The woods, p.16
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       The Woods, p.16

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 17

  I got Cologne Lawyer Foley's home number and woke him up.

  "Don't sign those papers until the afternoon," I said.

  "Why?"

  "Because if you do, I will make sure my office comes down on you and your clients as hard as they can. I will let it be known that we don't cut deals with Horace Foley, that we always make sure the client serves the maximum time. "

  "You can't do that. "

  I said nothing.

  "I have an obligation to my client. "

  "Tell her I asked for the extra time. Tell her it's in her best interest. "

  "And what do I say to the other side?"

  "I don't know, Foley, find something wrong with the paperwork maybe, whatever. Just stall until the afternoon. "

  "And how is that in my client's best interest?"

  "If I get lucky and hurt them, you can renegotiate. More moola in your pockets. " He paused. Then: "Hey, Cope?" "What?" "She's a strange kid. Chamique, I mean. " "How so?" "Most of them would have taken the money right away. I've had to push her because, frankly, taking the money early is her best move. We both know that. But she wouldn't hear of it until they sandbagged her with that Jim/James thing yesterday. See, before that, despite what she said in court, she was more interested in them going to jail than the financial payoff. She really wanted justice. "

  "And that surprises you?"

  "You're new on this job. Me, I've been doing this for twenty-seven years. You grow cynical. So yeah, she surprised the hell out of me. " "Is there a point to your telling me all this?" "Yeah, there is. Me, you know what I'm all about. Getting my one- third of the settlement. But Chamique is different. This is life-changing money for her. So whatever you're up to, Mr. Prosecutor, don't screw it up for her. "

  Lucy drank alone.

  It was night. Lucy lived on campus in faculty housing. The place was beyond depressing. Most professors worked hard and long and saved money in the hopes that they could move the hell out of faculty housing. Lucy had lived here for a year now. Before her, an English-lit professor named Amanda Simon had spent three decades of spinster-hood in this very unit. Lung cancer cut her down at the age of fifty-eight. Her remnants remained in the smoky smell left behind. Despite ripping up the wall-to-wall carpeting and repainting the entire place, the cigarette stench remained. It was a little like living in an ashtray.

  Lucy was a vodka girl. She looked out the window. In the distance, she heard music. This was a college campus. There was always music playing. She checked her watch. Midnight.

  She flipped on her own tinny-speaker iPod stereo and set it on a playlist she called "Mellow. " Each song was not only slow but a total heart ripper. So she would drink her vodka and sit in her depressing apartment and smell the smoke from a dead woman and listen to aching songs of loss and want and devastation. Pitiful, but sometimes it was enough to feel. It didn't matter if it hurt or not. Just to feel.

  Right now, Joseph Arthur was singing "Honey and the Moon. " He sang to his true love that if she weren't real, he would make her up. Wow, what a thing. Lucy tried to imagine a man, a worthy man, saying that to her. It made her shake her head in wonder.

  She closed her eyes and tried to put the pieces together. Nothing fit. The past was rising up again. Lucy had spent her entire adult life running away from those damn woods at her fathers camp. She had fled across the country, all the way to California, and she had fled all the way back again. She had changed her name and hair color. But the past al ways followed. Sometimes it would let her gain a comfortable lead- lulled her into thinking that she had put enough distance between that night and the present day-but the dead always closed the gap.

  In the end that awful night always found her.

  But this time. . . how? Those journal entries. . . how could they exist? Sylvia Potter had barely been born when the Summer Slasher struck Camp PLUS (Peace Love Understanding Summer). What could she know about it? Of course, like Lonnie, she might have gone online, done some research, figured out that Lucy had a past. Or maybe some one, someone older and wiser, had told her something.

  But still. How would she know? For that matter, how would anyone know? Only one person knew that Lucy had lied about what happened that night.

  And, of course, Paul wouldn't say anything.

  She stared through the clear liquid in her glass. Paul. Paul Cope-land. She could still see him with those gangly arms and legs, that lean torso, that long hair, that knock-a-girl-back smile. Interestingly enough, they had met through their fathers. Paul's old man, an ob-gyn in his old country, had escaped repression in the Soviet Union only to find plenty of it here in the good ol' USA. Ira, Lucy's bleeding-heart father, could never resist a tale of woe like that. So Ira hired Vladimir Copeland to be camp doctor. Gave his family a chance to escape Newark in the summer.

  Lucy could still see it-their car, a broken-down Oldsmobile Ciera, kicking up the dirt road, coming to a stop, the four doors opening seemingly at the same time, the family of four stepping out as one. At that moment, when Lucy first saw Paul and their eyes met, it was boom, crack, thunderbolt. And she could see that he felt the same. There are those rare moments in life-when you feel that jolt and it feels great and it hurts like hell, but you're feeling, really feeling, and suddenly colors seem brighter and sounds have more clarity and foods taste better and you never, not even for a minute, stop thinking about him and you know, just know, that he is feeling exactly the same way about you.

  "Like that," Lucy said out loud and took another swig other vodka and tonic. Like with these pathetic songs she played over and over. A feeling. A rush of emotion. A high or a low, didn't matter. But it wasn't the same anymore. What had Elton John sung, via those Bernie Taupin lyrics, about vodka and tonic? Something about taking a couple of vodka and tonics to set you on your feet again.

  That hadn't worked for Lucy. But hey, why give up now?

  The little voice in her head said, Stop drinking.

  The much bigger voice told the little voice to shut up or get its ass kicked. Lucy made a fist and put it in the air. "Go, Big Voice!" She laughed, and that sound, the sound of her own laugh alone in this still room, frightened her. Rob Thomas came on her "Mellow" list, asking if he could just hold her while she falls apart, if he could just hold her while they both fall down. She nodded. Yes, he could. Rob reminded her that she was cold and scared and broken, and damn her, she wanted to listen to this song with Paul.

