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Fool Me Once, Page 18

Harlan Coben


  "My sister did."

  "And it got her killed," Corey said.

  "Yeah, it did. But you can't keep going back like that. If you don't get her to become a whistle-blower, yep, she's probably still alive. But if I don't kill civilians on that copter, then you don't release that tape, and Claire never even meets you. For that matter, if I chose another career, Claire is probably at home right now, playing with her two kids instead of rotting in the ground. Lots of sliding doors, Corey. Waste of time to play it that way."

  Corey stepped back and took another deep toke. When he could speak again, he said, "I don't know what to do."

  "Stay. Look into Tom Douglass. Help me finish this."

  "And I guess I should just trust you."

  "You don't have to just trust me," she said. "Remember?"

  He saw it now. "Because I still have something on you."

  Maya didn't bother replying. Corey looked at her. She knew that he wanted to ask her about the audio portion of that tape. But she wanted to ask him something about it too.

  "Why didn't you release the audio?" she asked.

  "I told you."

  "You said my sister talked you out of it."

  "That's right."

  "But I'm not completely buying that. It took time for her message to reach you. The story made a splash, but it was starting to die down by then. You'd have been back in the headlines."

  "You think that's all I care about?"

  Again Maya didn't bother replying.

  "Without headlines, the truth never gets out. Without headlines, we can't recruit more truth tellers."

  She didn't need the speech again. "All the more reason to release the audio, Corey. So why didn't you?"

  He moved toward the couch and sat down. "Because I'm also a human being."

  Maya sat down.

  Corey lowered his head into his hands for a moment and took a few deep breaths. When he looked up, he was more clear-eyed, calmer, less panicked. "Because I figured that you'd have to live with yourself, Maya. With what you'd done. And sometimes that's punishment enough."

  She said nothing.

  "So how do you live with it, Maya?"

  If Corey expected a truthful answer to that question, he would have to get in a very long line.

  For a few moments, they just sat there in silence, the din of the club seemingly miles away. Nothing more to learn here, Maya thought. It was time to go to Judith's office anyway.

  Maya rose and headed for the door. "See what you can find on Tom Douglass."

  Chapter 21

  Judith's office was located on the ground floor of an apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one block from Central Park. Maya had no idea what sort of patients Judith saw nowadays. She was a Stanford University-trained MD and now a clinical professor on staff at Weill Cornell Medicine, though she didn't teach any classes. That someone who worked part-time could hold these positions was only a surprise to those who didn't recognize the power of the Burkett name and big donations.

  Shock alert: Money means power and gets you stuff.

  Judith went professionally by her maiden name, Velle. If this was to semihide the conflict of the Burkett name or because that was what many women did was anyone's guess. Maya headed past the doorman and found Judith's office door. Judith shared her space with two other part-time physicians. All three names--Judith Velle, Angela Warner, and Mary McLeod--were on the door with a long list of letters after them.

  Maya turned the knob and pushed open the door. The waiting room was empty and small--one love seat, one couch. The artwork was generic enough to work in a roadside chain motel. The walls and carpeting were beige. A sign on the far door read: "IN SESSION. PLEASE HAVE A SEAT."

  There was no receptionist. Maya guessed that the patients were often high profile, and so the fewer people who saw them, the better. One patient would be in session. When finished, that patient would exit into the corridor via a door located in the doctor's office. The waiting patient--or, in this case, Maya--would then be shown in. Neither patient would see the other.

  The desire for privacy and discretion was understandable, of course--Maya didn't want anybody knowing about her "disorder" either--but it was probably harmful too. Doctors kept stressing that mental disease was the same as physical disease. Telling someone who was clinically depressed, for example, to shake it off and get out of the house was tantamount to telling a man with two broken legs to sprint across the room. That was all well and good in theory, but in practice, the stigma continued.

  Maybe, to be more charitable, it was because you could hide a mental disease. Maybe if Maya could hide two broken legs and still somehow walk, she would. Who knew anymore? Right now, she had to get through this and then worry about treatment. The answers were out there, tantalizingly close. No one would be safe until she got to the truth and punished the guilty.

