Tell no one, p.45
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       Tell No One, p.45

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 44

  We parked in the abandoned lot at Riker Hill Elementary School and cut across the grounds, holding hands. Even in the dark, I could see that very little had changed from the days when Elizabeth and I had frolicked here. The pediatrician in me couldn't help but notice the new safety features. The swing set had stronger chains and harnessed seats now. Soft mulch was spread thickly under the jungle gyms in case a kid fell. But the kick ball field, the soccer field, the blacktop with its painted-on hopscotch and four-square courts - they were all the same as when we were kids.

  We walked past the window of Miss Sobel's second-grade class, but it was so long ago now that I think neither of us felt more than a ripple of nostalgia. We ducked into the woods, still hand in hand. Neither one of us had taken the path in twenty years, but we still knew the way. Ten minutes later, we were in Elizabeth's backyard on Goodhart Road. I turned to her. She stared at her childhood house with moist eyes.

  "Your mother never knew?" I asked her.

  She shook her head. She turned to me. I nodded and slowly let go of her hand.

  "Are you sure about this?" she asked.

  "No choice," I said.

  I didn't give her a chance to argue. I stepped away and headed for the house. When I reached the sliding glass door, I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered in. No sign of Hoyt. I tried the back door. It was unlocked. I turned the knob and went inside. No one was there. I was about to head out when I saw a light snap on in the garage. I went through the kitchen and into the laundry room. I opened the door to the garage slowly.

  Hoyt Parker sat in the front seat of his Buick Skylark. The engine was off. He had a drink in his hand. When I opened the door, he lifted his gun. Then, seeing me, he lowered it back to his side. I took the two steps down to the cement and reached for the passenger door handle. The car was unlocked. I opened the door and slid in next to him.

  "What do you want, Beck?" There was the slur of drink in his speech.

  I made a production of settling back in the seat. "Tell Griffin Scope to release the boy," I said.

  "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied without an iota of conviction. '

  "Graft, payola, on the take. Choose your own term, Hoyt. I know the truth now. "

  "You don't know shit. "

  "That night at the lake," I said. "When you helped convince Elizabeth not to go to the police. "

  "We talked about that already. "

  "But now I'm curious, Hoyt. What were you really afraid of - that they'd kill her or that you'd be arrested too?"

  His eyes lazily drifted toward me. "She'd be dead if I hadn't convinced her to run. "

  "I don't doubt that," I said. "But still it was lucky for you, Hoyt - shooting down two birds with one stone like that. You were able to save her life - and you were able to stay out of jail. "

  "And why exactly would I go to jail?"

  "Are you denying you were on Scope's payroll?"

  He shrugged. "You think I'm the only one who took their money?"

  "No," I said.

  "So why would I be more worried than the next cop?"

  "Because of what you'd done. "

  He finished his drink, looked around for the bottle, poured himself some more. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. "

  "Do you know what Elizabeth was investigating?"

  "Brandon Scope's illegal activities," he said. "Prostitution. Underage girls. Drugs. The guy was playing at being Mr. Bad. "

  "What else?" I said, trying to stop quivering.

  "What are you talking about?"

  "If she kept digging, she might have stumbled across a bigger crime. " I took a deep breath. "Am I right, Hoyt?"

  His face sagged when I said that. He turned and stared straight out the front windshield.

  "A murder," I said.

  I tried to follow his gaze, but all I saw were Sears Craftsman tools hanging neatly on a pegboard. The screwdrivers with their yellow-and-black handles were lined up in perfect size order, flattops on the left, Phillips head on the right. Three wrenches and a hammer separated them.

  I said, "Elizabeth wasn't the first one who wanted to bring Brandon Scope down. " Then I stopped and waited, waited until he looked at me. It took some time, but eventually he did. And I saw it in his eyes. He didn't blink or try to hide it. I saw it. And he knew that I saw it.

  "Did you kill my father, Hoyt?"

