Read The Last Thing He Told Me Online
Authors: Laura Dave
It was 3
, and Owen was sitting at the hotel bar, drinking a tall glass of bourbon, straight.
He felt my eyes on him and looked up.
“What are you doing down here?” he said.
I smiled at him. “I believe that's my question for youâ¦” I said.
We were staying in San Francisco, in a boutique hotel across from the Ferry Building. There had been a terrible storm. It was the type of rainstorm that didn't happen in Sausalito too often and it had forced us to evacuate our home, our floating home, due to flooding risks. It forced us to take refuge on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridgeâthe hotel filled up with other floating home expats. Though apparently Owen wasn't finding much refuge at all.
He shrugged. “Thought I'd come downstairs to have a drink,” he said. “Do some workâ¦”
“On what?” I said.
I looked around. He didn't have his laptop with him. No papers lying around. There was nothing on the bar at all, except his bourbon. And one other thing.
“Wanna have a seat?” he said.
I sat down on the barstool next to him, wrapping my arms more tightly around myself. I was chilly in the middle-of-the-night coolness. My tank top and sweatpants weren't much of a match.
“You're freezing,” he said.
He pulled off his hoodie, putting it over my head. “You will be,” he said.
I looked at him. And waited. I waited for him to tell me what he was really doing down here, what was worrying him enough that he left our room. That he left me in the bed, his daughter on the pullout couch.
“Work is just a little stressful. That's all. But nothing's wrong. Nothing I can't handle.”
He nodded, like he meant it. But he seemed stressed. He seemed more stressed than I'd seen him before. When we were packing our bags to come here, I found him in Bailey's room, packing up Bailey's childhood piggy bank, putting it in his duffel bag. He'd looked embarrassed when I saw him and explained that it was one of the first presents he'd gotten her. He didn't want to risk anything happening to it. That wasn't the weird partâOwen was packing up all sorts of sentimental things (Bailey's first hairbrush, family photo albums) and dropping them in his overnight bag. The weird part was that the other thing on the bar, besides his drink, was Bailey's piggy bank.
“So, if you've got it handled, why are you sitting here by yourself, in the middle of the night, staring at your daughter's piggy bank?”
“Thinking of breaking it open,” he said. “In case we need the money.”
“What's going on, Owen?” I said.
“Do you know what Bailey said to me tonight? When I told her we had to evacuate? She said she wanted to go with Bobby's family instead. That they're staying at the Ritz and she wanted to be with him. It turned into a whole, big thing.”
“Where was I?”
“Locking down your workshop.”
I shrugged, trying to be gentle. “She's growing up.”
“I know, it's totally normal, I get it, butâ¦ the strangest thing happened when I told her no,” he said. “I watched her stomp after me toward the car. And I just kept thinking,
she's going to leave me
. Maybe it's being a single parent all this time, just trying to keep the two of us above water, but I don't think I ever fully thought about the factâ¦ or maybe I just didn't let myself.”
“So that's why you are downstairs, looking at her piggy bank in the middle of the night?”
“Maybe. Or maybe it's just a strange bed,” he said. “Can't sleep.”
He picked up his bourbon, held it near his lips.
“When she was a little girl, when we first got to Sausalito, she was scared to walk down the docks. I think it was because the day after we moved in, Mrs. Hahn slipped and fell and Bailey saw her almost go down, almost land in the water.”
“That's terrible!” I say.
“Yeah, well, for those first couple of months, she would make me hold her hand the whole way down the docks. From our front door, all the way to the parking lot. And she'd ask as we went,
Daddy, you're going to keep me safe, right? Daddy, you're not going to let me fall?
It took us like six and a half hours to get from the front door to the car.”
“It drove me crazy. The hundredth time I had to do it, I actually think I went a little crazy.” He paused. “And you know the only thing worse than that? The day she stopped.”
I put my hand on his elbow, held him there. My heart exploding a little at his love for her.
“There is going to come a time when I won't be able to keep her safe anymore, not from anything,” he said. “I won't even be able to tell her no anymore.”
“Well, I can relate to that,” I said. “I can't even tell her no now.”
