The Last Thing He Told Me

2.2 Who Needs a Tour Guide?

chapter
Chapter

I circle the churches on the map and we head out of the stadium through a
di􀏦erent exit. We head down the steps and past a statue honoring the Longhorn
Band, UT’s Etter-Harbin Alumni Center just behind it.
“Wait,” Bailey says. “Slow down a sec…”
I turn around. “What?”
She looks up at the building, at the sign in front: THE HOME OF THE TEXASEXES.
Then she turns back to the stadium. “This looks familiar,” she says.
“Well, it looks a little like the other gate entrance—”
“No, it’s like it all looks familiar,” she says. “Like this part of the campus
looks familiar. Like I was here more than once, or something. It feels familiar.”
She starts looking around.
“Let me get my bearings,” she says. “Let me 􀏯gure out why this place looks
familiar to me. Isn’t that the point of all this? That something here is supposed
to look familiar?”
“Okay,” I say. “Take your time.”
I try to encourage her, even though I don’t want to stop here. I want to get to
the churches before they close for the day. I want to 􀏯nd us someone to talk to.
I stay quiet and focus on my phone. I focus on 􀏯guring out the time line. If
Bailey is onto something, if we aren’t walking completely down the wrong path,
it has to have been in 2008 that Bailey was here—while Bailey and Owen were
still living in Seattle, while Olivia was still alive. The next year, Bailey and Owen
moved to Sausalito. And any time before that, she would have been too young to
remember much of this, if any of it.
So 2008 was the sweet spot. If Bailey is right about any of it, that’s when she
was here. I search for the football schedule. I search for the home game schedule,
from twelve years ago.
But as I start to pull the past schedules up, my cell rings, BLOCKED coming up
on the caller ID. I hold it in my hand, unsure what to do. It could be Owen. But
I think of Jake telling me not to answer any unknown numbers, and it feels risky.
Who else it may be, what other trouble that may cause.
Bailey motions to my phone. “Are you going to get that? Or just stare at it?”
“Haven’t decided yet.”
What if it’s Owen though? What if? I click accept. But I don’t say anything,
waiting to hear what the caller has to say 􀏯rst.
“Hello? Hannah?”
The woman on the other end has a high-pitched voice, lispy, irritating. It’s a
voice that I recognize.
“Belle,” I say.
“Oh what a mess this is,” she says. “What an outrage. Are you okay? And how
is Owen’s daughter?”
It’s Belle’s attempt to be nice, but I note that she doesn’t say Bailey. She says
Owen’s daughter because she can never remember Bailey’s name. It’s never been
important to her to learn it.
“They didn’t do this thing, you know…” she says.
They.
“Belle, I’ve been trying to reach you,” I say.
“I know, I know, you must be beside yourself. I’m beside myself. I’m holed
up in St. Helena like some kind of common criminal. Camera crews camped
outside my door. I can’t even leave the house! I had to have my assistant drop o􀏦
roasted chicken and chocolate sou􀏬és from Bouchon so I’d have something to
eat,” she says. “Where are you?”
I start to sidestep the question, but I don’t need to. Belle isn’t waiting for my
answer. She just wants to keep talking.
“I mean this whole thing is just ridiculous,” she says. “Avett is an
entrepreneur, not a criminal. And Owen’s a genius, though I don’t need to tell
you that. I mean, for crying out loud, why the hell would Avett need to do this
thing anyway? Steal from his own company? This is, what, his eighth start-up?
This late in his career he is going to start in􀏲ating values and lying and stealing?
Or whatever the hell they say he is doing? Give me a break. We already have more
money than we know what to do with.”
She is 􀏯ghting hard, arguing forcefully. But it doesn’t change what she is
leaving out, what she is refusing to acknowledge. Avett’s previous success, the
hubris that comes with it, could explain why he refused to fail now.
“Point is, it’s a setup,” she says.
“By who, Belle?”
“How the hell do I know? The government? A competitor? Maybe some
hack who wants to get to the market 􀏯rst. That’s Avett’s theory. The point is
that we are going to beat this. Avett has worked too hard for too long to be taken
down by an accounting mishap.”
