Fool Me Once, Page 8Harlan Coben
"I didn't hurt her or anything."
"Did you grab her?"
Maya saw where this was going. "So your man found her?"
"And she, what, claimed that she pepper-sprayed me in self-defense?"
"Something like that. She said that you were acting irrationally."
"In what way?"
"She said you were ranting about seeing Joe on a video."
Maya tried to think how to play this. "What else did she say?"
"She said that you scared her. She said that you grabbed her by the shirt, near the throat, in a threatening manner."
"Is she telling the truth?"
"Did she mention that I played the video for her?"
"She said the screen was blank."
"Wow," Maya said.
"She said that she worried you were delusional. She said that you served in the military and that you often carry a gun. She said when you add all that up--your background, your ranting, your delusions, your assault of her first--"
"By your own admission, Maya, you touched her."
She frowned but kept still.
"Isabella said that she felt threatened, so she used the pepper spray and ran."
"Did your man ask about the missing SD card?"
"Let me guess. She didn't take it and knows nothing about it."
"Bingo," Kierce said. He hit the turn signal. "Do you still want to press charges?"
But Maya could see how this would play out. A gun nut with a controversial past in the military screams about her murdered husband playing with their daughter on a video, grabs the nanny by the lapels--and then accuses the nanny of, what, unjustified use of pepper spray? Oh, and stealing the video of her dead husband.
Yeah, that'll play.
"Not now," Maya said.
Kierce dropped her off at the house. He promised to stay in touch about any new developments. Maya thanked him. She debated picking up Lily at day care, but after one quick look at her new phone app--it was story time, and even from the odd angle of the camera, Maya could see that Lily was riveted--she decided that it could wait.
Dozens of messages and texts were on her phone, all from Joe's family. Oh, damn. She had missed the reading of the will. She didn't much care for her own sake, but Joe's family must have been livid. She picked up the phone and called Joe's mother.
Judith picked up the phone on the first ring. "Maya?"
"I'm sorry about today."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Maya said.
"Fine too. Something came up. I didn't mean to worry you."
"Something came up more important than--"
"The police found the shooters," Maya interrupted. "They needed me to identify them."
Maya heard Judith gasp. "Were you able to?"
"So they're in jail? It's over?"
"It's more complicated than that," Maya said. "Right now, they don't have enough to hold them."
"I don't understand."
"They wore ski masks, so I never saw their faces. Build and clothing isn't enough."
"So . . . so they just let them go? The two men who killed my son are free to walk the streets?"
"They have one on a weapons charge. Like I said, it's complicated."
"Maybe we can talk about it when you come by tomorrow morning? Heather Howell felt it best if we wait until all parties are present before we read the will."
Heather Howell was the family attorney. Maya said her good-byes, hung up, and stared at her kitchen. Everything was sleek and new, and God, she missed that old Formica kitchen table in Brooklyn.
What the hell was she doing in this house? She had never belonged here.
She walked over to the nanny cam picture frame. Maybe the SD card was still inside it. Maya couldn't imagine how that would happen, but she was pretty much open to any interpretation. Had she really seen Joe on that video cam? No. Could he somehow still be alive? No. Had she imagined the whole thing?
Her dad had been a big fan of detective fiction. He used to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Maya and Claire at that Formica kitchen table. How had Sherlock Holmes put it? "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Maya picked up the picture frame and looked in the back.
No SD card.
"When you have eliminated the impossible . . ."
The SD card was gone. Ergo, Isabella had taken it. Ergo, Isabella had lied. Isabella had used the pepper spray to incapacitate Maya so she could take the SD card. Isabella was part of this.
Part of what?
One thing at a time.
Maya started to put the frame back on the shelf when something made her stop. She stared at the frame, the digital pictures Eileen had preloaded shuffling by, when the thought hit her anew.
Why had Eileen given her the nanny cam frame in the first place?
Eileen had told her, hadn't she? Maya was alone now. She was leaving Lily with a nanny. Having a nanny cam made sense. Better to be cautious than sorry. That all added up, didn't it?
Maya kept staring at the frame. When she peered hard, she could see the pinhole camera built into the top of the black frame. Odd when you think about it: Sure, the nanny cam was an extra piece of security, but when you let a camera into your house . . .
Were you letting someone else inside too?
Couldn't someone somehow watch you?
Okay, slow down. Let's not get paranoid here.
But now that Maya thought about it, someone had engineered these cameras. Most of these gizmos could be hooked up to direct feeds and watched live in some way. It didn't mean they were, but the potential was there. The manufacturers could have a secret back door in and watch your every move in the same way Maya could flip on her app and take a look at Lily at the day care center.
Holy crap. Why had she let such a thing into her house?
Eileen's voice came back to her.
"So do you trust her?"
"You trust no one, Maya . . ."
But she did. She trusted Shane. She had trusted Claire. And Eileen?
