Fool Me OnceHarlan Coben
"You of all people should know why. My son was murdered. He was shot in the face, wasn't he? Who would want to look at that?"
Maya considered that and decided once again it didn't fully add up. "How about when Andrew was pulled out of the water?"
"What about that?"
"Did you see his body?"
"Why would you ask that? My God, you can't possibly believe . . ."
"Just tell me if you saw him."
Judith swallowed hard. "Andrew's body had been at sea for more than twenty-four hours. My husband identified him, but . . . it wasn't easy. The fish had gotten to him. Why would I want to . . ." She stopped and narrowed her eyes. Her voice was a whisper now. "What are you trying to do here, Maya?"
Maya just looked at her. "Why are you paying off Tom Douglass?"
She took her time. "Let's say what Joe told you about Andrew's death was true."
"Let's say that Andrew did commit suicide. I was his mother. And I couldn't see it. I couldn't save Andrew in real life. But maybe I can protect him now. Do you understand?"
Maya studied her face. "Sure," she said.
But she didn't.
"Whatever happened to Andrew--whatever he suffered all those years ago--it has nothing to do with today. It has nothing to do with Joe or your sister."
Maya didn't believe that for a moment. "And the payoffs to Roger Kierce?"
"I told you. That simply isn't true. Caroline made it up."
There was nothing more to mine here. Not yet anyway. Maya had to dig more, get more information. She was still missing too many pieces of the puzzle.
"I better go."
"Caroline isn't the only one who may need rest. She isn't the only one who wants so badly she may start seeing things that aren't there."
Maya nodded. "Subtle, Judith."
"I wish you'd let Mary or me help you."
"No, you're not. We both know that. We both know the truth, don't we?"
"What truth is that, Judith?"
"My boys have been hurt enough," Judith said with an edge in her voice. "Don't make the mistake of hurting them more."
Lily was out in the front yard playing some kind of tag game with her uncle Eddie when Maya turned the corner. Maya slowed the car down and pulled to the curb. For a few moments, she just sat and watched. Alexa came out the front door and joined the festivities, both she and her father faking as though they couldn't quite tag Lily, dramatically falling to the ground when they reached out and missed, and even from that distance, even with Maya's window closed, she could hear Lily's shrieks of laughter.
Mawkish to think of it so plainly, but was there any sound as joyful as the undiluted laughter of a child? The irony between the sounds--this one that rang far too rarely in Maya's ears versus the ones that haunted her nights without mercy--did not escape her, but then again, there was no point in dwelling. She put the car back in drive, forced a smile onto her face, and cruised to the front of Claire and Eddie's house.
Maya gave the horn a little honk and waved. Eddie turned, his face flushed from happy exertion, and raised his hand in return. Maya got out of the car. Alexa stood upright too. Lily didn't like that--Eddie and Alexa ending the game--so she kept tapping them on the leg, daring them to start the chase anew.
Alexa came over and gave her aunt a hug. Eddie kissed her on the cheek. Lily crossed her arms and pouted.
"I stay!" Lily demanded.
"We can play tag when we get home," Maya told her.
Not surprisingly, this did nothing to appease Lily.
Eddie put his hand on Maya's arm. "Do you have a second? I wanted to show you something." He turned to his daughter. "Alexa, do you mind watching Lily for a few more minutes?"
That made Lily smile. Maya could hear the laughter start up again as she headed inside with Eddie.
"I checked Claire's E-Z Pass records," he said. "From what I could see, she visited that Douglass guy twice within a week."
"That doesn't surprise me," Maya said.
"I didn't think it would. But where she went after the second time might." He had printed out the records. He handed her a sheet and pointed to the first highlighted section.
"So a week before the murder," Eddie continued, "Claire travels down to Livingston. See the time stamp?"
Maya nodded: 8:46 A.M.
"Now if you follow it, she got on the Parkway at nine thirty-three instead of the Turnpike. See the next few lines?"
