Tell no one, p.40
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       Tell No One, p.40

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 39

  Brutus hooked up with us on the sidewalk. I said, "Good morning. " He said nothing. I still hadn't heard the man speak. I slid into the backseat. Tyrese sat next to me and grinned. Last night he had killed a man. True, he had done so in defense of my life, but from his casual demeanor, I wasn't even sure he remembered pulling the trigger. I more than anyone should understand what he was going through, but I didn't. I'm not big on moral absolutes. I see the grays. I make the calls. Elizabeth had a clearer view of her moral compass. She would be horrified that a life had been lost. It wouldn't have mattered to her that the man was trying to kidnap, torture, and probably kill me. Or maybe it would. I don't really know anymore. The hard truth is, I didn't know everything about her. And she certainly didn't know everything about me.

  My medical training insists that I never make that sort of moral call. It's a simple rule of triage: The most seriously injured gets treated first. It doesn't matter who they are or what they've done. You treat the most grievously wounded. That's a nice theory, and I understand the need for such thinking. But if, say, my nephew Mark were rushed in with a stab wound and some serial pedophile who stabbed him came in at the same time with a life-threatening bullet in the brain, well, come on. You make the call, and in your heart of hearts, you know that the call is an easy one.

  You might argue that I'm nesting myself on an awfully slippery slope. I would agree with you, though I might counter that most of life is lived out there. The problem was, there were repercussions when you lived in the grays - not just theoretical ones that taint your soul, but the brick-and-mortar ones, the unforeseeable destruction that such choices leave behind. I wondered what would have happened if I had told the truth right from the get-go. And it scared the hell out of me.

  "Kinda quiet, Doc. "

  "Yeah," I said.

  Brutus dropped me off in front of Linda and Shauna's apartment on Riverside Drive.

  "We'll be around the corner," Tyrese said. "You need anything, you know my number. "

  "Right. "

  "You got the Glock?"

  "Yes. "

  Tyrese put a hand on my shoulder. "Them or you, Doc," he said. "Just keep pulling the trigger. "

  No grays there.

  I stepped out of the car. Mothers and nannies ambled by, pushing complicated baby strollers that fold and shift and rock and play songs and lean back and lean forward and hold more than one kid, plus an assortment of diapers, wipes, Gerber snacks, juice boxes (for the older sibling), change of clothing, bottles, even car first-aid kits. I knew all this from my own practice (being on Medicaid did not preclude one from affording the high-end Peg Perego strollers), and I found this spectacle of bland normalcy cohabiting in the same realm as my recent ordeal to be something of an elixir.

  I turned back toward the building. Linda and Shauna were al ready running toward me. Linda got there first. She wrapped her arms around me. I hugged her back. It felt nice.

  "You're okay?" Linda said.

  "I'm fine," I said.

  My assurances did not stop Linda from repeating the question several more times in several different ways. Shauna stopped a few feet away. I caught her eye over my sister's shoulder. Shauna wiped tears from her eyes. I smiled at her.

  We continued the hugs and kisses through the elevator ride. Shauna was less effusive than usual, staying a bit out of the mix. An outsider might claim that this made sense, that Shauna was giving the sister and brother some space during this tender reunion. That outsider wouldn't know Shauna from Cher. Shauna was wonderfully consistent. She was prickly, demanding, funny, bighearted, and loyal beyond all reason. She never put on masks or pretenses. If your thesaurus had an antonym section and you looked up the phrase "shrinking violet," her lush image would stare back at you. Shauna lived life in your face. She wouldn't take a step back if smacked across the mouth with a lead pipe.

  Something inside me started to tingle.

  When we reached the apartment, Linda and Shauna exchanged a glance. Linda's arm slipped off me. "Shauna wants to talk to you alone first," she said. "I'll be in the kitchen. You want a sandwich?"

  "Thanks," I said.

  Linda kissed me and gave me one more squeeze, as though making sure I was still there and of substance. She hurried out of the room. I looked over at Shauna. She kept her distance. I put out my hands in a "Well?" gesture.

  "Why did you run?" Shauna asked.

  "I got another email," I said.

  "At that Bigfoot account?"

  "Yes. "

  "Why did it come in so late?"

  "She was using code," I said. "It just took me time to figure it out. "

  "What kind of code?"

  I explained about the Bat Lady and the Teenage Sex Poodles.

  When I finished, she said, "That's why you were using the computer at Kinko's? You figured it out during your walk with Chloe?"

  "Yes. "

  "What did the email say exactly?"

