David Ellis The Hidden Man

ISBN 13: 9781501284380

The Hidden Man

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Jason Kolarich is a midwestern everyman with a linebacker’s build and an easy smart-ass remark. He’s a young, intelligent, and successful attorney; but he’s also struggling with a horrific tragedy that threatens to unravel his own life, and possibly the lives of everyone he holds dear. When a long-estranged friend, charged with murder, resurfaces needing Kolarich’s legal help, the lawyer has to put together a competent defense for the accused, despite his private doubts. In Chicago, neighborhood loyalty goes a long way. But as the trial looms, it becomes clear that Kolarich will have to unearth some unsettling events from their childhoods in order to crack not only this case, but also a mysteriously connected crime that went unsolved more than thirty years ago.

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About the Author:

David Ellis’s previous novels include In the Company of Liars, Jury of One, Life Sentence, and Line of Vision, for which he won an Edgar Award. An attorney from Chicago, he serves as Counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

 

SUMMER 1980

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

 

TWENTY-SIX YEARS LATER SEPTEMBER 2006

Chapter 3

 

ONE YEAR LATER OCTOBER 2007

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

 

Acknowledgements

ALSO BY DAVID ELLIS

Eye of the Beholder
In the Company of Liars
Jury of One
Life Sentence
Line of Vision

G . P. PUTNAM’S SONS
Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA · Penguin
Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Canada Inc.) · Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL,
England · Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin
Books Ltd) · Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) · Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd,
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India · Penguin Group (NZ),
67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of
Pearson New Zealand Ltd) · Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd,
24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

Copyright © 2009 by David Ellis

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned,
or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do
not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of
the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ellis, David, date.
The hidden man/David Ellis.
p. cm.

ISBN: 9781101140215

I. Title.
PS3555.L59485H
813’.54—dc22

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and
Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author
assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication.
Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For my beautiful Abigail

SUMMER 1980

1

ACT NORMAL, whatever that means. Normal. Like everyone else.

Not different. Not like a freak. Just another person at the park.

It was a beautiful day, a glorious weekend in June, so bright you had to squint, so mild you didn’t feel the air. The playground was a perfect chaos, abuzz with children’s high-pitched squeals and whining pleas, parents calling after them in scolding voices, various playground contraptions in full animation, like busy turbines propelling the jubilant park.

Audrey. That was the name they called her. A surge of vicarious joy, watching her, her purity, her unadulterated innocence before the world turns cruel.

I feel like you sometimes. Like a child still. A child trapped in a grown-up’s body.

Audrey. She wore pink overalls and a bonnet with polka dots. Her tiny forehead crinkled in concentration as she gathered the sand in her hands and watched, fascinated, as it dissipated through her fingers.

I know we have a connection, Audrey. I know we do.

Audrey. She looked around her, up at the sky, at the other children in the sandbox, at her mother, a range of emotions crossing her tiny little face as the toddler slowly discovered the world around her.

“Audrey.” Saying the name aloud was dangerous. Someone might hear.

Don’t dare get close. Her mother isn’t far away. They’ll know. They’ll read it on my face, what I feel for you.

“C’mon, sweetheart.” Her mother scooped her up in her arms. “Sammy! Jason! Jason, get Sammy. C’mon, guys.” The boys, older by a few years, were over on the swing set. They jumped off the swings and landed with a flourish. The mother led the boys, still holding Audrey—Audrey—as she walked away.

I will follow you, Audrey. I will see you soon.

2

MARY CUTLER’S HEAD jerked off the pillow. A mother’s reflex. She’d been a light sleeper since Sammy was born seven years ago. Probably some shift in the pressure in the house, some break in equilibrium, had stirred her. Probably that was all.

Her eyes drifted to the clock by the bed. It was ten past two. Frank must just be getting home, probably reeking of alcohol and cigarettes, maybe even perfume. A brief surge of rage penetrated her sleepy haze. She wondered if she would have the energy to raise the issue.

