Darkest Fear Page 41

“Where?”

“He didn’t say. He wasn’t being very specific.”

“Okay, go on.”

“That’s pretty much it, Mr. Bolitar. Two weeks later, Bronwyn came back to school. I never saw Dennis again.”

“You called his father?”

“Of course.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me that Dennis wouldn’t be coming back.”

“Did you ask him why?”

“Of course. But … did you ever meet Raymond Lex?”

“No.”

“You didn’t question a man like that. He mentioned something about home schooling. When I pressed, he made it clear it was none of my concern. Over the years, I’ve tried to keep track of the family, even when they moved out of the area. But like you, I never heard anything about Dennis.”

“What did you think happened?”

She looked at him. “I assumed he was dead.”

Her words, though not all that surprising, worked like a vacuum, sucking the room dry, forcing out the air.

“Why?” Myron asked.

“I figured that he was ill, and that was why he was pulled out of school.”

“Why would Mr. Lex try to hide something like that?”

“I don’t know. After his novel became a bestseller, he became private to the point of paranoia. Are you sure this donor you’re looking for is Dennis Lex?”

“Not sure, no.”

Peggy Joyce snapped her fingers. “Oh, wait, I have something you may find interesting.” She stood and opened a file drawer. She sifted through it, pulled something out, studied it for a moment. Her elbow smacked the drawer closed. “This was taken two months before Dennis left us.”

She handed him an old class photograph, the color not so much fading as greening from age. Fifteen kids flanked by two teachers, one a far younger Peggy Joyce. The years had not been unkind to her, but they’d passed anyway. A small black sign with the white lettering read SHADY WELLS MONTESSORI SCHOOL and the year.

“Which one is Dennis?”

She pointed to a boy sitting in the front row. He had a Prince Valiant cut and a face-splitting smile that never quite hit his eyes. “Can I have this?”

“If you think it will help.”

“It might.”

She nodded. “I better get back to my students.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you remember your preschool, Mr. Bolitar?”

Myron nodded. “Parkview Nursery School in Livingston, New Jersey.”

“How about your teachers? Do you remember them at all?”

Myron thought about it. “No.”

She nodded as though he’d answered correctly. “Good luck,” she said.

23

AgeComp. Or age-progression software, if you prefer.

Myron had learned a bit about it when searching for a missing woman named Lucy Mayor. The key was in the digital imaging. All Myron had to do—or in the case of their office, all Esperanza had to do—was take the class photograph and scan it into the computer. Then, using common software programs like Photoshop or Picture Publisher, you blow up the face of young Dennis Lex. AgeComp, a software program constantly being retooled and perfected by missing-children organizations, does the rest. Using advanced mathematical algorithms, AgeComp stretches, merges, and blends digital photographs of missing children and produces a color image of what they might look like today.

Naturally, a lot is left to chance. Scarring, facial fractures, facial hair, cosmetic surgery, hairstyle or, in the case of some of the older ones, male pattern baldness. Still, the class photo could be a serious lead.

When he was back in Manhattan, the cell phone rang.

“I spoke to the feds,” Win said.

“And?”

“Your impression is correct.”

“What impression?”

“They are indeed frightened.”

“Did you speak to PT?”

“I did. He put me onto the right person. They requested a face-to-face.”

“When?”

“Pretty pronto. We are, in fact, waiting in your office.”

“The feds are in my office right now?”

“Affirmative.”

“Be there in five.”

More like ten. When the elevator opened, Esperanza was sitting at Big Cyndi’s desk.

“How many?” he asked.

“Three,” Esperanza said. “One blond woman, one extra-strength dork, one nice suit.”

“Win’s with them?”

“Yep.”

He handed her the photograph and pointed to Dennis Lex’s face. “How long before we could get an age progression on this?”

“Jesus, when was this taken?”

“Thirty years ago.”

Esperanza frowned. “You know anything about age progression?”

“Some.”

“It’s mostly used to find missing kids,” she said. “And it’s usually used to age them five, maybe ten years.”

“But we can get something, right?”

“Something very rough, yeah maybe.” She flicked on the scanner and placed the photo facedown. “If they’re in the lab, we’ll probably have it by the end of the day. I’ll crop it and e-mail it over.”

“Do it later,” he said, gesturing toward the door. “Mustn’t keep the feds waiting. Our tax dollars and all that.”

“You want me in there?”

“You’re a part of everything that goes on here, Esperanza. Of course I want you in there.”

“I see,” she said. Then: “Is this the part where I blink back tears because you’re making me feel oh-so-special?”

Wiseass.

Myron opened his office door. Esperanza followed. Win sat behind Myron’s desk, probably so that none of the feds would. Win could be territorial—just one of the ways he was like a Doberman. Kimberly Green and Rick Peck rose with lack-of-sleep-luggage eyes and squared-off smiles. The third fed stayed in his seat, not moving, not even turning to see who’d entered. Myron saw his face and felt a jolt.

Whoa.

Win watched Myron, an amused smile curling the ends of his mouth. Eric Ford, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was the man in the suit. His presence meant one thing: This was serious big-time.

Kimberly Green pointed at Esperanza. “What’s she doing in here?”

“She’s my partner,” Myron said. “And it’s not polite to point.”

“Your partner? You think this is a business transaction?”

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