Cover

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Lincoln Child

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-Two

Chapter Sixty-Three

Chapter Sixty-Four

Epilogue

Copyright

About the Author

Lincoln Child is the author of Utopia. He is also the co-author, with Douglas Preston, of Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life With Crows, and a number of other bestselling thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter in Morristown, New Jersey.

About the Book

A YOUNG COUPLE ARE FOUND DEAD IN THEIR APARTMENT, AND DOUBLE SUICIDE SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY INTERPRETATION . . .

But alarm bells ring in the towering Manhattan offices of Eden Incorporated, the high-tech matchmaking company whose spectacular success and legendary secrecy have inspired awe around the world.

The Thorpes were more than the quintissential happy couple – they were Eden’s first perfect match.

Christopher Lash, a gifted former FBI forensic psychologist, receives an urgent plea from Eden to perform a quick – and quiet – investigation into the deaths. But Lash’s investigation inadvertently dredges up the memories of a searing personal tragedy he has kept at bay for years, and his involvement becomes more personal and dangerous than he could have imagined.

When a second Eden ‘supercouple’ are found dead, Richard Silver, the company’s brilliant and reclusive founder, has no choice but to grant Lash unprecedented access to its most guarded secrets . . .

Death Match

Lincoln Child

 

To Veronica

Also by Lincoln Child

Utopia

With Douglas Preston:

Relic

Mount Dragon

Reliquary

Riptide

Thunderhead

The Ice Limit

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Still Life With Crows

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many people lent their expertise to the writing of this book. I’d like to thank my friend and editor at Doubleday, Jason Kaufman, for his assistance in countless ways, large and small. Thanks also to his colleagues, Jenny Choi and Rachel Pace.

Kenneth Freundlich, Ph.D., provided invaluable insight into psychological testing and administration. Thanks also to Lee Suckno, M.D., Antony Cifelli, M.D., Traian Parvulescu, M.D., and Daniel DaSilva, Ph.D., for their medical and psychological expertise. Cezar Baula and Chris Buck helped with chemical and pharmaceutical details. Once again, my cousin Greg Tear was both a vital sounding board and a fount of ideas. And ongoing thanks to Special Agent Douglas Margini for his assistance with law enforcement aspects of the book.

A special thanks to Douglas Preston for his support and encouragement throughout the writing of this book, and for supplying a crucial chapter.

I’d also like to thank Bruce Swanson, Mark Mendel, and Jim Jenkins, for their guidance and friendship.

Last, I want to thank those without whom my novels could never exist: my wife, Luchie; my daughter, Veronica; my parents, Bill and Nancy; and my siblings, Doug and Cynthia.

It goes without saying that the characters, corporations, events, locales, entities, pharmaceutical products, psychological apparatus, governmental bodies, computing devices, and the rest of the clay out of which this novel was fashioned are all fictitious, or are used fictitiously. The Eden Incorporated of this book—though it may exist some day—is at present a caprice of my imagination.

ONE

It was the first time Maureen Bowman had ever heard the baby cry.

She hadn’t noticed right away. In fact, it had taken five, perhaps ten minutes to register. She’d almost finished with the breakfast dishes when she stopped to listen, suds dripping from her yellow-gloved hands. No mistake: crying, and from the direction of the Thorpe house.

Maureen rinsed the last dish, wrapped the damp towel around it, and turned it over thoughtfully in her hands. Normally, the cry of a baby would go unnoticed in her neighborhood. It was one of those suburban sounds, like the tinkle of the ice cream truck or the bark of a dog, that passed just beneath the radar of conscious perception.

So why had she noticed? She dropped the plate into the drying rack.

Because the Thorpe baby never cried. In the balmy summer days, with the windows thrown wide, she’d often heard it cooing, gurgling, laughing. Sometimes, she’d heard the infant vocalizing to the sounds of classical music, her voice mingling in the breeze with the scent of piñon pines.

Maureen wiped her hands on the towel, folded it carefully, then glanced up from the counter. But it was September now; the first day it really felt like autumn. In the distance, the purple flanks of the San Francisco peaks were wreathed in snow. She could see them, through a window shut tight against the chill.

She shrugged, turned, and walked away from the sink. All babies cried, sooner or later; you’d worry if they didn’t. Besides, it was none of her business; she had plenty of things to take care of without messing in her neighbors’ lives. It was Friday, always the busiest day of the week. Choir rehearsal for herself, ballet for Courtney, karate for Jason. And it was Jason’s birthday; he’d demanded beef fondue and chocolate cake. That meant another trip to the new supermarket on Route 66. With a sigh, Maureen pulled a list from beneath a refrigerator magnet, grabbed a pencil from the phone stand, and began scrawling items.

Then she stopped. With the windows all closed, the Thorpe baby must really be cranking if she could hear . . .

Maureen forced the thought from her mind. The infant girl had barked her shin or something. Maybe she was becoming colicky, it wasn’t too late for that. In any case, the Thorpes were adults; they could deal with it. The Thorpes could deal with anything.

This last thought had a bitter undertone, and Maureen was quick to remind herself this was unfair. The Thorpes had different interests, ran in different circles; that was all.

