The woods, p.28
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       The Woods, p.28

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 29

  An hour later I was sitting on a plane. The door had not yet closed when Muse called me.

  "How did it go with Steubens?" she asked.

  "I'll tell you about it later. How was court?"

  "Motions and nothingness from what I hear. They used the phrase 'under advisement' a lot. Being a lawyer must be so friggin' boring. How do you not blow your brains out on days like that?"

  "It takes work. So nothing happened?"

  "Nothing, but you have tomorrow off. The judge wants to see all counsel in chambers first thing Thursday morning. " "Why?"

  "That under-advisement stuff was tossed around, but your assistant whats his name said it probably wasn't a big deal. Listen, I have some thing else for you. "

  "What?"

  "I had our best computer weenie comb through those journals sent to your friend Lucy. "

  "And?"

  "And they matched what you already knew. At first anyway. "

  "What do you mean, at first?"

  "I took the information he gleaned and then I made some calls, did some digging. And I found something interesting. " "What?" "I think I know who sent her those journals. " "Who?" "Do you have your Blackberry with you?" "Yes. " "There's a ton here. Might be easier if I e-mail you all the details. " "Okay. " "I don't want to say any more. I'd rather see if you come up with the same answer I do. "

  I thought about that and heard the echo of my conversation with Geoff Bedford. "Don't want me twisting facts to suit theories, eh?" "Huh?" "Never mind, Muse. Just send me the e-mail. "

  Four hours after I left Geoff Bedford, I sat in the office adjacent to Lucy's, one normally used by an English professor, who was on sabbatical. Lucy had the key.

  She was looking out the window when a guy named Lonnie Berger, came in without knocking. Funny. Lonnie reminded me a bit of Lucy's father, Ira. He had that Peter Pan quality, an outcast wannabe. I am not knocking hippies or far-leftists or whatever you want to call them. We need them. I am a firm believer that you need those on both political ends, even (or maybe more so) the ones you disagree with and want to hate. It would be boring without them. Your arguments wouldn't be as well honed. Think about it at its core: You cant have a left without a right. And you cant have a center without both. "What's up, Luce? I got a big date with my hot waitress. . . " Lonnie spotted me and his voice sort of faded away. "Who's this?"

  Lucy was still looking out the window.

  "And why are we in Professor Mitnick's office?"

  "I'm Paul Copeland," I said.

  I stuck out my hand. He shook it.

  "Whoa," Lonnie said. "You're the guy in the story, right? Mr. P or whatever. I mean, I read about the case online and. . . "

  "Yes, Lucy filled me in on your amateur sleuthing. As you probably know, I have some pretty good sleuths-professional investigators, actually-who work for me. "

  He let go of my hand.

  "Anything you want to share with us?" I said.

  "What are you talking about?"

  "You were right, by the way. The e-mail did come from the Frost Library bank of computers at six forty-two p. m. But Sylvia Potter wasn't there between six and seven p. m. "

  He started backing away.

  "You were, Lonnie. "

  He put on the crooked smile and shook his head. Buying time. "That's a bunch of crap. Hey, wait a second here. . . " The smile fled as he faked shock and offense. "C'mon, Luce, you can't believe that I. . . "

  Lucy finally turned toward him. She didn't say anything.

  Lonnie pointed at me. "You don't believe this guy, do you? He's. . . " "I'm what?" No reply. Lucy just stared at him. She didn't say a word. She just stared until he started to wither. Lonnie eventually collapsed into the chair.

  "Damn," he said.

  We waited. He hung his head.

  "You don't understand. "

  "Tell us," I said.

  He looked up at Lucy. "You really trust this guy?"

  "A lot more than I trust you," she said.

  "I wouldn't. He's bad news, Luce. "

  "Thanks for the glowing recommendation," I said. "Now why did you send Lucy those journals?" He started fiddling with an earring. "I don't have to tell you a thing. " "Sure you do," I said. "I'm the county prosecutor. "

  "So?"

  "So, Lonnie, I can have you arrested for harassment. "

  "No, you can't. First off, you can't prove I sent anything. "

  "Sure I can. You think you're knowledgeable with computers and you probably are in some two-bit, impress-the-coeds kind of way. But the experts in my office -now, they're what you call trained professionals. We already know you sent it. We already have the proof. "

  He considered that, debating if he should continue to deny it or ride a fresh stream. He chose the fresh. "So what? Even if I did send it, how is that harassment? Since when is it illegal to send a fictional story to a college professor?"

  He had a point.

  Lucy said, "I can have you fired. "

  "Maybe, maybe not. But for the record, Luce, you'd have a lot more to explain than I do. You're the one lying about your background. You're the one who changed your name to hide your past. "

  Lonnie liked that argument. He sat up now and crossed his arms and looked very smug. I wanted very badly to punch him in the face. Lucy kept staring at him. He couldn't face her straight on. I moved back a little, gave her room.

  "I thought we were friends," she said.

  "We are. "

  "So?"

  He shook his head. "You don't understand. "

  "Then tell me. "

  Lonnie started fiddling with the earring again. "Not in front of him. "

  "Yeah, in front of me, Lonnie. "

  So much for backing off.