He looked over at me, bourbon still in hand, and laughed. He really laughedâmy joke breaking his sadness, splintering it for him.
He put down his drink and turned toward me. “On a scale of one to ten, how weird is it that I'm sitting here?”
“Without the piggy bank?” I said. “It would be a two, maybe a threeâ¦”
“With the piggy bank? Am I breaking six?”
He put the piggy bank on an empty stool, and motioned for the bartender.
“Would you please make my wonderful wife here the drink of her choice?” he said. “And I'll take a cup of coffee.”
Then he leaned in, put his forehead against mine.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Don't be. It's hard, I get it, but it's not happening tomorrow, she's not leaving tomorrow,” I said. “And she loves you so much. She's never going to leave you completely.”
“I don't know about that.”
He kept his forehead there, touching mine. “I just hope Bailey doesn't wake up and find us gone,” he said. “If you look outside, you can see the Ritz.”
Elenor H. McGovern peers at Bailey over her bifocals.
“So let me get this straight,” she says. “You want to know what?”
We are sitting in Elenor's office at an Episcopal church. It's a large church, one of the oldest cathedrals in Austin, more than a hundred years old. And just over a half mile from the football stadium. But most important, it is the only church we've walked intoâthe final of the six contendersâthat Bailey said felt familiar to her.
“We are just looking for a list of weddings that were held here during the 2008 football season,” Bailey says.
Elenor, who is in her early seventies and pushing six feet tall, looks at us, overwhelmed.
“It's less complicated than it sounds,” I say. “We actually just need a list of the weddings your pastor performed during the home games of the 2008 season. And we don't need the weddings that fell on the other days of those weekends. Just the weddings that happened to actually take place during the Longhorns' home games. That's all.”
“Oh, during the home games from twelve years ago. Is that all?”
I ignore her tone and plow forward, hoping to turn her around. “I actually already did the legwork,” I say.
I nudge the list across the table toward her. I've created a chart with the Longhorns' schedule from twelve years ago. I had Jules cross-check it at the
San Francisco Chronicle
, using their research
tools, just to be sure that we didn't miss any of the games, just to make sure we checked all the boxes.
There are only eight dates in question. There are only eight dates when a small Bailey could have been walking into the stadium with Owen, could have found herself sitting here.
Elenor stares at the list. But she doesn't make a move to pick it up.
I look around the office, for clues about herâclues that may help me win her over. Christmas cards and bumper stickers cover her desk; photographs of Elenor's family are lined up on the fireplace mantel; a large bulletin board is brimming over with photographs and notes from parishioners. The office reveals forty years of building relationships right in this room, in this church. She knows everything about this place. We just need to know one small piece of it.
“I know it seems like a lot,” I say. “But, if you take a look, you'll see we have downloaded the home game schedule from the 2008 season. And we are looking at fewer than ten weekends. We have them all for you, ready to go. Even if your pastor officiated two weddings a weekend, it'd be fewer than twenty couples.”
“Look,” Elenor says. “I'm sorry. I'm simply not authorized to give out that information.”
“I understand that's the policy and why that's the policy,” I say. “But you must agree these are exceptional circumstances.”
“Of course. It's terrible to hear that your husband is missing. It seems you are dealing with a lot because of his absence. But that doesn't change our policy.”
“Can't you make an exception to your policy?” Bailey says, her tone too harsh. “We clearly aren't serial killers or anything. We could care less who these people are.”
I put my hand on Bailey's leg, trying to calm her.
“We can sit here while we read the names,” I say. “No printouts or addresses even have to leave this room.”
Elenor looks back and forth between us, like she is torn between helping us and kicking us out. But it looks like she is leaning toward kicking us out. I can't let that happen, not when it's possible we are onto something. If we can figure out what wedding Owen and Bailey attended, we'll understand their tie to Austin. And maybe that tie will help explain what Grady was doing on my doorstep, what Owen is doing so far away from it.
“I really think Bailey may have been at this church,” I say. “It would be very helpful to her, to both of us, to know for sure. And if you knew what we've been through this week, without her fatherâ¦ let's just say, it would be an act of kindness.”
