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Fool Me Once, Page 27

Harlan Coben

  He just stood there.

  "You think what's on the audiotape would be bad for us because we sounded celebratory after we destroyed the target. But that wasn't what Corey had on me. He had the radio call telling me that there could be civilians in that SUV."

  "And you shot anyway," Shane said.



  "Because I didn't care about the civilians," Maya said. "I cared about our boys."

  "Jesus, Maya."

  "I made a choice. I wasn't going to lose another one of ours. Not on my watch. Not if I could help it. And if civilians died, if there was collateral damage, so be it. I didn't care anymore. That's the truth. You think I have these horrible flashbacks because I feel guilty about those dead civilians. It's just the opposite, Shane. I have them because I don't feel guilty. Those deaths don't haunt me. What haunts me, Shane, what lingers inside me, is the knowledge that if I was up there again, I would do the exact same thing."

  Now Shane had tears in his eyes.

  "So you don't have to be a shrink to figure it out. I'm forced to relive what happened every night--but I can never change the outcome. That's why those flashbacks won't ever leave me, Shane. Every night, I'm back on that chopper. Every night, I try to find a way to save those soldiers."

  "And every night, you kill those civilians again," Shane said. "Oh Christ . . ."

  He stepped toward her, arms open, but she shook him off. There was no way she could handle that. She quickly turned around and looked behind her. Isabella and Hector still hadn't moved.

  It was time to get going.

  "What did Kierce tell you, Shane?"

  "Joe and Claire were killed by the same gun," Shane said. "You knew that already, right? Kierce told you."

  Maya nodded.

  "But you didn't tell me, Maya."

  She didn't bother replying.

  "You told me everything except the results of that ballistics test."

  "Shane . . ."

  "I figured that you were working on your own to find Claire's killer. The cops were useless. I figured that you came up with something."

  Maya kept her eyes on the pickup truck. It wasn't so she could keep an eye on Hector and Isabella so much as that she couldn't face Shane.

  "You gave me that bullet before Joe was shot," Shane said. "You asked me to see if it came from the same weapon that murdered Claire. It matched. You wouldn't tell me how you got it. And now I know the same weapon killed Joe too. How can that be?"

  "Only one way," Maya said.

  Shane shook his head, but he already knew. She met his eye and held it.

  "I killed him," Maya said. "I killed Joe."

  Chapter 33

  Maya wore the baseball cap and drove Hector's pickup truck. She headed to Farnwood via the back gate and made her way to the main house. Darkness had fallen. Security was still around, but it was pretty lax. No one questioned or bothered to stop the familiar Dodge Ram.

  Shane was holding Hector and Isabella to make sure that they didn't warn anyone of her arrival at the mansion. Using the throwaway cell phone, Maya called Leather and Lace and asked for Lulu.

  "I can't help you anymore," Lulu said.

  "I think you can."

  After she hung up, Maya parked to the side of the main house. The grounds were dark. She crept to the back and tried the kitchen door. It was unlocked. The house was empty and still. No lights had been kept on. Maya moved toward the fireplace and paused. Then she sat alone in the front parlor and waited. Time passed. Her eyes adjusted to the dark.

  She saw the past all in snap flashes, but it was the first one, the opening of the gun safe, that changed everything. She had been overseas and home for the first time since Claire's death. She visited the gravesite. Joe had driven her. He had been acting odd, but that really hadn't set her off much. She was starting to wonder about him though, about how little time they had actually spent together, what with the whirlwind romance, her service, his work, but again that wouldn't have meant anything to her.

  Was she thinking that she really didn't know the man very well? No. She only thought that now, in hindsight.

  It was opening the gun safe that changed everything.

  Maya was meticulous when it came to her guns. She kept them sparkling clean, and so the moment she took out her Smith and Wesson 686s, she knew something for certain.

  One of them--the one she kept in the hidden compartment--had been used.

  Joe had reiterated when she'd come home how he hated guns, that he had no interest in going with her to the range, that he really wished that she didn't keep them in the house.

