The Last Thing He Told Me

1.7 Help Is on the Way

chapter
Chapter

When we decided I was moving to Sausalito, Owen and I talked about how to
make the transition as easy as possible for Bailey. I felt strongly, probably more
strongly than Owen even did, that we shouldn’t move Bailey out of the only
home she’d ever known—the home she’d been living in for as long as she could
remember. I wanted her to have continuity. Her 􀏲oating home—complete with
its wooden beams and bay windows, its storybook views on Issaquah Dock—
was her continuity. Her safe haven.
But I wonder if it didn’t just make it more apparent: Someone moved into
her most cherished space and there was nothing she could do about it.
Still, I did everything I could to not disturb the balance. Her balance. Even in
the way that I moved into the house, I tried to keep the peace. I put my stamp on
Owen’s and my bedroom, but the only other room I redecorated wasn’t a room
at all. It was our porch, lovingly hugging the front of the house. Before I arrived,
the porch was empty. But I lined it with potted plants, rustic tea tables. And I
built a bench to put by the front door.
It is a great rocking bench—shingled in white oak, striped pillows for
comfort.
Owen and I have made it our weekend ritual to sit on the bench together,
drinking our morning co􀏦ee. It’s our time to catch up on the week as the sun
rises slowly over the San Francisco Bay, catching the bench in its warmth. Owen
is more animated in those conversations than during the work week—a load
lifted as the day stretches out before him, empty and relaxed.
That’s partially why the bench makes me so happy, why I take comfort even
passing by it. And why I nearly jump out of my skin when I walk outside to take
out the trash and there is someone sitting on it.
“Garbage day?” he says.
I turn around to see a man I don’t recognize leaning against the bench’s arm,
like he belongs there. He wears a backward baseball cap and a windbreaker,
holds tight to a cup of co􀏦ee.
“Can I help you?” I say.
“I’m hoping so.” He motions toward my wrists. “But you may want to put
those down 􀏯rst.”
I look down to see that I’m still holding the trash, the two weighty garbage
bags in my hands. I drop the bags into the trash cans. Then I look back up and
take him in. He is young—maybe in his early thirties. And he is good-looking in
a way that’s disarming, complete with a strong jaw, dark eyes. He is almost too
good-looking. But the way he smiles gives him away. He knows it better than
anyone.
“Hannah, I take it?” he says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Who the hell are you?” I say.
“I’m Grady,” he says.
He bites the edge of the co􀏦ee cup, holding it between his lips as he points at
me to give him a second. Then he reaches in his pocket and pulls out something
that looks like a badge. He holds it out for me to take.
“Grady Bradford,” he says. “You can call me Grady. Or Deputy Bradford if
you prefer, though that seems awfully formal for our purposes.”
“And what are those?”
“Friendly,” he says. Then he smiles. “Friendly purposes.”
I study the badge. It has a star with a circular ring wrapped around it. I want
to run my 􀏯nger around that circle, through the star, as if that will help me
determine whether the badge is genuine.
“You’re a police o􀏩cer?”
“A U.S. marshal actually,” he says.
“You don’t look like a U.S. marshal,” I say.
“And what does a U.S. marshal look like?” he says.
“Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive,” I say.
He laughs. “It’s true, I’m younger than some of my colleagues, but my
grandfather was with the service, so I got an early start,” he says. “I assure you it’s
been a legitimate one.”
“What do you do for the Marshals’ o􀏩ce?”
He takes his badge back and stands up, the bench rocking back and forth as it
loses the weight of him.
“Well, primarily, I apprehend people who are defrauding the U.S.
government,” he says.
“You think my husband’s done that?”
“I think The Shop has done that. But no, I’m not convinced your husband
has. Though I’d need to speak to him before I could properly assess his
involvement,” he says. “Seems like he doesn’t want to have that conversation
though.”
That sticks to me for some reason. It sticks to me as not the entire truth, at
least not Grady’s entire truth as to what he’s doing on my dock.
“Can I see your badge again?” I say.
“512-555-5393,” he says.
“Is that your badge number?”
