But a baby…? That was different. What sort of a woman asked a man to leave his child? And what sort of man abandoned his family? Not Matt Daley, that was for sure. Matt was better than that. It was what Lisa loved about him.
“You have to go back.”
Matt turned around, too exhausted to cry anymore, but his face betrayed his desolation. Even he couldn’t quite believe what he was saying, what he was doing.
“Yes, Lisa,” he whispered. “I have to go back. I’m sorry…It’s time to say good-bye.”
EVERYONE AGREED THAT MR. AND MRS. Daley were an adorable couple.
Her baby bump was so tiny you could barely see it, but he was always patting it lovingly, guiding her with infinite care through the lobby or out into the sunny courtyard for tea. Sometimes he sat and wrote out there. At other times, the two of them would flip through the listings of homes that some local Realtors had given them. Like so many couples who came here on vacation, the Daleys had fallen in love with the city. Who knew, perhaps one day their unborn child would grow up to call this place home.
Matt looked up from his book as his wife came toward him. It had been a difficult decision, saying good-bye and leaving his old life behind. One of the hardest things he’d ever done. But watching the woman he loved cross the mosaic-tile floor in a flowing white caftan, her face alight with joy and the promise of impending motherhood, he knew he’d made the right decision.
“Do you want to come for a walk?” asked Lisa. “We can watch the sun set over the souk.”
Matt Daley did want to.
He wanted to very much.
MOROCCO WAS A DREAM, A FAIRY tale. It was where they were meant to be. Matt had taken very little money with him when he left the States. He wanted Cassie and the children to have everything. That was the least he could do for them after walking out the way he had, with no explanations other than a kiss good-bye. He did feel guilty. Of course he did. The last thing on earth he wanted was to cause dear Cassie any pain. But the truth was that the man she married had died the day that Lisa walked into that coffee shop. The man she married no longer existed. The best Matt could do for her was to leave her financially well taken care of, with a longed-for baby to remember him by and her son to comfort her. That and to disappear without a trace.
It would be harder for Claire and for their mother, of course. Matt did grieve about that, so much so that he was almost tempted to tell Claire the truth before he took off. But he knew that to do so would be to put Lisa at risk. Whatever else he might do in his life, Matt Daley would never, ever put Lisa at risk again. She was his family now. His destiny.
In any case, it didn’t cost much to live well in Marrakech. Lisa had some money that she’d saved in Brazil, and they were both working—Matt writing anonymously as a freelance journalist, and Lisa teaching English at a local school and occasionally selling one of her exquisite paintings to the rich American tourists who frequented hotels like this one, the Palais Kasim, where Matt had booked them into a modest double room while they house-hunted.
Walking through the souk, as they did every evening, they drank in the scents of the market. Fruit stalls smelled rich and sweet, the remnants of the day’s produce beginning to rot now in the late afternoon heat. Dirt and sweat, the aroma of thousands of moving, tightly pressed bodies, mingled with the floral tang of wild honey and the nutty richness of the baklava stalls, buzzing and alive with bees.
For Lisa, the sights, sounds and smells evoked a memory that wasn’t a memory, but that felt as real to her as the air in her lungs or the baby not yet kicking in her womb. This was Miriam’s world, the world of the book, the world of the childhood she’d never had but that she’d wanted so badly she could taste it. And now she was here living it for real, fulfilling her destiny at long last. Not Frankie’s twisted, murderous version of her destiny, but the good version, the fairy tale, the happy ending where she got to marry the man she loved—Matt. Matt, who had stood by her when nobody else would. Matt, who knew everything about her…well, almost everything…but who loved her still.
For Matt, the appeal of the souk, and its pleasures, were even simpler. Here was a maze, a buzzing hive of anonymous humanity where one could fade away, disappear, like a speck of ambergris lost in the dust. It was full of life and warmth and joy and human richness, the most convivial exile imaginable. And yet it was an exile. He felt safe here, cocooned by the crowds and wrapped in Lisa’s love.
“Take my hand. There’s something I want to show you.” Smiling over her shoulder, Lisa led him up a narrow, cobblestoned alleyway to a set of steep stone stairs. These wound round and round in a dizzying spiral, eventually emerging onto another narrow street. To the left was a row of ancient bakers’ yards, the hearty, yeasty smell of which filled the air, then more stalls of silk and carved wood similar to the ones they had just passed below. To the right was a dead end with a single, dilapidated riad, a traditional Moroccan house, rising three stories high, loftily surveying the alley below.
“What do you think? I know it sounds ridiculous, crazy even. But it’s exactly how I pictured Uncle Sulaiman’s house.”
Matt frowned indulgently. “Wasn’t Uncle Sulaiman rich? This place looks like it’d collapse if you sneezed on it.”
Lisa shrugged. “It hasn’t collapsed in six hundred years. Appearances can be deceiving, you know.”
They both grinned.
“Is it even for sale?”
“I don’t know. But wouldn’t it be fun to find out?” Lisa enthused. “We could do it up together, make it our own. You have to admit it’s a romantic house. Just think how happy we’d be there!”
Matt thought how happy they’d be there…and said a silent prayer of thanks.
Perhaps he didn’t deserve his happiness. Perhaps neither of them did. But this was their book now, their story. Together, Matt Daley knew, they were going to live happily ever after.
THE LAPD OFFICER WALKED INTO THE room and gagged. Then he ran out and threw up until there was nothing left in his stomach.
There was blood everywhere. Everywhere. But it wasn’t fresh blood. It was old and caked and dark and stinking. At its center lay what must once have been a body, now a gray-green, fetid, oozing lump of slime, riddled with maggots. Only the occasional bone protruding from the filth, clean and white and gleaming, gave any indication that this had once been a human being.
Covering his mouth and nose, the cop walked back in.
“How long has he been…like this?” he asked the pathologist.
The pathologist shook his head. “Impossible to say. Two or three months? Could be more. We’ll do some tests on the larvae. That might give us some idea.”
At the word larvae, the detective retched again, but he forced himself to stay where he was.
“Male? Female? Age?”
“Male. Thirty-two. Would have turned thirty-three in June.”
The detective was impressed. “You can tell all that from…that?” He eyed the rotten, bloated corpse with disgust.
“Nope. Your lieutenant just told me. He signed a lease three months ago. All the personal details are there.”
Right on cue, the lieutenant handed his boss a single sheet of paper. It was xeroxed, and a little smudged, but the name at the top was clear. The detective stared at it, thinking. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a name he remembered from somewhere. But the thought slipped away, like the flesh sliding off the poor bastard’s bones.
The name on the lease was Carlos Hernandez.