What does this mean? Where is she?

I sit back in my chair, Rory's questions about what might have happened to my body tumbling around in my mind, evolving into questions about how Eva could have pulled it off. Who else she manipulated, and where she might have gone. A part of me isn't surprised at all. A woman who lies about killing her husband, a man who doesn't even exist, is certainly capable of this.

After a few minutes, a reply arrives.

Until we recover the black box and get more details about the crash, it's impossible for me to speculate. There could be any number of reasons why your wife wasn't where we expected her to be. I apologize, and ask for your patience. Reconstructing events of a crash takes time. It will be a while before we have any answers.

I see it all again, that flash of pink at the news conference. For the first time, I let myself seriously consider the possibility that somehow, despite being scanned, Eva didn't get on that plane.


Berkeley, California


Five Months before the Crash 

Let's switch it up and meet at Chávez Park.

Eva hoped her text to Dex would give the impression she was feeling jumpy. Scared.

César Chávez Park was a giant stretch of grass that sat directly on the San Francisco Bay with a path that traveled around the perimeter. On weekends it was crowded with families flying kites, joggers, and lots of dogs. But at two o'clock on a Tuesday in late September, it was deserted. Eva found Dex sitting on a bench, his back to the sweeping views of the bay, hands shoved in his pockets. When he saw her, he stood.

“Let's walk,” she suggested when she reached him.

Eva gripped her purse close to her side and reminded herself that Dex was just a regular person. He couldn't read minds or peer through the side of her purse and see the voice-activated recorder she'd dropped in there before she exited her car, the red Record button illuminated. All he saw was a scared woman in front of him. That would be her advantage. It always had been.

Eva was preparing, the way others might prepare for a natural disaster, storing food and water, mapping their exit routes, packing their emergency kits. Castro would return, and Eva would cast her own net, trading the information she already knew and the information she would soon find out for a new identity. A new life in a new town. Castro could give her a backstory that didn't include drug-addict mothers, foster homes, and expulsion. She could wipe the slate clean. But first, she'd have to walk a razor's edge and hope she didn't slip up.

Together, they began a lap around the park on the cement path. A tall, grassy hill rose in the center of it, blocking their view of the Berkeley Hills and marina. “So what do you have for me?” he asked.

Eva crossed her arms against the wind that whipped up off the bay and said, “Tell me the truth. Is it really over?”

“I told you, Fish took care of it.”

Eva looked at him, incredulous. “How can you possibly think that would be enough for me? They targeted me. Followed me to my house.” Her voice rose, trembling with emotion. “Don't fucking tell me Fish took care of it and expect me to roll over.”

Long ago, when she was a girl in the group home, Eva discovered that big feelings made most people uncomfortable, and she learned how to use anger or sadness to turn up the pressure, to maneuver people into a position where their only desire was to make the emotion go away. To stop the tears. To fix the fear. To placate the anger. Dex was no different. And Eva didn't have to reach too deep to find the fear, to make a compelling case for why she might need details to reassure her.

In the distance, two women walked toward them on the path, deep in conversation, and Eva continued. “Everywhere I go, I wonder if I'm being followed. The man in line behind me, the woman on her phone…” Eva gestured toward the two women, closer now. “Even them. How do I know they don't work for Castro?”

Dex took her arm and pulled her closer, hissing, “Calm down, Eva. Fuck.”

They stepped to the side and let the women pass, and when they were out of earshot again, Eva said, “So tell me. What does it mean, ‘Fish took care of it'? How? Because there's a difference between a duty officer losing some paperwork and a sergeant or lieutenant calling off a federal investigation.”

Information about how Fish's people operated inside the department wasn't Eva's end goal. It would be useful, but Eva was using it to warm Dex up. To get him to start talking. Like a crack in a wall, it would grow wider with time and pressure.

Dex looked away from her, his voice low, and Eva stepped closer to him. “The woman you met in the park was freelance,” he said. “Your instincts weren't wrong. She was an addict, trying to curry favor in exchange for a lighter sentence. Fish's people inside the department have successfully neutralized her as a source. Because you didn't sell her anything, and no money exchanged hands, they have nothing to go on. They're gone.”

They'd resumed their slow stroll, shoulder to shoulder, the wind now at their backs, the green hills of Berkeley rising in the distance. Eva picked out the Campanile, the stadium, and the white shape of the Claremont Hotel, and let Dex think she was absorbing what he told her. “So what happened to her?”

“No clue,” Dex said. “Jail or rehab, probably.”

Eva turned to face him, placing a hand on his forearm. “Look, you know me. I'm not prone to hysteria. But there's no way I'm handing over drugs out in the open like this. Not until things settle down.”

Dex's eyes narrowed. “You have an obligation. You don't get to set the terms.”