And I hear it then, what people—Patty, Carl, Naomi—must hear when
they’re talking to me. I hear the crazy. She sounds crazy. Maybe that’s what
happens when the bottom falls out, you lose the ability to modulate—to make
your words make sense to the rest of the world.
“So are you saying it was a setup or an accounting error?” I pause. “Or are
you just saying it’s everyone’s fault except for Avett’s?”
“Excuse me?” she says.
She’s angry. I don’t care. I don’t have time for her, now that I know this
conversation is going to a place where she wants something from me. I don’t
have anything left to give her.
I look at Bailey, who is watching me with questions in her eyes: Why am I
sounding increasingly angry? What does this mean for her father?
“I need to go,” I say.
“Just wait,” she says. Which is when she starts to get to it. What she actually
needs.
“Avett’s lawyers are having trouble reaching Owen,” she says. “And we just
want to make sure, we just want to know… he isn’t talking to law enforcement, is
he? Because that wouldn’t be smart, for any of us.”
“If Avett didn’t do anything wrong, what does it matter what Owen says?”
“Don’t be naive. It doesn’t work that way,” she says.
I can almost see Belle sitting at her kitchen island, on the stool I made for her,
shaking her head incredulously, the gold hoops she never takes o􀏦 slapping at her
high cheeks.
“How does it work?”
“Uh… entrapment, forced confessions. Is Owen that stupid?” She pauses. “Is
he talking to the police?”
I want to say, all I know is that he isn’t talking to me. I don’t o􀏦er Belle that
though. I don’t o􀏦er her anything. We are in di􀏦erent positions, she and I. She
isn’t worried about Avett’s safety. She isn’t sincerely questioning whether the
government’s acting in bad faith or whether Avett’s guilty. Belle knows that her
husband is guilty. She is just trying to spin it, to do what she needs to do, to stop
him from paying for it.
My concern, on the other hand, is how to stop Bailey from paying for it.
“Avett’s lawyers need to debrief with Owen as soon as possible, so the story
stays consistent,” Belle says. “We could use your help on this. We all need to stick
together.”
I don’t answer her.
“Hannah? Are you still there?”
“No,” I say. “Not anymore.”
Then I hang up. I hang up and go back to pulling up the old UT-Austin
football schedule.
“Who was that?” Bailey says.
“Wrong number,” I say.
“Is that what you call Belle these days?” she says.
I look up at her.
“Why even pretend?” she says.
She’s furious and she’s scared. And, apparently, I’m making that worse as
opposed to better.
“I’m just trying to protect you from some of this, Bailey,” I say.
“But you can’t,” she said. “That’s the thing. No one can protect me from
this. So how about you agree to be the person who tells me the truth?”
She looks older than she is suddenly. Her eyes are unwavering, her lips pursed.
Protect her. The one thing Owen asked me to do. The one impossible thing.
I nod, holding her gaze. She wants me to tell her the truth, as if that is a
simple thing to do. Maybe it is simpler than I’m making it.
“That was Belle. And she essentially con􀏯rmed for me that Avett is guilty, or
that, at the very least, he has things to hide. And she seems surprised that Owen
has gone o􀏦 the grid as opposed to helping Avett hide those things. All of which
makes me wonder what your father is hiding. And why.” I pause. “So I’d like to
􀏯nd these churches and see if that o􀏦ers any clue as to why he felt like he had no
choice but to leave us. I’d like to 􀏯gure out if it’s just about The Shop or if what
I’m suspecting is true.”
“Which is?”
“What he’s running from goes back further than that,” I say. “And it’s about
him. And you.”
She doesn’t say anything. She stands in front of me with her arms crossed
over her chest. Then suddenly, she drops them. She drops them and moves in a
little closer to me.
“So… when I asked you to tell me the truth, I meant, like, don’t lie about who
is on the phone.”
“I went a step too far?”
“In a good way,” she says.
It may be the nicest thing she has ever said to me.
“Well, I was trying to listen.”
“Thank you for that,” she says.
Then she takes the map from my hands and studies it herself.
“Let’s go,” she says.


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