Tell no one, p.42
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       Tell No One, p.42

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 41

  As usual, Tyrese and I sat in the backseat. The morning sky was a charcoal ash, the color of tombstone. I directed Brutus where to turn off after we crossed the George Washington Bridge. Behind his sunglasses, Tyrese studied my face. Finally he asked, "Where we going?"

  "My in-laws'. "

  Tyrese waited for me to say more.

  "He's a city cop," I added.

  "What's his name?"

  "Hoyt Parker. "

  Brutus smiled. Tyrese did likewise.

  "You know him?"

  "Never worked with the man myself, but, yeah, I heard the name. "

  "What do you mean, worked with the man?"

  Tyrese waved me off. We hit the town border. I had gone through several surreal experiences over the past three days-chalk "driving through my old neighborhood with two drug dealers in a car with tinted windows" as another. I gave Brutus a few more directions before we pulled up to the memory-laden split-level on Goodhart.

  I stepped out. Brutus and Tyrese sped off. I made it to the door and listened to the long chime. The clouds grew darker. A lightning bolt ripped the sky at the seam. I pressed the chime again. Pain traveled down my arm. I still ached all over hell from yesterday's combination of torture and over exertion For a moment, I let myself wonder what would have happened if Tyrese and Brutus hadn't shown up. Then I shoved that thought away hard.

  Finally I heard Hoyt say, "Who is it?"

  "Beck," I said.

  "It's open. "

  I reached for the knob. My hand stopped an inch before touching the brass. Weird. I had visited here countless times in my life, but I never remembered Hoyt asking who it was at the door. He was one of the guys who preferred direct confrontation. No hiding in the bushes for Hoyt Parker. He feared nothing, and dammit, he would prove it every step of the way. You ring his bell, he opens the door and faces you full.

  I looked behind me. Tyrese and Brutus were gone - no smarts in loitering in front of a cop's house in a white suburb.

  "Beck?"

  No choice. I thought about the Glock. As I put my left hand on the knob, I put my right closer to my hip. Just in case. I turned the knob and pushed the door. My head leaned through the crack.

  "I'm in the kitchen," Hoyt called out.

  I stepped all the way inside and closed the door behind me. The room smelled of a lemon disinfectant, one of those plug-in-a socket cover-up brands. I found the odor cloying.

  "You want something to eat?" Hoyt asked.

  I still couldn't see him. "No, thanks. "

  I waded across the semi-shag toward the kitchen. I spotted the old photographs on the mantel, but this time I didn't wince. When my feet reached linoleum, I let my eyes take in the room. Empty. I was about to turn back when I felt the cold metal against my temple. A hand suddenly snaked around my neck and jerked back hard.

  "You armed, Beck?"

  I didn't move or speak.

  With the gun still in place, Hoyt dropped the arm from my neck and patted me down. He found the Glock, pulled it out, skidded it across the linoleum.

  "Who dropped you off?"

  "A couple of friends," I managed to say.

  "What sort of friends?"

  "What the hell is this, Hoyt?"

  He backed off. I turned around. The gun was pointed at my chest. The muzzle looked enormous to me, widening like a giant mouth readying to swallow me whole. It was hard to wrest my gaze from that cold, dark tunnel.

  "You come here to kill me?" Hoyt asked.

  "What? No. " I forced myself to look up, Hoyt was unshaven. His eyes were red-tinged, his body was swaying. Drinking. Drinking a lot.

  "Where's Mrs. Parker?" I asked.

  "She's safe. " An odd reply. "I sent her away. "

  "Why?"

  "I think you know. "

  Maybe I did. Or was starting to.

  "Why would I want to hurt you, Hoyt?"

  He kept the gun pointed at my chest. "Do you always carry a concealed weapon, Beck? I could have you thrown in jail for that. "

  "You've done worse to me," I replied.

  His face fell. A low groan escaped his lips.

  "Whose body did we cremate, Hoyt?"

  "You don't know shit. "

  "I know that Elizabeth is still alive," I said.

  His shoulders slumped, but the weapon stayed right in place. I saw his gun hand tense, and for a moment, I was sure he was going to shoot. I debated jumping away, but it wasn't as though he couldn't nail me with the second round.

  "Sit down," he said softly.