I see the sympathy percolate in Elenor's eyes and feel hopeful suddenly that my plea has put her on the side of helping.
“I'd like to help you. I would. But it's not something I can do, dear. If you want to leave your number, I can check with the pastor, but I just don't think that he's going to want to provide our parishioners' personal details.”
“Jesus, lady, you're not going to give us a break here?” Bailey says.
It's, admittedly, not great language for her to use.
Elenor stands up, her head dangerously close to hitting the ceiling. “I'm going to need to excuse myself now, friends,” she says. “We have a Bible study group this evening that I need to prepare for in the conference room. So if you wouldn't mind showing yourselves out.”
“Look, Bailey didn't mean to be rude to you, but her father is missing and we're just trying to find out why. It's putting our family under a great deal of stress. Family is everything to us, as I'm sure you can understand.”
I motion toward the photographs lining the mantel above the fireplaceâthe Christmas shots of her children and grandchildren, the candid shots of her husband, their dogs, a farm. Several photographs of Elenor and, perhaps, her favorite grandchild, sporting some crazy streaked hair of his own. His in a shade of green.
“I'm sure you'd be the first to go to great lengths for your family,” I say. “I can see that about you. Please just think about it for a second. If I were sitting there and you were sitting here, I'm just asking you, what would you hope I'd do? Because, I'd try to do it.”
She pauses and straightens her dress. Then, miraculously, Elenor sits back down, pushing her bifocals higher on her nose.
“Let me see what I can do,” she says.
Bailey smiles in relief.
“The names can't leave this room.”
“They won't leave your desk,” I say. “We will figure out if there is someone who can help our family. That's all.”
Elenor nods and pulls my list across the desk. Then she picks it up. She looks down at it, in her hands, as though she can't believe she is doing this. She sighs so we know she can't believe she's doing this.
She turns to her computer, starting to type.
“Thank you,” Bailey says. “Thank you so much.”
“Thank your stepmother,” Elenor says.
Which is when an amazing thing happens. Bailey doesn't cringe when I'm referred to that way. She doesn't thank me. She doesn't even look at me. But she doesn't cringe, which feels a little like the same thing.
I don't have any time to savor it though because my phone starts to buzz. I look down to see a text from
I'm outside your house, can you let me in? I've been knockingâ¦
I look to Bailey, touch her hand. “That's Carl,” I say. “I'm going to see what he wants.”
Bailey nods, barely acknowledging me, her eyes focused on Elenor. I head out into the hallway and text him that I'm calling him now.
“Hey,” he says when he picks up. “Can I come in? I've got Sarah with me. We were on a walk.”
I picture him standing outside our front door, Sarah in her BabyBjÃ¶rn, wearing one of the enormous bows Patty loves to stick on top of her head, Carl using his walk with his daughter as an excuse with Pattyâan excuse to come and talk to me without Patty knowing.
“We aren't home, Carl,” I say. “What's going on?”
“It's really not a phone type of conversation,” he says. “I'd rather talk in person. I can come back later if that's better. I walk Sarah at five fifteen, get her some fresh air before dinner.”
“I'd rather hear what you have to say now,” I say.
He pauses, not sure what to do. I can see him considering whether to insist we do this in person later, when it will be easier for him to spin whatever he needs to spin. Because I have no doubtâI've had no doubt since I saw the look on his face yesterdayâthat there is something he knows, something he is afraid to say.
“Look, I just feel real bad about what happened when you came to the house yesterday,” he says. “I was caught off guard and Patty was already so pissed. But I owe you an apology. It wasn't right, especially whenâ¦”
He pauses, like he is still trying to figure out whether to say it.
“Well, maybe I should back up, I meanâ¦ I don't know exactly what Owen told you, but he was really struggling at work. He was really struggling with Avett.”
“He told you that?” I say.
“Yeah, he didn't go into a whole lot of detail, but he said he was
under a lot of pressure to get the software working,” he says. “He told me that much. He told me it wasn't going as smoothly as Avett had let on. But that his back was against the wallâ¦”
That stops me. “What do you mean âhis back was against the wall'?”
“He said he couldn't just walk away. Go get another job. That he had to fix what was happening.”
