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Fool Me Once, Page 20

Harlan Coben

  On the bottom of the page was a button that read: "In Memoriam."

  When Maya clicked it, two headshots of students appeared. They both looked so damned young, but of course, so did the kids she served with in the military. Maya again thought about those picket fences, those thin lines, those different worlds existing side by side. The young man in the photograph on the right was Andrew Burkett. Maya had never really taken the time to study her almost-brother-in-law's face before. Joe wasn't one to keep old family photographs around the house, and while the Burketts had a portrait of Andrew in one of the distant parlors, Maya had always managed to avoid paying much attention to it. In this photograph, Andrew did not look very much like his far more handsome brother Joe. Andrew favored his mother. Maya kept looking at the young face, as though there might be a clue in it, as though Andrew Burkett might even now rise from this old-school portrait and demand the truth be told.

  That didn't happen.

  I'll figure it out, Andrew. I'll avenge you too.

  Maya turned her gaze to the photograph of the other deceased young man. The name under the picture was Theo Mora. Theo looked to be Latino or maybe just had darker coloring. In the photograph, he had the awkward, forced smile of, well, a high school boy posing for his school portrait. His hair looked as if it had been slicked down but had stubbornly started to regain control. Like Andrew, he wore a jacket and school tie, though where Andrew's tie was a perfect Windsor, this boy's looked like that of a middle manager taking the late train home.

  The caption on top of the page read: "Gone Too Soon But Always In Our Hearts." There was no other information. Maya started googling Theo Mora. It took some time, but she finally found an obituary in a Philadelphia newspaper. No articles. Nothing else. Just a simple obituary. It listed the date of death as September 12, which was maybe six weeks before Andrew toppled off that yacht. Theo Mora had been seventeen when he died, the same age as Andrew.


  Maya read it again. No cause of death was listed. She tried putting the names "Andrew Burkett" and "Theo Mora" in the same search. Two Franklin Biddle Academy pages came up. One was the link to the "In Memoriam" listing she'd already visited. She clicked the other link and landed on the school's "Varsity Sports Booster" page. She found an archive of all the team rosters. Maya headed to the soccer page for that year.

  Lo and behold, Andrew and Theo Mora had been teammates.

  Could two seniors in the same high school on the same soccer team dying less than two months apart be a coincidence?


  But when you add in the Tom Douglass payoffs, when you add in Claire driving to Philadelphia, when you add in that Tom Douglass was now missing and Claire had been tortured and murdered . . .

  No coincidence.

  She checked the rest of the roster. Joe, a post-grad that year, had been on the team too. No surprise--he was a co-captain. But, man, that was a lot of death for one high school soccer team.

  She clicked another link and found a photograph of the team. Half the team was standing, half kneeling in front of them. They all looked proud and young and healthy. Maya's eyes quickly found Joe standing--again no surprise--in the dead center. The rakish smile had been there, even then. She looked at him for a moment, so damn handsome and confident, so ready to take on the world and knowing that he would always whip it, and she couldn't help but think about his ultimate fate.

  In the team picture, Andrew stood next to his brother, almost literally in Joe's shadow. Theo Mora was in the front row on one knee, second from the right. He still had the awkward, forced smile. Maya scanned the other faces, hoping one might be familiar. None were. Three of these other boys had been on the yacht that night. Had she ever met any of them before? She didn't think so.

  She moved back to the roster and printed out the names. In the morning, she could look them up and . . .

  And what?

  Call or email them, she guessed. Ask if they'd been on that yacht. See if they knew anything about what happened to Andrew or, perhaps more relevantly, how Theo Mora had died.

  She kept searching online, but nothing new came up. Maya couldn't help but wonder whether Claire had done something similar. Unlikely. Odds were that she had learned something from Tom Douglass, something about this damn school, and with Claire's go-right-to-the-top philosophy, she had driven down to Franklin Biddle Academy and started asking questions.

  Had that been what got her killed?

