Tell no one, p.43
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       Tell No One, p.43

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 42

  Brutus drove like a madman. He took one-way streets in the wrong direction. He made sudden U-turns. From the right lane, he'd cut across traffic and make a left through a red light. We were making excellent time.

  The Metro Park in Iselin had a train heading toward Port Jervis that left in twenty minutes. I could rent a car from there. When they dropped me off, Brutus stayed in the car. Tyrese walked me to the ticket counter.

  "You told me to run away and not come back," Tyrese said.

  "That's right. "

  "Maybe," he said, "you should do the same. "

  I put my hand out for him to shake. Tyrese ignored it and hugged me fiercely. "Thank you," I said softly.

  He released his grip, adjusted his shoulders so that his jacket relaxed down, fixed his sunglasses. "Yeah, whatever. " He didn't wait for me to say anything more before heading back to the car.

  The train arrived and departed on schedule. I found a seat and collapsed into it. I tried to make my mind go blank. It wouldn't happen. I glanced around. The car was fairly empty. Two college girls with bulky backpacks jabbered in the language of "like" and "you know. " My eyes drifted off. I spotted a newspaper - more specifically, a city tabloid - that someone had left on a seat.

  I moved over and picked it up. The coveted cover featured a young starlet who'd been arrested for shoplifting. I flipped pages, hoping to read the comics or catch up on sports - anything mindless would do. But my eyes got snagged on a picture of, well, me. The wanted man. Amazing how sinister I looked in the darkened photo, like a Mideast terrorist.

  That was when I saw it. And my world, already off kilter, lurched again.

  I wasn't actually reading the article. My eyes were just wandering down the page. But I saw the names. For the first time. The names of the men who'd been found dead at the lake. One was familiar.

  Melvin Bartola.

  It couldn't be.

  I dropped the paper and ran, opening those sliding doors until I found a conductor two cars away. "Where's the next stop?" I asked him.

  "Ridgemont, New Jersey. "

  "Is there a library near the station?"

  "I wouldn't know. "

  I got off there anyway.

  Eric Wu flexed his fingers. With a small, tight push, he forced the door.

  It hadn't taken him long to track down the two black men who'd helped Dr. Beck escape. Larry Gandle had friends in the police department. Wu had described the men to them, and then he went through the proper mug books. Several hours later, Wu spotted the image of a thug named Brutus Cornwall. They made a few calls and learned that Brutus worked for a drug dealer named Tyrese Barton.

  Simple.

  The chain lock snapped. The door flew open, the knob banging against the wall. Latisha looked up, startled. She was about to scream, but Wu moved fast. He clamped his hand over her mouth and lowered his lips to her ear. Another man, someone Gandle had hired, came in behind him.

  "Shh," Wu said almost gently.

  On the floor, TJ played with his Hot Wheels. He tilted his head at the noise and said, "Mama?"

  Eric Wu smiled down at him. He let Latisha go and knelt to the floor. Latisha tried to stop him, but the other man held her back. Wu rested his enormous hand on the boy's head. He stroked TJ's hair as he turned to Latisha.

  "Do you know how I can find Tyrese?" he asked her.

  Once off the train, I took a taxi to the rent-a-car place. The green-jacketed agent behind the counter gave me directions to the library. It took maybe three minutes to get there. The Ridgemont library was a modern facility, nouveau colonial brick, picture windows, beech-wood shelves, balconies, turrets, coffee bar. At the reference desk on the second floor, I found a librarian and asked if I could use the Internet.

  "Do you have ID?" she asked.

  I did. She looked at it. "You have to be a county resident. "

  "Please," I said. "It's very important. "

  I expected to see a no-yield, but she softened. "How long do you think you'll be?"

  "No more than a few minutes. "

  "That computer over there" - she pointed to a terminal behind me - "it's our express terminal. Anyone can use it for ten minutes. "

  I thanked her and hurried over. Yahoo! found me the site for the New Jersey Journal, the major newspaper of Bergen and Passaic counties. I knew the exact date I needed. Twelve years ago on January twelfth. I found the search archive and typed in the information.