Lewis and Lindsay Thorpe had moved to Flagstaff just over a year before. In a neighborhood full of empty nesters and retirees, they stood out as a young, attractive couple, and Maureen had been quick to invite them to dinner. They’d been charming guests, friendly and witty and very polite. The conversation had been easy, unforced. But the invitation had never been returned. Lindsay Thorpe was in her third trimester at the time; Maureen liked to believe that was the reason. And now, with a new baby, back full-time at work . . . it was all perfectly understandable.

She walked slowly across the kitchen, past the breakfast table, to the sliding glass door. From here, she had a better view of the Thorpes’. They’d been home the night before, she knew; she’d seen Lewis’s car driving past around dinnertime. But now, as she peered out, all seemed quiet.

Except for the baby. God, the little thing had leather lungs . . .

Maureen stepped closer to the glass, craning her neck. That’s when she saw the Thorpes’ cars. Both of them, twin Audi A8s, the black one Lewis’s and the silver one Lindsay’s, parked in the breezeway.

Both home, on a Friday? This was seriously weird. Maureen pressed her nose up against the glass.

Then she stepped back. Now listen, you’re being exactly the kind of nosy neighbor you promised you’d never be. There could be any number of explanations. The little girl was sick, the parents were home to tend to her. Maybe grandparents were arriving. Or they were getting ready to go on vacation. Or . . .

The child’s cries had begun to take on a hoarse, ragged quality. And now, without thinking, Maureen put her hand on the glass door and slid it open.

Wait, I can’t just go over there. It’ll be nothing. I’ll embarrass them, make myself look like a fool.

She looked over at the counter. The night before, she’d baked an enormous quantity of tollhouse cookies for Jason’s birthday. She’d bring some of those over; that was a reasonable, neighborly thing to do.

Quickly, she grabbed a paper plate – thought better of it – replaced it with a piece of her good china, arranged a dozen cookies on it, and covered them with plastic wrap. She scooped up the plate, made for the door.

Then she hesitated. Lindsay, she remembered, was a gourmet chef. A few Saturdays before, when they’d met at their mailboxes, the woman had apologized for being unable to chat because she had a burnt-almond ganache boiling on the stove. What would they think of a homely plate of tollhouse cookies?

You’re thinking about this way, way too much. Just go on over there.

What was it, exactly, she found so intimidating about the Thorpes? The fact they didn’t seem to need her friendship? They were well educated, but Maureen had her own cum laude degree in English. They had lots of money, but so did half the neighborhood. Maybe it was how perfect they seemed together, how ideally suited to each other. It was almost uncanny. That one time they’d come over, Maureen had noticed how they unconsciously held hands; how they frequently completed each other’s sentences; how they’d shared countless glances that, though brief, seemed pregnant with meaning. ‘Disgustingly happy’ was how Maureen’s husband termed them, but Maureen didn’t think it disgusting at all. In fact, she’d found herself feeling envious.

Steadying her grip on the plate of cookies, she walked to the door, pulled back the screen, and stepped outside.

It was a beautiful, crisp morning, the smell of cedar strong in the thin air. Birds were piping in the branches overhead, and from down the hill, in the direction of town, she could hear the mournful call of the Southwest Chief as it pulled into the train station.

Out here, the crying was much louder.

Maureen strode purposefully across the lawn of colored lava and stepped over the border of railroad ties. This was the first time she’d actually set foot on the Thorpes’ property. It felt strange, somehow. The backyard was enclosed, but between the boards of the fence she could make out the Japanese garden Lewis had told them about. He was fascinated by Japanese culture, and had translated several of the great haiku poets; he’d mentioned some names Maureen had never heard of. What she could see of the garden looked tranquil. Serene. At dinner that night, Lewis had told a story about the Zen master who’d asked an apprentice to tidy his garden. The apprentice had spent all day at it, removing every last fallen leaf, sweeping and polishing the stone paths until they gleamed, raking the sand into regular lines. At last, the Zen master had emerged to scrutinize the work. ‘Perfect?’ the apprentice asked as he displayed the meticulous garden. But the master shook his head. Then he gathered up a handful of pebbles and scattered them across the spotless sand. ‘Now it is perfect,’ he replied. Maureen remembered how Lewis’s eyes had sparkled with amusement as he told the story.

She hurried forward, the crying strong in her ears.

Ahead was the Thorpes’ kitchen door. Maureen stepped up to it, carefully arranged a bright smile on her face, and pulled open the screen. She began to knock, but with the pressure of her first rap the door swung inward.

She took a step.

‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Lindsay? Lewis?’

Here, in the house, the wailing was almost physically painful. She hadn’t known an infant could cry so loud. Wherever the parents were, they certainly couldn’t hear her over the baby. How could they be ignoring it? Was it possible they were showering? Or engaged in some kinky sex act? Abruptly, she felt self-conscious, and glanced around. The kitchen was beautiful: professional-grade appliances, glossy black counters. But it was empty.

The kitchen led directly into a breakfast nook, gilded by morning light. And there was the child: up ahead, in the archway between the breakfast nook and some other space that, from what she could see, looked like a living room. The infant was strapped tightly into her high chair, facing the living room. The little face was mottled from crying, and the cheeks were stained with mucus and tears.

