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Someone We Know

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Maybe you don't know your neighbors as well as you thought you did . . .

is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too
much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out."

a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking
into houses--and into the owners' computers as well--learning their
secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.

Who is he, and what
might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received,
whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down
the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point.
Who killed her? Who knows more than they're telling? And how far will
all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

this neighborhood, it's not just the husbands and wives who play games.
Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .

You never really know what people are capable of.

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This book becomes interesting very quickly and I loved it, it’s the best thriller I’ve read lately because I was in a thriller funk but this book saved me. I loved it, the drama was on point, the investigation wasn’t just police work and reports, it seemed so short too because I’ve enjoyed it so much. A lot of characters but they were all lovely.
12 November 2019 (11:43) 
This is a real page-turner! It is easy to read and I have no dull moments while reading it. I even find it distracting that there are a lot of characters being mentioned but I realized it is somehow necessary to make the story more thrilling.
22 July 2020 (06:22) 
Very interesting, kept me hooked!
06 July 2021 (09:03) 
I read The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, which was a real page turner but the twists and turns became unbelievable and the characters unreliable.
But she seems to have overcome those issues by now. This book was very, very enjoyable for me.
09 April 2022 (02:46) 
Story was fascinating that I couldnt put the book down! The series of events were laced skillfuly, the dialogue realistic, and the best part is I guessed right about who the killer is!!!

If you are looking for a good thriller book, this one's for you.
27 May 2022 (07:09) 

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			 				The Couple Next Door

				A Stranger in the House

				An Unwanted Guest


An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

A Pamela Dorman Book/Viking

Copyright © 2019 by 1742145 Ontario Limited Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

ISBN 9780525557654 (hardcover) ISBN 9780525557661 (ebook)

ISBN 9781984879387 (international edition) This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


		 			 			To Manuel


				Also by Shari Lapena

				Title Page













































				About the Author


I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the following people, to whom I owe my deepest gratitude: My publishers in the UK—Larry Finlay, Bill Scott-Kerr, Frankie Gray, Tom Hill, and the phenomenal team at Transworld UK; my publishers in the US—Brian Tart, Pamela Dorman, Jeramie Orton, Ben Petrone, and the rest of the fantastic team at Viking Penguin; and my publishers in Can; ada—Kristin Cochrane, Amy Black, Bhavna Chauhan, Emma Ingram, and the superb team at Doubleday Canada. Thank you all, once again, for everything. I know there’s an element of luck in publishing and I feel tremendously lucky to be working with all of you! You’re among the very best in the business, and the nicest, hardest-working, and most fun bunch of people to boot. Thank you, each and every one.

Helen Heller—what can I say? You’ve changed my life. And I enjoy and appreciate you more than I can ever express. Thank you also to everyone at the Marsh Agency for continuing to do such an excellent job representing me worldwide.

Special thanks, again, to Jane Cavolina for being the best copyeditor an overly busy author could ever have.

In addition, I want to thank Mike Illes, M.Sc., of the Forensic Science Program at Trent University, for his invaluable help answering my forensic questions, which he did with speed and good humor. Thanks, Mike!

I would also like to thank Jeannette Bauroth, whose charitable donation to the Writers’ Police Academy earned her name a spot in this book!

I’d like to point out that any mistakes in the manuscript are entirely mine. I don’t think there are any, but you never know.

Finally, thank you to Manuel and the kids. I could not do this without you. And Poppy—you’re the best cat, and the best company, day after day, that any writer could hope for.



She’s standing in the kitchen, looking out the large back windows. She turns toward me—there’s a swing of thick, brown hair—and I see the confusion and then the sudden fear in her wide brown eyes. She has registered the situation, the danger. Our eyes lock. She looks like a beautiful, frightened animal. But I don’t care. I feel a rush of emotion—pure, uncontrolled rage; I don’t feel any pity for her at all.

We’re both aware of the hammer in my hand. Time seems to slow down. It must be happening quickly, but it doesn’t feel that way. Her mouth opens, about to form words. But I’m not interested in what she has to say. Or maybe she was going to scream.

I lunge toward her. My arm moves fast, and the hammer connects hard with her forehead. There’s a grisly sound and a shocking spurt of blood. Nothing comes out of her mouth but a gasp of air. She starts to drop even as she raises her hands up toward me, as if she’s pleading for mercy. Or maybe she’s reaching for the hammer. She staggers, like a bull about to go down. I bring the hammer down again, this time on the top of her head, and there’s extra force this time because her head is lower. I have more momentum in my swing, and I want to finish her off. She’s on her knees now, crumpling, and I can’t see her face. She falls forward, face down, and lies still.

I stand above her, breathing heavily, the hammer in my hand dripping blood onto the floor.

I need to be sure she’s dead, so I hit her a few more times. My arm is tired now, and my breathing labored. The hammer is covered in gore, and my clothes are streaked with blood. I reach down and turn her over. One eye is smashed. The other is still open, but there’s no life in it.


Aylesford, a city in New York’s Hudson Valley, is a place of many charms—chief among them the historic downtown along the Hudson River and two majestic bridges that draw the eye. The Hudson Valley is renowned for its natural beauty, and across the river, an hour’s drive on mostly good highways can get you deep into the Catskill Mountains, which are dotted with little towns. The Aylesford train station has ample parking and frequent trains into New York City; you can be in Manhattan in under two hours. In short, it’s a congenial place to live. There are problems, of course, as there are anywhere.

Robert Pierce enters the Aylesford police station—a new, modern building of brick and glass—and approaches the front desk. The uniformed officer at the desk is typing something into a computer and glances at him, holding up a hand to indicate he’ll just be a second.

What would a normal husband say? Robert clears his throat.

The officer looks up at him. “Okay, just give me a minute.” He finishes entering something into the computer while Robert waits. Finally, the officer turns to him. “How can I help?” he asks.

“I’d like to report a missing person.”

The officer now gives Robert his full attention. “Who’s missing?”

“My wife. Amanda Pierce.”

“Your name?”

“Robert Pierce.”

“When was the last time you saw your wife?”

“Friday morning, when she left for work.” He clears his throat again. “She was going to leave directly from the office to go away with a girlfriend for the weekend. She left work as planned, but she didn’t come back home last night. Now it’s Monday morning, and she’s still not home.”

The officer looks at him searchingly. Robert feels himself flush under the man’s gaze. He knows how it looks. But he must not let that bother him. He needs to do this. He needs to report his wife missing.

“Have you tried calling her?”

Robert looks at him in disbelief. He wants to say, Do you think I’m stupid? But he doesn’t. Instead he says, sounding frustrated, “Of course I’ve tried calling her. Numerous times. But her cell just goes to voice mail, and she’s not calling me back. She must have turned it off.”

“What about the girlfriend?”

“Well, that’s why I’m worried,” Robert admits. He pauses awkwardly. The officer waits for him to continue. “I called her friend, Caroline Lu, and—she says they didn’t have plans this weekend. She doesn’t know where Amanda is.”

There’s a silence, and the officer says, “I see.” He looks at Robert warily, or as if he feels sorry for him. Robert doesn’t like it.

“What did she take with her?” the officer asks. “A suitcase? Her passport?”

“She was packed for the weekend, yes. She had an overnight case. And her purse. I—I don’t know if she took her passport.” He adds, “She said she was going to park at the station and take the train into Manhattan for a shopping weekend with Caroline. But I went through the parking lot first thing this morning, and I didn’t see her car there.”

“I don’t mean to be insensitive,” the officer says, “but . . . are you sure she’s not seeing someone else? And lying to you about it?” He adds gently, “I mean, if she lied to you about going off with her friend . . . maybe she’s not really missing.”

Robert says, “I don’t think she would do that. She would tell me. She wouldn’t just leave me hanging.” He knows he sounds stubborn. “I want to report her missing,” he insists.

“Were there problems at home? Was your marriage okay?” the officer asks.

“It was fine.”

“Any kids?”


“All right. Let me take down your particulars, and a description, and we’ll see what we can do,” the officer says reluctantly. “But honestly, it sounds like she left of her own accord. She’ll probably turn up. People take off all the time. You’d be surprised.”

Robert looks at the officer coldly. “Are you not even going to look for her?”

“Can I have your address, please?”



Olivia Sharpe sits in her kitchen drinking a cup of coffee, gazing blankly out the glass sliding doors to the backyard. It’s mid-October, and the maple tree near the back fence is looking splendid in its reds and oranges and yellows. The grass is still green, but the rest of the garden has been prepared for winter; it won’t be long before the first frost, she thinks. But for now, she enjoys the yellow sunlight filtering through her backyard and slanting across her spotless kitchen. Or she tries to. It’s hard to enjoy anything when she is coming to a slow boil inside.

Her son, Raleigh, still isn’t up. Yes, it’s Saturday, and he’s been in school all week, but it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and it drives her crazy that he’s still asleep.

She puts down her coffee and trudges once again up the carpeted stairs to the second floor. She hesitates outside her son’s bedroom door, reminds herself not to yell, and then knocks lightly and opens it. As she expected, he’s sound asleep. His blanket is still over his head—he pulled it over his head the last time she came in, a half hour ago. She knows he hates it when she tells him to get up, but he doesn’t do it on his own, and what is she supposed to do, let him sleep all day? On the weekends she likes to let him relax a little, but for Christ’s sake, it’s midafternoon.

“Raleigh, get up. It’s after two o’clock.” She hates the edge she hears in her voice, but she expends so much energy trying to get this boy out of bed every day, it’s hard not to resent it.

He doesn’t so much as twitch. She stands there looking down at him, feeling a complicated mix of love and frustration. He’s a good boy. A smart but unmotivated student. Completely lovable. He’s just lazy—not only will he not get out of bed on his own, but he doesn’t do his homework, and he doesn’t help with chores around the house without endless nagging. He tells her he hates her nagging. Well, she hates it, too. She tells him that if he did what she asked the first time, she wouldn’t have to repeat herself, but he doesn’t seem to get it. She puts it down to his being sixteen. Sixteen-year-old boys are murder. She hopes that by the time he’s eighteen or nineteen, his prefrontal cortex will be more developed, and he will have better executive function and start being more responsible.

“Raleigh! Come on, get up.” He still doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge her existence, not even with a grunt. She sees his cell phone lying faceup on his bedside table. If he won’t get up, fine, she’ll confiscate his cell phone. She imagines his hand flailing around, reaching for it before he even takes the covers off his head. She snatches the phone and leaves the room, slamming the door behind her. He’ll be furious, but so is she.

She returns to the kitchen and puts his phone down on the counter. It pings. A text message has popped up. She has never snooped in her son’s phone or computer. She doesn’t know his passwords. And she completely trusts him. But this message is right there in front of her, and she looks at it.

			 Did you break in last night?

She freezes. What the hell does that mean?

Another ping. Get anything good?

Her stomach flips.