  One way to find out. The next day Maya would take a road trip to Philadelphia.

  Chapter 24

  Another horrible, flashback-filled night.

  Even in the midst of it, even while the sounds ricocheted through her skull like hot shrapnel, Maya tried to slow it down and see whether Wu was right, whether she was just having flashbacks or if she was hearing things that she had never heard before. Hallucinations. But every time she got close, as in any sort of nocturnal voyage, the answer became smoke, elusive. The pain from the sounds grew, and so, in the end, Maya just held on until morning.

  She woke up exhausted. She realized it was Sunday. No one would be at the Franklin Biddle Academy to answer her questions on a Sunday. Growin' Up Day Care was closed on Sundays. Maybe that was for the best. A soldier takes advantage of downtime. If you have a chance to rest, you do so. You let the body and mind heal whenever you can.

  All of this horror could wait a day, couldn't it?

  Maya would take the day off from death and destruction, thank you very much, and just spend a normal day with her daughter.

  Bliss, right?

  But Shane showed up at 8:00 A.M. with two guys who gave her a quick nod and got to work sweeping for possible listening devices or cameras. As they started up the stairs, Shane picked up the nanny cam in the den and checked the back of it.

  "Wi-Fi is switched off," Shane said.


  "Meaning there's no way anyone could spy on you with this, even if the technology somehow exists."


  "Unless, of course, there's some kind of back way in. Which I doubt. Or someone came in and switched it off because they knew we'd be checking."

  "That sounds unlikely," Maya said.

  Shane shrugged. "You're the one having your house swept for bugs. So let's be thorough, shall we?"


  "First question: Besides you, who has a key to this house?"

  "You do."

  "Right. But I've questioned me and I'm innocent."


  "Thanks. So who else?"

  "No one." Then she remembered. "Damn."


  She looked up at him. "Isabella has one."

  "And we don't trust her anymore, do we?"

  "Not even a little."

  "Do you think she'd really show up again and play around with that picture frame?" Shane asked.

  "I would say it's unlikely."

  "Maybe you should get some cameras and security," he said. "At the very least, change the locks."


  "So you have a key, I have a key, Isabella has a key." Shane put his hands on his hips and let loose a long sigh. "Don't bite my head off," he said.


  "But what happened to Joe's?"

  "Joe's key?"


  "I don't know."

  "Did he have it with him when, he, uh--"

  "Was murdered?" Maya finished for him. "Yes, he had his key on him. At least I assume he did. He usually carried a house key. Like everyone else in the free world."

  "Did you get back his belongings?"

  "No. The police must still have them."

  Shane nodded. "Okay then."

  "Okay what?"

  "Okay whatever. I don't know what else to say, Maya. It's so goddamn bizarre. I don't get any of this, so I'm asking questions until maybe something becomes clear. You trust me, right?"

  "With my life."

  "Yet," Shane said, "you won't tell me w
hat's going on."

  "I am telling you what's going on."

  Shane turned, looked at himself in the mirror, and narrowed his eyes.

  "What are you doing?" she asked.

  "Seeing if I really look that dumb." Shane turned back to her. "Why were you asking me about that Coast Guard guy? What the hell does Andrew Burkett, who died in high school, have to do with any of this?"

  She hesitated.


  "I don't know yet," she said. "But there could be a connection."

  "Between what? Are you saying that Andrew's death on the boat has something to do with Joe's murder in Central Park?"

  "I'm saying I don't know yet."

  "So what's your next step?" Shane asked.



  Tears almost came to her eyes, but she kept them in check. "Nothing, Shane. Okay? Nothing. It's Sunday. I'm grateful you guys came over, but here's what I want to happen: I want you guys to finish sweeping this place. Then I want you all to leave so on this gorgeous autumn Sunday I can take my daughter out for a classic, cliche-ridden mommy-daughter day."

  "For real?"

  "Yes, Shane, for real."

  Shane smiled. "That's so cool."


  "Where are you two going to go?"

  "To Chester."

