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The Woods, Page 14

Harlan Coben

Chapter 15

  When Lucy came back to her office, Lonnie was there, holding up sheets of paper.

  "What's that?" she asked.

  "More of that journal. "

  She tried hard not to snap the pages from his hand.

  "Did you find Sylvia?" he asked.

  "Yes. "

  "And?"

  "And she went crazy on me and won't talk. "

  Lonnie sat in the chair and threw his feet up on her desk. "You want me to try?"

  "I don't think that's a good idea. "

  Lonnie gave her the winning smile. "I can be pretty persuasive. "

  "You're willing to put out just to help me?" "If I must. "

  "I would worry so about your reputation. " She sat back, gripping the pages. "Did you read this already?" "Yep. " She just nodded and started in for herself:

  P broke our embrace and darted toward the scream.

  I called after him, but he didn't stop. Two seconds later, it was like the night had swallowed him whole. I tried to follow. But it was dark. I should have known these woods better than P. This was his first year here.

  The screaming voice had been a girl's. That much I could tell. I trekked through the woods. I didn't call out anymore. For some reason I was scared to. I wanted to find P, but I didn't want anyone to know where I was. I know that doesn't make much sense, but that was how I felt.

  I was scared.

  There was moonlight. Moonlight in the woods changes the color of everything. It is like one of those poster lights my dad used to have. They called them black lights, even though they were more like purple. They changed the color of everything around them. So did the moon.

  So when I finally found P and I saw the strange color on his shirt, I didn't recognize what it was at first. I couldn't tell the shade of crimson. It looked more like liquid blue. He looked at me. His eyes were wide.

  "We have to go," he said. "And we can ft tell anyone we were ever out here.

  That was it. Lucy read it two more times. Then she put the story down. Lonnie was watching her. "So," he said, dragging out the word, "I assume that you are the narrator of this little tale?"

  "What?"

  "I've been trying to figure this out, Lucy, and I've only come up with one possible explanation. You're the girl in the story. Someone is writing about you. "

  "That's ridiculous," she said.

  "Come on, Luce. We have tales of incest in that pile, for crying out loud. We aren't even searching those kids out. Yet you're all uptight about this scream-in-the-woods story?"

  "Let it go, Lonnie. "

  He shook his head. "Sorry, sweetie, not my nature. Even if you weren't superfine and I didn't want to get in your pants. " She didn't bother with a retort. "I'd like to help if I can. "

  You cant.

  "I know more than you think. "

  Lucy looked up at him.

  "What are you talking about?"

  "You, uh, you won't get mad at me?"

  She waited.

  "I did a little research on you. "

  Her stomach dropped, but she kept it off her face.

  "Lucy Gold isn't your real name. You changed it. "

  "How do you know that?"

  "Come on, Luce. You know how easy it is with a computer?"

  She said nothing.

  "Something about this journal kept bugging me," he went on. "This stuff about a camp. I was young, but I remember hearing about the Summer Slasher. So I did a little more research. " He tried to give her the cocky smile. "You should go back to blond. "

  "It was a tough time in my life. "

  "I can imagine. "

  "That's why I changed my name. "

  "Oh, I get that. Your family took a big hit. You wanted to get out from under that. "

  "Yes. "

  "And now, for some weird reason, its coming back. "

  She nodded.

  "Why?" Lonnie asked.

  "I don't know. "

  "I'd like to help. "

  "Like I said, I'm not sure how. "

  "Can I ask you something?"

  She shrugged.

  "I did a little digging. You know that the Discovery Channel did a special on the murders a few years ago. "

  "I know," she said.

  "They don't talk about you being there. In the woods that night, I mean. "

  She said nothing.

  "So what gives?"

  "I can't talk about it. "

  "Who is P? It's Paul Copeland, right? You know he's a DA or some thing now. "

  She shook her head.

  "You're not making this easy," he said.

  She kept her mouth closed.

