The WoodsHarlan Coben
Lucy was lucky that she had no morning class. Between the amount she drank and the late night with Sylvia Potter, she had stayed in bed until noon. When she rose she placed a call to one of the school counselors, Katherine Lucas, a therapist Lucy had always thought was really good. She explained the situation with Sylvia. Lucas would have a better idea what to do.
She thought about the journal entry that had started this all. The woods. The screams. The blood. Sylvia Potter hadn't sent it. So who had?
Last night, she had decided to call Paul. He needed to know about this, she'd concluded. But had that been the booze talking? Now that it was sobering daylight, did that still seem to be a good idea?
An hour later, she found Paul's work number on the computer. He was the Essex County prosecutor-and, alas, a widower. Jane had died of cancer. Paul had set up a charity in her name. Lucy wondered how she felt about all that, but there was no way she could sort through that right now.
With a shaking hand she dialed the number. When she reached the switchboard operator, she asked to speak to Paul Copeland. It hurt when she said that. She realized that she hadn't said his name out loud in twenty years.
A woman answered and said, "County prosecutor. "
"I would like to speak to Paul Copeland, please. "
"May I ask who's calling?"
"I'm an old friend," she said.
"My name is Lucy. Tell him it's Lucy. From twenty years ago. "
"Do you have a last name, Lucy?"
"Just tell him that, okay?"
"Prosecutor Copeland isn't in the office at the moment. Would you like to leave a number so he can return your call?" Lucy gave her the numbers for her home, her office, her mobile. "May I tell him what this is in reference to?" "Just tell him that it's Lucy. And that it's important. "
Muse and I were in my office. The door was closed. We had ordered in deli sandwiches for lunch. I was having chicken salad on whole wheat. Muse was downing a meatball sub that was the approximate size of a surfboard.
I had the fax in my hands. "Where is your private eye? Cingle whatever?"
"Shaker. Cingle Shaker. She'll be here. "
I sat and looked over my notes.
"Do you want to talk it out?" she asked.
She had a big grin on her face.
"What?" I said.
"I hate to say this, Cope, you being my boss and all, but you're a doggone genius. "
"Yeah," I said. "I guess I am. "
I went back to my notes.
Muse said, "You want me to leave you alone?"
"No. I may think of something I need you to do. "
She lifted the sandwich. I was surprised that she could do it without the use of an industrial crane. "Your predecessor," Muse said, teeth-diving into the sandwich. "With big cases, sometimes he would sit there and stare and say he was getting into a zone. Like he was Michael Jordan. You do that?"
"So"-more chewing, some swallowing-"would it distract you if I raised another issue?" "You mean something that doesn't involve this case?" "That's what I mean. " I looked up. "Actually, I could use the distraction. What's on your mind?" She looked off to the right, took a moment or two. Then she said, "I have friends in Manhattan homicide. " I had an idea where this was going. I took a delicate bite of my chicken-salad sandwich. "Dry," I said.
"The chicken salad. It's dry. " I put it down and wiped my finger with the napkin. "Let me guess. One of your homicide friends told you about the murder of Manolo Santiago?"
"Did they tell you what my theory was?"
"About him being one of the boys who the Summer Slasher murdered at that camp, even though his parents say it's not him?" "That would be the one. "
"Yeah, they told me. "
"And they think you're crackers. "
I smiled. "What about you?"
"I would have thought you were crackers. Except now"- she pointed to the fax -"I see what you're capable of. So I guess what I'm saying is, I want in. "
"In on what?"
"You know what. You're going to investigate, right? You're going to see if you can figure out what really happened in those woods?" "I am," I said. She spread her hands. "I want in. " "I can't have you taking up county business with my personal affairs. "
"First off," Muse said, "while everyone is sure that Wayne Steubens killed them all, the homicide file is technically still open. In fact, a quadruple homicide, when you think about it, remains unsolved. "
"That did not take place in our county. "
"We don't know that. We only know where the bodies were found. And one victim, your sister, lived in this very city. "
"That's stretching it. "
"Second, I am hired to work forty hours a week. I do closer to eighty. You know that. It is why you promoted me. So what I do outside of those forty hours is up to me. Or I'll up it to one hundred, I don't care. And before you ask, no, this isn't just a favor for my boss. Let's face it, I'm an investigator. Solving it would be a heck of a feather in my cap. So what do you say?"
