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The Ex(10)
Alafair Burke

xox

I found myself smiling. Here I was, thinking of Jack as the guy to feel sorry for. His mother died when he was in high school, followed by his father our sophomore year in college. Then everything that happened with us, plus Owen, plus the aftermath. Then he starts a new life with Molly, only to lose her so violently.

But he still had Charlotte, who I knew from experience would stop at nothing to look after Jack. He had someone to e-mail at midnight. And he had a daughter who was probably the one to buy him cheesy T-shirts that were right in his humor wheelhouse.

I of all people had no reason to feel sorry for someone who had all of that.

I CLICKED ON THE FINAL e-mail message from Einer. It was a forward of all the exchanges between Jack and Madeline.

A quick scroll revealed that there was a lot to read, so I jumped back to the top for the important stuff.

Just like Jack had sworn, Madeline was the one to suggest the meet-up at the football field. She had set the time, the date, and the location. She was the one who told him to bring the picnic basket. She’d bring the champagne.

All good.

I was starting to read the messages from the beginning when an incoming text message appeared at the top of my phone’s screen: Are you at the precinct? Have you seen my dad?

I ignored the text and continued to skim. Jack’s first e-mail to Madeline explained that the silly T-shirt was a gift from his daughter. Most men wouldn’t lead with the kid, but Jack never did have much game. He asked her what book she had been reading when he spotted her at the pier. She told him Eight Days to Die.

Okay, he responded. I may need to verify that you’re actually real, and this isn’t Charlotte punking me. Eight Days to Die is far and away my favorite book from last year. What are the odds of that? I’ve stopped recommending it to people, because they insist that a person with only eight days to live is “too sad,” but it’s one of those clean, simple novels that proves heartbreaking stories can be life affirming.

Oh dear. Einer wasn’t kidding about the diabetes. Really, Jack? A published author and you can’t do better than that? The next time Melissa pushed me to try online dating again, I’d have to remind her of why I quit in the first place.

Another text message popped up at the top of the screen: Is my dad under arrest or not? Not knowing is driving me crazy.

Followed by, P.S. This is Buckley Harris.

How in the world could she even text that fast? I wouldn’t be giving my cell phone number to any more teenagers.

I scrolled to the final addition to the e-mail chain, Jack’s response to Madeline’s invitation to meet in person: See you there.

I had to smile at his response, so spontaneous and unquestioning. Some of my best times with Jack had been spur-of-the-moment ventures.

My thoughts about the past were interrupted by yet another text message. If you’re trying to protect me . . . DON’T! I can handle it. Just tell me what is going on!!!!

So many exclamation points. I texted a quick response: Cautiously optimistic that we’ll have your dad home soon. Be patient. I promise to call when I know more.

I had just hit Send when my cell phone rang. Buckley, I assumed, demanding more detail. But the number on the screen was the outgoing number for the district attorney’s office.

It was ADA Scott Temple. “The lab called. Two hours, just as they promised. Jack Harris’s hands are clear, at least of GSR.”

Even though I’d been expecting this, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. “That’s great.” I assured him that Jack would not leave the jurisdiction while they continued to investigate, and began piling on ways of backing up the promise: turning over his passport, electronic monitoring, the works.

“Save all that for the bail hearing, Olivia. Boyle’s processing him now for transport.”

“Then why have I been stewing on a bench here all day? Is this some kind of joke? What was the whole point of waiting for the GSR testing?”

So much smugness and indignation. It was a posture I struck well. Outrage can work wonders to shame people when you’re right, and they’re wrong.

But here’s the thing: you better be right.

“Look, Olivia, it’s not my business, but you called me for a reason. I respect you, and I listen to you when you stick your neck out. But you’re wrong on Harris. I don’t blame you. The Penn Station widower thing may have clouded your judgment.”

“My judgment’s just fine.” Even I knew I sounded defensive.

“His hands were clean, but we tested his shirt, too. The GSR test came back positive. Sorry, Olivia. Your guy’s guilty. He played you.”

Chapter 6

I STILL HAD my phone in hand as I marched through the squad, calling out for Detective Boyle. A younger female detective rolled back her chair and rose to meet me in the middle of the room. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t just be storming through here.”

Boyle appeared at the back of the squad room, his hands pressed on either side of the doorway leading to the hall containing the interrogation rooms. He was intentionally blocking my view.

“Ramos is right, Counselor. This is our house, not yours.”

I saw the movement of officers in uniform behind him. The white cotton of a T-shirt. It was Jack. They were moving him.

“I need to talk to my client. You are interfering with his right to counsel.”

“Nice try, but I know a little bit about the law. We were done questioning him long before your arrival, Ms. Randall. I did you a favor letting you back there the first time. You don’t get to ride in the car at his side.”

“Just five minutes, Detective. He has a daughter. I need to know where—”

“Most everyone we’ll arrest this week has kids. Just because his is white and rich doesn’t make him special.”

I ran to Detective Boyle and craned my neck to get a better view of Jack being led down the hall. “Jack!”

Boyle exchanged an amused look with the female detective and shook his head.

I wanted to push Boyle out of the way but knew there would be nothing more I could do once I made it past his guard post. I called out loudly but calmly, “Jack, don’t say anything to anyone—not police, not prosecutors, definitely not other prisoners. Do you hear me? Not a word.”

I managed to catch one final glimpse of him as he struggled to look back at me as two flanking officers led him away. I had never seen anyone appear so terrified and utterly confused. His knees seemed to buckle when I said the word “prisoners.”

The last Jack knew, I was working on getting him freed. I had walked out of the conference room to take a phone call. Now he was being processed into the system with no explanation of what had changed.

OUTSIDE THE PRECINCT, THE TYPICAL end-of-day Tribeca traffic was at a standstill on Varick Street. Trucks lurched forward a few inches at a time, honking horns as if the sound might somehow blast a clear path through the line of cars fighting for a spot in the Holland Tunnel. A stocky man in a Mets tank top stood next to a cooler, selling bottles of Poland Spring water to drivers at a buck a pop. A street vendor told me that my outfit could use one of his necklaces. A man who passed me on the sidewalk made an “mmm-mmm” noise and suggested it was “too damn hot for all those clothes” I was wearing.

I could see and hear all of it, but none of what was happening outside my head mattered. My phone was buzzing in my hand—dueling calls from Don and Buckley, according to the screen—but I kept walking.

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