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Fool Me Once, Page 24

Harlan Coben

  "Maya?" Kierce said again.


  "You've been lying to me from day one."

  Enough, Maya thought. It was time to turn the tables on him. "Caroline Burkett tells me that you've been taking bribes from the Burkett family."

  Kierce might have smiled. "That's a lie."

  "Is it?"

  "Yes. I just don't know if Caroline Burkett lied to you"--he gave her a quick glance and then had his eyes on the road again--"or if you're lying now to distract me."

  "Not a lot of trust in this car, is there?"

  "No," Kierce agreed. "But you're running out of time, Maya. Lies never die. You can try to smother them, but lies will always find a way to show themselves again."

  Maya nodded. "That's deep, Kierce."

  He chuckled at that. "Yeah, that was a bit much, wasn't it?"

  They pulled into her driveway. Maya reached for the door handle, but the door was locked. She looked at Kierce.

  "I'm going to find the answer," he said. "I just hope that it doesn't lead back to you. But if it does . . ."

  She waited for the click of the door unlocking. When the sound came, she opened the door and left without bothering with a good-bye or thanks. When she got inside, Maya made sure that the doors were locked before she headed down the dark stairwell.

  The basement had started life as a rather upscale "man cave"--three flat screens, an oak bar, a wine cooler, a pool table, two pinball machines--but Joe had been slowly converting it over into a playroom for Lily. The dark wood paneling had been stripped off, and the walls painted bright white. Joe had found life-sized decals of various characters from Winnie the Pooh and Madeline and plastered them everywhere. His oak bar was still there, though he'd promised to remove that too. Maya hadn't cared if it stayed. In the far corner of the basement was one of those Step 2 indoor playhouses Joe had bought at Toys "R" Us on Route 17. It was fort-themed ("manly," Joe had claimed) with a kitchenette ("womanly," he almost claimed, but his survival instinct took over), a working doorbell, and a window with shutters.

  Maya headed for the gun safe. She bent down, checked the basement steps even though she knew she was alone, and then placed her fingertip on the glass. The safe came with the ability to store thirty-two separate fingerprints, but only she and Joe had ever worked it. She had debated adding Shane's fingerprints in case he ever needed to get one of her weapons or if she needed him to get one out for whatever reason, but she just hadn't had the chance.

  Two clicks signaled that her fingerprint was recognized and the safe unlocked. Maya turned the knob and opened the metal door.

  She took out the Glock 26, and then, because it was better to put her mind completely at ease, she made sure all the other guns were still in place--that no one had come here, opened the safe, and taken one.

  No, she didn't believe Joe was alive, but at this stage, she would have to be stubbornly crazy to completely dismiss the notion.

  She took the guns out one by one, and even though she had done it recently, she once again opened them up and gave them a thorough cleaning. She always did that. Every single time she touched a gun, she rechecked it and cleaned it. Doing so, being so anal about her weaponry, had probably saved her life.

  Or ruined it.

  She closed her eyes for a second. So many crazy what-ifs in all this, so many sliding-door moments. Had it all started on the campus of Franklin Biddle Academy or on that yacht? Could it have simply ended there, in the past, or did her combat mission over Al Qa'im somehow bring it back to life? Was Corey to blame for awakening those ghosts? Was Claire? Was having that leaked tape released to the world the cause? Was it going to Tom Douglass?

  Or was it opening this damn safe?

  Maya didn't know anymore. She wasn't sure she cared either.

  The guns in plain sight, the guns she had shown to Roger Kierce, were the ones that had all been legally registered in New Jersey. They were present and accounted for. Maya reached her hand toward the back, found the spot, pressed against it.

  A secret compartment.

  She couldn't help but think of Nana's trunk in Claire's house, how the idea of the fake wall and secret compartment started generations ago in Kiev, and now here she was, carrying on the family tradition.

  Maya still kept two guns back here, both bought out of state and thus untraceable to her. Nothing illegal about that. They were both there, but what had she expected? That Ghost Joe had come and stolen one of them? Heck, ghosts don't have fingerprints, do they? Ghost Joe couldn't open the safe, even if he wanted to.