“Did he say why?” I say.
“That part he didn't get into. I swear to you. And I tried to push him on it. No job is worth that kind of stressâ¦”
I look back into Elenor's office, Elenor still staring at her computer, Bailey pacing back and forth.
“Thanks for letting me know.”
“Waitâ¦ there's something else.”
I can hear him struggle. I can hear him struggle with how to even put the words together.
“There's something else I need to tell you.”
“Just say it, Carl.”
“We didn't invest in The Shop, Patty and me,” he says.
I think back to what Patty said to meâhow she called Owen a crook, how she accused him of stealing their money.
“I don't understand.”
“I needed to use that money for something else, something I couldn't tell Patty about, something to do with Cara,” he says.
Cara. The coworker Carl's been involved with on and off since before Sarah was born.
“What exactly?” I say.
“I'd rather not get into details, but I thought you should know thatâ¦” he says.
I can imagine a variety of scenarios that would cost him tens of
thousands of dollarsâthe one percolating to the surface involves another baby, in another BabyBjÃ¶rn, who also belongs to him. To both of them.
But I'm guessing and I don't have time to guess. I also don't particularly care. What I care about is that Owen didn't do what Patty accused him of doing. It almost feels like a kind of proofâa piece lining up to help me prove it to myselfâOwen is still Owen.
“So, even with what's going on, you're letting your wife think that Owen took the money from you? That he convinced you to invest your savings in a fraudulent company?”
“I realize it's messed up,” he says.
“Can I at least get some points for telling the truth?” he says. “This is the last conversation I want to be having.”
I think of Patty, self-righteous Patty, telling her book club, her wine club, her tennis groupâtelling just about anyone in ladies central who will listen to her that Owen is a crook. Telling everyone the false information her husband has fed her.
“No, Carl, the last conversation you want to be having is the one you are about to have. With your wife. Because either you're going to tell her the truth or I'll do it for you.”
This is when I hang up, my heart racing. I don't give myself time to process the implications of what he's told me because Bailey is motioning for me to come back in.
I pull myself together and walk back into Elenor's office. “Sorry about that,” I say.
“That's quite all right,” Elenor says. “I'm just pulling everything upâ¦”
Bailey starts to move around the desk toward Elenor, but Elenor stops her with her hand.
“Let me just print the records out,” she says. “And you can have a look. But I do need to get to that meeting, so you're going to have to move quickly for me.”
“We will,” I say.
But then Elenor stops typing. She looks at the screen confused. “This is the 2008 season you're asking about?” she says.
I nod. “Yes, first home game was the first weekend in September.”
“I see that from the document,” Elenor says. “What I'm asking is, are you sure of the year?”
“Pretty sure,” I say. “Why?”
Bailey is trying not to look irritated. “2008, yes!”
“We were closed that fall for construction,” she says. “It was a major renovation. There had been a fire. Doors shut on September first and we didn't open again for services, no ceremonies of any kind, until March. No weddings.”
Elenor moves the screen so we can see the calendar for ourselvesâall the empty squares. My heart drops.
“Maybe you have your year wrong?” Elenor says to Bailey. “Let me check 2009 for you.”
I reach out my hand to stop her. There is no point in checking 2009. Owen and Bailey moved to Sausalito in 2009. I have the records of that, and in 2007, Bailey would have been too young to remember much of anything. She has no memories of Seattle during that time, let alone a sole weekend trip to Austin. If we are being honest with ourselves, even 2008 is a stretch. But if her mother was at the weddingâand Bailey thinks she may have beenâthen 2008 is the only time it could have been.
“Look, it had to be 2008,” she says.
Bailey's voice starts to shake as she looks at the empty screen.
“I was here. And that's the only time it could have been. We've gone over this. It was that fall. It would have had to have been then if my mother was with us.”
“Maybe it was 2007?” Elenor says.
“I would've been too young to remember any of it then.”
“Then it wasn't here,” Elenor says.
“But that doesn't make sense,” Bailey says. “I mean, I recognize the apse. I remember it.”
I move toward Bailey, but she moves away. She isn't interested in being appeased. She is interested in getting to the bottom of this.