She had met Eileen through Claire. Maya was still a senior in high school when Claire, a year older, started college at Vassar. She had driven Claire up to school and helped her unpack. Eileen had been assigned as Claire's roommate. Maya remembered how cool she thought Eileen was. She was cute and funny and swore like a sailor. She was loud and bouncy and ferocious. When Claire brought her home to Brooklyn during college breaks, Eileen would debate with Dad for hours, giving better than she took.
Maya had thought she was a balls-to-the-wall hard-ass. But life changes people. It smothers that kind of larger-than-life woman. Time quiets them down. That firecracker girl you knew in high school--where is she now? It didn't happen to men as much. Those boys often grew up to be masters of the universe. The super successful girls? They seemed to die of slow societal suffocation.
So why had Eileen given Maya the nanny cam?
No point in wondering. Time to confront and figure out what the hell was going on here. Maya headed into the basement. She opened the safe with her index finger. The Beretta M9 was right there, but she took the Glock 26 instead. Smaller. Easier to hide.
She didn't think that she'd need a weapon, but no one ever thinks they do.
Eileen was in the front yard working on her roses when Maya pulled up. Eileen waved. Maya returned it and put the car in park.
Maya had never had a lot of female friends.
Maya and Claire had grown up on the bottom two floors of a town house in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Her father had been a college professor at NYU. Her mother worked six years as a legal defense attorney but ended up quitting to raise
her two children. Her parents weren't pacifists or socialists or anything like that, but they certainly leaned toward the left. They sent their daughters to summer camp at Brandeis University. They made them learn wind instruments and read the classics. They gave their girls formal religious training but stressed their own belief that these were allegories and myths, not facts. They owned no handguns. They didn't hunt or fish or do anything that hinted at outdoorsy.
Maya had been drawn to the idea of flying airplanes at a young age. No one knew how or why. No one in the family flew or had any interest in anything involving flight or mechanics or really anything in the general vicinity. Her parents had assumed that Maya's obsession was a phase. It wasn't. Her parents neither condemned nor condoned her decision to apply for the Army's elite pilot program. They just didn't seem to get it.
During basic training, she had been given a Beretta M9, and as much as people looked for all kinds of complicated psychological reasons why, Maya simply liked firing the gun. Yes, she got that weapons could kill, and understood the destructive nature and could see how many people, mostly men, used them as a dangerous and stupid compensation for their own inadequacies. She got that some people liked guns because of the way the guns made them feel, that some kind of unhealthy transference was going on, and that often it was a very bad thing.
But in her case, Maya simply liked shooting. She was also good at it and drawn to it. Why? Who the hell knows? The same reason people are drawn to basketball or swimming or collecting antiques or skydiving, she guessed.
Eileen stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees. She smiled and started toward Maya. Maya got out of the car.
"Hey, you!" Eileen said.
"Why did you give me that nanny cam?"
Just like that.
Eileen stopped midstride. "Why? What happened?"
Maya looked for that feisty freshman. There were signs of her every once in a while. She was recovering, but time passes and wounds don't fully heal. Eileen had been so smart and tough and resourceful--or so it appeared--and then she met the wrong man. Simple as that.
Robby had been so doting at first. He would flatter Eileen and brag about her. He was proud of her, telling everyone how smart Eileen was; then he became too proud of her, the kind of proud that plays on that line between love and obsession. Claire was concerned, but it was Maya who noticed the bruises first. Eileen had started wearing long sleeves. But neither sister did anything at first because they simply couldn't believe it. Maya had figured that victims of domestic abuse were more . . . victim-y? Weak women get into these situations. Lost or poor or uneducated women, women with no backbone--those are the ones men abuse.
Strong women like Eileen? No way.
"Just answer the question," Maya said. "Why did you give me that nanny cam?"
"Why do you think?" Eileen countered. "You're a widow with a little girl."
"You really don't see that?"
"Where did you buy it?"
"The digital frame with the hidden camera. Where did you buy it?"
"You're kidding, right?"
Maya just stared at her.
"Sheesh, okay, I bought it on Amazon. What's going on, Maya?"
"Are you serious?"
"If you bought it online, there will be a record of it under past orders. Show me."
"I don't understand any of this. What happened?"
Maya had so admired Eileen. Her sister could be a bit of goody-goody. Eileen was wilder. Eileen made her feel good. Eileen got her.
But that was a long time ago.
Eileen angrily pulled off her gardening gloves and threw them on the ground. "Fine."
She started for the door. Maya followed behind her. When she caught up, Maya could see Eileen's face was set.
"Eileen . . ."
"You were right before."
Tears brimmed in her eyes. "Robby. That's how I got rid of him for good."
"I don't understand."
The house was a split-level built in the 1960s. They stood in the den. One wall was covered with photographs of Kyle and Missy. No pictures of Eileen. No pictures of Robby. But it was the poster on the other wall that drew Maya's eye. Claire had the same one in her den. Using four black-and-white photographs running left to right, the framed print showed the construction stages of the Eiffel Tower. Eileen and Claire had bought them on a backpacking trip the three of them--Eileen, Maya, Claire--took to France during the summer when Eileen and Claire were twenty and Maya was nineteen.
