Tell No One, Page 3Harlan Coben
At home, I found another shock from the past.
I live across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan - in the typical American-dream suburb of Green River, New Jersey, a township with, despite the moniker, no river and shrinking amounts of green. Home is Grandpa's house. I moved in with him and a revolving door of foreign nurses when Nana died three years ago.
Grandpa has Alzheimer's. His mind is a bit like an old black-and-white TV with damaged rabbit-ear antennas. He goes in and out and some days are better than others and you have to hold the antennas a certain way and not move at all, and even then the picture does the intermittent vertical spin. At least, that was how it used to be. But lately - to keep within this metaphor - the TV barely flickers on.
I never really liked my grandfather. He was a domineering man, the kind of old-fashioned, lift-by-the-bootstraps type whose affection was meted out in direct proportion to your success. He was a gruff man of tough love and old-world machismo. A grandson who was both sensitive and unathletic, even with good grades, was easily dismissed.
The reason I agreed to move in with him was that I knew if I didn't, my sister would have taken him in. Linda was like that. When we sang at Brooklake summer camp that "He has the whole world in His hands," she took the meaning a little too much to heart. She would have felt obligated. But Linda had a son and a life partner and responsibilities. I did not. So I made a preemptive strike by moving in. I liked living here well enough, I guess. It was quiet.
Chloe, my dog, ran up to me, wagging her tail. I scratched her behind the floppy ears. She took it in for a moment or two and then started eyeing the leash.
"Give me a minute," I told her.
Chloe doesn't like this phrase. She gave me a look - no easy feat when your hair totally covers your eyes. Chloe is a bearded collie, a breed that appears far more like a sheepdog than any sort of collie I've ever seen. Elizabeth and I had bought Chloe right after we got married. Elizabeth had loved dogs. I hadn't. I do now.
Chloe leaned up against the front door. She looked at the door, then at me, then back at the door again. Hint, hint.
Grandpa was slumped in front of a TV game show. He didn't turn toward me, but then again, he didn't seem to be looking at the picture either. His face was stuck in what had become a steady, pallid death-freeze. The only time I saw the death-freeze melt was when he was having his diaper changed. When that happened, Grandpa's lips thinned and his face went slack. His eyes watered and sometimes a tear escaped. I think he is at his most lucid at the exact moment he craves senility.
God has some sense of humor.
The nurse had left the message on the kitchen table: CALL SHERIFF LOWELL.
There was a phone number scribbled under it.
My head began to pound. Since the attack, I suffer migraines. The blows cracked my skull. I was hospitalized for five days, though one specialist, a classmate of mine at medical school, thinks the migraines are psychological rather than physiological in origin. Maybe he's right. Either way, both the pain and guilt remain. I should have ducked. I should have seen the blows coming. I shouldn't have fallen into the water. And finally, I somehow summoned up the strength to save myself - shouldn't I have been able to do the same to save Elizabeth?
Futile, I know.
I read the message again. Chloe started whining. I put up one finger. She stopped whining but started doing her glance-at-me-and-the-door again.
I hadn't heard from Sheriff Lowell in eight years, but I still remembered him looming over my hospital bed, his face etched with doubt and cynicism.
What could he want after all this time?
I picked up the phone and dialed. A voice answered on the first ring.
"Dr. Beck, thank you for calling me back. "
I am not a big fan of caller ID - too Big Brother for my tastes. I cleared my throat and skipped the pleasantries. "What can I do for you, Sheriff?"
"I'm in the area," he said. "I'd very much like to stop by and see you, if that's okay. "
"Is this a social call?" I asked.
"No, not really. "
He waited for me to say something. I didn't. "Would now be convenient?" Lowell asked.
"You mind telling me what it's about?"
"I'd rather wait until -"
"And I'd rather you didn't. "
I could feel my grip on the receiver tighten.
"Okay, Dr. Beck, I understand. " He cleared his throat in a way that indicated he was trying to buy some time. "Maybe you saw on the news that two bodies were found in Riley County. "
I hadn't. "What about them?"
"They were found near your property. "
"It's not my property. It's my grandfather's. "
"But you're his legal custodian, right?"
"No," I said. "My sister is. "
"Perhaps you could call her then. I'd like to speak with her too. "
"The bodies were not found on Lake Charmaine, right?"
"That's correct. We found them on the western neighboring lot. County property actually. "
"Then what do you want from us?"
There was a pause. "Look, I'll be there in an hour. Please see if you can get Linda to come by, will you?"
He hung up.
The eight years had not been kind to Sheriff Lowell, but then again, he hadn't been Mel Gibson to begin with. He was a mangy mutt of a man with features so extra-long hangdog that he made Nixon look as though he'd gotten a nip and tuck. The end of his nose was bulbous to the nth degree. He kept taking out a much used hanky, carefully unfolding it, rubbing his nose, carefully refolding it, jamming it deep into his back pocket.
