Authors: Julie Clark
“We had plans to meet for lunch,” she finally said. “I forgot. He was mad. But it's fine. I'm fine.”
Liz stared at her, as if weighing Eva's story, waiting for the rest of it. But Eva remained silent, and next to her, she felt Liz's curiosity and worry morph into hurt. Disappointment that Eva didn't trust her with the truth. “I'm glad to hear it,” Liz finally said.
As Eva looked at the tree, something shifted inside of her, something shiny and vulnerable and dangerous rising close to the surface, breaking through her hard exterior. And Eva knew, without a doubt, that being loved by Liz was more terrifying than anything she'd ever done, because she knew she wouldn't always have her.
* * *
Long after Liz had gone to bed, Eva sat there, watching the houses along the street go dark, one by one, unwilling to turn the lights on the tree off and go inside.
, a tiny voice inside her whispered. She felt invisible, as if she were the ghost of who she used to be, come to visit this life and lead herself somewhere better.
From beyond the tree's illumination, Eva heard the sound of quiet footsteps. She sat up, her senses sharpening, thoughts leaping immediately to Dex, or to Fish, and the fact that she wouldn't even know it was him until it was too late.
A man appeared on the front walk, cast in a dark shadow from the bright lights of the tree, and she squinted into the black night as he approached and made his way toward her. Agent Castro stepped into the circle of light created by the tree and leaned against the porch rail.
Eva remained seated and waited. All these weeks preparing. Organizing. Planning. And now the moment had arrived.
She glanced at Liz's dark windows and said, “How long have you been waiting?”
“A long time,” he said. “Years.”
Eva took in his face, fatigue etching shadows beneath his cheekbones, and realized they were not so different. Both of them weary from trying to maintain a facade that had grown unwieldy.
In a quiet voice, he said, “What can you tell me about a man named Felix Argyros?”
Eva kept her eyes on the tree. “I've never heard of him.” That much was true.
“You might know him as Fish.”
She didn't answer. As long as she didn't say anything, she could stay inside this neutral space where she'd neither betray Fish or have to lie to a federal agent.
He continued. “You are not my target, Eva. If you help me, I can protect you.”
Eva gave a short, mirthless laugh. If Fish knew Castro was here right now, Eva wouldn't see the end of the week.
“You're going to have to make a choice,” he said.
“I thought the task force was disbanded.” If Castro was surprised she knew this, he didn't let on.
“Let's just say we scaled back. You've turned into quite a sports fan.”
Eva kept her eyes on the tree, although all her attention was on Castro, marking his posture, watching his body language. She knew he didn't have anything on her, or he would have arrested her, not crept up to her porch late at night, asking questions. “I'm just a server who likes football and basketball,” she said.
“Want to know what I think?” he asked.
“I think you want out.” His voice was soft, but his words cut through her anyways, how clearly he saw her. How much of her mind he already knew.
She shot him a quick glance, and he smiled, as if something had just been confirmed. “Time's running out,” he said, pushing off the railing and standing upright. “I can either keep this conversation a secret or let slip to someone inside the department that we've talked. How do you think that might go over with Fish?” He shook his head slightly and said, “Even if you were to tell him about it first, he'd have doubts. And in my experience, doubts always cause problems.”
Eva stared at him, her options narrowing down to just one. “Why me?” she asked.
Castro locked his eyes onto hers and said, “Because you're the one I want to help.”
He slid his card onto the railing and walked down the front path, disappearing as quietly as he'd appeared.
Saturday, February 26
On the ride home from the A's event, Kelly and I are silent, my mind leaping forward and backward, trying to rewrite what I've just done. I know what those people will do with the videos and photos they took. They'll show up online first, then eventually migrate to television. The question is how soon, and will anyone recognize me?
I relish the quiet of the car and stare out the window, looking at the darkened apartments that back up against the freeway. As we head up the on-ramp, Kelly says, “What happened back there?”
I keep my face averted, wondering what she'd say if I unloaded everything from the past few days. I imagine her eyes growing wide as I speak, the horror of what I've done to save myself edging out any friendliness that used to live there. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“The way you jumped in between Donny and his girlfriend when he lost his temper. What did you leave behind?”
The road is nearly empty this late at night, and the car glides over several lanes, settling in the middle. “It's better if you don't know.”
Kelly keeps her eyes on the road, occasional headlights from the opposite direction briefly illuminating her face, before it's covered in darkness again. “Did your husband hit you?”
I let the question hang in the air, wondering if I have the nerve to answer it. Finally I whisper, “Many times.”
“And now you're worried he might see the video and find you.”
“I don't know how I could have been so stupid,” I say.
We drift off the freeway into downtown Berkeley, and in almost no time, we're approaching Eva's house. When she pulls up in front, Kelly turns to me. “Let me help,” she says.
