Part 1

TThe message was handwritten in black ink, carefully printed in small block letters on a piece of cheap white paper, four inches by six; it could have been torn from any notepad that the supply room had dispensed in the last twenty-five years. Molly McIntyre found the note, folded precisely in half and sealed in a plain white envelope, when she came back inside from a cigarette break just after ten o’clock on a Monday morning early in March.

Molly had first begun smoking when she was a junior in high school, a skinny, awkward kid, struggling to be cool. She’d then quit at the age of twenty, having finally blossomed into an attractive, self-confident young woman who was on the academic fast track that would ultimately lead to an M.B.A. from an excellent university. She’d also wised up and realized that smoking was a filthy and expensive addiction, and that she probably had little chance of living to a ripe old age unless she conquered it. But then, at thirty-nine, she’d surrendered to the habit once again, needing something to occupy her time and to steady her nerves, and having abruptly lost any interest in living to a ripe old age.


Molly dropped into her chair and turned to face the desk. Then she opened the envelope, noting that while her own name was printed on the outside of the envelope, there was nothing to indicate who might have left it. She took out the slip of paper, unfolded it and read:


>Independent Escorts


Molly looked up but saw no one hanging around outside of the office, waiting to gauge her reaction. She saw only Karen, her administrative assistant, sitting at her own desk, apparently working on the report that Molly had assigned her earlier in the morning. Molly rose from the chair, walked through the door, and waited until Karen looked up at her. “Who left this?” she asked, holding the envelope in her right hand.

Karen shook her head. “I have no idea. What is it?”

“Just a note,” Molly replied, shaking her own head now, as if the matter were of no great consequence. “Who came into my office while I was outside?”


“No one, at least not that I saw. I ducked down to the Ladies’ for a minute, but otherwise I was sitting here the whole time. Nobody’s come by.”

Molly knew damned good and well that “a minute” down at “the Ladies,’” had probably been more like ten, during which someone had slipped in and left the envelope. Standing at Karen’s desk, Molly surveyed the large outer office. The seven members of her staff all appeared to be working diligently, and no one seemed to be paying the slightest bit of attention to her.

Molly was not about to log onto some blatantly obvious pornographic website, leaving a trail for the thought police in the Data Services department to follow directly back to her company computer. But she was curious to know why someone might have sent her the note, so she dug her iPad out of her bag and propped it on the desk in front of her.

While she waited for the device to waken and connect to the company’s wireless network, she turned to study the photo of Alan and Jenny that sat on the corner of the desktop. Molly had taken the picture at the peak of the Syieh Pass trail in Glacier National Park, a month before Jenny had begun her senior year in high school and six months before Molly’s own life had imploded.


From the photo Molly’s husband and daughter smiled back at her, framed by mountain peaks in the distance and a deep narrow valley below. Jenny had her right arm around her father’s waist, the two of them tired and windblown, but elated at having finally reached the summit.

The iPad sprung to life and Molly tapped on the “Safari” icon. Glancing for a moment at the note lying on her desk, she typed “www.FantacieLand.com” into the web address box.

After a couple of seconds, the screen refreshed and Molly found herself looking at a photo of a young blonde with oversized breasts, wearing what Molly imagined was supposed to be a seductive smile and very little else. Next to the picture, a banner promised that FantacieLand was the home of Phoenix’s “most desirable escorts.” Below the banner and the photo, a warning advised that this was an adult site open only to viewers over the age of twenty-one. The warning made a number of disclaimers and offered Molly the option of entering or leaving the site.

She tapped “Enter,” and the next page showed an even more scantily clad woman—a brunette this time—and offered Molly a selection of “Independent Escorts,” “Agency Girls,” “Massage,” or “Double Delights.” Checking the note again, she chose “Independent Escorts.”


The page refreshed again, now offering her a choice of “Blondes,” “Brunettes,” “Redheads,” or “All Independents.” Molly selected “Brunettes,” and the next page contained perhaps two dozen thumbnail-sized photos of women, all of whom were brunettes. Most of the pictures were head and shoulders shots, but in a few cases the women’s faces were concealed and the photos showed little more than the women’s breasts spilling out of their bras.

Molly scanned the photos, wondering what she was supposed to be looking for. The photo fourth from the last showed the left profile of a young woman named Amber, with long dark hair parted in the middle and pulled back to expose her ear. A thin red strap hung off the girl’s shoulder, and the picture caught her smiling and looking back at the photographer over her shoulder.

Molly picked up the iPad and studied the photo more closely. Then she tapped the picture. The screen refreshed, now showing a larger version of the photo. Even though the girl was virtually naked, there was nothing remotely seductive about the picture. It suggested, rather, a sense of innocence and vulnerability. The girl continued to smile over her shoulder, and her deep brown eyes now seemed to be looking directly into Molly’s.


To the right of the photo was a message, apparently written by the young woman, which indicated that she was five feet, seven inches tall; that she weighed one hundred and twenty pounds, and that she was a “natural 36C-24-35.” The text indicated that she had no piercings or tattoos and that she was “a premier, upscale companion for gentlemen 35 and over.” The girl noted that she was available for incall or outcall appointments and provided a phone number.

Transfixed, Molly studied the photo for a long fifteen seconds. Slowly shaking her head, she pulled her eyes away from the photo on the iPad and looked back toward the one on the corner of her desk.

And then Molly McIntyre collapsed in a heap on the floor next to her chair.