  "Shauna saw the autopsy report. We know it wasn't Elizabeth in that morgue. "

  "Sit down," he repeated, raising the gun a bit, and I believe that he might have shot me if I didn't obey. He led me back to the living room. I sat on the hideous couch that had witnessed so many memorable moments, but I had the feeling that they would be pretty much Bic flicks next to the bonfire about to engulf this room.

  Hoyt sat across from me. The weapon was still up and centered at my middle. He never let his hand rest. Part of his training, I supposed. Exhaustion bled from him. He looked like a balloon with a slow leak, deflating almost imperceptibly.

  "What happened?" I asked.

  He didn't answer my question. "What makes you think she's alive?"

  I stopped. Could I have been wrong here? Was there any way he didn't know? No, I decided quickly. He had seen the body at the morgue. He had been the one who identified her. He had to be involved. But then I remembered the email.

  Tell no one. . .

  Had it been a mistake to come here?

  Again no. That message had been sent before all this - in practically another era. I had to make a decision here. I had to push, take some action.

  "Have you seen her?" he asked me.

  "No. "

  "Where is she?"

  "I don't know," I said.

  Hoyt suddenly cocked his head. He signaled me to silence with a finger to his lips. He stood and crept toward the window. The shades were all drawn. He peeked through the side.

  I stood.

  "Sit down. "

  "Shoot me, Hoyt. "

  He looked at me.

  "She's in trouble," I said.

  "And you think you can help her?" He made a sneering noise. "I saved both your lives that night. What did you do?"

  I felt something in my chest contract. "I got knocked unconscious," I said.

  "Right. "

  "You. . . " I was having trouble articulating. "You saved us?"

  "Sit down. "

  "If you know where she is-"

  "We wouldn't be having this conversation," he finished.

  I took another step toward him. Then another. He aimed the gun at me. I did not stop. I walked until the muzzle pressed against my sternum. "You're going to tell me," I said. "Or you're going to kill me. "

  "You're willing to take that gamble?"

  I looked him straight in the eye and really held the stare for perhaps the first time in our long relationship. Something passed between us, though I'm not sure what. Resignation on his part maybe, I don't know. But I stayed put. "Do you have any idea how much I miss your daughter?"

  "Sit down, David. "

  "Not until-"

  "I'll tell you," he said softly. "Sit down. "

  I kept my eyes on his as I backed up to the couch. I lowered myself onto the cushion. He put the gun down on the side table. "You want a drink?"

  "No. "

  "You better have one. "

  "Not now. "

  He shrugged and walked over to one of those chintzy pulldown bars. It was old and loose. The glasses were in disarray, tinkling against one another, and I was more certain than ever that this had not been his first foray into the liquor cabinet today. He took his time pouring the drink. I wanted to hurry him, but I had done enough pushing for the time being. He needed this, I figured. He was gathering his thoughts, sorting through them, checking the angles. I expected
as much.

  He cupped the glass in both hands and sank into the chair. "I never much liked you," he said. "It was nothing personal. You come from a good family. Your father was a fine man, and your mother, well, she tried, didn't she. " One hand held the drink while the other ran through his hair. "But I thought your relationship with my daughter was" - he looked up, searching the ceiling for the words - "a hindrance to her growth. Now. . . well, now I realize how incredibly lucky you both were. "

  The room chilled a few degrees. I tried not to move, to quiet my breath, anything so as not to disturb him.

  "I'll start with the night at the lake," he said. "When they grabbed her. "

  "Who grabbed her?"

  He stared down into his glass. "Don't interrupt," he said. "Just listen. "

  I nodded, but he didn't see. He was still staring down at his drink, literally looking for answers in the bottom of a glass.

  "You know who grabbed her," he said, "or you should by now. The two men they found buried up there. " His gaze suddenly swept the room. He snatched up his weapon and stood, checking the window again. I wanted to ask what he expected to see out there, but I didn't want to throw off his rhythm.

  "My brother and I got to the lake late. Almost too late. We set up to stop them midway down the dirt road. You know where those two boulders are?"

  He glanced toward the window, then back at me. I knew the two boulders. They sat about half a mile down the dirt road from Lake Charmaine. Both huge, both round, both almost the exact same size, both perfectly placed on either side of the road. There were all kinds of legends about how they got there.

