Dont let go, p.24
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       Don't Let Go, p.24

          
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  I look at Maura's face again, and I feel that sense of being overwhelmed. I reach out and take her hand. Maura smiles at me, a smile that hits bone, that makes my blood hum, that jangles my nerves in the best way. She takes my hand, brings it to her lips, kisses the back of it.

  "Maura?"

  "Yes?"

  "If you need to run again, I'll go too."

  She puts my hand on her cheek. "I'm not leaving you, Nap. Just so you know. Stay, go, live, die, I'm not leaving you again."

  We don't say anything more. We get it. We aren't hormonal teenagers or star-crossed lovers. We are battle-scarred and wary warriors, and so we know what this means. No pretense, no holding back, no games.

  Ellie is parked around the corner from Beth's address. We pull up behind her car and step out. Ellie and Maura embrace. They haven't seen each other in person in fifteen years, since Ellie hid Maura in her bedroom after that night in the woods. When they release the hug, we all move toward Ellie's car. Ellie gets in the driver's seat; I take shotgun, Maura goes into the back. We pull up to the closed gate blocking the driveway.

  Ellie hits the buzzer by the intercom. No reply. She hits it again. Still nothing.

  In the distance I see the white farmhouse. Like every other white farmhouse I've ever seen, it's stunning and nostalgic and you can instantly imagine a simpler, happier life under that roof. I get out of the car and pull on the gate. No go.

  There is no way I'm leaving now. I head to the picket fence off the driveway, hoist myself up, and drop down into the yard. I signal to Ellie and Maura to stay put. The farmhouse is probably two hundred yards down the flat driveway. There are no trees or anything like that to hide behind, so I don't bother. I walk down the driveway in plain sight.

  When I get closer to the house I can see a Volvo station wagon parked in the garage. I check the license plate. The car is from Michigan. Beth lives in Ann Arbor. You don't have to be much of a detective to figure out the car is likely hers.

  I don't ring the doorbell quite yet. If Beth is inside, she knows already that we are here. I start to circle the house, peering in the windows. I start in the back.

  When I look through the kitchen window, I see Beth. There is a near-empty bottle of Jameson on the table in front of her. The glass in front of her is half full.

  There's a rifle on her lap.

  I watch her reach out, lift the glass with a shaking hand, drain it. I study her movements. They are slow and deliberate. Like I said, the bottle is near empty, and now so too is the glass. I debate how to play it, but again I'm not in the mood to stall. I creep over to the back door, raise my foot, and kick it in right above the knob. The wood of the door gives way like a brittle toothpick. I don't hesitate. Using the momentum from the kick, I cover the few feet between the back door and the kitchen table in no more than a second or two.

  Beth is slow to react. She's just starting to lift the rifle to aim when I snatch it away from her in classic "taking candy from a baby" style.

  She stares up at me for a moment. "Hello, Nap."

  "Hello, Beth."

  "So get it over with already," she says. "Shoot me."

  Chapter Thirty-three

  I unload the ammo and toss it in one corner, the rifle in the other. I use Maura's app to tell them that everything is fine, to stay where they are. Beth stares at me with defiance. I pull out the chair across from her and join her at the kitchen table.

  "Why would I want to shoot you?" I ask.

  Beth's looks haven't changed much since high school. I've noticed that the women from my class who are now in their midthirties have grown more attractive with age. I'm not sure why, if it's something about maturity or confidence or something more tangible like a toning of the muscles or a tightening of the skin around the cheekbones. I know only that as I look at Beth now, I have no trouble seeing the girl who played lead violin in the school orchestra or won the biology scholarship at senior award night.

  "Revenge," she says. I hear the slur in her voice.

  "Revenge for what?"

  "To silence us, maybe. Protect the truth. Which is dumb, Nap. For fifteen years we never breathed a word. I would never say anything, swear to God."

  I don't know how to play this. Do I tell her to relax, that I'm not here to hurt her? Will that make her open up? Or do I keep her on edge, make her think that the only way to survive this is to talk?