  I couldn't figure out why Shauna was asking all these questions. On top of what I've already said, Shauna was strictly a big picture person. Details were not her forte; they just muddied and confused. "She wanted me to meet her at Washington Square Park at five yesterday," I said. "She warned me that I'd be followed. And then she told me that no matter what, she loved me. "

  "And that's why you ran?" she asked. "So you wouldn't miss the meeting?"

  I nodded. "Hester said I wouldn't get bail until midnight at the earliest. "

  "Did you get to the park in time?"

  "Yes. "

  Shauna took a step closer to me. "And?"

  "She never showed. "

  "And yet you're still convinced that Elizabeth sent you that email?"

  "There's no other explanation," I said.

  She smiled when I said that.

  "What?" I asked.

  "You remember my friend Wendy Petino?"

  "Fellow model," I said. "Flaky as a Greek pastry. "

  Shauna smiled at the description. "She took me to dinner once with her" - she made quote marks with her fingers - "spiritual guru. She claimed that he could read minds and tell the future and all that. He was helping her communicate with her dead mother. Wendy's mother had committed suicide when she was six. "

  I let her go on, not interrupting with the obvious "what's the point?" Shauna was taking her time here, but I knew that she'd get to it eventually.

  "So we finish dinner. The waiter serves us coffee. Wendy's guru - he had some name like Omay - he's staring at me with these bright, inquisitive eyes, you know the type, and he hands me the bit about how he senses - that's how he says it, senses - that maybe I'm a skeptic and that I should speak my mind. You know me. I tell him he's full of shit and I'm tired of him stealing my friend's money. Omay doesn't get angry, of course, which really pisses me off. Anyway, he hands me a little card and tells me to write anything I want on it - something significant about my life, a date, a lover's initials, whatever I wanted. I check the card. It looks like a normal white card, but I still ask if I can use one of my own. He tells me to suit myself. I take out a business card and flip it over. He hands me a pen, but again I decide to use my own - in case it's a trick pen or something, what do I know, right? He has no problem with that either. So I write down your name. Just Beck. He takes the card. I'm watching his hand for a switch or whatever, but he just passes the card to Wendy. He tells her to hold it. He grabs my hand. He closes his eyes and starts shaking like he's having a seizure and I swear I feel something course through me. Then Omay opens his eyes and says, 'Who's Beck?' "

  She sat down on the couch. I did likewise.

  "Now, I know people have good sleight of hand and all that, but I was there. I watched him up close. And I almost bought it. Omay had special abilities. Like you said, there was no other explanation. Wendy sat there with this satisfied smile plastered on her face. I couldn't figure it out. "

  "He did research on you," I said. "He knew about our friendship
. "

  "No offense, but wouldn't he guess I'd put my own son's name or maybe Linda's? How would he know I'd pick you?"

  She had a point. "So you're a believer now?"

  "Almost, Beck. I said I almost bought it. Ol' Omay was right. I'm a skeptic. Maybe it all pointed to him being psychic, except I knew he wasn't. Because there are no such things as psychics - just like there are no such things as ghosts. " She stopped. Not exactly subtle, my dear Shauna.

  "So I did some research," she went on. "The good thing about being a famous model is that you can call anyone and they'll talk to you. So I called this illusionist I'd seen on Broadway a couple of years ago. He heard the story and then he laughed. I said what's so funny. He asked me a question: Did this guru do this after dinner? I was surprised. What the hell could that have to do with it? But I said yes, how did you know? He asked if we had coffee. Again I said yes. Did he take his black? One more time I said yes. " Shauna was smiling now. "Do you know how he did it, Beck?"

  I shook my head. "No clue. "

  "When he passed the card to Wendy, it went over his coffee cup. Black coffee, Beck. It reflects like a mirror. That's how he saw what I'd written. It was just a dumb parlor trick. Simple, right? Pass the card over your cup of black coffee and it's like passing it over a mirror. And I almost believed him. You understand what I'm saying here?"

  "Sure," I said. "You think I'm as gullible as Flaky Wendy. "

  "Yes and no. See, part of Omay's con is the want, Beck. Wendy falls for it because she wants to believe in all that mumbo-jumbo. "

  "And I want to believe Elizabeth is alive?"

  "More than any dying man in a desert wants to find an oasis," she said. "But that's not really my point either. "

  "Then what is?"

  "I learned that just because you can't see any other explanation doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. It just means you can't see it. "

  I leaned back and crossed my legs. I watched her. She turned away from my gaze, something she never does. "What's going on here, Shauna?"