I shrugged. "What the hell. "
"You're in. "
She looked very pleased. "So what's step one?"
I thought about it. There was something I had to do. I had avoided it. I couldn't avoid it any longer.
"Wayne Steubens," I said.
"The Summer Slasher. "
"I need to see him. "
"You knew him, right?"
I nodded. "We were both counselors at that camp. "
"I think I read that he doesn't allow visitors. "
"We need to change his mind," I said.
"He's in a maximum security facility in Virginia," Muse said. "I can make some calls. "
Muse already knew where Steubens was being held. Incredible.
"Do that," I said.
There was a knock on my door and my secretary, Jocelyn Durels, stuck her head in the door. "Messages," she said. "You want me to stick them on your desk?" I waved my fingers for her to hand them to me. "Anything important?" "Not really. A fair amount from media. You'd think they'd know you're in court, but they still call. "
I took the messages and started sorting through them. I looked up at Muse. She was glancing around. There was almost nothing personal in this office. When I first moved in, I put a picture of Cara on my credenza. Two days later we arrested a child molester who had done unspeakable things to a girl around Cara's age. We talked about it in this office and I kept looking over at my daughter and finally I had to turn the picture around so it faced the wall. That night, I brought the picture back home.
This was no place for Cara. This was not even a place for her picture. I was pawing through the messages when something caught my eye.
My secretary uses the old-fashioned pink note sheets, the ones where she can keep a yellow copy in her book, and writes the messages by hand. Her handwriting is impeccable.
The caller, according to my pink message, was:
I stared at the name for a moment. Lucy. It couldn't be.
There was a work number, a home number and a mobile. All three had area codes that indicated Lucy Double-Question-Mark lived, worked and, uh, mobilized in New Jersey.
I grabbed the phone and hit the intercom. "Jocelyn?"
"I'm seeing a message here from someone named Lucy," I said.
"Yes. She called about an hour ago. "
"You didn't write a last name. "
"She wouldn't give one. That's why I put the question marks. "
"I don't understand. You asked her for a last name and she wouldn't give one?" "That's right. " "What else did she say?" "On the bottom of the page. " "What?" "Did you read my notes on the bottom of the page?"
She just waited, not saying the obvious. I scanned down the sheet and read:
Says she's an old friend from twenty years ago.
I read the words again. And again.
"Ground control to Major Cope. "
It was Muse. She hadn't said the words-she sang them, using the old David Bowie tune. I startled up. "You sing," I said, "like you pick out shoes. " "Very funny. " She gestured at my message and arched one eyebrow. "So who is this Lucy, big guy? An old lover?" I said nothing. "Oh, damn. " Her arched eyebrow dropped. "I was just messing around. I didn't mean to. . . "
"Don't worry about it, Muse. "
"Don't you worry about it either, Cope. At least not until later. "
Her gaze turned to the clock behind me. I looked too. She was right. Lunch was over. This would have to wait. I didn't know what Lucy wanted. Or maybe I did. The past was coming back. All of it. The dead, it seemed, were digging their way out of the ground now.
But that was all for later. I grabbed the fax and stood.
Muse rose too. "Showtime," she said.
I nodded. More than showtime. I was going to destroy those sons of bitches. And I was going to try like hell not to enjoy it too much.
On the stand after lunch, Jerry Flynn looked fairly composed. I had done little damage in the morning. There was no reason to think the afternoon would be any different.
"Mr. Flynn," I began, "do you like pornography?"
I didn't even wait for the obvious. I turned to Mort Pubin and made a sarcastic hand gesture, as though I had just introduced him and was ushering him onstage.
Pubin didn't even need to elaborate. The judge gave me a disapproving look. I shrugged and said, "Exhibit eighteen. " I picked up the sheet of paper. "This is a bill sent to the fraternity house for online expenses. Do you recognize it?"
