SEVEN DAYS GONE
It was time. At exactly eight a.m. Central, nine a.m. New York time, I picked up my phone. My wife was definitely pregnant. I was definitely the prime – only – suspect. I was going to get a lawyer, today, and he was going to be the very lawyer I didn'd want and absolutely needed.
Tanner Bolt. A grim necessity. Flip around any of the legal networks, the true-crime shows, and Tanner Bolt's spray-tanned face would pop up, indignant and concerned on behalf of whatever freak-show client he was representing. He became famous at thirty-four for representing Cody Olsen, a Chicago restaurateur accused of strangling his very pregnant wife and dumping her body in a landfill. Corpse dogs detected the scent of a dead body inside the trunk of Cody's Mercedes; a search of his laptop revealed that someone had printed out a map to the nearest landfill the morning Cody's wife went missing. A no-brainer. By the time Tanner Bolt was done, everyone – the police department, two West Side Chicago gang members, a disgruntled club bouncer – was implicated except Cody Olsen, who walked out of the courtroom and bought cocktails all around.
In the decade since, Tanner Bolt had become known as the Hubby Hawk – his specialty was swooping down in high-profile cases to represent men accused of murdering their wives. He was successful over half the time, which wasn'd bad, considering the cases were usually damning, the accused extremely unlikable – cheaters, narcissists, sociopaths. Tanner Bolt's other nickname was Dickhead Defender.
I had a two p.m. appointment.
"This is Marybeth Elliott. Please leave a message, and I will return promptly …" she said in voice just like Amy's. Amy, who would not return promptly.
I was speeding to the airport to fly to New York and meet with Tanner Bolt. When I'd asked Boney's permission to leave town, she seemed amused: Cops don'd really do that. That's just on TV.
"Hi, Marybeth, it's Nick again. I'm anxious to talk to you. I wanted to tell you … uh, I truly didn'd know about the pregnancy, I'm just as shocked as you must be … uh, also I'm hiring an attorney, just so you know. I think even Rand had suggested it. So anyway … you know how bad I am on messages. I hope you call me back."
Tanner Bolt's office was in midtown, not far from where I used to work. The elevator shot me up twenty-five stories, but it was so smooth that I wasn'd sure I was moving until my ears popped. At the twenty-sixth floor, a tight-lipped blonde in a sleek business suit stepped on. She tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the doors to shut, then snapped at me, "Why don'd you hit close?" I flashed her the smile I give petulant women, the lighten-up smile, the one Amy called the "beloved Nicky grin," and then the woman recognised me. "Oh," she said. She looked as if she smelled something rancid. She seemed personally vindicated when I scuttled out on Tanner's floor.
This guy was the best, and I needed the best, but I also resented being associated with him in any way – this sleazebag, this showboat, this attorney to the guilty. I pre-hated Tanner Bolt so much that I expected his office to look like a Miami Vice set. But Bolt & Bolt was quite the opposite – it was dignified, lawyerly. Behind spotless glass doors, people in very good suits commuted busily between offices.
A young, pretty man with a tie the color of tropical fruit greeted me and settled me down in the shiny glass-and-mirror reception area and grandly offered water (declined), then went back to a gleaming desk and picked up a gleaming phone. I sat on the sofa, watching the skyline, cranes pecking up and down like mechanical birds. Then I unfolded Amy's final clue from my pocket. Five years is wood. Was that going to be the end prize of the treasure hunt? Something for the baby: a carved oak cradle, a wooden rattle? Something for our baby and for us, to start over, the Dunnes redone.
Go phoned while I was still staring at the clue.
"Are we okay?" she asked immediately.
My sister thought I was possibly a wife killer.
"We"re as okay as I think we can ever be again, considering."
"Nick. I'm sorry. I called to say I'm sorry," Go said. "I woke up and felt totally insane. And awful. I lost my head. It was a momentary freakout. I really, truly apologize."
I remained silent.
"You got to give me this, Nick: exhaustion and stress and … I'm sorry … truly."
"Okay," I lied.
"But I'm glad, actually. It cleared the air—"
"She was definitely pregnant."
My stomach turned. Again I felt as if I had forgotten something crucial. I had overlooked something and would pay for it.
"I'm sorry," Go said. She waited a few seconds. "The fact of the matter is—"
"I can'd talk about it. I can'd."
"I'm actually in New York," I said. "I have an appointment with Tanner Bolt."
She let out a whoosh of breath.
"Thank God. You were able to see him that quick?"
