Dont let go, p.19
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       Don't Let Go, p.19

          
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  "I appreciate that, Carl."

  "Brothers of the badge and all that. Anyway, Dr. Fletcher called out of the blue last week and said she was taking a sabbatical. She canceled all her appointments and transferred as many as she could to a Dr. Paul Simpson. That's her partner."

  I look over at the tree. No movement. "Has she done this kind of thing before?"

  "No. According to Cassie, Dr. Fletcher is a very private person but completely dedicated to her patients. Canceling suddenly like this was out of character. I then spoke to her husband."

  "What did he say?"

  "He said they're separated and he has no idea where she is. He said she called him and said the same thing about a sabbatical. He agreed it was out of character, but he also said that since the separation, she's been--and I quote--'discovering herself.'"

  I start my car and pull out of the lot. "Okay, Carl, thanks."

  "You could take it to the next level, of course. Get her phone records, her credit card statements, that kind of thing."

  "Yeah, I might do that."

  Except that means legalities like getting warrants, and I'm not sure I want to go that route. I thank Carl Legg again and hang up. I start driving toward Augie's apartment on Oak Street. I go slow because I need to clear my head and think this through.

  Augie was told Maura had gone to Ellie's that night to hide.

  What did that mean, exactly? I'm really not sure. Did Augie follow up? Did he do anything with that information?

  Most of all, why didn't Augie tell me?

  My mobile rings again, and this time it's my boss, Loren Muse.

  "Tomorrow morning," Muse says. "Nine A.M. My office."

  "What's this about?"

  "Nine A.M."

  She hangs up.

  Great. I wonder now if maybe one of the old-timers at the Rusty Nail did report the testicular assault on Andy Reeves. Nothing to be gained by worrying about that now. I hit Augie's number on my speed dial. No answer. I'm surprised that he hasn't called me back since I sent him a copy of Hank's videotape.

  The turn for Oak Street is already upon me. So much for head clearing. I pull into the lot behind the brick apartments and turn off my car. I sit and stare out the window at nothing. That doesn't help. I get out and circle toward the front of the building. The streetlights are a dull amber. A hundred yards ahead of me I see an older woman walking an enormous dog. A Great Dane maybe. Something like that. I can only really see her in silhouette. When I make out what looks like a cigarette in her hand, I sigh and debate calling her out.

  Nah. I'm a nosy pain in the ass, but I'm not a crusader.

  Still, as I watch her stoop down with a plastic bag in her hand to clean up, something catches my eye.

  A yellow car.

  Or at least it looks yellow. I've seen those amber streetlights play havoc with the colors of white and cream, and even certain light metallic colors. I get to the sidewalk and hurry toward it. As I rush past the older woman, I figure it won't cost me anything not to be a total hypocrite.

  "Please don't smoke," I say.

  The woman just watches me rush by, which is fine by me. I've had every kind of response. One smoker was a vegan who lectured me on how my eating habits were far worse than anything tobacco and nicotine could do to me. Maybe he had a point.

  The car is yellow. It's also a Ford Mustang.

  Just like the car parked in front of the Rusty Nail.

  I get right up next to it and see the license plate: EBNY-IVRY.

  I didn't think about it before, but I get it now.

  EBONY and IVORY. Piano terminology.

  This yellow Ford Mustang belongs to Andy Reeves.

  Again I reach and touch my gun. Not sure why. I do that sometimes. I wonder where Andy Reeves is right now, but I think the answer is obvious: Augie's.

  I start back toward Augie's apartment. As I pass by the old woman, she says, "Thank you."

  Her voice is thick with phlegm. I stop.

  "Too late to do me any good," she says, and I see something heavy in her eyes. "But I appreciate the kindness. Keep it up."

  I think of several things to say, none of them in the slightest way profound, all of them ruining this moment, so I just nod and head off.

  This apartment development is old-school and utilitarian, so there are no fancy names for the buildings. Buildings A, B, and C line the road from left to right. Buildings D, E, and F are in the row behind them. Buildings G, H, I, you get the drift. Each building houses four apartments, two on the first floor (Apartments 1 and 2) and two on the second floor (Apartments 3 and 4). Augie is in Building G, Apartment 2. I sprint up the path and turn left.