  "Okay," he said, standing. "I'll help anyway. "

  "How?"

  "Sylvia Potter. "

  "What about her?"

  "I'll get her to talk. "

  "How?"

  Lonnie headed for the door. "I got my ways. "

  On the way back to the Indian restaurant, I took a detour and visited Jane's grave.

  I was not sure why. I did not do it that often-maybe three times a year. I don't really feel my wife's presence here. Her parents picked out the burial site with Jane. "It means a lot to them," she'd explained on her deathbed. And it did. It distracted her parents, especially her mother, and made them feel as though they were doing something useful.

  I didn't much care. I was in denial about Jane's ever dying-even when it got bad, really bad, I still thought she'd somehow pull through. And to me death is death - final, the end, nothing coming after, the finish line, no more. Fancy caskets and well-tended graveyards, even ones as well tended as Jane's, don't change that.

  I parked in the lot and walked the path. Her grave had fresh flowers on it. We of the Hebrew faith do not do that. We put stones on the marker. I liked that, though I am not sure why. Flowers, something so alive and bright, seemed obscene against the gray of her tomb. My wife, my beautiful Jane, was rotting six feet below those freshly cut lilies. That seemed like an outrage to me.

  I sat on a concrete bench. I didn't talk to her. It was so bad in the end. Jane suffered. I watched. For a while anyway. We got hospice-Jane wanted to die at home-but then there was her weight loss and the smell and the decay and the groans. The sound that I remembered most, the one that still invaded my sleep, was the awful coughing noise, more a choke really, when Jane couldn't get the phlegm up and it would hurt so much and she would be so uncomfortable and it went on for months and months and I tried to be strong but I wasn't as strong as Jane and she knew that.

  There was a time early in our relationship when she knew that I was having doubts. I had lost a sister. My mother had run off on me. And now, for the first time in a long time, I was letting a woman into my life. I remember late one night when I couldn't sleep and I was staring at the ceiling and Jane was sleeping next to me. I remember that I heard her deep breath, then so sweet and perfect and so different from what it would be in the end. Her breathing shortened as she slowly came awake. She put her arms around me and moved close.

  "I'm not her," she said softly, as if she could read my thoughts. "I will never abandon you. "

  But in the end, she did.

  I had dated since her death. I have even had some fairly intense emotional commitments. One day I hope to find someone and remarry. But right now, as I thought about that night in our bed, I realized that it would probably not happen.

  I'm not her, my wife had said.

  And of course, she meant my mother.

  I looked at the tombstone. I read my wife's name. Loving Mother, Daughter and Wife. There were some kind of angel wings on the sides. I pictured my in-laws picking those out, just the right size angel wings, just the right design, all that. They had bought the plot next to Jane's without telling me. If I didn't remarry, I guess, it would be mine. If I did, well, I don't know what my in-laws would do with it.

  I wanted to ask my Jane for help. I wanted to ask her to search around up wherever she
was and see if she could find my sister and let me know if Camille was alive or dead. I smiled like a dope. Then I stopped.

  I'm sure cell phones in graveyards are no-nos. But I didn't think Jane would mind. I took the phone out of my pocket and pressed down on that six button again.

  Sosh answered on the first ring.

  "I have a favor to ask," I said.

  "I told you before. Not on the phone. "

  "Find my mother, Sosh. "

  Silence.

  "You can do it. I'm asking. In the memory of my father and sister. Find my mother for me. "

  "And if I can't?"

  You can.

  "Your mother has been gone a long time. "

  "I know. "

  "Have you considered the fact that maybe she doesn't want to be found?" "I have," I said. "And?" "And tough," I said. "We don't always get what we want. So find her for me, Sosh. Please. "

  I hung up the phone. I looked at my wife's stone again.

  "We miss you," I said out loud to my dead wife. "Cara and I. We miss you very, very much. "

  Then I stood up and walked back to my car.