Arbor Day, Election Day (BE AMERICAN! VOTE!) , and there were even flags for each of the Reeds’ birthdays. Emma’s flag was a green patchwork emblazoned with the phrase HAPPY BIRTHDAY EMMY! and Max’s was a square of red fabric dominated by a birthday cake that was currently adorned with thirty-eight candles. Each year, someone (Emma, likely) squeezed another candle onto the already crowded cake with a needle and thread, adding to the patchwork of fiery reds and yellows.
But what appealed most to Martin about the flags was that each day, without fail, Emma Reed would change the flag that was displayed off the side of her garage, unless, of course, she was away. So although Martin was often able to identify the weekends that the Reeds were away by keeping track of thecalendar hanging in their kitchen, the flags served as a fail-safe way of guaranteeing the couple’s absence. If the same flag that had been displayed on Friday was still up by Saturday afternoon, the house was most certainly empty.
Thirteen minutes after arriving at the Reeds’ house, Martin was locking the back door, backpack weighed down with a bottle of caffeine-free Diet Coke, a pound of boneless chicken breast, an avocado, half a dozen carrots, a green pepper, several cherry tomatoes, half a head of lettuce, and a book of stamps. In addition to the fresh produce and meat that Martin was often able to acquire, the Reeds unaccountably maintained a large supply of postage stamps on hand, at least five books at a time, so Martin was often able to acquire enough stamps to handle his own postage needs.
Loading the last of his groceries into the Outback, which was parked in Lot C on the campus of Wesleyan University, Martin turned back onto Route 9, heading north, heading home.
Some people can point to a specific day in their lives when everything changed. For Martin, that day was a Wednesday in October.
It was three-fifteen on an overcast afternoon and Martin was visiting his final clients for the day, Cindy and Alan Clayton of Cromwell. Cindy was a schoolteacher in Wethersfield (second grade, the last time Martin checked) and Alan owned a construction company that bought large tracts of unused woodlands and converted them into mortgage payments. When evaluating them as clients, Martin had been initially concerned about Alan’s line of work, envisioning a man with the freedom to come and go as he pleased, stopping at home for lunch or taking an occasional afternoon off, but after more than a month of surveillance, he was comforted by the discovery that Alan was a workaholic, never arriving home before seven in the evening. The Claytons also kept a meticulous schedule posted on a bulletin board in their kitchen, detailing every job site and meeting where Alan would be each week, presumably so that his wife would know his whereabouts at all times. Of course, this allowed Martin to know where he was as well.
With four minutes left in his visit, Martin was in the second-floor bathroom, inventorying the contents of their medicine cabinet in preparation for a future acquisition. The Claytons’ shelveswere always well stocked with over-the-counter medications, more than two people could ever need. Pain pills, cold and flu treatments, skin ointments, and allergy remedies littered the shelves, and acquiring these medications had always been a fairly simple procedure. Though he would never think to acquire an entire bottle of Advil, for example, Martin considered it safe to remove a small number of pills from the bottle without anyone ever noticing. Sometime next week, after he had compared the Claytons’ inventory to his own, Martin would visit again, this time equipped with a supply of plastic containers that once held rolls of camera film, each marked with the name of a medication that he planned on acquiring that day. In addition to sorting pills by type, Martin would also mark each container with an expiration date since he wouldn’t have access to the