The woods, p.34
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       The Woods, p.34

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 35

  When Lucy got into the car, I pressed the button for the CD player. Bruce's "Back In Your Arms" came on. She smiled. "You burned it already?"

  "I did. "

  "You like it?"

  "Very much. I added a few others. A bootleg from one of Springsteen's solo shows. 'Drive All Night. '"

  "That song always makes me cry. "

  "All songs make you cry," I said.

  "Not 'Super Freak' by Rick James. "

  "I stand corrected. "

  "And 'Promiscuous. ' That one doesn't make me cry. "

  "Even when Nelly sings, Is your game MVP like Steve Nash?'"

  "God, you know me so well. "

  I smiled.

  "You seem calm for a man who just learned that his dead sister might be alive. "

  "Partitioning. "

  "Is that a word?"

  "It's what I do. I put things in different boxes. It's how I get through the craziness. I just put it somewhere else for a while. "

  "Partitioning," Lucy said.

  "Exactly. "

  "We psychological types have another term for partitioning," Lucy said. "We call it 'Big-Time Denial. '" "Call it what you will. There's a flow here now, Luce. We're going to find Camille. She's going to be okay. " "We psychological types have another term for that too. We call it 'Wishful or even Delusional Thinking. '"

  We drove some more.

  "What could your father possibly remember now?" I asked.

  "I don't know. But we know that Gil Perez visited him. My guess is, that visit stirred something in Ira's head. I don't know what. It might be nothing. He's not well. It might be something he imagined or even made up. "

  We parked in a spot near Ira's Volkswagen Beetle. Funny seeing that old car. It should have brought me back. He used to drive it around the camp all the time. He would stick his head out and smile and make little deliveries. He would let cabins decorate it and pretend it was leading a parade. But right now the old Volkswagen did nothing for me.

  My partitioning was breaking down.

  Because I had hope.

  I had hope that I would find my sister. I had hope that I was truly connecting with a woman for the first time since Jane died, that I could feel my heart beating next to someone else's. I tried to warn myself. I tried to remember that hope was the cruelest of all mistresses, that it could crush your soul like a Styrofoam cup. But right now I didn't want to go there. I wanted the hope. I wanted to hold on to it and just let it make me feel light for a little while.

  I looked at Lucy. She smiled and I felt it rip open my chest. It had been so long since I felt like this, felt that heady rush. Then I surprised myself. I reached out with both my hands and took her face in mine. Her smile disappeared. Her eyes searched for mine. I tilted her head up and kissed her so softly that it almost hurt. I felt a jolt. I heard her gasp. She kissed me back.

  I felt happily shattered by her.

  Lucy lowered her head onto my chest. I heard her sob softly. I let her. I stroked her hair and fought back the swirl. I don't know how long we sat like that. Could have been five minutes, could have been fifteen. I just don't know.

  "You better go in," she said.

  "You're going to stay here?"

  "Ira made it clear. You, alone. I'll probably start up his car, make sure the battery is still charged. "

  I didn't kiss her again. I got out and floated up the path. The setting for the house was peaceful and green. The mansion was Georgian brick, I guessed, almost perfectly rectangular with white columns in the front. It reminded me of an upscale fraternity house.

  There was a woman at the desk. I gave her my name. She asked me to sign in. I did. She placed a call and spoke in a whisper. I waited, listening to the Muzak version of something by Neil Sedaka, which was a little bit like listening to a Muzak version of Muzak.

  A redheaded woman dressed in civilian clothes came down to see me. She wore a skirt and had glasses dangling on her chest. She looked like a nurse trying not to look like a nurse.

  "I'm Rebecca," she said.

  "Paul Copeland. "

  "I'll bring you to Mr. Silverstein. "

  "Thank you. "

  I expected her to lead me down the corridor, but we walked through the back and straight outside. The gardens were well tended. It was a little early for landscape lights, but they were on. A thick row of hedges surrounded the premises like guard dogs.

  I spotted Ira Silverstein right away.

  He had changed and yet he hadn't changed at all. You know people like that. They get older, they gray, they widen, they slump, and yet they are exactly the same. That was how it was with Ira.

  Ira? No one ever used last names at camp. The adults were Aunt and Uncle, but I just couldn't see calling him Uncle Ira anymore.

  He wore a poncho I'd last seen in a Woodstock documentary. He had sandals on his feet. Ira stood slowly and put his arms out toward me. Camp had been that way too. Everyone hugged. Everyone loved each other. It was all very "Kumbaya. " I stepped into his embrace. He held me tight, with all his strength. I could feel his beard against my cheek.

  He let go of me and said to Rebecca, "Leave us alone. "

  Rebecca turned away. He led me to a park bench of cement and green wood. We sat. "You look the same, Cope," he said. He'd remembered my nickname. "So do you. " "You'd think the hard years would show on our faces more, wouldn't you?"

  "I guess so, Ira. "

  "So what do you do now?"

  "I'm the county prosecutor. "

  "Really?"

  "Yes. "

  He frowned. "That's kind of establishment. "

  Still Ira.

  "I'm not prosecuting antiwar protestors," I assured him. "I go after murderers and rapists. People like that. "

  He squinted. "Is that why you're here?"

  "What?"