  She might not be able to do that with broken legs. But she sure as hell could do it with PTSD.

  Maya checked her watch. Five minutes until the hour was up. She tried to read whatever inane magazines were there, but the words swam by her. She played with her mobile phone, some game with making words out of four letters, but her concentration was shot. She moved close to the door. She didn't put her ear against it and listen in, but she stood close enough to hear the low murmur of two female voices. Time passed slowly, but eventually Maya could hear the inner door open. The patient was probably exiting.

  Maya hurried back to her seat, picked up a magazine, crossed her legs. Ms. Casual. The door opened, and a woman Maya guessed was a well-kept sixty smiled at her.

  "Maya Stern?"

  "Yes."

  "This way, please."

  So there was a receptionist, Maya thought. She just worked from inside the office. Maya followed the woman inside, assuming she would find Judith sitting at a desk or maybe on a chair next to a couch or some such shrink-like environment. But Judith wasn't there. Maya turned to the receptionist. The receptionist stuck out her hand.

  "I'm Mary."

  Maya got it now. She glanced at the diplomas on the wall. "As in Mary McLeod?"

  "That's right. I'm a colleague of Judith's. She hoped that maybe we could have a chat."

  According to the diploma, both women had gone to medical school at Stanford. Maya spotted an undergraduate one for Judith at USC. Mary had gotten her BS from Rice University and did her residency at UCLA.

  "Where is Judith?"

  "I don't know. We both only work part-time. We share this office."

  Maya did not bother hiding her annoyance. "Yes, I read your name on the door."

  "Why don't you sit for a moment, Maya?"

  "Why don't you pound sand, Mary?"

  If Mary McLeod was flustered by Maya's belligerence, her face didn't show it. "I think I can help you."

  "You can help me by telling me where Judith is."

  "I already told you. I don't know."

  "Bye now."

  "My son served two tours. One in Iraq, one in Afghanistan."

  Maya couldn't help herself. She hesitated.

  "Jack misses it. That's the part they never talk about it, isn't it? It changed him. He hated it. And yet he wants to go back over. Part of it is guilt. He feels like he left friends over there. Part of it is something else. Something he has trouble articulating."

  "Mary?"

  "What?"

  "Are you lying about having a son in the military?"

  "I wouldn't do that."

  "Sure you would. You're manipulative. You and Judith manipulated me into coming into this office. You manipulated me into this room. You're trying various manipulations to get me to talk to you."

  Mary McLeod stood ramrod straight. "I'm not lying about my son."

  "Maybe not," Maya said. "But either way, you and Judith should both know that without trust, you can't have a doctor-patient relationship. This whole little sham to get me here broke that trust."

  "That's nonsense."

  "W
hat's nonsense?"

  "That without trust, you can't have a doctor-patient relationship."

  "Are you serious?"

  "Suppose a loved one--maybe your sister--had shown all the signs of having cancer--"

  "Oh, don't go there."

  "Why, Maya, what are you afraid of? Suppose that cancer could be cured if you just could get your loved one to a physician. If you and that physician conspired to get her into his office--"

  "It's not the same thing."

  "Yes, Maya. It is. It is exactly the same thing. You're not getting that, but it is. You need help, just like that cancer patient."

  This was a waste of time. Maya wondered whether Mary McLeod was part of all this or if she was being sincere--if Judith had, in fact, manipulated and lied to her old colleague. It didn't matter.

  "I need to see Judith," Maya said.

  "I'm sorry, Maya. I can't help you there."

  Maya headed for the door. "You can't help me at all."

  *

  Screw it.

  Maya dialed the number as she headed back to her car. Judith answered on the second ring.

  "I hear it didn't go so well with my colleague."

  "Where are you, Judith?"

  "Farnwood."

  "Don't go anywhere," Maya said.

  "I'll be waiting."

