Dont let go, p.17
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       Don't Let Go, p.17

          
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  "And then what?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Would the kids ignore the warning signs?"

  "Something like that."

  "What would they do then?"

  "Nothing. They'd just walk past the signs."

  "And what would you do about that?"

  "Nothing."

  "Nothing?"

  "We might tell them that this was private property."

  "Might?" I ask. "Or did?"

  "Sometimes we did, I guess."

  "How would you do that exactly?"

  "Pardon?"

  "Walk me through it. A kid goes past your sign. What would you do?"

  "Why are you asking?"

  I put a little snap in my voice. "Just answer the question, please."

  "We'd tell him to go back. We'd remind him that he was trespassing."

  "Who would remind him?" I ask.

  "I don't understand."

  "Would you be the one to remind him?"

  "No, of course not."

  "Then who?"

  "One of our security guards."

  "Were they guarding the woods?"

  "What?"

  "The signs started probably fifty yards away from your fence."

  Andy Reeves considers this. "No, the guards wouldn't be that far out. They would be more interested in controlling the perimeter."

  "So you probably wouldn't see a trespasser until he reached your fence, is that correct?"

  "I don't see the relevance--"

  "How would you spot this trespassing kid?" I ask, changing gears. "Would you rely on the guard's vision, or did you have cameras?"

  "I think we may have had a few . . ."

  "Think you had cameras? You don't remember?"

  I'm testing his patience. That's not unintentional. Reeves starts tapping the top of the table with a fingernail. A long fingernail, I notice. Then he gives me a toothy grin and whispers again: "I'm really not going to take much more badgering, Detective."

  "Yeah, okay, sorry," I say. I tilt my head. "So let me ask you this: Why would stealth Black Hawks be landing at a 'USDA'"--I do finger quotes--"'office complex' at night?"

  Drop the mic, as one of my goddaughters might say.

  Andy Reeves hadn't been expecting that one. His mouth drops open, though not for long. His eyes harden. The big wide smile has been replaced with something closemouthed and far more reptilian.

  "I have no idea what you're talking about," he whispers.

  I try to stare him down, but he has no problem with too much eye contact. I don't like that. We all think eye contact is great or a sign of honesty, but like most things, too much indicates an issue.

  "It's been fifteen years, Reeves."

  He doesn't stop staring.

  "I don't care what you guys were doing." I try to keep the pleading out of my voice. "I just need to know what happened to my brother."

  Exact same volume, exact same cadence, exact same words: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

  "My brother's name was Leo Dumas."

  He pretends to be thinking about it, trying to dredge up the name from his memory bank.

  "He was hit by a train with a girl named Diana Styles."

  "Oh, Augie's daughter." Andy Reeves shakes his head the way people do when they speak of someone else's tragedy. "Your brother was the young man killed with her?"

  He knows this. I know this. He knows I know.

  "I'm sorry for your loss."

  The condescension drips off his voice like maple syrup off a stack of pancakes. Intentionally, of course. Striking back at me.

  "I already told you I don't care what you were doing at the base," I try. "So if you want me to stop digging into this, all you have to do is tell me the truth. Unless."

  "Unless what?"

  "Unless you killed my brother," I say.

  Reeves doesn't take the bait. Instead he makes a scene out of checking his watch. He looks over at the old folks starting to meander back toward the piano. "My break is over."

  He stands.

  "Before you go," I say.

  I take out my phone. The video is already up. It's cued to the first time the helicopter appears. I click the play button and hold it up for him. Even the fake tan is leaving his face now.

  "I don't know what that's supposed to be," he says, but his voice just isn't making it.

  "Sure you do. It's a Sikorsky Black Hawk stealth helicopter flying over what you claim is a Department of Agriculture office complex. If you watch a few more moments, that helicopter will land. And after that, you'll be able to see a man in a prisoner-issue orange jumpsuit get out of that copter."

  That's a touch of an exaggeration--you really just see an orange dot--but a touch is all you need.