  Oh boy, she was feeling punchy.

  The buzz of her mobile phone startled her. She checked the number but didn't recognize it. She hit the answer button and said, "Hello?"

  "Is this Maya Burkett?"

  It was a man's voice, smooth like one of those guys on NPR radio, but there was an unmistakable quiver in it.

  "Yes, it is. Who is this?"

  "My name is Christopher Swain. You sent me an email."

  Joe's high school soccer co-captain. "Yes, thank you for calling me back."

  Silence. For a moment she thought that perhaps he had hung up.

  "I wanted to ask you some questions," she said.


  "About my husband. About his brother Andrew."


  "Mr. Swain?"

  "Joe is dead now. Is that correct?"


  "Who else knows you've contacted me?"

  "No one."

  "Is that the truth?"

  Maya felt her grip on the phone tighten. "Yes."

  "I'll talk to you, then. But not on the phone."

  "Tell me where to go."

  He gave her an address in Connecticut.

  "I can be there within two hours," she said.

  "Don't tell anyone you're coming. If you're with someone, they won't let you in."

  Swain hung up.


  She made sure the Glock was loaded and closed the safe. She strapped on a leather IWB (inside waistband) holster, which would keep the Glock concealed, especially when she wore certain flex-fabric jeans and a dark blazer. She liked the feel of carrying. On some alternate planet, you weren't supposed to like it--it was wrong, it showed you were violent, whatever--but there was something both primitive and comforting in the weight of the weapon. That could, of course, be a danger too. You get overconfident. You tend to let yourself get into situations that you shouldn't because, hey, you could always shoot your way out of them. You start to feel a little indestructible, a little full of yourself, a little too brave, a little too macho.

  Carrying guns gave you options. That was not always a good thing.


  Maya stuck the nanny cam frame in the back of the car. She didn't want it in the house anymore.

  She put the address Christopher Swain had given her into her map app, which informed her the ride with current traffic conditions would take one hour, thirty-six minutes. She blasted Joe's playlist on the ride. Again she couldn't say why. The first song was Rhye's "Open," which starts hot and heavy with the line "I'm a fool for that shake in your thighs," but a few lines later, in the afterglow of the moment, you can feel a gap growing between the lovers: "I know you're faded, mmm, but stay, don't close your eyes."

  In the next song, Lapsley gorgeously sang a warning: "It's been a long time coming, but I'm falling short." Boy, did that feel apropos.

  Maya got lost in the music, singing out loud, drumming on the steering wheel. In real life, in the helicopter, in the Middle East, at her home, everywhere, she cut it all off and kept it down. But not here. Not alone in a goddamn car. Alone in goddamn cars, Maya blared the music and shouted every lyric.

  Damn right.

  The final song, as she hit the Darien town line, was a haunting beauty from Cocoon called, weirdly enough, "Sushi," and once again the opening line smacked her like a two-by-four: "In the morning, I'll go down the graveyard, to make sure you're gone for good .
. ."

  That sobered her up.

  Some days, every song seems to be talking directly to you, don't they?

  And some days, a lyric may hit too close to home.

  She drove down a narrow, quiet street. Thick woods lined both sides of it. The phone map showed that the address was at the end of a dead end. If that was the case, and she had no reason to doubt it, the residence was in a secluded spot. There was a guard booth at the top of the driveway. The gate was lowered. Maya pulled up to it as the guard approached her.

  "May I help you?"

  "I'm here to see Christopher Swain."

  The guard vanished back into his hut and picked up the phone. A moment later, he hung up and came back over to her. "Drive up to the guest lot. It'll be on the right. Someone will meet you there."

  Guest lot?

  As she drove up the driveway, she realized that this was not a residence. So what was it? There were security cameras on trees. Buildings of rain-gray stone started popping up. The overall feel, what with the seclusion and stone and layout, was very similar to Franklin Biddle Academy.

  There were probably ten cars in the guest lot. When Maya parked, another security guard drove toward her in a golf cart. She quickly took out her gun--no doubt in her mind there would be some kind of wanding or metal detector here--and jammed it into her glove compartment.

  The security driver took a cursory look at the car and invited her to get into the passenger seat of the golf cart. Maya did.