  Paul.

  He would want to know about these journals.

  It had been twenty years since she'd seen him, but six years ago, Lucy had looked him up on the Internet. She had not wanted to. She knew that Paul was a door best left closed. But she had gotten drunk- big surprise-and while some people "drunk dialed," Lucy had "drunk Googled. "

  What she'd found was both sobering and unsurprising. Paul was married. He worked as an attorney. He had a young daughter. Lucy had even managed to find a picture of his gorgeous wife from a well-to-do family at some charity function. Jane-that was his wife's name-was tall and lean and wore pearls. She looked good in pearls. She had that whole meant-for-pearls thing going on.

  Another swig.

  Things might have changed in six years, but back then Paul was living in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a scant twenty miles from where Lucy now was. She looked across the room at her computer.

  Paul should be told, shouldn't he?

  And it would be no problem to do another quick Google search. Just get a phone number for him-home or, better, office. She could contact him. Warn him, really. Totally on the up-and-up. No agenda, no hidden meanings, nothing like that.

  She put down the vodka and tonic. Rain fell outside the window. Her computer was already on. Her screen saver was, yep, the Windows default one. No family vacation picture. No slideshow of the kids or even that spinster staple: photograph of a pet. Just that Windows logo bopping around, like the monitor was sticking its tongue out at her.

  Beyond pathetic.
r />   She brought up her home page and was about to type when she heard the knock on the door. She stopped, waited. Another knock. Lucy checked the small clock in the bottom right-hand corner other computer.

  Twelve-seventeen a. m.

  Awfully late for a visitor.

  "Who is it?"

  No reply.

  "Who-"

  "Its Sylvia Potter. "

  There were tears in that voice. Lucy stood and stumbled to the kitchen. She dumped the rest of her drink into the sink and put the bottle back in its cabinet. Vodka didn't smell, at least not much, so she was okay on that count. She took a quick look in the mirror. The image in it looked like hell, but there wasn't much she could do about that now.

  "Coming. "

  She opened the door and Sylvia tumbled in as if she'd been leaning against it. The girl was soaked. The air-conditioning was set on high. Lucy almost made some comment about her catching her death, but it sounded like something a mother would say. She closed the door.

  Sylvia said, "I'm sorry it's so late. "

  "Don't worry about it. I was up. "

  She stopped in the center of the room. "I'm sorry about before. "

  "That's okay. "

  "No, it's just. . . " Sylvia looked around. She wrapped her arms around her body. "Do you want a towel or something?" "No. " "Can I get you something to drink?" "I'm okay. " Lucy gestured for Sylvia to have a seat. Sylvia collapsed on the Ikea couch. Lucy hated Ikea and their graphics-only instruction manuals, seemingly designed by NASA engineers. Lucy sat next to her and waited.

  "How did you find out I wrote that journal?" Sylvia asked.

  "Its not important. "

  "I sent it anonymously. "

  "I know. "

  "And you said they would be confidential. "

  "I know. I'm sorry about that. "

  Sylvia wiped her nose and looked off. Her hair was still dripping.

  "I even lied to you," Sylvia said.

  "How's that?"

  "About what I wrote. When I visited your office the other day. Do you remember?" "Yes. " "Do you remember what I said my paper was about?" Lucy thought for a second. "Your first time. " Sylvia smiled but there was nothing behind it. "I guess, in a sick way, that was true. " Lucy thought about that too. Then she said, "I'm not sure I follow, Sylvia. "

  Sylvia did not say anything for a long time. Lucy remembered that Lonnie said he would help get her to talk. But he was supposed to wait until the morning.

  "Did Lonnie visit you tonight?"

  "Lonnie Berger? From class?"

  "Yes. "

  "No. Why would Lonnie visit me?"

  "It's not important. So you just came here on your own?"

  Sylvia swallowed and looked unsure of herself. "Was I wrong to?"

  "No, not at all. I'm glad you're here. "

  "I'm really scared," Sylvia said.

  Lucy nodded, tried to appear reassuring, encouraging. Forcing this issue would only backfire. So she waited. She waited for a full two minutes before breaking.

  "There's no reason to be scared," Lucy said.

  "What do you think I should do?"

  "Tell me everything, okay?"

  "I have. I mean, the majority of it. "

  Lucy wondered how to play this. "Who is P?"

  Sylvia frowned. "What?"

  "In your journal. You talk about a boy named P. Who is P?"

  "What are you talking about?"

  Lucy stopped. Tried again.

  "Tell me exactly why you're here, Sylvia. "

  But now Sylvia was being cagey. "Why did you come to my room today?"

  "Because I wanted to talk about your journal. "

  "Then why are you asking me about a guy named P? I didn't call anyone P. I said straight out that it was. . . " The words stuck in her throat. She closed her eyes and whispered, ". . . my father. "

  The dam broke. The tears came down like the rain, in sheets.

  Lucy closed her eyes. The incest story. The one that had struck her and Lonnie with such horror. Damn. Lonnie had gotten it wrong. Sylvia hadn't written the journal about that night in the woods.

  "Your father molested you when you were twelve," Lucy said.

  Sylvia's face was in her hands. Her sobs sounded as if they were being ripped out of her chest. Her entire body quaked as she nodded her head. Lucy looked at this poor girl, so anxious to please, and pictured the father. She reached out her hand and put it on Sylvia's. Then she moved closer and put her arms around the girl. Sylvia leaned into her chest and cried. Lucy shushed her and rocked her and held her.