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Fool Me Once, Page 17

Harlan Coben


  Again Maya debated which road to take and settled on the most direct route. "Your husband was in the Coast Guard. When he was serving, he investigated the death of a young man named Andrew Burkett."

  "Yes, I know. That's how Tom met the family. They liked the work he did on that case. So when he opened up his own place, they hired him to do more."

  "I don't think so," Maya said. "I think they wanted him to report the death as an accident."

  "Why?"

  "That's what I need to ask your husband."

  Mrs. Douglass sat on the couch as though her knees had given way. "They paid him for so many years, so much money . . ."

  "Money isn't a problem for the Burketts."

  "But that much? That long?" She put a trembling hand to her mouth. "If what you're claiming is true--and I'm not saying it is--then it had to be big."

  Maya knelt down. "Where is your husband, Mrs. Douglass?"

  "I don't know."

  Maya waited.

  "That's why I called you back. Tom's been missing for three weeks."

  Chapter 19

  Mrs. Douglass had reported her husband missing to the police, but really, when a fifty-seven-year-old man goes off without suspicion of foul play, there is little the police can do.

  "Tom loves to fish," she said. "He goes away for weeks at a time. The police saw that. I told them he wouldn't do that without telling me but . . ." She gave a helpless shrug. "They put his name in the system, whatever that means. One of the detectives said that they could open a full investigation, but they wouldn't be able to look at his work files without a court order."

  Maya left a few minutes later. Enough waiting. She called her former mother-in-law. Three rings later, Judith said in a low voice, "I'm in with a patient. Is everything okay?"

  "We need to talk."

  There was a strange pause, and Maya wondered whether Judith was making her excuses and leaving the room. "Meet me at my office. Five o'clock okay?"

  "Done."

  Maya hung up and called Eddie about picking up Lily.

  "Let her stay," he said. "She's having a blast with Alexa."

  "You sure?"

  "Either you're going to have to let Lily visit a lot more or I'm going to have to hire an adorable two-year-old to come by."

  Maya smiled. "Thanks."

  "You okay?"

  "I'm good, thanks."

  "Don't do what she did, Maya."

  "What's that?"

  "Don't lie to protect me."

  He had a point, but then again, where would they be right now if Claire had confided in him?

  There was a car parked in her driveway. A familiar figure sat on a bench by her back door, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. Maya wondered how long he had been sitting there. More than that, she wondered why he was there now.

  Was it Shane--or another coincidence?

  She pulled up and put the car in park. Ricky Wu didn't look up until Maya was all the way out of the car. He closed his pen with a click and smiled at her. Maya did not smile back.

  "Hello, Maya."

  "Hello, Dr. Wu."

  He didn't like to be called Doctor. He was one of those shrinks who really wanted to be on a first-name basis. Maya's father used to play a Steely Dan song from the seventies called "Doctor Wu." She always wondered if that was the reason he winced a bit whenever she called him that.

  "I called and left you messages," Wu said.

  "Yes, I know."

  "I thought it might just be better if I stopped by."

  "Did you now?" Maya unlocked the door with her key. She entered. Wu followed her inside.

  "I thought I might pay my respects," he said.

  She made a tsk-tsk noise. "I'm surprised."

  "Pardon?"

  "I didn't think you'd try to renew our patient-shrink relationship with a lie."

  If Wu was offended, his smile didn't show it. "Can we sit down for a minute?"

  "I'd rather stand."

  "How are you feeling, Maya?"

  "I'm okay."

  He nodded. "No recent episodes?"

  Shane, she thought.

  He would never buy it if she insisted that they had gone away completely. "Some," Maya said.

  "Want to tell me about them?"

  "I got them under control."

  "I'm surprised."

  "What?"

  Wu arched an eyebrow. "I didn't think you'd try to renew our patient-shrink relationship with a lie."

  Touche, Maya thought.

  Wu tried the gentle smile. Maya was about to put him off when, without warning, she flashed back to Lily's scared face from that morning. Tears surprised her, stinging her eyes. She turned her back to him and fought them off.

