Read The Last Flight Online

Authors: Julie Clark

The Last Flight (23 page)


Sunday, February 27

I sprint up the stairs and through the kitchen, my shoes tracking Diet Coke into the living room, stuffing Eva's sworn deposition and voice recorder into my bag. I don't know what compelled me to take them, what instinct warned me that leaving them behind would be a mistake. My mind flashes back to the man on the porch, how close he stepped, the scent of cigarette smoke still tickling the back of my throat, and I know without a doubt these papers, this recorder, are what he's after. Then I think of Eva's cell phone, sitting on the kitchen table, Danielle's message still on it. I scurry back to grab it, powering it off before shoving it into my pocket.

Outside a car drives by, the radio a faint thump as it passes, and I peek through the curtains, thinking about who might be out there, watching from the shadows. I have to force myself to open the door and step onto the porch, my instincts in disarray, unsure whether I risk more by leaving or staying. But in my mind, I see the basement drug lab, a notarized letter to a federal investigator, and a man who is most certainly not a DEA agent, leaning in too close, a silent promise that he'll be back.

I cross the lawn quickly, keeping my head down as I walk toward campus, bracing myself for a voice or a hand on my shoulder to stop me. In the distance, a cat yowls, long and low, then rises into a scream that sounds almost human.

* * *

I find a small motor court motel on a busy street, about a mile from campus. My shoulders ache, my feet hurt, and I'm freezing. A light burns in the small office, revealing an older woman smoking a cigarette and staring at a television mounted on the wall. When I enter, she turns to face me, her eyes squinting through a cloud of smoke.

“I'd like a room please.”

“It's eighty-five dollars a night plus tax,” she tells me.

“That's fine,” I say, although I wobble a little as I do the math.

She gives me a once-over and says, “I'll need your name, your driver's license, and a credit card.”

“I'd like to pay cash.”

“Doesn't matter. We have to enter the card into our system. We won't run it until you check out, and if you want to pay by cash then, we won't run it at all.”

I consider arguing with her, but I don't want to solidify myself in her memory. I hand over Eva's driver's license and her credit card, anxious as I watch her enter them into her computer, waiting for the tiniest hesitation—perhaps just her eyes, a slight widening, then flicking back up to my face. But she taps in the number, her expression bored, before handing everything back.

“How many nights?” she asks.

I can't think past this moment, the days stretching ahead of me, blank, with no idea what I'll do next. “I don't know. One? Two?” At eighty-five dollars a night, my money will run out quickly.

“I'll put you down for two,” the woman says, handing me a key. “Room five, just out the door and to your left. Checkout is at eleven. If you're here past that, we charge you for another night.”

The room is small, with cheap carpeting and a polyester bedspread on the double bed that faces a television on a small bureau. A tiny desk and lamp are in the corner next to the bathroom. I sit on the bed and try to let the last few hours drain out of me.

The clock on the nightstand reads eleven thirty, and my head is heavy with fatigue. The party in the Berkeley Hills feels like it happened a month ago instead of just a few hours. I lean forward, covering my face with my hands, and choke down a sob. I have no name, no plan, and not nearly enough money.

My eyes are gritty with exhaustion. It's been two days since I've had any real sleep, and I fall back on the bed, fully dressed, hoping tomorrow brings a solution.

* * *

I wake early, having slept so deeply I didn't even dream. As I look around the room in the early morning light, I let my mind adjust to this new reality. My entire life exists within these walls. Outside, I'm either a dead woman or a drug dealer on the run.

I sit up, my muscles screaming from two nights in a row of heavy catering work, and think of Kelly, already working her shift in the coffee shop, imagining me driving toward the heat of the desert. I wish I were there with her, sitting in one of the deep chairs while she makes idle conversation from behind the counter. I ache for the simplicity of it, to have a place in the world where I belong.