"She didn't head back home," Eddie said. "She traveled south instead. At Exit 129 she moved from the Parkway back to the New Jersey Turnpike and got off at Exit 6."
It was on the bottom of the page. Exit 6, Maya knew, was the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
"Anything after that?" Maya asked.
"Right over here. She took Interstate 476 south."
"Toward Philadelphia," Maya said.
"Or the Philadelphia area at least," Eddie said.
Maya handed him back the sheets. "Any reason Claire would be down there that day?"
Maya didn't bother asking him about friends Claire could have visited or shopping she might have done or even if she might have suddenly fancied a trip to Independence Hall. Claire hadn't gone there for any of that. Claire had spoken to Tom Douglass. She had learned something from him. And that something had taken her to Philadelphia.
Maya closed her eyes.
"Not to make a stupid Liberty Bell joke," Eddie said, "but is any of this ringing any bells?"
Maya had no choice, so she told Eddie yet another lie. "No," she said. "No bells at all."
It rang bells, albeit distant ones.
As Caroline had reminded her, when Andrew died, he and Joe had both still been in high school. A boarding school, to be more exact. An upper-crust, old-money prep school called Franklin Biddle Academy.
Located right outside Philadelphia.
Eileen called her on the drive home. "Remember how we used to do Chinese takeout on Wednesday nights?"
"I'm starting up the tradition again. You home?"
"Great," Eileen said with too much enthusiasm. "I'll get our favorites."
"I'll be there in twenty minutes."
There were too many possibilities spinning through Maya's head. For the first time she tried to let it go. For just a few moments. Get back to the basics. Know what you know. Most people oversimplify Occam's razor to mean the simplest answer is usually correct. But the real meaning, what the Franciscan friar William of Ockham really wanted to emphasize, is that you shouldn't complicate, that you shouldn't "stack" a theory if a simpler explanation was at the ready. Pare it down. Prune the excess.
Andrew was dead. Claire was dead. Joe was dead.
But at the same time, she couldn't just dismiss everything else she had learned, could she? Could she just dismiss what her own eyes had seen, or again should she accept the simplest answer? And what was the simplest answer?
Well, it wasn't pleasant.
But for the sake of exercise, strip it down. Be as objective as you can. Then ask yourself: Was the person who had seen the video on that nanny cam reliable--or had she undergone enough stress, strain, and outright trauma to be someone of questionable judgment?
Be objective, Maya.
It was easy to trust your own eyes, wasn't it? We all did. We weren't crazy. The other guy was. That was part of the human condition. We understand our own perspective too well.
So step outside it.
The war. No one understood. No one could see her truth. They all thought that Maya was weighed down and guilt-ridden over the death of those civilians. That would make sense. They see it from their perspective. You feel guilty, the theory went, and th
at manifests itself in the painful flashbacks. You try therapy. You take drugs. Death surrounds you. No, check that. Death does more than that.
"Death follows you, Maya . . ."
Was a person like this--a person surrounded by death, a person who had fooled even those closest to her into believing that her condition was based, in part, on feeling guilty--someone whose judgment you trusted? Stripping away the excess and the complications: Could such a person be trusted to look at the facts rationally and learn the truth?
But then again, screw objectivity, right?
Conclusion: Someone was messing with her big-time.
Judith had been awfully cagey when it came to the whereabouts of Caroline. Maya took out her phone and called her sister-in-law. It went to voicemail. Hardly a surprise. When the message beeped, Maya said, "Caroline, I want to make sure you're okay. Please call me the moment you get this."
Eileen was parked in the driveway when Maya got home. Maya pulled the car to a stop. Lily had fallen asleep in the backseat. She got out of the car and started to open her back door when Eileen said, "Let her sleep for a second. We need to talk."
Maya turned and faced her friend. Eileen had been crying.
"I may have messed up," she said. "With that nanny cam."
Eileen started shaking.