He looked at it. "I don't pay the bills. The treasurer does. "
"Yes, Mr. Rich Devin, who testified that this is indeed the fraternity bill. "
The judge looked over to Flair and Mort. "Any objection?"
"We will stipulate that it is a bill from the fraternity house," Flair said. "Do you see this entry here?" I pointed to a line near the top.
"Can you read what it says?"
"That's with one 'x' at the end. " I spelled "Netflix" out loud. "What's Netflix, if you know?"
"It's a DVD rental service. You do it through the mail. You get to keep three DVDs at all times. When you mail one back, you get another sent to you. "
"Good, thank you. " I nodded and moved my fingers down a few rows. "Could you read this line to me?"
"Mr. Flynn?" I said.
He cleared his throat. "HotFlixxx," he said.
"With three x's at the end, correct?" Again I spelled it out loud.
He looked as though he was about to be sick.
"Can you tell me what HotFlixxx is?"
"It's like Netflix," he said.
"It's a DVD movie rental service?"
"How is it different from Netflix, if you know?"
He turned red. "They rent, uh, different kinds of movies. "
"Urn, well, adult movies. "
"I see. So before I asked if you liked pornography-perhaps a better question would have been, do you ever watch pornographic movies?"
He squirmed. "Sometimes," he said.
"Nothing wrong with that, son. " Without looking behind me, knowing he was up, I pointed at opposing counsel s chair. "And I bet Mr. Pubin is standing to tell us he enjoys them too, especially the plots. "
"Objection!" Pubin said. "Withdrawn," I said. I turned back to Flynn. "Is there any porno graphic movie in particular that you like?"
The color drained from his face. It was as if the question had turned a spigot. His head swiveled toward the defense table. I moved just enough to block his view. Flynn coughed into his fist and said, "Can I plead the Fifth?"
"For what?" I asked.
Flair Hickory stood. "The witness has asked for counsel. "
"Your Honor," I said, "when I went to law school, we learned that the Fifth Amendment was to be used to prevent self-incrimination and-correct me if I'm wrong here-but, well, is there a law on the books against having a favorite pornographic movie?"
Flair said, "Can we have a ten-minute recess?"
"No way, Your Honor. "
"The witness," Flair went on, "has asked for counsel. "
"No, he didn't. He asked to plead the Fifth. And tell you what, Mr. Flynn-I will give you immunity. " "Immunity for what?" Flair asked. "For whatever he wants. I don't want this witness off the stand. " Judge Pierce looked back at Flair Hickory. He took his time. If Flair got ahold of him, I would be in trouble. They would come up with something. I glanced behind me at Jenrette and Marantz. They hadn't moved, hadn't warned counsel.
"No recess," the judge said.
Flair Hickory wilted back into his seat.
I went back to Jerry Flynn. "Do you have a favorite pornographic movie? "No," he said.
"Have you ever heard of a pornographic movie called"-I pretended now to be checking a piece of paper but I knew the name by heart-"a movie called Romancing His Bone?"
He must have seen it coming, but the question still zapped him like a cattle prod. "Uh, can you repeat that title?"
I repeated it. "Have you seen or heard of it?"
"I don't think so. "
"Don't think so," I repeated. "So you may have?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not good with movie titles. "
"Well, lets see if I can refresh your recollection. "
I had the fax Muse had just given me. I passed a copy to opposing counsel and made it an exhibit. Then I started back in: "According to HotFlixxx, a copy of that DVD had been in the possession of the fraternity house for the past six months. And again according to HotFlixxxs records, the movie was mailed back to them the day after Ms. Johnson reported the assault to the police. "
Pubin looked as though he'd swallowed his tongue. Flair was too good to show anything. He read the fax as though it were an amusing ditty from The Family Circus.
I moved closer to Flynn. "Does that refresh your memory?"
"I don't know. "
"You don't know? Then let's try something else. "
I looked toward the back of the room. Loren Muse was standing by the door. She was grinning. I nodded. She opened the door and a woman who looked like a gorgeous Amazon in a B movie stepped forward.