  "May I see your ID, please?"

  She handed him her driver's license. He snapped a photograph of it with his camera phone and gave it back to her. "Mr. Swain is in Brocklehurst Hall. I'll take you there."

  As they began to drive, Maya spotted various people--mostly in their twenties, men and women, all white--huddled oddly in groups or walking fast in pairs. Many, too many of them, were smoking. Most wore jeans, sneakers, and an assortment of sweatshirts or heavy sweaters. There was what looked like a college quad, except there was a fountain statue of what might have been the Virgin Mary dead center.

  Maya asked out loud what she'd been asking herself. "What is this place?"

  The security guard pointed at the Virgin Mary. "Until the late seventies, it was a convent, believe it or not."

  She believed it.

  "Full of nuns back then."

  "No kidding," Maya said, trying not to sound too sarcastic. Like what else would a convent be full of? "And what is it now?"

  He frowned. "You don't know?"


  "Who are you visiting?"

  "Christopher Swain."

  "It isn't my place to say anything."

  "Please." She said it in a voice that made him suck in his gut. "I just need to know where I am."

  He sighed, just to give the impression of thinking it over, and said, "This is the Solemani Recovery Center."

  "Recovery." A euphemism for a rehab center. That explained it. The irony--the rich taking over a beautiful secluded spot that used to house nuns who probably vowed to live a life of poverty. Then again, look at this place. Some vow of poverty. Maybe it wasn't irony exactly, but it was something.

  The golf cart pulled up to what looked like a dormitory.

  "Here we are. Just go through the doors there."

  She was buzzed in by yet another security guard, and sure enough, she had to walk through a metal detector. A woman met her on the other side with a smile and a handshake.

  "Hello, my name is Melissa Lee. I'm a facilitator here at the Solemani."

  "Facilitator." Another all-purpose euphemism.

  "Christopher asked me to take you to the solarium. I'll show you the way."

  Melissa Lee's heels clacked and echoed in the empty corridor. The place was convent silent except for those heels. If you knew that--and you had to if you worked here every day--why would you choose to disrupt the solace with your shoes? Was it part of a uniform? Was it intentional? Why not just wear sneakers or something?

  And why was she thinking of something so banal anyway?

  Christopher Swain stood to greet her like a nervous date. He wore a well-tailored black suit, white shirt, thin black tie. He had the kind of facial growth that took some planning to look unplanned. His hair was skater boy with blond highlights. He was good-looking, albeit trying too hard. Whatever had brought him to this place had etched lines on his face. He probably didn't like that. He'd probably add Botox or fillers, but Maya thought it gave the otherwise privileged look some character.

  "Can I get you anything?" Melissa Lee asked.

  Maya shook her head.

  Melissa gave half a smile and looked at Swain. With touching concern in her voice, she said, "Are you sure you want me to leave, Christopher?"

  "Yes, please." His tone was tentative. "I think this is an important step for me."

  Melissa nodded. "I do too."

  "So we will need some privacy."

  "I understand. I'll be nearby just in case. Just holler."

  Melissa gave Maya another half smile and left. She closed the doors behind her.

  "Wow," Swain said when they were alone. "You're really beautiful."

  Maya didn't know what to say to that, so she kept her mouth closed.

  He smiled and openly looked her up and down. "You're stunning and you give off that air of unattainability. Like you're above it all." He shook his head. "I bet Joe couldn't resist you the moment he saw you, am I right?"

  Now was not the time to play a feminist card or get offended. She needed him to keep talking. "Pretty much, yeah."

  "Let me guess. Joe gave you some cheesy pickup line, something funny but maybe self-deprecating and vulnerable. I'm right, aren't I?"

  "You are."

  "Swept you off your feet, didn't he?"


  "Oh man, that Joe. The dude was three steps above charismatic when he wanted to be." Swain shook his head again as the smile started to fall away. "So is he really dead? Joe, I mean."


  "I didn't know. No news in here. One of the rules. No social media, no Internet, no outside world. We get to check our email once a day. That's how I saw your message. Once I did . . . Well, my doctor said it would be okay to read the news report. I have to say, I was shocked to hear about Joe. Would you like to sit down?"