  "Are you trying to find murderers and rapists?"

  I didn't know what to make of that so I went with the flow. "In a way, I guess. I'm trying to learn what happened that night in the woods. " Ira's eyes closed. "Lucy said you wanted to see me," I said. "Yes. " "Why?" "I want to know why you've come back. " "I never went anywhere. " "You broke Lucy's heart, you know. " "I wrote her. I tried to call. She wouldn't call me back. " "Still. She was in pain. " "I never meant for that to happen. " "So why are you back now?" "I want to find out what happened to my sister. " "She was murdered. Like the others. " "No, she wasn't. " He said nothing. I decided to press a little. "You know that, Ira. Gil Perez came here, didn't he?" Ira smacked his lips. "Dry. " "What?" "I'm dry. I used to have this friend from Cairns. That's in Australia.

  Coolest dude I ever knew. He used to say, 'A man is not a camel, mate. '

  That was his way of asking for a drink. "

  Ira grinned.

  "I don't think you can get a drink out here, Ira. "

  "Oh, I know. I was never much of a booze man anyway. What they now call 'recreational drugs' was more my bag. But I meant water. They got some Poland Spring in that cooler. Did you know that Poland Spring comes to you straight from Maine?"

  He laughed and I didn't correct him on that old radio commercial. He stood and stumbled toward the right. I followed. There was a trunk-shaped cooler with a New York Rangers logo on it. He opened the lid, grabbed a bottle, handed it to me, grabbed another. He twisted off the cap and chugged. The water spilled down his face, turning the white of his beard into something darker gray.

  "Ahhhh," he said when he finished.

  I tried to get him back on track.

  "You told Lucy that you wanted to see me. "

  "Yes. "

  "Why?"

  "Because you're here. "

  I waited for more.

  "I'm here," I said slowly, "because you asked to see me. "

  "Not here here. Here, as in back in our lives. "

  "I told you. I'm trying to find out-"

  "Why now?"

  That question again.

  "Because,
" I said, "Gil Perez didn't die that night. He came back. He visited you, didn't he?" Ira's eyes took on that thousand-yard stare. He started to walk. I caught up with him.

  "Was he here, Ira?"

  "He didn't use that name," he said.

  He kept walking. I noticed that he limped. His face pinched up in pain. "Are you okay?" I asked him. "I need to walk. " "Where?" "There are paths. In the woods. Come. "

  "Ira, I'm not here-"

  "He said his name was Manolo something. But I knew who he was. Little Gilly Perez. Do you remember him? From those days, I mean?"

  "Yes. "

  Ira shook his head. "Nice boy. But so easily manipulated. "

  "What did he want?"

  "He didn't tell me who he was. Not at first. He didn't really look the same but there was something in his mannerisms, you know? You can hide stuff. You can gain weight. But Gil still had that soft lisp. He still moved the same. Like he was wary all the time. You know what I mean?"

  "I do. "

  I had thought the yard was fenced in, but it wasn't. Ira slipped past a break in the hedges. I followed. There was a wooded hill in front of us. Ira started trudging up the path.

  "Are you allowed to leave?"

  "Of course. I'm here on a voluntary basis. I can come and go as I please. " He kept walking. "What did Gil say to you?" I asked. "He wanted to know what happened that night. " "He didn't know?" "He knew some. He wanted to know more. " "I don't understand. " "You don't have to. " "Yes, Ira, I do. " "It's over. Wayne is in prison. " "Wayne didn't kill Gil Perez. " "I thought he did. " I didn't quite get that one. He was moving faster now, limping along in obvious pain. I wanted to call him to stop, but his mouth was also moving. "Did Gil mention my sister?"

  He stopped for a second. His smile was sad. "Camille. "

  "Yes. "

  "Poor thing. "

  "Did he mention her?"

  "I loved your dad, you know. Such a sweet man, so hurt by life. "

  "Did Gil mention what happened to my sister?"

  "Poor Camille. "

  "Yes. Camille. Did he say anything about her?"

  Ira started to climb again. "So much blood that night. "

  "Please, Ira, I need you to focus. Did Gil say anything at all about Camille?" "No. " "Then what did he want?" "Same as you. " "What's that?" He turned. "Answers. " "To what questions?" "The same as yours. What happened that night. He didn't under stand, Cope. Its over. They're dead. The killer is in jail. You should let the dead rest. " "Gil wasn't dead. " "Until that day, the day he visited me, he was. Do you under stand?"

  "No. "

  "It's over. The dead are gone. The living are safe. "

  I reached out and grabbed his arm. "Ira, what did Gil Perez say to you?" "You don't understand. " We stopped. Ira looked down the hill. I followed his gaze. I could only make out the roof of the house now. We were in the thick of the woods. Both of us were breathing harder than we should. Ira's face was pale.

  "It has to stay buried. "

  "What does?"

  "That's what I told Gil. It was over. Move on. It was so long ago. He was dead. Now he wasn't. But he should have been. "

  "Ira, listen to me. What did Gil say to you?"

  "You won't leave it alone, will you?"

  "No," I said, "I won't leave it alone. "

  Ira nodded. He looked very sad. Then he reached underneath his poncho and pulled out a gun, aimed it in my direction, and without saying another word, he fired at me.