  "You have a family," I say.

  "Two boys. They're eight and six."

  She looks at me now with naked fear in her eyes, like she's sobering up by the second. I don't want that. I just want the truth.

  "Tell me what happened that night."

  "You really don't know?"

  "I really don't know."

  "What did Leo tell you?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "You had a hockey game, right?"

  "Right."

  "So before you left, what did Leo tell you?"

  The question surprises me. I try to go back there now--to earlier that night. I'm in my house. My hockey bag is packed. The amount of equipment you need is ridiculous--skates, stick, elbow pads, shin guards, shoulder pads, gloves, chest protector, neck guard, helmet. Dad finally made a checklist for us to go through because otherwise I'd arrive at the rink and invariably call and say something like, "I forgot my mouth guard."

  Where were you, Leo?

  What I remember, now that I think about it, is that you weren't in the front foyer with us. When Dad and I would go through his checklist, you were usually there. Then you'd drive me to the school and drop me off at the bus. That was more or less the routine.

  Dad and I would go through the checklist. You would drive me to the bus.

  But you didn't that night. I can't remember why anymore. But after we finished going through the checklist, Dad asked where you were. I shrugged maybe, I don't know. Then I walked to our room to see if you were there. The light was out, but you were lying on the top bunk.

  "You going to drive me?" I asked you.

  "Can Dad do it? I just want to lie here for a minute."

  So Dad drove me. That's it. Those are the last words we shared. I didn't think twice about it at the time. When people suggested a double suicide, I did wonder about it for a moment maybe--not so much your words, but your solemn mood, lying in that bunk in the dark--but I never put much stock in it. Or if I did, maybe, like Augie with his police visit to the base that night, I pushed it aside. I didn't want your death to be suicide, so I made myself forget about it, I guess. That's how we all are. We pay attention to what works with our narrative. We tend to dismiss that which does not.

  "Leo didn't tell me anything," I say now to Beth.

  "Nothing about Diana? Nothing about his plans that night?"

  "Nothing."

  Beth pours some more whiskey into her glass. "Here I thought you two were close."

  "What happened, Beth?"

  "Why is it so important all of a sudden?"

  "Not all of a sudden," I say. "It's always been important."

  She lifts the glass and studies her drink.

  "What happened, Beth?"

  "The truth won't help you, Nap. It will only make it worse."

  "I don't care," I say. "Tell me."

  And she did.

  --

  "I'm the only one left now, aren't I? The rest are dead. I think we all tried to make amends. Rex became a cop. I'm a cardiologist, but I work for the most part for the underserved. I started a clinic to help indigent people with heart problems--preventive care, treatment, medication, surgery when required. People think I'm so caring and selfless, but the truth is, I think I do good because I'm trying to counter what I did that night."

  Beth stares at the table for a long moment.

  "We are all to blame, but we had a leader. It was his idea. He set the plan in motion. The rest of us, we were too weak to do anything other than go along. That makes us worse in some ways. When we were kids, I always hated the bully. But you know who I hated more?"

  I shake my head.

  "The kids who stood behind the bully and got off on watching. That was us."

  "Who was the leader?" I ask.

  She makes a face. "You know."

  And I do. You, Leo. You were the leader.

  "Leo got wind of the fact that Diana was going to break up with him. Diana was just waiting for that stupid dance to be over, which was a really sucky thing to do. Using Leo like that. God, I sound like a teenager, don't I? Anyway, first Leo was sad, and then he grew livid. You know your brother was getting high a lot, right?"

  I give a half nod.

  "We all were, I guess. He was the leader in that way too. Personally I think that was what had driven the wedge between Leo and Diana. Leo liked to party; Diana was the cop's daughter who didn't. Whatever, Leo started getting really jacked up. He was pacing back and forth, shouting about how Diana was a bitch, about how we needed to make her pay and all that. You know about the Conspiracy Club, right?"

  "Right."

