Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Woods, Page 19

Harlan Coben

Chapter 20

 

  Flair Hickory and Mort Pubin got a half-hour recess. When the judge rose to leave, the courtroom exploded. I no-commented my way back to my office. Muse followed me. She was this tiny thing but she played like she was my Secret Service agent.

  When we closed the office door, she put up her palm. "High five!"

  I just looked at her. She put down her hand.

  "Its over, Cope. "

  "Not quite yet," I said.

  "But in a half-hour?"

  I nodded. "It will be over. But in the meantime, there's still work to do. "

  I moved back around to the conference table. The message from Lucy was sitting there. I had managed to do my brain-partition thing during my Flynn questioning. I had kept Lucy out. But now, as much as I wanted to spend a few minutes basking in the glory of the moment, the message was calling out to me again.

  Muse saw me looking down at the note.

  "A friend from twenty years ago," Muse said. "That's when the Camp PLUS incident occurred. "

  I looked at her.

  "It's connected, isn't it?"

  "I don't know," I said. "But probably. "

  "What's her last name?"

  "Silverstein. Lucy Silverstein. "

  "Right," Muse said, sitting back and crossing her arms. "That's what I figured. " "How did you figure that?" "Come on, Cope. You know me. " "That you're too nosy for your own good?" "Part of what makes me so attractive. " "Nosiness and maybe your footwear. So when did you read up on me?"

  "Soon as I heard you were taking over as county prosecutor. "

  I wasn't surprised.

  "Oh, and I brushed up on the case before I told you I wanted in. "

  I looked at the message again.

  "She was your girlfriend," Muse said.

  "Summer romance," I said. "We were kids. "

  "When was the last time you heard from her?"

  "Its been a long time. "

  We just sat there for a moment. I could hear the commotion outside the door. I ignored it. So did Muse. Neither one of us spoke. We just sat there with that message on the table.

  Finally Muse stood. "I got some work to do. "

  "Go," I said.

  "You'll be able to make it back to court without me?"

  "I'll muddle through," I said.

  When Muse reached the door, she turned back to me. "Are you going to call her?"

  "Later. "

  "You want me to run her name? See what I come up with?"

  I thought about it. "Not yet. "

  "Why not?"

  "Because she used to mean something to me, Muse. I don't feel like having you poke around in her life. "

  Muse put her hands up. "Okay, okay, sheet, don't bite my head off. I wasn't talking about dragging her in here with cuffs. I was talking about running a routine background check. "

  "Don't, okay? At least, not yet. "

  "I'll get to work on your prison visit to Wayne Steubens then. "

  "Thank you. "

  "This Cal and Jim thing. You're not going to let it slip away, are you?"

  "Not a chance. "

  My one worry was that the defense would claim that Chamique John son had watched the movie too and made up her story based on it or had deluded herself into thinking the movie was real. I was helped by several factors, however. One, it was easy to establish that the movie had not been playing on the fraternity's big-screen TV in the public room. Enough witnesses would back that up. Second, I had established via Jerry Flynn and photographs taken by the police that Marantz and Jenrette did not have a television set in their room, so she couldn't have seen it there.

  Still, it was the only direction I could see them going in. A DVD could be played on a computer. Flimsy, true, but I really didn't want to leave much of an out. Jerry Flynn was what I refer to as a "bullfight" witness. In a bullfight, the bull comes out and a bunch of guys-not the matador-wave capes around. The bull charges until exhausted. Then picadors on horseback come out with long lances and jam them into a gland behind the bull's neck muscle, drawing blood and swelling the neck so that the bull cant turn his head much. Then some other guys run up and throw banderillas-gaily decorated daggers-into the bulls flanks, near his shoulders. More blood. The bull is half-dead already.

  After all that, the matador-from the Spanish matar or "to kill"- comes in and finishes the job with a sword.

  That was my job now. I had made my witness run into exhaustion and jammed a lance into his neck and stuck some colorful darts into him. So now it was time to bring out the sword.

  Flair Hickory did everything in his considerable power to prevent this. He called for a recess, claiming that we had never produced this film before and that it was unfair and that it should have been given to them during discovery, blah, blah, blah. I fought back. The film had been in the possession of his clients, after all. We only found a copy our selves last night. The witness had confirmed that it had been watched in the fraternity house. If Mr. Hickory wants to claim his clients never saw it, he could put them on the stand.