			 Text me when ur up

She picks up the phone and stares at it, waiting for another message, but nothing comes. She tries to open his phone, but, of course, it’s password protected.

Her son was out last night. He said he’d gone to a movie. With a friend. He didn’t say who.

She asks herself what she should do. Should she wait for his father to get back from the hardware store? Or should she confront her son first? She feels terribly uneasy. Is it possible Raleigh could be up to no good? She can’t believe it. He’s lazy, but he’s not the kind of kid to get into trouble. He’s never been in any trouble before. He has a good home, a comfortable life, and two parents who love him. He can’t possibly . . .

If this is what it looks like, his father will be furious, too. Maybe she’d better talk to Raleigh first.

She climbs the stairs, the earlier love and frustration shoved abruptly aside by an even more complicated mix of rage and fear. She barges into his room with his phone in her fist and yanks the covers off his head. He opens his eyes blearily; he looks angry, like a wakened bear. But she’s angry, too. She holds his cell phone in front of him.

“What were you up to last night, Raleigh? And don’t say you were at the movies, because I’m not buying it. You’d better tell me everything before your father gets home.” Her heart is pounding with anxiety. What has he done?

* * *


Raleigh looks up at his mom. She’s standing over him with his cell phone in her hand. What the hell is she doing with his cell phone? What is she blathering on about? He’s annoyed, but he’s still half asleep. He doesn’t wake up just like that; it’s an adjustment.

“What?” he manages to say. He’s pissed off at her for barging in here when he’s asleep. She’s always trying to wake him up. She always wants everyone on her schedule. Everyone knows his mom’s a bit of a control freak. She should learn to chill. But now she looks really mad. She’s glaring at him in a way he’s never seen before. He suddenly wonders what time it is. He turns to look at his clock radio. It’s two fifteen. Big deal. Nobody died.

“What the hell have you been up to?” she demands, holding his phone out like an accusation.

His heart seems to skip a beat, and he holds his breath. What does she know? Has she gotten into his phone? But then he remembers that she doesn’t know the passcode, and he starts to breathe again.

“I just happened to be glancing at your phone when a text came in,” his mom says.

Raleigh struggles to sit up, his mind going blank. Shit. What did she see?

“Have a look,” she says, and tosses the phone at him.

He thumbs the phone and sees the damning texts from Mark. He sits there staring at them, wondering how to spin this. He’s afraid to look his mother in the face.

“Raleigh, look at me,” she says.

She always says that when she’s mad. Slowly he looks up at her. He’s wide awake now.

“What do those texts mean?”

“What texts?” he says stupidly, playing for time. But he knows he’s busted. The texts are pretty fucking clear. How could Mark be so stupid? He looks back down at the phone again; it’s easier than looking at his mother’s face. Did you break in last night? Get anything good?

He starts to panic. His brain can’t come up with anything fast enough to satisfy his mother. All he can think of is a desperate, “It’s not what it looks like!”

“Oh, that’s good to hear,” his mom says in her most sarcastic voice. “Because it looks like you’ve been up to a bit of breaking and entering!”

He sees an opening. “It’s not like that. I wasn’t stealing.”

She gives him an enraged look and says, “You’d better tell me everything, Raleigh. No bullshit.”

He knows he can’t get out of this by denying it. He’s caught like a rat in a trap, and now all he can do is damage control. “I did sneak into somebody’s house, but I wasn’t stealing. It was more like—just looking around,” he mutters.

“You actually broke into someone’s house last night?” his mother says, aghast. “I can’t believe this! Raleigh, what were you thinking?” She throws her hands up. “Why on earth would you even do that?”

He sits there on his bed, speechless, because he doesn’t know how to explain. He does it because it’s a kick, a thrill. He likes to get into other people’s houses and hack into their computers. He doesn’t dare tell her that. She should be glad he’s not doing drugs.

“Whose house was it?” she demands now.

His mind seizes. He can’t answer that. If he tells her whose house he was in last night, she’ll completely lose it. He can’t bear to think of what the consequences of that might be.

“I don’t know,” he lies.

“Well, where was it?”

“I can’t remember. What difference does it make? I didn’t take anything! They won’t even know I was there.”

His mom leans her face in toward him and says, “Oh, they’ll know all right.”

He looks at her in fear. “What do you mean?”

“You’re going to get dressed, and then you’re going to show me the house you broke into, and then you’re going to knock on the door and apologize.”

“I can’t,” he says desperately.

“You can, and you will,” she says. “Whether you want to or not.”

He starts to sweat. “Mom, I can’t. Please don’t make me.”

She looks at him shrewdly. “What else aren’t you telling me?” she asks.

But at that moment, he hears the front door opening and his dad whistling as he drops his keys on the table in the hall. Raleigh’s heart starts to pound, and he feels slightly sick. His mother he can handle, but his dad—he can’t bear to think of how his dad’s going to react. He didn’t anticipate this; he never thought he’d get caught. Fucking Mark.

“Get up, now,” his mother commands, ripping the rest of the covers off him. “We’re going to talk to your father.”

As he makes his way down the stairs in his pajamas, he’s sweating. When they enter the kitchen, his dad looks up in surprise. He can obviously tell from their expressions that something’s up.

The whistling stops abruptly. “What’s going on?” his dad asks.

“Maybe we’d better all sit down,” his mother says, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table. “Raleigh has something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it.”

They all sit. The sound of the chairs scraping against the floor rips at Raleigh’s raw nerves like nails on a chalkboard.

He has to confess. He knows that. But he doesn’t have to tell them everything. He’s more awake now, better able to think. “Dad, I’m really sorry, and I know it was wrong,” he begins. His voice is trembling, and he thinks it’s a good start. But his dad’s brow has darkened already, and Raleigh’s afraid. He hesitates.

“What the hell have you done, Raleigh?” his father asks.

He stares back at his dad, but the words don’t come. For a moment, he feels completely paralyzed.

“He broke into somebody’s house,” his mother says finally.


There’s no mistaking the shock and fury in his father’s voice. Raleigh quickly averts his eyes and looks at the floor. He says, “I didn’t break in. I snuck in.”

“Why the hell did you do that?” his father demands.

Raleigh shrugs his shoulders, but doesn’t answer. He’s still staring at the floor.


His mother prods him with a hand on his shoulder. “Raleigh?”

He finally raises his head and looks at his dad. “Last night.”

His father looks back at him, his mouth hanging open. “You mean, while we were here having friends over for dinner, and you were supposed to be at a movie, you were actually out sneaking into someone else’s house?” His voice has grown in volume until, by the end of the sentence, his father is shouting. For a moment, there’s silence. The air vibrates with tension. “Were you alone, or were you with someone else?”

“Alone,” he mumbles.

“So we can’t even console ourselves with the idea that someone else led you into this completely unacceptable, criminal, behavior?”

Raleigh wants to put his hands over his ears to block out his dad’s shouting, but he knows this will only incense his dad further. He knows it looks worse that he acted alone.

“Whose house was it?”

“I don’t know.”

“So what happened?” His dad glances at his mom, and then back at him. “Did you get caught?”

Raleigh shakes his head, and his mom says, “No. I saw a text on his cell phone. Raleigh, show your dad the texts.”

Raleigh unlocks and hands over the phone, and his dad looks at the screen in disbelief. “Jesus, Raleigh! How could you? Have you done this before?”

This is the thing about his father—he knows what questions to ask. Things his mother, rattled by shock, didn’t think to ask. Raleigh has done it before, a few times. “Just one other time,” he lies, avoiding his father’s eyes.

“So you’ve broken into two houses.”

He nods.

“Does anyone know?”

Raleigh shakes his head. “Of course not.”

“Of course not,” his dad repeats sarcastically. His dad’s sarcasm is worse than his mom’s. “Your friend knows. Who’s he?”

“Mark. From school.”

“Anyone else?”

Raleigh shakes his head reluctantly.

“Is there any way you might get caught? Security cameras?”

Raleigh shakes his head again, and looks up at his dad. “There weren’t any security cameras. I checked.”

“Jesus. I can’t believe you. Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“They don’t even know I was there,” Raleigh says defensively. “I was really careful. I told Mom—I never took anything. I didn’t do any harm.”

“Then what were you doing there?” his dad asks.

“I don’t know. Just looking around, I guess.”

“Just looking around, I guess,” his dad repeats, and it makes Raleigh feel about six years old. “What were you looking at? Ladies’ underwear?”

“No!” Raleigh shouts, flushing hotly with embarrassment. He’s not some kind of a pervert. He mutters, “I was mostly looking in their computers.”

“Dear God,” his dad shouts, “you went into people’s computers?”

Raleigh nods miserably.

His dad slams the table and gets up. He starts pacing around the kitchen, glaring back at Raleigh. “Don’t people use passwords?”

“Sometimes I can get past them,” he says, his voice quavering.

“And what did you do, when you were looking around in people’s private computers?”

“Well . . .” and it all comes out in a rush. He feels his mouth twist as he tries not to cry. “All I did was write some prank emails from—from someone’s email account.” And then, uncharacteristically, he bursts into tears.


Olivia sizes up the situation. Paul is angrier than she’s ever seen him. That makes sense. Raleigh has never done anything remotely like this before. She knows a large part of the anger is because of fear. Are they losing control of their sixteen-year-old son? Why did he do this? He wants for nothing. They’ve brought Raleigh up to know right from wrong. So what is going on?

She watches him, sniffling miserably in his chair, his father staring at him silently as if deciding what to do, what the appropriate punishment should be.

What, she asks herself, is the civil, decent thing to do? What will help Raleigh learn from this? What will assuage her own guilt? She wades in carefully. “I think Raleigh should go to these people and apologize.”

Paul turns on her angrily. “What? You want him to apologize?”

For a split second she resents that he has turned his anger on her, but she lets it go. “I don’t mean that’s all. Obviously, he will have to face consequences for his behavior. Very serious consequences. At the very least he should be grounded if we can’t trust him. And we should take his phone away for a while. And restrict his internet time to homework only.”

Raleigh looks at her, alarmed, as if this is far too harsh a penalty. He really doesn’t get it, she thinks. He doesn’t understand the enormity of what he’s done. She feels a chill settle around her heart. How are you supposed to teach kids anything these days, with all the bad behavior they see around them, on the news, all the time, from people in positions of authority? No one seems to behave well or have any appreciation for boundaries anymore. That’s not how she was brought up. She was taught to say sorry, and to make amends.

“He can’t apologize,” Paul says firmly.

“Why not?” she asks.

“He broke into people’s houses. He went through their computers. He broke the law. If he apologizes, he opens himself up to criminal charges. Do you want that?”

Her heart seizes with fear. “I don’t know,” she says crossly. “Maybe that’s what he deserves.” But it’s bravado, really. She’s terrified at the thought of her son facing criminal charges, and clearly her husband is, too. She realizes suddenly that they’ll do anything to protect him.

