Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Fool Me Once, Page 2

Harlan Coben


  Maya held it in her hand. "A digital picture frame?"

  Eileen was a strawberry blonde with freckles and a wide smile. She had the kind of face that lit up a room when she entered, which made it a great mask for the torment beneath.

  "No, it's a nanny cam disguised as a digital picture frame."

  "Say again?"

  "Now that you're working full-time, you've got to keep a better eye on things, right?"

  "I guess so."

  "Where does Isabella play with Lily most of the time?"

  Maya gestured to her right. "In the den."

  "Come on, I'll show you."

  "Eileen . . ."

  She took the frame from Maya's hand. "Just follow me."

  The den was right off the kitchen. It had a cathedral ceiling and plenty of blond wood. A big-screen television hung on the wall. There were two baskets filled to the brim with educational toys for Lily. A Pack 'n Play stood in front of the couch where there used to be a beautiful mahogany coffee table. The coffee table, alas, hadn't been child friendly, so it had to go.

  Eileen moved toward the bookshelf. She found a spot for the frame and plugged the cord into a nearby outlet. "I already preloaded some pictures of your family. The digital frame will just shuffle through and display them. Do Isabella and Lily normally play by that couch?"


  "Good." Eileen shifted the frame in that direction. "The camera built inside this thing is wide-angle, so you can see the whole room."


  "I saw her at the funeral."


  "Your nanny."

  "Isabella's family goes way back with Joe's. Her mother was Joe's nanny. Her brother is the family gardener."

  "For real?"

  Maya shrugged. "The rich."

  "They're different."

  "They are."

  "So do you trust her?"

  "Who, Isabella?"


  Maya shrugged. "You know me."

  "I do." Eileen had originally been Claire's friend--the two had been assigned as freshman roommates at Vassar--but all three women quickly grew close. "You trust no one, Maya."

  "I wouldn't put it that way."

  "Fine. When it comes to your child?"

  "When it comes to my child," Maya said, "yeah, okay, no one."

  Eileen smiled. "That's why I'm giving you this. Look, I don't think you'll find anything. Isabella seems great."

  "But better safe than sorry?"

  "Exactly. I can't tell you how much comfort it gave me when I left Kyle and Missy with the nanny."

  Maya wondered about that--whether Eileen had just used it with the nanny or whether she had built a case against someone else--but she kept the thought to herself for now.

  "Do you have an SD card port on your computer?" Eileen asked.

  "I'm not sure."

  "Doesn't matter. I got you an SD reader that connects into any USB port. Just plug it into your laptop or computer. Really, it doesn't get easier than this. You take the SD card out of the frame at the end of the day--it's back here, see?"

  Maya nodded.

  "Then you stick the card into the reader. The video pops up on your screen. The SD is thirty-two gigs, so it should last days easily. There's also a motion detector, so it's not recording when the room is empty or anything like that."

  Maya couldn't help but smile. "Look at you."

  "What? The role reversal bothering you?"

  "A little. I should have thought of doing this myself."

  "I'm surprised you didn't."

  Maya looked down and met her friend's eye. Eileen was maybe five two, Maya nearly six feet tall, but with the ramrod posture, she looked even taller. "Did you ever see anything on your nanny cam?"

  "You mean, something I shouldn't have?"


  "No," Eileen said. "And I know what you're thinking. He hasn't been back. And I haven't seen him."

  "I'm not judging."

  "Not even a little?"

  "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't judge a little?"

  Eileen came over and wrapped her arms around Maya. Maya hugged her back. Eileen wasn't a quasi-stranger paying her respects. Maya ended up going to Vassar a year after Claire. The three women had lived together in those halcyon days before Maya had started Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker in Alabama. Eileen was still, along with Shane, her closest friend.

  "I love you, you know."

  Maya nodded. "Yeah, I know."

  "You sure you don't want me to stay?"

  "You have your own family to take care of."

  "It's okay," Eileen said, pointing at the digital frame with her thumb. "I'm still watching."