  The solarium was clearly a more recent addition that was trying to fit in with the old and not totally succeeding. There was a snapped-together vibe about it. The roof was a dome with faux stained glass. There were plants, sure, but fewer than one might imagine in a room dubbed a solarium. Two leather chairs sat in the middle of the room facing each other. Maya took one, Swain the other.

  "I can't believe he's dead."

  Yeah, Maya thought, she was getting that a lot.

  "You were there, right? When he was shot?"

  "Yes," Maya said.

  "The news reports said you escaped unharmed."



  "I ran away."

  Swain looked at her as though he didn't entirely believe that. "It must have been scary for you."

  She said nothing.

  "The news outlets described it as a robbery gone wrong."


  "But we both know that's not true, don't we, Maya?" He put his hand through his hair. "You wouldn't be here if it were just a robbery."

  His manner was starting to unnerve her. "Right now," Maya said, "I'm just trying to put together what happened."

  "It's incredible," he said. "I still can't believe it."

  There was an odd smile on his face.

  "Believe what?"

  "That Joe is dead. Sorry for harping on that. It's just that he was . . . I don't know if it would be right to say he was 'so full of life.' That's so hackneyed, isn't it? But let's say Joe was a life force. You know? He seemed so strong, so powerful, like a fire that raged so out of control you could never put it out. There was almost something--I know this is silly--immortal about him . . ." />
  Maya shifted in her seat. "Christopher?"

  He was gazing out a window.

  "You were on the yacht the night Andrew went overboard."

  He didn't move.

  "What really happened to his brother Andrew?"

  Swain swallowed hard. A tear escaped from his eye and slid down his cheek.


  "I didn't see it, Maya. I stayed on the lower deck."

  There was a chill in his voice.

  "But you know something."

  Another tear.

  "Please tell me," Maya said. "Did Andrew really fall?"

  His voice was like a stone dropping down a well. "I don't know. But I don't think so."

  "So what happened to him?"

  "I think . . . ," Christopher Swain said before taking a deep breath, summoning some inner resolve, and starting again. "I think Joe pushed him off the boat."

  Chapter 30

  Swain sat with both hands gripping the chair arms.

  "It started when Theo Mora came to Franklin Biddle Academy. Or maybe that was when I started to see it."

  They had pushed their chairs closer together, almost knee-to-knee, somehow needing to be physically closer in this room that seemed to be growing ever colder.

  "You probably think it was the old cliche about the rich not wanting the poor sullying their elite institutions. You can almost picture it, can't you? We rich kids all ganged up on Theo or picked on him. But that wasn't how it was."

  "How was it?" Maya asked.

  "Theo was funny and outgoing. He didn't make the mistake of backing off or kowtowing to us. He fit right in. We all liked him. He didn't seem all that different in many ways. I know people want to paint the rich one way and the poor another, but when you're kids--and that's what we were, or what I thought we were, just kids--you just want to hang out and belong."

  He wiped his eyes.

  "And it didn't hurt that Theo was a great soccer player. Not good. Great. I was thrilled. We had a chance to win it all that year. Not just the state as a prep school, which we did, but win the entire state tournament outright, including all the big public and parochial schools. Theo was that good. He could score from anywhere. And maybe that was the problem."

  "How so?"

  "He wasn't a threat to me. I was a midfielder. He wasn't a threat to his roommate and best friend, Andrew. Andrew was a goalie."

  Swain stopped and looked at Maya.

  "But Joe was a striker too," she said.

  Swain nodded. "I'm not saying he was openly hostile to Theo, but . . . I've known Joe since we were in first grade. We grew up together. We were always captains of the soccer team. And when you spend that much time with a person, you get a chance to see the facade slip away sometimes. The anger that would come out. His flashes of rage. When we were in eighth grade, Joe put a kid in the hospital with a baseball bat. I don't remember what it was even about anymore. I just remember three of us pulling him off the poor kid. Cracked his skull. A year later, this girl Joe liked, Marian Barford, was going to go to the dance with Tom Mendiburu. Two days before, there's a fire in the science lab and Tom barely gets out alive."