"That's how fucked my case is." I'd been patched through at once to Tanner – I was on hold all of three seconds after stating my name – and when I told him about my living room interrogation about the pregnancy, he ordered me to hop on the next plane.
"I'm kinda freaking out," I added.
"You"re doing the smart thing. Seriously."
"His name can'd really be Tanner Bolt, can it?" I said, trying to make light.
"I heard it's an anagram for Ratner Tolb."
I laughed, an inappropriate feeling, but good. Then, from the far side of the room, the anagram was walking toward me – black pinstriped suit and lime-green tie, sharky grin. He walked with his hand out, in shake-and-strike mode.
"Nick Dunne, I'm Tanner Bolt. Come with me, let's get to work."
Tanner Bolt's office seemed designed to resemble the clubroom of an exclusive all-men's golf course – comfortable leather chairs, shelves thick with legal books, a gas fireplace with flames flickering in the air-conditioning. Sit down, have a cigar, complain about the wife, tell some questionable jokes, just us guys here.
Bolt deliberately chose not to sit behind his desk. He ushered me toward a two-man table as if we were going to play chess. This is a conversation for us partners, Bolt said without having to say it. We'll sit at our little war-room table and get down to it.
"My retainer, Mr Dunne, is a hundred thousand dollars. That's a lot of money, obviously. So I want to be clear on what I offer and on what I will expect of you, okay?"
He aimed unblinking eyes at me, a sympathetic smile, and waited for me to nod. Only Tanner Bolt could get away with making me, a client, fly to him, then tell me what kind of dance I'd need to do in order to give him my money.
"I win, Mr Dunne. I win unwinnable cases, and the case that I think you may soon face is – I don'd want to patronize you – it's a tough one. Money troubles, bumpy marriage, pregnant wife. The media has turned on you, the public has turned on you."
He twisted a signet ring on his right hand and waited for me to show him I was listening. I'd always heard the phrase: At forty, a man wears the face he's earned. Bolt's fortyish face was well tended, almost wrinkle-free, pleasantly plump with ego. Here was a confident man, the best in his field, a man who liked his life.
"There will be no more police interviews without my presence," Bolt was saying. "That's something I seriously regret you did. But before we even get to the legal portion, we need to start dealing with public opinion, because the way it's going, we have to assume everything is going to get leaked: your credit cards, the life insurance, the supposedly staged crime scene, the mopped-up blood. It looks very bad, my friend. And so it's a vicious cycle: The cops think you did it, they let the public know. The public is outraged, they demand an arrest. So, one: We"ve got to find an alternative suspect. Two: We"ve got to keep the support of Amy's parents, I cannot emphasize that piece enough. And three: We"ve got to fix your image, because should this go to trial, it will influence the juror pool. Change of venue doesn'd mean anything anymore – twenty-four-hour cable, Internet, the whole world is your venue. So I cannot tell you how key it is to start turning this whole thing around."
"I'd like that too, believe me."
"How are things with Amy's parents? Can we get them to make a statement of support?"
"I haven'd spoken with them since it was confirmed that Amy was pregnant."
"Is pregnant." Tanner frowned at me. "Is. She is pregnant. Never, ever mention your wife in the past tense."
"Fuck." I put my face in my palm for a second. I hadn'd even noticed what I'd said.
"Don'd worry about it with me," Bolt said, waving the air magnanimously. "But everywhere else, worry. Worry hard. From now on, I don'd want you to open your mouth if you haven'd thought it through. So you haven'd spoken to Amy's parents. I don'd like that. You"ve tried to get in touch, I assume?"
"I"ve left a few messages."
Bolt scrawled something on a yellow legal pad. "Okay, we have to assume this is bad news for us. But you need to track them down. Nowhere public, where some asshole with a cameraphone can film you – we can'd have another Shawna Kelly moment. Or send your sister in, a recon mission, see what's going on. Actually, do that, that's better."
"I need you to make a list for me, Nick. Of all the nice things you"ve done for Amy over the years. Romantic things, especially in this past year. You cooked her chicken soup when she was sick, or you sent her love letters while you were on a business trip. Nothing too flashy. I don'd care about jewelry unless you guys picked it out on vacation or something. We need real personal stuff here, romantic-movie stuff."
"What if I'm not a romantic-movie kind of guy?"
Tanner tightened his lips, then blew them back out. "Come up with something, okay, Nick? You seem like a good guy. I'm sure you did something thoughtful this past year."