  "Not really. But I know you need downtime. Call if you need anything. Oh, and don't worry about dinner. I already ordered you Chinese from Look See. It'll be here in twenty minutes."

  "I love you, you know."

  "Yeah," Eileen said, heading to the door. "I know." She stopped. "Whoa."

  "What is it?"

  "You have company."

  Chapter 2

  The company was in the short, hirsute form of NYPD homicide detective Roger Kierce. Kierce entered the house with his best attempt at swagger, glancing all around the way cops do and saying, "Nice place."

  Maya frowned, not bothering to hide her annoyance.

  Kierce had something of a caveman thing going on. He was stocky and broad, and his arms seemed too short for his body. He had the kind of face that looked unshaven even immediately after a shave. His bushy eyebrows resembled a late stage of caterpillar metamorphosis, and the hair on the back of his hands could have been the work of a curling iron.

  "Hope it's okay I stopped by."

  "Why wouldn't it be okay?" Maya said. "Oh, right, that whole just-buried-my-husband thing."

  Kierce feigned contrite. "I realize my timing could be better."

  "You think?"

  "But tomorrow you go back to work and, really, when is a good time?"

  "Great point. What can I do for you, Detective?"

  "Do you mind if I sit?"

  Maya gestured toward the couch in the den. A spooky thought came to her: This encounter--in fact, every encounter in this room--would now be recorded by the hidden nanny cam. What an odd thing to think about. She could, of course, manually turn it on and off, but who would remember or want to go through that hassle every day? She wondered whether the camera recorded sound too. She would have to ask Eileen, or she could wait and see when she checked its content.

  "Nice place," Kierce said.

  "Yeah, you said that on the way in."

  "What year was it built?"

  "Sometime in the nineteen twenties."

  "Your late husband's family. They own the house, right?"


  Kierce sat. She stayed standing.

  "So what can I do for you, Detective?"

  "Just some follow-up, that kind of thing."


  "Bear with me, okay?" Kierce gave her what he must imagine was a disarming smile. Maya wasn't buying it. "Where is it . . . ?" He dug into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a frayed notepad. "Do you mind if we go through it one more time?"

  Maya wasn't sure what to make of him, which was probably what Kierce wanted. "What would you like to know?"

  "Let's start at the beginning, okay?"

  She sat and spread her hands as if to say, Go ahead.

  "Why did you and Joe meet up in Central Park?"

  "He asked me to."

  "On the phone, right?"


  "Was this normal?"

  "We had met up there before, yes."


  "I don't know. A bunch of times. I told you. It's a nice area of the park. We used to spread out a blanket and then we'd have lunch at the Boathouse . . ." She caught herself, stopped, swallowed. "It was just a nice place, that's all."

sp; "During the day, yes. But it's a little secluded at night, don't you think?"

  "We always felt safe there."

  He smiled at her. "I bet you feel safe most places."


  "When you've been where you've been, I mean, in terms of dangerous places, I guess a park must rank pretty low." Kierce coughed into his fist. "Anyway, so your husband called you and said, 'Let's meet there,' and so you did."

  "That's right."

  "Except"--Kierce checked his notepad, licked his fingers, started paging through it--"he didn't call you."

  He looked up at her.

  "Excuse me?"

  "You said Joe called you and said to meet you there."

  "No, you said that. I said he suggested we meet there on the phone."

  "But then I followed up with 'He called you' and you said, 'That's right.'"

  "You're playing semantics with me, Detective. You have the phone records for that night, am I correct?"

  "I do, yes."

  "And it shows a phone call between my husband and me?"

  "It does."

  "I don't remember if I called him or he called me. But he suggested that we meet at our favorite spot in the park. I could have suggested it--I don't see the relevance--and in fact, I might have, had he not suggested it first."

  "Can anyone verify that you and Joe used to meet up there?"

  "I don't think so, but I don't see the relevance."