Linda had arrived. She leaned forward on the couch, ready to shield me. This was how she often sat. She was one of those people who gave you their full, undivided attention. She fixed you with those big brown eyes and you could look nowhere else. I'm definitely biased, but Linda is the best person I know. Corny, yes, but the fact that she exists gives me hope for this world. The fact that she loves me gives me whatever else I have left.
We sat in my grandparents' formal living room, which I usually do my utmost to avoid. The room was stale, creepy, and still had that old-people's-sofa smell. I found it hard to breathe. Sheriff Lowell took his time getting situated. He gave his nose a few more swipes, took out a pocket pad, licked his finger, found his page. He offered us his friendliest smile and started.
"Do you mind telling me when you were last at the lake?"
"I was there last month," Linda said.
But his eyes were on me. "And you, Dr. Beck?"
"Eight years ago. "
He nodded as though he'd expected that response. "As I explained on the phone, we found two bodies near Lake Charmaine. "
"Have you identified them yet?" Linda asked.
"Isn't that odd?"
Lowell thought about that one while leaning forward to pull out the hanky again. "We know that they're both male, both full grown, both white. We're now searching through missing persons to see what we can come up with. The bodies are rather old. "
"How old?" I asked.
Sheriff Lowell again found my eyes. "Hard to say. Forensics is still running tests, but we figure they've been dead at least five years. They were buried pretty good too. We'd have never found them except there was a landslide from that record rainfall, and a bear came up with an arm. "
My sister and I looked at each other.
"Excuse me?" Linda said.
Sheriff Lowell nodded. "A hunter shot a bear and found a bone next to the body. It'd been in the bear's mouth. Turned out to be a human arm. We traced it back. Took some time, I can tell you. We're still excavating the area. "
"You think there may be more bodies?"
"Can't say for sure. "
I sat back. Linda stayed focused. "So are you here to get our permission to dig on Lake Charmaine property?"
"In part. "
We waited for him to
say more. He cleared his throat and looked at me again. "Dr. Beck, you're blood type B positive, isn't that right?"
I opened my mouth, but Linda put a protective hand on my knee. "What does that have to do with anything?" she asked.
"We found other things," he said. "At the grave site. "
"What other things?"
"I'm sorry. That's confidential. "
"Then get the hell out," I said.
Lowell did not seem particularly surprised by my outburst. "I'm just trying to conduct -"
"I said, get out. "
Sheriff Lowell didn't move. "I know that your wife's murderer has already been brought to justice," he said. "And I know it must hurt like hell to bring this all up again. "
"Don't patronize me," I said.
"That's not my intent. "
"Eight years ago you thought I killed her. "
"That's not true. You were her husband. In such cases, the odds of a family member's involvement-"
"Maybe if you didn't waste time with that crap, you would have found her before -" I jerked back, feeling myself choking up. I turned away. Damn. Damn him. Linda reached for me, but I moved away.
"My job was to explore every possibility," he droned on. "We had the federal authorities helping us. Even your father-in-law and his brother were kept informed of all developments. We did everything we could. "
I couldn't bear to hear another word. "What the hell do you want here, Lowell?"
He rose and hoisted his pants onto his gut. I think he wanted the height advantage. To intimidate or something. "A blood sample," he said. "From you. "
"When your wife was abducted, you were assaulted. "
"You were hit with a blunt instrument. "
"You know all this. "
"Yes," Lowell said. He gave his nose another wipe, tucked the hanky away, and started pacing. "When we found the bodies, we also found a baseball bat. "
The pain in my head started throbbing again. "A bat?"
Lowell nodded. "Buried in the ground with the bodies. There was a wooden bat. "
Linda said, "I don't understand. What does this have to do with my brother?"
"We found dried blood on it. We've typed it as B positive. " He tilted his head toward me. "Your blood type, Dr. Beck. "
We went over it again. The tree-carving anniversary, the swim in the lake, the sound of the car door, my pitifully frantic swim to shore.
"You remember falling back in the lake?" Lowell asked me.
"And you heard your wife scream?"
"And then you passed out? In the water?"
"How deep would you say the water was? Where you fell in, I mean?"
"Didn't you check this eight years ago?" I asked.
"Bear with me, Dr. Beck. "
"I don't know. Deep. "
"Right, okay. Then what do you remember?"
"The hospital," I said.
"Nothing between the time you hit the water and the time you woke up at the hospital?"
"That's right. "
"You don't remember getting out of the water? You don't remember making your way to the cabin or calling for an ambulance? You did all that, you know. We found you on the floor of the cabin. The phone was still off the hook. "
"I know, but I don't remember. "
Linda spoke up. "Do you think these two men are more victims of" -she hesitated- "KillRoy?"
She said it in a hush. KillRoy Just uttering his name chilled the room.
Lowell coughed into his fist. "We're not sure, ma'am. KillRoy's only known victims are women. He never hid a body before - at least, none that we know about. And the two men's skin had rotted so we can't tell if they'd been branded. "
Branded. I felt my head spin. I closed my eyes and tried not to hear any more.