  I almost run right into him.

  Andy Reeves is leaving Augie's apartment, his back to me, closing the door behind him. I move back down the path. Out of sight. Then I realize that chances are, he'll take this path and see me.

  I move off the pavement and duck behind a bush. When I glance at the window behind me--Building E, Apartment 1--I see a black woman with big hair staring out at me.

  Great.

  I try to smile at her reassuringly. She doesn't look reassured.

  I hop away and move down toward Building D. I'm not overly concerned about someone dialing 911 on me. By the time anyone responds, this will have been played out. I'm also a cop, and Augie is our captain.

  Andy Reeves does indeed saunter down the path where I had recently been standing. If he looks to his right, there is a slight chance he'll see me, but I'm mostly blocked by a nonfunctioning lamppost. I pick up my phone and hit Augie's number again. It goes right into voice mail.

  I don't like that.

  Suppose Andy Reeves has done something to Augie. Am I just going to let him go?

  My mind whirs. Two choices here--check on Augie or stop Andy Reeves. Decision made, I spin around Building D and head for Augie's apartment. Here is the way I look at it: If I rush in now and find Augie . . . whatever . . . either there will still be time to run back and catch the sauntering Andy Reeves before he gets to his car--or if not, if I get there a little late, the guy is making his escape in a neon-yellow Ford Mustang. Need I say more?

  The windows at Augie's apartment are dark, meaning the lights are out. I don't like that either. I rush to the door and pound on it hard.

  "Wow, relax. It's open."

  Relief courses through me. The voice belongs to Augie.

  I turn the knob and push the door open. No lights are on. Augie sits in the dark with his back to me. Without turning around, he says, "What were you thinking?"

  "About?"

  "Did you really assault Reeves?"

  "I might have squeezed his balls."

  "Jesus, are you out of your mind?"

  "He threatened me. He threatened you too, actually."

  "What did he say?"

  "That he'd kill me and everyone I loved."

  Augie sighs. He still hasn't turned around. "Sit down, Nap."

  "Can we turn a light on? This is kind of spooky."

  Augie reaches his hand out and flicks on a table lamp. It's not a lot of illumination, but it's enough. I move to my familiar seat and take it. Augie stays in his.

  "How did you know about the ball grab?" I ask.

  "Reeves was just here. He's really upset."

  "I bet he is."

  I notice now that there is a glass in Augie's hand. Augie notices me noticing. "Pour yourself one," he says.

  "I'm good."

  "That tape you sent me," he says. "The ones the kids took of the copter."

  "What about it?"

  "You can't show it to anybody."

  No need to ask why, so I take another approach. "You watched it?"

  "Yes."

  "I'd love to hear your thoughts."

  Augie gives a heavy sigh. "A bunch of teenagers defied government no-trespassing warnings and filmed a helicopter landing at a government site."

  "That's it?"

  "Did I miss something?"

  "Could you make out who was talking on the tape?" I asked.

  He considered that. "The only voice I recognized for sure was your brother's."

  "How about Diana?"

  Augie shakes his head. "Diana wasn't on the tape."

  "You seem pretty certain."

  Augie raises the glass to his lips, stops, thinks better of it, places it back down. He stares off now, beyond me and into the past. "The weekend before she died, Diana was in Philadelphia doing college tours. All three of us--Diana, Audrey, and me--were there. We visited Villanova, Swarthmore, and Haverford. We liked them all, though Diana thought Haverford might be too small and Villanova might be too big. When we got home on Sunday, she was deciding between two colleges for early decision--Swarthmore and Amherst, which we'd visited over the summer." He still looks off, his voice devoid of any emotion. "If Diana made that decision, she never got the chance to tell me. Both applications were on her desk on the night she died."

  Now he takes a deep pull from his drink. I give it a moment.

  "Augie, they were covering something up at the base."

  I expect a denial, but he nods. "Seems so."

  "You're not surprised?"

  "That a remote government agency protected by barbed-wire fencing was a cover? No, Nap, I'm not surprised."