Maureen rushed forward. ‘Oh, you poor thing.’ Balancing the cookies awkwardly, she fished for a tissue, cleaned the child’s face. ‘There, there.’

But the crying did not ease. The baby was pounding her little fists, staring fixedly ahead, inconsolable.

It took quite some time to wipe the red face clean, and by the time she was done Maureen’s ears were ringing with the noise. It wasn’t until she was pushing the tissue back into the pocket of her jeans that she thought to follow the child’s line of sight into the living room.

And when she did, the cry of the child, the crash of china as she dropped the cookies, were instantly drowned by the sound of her screams.

TWO

Christopher Lash stepped out of the cab and into the tumult of Madison Avenue. It had been half a year since he was last in New York, and those months seemed to have softened him. He hadn’t missed the acrid diesel plumes belching from serried rows of buses; he’d forgotten the unpleasantly burnt aroma of the sidewalk pretzel stands. The throngs of passersby, barking into cell phones; the blat of horns; the angry interplay of cars and trucks – it all reminded him of the frantic, senseless activity of an ant colony, exposed from beneath a rock.

Taking a firm grip on his leather satchel, he stepped onto the sidewalk and inserted himself deftly into the crowds. It had been a long time, too, since he’d carried the satchel, and it felt foreign and uncomfortable in his hand.

He crossed Fifty-seventh Street, letting himself be carried along by the river of humanity, and headed south. Another block, and the crowds eased somewhat. He crossed Fifty-sixth, then slid into an empty doorway, where he could pause a moment without being jostled. Placing his satchel carefully between his shoes, he gazed upward.

Across the street, a rectangular tower rose into the sky. There was no number, or corporate lettering, to betray what lay within. They were rendered unnecessary by the logo that – thanks to countless high-profile news reports – had recently become almost as familiar an American icon as the golden arches: the sleek, elongated infinity symbol that hovered just above the building’s entrance. The tower rose to a setback, halfway up its massive flank; higher, decorative latticework ran around the structure like a ribbon, setting off the top few floors. But this simplicity was deceptive. The tower’s skin had a richness, a sense of depth, almost like the paintwork on the most expensive of cars. Recent architectural textbooks called the building ‘obsidian,’ but that wasn’t quite correct: it had a warm, pellucid glow that seemed almost drawn from its environment, leaving the surrounding buildings cold and colorless by comparison.

Dropping his gaze from the facade, he fished into the pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a piece of business stationery. At the top, ‘Eden Incorporated’ was embossed in elegant type beside the infinity logo; ‘deliver by courier’ was stamped at the bottom. He reread the brief message below.

Dear Dr. Lash:

I enjoyed speaking with you today, and I’m glad you could come on such short notice. We’ll expect you Monday at 10:30 a.m. Please give the enclosed card to one of the security personnel in the lobby.

Sincerely,

Edwin Mauchly

Director, Facilitation Services

The letter yielded up no more information than it had the other times he’d read it, and Lash returned it to his pocket.

He waited for the light to change, then picked up his satchel and made his way across the street. The tower was set back extravagantly from the sidewalk, creating a welcoming oasis. There was a fountain here: marble satyrs and nymphs disporting themselves around a bent, ancient figure. Lash peered curiously through the curtain of mist at the figure. It seemed a strange centerpiece for a fountain: no matter how he stared, he could not quite determine whether it was male or female.

Beyond the fountain, the revolving doors were kept in constant motion. Lash stopped again, observing this traffic intently. Almost everyone was entering, not leaving. But it was almost ten-thirty, so it couldn’t be employees he was seeing. No, they must all be clients; or, more likely, would-be clients.

The lobby was large and high-ceilinged, and he paused again just inside. Although the surfaces were of pink marble, indirect lighting lent the space an unusual warmth. There was an information desk in its center, of the same obsidian as the building’s exterior. Along the right wall, beyond a security checkpoint, lay a long bank of elevators. New arrivals continued to stream by him. They were a remarkably heterogeneous crowd: all ages, races, heights, builds. They looked hopeful, eager, perhaps a little apprehensive. The excitement in the air was palpable. Some headed toward the far end of the lobby, where twin escalators climbed toward a wide, arched passage. CANDIDATE PROCESSING was engraved above the passage in discreet gold lettering. Others were moving toward a set of doors below the escalators marked APPLICATIONS. And still others had gravitated to the left side of the lobby, where Lash caught the flicker of myriad movements. Curious, he drifted closer.

Across a wide swath of the left wall, floor to ceiling, large flatscreen plasma displays had been set edge to edge in a huge matrix. On each screen was the head shot of a different person, talking to the camera: men and women, old and young. The faces were so different from each other that, for a moment, Lash sensed but could not place the commonality they shared. Then he realized: every face was smiling, almost serene.

Lash joined the crowd who had assembled, mute and staring, before the wall of faces. As he did so, he became aware of countless voices, apparently coming from speakers hidden among the screens. Yet through some trick of sound projection, he found it easy to isolate individual voices in three-dimensional space, to match them with faces on the screens. It completely turned my life around, a pretty young woman on one of the screens was saying, seeming to speak directly to him. If it wasn’t for Eden, I don’t know what I would’ve done, a man on another told him, smiling almost confidentially, as if imparting a secret. It’s made all the difference. On yet another screen, a blond man with pale blue eyes and a brilliant smile said, It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Period. End of story.