  "Maya?"

  She swallowed hard. "I need them to stop."

  Wu moved a little closer. "What happened?"

  "I scared my kid."

  She told him about the previous night. Wu listened without interrupting. When she finished, he said, "I might want to switch your medication. For patients suffering with similar symptoms, I've been having good success lately with Serzone."

  Maya no longer trusted her voice. She nodded.

  "I have some in the car, if you'd like."

  "Thank you."

  "No problem." He moved closer. "May I make an observation?"

  She frowned. "So I can't just get the meds and be left alone?"

  "Sorry, Maya, there's always a catch."

  "Figured that. Okay, what's your observation?"

  "You never admitted you needed help before."

  "Okay, good observation."

  "That's not the observation."

  "Oh."

  "You finally admitted it," he said, "to protect your child. You wouldn't do it for yourself. It had to be for Lily."

  "Yep, another good observation," she said.

  "You're not trying to make yourself better. You're trying to protect your child." He tilted his head in that shrink way of his. "When do you stop thinking that way?"

  "When do I stop thinking about protecting my child?" Maya shrugged. "When does any parent?"

  "Touche," Wu said, putting both palms on the counter. "Glib answer, but touche. But you need to listen to me. The D in 'PTSD' stands for 'disorder.' You can't just tough this out. You want to keep your child safe? Then you need to work through this."

  "I agree," she said.

  Wu smiled. "Well, that was easy."

  "I'll make an appointment."

  "Why don't we start right now?"

  "I don't have much time."

  "Oh, this first session won't last long."

  She thought about it and again figured why not. "It's similar to what I've experienced in the past."

  "More intense?"

  "Yes."

  "How often are the episodes coming?"

  "You keep calling them that. 'Episodes.' Except that's a polite word for what they are, isn't it? They are hallucinations."

  "I don't like that term. I don't like the connotations--"

  She interrupted him. "Can I ask you something?"

  "Of course, Maya."

  Spur-of-the-moment decision, but she decided to go with it. Might as well make him useful. "I had something else happen to me. Something connected to all this."

  Wu looked at her and nodded. "Tell me."

  "My friend bought me a nanny cam," she began.

  Again Wu listened without interrupting. She told him the story about seeing Joe on the laptop. Wu managed to keep his face from revealing too much.

  "Interesting," he said when she was done. "This happened during the day, am I correct?"

  "Yes."

  "So not at night," he said more to himself than her. Then again: "Interesting."

  Enough with the interesting. "My question is," Maya said, "did I hallucinate it, or is it a hoax or something?"

  "Good question." Ricky Wu sat back down, crossed his leg, even stroked his chin. "The brain is a tricky thing, of course. And in your sit
uation--PTSD, a sister murdered, a husband murdered in front of your eyes, the pressure of being a single parent, ignoring most therapies--the most logical conclusion is that . . . Well, again I don't like the connotations. But I think most experts would conclude that you imagined or, yes, hallucinated seeing Joe on that computer screen. The simple diagnosis, which is often the best, is that you wanted to see him so badly, you did."

  "Most experts," Maya said.

  "Pardon?"

  "You said, 'Most experts would conclude.' I'm not really interested in most. I'm interested in what you think."

  Wu smiled. "I'm almost flattered."

  She said nothing.

  "You'd think that I would agree with that diagnosis. You've been ducking me. It would serve you right. You left treatment earlier than I wanted. You then faced added pressures. You miss him. You not only lost the career that defined you, but now you are forced into the role of a single mother."

  "Ricky?"

  "Yes?"

  "Get to the 'but,' please."

  "But you don't suffer from hallucinations. You have vivid flashbacks. That's common with PTSD. Some believe that those vivid flashbacks can be similar or even the same as hallucinations. The danger then is that those hallucinations can lead to psychosis. But what you have, be they vivid flashbacks or hallucinations, has always been auditory. At night, when you have your episodes, you never see the dead, do you?"

  "No."

