Dont let go, p.15
Don't Let Go, p.15
Two weeks later you'd both be dead.
I study the photograph of the four of us some more. In the picture, night has fallen. Other partygoers are mingling behind us. We are all tired, I guess, a long day. Maura sits on my lap, our bodies entwined in a way only dating teenagers can achieve. You sit next to Diana. She isn't smiling. You look stoned. Your eyes are glassy and hazy. You also look . . . troubled maybe. I didn't notice then. I was into my own stuff, wasn't I? Maura and hockey and making a first-tier college. Fate, I was certain, would secure my future happiness, though I had no real plan, no clue what I wanted to be. I only knew that I would be a huge success.
The doorbell rings.
I put the photo back and start to stand, but the ceiling is too low. With my back bent, I head toward the opening. As I climb down the ladder, the doorbell sounds again. Then again. Impatient.
"Coming!" I shout.
I trot down the stairs and see out the window that it's my old classmate David Rainiv. His high-end business suit seems tailored by a higher entity. I open the door. His face is ashen and crumpled, even as his Hermes tie stays perfectly Windsored.
"I heard about Hank."
I don't bother to ask him how. The old saw about bad news traveling fast has never been truer than in the age of the Internet.
"Is it true?"
"I can't really talk about it."
"They say he was found hung from a tree."
The sadness is etched all over his face. I remember him wanting to help when I asked about Hank at the basketball courts. There is no point in being a hard-ass here. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"Did Hank hang himself," David asked, "or was he murdered?"
I'm about to tell him again that I can't talk about it, but there is an odd desperation on his face. I wonder now whether he came to me for confirmation or something more.
"Murdered," I say.
His eyes close.
"Do you know something about this?" I ask.
His eyes stay closed.
"I'm not sure," he says at last. "But I think I might."
The Rainivs live at the far end of a tony new cul-de-sac in one of those McMansions with an indoor pool, a formal ballroom, eight hundred bathrooms, and a million square feet of mostly useless space. Everything about the house screams nouveau riche. The driveway gate is an overly ornate metal sculpture of children flying a kite. It is all wanting to look too old by looking too new. It's labored, trying too hard, tacky. But that's my take. I've known David a long time. He's always been a good guy. He's generous to charities. He gives his time and energy to the town. I've seen him with his kids. He's not one of those poseur fathers--you know, the ones who make a big production out of watching their kids at the mall or park so you think, Wow, what a caring father, but you can see it's just an act for public consumption. That's not David. Most of all, I see his devastated face now and I remember how he went through the timeline of his friendship with Hank. That kind of loyalty is the mark of a man. So I don't like his or maybe his wife's taste in houses. Who the hell cares? Get over ourselves. Stop judging.
We pull into a garage the approximate dimensions of a college gymnasium--is that judging?--and park. He leads me through a side door and down into what some homes call a basement, but this one has a theater room and wine cellar, so we need to find a new term. Lower level, maybe? He heads into a small room and flicks on a switch. In the back right corner, there is a four-foot-high old-fashioned safe with a big dial.
"You're not the cop on the case, right?"
This is the third time David has asked me that. "No. Why is that a big deal?"
He bends down and starts fiddling with the dial. "Hank asked me to hold something for him."
"No. Eight, nine years ago. He said if he was ever murdered, I should find a way to give it to someone I trust. He warned me not to give it to anyone in law enforcement or anyone involved in the investigation." David looks back at me. "You see my dilemma?"
I nod. "I'm in law enforcement."
"Right. But like I said, this was eight, nine years ago. Hank was already pretty out of it by then. I figured it was nothing, just the ramblings of a diseased mind. But he was pretty adamant about it. So I made a promise to him--that if he was ever murdered, I would do the right thing by him. I never really thought of what that meant because, I mean, it was just incoherent rambling, right? Except now . . ."