  The Web site went back only six years.

  Damn.

  I hurried back over to the librarian. "I need to find a twelve year-old article from the New Jersey Journal," I said.

  "It wasn't in their Web archive?"

  I shook my head.

  "Microfiche," she said, slapping the sides of her chair to rise. "What month?"

  "January. "

  She was a large woman and her walk was labored. She found the roll in a file drawer and then helped me thread the tape through the machine. I sat down. "Good luck," she said.

  I fiddled with the knob, as if it were a throttle on a new motorcycle. The microfiche shrieked through the mechanism. I stopped every few seconds to see where I was. It took me less than two minutes to find the right date. The article was on page three.

  As soon as I saw the headline, I felt the lump in my throat.

  Sometimes I swear that I actually heard the screech of tires, though I was asleep in my bed many miles away from where it happened. It still hurt - maybe not as much as the night I lost Elizabeth, but this was my first experience with mortality and tragedy and you never really get over that. Twelve years later, I still remember every detail of that night, though it comes back to me in a tornado blur-the predawn doorbell, the solemn-faced police officers at the door, Hoyt standing with them, their soft, careful words, our denials, the slow realization, Linda's drawn face, my own steady tears, my mother still not accepting, hushing me, telling me to stop crying, her already frayed sanity giving way, her telling me to stop acting like a baby, insisting that everything was fine, then suddenly, coming close to me, marveling at how big my tears were, too big, she said, tears that big belonged on the face of a child, not a grown-up, touching one, rubbing it between her forefinger and her thumb, stop crying David! growing angrier because I couldn't stop, her screams then, screaming at me to stop crying, until Linda and Hoyt stepped in and shushed her and someone gave her a sedative, not for the first or last time. It all came back to me in an awful gush. And then I read the article and felt the impact jar me in a whole new direction:

  CAR DRIVES OVER RAVINE

  One Dead, Cause Unknown

  Last night at approximately 3:00 AM, a Ford Taurus driven by Stephen Beck of Green River, New Jersey, ran off a bridge in Mahwah, not far from the New York state border. Road conditions were slick due to the snowstorm, but officials have not yet made a ruling on what caused the accident. The sole witness to the accident, Melvin Bartola, a truck driver from Cheyenne, Wyoming-

  I stopped reading. Suicide or accident. People had wondered which. Now I knew it was neither.

  Brutus said, "What's wrong?"

  "I don't know, man. " Then, thinking about it, Tyrese added, "I don't want to go back. "

  Brutus didn't reply. Tyrese sneaked a glance at his old friend. They had started hanging out together in third grade. Brutus hadn't been much of a talker back then either. Probably too busy getting his ass whipped twice a day - home and school - until Brutus figured out the only way he was going to survive was to become the meanest son of a bitch on the block. He started taking a gun to school when he was eleven. He killed for the first time when he was fourteen.

  "Ain't you tired of it, Brutus?"

  Brutus shrugged. "All we know. "

  The truth sat there, heavy, unmoving, unblinking.

  Tyrese's cell phone trilled. He picked it up and said, "Yo. "

  "Hello, Tyrese. "

  Tyrese didn't recognize the strange voice. "Who is
this?"

  "We met yesterday. In a white van. "

  His blood turned to ice. Bruce Lee, Tyrese thought. Oh, damn. . . "What do you want?"

  "I have somebody here who wants to say hi. "

  There was a brief silence and then TJ said, "Daddy?"

  Tyrese whipped off his sunglasses. His body went rigid. "TJ? You okay?"

  But Eric Wu was back on the line. "I'm looking for Dr. Beck, Tyrese. TJ and I were hoping you could help me find him. "

  "I don't know where he is. "

  "Oh, that's a shame. "

  "Swear to God, I don't know. "

  "I see," Wu said. Then: "Hold on a moment, Tyrese, would you? I'd like you to hear something. "