  Flair took his time arguing. He stalled, asked and got some sidebars with the judge, tried with some success to give Jerry Flynn a chance to catch his breath.

  But it didn't work.

  I could see that the moment Flynn sat in that chair. He had been too seriously wounded by those darts and that lance. The movie had been the final blow. He had shut his eyes while it played, shut them so tightly that I think he was trying to close his ears.

  I could tell you that Flynn probably wasn't a bad kid. The truth was, as he now testified, he had liked Chamique. He had asked her out legitimately on a date. But when the upperclassmen got wind of it, they teased and bullied him into going along with their sick "movie reenactment" plan. And Flynn the Freshman folded.

  "I hated myself for doing it," he said. "But you have to under stand. "

  No, I don't, I wanted to say. But I didn't. Instead I just looked at him until he lowered his eyes. Then I looked at the jury with a slight challenge in my eyes. Seconds passed.

  Finally I turned to Flair Hickory and said, "Your witness. "

  It took me a while to get alone.

  After my ridiculous act of indignation at Muse, I decided to do some amateur sleuthing. I Googled Lucy's phone numbers. Two gave me nothing, but the third, her work number, showed me that it was the direct line to a professor at Reston University named Lucy Gold.

  Gold. Silver-stem. Cute.

  I had already known it was "my" Lucy, but this pretty much con firmed it. The question was, what do I do about it? The answer was fairly simple. Call her back. See what she wants.

  I was not big on coincidence. I hadn't heard a word from this woman in twenty years. Now suddenly she calls and won't leave a last name. It had to be connected to Gil Perez's death. It had to be connected to the Camp PLUS incident.

  That was obvious.

  Partitioning your life. It should have been easy to leave her behind. A summer fling, even an intense one, is just that-a fling. I might have loved her, probably did, but I was just a kid. Kid love doesn't survive blood and dead bodies. There are doors. I closed that one. Lucy was gone. It took me a long time to accept that. But I did and I kept that damn door shut.

  Now I would have to open it.

  Muse had wanted to run a background check. I should have said yes. I let emotion dictate my decision. I should have waited. Seeing her name was a blow. I should have taken my time, dealt with the blow, seen things more clearly. But I didn't.

  Maybe I shouldn't call yet.

  No, I told myself. Enough with the stalling.

  I picked up the phone and dialed her home. On the fourth ring, the phone was picked up. Adwoman's voice said, "I'm not home, but at the beep please leave a message. "

  The beep came too fast. I wasn't ready for it. So I hung up.

  Very mature.

  My head swam. Twenty years. It had been twenty years. Lucy would be thirty-
seven now. I wondered if she was still as beautiful. When I think back on it, she had the kind of looks that would do well with maturity. Some women are like that.

  Get your head in the game, Cope.

  I was trying. But hearing her voice, sounding exactly the same. . . it was the aural equivalent of hooking up with your old college roommate: After ten seconds, the years melt away and it's like you're back in the dorm room and nothing has changed. That was how this was. She sounded the same. I was eighteen again.

  I took a few deep breaths. There was a knock on the door.

  "Come in. "

  Muse stuck her head in the room. "Did you call her yet?"

  "I tried her home number. No answer. "

  "You probably won't get her now," Muse said. "She's in class. "

  "And you know this because?"

  "Because I'm chief investigator. I don't have to listen to everything you say. "

  She sat and threw her practical-shoed feet up on the table. She studied my face and didn't speak. I kept quiet too. Finally she said, "Do you want me to leave?"

  "Tell me what you got first. "

  She tried hard not to smile. "She changed her name seventeen years ago. It's Lucy Gold now. "

  I nodded. "That would have been right after the settlement. "

  "What settlement? Oh, wait, you guys sued the camp, right?"

  "The victims' families. "

  "And Lucy's father owned the camp. "

  "Right. "

  "Nasty?"

  "I don't know. I wasn't that involved. "

  "But you guys won?"

  "Sure. It was a summer camp with practically no security. " I squirmed when I said that. "The families got Silverstein's biggest asset. "

  "The camp itself. "

  "Yep. We sold the land to a developer. "

  "All of it?"

  "There was a provision involving the woods. It's fairly unusable land, so it's held in some kind of public trust. You can't build on it. "

  "Is the camp still there?"