  "Apple picking?"

  Maya nodded.

  "My parents used to take me there," Shane said with a lilt in his voice.

  "You want to come?"

  "No," he said in the gentlest voice she had ever heard. "And you're right. It's Sunday. We'll speed this up and get out of here. You get Lily ready."

  They finished up, found no bugs, and with a kiss on the cheek, Shane was gone. Maya packed Lily into her car seat and started the day. Mother and daughter did it all. They took a hayride. They hit the petting zoo and fed the goats. They picked apples and ate ice cream and found a clown who dazzled Lily with balloon animals. All around them, hardworking people spent their valuable day off laughing and touching and complaining and arguing and smiling. Maya studied them. She tried to stay in the moment, tried to just disappear into the joy of an autumn day with her daughter, but again it all felt so elusive, distant, as though she were just observing and not really experiencing it for herself. Her comfort zone was protecting these moments, not participating in them. The hours passed, the day ended, and Maya wasn't sure how she felt about any of it.

  Sunday night was no better. She tried the new pills, but they did nothing to quiet her ghosts. If anything, the sounds seemed to feed off whatever she was taking, the volume amplified.

  When she woke up with a sharp gasp, Maya quickly reached for the phone to call Wu. She stopped herself before hitting send. For a moment she even considered calling Mary McLeod, Judith's colleague, but there was no way she would do that either.

  Deal with it, Maya. It won't be much longer now.

  She got dressed, dropped off Lily at Growin' Up, and called into work to say that she wouldn't be able to make it.

  "You can't do this to me, Maya," Karena Simpson, her boss and fellow former Army pilot, told her. "I'm running a business here. You can't cancel out a lesson at the last minute."


  "Look, I know you're going through some stuff--"

  "Yeah, Karena, I am," she said, interrupting her. "And I think I may have rushed coming back. I'm sorry to leave you high and dry like this, but maybe I just need more time."

  It was part lie, part truth. She hated looking weak, but this was also necessary. Maya knew now that she wouldn't be coming back to that job. Not ever.

  Two hours later, she entered Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and drove past the trimmed hedges and stone sign reading "Franklin Biddle Academy." The sign was small and tasteful, and in the lushness of this fall afternoon, it could easily be missed. That was, of course, the point. As she pulled past the green quad and into the visitors' lot, everything around her screamed pampered, patrician, privileged, powerful. All the Ps. Even the campus had a sense of entitlement about it. You could smell the crisp dollar bills more than the fallen leaves there.

  Money buys seclusion. Money buys fences. Money buys various degrees of insulation. Some money buys the urban world. Some money buys suburban neighborhoods. Some money--big, big money--buys a place like this. We are all just trying to get deeper and deeper into a protective cocoon.

  The main office was housed in a Main Line stone mansion called Windsor House. Maya had decided not to call ahead. She had looked up the headmaster online and figured that she would just surprise him. If he wasn't in, so be it. She would find someone else to talk to about the subject. If he was in, she was sure that he would see her. He was a prep school headmaster, not a head of state. Plus, there was a Burkett Dormitory still on campus. Her last name was sure to open most closed doors.

  The woman at the reception desk spoke in a hushed voice. "May I help you?"

  "Maya Burkett here to see the headmaster. I'm sorry, I don't have an appointment."

  "Please have a seat."

  But it didn't take long. Maya had learned online that the headmaster for the past twenty-three years was a former graduate and then teacher named Neville Lockwood IV. With a name and pedigree like that, she expected a certain look--ruddy face, aristocratic features, receding blond hairline--and she got not only that from the man who greeted her now, but also wrap-around-the-ears wire-rimmed glasses, a tweed jacket, and, yes, an argyle bow tie.

  He took both her hands in both of his.

  "Oh, Mrs. Burkett," Neville Lockwood said with that accent that again said more about class than geographical location, "all of us here at Franklin Biddle are so sorry about your loss."

  "Thank you."

  He started to show her toward his office. "Your husband was one of our most beloved students."

