Read The Last Flight Online

Authors: Julie Clark

The Last Flight (24 page)

“There's so much I wish I could have done differently,” Danielle says.

I hear the rustle of papers, then Rory's voice again. “That should do it. Please close the door on your way out.”

Danielle's voice sounds farther away as she says, “No problem, Mr. Cook. Thank you.” Then an opening and closing door.

I expect the recording to end there, but it doesn't. Rory's voice speaks again, a shade colder. “What have you found out?”

Bruce finally speaks. “In 1996,” he says, as if reading from a file, “Charlie Price—or rather, Charlotte, as she prefers to be called now—was arrested for possession with the intent to sell. They couldn't make it stick, and the charges were dropped.” I hear a page turn. “She moved to Chicago, where she worked as a server. Seemed to stay out of trouble. She still lives there.”

Charlotte?
She?
Charlie's a woman?

“Anything else?” Rory asks.

“Not really. No husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend. No kids. Family seems to be either dead or estranged. Nothing we can use as motivation.” Bruce's voice grows softer. “Nothing we've said so far has swayed her. Not money, not threats. She insists on telling the truth.”

Rory's voice is low and dangerous, sending a chill rippling through me. “And what does she claim to be the truth?”

“That you and Charlie were having an affair behind Maggie's back. That you were there when Maggie died, and you timed the fire to start after your departure. That you showed up at Charlie's apartment, frantic and shaking like a leaf.” A pause. When Bruce continues, I can barely hear him. “She doesn't care about the NDA she signed. She doesn't care about anything we've offered.”

“That's not acceptable!” Rory yells, and I recoil, as if he were in the room yelling at me. “This will derail everything. You have two days to make this problem disappear.”

I hear Bruce gathering things, collecting papers, the snap of a briefcase latch. “Understood,” he says.

Footsteps, the sound of a door opening and closing. Then silence. I'm about to stop the recording when I hear another knock on the door.

“Enter,” Rory says.

Danielle again. “I'm so sorry to bother you. I think I dropped my phone somewhere. May I come and look?”

A grunt from Rory.

“Here it is. It must have fallen—”

And the recording ends.

I sit on the bed, stunned.
There's so much I wish I could have done differently
, Danielle had said, the words spinning a different meaning, now that I know she was saying them to me. Offering an acknowledgement, and perhaps also an apology.

That Danielle would risk so much to get this for me is astonishing. All those years of scrambling behind me, of meticulously keeping me on schedule. I thought she was just another arm of Rory, controlling me. Perhaps, if I'd bothered to turn around and really look at her, I'd have seen something else. Not someone intent on bringing me down, but a woman desperately trying to prop me up.

I listen again to Danielle's message, to the urgency in her voice, the way it cracks, the whispered edges of fear.
Use it. I'll back you up.

On the silent television screen, two political commentators are talking, their lips moving soundlessly. Across from them, Kate Lane says something to the camera, then smiles. I turn up the volume in time to hear the familiar tune for
Politics Today
fading into commercial.

It's unreal that just a week earlier, I was making the final preparations for my Detroit trip, imagining a life as Amanda Burns, living peacefully in Canada. And how quickly things went wrong, landing me here instead, pressed between the secrets Eva was keeping, forced to dance between landmines I can't even see.

I'm not going to call Rory. Threats will never work on him. If they did, I would have used them long ago. What Danielle has sent me is so much better. Rory's voice, Rory's anger, packaged into the perfect sound bite.

I Google the email address for Kate Lane, then go to the Gmail homepage and set up a new email account and draft my email, the words coming effortlessly. When I'm done, I hesitate. The minute I send it, everything will be set into motion. There will be no way for me to go back. But this is the only trick left in my bag.

I reread the email one final time.

Dear Ms. Lane, My name is Claire Cook, and I am Rory Cook's wife. I did not die on Flight 477, as has been previously reported. I am in California, and I have recently received evidence that implicates my husband in the death and cover-up of Maggie Moretti. I would like to speak with you about it at your earliest convenience.

And then I hit Send.

Eva

Berkeley, California

February

Two Days before the Crash

Dex was Fish.

Fish was Dex.

Eva felt her reality shift, pieces sliding into place in a different order, a different picture, as panic and confusion pounded through her. What had she missed?

“Didn't you wonder why you'd never met Fish, why Dex was your only contact?” Castro asked.

“I was told that's how it worked. I didn't question it.” Eva shook her head. “But why would Dex lie?” she whispered.

“By allowing the people who worked for him to believe he was just carrying out orders from above, it gave him a measure of deniability. It allowed you to trust him in a way you wouldn't have if you'd known he was the guy at the top.”