  "You can't verify--"

  "Sure I can. There is a date stamp. The buildings and landscape are unique enough. I have the volume turned down, but the whole thing is narrated." Another exaggeration. "The teenagers who made the tape spell out exactly where they are and what they are witnessing."

  His glare is back.

  "One more thing," I say.

  "What?"

  "You can hear three teenage boys on the tape. All three have died under mysterious circumstances."

  One of the old men shouts out, "Hey, Andy, can I request 'Livin' on a Prayer'?"

  "I hate Madonna," another says.

  "That's 'Like a Prayer,' you moron. 'Livin' on a Prayer' is Bon Jovi."

  "Who you calling a moron?"

  Andy Reeves ignores them. He turns to me. The facade is gone now. The whisper is harsher. "Is that the only copy of the tape?"

  "Yes," I say, giving him flat eyes. "I was dumb enough to come here without making copies."

  He speaks through gritted teeth. "If that tape is what you claim--and I stress the word 'if'--revealing it would be a federal offense punishable by a prison sentence."

  "Andy?"

  "What?"

  "Do I look scared?"

  "It would be treason to reveal that."

  I point to my calm face, indicating again that I do not in any way, shape, or form appear frightened by this threat.

  "If you dare show it to anyone--"

  "Let me stop you there, Andy. I don't want you to worry your pretty head about it. If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'll definitely show it. I'll post it all over Twitter and Facebook with your name on it." I pretend to have a pen and paper and prepare to mime writing. "Is Reeves spelled with two e's or ea?"

  "I had nothing to do with your brother."

  "How about my girlfriend, then? Her name is Maura Wells. You want to tell me you had nothing to do with her either?"

  "My God." Andy Reeves slowly shakes his head. "You have no clue, do you?"

  I don't like the way he says it, with sudden confidence. I don't know how to reply, so I go with a simple "So tell me."

  Another patron shouts, "Play 'Don't Stop Believin',' Andy. We love that one."

  "Sinatra!"

  "Journey!"

  Murmurs of agreement. One guy starts singing, "'Just a small town girl.'" The others answer, "'Livin' in a lonely world.'"

  "One second, fellas." Reeves waves and smiles, just a good ol' guy enjoying the attention. "Save your energy."

  Andy Reeves turns back to me, lowers his mouth until it's close to my ear, and whispers, "If you release that tape, Detective Dumas, I'll kill you and everyone you love. Do I make myself clear?"

  "Crystal." I nod. Then I reach out, grab him by the balls, and squeeze.

  His scream shatters the night air.

  A few of the old folks jump up, startled. When I let go, Reeves flops to the floor like a fish hitting a dock.

  The younger guys, the orderlies, react. They rush toward me. I back up, take out my shield.

  "Stay where you are," I warn. "Police business."

  The old folks don't like this. Neither do three of the orderlies. They come closer, circling me. I take out my phone and snap a quick pic. The old-timers yell at me.

  "What do you think you're doing? . . . If I was ten years younger . . . You can't just do that . . . 'Livin' on a Prayer'!"

  One drops to his knee to tend to the wounded Reeves as the orderlies move closer.

  I need to close this down now.

  I show the approaching orderlies the gun in my hip holster. I don't pull it out, but the sight is enough to slow them down.

  An old man shakes his fist at me. "We're going to report you!"

  "Do what you must," I say.

  "You better get out of here now."

  I agree. Five seconds later, I'm out the door.

  Chapter Twenty-one

  I'm not worried about my behavior being called in to law enforcement. Andy Reeves will recover, and when he does, he won't want anyone reporting the incident.

  I am more worried, however, about Reeves's threat. Four people--you, Diana, Rex, and Hank--have been murdered. Yes, I'm going to use that term now. Forget the claims of accident and suicide. You were murdered, Leo. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let that go.

  I call Ellie. She doesn't answer, which pisses me off. I look on my phone and check the photo I took of Reeves. He's on the floor, his face scrunched up in pain, but it's clear enough. I attach it to a text and send it to Ellie. The text reads: See if Maura's mom recognizes him.