  "Me, Leo, Rex, Hank, and Maura. He said the Conspiracy Club would get revenge on Diana. I don't think any of us took it seriously. We were all supposed to meet up at Rex's house, but Maura didn't even show up. Which was weird. Because she's the one who disappeared that night. I always wondered about that--why Maura ran when she wasn't even part of the plan."

  Beth lowers her head.

  "What was the plan?" I ask.

  "We all had a job. Hank got the LSD."

  That surprised me. "You guys were taking LSD?"

  "No, never before that night. That was part of the plan. Hank knew someone in chemistry class who made him a liquid version. Then Rex's job, well, he provided the house. We would all meet in his basement. I would be the one who got Diana to take the stuff."

  "The LSD?"

  Beth nods. "Diana would obviously never do it on her own, but she was a big Diet Coke drinker. So my role was to spike her soda. Like I said, we all had our jobs. We were all waiting and ready when Leo went to pick up Diana."

  I remember Augie talking about this, about how he thought Leo was high, how he wished like hell he could go back in time and stop Diana from walking out that door.

  "So what happened next?" I ask.

  "Diana was a little wary when Leo brought her down to Rex's basement. See, that's why I was there too. Another female face. To help her relax. We all promised that there would be no drinking. We started playing Ping-Pong. We watched a movie. And of course, we all drank sodas. Ours was mixed with vodka. Diana's was spiked with whatever LSD concoction Hank had brought. We were all giggling and having such a good time I almost forgot why we were really there. At one point, I remember I looked at Diana and she was nearly passed out. I wondered if I overspiked the drink. I mean, she was really out of it. Anyway, I figured, okay, mission accomplished. It was over."

  She stops and looks lost. I try to knock her back on track.

  "But it wasn't over."

  "No," Beth says, "it wasn't." She looks past me now, over my shoulder, like I'm no longer here and maybe right now neither is she. "I don't know whose idea it was. I think it was Rex's. He worked as a counselor at a sleepaway camp. He used to tell us how the kids would sleep really soundly, so sometimes at night, for a funny prank, they would carry the kid's whole bunk out into the woods and just leave him there. They would hide and start laughing and wait for the kid to wake up and then they'd watch him freak out. Rex would tell us stories about it and they were always so funny. One time, Rex hid under the kid's bed and kept pushing from below until the kid woke up screaming. Another time he put a kid's hand in warm water. That was supposed to make him urinate his bed or something, but instead the kid got up like he was going to the bathroom and walked right into a bush. So Leo said--yeah, it was definitely Leo--he said, 'Let's take Diana out to the woods by the base.'"

  Oh no . . .

  "Anyway, that's what we did. It's really dark out. We're all dragging Diana up that path. I kept waiting for someone to call it off. But no one did. There's a clearing behind that old rock formation. You know the one. Leo wanted to leave her there because that was their old 'make-out spot.' He kept saying it like that, in a mocking voice. Make-out spot. Because Diana never let him go further, that's what he said. So we dumped Diana there. Just like that. Dumped her like she was so much garbage. I remember Leo looking down at her like . . . like I don't know. Like I thought he was going to rape her or something. But he didn't. He said that we should all go hide and watch what happens. Which we did. Rex was giggling. So was Hank. I think they were just nervous, though, waiting to see how she reacted to the acid. Leo, he just glared at her. I . . . I just wanted it to stop. I wanted to go home. I said, 'Maybe she's had enough.' I remember that I turned to Leo. I said, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' And Leo, he just had the saddest look on his face. It's like . . . it's like he suddenly realized what the hell he was doing. I saw a tear run down his cheek. I said, 'It's okay, Leo, let's take Diana home now.' Leo nodded. He told Hank and Rex to cut it out with the laughing. He stood up. He started walking toward Diana, and then . . ."

  Tears are running down her face now.

  "And then what?" I ask.