  "We hid behind them, Ken and me. When they came close, I shot out a tire. They stopped to check it. When they got out of the car, I shot them both in the head. "

  With one more look out the window, Hoyt moved back to his chair. He put down the weapon and stared at his drink some more. I held my tongue and waited.

  "Griffin Scope hired those two men," he said. "They were supposed to interrogate Elizabeth and then kill her. Ken and I got wind of the plan and headed up to the lake to stop them. " He put up his hand as if to silence a question, though I hadn't dared open my mouth. "The hows and whys aren't important. Griffin Scope wanted Elizabeth dead. That's all you need to know. And he wouldn't stop because a couple of his boys got killed. Plenty more where they came from. He's like one of those mythical beasts where you cut off the head and it grows two more. " He looked at me. "You can't fight that kind of power, Beck. "

  He took a deep sip. I kept still.

  "I want you to go back to that night and put yourself in our position," he continued, moving closer, trying to engage me. "Two men are lying dead on that dirt road. One of the most powerful men in the world sent them to kill you. He has no qualms about taking out the innocent to get to you. What can you do? Suppose we decided to go to the police. What would we tell them? A man like Scope doesn't leave any evidence behind - and even if he did, he has more cops and judges in his pocket than I have hairs on my head. We'd be dead. So I ask you, Beck. You're there. You have two men dead on the ground. You know it won't end there. What do you do?"

  I took the question as rhetorical.

  "So I presented these facts to Elizabeth, just like I'm presenting them to you now. I told her that Scope would wipe us out to get to her. If she ran away - if she went into hiding, for example - he'd just torture us until we gave her up. Or he'd go after my wife. Or your sister. He'd do whatever it took to make sure Elizabeth was found and killed. "

  He leaned closer to me. "Do you see now? Do you see the only answer?"

  I nodded because it was all suddenly transparent. "You had to make them think she was dead. "

  He smiled, and new goose bumps surfaced all over me. "I had some money saved up. My brother Ken had more. We also had the contacts. Elizabeth went underground. We got her out of the country. She cut her hair, learned to wear disguises, but that was probably overkill. No one was really looking for her. For the past eight years she's been bouncing around third world countries, working for the Red Cross or UNICEF or whatever organization she could hook up with. "

  I waited. There was so much he hadn't yet told me, but I sat still. I let the implications seep in and shake me at the core. Elizabeth. She was alive. She had been alive for the past eight years. She had been breathing and living and working. . . It was too much to compute, one of those incomprehensible math problems that make the computer shut down.

  "You're probably wondering about the body in the morgue. "

  I allowed myself a nod.

  "It was pretty simple really. We get Jane Does in all the time. They get stored in pathology until somebody gets bored with them. Then we stick them in a potter's field out on Roosevelt Island. I just waited for the next Caucasian Jane Doe who'd be a near enough match to pop up. It took longer than I expected. The girl was probably a runaway stabbed by her pimp, but, of course, we'll never know for sure. We also couldn't leave Elizabeth's murder open. You need a fall guy, Beck. For closure. We chose KillRoy It was common knowledge that KillRoy branded the faces with the letter K. So we did that to the corpse. That only left the problem of identification. We toyed around with the idea of burning her beyond recognition, but that would have meant dental records and all that. So we took a chance. The hair matched. The skin tone and age were about right. We dumped her body in a town with a small coroner's office. We made the anonymous call to the police ourselves. We made sure we arrived at the medical examiner's office at the same time as the body. Then all I had to do was make a tearful ID. That's how the large majority of murder victims are identified. A family member IDs them. So I did, and Ken backed me up. Who would question that? Why on earth would a father and uncle lie?"

  "You took a hell of a risk," I said.

  "But what choice did we have?"

  "There had to be other ways. "

  He leaned closer. I smelled his breath. The loose folds of skin by his eyes drooped low. "Again, Beck, you're on that dirt road with those two bodies - hell, you're sitting here right now with the benefit of hindsight. So tell me: What should we have done?"

  I didn't have an answer.

  "There were other problems too," Hoyt added, sitting back a bit. "We were never totally sure that Scope's people would buy the whole setup. Luckily for us, the two lowlifes were supposed to leave the country after the murder. We found plane tickets to Buenos Aires on them. They were both drifters, unreliable types. That all helped. Scope's people bought it, but they kept tabs on us - not so much because they thought she was still alive, but they worried that maybe she had given one of us some incriminating material. "

  "What incriminating material?"