"It's okay," Maya said. "Let me get Lily in the house and we can--"
"No," Eileen said. "We need to talk about it out here."
Maya looked a question at her.
"It may not be safe to talk inside," Eileen said, lowering her voice. "Someone might be listening."
Maya glanced through the car window at Lily. She was still asleep.
"What happened?" Maya asked.
"Robby." The abusive ex.
"What about him?"
"You wouldn't tell me what happened with your nanny cam, remember?"
"You came to my house. You were angry, upset. You were even suspicious of me. You wanted me to prove that I bought it."
"I remember," Maya said. "What does this have to do with Robby?"
"He's back," she said with tears starting to pour down. "He's been watching me."
"Whoa, slow down, Eileen."
"I got these by email." She reached into her purse and shoved a bunch of photographs toward Maya. "They came from an anonymous email address, of course. Untraceable. But I know. It's Robby."
Maya started looking through them. The photos had been taken inside Eileen's house. The first three were in her den. Two had her kids, Kyle and Missy, playing on the couch. The last was just of Eileen, sweaty, a glass of ice water in her hand, wearing a sports bra.
"I'd just come home after working out," Eileen said in way of explanation. "No one was there. So I took off my shirt and threw it in the downstairs hamper."
Maya could feel the panic welling inside of her, but she kept her voice even. "The angle," Maya said, riffling through the photographs of Eileen and her children. "These photos--they were taken by your nanny cams?"
Maya felt her stomach plummet.
"Look at this last one."
It was a photograph of Eileen on a couch with a man Maya had never seen. They were kissing.
"That's Benjamin Barouche. We met on Match.com. It was our third date. I had him back to my place. The kids were upstairs asleep. I didn't even think twice about it. This afternoon, I get these pictures in my email."
Why hadn't Maya thought of this before?
"So someone hacked into--"
"Not someone. Robby. It had to be Robby."
"Okay, so Robby hacked into your nanny cams?"
Eileen started to cry. "I thought the cams weren't connected to the web, you know? I mean, they use an SD card. I didn't realize. It's not even that uncommon. Hacking into cameras, I mean. People do it with those FaceTime and Skype cameras and . . . I should have put security measures up. But I didn't know." She stopped and wiped the tears from her face.
"I'm so sorry, Maya," she said.
"I don't know what happened with your nanny cam," Eileen said. "And it's okay if you don't want to tell me. But I thought that maybe this would explain it. That maybe someone hacked in and could see you and Lily."
Maya tried to digest this new information. Right now, she couldn't figure out exactly what this news meant or if it related to her situation. Could someone have made a video of Joe in another place and uploaded it to her nanny cam? And if that was the case, so what? It had still been filmed in that room, still recorded on that couch.
But was she being watched?
"I didn't get any emails like this," Maya said. "No one sent me photographs."
Eileen looked at her. "What then? What happened with your nanny cam?"
"I saw Joe," Maya said.
Maya carried Lily upstairs and tucked her into the bed. She debated checking the back of the nanny cam to see if the Wi-Fi was on, but right now, she didn't want to tip off whoever might be watching her.
Watching her. Wow. Talk about sounding paranoid.
She and Eileen set up the Chinese in the formal dining room, far away from the possibly prying eye of the nanny cam. Maya filled her in on what she'd seen on the nanny cam, on Isabella . . . and then she stopped with the confessional because she was being stupid.
Fact: Eileen had brought that nanny cam into her house.
Maya tried to let that go, but the suspicion buzzed in her ear. She could quiet it, but it wouldn't go away, not completely.
"What are you going to do," Maya asked, "about Robby?"
"I gave copies of the photographs to my attorney. He said without proof there's nothing I can do. I made sure the Wi-Fi setting was completely off. There's a company that's going to come in and make sure my network is secure."
That sounded like a pretty good plan.
Half an hour later, after she had walked Eileen to her car, Maya called Shane. "I need another favor."