“I think I do,” Eva said. “I'm the one with the skills.”

Dex peered down at her, anger radiating off him. “This isn't a fucking game. Brittany might be dealt with, but it isn't over. Now the cleanup starts, the deconstruction of what happened. Who else was involved, what they knew, and when. You being difficult right now puts me at risk too.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes, the wind whipping and grabbing the edges of her coat, before Eva asked her next question. “What happened to the chemist Fish had before me?” Dex looked at her, surprised. “You told me he was leaving the business. But that wasn't entirely true, was it?”

“He refused to do what he was told,” Dex finally said. “I don't want the same to happen to you.”

Again Eva let the panic she felt bubble to the surface, where Dex could see it, and pressed her lips together, as if she were battling to stay calm. “That body you showed me at the motel? Was that him?”

Dex shook his head. “No, that was someone else. The chemist was gone before you even came on board.” He lowered his voice, and Eva stepped closer to catch what he'd say next. “You've got to pull it together. For me as well as yourself. This is how mistakes are made.”

Eva nodded, as if she were making her peace with how things were going to be. She had enough for now. They'd reached the outer edge of the park, with nothing but black asphalt littered with trash between them and her car, and she reached into her pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Football tickets for this Saturday,” she explained. “We're taking things in-house for now.”

was a term she and Dex used when they felt it was too risky for Eva to pass him his weekly supply in a park or restaurant. Many years ago, Eva had begun buying season tickets to football and basketball, though she rarely used them. But the purchase also included access to elite club-level venues that gave its members a sense of entitlement and security. Access to places an undercover cop couldn't easily follow them.

At this point, she couldn't stop making drugs for Fish. But if Castro was still watching, she wasn't going to do anything to incriminate herself until she had something to offer him.

Dex slipped the tickets into his coat and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “Whatever you need to get the job done.”


Friday, February 25

Recovery workers report that your wife's seat was empty.

I stare at that line from the NTSB, trying to make sense of it, my mind leaping between two competing questions—could Eva have somehow gotten off the plane, and what might Rory do when recovery workers tell him there isn't any trace of me.

I open a new tab in my browser and Google
Recovery of remains in a plane crash, ocean.
At least twenty articles pop up about the crash of Flight 477, all of them written in the last four days. “The Latest: Searchers Recover Remains and Debris.” Another one is titled “Vista Airlines Crash: Flight 477 Goes Down off the Coast of Florida.” I try something else.
How are human remains recovered after a plane crash?
Again, I get a long string of articles updating the search and recovery efforts, outlining Vista's poor safety rating, speculation as to the cause of the crash, but nothing that will tell me what I need to know—whether they will be able to definitively say I wasn't there, or whether it's possible that they can't recover everyone.

And the bigger question: How could Eva have gotten off that plane? I try to imagine her out there somewhere, using my name as I'm using hers, flashing my driver's license to check into hotels. Or perhaps she sold it the minute she landed somewhere else. I paid Nico ten thousand dollars for my Amanda Burns documents. I have no idea what a real driver's license would sell for. Maybe identity theft was Eva's side business, how she paid cash for a duplex in Berkeley.

I turn to Google again.
Can you scan onto a flight but not get on it?
I find a thread on a discussion board where someone is wondering if they can do this in order to get enough miles to bump them up to the next frequent flier level. But responses are not encouraging:

No way to get around the final head count. If it doesn't match, everyone deplanes and they run everyone through security again. There's no way to achieve that without screwing yourself and every other passenger on the plane.

Another response reads

It's impossible to have your boarding pass scanned and then not get on the flight
Think about it. You get scanned about six feet from the Jetway. You think a flight attendant is going to scan your pass, then watch you walk away? This entire thread is stupid and a waste of mental energy.

Right. The head count. Eva had to have gotten on that flight.

I'm startled by the buzzing of Eva's phone on the desk next to me. A call from
Private Number
. I stare at the bright screen as it rings two times. Three. Four. I picture myself answering it. Pretending to be Eva. Asking questions that might lead to answers about who she really was. What she did. Why she might approach a stranger in an airport bar with an outrageous story about a dying husband. The buzzing stops, and silence fills the room again. After a minute, the screen lights up with a new voicemail. I punch in the new code I set the other day and listen.

It's a woman's voice on the other end.
Hi, it's me. Checking in to see how it went. If you're okay. I thought I'd hear from you by now, so call me.

That's it. No name. No callback number. I listen to the message again, trying to grab at any details—the age of the woman, any background noise that might tell me where she's calling from—but there's nothing.

