Tell No One, Page 8Harlan Coben
Champagne flutes tinkled in harmony with the Mozart sonata. A harp underscored the subdued pitch of the party chatter. Griffin Scope moved serpentine through the black tuxedos and shimmering gowns. People always used the same word to describe Griffin Scope: billionaire. After that, they might call him businessman or power broker or mention that he was tall or a husband or a grandfather or that he was seventy years old. They might comment on his personality or his family tree or his work ethic. But the first word - in the papers, on television, on people's lists - was always the B word. Billionaire. Billionaire Griffin Scope.
Griffin had been born rich. His grandfather was an early industrialist; his father improved the fortune; Griffin multiplied it several fold. Most family empires fall apart before the third generation. Not the Scopes'. A lot of that had to do with their upbringing. Griffin, for example, did not attend a prestigious prep school like Exeter or Lawrenceville, as so many of his peers did. His father insisted that Griffin not only attend public school but that he do so in the closest major city, Newark. His father had offices there, thus setting up a fake residence was no problem.
Newark's east side wasn't a bad neighborhood back then - not like now, when a sane person would barely want to drive through it. It was working class, blue collar - tough rather than dangerous.
Griffin loved it.
His best friends from those high school days were still his friends fifty years later. Loyalty was a rare quality; when Griffin found it, he made sure to reward it. Many of tonight's guests were from those Newark days. Some even worked for him, though he tried to make it a point to never be their day-to-day boss.
Tonight's gala celebrated the cause most dear to Griffin Scope's heart: the Brandon Scope Memorial Charity, named for Griffin's murdered son. Griffin had started the fund with a one-hundred million-dollar contribution. Friends quickly added to the till. Griffin was not stupid. He knew that many donated to curry his favor. But there was more to it than that. During his too-brief life, Brandon Scope touched people. A boy born with so much luck and talent, Brandon had an almost supernatural charisma. People were drawn to him.
His other son, Randall, was a good boy who had grown up to be a good man. But Brandon. . . Brandon had been magic.
The pain flooded in again. It was always there, of course. Through the shaking hands and slapping of the backs, the grief stayed by his side, tapping Griffin on the shoulder, whispering in his ear, reminding him that they were partners for life.
"Lovely party, Griff. "
Griffin said thank you and moved on. The women were well coiffed and wore gowns that highlighted lovely bare shoulders; they fit in nicely with the many ice sculptures - a favorite of Griffin's wife Allison - that slowly melted atop imported linen tablecloths. The Mozart sonata changed over to one by Chopin. White-gloved servers made the rounds with silver trays of Malaysian shrimp and Omaha tenderloin and a potpourri of bizarre finger-food that always seemed to contain sun-dried tomatoes.
He reached Linda Beck, the young lady who headed up Brandon's charitable fund. Linda's father had been an old Newark classmate too, and she, so like so many others, had become entwined in the massive Scope holdings. She'd started working for various Scope enterprises while still in high school. Both she and her brother had paid for their education with Scope scholarship grants.
"You look smashing," he told her, though in truth he thought she looked tired.
Linda Beck smiled at him. "Thank you, Mr. Scope. "
"How many times have I asked you to call me Griff?"
"Several hundred," she said.
"A little under the weather, I'm afraid. "
"Give her my best. "
"I will, thank you. "
"We should probably meet next week. "
"I'll call your secretary. "
Griffin gave her a peck on the cheek, and that was when he spotted Larry Gandle in the foyer. Larry looked bleary-eyed and disheveled, but then again, he always looked that way. You could slap a custom-cut Joseph Abboud on him, and an hour later he'd still look like someone who'd gotten into a tussle.
Larry Gandle was not supposed to be here.
The two men's eyes met. Larry nodded once and turned away. Griffin waited another moment or two and then followed his young friend down the corridor.
Larry's father, Edward, had also been one of Griffin's classmates from the old Newark days. Edward Gandle died of a sudden heart attack twelve years ago. Damn shame. Edward had been a fine man. Since then, his son had taken over as the Scopes' closest confidant.
The two men entered Griffin's library. At one time, the library had been a wonderful room of oak and mahogany and floor-to ceiling bookshelves and antique globes. Two years ago, Allison, in a postmodern mood, decided that the room needed a total updating. The old woodwork was torn out and now the room was white and sleek and functional and held all the warmth of a work cubicle. Allison had been so proud of the room that Griffin didn't have the heart to tell her how much he disliked it.
"Was there a problem tonight?" Griffin asked.
"No," Larry said.
Griffin offered Larry a seat. Larry shook him off and started pacing.
"Was it bad?" Griffin asked.
"We had to make certain there were no loose ends. "
"Of course. "
Someone had attacked Griffin's son Randall - ergo, Griffin attacked back. It was one lesson he never forgot. You don't sit back when you or a loved one is being assaulted. And you don't act like the government with their "proportional responses" and all that nonsense. If someone hurts you, mercy and pity must be put aside. You eliminate the enemy. You scorch the earth. Those who scoffed at this philosophy, who thought it unnecessarily Machiavellian, usually were the ones who caused excess destruction.
In the end, if you eliminate problems swiftly, less blood is shed.
"So what's wrong?" Griffin asked.
Larry kept pacing. He rubbed the front of his bald pate. Griffin didn't like what he was seeing. Larry was not one to get keyed up easily. "I've never lied to you, Griff," he said.
"I know that. "
"But there are times for. . . insulation. "
"Who I hire, for example. I never tell you names. I never tell them names either. "
"Those are details. "
"What is it, Larry?"
He stopped pacing. "Eight years ago, you'll recall that we hired two men to perform a certain task. "
The color drained from Griffin's face. He swallowed. "And they performed admirably. "
"Yes. Well, perhaps. "
"I don't understand. "
"They performed their task. Or, at least, part of it. The threat was apparently eliminated. "
Even though the house was swept for listening devices on a weekly basis, the two men never used names. A Scope rule. Larry Gandle often wondered if the rule was for the sake of caution or because it helped depersonalize what they were occasionally forced to do. He suspected the latter.
Griffin finally collapsed into a chair, almost as though someone had pushed him. His voice was soft. "Why are you bringing this up now?"
"I know how painful this must be for you. "
Griffin did not reply.
"I paid the two men well," Larry continued.
"As I'd have expected. "
"Yes. " He cleared his throat. "Well, after the incident, they were supposed to lay low for a while. As a precaution. "
"Go on. "
"We never heard from them again. "
"They'd already collected their money, correct?"
"So what's surprising about that? Perhaps they fled with their newfound wealth. Perhaps they moved across the country or changed identities. "
"That," Larry said, "was what we'd always assumed. "
"Their bodies were found last week. They're dead. "
"I still don't see the problem. They were violent men. They probably met a violent end. "
"The bodies were old. "
"They've been dead at least five years. And they were found buried by the lake where. . . where the incident took place. "
Griffin opened his mouth, closed it, tried again. "I don't understand. "
"Frankly, neither do I. "
Too much. It was all too much. Griffin had been fighting off the tears all night, what with the gala being in Brandon's honor and all. Now the tragedy of Brandon's murder was suddenly resurfacing. It was all he could do not to break down.
Griffin looked up at his confidant. "This can't come back. "
"I know, Griff. "
"We have to find out what happened. I mean everything. "
"I've kept tabs on the men in her life. Especially her husband. Just in case. Now I've put all our resources on it. "
"Good," Griffin said. "Whatever it takes, this gets buried. I don't care who gets buried with it. "
"I understand. "
"I know the name of one man you hire. " He meant Eric Wu. Griffin Scope wiped his eyes and started back toward his guests. "Use him. "