Paul says, “I think we’d better talk to a lawyer. Just in case.”

* * *


The next morning, Sunday, Raleigh is sound asleep when his mother comes into his room and shakes him by the shoulder.

“You’re getting up, now,” she says.

And he does. He’s on his very best behavior. He wants his phone and internet access back. And he’s terrified of going to the lawyer, which his dad is going to make him do. Last night at the dinner table his father was saying maybe it would be best, in the long run, if Raleigh were to face charges and take the legal consequences. His dad wouldn’t really make him do that. He thinks he was just trying to scare him. It worked. Raleigh’s shitting bricks.

Once he’s dressed and downstairs, his mom tells him, “We’re going to get in the car, and you’re going to show me the two houses you broke into.”

He looks back at her, wary. “Why?”

“Because I said so,” she says.

“Where’s Dad?” he asks nervously.

“He’s gone golfing.”

They get in her car. She hasn’t even let him have breakfast first. He sits in the passenger seat beside her, his stomach growling and his heart thumping. Maybe his parents talked, after he was in bed, and decided he had to apologize after all.

“Which way?” she says.

His brain freezes. He can feel himself starting to sweat. He’s only going to show her a couple of the houses he’s broken into to get her off his back. And he certainly won’t tell her the truth about where he was last night.

He’s tense as his mother reverses out of the driveway and drives down Sparrow Street. The trees are bright gold and orange and red and everything looks like it did when he was little and his parents raked leaves into a big pile on the lawn for him to jump in. At the corner, he directs her to turn left, and then left again onto Finch Street, the long residential street next to, and parallel to, their own.

His mom drives slowly along Finch until he points out a house. Number 32, a handsome two-story house painted pale gray with blue shutters and a red front door. She pulls over to the curb and parks, staring at the house as if memorizing it. It’s a sunny day and it’s warm in the car. Raleigh’s heart is pounding harder now and sweat is forming on his forehead and between his shoulder blades. He’s forgotten all about his hunger; now, he just feels sick.

“You’re sure it was this house?” she asks.

He nods, shifts his eyes away from hers. She continues to stare at the house. There’s a horrible moment when he thinks she’s going to get out of the car, but it passes. She just sits there. He begins to feel conspicuous. What if the people come out of the house? Is that what she’s waiting for?

“When did you break into this one?” she asks.

“I don’t know. A while ago,” he mumbles.

She turns away from him and studies the house some more.

“What are we doing here, Mom?” he asks finally.

She doesn’t answer. She starts the car again and he feels himself go weak with relief.

“Where’s the other one?” she asks.

He directs her to turn left again at the end of the street, and left again, until they are back on their own street.

She looks over at him. “Seriously, you broke into our neighbor’s? We didn’t need to take the car, did we?”

He doesn’t answer. Silently, he points at Number 79, a two-story white house with a bay window in the front, black shutters, and a double garage.

Again, she pulls over and stares at the house uneasily. “Are you sure it was this house you broke into last night, Raleigh?”

He looks at her furtively, wondering what she’s getting at. What’s special about this house?

As if reading his mind, she says, “His wife ran away from him recently.”

That’s not my fault, Raleigh thinks sulkily, wishing that he’d shown her a different house.

His mom starts the car again and pulls out into the street. “Are you sure you didn’t take anything, Raleigh? That it was just a prank?” she says, turning to look at him. “Tell me the truth.”

He can see how worried she is, and he feels awful for making her feel that way. “I swear, Mom. I didn’t take anything.” At least that’s the truth. He feels bad for what he’s put his parents through, especially his mom.

Yesterday, he promised his parents he would never do it again, and he means it.

* * *


Olivia drives the short way home in silence, turning things over in her mind. The houses on these familiar streets were built decades ago. They’re set far apart and well back from the road, so they are only dimly lit by the streetlights at night; it would be easy to break into them without being seen. She’d never given a thought to that before. Maybe they should get a security system. She recognizes the irony of it; she’s thinking of getting a security system because her own son has been breaking into their neighbors’ homes.

Tomorrow is Monday. Paul will call a law firm he knows and make an appointment for them to see someone about this. She’d spent a good part of the previous afternoon searching Raleigh’s room as he looked on, miserable. She hadn’t found anything that shouldn’t be there. She and Paul had discussed it again in bed last night. She hardly slept afterward.

Parenting is so stressful, she thinks, glancing sidelong at her moody son slouched in the seat beside her. You try to do your best, but really, what control do you have over them once they’re not little anymore? You have no idea what’s going on inside their heads, or what they’re up to. What if she’d never seen that text? How long would it have gone on—until he was arrested and the cops showed up at the house? He was breaking into places, snooping through people’s lives, and they’d known nothing about it. If anyone had accused her son of such a thing, she would never have believed it. That’s how little she knows him these days. But she saw those texts herself. He admitted it. She wonders uneasily if he’s keeping any other secrets. She parks the car in their driveway and says, “Raleigh, is there anything else you want to tell me?”

He turns to her, startled. “What?”

“You heard me. Is there anything else I should know?” She looks at him, hesitates, and adds, “I don’t necessarily have to tell your father.” He’s obviously surprised at that, but shakes his head. It makes her wonder if she should have said it. She and Paul are supposed to represent a unified front. She says in a neutral voice—which takes real effort—“Tell me the truth. Are you doing drugs?”

He actually smiles. “No, Mom, I’m not doing drugs. This is it, I swear. And I won’t do it again. You can relax.”

But she can’t relax. Because she’s his mother, and she worries that his breaking into people’s homes—not out of greed, not to steal, but just to “look around”—might indicate that there’s something wrong with him. It isn’t normal, is it? And those emails he sent from someone’s email account worry her. He wouldn’t tell her what they said. She hasn’t really pushed it because she’s not sure she wants to know. How messed up is he? Should he see someone? Some of the kids she knows are seeing therapists, for all kinds of things—anxiety, depression. When she was growing up, kids didn’t see therapists. But it’s a different time.

When they get inside, she retreats to the office upstairs and closes the door. She knows Paul won’t be home from his golf game for hours. She sits at the computer and types up a letter. A letter of apology, which she will not sign. It is not easy to write. When she’s satisfied with it, she prints two copies and puts them into two plain white envelopes, seals them, and then goes downstairs and places them in the bottom of her purse. She will have to wait until after dark to deliver them. She will go out late to run an errand at the corner store. Then she’ll slip around and deliver the letters. She won’t tell Paul and Raleigh what she’s done; she already knows they wouldn’t approve. But it makes her feel better.

After a moment’s consideration, she goes back to the computer and deletes the document.


It’s early in the morning on Monday, October 16; the light in the sky has been growing steadily stronger. The air is chilly. Detective Webb stands perfectly still, watching the mist rise off the lake, holding a paper cup of coffee that has long since gone cold. The surface of the lake, farther out, is perfectly still. He hears a bird cry in the distance. It reminds him of camping as a boy. It would be a peaceful scene if it weren’t for the crew of divers and the various vehicles, equipment, and personnel nearby.

The area outside of Aylesford is a lovely place for a vacation. He’s been out here before with his wife. But it’s first thing on a Monday morning, and he’s not here to enjoy himself.

“You still drinking that?” Detective Moen asks, looking sideways at him.

She’s his partner; a head shorter and a decade younger, late twenties to his late thirties, and sharp as a tack. He likes working with her. She has short brown hair and perceptive blue eyes. He looks at her and shakes his head, dumps the cold coffee out on the ground.

A local retired man by the name of Bryan Roth had been along here in his rowboat at dawn, fishing for bass. He thought he saw something beneath his boat, something that looked like a car, not far from shore. He called the police. The County Sheriff’s Office Regional Underwater Search and Recovery Team had come out. They could see there was a car down there; now they need to find out what else might be under the water.

The divers have just gone down to take a look. Webb stands and watches the water, Moen beside him, waiting for the divers to surface. He wants to know if there’s a body in the car. Or worse, more than one. Odds are, there is. In the meantime, he thinks about the logistics of it. There’s a road behind them, a lonely road. A suicide spot, maybe? The car isn’t far from shore, but the water in this particular spot gets deep quickly. There’s a strip of beach, and then the edge of the lake. He turns and looks back again at the road behind him. The road curves here—if someone was driving too fast, or was drunk or high, could the car have missed the curve and gone down the slight incline into the water? There’s no guardrail to prevent it.

He wonders how long the car’s been there. It’s an out-of-the-way spot. A car that went into the water here might stay unnoticed for a long time.

His attention shifts to the man standing at the edge of the road. The older man waves a nervous hello.

Webb and Moen walk over to him.

“You the one who spotted it?” Webb asks.

The man nods. “Yes. I’m Bryan Roth.”

“I’m Detective Webb and this is Detective Moen from Aylesford Police,” he says, showing the man his badge. “You fish along here regularly?” Webb asks.

The man shakes his head. “No, I don’t generally come down here. Never fished along this bit before. I was just floating along here”—he points out at the water with a finger—“with my line in the water, and I felt it snag. I bent over to have a look and started pulling on it, and I saw a car.”

“It’s good that you called it in,” Moen says.

The man nods, laughs nervously. “It really freaked me out. You don’t expect to see a car under the water.” He looks at them uneasily. “Do you think there’s someone in it?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Webb says.

He turns away from the man and looks back at the lake. At that moment a diver breaks through the surface and looks toward the shore. He shakes his head firmly, no.

Webb says, “There’s your answer.”

But it’s not the answer he was expecting. If there’s no body in the car, how did the car get into the water? Who was driving it? Maybe somebody pushed it in.

Moen, beside him, looks just as surprised.

Could be all sorts of reasons there’s nobody in that car. Maybe whoever was driving managed to get out and didn’t report it because they’d been drinking. Maybe the car had been stolen. They’ll get it out of the water and get the license plate and then they’ll have somewhere to start.

Moen stands beside him, silently going over the possibilities, just as he is.

“Thanks for your help,” Webb says to Roth, and then turns abruptly and walks toward the lake, Moen falling into step beside him. The man stands uncertainly, left behind.

The diver is coming up to the shore now. The marine officers stand by; it’s their job to get the car out of the water. They’ve done this countless times. A second diver is still down there, getting things ready to lift the vehicle out.

The diver lifts up his mask. “It’s a four-door sedan. All the windows are wide open.” He pauses and adds, “Might have been sunk deliberately.”

Webb bites his lower lip. “Any idea how long it’s been in the water?”

“I’d guess a couple of weeks, give or take.”

“Okay. Thanks. Let’s bring her up,” he says.

They step back again and let the experts do their work. Webb and Moen stand in silence and watch.

Finally there’s a loud swooshing sound and the car breaks through the water. It’s raised a few feet above the surface when they see it for the first time. Water streams from the windows and out the cracks in the doors. It hangs there suspended from cables in the air for a minute, resurrected.