  He took a deep swig from the glass, swished it around his mouth, and swallowed hard. Some of the whiskey spilled onto his face. He didn't bother to wipe it away. "Worse," he said, closing his eyes. "I betrayed him. "

  The rage boiled up in my chest, but my voice stayed surprisingly even. "Why?"

  "Come on, David. You must have figured that out by now. "

  Another flash of fury shot across me. "My father worked with Brandon Scope," I began.

  "More than that," he interjected. "Griffin Scope had your dad mentor him. They worked very closely together. "

  "Like with Elizabeth. "

  "Yes. "

  "And while working with him, my father discovered what a monster Brandon really was. Am I right?"

  Hoyt just drank.

  "He didn't know what to do," I continued. "He was afraid to tell, but he couldn't just let it go. The guilt ate at him. That was why he was so quiet the months before his death. " I stopped and thought about my father, scared, alone, nowhere to turn. Why hadn't I seen it? Why hadn't I looked past my own world and seen his pain? Why hadn't I reached out to him? Why hadn't I done something to help him?

  I looked at Hoyt. I had a gun in my pocket. How simple it would be. Just take out the gun and pull the trigger. Bam. Gone. Except I knew from personal experience that it wouldn't solve a damn thing. Just the opposite, in fact.

  "Go on," Hoyt said.

  "Somewhere along the line, Dad decided to tell a friend. But not just any friend. A cop, a cop who worked in the city where the crimes were being committed. " My blood started boiling, threatening again to erupt. "You, Hoyt. "

  Something in his face shifted.

  "I got it right so far?"

  "Pretty much," he replied.

  "You told the Scopes, didn't you?"

  He nodded. "I thought they'd transfer him or something. Keep him away from Brandon. I never thought. . . " He made a face, clearly hating the self-justification in his own voice. "How did you know?"

  "The name Melvin Bartola, for starters. He was the witness to the supposed accident that killed my father, but, of course, he worked for Scope too. " My father's smile flashed in front of me. I tightened my hands into fists. "And then there was the lie you told about saving my life," I continued. "You did go back to the lake after you shot Bartola and Wolf. But not to save me. You looked, you saw no movement, and you figured I was dead. "

  "Figured you were dead," he repeated. "Not wanted you dead. "

  "Semantics," I said.

  "I never wanted you to get hurt. "

  "But you weren't very broken up about it either," I said. "You went back to the car and told Elizabeth that I had drowned. "

  "I was just trying to convince her to disappear," he said. "It helped too. "

  "You must have been surprised when you heard I was still alive. "

  "More like shocked. How did you survive anyway?"

  "It's not important. "

  Hoyt settled back as though from exhaustion. "Guess not," he said. His expression veered again and I was surprised when he said, "So what else do you want to know?"

  "You're not denying any of this?"

  "Nope. "

  "And you knew Melvin Bartola, right?"

  "That's right. "

  "Bartola tipped you off about the hit on Elizabeth," I said. "I can't figure out what happened exactly. Maybe he had a conscience. Maybe he didn't want her to die. "

  "Bartola a conscience?" He chuckled. "Please. He was a lowlife murdering scum. He came to me because he thought he could double-dip. Collect fr
om the Scopes and from me. I told him I'd double his money and help him out of the country if he helped me fake her death. "

  I nodded, seeing it now. "So Bartola and Wolf told Scope's people that they were going to lie low after the killing. I wondered why their disappearance didn't raise more eyebrows, but thanks to you, Bartola and Wolf were supposed to go away. "

  "Yes. "

  "So what happened? Did you double-cross them?"

  "Men like Bartola and Wolf - their word means nothing. No matter how much I paid them, I knew that they'd come back for more. They'd get bored living out of the country or maybe they'd get drunk and boast about it in a bar. I've dealt with this type of garbage my whole life. I couldn't risk that. "

  "So you killed them. "

  "Yep," he said without an ounce of regret.