  In short, he doth protest too much.

  It was odd, looking back on it, why a man who had no interest in guns would still want to have his fingerprint in the safe database. "Just in case," Joe had said. "You never know."

  There are moments in life when everything changes. It was again like one of those optical illusions. You see only one thing, and then you shift something just a little, and everything changes. That was how she felt, holding this gun that someone who clearly didn't know what they were doing had tried to clean.

  It was a gut punch. It was a betrayal of the worst kind. Sleeping with the enemy--she felt a fool and worse. And yet it also made terrible, horrible sense somehow.

  She knew.

  Even as she went into denial, she knew that this gun, her own gun, had killed her sister. She knew it even before she went to the range and shot it and brought the bullet to Shane. She knew even before she talked Shane into secretly testing it against the .38 found in Claire's skull.

  Joe had killed Claire.

  Still there was a chance she was wrong. There was a chance a clever hit man had broken into the safe, used her gun, put it back. There was a chance it wasn't Joe at all. That was why she switched the two Smith and Wesson 686s, putting the one Joe had taken from the safe's hidden compartment for out-of-state purchases and switching it with the one registered in New Jersey that she kept in plain view. She made sure none of her other guns were loaded or had ammunition . . .

  Only the Smith and Wesson in the hidden compartment.

  She started digging through Joe's stuff and intentionally left clues that she had done so. Maya wanted him to know that she was onto him. To see if he would react. To get enough information to make him tell her why he had killed Claire.

  Yes, Kierce was right. It was Maya who called Joe that night, not the other way around.

  "I know what you did," she had said.

  "What are you talking about?"

  "I have proof."

  She told Joe to meet her in that spot in Central Park. She arrived early and cased the area. She spotted two street punks--she would later learn their names were Emilio Rodrigo and Fred Katen--walking past Bethesda Fountain. She could see from the way Rodrigo moved that he was carrying a weapon.

  Perfect. Fall guys who could never be convicted.

  When they met up, she gave Joe every chance.

  "Why did you kill Claire?"

  "I thought you said you have proof, Maya. You have nothing."

  "I will find proof. I won't rest. I will make your life hell."

  It was then that Joe pulled out the loaded Smith and Wesson 686 he'd found in the safe's hidden compartment. He was smiling at her. That was what she thought anyway. It was probably too dark to see that and her eyes were drawn to the gun. But right now, as she relived what had happened, she could swear Joe was smiling.

  He aimed the gun at the center of her chest.

  Whatever she had thought before--all that talk about what she knew--it fled out the window at the sight of the man she'd pledged to love forever pointing a loaded gun at her. She had known, and yet she hadn't believed it, accepted it, not really, it was all a mistake, and somehow, forcing his hand like this would show her what she had missed, how she got it wrong.

  Joe, the father of her child, wasn't a murderer. She hadn't shared her bed and her heart with a killer who tortured and
murdered her sister. There was still a chance that somehow it could all be explained away.

  Until he pulled the trigger.

  Now, sitting in that foyer in the dark, Maya closed her eyes.

  She could still remember the look on Joe's face when the gun didn't go off. He pulled the trigger again. Then again.

  "I removed the firing pin."


  "I took the pin off the hammer so it couldn't fire."

  "It doesn't matter, Maya. You'll never prove I killed her."

  "You're right."

  That was when Maya took out her other Smith and Wesson, the same one Joe had used to kill Claire, and shot him three times. She intentionally missed killing him with the first two. She was an expert markswoman. Most street-punk robbers were not. So death from a single shot would be too obvious.

  Kierce: "The first bullet hit your husband's left shoulder. The second hit landed in the right tangent of his clavicle."

  She'd worn a trench coat and gloves she'd bought for cash at a Salvation Army store. That was where any powder residue would end up. She ripped them off and threw them in a bin over the wall and onto Fifth Avenue. They wouldn't be found, but if they were and someone decided to test them for powder residue, big deal--they couldn't be traced to her. She bent down now and hugged Joe as he died, making sure to get plenty of his blood on her shirt. She put both guns in her handbag. Then she stumbled back toward Bethesda Fountain.