The car swings slowly over and onto the shore. It lands on the ground with a bounce and then settles, still leaking fluids. Careful about his shoes, Webb approaches the vehicle. It’s a fairly new Toyota Camry, and just as the diver said, all four windows are open. Webb looks in the front seat and sees a woman’s purse peeking out from beneath the seat. He looks into the backseat and sees an overnight case on the floor. The car smells of stagnant lake water and rot. He pulls his head out and walks around to the back of the vehicle. New York plates. He turns to Moen. “Call it in,” he says. She gives a curt nod and calls in the plate number while the two of them walk around the vehicle. Finally they’ve come full circle and stop at the back of the car again. It’s time to open the trunk. Webb has a bad feeling. He turns and looks back at the man who first saw the car in the water. He doesn’t come closer. He looks as apprehensive as Webb feels, but the detective knows better than to show it.

“Let’s get this open,” he directs.

A member of the team approaches with a crow bar. He’s obviously done this before—the trunk pops open. They all look inside.

There’s a woman there. She’s lying on her back with her legs folded up to one side, fully clothed, in jeans and a sweater. She’s white, probably late twenties, long brown hair. Webb notes the wedding ring and the diamond engagement ring on her finger. He can see that she has been savagely beaten. Her skin is pale and waxy and her one remaining eye is wide open. She looks up at him as if she’s asking for help. He can tell that she was beautiful.

“Christ,” Webb says under his breath.


Carmine Torres rises early Monday morning. Sunlight is beginning to filter through the front windows and into the entryway as she makes her way down the stairs, anticipating her first cup of coffee. She’s halfway down when she sees it. A white envelope lying all by itself on the dark hardwood floor just inside the front door. How odd. It wasn’t there last night when she went up to bed. Must be junk mail, she thinks, in spite of the NO JUNK MAIL sign she has displayed outside. But junk mail doesn’t usually get delivered late at night.

She walks over to the envelope and picks it up. There’s nothing written on it. She considers tossing it into the recycle bin without opening it, but she’s curious, and tears it open casually as she walks into the kitchen.

But as soon as her eyes fall on the letter inside, she stops and stands completely still. She reads:

			 This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. There is no easy way to say this, so I will just spell it out.

My son broke into your home recently while you were out. Yours was not the only home he snuck into. I know that’s not much comfort. He swears he didn’t steal anything. I’ve searched his room very thoroughly and I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth about that. He says he just looked around. He was very careful and didn’t break or damage anything. You probably don’t even know he was there. But I feel I have to let you know that he snooped in your computer—he’s very good with computers—and admits that he wrote some prank emails from someone’s account. He wouldn’t tell me the content of those emails—I think he is too embarrassed—but I feel that you should know. I would hate for them to cause you any trouble.

I am mortified by his behavior. I’m sorry that he can’t apologize to you in person. I can’t tell you my name, or his name, because his father is worried that it will leave our son open to criminal charges. But please believe me when I tell you that we are all deeply sorry and ashamed of his behavior. Teenage boys can be a handful.

Please accept this apology and I assure you that it will never happen again. My son has faced serious consequences for his actions at home.

I just wanted you to know that it happened, and that we are deeply sorry.

Carmine lifts her eyes from the page, appalled. Someone broke into her house? What an introduction to the neighborhood. She’s only lived here for a couple of months; she’s still getting used to the place, trying to make friends.

She’s not happy about the letter. It makes her feel unsettled. It’s awful to think that someone was inside her house creeping around, going through her things, getting into her computer, without her even knowing. She’ll look around and make sure nothing’s missing—she’s not going to take this woman’s word for it. And she’d better check her computer for any sent emails that she didn’t write herself. The more she thinks about it the more upset she gets. She feels invaded.

Carmine wanders into the kitchen and starts making coffee. As upset as she is, she can’t help feeling sorry for the woman who wrote the letter. How awful for her, she thinks. But she’d love to know who it was.

* * *


Robert Pierce stops at the bottom of his stairs, staring at the plain white envelope on the floor in his front hall. Someone must have pushed it through the slot while he was upstairs in bed last night.

He steps forward slowly, his bare feet making no sound on the hardwood floor. He reaches down and picks up the envelope, turning it over. There’s nothing written on it at all.

He opens the envelope and pulls out the single sheet of paper, then reads the letter in disbelief. It’s unsigned. Reaching the end of it, he looks up, seeing nothing. Someone has been inside his house.

Sinking down onto the bottom stair, he reads the letter again. Some teenager, messing about. He can’t believe it.

He sits for a long time, thinking he might have a problem.

* * *


Raleigh goes to school on Monday morning, relieved to get out of the house.

He’s also feeling completely disconnected—he hasn’t been online all weekend. He feels almost blind without his cell phone. He has no way to reach anyone, to make plans, to know what’s going on. He feels like a bat without radar. Or sonar. Or whatever. He has to hope he runs into Mark in the hall or in the cafeteria, because they don’t have any classes together today.

But then he finds Mark waiting for him by his locker. Of course Mark will have figured it out.

“Parents take your phone?” Mark asks, as Raleigh opens his locker.

“Yeah.” His anger at his friend’s stupidity had subsided as he recalled that he’d probably sent equally stupid texts to him. Plus, he needs a friend right now.

“Why? What’d you do?”

Raleigh leans in closer. “Those texts you sent—my mom saw them. They know.”

Mark looks alarmed. “Shit! Sorry.”

Raleigh is very sorry now that he ever, in a moment of bravado, told Mark what he was doing. He’d been showing off. But now he wishes he’d kept his mouth shut.

Raleigh glances over his shoulder to see if anyone can hear them. He lowers his voice. “Now they’re taking me to see a lawyer to decide what to do. My own parents are considering turning me in!”

“No way. They wouldn’t do that. They’re your parents.”

“Yeah, well, they’re pretty pissed.” Raleigh shrugs off his backpack.

“See you after school?” Mark asks, obviously worried.

“Sure. Meet me here after last class.” He grabs his books. “I fucking hate not having a phone.”

* * *


Olivia has work to do, but she can’t focus. She works from home as a copy editor of educational textbooks. She has enough work to keep her moderately busy, but not overly so, so that she can manage the house and family. It’s a satisfactory, but not particularly fulfilling, arrangement. Sometimes she daydreams about doing something completely different. Maybe she’ll become a real estate agent, or work in a gardening shop. She has no idea, but the thought of change is appealing.

Olivia had been too distracted to work, waiting for Paul to call her about when they’re meeting the lawyer. And now that she’s learned that it will be today she can’t think about anything else. She hesitates, but then picks up her phone and calls Glenda Newell.

Glenda picks up on the second ring. She works from home, too, putting together fancy gift baskets for a local business a few hours a week. She’s usually up for coffee if Olivia calls. “Do you want to meet at the Bean for coffee?” Olivia asks. She can hear the tension in her own voice, although she’s trying to keep it light. “I could use a talk.”

“Sure, I’d love to,” Glenda says. “Everything all right?”

Olivia hasn’t decided how much she’s going to tell Glenda. “Yup. Fifteen minutes?”


When Olivia arrives at the local coffee shop, Glenda is already there. The Bean is a comfortable place, with an old-fashioned coffee bar and mismatched tables and chairs and walls covered in funky, thrift-shop art. Not a chain, and very popular with the locals, in an area where many people seem to work from home. Glenda has found a table at the back, where they can have some privacy. Olivia orders a decaf Americano at the counter and joins Glenda at the table.

“What’s up?” Glenda asks. “You don’t look that great.”

“I haven’t been sleeping well the last couple of nights,” Olivia admits, looking at Glenda. She really needs to confide in someone. She and Glenda have been close for sixteen years—they met in a moms’ group when Raleigh and Glenda’s son, Adam, were infants. Their husbands have become fast friends as well. They socialize together frequently; it was Glenda and her husband, Keith, who had been over for dinner on Friday night when Raleigh was out getting into trouble.

She can tell Glenda. Glenda will understand. Mothers can be awfully competitive these days, but she and Glenda have never been that way. They’ve always been honest and supportive with each other about the kids. Olivia knows that Adam has had his problems. Twice now, at sixteen, he’s come home so drunk that he’s spent the night hovering over the toilet or collapsed on the bathroom floor. Glenda has had to stay awake watching over him to make sure he didn’t choke on his own vomit. Parenting is hard; Olivia doesn’t know what she’d do without Glenda to help her through it. And she knows Glenda is grateful for her, too.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Olivia says, leaning forward and speaking quietly.

“What?” Glenda asks.

Olivia glances around to make sure they can’t be overheard and says, lowering her voice even further, “Raleigh’s been breaking into people’s houses.”

The shock on Glenda’s face says it all. Suddenly tears are brimming in Olivia’s eyes and she’s afraid she’s going to have a full-blown meltdown right there in the coffee shop. Glenda leans in and puts a comforting hand on her shoulder while Olivia scrabbles for a paper napkin and holds it to her eyes.

The girl picks that moment to bring Olivia’s coffee over, sets it down, and moves swiftly away, pretending not to notice that Olivia is crying.

“Oh, Olivia,” Glenda says, her face shifting from shock to sympathy. “What happened? Did he get caught by the police?”

Olivia shakes her head and tries to recover her composure. “It was Friday night, when you guys were over for dinner.” She’d thought about asking Raleigh to stay home for the dinner party. He’d already made plans with a friend to go see a movie—or so he’d said. She could have insisted he stay home. He and Adam used to be friends, but had drifted apart that spring, when Adam started drinking. But part of her didn’t really want Raleigh around Adam. She was afraid he would be a bad influence; she didn’t want Raleigh to start drinking. Of course, she couldn’t tell Glenda that. Instead she’d told Glenda that Raleigh had already made plans and Glenda had been fine with it. Adam found something else to do. And now it turns out that her own son had found something else to do, too. Olivia tells Glenda the whole mortifying story. Except for the part about the apology letters; she keeps that to herself.

“Why would Raleigh do something like that?” Glenda asks in genuine bewilderment. “He’s always been such a good kid.”

“I don’t know,” Olivia admits. “It seems—” She can’t continue. She doesn’t want to put it into words, to make her concerns real.

“It seems what?”

“Odd. Why would he want to snoop around people’s houses like that? It’s abnormal! Is he some kind of—voyeur? Do you think I should get him some help?”

Glenda sits back and bites her lip. “I don’t think you should get carried away here. He’s a teenager. They’re stupid. They don’t think. They do whatever seems like a good idea at any given moment. Kids do this kind of thing all the time.”

“Do they?” Olivia says anxiously. “But don’t they usually steal something? He didn’t take anything.”

“Are you sure? Maybe all he took was a bottle of booze, or maybe he drank some alcohol out of a bottle and then topped it up with water. Kids do that shit. Believe me, I know.” Her face goes grim.