As he listened, Lash became aware of another voice: low, just on the edge of audibility, little more than a whisper. It was not coming from any of the screens, but seemingly from all around. He paused to listen.

Technology, the voice was saying. Today, it’s used to make our lives easier, longer, more comfortable. But what if technology could do something even more profound? What if it could bring completion, bring utter fulfillment?

Imagine computer technology so advanced it could reconstruct – virtually – your own personality, the essence of what makes you unique: your hopes, desires, dreams. The inmost needs that not even you may be aware of. Imagine a digital infrastructure so robust it could contain this personality construct of yours – with its countless unique facets and characteristics – along with those of many, many other people. Imagine an artificial intelligence so profound it could compare your construct with these multitudes of others, and – in an hour, a day, a week – find that one person, that sole individual, that is your perfect match. Your ideal soulmate, uniquely fitted by personality, background, interests, countless other benchmarks to be your other half. To make your life complete. Not just two people who happen to share a few interests. But a match where one person complements the other in ways so profound, so subtle, it could never be imagined or anticipated.

Lash continued to watch the endless sea of faces before him while listening to the disembodied, sonorous voice.

No blind dates, it went on. No singles parties, where your choice is limited to a handful of random meetings. No evenings wasted on incompatibility. Rather, a proprietary system of profound sophistication. This system is now. And the company is Eden.

The service is not cheap. But if there is even the slightest dissatisfaction, Eden Incorporated offers a full refund, guaranteed for life. Yet out of the many, many thousands of couples Eden has brought together, not one has requested a refund. Because these people – like those on the screens before you – have learned there is no price that can be put on happiness.

With a start, Lash looked away from the screens and down at his watch. He was five minutes late for his appointment.

Walking across the lobby, Lash drew out a card and handed it to one of the uniformed guards. He was given a signed pass and cheerfully directed toward the bank of elevators.

Thirty-two stories above, Lash stepped into a small but elegant reception area. The tones were neutral, and there was the faintest rush of industrial pink noise. There were no signs, directories, formal guides of any kind: just one desk of polished blond wood, an attractive woman in a business suit behind it.

‘Dr. Lash?’ she asked with an engaging smile.

‘Yes.’

‘Good morning. May I see your driver’s license, please?’

This request was so strange that Lash did not think to question it. Instead, he pulled out his wallet and fished for his license.

‘Thank you.’ The woman held it briefly over some scanning apparatus. Then she handed it back with another bright smile, rose from her chair, and motioned him toward a door in the far wall of the reception area.

They passed down a long corridor, similar in decor to the room they’d just left. Lash noticed many doors, all unlabeled, all closed. The woman stopped before one of them.

‘In here, please,’ she said.

As the door closed behind him, Lash looked around at a well-appointed room. A desk of dark wood sat upon a dense carpet. Several paintings hung on the walls, beautifully framed. Behind the desk, a man now rose to greet him, smoothing his brown suit as he did so. Lash shook the proffered hand, typing the man from old habit as he did so. He looked to be in his late thirties: fairly short, dark complexion, dark hair, dark eyes, muscular but not stocky. Swimmer, perhaps, or tennis player. His bearing spoke of someone self-confident, considered; a man who would be slow to act but, when acting, do so decisively.

‘Dr. Lash,’ the man said, returning his gaze. ‘I’m Edwin Mauchly. Thanks for coming.’

‘Sorry I’m late.’

‘Not at all. Take a seat, please.’

Lash sat down in the lone leather chair that faced the desk while Mauchly turned toward a computer monitor. He typed for a moment, then stopped. ‘Give me just a minute here, please. It’s been four years since I gave an entrance interview, and the screens have changed.’

‘Is that what this is?’

‘Of course not. But there’s some similar initial processing to be done.’ He typed again. ‘Here we are. The address of your Stamford office is 315 Front Street, Suite 2?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. If you could just fill out this information for me, please.’

Lash scanned the white card that was slid across the desk: date of birth, social security number, half a dozen other mundane details. He took a pen from his pocket and began jotting on the form.

‘You used to give entrance interviews?’ he said as he wrote.

‘I helped design the process, as an employee of PharmGen. That was early on, before Eden became an independent company.’

‘What’s it like?’

‘What is what like, Dr. Lash?’

‘Working here.’ He slid the card back. ‘You’d think it would be magic. Listening to all those testimonials in the lobby, anyway.’

Mauchly glanced at the card. ‘I don’t blame you for being skeptical.’ He had a face that managed to look both candid and reticent at the same time. ‘Two people’s feelings for each other, what can technology do about that? But ask any of our employees. They see it work, time after time, every time. Yes, I guess magic is as good a word for it as any.’

On the far side of the desk, a telephone rang. ‘Mauchly,’ the man said, tucking the phone beneath his chin. ‘Very well. Good-bye.’ He replaced the phone, then rose. ‘He’s ready for you, Dr. Lash.’

He? Lash thought to himself as he picked up his satchel. He followed Mauchly back out into the corridor, to an intersection, then into a wider, plushly appointed hallway that ended in a set of brilliantly polished doors. Reaching them, Mauchly paused, then knocked.