  "I assume Andy Reeves asked you about the tape," I say.

  "Yes."

  "And?"

  "He said I should make sure you don't release it. He said that it would be tantamount to treason, that it was a matter of national security."

  "It has to be connected to Leo and Diana."

  He closes his eyes and shakes his head.

  "Come on, Augie. They discover this secret, and a week later, they end up dead."

  "No," Augie says. "It's not connected. At least not like you say."

  "Are you for real? You think this is all a giant coincidence?"

  Augie looks down into his drink as though there really is an answer at the bottom of it. "You're a great investigator, Nap. And I don't say that just because I trained you. Your mind . . . you're brilliant in many ways. You see things others can't. But sometimes you need to go back to the basics, to what you definitely know. Stop taking leaps. Look at the facts. Look at what we know for certain."

  I wait.

  "Number one, Leo and Diana were found dead by railroad tracks miles away from the military base."

  "I can explain that."

  He raises a hand to stop me. "I'm sure you can. I'm sure you'll tell me that they could have been moved or whatever. But right now, let me just state the facts. No maybes." He raises a finger. "Fact One: Their bodies were found miles from the military base. Fact Two"--a second finger--"the medical examiner concluded that blunt trauma from a moving train caused their deaths, nothing else. Before I continue, are we clear on all this?"

  I nod, not because I completely agree--a train strike is devastating and might disguise earlier trauma--but because I want to hear what else he has to say.

  "Now let's examine this tape you found. Assuming it is authentic--and I see no reason to think it's not--one week before these deaths, one of the deceased, Leo, saw a helicopter over the base. Your theory, I assume, is that this led to his death. Keep in mind that Diana wasn't with them when they made this video."

  "Leo would have told her," I counter.

  "No," he said.

  "No?"

  "Again, stick with the evidence, Nap. If you stick with the evidence, you'll conclude, as I have, that Diana never knew."

  "I'm not following," I say.

  "It's simple." He meets my eyes. "Did Leo tell you about the helicopter?"

  I open my mouth and stop. I see where he is going with this. I slowly shake my head.

  "How about your girlfriend, Maura? She was on the tape, am I correct?"

  "Yes."

  "Did Maura tell you?"

  "No," I say.

  Augie lets that sink in before continuing. "And then we have the toxicology report."

  I know what the report said--hallucinogenics, alcohol, and pot in their systems. "What about it?" I ask.

  Augie is trying to sound analytical, trying to be "just the facts, ma'am," but his voice is coarse from the pain. "You knew my daughter for a long time."

  "Yes."

  "You could even say you were friends."

  "Yes."

  "In fact"--now he sounds a bit like an attorney during a cross-examination--"you set Diana and Leo up."

  That's not exactly accurate. I brought them together--I didn't actively set them up--but this hardly seems the time to argue semantics. "What's your point, Augie?"

  "All fathers are naive when it comes to their little girls. I was no different, I guess. I thought the sun rose and set on that girl. Diana played soccer in the fall. She was a cheerleader in the winter. She was an active leader in a dozen extracurricular activities." He leans forward, into the light. "I'm a cop, not a fool. I know none of that means your kid won't do drugs or get into any trouble, but would you say Diana was a big partier?"

  I don't really have to think about the answer. "No."

  "No," he repeats. "And ask Ellie. Ask her how often Diana did drugs or drank before . . ." He stops himself. His eyes close. "And yet that night, when Leo comes to pick her up, I'm there. I answer the door for him. I shake his hand, and I can see it."

  "See what?"

  "He's stoned. Not for the first time. I want to say something. I want to stop her from going out the door. But Diana just gives me this pleading look. You know the one--like, 'Don't make a scene, Dad.' So I don't. I let her go."

  He's there, as he says this. Shaking hands with you, looking at his daughter, seeing the expression on her face. That what-if, that regret, never leaves him.