“Maybe,” Olivia says, thinking about it. Maybe that was all it was. She hadn’t checked Raleigh’s breath when he was sleeping. She hadn’t known anything was wrong until the next day. Maybe she should keep an eye on their liquor cabinet at home. “Anyway,” she says, “we’re seeing a lawyer this afternoon. We’ll see what he says. We’re mostly doing it to scare him.”

Glenda nods. “Probably not a bad idea.” They sip their coffees. Then Glenda changes the subject. “Are you still going to book club tonight?” she asks.

“Yes. I need to get out,” Olivia says, looking glum. “Don’t tell anybody about this, okay? It’s strictly between us.”

“Of course,” Glenda says. “And honestly? It’s great that you caught it early. Nip it in the bud now. Get the lawyer to scare him shitless. As long as he never does it again, you’re good. No harm done.”

* * *


Glenda Newell makes her way back home from the Bean, her mind on what Olivia has just told her. Poor Olivia—Raleigh breaking into houses! Still, it’s a comfort that other families have their problems, too. It does make her feel just a little bit better about her own situation.

She herself is worried sick about Adam—his impulsiveness, his inability to regulate his behavior. She can hardly sleep at night for worrying about her son. And she’s worried that he has the addictive gene. He’s taken to drinking with a shocking enthusiasm. What’s next? The thought of all the drugs out there makes her panic. God only knows what the next few years will bring; the last one has been harrowing enough. Sometimes she doesn’t know if she will survive it.

Keith seems to have his head buried in the sand these days. Either he doesn’t want to face things, or he genuinely sees nothing wrong with binge drinking at sixteen. But then Keith isn’t a worrier. So handsome, with his bluff self-confidence and easy charm—he always thinks things will turn out just fine. He tells her that she worries too much. Maybe he’s right. But she’s a mother. It’s her job to worry.


Robert Pierce is leaving for work when he opens the door and sees a tall, dark-haired man in his late thirties and a shorter, mousy-haired woman about ten years younger. Both are well dressed. His first thought is that they are soliciting for something.

Then the man holds up his badge and says, “Good morning. Robert Pierce?”


“I’m Detective Webb and this is Detective Moen, from Aylesford Police. We’re here to talk to you about your wife.”

He’s never seen these two before. Why are they here now? He hears his heart suddenly drumming in his ears. “Have you found her?” he asks. The words come out sounding choked.

“May we come in, Mr. Pierce?”

He nods and steps back, opening the door wide, and then closes it firmly behind them. Robert leads them into the living room.

“Maybe we should sit down,” Detective Webb suggests, when Robert stands uncertainly in the middle of the living room staring at them.

All at once, Robert finds he needs to sit. He collapses into an armchair; he can feel the blood draining from his head. He stares at the detectives, slightly dizzy. The moment has come. The detectives sit on the sofa, their backs straight, the bay window behind them.

“We found your wife’s car this morning.”

“Her car,” Robert manages to say. “Where?”

“It was in a lake, out near Canning.”

“What do you mean, in a lake? Was she in an accident?” He looks back and forth between them, his mouth dry.

“It was submerged just offshore, in about fifteen feet of water. Her purse and an overnight bag were in the car.” He adds quietly, “A body was found in the trunk.”

Robert slumps back against his chair, as if he’s had the breath knocked out of him. He can feel the two detectives watching him carefully. He looks back at them, afraid to ask. “Is it her?”

“We think so.”

Robert feels himself go pale. He can’t speak. Detective Webb leans forward and Robert notices his eyes for the first time—sharp, intelligent eyes.

“I know this is a shock. But we need you to come down to identify the body.”

Robert nods. He gets up, grabs a jacket, and follows them outside to the street and gets into the back of their car.

The County Medical Examiner’s Office is a new, low brick building. Robert gets out of the car, expecting to be led into a morgue. He imagines a long, cold, sterile room, with shiny, pale tiles and stainless steel, and harsh light, and the smell of death. His head begins to spin, and he knows they are watching him. But instead of a morgue they conduct him to a large, modern waiting room with a glass viewing panel. He stands in front of the glass and watches as the sheet is turned down to reveal the face of the body on the steel gurney.

“Is that your wife?” Webb asks.

He forces himself to look. “Yes,” he says, then closes his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” the detective says. “Let’s get you home.”

Silently, they return to the car. Robert gazes out the window, but he doesn’t see the passing streets; what he sees is his wife’s face, battered, bloated, and tinged with green. He knows what’s going to happen next. They are going to question him.

They arrive at his house. The two detectives get out of the car and accompany him to the door.

Detective Webb says, “I’m sorry, I know this is a difficult time, but we’d like to come in and ask you a few more questions, if that’s all right with you.”

Robert nods and lets them in. They return to the living room they’d been in just a short time before, take the same seats. He swallows and says, “I don’t know anything more than I did when she disappeared a couple of weeks ago. I told the police everything I could then. What have you been doing all this time?” It comes out more confrontationally than it should have. Detective Webb looks back at him without blinking. “You weren’t even looking for her,” Robert says. His voice is bitter. “That’s the impression I got, anyway.”

“It’s a murder investigation now,” the detective says, glancing at his partner. “Obviously there will be an autopsy and we’ll be looking at everything very closely.” He adds, “We need to go back to the beginning.”

Robert nods wearily. “Fine.”

“How long were you and your wife married, Mr. Pierce?”

“Two years, last June.” He notices that the other detective, Moen, is taking notes.

“Were there any problems in your marriage?”

“No. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Had your wife ever been unfaithful to you?”


“Had you ever been unfaithful to her?”


“Any arguments, any . . . violence or abuse?”

He bristles. “Of course not.”

“Did your wife have any enemies?”

“No, not at all.”

“Anything different about her in the days or even weeks before she went missing? Did she seem preoccupied at all? Did she mention anyone bothering her?”

He shakes his head. “No, not that I noticed. Everything was fine.”

“Any financial problems?”

He shakes his head. “No. We were planning a trip to Europe. Work was good for me. She was a temp, and she liked that, the freedom. Didn’t like being tied down to the same job fifty-two weeks a year.”

“Tell us about that weekend,” the detective says.

Robert looks at both detectives and says, “She’d planned to go away that weekend with a friend of hers, Caroline Lu. They were going into New York City.” He pauses. “That’s what she told me, anyway.”

“Did she do this kind of thing often, go away for the weekend?”

“Sometimes. She liked her little shopping expeditions.”

“How would she make her travel arrangements?”

He lifts his head. “She made her own arrangements. She booked things online, on her laptop, put it on her credit card.”

“You weren’t suspicious when she left?”

“No, not at all. I knew Caroline. I liked her. They’ve done this sort of thing before.” He adds, “I don’t enjoy shopping.”

“So tell us about Friday morning,” Webb says, “September twenty-ninth.”

“She’d packed her overnight case the night before. I remember she was humming as she went around the bedroom packing her things. I was lying on the bed, watching her. She seemed . . . happy.” He looks earnestly at the two detectives. “We made love that night, everything was fine,” he assures them.

But it wasn’t like that, he remembers, not at all.

“The next morning,” Robert continues, “when she was leaving for work, I kissed her good-bye, told her to have fun. She was going to leave directly from work, leave her car at the station and take the train in. It was her last day of that temp assignment.”

“Where was that?” the detective asks.

“I told the police all this already,” Robert complains. “It was an accounting firm. The information must be in the file.” He feels a flash of irritation.

“Did you talk to her again that day at all?”

“No. I meant to, but I was busy with work. When I got home, I called her cell, but she didn’t answer. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But she didn’t pick up all weekend—it just went to voice mail. We’re not a clingy couple, calling each other all the time. I thought she was busy, having fun. I didn’t think much of it.”

“When did you start to realize something was wrong?” Webb asks.

“When she didn’t return Sunday night as expected, I started to worry. I’d left messages on her cell, but she hadn’t called me back. I couldn’t remember where they were staying either. That’s when I called Caroline. I thought her husband might know something, if they’d been delayed. But Caroline answered the phone.” He pauses. “And she told me that she’d never had plans with Amanda that weekend, that she hadn’t actually talked to Amanda in a while.” He rubs a hand over his face. “I went to the police station on Monday morning and reported her missing.”

“What kind of work do you do?” Detective Moen asks. It startles him a bit, and he turns his attention to her.

“I’m an attorney.” He adds, “I—I should call the office.”

The detective ignores that. “Can you confirm for us where you were that weekend—from Friday, the twenty-ninth of September, to Monday?” she asks.


“Can you confirm—”

“Yes, sure,” he says. “I was at work all day Friday, left about five. I went directly home. I told the police all of this before, when I reported her missing. I stayed in on Friday night. On Saturday, I was home, caught up on some work; Sunday I went golfing with some friends.” He adds, “It must all be in the file.”

“Did your wife have any family, besides you?” Detective Moen asks.

“No. She was an only child, and her parents are both dead.” He pauses. “Maybe I can ask a question.”

“Sure,” Detective Webb says.

“Do you have any idea what might have happened? Who might have done this?”

“Not yet,” the detective says, “but we won’t stop until we find out. Is there anything else that you can tell us?”

“Not that I can think of,” Robert says, his face a careful blank.

“Okay,” Webb says. He adds, as if it’s an afterthought, “We’d like to have a team come in and take a look inside your house, if that’s all right with you.”

Robert says, his voice sharp, “You ignore my concerns for two weeks, now you want to search my house? You can get a warrant.”

“Fine. We’ll do that,” Webb says. Robert stands up and the two detectives get up and leave.

Once he’s watched them drive away, Robert locks the front door and quickly makes his way upstairs to his office. He sits in the chair at the desk and pulls open the bottom drawer. There’s a stack of manila envelopes inside. He knows that beneath those envelopes is his wife’s burner phone, the one the cops don’t know about. He sits for a moment, staring at the envelopes, afraid. He thinks about the letter he got that morning, downstairs in a kitchen drawer. Somebody was in his house. Some teenager was here, snooping through his desk. And he must have seen the phone, because one day when Robert had opened the drawer, the phone had been sitting right on top of those manila envelopes. The shock of it had made him start in his chair. He knew he’d put the phone beneath the envelopes. But now he knows. That kid must have seen the phone, moved it. And now the police are going to search his house. He has to get rid of it.

He has a small window of time before they come back with a warrant. But how much time? He reaches beneath the envelopes for the cell phone, suddenly afraid that it won’t be there at all. But he can feel its smooth surface in his hand and he pulls it out. He stares down at it, this phone that has caused him such pain.

He closes the drawer and shoves the phone in his pocket. He looks out the window; the street below is empty. When the news breaks that his wife’s body has been found, there will be reporters on his doorstep; he’ll never be able to get away then. He must act quickly. He changes into jeans and a T-shirt, hurries downstairs, grabs a jacket and his keys by the front door, and stops suddenly, just short of opening the door. What if someone sees him? And later the detectives find out that he rushed out of the house right after they left?