  She drove in through the service entrance again, hoping maybe to catch Isabella wandering outside or something, but the entire compound appeared empty. Maybe she should break in and poke around, see if she could find a clue as to where Isabella might be hiding, but that was risky and she didn't have the time. Judith would know how long a ride from New York City to Farnwood would be.

  The butler answered the door. Maya could never remember his name. It wasn't something like Jeeves or Carson. It was something ordinary like Bobby or Tim. Still, as befitted his servant station, Bobby/Tim looked down his nose at her.

  Without preamble, Maya said, "I'm here to see Judith."

  "Madam is expecting you," he said in some faux British prep school accent, "in the parlor."

  "The parlor" was what rich people called a living room. Judith wore a black pantsuit and a strand of pearls that came down almost to her waist. Her earrings were silver hoops, her hair stylishly slicked back. She held a crystal glass in her hand, posed as though she were shooting a magazine cover.

  "Hello, Maya."

  No need for pleasantries. "Tell me about Tom Douglass."

  Her eyes narrowed. "Who?"

  "Tom Douglass."

  "I don't know that name."

  "Think hard."

  She did. Or pretended to. After a few seconds passed, Judith shrugged theatrically.

  "He worked in the Coast Guard. He investigated your son's drowning."

  The glass dropped from Judith's hand, shattering on the floor. Maya did not jump back. Neither did Judith. They just stood there a moment, the glass shards rolling to a stop.

  There was a hiss in Judith's voice when she asked, "What the hell are you talking about?"

  If this was an act . . .

  "Tom Douglass is a private investigator now," Maya said. "Your family has been paying him almost ten thousand dollars a month for years. I would like to know why."

  Judith wobbled a bit, like a fighter who was trying to take advantage of the eight count. The question had staggered her, no question about it. If the stagger came from the fact that she hadn't known about the payoff or hadn't expected Maya to find out about it was still anyone's guess.

  "Why would I pay off this Tom . . . What did you say his last name was?"

  "Douglass. Two s's. And you tell me."

  "I have no idea. Andrew died in a tragic accident."

  "No," Maya said. "That's not how he died. But you know that already, don't you?"

  Judith's face lost all color. The pain was so clear now, so obvious, that Maya almost looked away. Attack mode was all well and good, but whatever the final truth was, they were talking about the death of this woman's child. Her pain was real and whole and consuming.

  "I have no idea what you're talking about," Judith said.

  "How did it happen then?"

  "What?"

  "How exactly did Andrew fall off the boat?"

  "Are you serious? Why would you be bringing that up now, all these years later? You never even knew him."

  "It's important." Maya took a step toward her former mother-in-law. "How did he die, Judith?"

  She tried to hold her head up, but the fault lines wouldn't let her. "Andrew was so young," she said, trying her best to hold on. "There was a party on the yacht. He had too much to drink. The sea was rough. He was up on deck alone and fell off."

  "No."

  Judith's voice was a snap. "What?"

  For a split second, Maya thought that Judith was going to leap across the room and attack her. But the moment passed. Judith looked down, and when she spoke again her voice was soft, almost pleading.

  "Maya?"

  "Yes."

  "Tell me what you know about Andrew's death."

  Was Maya being played here? It was hard to tell. Judith looked completely worn out, devastated. Did she really not know about any of this?

  "Andrew committed suicide," Maya said.

  Judith tried very hard not to wince. She shook her head stiffly, just once. "That's not true."

  Maya just gave it time, let her move past the rote denial.

  When Judith did, she asked, "Who told you that?"

  "Joe."

  Judith shook her head again.

  "Why are you paying off Tom Douglass?" Maya asked again.

  In war, they call it the thousand-yard stare, that blank, empty, unfocused gaze when a soldier has simply seen too much. Judith had something like that going on now.

  "He was only a boy," Judith muttered, and while Maya was the only one in the room, Judith wasn't speaking to her. "He wasn't even eighteen yet . . ."

  Maya took a step toward her. "You really didn't know?"

  Judith looked up, startled. "I don't understand what you're after here."

  "The truth."

