The woods, p.38
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       The Woods, p.38
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 39

  a] HAVE NEWS. "

  Alexei Kokorov was still an impressive, though hideous, specimen. In the late eighties, right before the Wall came down and their lives changed forever, Kokorov had been Sosh's underling at In Tourist. It was humorous when you thought about it. They had been elite KGB men back home. In 1974, they'd been in "Spetsgruppa A"-the Alfa Group. The group was supposedly counterterrorism and crime, but on a cold Christmas morning in 1979, their unit had stormed the Duralumin Palace in Kabul. Not long after that, Sosh had gotten the In Tourist job and moved to New York. Kokorov, a man Sosh had never particularly gotten along with, had gone too. They had both left their families be hind. This was how it was. New York was seductive. Only the most hardened Soviet would be allowed to go. But even the most hardened needed to be watched by a colleague he didn't necessarily love or trust. Even the most hardened needed to be reminded that there were loved ones back home who could be made to suffer.

  "Go on," Sosh said.

  Kokorov was a drunk. He had always been one, but in his youth, it almost worked to his advantage. He was strong and smart and drink made him particularly vicious. He obeyed, like a dog. Now the years had crept up on him. His children were grown and had no use for him.

  His wife had left him years ago. He was pathetic, but again, he was the past. They had not liked each other, true, but there was still a bond. Kokorov had grown loyal to Sosh. So Sosh kept him on the payroll.

  "They found a body in those woods," Kokorov said.

  Sosh closed his eyes. He had not expected this and yet he was not totally surprised. Pavel Copeland wanted to unearth the past. Sosh had hoped to stop him. There are things a man is better off not knowing.

  Gavrel and Aline, his brother and sister, had been buried in a mass grave.

  No headstone, no dignity. It had never bothered Sosh. Ashes to ashes and all that. But sometimes he wondered. Sometimes he wondered if Gavrel would rise up one day, point an accusing finger at his little brother, the one who'd stolen an extra bite of bread more than sixty years ago. It was just a bite, Sosh knew. It hadn't changed anything. And yet Sosh still thought about what he'd done, the stolen bite of bread, every morning of his life.

  Was that how this was too? The dead crying out for vengeance?

  "How did you learn of this?" Sosh asked.

  "Since Pavel's visit, I've been watching the local news," Kokorov said. "On the Internet. They reported it. " Sosh smiled. Two old KGB toughies using the American Internet to gather information-ironic.

  "What should we do?" Kokorov asked.

  "Do?"

  "Yes. What should we do?"

  "Nothing, Alexei. It was a long time ago. "

  "Murder has no statute of limitations in this country. They will investigate. "

  "And find what?" Kokorov said nothing. "Its over. We have no agency or country to protect anymore. " Silence. Alexei stroked his chin and looked off. "What is it?" Alexei said, "Do you miss those days, Sosh?" "I miss my youth," he said. "Nothing more. " "People feared us," Kokorov said. "They trembled when we passed. " "And what, that was a good thing, Alexei?" His smile was a horrible thing, his teeth too small for his mouth, like a rodents. "Don't pretend. We had power. We were gods. "

  "No, we were bullies. We were not gods-we were the dirty hench men of the gods. They had the power. We were scared, so we made everyone a little more scared. That made us feel like big men-terrorizing the weak. "

  Alexei waved a dismissive hand in Sosh's direction. "You're get ting old. " "We both are. " "I don't like this whole thing coming back. " "You didn't like Pavel coming back either. It's because he reminds you of his grandfather, doesn't he?" "No. " "The man you arrested. The old man and his old wife. " "You think you were better, Sosh?" "No. I know I wasn't. " "It wasn't my decision. You know that. They were reported, we took action. " "Exactly," Sosh said. "The gods commanded you to do it. So you did. Do you still feel like such a big man?" "It wasn't like that. " "It was exactly like that. " "You'd have done the same. "

  "Yes, I would have. "

  "We were helping a higher cause. "

  "Did you ever really buy that, Alexei?"

  "Yes. I still do. I still wonder if we were so wrong. When I see the dangers freedom has wrought. I still wonder. "

  "I don't," Sosh said. "We were thugs. "

  Silence.

  Kokorov said, "So what happens now-now that they found the body?"

  "Maybe nothing. Maybe more will die. Or maybe Pavel will finally get the chance to face his past. "

  "Didn't you tell him that he shouldn't do that-that he should let the past stay buried?"

  "I did," Sosh said. "But he didn't listen. Who knows which one of us will be proven right?"

  Doctor McFadden came in and told me that I was lucky, that the bullet went through my side without hitting any internal organs. It always made me roll my eyes when the hero gets shot and then goes on with his life as though nothing ever happened. But the truth is, there are plenty of gunshot wounds that do heal like that. Sitting in this bed wasn't going to make it any better than resting at home.