He stands still for a minute, thinking. They’ll search the house. He can’t hide the phone in the house. What options does he have? He walks to the back and looks out the door from the kitchen to the backyard. It’s a very private yard. Maybe he can bury the phone in the back flower garden. Surely they won’t dig up the garden. They already have the body.

He spies Amanda’s gardening set on the patio, puts on her gardening gloves, and grabs a trowel. He walks to the flowerbeds at the back of the garden. He looks around—the only house that can see into his yard is Becky’s, and he doesn’t see her, watching at the windows, or from the back door. He bends down and quickly digs a small, narrow hole, about ten inches deep, underneath a shrub. He wipes the cell phone down with his T-shirt, just in case, thinking that if they do find it, he can tell them she must have put it there—Amanda did all the gardening. Then he pushes the phone deep into the hole and covers it up again. You can’t even tell the earth had been disturbed when he’s done. He returns the gardening tools to their place and goes back inside.

Problem solved.


Raleigh slouches in English class. The teacher is droning on and on, but Raleigh can only focus on the mess he’s in.

It had started quite innocently last spring, sometime in May. He’d left his backpack at his friend Zack’s house after school. It had an assignment in it that was due the next day. Raleigh texted Zack that he needed to come get it. Zack texted that they were all out and wouldn’t be back until late. Frustrated, he cycled over to Zack’s house. He wasn’t even sure why. He knew nobody was home. He didn’t have a key. When Raleigh got there, he went around the back and looked in the basement window. His backpack was on the floor by the couch where he’d left it, ignored, while he and Zack played video games. Just for something to do, he tried the window. To his surprise, it opened easily. He checked the opening. He was tall and skinny—he knew he could get through it no problem—and his backpack was right fucking there. Raleigh looked around to see if anyone was watching, but to be honest, he wasn’t too worried; if anyone saw him, he could explain. And then he went in through the window.

That’s when things got a little strange. Because he didn’t just grab his backpack, heave it out the window, and climb out after it. He knows he should have. And now, he wishes that he had. Instead, he stood in the basement listening to the silence. The house felt different without anyone else in it—full of possibilities. A little shiver of excitement ran up and down his spine. The empty house was his for the moment. A strange feeling came over him, and he knew he wasn’t going to turn around and go right back out the window.

He went directly upstairs to see if there was an office—the most likely place to find a computer. He passed by Zack’s room and glanced in. He saw Zack’s recent chemistry test flung down on his desk, and the mark was 10 percent lower than he’d claimed. Raleigh wondered what else Zack had lied about. Then he made his way to the office and set about trying to hack into Zack’s dad’s computer. He didn’t get in, but the challenge of it gave him a curious thrill.

When Zack asked him about the backpack the next day, Raleigh sheepishly admitted he’d snuck in the window to grab it—he hoped that was okay. Zack had obviously thought nothing of it.

The next time, a few weeks later, Raleigh was more nervous. He could hardly believe he was there, planning to do it again. He stood in the dark in the backyard of one of his classmates, Ben. He knew they were away for the weekend. He didn’t see any obvious security system.

He found a basement window unlocked on the side of the house. It was still the kind of neighborhood where lots of people didn’t necessarily lock everything up tight, whether they were home or not. Raleigh had no trouble getting in. Once inside, in the dark, his heartbeat began to settle down. He couldn’t exactly turn the lights on. What if they’d told the neighbors they were going to be away, too? But fortunately, the moon was bright that night, and after his eyes adjusted, he could find his way around all right. He took care not to walk in front of the windows—and then went upstairs to the bedrooms. He found a laptop at a desk in the master bedroom. This time he was prepared. He used his USB boot stick and got in quite easily, snooped around the computer, and then left the house, going out the same way he got in.

If he hadn’t gotten such a charge out of the hacking, he wouldn’t have kept doing it. But after that house, there had been others. He became pretty good at getting into people’s computers. He saw their private information, but he never took anything or changed anything. He never did any harm. He never left any sign that he’d been there.

It had been a mistake to tell Mark what he was doing. If only Mark hadn’t sent that stupid text—

Raleigh is startled by the sound of his name being called over the PA system. All eyes turn to him automatically, then shift away. He packs up his books and saunters casually to the door. But he’s painfully self-conscious. He can feel his face flush slightly.

He makes his way down three flights of stairs to the office, the sweat blooming on his skin. He never gets called down to the office. He’s afraid that this has something to do with the breakins. Are the police here? Were there cameras somewhere and he missed them? Maybe someone saw him coming out of the house and recognized him. He fights the urge to grab his things from his locker and avoid everything by just going home and hiding in his bedroom.

When he gets to the office he’s swept with relief when he sees his mom there waiting for him. No police in sight.

“We have an appointment,” she says. “Get your things. I’ll wait in the car out front.”

His anxiety spikes again.

As they drive downtown to the lawyer’s office, it is painfully silent in the car. His dad works downtown in the central business district and will meet them there. Raleigh spends the time worrying about what the lawyer will say.

The law office is intimidating. He’s never been in one before. It’s on the top floor of an office building, all glass doors and sleek furnishings. One look and he knows that this must be costing his parents a lot of money.

His dad is already in the reception area and will barely meet his eyes. Raleigh sits miserably, waiting with his parents. They’re obviously embarrassed to be here, pretending to read copies of The New Yorker. Raleigh doesn’t even pick up a magazine; he just stares at his feet, missing his phone.

It’s not long before they’re ushered down a quiet, carpeted hall into a spacious office with an impressive view of the river. The lawyer behind the large desk gets up and shakes hands with each of them. Raleigh knows his hands are clammy with nerves; the lawyer’s hands are cool. Raleigh takes an instant dislike to Emilio Gallo, a heavyset man who stares at him, sizing him up.

“So. Tell me what this is all about, Raleigh,” Gallo says.

Raleigh glances at his mom; he doesn’t dare look at his dad. He thought his parents would do all the talking and that he would just sit here and look sorry and do whatever he’s told. But his mom refuses to catch his eye. So he tells the lawyer the same story he told his parents, terrified that Gallo will be able to see through him. He doesn’t want the lawyer to know how many houses he’s broken into, or the extent of his computer expertise, what he’s capable of doing. All he actually did was hack in and look around and get out. That’s the truth. He could have done a lot more.

“I see,” the attorney says when he’s finished. He smooths his tie with his fingers. “So you haven’t been caught.”

“No,” Raleigh says.

“That’s breaking and entering and trespassing,” the attorney says. “And the computer stuff is even worse. The state of New York takes these kinds of crimes very seriously. Are you aware of New York Penal Code Section 156?”

Raleigh shakes his head, terrified.

“I didn’t think so. Let me educate you.” He leans forward and pins Raleigh with his eyes. “Under section 156, ‘unauthorized use of a computer’—that’s a crime. That’s when you gain access to or use a computer without the permission of the rightful owner. That’s a Class A misdemeanor. People get fines and even a bit of jail time for that. It goes up from there. Are you absolutely sure you haven’t taken or copied anyone’s data, or deleted or changed anything on their computers? Because that’s tampering, and you could go to jail for up to fifteen years for that.”

Raleigh swallows. “No, I just looked. That’s all.”

“And sent those emails. That’s identity theft.”

“Identity theft?” his father says sharply.

“He wrote emails from someone else’s account,” the lawyer reminds them, “pretending to be that person.”

“Surely a prank email doesn’t constitute identity theft,” his father says, looking appalled.

“Well, you wouldn’t want to risk it, would you? People don’t take kindly to having their privacy invaded.” The lawyer focuses his sharp eyes on Raleigh, who feels himself shrink further down into his chair. “And there’s always the possibility of a civil suit. This is America, and people are very litigious. And that can get very expensive.”

There’s a long, horrified pause. Clearly his parents hadn’t thought of that. Raleigh certainly hadn’t.

Finally, his mother says, “I thought he should apologize to these people, maybe make reparations, but my husband was against it.”

“No, your husband is right,” Gallo says, looking astonished. “He definitely should not apologize. That would be tantamount to confession to a crime, or crimes.”

Then she says, “What if he sent them a letter, anonymously, to apologize?”

“Why the hell would he do that?” his dad says.

The lawyer says, shaking his head, “I’m sorry, that’s a lovely gesture, and I’m just a cynical criminal lawyer, but that would be very foolish. Far better that these people don’t know that he was ever there at all.”

Raleigh notices his mom flush a bit at the rebuke.

“Tell me more about this other boy, Mark,” Gallo says. “Who’s he?”

“He’s a friend at school.”

“How much does he know?”

“Just that I broke into a couple of houses. And that I snooped in the computers.”

“Is he likely to rat you out?”

“No way,” Raleigh says firmly.

“How can you be so sure?” the lawyer asks.

Raleigh suddenly isn’t sure. But he says, “I just know.”

“Anything on any social media we need to worry about?”

Raleigh reddens and shakes his head. “I’m not a complete idiot.”

The lawyer sits back in his chair and looks as if he disagrees. Then he glances at both of Raleigh’s parents. “My advice is to sit tight and do nothing. If no one’s come forward and the police haven’t knocked at your door, consider yourselves lucky. But let me remind you, young man,” and here he leans forward and pins Raleigh again with his sharp, shrewd eyes, “luck always runs out. So I strongly advise you to leave off your life of crime right now, because if you’re caught, you’re definitely looking at juvie.”

Raleigh swallows nervously, and on that note, they get up to leave.

* * *


Olivia doesn’t say a word on the way home. Her thoughts are in turmoil. She’s furious at Raleigh, and furious at the situation. She regrets, now, those two anonymous letters. She’s not going to tell anyone about them, but now she’s worried that they may come back to haunt her somehow. She hears the lawyer’s voice in her mind, saying, that would be very foolish.

Why didn’t she leave well enough alone? That’s what comes from trying to live ethically, from trying to do what’s right in a crazy, cynical world that doesn’t give a shit about doing the right thing. What’s wrong with apologizing? Instead it seems to be all about not getting caught, about getting away with it. She didn’t like that lawyer much, but she’s afraid that he knows what he’s doing; she’s so naive next to him.

She can’t help worrying about what all this is teaching their son. He might be scared straight at the thought of jail—and that’s a good thing, she’ll take it. Although he’s probably not as frightened of it as she is. But she wishes he understood why what he’s done is wrong instead of just being afraid of what might happen to him. How, she fumes, are you supposed to teach a kid right and wrong when so many people in positions of authority regularly behave so badly? What the hell is wrong with America these days?

* * *


Carmine has had her lonely supper of a single chicken breast and a salad, eaten at the kitchen table, the television resolutely off. She has standards. She maintains the routine of cooking an evening meal for herself, even though some days she wonders why she bothers. She has cookbooks that celebrate the joys of cooking for one, but it doesn’t feel joyful to her. She loved cooking for her husband and kids. But her husband is dead and her kids have all moved on to their own busy lives.

