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Fool Me Once, Page 26

Harlan Coben

  They had left the gunman she had shot by the side of the road.

  The entire episode, from the moment Maya tucked and rolled until now, had probably taken fewer than ten seconds.

  Now what?

  The decision took almost no time. She had no choice really. If she called it in or waited for the authorities, she would certainly be arrested. Being in the park when Joe was shot, finding Tom Douglass, the ballistics tests, now another man shot with her own gun--there would be no quick explanation.

  She hurried back to the road. The gunman was flat on his back, legs splayed.

  He could be faking it, but Maya doubted it. Still she kept her gun at the ready.

  No need. He was dead.

  She had killed the man.

  No time to dwell on that. A car would be coming any second. She quickly went through his pockets and grabbed his wallet. No time to check his ID now. She debated grabbing his phone--she wouldn't be able to use hers anymore--but that seemed too risky for obvious reasons. Finally, she considered taking his gun, which was still clutched in his hand, but that was really the only evidence, if everything else went south, that she had acted in self-defense.

  Plus, she still had her Glock.

  She had already done the calculations in her head. The gunman's body was near the side of the road. It wouldn't take much to push it two or three feet and then let it roll down the embankment.

  With one quick glance to make sure no cars were approaching, that was exactly what Maya did.

  The gunman rolled more easily than she would have thought, or maybe adrenaline had made her stronger. He slid straight down, his limp body smacking into a tree.

  He was, at least temporarily, out of sight.

  The body would be found, of course. Maybe in an hour. Maybe in a day. But in the meantime, it would buy Maya enough time.

  She rushed back to her car and slid into the driver's seat. Her phone was going crazy now. Shane calling her back. Probably Kierce starting to wonder what the hell was going on too. In the distance, a car started coming toward her. Maya kept her calm. She started up her car and gently hit the accelerator. She was just another visitor departing the Solemani Recovery Center. If there were CCTV cameras anywhere nearby, they would show a van speeding off and then, a minute or two later, a normal-driving BMW that had an excuse to be in the area driving by.

  Deep breaths, Maya. In and out. Flex, relax . . .

  Five minutes later, she was back on the highway.


  Maya put some distance between herself and the dead body.

  She turned off her phone, and then, because she wasn't sure if the phone could still be tracked, she smashed it against the steering wheel. Thirty miles later, she stopped in a CVS parking lot. She checked the gunman's wallet. No ID, but he did have four hundred dollars in cash. Perfect. Maya was low and didn't want to use an ATM.

  She bought three disposable cell phones and a baseball cap with the cash. She checked her face in the store's bathroom mirror. A disaster. She washed up as best she could and threw her hair into a ponytail. She put the cap on and came out looking presentable.

  Where would the kidnappers go?

  They were probably no longer a threat. There was an outside chance that they'd go to her house and wait for her, but that seemed very risky. The van was likely stolen or a rental or had fake plates, something, so they would probably just call it a day.

  Still she had no intention of going to her house.

  She called Eddie. He answered on the second ring. She told him where to meet her. He said that he was on his way and mercifully didn't ask any follow-up questions. This too was a risk, but it was minimal. Still, when she got closer to the Growin' Up Day Care, she gave the surroundings a serious examination. Interestingly enough, Growin' Up was almost set up the way you might an army base. You really couldn't approach it without being seen. There were layers of security. Sure, someone could shoot their way in, but really, with the buzz-locked doors by the entranceway and into each room, you'd be able to contact authorities--the police station was a block away--in no time.

  She circled one more time. Nothing suspicious.

  When she saw Eddie's car enter the lot, she pulled in behind him. The Glock was back in her waistband. Eddie parked. Maya parked next to him and got out of the car. She slid into the passenger seat next to him.

  "What's going on, Maya?"

  "I need to sign you up so you're able to pick up Lily."

  "And that weird phone number you called me from?"

  "Let's just do this, okay?"

  Eddie looked at her. "Do you know who killed Claire and Joe?"