He makes one last turn of the dial. I hear a click. He reaches for the handle, and as he does, he turns back and looks up at me. "I trust you, Nap. You're in law enforcement, but I somehow think Hank would be okay with my giving this to you."
He opens up the safe, reaches into the back, digs through whatever else is there--I don't pry by looking--and pulls out a videocassette tape that smacks me in the face with deja vu and sends me--pardon the pun--reeling. I remember Dad buying you a Canon PV1 digital video camcorder sophomore year. You freaked out with joy. For a while, you filmed everything. You wanted to be a director, Leo. You talked about making a documentary. The pain hits me anew at the thought.
The cassette David hands me is in a red plastic case that reads MAXELL, 60 MINUTES--the exact same kind you used. Of course you weren't the only one who used Maxell tapes back in the day. They were pretty common. But seeing one again, after all these years . . .
"Did you watch it?" I ask.
"He told me not to."
"Any idea what's on it?"
"None. Hank asked me to keep it safe for him."
I just stare at the cassette another moment.
"This probably has nothing to do with it," David says. "I mean, I heard about that viral video of him exposing himself."
"That was a lie."
"A lie? Why the hell would someone do that?"
He's Hank's friend. I owe him something. I give him the quick rundown on Suzanne Hanson's moronic motives. David nods, closes the safe, spins the dial.
"I assume you don't have anything that plays this kind of tape," I say.
"I don't think so, no."
"Then let's find someplace that does."
On the phone, Ellie says, "Bob found an old Canon in the basement. He thinks it still works, but it may need a charge."
I am not surprised. Ellie and Bob throw out nothing. Even more disturbing, they keep everything organized so even something like an old video camera that hasn't seen the light of day in a decade will be neatly labeled and kept complete with its charging cord.
"I can be over in ten minutes."
"You'll stay for dinner?"
"Depends on what's on the tape," I say.
"Right, yeah, that makes sense." Ellie hears something in my voice and knows me too well. "Everything else okay?"
I hang up first.
David Rainiv is driving, both hands on the wheel at ten and two. "I don't want to make a big thing of it," he says, "but if there is no next of kin, could you send the body to Feeney's Funeral Home when you're done and tell them to send me the bill?"
"His father is back in town," I remind him.
"Oh right," David says with a frown, "forgot about that."
"You don't think he'll step up?"
He shrugs. "The guy let Hank down his whole life. I don't know why we'd assume he'll come through now."
Good point. "I'll check and see."
"I'd take care of it anonymously, if that's okay. Get the guys from basketball there. Pay their respects. Hank deserves that."
I don't know what people deserve or don't deserve, but I'm okay with whatever.
"It would mean something to him," David continues. "Hank was big on honoring the dead: his mom"--his voice grows soft now--"your brother, Diana."
I don't say anything. We drive a bit more. I have the tape in my hand. Then I think hard about what he just said and ask, "What did you mean?"
"About Hank honoring the dead. About my brother and Diana."
I look at him.
"Hank was crushed by what happened to Leo and Diana."
"That's not the same thing as 'honoring.'"
"You really don't know?"
I assume the question is rhetorical.
"Hank took the same walk pretty much every day. You know that, right?"
"Right," I say. "He started at the Path, by the middle school."
"And do you know where he ended up?"
It suddenly feels like a cold finger is traveling down the back of my neck.
"The railroad tracks," David says. "Hank ended his walk on the exact spot where . . . well, you know."
There is a buzzing in my ears. My words seem to be coming from very far away now. "So every day, Hank started his walk by the old military base"--I'm trying not to sputter--"and ended it where Leo and Diana died?"
"I thought you knew."
I shake my head.
"Some days he would time the walk," David continues. "A couple of times . . . well, this was strange."
"He'd ask me to drive him so he could time how long a car ride would take."
"A car ride between the military base and the tracks on the other side of town?"
"He never said. He was jotting down calculations and muttering to himself."
"I don't know."
"But he was focused on how long it would take to get from one place to another?"