She has established another routine—her evening walk around the neighborhood. Routines give structure to empty days. This nightly walk is both for exercise and to satisfy her natural curiosity about her neighbors. It takes her down Finch and around to Sparrow, then back to her own street. It’s a long block and a pretty walk. She will keep it up as long as the weather allows, admiring the well-kept homes, glancing in the warmly lit windows. Tonight as she walks along she thinks about the breakin and the letter. So far she has only spoken to her next-door neighbor, Zoe Putillo, about it. Zoe is the only one she’s become friendly with so far. Carmine hasn’t completely decided whether to let it go or try to find out who broke into her house. Part of her feels a natural sympathy for the mother who wrote the letter. But part of her feels slightly outraged, and wants to do something about it.

As she turns back down her own street she nears a house that is brightly lit. She can see across the front lawn and through the large windows into the living room, where a small group of women are gathered. They are talking and laughing animatedly, wineglasses in hand. Just then Carmine notices another woman hurriedly approaching. She turns up the driveway of the house, a book in her hand, and rings the bell. Carmine hears the muffled sound of voices briefly, while the door is open and the newcomer is admitted, and then the sound is abruptly cut off again.

It’s a book club, Carmine realizes with a pang of longing, stopping for a moment. The longing is mixed with a touch of resentment. People haven’t been particularly friendly here.


Olivia, in a rush to leave for book club, almost forgets the book, but grabs it as she heads out the door. She usually looks forward to book club, but tonight she suspects she’s too upset about Raleigh to enjoy anything. Supper was strained after the visit to the attorney.

She walks to Suzanne Halpern’s house on Finch Street. The book club started years ago, a collection of women from the neighborhood who know each other through school, sports, and other neighborhood events. There are several regular members. They all take turns hosting.

Suzanne loves to host book club: She’s a bit of a show-off. She always makes a fuss, preparing elaborate snacks and ostentatiously pairing them with just the right wines. When it’s Olivia’s turn she usually defaults to a good, solid red and an uninspired white that will go with everything, and grabs a bunch of things from Costco. She doesn’t particularly like hosting. For her, book club is about getting out.

Glenda is already there when Olivia arrives. The women stand around the living room chatting, with their glasses of wine and their little plates of food, leaving their books at their seats. Tonight’s book is the new Tana French. Of course, they never start with the book. They catch up on small talk first, usually about the kids—they all have kids—which is what they’re doing when Jeannette’s phone pings. Olivia sees Jeannette give her phone a casual glance—and then Jeannette’s face freezes. At the same time Olivia hears two or three other pings from other phones and wonders what’s going on.

“Oh, my God,” Jeannette blurts out.

“What is it?” Olivia asks.

“Remember how Amanda Pierce went missing a couple of weeks ago?” Jeannette says.

Of course they remember, Olivia thinks. Amanda Pierce had left her husband rather abruptly without telling him. Olivia didn’t know Amanda, except by sight. She’d only actually met her once, at a neighborhood party held at the little park between Sparrow and Finch just over a year ago, in September, shortly after the Pierces had moved in. Amanda Pierce was a striking woman, and all the husbands had watched her, practically drooling, stumbling over one another to hand her things—ketchup for her hot dog, a napkin, a drink, while the wives tried not to look pissed off. She looked like a model, or an actress—she was that perfect. That sexy. That confident. Always wearing smart clothes and fashionable sunglasses. The husband—she can’t remember his name—but he was ridiculously good-looking, too. He had the same movie-star quality, but was more reserved. A watcher. They lived on Olivia’s street, but farther down. They were both in their late twenties, considerably younger than Olivia and her friends, and had no kids, so they didn’t have much reason to cross paths.

“She didn’t really go missing,” Suzanne says. “She left her husband.”

“There’s a news alert,” Jeannette says. “They found her car, in a lake up near Canning. Her body was in the trunk.”

There’s a stunned silence as the room fills with shock.

“I can’t believe it,” Becky says, looking up from her phone, her face suddenly pale.

Olivia recalls with a jolt that Raleigh had been inside the Pierces’ house.

“Poor Robert,” Becky whispers. Becky Harris lives next door to the Pierces. “He did report her missing. He told me that himself.”

Becky is a good friend of Olivia’s, and had told her all about it. Olivia has a sudden picture of Becky, who is still quite attractive, but perhaps not as attractive as she thinks, talking to the handsome, abandoned husband over the back fence.

“I remember hearing that,” Glenda says, sounding shaken. “But if I remember correctly, the story was the police didn’t take it seriously because she’d lied to him about going away for the weekend with a friend. They figured she left him, that it wasn’t a proper disappearance.”

“Well, it’s obviously a murder now,” Jeannette says.

“What else does it say?” Olivia asks.

“That’s it. No details.”

“Do you think her husband did it?” Suzanne asks after a moment, looking around at all of them. “Do you think he might have killed her?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jeannette says quietly.

Becky turns on her suddenly. “You don’t know anything about it!”

There’s a strained silence for a moment at Becky’s outburst. Then Suzanne says, her voice tinged with something like awe, “It’s too creepy.”

“The husband could be perfectly innocent,” Zoe suggests.

“But isn’t it usually the husband?” Suzanne says.

“If he killed her,” Becky says, “then why would he tell the police to look for her?” Becky obviously doesn’t want to believe that the handsome, lonely man next door may be a murderer.

“Well,” Olivia says, “he would have to report her missing, wouldn’t he? He couldn’t just ignore it. He has to play the part of the worried husband, even if he killed her.”

“God, you’re morbid!” says Glenda.

“Think about it, though,” Olivia says thoughtfully. “It could be the perfect murder. He kills her, reports her missing, and tells the police she said she was going off with a friend for the weekend when she wasn’t. Then when she doesn’t turn up, the police will think she just left him and won’t actually look that hard. It’s brilliant, really.” They all stare back at her. She adds, “Especially if they’d never found her car in the lake. He’d probably have gotten away with murder.”

“I’m not sure I like the way your mind works,” Suzanne says.

Becky gives Olivia an annoyed glance and says, “For the record, I don’t think her husband did it.”

Suzanne stands up and starts refilling everyone’s wineglasses. She shudders visibly. “God, remember how gorgeous she was? Remember the party last year? That was the first time any of us really got a look at her. She had all the men wrapped around her little finger.”

“I remember,” Becky says. “She was too busy being fascinating to help clean up.”

“Maybe she had a stalker or something,” Glenda says. “A woman like that—”

“She was such a flirt. I don’t know how her husband put up with it,” Zoe says. Zoe had been at the party, too, Olivia remembers, looking around the room. They’d all been there.

“Maybe that was the problem. Maybe he was jealous, and he killed her,” Jeannette says.

They all glance at one another, uncomfortable.

Zoe abruptly changes the subject. “Have any of you heard about the break-ins and the anonymous letters?”

Olivia feels her stomach clench and deliberately avoids looking at Glenda. Shit. She really never should have written those letters. She reaches for her wineglass on the coffee table.

“What break-ins? What anonymous letters?” Suzanne says.

“I heard it from Carmine Torres,” Zoe says. “She’s my new next-door neighbor. She told me she got an anonymous letter this morning from someone saying that her son had broken into her house and that they were sorry.” She adds, “It was slipped through her mail slot overnight.”

“Seriously?” Jeannette says. “I haven’t heard anything about this.”

Zoe nods. “She knocked on my door to ask me if I’d gotten one, too, but I hadn’t,” Zoe says.

“Was anything taken?” Suzanne asks.

“She didn’t think so. She said she’d had a good look around but nothing seemed to be missing.”

Olivia dares to take a quick look at Glenda and a flash of understanding passes between them. She’ll have to talk to her after book club. She hadn’t told Glenda about the letters.

“Who else got broken into?” Suzanne asks. “I haven’t heard anything.”

“I don’t know,” Zoe says. “The letter says that there were others. Carmine showed it to me—I read it.”

Olivia feels slightly nauseated, and puts her glass of wine down. This is not what she meant to happen, not at all. She’d only wanted to apologize. She didn’t want other people reading the letter! She didn’t want someone trying to find out who had written it! She certainly didn’t want people gossiping about it. She should have left well enough alone. How could she have been so stupid? The lawyer was right—all she’d done was stir things up.

“You should have seen this letter!” Zoe exclaims. “The poor woman who wrote it. Apparently the kid went through people’s computers and get this—he even sent prank emails from their email accounts!”

“No!” Suzanne says, aghast.

“What did they say?” Jeannette asks, appalled and entertained in equal measure.

“I don’t know,” Zoe says. “Carmine says she didn’t find any on her computer. That must have been at somebody else’s house.”

Glenda says, in a no-nonsense voice, “Sounds like some teenage stupidity to me, and the mother’s doing the decent thing, apologizing. It’s the sort of thing that could happen to any of us with kids. You know what teenagers are like.”

Olivia notices a few rueful, sympathetic nods from some of the other women. She feels intensely grateful to Glenda at that moment but is careful not to show it.

Suzanne says, “I guess I should be more careful about locking the doors and windows. I don’t always check them at night.”

“It’s so creepy to think of somebody going through your house and getting into your computers when you’re not there,” Jeannette says in a hushed voice. “And to think—if this woman Carmine hadn’t got that letter, she would never even have known.”

There’s silence as they all seem to contemplate that for a minute.

“Maybe some of us have been broken into,” Zoe says.

“But then we would have gotten a letter,” Suzanne says.

“Not necessarily,” Zoe says. “What if the kid only admitted to some of the houses, didn’t tell his mother the full extent of what he was up to? That’s what Carmine thinks. There could be lots of houses this kid’s broken into, and people wouldn’t necessarily know. Maybe we should all be worried.”

Olivia looks around at the women in the circle, all of whom appear to be genuinely alarmed at the idea of having been broken into without being aware of it. Could Raleigh have lied to her about how often he’d done this? Her stomach feels queasy and she wants to go home.

“I guess we should talk about the book,” Suzanne says at last.


Olivia follows Glenda out the door. It’s chilly now, and she’s glad it’s dark as the other women slip away. Glenda waits for her and they talk quietly at the end of the driveway, pulling their jackets closed.

Olivia waits until the others are out of earshot and says miserably, “Thanks for not saying anything.”

“Why would I say anything?” Glenda replies. “Your secret is safe with me.” She snorts. “Awfully smug of Zoe, if you ask me. She’s got two girls, she doesn’t have any boys. She has no idea.” Then she asks, “How did it go with the lawyer?”

They turn down the sidewalk toward Glenda’s house. Olivia tells her about the visit to the lawyer. Then she adds anxiously, “I shouldn’t have written those letters.”

“You didn’t tell me about that.”

“I know.” She glances at Glenda. “I haven’t told Paul or Raleigh either. Promise me you won’t tell. If Paul finds out, he’ll be furious. I never should have sent them. Now everyone’s going to be trying to find out who wrote them.”