“That’s the phone number for my branch o􀏩ce,” he says. “Give a call there, if
you like. They’ll con􀏯rm for you who I am. And that I just need a few minutes
of your time.”
“Do I have a choice?”
He gives me a smile. “You always have a choice,” he says. “But I’d certainly
appreciate if you talked to me.”
It doesn’t feel like I have a choice, at least not a good one. And I don’t know
if I like him, this Grady Bradford, with his practiced drawl. But how much
would I like anyone who is about to ask me a bunch of questions about Owen?
“What do you say?” he says. “I was thinking we could take a walk.”
“Why would I take a walk with you?”
“It’s a nice day,” he says. “And I got you this.”
He reaches under my rocking bench and pulls out another cup of co􀏦ee,
piping hot, fresh from Fred’s. EXTRA SUGAR and SHOT OF CINNAMON are written
on the side of the cup in large black letters. He hasn’t just brought me a cup of
co􀏦ee. He’s brought me a cup of co􀏦ee just the way I take it.
I breathe the co􀏦ee in, take my 􀏯rst sip. It’s the 􀏯rst bit of pleasure since this
whole mess started.
“How do you know how I take my co􀏦ee?” I say.
“A waiter named Benj helped me out. He said you and Owen get co􀏦ees from
him on the weekend. Yours with cinnamon, Owen’s black.”
“This is bribery.”
“Only if it doesn’t work,” he says. “Otherwise it’s a cup of co􀏦ee.”
I look at him and take another sip.
“Sunny side of the street?” he says.
We leave the docks and walk toward the Path, heading toward downtown—
Waldo Point Harbor peeking out at us in the distance.
“So I take it no word from Owen?” he says.
I think about our kiss goodbye by his car yesterday, slow and lingering. Owen
wasn’t anxious at all, a smile on his face.
“No. I haven’t seen him since he left for work yesterday,” I say.
“And he hasn’t called?” he says.
I shake my head.
“Does he usually call from work?”
“Usually,” I say.
“But not yesterday?”
“He may have tried me, I don’t know. I went to the Ferry Building in San
Francisco, and there are a bunch of dead zones between here and there, so…”
He nods, completely unsurprised, almost like he knows this already. Like he
is playing way past it.
“What happened when you got back?” he says. “From the Ferry Building?”
I take a deep breath and think about it for a minute. I think about telling him
the truth. But I don’t know what he will make of the information about the
twelve-year-old girl and the note she gave to me, about the note Owen left for
Bailey at the school. About the du􀏦el bag of money. Until I 􀏯gure it out for
myself, I’m not including someone I just met.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I say. “I made Bailey dinner, which she hated,
and she went to play practice. I heard about The Shop on NPR while I was
waiting for her in the school parking lot. We came home. Owen didn’t. No one
slept.”
He tilts his head, takes me in, like he doesn’t believe me, entirely. I don’t
judge him for that. He shouldn’t. But he seems to be willing to let it go.
“So… no call this morning, correct?” he says. “No email either?”
“No,” I say.
He pauses, as though something is just occurring to him.
“It’s a crazy thing when someone disappears, isn’t it? No explanation?” he
says.
“Yes,” I say.
“And yet… you don’t seem all that mad.”
I stop walking, irritated that he thinks he knows enough about me to make a
judgment call on how I feel.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there was an appropriate way to respond when
your husband’s company is raided and he disappears,” I say. “Am I doing
anything else you deem inappropriate?”
He thinks about it. “Not really.”
I look down at his ring 􀏯nger. No ring there. “I take it you’re not married?”
“No,” he says. “Wait… do you mean ever or currently?”
“Is it a di􀏦erent answer?”
He smiles. “No.”
“Well, if you were, you’d understand that I’m more worried about my
husband than anything else.”
“Do you suspect foul play?”
I think of the notes Owen has left, of the money. I think of the twelve-yearold’s
story of running into Owen in the school hallway, of Owen’s conversation
with Jules. Owen knew where he was going. He knew he needed to get away
from here. He chose to go.
“I don’t think he was taken against his will, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Not exactly.”
“So what are you asking, Grady? Exactly?”