  He waited. Then he said, "But you won't tell me."

  "Not right now, no."

  "Because . . . ?"

  "Because I don't have time. Because Claire wanted to protect you."

  "Maybe I don't want to be protected."

  "It doesn't work like that."

  "Like hell it doesn't. Maybe it's time I helped."

  "Right now," she said, "you can help by coming inside with me." She reached for the knob and pulled it. With a heavy sigh, Eddie did the same thing. When he turned his back, when he started to step out of the car, Maya jammed an envelope into the bottom of his laptop bag. Then she got out too.

  Miss Kitty buzzed them in and helped them fill out the paperwork. As they took the ID photograph of Eddie, Maya looked into the sun-bright yellow room and spotted her daughter. Seeing Lily made her heart feel suddenly light. Lily wore a smock, one of Maya's old shirts, and her hands were covered in paint. There was a big smile on the little girl's face. Maya stood there and felt a hand reach inside her chest and squeeze.

  Miss Kitty came up behind her. "Do you want to go inside and say hello?"

  Maya shook her head. "Are we done here?"

  "We are. Your brother-in-law can now pick her up at any point."

  "I don't have to call to give him permission?"

  "That was what you requested, right?"

  "It is."

  "And that's what we've done."

  Maya nodded, her eyes still on Lily. She took one more look at her daughter and started to turn away. She faced Miss Kitty. "Thank you."

  "Are you all right?"

  "I'm fine." She looked past her at Eddie. "We better go."

  When they were both out in the parking lot, Maya asked to borrow Eddie's phone. He handed it to her without objection. She signed into her GPS tracking app via the website.

  Hector's truck was back at that Paterson location.

  Good. Time to stay proactive. She debated asking Eddie if she could keep his phone, but someone might eventually figure that out and track it. She handed it back to him.

  "Thank you."

  "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

  When they reached their cars, Maya said, "Wait a second." She opened the back of her car, found the toolbox, took out a screwdriver.

  "What are you doing?" Eddie asked.

  "I'm switching our license plates."

  She didn't think Kierce would put an APB out on her yet, but there was no harm in being overcautious. Maya started on the front bumper. Eddie took out a dime, used it as screwdriver, and started on the back. Two minutes later, they were done.

  She started to get back into her car. Eddie just stood there and watched her.

  Maya stopped for a second. There were a million things she wanted to tell him--about Claire, about Joe, about everything. She opened her mouth, but she of all people should know that nothing good would come out of it. Not today. Not now.

  "I love you, Eddie."

  He used his hand to shade the sunset from his eyes. "I love you too, Maya."

  She got into the car and started for Paterson.

  Chapter 32

  She found Hector's Dodge Ram in a parking lot of a high-rise on Fulton Street in Paterson.

  Maya parked on the street and walked past the gate. She checked the Dodge Ram's doors, hoping one
might be unlocked. No luck. She debated what to do. There was no way to find out where Hector was in the building. She also didn't know if he was with Isabella or not. It was too late to care about that. Her goal now was simple.

  She would make Hector tell her where Isabella was.

  So Maya got back in her car and waited. She kept her eyes on the high-rise entrance, shifting her gaze every once in a while to Hector's pickup in case he came toward it from another direction. Half an hour passed. She wished that she had some kind of Internet access--she wanted to see if Corey, as she expected, had started to post some details about EAC Pharmaceuticals--but her cell phone was smashed and the throwaways only had phone and texting service. She bet that he had. It would explain the attempted kidnapping. Corey had posted parts of the story, and now someone, probably a Burkett, was trying to clean up any loose ends.

  Hector appeared at the door.

  Maya already had the gun out of her holster. Hector lifted his key fob and pressed the button. The truck lights blinked, unlocking the door. Hector looked troubled, but then again, this was not a man who often looked relaxed or happy.

  Maya's plan was pretty simple. Follow Hector to his car. Sneak up on him. Stick the gun in his face. Make him take her to Isabella.

  It wasn't exactly a subtle plan, but there was no time for that.

