Fool Me Once, Page 22Harlan Coben
She included all her contact information.
Two hours later, Maya pulled into Leather and Lace and parked in the employee lot. She started to get out of her car when the passenger door opened and Corey slipped inside and ducked down.
"Drive," he whispered.
Maya didn't hesitate. She put the car in reverse and was out of the lot in a matter of seconds.
"What's wrong?" she asked when they reached the road.
"We need to take a ride."
He gave her an address in Livingston, off Route 10.
"Livingston," Maya said. "I assume this has something to do with Tom Douglass?"
Corey kept looking behind him.
"We aren't being tailed," she said.
"I needed to get out of there. I don't want them to know."
Maya didn't ask why. It wasn't her concern. "So where are we going?"
"I've been tracking Tom Douglass's emails."
In the corner of her eye she saw him smile. "You probably think I have a big staff."
"I know you have a lot of . . . 'Followers' seems too weak a word. More like they worship you."
"Until they don't. I can't trust them. I'm just the new cause celebre. People get distracted easily. Remember 'Kony 2012'? So yes, I do most of it myself."
Maya tried to get him back on track. "And you were following Tom Douglass's emails?"
"Right. He still uses AOL, if you can believe it. The guy is four steps behind old-school. He does very little by email. Not one has been read or sent in almost a month."
Maya veered to the right and got on the highway. "Which is when his wife says he vanished."
"Exactly. So earlier today Douglass got an email from a guy named Julian Rubinstein for an unpaid bill. From what I gather from the email, Rubinstein rents Douglass his storage shed behind a body shop in Livingston."
"A car body shop?"
"I guess so, yeah."
"Weird spot for a storage shed," she said.
"There's no automatic payment by credit card, no paperwork, nothing like that. He pays the guy in cash."
Trying to keep it all off the books, Maya thought.
"So I guess Douglass missed his last payment," Corey said. "That's why Julian Rubinstein emailed him a reminder. It was all friendly, like, 'Hey, Tom, long time, no see, you're behind,' that kinda thing."
Maya's hands tightened on the wheel. This sounded like something. "You have a plan?"
Corey lifted a gym bag into view. "Ski masks, two flashlights, a chain cutter."
"We could just ask his wife for access."
"If she has the right to give it to us," he said. "And what if she says no?"
He had a point.
"There's something else, Maya."
She didn't like the tone.
"I didn't lie, but you need to understand. I had to test your loyalty."
"Uh-huh," Maya said.
They stopped at a red light. Maya turned to him and waited.
"I didn't tell you everything."
"So tell me now," she said.
"What about her?"
"She sent me more material on EAC Pharmaceuticals than I told you about."
Maya nodded. "Yeah, I figured that."
There was no reason to tell him everything either. "You knew the Burketts were up to something illegal, but you didn't have anything specific. That's what you said at first. Then you pointed out about EAC Pharmaceuticals. I figured that she had to have given you more."
"Right. But see, what she gave us still wasn't enough. We could leak what we had, but if we did, well, there would be time to sweep it under the rug. It was too early in the investigation to tip our hands. We needed more."
"So Claire kept digging."
"And she found Tom Douglass."
"Right. Except Claire said that he had nothing to do with EAC Pharmaceuticals. It was something else, something bigger."
The light turned green. Maya eased on the accelerator. "Once Claire was killed, why didn't you at least release what she gave you?"
"Like I said, it wasn't really enough. But more than that, I wanted to figure out the Tom Douglass connection. Claire seemed more concerned with that than the fake drugs, frankly. So if we revealed what I knew, I worried that they would just cover it all up. I wanted to find out more."
"So with Claire dead," Maya said, "you got me to start digging."
He didn't argue the point.
"You're something, Corey."
"I'm manipulative, I admit."
"That's a polite word for what you are."
"It's for a just cause."
"Right. So why are you telling me now?"
"Because someone died from the fake drugs. A three-year-old boy in India. He had a fever from an infection. They started treating him with EAC's version of amoxicillin. It didn't do anything. By the time the doctor switched antibiotics, it was too late. The boy went into a coma and died."
"Horrible," Maya said. "How did you find out about it?"
"Someone at the hospital. An anonymous physician wants to turn whistle-blower. He kept detailed charts, made audio and visual recordings, even saved some tissue samples. That, along with what Claire told me . . . It's still not enough, Maya. The Burketts will blame the Indians running the pharmaceutical companies. They'll hide behind expensive lawyers who know how to muddy the waters. It may wound them a little. It may cost them millions, maybe hundreds of millions. But . . ."
"You think Tom Douglass is their kryptonite."
"I do, yeah." There was a lilt in his voice now. "Claire thought so too."
"You're enjoying this," Maya said.
"Didn't you sometimes enjoy combat?"
She didn't answer.
"It doesn't mean I don't take it seriously. But yeah, I get excited."
Maya signaled right and made the turn. "Was that how you felt when you got my helicopter video? Excited?"