  "What truth? What does this have to do with you anyway? I don't understand why you'd start digging this all up."

  "I didn't dig it up. Joe told me."

  "Joe told you that Andrew committed suicide?"

  "Yes."

  "He confided that to you?"

  "Yes."

  "Yet all these years later, you felt compelled to defy his wishes and tell me." Judith closed her eyes.

  "I don't mean to be bringing you pain."

  "Right," Judith said with a sad chuckle, "I can see that."

  "But I need to know why you'd be paying off the Coast Guard officer who was investigating Andrew's death."

  "Why would you need to know that?"

  "It's a long story."

  Judith's chuckle was more pained than any sob. "Oh, I think I have time, Maya."

  "My sister found out about it."

  Judith frowned. "She found out about this supposed payoff?"

  "Yes."

  Silence.

  "And then Claire was murdered," Maya said. "And then Joe was murdered."

  Judith arched an eyebrow. "You're saying they're connected? Claire and Joe?"

  So Kierce hadn't told her. "The same gun killed them both."

  Maya's words landed like another blow, staggering her back. "That can't be."

  "Why can't it be?"

  Judith closed her eyes again, summoned some inner strength, opened them. "I need you to slow down and tell me what's going on here, Maya."

  "It's simple. You're paying off Tom Douglass. I want to know why."

  "Seems to me," she said, "you already figured that out."

  Judith's sudden change in demeanor threw her. "The suicide?"

  Judith managed a smile.

  "You wanted to cover up a suicide?"

  Judith stayed still.

  "Why?" Maya asked.

  "Burketts don't commit suicide, May
a."

  Did that make sense? No, of course not. What was she missing? Time to change direction, get Judith back off her footing. "So why did you pay off Roger Kierce?"

  "Who?" Judith made a face. "Wait. The police officer?"

  "Yes."

  "Why on earth would we pay him?"

  We. "You tell me."

  "I assure you I have no idea. Is this something else your sister supposedly uncovered?"

  "No," Maya said. "Caroline told me."

  Another small smile came to Judith's lips. "And you believed her?"

  "Why would she lie?"

  "Caroline wouldn't lie. But . . . she gets confused."

  "Interesting, Judith."

  "What?"

  "You paid off two men. Both were investigating the deaths of your sons."

  Judith shook her head. "This is all a lot of nonsense."

  "Luckily, we can solve this easily," Maya said. "Let's ask Caroline."

  "Caroline isn't around right now."

  "So call her. This is the twenty-first century. Everyone has a mobile phone. Here"--Maya held up her phone--"I have her number right here."

  "That won't do any good."

  "Why not?"

  "Let's just say," Judith continued, her words coming slower now, "Caroline can't be disturbed."

  Maya lowered the phone to her side.

  "She's . . . Caroline isn't well. This happens to her. She needs rest."

  "You put her in a loony bin?"

  Maya had intentionally used the derogatory term to draw blood. It worked. Judith visibly cringed.

  "That's a horrible way to put it," Judith said. "You of all people should be sympathetic."

  "Why 'of all people' . . . ? Oh, you mean because of my own issues with PTSD?"

  Judith did not bother replying.

  "So what trauma has Caroline faced?"

  "Not all trauma occurs on the battlefield, Maya."

  "I know. Some might occur by having two brothers die young and tragically."

  "Precisely. Those traumas have caused issues to arise."

  "Issues to arise," Maya repeated. "You mean, for example, Caroline thinking her brothers are still alive?"

  Maya had expected that her words would be another blow, but Judith seemed ready this time. "The mind wants," Judith said. "The mind can want so, so badly that it manifests delusions. Conspiracy theories, paranoia, visions--the more desperate you are, the more susceptible. Caroline is immature. That's her father's fault. He sheltered her and overprotected her. He never let her deal with adversity or stand on her own. So when the strong men in her life started to die--her support system--Caroline could not accept that."

  "So why wouldn't you let her see Joe's body?"

  "She told you that?" Judith shook her head. "None of us saw Joe."