  "I'm more worried about the blow to your head," he said. "But I can go home?" "Let's let you sleep awhile, okay? See how you feel when you wake up. I think you should stay overnight. "

  I was going to argue but there was nothing to be gained by going home. I felt sore and sick and achy. I probably looked like hell and would scare Cara with my appearance.

  They had a found a body in the woods. I still couldn't wrap my brain around that one.

  Muse had faxed the preliminary autopsy to the hospital. They didn't know much yet, but it was hard to believe that it wasn't my sister. Lowell and Muse had done a more thorough examination of missing women from that area, seeing if there were any other women unaccounted for who could possibly fit this bill. The search had been fruitless-the only preliminary match for the computer records of the missing was my sister.

  So far the coroner had come up with no cause of death. That wasn't unusual in a skeleton of this shape. If he had sliced her throat or buried her alive, they probably would never know. There would be no nicks on the bone. The cartilage and internal organs were long gone, the victims of some parasitic entity that had feasted on them long ago.

  I skipped down to the key item. The pitting of the pubic bone.

  The victim had given birth.

  I again wondered about that. I wondered if that was possible. Under normal circumstances, that might give me some hope that it wasn't my sister they'd dug up. But if it wasn't, what could I conclude exactly? That around the same time some other girl-a girl no one can account for- had been murdered and buried in the same area as the ones at that camp?

  That didn't make sense.

  I was missing something. I was missing a lot.

  I took out my cell phone. There was no service in the hospital but I looked up York's number on it. I used my room phone to make the call.

  "Anything new?" I asked him.

  "Do you know what time it is?"

  I didn't. I checked the clock. "It's a few minutes after ten," I said.

  "Anything new?"

  He sighed. "Ballistics confirmed what we already knew. The gun Silverstein shot you with is the same one he used to kill Gil Perez. And while DNA will take a few weeks, the blood type in the back of the Volkswagen Beetle matches Perez's. In sports terms, I'd call that game, set, match. "

  "What did Lucy say?"

  "Dillon said she wasn't much of a help. She was in shock. Said her father was not well, that he probably imagined some kind of threat. "

  "Dillon buy that?"

  "Sure, why not? Either way our case is closed. How are you feeling?" "Peachy. " "Dillon got shot once. " "Only once?" "Good one. Anyway, he still shows every woman he meets the scar. Turns them on, he says. You remember that. "

  "Seduction tips from Dillon. Thanks. "

  "Guess what line he uses after he shows them the scar?"

  " 'Hey, babe
, want to see my gun?'"

  "Damn, how did you know?"

  "Where did Lucy go after you finished talking to her?"

  "We drove her back to her place on campus. "

  "Okay, thanks. "

  I hung up and dialed Lucy's number. It went into her voice mail. I left a message. Then I called Muse's mobile. "Where are you?" I asked. "Heading home, why?" "I thought maybe you'd be going to Reston U to question Lucy. " "I already went. " "And?" "She didn't open the door. But I could see lights on. She's in there. "

  "Is she okay?"

  "How would I know?"

  I didn't like it. Her father died and she was alone in her apartment. "How far are you from the hospital?"

  "Fifteen minutes. "

  "How about picking me up?"

  "Are you allowed out?"

  "Who's going to stop me? And it's just for a little while. "

  "Are you, my boss, asking me to drive you to your girlfriend's house?"

  "No. I, the county prosecutor, am asking you to drive me to the home of a major person of interest in a recent homicide. "

  "Either way," Muse said, "I'm so very there. "

  No one stopped me from leaving the hospital.

  I didn't feel well, but I had felt worse. I was worried about Lucy and I realized with growing certainty that it was more than normal worry. I missed her. I missed her the way you miss someone you're falling in love with. I could run around that statement, soften it somehow, say that my emotions were on hyperdrive with all that was going on, claim that this was nostalgia for a better time, a more innocent time, a time when my parents were together and my sister was alive, and heck, even Jane was still healthy and beautiful and somewhere happy. But that wasn't it.

  I liked being with Lucy. I liked the way it felt. I liked being with her the way you like being with someone you're falling in love with. There was no need to explain further.

  Muse drove. Her car was small and cramped. I was not much of a car guy and I had no idea what kind of car it was, but it reeked of cigarette smoke. She must have caught the look on my face because she said, "My mother is a chain smoker. "

  "Uh-huh. " "She lives with me. It's just temporary. Until she finds Husband Five. In the meantime I tell her not to smoke in my car. " "And she ignores you. "

  "No, no, I think my telling her that makes her smoke more. Same with my apartment. I come home from work, I open my door, I feel like I'm swallowing ashes. "

  I wished that she'd drive faster.