  "You're not haunted by those faces. The three men. The mother." He swallowed. "The child."

  She said nothing.

  "You hear the screams. You don't see the faces."

  "So?"

  "So that's not uncommon. Thirty to forty percent of combat veterans with PTSD report auditory hallucinations. In your case, it has been exclusively auditory. I'm not saying you didn't"--he made quote marks with his fingers--"'see' Joe. You may have. But what I am saying is that it isn't consistent with your diagnosis or even the disorder. I can't validate a hypothesis that because of your PTSD you imagined seeing your husband on a silent video tape."

  "In short," she said, "you don't think I imagined it."

  "What you call hallucinations, Maya, are flashbacks. They are of things that actually occurred. You don't see or hear things that never happened."

  She sat back.

  "How do you feel right now?" he asked.

  "Relief, I guess."

  "I can't be certain, of course. At night, are you still on that helicopter?"

  "Yes."

  "Tell me what you remember."

  "It's the same, Ricky."

  "You get the distress call. The soldiers are cornered."

  "I fly in. I fire." She wanted to move it along. "We've been through this."

  "We have. What happens next?"

  "What do you want me to say?"

  "You always stop here. Five people were killed. Noncombatants. One was a mother of two--"

  "I hate that."

  "What?"

  "They always say that. 'One was a woman. A mother.' It's such sexist crap, isn't it? A civilian is a civilian. The men were fathers. No one ever says that. 'A mother and a woman.' Like that makes it worse than a father and a man."

  "Semantics," he said.

  "What?"

  "You get angry at the semantics because you don't want to face the truth."

  "God, I hate when you talk like this. What truth don't I want to face?"

  He gave her the sympathetic eyes. She hated the sympathetic eyes. "It was a mistake, Maya. That's all. You need to forgive yourself. That guilt haunts you and sometimes, yes, it manifests itself into those auditory flashbacks."

  She crossed her arms. "You disappoint me, Dr. Wu."

  "How so?"

  "It's trite, that's all. I feel guilt about dead civilians; ergo, once I stop blaming myself, I'll be all better."

  "No," he said. "It's not a cure. But it might make your nights a little easier."

  He didn't get it, but then again, he had never heard the audiotape from that day. Would it change things for him? Maybe, maybe not.

  Her cell phone buzzed. One ring on her phone. She checked the number.

  "Ricky?"

  "Yes."

  "I have to pick up my kid now," she lied. "Can I get those new meds?"

  Chapter 20

  The caller ID had read "Leather and Lace."

  Corey had made it clear. If he called and hung up, that meant he wanted to meet.

  When she pulled into the lot, the bouncer leaned into her window and said, "Glad you got the job."

  Man, she hoped that the bouncer was in on it and that her being a stripper wasn't viewed as a realistic cover.

  "Park in the employee lot and use the employee entrance."

  Maya did as he asked. When she got out of the car, two of her "colleagues" smiled and waved. Keeping in character, Maya smiled and waved back. The employee door was locked, so Maya looked up into the camera and waited. She heard the telltale buzz and opened it. Another man was standing there, giving her the cold eye.

  "You're armed?" he asked.

  "Yes."

  "Let me have it."

  "No," Maya said.

  He didn't like that answer, but a voice from behind him said, "It's okay."

  Lulu.

  "Same room as before," Lulu said to her. "He's waiting for you."

  "Right to work then," Maya said in a bad attempt at a half joke.

  Lulu smiled and shrugged.

  She could smell the cannabis before she turned the corner and saw Corey lighting up. He took a deep inhale, stood, and offered her a hit.

  "I'm good," she said. "You wanted to see me?"

  Corey held the smoke in a bit and nodded. When he released it, he said, "Take a seat."

  Again she frowned at the upholstery.

  "No one uses this room," he said, "but me."

  "That supposed to make me feel better?"

  She expected a small smile at the very least, but suddenly he was up and pacing, clearly on edge. Maya sat, hoping that might calm him down a bit.

  "Did you visit Tom Douglass?" he asked.

