Long Lost Page 30

’’I married Ginny,’’ he said to Terese. ’’You remember her?’’

’’Of course. I\'m glad to hear you\'re happy, Mario.’’

He took a beat, reassessing, calming down. ’’We have three kids. We keep saying we\'re going to buy a bigger place, but we like it here. And real estate is ridiculous in London.’’

We stood there.

’’So Rick called you,’’ Mario said to Terese.

’’Yes.’’

He shook his head.

I broke the silence. ’’Was there anybody who\'d want to kill Rick?’’

’’Rick was one of the best investigative reporters in the world. He pissed off a lot of people.’’

’’Anybody specific?’’

’’Not really, no. I still don\'t get what this has to do with either one of you.’’

I wanted to explain, but I knew that we didn\'t have the time. ’’Could you just humor us for another moment?’’

’’Humor you? Like this is funny?’’

Terese said, ’’Please, Mario. It\'s important.’’

’’Because you say it is?’’

’’You know me,’’ she said. ’’You know if I\'m asking it\'s important.’’

He thought about that.

’’Mario?’’

’’What do you want to know?’’

’’What was Rick working on?’’ she asked.

He looked off, his upper teeth working his lower lip. ’’A few months ago he started investigating a charitable entity called Save the Angels.’’

’’What about them?’’

’’Frankly, I\'m not sure. They started out as an evangelical group, a classic right-to-life group, protesting abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, stem cell research, the whole deal. But they broke away. He was obsessed with learning all he could about them.’’

’’What did he find?’’

’’Not much that I could see. The money structure seemed a little odd. We couldn\'t trace it down. Basically they were against abortion, against stem cell research, and really into adoptions. Truth was, I thought they seemed like a pretty solid group. I don\'t want to get into a pro-life versus pro-choice argument, but I think both sides would agree that adoption is a viable alternative. That seems to be the direction they headed. Instead of firebombing clinics, Save the Angels worked on getting unwanted pregnancies to term and getting the kids adopted.’’

’’And Rick was interested in them?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Why?’’

’’I don\'t know.’’

’’What made him start looking into them?’’

’’Again, I can\'t say for sure.’’ His voice sort of died away.

’’But you have a thought.’’

’’It started when he went home after his father died.’’ Mario turned to Terese. ’’You know about Sam?’’

’’Karen told me.’’

’’Suicide,’’ he said.

’’He was ill?’’

Mario nodded. ’’Huntington\'s.’’

Terese looked shocked. ’’Sam had Huntington\'s disease?’’

’’Surprised, huh? He kept it hidden, I guess, but when it got bad, well, he didn\'t want to go through that. Took the easy way out.’’

’’But . . . how . . . I never knew.’’

’’Neither did Rick. Or Sam, for that matter, until the end.’’

’’How is that possible?’’

’’You know anything about Huntington\'s?’’ Mario asked.

She nodded. ’’I did a story on it. It\'s strictly hereditary. One of your parents has to have it. If they do, you have a one-in-two chance of contracting it.’’

’’Exactly. The theory is, Sam\'s father Rick\'s grandfather had it, but he died in Normandy, before the illness would have taken effect. So Sam had no idea.’’

’’Did Rick get tested?’’ Terese asked.

’’I don\'t know. He didn\'t even tell Karen the whole story just that his father found out he had a terminal illness. But anyway, he stayed over in the USA for a while. I think he was going through his father\'s things, settling the estate. That was when he stumbled onto this Save the Angels charity.’’

’’How?’’

’’No idea.’’

’’You said they\'re against stem cell research. Was that somehow related to Huntington\'s?’’

’’Could be, but Rick mostly had me run through their finances. Follow the money. That\'s the old motto. Rick wanted to know everything he could about it, and the people who ran it until he told me to get off the story.’’

’’He gave up?’’

’’No. He just wanted me to stop. Not him. Just me.’’

’’Do you know why?’’

’’Not really. He came by and took all my files and then he said something really weird.’’ Mario looked first at Terese, then back at me. ’’He said, \'You need to be careful, you have a family.\'’’

We waited.

’’So I said the obvious: \'So do you.\' But he just shook it off. I could see he was totally unnerved. Terese, you knew how he was. Nothing scared him.’’

She nodded. ’’He was that way on the phone with me.’’

’’So I try to get him to talk to me, open up. He won\'t. He hurries out and I don\'t hear anything else from him. Ever. And then I get the call today.’’

’’Any clue where those files are now?’’

’’He usually kept copies at the office.’’

’’It might help if we could see them.’’

Mario just stared at her.

’’Please, Mario. You know I wouldn\'t ask if it wasn\'t important.’’

He was still annoyed, but he did seem to get it. ’’Let me go look around for them first thing in the morning, okay?’’

I looked over at Terese. I wasn\'t sure how hard we pushed now. This man seemed to know Rick Collins as well as anyone. It was her call.

’’Has Rick talked about Miriam much recently?’’ she asked.

Mario looked up. He took his time, and I expected an expansive answer. But all he said was, ’’No.’’

We waited for him to elaborate. He didn\'t.

’’I think,’’ Terese said, ’’that there\'s a chance that Miriam is still alive.’’

If Mario Contuzzi knew something about it, then the guy had to be a psychopath. I\'m not saying that people can\'t lie and act and fool you. I have seen it done too many times by some all-time greats. The way the all-time greats do it is to either fool themselves into believing that the lie is the truth or they are true honest-to-goodness psychopaths. If Mario suspected that Miriam was alive, he fit into one of those two camps.

He made a face as though he had heard wrong. His voice had an angry edge. ’’What are you talking about?’’


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