‘Come in,’ came a voice from beyond.

Mauchly opened the door. ‘I’ll speak with you again shortly, Dr. Lash,’ he said, motioning him inside.

Lash stepped forward, then stopped again as the door clicked closed. Before him stood a long, semicircular table of dark wood. Across it sat a lone man, tall and deeply tanned. He smiled, nodded. Lash nodded back. And then, with a sudden shock of recognition, he realized the man was none other than John Lelyveld, chairman of Eden Incorporated.

Waiting for him.

THREE

The chairman of Eden Incorporated rose from his seat. He smiled, and his face broke into kindly, almost grandfatherly lines. ‘Dr. Lash. Thank you so much for coming. Please, take a seat.’ And he motioned toward the long table.

Lash took a seat across from Lelyveld.

‘Did you drive in from Connecticut?’

‘Yes.’

‘How was the traffic?’

‘I was parked on the Cross Bronx about half an hour. Otherwise, okay.’

The chairman shook his head. ‘That road is a disgrace. I have a weekend place not far from you myself, in Rowayton. These days I usually take a helicopter. One of the perks.’ He chuckled, then opened a leather portfolio that lay beside him. ‘Just a few formalities before we get started.’ He took out a sheaf of stapled pages and passed it across the desk. It was followed by a gold pen. ‘Would you mind signing this, please?’

Lash looked at the top page. It was a nondisclosure agreement. He flipped quickly through the pages, found the signature line, signed.

‘And this.’

Lash took the second proffered document. It appeared to be some kind of guarantee of confidentiality. He turned to the back page, signed.

‘And this, if you please.’

This time, Lash simply signed without bothering to review the verbiage.

‘Thank you. I do apologize, I hope you understand.’ Lelyveld returned the sheets to the leather portfolio. Then he placed his elbows on the desk, resting his chin on tented fingers. ‘Dr. Lash, you understand the nature of our service, I believe?’

Lash nodded. There were few who didn’t: the story of how Eden had grown, over just a handful of years, from a research project of brilliant computer scientist Richard Silver to one of the highest-profile corporations in America was a favorite of financial news services.

‘Then you probably won’t be surprised when I say that Eden Incorporated has fundamentally improved the lives of, at last count, nine hundred and twenty-four thousand people.’

‘No.’

‘Almost half a million couples, with thousands more added each day. And with the opening of satellite offices in Beverly Hills, Chicago, and Miami, we’ve dramatically increased our service range and our pool of potential candidates.’

Lash nodded again.

‘Our fee is steep – $25,000 per applicant – but we have never yet been asked for a refund.’

‘So I understand.’

‘Good. But it’s important you also understand our service does not end on the day we bring a couple together. There is a mandatory follow-up session with one of our counselors, scheduled three months later. And after six months, couples are requested to join encounter groups with other Eden couples. We carefully monitor our client base – not only for their benefit, but to improve our service, as well.’

Lelyveld leaned slightly toward Lash, as if to impart a secret across the massive table. ‘What I’m about to tell you is confidential and trade secret to Eden. In our promotional material, we speak of providing a perfect match. The ideal union between two people. Our computer intelligence compares roughly one million variables from each of our clients to those of other clients, looking for a match. With me so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m speaking in gross simplifications here. The artificial intelligence algorithms are the result of Richard Silver’s ongoing work, as well as countless man-hours spent researching the behavioral and psychological factors. But in short, our scientists have determined a specific threshold of matching variables necessary to declare a fit between two candidates.’ He shifted in his chair. ‘Dr. Lash, if you compared these million factors in an average happily married couple, how closely do you think that couple would match each other?’

Lash thought. ‘Eighty, maybe eighty-five percent?’

‘That’s a very good guess, but I’m afraid it’s way off. Our studies have shown the average happily married American couple matches in the range of only thirty-five percent.’

Lash shook his head.

‘You see, people tend to be seduced by superficial impressions, or physical attractions that by themselves will be practically meaningless in a few years. Today’s relationship services and so-called Internet dating sites – with their crude metrics and simplistic questionnaires – actually encourage this. We, on the other hand, use a hybrid computer to find two ideal partners: people for whom a million personal traits are in synch.’ He paused. ‘Not to delve too deeply into proprietary matters, but there are varying degrees of perfection. Our staff has determined a specific percentage – let’s just say it’s over ninety-five – that guarantees an ideal match.’

‘I see.’

‘The fact remains, Dr. Lash – and forgive me if I remind you of the confidentiality of this information – that during the three years Eden has been offering this service, there have in fact been a small number of uniquely perfect matches. Matches in which all one hundred percent of the variables between two people have been in synch.’

‘One hundred percent?’

‘A uniquely perfect match. Of course, we don’t inform our clients as to the precise exactness of their match. But over the lifetime of our service, there have been six such statistically perfect matches. “Supercouples,” as they’re referred to in-house.’

So far, Lelyveld’s voice has been measured, assured. But now he seemed to hesitate slightly. The grandfatherly smile remained on his face, but an undertone of sadness, even pain, was introduced. ‘I’ve told you that we do post-monitoring of all our clients . . . Dr. Lash, I’m afraid there’s no pleasant way to say this. Last week, one of our six uniquely perfect couples –’ he hesitated, then went on ‘– committed double suicide.’