Muse's private eye, Cingle Shaker, strutted into the room as if it were her favorite watering hole. The room itself seemed to gasp at the sight.
I said, "Do you recognize the woman who just walked into the room?"
He did not reply. The judge said, "Mr. Flynn?"
"Yes. " Flynn cleared his throat to gain time. "I recognize her. "
"How do you know her?"
"I met her at a bar last night. "
"I see. And did you two talk about the movie Romancing His Bone? Cingle had pretended to be an ex-porno actress. She had gotten several frat boys to open up in a hurry. Like Muse had said-it must have been really difficult, a woman with a figure so shapely it could draw a citation, getting frat boys to talk.
Flynn said, "We might have said something about it. "
" 'It' being the movie?"
"Hmm," I said, again as if this were a curious development. "So now, with Ms. Shaker out there as a catalyst, do you remember the film Romancing His Bone? He tried not to drop his head, but the shoulders went. "Yeah," Flynn said, "I guess I remember it. "
"Glad I could help," I said.
Pubin rose to object, but the judge waved him to sit.
"In fact," I went on, "you told Ms. Shaker that Romancing His Bone was the entire fraternity's favorite porno flick, didn't you?"
"It's okay, Jerry. Three of your brothers told Ms. Shaker the same thing. "
Mort Pubin: "Objection!"
I looked back at Cingle Shaker. So did everyone else. Cingle smiled and waved as though she were a celebrity in the audience and had just been introduced. I wheeled out the TV with a DVD player attached. The offending DVD was already in it. Muse had it keyed it up to the relevant scene.
"Your Honor, last night one of my investigators visited King David's Smut Palace in New York City. " I looked at the jury and said, "See, it's open twenty-four hours, though why someone might need to go there at, say, three in the morning is beyond me-"
"Mr. Copeland. "
The judge correctly stopped me with a disapproving gaze, but the jury had smiled. That was good. I wanted the mood loose. And then, when the contrast came, when they saw what was on that DVD, I wanted to wallop them.
"Anyway, my investigator purchased all of the X-rated movies ordered on HotFlixxx by the frat house in the past six months, including Romancing His Bone. I would now like to show a scene I believe is relevant. "
Everything stopped. All eyes turned toward the judges bench. Arnold Pierce took his time. He stroked his chin. I held my breath. There wasn't a sound. Everyone leaned forward. Pierce stroked his chin some more. I wanted to wring the answer out of him.
Then he simply nodded and said, "Go ahead. I'll allow it. "
"Wait!" Mort Pubin objected, did everything he could, wanted order and all that. Flair Hickory joined in. But it was a waste of energy. Eventually the courtroom curtains were closed so that there would be no glare. And then, without explaining what they were about to see, I hit the Play button.
The setting was a run-of-the-mill bedroom. Looked like a king-size bed. Three participants. The scene opened with very little foreplay. A rough menage a trois started up. There were two men. There was one girl.
The two men were white. The girl was black.
The white men tossed her about like a plaything. They sneered and laughed and talked to each other throughout: "Turn her over, Cal. . . Yeah, Jim, like that. . . Flip her, Cal. I watched the jury's reaction rather than the screen. Children play act. My daughter and niece acted out Dora the Explorer. Jenrette and Marantz, as sick as it was, had acted out a scene from a pornographic movie. The courtroom was tomb still. I watched the faces in the gallery collapse, even those behind Jenrette and Marantz, as the black girl in the movie screamed, as the two white men used their names and laughed cruelly.
"Bend her oven Jim. . . Whoa, Cal, the bitch is loving it. . . Do her, Jim, yeah, harder.
Like that. Cal and Jim. On and on. Their voices were cruel, awful, hell spawned. I looked toward the back of the room and found Chamique Johnson. Her spine was straight. Her head was high.
"Woo hoo, Jim. . . Yeah, my turn. . . " Chamique met my eye and nodded. I nodded back. There were tears on her cheeks. I couldn't be sure, but I think there were tears on mine too.