  I knew it all now. I just didn't know how it was all going to play out. "They're holding a little boy," I said to him. "I promised I'd turn myself in if they let him go. You call them. You help make the trade. "

  "They don't trust me anymore. "

  "You've worked for Scope for a long time," I said. "Come up with something. "

  Hoyt sat there and thought about it. He looked at his tool wall again, and I wondered what he was seeing. Then slowly, he lifted the gun and pointed it at my face. "I think I got an idea," he said.

  I didn't blink. "Open the garage door, Hoyt. "

  He didn't move.

  I reached across him to the visor and pressed the garage's remote. The door came to life with a whir. Hoyt watched it rise. Elizabeth stood there, not moving. When it was open all the way, her gaze settled hard on her father's.

  He flinched.

  "Hoyt?" I said.

  His head snapped toward me. With one hand he grabbed my hair. He pressed the gun against my eye. "Tell her to move out of the way. "

  I stayed still.

  "Do it or you die. "

  "You wouldn't. Not in front of her. "

  He leaned closer to me. "Just do it, dammit. " His voice was more like an urgent plea than a hostile command. I looked at him and felt something strange course through me. Hoyt turned on the ignition. I faced the front and gestured for her to move out of the way. She hesitated, but eventually she stepped to the side. Hoyt waited until she was clear of his path. Then he hit the gas. We flew past her with a jerk. As we hurtled away, I turned and watched out the back window as Elizabeth grew dimmer, fainter, until finally she was gone.

  Again.

  I sat back and wondered if I would ever see her again. I had feigned confidence before, but I knew the odds. She fought me on it. I explained that I had to do this. I needed to be the one doing the protecting this time. Elizabeth hadn't liked it, but she understood.

  In the past few days I'd learned that she was alive. Would I trade my life for that? Gladly. I understood that going in. A strange, peaceful feeling came over me as I drove with the man who betrayed my father. The guilt that had weighed me down for so long finally lifted its hold. I knew now what I had to do - what I had to sacrifice - and I wondered if there was ever any choice, if it had been preordained to end like this.

  I turned to Hoyt and said, "Elizabeth didn't kill Brandon Scope. "

  "I know," he interrupted, and then he said something that shook me to the core: "I did. "

  I froze.

  "Brandon beat up Elizabeth," he went on quickly. "He was going to kill her. So I shot him when he got to the house. Then I framed Gonzalez, just like I said before. Elizabeth knew what I had done. She wouldn't let an innocent man take the fall. So she made up that alibi. Scope's people heard about it and it made them wonder. When they then began to suspect that maybe Elizabeth was the killer" - he stopped, kept his eyes on the road, summoned something from deep inside - "God help me, I let them. "

  I handed him the cell phone. "Call," I said.

  He did. He called a man named Larry Gandle. I had met Gandle several times over the years. His father had gone to high school with mine. "I have Beck," Hoyt told him. "We'll meet you at the stables, but you have to release the kid. "

  Larry Gandle said something I couldn't make out.

  "As soon as we know the kid is safe, we'll be there," I heard Hoyt say. "And tell Griffin I have what he wants. We can end this without hurting me or my family. "

  Gandle spoke again and then I heard him click off the line. Hoyt handed me back the phone.

  "Am I part of your family, Hoyt?"

  He aimed the gun at my head again. "Slowly take out your Glock, Beck. Two fingers. "

  I did as he asked. He hit the electric window slide.

  "Toss it out the window. "

  I hesitated. He pushed the muzzle into my eye. I flipped the gun out of the car. I never heard it land.

  We drove in silence now, waiting for the phone to ring again. When it did, I was the one who answered it. Tyrese said in a soft voice, "He's okay. "

  I hung up, relieved.

  "Where are you taking me, Hoyt?"

  "You know where. "

  "Griffin Scope will kill us both. "

  "No," he said, still pointing the gun at me. "Not both. "