The woods, p.37
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       The Woods, p.37

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 38

  I PASSED OUT.

  That was what I was told. I do have dim memories, though. I re member Ira falling on me, the back of his head gone. I remember hearing Lucy scream. I remember looking up, seeing the blue sky, watching the clouds fly by me. I assume I was on my back, on a stretcher, being taken to the ambulance. That was where the memories stopped. With the blue sky. With the white clouds.

  And then, when I started to feel almost peaceful and calm, I remembered Ira's words.

  Your sister is dead. . .

  I shook my head. No. Glenda Perez had told me that Camille had walked out of those woods. Ira wouldn't know. He couldn't.

  "Mr. Copeland?"

  I blinked my eyes open. I was in a bed. A hospital room.

  "My name is Dr. McFadden. "

  I let my gaze travel the room. I saw York behind him.

  "You were shot in the side. We stitched you up. You're going to be fine, but there will be soreness-"

  "Doc?"

  McFadden had been using his best doctor singsong, not expecting such an early interruption. He frowned. "Yes?" "I'm okay, right?" "Yes. "

  "Then can we talk about this later? I really need to speak to that officer. "

  York hid a smile. I expected an argument. Doctors are even more arrogant than attorneys. But he didn't give me one. He shrugged and said, "Sure. Have the nurse page me when you're done. "

  "Thanks, Doc. "

  He left without another word. York moved closer to the bed.

  "How did you know about Ira?" I asked.

  "The lab guys matched carpet fibers found on the body of, uh. . . " York's voice drifted off. "Well, we still don't have an ID but if you want we can call him Gil Perez. " "That would be good. "

  "Right, anyway, they found these carpet fibers on him. We knew that they came from an old car. We also found a security camera that was near where the body was dumped. We saw it was a yellow Volkswagen, matched it to Silverstein. So we hurried over. "

  "Where's Lucy?"

  "Dillon's asking her some questions. "

  "I don't get it. Ira killed Gil Perez?"

  "Yep. "

  "No question?"

  "None. First off, we found blood in the backseat of the Volkswagen. My guess is, it'll match Perez. Two, the staff at that halfway house confirmed that Perez - signing in as Manolo Santiago - visited Silverstein the day before the murder. The staff also confirmed that they saw Silverstein leave in the Volkswagen the next morning. First time he'd been out in six months. "

  I made a face. "They didn't think to tell his daughter?"

  "Staff who saw him weren't on duty the next time Lucy Gold came in. Plus, hey, as the staff told me repeatedly, Silverstein has never been declared incompetent or anything like that. He was free to come and go as he pleased. "

  "I don't get it. Why would Ira kill him?"

  "The same reason he wanted to kill you, I guess. You were both looking into what happened at that camp twenty years ago. Mr. Silver stein didn't want that. "

  I tried to put it together. "So he killed Margot Green and Doug Billingham?" York waited a second, as though expecting me to add my sister to the list. I didn't.

  "Could be. "

  "And what about Wayne Steubens?"

  "They probably worked together somehow, I don't know. What I do know is, Ira Silverstein killed my guy. Oh, another thing: the gun Ira shot you with? It's the same caliber as the one used to shoot Gil Perez. We're running a ballistic test now, but you know it'll be a match. So you add that to the blood in the backseat of the Beetle, the surveillance tapes of him and the vehicle near where the body was dumped off. . . I mean, come on, it's overkill. But hey, Ira Silverstein is dead, and as you know, it is very difficult to try a dead man. As for what Ira Silverstein did or didn't do twenty years ago"-York shrugged-"hey, I'm curious too. But that's someone else's mystery to solve. "

  "You'll help, if we need it?"

  "Sure. Love to. And when you do figure it all out, why don't you come into the city and I'll take you for a steak dinner?" "Deal. " We shook hands.

  "I should thank you for saving my life," I said.

  "Yeah, you should. Except I don't think I did. "

  I remembered the look on Ira's face, his determination to kill me. York had seen it too-Ira was going to shoot me, consequences be damned. Lucy's voice had been what saved me more than York's gun.

  York left then. I was alone in a hospital room. There are probably more depressing places to be alone, but I couldn't think of one. I thought about my Jane, how brave she was, how the only thing that really scared her, terrified her, was being alone in a hospital room. So I stayed all night. I slept in one of those chairs that can be made into the most uncomfortable bed on God's green earth. I don't say that to get applause. It was Jane's one moment of weakness, the first overnight at the hospital, when she grabbed my hand and tried to keep the desperation out of her voice when she said, "Please don't leave me alone here. "

  So I didn't. Not then. Not until much later, when she was back home, where she wanted to die because the thought of being back in a room like the one I'm in now. . .

  Now it was my turn. I was alone here. It didn't scare me too much. I thought about that, about where my life had taken me. Who would be here for me in a crisis? Who could I expect to be at my bedside when I woke up in a hospital? The first names that popped into my head: Greta and Bob. When I cut my hand last year slicing open a bagel, Bob had driven me, Greta had taken care of Cara. They were family-the only family I had left. And now they were gone.