  Kierce gave her an insincere smile. "Neither do I, so let's move on, shall we?"

  She crossed her legs and waited.

  "You describe two men approaching you from the west. Is that correct?"


  "They wore ski masks?"

  She had been through this dozens of times already. "Yes."

  "Black ski masks, am I right?"

  "You are."

  "And you said that one was about six feet tall--how tall are you, Mrs. Burkett?"

  She almost snapped that he should call her captain--she hated being called missus--but that rank wasn't apropos anymore. "Please call me Maya. And I'm right about six feet tall."

  "So one man was your height."

  She tried not to roll her eyes. "Uh, yes."

  "You were pretty precise in your description of the assailants." Kierce started reading from his notepad. "One man was six feet tall. The other you estimated to be about five eight. One wore a black hoodie, jeans, and red Converse sneakers. The other wore a light blue T-shirt with no logo, beige backpack, and black running shoes, though you couldn't tell the brand."

  "That's correct."

  "The man with the red Cons--he was the one who shot your husband."


  "And then you ran."

  Maya said nothing.

  "According to your statement, they wanted to rob you. You said that Joe was slow to give up his wallet. Your husband also wore a very expensive watch. A Hublot, I believe."

  Her throat was dry. "Yes, that's correct."

  "Why didn't he just hand it over?"

  "I think . . . I think he would have."


  She shook her head.


  "Have you ever had a gun jammed into your face, Detective?"


  "Then maybe you don't understand."

  "Understand what?"

  "The muzzle. The opening. When someone is pointing it at you, when someone is threatening to pull the trigger, that black hole grows impossibly large, like it's going to swallow you whole. Some people, when they see that, they freeze."

  Kierce's voice was soft now. "And Joe . . . he was one of those people?"

  "For a second."

  "And that was too long?"

  "In this case, yes."

  They sat in silence for a few long moments.

  "Could the gun have gone off by accident?" Kierce asked.

  "I doubt it."

  "Why do you say that?"

  "Two reasons. One, it was a revolver. Do you know anything about them?"

  "Not a ton."

  "Because of the action, you either have to cock it back or squeeze very hard. You don't accidentally fire."

  "I see. And the second reason?"

  "More obvious," she said. "The gunman fired two more times. You don't 'accidentally' fire three bullets."

  Kierce nodded and checked the notes again. "The first bullet hit your husband's left shoulder. The second hit landed in the right tangent of his clavicle."

  Maya closed her eyes.

  "How far away was the gunman when he fired?"

  "Ten feet."

  "Our ME said neither one of these shots was fatal."

  "Yes, you told me," she said.

  "So what happened then?"

  "I tried to hold him up . . ."


  "Yes, Joe," she snapped. "Who else?"

  "Sorry. Then what happened?"

  "I . . . Joe dropped to his knees."

  "And that was when the gunman fired the third shot?"

  Maya said nothing.

  "The third shot," Kierce repeated. "The one that killed him."

  "I already told you."

  "Told me what?"

  Maya raised her eyes and met his. "I didn't see the third shot."

  Kierce nodded. "That's right," he said too slowly. "Because you were running away by then."

  "Help . . . please . . . someone . . . my husband's . . ."

  Her chest started to hitch. The sounds--gunfire, the whir of helicopter rotors, the screams of agony--rushed her all at once. She shut her eyes, took a few deep breaths, kept her face composed.


  "Yes, I ran. Okay? Two men had guns. I ran. I ran and left my husband behind, and then somewhere, I don't know, maybe five, ten seconds later, I heard the blast coming from behind me and yes, now, based on what you told me, I know that after I left, the same gunman put the gun against my husband's head while he was still on his knees, pulled the trigger . . ."

  She stopped.

  "No one is blaming you, Maya."

  "I didn't ask if anyone was, Detective," she said through gritted teeth. "What do you want?"