  "Sort of."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I visited his wife. Tom Douglass has been missing for three weeks."

  That stopped the pacing. "Where is he?"

  "What part of 'missing' is confusing you, Corey?"

  "Jesus." He took another hit. "Did you figure out why the Burketts were paying him?"

  "In part." She still didn't know if she trusted him, but then again, what other choice did she have right now? "Tom Douglass served in the Coast Guard."

  "So?"

  "So he investigated the accidental death of Andrew Burkett."

  "What the hell are you talking about?"

  She filled him in on what she had learned and what she had already known via Joe about Andrew's death being a suicide. Corey kept nodding, a little too hyped up, and she started to wonder when the mellow would kick in.

  "So let's put this together," Corey said, still pacing. "Your sister starts investigating. She stumbles across these Burkett payments to Tom Douglass. Boom, she's tortured and killed. Boom, your husband's killed. Boom, Tom Douglass goes missing. That about right?"

  His timeline was slightly off. It wasn't Claire, Joe, Tom. It was Claire, Tom, Joe. But she didn't bother to correct him.

  "But there's something else to consider," Maya said.

  "How's that?"

  "You don't murder someone to hide a son's suicide. You might pay them off. But you don't kill them."

  Corey nodded. "And assuming it was the Burketts who were making the payments," he added, still nodding with too much vigor, "you certainly don't kill your own son."

  His eyes were red, she could see now. From cannabis or tears, she didn't know which.

  "Corey?"

  "Yeah."

  "You guys have sources. Good sources. I need you to hack into Tom Douglass's life."

  "Did that already."

  "You did it
weeks ago looking for clues on his work. But we need everything now. His credit card statements, ATM payments, when he last made a transaction, what his habits are, where he could go. We need to find him. Can you do that?"

  "Yeah," Corey said. "We can do that."

  He started pacing again.

  "What else is wrong?" Maya asked.

  "I think I have to disappear again. Maybe for a very long time."

  "Why?"

  Corey lowered his voice to a near whisper. "Something you said last time you were here."

  "About?"

  He looked left, then right. "I got ways out of here," he said. "Secret ways."

  Maya wasn't sure what to make of that. "Okay."

  "There's even a hidden door in that wall over there. I can hide, or there's a tunnel to the river. If the cops ever try to surround this place, even quietly or whatever, I can get out. You wouldn't believe the measures I have in place here."

  "I can see that. But I don't see why that means you have to disappear."

  "A leak!" Corey shouted, spitting out the word as if it truly disgusted him, which, she assumed, it did. "You were the one to first raise that, right? You said one possibility was that someone inside my organization leaked Claire's name. I've been thinking hard about it. Suppose my operation . . . I mean, suppose we're not as airtight as I thought. Do you realize how many people could be exposed? Do you know how many of them would suffer huge, possibly even fatal, consequences?"

  Whoa, Maya needed to calm him down. "I don't think it was a leak, Corey."

  "Why not?"

  "Because of Joe."

  "I'm not following."

  "Claire was killed. Joe was killed. You said that before--that Joe may have been helping her. So there's your leak. Claire told Joe. She may have also told someone else, or Joe might have, or they might have just screwed up when they were investigating."

  She didn't care if it was true or not. She just needed him not to disappear on her.

  "I don't know," Corey said. "I don't feel safe."

  She stood and put her hands on his shoulders. "I need your help, Corey."

  He wouldn't meet her eye. "Maybe you were right. Maybe we should go to the police. Like you said. I give them all the information I have. Anonymously. Let them do the rest."

  "No," Maya said.

  "I thought that's what you wanted."

  "Not anymore."

  "Why not?"

  "There's no way to do that without exposing yourself and your organization."

  He frowned and turned back toward her. "You care about my organization?"

  "Not even a little bit," Maya said. "But you'll blow our chances if you do that. You'll run. I need you, Corey. We can do this better than the cops."

  She stopped.

  "There's something else," he said. "What is it?"

  "I don't trust them."

  "The cops?"

  She nodded.

  "But you trust me?"