I couldn'd think of a decent thing I'd done in the past two years. In New York, those first few years of marriage, I'd been desperate to please my wife, to return to those loose-limbed days when she'd run across a drugstore parking lot and leap into my arms, a spontaneous celebration of her hair-spray purchase. Her face pressed up against mine all the time, her bright blue eyes wide and her yellow lashes catching on mine, the heat of her breath just under my nose, the silliness of it. For two years I tried as my old wife slipped away, and I tried so hard – no anger, no arguments, the constant kowtowing, the capitulation, the sitcom-husband version of me: Yes, dear. Of course, sweetheart. The fucking energy leached from my body as my frantic-rabbit thoughts tried to figure out how to make her happy, and each action, each attempt, was met with a rolled eye or a sad little sigh. A you just don'd get it sigh.
By the time we left for Missouri, I was just pissed. I was ashamed of the memory of me – the scuttling, scraping, hunchbacked toadie of a man I'd turned into. So I wasn'd romantic; I wasn'd even nice.
"Also, I need a list of people who may have harmed Amy, who may have had something against her."
"I should tell you, it seems Amy tried to buy a gun earlier this year."
"The cops know?"
"Did you know?"
"Not until the guy she tried to buy from told me."
He took exactly two seconds to think. "Then I bet their theory is she wanted a gun to protect herself from you," he said. "She was isolated, she was scared. She wanted to believe in you, yet she could feel something was very wrong, so she wanted a gun in case her worst fear was correct."
"Wow, you"re good."
"My dad was a cop," he said. "But I do like the gun idea – now we just need someone to match it to besides you. Nothing is too far out. If she argued with a neighbor constantly over a barking dog, if she was forced to rebuff a flirty guy, whatever you got, I need. What do you know about Tommy O"Hara?"
"Right! I know he called the tip line a few times."
"He was accused of date-raping Amy in 2005."
I felt my mouth open, but I said nothing.
"She was dating him casually. There was a dinner date at his place, things got out of hand, and he raped her, according to my sources."
"When in 2005?"
It was during the eight months when I'd lost Amy – the time between our New Year's meeting and my finding her again on Seventh Avenue.
Tanner tightened his tie, twisted a diamond-studded wedding band, assessing me. "She never told you."
"I haven'd heard a single thing about this," I said. "From anyone. But especially not from Amy."
"You'd be surprised, the number of women who still find it a stigma. Ashamed."
"I can'd believe I—"
"I try never to show up to one of these meetings without new information for my client," he said. "I want to show you how serious I am about your case. And how much you need me."
"This guy could be a suspect?"
"Sure, why not," Tanner said too breezily. "He has a violent history with your wife."
"Did he go to prison?"
"She dropped the charges. Didn'd want to testify, I assume. If you and I decide to work together, I'll have him checked out. In the meantime, think of anyone who took an interest in your wife. Better if it's someone in Carthage, though. More believable. Now—" Tanner crossed a leg, exposed his bottom row of teeth, uncomfortably bunched and stained in comparison with his perfect picket-fence top row. He held his crooked teeth against his upper lip for a moment. "Now comes the harder part, Nick," he said. "I need total honesty from you, it won'd work any other way. So tell me everything about your marriage, tell me the worst. Because if I know the worst, then I can plan for it. But if I'm surprised, we"re fucked. And if we"re fucked, you"re fucked. Because I get to fly away in my G4."
I took a breath. Looked him in the eyes. "I cheated on Amy. I"ve been cheating on Amy."
"Okay. With multiple women or just one?"
"No, not multiple. I"ve never cheated before."
"So, with one woman?" Bolt asked, and looked away, his eyes resting on a watercolor of a sailboat as he twirled his wedding band. I could picture him phoning his wife later, saying, Just once, just once, I want a guy who's not an asshole.
"Yes, just one girl, she's very—"
"Don'd say girl, don'd ever say girl," Bolt said. "Woman. One woman who is very special to you. Is that what you were going to say?"
Of course it was.
"You do know, Nick, special is actually worse than – okay. How long?"
"A little over a year."
"Have you spoken to her since Amy went missing?"
"Yes, on a disposable cell phone. And in person once. Twice. But—"
"No one has seen us. I can swear to that. Just my sister."
He took a breath, looked at the sailboat again. "And what does this—What's her name?"
"What is her attitude about all this?"