  I start to drive home, but I realize that I haven't eaten anything. I veer to the right and make my way to the Armstrong Diner. It's open twenty-four hours. Through the window I see that Bunny is on duty. As I get out of the car, my phone rings. It's Ellie.

  "Hey," she says.

  "Hey."

  That's our way of realizing we went too far, I guess.

  "Where are you?" she asks.

  "The Armstrong."

  "I'll be there in half an hour."

  The phone goes dead. I get out and start toward the diner. Two girls, probably late teens, maybe early twenties, stand outside, smoking and jabbering away. One is blond, one brunette, both resembling "Internet models" or wannabe reality stars. That's the look, I guess. I walk past them as they take deep drags. Then I stop and turn back toward them. I stare at them until they feel my eyes. They keep talking for a second or two, glancing toward me. I don't move. Eventually their voices fade away.

  The blonde makes a face at me. "What's your problem?"

  "I should just go inside," I say. "I should just mind my own business. But I want to say one thing first."

  They both look at me the way you do at a crazy person.

  "Please don't smoke," I say.

  The brunette puts her hands on her hips. "Do we know you?"

  "No," I say.

  "You a cop or something?"

  "I am, but that has nothing to do with it. My father died of lung cancer because he smoked. So I can just walk right past you--or I can try to save your life. Chances are, you won't listen to me, but maybe if I do this enough, maybe just one time, someone will stop and think and maybe even quit. So I'm asking you--I'm sort of begging you--please don't smoke."

  That's it.

  I head inside. Stavros is behind the cash register. He gives me a high five and nods toward a table in the corner. I'm a single guy who doesn't like to cook, so I'm here a lot for dinner. Like the menus at most New Jersey diners, the Armstrong's menu is Bible-length. Bunny just gives me the specials menu. She points to the salmon with couscous and gives me a wink.

  I look out the window. The two smoking girls are still outside. The brunette has her back to me, the cigarette between her fingers. The blonde gives me a baleful look, but there is no cigarette in her hand. I give her a thumbs-up. She turns away. She probably finished it already, but I take the victories where I can.

  I'm just about finished with my meal when Ellie comes through the door. Stavros's face lights up when he sees her. It's a cliche to say that someone lights up a room when she enters it, but at the very least, Ellie raises the average level of goodness, of decency, of virtue in it.

  This is the first time I just don't take all that for granted.

  She slides in across the booth, tucking one foot under her.

  "Did you get that photograph to Maura's mom?" I ask.

  Ellie nods. "She hasn't replied yet."

  I see her blink away tears.

  "Ellie?"

  "Something else I never told you."

  "What?"

  "Two years ago, when I spent that month in Washington."

  I nod. "For that conference on the homeless."

  She makes a "yeah right" noise. "A conference"--she picks up the napkin and starts dabbing at her eyes--"that lasts a month?"

  I don't know what to make of that, so I stay silent.

  "This has nothing to do with Maura, by the way. I just . . ."

  I reach out and put my hand on her arm. "What is it?"

  "You're the best person I know, Nap. I trust you with my life. But I didn't tell you."

  "Didn't tell me what?"

  "Bob . . ."

  I stay perfectly still.

  "There was this woman at work. Bob started staying late. So one night I surprised him. The two of them . . ."

  I feel my heart bottom out. I don't know what to say and I don't think she wants me to say anything, so I tighten the grip on her arm a little. I want to offer some kind of comfort. But I blew that chance.

  A monthlong conference. Man.

  My best friend was in horrible pain. And I never saw it.

  Some great detective, right?

  Ellie wipes her eyes and forces up a smile. "It's better now. Bob and I cleared the air."

  "You want to talk about it?"

  "Not right now, no. I came to talk to you about Maura. About my promise to her."

  Bunny comes over, drops a menu in front of Ellie, gives her a wink. When she leaves, I don't know how to continue. Neither does Ellie. So finally I say, "You made a promise to Maura."

  "Yes."

  "When?"

  "The night Leo and Diana died."

  Another punch in the teeth.