‘Suicide?’ Lash echoed.

The chairman glanced down, consulted some notes. ‘In Flagstaff, Arizona. Lewis and Lindsay Thorpe. The details are rather, ah, unusual. They left a note.’ He looked up again. ‘Can you understand now why we’ve requested your services?’

Lash was still digesting this. ‘Perhaps you could spell it out.’

‘You’re a psychologist specializing in family relationships, particularly marital relationships. The book you published last year, Congruency, was a remarkable study on the subject.’

‘I wish more book buyers had felt that way.’

‘The peer reviews were all quite enthusiastic. In any case, in addition to being utterly perfect for each other, the Thorpes were both intelligent, capable, well adapted, happy. Clearly, some tragedy must have befallen this couple after their marriage. Perhaps a medical problem of some sort; perhaps the death of a loved one. Maybe it had to do with financial issues.’ He paused. ‘We need to know what changed in the dynamic of their lives, and why they took such an extreme action as a result. If by some remote chance there’s a latent psychological tendency operating here, we should know so we can prescreen for it in the future.’

‘You’ve got a team of in-house mental health professionals, right?’ Lash asked. ‘Why not use one of them?’

‘Two reasons. First, we want an impartial person to look into the matter. And second, none of our staff has your particular credentials.’

‘Which credentials do you mean?’

Lelyveld smiled paternally. ‘I’m referring to your prior occupation. Before you went into private practice, I mean. Forensic psychologist with the FBI, part of the Behavioral Science team operating out of Quantico.’

‘How did you know about that?’

‘Dr. Lash, please. As a former special agent, you no doubt retain behind-the-scenes access to places, people, information. You could undertake such an investigation with great discretion. Were we to investigate ourselves, or request official assistance, there might be questions. And there is no point in causing our clients – past, present, and future – unnecessary concern.’

Lash shifted in his chair. ‘There was a reason I left Quantico for private practice.’

‘There’s a newspaper account of the tragedy in your dossier. I’m very sorry. So it doesn’t surprise me you’re not eager to leave the comfort of that practice, even temporarily.’ The chairman opened the leather portfolio, removed an envelope. ‘Hence the amount of the enclosed.’

Lash took the envelope and opened it. Inside was a check for $100,000.

‘That should cover your time, travel, and expenses. If more is needed, let us know. Take your time, Dr. Lash. Thoroughness, and a subtle approach, are what’s required here. The more we know, the more effective we can make our service in the future.’

The chairman paused a moment before speaking again. ‘There is one other possibility, however remote. And that is one of the Thorpes was unstable, had a prior history of mental problems they were somehow able to conceal from our evaluation. This is highly, highly unlikely. However, if you are unable to find an answer over the course of their married life, you may have to look into their past as well.’

Lelyveld closed the portfolio with an air of finality. ‘Ed Mauchly will be your primary point of contact for this investigation. He’s put together a few things to get you started. We can’t release our own files on the couple, of course, but they wouldn’t be of much interest to you anyway. The answer to this riddle lies in the private lives of Lewis and Lindsay Thorpe.’

The man fell silent again, and for a moment Lash wondered if the meeting was over. But then Lelyveld spoke again, his voice quieter now, more intimate. The smile had faded. ‘We have a very special feeling for all of our clients, Dr. Lash. But to be honest, we feel particularly strongly about our perfect couples. Whenever a new supercouple is found, word ripples throughout the company, despite our best attempts to keep it private. They’re very rare. So I’m sure you can understand how painful and difficult this news was to me, especially since the Thorpes were our very first such couple. Luckily their deaths were kept out of the papers, so our employees have so far been spared the sad news. I’d be personally grateful for any light you can shed on what, precisely, went wrong in their lives.’

When Lelyveld stood and extended his hand, the smile returned, only now it was wistful.

FOUR

Twenty-four hours later, Lash stood in his living room, sipping coffee and gazing out the bay window. On the far side of the glass lay Compo Beach, a long, narrow comma of sand almost devoid of waders and walkers this weekday morning. The tourists and summer renters had left weeks before, but this was the first time in a month he’d taken the time to really look out the window. He was struck by the relative emptiness of the beach. It was a clear, bright morning: across the sound, he could make out the low green line of Long Island. A tanker was passing, a silent ghost heading for the open Atlantic.

Mentally, he went over again the preparations he’d made. His regular private therapy and counseling sessions had been cancelled for one week. Dr. Kline would cover for the groups. It had all been remarkably easy.

He yawned, took another sip of coffee, and caught sight of himself in a mirror. Deciding what to wear had been a little more difficult. Lash had always disliked fieldwork, and his upcoming appointment felt a little too much like old times. But he reminded himself it would speed things up enormously. People didn’t just deviate into aberrant behavior, especially something as exotic as double suicide. Something must have happened in the two years since the Thorpes got married. And it wouldn’t be subtle: some minor life upheaval, say, or a drift toward serious depression. It would be massive, obvious in hindsight to those who’d been around them. He might, in fact, understand what went wrong in their lives by the end of the day. With luck, he could have the case study written up tomorrow. It would be the quickest $100,000 he’d ever earned.