They fell into silence. Maya drove. Corey fiddled with the radio. After about half an hour, they took the exit off Eisenhower Parkway. The GPS said they were less than a mile away.
"You're still friends with a lot of your military pals. Shane Tessier for one."
"You keeping tabs on me?"
"What's your point, Corey?"
"Do any of them know what's on the audio of that helicopter? I mean--"
"I know what you mean," she snapped. Then: "No."
He was about to ask a follow-up, but Maya stopped him with "We're here."
When she made the left turn onto a dirt road, her eyes started scanning the area for surveillance cameras. None present. She pulled the car to a stop a block away from JR's Body Shop.
Corey handed her the ski mask. She shook her head. "We'll be less obvious without them. It's dark. We are a couple looking for our car after hours or something."
"I need to be extra careful," he said.
"I can't be spotted."
"You got the facial growth, you got the baseball cap. You'll be fine. Grab the chain cutter and keep your head down."
He looked doubtful.
"Or wait here and I'll do it."
She opened the car door and got out. Corey didn't like it, but he grabbed the chain cutter and followed. They walked in silence. It was dark now, but Maya didn't turn on the flashlight. She kept scanning her surroundings. No cameras. No security. No houses.
"Interesting," Maya said.
"Tom Douglass chose here to rent a storage unit."
"What do you mean?"
"There's a CubeSmart storage right down the street. A Public Storage too. They have security cameras and easy access and all that. But Tom Douglass didn't choose there."
"Because he's old-school."
"Could be," Maya said. "Or it could be that he really didn't want anyone to know about this. Think about it. You hacked into his credit cards. If he was paying by check or credit card at a normal storage facility center, you'd probably have found some record of it. He clearly didn't want that."
JR's Body Shop was made of concrete painted the yellow of a Ticonderoga pencil. The two garage bay doors were shut. Maya could see the padlocks, even at a distance. The grass hadn't been mowed in a long while, if ever. There were rusted car parts scattered across the property. Maya and Corey circled toward the back. A vehicle graveyard blocked their path. Maya spotted a beaten-down once-white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera from the midnineties, the same car her dad had once owned, and for a moment, she flashed back to that day: Dad turning the corner, all of them waiting, Dad honking his horn, that crooked smile on this face, Mom hopping in the front, Claire and Maya sliding into the back. It wasn't a flashy car, far from it, but Dad loved it, and Maya couldn't help, stupid as it felt, looking at this Oldsmobile and wondering whether it was the exact one that had made her dad so happy on that day, how every vehicle in this pile of junk had one day been driven off the lot new and shiny, with excitement and hope and expectation, and now they lay in tatters, dying piece by piece in the back lot of an old body shop off Route 10.
"You okay?" Corey asked.
She moved ahead without replying. She flicked on her flashlight. The yard had to be two, maybe three acres, and in the back right-hand corner, almost hidden from view by an old Chevy van, Maya spotted two outdoor sheds, the kind people buy at Home Depot or Lowe's to store their shovels and rakes and gardening stuff.
She pointed at them with the flashlight beam. Corey squinted and then nodded. They started to move closer in silence, high-stepping it over the hubcaps and engine parts and car doors that littered their path.
The sheds were small, maybe four feet high and four feet wide. Maya guessed that they were made from resin or some other sort of heavy-duty, all-weather plastic. These were the kind of units you assembled yourself in about an hour. Both units were padlocked closed.
They kept moving, but when they were about ten yards away, both Maya and Corey pulled up from the smell at the exact same moment.
With mounting horror on his face, Corey looked at Maya. Maya just nodded.
"Oh no," Corey said.
Corey wanted to turn and run right then and there.
"Don't," Maya said.
"It'll be worse if we run," she said.
"We don't even know what that smell is. It could be an animal."
"So we just leave now."
"You leave, Corey."
"I'm staying. I'm opening it. I can handle the blowback. You can't. I get that. You're already a wanted man. So go. I won't tell anyone you've been here."
"What will you tell them?"
"Don't worry about it. Go."
"I'll want to know what you found."
Maya had had enough with the indecision. "Then hang around another minute."
The chain cutter sliced through the padlock like a hot knife through butter. When the door flew open, a human arm popped out.
"Oh God," Corey said.
The smell made him gag, step back, and start to dry heave. Maya stayed where she was.
The rest of the body started to slip out. Maya could see that the corpse was in pretty bad shape. The face was starting to rot, but based on the pictures she'd seen, plus the size and gray hair, it was Tom Douglass. She stepped toward the body.
"What are you doing?"
She didn't bother answering. It wasn't that dead bodies had stopped bothering her after she'd seen too many. It was just that they didn't shock her anymore. She peered into the shed behind the body. Empty.
Corey started dry heaving again.
"Go," she said.
"If you throw up here, the cops will see it. Get out of here. Now. Get back to the highway and find a food place. Call Lulu or someone to pick you up."
"I don't feel comfortable leaving you here alone."
"I'm not in danger. You are."
He looked left. He looked right. "Are you sure?"
She moved to the other shed, snipped the lock, looked inside.