“Grady. I like that. I’m glad we’re on a 􀏯rst-name basis.”
“What’s your question?”
“Here you are, left to pick up the pieces of his mess. Not to mention take care
of his daughter,” he says. “That would make me mad. And you don’t seem to be
that mad. Which makes me think there is something you know that you’re not
telling me…”
His voice tightens. And his eyes darken until he seems like what he is—an
investigator—and I’m suddenly on the other side of whatever line he draws to
separate himself from the people he suspects of wrongdoing.
“If Owen told you something about where he disappeared to, about why he
left, I need to know,” he says. “That’s the only way for you to protect him.”
“Is that your primary interest here? Protecting him?”
“It is. Actually.”
That does feel true, which unnerves me. It unnerves me even more than his
investigator mode.
“I should get home.”
I start to move away from him, Grady Bradford keeping me a little o􀏦-
balance standing so close.
“You need to get a lawyer,” he says.
I turn back toward him. “What?”
“Thing is,” he says, “you’re going to get a lot of questions about Owen,
certainly until he’s around again to answer them for himself. Questions you’re
under no obligation to answer. It’s easier to push them o􀏦 if you tell them you
have a lawyer.”
“Or I can just tell them the truth. I have no idea where Owen is. And I have
nothing to hide.”
“It’s not that simple. People are going to o􀏦er you information that makes it
seem like they’re on your side. And Owen’s side. They aren’t. They aren’t on
anyone’s side but their own.”
“People like you?” I say.
“Exactly,” he says. “But I did make a phone call for you this morning to
Thomas Shelton. He’s an old buddy of mine who works on family law for the
state of California. I just wanted to make sure you’re protected in case someone
comes out of the woodwork seeking temporary custody of Bailey during all of
this. Thomas will pull some strings to make sure that temporary custody is
granted to you.”
I let out a deep breath, unable to hide my relief. It has occurred to me that, if
this goes on for too much longer, losing custody of Bailey is a possibility. She has
no other family to speak of—her grandparents deceased, no close relatives. But
we aren’t blood relatives. I haven’t adopted her. Couldn’t the state take her away
at any time? At least until they determine where her one legal guardian is, and
why he has left his kid behind?
“He has the authority to do that?” I say.
“He does. And he will.”
“Why?”
He shrugs. “Because I asked him to,” he says.
“Why would you do that for us?” I ask.
“So you’d trust me when I tell you the best thing you can do for Owen is lie
low and get a lawyer,” he says. “Do you know one?”
I think of the one lawyer I know in town. I think of how little I want to talk
to him, especially now.
“Unfortunately,” I say.
“Call him. Or her.”
“Him,” I say.
“Fine, call him. And lie low.”
“Do you want to say it again?” I ask.
“Nah, I’ve said it enough.”
Then something in his face changes, a smile breaking through. Investigator
mode apparently behind us.
“Owen hasn’t used a credit card, not a check, nothing for twenty-four hours.
And he won’t. He’s too smart, so you can stop calling his phone because I’m
sure he dumped it.”
“So why did you keep asking if he called?”
“There are other phones he could have used,” he says. “Burner phones.
Phones that aren’t readily traceable.”
Burner phones, paper trails. Why is Grady trying to make Owen sound like a
criminal mastermind?
I start to ask him, but he presses a button on his key chain, a car across the
street shining its lights, coming to life.
“I won’t keep you longer, you have enough to deal with,” he says. “But when
you do hear from Owen, tell him I can help him if he lets me.”
Then he hands me a napkin from Fred’s, his name written down, GRADY
BRADFORD, with two phone numbers beneath it, his numbers I presume—one
of them marked cell.
“I can help you too,” he says.
I pocket the napkin as he crosses the street and gets into his car. I start to walk
away, but as he turns on the engine, something occurs to me and I walk toward
him.
“Wait. With which part?” I say.
He lowers his window. “With which part, what?”
“Can you help?”
“The easy part,” he says. “Getting through this.”
“What’s the hard part?”
“Owen’s not who you think he is,” he says.
Then Grady Bradford is gone.


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