I know better than anyone how secrets can fester, cutting you off from the rest of the world. I never had any true friends in New York, other than Petra, because I had too much to hide. So much to conceal. And now that I've escaped, nothing's changed. I have to hold Kelly at the same distance in order to protect my secrets. They're just different secrets.
I offer a weak smile, wishing more than anything Kelly and I could be friends.
“Thanks,” I say. “But it might be too late for that.”
* * *
Upstairs at my computer, I type in the web address for
. Right at the top is a link showing Donny and Cressida's fight, posted just forty-five minutes ago. The headline says “Fight Between Baseball Star Donny Rodriguez and Girlfriend Turns Physical.” I click on it, and the video pops up. There's no sound, just the footage, but the resolution is incredible. It shows Donny and Cressida fighting, the way he grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him, and me, stepping into the middle of all of it.
There are already over two hundred comments, and about halfway down, I see it.
Hey, does anyone think that woman in the background looks a little bit like Rory Cook's dead wife?
“No,” I breathe into the empty room and think about the Google alert this mention has activated. To Danielle's email. To Rory himself.
I quickly navigate to his inbox and open his alerts folder. The email sits at the top of a long list of unread notifications, and my first instinct is to delete it. But that will only delay the inevitable. Danielle will still see the alert, read it, and click on the link. She will watch the video, perhaps several times, before taking it to Bruce. Together, they'll figure out the best way to approach Rory, to show him that the wife who was about to leave him, the one who supposedly died, is alive and well and working for a caterer in Oakland.
I check the box next to the message, along with several others for good measure, and hit Delete, and then toggle over to the trash and empty it. I'm screwed either way.
* * *
By Sunday morning, over a hundred thousand people have viewed the video, and I scroll through at least one hundred replies to the comment from last night. Most of them are chastising NYpundit for being blind, stupid, or simply a callous conspiracy theorist.
People like you are what's wrong with this country. You hide behind your computer and throw out baseless theories in the hopes of becoming famous.
But NYpundit isn't giving up. He posted a screenshot of my face from the video, and next to it, the same image from the
Stars Like Us
You tell me
, he says.
They do look similar
, another commenter concedes.
If you swap out the hair, maybe.
I know that despite my short blond hair, Rory will recognize me right away. The way I move, the expression on my face as I step between Donny and Cressida is unmistakable. It's only a matter of time until Rory sees the video and tracks me downâthrough Tom, or Kellyâand I need to be far away from Berkeley when that happens.
But so far this morning, the Doc remains empty of the words I expect to materialize there at any moment.
Did you watch the video? Do you think it's really her?
* * *
But when text finally appears, it's not about the video.
Charlie sent me a draft email of a press release and a sworn deposition.
What's in it?
The word sits there, and I can feel the weight of it, whatever
Bruce continues typing, and I can practically hear his appeasing tone.
Obviously, we aren't going to let this happen. We have people looking into Charlie's background. All the way back to college. We'll find something that will put an end to this.
There's a lot there. Keep me posted.
A knock on the door downstairs startles me. I creep down and peek through the window and see Kelly standing on the porch, holding two cups of coffee from the coffee shop. I'm tempted not to answer, to get back upstairs to find out what
means and what exactly a senior accountant from the foundation knows about Maggie Moretti's last weekend with Rory.
But she's seen me. “I thought you might need some caffeine this morning,” she calls through the closed door. “I wanted to thank you for helping the girls yesterday. They finished last night and it's pretty good.”
We settle on the couch, the low table between us. Kelly sips from her cup, and I hold mine, the heat radiating through my hands.
“There's a video of me on
,” I tell her.
“I saw,” she says. “But it's only online. Nothing on TV. So unless your ex likes to troll celebrity gossip sites, you'll probably be fine.”
If she looked at the comments at all, it's unlikely she read far enough to catch NYpundit's. I rotate the cup in my hands, wishing I could explain that it isn't so simple. That this isn't going to go away so easily.
“Thanks for checking in with me, and for this.” I hold up my coffee. “But I need to get packing. I'm leaving this afternoon.” I look around the space that's been my refuge for the past few days. My coat, thrown across the back of the chair, the stack of newspapers on the floor next to the couch, how quickly this house has begun to feel like a home.
“There's still a chance he won't see the video.”
I place my coffee on the table between us, untouched. “It's more complicated than you might think.”
“Then explain it to me,” she says. “If you need money, I can loan it to you. If you need a different place to say, I have a friend who can find one for you.”
In this moment, I'm reminded of my mother, who never hesitated to reach out to someone in need and offer help, even when she couldn't afford to give it. I want more than anything to let Kelly help me. But I can't risk pulling herâor her familyâinto something bigger than any sane person would be willing to carry.
“Thank you,” I say. “I appreciate everything you've done, more than you will ever know.”
“Let me at least help you earn a little more money before you go. Tom's got a party this afternoon. No media, I promise. Just a straight-up event at a house in the hills with killer views. I can pick you up at two and have you home by nine.” She gives me a sad smile. “Early enough so you can still technically leave today.”