My stomach growls, so I grab my NYU hat and some cash and dart down to the corner mart with ten dollars I can't afford to spend, and return with an enormous cup of coffee and a package of stale cinnamon buns. My only option—weak as it is—is to find something on the thumb drive I can use against Rory to trade for my freedom. A secret he cares more about keeping than he does about punishing me.

I turn the TV on for company and slowly set up my computer, plugging in the thumb drive and looking through the desk for the Wi-Fi directions. When I'm logged in, a quick check of Rory's email shows nothing new, but when I click over to the Doc, a jolt like a lightning bolt shoots through me.

They're talking about me.

Rory Cook:

How the fuck did she do it?

Bruce Corcoran:

I don't know. The airline said she was scanned onto the flight. No one disputed that.

Rory Cook:

They said her seat was empty. Do you think they know?

Bruce Corcoran:

I think they would have contacted you immediately if they thought there was any chance she wasn't on the plane. Do you want me to tell them?

Rory's words come fast, his anger nearly leaping off the screen.

Rory Cook:

Absolutely not. I'm going to handle this quietly. Let the NTSB keep thinking she's dead. I've scheduled the plane for Oakland tonight.

Just as quickly as the words appeared, they disappear again, line by line, until I'm looking at a blank doc, the top reading
Last edit made by Bruce Corcoran
. Bruce's icon vanishes, leaving only Rory's behind. I know what Rory means when he says
I'm going to handle this quietly
. It means he's going to make a problem disappear, out of view of the public. And I've given Rory the perfect cover to do whatever he wants to me, because the whole world already thinks I'm dead.

I feel the walls closing in, Danielle, Rory, and Bruce tracking my every move, forcing me into a smaller and smaller box until I'm trapped with only one way out.

A banging on a door across the courtyard startles me, causing my elbow to slip forward, knocking my coffee toward the keyboard. I jump, trying to grab it before it tips, a small amount spilling on the surface of the desk. But in my haste to save the coffee, I accidentally press a few keys. “Shit,” I say, hurrying to delete what I typed, my eyes leaping again to the top right corner, hoping Rory logged off when Bruce did.

I stare at the screen for what feels like an hour, but must have only been a few minutes. No new text appears. But at the top of the page, it now reads
Last edit made by Rory Cook 2 minutes ago
, and I pray neither of them will remember who wiped the Doc clean.

In the bathroom, I splash cold water on my face, the cheap fluorescent lighting making my skin look haggard and washed out. I brace my arms on the counter and try to regroup. Deep breath in, deep breath out, five, eight, ten times. I bring my attention to the way the faucet drips around a rust-edged drain, the repeating swirl of fake granite, before forcing myself back to work.

Seated in front of my computer again, the weight of futility settles across my shoulders. I'm unsure of what to look for or where to start. Should I look for more about Charlie? Or maybe I could find some kind of financial or tax fraud. The problem is, I don't know enough about finance to recognize anything that might be useful. I'm about to double-click on the thumb drive when my eye catches again on the alert at the top of the Doc.
Last edit made by Rory Cook two minutes ago.
A quick check of the time tells me it's been at least ten.

I hit refresh, expecting to see the time update, but instead I'm redirected back to the Gmail log-in page. “No,” I whisper into the room.

I retrieve the crumpled Post-it Note with Rory's password from Eva's wallet and enter it again, but it fails. I try once more, slower this time, but again it tells me the password is incorrect.

I picture Rory, seated at his desk, having just watched the video of me stepping between Donny and Cressida, my poorly executed cut and dye job barely a disguise at all. And then, unbidden, text appearing on his screen with his own name attached. I can see him calling Bruce, demanding to know how someone might have accessed his account. And then I see his horror when he realizes the only person who would have had the opportunity to steal the password—and a vested interest in watching him—is me.

I stand and press my fists against my eyes, tears seeping through the creases. “I can't do this,” I whisper into the empty room. “I can't. I can't.” I open my eyes and grab the wallet, the nearest thing to me, and hurl it against the wall. The change purse pops open, a cascade of pennies and dimes falling down and burying themselves somewhere behind the dresser while the wallet itself lands with a thump on the surface.