“Is this common?” she asked. “Don't people work really hard to earn that spot? Don't they want everyone to know what kind of power they have?”

Agent Castro shrugged. “Sometimes,” he said. “But to be honest, those types of dealers are pretty easy to catch. They're in it for their ego. They want everyone to know how important they are, and to be afraid of them. But Fish”—Castro tipped his head toward her—“or rather, Dex, is what we call a long-term operator. Someone who cares more about longevity than anything else. More than power, more than fear. They're smarter and harder to pin down.” Castro took a sip of his coffee and continued. “I've only seen this once before. A woman up in El Cerrito who pretended she had a husband who was calling the shots. She had her finger in a lot of things, mostly because people trusted her to keep them safe from a man who never even existed.”

Eva thought about how Dex had put himself between her and Fish. How he protected her and warned her. Led her to believe he was on her side, that they were working together. She thought back to how rattled he was at the football game last fall. How scared he'd been of angering Fish. All of it an elaborate act.

And then her mind flew back to that early morning when he'd shown her the body, and events rearranged in her imagination as she saw Dex executing the man and then calmly walking to Eva's door, knocking, and leading her back again, to show her what he'd done.

She felt sick at how naive she'd been.

“So now what?” she asked.

“It's time for you to get an attorney and make a deal. We'll put a wire on you and see what we can get.”

Eva thought of all she'd gathered and tucked that knowledge close, her final card to play. There was no way she was going to wear a wire. “And what do I get in exchange?” she asked. “Since witness protection is not an option.”

“You get to not go to jail when this is all over.”

On the table, Eva's phone buzzed with a text, and her gaze flew to Castro's phone, wondering whether it, too, would light up. But it remained dark.

“You'd better answer that,” he said.

It was from Dex.

Are we set for six? Where do you want to meet?

She showed it to Agent Castro. “Stick to public places where my people can blend in,” he advised. “From now on, I don't want you to be alone with him, or anywhere we can't get to you quickly. No more sports arenas, no more deserted parks. My team will stay on you until we can get the wire set up. One, two days, tops.”

Eva took her phone back and, with trembling fingers, typed:
O'Brien's? I'm starving.

She imagined driving back to Berkeley and sitting across the table from Dex, forcing herself to act normal while she waited for Castro to line up his fucking wire guy.

Castro must have sensed her rising panic because he said, “You're going to be okay. Just stick to your routine and do everything you normally would. Make the drugs, meet with Dex. Don't give him any reason to be alarmed.”

Through the window, Eva could see fog rolling in, the bright orange of the bridge fading before her eyes, and she worried that would happen to her. She'd grow so faint, she would disappear from the page and no one would know she'd been there at all.

The restaurant hummed with conversation, the sound of cutlery against dishes filling her ears, the whole world moving around her while she stood still. “I don't have a choice, do I?”

Castro's eyes softened with sympathy. “You really don't.”

* * *

Eva was halfway across the Bay Bridge when she began to hyperventilate, cars on all sides, inching forward, funneling her toward an inevitable outcome. No fucking way could she do this.

She imagined herself driving north—passing the off-ramp to Berkeley, past Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. She looked in her rearview mirror and studied the people in the cars behind her. Which ones were Castro's? Whoever was keeping an eye on her would never let her get that far.

* * *

At home, she packed quickly, only taking the essentials, leaving the house as it was. If anyone came looking for her, she wanted it to appear as if she'd just stepped out. That she'd be back any minute. She thought of her lab downstairs, the tools and ingredients, the evidence she'd gathered for Castro, and decided to leave it. Eventually, he'd show up looking for her, and he was welcome to all of it. She was no longer going to play by anyone else's rules.

Eva's plan was to park near O'Brien's. Appear to be on her way to meet Dex, and then slip down into the BART station and catch the first train that came. To make her way back into San Francisco, pay cash for a bus ticket to Sacramento, and then figure out how to keep going. North, and then further north still, until she reached the border.

But the sight of Liz's glass bluebird ornament on her dresser caused her to pull up short. She picked it up, running her finger over the swirls of blue, the delicate beak, the edges of the wings. The only thing that was ever given to her out of love. From the only person who ever truly cared about her.

Eva thought about Wade, who had promised to take the blame. Dex, who pretended to be someone he wasn't so he could better manipulate her. And Castro, who expected her to do the impossible, but giving her nothing she needed in return. Men who made promises they never intended to keep. People like Eva were always going to be collateral damage.

And then there was Liz, who saw the very best version of herself. She felt the outline of Liz's letter still in her pocket.
When you share your problems with someone else, your load gets lighter.
Like a rat in a maze, Eva's path was narrowing, leading her toward the only person she could trust.

Eva grabbed her emergency cash—five thousand dollars—and packed her computer, leaving her compromised cell phone on the counter. Then she slipped out of the house, still gripping the glass bluebird in her fist.

* * *

The first train that arrived was crowded. She waited until the doors were closing before jumping on, looking toward the platform for any sign someone was following her. She imagined Castro's agents above her, moving out in an ever-widening circle with her car at the center, parked at a meter on Shattuck, wondering where she went. What happened to her.

Eva scanned the faces of the people around her, silently discarding a man sleeping in a corner and a couple huddled over an iPad, deep in conversation. But there was a woman directly across from her that Eva caught glancing at her as the train hurled south, toward Oakland. She had a magazine open, but as Eva studied the ads above the woman's head, waiting for her to turn the page of her magazine, the woman remained motionless.

At the next stop, Eva waited until the last second to slip off the train, and watched the woman, still reading, slide past her and into the dark tunnel. She huddled in a corner of the station, her bag slung over her shoulder, watching commuters board and exit trains before picking another one, this time heading toward San Francisco. For the next hour, she transferred and backtracked until she was certain she was alone.

At the airport, she paid cash for a red-eye ticket to Newark.

“One-way or round-trip?” the ticket agent asked.

Eva hesitated. Had Castro put her on some kind of list? Again his words—
midlevel target
—flashed in her mind. “One-way,” she answered. The finality of it sent a shudder through her. If she was wrong, a one-way ticket would sound the alarm.

* * *

She didn't relax until well after takeoff. As the passengers around her slept or read, Eva stared out the window, thinking of an evening just after Halloween, when she'd found Liz sitting on the back steps, looking out at their yard in the deepening twilight. “What are you doing back here?” she'd asked.

Liz had looked up from where she sat and smiled. “I love the smell of the evening, when the sun has disappeared and everything starts to cool down. No matter how much life changes, this never does.” She closed her eyes. “My ex-husband and I used to do this, when we were first married. Sit outside and watch the sky change from day to night.”

Eva sat on her own step, looking at Liz through the iron bars of the railing. “Where is he now?”

Liz shrugged and brushed her fingers along the edge of the concrete step. “Last I heard, he moved to Nashville. But that was twenty years ago. I have no idea if he's still there.”

Eva wondered how she could be so calm about the man who'd abandoned her with a young child and never looked back. “Does Ellie ever hear from him?”

“I don't know—we don't really talk about him. But I don't think so. He sent cards for her birthday for a few years, but those stopped when she was still young.” Liz looked across the yard, to the back fence and the trees beyond. In a quiet voice, she said, “For a while, Ellie blamed me for that. As if I could make that man care about her. But now that she's grown, she can see him for who he really is, and understand her childhood was probably better without him in it.”

Eva marveled at her calm tone. “How can you not hate him?”

Liz gave a soft chuckle. “Hate can eat you up inside. I could devote hours a day to despising him. But it wouldn't matter. He's out there, somewhere, living his life, and if he thinks about us at all, it's probably only in passing. I decided a long time ago to forgive him, which is a lot easier than hating him.”

Eva thought about the strength that must have taken, to raise her daughter on her own while still following her own dreams. To set the betrayal aside and choose to be happy.

“Have you always been this way? Able to see beyond the worst in people?”

Liz laughed. “It takes a long time to learn how to see the world as a place where people aren't doing things
to
you. My husband didn't set out to break my heart, or Ellie's. He was just acting on his own desires, living his own story. I hope I've become someone who doesn't get angry when others are just trying to get by. I hope I can be the kind of person who looks toward forgiveness first.”

Eva stared across the yard toward the bushes by the back gate, their shadows quickly disappearing in the fading light. “I'm not very good at forgiveness.”

Liz nodded. “Not many people are. But what I've learned in life is that in order for true forgiveness to occur, something has to die first. Your expectations, or your circumstances. Maybe your heart. And that can be painful. But it's also incredibly liberating.”

“Is this your roundabout way of telling me I need to forgive my birth family?”

Liz had looked at her, surprised. “I think you need to figure out how to forgive yourself. For whatever it is that still chases after you.”

As Eva flew east, the window next to her a black square, she wondered if this was the death Liz was talking about. Her entire life, abandoned in Berkeley, just a hollow shell that no longer fit the person she was becoming. It didn't make sense, even to her, why she needed to see Liz one more time. But somehow she understood that this was how she'd forgive herself.

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