  He ignored the question. "Your house, your phone, probably your office. They've been bugged for the past eight years. Mine too. "

  That explained the careful emails. I let my eyes wander around the room.

  "I swept for them yesterday," he said. "The house is clean. "

  When he was silent for a few moments, I risked a question. "Why did Elizabeth choose to come back now?"

  "Because she's foolish," he said, and for the first time, I heard anger in his voice. I gave him some time. He calmed, the red swells in his face ebbing away. "The two bodies we buried," he said quietly.

  "What about them?"

  "Elizabeth followed the news on the Internet. When she read that they'd been discovered, she figured, same as me, that the Scopes might realize the truth. "

  "That she was still alive?"

  "Yes. "

  "But if she were overseas, it would still take a hell of a lot to find her. "

  "That's what I told her. But she said that wouldn't stop them. They'd come after me. Or her mother. Or you. But" - again he stopped, dropped his head - "I don't know how important all that was. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "Sometimes I think she wanted it to happen. " He fiddled with the drink, jiggled the ice. "She wanted to come back to yo
u, David. I think the bodies were just an excuse. "

  I waited again. He drank some more. He took another peek out the window.

  "It's your turn," he said to me.

  "What?"

  "I want some answers now," he said. "Like how did she contact you. How did you get away from the police. Where you think she is. "

  I hesitated, but not very long. What choice did I really have here? "Elizabeth contacted me by anonymous emails. She spoke in code only I'd understand. "

  "What kind of code?"

  "She made references to things in our past. "

  Hoyt nodded. "She knew they might be watching. "

  "Yes. " I shifted in my seat. "How much do you know about Griffin Scope's personnel?" I asked.

  He looked confused. "Personnel?"

  "Does he have a muscular Asian guy working for him?"

  Whatever color was left on Hoyt's face flowed out as though through an open wound. He looked at me in awe, almost as though he wanted to cross himself. "Eric Wu," he said in a hushed tone.

  "I ran into Mr. Wu yesterday. "

  "Impossible," he said.

  "Why?"

  "You wouldn't be alive. "

  "I got lucky. " I told him the story. He looked near tears.

  "If Wu found her, if he got to her before he got to you. . . " He closed his eyes, wishing the image away.

  "He didn't," I said.

  "How can you be so sure?"

  "Wu wanted to know why I was in the park. If he had her already, why bother with that?"

  He nodded slowly. He finished his drink and poured himself another. "But they know she's alive now," he said. "That means they're going to come after us. "

  "Then we'll fight back," I said with far more bravery than I felt.

  "You didn't hear me before. The mystical beast keeps growing more heads. "

  "But in the end, the hero always defeats the beast. "

  He scoffed at that one. Deservedly, I might add. I kept my eyes on him. The grandfather clock ding-donged. I thought about it some more.

  "You have to tell me the rest," I said.

  "Unimportant. "

  "It's connected with Brandon Scope's murder, isn't it?"

  He shook his head without conviction.

  "I know that Elizabeth gave an alibi to Helio Gonzalez," I said.

  "It's not important, Beck. Trust me. "

  "Been there, done that, got screwed," I said.

  He took another swig.

  "Elizabeth kept a safety-deposit box under the name Sarah Goodhart," I said. "That's where they found those pictures. "

  "I know," Hoyt said. "We were in a rush that night. I didn't know she'd already given the key to them. We emptied their pockets, but I never checked their shoes. Shouldn't have mattered, though. I had no intention of them ever being found. "

  "She left more in that box than just the photographs," I continued.

  Hoyt carefully set down his drink.

  "My father's old gun was in there too. A thirty-eight. You remember it?"

  Hoyt looked away and his voice was suddenly soft. "Smith and Wesson. I helped him pick it out. "

  I felt myself start shaking again. "Did you know that Brandon Scope was killed with that gun?"

  His eyes shut tight, like a child wishing away a bad dream.

  "Tell me what happened, Hoyt. "

  "You know what happened. "

  I couldn't stop quaking. "Tell me anyway. "

  Each word came out like body blows. "Elizabeth shot Brandon Scope. "

  I shook my head. I knew it wasn't true.