But something inside of me loosens, the sudden action releasing just enough anxiety, like a pressure valve, yanking me back to center, the dingy room coming back into focus. I don't have the luxury of falling apart. Rory knows I've been watching him. Listening in on conversations he believed were private, watching his panic over what Charlie knows about Maggie Moretti. There has to be some way I can use that.

Behind me, Kate Lane's voice catches my attention.

“A little less than a week ago, Flight 477 crashed into the waters off of Florida. Ninety-six people perished in the crash, and investigators are one step closer to figuring out what happened with the recovery of the black box.” The screen cuts to old footage, the same bobbing coast guard boats, the same pieces of floating wreckage they showed last week. “Vista Airlines officials declined to comment on rumors that flight attendants failed to confirm the total number of passengers with a head count. But anonymous sources inside Vista Airlines report that this is not unusual when flights are delayed. Airline officials say they have confidence that the manifest was accurate, that the number of passengers matched all flight records.”

I freeze, absorbing this information, thinking back to the thread I'd read, the commenter who was so certain a person couldn't get scanned onto a flight without actually getting on it, because of the head count.

But now, I see that Eva might have done it. A laugh, incredulous and tickling, tumbles around inside of me, and I sit back in my chair, trying to imagine her out there in some anonymous hotel room, watching this same report, having somehow slipped off the plane and vanished.

I think about the risks Eva took to gather the notes and the recordings—things that implicated her alongside whoever that man was on her porch. And I wonder what went wrong, why she didn't turn it over. Whatever it was, it had her running, unable to return home.

And I wonder what she'd want me to do with it.

I stare at the wall, though I'm looking beyond what's in front of me to the image of Eva, laughing and running away from me, backlit and growing smaller the farther away she gets. I watch her until she's just a dot. Just a nothing. Almost gone.

I trace the edge of the thumb drive with my finger, certain there are secrets there Rory wants to keep hidden. I just don't know what they are.

But Rory doesn't have to know that.

As if Eva were whispering in my ear, an idea begins to unfurl, outrageous and bold. But it will require me to come out of hiding and confront him. To pick up a phone and dial his number, telling him what I have, embellishing and fabricating across the blank spots, weaving just enough of a story to make him believe I know more. Not just about Charlie, but the contents of the hard drive, wrapped up and ready to deliver to the media and authorities. Unless he gives me what I want.

And yet, the idea of calling him, of hearing his voice on the other end of the line, like a hook drawing him toward me, makes me shudder. Because if I'm wrong and this doesn't work, it will make everything worse.

I pick up Eva's cell phone, glad I brought it with me, a way to contact him without revealing my exact location. But I hesitate before turning it on, my instincts still snagging on how Danielle managed to track down the number, and what else they might already know. Whether she's out there waiting for me to make another mistake. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, then power it on.

Immediately, another voice message pops up, along with a text. My finger hesitates, unsure which to click on first, before deciding on the voicemail.

Mrs. Cook, it's Danielle again. I don't blame you for not trusting me, but you have to believe I'm trying to help you. Mr. Cook is on his way to California, and I'm fairly certain it's because he knows you're there. I'm texting you a recording from yesterday. Use it. I'll back you up.

I stare at the phone, my mind traveling in twenty different directions, picking through her words, trying to see the trick. What she really wants me to do. Because after all the times she'd looked away, stayed silent when she could have spoken up, I have a hard time believing she wants to help me now.

I open the text, which is a voice memo file titled
Recording 1
. I grab the remote and mute the TV, then press Play.

Muffled voices fill my motel room—arguing—and I realize it's Rory and Bruce, though I can't make out their words. Then there's a knock on a door and Rory's voice calling, “Come in.”

Danielle's voice, closer, says, “Sorry to bother you, but I need your signatures on these forms.”

“Of course,” Rory says. “Thank you, Danielle, for handling all of the details with the NTSB. I know how much you loved and respected Mrs. Cook.”

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