  Kierce started paging through the notes. "Besides very detailed descriptions of the perpetrators, you were able to tell us that the one with the red Cons carried a Smith and Wesson 686 while his partner was armed with a Beretta M9." Kierce looked up. "That's pretty impressive. Identifying the weaponry like that."

  "Part of the training."

  "That would be your military training, am I correct?"

  "Let's just say I'm observant."

  "Oh, I think you're being modest, Maya. We all know that about your heroics overseas."

  And my downfall, she almost added.

  "The lighting in that part of the park isn't great. Just a few distant streetlights."

  "It's enough."

  "Enough to know specific gun makes?"

  "I know firearms."

  "Right, of course. You are, in fact, an expert marksman, is that correct?"


  The correction came automatically. So did his patronizing smile.

  "My bad. Still it was dark--"

  "The Smith and Wesson was stainless steel, as opposed to black. Easy to see in the dark. I could also hear him pull back the hammer. You do that on a revolver, not a semiautomatic."

  "And the Beretta?"

  "I can't be sure of the exact make, but it had a floating barrel in the style of Beretta."

  "As you know, we recovered three bullets from your husband's body. Thirty-eight calibers, consistent with the Smith and Wesson." He rubbed his face as if in deep thought. "You own guns, don't you, Maya?"

  "I do."

  "Would one of them happen to be a Smith and Wesson 686?"

  "You know the answer," she said.

  "How would I know that?"

  "New Jersey law requires that I register all weapons purchased in state. So you know all this. Unless you're a complete i
ncompetent, Detective Kierce, which you are definitely not, you checked my gun records immediately. So can we stop playing games and get to it?"

  "How far would you say it is from where your husband fell to Bethesda Fountain?"

  The subject change threw her. "I'm sure you did the measurements."

  "We did, yes. It's approximately three hundred yards with all the twists and turns. I ran it. I'm not in as good a shape as you, but it took me about a minute."


  "Well, here's the thing. Several witnesses said they heard the gunshot but then you emerged at least a minute or two later. How do you explain that?"

  "Why would I need to explain it?"

  "It's a fair question."

  She didn't so much as blink. "Do you think I shot my husband, Detective?"

  "Did you?"

  "No. And you know how I can prove it?"


  "Come to the range with me."


  "Like you said, I'm an expert markswoman."

  "So we've been told."

  "Then you know."

  "Know what?"

  Maya leaned forward and met his eye. "It wouldn't have taken me three shots to kill a man from that distance if I was blindfolded."

  Kierce actually smiled at that. "Touche. And I'm sorry for the line of inquiry because no, I don't think you shot your husband. In fact, I can pretty much prove you didn't."

  "What do you mean?"

  Kierce stood. "Do you keep your guns here?"


  "Do you mind showing me?"


  First, she took him to the gun safe in the basement.

  "I guess you're a big fan of the Second Amendment," Kierce said.

  "I don't get into politics."

  "But you like guns." He looked at the safe. "I don't see a combination wheel. Does it open with a key?"

  "Nope. You can only access it with your thumbprint."

  "Ah, I see. So it's set that only you can open it."

  Maya swallowed. "It is now."

  "Oh," Kierce said, realizing his mistake. "Your husband?"

  She nodded.

  "Anyone else besides you two have access?"

  "No one." She placed her thumb on the opening. The door opened with an audible pop. She stepped aside.

  Kierce looked inside and whistled low. "What do you need all these for?"

  "I don't need any of them. I enjoy shooting. It's my hobby. Most people don't like it or get it. That's fine with me."

  "So where is your Smith and Wesson 686?"

  She pointed into the safe. "Here."

  His eyes narrowed. "May I take it with me?"

  "The Smith and Wesson?"

  "Yes, if it isn't an issue."

  "I thought you didn't think I did it."

  "I don't. But we might as well eliminate not only you but your gun, don't you think?"

  Maya took out the Smith and Wesson. She was, like most good shooters, OCD when it came to cleaning and loading/unloading her weaponry, which just meant you always check again to make sure it is unloaded. It was.