My mother once took Violet and me on a trip to the beach in Montauk. She gave each of us an empty egg carton, telling us to fill the spaces with treasures. Violet and I walked for miles, searching for sea glass and intact shells that looked black on the outside, but when you turned them over revealed the pearly pink of cotton candy and ballet slippers, or the purply blue of music boxes and baby blankets. We sorted our treasures by type, by color, and when we'd filled our cartons, we returned to the rental house to show our mother.

Trying to figure out Eva's life is like trying to fill one of those cartons. Some spaces are filled with things that don't make sense—a prepaid cell phone left behind. A lack of any personal items. A house paid for in cash. A woman, waiting for a phone call from Eva, inquiring about
how things went
. And others are still empty, waiting to connect it all. To make sense of everything.

A heaviness descends. This isn't how I thought it would be. Maybe it was naive, but I never considered the stress of trying to live a lie. I only thought of how it would feel to be free of Rory.

And here I am. I'm free, but far from liberated.

* * *

Saturday morning, I'm up early, eating a vanilla yogurt and watching Rory and Bruce debate whether to release a printed version of the eulogy Rory wrote for me after the funeral is over. Bruce—yes. Rory—no.

And then:

Rory Cook:

What did Charlie say when you met?

I sit up and carefully set my yogurt aside while I wait for Bruce to respond.

Bruce Corcoran:

I did as you asked. I explained that you were too devastated by Claire's death to come yourself, that it was incredibly opportunistic to come forward now, violating the terms of an ironclad nondisclosure agreement. Doing so would force us to bring a lawsuit, which no one wanted to do. Especially now.

Rory Cook:


Bruce Corcoran:

Didn't make a difference. Kept saying if you're going to run for office, the voters need to know what kind of a criminal they're voting for. That what happened to Maggie Moretti needs to be brought out into the open. The people who loved her deserved to know the truth.

And just like that, all of my assumptions rearrange into something new. I feel a rush of adrenaline pass through me at the mention of Maggie and I hold my breath, waiting.

Bruce Corcoran:

What do you want me to do now?

I can practically hear Rory yelling as words appear next to his name.

Rory Cook:

I want you to do your fucking job and make this go away.

Bruce Corcoran:

I'll put together a package, see whether that might silence this. Try to be patient.

Rory Cook:

I don't pay you to tell me to be fucking patient.

And then they're gone, leaving my mind spinning, trying to figure out how Charlie Flanagan, Rory, and Maggie Moretti intersect.

When I was young, I used to ride my bike across town and into a small wooded area. I loved the way the sidewalk would just end, picking up the beginning of a dirt trail, rutted and winding through patches of shade and dappled sunlight, riding beneath tall trees that kept my secrets.

But my favorite part was when I'd emerge again, my entire body vibrating after so long on the rough terrain, and what it felt like to glide back onto the asphalt—all the bumps smoothed flat again.

I feel that zip now, after so many days of rough riding. I've come out again and can see a path forward.

I return again to the thumb drive, finding a file buried in the M's, labeled simply
. But when I open it, there isn't much. Rory and Maggie dated pre-internet and pre-email. So there are only about twenty scanned images—photographs, notes on lined paper, cards, a hotel bar napkin. Each one labeled with a meaningless IMG number. Clicking through them, an eerie shiver passes through me, Maggie's handwriting as personal as a fingerprint, as quiet as a whisper in my ear.

It doesn't surprise me that Rory kept these images, long after he'd destroyed the hard copies. I know he loved her, in the only way he knew how. Like a road map, they trace the path of their relationship from the bright and shiny passion of new love into something more complicated, and reading them is like listening to an echo of my own marriage, musical notes that are both familiar and hollow at the same time.

Near the bottom of the folder, I open a scanned image showing the blue lines and ragged edges of a page torn from a spiral notebook. It's dated just a few days before she died.


I've thought a lot about your suggestion we spend the weekend upstate, to work things out. I don't think it's a good idea. I need space to figure out whether I want to keep seeing you. The last fight we had scared me. It was too much, and right now I don't know if it's possible to continue as we have been. Please respect my wishes, and I'll call you soon. No matter what, I will always love you.


I read the note again, feeling like a wheel yanked out of alignment, steering me in a new direction as I remember that dinner from so long ago.
Maggie wanted us to get away for a quiet weekend. To reconnect and really talk without the distractions of the city

But Maggie didn't want a weekend away to reconcile. She wanted to break up. And I know firsthand how Rory reacts when a woman tries to leave him.

It's a gruesome irony that both Maggie Moretti and I had to die to finally be free from him.

Other books

A Steal of a Deal by Ginny Aiken
Captured by S.J. Harper
The Thing with Feathers by Noah Strycker
The UFO Singularity by Hanks, Micah
The Girl In The Cellar by Wentworth, Patricia
Unknown by Unknown
Kill Dusty Fog by J. T. Edson
Daddy's Girl by Margie Orford Copyright 2016 - 2023