They found the bodies on a Tuesday. Two days after the family had missed their flight home. Six days after all texts and social media had gone dark. The last post was a selfie saying they'd arrived in Mexico: the dad and mom making exaggerated duck faces, the teenage girl pink-cheeked and mortified, the little boy wearing plastic sunglasses and a gap-toothed smile.
The rental wasn't beachfront. It was off the beaten path, a small structure at the end of an unpaved alleyway, carved into a patch of roadside jungle in Tulum. The smell hit the local cop in the face when the property manager opened the front door. The maid hired to clean up after departing guests was sitting on the cement stoop, her hands working a string of rosary beads, her face streaked with tears.
The place was sweltering.
And filled with the buzz of flies.
But for all the decay in the air, there was no blood. No obvious signs of foul play. That's when the cop knew he needed to get out of
Within the hour, men in white hazmat suits trudged through the property, eyes fixed on handheld air sensors. They found the mother lying on the couch, frozen, a paperback tented on her chest. In the bedroom, the girl was on top of the made bed, her cell phone still clutched in her hand. The boy was tucked in tight, peacefully, stuffed bear at his side.
The team inspected the stove and the water heater.
Then they drifted morosely out the patio doors to check the exterior gas line. That's when they found the trail of blood. And the father—at least what was left of him.
"Rough night? You look like you slept out here with us."
Matt studied the chessboard, ignoring the weathered black man sitting across from him at the battered table in Washington Square Park.
"Ain't you cold? Where's your coat?"
"Shush, Reggie," Matt said, waving the questions away with a hand. "I'm trying to concentrate." He continued to plot his move on the board. A cool morning breeze pushed through the park, and Matt rubbed his hands together from the chill. It was way too cold for April.
Reggie made a sound of amusement in his throat. "Take all day. Ain't gonna matter."
In two years Matt hadn't won a single game against the West Village's homeless Bobby Fischer. Matt wondered sometimes what had brought the highly intelligent man to the streets, but he never asked. He moved his bishop, capturing the pawn on g7.
Reggie shook his head, as if disappointed in him. Eyes on the board, Reggie said, "What, you just getting back from a party or something?"
"Yeah, over at Goddard." Matt directed his head to Goddard Hall, a washed-brown brick tower just off the park.
"Goddard? Hangin' with the freshman girls," Reggie said with a gravelly laugh. He knew more about NYU than most grad students. Maybe that was it; maybe he'd once attended the university.
It was odd because people usually confided in Matt, told them their life stories, their secrets, their problems. He guessed he just had that kind of face. Or maybe it was because he preferred listening, observing, over talking. And boy, could Reggie talk. Yet despite his incessant chatter, Reggie offered no clues about his life before the park. Matt had looked for signs of the backstory. The man kept a green military-looking bag; maybe he'd been a soldier. His hands and nails were always impeccably clean; maybe he'd worked in the medical field. His street talk at times seemed genuine, at times forced. Maybe he was hiding his real identity, on the run, a criminal. Or maybe he was just a guy who'd hit hard times, loved to play chess, and didn't feel the need to justify his life to an annoying college kid.
"My man. Out all night with the coeds." Reggie chuckled again. "How's that pretty redhead of yours feel about that?"
A fair question. But that pretty redhead had broken up with Matt yesterday. Hence too many drinks at Purple Haze. Hence the after- party at Goddard and the frolic upstairs with Deena (or was it Dana?). Hence 7:00 a.m. in the park with bed head and no way to get back into the dorm—his security card, room key, and phone in the pocket of his missing coat.