  But as Maya started toward him, coming toward him from the truck's rear, she realized that that might not be necessary.

  Isabella walked out of the entrance too.


  Maya ducked behind a car. So now what? Did she wait for Hector to leave before making her move? If she stuck a gun in Isabella's face with Hector still there, how would he react? Not well, she imagined. He had a mobile phone. He could call for help or shout or . . . mess it up somehow.

  No, Maya would have to wait for him to leave.

  Hector slid into his truck. Staying low, Maya moved a car closer. She kept the gun out of sight. She hoped that nobody would see her skulking about, but if they did, it would only arouse suspicion, not confirm it. She doubted that they would call the cops, but that was a chance she'd have to take.

  Isabella veered to her left.

  Wait, hold up.

  Maya had thought Isabella had come out to wave good-bye or maybe have a last word with her brother through his truck window. But that wasn't the case.

  Isabella was getting in on the passenger side of the truck.

  Maya had two choices here. One, go back to her car and follow them. She would seriously consider doing just that, following the truck, but she was afraid that she'd lose them, and without her cell phone, she could no longer track them.

  Two . . .


  She hurried to the truck, flung open the back door, slid in, and placed the muzzle of the gun at the back of Hector's head.

  "Hands on the wheel." Then, pointing the gun at Isabella before returning it to Hector's skull: "You too, Isabella. Hands on the dashboard."

  Both stared at her in shock for a moment.


  They slowly moved their hands to where she wanted. Remembering how she had underestimated Isabella the last time they tangoed, Maya reached forward and grabbed Isabella's pocketbook. She peered inside.

  Yep, there was pepper spray as well as her mobile phone.

  Hector's mobile was in the cup holder. Maya grabbed it and threw it in Isabella's bag. She wondered whether Hector was carrying. Keeping the gun on him, she quickly patted him down in the obvious places. Nothing. She grabbed the truck's key and put it in the same bag too. She dropped the bag on the floor in front of her, and that was when she saw something that made her pull up.

  It was a color that caught her eye . . .

  "What do you want?" Isabella asked.

  There was a pile of clothes on the floor behind the driver's seat.

  "You can't just put a gun--"

  "Shut up," Maya said. "If you so much as breathe, I'll blow Hector's head off."

  There was a gray sweatshirt on the top of the pile. She pushed it away with her foot. And there, coming into view so clear she almost pulled the trigger in rage, was a too-familiar forest green button-down shirt.


  "Talk," Maya said.

  Isabella glared at her.

  "Last chance."

  "I have nothing to say."

  Maya started talking instead. "Hector's about Joe's height and build. So I assume he played the part of Joe in your video? You let him into the house. He acted out the scene. Lily knew Hector. She would go to him willingly. Then you just got a videotape of Joe's face from . . ." That smile. The one he flashed on the video. "My God, was that from our wedding video?"

  "We have nothing to say to you," Isabella said. "You won't kill us."

  Enough. Gripping the gun harder, Maya brought the metal butt down hard on Hector's nose. The break was audible. Hector howled. Blood seeped through his fingers.

  "Maybe I won't kill you," Maya said, "but the first bullet goes into his shoulder. Then his elbow. Then his knee. So start talking."

  Isabella hesitated.

  Maya reared back the gun and smacked Hector again, this time on the side of the ear. He groaned and fell to the side. Instinctively, Isabella took her hands off the dashboard, trying to reach her brother. Maya pistol-whipped her across the face, pulling up on the power enough so that it hurt but didn't cause any serious damage.

  Still, Isabella was bleeding now too.

  Then Maya pressed the muzzle of the gun on Hector's shoulder and started to squeeze the trigger.

  "Wait!" Isabella shouted.

  Maya didn't move.

  "We did it because you killed Joe!"

  Maya kept the muzzle in place. "Who told you that?"

  "What difference does it make?"

  "You think I killed my own husband," Maya said, nodding at the gun in her hand. "So why would you think I won't just shoot your brother?"