  She wouldn't face me.

  "You're not making any sense," I said.

  "I think I was pretty damn clear-"

  "You know what I mean. This isn't like you. On the phone you said you needed to talk to me. Alone. And for what? To tell me that my dead wife is, after all, still dead?" I shook my head. "I don't buy it. "

  Shauna didn't react.

  "Tell me," I said.

  She turned back. "I'm scared," she said in a tone that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  "Of what?"

  The answer didn't come right away. I could hear Linda rustling around in the kitchen, the tinkling of plates and glasses, the sucking pop when she opened the refrigerator. "That long warning I just gave you," Shauna finally continued. "That was as much for me as for you. "

  "I don't understand. "

  "I've seen something. " Her voice died out. She took a deep breath and tried again. "I've seen something that my rational mind can't explain away. Just like in my story about Omay. I know there has to be another explanation, but I can't find it. " Her hands started moving, her fingers fidgeting with buttons, pulling imaginary threads off her suit. Then she said it: "I'm starting to believe you, Beck. I think maybe Elizabeth is still alive. "

  My heart leapt into my throat.

  She rose quickly. "I'm going to mix a mimosa. Join me?"

  I shook my head.

  She looked surprised. "You sure you don't want-"

  "Tell me what you saw, Shauna. "

  "Her autopsy file. "

  I almost fell over. It took me a little time to find my voice. "How?"

  "Do you know Nick Carlson from the FBI?"

  "He questioned me," I said.

  "He thinks you're innocent. "

  "Didn't sound that way to me. "

  "He does now. When all that evidence started pointing at you, he thought it was all too neat. "

  "He told you that?"

  "Yes. "

  "And you believed him?"

  "I know it sounds naive, but yeah, I believed him. "

  I trusted Shauna's judgment. If she said that Carlson was on the level, he was either a wonderful liar or he'd seen through the frame-up. "I still don't understand," I said. "What does that have to do with the autopsy?"

  "Carlson came to me. He wanted to know what you were up to. I wouldn't tell him. But he was tracking your movements. He knew that you asked to see Elizabeth's autopsy file. He wondered why. So he called the coroner's office and got the file. He brought it with him. To see if I could help him out on that. "

  "He showed it to you?"

  She nodded.

  My throat was dry. "Did you see the autopsy photos?"

  "There weren't any, Beck. "

  "What?"

  "Carlson thinks someone stole them. "

  "Who?"

  She shrugged. "The only other person to sign out the file was Elizabeth's father. "

  Hoyt. It all circled back to him. I looked at her. "Did you see any of the report?"

  Her nod was more tentative this time.

  "And?"

  "It said Elizabeth had a drug problem, Beck. Not just that there were drugs in her system. He said that the reports showed the abuse was long-term. "

  "Impossible," I said.

  "Maybe, maybe not. That alone wouldn't be enough to convince me. People can hide drug abuse. It's not likely, but neither is her being alive. Maybe the tests were wrong or inconclusive. Something. There are explanations, right? It can somehow be explained away. "

  I licked my lips. "So what couldn't be?" I asked.

  "Her height and weight," Shauna said. "Elizabeth was listed as five seven and under a hundred pounds. "

  Another sock in the gut. My wife was five four and closer to a hundred fifteen pounds. "Not even close," I said.

  "Not even. "

  "She's alive, Shauna. "

  "Maybe," she allowed, and her gaze flicked toward the kitchen. "But there's something more. "

  Shauna turned and called out Linda's name. Linda stepped into the doorway and stayed there. She looked suddenly small in her apron. She wrung her hands and wiped them on the apron front. I watched my sister, puzzled.

  "What's going on?" I said.

  Linda started speaking. She told me about the photographs, how Elizabeth had come to her to take them, how she'd been only too happy to keep her secret about Brandon Scope. She didn't sugarcoat or offer explanations, but then again, maybe she didn't have to. She stood there and poured it all out and waited for the inevitable blow. I listened with my head down. I couldn't face her, but I easily forgave. We all have our blind spots. All of us.

  I wanted to hug her and tell her that I understood, but I couldn't quite pull it off. When she'd finished, I merely nodded and said, "Thanks for telling me. "

  My words were meant to be a dismissal. Linda understood. Shauna and I sat there in silence for almost a full minute.

  "Beck?"

  "Elizabeth's father has been lying to me," I said.

  She nodded.

  "I've got to talk to him. "

  "He didn't tell you anything before. "

  True enough, I thought.

  "Do you think it'll be different this time?"