  I shook my head. "The developer tore down the old cabins and built some gated community. " "How much did you guys get?" "After lawyer fees, each family ended up with more than eight hundred grand. "

  Her eyes widened. "Wow. "

  "Yeah. Losing a child is a great moneymaker. "

  "I didn't mean-"

  I waved her off. "I know. I'm just being an ass. "

  She didn't argue. "It must have changed things," Muse said.

  I didn't answer right away. The money had been held in a joint ac count. My mother took off with a hundred grand. She left the rest for us. Generous of her, I guess. Dad and I moved out of Newark, moved to a decent place in Montclair. I had already gotten a scholarship to Rutgers, but now I set my sights on Columbia Law in New York. I met Jane there.

  "Yeah," I said. "It changed things. "

  "Do you want to know more about your old flame?"

  I nodded.

  "She went to UCLA. Majored in psychology. She got a graduate degree from USC in the same, another in English from Stanford. I don't have her entire work history yet, but she's currently down the road at Reston U. Started last year. She, uh, she got two DUIs when she lived in California. One in 2001. Another in 2003. Pleaded out both times. Other than that, her record is clean. "

  I sat there. DUI. That didn't sound like Lucy. Her father, Ira, the head counselor, had been a major stoner-so much so that she'd had no interest in anything that would provide a high. Now she had two DUIs. It was hard to fathom. But of course, the girl I knew was not even of legal drinking age. She had been happy and a little naive and well-adjusted, and her family had money and her father was a seemingly harmless free spirit.

  All that had died that night in the woods too.

  "Another thing," Muse said. She shifted in the seat, aiming for nonchalance. "Lucy Silverstein, aka Gold, isn't married. I haven't done all the checking yet, but from what I see, she's never been married either. "

  I didn't know what to make of that. It certainly had no bearing on what was going on now. But it still pierced me. She was such a lively thing, so bright and energetic and so damn easy to love. How could she have remained single all these years? And then there were those DUIs.

  "What time does her class end?" I asked.

  "Twenty minutes. "

  "Okay. I'll call her then. Anything else?"

  "Wayne Steubens doesn't allow visitors, except for his immediate family and lawyer. But I'm working on it. I got some other coals in the fire, but that's about it for now. " "Don't spend too much time on it. " "I'm not.

  I looked at the clock. Twenty minutes.

  "I should probably go," Muse said.

  "Yeah. "

  She stood. "Oh, one more thing. "

  "What?"

  "Do you want to see a picture of her?"

  I looked up.

  "Reston University has faculty pages. There are pictures of all the professors. " She held up a small piece of paper. "I got the URL right here. " She didn't wait for my reply. She dropped the address on the table and left me alone.

  I had twenty minutes. Why not?

  I brought up my default page. I use one with Yahoo where you can choose a lot of your content. I had news, my sports teams, my two favorite comic strips -Doonesbury and FoxTrot - stuff like that. I typed in the Reston University Web site page Muse had given me.

  And there she was.

  It wasn't Lucy's most flattering photograph. Her smile was tight, her expression grim. She had posed for the picture, but you could see that she really didn't want to. The blond hair was gone. That happens with age, I know, but I had a feeling that it was intentional. The color didn't look right on her. She was older-duh-but as I had predicted, it worked on her. Her face was thinner. The high cheekbones were more pronounced.

  And damn if she didn't still look beautiful.

  Looking at her face, something long dormant came alive and started twisting in my gut. I didn't need that now. There were enough complications in my life. I didn't need those old feelings resurfacing. I read her short bio, learned nothing. Nowadays students rank classes and professors. You could often find that information online. I did. Lucy was clearly beloved by her students. Her rankings were incredible. I read a few of the student comments. They made the class sound life altering. I smiled and felt a strange sense of pride.

  Twenty minutes passed.

  I gave it another five, pictured her saying good-bye to students, talking to a few who loitered behind, packing her lessons and sundries in some beat-up faux leather bag.

  I picked up my office phone. I buzzed out to Jocelyn.

  "Yes?"

  "No calls," I said. "No interruptions. "

  "Okay. "

  I pressed for an outside line. I dialed Lucy's cell phone. On the third ring I heard her voice say, "Hello?" My heart leapt into my throat but I managed to say, "Its me, Luce. " And then, a few seconds later, I heard her start to cry.