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

  No one searched her. Why would they? She was a victim. At first, everyone was concerned with her possible injuries and finding the killers. The confusion paid off. She had been prepared to dump the handbag somewhere--there was nothing in it but the weapons--but in the end, there had been no need. She just held on to them and eventually took them home. She dumped the murder weapon in a river. She put the firing pin back on the hammer of the registered Smith and Wesson and put it back in the safe. That was the one Kierce took and tested.

  Maya knew that the ballistics test would confirm her "innocence" and confuse the police. The same gun had killed Joe and Claire. Maya had a rock-solid alibi for Claire's death--she was serving overseas--ergo there was no way she could be the killer of either. She didn't like the idea of putting two innocents--Emilio Rodrigo and Fred Katen--through the police rigmarole, but one of them had indeed been carrying. She also knew that, with her own testimony about them wearing ski masks, the charges would never stick. They would never go down for the crime.

  Compared to what she had done in the past, the collateral damage to those two was negligible.

  The case was all an unsolvable mess, which is what she wanted. Claire had been murdered, and her murderer had been punished. The end. It was justice of sorts. Maya didn't know everything, but she knew enough. She and her daughter would be safe.

  And then that nanny cam video changed everything yet again.

  From her seat in the foyer, Maya heard the car pull up. She stayed in the chair. The front door opened. She could hear Judith talking about how boring the event had been. Neil was with her. So was Caroline. The three walked in together.

  Judith flipped on the lights and gasped out loud.

  Maya just sat there.

  "My God," Judith said, "you scared me half to death. What are you doing here, Maya?"

  "Occam's razor," Maya said.

  "Pardon me?"

  "'Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.'" Maya smiled. "In short, the simplest answer is usually the most likely. Joe didn't survive the shooting. You just wanted me to believe that."

  Judith looked at her two children and then turned back to Maya.

  "You set up that nanny cam stunt, Judith. You told Rosa's family that I killed Joe, but there was no way to prove it. So you wanted to shake the tree a little."

  Judith didn't bother denying it. "And what if I did?" Her voice was pure ice. "There's no law against trying to capture a killer, is there?"

  "None that I'm aware of," Maya agreed. "I had an idea right from the start, of course. You're manipulative. You spent your career doing mind tricks."

  "They were psychological experiments."

  "Semantics. But I saw Joe die. I knew that he couldn't be alive."

  "Ah, but it was dark," Judith said. "You could have been mistaken. You tricked Joe in some way. Got him to go to that spot in the park. He could have tricked you back. Replaced your bullets with blanks. Something like that."

  "But he didn't."

  Neil cleared his throat. "What do you want, Maya?"

  Maya ignored him, kept her eyes on Judith. "Even if I didn't buy that he was alive, even if I didn't crack under the pressure and confess, you knew I'd react."


  "I'd figure that someone was screwing with me. I'd start looking into it. Maybe I'd misstep and you could nail me for the murder. I'd trip up somehow. Plus, you all needed to find out what I knew. And you all played your parts for Mommy's little psychological experiment. Caroline fed me those lies about thinking her brothers were alive and that Kierce was on the family payroll. Complete fabrications. But it was a lot of things coming at me. The nanny cam, the missing clothes, the phone calls. Anyone would start to question their sanity. So I did. I would have to have been insane to not at least entertain the idea that I was losing my mind."

  Judith smiled at her. "Why are you here, Maya?"

  "I have a question for you, Judith."

  She waited.

  "How did you know I killed Joe?"

  "So you admit it."

  "Sure. But how did you know it?" Maya looked over at Neil, then at Caroline. "Did she tell you how, Caroline?"

  Caroline frowned and turned to her mother.

  "I just knew," Judith said. "A mother knows."

  "No, Judith. You knew I killed him because you knew I had a motive."

  Caroline said, "What is she talking about?"

  "Joe murdered my sister."

  "That's not true," Caroline said, her voice that of a petulant child.