  "Will you be okay for court tomorrow?" she asked.

  "I think so, yeah. "

  "Judge Pierce wanted to meet with counsel in his chambers. "

  "Any idea why?"

  "Nope. "

  "What time?"

  "Nine a. m. sharp. "

  "I'll be there. "

  "You want me to pick you up?"

  "I do. "

  "Can I get a company car then?"

  "We don't work for a company. We work for the county. "

  "How about a county car?"

  "Maybe. "

  "Cool. " She drove some more. "I'm sorry about your sister. "

  I said nothing. I was still having a hard time reacting to that. Maybe I needed to hear that the ID was confirmed. Or maybe I had already done twenty years of mourning and didn't have that much left. Or maybe, most likely, I was putting my emotions on the back burner.

  Two more people were dead now.

  Whatever happened twenty years ago in those woods. . . maybe the local kids were right, the ones who said that a monster ate them or that the boogeyman took them away. Whatever had killed Margot Green and Doug Billingham, and in all likelihood Camille Copeland, was still alive, still breathing, still taking lives. Maybe it had slept for twenty years. Maybe it had gone somewhere new or moved to other woods in other states. But that monster was back now-and I'd be damned if I was going to let it get away again.

  The faculty housing at Reston University was depressing. The buildings were dated brick and shoved together. The lighting was bad, but I think that might have been a good thing.

  "You mind staying in the car?" I said.

  "I have to run a quick errand," Muse said. "I'll be right back. "

  I headed up the walk. The lights were out, but I could hear music. I recognized the song. "Somebody" by Bonnie McKee. Depressing as hell-the "somebody" being this perfect love she knows is out there but will never find-but that was Lucy. She adored the heartbreakers. I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I rang the bell, knocked some more. Still nothing.

  "Luce!"

  Nothing.

  "Luce!"

  I knocked some more. Whatever the doctor had given me was wearing off. I could feel the stitches in my side. It felt exactly like it was-as though my very movements were ripping my skin apart. "Luce!"

  I tried the doorknob. Locked. There were two windows. I tried to peer in. Too dark. I tried to open them. Both locked. "Come on, I know you're in there. " I heard a car behind me. It was Muse. She pulled to a stop and got out.

  "Here," she said.

  "What is it?"

  "Master key. I got it from campus security. "

  Muse.

  She tossed it to me and headed back to the car. I put the key in the lock, knocked one more time, turned it. The door opened. I stepped in and closed the door behind me.

  "Don't turn on the light. "

  It was Lucy.

  "Leave me alone, Cope, okay?"

  The iPod moved on to the next song. Alejandro Escovedo musically asked about what kind of love destroys a mother and sends her crashing through the tangled trees.

  "You should do one of those K-tel collections," I said.

  "What?"

  "You know, like they used to advertise on TV. Time Life presents The Most Depressing Songs of All Time" I heard her snort a laugh. My eyes were adjusting. I could see her sitting on the couch now. I moved closer.

  "Don't," she said.

  But I kept walking. I sat next to her. There was a bottle of vodka in her hand. It was half empty. I looked around her apartment. There was nothing personal, nothing new, nothing bright or happy. "Ira," she said. "I'm sorry. "

  "The cops said he killed Gil. "

  "What do you think?"

  "I saw blood in his car. He shot you. So yeah, of course, I think he killed Gil. " "Why?" She didn't answer. She took another long swig. "Why don't you give me that?" I said. "This is what I am, Cope. " "No, its not. " "I'm not for you. You can't rescue me. " I had a few replies to that but every one reeked of cliche. I let it go. "I love you," she said. "I mean, I never stopped. I've been with other men. I've had relationships. But you've always been there. In the room with us. In the bed even. It's stupid and dumb and we were just kids, but that's the way it is. "

  "I get it," I said.

  "They think maybe Ira was the one who killed Margot and Doug. " "You don't?" "He just wanted it to go away. You know? It hurt so much, caused so much destruction. And then, when he saw Gil, it must have been like a ghost was coming back to haunt him. " "I'm sorry," I said again. "Go home, Cope. " "I'd rather stay. " "That's not your decision. This is my house. My life. Go home. " She took another long draw. "I don't like leaving you like this. " Her laugh had an edge. "What, you think this is the first time?" She looked at me, daring me to argue. I didn't. "This is what I do. I drink in the dark and play these damn songs.

  Soon I'll drift off or pass out or whatever you want to call it. Then to morrow I'll barely have a hangover. " "I want to stay. " "I don't want you to. " "It's not for you. It's for me. I want to be with you. Tonight especially. " "I don't want you here. It will just make it worse. " "But-" "Please," she said, and her voice was a plea. "Please leave me alone.

  Tomorrow. We can start again tomorrow. "