On the other side of the living room wall, tucked away in the dark garage, is Eva's car, and I feel an urgency to go now. Not to waste another minute. To toss my coffee into the trash, clear out the debris of the last few days, throw my things into her car, and take off.
But caution pulls me up short. I can't afford to be impulsive, to make another mistake. I need to have a plan. Figure out where I'll go next, gather the relevant documents I might need from Eva's office, and pack. Even if Rory sees the video right this second, the earliest he might appear in town is tomorrow. I can still leave tonight, with another two hundred dollars in my pocket. I can't afford to say no.
“I'll see you at two.”
After Kelly leaves, I head back upstairs to my computer, hoping to see more of the discussion about Charlie. But the Doc is empty again, and I feel the silence, like a whispered threat only I can hear.
* * *
I start with Eva's desk, locating the most recent bank statement and setting it aside. From the box in the corner, I pull the title and registration to her car, her social security card and birth certificate, and take a second unsuccessful look for a passport. I see myself somewhere far away, a big city like Sacramento or Portland. Maybe Seattle. Finding a cheap motel or hostel, and then a job, filling in Eva's information on the W-2, the momentum of possibility growing inside of me.
I grab a pay stub from DuPree's, the restaurant where Eva worked, and add it to my pile. Maybe I can use them as a reference. I reach up and touch my short blond hair. To anyone outside of Berkeley, I
Eva James. I can prove it with a driver's license. A bank account. A social security card and tax returns. Like a funhouse mirror, I'm no longer sure where I end and she begins. I imagine a restaurant manager somewhere, calling DuPree's, asking about me.
Eva James? Yeah, she worked here.
I turn back toward my computer. Where should I go? The possibilities bubble up inside of me. Heading north seems to be the best choice, with so many large cities and miles between here and Canada. Maybe I can circle back and settle in Chicago or Indianapolis. I begin my search, using Craigslist to look for jobs and inexpensive places to live, calculating how long my money will last.
After an hour, I click back over to the Doc, which is still empty, a blank white square offering nothing but stress and fear. It's the only thing anchoring me to my old life, and I'm tempted to cut my losses, log out, and leave it all behind. I have to find my own path forward, think about my own next steps, not some hypothetical Maggie Moretti scandal that might not even be true. Maggie is dead. And if I don't keep my wits about me, I could end up that way too.
Because once Rory sees the video, I'm certain he'll come. He'll fly to Oakland and track down Tom, demanding answers. All Tom will be able to tell him is Eva's first name. He has no W-2. No employee records to even indicate where Eva lived.
But Kelly knows.
I can see Rory, giving her that smile, the one that knocks even the most hard-hearted donors into writing a check. I know what he'll say about meâthat I'm troubled. Unbalanced. Prone to exaggeration and lies. I'd like to think Kelly could withstand that, but the truth is, I don't know her well enough to be certain of anything. Which is why by tonight, I need to be gone.
* * *
The party is up a winding road, perched high in the Berkeley Hills. Kelly and I arrive shortly after two. A quick check-in with Tom has us starting with tablecloths of crisp white linen that snap open and float onto each table in a large room with 360-degree views of the bay.
“Where do you think you'll go?” Kelly asks in a low voice. The bartender Tom hired, a twentysomething graduate student, bounces around behind the bar, earbuds in, setting up bottles, polishing glasses.
I smooth my hands across the tablecloth and look out the plate glass windows, the harsh afternoon sun making the view look washed-out and dirty. “Maybe Phoenix,” I lie. “Or Las Vegas. East, I think.”
I've decided to head north, bypassing Sacramento in favor of Portland. Save as much of my cash as possible by using Eva's debit card and zip code to fill up at the pump, going as far as I can until her money runs out. I've packed a small bag, simple things, enough to get me through at least a week on the road until I can get settled somewhere more permanent.
Kelly leans closer. “You won't want to do casino work. They fingerprint.”
I take a step back, wondering what she knows, what I must have inadvertently revealed.
She catches the look of panic on my face and says, “Hey. I don't mean anything by that, other than you might want to avoid it if your husband is working with the police to find you.”
Tom emerges from the kitchen wearing a white chef's coat and calls us in for the debrief. Kelly and I drop what we're doing to step up for our final instructions before the party starts. As he finishes, the hostess joins us. She's youngâabout my ageâand doesn't pay us much attention as we stand to the side, letting Tom explain how service will work. Her eyes slide over us, as if we're furniture, before she says, “That sounds perfect. Please make sure to keep the appetizers circulating.”
* * *
Soon, Kelly and I are moving among the crowd with our heavy trays. The glass windows have been opened so that guests can pass between indoors and a small grassy yard overlooking Berkeley and the bay beyond. The sun has moved across the sky, and the view that seemed harsh earlier is now cast in rich greens and golds. There's a chill that might make me shiver if I wasn't working so hard. As promised, the party is private, no sign of anyone interested in photographing the guests.