When she glanced behind her, Corey was in the distance, staggering past the car parts toward the exit. She waited until he was out of sight. Maya checked her watch. She wiped her prints off the chain cutters and hid them inside the Oldsmobile. Even if found, they'd prove nothing. She waited another twenty minutes to be on the safe side.
Then she called 9-1-1.
Maya had a story and she stuck to it: "I got a tip to come here. When I arrived, the lock was broken. An arm was sticking out. So I opened the door some more. And that's when I called nine-one-one."
The police asked what kind of "tip." She said it was anonymous. They asked what her interest was in this. She went for the truth here because they would learn it from Tom Douglass's widow anyway: Her sister, Claire, who had been murdered, had conversed with Tom Douglass not long before her death, and Maya wanted to know why.
The questions kept coming in various forms. She said that she needed to arrange pickup for her daughter at day care. The cops let her do so. She called Eddie and quickly explained the situation.
"You okay?" Eddie asked.
"This has to be connected to Claire's murder, right?"
"I'll get Lily now."
Maya reached the Growin' Up Day Care via Skype and, surrounded by police presence, explained that Lily's uncle Eddie would be picking her up today. Miss Kitty did not readily accept that. She made Maya jump through all the hoops and then insisted on phone-call backups to make sure it was all on the up-and-up. Maya welcomed the security overkill.
Hours later, Maya finally had had enough. "Are you arresting me?"
The lead cop, an Essex County detective with the most glorious helmet of curly hair and bold eyelashes, hemmed and hawed. "We can arrest you for trespassing."
"Then do that," she said, putting her hands out, wrists together. "I really need to go home to my daughter."
"You are a suspect here."
"For what exactly?"
"What do you think? Murder."
"How did you end up here tonight?"
"I told you already."
"You'd learned that the victim was missing from his wife, correct?"
"Then you got a tip from a mystery source to check this storage shed."
"Who was the mystery source?"
"It was anonymous."
"By phone?" Curly asked.
"Home phone or mobile?"
"We're going to check your call records."
"You do that. But for now, it's late." She started to stand. "So if that's all for tonight--"
Maya recognized the voice and cursed under her breath.
NYPD detective Roger Kierce walked toward them with his caveman swagger, his arms jutting out from his squat body.
"Who are you?" Curly asked.
Kierce flashed his badge and gave his name. "I'm investigating the shooting death of Joe Burkett, Ms. Stern's husband. Do you guys have a cause of death here?"
Curly looked warily at Maya for a moment. "Maybe we should talk alone?"
"Looked like a slit throat," Maya said. They both looked at her. "Hey, I really have to go. I'm trying to save us all time."
Kierce made a face and looked back toward Curly.
"There is what appears to be a knife wound at the throat," Curly said, "but we don't know more than that yet. The county medical examiner will give us her findings i
n the morning."
Kierce pulled up the chair next to Maya, twirled it so the back was in the front, and then made a big production of sitting/straddling it. Maya watched him, wondering about what Caroline had said about Kierce taking payoffs from the Burketts. Was it true? She doubted it, but true or false, raising it at this juncture seemed an unwise move.
"I could call my attorney right now," Maya said. "We both know you guys don't have enough to hold me."
"We appreciate your cooperation in this matter," Kierce said without an iota of sincerity, "but before you go . . . Well, I think we've been looking at this all wrong."
He was waiting for her to bite.
"What have we"--she emphasized the word--"been looking at wrong, Detective?"
Kierce put his hands on the top of the chair back. "You keep stumbling over dead bodies, don't you?"
Eddie's words: "Death follows you, Maya . . ."
"First your husband. Now this private investigator."
He gave her a smile.
"Are you trying to make a point, Detective Kierce?"
"I'm just saying. First, you're with your husband in the park. He ends up dead. Then you come searching for God knows what. Tom Douglass ends up dead. What's the common denominator in all this?"
"Let me guess," Maya said. "Me?"
Kierce shrugged. "You can't help but notice that."
"No, you can't. So what's your theory, Detective? Did I kill them both?"
Kierce shrugged again. "You tell me."
Maya put up her hands in mock surrender. "Yeah, you got me. I guess I, what, killed Tom Douglass weeks ago judging by the condition of the body. Then I jammed his corpse into that storage bin, got clean away with it apparently, still went to his wife looking for him for some odd reason, and then--help me here, Kierce--I came back to reveal the body and implicate myself?"
He just sat there.
"And yes, I see the obvious connection between this and my husband. I guess I'm stupid enough to stick around murder scenes because that's a great way to get away with it, right? Oh, and in the case of Joe, I even--wow, I'm good--somehow tracked down the gun someone used to kill my sister, even though I wasn't even in the country when she was murdered, and used it on him. That about right, Detective Kierce? Did I leave anything out?"
Kierce said nothing.
"And while you're trying to prove I committed two . . . Or, wait, did I kill my sister too? No, you told me already I couldn't have done that one because you know I was serving our country overseas . . . But while you're proving all of this, maybe we could also take a look at your relationship to the Burkett family."