  "Joe killed Claire," Maya said. "And your mother knew."


  Judith's eyes were blazing. "Claire stole from us," she said.

  Caroline: "Mom . . ."

  "More than that, Claire tried to destroy us all--the entire Burkett name and fortune. All Joe did was try to stop her. He tried to reason with her."

  "He tortured her," Maya said.

  "He panicked. That I will admit. She wouldn't tell him what she'd done. She wouldn't give him back the information. I'm not condoning his behavior, but your sister started this. She tried to destroy this family. You, Maya, should understand. She was the enemy. You attack the enemy with full force. You fight back with whatever you have. You never show mercy."

  Maya felt the rage, but she wouldn't let it consume her. "You stupid, evil woman."

  "Hey." It was Neil, coming to his mother's defense. "That's enough."

  "You don't get it, do you, Neil? You think Joe was protecting the family fortune? That it was about the EAC Pharmaceuticals stuff?"

  Neil looked at his mother in a way that confirmed that Maya was right. Maya almost burst out laughing. She turned to Judith.

  "That's what Joe told you, right? Claire had gotten the goods on your pharmaceutical scam. And with everything coming down now around you, you, Neil, no longer trusted Mommy's plan. You panicked and sent those kidnappers after me. You wanted to see what I knew. And you told the guys about my mental state. You told them that if they said Joe was waiting for me, I would, what, crumble?"

  Neil stared at her with undisguised hatred. "You'd weaken at least."

  Judith closed her eyes. "Stupid," she muttered.

  "'Joe is waiting.' That's what the guy said. And that was your mistake, Neil. You see, if Joe was behind it, if Joe had sent guys after me, he would have made sure they knew that I was armed. Those guys didn't."


  It was Judith.
r />   "You killed my son."

  "He killed my sister."

  "He's dead. He can't be prosecuted. But three witnesses heard your confession. We'll make a case."

  "You don't understand," Maya said. "Joe didn't just kill my sister. He killed Theo Mora--"

  "That was a hazing incident gone wrong."

  "He killed Tom Douglass."

  "You have no proof of that."

  "And he killed his own brother."

  Everyone stopped then. For a few seconds, there was dead silence, that kind of heavy silence like even the furniture was holding its breath.

  "Mom?" It was Caroline. "That's not true, is it?"

  "Of course it's not," Judith said.

  "It's true," Maya said. "Joe killed Andrew."

  Caroline turned to Judith. "Mom?"

  "Don't listen to her. It's a lie."

  But there was a quake in Judith's voice now.

  "I visited Christopher Swain today, Judith. He told me that Andrew was cracking, that on that boat, Andrew told Joe that he was going to turn them all in for what they did to Theo. Then Andrew went up alone to the top deck. And Joe followed him."


  Caroline started crying. Neil looked at his mother as though pleading for help.

  "That doesn't mean Joe killed him," Judith said. "You may believe it does in some horrible fantasy in your diseased head, but you yourself told me what happened. You told me the truth."

  Maya nodded. "Andrew jumped. He committed suicide."


  "And Joe saw it. That was what he told me."

  "Yes, of course."

  "Except that's not what happened. Joe and Andrew went up on that deck at one A.M."

  "That's right."

  "But nobody reported Andrew missing until the next morning." Maya tilted her head. "If Joe had seen his brother jump, wouldn't he have sounded the alarm right then and there?"

  Judith's eyes went wide as though she'd taken a punch to the gut. Maya saw it now. Judith had been in denial too. She knew, yet she hadn't known. It was amazing how much we can blind ourselves to such obvious truths.

  Judith dropped to her knees.

  "Mom?" Neil asked.

  Judith started to cry like a wounded animal. "It can't be true."

  "It is true," Maya said, standing up now. "Joe killed Theo Mora. He killed Andrew. He killed Claire. He killed Tom Douglass. How many more did he kill, Judith? He took a baseball bat to some kid's head in the eighth grade. He tried to burn a kid alive in high school over a girl. Joseph Senior saw it. That's why he gave control of the company to Neil."