Tell No One, Page 37Harlan Coben
Larry Gandle sat across from Griffin Scope. They were outside in the garden portico behind Scope's mansion. Night had taken serious hold, blanketing the manicured grounds. The crickets hummed an almost pretty melody, as though the super-rich could even manipulate that. Tinkling piano music spilled from the sliding glass doors. Lights from inside the house provided a modicum of illumination, casting shadows of burnt red and yellow.
Both men wore khakis. Larry wore a blue Polo shirt. Griffin had on a silk button-down from his tailor in Hong Kong. Larry waited, a beer cooling his hand. He watched the older man sitting in perfect copper-penny silhouette, facing his vast backyard, his nose tilted up slightly, his legs crossed. His right hand dangled over the arm of the chair, amber liquor swirling in his snifter.
"You have no idea where he is?" Griffin asked.
"And these two black men who rescued him?"
"I have no idea how they're involved. But Wu is working on it. "
Griffin took a sip of his drink. Time trudged by, hot and sticky. "Do you really believe she's still alive?"
Larry was about to launch into a long narrative, offering evidence for and against, showing all the options and possibilities. But when he opened his mouth, he simply said, "I do. "
Griffin closed his eyes. "Do you remember the day your first child was born?"
"Did you attend the birth?"
"I did. "
"We didn't do that in our day," Griffin said. "We fathers paced in a waiting room with old magazines. I remember the nurse coming out to get me. She brought me down the hall and I still remember turning the corner and seeing Allison holding Brandon. It was the strangest feeling, Larry. Something welled up inside me so that I thought I might burst. The feeling was almost too intense, too overwhelming. You couldn't sort through or comprehend it. I assume that all fathers experience something similar. "
He stopped. Larry looked over. Tears ran down the old man's cheeks, sparkling off the low light. Larry remained still.
"Perhaps the most obvious feelings on that day are joy and apprehension - apprehension in the sense that you are now responsible for this little person. But there was something else there too. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly. Not then anyway. Not until Brandon's first day of school. "
Something caught in the old man's throat. He coughed a bit and now Larry could see more tears. The piano music seemed softer now. The crickets hushed as though they were listening too.
"We waited together for the school bus. I held his hand. Brandon was five years old. He looked up at me in that way children do at that age. He wore brown pants that already had a grass stain on the knee. I remember the yellow bus pulling up and the sound the door made when it opened. Then Brandon let go of my hand and started climbing up the steps. I wanted to reach out and snatch him back and take him home, but I stood there, frozen. He moved inside the bus and I heard that noise again and the door slid closed. Brandon sat by a window. I could see his face. He waved to me. I waved back and as the bus pulled away, I said to myself, "There goes my whole world. " That yellow bus with its flimsy metal sides and its driver I didn't know from Adam charioted away what was in effect everything to me. And at that moment, I realized what I had felt the day of his birth. Terror. Not just apprehension. Cold, stark terror. You can fear illness or old age or death. But there's nothing like that small stone of terror that sat in my belly as I watched that bus pull away. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Larry nodded. "I think I do. "
"I knew then, at that moment, that despite my best efforts, something bad could happen to him. I wouldn't always be there to take the blow. I thought about it constantly. We all do, I guess. But when it happened, when-" He stopped and finally faced Larry Gandle. "I still try to bring him back," he said. "I try to bargain with God, offering him anything and everything if he'll somehow make Brandon alive. That won't happen, of course. I understand that. But now you come here and tell me that while my son, my whole world, rots in the ground. . . she lives. " He started shaking his head. "I can't have that, Larry. Do you understand?"
"I do," he said.
"I failed to protect him once. I won't fail again. "
Griffin Scope turned back to his garden. He took another sip of his drink. Larry Gandle understood. He rose and walked back into the night.
* * *
At ten o'clock, Carlson approached the front door of 28 Goodhart Road. He didn't worry much about the late hour. He had seen downstairs lights on and the flicker of a television, but even with out that, Carlson had more important worries than someone's beauty sleep.
He was about to reach for the bell when the door opened. Hoyt Parker was there. For a moment they both stood, two boxers meeting at center ring, staring each other down as the referee reiterated meaningless instructions about low blows and not punching on the break.
Carlson didn't wait for the bell. "Did your daughter take drugs?"