For the first week of their journey, the girls would meet up with different French men every night. They'd make out with them, no more, and giggle the whole night about how cute Francois or Laurent or Pascal was. A week in, Claire met Jean-Pierre and started the perfect summer romance--intense, passionate, romantic, full of PDA (public displays of affection that made Maya and Eileen gag), and sadly forced to die in six weeks' time.
For a fleeting moment at the end of their stay, Claire actually toyed with the idea of not returning to Vassar for her senior year. She was in love. Jean-Pierre was in love. He begged her to stay. He was a "realistic romantic," he claimed, and so he knew the odds but he also knew that they could beat them. He loved her.
"Please, Claire, I know we can do it."
Claire was simply too practical. She broke his heart and her own. She came home, cried, and then got on with her regularly scheduled life.
Where, Maya wondered, was Jean-Pierre now? Was he married or happy? Did he have kids? Did he still think about Claire? Did he know, via the web or whatever, that she was dead? How had he reacted to her death? Shock, anger, denial, devastation, sad shrug?
Maya wondered what would have happened if Claire had decided to stay with Jean-Pierre in France. In all likelihood, she would have had a few more weeks, maybe months, of romance before coming back home. She'd have missed a semester at Vassar, maybe, and graduated late.
Big friggin' deal.
Claire should have stayed. She shouldn't have been so damn practical.
"I know you thought that you got rid of Robby for good," Eileen said. "And I thank you for that. You saved my life. You know that."
The midnight text Eileen had sent Maya was simple: He's going to kill me. Please help. Maya had driven over with this same weapon in her purse. Robby was drunk and raging, calling Eileen a dirty whore and worse. He'd been spying on Eileen and saw her smile at some guy at the gym. He was throwing things when Maya arrived, searching for his wife, who had found a hiding spot in the basement.
"You scared him that night."
Maya had, perhaps taking it a step too far, but sometimes it was the only way.
"But when he found out you'd redeployed, he started coming around again."
"Why didn't you call the police?"
Eileen just shrugged. "They never believe me. They say the right things. But you know Robby. He can be charming."
And, Maya added to herself, Eileen never pressed charges. The vicious cycle of abuse fueled by a mixture of false optimism and fear.
"So what happened?"
"He came back and beat me. Broke two ribs."
Maya closed her eyes. "Eileen."
"I couldn't live with the fear anymore. I thought about getting a gun. You know. It would be self-defense, right?"
Maya said nothing.
"Except then what? The cops would wonder why I suddenly decided to buy a gun. I'd probably still get charged. And even if I didn't, what kind of life is that for Kyle and Missy? Their mom killed their dad. You think they'd ever understand it?"
Yes, Maya thought. But she kept it to herself.
"I couldn't live with the fear. So I set it up to take one more beating. That's all. If I could live through it, maybe I'd be rid of him for good."
Maya saw where this was going. "You taped him with the hidden camera."
sp; She nodded. "I brought the tape to my lawyer. He wanted to take it to the cops, but I just wanted it over. So he talked to Robby's lawyer. Robby dropped his request for joint custody. He knows the tape is with my lawyer and if he comes back . . . It isn't perfect, but it's better now."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because there was nothing you could do. Because you've always been everyone's protector. I didn't want that for you anymore. I wanted you to be okay too."
"No, Maya, you're not."
Eileen bent over the computer. "Do you know how some people want cops to wear cameras all the time? Ninety-two percent of the public. I mean, why not? But I wonder if we all shouldn't wear them all the time. How would we behave? Would we be better to each other? So I started thinking about that. I thought we should record whatever we could. That's why I bought the hidden cameras. Do you get that?"
"Show me the order, please."
"Fine." Eileen didn't protest anymore. "Here."
Maya looked down at the screen. There it was--an order for three digital camera frames with hidden cameras.
"This order is a month old."
"I ordered three for myself. I gave you one of mine."
A month ago. So the idea that Eileen was in on all this--whatever the hell this was--seemed very unlikely. No one could have foreseen all of this a month ago. And really, what the hell did Maya think Eileen could have done here?
None of it made any sense.
She turned to Eileen.
"I'm going to skip the part where I'm insulted that you didn't trust me."
"I saw something . . ."
"Yeah, I figured that out. What?"
Maya wasn't in the mood to share that lunacy with Eileen. Eileen might believe, she might not, but either way it would take time to explain and Maya saw no outcome where Eileen could help her down that particular avenue.
"The police learned something strange about Claire's murder."
"After all this time?" Eileen shook her head. "Wow."
"Tell me what you remember about it."
"About Claire's murder?"
Eileen shrugged. "It was a home invasion. Drifters, the police thought. That's all I know."
"It wasn't a home invasion. It wasn't drifters."
"The same gun that killed Claire," Maya said, "killed Joe."
Eileen's eyes widened. "But . . . that can't be."
"And you learned this on the nanny cam?"
"What? No. The police ran a ballistics test on the bullets they pulled out of Joe's body. They ran the results through a computer to see if the bullet matched any other cases in the system."