"She's been great – until the pregnancy … announcement. Now I think she's a little … on edge. Very on edge. Very, uh … needy is the wrong word …"
"Say what you need to say, Nick. If she's needy, then—"
"She's needy. Clingy. Needs lots of reassurance. She's a really sweet girl, but she's young, and it's, it's been hard, obviously."
Tanner Bolt went to his minibar and pulled out a Clamato. The entire fridge was filled with Clamato. He opened the bottle and drank it in three swallows, then dabbed his lips with a cloth napkin. "You will need to cut off, completely and forever, all contact with Andie," he said. I began to speak, and he aimed a palm at me. "Immediately."
"I can'd cut it off with her just like that. Out of nowhere."
"This isn'd something to debate. Nick. I mean, come on, buddy, I really got to say this? You cannot date around while your pregnant wife is missing. You will go to fucking prison. Now, the issue is to do it without turning her against us. Without leaving her with a vendetta, an urge to go public, anything but fond memories. Make her believe that this was the decent thing, make her want to keep you safe. How are you at breakups?"
I opened my mouth, but he didn'd wait.
"We'll prep you for the conversation the same way we'd prep you for a cross-exam, okay? Now, if you want me, I'll fly to Missouri, I'll set up camp, and we can really get to work on this. I can be with you as soon as tomorrow if you want me for your lawyer. Do you?"
I was back in Carthage before dinnertime. It was strange, once Tanner swept Andie from the picture – once it became clear that she simply couldn'd stay – how quickly I accepted it, how little I mourned her. On that single, two-hour flight, I transitioned from in love with Andie to not in love with Andie. Like walking through a door. Our relationship immediately attained a sepia tone: the past. How odd, that I ruined my marriage over that little girl with whom I had nothing in common except that we both liked a good laugh and a cold beer after sex.
Of course you"re fine with ending it, Go would say. It got hard.
But there was a better reason: Amy was blooming large in my mind. She was gone, and yet she was more present than anyone else. I'd fallen in love with Amy because I was the ultimate Nick with her. Loving her made me superhuman, it made me feel alive. At her easiest, she was hard, because her brain was always working, working, working – I had to exert myself just to keep pace with her. I'd spend an hour crafting a casual e-mail to her, I became a student of arcana so I could keep her interested: the Lake Poets, the code duello, the French Revolution. Her mind was both wide and deep, and I got smarter being with her. And more considerate, and more active, and more alive, and almost electric, because for Amy, love was like drugs or booze or porn: There was no plateau. Each exposure needed to be more intense than the last to achieve the same result.
Amy made me believe I was exceptional, that I was up to her level of play. That was both our making and undoing. Because I couldn'd handle the demands of greatness. I began craving ease and averageness, and I hated myself for it, and ultimately, I realized, I punished her for it. I turned her into the brittle, prickly thing she became. I had pretended to be one kind of man and revealed myself to be quite another. Worse, I convinced myself our tragedy was entirely her making. I spent years working myself into the very thing I swore she was: a righteous ball of hate.
On the flight home, I'd looked at Clue 4 for so long, I'd memorized it. I wanted to torture myself. No wonder her notes were so different this time: My wife was pregnant, she wanted to start over, return us to our dazzling, happy aliveness. I could picture her running around town to hide those sweet notes, eager as a schoolgirl for me to get to the end – the announcement that she was pregnant with my child. Wood. It had to be an old-fashioned cradle. I knew my wife: It had to be an antique cradle. Although the clue wasn'd quite in an expectant-mother tone.
Picture me: I'm a girl who is very bad
I need to be punished, and by punished, I mean had
It's where you store goodies for anniversary five
Pardon me if this is getting contrived!
A good time was had right here at sunny midday
Then out for a cocktail, all so terribly gay.
So run there right now, full of sweet sighs,
And open the door for your big surprise.
I was almost home when I figured it out. Store goodies for anniversary five: Goodies would be something made of wood. To punish is to take someone to the woodshed. It was the woodshed behind my sister's house – a place to stow lawn-mower parts and rusty tools – a decrepit old outbuilding, like something from a slasher movie where campers are slowly killed off. Go never went back there; she'd often joked of burning it down since she moved into the house. Instead, she'd let it get even more overgrown and cobwebbed. We'd always joked that it would be a good place to bury a body.
It couldn'd be.
I drove across town, my face numb, my hands cold. Go's car was in the driveway, but I slipped past the glowing living room window and down the steep downhill slope, and I was soon out of her sight range, out of sight of anyone. Very private.
Back to the far back of the yard, on the edge of the tree line, there was the shed.
I opened the door.