Hoyt Parker took it with little more than a twitch. "Why do you want to know?"
"May I come in?"
"My wife is sleeping," Hoyt said, slipping outside and closing the door behind him. "You mind if we talk out here?"
"Suit yourself. "
Hoyt crossed his arms and bounced on his toes a bit. He was a burly guy in blue jeans and a T-shirt that fit less snugly ten pounds ago. Carlson knew that Hoyt Parker was a veteran cop. Cute traps and subtlety would not work here.
"Are you going to answer my question?" Carlson asked.
"Are you going to tell me why you want to know?" Hoyt replied.
Carlson decided to change tactics. "Why did you take the autopsy pictures from your daughter's file?"
"What makes you think I took them?" There was no outrage, no loud, phony denials.
"I looked at the autopsy report today," Carlson said.
"My daughter has been dead for eight years. Her killer is in jail. Yet you decide to look at her autopsy report today. I'd like to know why. "
This was going nowhere and going there fast. Carlson decided to give a little, put down his guard, let him wade in, see what happened. "Your son-in-law visited the county M. E. yesterday. He demanded to see his wife's file. I was hoping to find out why. "
"Did he see the autopsy report?"
"No," Carlson said. "Do you know why he'd be so eager to see it?"
"No idea. "
"But you seemed concerned. "
"Like you, I find the behavior suspicious. "
"More than that," Carlson said. "You wanted to know if he'd actually gotten his hands on it. Why?"
"Are you going to tell me what you did with the autopsy pictures?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied in a flat voice.
"You were the only person to sign out this report. "
"And that proves what?"
"Were the photographs there when you viewed the file?"
Hoyt's eyes flickered, but there was little delay. "Yes," he said. "Yes, they were. "
Carlson couldn't help but smile. "Good answer. " It had been a trap, and Hoyt had avoided it. "Because if you answered no, I'd have to wonder why you didn't report it then and there, wouldn't I?"
"You have a suspicious mind, Agent Carlson. "
"Uh-huh. Any thoughts on where those photos might be?"
"Probably misfiled. "
"Right, sure. You don't seem very upset over it. "
"My daughter's dead. Her case is closed. What's to get upset about?"
This was a waste of time. Or maybe it wasn't. Carlson wasn't getting much information, but Hoyt's demeanor spoke volumes.
"So you still think KillRoy murdered your daughter?"
"Without question. "
Carlson held up the autopsy report. "Even after reading this?"
"The fact that so man
y of the wounds were postmortem doesn't trouble you?"
"It gives me comfort," he said. "It means my daughter suffered less. "
"That's not what I mean. I'm talking in terms of the evidence against Kellerton. "
"I don't see anything in that file that contradicts that conclusion. "
"It's not consistent with the other murders. "
"I disagree," Hoyt said. "What was not consistent was the strength of my daughter. "
"I'm not sure I follow. "
"I know that Kellerton enjoyed torturing his victims," Hoyt said. "And I know that he usually branded them while they were still alive. But we theorized that Elizabeth had tried to escape or, at the very least, fought back. The way we saw it, she forced his hand. He had to subdue her and in doing so, he ended up killing her. That explains the knife wounds on her hands. That explains why the branding was postmortem. "
"I see. " A surprise left hook. Carlson tried to keep on his feet. It was a good answer - a hell of a good answer. It made sense. Even the smallest victims can make plenty of trouble. His explanation made all the apparent inconsistencies wonderfully consistent. But there were still problems. "So how do you explain the tox report?"
"Irrelevant," Hoyt said. "It's like asking a rape victim about her sexual history. It doesn't matter if my daughter was a teetotaler or a crack fiend. "
"Which was she?"
"Irrelevant," he repeated.
"Nothing's irrelevant in a murder investigation. You know that. "
Hoyt took a step closer. "Be careful," he said.
"You threatening me?"
"Not at all. I'm just warning you that you shouldn't be so quick to victimize my daughter a second time. "
They stood there. The final bell had sounded. They were now waiting for a decision that would be unsatisfactory no matter how the judges leaned.
"If that's all," Hoyt said.
Carlson nodded and took a step back. Parker reached for the doorknob.
Hoyt turned back around.
"So there's no misunderstanding," Carlson said. "I don't believe a word you just said. We clear?"
"Crystal," Hoyt said.