  I slapped him on the shoulder. "I'm your new best pal. You know why?" "No. " "Because I'm a powerful and angry law-enforcement official. And my guess is, if my investigators shake your tree, something will fall out. "

  "No way. "

  "Way," I said. "Do you want examples?"

  He kept quiet.

  I held up my Blackberry. "I have your arrest records here. You want me to start listing them for you?"

  That made the smug go bye-bye.

  "I have them all, my friend. Even the sealed stuff. That's what I mean when I say I'm a powerful and angry cop. I can screw with you five ways to Sunday. So cut the crap and tell me why you sent those journals. "

  I met Lucy's eye. She gave me the smallest of nods. Maybe she understood. We had talked strategy before Lonnie got here. If she was alone with him, Lonnie would fall back on being Lonnie-he would lie and tell stories and tap-dance and skate and try to use their close relationship against her. I knew the type. He would put on the cool, yah-dude exterior, try to use that crooked-smile charm, but ifyou put enough pressure on him, a guy like Lonnie caves every time. More than that, fear produces a quicker and more honest response with a Lonnie than playing on his supposed sympathies does.

  He looked at Lucy now. "I didn't have a choice," he said.

  Starting to spout excuses. Good.

  "Truth is, I did it for you, Luce. To protect you. And, okay, myself. See, I didn't list those arrests on my Reston application. If the school found out, I'd be out. Just like that. That's what he told me. "

  "Who told you?" I said.

  "I don't know the names. "

  "Lonnie. . . "

  "I'm serious. They didn't say. "

  "So what did they say?"

  "They promised me that this wouldn't hurt Lucy. They had no interest in her. They said what I was doing would be for her good, too, that"-Lonnie made a production of turning around toward me- "that they were trying to catch a killer. "

  He looked at me as hard as he could, which wasn't very hard. I waited for him to yell, "J'accuse!" When he didn't, I said, "Just so you know: On the inside I'm quaking. "

  "They think maybe you had something to do with those murders. "

  "Wonderful
, thank you. So what happened next, Lonnie? They tell you to plant these journals, right?"

  "Yes. "

  "Who wrote them?"

  "I don't know. I guess they did. "

  "You keep saying they. How many of them were there?"

  "Two. "

  "And what were their names, Lonnie?"

  "I don't know. Look, they were private eyes, okay? Like that. They said they'd been hired by one of the victim's families. "

  One of the victim's families. A lie. A bald-faced lie. It was MVD, the private investigation firm in Newark. It was suddenly starting to make a lot of sense. All of this was.

  "They mentioned the name of this client?"

  "No. They said it was confidential. "

  "I bet. What else did they say?"

  "They told me that their firm was looking into these old murders. That they didn't believe the official version, blaming them on the Summer Slasher. "

  I looked at Lucy. I had filled her in on my visits with Wayne Steubens and Geoff Bedford. We talked about that night, our own role, the mistakes we made, the past certainty that all four were dead and that Wayne Steubens had killed them.

  We had no idea what to think anymore.

  "Anything else?"

  "That's it. "

  "Oh, come on now, Lonnie. "

  "That's all I know, I swear. "

  "No, I don't think so. I mean, these guys sent Lucy those journals to get her to react, right?" He said nothing. "You were supposed to watch her. You were supposed to tell them what she said and did. That's why you came in here the other day and told her how you found out all that stuff online about her past. You hoped that she'd confide in you. That was part of your assignment, wasn't it? You were supposed to exploit her trust and worm your way even deeper into her good graces. "

  "It wasn't like that. "

  "Sure it was. Did they offer you a bonus if you got that dirt?"

  "A bonus?"

  "Yes, Lonnie, a bonus. As in more money. "

  "I didn't do this for money. "

  I shook my head. "That would be a lie. "

  "What?"

  "Let's not pretend it was all about fear of being exposed or altruism in finding a killer. They paid you, didn't they?"

  He opened his mouth to deny it. I closed it before he bothered.

  "The same investigators who dig up old arrests," I said. "They have access to bank accounts. They can find, for example, five-thousand-dollar cash deposits. Like the one you made five days ago at the Chase in West Orange. "

  The mouth closed. I had to hand it to Muses investigating skills. She really was incredible.

  "I didn't do anything illegal," he said.

  "That's debatable, but I'm not in the mood right now. Who wrote the journal?" "I don't know. They gave me the pages, told me to feed it to her slowly. "

  "And did they tell you how they got that information?"

  "No. "

  "No idea?"

  "They said they had sources. Look, they knew everything about me. They knew everything about Lucy. But they wanted you, pal. That's all they cared about. Anything I could get her to say about Paul Cope-land-that was their main concern. They think maybe you're a killer. "

  "No, they don't, Lonnie. They think maybe you're an idiot who can muddy up my name. "

  Perplexed. Lonnie worked very hard on looking perplexed. He looked at Lucy. "I'm really sorry. I would never do anything to hurt you. You know that. "

  "Do me a favor, Lonnie," she said. "Just get the hell out of my face. "