  "She was working side by side with him, doing that charity work. It was just a question of time before she stumbled across the truth. That Brandon was running all this penny-ante crap, playing at being a tough street guy. Drugs, prostitution, I don't even know what. "

  "She never told me. "

  "She didn't tell anyone, Beck. But Brandon found out. He beat the hell out of her to warn her off. I didn't know it then, of course. She gave me the same story about a bad fender-bender. "

  "She didn't kill him," I insisted.

  "It was self-defense. When she didn't stop investigating, Brandon broke into your home, and this time he had a knife. He came at her. . . and she shot him. Total self-defense. "

  I couldn't stop shaking my head.

  "She called me, crying. I drove over to your place. When I got there" - he paused, his breath caught - "he was already dead. Elizabeth had that gun. She wanted me to call the police. I talked her out of it. Self-defense or not, Griffin Scope would kill her and worse. I told her to give me a few hours. She was shaky, but she finally agreed. "

  "You moved the body," I said.

  He nodded. "I knew about Gonzalez. The punk was on his way to a fulfilling life of crime. I've seen the type enough to know. He'd already gotten off on a technicality for one murder. Who better to frame?"

  It was becoming so clear. "But Elizabeth wouldn't let that happen. "

  "I didn't count on that," he said. "She heard on the news about the arrest, and that was when she decided to make up that alibi. To save Gonzalez from" - sarcastic finger-quote marks - "a grave injustice. " He shook his head. "Worthless. If she'd just let that scumbag take the fall, it would have been all over. "

  I said, "Scope's people found out about her making up that alibi. "

  "Someone inside leaked it to them, yeah. Then they started sending their own people around, and they found out about her investigation. The rest became obvious. "

  "So that night at the lake," I said. "It was about revenge. "

  He mulled that over. "In part, yes. And in part it was about covering up the truth about Brandon Scope. He was a dead hero. Maintaining that legacy meant a lot to his father. "

  And, I thought, to my sister.

  "I still don't get why she kept that stuff in a safety-deposit box," I said.

  "Evidence," he said.

  "Of what?"

  "That she killed Brandon Scope. And that she did it in self defense. No matter what else happened, Elizabeth didn't want someone else to take the blame for what she did. Naive, wouldn't you say?"

  No, I wouldn't. I sat there and let the truth try to settle in. Not happening. Not yet anyway. Because this wasn't the full truth. I knew that better than anyone. I looked at my father-in-law, the sagging skin, the thinning hair, the softening gut, the still impressive but eroding frame. Hoyt thought that he knew what had really happened with his daughter. But he had no idea how wrong he was.

  I heard a thunderclap. Rain pounded the windows like tiny fists.

  "You could have told me," I said.

  He shook his head, this time putting more into it. "And what would you have done, Beck? Follow her? Run away together? They would have learned the truth and killed us all. They were watching you. They still are. We told no one. Not even Elizabeth's mother. And if you need proof we did the right thing, look around you. It's eight years later. All she did was send you a few anonymous emails. And look what happened. "

  A car door slammed. Hoyt pounced toward the window like a big cat. He peered out again. "Same car you arrived in. Two black men inside. "

  "They're here for me. "

  "You sure they don't work for Scope?"

  "Positive. " On cue, my new cell phone rang. I picked it up.

  "Everything okay?" Tyrese asked.

  "Yes. "

  "Step outside. "

  "Why?"

  "You trust that cop?"

  "I'm not sure. "

  "Step outside. "

  I told Hoyt that I had to go. He seemed too drained to care. I retrieved the Glock and hurried for the door. Tyrese and Brutus were waiting for me. The rain had let up a bit, but none of us seemed to care.

  "Got a call for you. Stand over there. "

  "Why?"

  "Personal," Tyrese said. "I don't want to hear it. "

  "I trust you. "

  "Just do what I say, man. "

/>   I moved out of hearing distance. Behind me I saw the shade open up. Hoyt peered out. I looked back at Tyrese. He gestured for me to put the phone to my ear. I did. There was silence and then Tyrese said, "Line clear, go ahead. "

  The next voice I heard was Shauna's. "I saw her. "

  I remained perfectly still.

  "She said for you to meet her tonight at the Dolphin. "

  I understood. The line went dead. I walked back to Tyrese and Brutus. "I need to go somewhere on my own," I said. "Where I can't be followed. "

  Tyrese glanced at Brutus. "Get in," Tyrese said.