Christopher McNeil didn’t keep journals. He never wrote his thoughts down. He never left any trace of himself. And that was, in some ways, reflective of what had happened to his soul over the last twenty years.
He pulled up to a single family home a few blocks south of Lincoln Square. He watched his daughter exit the car, make a 360-degree turn, looking every which way, and then head inside to meet John Mayburn.
When she was inside, Christopher scanned the area himself, noting the other shingled houses on the street, the nicely manicured lawns. He didn’t close his eyes-he never did unless he knew he was safe and nearly asleep-and entered the relaxed state of mind where he could write in his mental journal:
I am as flat as a penny. Although I see things outside me in color again, there is little left of me. My child recognized me physically, but no one truly knows me or sees me, because I have all but disappeared. If I give myself up to save my children it will be no sacrifice. There is nothing left to sacrifice.
He exhaled hard, then put away his mental journal.
He and Izzy had decided he would stay outside to make sure they hadn’t been followed. So he spent the next thirty minutes in silence, glancing continually in the car mirrors, scanning the streets with his eyes, but it was rote work. For decades now, he had searched for someone that might be following him. It wasn’t second nature. It was first.
The front door of John Mayburn’s house opened, and Izzy stepped out. She was wearing a black skirt and a teal T-shirt that she had changed into on the plane. She took the stairs fast, and was in the car a second later.
“I think I might have something,” she said, talking quickly. “Last year, after I got into Michael DeSanto’s computer, Mayburn turned over the original copy of the hard drive to his client, the bank where Michael used to work. Mayburn told the bank and the Feds he didn’t keep a copy.” He glanced at her and saw her roll her eyes to the roof of the car. “But of course he did. That’s so Mayburn. Anyway, most of the stuff is financial, encrypted records of transactions Michael put through for Advent Corporation. I asked Mayburn if he remembered anything in there having to do with Dez Romano, but like you said, there was nothing solid that could tie Dez to Michael or Advent Corporation. So, Mayburn and I started opening all the documents on the hard drive and scanning them, trying to see if we noticed anything. But we didn’t find anything that the Feds hadn’t, but then…”
“Well, I started thinking. If Dez and Michael had formed Advent Corporation so they could run financial transactions through it, maybe they formed other corporations. We got on the Secretary of State Web site and searched for Michael’s name and Dez’s, just to check, but of course nothing came up. We thought of the name of the lawyer you mentioned, the one who was the registered agent for Advent, so we searched for his name, but you can’t search by the names of the agents on the site, only the names of the corporations. So I tried to think like Michael. I kept thinking that now that I know Lucy pretty well and have heard her talk so much about Michael that maybe something would jump out. So we did all the searches I could think of, using Michael’s street name or number, stuff like that. And then I remembered from the day I got on his computer that he’s a huge Notre Dame fan. Huge. So we started running searches with Notre Dame words.”
“Irish, Fighting Irish, ND, Domer. When we found corporations that used those words we’d look at the information on file and check out the registered agents or the officers. We couldn’t find anything at first. It was such a long shot.”
“But then you found something?”
“Yep. When we clicked on the name of one corporation called UND, LLC, it showed a registered agent named Paul Crane. We used Google to search for him and he’s like the other one you mentioned-a lawyer who incorporates for people over the Internet. But guess who the principal officer was?”
“It couldn’t have been Michael DeSanto or Dez Romano or the Feds would have found that.”
“Nope. It was Belle Joseph.”
“Belle is the name of Lucy and Michael’s daughter. Josephine is her middle name. I heard Lucy call her by her full name when we were at the museum.”
“And by using her name, no one would be able to search for it. They wouldn’t know to search for it.”
“Wow.” He was filled with awe at his daughter’s ingenuity. What would it have been like if he had been with her for her whole life, getting to witness triumphs like this?
“And get this-Mayburn did some digging and found that UND, LLC previously listed Advent Corporation as one of their subcontractors.”
“I suppose UND could be a legit business, something Michael is working on outside of Dez, but…”
“But with a tie like that to Advent, there’s a damn good chance UND is just like Advent Corporation. There are so many similarities.”
She nodded. “I think so, too. And maybe it won’t even help when we see Dez, but-”
“Good work!” he said, interrupting her, surprised at the enthusiasm in his voice. He wanted to pat her shoulder, to hug her.
But just then his eyes narrowed as he saw something over her shoulder, through the car window.
“What?” Izzy said, catching his look and swiveling around. “Oh, it’s just Mayburn.”
A guy in his forties, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, was leaning toward the car, holding up one hand.
Izzy rolled down the window. “Mayburn, this is my father, Christopher McNeil.”
His own name, being spoken from the lips of his daughter, made something tremble inside him. But when he reached out his hand to shake John Mayburn’s, he frowned. “Nice to meet you,” he said coldly to the guy who had put his daughter in the line of fire more than once.
Mayburn seemed to understand his look. He nodded. “I appreciate your daughter. I won’t let her get hurt.”
He said nothing. Wasn’t sure this Mayburn guy could protect Izzy even if he wanted to.
Mayburn looked at Izzy. “I called Lucy.”
“You told her about Michael’s company, UND?”
Mayburn nodded. “He swore to her that Advent Corporation was it. He swore they’d never had any other affiliation.”
“Did you tell her about the name of Belle Joseph as the principal officer?”
He nodded. “I told her she couldn’t say anything to Michael for a few days, but the ‘Belle Joseph’ thing, that’s what pushed her over the edge-using the kids in any way.”
“So you think it will make a difference? With the two of you?”
He nodded again. “Yeah,” he said. “I think everything is going to be good. Real good.” He glanced at Christopher, then back at Izzy. “I know you have more important things to worry about, and if there’s anything at all I can do, tell me. But in the meantime, thanks, Iz. Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” Izzy said.
John Mayburn gave a small wave, then turned and walked back into his house.
Christopher had just pulled away from the curb when Izzy’s phone, which lay on the console between the seats, came to life-the phone trilling, the screen lighting up.
Izzy grabbed it. “An e-mail.” She scrolled with her thumb. Her face lost the excitement that had just been there. “It’s from Charlie.”
Despite his earlier lecture to Izzy about “turning around” negative emotions, Christopher was walloped by fear.
He pulled over, and Izzy leaned toward him, holding the phone so they could both see.
You don’t need the exact address, the e-mail read. Just come to Lake Street, just past Kennedy. Look for the building with the black door. You’ll figure it out. You’d better, or this kid is dead. Your 25 minutes start now.