Depressed and defeated, he’d returned to FBI headquarters only to find his helpful agent in a similarly glum mood.
“I’m sorry. But like I said, it’s a big city and there’s a loooot of Lisas in it. And that’s assuming her real name is Lisa to begin with. You’re talking about an anonymous kid who may have lived here twenty years ago.”
Danny sighed. “Thanks for trying.”
“The only other angle I can think of is the dead parents. If they died when she was young and there was no other family, she might have been placed in some kind of orphanage. The child welfare system doesn’t usually separate siblings, if they can help it, so if she had a sister, they’d probably have gone somewhere together. You want the number for the offices of New York State Children and Family Services?”
That was yesterday evening. After a long night spent letting his fingers do the walking, today Danny was tramping the freezing streets of New York hitting the children’s shelters in person. Lowering his head against the cold, he checked the GPS on his phone. Almost there. The Beeches was the last institution on his list. With so many homes closing down because of a lack of funds, and a shift in state policy in the nineties that favored fostering orphans out to families rather than keeping them in an institutional setting, there were in fact only twelve orphanages still running that had been operational back in the early eighties. Four of them only took in boys. Of the other eight, Danny had visited seven. Two kept no records at all. Of the five that did, none had taken in a pair of sisters during the dates in question. One had housed a Lisa, surname Bennington, but she was currently serving a thirty-year sentence for aggravated armed robbery in a Louisiana penitentiary. Another dead end.
The Beeches in Queens was the largest remaining facility for homeless teens in the city. Most children’s homes ceased to provide care after the age of thirteen, when kids were shoved out onto the streets or into halfway houses or foster homes. An ugly, redbrick Victorian building with small windows and a forbidding-looking black front door, the Beeches reminded Danny of something you’d find in a Dickens novel. Once he was inside, however, the decor was surprisingly cheery. Some budding artist had spray-painted a brightly colored, graffiti-style frieze on the reception walls. Through double glass doors at the end of the corridor Danny saw a group of young men gathered around a foosball table while another, largely female group was watching American Idol reruns on a communal TV, shouting loudly but good-naturedly at the screen.
I’ve seen worse places to grow up, thought Danny, thinking of the East L.A. streets he used to work back in his twenties or even the run-down neighborhoods of Lyon. Maybe these kids were the lucky ones.
“Mr. McGuire? I’m Carole Bingham, the director here. Would you like to take a seat in my office?”
In her early forties, with short blond hair, a handsome rather than conventionally pretty face and a trim figure elegantly covered by a wool Ann Taylor suit, Carole Bingham looked professional and organized. She was clearly more of an administrator than a house-mother type, but perhaps that was what kids of this age needed.
Danny explained his quest. He was at pains to point out that the woman he was searching for was not necessarily suspected of murder, or indeed of any crime, but she was a link between four particularly gruesome homicides.
Carole Bingham pulled out a heavy metal drawer from a large, old-fashioned filing cabinet in the corner. “We’re computerized from 1999 onward,” she explained. “Back during the years you’re talking about, whatever information we have is in here.”
“You never had anyone input this stuff into your electronic files?” asked Danny, gazing despondently at the mountain of disorganized, dog-eared documents.
Carole Bingham smiled sweetly. “Are you volunteering for the job? Look, you’re right, of course. We should organize our old records. But the truth is we don’t have either the budget or the time.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I have a meeting with some bureaucrats from Albany in ten minutes in the main hall. Are you all right sifting through all this stuff on your own?”
“Of course,” Danny said gratefully. “Hopefully I’ll be out of your hair before too long.”
It turned out to be a forlorn hope. It was astonishing just how much paper could be stuffed, squeezed, folded and crammed into a single metal drawer. Birth certificates, medical records, police and caseworker reports lay side by side with private letters, children’s sketches and even old candy wrappers. Nothing was labeled, and though some official documents were dated, it didn’t look like anyone had made even a perfunctory attempt to put things into any sort of order.
After two hopeless hours, a kid wandered in and handed Danny a much-needed cup of coffee. He was about sixteen, lanky and awkward and with punishing acne covering a good third of his face. But he looked Danny in the eye when he spoke—always a good sign—and you could see from his bone structure that he was going to grow up into a good-looking young man.
“Mrs. Bingham said to ask if you could use any help.”
Danny looked up from the midst of the mountainous piles of paper. “Nah, that’s okay. If I knew what I was looking for, maybe. But there’s no point in two of us wasting our time.”
“It’s all stuff from the eighties, right?” said the boy.
“Have you seen the old yearbooks? If nothing else, they’ll put a smile on your face. The clothes were, like, tragic.” Grabbing a chair, the boy climbed up to the top shelf of a tall cabinet and pulled down a stack of black binders, dropping them on the floor beside Danny with a loud thud.
“These are kept separately?”
“Um, sure,” said the boy, looking a little embarrassed. “Not officially. It’s kind of sad, I guess, but sometimes we use them to play ‘hot or not.’ You know that Web site, where you put up your picture and kids can vote on how attractive you are? It’s kind of like a lame version of that. Anyway, these are the eighties ones.”
The boy left, and Danny started flicking through this new treasure trove. Not that he seriously expected to see a photo of a teenage Lisa Baring jump out at him. The odds of that had to be thousands to one. But at least these were pictures, with names, pictures of real kids.
Quite a number of years were missing. The books jumped from 1983 to 1987 and again from 1989 to 1992. It wasn’t until he flipped open the ninth yearbook that he saw it.
The photo was dated, and the fashions as unflattering as the boy had warned him they would be. The face staring out at Danny was younger than he remembered, of course, and less polished. The teeth were not quite straight, and the hair was worn loose and long. But it was a face Danny McGuire would never forget. The long, aquiline nose. The regal curl of the lips. The arrogant sparkle in the azure-blue eyes. Beneath the photograph, some female hand from a later decade had scrawled the word HOT with several exclamation points.
He was hot, even then. And didn’t he just know it.
The head shot was captioned Frances Mancini—Most Likely to Make It to Hollywood! But Danny McGuire knew him by another name.
CLAIRE MICHAELS THOUGHT TWICE ABOUT MAKING the call. She felt guilty, but she had to do something. She was desperately worried about her brother, and had no idea who else to turn to. She dialed the number.
“Hello?” Danny McGuire sounded extremely upbeat. For some reason, this threw Claire off her stride.
“Oh, hello,” she stammered. “It’s me. Claire Michaels. Matt Daley’s…you know. We met.”
“In L.A., of course. You’re Matt’s sister,” Danny said kindly.
“Right. Have you heard any news from him?”
This brought Danny up short. Why would Claire be asking him such a question? Wasn’t Matt staying at her house?
To be honest, the last thing Danny McGuire wanted to think about right then was Matt Daley. After stumbling across Lyle Renalto’s picture—Frankie Mancini’s picture—in the Beeches’ yearbook earlier that day, he had hunted down Carole Bingham in high excitement. The director had introduced him to Marian Waites, one of the facility’s catering staff and the only individual still on payroll who had been around in Mancini’s day.
Danny hadn’t expected much from Mrs. Waites, but it turned out the old lady had an encyclopedic memory, and was able to point out another face from the yearbook, a face that belonged to someone who had known Mancini well. “Thick as thieves, they were, those two.” His name was Victor Dublenko. A quick call to the NYPD revealed that they knew Dublenko well, as a pimp and occasional dealer, still alive, currently out of jail and living in Queens, not six blocks from the Beeches, where Danny was standing at that very moment. Danny had been about to head off to Dublenko’s apartment when Claire called.