  "It was our mother."

  Hector was talking now.

  "She said you killed Joe. She said we had to help prove it."

  "Help how?"

  Hector sat up. "You didn't kill him?"

  "Help how, Hector?"

  "Like you said. I dressed up as Joe. We let your nanny cam tape it. I took the SD card back to Farnwood. The family had hired a CGI Photoshop guy. An hour later, I came back to the house with it. Isabella put it in the frame."

  "Wait," Maya said, "how did you know I had a nanny cam?"

  Isabella made a scoffing noise. "Suddenly the day after the funeral you have a new digital frame already loaded up with pictures of your family? Please. You're the only mother I know that doesn't keep any pictures of her daughter around. You don't even hang up her artwork. So when I saw that frame--how stupid do you think I am?"

  Maya remembered now how good Isabella had been on those videos, always smiling and engaged. "So you, what, told your mother about it?"

  Isabella didn't bother answering.

  "And I assume it was her idea for you to hit me with the pepper spray."

  "I didn't know what you'd be like after you saw it. I was just supposed to get the SD card from you. So you couldn't show it to other people."

  They wanted her isolated.

  "If you showed it to me," Isabella continued, "I was supposed to pretend I didn't see it."


  "Why do you think?"

  But it was obvious. "I was supposed to slip up, start questioning my sanity . . ."

  Maya's voice drifted off. She stared straight past them now, straight through the truck's windshield. Isabella and Hector looked at her, then turned to see what had captured her attention.

  Standing there, directly in front of Hector's truck, was Shane.


  "If you move," Maya said to Hector and Isabella, "I'll shoot you dead."

  She opened the back door, got out, and reached back to take Isabella's pocketbook with her. Shane just stood there and waited for her. His eyes looked red

  "What are you doing?" Shane asked.

  "They set me up," Maya said.


  "Hector wore Joe's clothes. Then someone Photoshopped his face from a video."

  "So Joe is . . . ?"

  "Dead. Yes. How did you find me, Shane?"


  "I don't have my phone with me."

  "I put trackers on both your cars," Shane said.

  "Why did you do that?"

  "Because you haven't been acting rationally," he said. "Even before that nanny cam thing. You have to see that."

  Maya said nothing.

  "So yeah, I was the one who called Dr. Wu. I thought maybe he could get you back into therapy. And yeah, I put the trackers on your car in case you needed help. Then when Kierce contacted me about those ballistics tests and you wouldn't answer my calls . . ."

  She looked back at the pickup truck. No movement.

  Deep breaths . . .

  "There's something I need to tell you, Shane."

  "About the ballistics test."

  She shook her head.

  Flex, relax . . .

  "About that day over Al Qa'im."

  Shane looked confused. "What about it?"

  She opened her mouth, closed it.


  "We had already lost men. Good men. I wasn't going to let us lose any more."

  Her eyes starting welling up.

  "I know," Shane said. "That was our mission."

  "And then we spotted that SUV. And I'm listening to our guys pleading for help, and that SUV is bearing down on them. We set the target. We called it in. But they wouldn't let us engage."

  "Right," Shane said, "they wanted to make sure they weren't civilians."

  Maya nodded.

  "So we waited," Shane said.

  "While those boys pleaded for their lives."

  The side of Shane's mouth twitched. "It was tough listening to that. I know. But we did what was right. We waited. We followed protocol. It wasn't our fault that those civilians died. When we got confirmation--"

  Maya shook her head. "We never got confirmation."

  Shane stopped and looked at her.

  "I turned your signal off."

  "What . . . what are you . . . ?"

  "JOC radioed back for us to hold off."

  He shook his head. "What are you talking about?"

  "They didn't give us the go-ahead. They believed that at least one of the people in the SUV was a civilian, possibly underage. They radioed that it was only about fifty-fifty that the people in the SUV were the enemy."

  Shane's breathing had grown ragtag. "But I heard--"

  "No, you didn't, Shane. I relayed it to you, remember?"