Her eyes closed again as she surrendered to exhaustion, one maternal ear open to external sounds as her face fit into a cool, comfortable space in a pillow, as her conscious mind spiraled away—

Her eyes popped open. Her body stiffened. Something dark and uneasy filled her chest. Her legs slid out of the bed. She stepped past her slippers and moved across the carpet in her bare feet. An unknowing feeling of dread reached her throat as she moved down the hall and pushed the bedroom door open, where her boy, Sammy, slept over the covers of his bed.

She crossed the kitchen toward Audrey’s bedroom and felt a breeze reach her. She picked up her pace to a jog. Before she saw the empty bed, with the covers pulled back, she saw the open window, a window that had been closed when she had put her daughter down hours ago.

She didn’t hear herself scream.

* * *

AS HE NAVIGATED the corner in his sedan, Detective Vic Carruthers groaned. A small crowd of neighbors had already gathered around a squad car that had just pulled up outside the house. Was it idle curiosity surrounding the police presence? Or had word leaked out?

It had been five hours since two-year-old Audrey Cutler had been abducted from her home—snatched out of her bed at two in the morning. An insomniac neighbor, three doors down, had seen someone running down the street from the Cutler house. It looked like they were carrying something, the neighbor had said, with a trace of after-the-fact apology.

The trail had gone cold. The description was next to nothing. Medium height, baseball cap—best the neighbor could do from a distance of a football field, with the lighting weak at best. Nothing telltale from the scene. No fingerprints, no shoe prints, nothing.

Until they had run a check on prior offenders. Griffin Perlini, age twenty-eight, lived a quarter mile from the Cutler home. He had a kiddie sheet. And not just minors: He liked them young.

The arrests had been for sexual contact, but one had been dropped, the other convicted on the lesser charge of indecent exposure. Griffin Perlini had lured a four-year-old into the woods by a playground in a downstate town. The state had apparently decided it couldn’t prove the sexual touching, but they convicted on eyewitness testimony that Perlini had been seen pulling up his pants as the witness approached him.

“Got a feeling about this,” Carruthers told his partner, Joe Gooden.

They got out at the curb. Carruthers nodded at the uniform who followed in step behind the senior officers. Carruthers did a once-over. It was a ranch, like many of the places on the block. Old place with vinyl siding. Cobblestone steps leading from the driveway to the small porch. The lawn had seen better times. No vehicle in the driveway. A one-car attached garage.

Only seven in the morning, but already sticky-hot. Gooden had a sheen across his forehead.

Carruthers rang the doorbell and stepped back, keeping an angle that allowed him to look for movement near the windows. It came quickly, a stirring of a curtain on the east side front.

“He’s got five seconds,” Carruthers said. If his gut was right on this, he wasn’t going to give Perlini time to dispose of evidence—or a little girl.

He heard a small pop at the door—the deadbolt releasing—then a face that resembled a mug shot he’d recently seen, staring at him through a torn screen door.

“Mr. Perlini?”

The man didn’t answer.

“Detective Carruthers. This is Detective Gooden.”

Carruthers stopped there. Curious about the response he’d get.

Perlini’s eyes dropped. Pedophiles were like that. Wouldn’t look adults in the eye.

“Yeah?” Perlini said.

“We’re looking for a little girl, Mr. Perlini. She wandered off from her house. We think she walked this way, and we were wondering if anyone took her in. Y’know, to take care of her, until her parents showed.”

The first order of business here was to get that little girl back home safe. Didn’t matter how. He was giving Perlini an out, the opportunity to pretend that the child had simply wandered off, that Perlini had done what any good citizen might do. From Perlini’s perspective, it was a way to stop this right now, with the possibility of avoiding a criminal charge.

Perlini didn’t answer.

“She’s real young,” Carruthers elaborated. “Probably too young to even say her name. So we figured, maybe someone was hanging on to her. To be safe.”

It was going to work now or never. The suspect couldn’t hesitate on the answer. Either he had her or he didn’t. If he had her, and he was going to buy this out Carruthers was offering, he’d have to purchase that ticket now.