  Bunny comes back over and asks Ellie if she wants to order anything. Ellie says a decaf. I manage to order a mint tea. Bunny asks whether either of us wants to try the banana pudding, it's to die for. We both decline.

  "That night," I say. "Did you see Maura before or after Leo and Diana died?"

  Her answer sends me into another tailspin: "Both."

  I don't know what to say, or maybe I'm afraid of what I might say. She looks out the window, into the parking lot.

  "Ellie?"

  "I'll break my promise to Maura," she says. "But, Nap?"

  "What?"

  "You're not going to like it."

  --

  "Let me start with the after," Ellie says.

  The diner is emptying out, but we don't care. Bunny and Stavros have been steering newcomers to the opposite end of the diner, giving us privacy.

  "Maura came to my house," she says.

  I wait for Ellie to say more. She doesn't.

  "That night?"

  "Yes."

  "What time?"

  "About three in the morning. My parents had broken up, and Dad . . . he wanted me happy, so he converted the garage into a bedroom for me, which was pretty awesome for a teenager. My friends could come at all hours because you could reach my room without waking anybody."

  I'd heard rumors about Ellie's back door always being open, but this was before Ellie and I became tight, before my brother and Ellie's best friend, Diana, were found on those railroad tracks. I wonder about that now. The two sturdiest relationships in my adult life are with Ellie and Augie, both born from that tragic night.

  "So anyway, when I first heard the knock, I didn't think much of it. People knew that if they couldn't go home yet--if they were too drunk or whatever--they could crash at my place."

  "Had Maura ever come by before?" I ask.

  "No, never. I know I've told you this, but I was always a little in awe of Maura. She just seemed, I don't know, cooler than the rest of us. More mature and worldly. You know what I mean?"

  I nod. "So why did she come to you?"

  "I asked her that, but at first, Maura was just a wreck, crying and hysterical. Which, like I said, was weird to me because she always seemed above it all. It took me like five minutes to calm her down. She was covered in dirt. I thought she'd been attacked or something. I actually started checking her clothes to see if anything had been ripped. I read about that in some rape-trauma class. Anyway, when she started to calm down, it almost happened too quickly. I don't know how else to put it. Like someone had slapped her in the face and shouted, 'Snap out of it!'"

  "What did you do?"

  "I broke out a bottle of Fireball whisky I had hidden under my bed."

  "You?"

  She shakes her head. "You really think you know everything about me, don't you?"

  Evidently not, I think.

  "Anyway, Maura shook me off, said she needed to keep a clear head. She asked if she could stay with me for a while. I said of course. Truthfully, I was kinda flattered that she chose me."

  "This is three in the morning?"

  "Around three, yeah."

  "So you didn't know about Leo and Diana yet," I say.

  "Right."

  "Did Maura tell you?"

  "No. She just said she needed a place to hide." Ellie leaned forward. "Then she looked me dead in the eyes and made me promise. You know how intense she could be, right? She made me promise not to tell anyone she was there, not ever, not even you."

  "She specifically said me?"

  Ellie nods. "I actually thought at first maybe you two had a big fight, but she was too scared. She came to me, I think, because, well, I'm Reliable Ellie, right? There were people closer to her. That's what I kept wondering about. Why me? Now I know."

  "Know what?"

  "Why she came to me. You heard her mom. People were looking for her. I didn't know that back then. But Maura must have figured anyone close to her would be watched or questioned."

  I nod. "So she couldn't go home."

  "Right. And she probably thought that they'd spy on you or question your dad. If they wanted to find her, they'd search the people close to her."

  I see it now. "And you really weren't a friend."

  "Exactly. She figured that they wouldn't go to me."

  "So what were they after? Why were these people looking for her?"

  "I don't know."

  "You didn't ask?"

  "I asked. She didn't tell me."

  "And you let that go?"

  Ellie almost smiles. "You don't remember how persuasive Maura could be?"

  Oh, I do. I get it.

  "I learned later that Maura told me nothing for the same reason she told her mother nothing."

  "To protect you."

 
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