"Focused?" David is quiet for a moment. Then he says, "I'd say he was more like obsessed. I only saw him at the tracks, I don't know, three or four times. It would be when I took the train into the city and we'd drive by him. He was always crying. He cared, Nap. He wanted to honor the dead."
I try to absorb all this. I ask David for more details, but there is nothing. I ask him about anything else he might know connecting Hank to Leo, connecting Hank to the Conspiracy Club, connecting Hank to Rex, Maura, and Beth, connecting Hank to anything else about the past. But again I come up empty.
David Rainiv pulls up to the front of Ellie and Bob's house. I thank him. We shake hands. He reminds me again that if anything is needed to give Hank a proper funeral, he's ready to step up. I nod. I see he wants to ask something more but he shakes it off.
"I don't have to know what's on the tape," he says.
I get out and watch him drive off.
Ellie and Bob's lawn is manicured as though they are preparing for a PGA Tour event. Their flower boxes are coordinated and symmetrical to the point that the right half of the house looks like a precise mirror image of the left. Bob opens the door and greets me with the big smile and the firm handshake.
Bob works in commercial real estate, though I don't quite get exactly what he does with it. He's a terrific guy, and I would take a bullet for him. We tried going out a few times on our own to Yag's Sports Bar to watch some NCAA March Madness or the NHL playoffs--Bro Time--but the truth is, our relationship fizzles without Ellie. We are both okay with this. I have heard that men and women can't be friends without there being some kind of sexual component, but at the risk of sounding horribly PC, that's horseshit.
Ellie comes over more warily than usual and kisses me on the cheek. I think we both know after the whole meeting with Lynn Wells that there is unfinished business between us, but right now I have bigger concerns.
"I have the video camera out in the workshop," Bob says. "It doesn't have a charge yet, but as long as you keep it plugged in, it works."
Their two girls, Leah, age nine, and Kelsi, age seven, come ripping around the corner as only two young girls can. They both wrap their arms around me as only two young girls can, nearly tackling me with their loving onslaught. I would do a lot more than take a bullet for Leah and Kelsi--I would shoot plenty in return.
As godfather to both--and a man with virtually no other family--I dote on Leah and Kelsi and spoil them right up to the line where Ellie and Bob have to admonish me. I quickly ask them now about school, and they enthusiastically tell me. I'm no fool. They are getting older and soon they won't tear around the corner so fast, but I'm okay with that. Some might wonder whether I feel a pang, not having a family of my own yet or missing being an uncle for your kids.
We would have made great uncles for each other's kids, Leo.
Ellie starts to shoo them off me. "Okay, girls, that's enough. Uncle Nap has to do something in the workshop with Daddy."
"What does he have to do?" Kelsi asks.
"Some work stuff," Bob says to her.
Leah: "What kind of work stuff?"
Kelsi: "Is it police work stuff, Uncle Nap?"
Leah: "Are you catching bad guys?"
"Nothing that dramatic," I say, and then I wonder whether they know the word "dramatic" and then I don't like saying that since "nothing dramatic" may be a lie so I add, "I just need to watch this tape."
"Ooo, can we watch?" Leah asks.
Ellie rescues me from that. "You certainly cannot. Go set the table."
They do very little moaning before heading off to do their chore. Bob and I head toward the workshop in the garage. A sign above the door reads BOB'S WORKSHOP. The sign is carved in wood, and every letter is a different color. As you might expect, you could film handyman how-to videos in Bob's workshop. The tools are hung in size order, equidistant from one another. Lumber and piping are stored in perfect pyramids against the back wall. Fluorescent fixtures hang from the ceiling. Plastic bins, all properly labeled, hold nails, screws, fasteners, connectors. The floor is snap-together rubber modules. All the colors in the room are neutral and soothing. There is no dirt, no sawdust, nothing to dispel the relative calm of the place.
I can't hammer a nail, but I see why Bob loves being in here.
