Read The Last Flight Online

Authors: Julie Clark

The Last Flight (26 page)

Claire

Monday, February 28

I stare at Agent Castro, feeling as if the careful stitches holding my secrets together have been pulled apart. “I don't know who that is.”

He flips his sunglasses on top of his head and says, “I think you do. You just finished a call on her phone.” My eyes dart toward Eva's cell phone, sitting on the dresser, wondering how he'd know that. He continues. “So let's try this a different way. Good afternoon, Mrs. Cook. It's wonderful to see you looking so well. My name is Agent Castro, and I'm a federal DEA officer. I have some questions I'd like to ask you.” Beyond him in the parking lot is an anonymous sedan with government plates. “Maybe we should go inside and chat,” he suggests. His tone is friendly but firm, and I nod, opening the door wider to let him enter.

We sit at the small table by the window, two chairs facing each other. He pulls the curtains open, flooding the tiny room with light. “I'd like you to tell me how you know Eva James.”

“I don't, really.”

“And yet, up until yesterday, you were staying in her house.” He gestures toward Eva's green coat, tossed over a chair. “And wearing her clothes.” Then he holds up his own phone. “Mrs. Cook, we've had Ms. James under surveillance for several months. That includes having her phone cloned.”

“Cloned?” I ask. “What does that mean?”

He leans back and studies me, the weight of his gaze making me uncomfortable. Finally, he says, “It means that anything you do with that phone, we know about it. We get copies of all texts and emails. When that phone rings, we know it. Whatever is said on it, we hear it.”

My mind jumps back to the conversation I just had with Kate Lane. To Danielle's messages and the voice recording. And I know now why Eva left the phone behind. “Did she know?”

He shakes his head. “She was working with us on an active investigation, and we couldn't risk her changing her patterns with the people she worked with. But we began to worry when Eva failed to show up at a prearranged meeting last week. And then you arrived.”

I look down at my hands, resting in my lap. I think about the car Kate Lane is sending for me, and whether Agent Castro will let me get in it, or whether I'm going to be stuck here, answering his questions until the moment Rory arrives.

“Why don't we start with how you met Eva,” he repeats.

“If you've been listening in on my phone conversations, then you already know.”

“Fair enough. Then tell me more about what happened at the airport. Whose idea was it to switch places?”

I'm unsure how to describe my role. Am I a victim? A co-conspirator? I was neither, just a woman desperate for a solution. Any solution. “Eva approached me,” I finally say.

Castro nods. “How did she seem to you?”

“That's an impossible question to answer, since nothing she told me was true.” I think of the way she stared into her drink, as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders, and know that beneath her lies, the fear was real. “She was scared,” I finally say.

“She had a good reason to be. Did anyone come to the house looking for her?”

I tell him about the man who showed up on the porch, about what he said and what he didn't say.

“Describe him,” Agent Castro says.

“About my age. Maybe a little bit older. Dark hair. Olive skin. Long coat, and these crazy gray eyes. Not quite blue.”

“While you were staying at Eva's house, did you see any drugs?”

“No.” I think about that basement lab. Of the hours Eva must have spent working underground, and what it had cost her up above. And I think about the notarized letter and recordings, carefully gathered and documented, and weigh the benefits of handing them over now. If I do, Castro will have what he needs, or as much as Eva is able to give him, which might be enough to fulfill whatever promises she made.

I retrieve the envelope and voice recorder and slide them across the table to him. “I found these yesterday when I discovered her basement.”

He sets the recorder aside and flips through the pages of Eva's statement, then jots the notary information into a small notebook.

“I had no idea what she was running from. She told me she had just lost her husband to cancer. That she'd helped him die and that she might be in trouble because of it.” As I recount the story, it sounds even crazier than it did at the time. “You have to understand, I was desperate enough to want to believe pretty much anything. And I think she knew that.”

“Eva has had years of practice deceiving people. She's very good at what she does. She had to be, to have done it for so long.” He leans forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I need you to understand that my job is to investigate drug crimes,” he says. “Not fraud. Not identity theft. And you are not under investigation by me.” His voice softens, now that his questions have been answered and I get a peek at the man beneath the surface, someone who genuinely wants to help me. “I understand you're hiding from your husband?”

“I am.”

“I'm not here to get you into trouble, Mrs. Cook. But Eva was helping me, and I need to know what happened to her. What she told you.”

“Nothing true,” I say. “None of it was real.”

He looks out the window as a black town car glides into the spot next to his sedan. “I think your ride is here.”

We stand and I open the door.

“Claire Cook?” the driver asks. He's large, in his midtwenties, squeezed into a dark suit with sleeves that just barely cover a tattoo circling up his right wrist. In his ears are those giant circles, stretching enormous holes in his earlobes.

Berkeley. Where everyone is just a little bit weirder than you are.

As he loads my bag into the trunk, I notice his gaze land on Agent Castro's gun beneath his coat. He looks away and slams the trunk closed, stepping away from the rest of our conversation.

Agent Castro turns to me. “Good luck,” he says, shaking my hand. “If possible, I'd like to touch base again before you leave town. Assuming you go back to New York.”

“Sure,” I say, looking toward the busy street, cars and buses blowing past the motel. “Though what happens next depends on the next few hours. How much trouble I'll be in for what I did, and whether anyone will believe what I have to say.”

“If your husband was involved in what happened to Maggie Moretti, it won't matter if they believe you or not. The evidence will back you up.”

I tear my eyes away from the street and look at him. “You don't know the Cook family very well if you think they won't fight. The rules are different for people like them.”

I wait for Agent Castro to tell me I'm wrong, but he doesn't. Even he knows that the power of money can make all kinds of problems disappear.

Finally, he says, “A little advice? Get on the air as soon as possible. Your husband can't touch you if the whole world knows you're alive.”

* * *

Traffic into the city is horrible. We progress slowly through the toll booth and up onto the Bay Bridge, walled in on all sides by cars. Alone in the back seat, I stare out the window, my gaze traveling across the water and landing on Alcatraz, small and squat in the middle of the bay, the slate-gray water surrounding it.

The driver adjusts the rearview mirror so he can see me better, his sleeve riding up even higher, and I catch another glimpse of his tattooed arm. “Okay if I turn on the radio?” he asks.

“Sure,” I tell him.

He flips around until he lands on some quiet jazz. I pull Eva's phone out of my purse to check the time, and see that I have a missed text from Danielle.

I just found out that Mr. Cook's already got a guy on the ground in Berkeley looking for you. A local, someone who can better blend in with the people there. But I'm told he's big, with a tattoo sleeve on his right arm. Be careful.

Eva

New Jersey

February

One Day before the Crash

Ellie—or rather, Danielle—did not look as Eva had expected Liz's daughter to look. Instead of the eclectic woman she'd imagined, a woman who wore long flowing skirts and worked for a hardscrabble nonprofit, Danielle had her dark hair pulled back into a conservative bun at the base of her neck. She wore pearls and a tailored suit with low heels. But the resemblance between mother and daughter was immediate. Danielle had the small stature of her mother, the planes of her face an almost mirror image of the friend Eva had grown to love. But where Liz was calm and centered, Danielle seemed agitated.

Liz stood to give her daughter a kiss. “Are you just getting home from work? It's late.”

Ignoring her mother's question, Danielle said to Eva, “I didn't know you were coming to town.”

The way Danielle said it, like an accusation, rumbled low inside of Eva, warning her to be careful. “A last-minute trip,” she said. “In and out.”

“Because?” Danielle's gaze held Eva's.

“Because she wanted to,” Liz interjected, throwing a warning glare at her daughter.

“A quick visit to see some friends,” Eva said, hoping to defuse some of the tension. “I have to head back tomorrow.”

Danielle waited a moment, as if to see if Eva would offer more details. When she didn't, Danielle said, “Mom, can I see you in the other room?”

Apologetic, Liz turned to Eva. “Make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a minute.”

The two women huddled in the living room, the sound of their whispered conversation floating back to Eva in snatches. She rose from the couch and wandered into the kitchen under the pretense of looking at the pictures on the refrigerator.

“What is the matter with you?” Liz hissed.

“I'm sorry. I'm exhausted and stressed, and I've still got to pack for a trip to Detroit tomorrow,” Danielle said. “I wasn't expecting a houseguest.”

“What's happening in Detroit?”

“The foundation has an event there tomorrow. I was supposed to accompany Mrs. Cook, but I just found out Mr. Cook is sending her to Puerto Rico instead. He wants to do the Detroit trip himself.” Danielle sighed. “I'm sorry to be so snappy with you. But this last-minute itinerary change is making me edgy. Something feels off.”

“In what way?”

“Mrs. Cook has been singularly focused on this trip for months, in a way that's unusual for her.”

“I think you're working too hard. Worrying about things that aren't there.” Liz's voice sounded soothing, and Eva imagined her taking Danielle's hand and squeezing it.

“I don't think so, Mom. There's been other weird stuff. Her driver told me last month she took the car—alone—to Long Island. The GPS tracked her all the way to the eastern tip. She doesn't know anyone who lives out there. And I've had to cover for her a few times with financial discrepancies. Withdrawals. Receipts that don't match.” Eva could hear the worry in Danielle's voice, the tension of watching and waiting for something to happen. “I think she's going to leave him.”

“Good. Finally.”

“Yeah, but I don't think the Puerto Rico trip is a part of that. And I'm worried the Detroit trip was.”

“Do you think Mr. Cook knows?”

“No, but if this messes her up somehow…” She trailed off. “I don't like the idea of her traveling alone, or with people only loyal to
the incredible Rory Cook
. And now I've got to go to Detroit and act as if I'm one of them when I can barely stand to look at the man, knowing how he terrorizes her.”

“If she's smart, she'll go to Puerto Rico and never come back.”

Eva had stopped pretending to look at the pictures and was now entirely focused on listening to this story unfold, piecing together the bare bones of an idea.

In two steps, she was across the kitchen and over to the couch, grabbing her laptop and setting it up on the counter so she could still listen in. As the two women continued to talk, Eva Googled
Rory Cook, wife
, and studied the image that appeared. A beautiful woman, her dark hair framing her face, wearing high-end, trendy clothes, walking down a New York sidewalk. The caption read
Rory Cook's wife, Claire, visits the new restaurant, Entourage, located on the Upper West Side
.

In the next room, Danielle said, “Somehow I don't think staying in Puerto Rico is an option for her. I feel terrible that she has to go, that she's going to wake up and Bruce is going to be the one to tell her of the change, that he'll be the one to take her to JFK.” With an impatient sigh, she continued. “Anyways, I'm sorry I was rude to Eva. I'm sure she's lovely. What's the real story? Why is she really in town?”

Eva held her breath, staring at the details of Claire Cook's face, but not seeing them anymore. Instead, she waited to hear whether Liz would keep her secrets or reveal them all, dishing them up to her daughter like a late-night snack.

“Eva's hit a rough patch,” Liz said. “But she's going to be fine. She's a survivor.”

Eva let out a quiet sigh of relief.

“Look,” Danielle was saying. “I need to pack since we're leaving at the crack of dawn. Do you know where my black wool coat is?”

“Upstairs in the spare bedroom closet, I think. Let me see if I can find it.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Such a simple sentence, probably uttered hundreds of thousands of times. And yet, the power of it nearly brought Eva to tears. What it must be like to have someone always in your corner. She thought she'd had that with Liz, but seeing her together with her daughter, the way they trusted and confided in each other, Eva knew what she and Liz shared was nothing more than a close friendship. And she felt stupid for ever thinking it was more. What would Liz advise her daughter to do if she found herself in Eva's position? Would she also encourage Danielle to turn herself in to the authorities? Or would she help her daughter escape?

On the screen in front of her, she imagined what Claire Cook would think tomorrow when she woke to discover her husband had changed her itinerary. That she'd be flying out of JFK to a tropical paradise instead of into the freezing Detroit temperatures. Perhaps she wouldn't care. Perhaps Danielle's instincts about the importance of this trip were wrong. But if they were right, if Claire was planning to run, she'd find herself desperate for a solution. Another way out.

And Eva might have just the solution in mind.

“What are you doing?”

Eva whipped around to find Danielle in the doorway, holding the bag she'd dropped there earlier. Eva closed the lid of the computer, hoping Danielle hadn't seen too much, and gave her a blank smile. “Nothing.”

She held Danielle's gaze until Danielle finally turned away, up the stairs to pack for her trip.

Eva opened the laptop again and toggled away from the photograph of Claire Cook, and over to the airline website. She clicked on
Change my reservation
, and in the drop-down menu, she switched out
Newark
for
JFK
, Liz's words echoing in her mind.
She's a survivor.

Eva was determined to make that true.

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