  I remembered the last time I was hospitalized. When I was twelve years old I came down with rheumatic fever. It was pretty rare then, even rarer now. I spent ten days in the hospital. I remember Camille visiting. Sometimes she brought her annoying friends because she knew that would distract me. We played Boggle a lot. Boys loved Camille. She used to bring the cassette tapes they made for her-groups like Steely Dan and Supertramp and the Doobie Brothers. Camille told me what groups were great, what groups were lame, and I followed her taste as though it were biblical.

  Did she suffer out in those woods?

  That was what I'd always wondered. What did Wayne Steubens do to her? Did he tie her up and terrify her, like he did with Margot Green? Did she struggle and suffer defensive wounds like Doug Billingham? Did he bury her alive, like those victims in Indiana or Virginia? How much pain had Camille been in? How terrifying were her last moments?

  And now. . . the new question: Had Camille somehow gotten out of those woods alive?

  I turned my thoughts to Lucy. I thought about what she must be going through, watching her beloved father blow his head off, wondering about the whys and how's of it all. I wanted to reach her, say some thing, try somehow to comfort her a little.

  There was a knock on my door.

  Come in.

  I expected it to be a nurse. It wasn't. It was Muse. I smiled at her. I expected her to smile back. She didn't. Her face couldn't have been more closed.

  "Don't look so glum," I said. "I'm fine. "

  Muse moved closer to the bed. Her expression didn't change.

  "I said-"

  "I already talked to the doctor. He said you might not even have to stay overnight. " "So what's with the face?" Muse grabbed a chair, pulled it next to the bed. "We need to talk. "

  I had seen Loren Muse make this face before.

  It was her game face. It was her I'm-gonna-nail-da-bastard face. It was her try-to-lie-and-I'U-spot-it face. I had seen her direct this look at murderers and rapists and carjackers and gangbangers. Now she was aiming at me.

  "What's the matter?"

  Her expression didn't soften. "How did it go with Raya Singh?"

  "It was pretty much what we thought. " I filled her in briefly be cause, really, talking about Raya felt almost beside the point at this stage. "But the big news is, Gil Perez's sister came to see me. She told me Ca-mille was still alive. "

  I saw something change
in her face. She was good, no doubt, but so was I. They say that a true "tell" lasts less than a tenth of a second. But I spotted it. She wasn't necessarily surprised by what I said. But it had jolted her nonetheless.

  "What's going on, Muse?"

  "I talked to Sheriff Lowell today. "

  I frowned. "He hasn't retired yet?"

  No.

  I was going to ask her why she'd reached out to him, but I knew Muse was thorough. It would be natural for her to have contacted the lead from those murders. It also explained, in part, her behavior toward me.

  "Let me guess," I said. "He thinks I lied about that night. "

  Muse did not say yes or no. "It is odd, don't you think? You not staying on guard duty the night of the murder. "

  "You know why. You read those journals. "

  "Yes, I did. You sneaked off with your girlfriend. And then you didn't want to get her in trouble. " "Right. " "But those journals also said that you were covered with blood. Is that true too?"

  I looked at her. "What the hell is going on?"

  "I'm pretending that you aren't my boss. "

  I tried to sit up. The stitch in my side hurt like hell.

  "Did Lowell say I was a suspect?"

  "He doesn't have to. And you don't have to be a suspect for me to ask these questions. You lied about that night-"

  "I was protecting Lucy. You know this already. "

  "I know what you've already told me, yes. But put yourself in my position. I need to handle this case with no agenda or bias. If you were me, wouldn't you ask these questions?"

  I thought about it. "I get it, okay, fine, fire away. Ask me whatever you want. "

  "Was your sister ever pregnant?"

  I just sat there, stunned. The question had hit me like a surprise left hook. Probably her intent.

  "Are you serious?"

  "I am. "

  "Why the hell would you ask that?"

  "Just answer the question. "

  "No, my sister was never pregnant. "

  "Are you sure?"

  "I think I'd know. "

  "Would you?" she asked.

  "I don't understand. Why are you asking me that?"

  "We've had cases where girls have hidden it from their families. You know that. Heck, we had a case where the girl herself didn't know until she delivered the baby. Remember?" I did. "Look, Muse, I'm pulling rank here. Why are you asking if my sister was pregnant?"

  She searched my face, her eyes crawling on me like slimy worms.

  "Cut that out," I said.

  "You have to recuse yourself, Cope. You know that. "

  "I don't have to do anything. "

  "Yeah, you do. Lowell is still running the show. It's his baby. "

  "Lowell? That hick hasn't worked on this case since they arrested Wayne Steubens eighteen years ago. "

  "Still. It's his case. He's the lead. "

  I wasn't sure what to make of this. "Does Lowell know about Gil Perez being alive this whole time?"

  "I told him your theory. "

  "So why are you suddenly ambushing me with questions about Ca-mille being pregnant?"

  She said nothing.

  "Fine, play it that way. Look, I promised Glenda Perez that I would try to keep her family out of it. But tell Lowell about it. Maybe he'll let you stay involved-I trust you a lot more than the backwoods sheriff. The key thing is, Glenda Perez said my sister walked out of those woods alive. "

  "And," Muse said, "Ira Silverstein said she was dead. "

  The room stopped. The tell was more obvious on her face this time. I looked at her hard. She tried to hold my gaze, but eventually she broke.