"You can't see," Shane said, "but I'm sighing theatrically."
"I need someone we trust to come in and sweep my place for bugs."
She explained about Eileen and the hacked nanny cam.
"Do you know if yours was hacked?" he asked.
"No. Do you have someone who can help me?"
"I do. But I have to be honest. This is all sounding a little . . ."
"Paranoid?" she finished for him.
"Were you the one who called Dr. Wu?"
"You're not okay."
She said nothing.
"I know," she said.
"Nothing wrong with needing help."
"I need to get through this first."
"Get through what exactly?"
There was a brief pause. Then: "I'm sighing again."
"Is there any other way? I'll come by with some guys and sweep your place in the morning." He cleared his throat. "You armed, Maya?"
"What do you think?"
"Rhetorical question," he said. "I'll see you in the morning."
Shane ended the call. Maya wasn't quite ready yet for another horror-filled night of flashbacks. Instead, she turned her attention toward Claire's trip to Philadelphia.
Lily was still asleep. Maya knew that she should wake her daughter and change her out of the clothes she'd worn all day and give her a bath and put her in clean pajamas. The "good" moms would insist on that, of course, and for a moment, Maya could also see their disapproving gazes. But those other moms weren't carrying a gun and dealing with murder, were they? They didn't even get that blood-soaked worlds like hers lived side by side with theirs, neighbor to neighbor; that while they worried about arts and crafts and after-school activities and karate classes and enrichment programs
, the family next door was dealing with death and terror.
Was someone watching her?
There was not much she could do about that right now. There were other things, important things, that had to be dealt with right away, so she put the paranoia in a box and broke out her laptop. If her house was indeed bugged--and that still seemed like overkill to her--they could also have tapped into her Wi-Fi. To be on the ridiculously safe side, she changed her home network's name and password and used a VPN--virtual private network--to browse.
That would probably be enough, but who knew?
She got back online and started searching for the name "Andrew Burkett." Not unexpectedly, there were several--a college professor, a car salesman, a graduate student. She tried adding in other key words and searching back in time. A few articles on Andrew's death began to pop up. A large local newspaper covered it thusly: YOUNG BURKETT SCION DROWNS OFF YACHT
Buzzwords. "Yacht," not "boat." And, of course, "scion." They had used the same term with Joe. "Scion"--the rich even get their own name for a descendant. She scrolled through the articles. No one knew exactly where in the Atlantic Ocean Andrew had fallen off, but that night, the family yacht, Lucky Girl, had sailed across the midway point between the port of embarkation, Savannah, Georgia, and the destination port of Hamilton, on the island of Bermuda. That covered a lot of ocean.
According to the news reports, Andrew Burkett was last seen going out on the upper deck of the Lucky Girl at 1:00 A.M. on October 24 after a long night of partying with "family members and classmates." He was reported missing at 6:00 A.M. Joe had mentioned that three of their soccer teammates from Franklin Biddle had been on board, along with his sister, Caroline. Neither Burkett parent had been on board. Judith and Joseph, along with young Neil, had been waiting for them at a deluxe hotel in Bermuda. Their caretakers on the trip had been the fairly extensive cruise staff--and, whoa, one name listed in the article was Rosa Mendez, Isabella's mother, who was mostly "in charge of young Caroline."
Maya reread the relevant sections. She mulled them over for a few moments before continuing.
Andrew's body was discovered the day after he was reported missing. The cause of death in later pieces was listed as drowning. Neither foul play nor suicide was ever mentioned.
Okay, now what?
Maya typed in Andrew's name with the words "Franklin Biddle Academy." The school's website popped up with a link to their online community for alumni. Maya clicked it and saw a drop-down menu for various class pages. She did the math in her head, figured out what year Andrew should have graduated, and clicked it. There were listings for homecoming events and an upcoming reunion and, of course, a link to donate money to the academy's capital campaign.