“How many are there?”

“Just two. Raleigh said he only broke into two houses. I made him show me which ones.”

“Whose was the other house?”

Olivia hesitates. “The Pierces’.”


Olivia nods. She feels sick about it. What if Robert Pierce is a murderer?

“Do you believe him?” Glenda asks after a moment.

“I did. To be honest, I don’t know anymore. Maybe Zoe’s right, and he didn’t tell me about all of them. I never would have thought Raleigh capable of such a thing.” They’re quiet for a moment, walking down the sidewalk in the dark, Olivia imagining Suzanne, Becky, Jeannette, and Zoe all getting on to their computers as soon as they can and checking their sent messages looking for emails they hadn’t written. After a while Glenda asks, “Do you think Robert Pierce murdered his wife?”

Olivia glances at her uneasily. “I don’t know,” she says. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know either.”

“I didn’t even know her,” Olivia says, “but she was a neighbor—she was one of us. It seems awfully close.”

* * *


Carmine Torres has decided to go door-to-door on her street, telling her neighbors that she’d been broken into and showing them the letter. This morning, she’d spoken again briefly to Zoe next door, who told her that no one in her book club the night before had heard anything about it. Then of course they’d started talking about what had been on the news: a woman from this supposedly quiet neighborhood—just one street over—had been found brutally murdered.

Carmine also plans to go up and down Sparrow Street, the street the murdered woman lived on, and see what she can learn about this woman in the trunk. Carmine loves a good gossip.

Before she goes, she wanders around the house uneasily, touching things, studying them, straightening pictures. She looks inside her medicine cabinet. Has anything been moved? She can’t tell for sure. She feels a bit creeped out now, alone in her own house, which she never was before. She hates being a widow; it’s lonely. And she hates the idea of someone—even if only a teenage boy—riffling through her things. Reading what’s on her computer. Not that there’s anything on there that shouldn’t be. What kind of kid would do something like that? There must be something wrong with him.

* * *


Raleigh finds himself avoiding Mark at school on Tuesday morning. He doesn’t want to talk to him about the meeting with the lawyer. He’s decided this is it—he’s not going to break into any more houses. Ever.

* * *


Webb and Moen are back at the medical examiner’s office for the autopsy results on Amanda Pierce. The large room is freshly painted, and lots of natural light floods the space from the large windows all along the upper half of the room. The smell is still bad, though. Webb sucks on one of the mints that Moen has brought. His shoes squeak on the spic-and-span tiles. Along the wall beneath the windows is a long counter with sinks and sterilized instruments neatly laid out. Weigh scales hang over the counter—they look just like the scales in the supermarket where one might weigh a paper bag of mushrooms, Webb thinks.

John Lafferty, a senior forensic pathologist, says, “Cause of death is blunt force trauma. She was struck in the head repeatedly with an object, most likely a hammer, by the looks of it.”

Webb focuses on the body lying on the steel table. The sheet has been peeled back. It’s a gruesome sight. The decomposing body is bloated and the skin has a hideous, greenish cast. She looks much worse than she did the day before.

“Sorry about the smell, but bodies tend to deteriorate rapidly once they come out of the water,” Lafferty says.

Undeterred, Webb moves in closer to study the corpse. The autopsy has been concluded, the organs studied and weighed, and she has been sewn up again. Her head is a pulpy mess. One of her eyes is mashed out of her face.

“It’s almost impossible to estimate time of death under the circumstances,” the pathologist says. “It’s very difficult to determine time of death from postmortem changes more than seventy-two hours after death, and the fact that she’s been in the water—sorry.”

Webb nods. “Understood.”

“No obvious evidence of sexual assault or any other injuries,” the pathologist continues. “She was definitely dead before she went into the water. No defensive wounds, nothing under her nails. No obvious signs of a struggle, even though it appears she was struck from the front. Perhaps she knew her killer. Most likely the first blow came as a surprise and incapacitated her. She was hit several times, with great force. The first couple of blows probably killed her. The repeated blows indicate uncontrollable fury.”

“So it was personal.”

“Looks like it.” He adds, “She was a healthy woman—no signs of any old fractures that might indicate ongoing domestic abuse.”

“Okay,” Webb says. “Anything else?”

“She was pregnant. About ten weeks. That’s about it.”

“Thank you,” Webb says, and he and Moen head out. “We know she was alive and at work on Friday, September twenty-ninth,” Webb says. “She must have been killed sometime that weekend. She was probably dead by the time her husband reported her missing on Monday.”

They walk to the car, both of them inhaling deep breaths of fresh air. Moen says, “Not every man is happy to learn he’s going to be a father.”

“A bit drastic, isn’t it, murder?” Webb counters.

She shrugs. “We’ve only got Robert Pierce’s word for it that she told him she was going away with Caroline,” Moen points out. “No one’s corroborated it—she didn’t mention going away for the weekend to anyone she was working with.”

Webb nods. “Maybe she wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe he made that up, after he killed her. We haven’t found any record of her booking a hotel.”

“He could have killed her and packed her bags and sunk her car and hoped she would never be found. So that it looked like she planned to leave him.”

“We’d better talk to Caroline Lu,” Webb says.

* * *


Olivia is having an unproductive week. She blames Raleigh—and the shocking news about Amanda Pierce—for her inability to concentrate. It’s early Tuesday afternoon and she’s accomplished almost nothing yet today. She turns away from the file open on her screen, gets up, and goes downstairs for a fresh cup of coffee. The house is quiet—Paul is at work and Raleigh is at school. But she can’t stop thinking about things other than her current editing project. She’s worried about Raleigh.

What if Raleigh isn’t telling her everything? She didn’t like the way his eyes shifted away from hers when she asked him. He seemed genuine when he said he wasn’t taking drugs, but she still feels there’s something he is keeping from her.

And Olivia can’t put her finger on why, but she can’t help feeling that Paul is keeping something from her, too. The last few weeks he’s seemed to have something on his mind, something he’s not sharing with her. When she’d broached him about it, he’d brushed her off with a comment about being overloaded at work. Of course, now he’s upset about Raleigh, too.

Restlessly, she picks up the daily newspaper, the Aylesford Record, and carries it over to the easy chair in front of the sliding-glass doors that look out onto the backyard. She’s already read it, and followed the story online. But she puts her coffee down on the little side table and opens the paper again. On page 3, there’s a picture and a headline. MISSING WOMAN FOUND DEAD. The photograph shows a picture of Amanda Pierce; she’s smiling and pretty in the photo, with no hint of the tragedy that will befall her. She looks as lovely as she did at the neighborhood party, everyone eating out of her hand.

Olivia studies the photograph closely, recalling the discussion at the book club the night before. She rereads the article. There are few facts. They pulled her and her car out of a lake early yesterday morning. It says only that her body was found in the trunk. Olivia wonders how she died. The other information is scant. Police are being tight-lipped, saying only that “the investigation is ongoing.”

She puts the paper down, decides to go for a walk, and laces up her shoes. Maybe a walk will clear her head and then she can get some work done.

It’s awful, Olivia thinks, leaving the house. A woman who lived on their street was murdered. She can’t stop thinking about it.


Robert Pierce glances out at the street from behind one of the blinds in the master bedroom. There’s a cluster of people standing outside staring at the house, staring up at him, having caught the movement at the window. He can imagine what they’re saying about him.

He turns away from the window and watches the forensics team continue its meticulous search of his bedroom. He watches and thinks. They have nothing on him. The only thing was her unregistered, pay-as-you-go cell phone, and now it’s safely buried in the garden.

He thinks about the phone. It had become an issue between Amanda and him. Not one they talked about. That was the thing about them, so much of their marriage went on beneath the surface. They didn’t talk about things. They didn’t fight. Instead they played games.

He knew she must have had a burner phone. He knew she kept it with her—probably in her purse—and hid it somewhere when she was in the house. Because he’d been through her purses, and her car, and he’d never found it. And then one night not long ago, he surprised her by making her dinner when she got home. Something simple—steak and salad and red wine. And a little something in her wineglass to knock her out.

And while she was sprawled across their bed, oblivious, he’d torn the house apart methodically, much the way this crew is doing right now. And he found her secret hiding place. The box of tampons in the bottom of the bathroom cupboard. The bathroom was the one place in the house she could always count on being alone. Not too creative of her, really. If they look inside her box of tampons now, of course, they won’t find anything but tampons.

How much does he really have to worry about?

When she woke up the next morning with a walloping headache, he chided her for drinking too much. He pointed at the empty wine bottle left on the kitchen counter—he’d poured half of it down the sink—and she nodded and smiled uncertainly. Later on, when she was dressed for work, she seemed nervous, out of sorts. She approached him, some unreadable expression on her face. He wondered if she was going to ask him. He wondered if she had the guts. He gazed back at her blandly. “Are you all right, honey? You look upset.”

He’d never been violent with her before, but she looked at him as if she were a silky little brown mouse facing a snake.

They stared at one another. He’d taken her secret phone from its secret hiding place. He knew it and she knew it. Would she say anything? He didn’t think she’d dare. He waited.

Finally she said, “No, I’m fine,” and turned away.

He kept an eye on her to see if she would try to discreetly search the house for her missing phone before she left for work, but she didn’t. It was in his bottom desk drawer, beneath some envelopes. Easier to find than where she’d hidden it. But he knew she wouldn’t dare go into his desk. Not while he was home. So he stayed home until she left for work.

That was the day she disappeared.

* * *


Detective Webb is very much aware of Robert Pierce lurking around the house during their search. Did he kill his wife? And stuff her body in the trunk and sink her car in the lake? He’s not coming across particularly well as a bereaved husband. He seems twitchy.

If he killed her here, in the house, they will find something. They know she was beaten to death with a hammer or something similar. There would have been a lot of blood. Even if a surface looks completely clean, if there are traces of blood, they will find them. But Webb doesn’t think he killed her here. He’s too smart for that.

The team moves slowly over the house. They dust everywhere for fingerprints, look in drawers and under furniture, searching for anything that might shed light on Amanda Pierce’s death.

They take her laptop. Her cell phone had been found in her purse; two weeks in the water had rendered it useless, but her cell phone records will be scrutinized. Webb wonders what, if anything, Amanda Pierce might have been hiding. She told her husband that she was going away with a friend. They only have his word for it. But if what he says is true, then Amanda was lying to him about Caroline Lu. If so, who was she meeting? Had her husband found out the truth? Had he killed her in a jealous rage? Or maybe there was some other reason he killed her. Perhaps he was psychologically abusive. Was she trying to escape the marriage and he found out?

Their interview of Caroline Lu had yielded nothing useful. The two women had been friends since college but had seen less of each other in recent months; Caroline hadn’t known if Amanda had a lover, and she was unaware of any possible marital problems. She’d been shocked when Robert called saying that Amanda had t