Turning from the window, he let his eyes roam over the room’s features: a baby grand, bookcase, couch. Lack of furniture made the room appear larger than it was. The house had a spare, ordered cleanliness he’d cultivated in the years since he’d moved in. The simplicity had become part of his personal armor. God knew the lives of his patients were complicated enough.

Lash glanced once more at his reflection, decided he looked the part, and went out the front door. He looked around, cursed good-naturedly when he noticed that the delivery man had forgotten to leave the Times in his driveway, then headed for his car.

An hour’s worth of wrestling with I-95 traffic brought him to New London and the low silver arch of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. Exiting the freeway, he made his way toward the river and found parking on a side street. He thumbed once more through a sheaf of papers on the passenger’s seat. There were black-and-white head shots of the couple, a few printed sheets of biographical information. Mauchly had given him precious little data on the Thorpes: address, dates of birth, names and locations of beneficiaries. But it, along with a few telephone calls, had been enough.

Already, Lash felt a stab of remorse for the small deception he was about to perpetrate. He reminded himself it might well yield insight that would prove critical to his investigation.

In the backseat was his leather satchel, well padded now with blank sheets of paper. He grabbed it, exited the car, and – after a final self-inspection in the front windshield – started toward the Thames.

State Street lay dozing beneath a mellow autumn sun. At its foot, beyond the fortresslike bulk of the Old Union railroad station, the harbor glittered. Lash walked down the hill, stopping where State Street ran into Water. There was an old hotel here, a Second Empire with a hulking mansard roof, that had recently been converted into restaurants. In the closest window he made out a sign for The Roastery. A public location, near the water, had seemed best. It had a low threat-factor. Lunch had seemed inappropriate, under the circumstances. Besides, recent inpatient studies at Johns Hopkins showed that grieving people were more responsive to external stimuli during the morning hours. Midmorning coffee seemed ideal. It would be calm, conducive to talk. Lash glanced at his watch. Ten-twenty, on the dot.

Inside, The Roastery was all he’d hoped for: high tin ceilings, beige walls, a low hum of conversation. The delicious fragrance of freshly ground coffee hung in the air. He’d arrived early to make sure he got a suitable table, and he chose a large round one in a corner near the front windows. He took the seat facing the corner; it was important for the subject to feel in control of the situation.

He’d barely had time to place the satchel on the table and arrange himself when he heard footsteps approaching. ‘Mr. Berger?’ came a voice.

Lash turned around. ‘Yes. You’re Mr. Torvald?’

The man had thick, iron-gray hair and the leathery sunburnt skin of a man fond of the water. His faded blue eyes still bore the dark circles of heartbreak. Yet his resemblance to the picture Lash had just viewed in his car was remarkable. Older, masculine, shorter hair; otherwise, it could have been Lindsay Thorpe, returned from the dead.

Out of long habit, Lash betrayed no expression. ‘Please, take a seat.’

Torvald settled himself into the corner chair. He looked briefly around the restaurant, without interest, then settled his gaze on Lash.

‘Allow me to convey my deepest condolences. And thank you very much for coming.’

Torvald grunted.

‘I realize that this must be a very difficult period for you. I’ll try to make this short –’

‘No, no, it’s all right.’ Torvald’s voice was very deep, and he spoke in short, staccato sentences.

A waitress approached their table, offered them menus.

‘I don’t think we’ll need those,’ Torvald said. ‘Coffee, black, no sugar.’

‘Same for me, please.’

The woman nodded, swirled, and left them in peace. She was attractive, but Lash noticed Torvald did not even glance at her departing form.

‘You’re an insurance readjustor,’ Torvald said.

‘I’m an analyst for a consulting firm employed by American Life.’ One of the first pieces of information Lash sought out on the Thorpes had been their insurance policies. Three million dollars each, payable to their only daughter. As he’d anticipated, it was a quick and relatively easy way to get neutral access to the closest relatives. He’d gone to the trouble of having phony business cards printed up, but Torvald didn’t ask to see one. Despite his obvious pain, the man retained a habitual air of gruff command, as if he was used to having orders quickly obeyed. A naval captain, perhaps, or a corporate executive; Lash had not dug deep into the family background. Corporate executive seemed more likely, though: given the amount Eden charged for its service, it was likely daddy had helped bankroll Lindsay Thorpe.

Lash cleared his throat, put on his best sympathetic manner. ‘If you wouldn’t mind answering just a few questions, it would be very helpful to us. If you find any of them objectionable, or if you feel it necessary to stop for a while, I’ll certainly understand.’

The waitress returned. Lash took a sip of his coffee, then opened the satchel and pulled out a legal pad. ‘How close were you to your daughter as she was growing up, Mr. Torvald?’ he began.

‘Extremely.’

‘And after she left home?’

‘We spoke every day.’

‘Overall, how would you characterize her physical health?’

‘Excellent.’

‘Did she take any medications on a regular basis?’

‘Vitamin supplements. A mild antihistamine. That’s about it.’

‘What was the antihistamine for?’

‘Dermatographia.’