  "What the hell is going on, Muse?"

  She stood. The door opened behind her. A nurse entered. With nary a hello, she strapped a blood pressure collar around my arm and started pumping. She stuck a thermometer in my mouth.

  Muse said, "I'll be right back. " The thermometer was still in my mouth. The nurse took my pulse. The rate had to be off the charts. I tried to call out around the thermometer.

  "Muse!"

  She left. I stayed in bed and stewed.

  Pregnant? Could Camille have been pregnant?

  I couldn't see it. I tried to remember. Did she start wearing loose clothes? How long was she pregnant for-how many months? My father would have noticed if she was showing at all - the man was an ob-gyn. She couldn't have hid it from him.

  But then again maybe she didn't.

  I would say this was nonsense, that it was absolutely impossible that my sister had been pregnant, except for one thing. I didn't know what the hell was going on here, but Muse knew more than she was saying.

  Her question wasn't haphazard. Sometimes a good prosecutor needs to do that with a case. You need to give the crazy notion the benefit of the doubt. Just to see. Just to see how it could possibly fit.

  The nurse finished up. I reached for the phone and dialed home to check up on Cara. I was surprised when Greta answered with a friendly "Hello. "

  "Hi," I said.

  The friendly fled. "I hear you're going to be fine. "

  "That's what they tell me. "

  "I'm here with Cara now," Greta said, all business. "I can have her stay at my place tonight, if you'd like. " "That would be great, thanks. " There was a brief lull. "Paul?" She usually called me Cope. I didn't like that. "Yes?" "Cara's welfare is very important to me. She is still my niece. She is still the daughter of my sister. "

  "I understand that. "

  "You, on the other hand, mean nothing to me. "

  She hung up the phone.

  I sat back and waited for Muse to return, trying to turn it over in my aching head. I went through it step-by-step.

  Glenda Perez said my sister walked out of those woods alive.

  Ira Silverstein said she was dead.

  So who do I believe?

  Glenda Perez appeared to be somewhat normal. Ira Silverstein had been a lunatic.

  Point: Glenda Perez.

  I also realized that Ira had kept talking about wanting things to stay buried. He killed Gil Perez-and was about to kill me-because he wanted us to stop digging. He would have figured that as long as I thought my sister was alive, I would search. I would dig and raze and do whatever was necessary, consequences be damned, if I thought there was a chance I could bring Camille home. Ira clearly didn't want that.

  That gave him a motive to lie-to say she was dead.

  Glenda Perez, on the other hand, also wanted me to stop digging. As long as I kept my investigation active, her family was in real danger. Their fraud and all the other quasi-crimes she'd listed could be exposed. Ergo, she too would have realized that the best way to get me to back off was to convince me that nothing had changed from twenty years ago, that Wayne Steubens had indeed killed my sister. It would have been in her interest to tell me my sister was dead.

  But she didn't do that.

  Point: Glenda Perez.

  I felt the hope-there was that word again-rise in my chest.

  Loren Muse came back into the room. She closed the door behind her. "I just talked to Sheriff Lowell," she said. "Oh?" "Like I said, its his case. I couldn't talk about certain things until I got his okay. "

  "This is about your pregnancy question?"

  Muse sat down as if she were afraid the chair might break. She put her hands in her lap. That was weird for her. Muse usually gestured like an amphetamine-fueled Sicilian who's nearly gotten clipped by a speeding car. I had never seen her so subdued. She had her eyes down. My heart went out to her a little bit. She was trying so hard to do the right thing. She always was.

  "Muse?"

  She raised her eyes. I didn't like what I saw.

  "What's going on here?"

  "Do you remember my sending Andrew Barrett up to the camp site?"

  "Of course," I said. "Barrett wanted to try out some new ground- penetrating radar gizmo. So?"

  Muse looked at me. That was all she did. She lo
oked at me and I saw her eyes go wet. Then she nodded at me. It was the saddest nod I have ever seen.

  I felt my world drop with a splat. Hope. Hope had been gently cradling my heart. Now it spread its talons and crushed it. I couldn't breathe. I shook my head but Muse just kept nodding. "They found old remains not far from where the other two bodies were found," she said.

  I shook my head harder. Not now. Not after all this.

  "Female, five-foot-seven, probably been in the ground between fifteen and thirty years. "

  I shook my head some more. Muse stopped, waiting for me to get my bearings. I tried to clear my thoughts, tried not to hear what she was saying. I tried to block, tried to rewind. And then I remembered something. "Wait, you asked me if Camille was pregnant. Are you saying this body. . . that they can tell that she was pregnant?"

  "Not just pregnant," Muse said. "She gave birth. "

  I just sat there. I tried to take it in. I couldn't. It was one thing to hear that she'd been pregnant. That could have happened. She could have had an abortion or something, I don't know. But that she carried to term, that she delivered a baby, and that now she was dead, after all this. . .

  "Find out what happened, Muse. "

  "I will. "

  "And if there is a baby out there. . . "

  "We'll find that too. "