NEVADA, MATT THOUGHT. Loren Muse had asked him about a man from Nevada.
Twenty minutes after leaving Loren on his stoop, Matt was in Cingle's office. He'd spent the drive running the interrogation through his head. One word kept coming back to him:
Max Darrow, whoever the hell he was, was from Nevada.
And Olivia had been checking a Web site for a newspaper called the Nevada Sun News.
The offices at MVD were silent. Cingle sat at her desk, wearing a black Nike sweat suit. Her hair was swept back in a long ponytail. She hit the power button to boot up the computer.
"Have you heard anything about the death of a nun at St. Margaret's?" he asked.
Cingle frowned. "That the church in East Orange?"
"Yes. It's also a school."
"How about anything involving a man named Max Darrow?"
Matt quickly explained the questions from his old classmates Lance Banner and Loren Muse. Cingle sighed and took notes. She said nothing, only raising an eyebrow when he mentioned finding a computer cookie leading to a stripper Web site. "I'll look into it."
She swiveled the computer monitor so they could both view it. "Okay, so what do you want to see?"
"Can you blow up the still shot of Charles Talley that came in on my cell phone?"
She started moving the mouse and clicking. "Let me explain something quickly."
"This enhancement program. Sometimes it's a miracle worker, sometimes a total piece of crap. When you take a digital picture, the quality is dependent on the pixels. That's why you get a camera with as many pixels as possible. Pixels are dots. The more dots, the clearer the picture."
"I know all this."
"Your camera phone has a pretty crappy pixel reading."
"I know that too."
"So you know that the more you blow up the image, the less clear it becomes. This software program uses some kind of algorithm- yeah, I know, big word. Put simply, it guesses what should be there based on whatever clues it comes up with. Coloring, shading, ridges, lines, whatever. It's far from exact. There's a lot of trial and error. But that said…"
She pulled up the picture of Charles Talley. This time Matt skipped the blue-black hair, the smirk, the entire face. He ignored the red shirt and white walls. He only had eyes for one thing.
He pointed at it. "See this?"
Cingle put on a pair of reading glasses, squinted, looked at him. "Yes, Matt," she said deadpan. "We call it a window."
"Can you blow it up or enhance it any more?"
"I can try. Why, you think there's something out that window?"
"Not exactly. Just do it, please."
She shrugged, placed the cursor over it, blew it up. The window now took up half the screen.
"Can you make it any clearer?"
Cingle hit something called fine tune. Then she looked at Matt. He smiled at her.
"Don't you see?"
"It's gray. That much I could tell on the camera phone. But now look. There are raindrops on the window."
"So this picture was sent to me yesterday. You see any rain yesterday? Or the day before?"
"But wait, isn't Olivia supposed to be in Boston?"
"Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't. But there hasn't been rain in Boston either. There hasn't been rain anywhere in the Northeast."
Cingle sat back. "So what does it mean?"
"Hold up, check something else first," Matt said. "Bring up the camera phone video and play it slowly."
Cingle minimized the photograph of Charles Talley. She started clicking icons again. Matt felt the rush. His leg started shaking. His head began to clear.
The video started playing. Matt tried to watch the woman with the platinum-blonde wig. Later, maybe he'd go through it step-by-step, confirm that it was indeed Olivia. He remained fairly certain that it was. But that wasn't the issue right now.
He waited until the woman started moving, waited for the flash of light.
Cingle was quick. She hit it with the light still there.
"Look," he said.
Cingle nodded. "Well, I'll be damned."
The sun was bursting through the window.
"The photograph and the video weren't taken at the same time," she said.
"So what happened? They downloaded the first picture onto Olivia's phone or maybe took a picture of a picture?"
"Something like that."
"I still don't get it."
"I'm not sure I do either. But… start the tape rolling again. Slow motion."
Cingle did as he asked.
"Stop." He looked at it. "Blow up the guy's left hand."
It was a shot from the palm side of the hand. Again it was blurry when she first blew it up. She used the software enhancer. The hand came more into focus.
"Just skin," Matt said.
"No ring or wedding band. Let's switch back to our photograph of Charles Talley."
This one was easier. The photograph had a better resolution. The figure of Charles Talley was larger. His hand was up, palm wide open, almost as if stopping traffic.
The backside of a ring was clearly visible.
"My God," Cingle said. "It's a setup."
"I mean, I don't know what's going on in this video, but they wanted you to think this Charles Talley guy was having an affair with Olivia. Do you have any idea why?"
"None. Did you find anything more on Talley?"
"Let me check my e-mail. Something should be in by now."
While Cingle started up her online service, Matt took out his cell phone. He once again hit the speed dial for Olivia. The small warmth was back in his chest. He smiled. Yes, there were problems- Olivia was still in a hotel room with a strange man- and, okay, maybe he was still just a touch high from the remnants of vodka, but there was hope now. The curtain of doom seemed to be parting.
This time, Olivia's recorded voice sounded melodic to him. He waited for the beep and said, "I know you didn't do anything wrong. Please call me." He looked over at Cingle. She was pretending not to listen. "I love you," he finished.
"Aw, how sweet," Cingle said.
A male voice from her computer shouted: "You've got mail."
"Anything?" Matt asked.
"Give me a second." She started scanning the e-mails. "Not much yet, but, okay, it's something. Talley has three assault convictions, arrested twice more but the cases were dropped. He was suspected- man, this guy is creepy- of beating his landlord to death. Talley last served time at a state prison called- get this- Lovelock."
"That name rings a bell. Where is it?"
"Doesn't say. Hold on, let me do a quick search." Cingle started typing, hit return. "Jesus."
She looked up at him. "It's in Lovelock, Nevada."
Nevada. Matt felt the floor drop away. Cingle's cell phone chirped. She lifted it into view, read the LCD screen.
"Give me a second, okay?"
Matt might have nodded. He felt numb.
And then another stray thought- another wild, possible connection to Nevada- came to him: During his freshman year of college, hadn't he gone with some friends to Nevada?
Las Vegas, to be more specific.
It was there, on that trip so many years ago, that he first met the love of his life…
He shook his head. Uh uh, no way. Nevada is a big state.
Cingle hung up the phone and started typing on her computer.
"What?" he said.
Her eyes were still on the monitor. "Charles Talley."
"What about him?"
"We know where he is."
She hit the return button and squinted. "According to Mapquest, less than four miles from where you're now standing." She took off her reading glasses and looked up at him. "Talley has been staying at the Howard Johnson's by Newark Airport."