“I was just sleepin’.” Perlini scratched his head, gathered a bunch of his thick red hair in his hand.

Well, you answered the door pretty damn fast for being asleep.

“How ’bout we step inside and talk a minute.” Carruthers wasn’t asking.

Perlini scratched his head again and looked back over his shoulder. He had a small frame. He was skinny and below-average height. The neighbor’s description wasn’t much, but it generally fit this guy.

“What do ya say, Griffin? A quick talk.”

“Um—well—my lawyer is Reggie Lionel.”

His lawyer. Carruthers felt a rush.

Perlini pointed behind him. “I could call him, but it’s early—”

“Your lawyer needs his beauty sleep, Griffin.” Carruthers grabbed the handle to the screen door, but it wouldn’t move.

Perlini’s eyes moved up to the detective’s, reading pure fear.

“You’ll need to unlock this door, Griffin. Right now. Right now.”

“O—okay. Okay.” He pushed the door open.

Carruthers took the door handle. “Take two steps back, please.”

Carruthers, Gooden, and the uniform stepped in. Perlini suddenly looked lost in his own house, unsure of what to do, where to stand or where to go. Carruthers thought he’d let Perlini make the call. Surely, Perlini would try to direct them away from anything telltale.

The detective’s pulse was racing. She might be here in the house. She might still be alive. Behind him, Detective Gooden was strolling casually beyond the foyer, looking for anything in plain view.

“Is anyone else in this house, Griffin?”

Perlini shook his head, no.

“Griffin, you know a girl named Audrey Cutler?”

Perlini’s eyes were once again downcast, in anticipation of unwanted questioning, like a child expecting a scolding. On mention of the girl’s name, his eyes froze. His posture stiffened.

The answer was yes.

“No,” Perlini said.

“Griffin,” Gooden called out, “you don’t mind I look around a little?”

He did mind; it was all over his face. But pedophiles, they didn’t have a spine, not with adults. It wasn’t exactly textbook consent, but Perlini hadn’t said no. Carruthers was pretty sure he’d be able to reflect back on this moment and remember Perlini nodding his head.

“Eyes up, Griffin. Look at me.” Carruthers gestured to his own eyes, his fingers forked in a peace sign.

Perlini did the best he could, his eyes sweeping back and forth past Carruthers like a searchlight.

“If there was a misunderstanding here, Griffin—if maybe you thought about doing something but changed your mind—hey, let’s get that girl back home. No harm, no foul—”

“No. No.” Perlini shook his head, the insolent child, and gripped his tomato-red hair in two fists.

Carruthers heard a noise outside. A voice, yelling. He looked through the door and saw a man pointing at the house, talking to a gathering crowd. Something about a child molester.

The detective turned back to Perlini, who was beginning to dissolve. He was shaking his head with a childlike fury, tears forming in his eyes.

“This won’t get any better, Griffin,” Carruthers told him. “Every minute you stiff-arm me, it gets worse.”

Vic!”

Gooden’s voice sounded distant.

“Take that seat over there, Griffin.” He pointed to a small living room, a beat-up love seat with a torn cushion. He nodded to the officer, who clearly understood his direction to keep an eye on the suspect.

Carruthers moved quickly down a small tiled hallway, turned into a carpeted room with a television and fireplace, and found the back door to the place ajar. He stepped outside, into a yard of neglected grass and some old lawn furniture.

“Vic!”

His partner was calling from the detached garage behind the house. No—it wasn’t a garage at all, just a small coach house within the fenced property.

“I’m here,” Carruthers said, opening the door. “Jesus Christ.”

The room was filled with black-and-white photos on the walls and hung from clotheslines. Children. Toddlers. Dozens of them, looked to be ages two or three at best. Some of them were taken indoors—maybe a shopping mall, probably the one a couple miles away. Most of them were photos from a park.

Gooden walked along one of the clotheslines and fingered a series of photos taken of a small girl in a sandbox. Carruthers had seen the face very recently. For confirmation he did not need...

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