  I absentmindedly patted the Glock in my waistband. "Maybe," I said.

  Carlson greeted me in the corridor. "Dr. Beck?" he said.

  Across town at the same time, the district attorney's office held a press conference. The reporters were naturally skeptical of Fein's convoluted explanation (vis-a-vis me), and there was a lot of backpedaling and finger-pointing and that sort of thing. But all that seemed to do was confuse the issue. Confusion helps. Confusion leads to lengthy reconstruction and clarification and exposition and several other emotions. " The press and their public prefer a simpler narrative.

  It probably would have been a rougher ride for Mr. Fein, but by coincidence, the D. A. 's office used this very same
press conference to release indictments against several high-ranking members of the mayor's administration along with a hint that the "tentacles of corruption" - their phrase - may even reach the big man's office. The media, an entity with the collective attention span of a Twinkie filled two-year-old, immediately focused on this shiny new toy, kicking the old one under the bed.

  Carlson stepped toward me. "I'd like to ask you a few questions. "

  "Not now," I said.

  "Your father owned a gun," he said.

  His words rooted me to the floor. "What?"

  "Stephen Beck, your father, purchased a Smith and Wesson thirty-eight. The registration showed that he bought it several months before he died. "

  "What does that have to do with anything?"

  "I assume you inherited the weapon. Am I correct?"

  "I'm not talking to you. " I pressed the elevator button.

  "We have it," he said. I turned, stunned. "It was in Sarah Goodhart's safety-deposit box. With the pictures. "

  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

  Carlson gave me a crooked smile.

  "Oh right, I was the bad guy back then," I said. Then, making a point of turning away, I added, "I don't see the relevance. "

  "Sure you do. "

  I pressed the elevator button again.

  "You went to see Peter Flannery," Carlson continued. "You asked him about the murder of Brandon Scope. I'd like to know why. "

  I pressed the call button and held it down. "Did you do something to the elevators?"

  "Yes. Why did you see Peter Flannery?"

  My mind made a few quick deductions. An idea - a dangerous thing under the best of circumstances - came to me. Shauna trusted this man. Maybe I could too. A little anyway. Enough. "Because you and I have the same suspicions," I said.

  "What's that?"

  "We're both wondering if KillRoy murdered my wife. "

  Carlson folded his arms. "And what does Peter Flannery have to do with that?"

  "You were tracking down my movements, right?"

  Yes.

  "I decided to do the same with Elizabeth's. From eight years ago. Flannery's initials and phone number were in her day planner. "

  "I see," Carlson said. "And what did you learn from Mr. Flannery?"

  "Nothing," I lied. "It was a dead end. "

  "Oh, I don't think so," Carlson said.

  "What makes you say that?"

  "Are you familiar with how ballistic tests work?"

  "I've seen them on TV. "

  "Put simply, every gun makes a unique imprint on the bullet it fires. Scratches, grooves - unique to that weapon. Like fingerprints. "

  "That much I know. "

  "After your visit to Flannery's office, I had our people run a specific ballistic match on the thirty-eight we found in Sarah Goodhart's safety-deposit box. Know what I found?"

  I shook my head, but I knew.

  Carlson took his time before he said, "Your father's gun, the one you inherited, killed Brandon Scope. "

  A door opened and a mother and her teen son stepped into the hall. The teen was in mid-whine, his shoulder slumped in adolescent defiance. His mother's lips were pursed, her head held high in the don't-wanna-hear-it position. They came toward the elevator. Carlson said something into a walkie-talkie. We both stepped away from the elevator bank, our eyes locked in a silent challenge.

  "Agent Carlson, do you think I'm a killer?"

  "Truth?" he said. "I'm not sure anymore. "

  I found his response curious. "You're aware, of course, that I'm not obligated to speak to you. In fact, I can call Hester Crimstein right now and nix everything you're trying to do here. "

  He bristled, but he didn't bother denying it. "What's your point?"

  "Give me two hours. "

  "To what?"

  "Two hours," I repeated.

  He thought about it. "Under one condition. "

  "What?"

  "Tell me who Lisa Sherman is. "

  That genuinely puzzled me. "I don't know the name. "

  "You and she were supposed to fly out of the country last night. "

  Elizabeth.

  "I don't know what you're talking about," I said. The elevator dinged. The door slid open. The pursed-lips mom and her slumped adolescent stepped inside. She looked back at us. I signaled for her to hold the door.

  "Two hours," I said.

  Carlson nodded grudgingly. I hopped into the elevator.