  "So now that we got the facts out, Nap, you tell me: What's more likely? A big conspiracy involving CIA agents that, I don't know, kidnapped two kids because one of them had filmed a helicopter the week before--if the CIA knew about that, why did they wait a week before they killed him?--dragged them both across town to railroad tracks, and, I guess, pushed them in front of a speeding train? Or is the more likely scenario that a girl went out with a boy who liked to get high and stoned. They partied too hard. They remembered the legend of Jimmy Riccio and together, flying high, tried to jump the track and just fell a little short?"

  He looks at me and waits.

  "You're leaving a whole lot of stuff out," I say.

  "No, Nap, you're putting a whole lot of stuff in."

  "We have Rex. We have Hank--"

  "Fifteen years later."

  "--and you know Maura hid that night. Ellie told you about it. Why didn't you tell me?"

  "When should I have told you? You were an eighteen-year-old kid. Should I have told you when you were nineteen? When you graduated from the academy? When you got promoted to county? When should I have told you something as irrelevant as 'your old girlfriend didn't want to go home so she stayed with Ellie'?"

  Is he for real? "Maura was scared and hiding," I say, trying not to shout, "from something that happened on the night Leo and Diana were killed."

  He shakes his head. "You need to leave this alone. For everyone's sake."

  "Yeah, I keep hearing that."

  "I love you, Nap. I mean that. I love you . . . no, I won't say like a son. That would be too presumptuous. It would also be an insult to what you had with your dad, a wonderful guy I miss very much, and it would be an insult to my little girl. But I do love you. I tried hard to be a good mentor to you, a good friend."

  "You have been that and more."

  Augie leans back. His drink is empty. He puts it on the side table. "Neither of us has many people left we care about. I couldn't stand it if something happened . . . You're young, Nap. You're smart. You're kind and you're generous and, shit, I'm starting to sound like one of those online dating profiles."

  He smiles now. I smile back.

  "You need to move on. Whatever the answer, you're messing with some very dangerous people. They'll hurt you. They'll hurt me. You heard Reeves. He'll hurt anybody you care about. Let's say you're right and I'm wrong. Let's say they saw something and, I don't know, they killed Diana and Leo. Why? To silence them, I guess. And now let's say they waited fifteen years--why did they wait? Again, I don't know--but then they hired a hit man to put two bullets in the back of Rex's head. And they slaughter Hank and conveniently pin it on a viral video. Does all that really sound more logical than my theory about them getting high? I don't know, maybe. But let's say that Reeves and his henchmen are all that horrible and dangerous and they've killed that many people. Let's say your theory is true, okay?"

  I nod.

  "Forget you and me, Nap--you don't think they'll go after Ellie to stop us? Or her two girls?"

  I picture Leah and Kelsi. I see their smiling faces, hear them, feel their arms wrap around me.

  That slows me down. I was heading down this hill at a carefree breakneck pace, but Augie's words force me to pull back on the reins a little. I try to remember what I told myself earlier. Don't act in haste. Think and consider.

  "It's late," Augie says. "Nothing more is going to happen tonight. Go to sleep. Let's talk in the morning."

  Chapter Twenty-four

  I head home, but there is no way I'm going to sleep.

  I think about what Augie said, about the possibility of danger to Ellie and the girls, and I'm not sure what to do about that. It is easy to say that I can't be intimidated, but one has to be pragmatic too. What are the odds I'll actually solve the case?

  Long shot.

  What are the odds not only that I'll learn the truth about Leo and Diana but that I'll also find enough evidence to bring someone up on charges, never mind get a conviction?

  Longer shot.

  And to the contrary, what are the odds that I or someone close to me suffers terrible consequences because of my blind determination to complete this mission?

  The question is practically rhetorical.

  Is it worth poking the bear?

  I don't know for sure. The wise thing may indeed be to let it go. You're dead, Leo. Whatever I do now, no matter what horror I unearth, that will not change. You will still be dead and gone. Intellectually I know this. And yet.

  I open the Internet browser on my laptop. I put in Andy Reeves's name, the state of "NJ," and then I add the word "piano." I get a hit: Welcome to the Fan Page for PianoManAndy.

  Fan page. I click on the link. Yes, Andy Reeves, like almost every performer, has his own website. The home page features a portrait of him in soft focus wearing what looks like a sequined blazer.

 
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