Tell no one, p.18
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       Tell No One, p.18

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 17

  Once he was settled inside Rebecca Schayes's studio, Larry Gandle called his wife on the cell phone. "I'll be home late," he said.

  "Don't forget to take your pill," Patty told him.

  Gandle had a mild case of diabetes, controlled through diet and a pill. No insulin.

  "I will. "

  Eric Wu, still plugged into his Walkman, carefully laid down a vinyl drop cloth near the door.

  Gandle hung up the phone and snapped on a pair of latex gloves. The search was both thorough and time-consuming. Like most photographers, Rebecca Schayes saved tons of negatives. There were four metal file cabinets jammed full of them. They'd checked Rebecca Schayes's schedule. She was finishing up a shoot. She'd be back here to work the darkroom in about an hour. Not enough time.

  "You know what would help," Wu said.

  "What?"

  "Having some idea what the hell we're looking for. "

  "Beck gets these cryptic emails," Gandle said. "And what does he do? For the first time in eight years, he rushes over to see his wife's oldest friend. We need to know why. "

  Wu looked through him some more. "Why don't we just wait and ask her?"

  "We will, Eric. "

  Wu nodded slowly and turned away.

  Gandle spotted a long metal desk in the darkroom. He tested it. Strong. The size was about right too. You could lay someone on it and tape a limb to each table leg.

  "How much duct tape did we bring?"

  "Enough," Wu said.

  "Do me a favor, then," Gandle said. "Move the drop cloth under the table. "

  Half an hour until I picked up the Bat Street message.

  Shauna's demonstration had hit me like a surprise left hook. I felt groggy, and I took the full count. But a funny thing happened. I got my ass off the canvas. I stood back up and shook off the cobwebs and started circling.

  We were in my car. Shauna had insisted on coming back to the house with me. A limousine would take her back in a few hours. I know that she wanted to comfort me, but it was equally clear that she didn't want to go home yet.

  "Something I don't get," I said.

  Shauna turned to me.

  "The feds think I killed Elizabeth, right?"

  "Right. "

  "So why would they send me emails pretending she's alive?"

  Shauna had no quick answer.

  "Think about it," I said. "You claim that this is some sort of elaborate plot to get me to reveal my guilt. But if I killed Elizabeth, I'd know that it was a trick. "

  "It's a mind game," Shauna said.

  "But that doesn't make sense. If you want to play a mind game with me, send me emails and pretend to be - I don't know - someone who witnessed the murder or something. "

  Shauna thought about it. "I think they're just trying to keep you off balance, Beck. "

  "Yeah, but still. It doesn't add up. "

  "Okay, how long until the next message comes in?"

  I checked the clock. "Twenty minutes. "

  Shauna sat back in her seat. "We'll wait and see what it says. "

  Eric Wu set up his laptop on the floor in a corner of Rebecca Schayes's studio.

  He checked Beck's office computer first. Still idle. The clock read a little past eight o'clock. The clinic was long closed. He switched over to the home computer. For a few seconds there was nothing. And then:

  "Beck just signed on," Wu said.

  Larry Gandle hurried over. "Can we get on and see the message before him?"

  "It wouldn't be a good idea. "

  "Why not?"

  "If we sign in and then he tries to, it will tell him that someone is currently using that screen name. "

  "He'll know he's being watched?"

  "Yes. But it doesn't matter. We're watching him in real time. The moment he reads the message, we'll see it too. "

  "Okay, let me know when. "

  Wu squinted at the screen. "He just brought up the Bigfoot site. It should be any second now. "

  I typed in bigfoot. com and hit the return button.

  My right leg started jack hammering. It does that when I'm nervous. Shauna put her hand on my knee. My knee slowed to a stop. She took the hand off. My knee stayed still for a minute, and then it started up again. Shauna put her hand back on my knee. The cycle began again.

  Shauna was playing it cool, but I know that she kept sneaking glances at me. She was my best friend. She'd support me to the end. But only an idiot wouldn't be wondering at this juncture if my elevator was stopping at every floor. They say that insanity, like heart disease or intelligence, is hereditary. The thought had been running through my mind since I'd first seen Elizabeth on the street cam. It wasn't a comforting one.

  My father died in a car crash when I was twenty. His car toppled over an embankment. According to an eyewitness - a truck driver from Wyoming - my father's Buick drove straight off it. It had been a cold night. The road, while well plowed, was slick.

  Many suggested - well, suggested in whispers anyway - that he committed suicide. I don't believe it. Yes, he had been more withdrawn and quiet in his last few months. And yes, I often wonder if all that made him more susceptible to an accident. But suicide? No way.

  My mother, always a fragile person of seemingly gentle neuroses, reacted by slowly losing her mind. She literally shrank into herself. Linda tried to nurse her for three years, until even she agreed that Mom needed to be committed. Linda visits her all the time. I don't.

  After a few more moments, the Bigfoot home page came up. I found the user name box and typed in Bat Street.

  I hit the tab key and in the password text box I typed Teenage. I hit return.

  Nothing happened.

  "You forgot to click the Sign In icon," Shauna said.

  I looked at her. She shrugged. I clicked the icon.

  The screen went white. Then an ad for a CD store came up. The bar on the bottom went back and forth in a slow wave. The percentage climbed slowly. When it hit about eighteen percent, it vanished and then several seconds later a message appeared.

  ERROR - Either the user name or password you entered is not in our database.

  "Try again," Shauna said.

  I did. The same error message came up. The computer was telling me the account didn't even exist.

  What did that mean?

  I had no idea. I tried to think of a reason that the account wouldn't exist.

  I checked the time: 8:13. 34 P. M.

  Kiss time.

  Could that be the answer? Could it be that the account, like the link yesterday, simply didn't exist yet? I mulled that one over. It was possible, of course, but unlikely.

  As though reading my mind, Shauna said, "Maybe we should wait until eight-fifteen. "

  So I tried again at eight-fifteen. At eight-eighteen. At eight twenty.

  Nothing but the same error message.

  "The feds must have pulled the plug," Shauna said.

  I shook my head, not willing yet to give up.

  My leg started shaking again. Shauna used one hand to stop it and one hand to answer her cell phone. She started barking at someone on the other end. I checked the clock. I tried again. Nothing. Twice more. Nothing.

  It was after eight-thirty now.

  "She, uh, could be late," Shauna said.

  I frowned.

  "When you saw her yesterday," Shauna tried, "you didn't know where she was, right?"

  "Right. "

  "So maybe she's in a different time zone," Shauna said. "Maybe that's why she's late. "

  "A different time zone?" I frowned some more. Shauna shrugged.

  We waited another hour. Shauna, to her credit, never said I told you so. After a while she put a hand on my back and said, "Hey, I got an idea. "

  I turned to her.

  "I'm going to wait in the other room," Shauna said. "I think that might help. "

  "How do you figure?"

  "See, if this were a movie, th
is would be the part where I get all fed up by your craziness and storm out and then bingo, the message appears, you know, so only you see it and everyone still thinks you're crazy. Like on Scooby-Doo when only he and Shaggy see the ghost and no one believes them?"

  I thought about it. "Worth a try," I said.

  "Good. So why don't I go wait in the kitchen for a while? Take your time. When the message comes in, just give a little shout. "

  She stood.

  "You're just humoring me, aren't you?" I said.

  Shauna thought about it. "Yeah, probably. "

  She left then. I turned and faced the screen. And I waited.