  "That's kind of you to say."

  There was a large fireplace stacked with gray logs. To the side was a grandfather clock. Lockwood sat behind his cherrywood desk, offering her the plush chair in front of it. Her chair was set slightly lower than his, and Maya figured that was no accident.

  "Half the trophies in the Windsor Sports Hall we owe to Joe. He still has the career scoring record in soccer. We were thinking . . . Well, we were thinking of doing something in memoriam to him in the field house. He loved it so there."

  Neville Lockwood gave her a somewhat patronizing smile. Maya returned it. These sports reminiscences could be an entry to an ask for money--Maya wasn't good at picking up on such things--but either way, she decided to push ahead.

  "Do you know my sister, by any chance?"

  The question surprised him. "Your sister?"

  "Yes. Claire Walker."

  He considered it for a moment. "The name does ring a bell . . ."

  Maya was going to say that Claire had visited here approximately four or five months ago and was then murdered not long after, but something that serious would stun him and probably close him down. "Never mind, it's not important. I wanted to ask you some questions about my husband's time here."

  He folded his hands and waited.

  She had to tread gently. "As you know, Headmaster Lockwood--"

  "Please call me Neville."

  "Neville." She smiled. "As you know, this academy is a source of both great pride . . . and tragedy for the Burkett family."

  He looked appropriately solemn. "You're talking about your husband's brother, I assume?"

  "I am."

  Neville shook his head. "Such a terrible thing. I know the father passed away a few years back, but poor Judith. Losing another son."

  "Yes," Maya said, taking her time. "And I don't know how to raise this exactly, but with Joe dead, well, in terms of this school, that's three members of the same soccer team."

  The color in Neville Lockwood's face started to drain away.

  "I'm talking now about the death of Theo Mora," Maya said. "Do you recall that incident?"

  Neville Lockwood found his voice
. "Your sister."

  "What about her?"

  "She came to campus asking about Theo. That's why the name was familiar. I was off campus at the time, but I heard about it later on."

  Confirmation. Maya was on the right track.

  "How did Theo die?" she asked.

  Neville Lockwood looked off. "I could send you away right now, Mrs. Burkett. I could tell you that the school has strict privacy laws and that it would be against school policies to reveal any details."

  Maya shook her head. "That would be unwise."

  "Why would you say that?"

  "Because if you don't answer my questions," Maya said, "I may have to involve less discreet authorities."

  "Really?" A small smile toyed with his lips. "And that's supposed to frighten me? Tell me, is this the part where the evil headmaster lies to protect the reputation of his elite institution?"

  Maya waited.

  "Well, not me, Captain Stern. Yes, I know your real name. I know all about you. And not unlike the military, this academy has a sacred honor code. I'm surprised Joe didn't tell you about it. Our Quaker roots call for consensus and openness. We don't hide things. The more one knows, we believe, the more one is protected by the truth."

  "Good," Maya said. "So how did Theo die?"

  "I will ask, however, that you respect the family's privacy."

  "I will."

  He sighed. "Theo Mora died of alcohol poisoning."

  "He drank himself to death?"

  "It happens, sadly. Not often. In fact, it was the only time in the history of this campus. But one night, Theo binge-drank. He was not known as a partier or anything like that. But that's often how it happens. You don't know what you're doing and you overdo it. Theo probably would have been found and saved in time, except he ended up stumbling into a basement. A custodian found him the next morning. He was already dead."

  Maya wasn't sure what to make of that.

  Neville Lockwood put his hands on his desk and leaned forward. "Could you tell me why you and your sister are asking about this now?"

  Maya ignored the question. "Did you ever wonder," she began, "about having two students from the same school and on the same soccer team dying so close together?"

  "Yes," Neville Lockwood said. "I wondered about it a great deal."

  "Did you ever consider the possibility," Maya continued, "that there could be a connection between Theo's death and Andrew's?"

  He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "To the contrary," he said, "I don't see how there could not be a connection."