Lash nodded, made a notation. A skin condition that caused itchiness: his next-door neighbor had it. Completely benign. ‘Any unusual or serious diseases or childhood illnesses?’

‘No, none. And this would all be in the applications she originally filled out with American Life.’

‘I understand that, Mr. Torvald. I’m simply trying to establish some independent frame of reference. Did she have any living siblings?’

‘Lindsay was an only child.’

‘Was she a good student?’

‘Graduated magna cum laude from Brown. Got her master’s in economics from Stanford.’

‘Would you call her shy? Outgoing?’

‘Strangers might think her quiet. But Lindsay always had more friends than she needed. She was the kind of girl who had many acquaintances, but was very choosy about her friends.’

Lash took another sip of coffee. ‘How long had your daughter been married, Mr. Torvald?’

‘Just over two years.’

‘And how would you characterize the marriage?’

‘They were the happiest couple I’ve ever seen, bar none.’

‘Can you tell me about the husband, Lewis Thorpe?’

‘Intelligent, friendly, honest. Witty. Lots of interests.’

‘Did your daughter ever mention any problems between herself and her husband?’

‘You mean, fights?’

Lash nodded. ‘That, or other things. Differences of opinion. Conflicting wishes. Incompatibilities.’

‘Never.’

Lash took another sip. He noticed Torvald had not touched his own cup.

‘Never?’ He allowed the slightest hint of incredulity to enter his voice.

Torvald rose to the bait. ‘Never. Look, Mr. –’

‘Berger.’

‘Mr. Berger, my daughter was . . .’ For the first time, Torvald seemed to hesitate. ‘My daughter was a client of Eden Incorporated. You’ve heard of them?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Then you’ll know what I’m getting at. I was skeptical at first. It seemed like an awful lot of money for some computer cycles, a statistical roll of the dice. But Lindsay was firm.’ Torvald leaned forward slightly. ‘You have to understand, she wasn’t like other girls. She knew what she wanted. She was never one to settle for second best. She’d had her share of boyfriends, some of them really nice boys. But she seemed to get restless, the relationships didn’t last.’

The man sat back abruptly. It was by far the longest statement he’d made so far. Lash made a notation, encouragingly, careful not to meet Torvald’s eyes. ‘And?’

‘And it was different with Lewis. I could tell from the very first time she mentioned his name. They hit it off from the first date.’

Lash looked up just as a faint smile of reminiscence crossed the old man’s face. For a moment the sunken eyes brightened, the tense jaw relaxed. ‘They met for Sunday brunch, then somehow ended up Rollerblading.’ He shook his head at the memory. ‘I don’t know whose crazy idea that was, neither of them had ever tried it. Maybe it was Eden’s suggestion. Anyway, within a month, they were engaged. And it just seemed to get better. Like I said, I’ve never seen a happier couple. They kept discovering new things. About the world. About each other.’

As quickly as it had come, the light left Torvald’s face. He pushed his coffee cup away.

‘What about Lindsay’s daughter? What kind of an impact did she have on their life?’

Torvald fixed him with a sudden gaze. ‘She completed it, Mr. Berger.’

Lash made another notation, a real one this time. The interview was not progressing quite as he’d expected. And the way the man pushed away his cup made Lash think he might be limited to just a few more questions.

‘To the best of your knowledge, have there been any recent setbacks in the life of your daughter or her husband?’

‘No.’

‘No unexpected difficulties? No problems?’

Torvald stirred restlessly. ‘Unless you call the approval of Lewis’s grant and the arrival of a beautiful baby girl problems.’

‘When was the last time you saw your daughter, Mr. Torvald?’

‘Two weeks ago.’

Lash took a sip of his coffee to conceal his surprise. ‘Where was this, may I ask?’

‘At their house in Flagstaff. I was on my way back from a yacht race in the Gulf of Mexico.’

‘And how would you characterize the household?’

‘I would characterize it as perfect.’

Lash scribbled another note. ‘You noticed nothing different from previous visits? No appetite loss or gain, perhaps? Changes in sleep patterns? Lack of energy? Loss of interest in hobbies or personal pursuits?’

‘There was no affective disorder, if that’s what you’re getting at.’

Lash paused in his scribbling. ‘Are you a clinician, Mr. Torvald?’

‘No. But before her death, my wife was an occupational therapist. I know the signs of depression when I see them.’

Lash put the legal pad to one side. ‘We’re just trying to get a grasp of the situation, sir.’

Suddenly, the older man leaned toward Lash, bringing their faces very close. ‘Grasp? Listen. I don’t know what you or your firm hope to learn from this. But I think I’ve answered enough questions. And the fact is there’s not a damn thing to grasp. There is no answer. Lindsay wasn’t suicidal. Neither was Lewis. They had everything to live for, everything.’

Lash sat silently. This was not just grief he was seeing. This was need: a desperate need to understand what could not possibly be understood.

‘I’ll tell you one thing more,’ Torvald said, his face still close to Lash’s, speaking low and fast now. ‘I loved my wife. I think we had just about as good a relationship as a married couple could ever hope to have. But I’d have cut off my right arm without a thought if that could’ve made us as happy as my daughter and Lewis were together.’

And with that, the man pushed back, rose from the table, and left the restaurant.

FIVE