  "All hell broke loose," Beth says. "It started with these giant lights. When they hit us, Diana popped up like someone had thrown a bucket of ice water on her. She started screaming and sprinting toward them. Leo ran after her. Rex, Hank, and I just stayed where we were, like we were frozen. I could see Diana's silhouette in the lights. She's still screaming. Louder now. She starts ripping off her clothes. All of them. And then . . . Then I hear gunfire. I see . . . I see Diana go down. Leo turns back toward us. 'Get out of here!' he shouts. And, I mean, he didn't have to tell us twice. We ran. We ran like hell all the way back to Rex's basement. We waited all night in the dark for Leo or . . . I don't know. We all made a pact. We would never ever say anything about tonight. Not ever. We just stayed there, in that basement, as the hours passed, hoping for the best. We didn't know what happened. Not that night, not even the next morning. Maybe Diana was at the hospital, maybe it would be okay. And then . . . then when we heard about Leo and Diana and the train tracks . . . we realized right away what happened. The bastards shot them and covered it up. Hank wanted to say something, go to the police, but Rex and I stopped him. What could we say? That we got the police captain's daughter high on LSD, brought her out to the woods, and these guys ended up shooting her? So we kept our vow. We never spoke of it again. We finished up our senior years. We left town."

  Beth continues. She talks about living in fear and hating herself, her bouts of depression, her eating disorders, the guilt and horror of the night, the nightmares, seeing Diana naked, dreaming about it, trying to warn Diana in those dreams, running toward her, trying to grab her before she sprints toward the light. Beth goes on and on and starts to cry and begs for forgiveness and says she deserves all the horrible things that happen to her.

  But I'm only half listening now.

  Because my mind is spinning and taking me down a path I never wanted to follow. Remember how I said before that we embrace what fits our narrative and ignore what doesn't? I'm trying not to do that now. I'm trying to focus, even though I don't want to. I want to ignore. Beth had warned me. She said I wouldn't want to know the truth. She was right in ways she can't even imagine. Part of me wishes I could go back in time, back to when Reynolds and Bates first knocked on my door, and I would just tell them right away that I didn't know and just let it be. But it's too late now. I can't look away. So one way or the other, no matter what the cost, there will be justice.

  Because I know now. I know the truth.

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Do you have a laptop?" I ask Beth.

  My words startle her. She has been going on with her soliloquy uninterrupted for the past five minutes. She rises now and brings a laptop to the table. She turns it on and twirls it around so the screen is facing me. I bring up her web browser and type in the address for the website. I put the email address into the field for user ID and then I guess at the password. I get it right the third go-through. I sift through the private communications, find the one with the matching name. I write down the full name and phone number.

  There are dozens of missed calls on my phone--Muse, Augie, Ellie, maybe the FBI. There are plenty of messages too. I get it. The FBI is probably looking for me because of the tape. The cops may have seen the CCTV footage of me in the yellow Mustang at the Hunk-A-Hunk-A.

  I ignore it all.

  I start making calls of my own. I call the Westbridge Police Station and get lucky. I call down south. I call the name and number I got off the website and identify myself as a police officer. I call Lieutenant Stacy Reynolds out in Pennsylvania.

  "I need a favor," I tell her.

  Reynolds listens, and when I'm done, she simply says, "Okay, I'll email the video in ten minutes."

  "Thank you."

  Before Reynolds hangs up, she says, "Do you know now who ordered the hit on Rex?"

  I do, but I don't tell her yet. I still might be wrong.

  I call Augie. When he answers, he says, "The feds could be monitoring my phone."

  "Doesn't matter," I say. "I'm heading back up in a few minutes. I'll talk to them when I get there."

  "What's going on?"

  I'm not sure what to tell this long-grieving father, but I settle for the truth. There have been too many lies, too many secrets.

  "I found Beth Lashley," I say.

  "Where?"

  "She's hiding at her parents' farm in Far Hills."

  "What did she say?"

  "Diana . . ." There is a tear in my eye. My God, Leo, what did you do? When I last saw you on that bunk bed, were you stewing over Diana? Were you planning your revenge? Why couldn't you open up to me? You used to tell me everything, Leo. Why did you pull away from me like that? Or was it me? Was I so caught up in my own stuff--hockey, school, Maura--that I couldn't see your pain or tell you were on a path of self-destruction?

 
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