That afternoon, Aiden drove me back to the airport in the Welcome Wagon. I'd decided that I'd be most likely to find Emma if I went back to New York. I could at least go home and wait for her there, where as here she had no way of knowing where I was to located me. There, I could get other officers in Em's precinct to help me look for her. If she was likely to go anywhere to look for me, I imagined it would be home.
Aiden pulled the purple van up to the curb in front of the departures terminal of the airport and we both got out. She helped me load up with the four duffle bags. "Are you sure you don't want some company?" she asked, putting the last of the shoulder straps around my neck.
"Nawh, I've imposed enough on you," I answered, "It's a long trip to make for a guy you've known for less than 24-hours."
"I don't mind, I love any excuse to venture to the city," Aiden replied, shrugging. "And my brother's a pilot, so I get discounted airfare."
"I'm okay, really," I answered, quickly. I really just wanted to be alone, collect my thoughts, and figure out a game plan without Aiden's fairly consistent chatter on the plane. She was nice, but I'd had enough socialization. I needed to get back to my cave with Emma. "Thanks for every thing," I said. I paused. "Well, everything except the grits."
Aiden laughed. "No problem," she said. She slid her hands into her pockets and smiled. "It was really great meeting you Jared. I hope your wife is home when you get there and that she finds Daniel Gregor."
"Thanks," I said. "She will. Emma doesn't know how to let a case run cold."
Aiden smiled. She held up a palm by way of waving and I watched back and headed inside the airport to check in and get the bags all checked.
On the plane, I got myself a seat in literally the last row. I hunkered down against the window and stared out and watched the city of Nashville get smaller, watched the sun set off in the distance, turning the sky orange and hot pink as the plane moved north. I thought about Emma, convincing myself that she was okay and that when I got back to New York she'd either be standing there at the gate waiting for me or else she'd be home waiting for me. Either way she'd be waiting for me.
But she wasn't at the gate.
Of the two scenarios, I told myself as my heart rate rose, that one was the least likely. I was certain she'd be home. I pulled the duffle bags off the luggage spinner and got a cab. Every mile closer to home we got, weaving through the traffic lights, the more convinced I became that Emma would be there. I could feel her being there.
When the cab pulled up to the curb in front of the brownstone that held out apartment, I looked up from the street and saw our living room light was on, shining through the sheer green curtains that Em had picked out and hung up when we first moved there. My heart leaped with excitement as I paid the driver and got my bags and hauled them up the stairs to the fifth floor. All the way up the steps, I thought excitedly about how I would tease her for sending me off to Nashville, thought about how we'd laugh about it and how then I'd check the stove because, despite everything else on my mind, it was still bothering me that I might've left it on. Even though she probably had shut it off by now if I had left it on.
I unlocked the apartment door with an air of excitement. I stepped inside, into darkness, and said, "Next time we take a vacation honey, let's both of us go along, huh?" I stopped, realizing it was dark.
But the light had been on. I'd seen it from the street.
I reached for the light switch.
The room was flooded with light and my breath caught in my throat.
The apartment had been completely ransacked. Stuff was everywhere, many of our things lay broken on the floor. I took a step forward. Something crunched under my feet and I moved it to find the head of a C3PO figurine. The android stared up at me with a perplexed expression on his face. I had a feeling my face might look the same way.
"Em?" I called hopefully.
I walked forward carefully, picking my way around broken stuff and the contents of our shelves. My encyclopedia collection lay in spine-breaking positions all over the floor. I bent and picked up volume P and put it gently back on the shelf. I'd come back for the other 25 volumes, I told myself. I continued through to the kitchen where the table was flipped onto it's side and dishes covered the counters, shattered. Strewn across the floor was cereals and oatmeal and you-name-it, the contents of our cupboard - and, unfortunately, it looked like our fridge, too - was all over the floor. I glanced at the stove. Off.
I turned back and went to the hallway. I flicked on the light. The moment the light had illuminated the walls, I wished I'd kept it off. I'd just painted the walls the month before - a color called Toasted Marshmallow that was somewhere between cream and beige - but now the wall was streaked by a long smear of red. A bloody hand print that had been dragged along the length of the hall. My stomach flipped several times over. My heart nearly stopped.
I felt like I might throw up.
I wanted to stop there, to turn back, to run away.
Be brave Jared, I told myself.
I stepped toward our bedroom door, which stood just ajar. My hands shook as I reached up, closing my eyes, and pushed the door open.
I was afraid to open them. What if? I wondered. What if everything that I was imagining, the things that had tightened my muscles so intensely, was true? What if I opened my eyes and found my worst nightmare?
I took a deep breath, then opened my eyes.
The room was worse than any of the other rooms. The mattress had been sliced open, and cotton fibers and springs stuck out of it like it was a gutted animal on the side of the road. Our hypoallergenic faux-duck feather pillows had been destroyed, too, and their feathers were strewn over every surface of the room. And blood. Lots of blood. There was blood on the walls, the dresser. Even the window. The open window.
I was fighting back throwing up.
"Oh god," I muttered. I covered my mouth, my heart ready to explode. I sat on the bed, wringing my hands with nerves. I needed to do something but I couldn't think of what. I knocked on my head, "Think, think, think Jared," I muttered, "Think. Think." I took a deep breath. "Okay. I need to call the precinct. I need to get them down here, to look at this, to help me, to help Emma."
I pulled out my cell phone, but before I could dial, I noticed that a painting on the wall had been shifted. It was the painting that hung over the keypad for Emma's safe, where she put only our most important belongings. Distracted effectively, I pushed my phone back into my pocket, then walked over to the painting. I dismounted it and typed in Em's passcode. The door clicked and I opened it.
Inside, the safe was empty except for one thing.
Emma's spoon handle ring sat in the dead center of the safe.
My throat ached. I reached inside and picked it up gently.
It was still warm from her hand.