The camera sitting on the workbench is an exact match--a Canon PV1--and I wonder whether it is indeed your old one. Like I said, Dad gave away most of your stuff. Maybe somehow that camera ended up with Ellie and Bob, who knows? The Canon PV1 stands upright with the viewing lens on the top. Bob turns it over and presses the eject button. He reaches back for me to hand him the cassette. I do. He sticks it in and pushes it into the designated slot.
"It's ready," Bob tells me. "You just hit the play button here"--he points to it--"and you can watch it here." Bob pulls on something, and a little screen hinges out from the side.
Everything about this is reminding me of you. Not in a pleasant way.
"I'll be in the kitchen if you need any help," Bob says.
Bob heads back into the house, closing the door behind him. No reason for me to drag this out. I hit the play button. It starts with static, which then gives way to darkness. The only thing I can see is the date stamp.
One week before you and Diana were killed.
The picture is shaky, like whoever is holding the camera is walking. It gets shakier, so that maybe whoever was walking is now running. I can't make out anything yet. Just black. I think I hear something, but it's faint.
I find the volume knob and turn it all the way up.
The shaking stops, but the picture is still too dark to make anything out. Playing with the brightness knob doesn't help, so I turn out the lights for better contrast. The garage turns spooky now, the tools more menacing in the shadows. I stare hard at the small screen.
Then I hear a voice from the past say, "Is it on, Hank?"
My heart stops.
The voice on the tape is yours.
Hank says, "Yeah, it's on."
Then another voice: "Point it up at the sky, Hank."
It's Maura. My stopped heart explodes in my chest.
I put my hands on the workbench to steady myself. Maura sounds animated. I remember that tone so well. I watch now as the camera pans up. Hank had been pointing the lens at the ground. As he raises it, I can see the lights from the military base.
You again, Leo: "Do you guys still hear it?"
"I do. It's faint, though."
That sounds like Rex.
You: "Okay, let's stay quiet."
Then I hear Maura say, "Holy shit, look! Just like last week."
"My God." You again. "You were right, Maura."
There are lots of overlapping gasps and excited voices now. I try to make them out--you for sure, Maura, Rex, Hank . . . another female voice. Diana? Beth? I'll have to back it up later and listen closer. I'm squinting at the screen, hoping to see what is taking them all by surprise.
Then I see it too, coming out of the sky, seemingly floating into view. I gasp along with them.
It's a helicopter.
I try to up the volume so I can hear the rotors, but it's already turned up all the way. As though reading my thoughts, Hank fills me in.
"Sikorsky Black Hawk," Hank says. "Stealth copter. Barely makes a sound."
"I can't believe it." That sounds like Beth.
The screen is tiny and even with the lights off in Bob's workshop, it is hard to see exactly what is going on. But there is no question about it now. A helicopter is hovering above the old military base.
As the copter starts to descend, Maura whispers, "Let's get closer."
Rex: "They'll spot us."
Beth: "I don't know . . ."
Maura: "Come on, Hank."
The camera grows shaky again as Hank moves, it seems, closer to the base. At one point he stumbles. The camera points to the ground. I see a hand reach out to help him up, and now . . . now I can see the white sleeve of my varsity jacket. As the camera comes back up, Hank lands the focus right on Maura's face. My whole body jolts. Her dark hair is a perfectly tangled mess, her eyes lit with excitement, her killer smile just south of sane.
"Maura . . ."
I actually say this out loud.
From the tinny speaker, I hear you say, "Shh, stop."
The copter lands. It is hard to see much, but the rotors are still spinning. I can't believe how quiet they are. I'm still not sure what I'm seeing--it may be a door sliding open. There is a flash of bright orange. Could be a person. Not sure. Probably has to be.
The bright orange reminds me of prisoner garb.
There is a noise like someone stepping on a branch. Hank jerks the camera to the right. Rex shouts, "Let's get the hell out of here!"
Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes