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Dont let go, p.8
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       Don't Let Go, p.8

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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I kiss Marsha's cheek. She isn't beautiful anymore. She isn't old, early forties--when life gets beaten out of those who shine brightest, they recover, but sometimes that light never quite comes all the way back. She still likes acting, by the way. The Westbridge Community Players is putting on Fiddler in May. Marsha plays Grandma Tzeitel.

She pulls me to the side. "Funny thing."

"Oh?"

"I tell you about what a monster Trey is and suddenly he ends up in the hospital."

I say nothing.

"A few months ago, I told you about how Wanda's boyfriend sexually abused her four-year-old daughter. Suddenly he ends up--"

"I'm kind of in a rush, Marsha," I say to stop her.

She looks at me.

"You can choose not to tell me your problems," I say. "That's up to you."

"I pray first."

"Okay."

"But praying doesn't work. That's when I go to you."

"Maybe you're looking at it wrong," I say.

"How's that?"

I shrug. "Maybe I'm just the answer to those prayers."

I cradle her face in both hands and kiss her cheek again. Then I hurry out before she can say more. You probably wonder how I, as a cop sworn to uphold the law, justify what I did to Trey. I don't. I'm a hypocrite. We all are. I do believe in the rule of law, and I'm not a huge fan of vigilantism. But I don't look at what I sometimes do that way. I look at it like the world is a bar and I see a man across the room beating the crap out of a woman, taunting her, laughing at her, cajoling her to give him one more try like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown, and then, after offering her this hope, cruelly smashing her in the face again. I look at it like I just stopped by a friend's house and saw her boyfriend sexually assaulting her four-year-old daughter.

Is your blood boiling?

Should time and distance cool that?

So I pounce. I stop it. I have no illusions. I choose to break the law, and if I'm caught, I'll pay the penalty.

I admit this isn't a great justification, but I don't really care.

I start driving west toward the Pennsylvania border. There is, of course, a great chance Simon Fraser will not be in his office. If so, I will visit his house or wherever he may be. I may miss him. He may refuse to see me. This is how detecting works. You keep going even if what you're doing seems like a momentous waste of time and energy.

I think about you as I drive. Here is my problem: For the first eighteen years of my life, I have zero memories that aren't entangled in you. We shared a womb; then we shared a room. There was, in fact, nothing we did not share. I told you everything. Everything. There is nothing I kept from you. There is nothing I was embarrassed or ashamed to tell you because I knew you'd still love me. For everyone else, there is a bit of a facade. There has to be. But with you and me, there was none.

I held nothing--nothing--back. But sometimes I wonder: Did you?

Were you keeping secrets from me, Leo?

An hour later, still driving, I call Dr. Beth Fletcher nee Lashley's office. I give my name to the receptionist and ask to speak to Dr. Fletcher. The receptionist tells me the doctor isn't in right now. In that weary, put-out voice only a doctor's receptionist can pull off, she asks what this is regarding.

"I'm an old friend from high school." I give her my name and mobile phone number. Then I add with as much urgency as I can muster: "It's really important I talk to her."

The receptionist is unfazed. "I'll leave a message."

"I'm also a cop."

Nothing.

"Please page Dr. Fletcher and tell her it's important."

The receptionist hangs up without promising that she will.

I place another call to Augie. He answers on the first ring and says, "Yeah."

"I know you want to stay out of this," I say.

No reply.

"But could you tell your patrol guys to keep an eye out for Hank?"

"Won't be hard," Augie says. "He takes the same walk every day."

"Not this morning."

I fill Augie in on my earlier failed stakeout by the Path. I also tell him about my visit to the pickup basketball game last night. Augie is silent for a bit. Then he says, "You know that Hank is not, uh, well, right?"

"Right."

"So what exactly do you think he's going to tell you?"

"Damned if I know," I say.

More silence. I'm tempted to fill it with an apology for abruptly unearthing something he tried hard to keep buried, but I'm not really much in the mood to offer platitudes, and I doubt Augie would want to hear them.

"I'll tell the guys to radio me if they see him."

"Thanks," I say, but he's already hung up.

--

The law offices of Elbe, Baroche and Fraser are located in a nondescript glass high-rise among a series of nondescript glass high-rises in a development I assume is being satirically labeled "Country Club Campus." I park in a lot slightly larger than a European principality and find Reynolds waiting for me by the door. She's wearing a blazer over a green turtleneck.

"Simon Fraser is here," she says.

"How do you know?"

"I've been staking the place out since I called you. I saw him come in, I haven't seen him leave, his car is still here. From those observations, I deduced that Simon Fraser is here."

"You're good," I say.

"Don't be intimidated by my law enforcement prowess."

The lobby is colorless and cold, like Mr. Freeze's lair. Several law firms and investment entities, and even one of those for-too-much-profit pseudo colleges, are housed in here. We take the elevator up to the sixth floor. The thin kid at reception sports two-day-old stubble, fashionable glasses, and a headset with a microphone. He lifts a finger to indicate we should give him a second.

Then: "May I help you?"

Reynolds takes out her badge. "We're here to see Simon Fraser."

"Do you have an appointment?"

For a moment I think Reynolds is going to spit out, "This badge is my appointment," which would, I confess, disappoint me. Instead she says no but that we would very much appreciate a moment of Mr. Fraser's time. The thin kid hits a button and whispers. Then he asks us to have a seat. We do. There are no magazines, just glossy law firm brochures. I page through one and find a photograph and bio for Simon Fraser. He is a Pennsylvania boy through and through. He attended the local high school, then traveled to the western part of the state to get his BA at the University of Pittsburgh before heading to the far eastern part of the state for his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He is a "nationally recognized family law practitioner." My eyes blur with boredom as I read about how he chaired this and that, authored this and that, served on this and that board, received this and that award for excellence in his chosen field.

A tall woman in a gray pencil skirt saunters toward us. "This way, please."

We follow her down the corridor to a conference room with one glass wall and what I guess is supposed to be a breathtaking view of the parking lot and, if you look farther in the distance, a Wendy's and an Olive Garden. There is a long conference table with one of those speakerphones that looks like a gray tarantula in the center.

Reynolds and I cool our heels for fifteen minutes before the tall woman returns.

"Lieutenant Reynolds?"

"Yes."

"There's a call for you on line three."

The tall woman leaves. Reynolds frowns at me. She puts a finger to her lips indicating that I should keep quiet and hits the speakerphone.

"Reynolds," she says.

A male voice replies, "Stacy?"

"Yes."

"What the hell are you doing at Simon Fraser's office, Stacy?"

"I'm working on a case, Captain."

"What case might that be?"

"The murder of Officer Rex Canton."

"Which our office is not handling because it's been passed on to county."

I had not known that.

"Just following up a lead," Reynolds tells him.

"No, Stacy, you're not following up a lead. You're bothering a prominent citizen who is friends with at least two local judges. Both of the judges called to inform me that one of my lieutenants is harassing a practicing attorney who has already invoked attorney-client privilege."

Reynolds gives me "See what I'm dealing with?" eyes. I nod that I do.

"Do I need to continue, Stacy?"

"No, Captain, I get the message. I'm out of here."

"Oh, and they said you were with someone. Who would--?"

"Bye now."

Reynolds disconnects the call. As though cued, the tall woman opens the conference room door to escort us out. We rise and follow her to the end of the corridor. As we get in the elevator, Reynolds says, "Sorry to make you drive all the way up."

"Yeah," I say to her. "Shame."

When we head outside Reynolds says, "I better get back to the station. Make it okay with my captain."

"Good idea."

We shake hands. She turns and starts to walk away.

"You going to head straight back to Westbridge?" she asks me.

I shrug. "Might have lunch first. How's the Olive Garden?"

"How do you think?"

--

I don't go to the Olive Garden.

There is an area of the parking lot for reserved parking. I find the sign that reads RESERVED FOR SIMON FRASER, ESQ, which is currently occupied by a shiny red Tesla. I frown but try not to judge. The spot to his left, which is normally reserved for BENJAMIN BAROCHE, ESQ, is open.

Good.

I head back to my car. As I do, I pass a guy in his midforties smoking a cigarette. He's wearing a business suit and a wedding ring, and for some reason, the wedding ring matters to me.

"Please don't smoke," I say to him.

The guy gives me the same look--a hybrid of befuddled and annoyed--I always get when I do this. "Huh?"

"You have people who care about you," I say. "I just don't want you to get sick or die."

"Mind your goddamn business," he snaps, tossing the butt to the ground like it offended him and storming back inside.

But part of me thinks, Who knows--maybe that'll be his last cigarette ever.

And they say I'm not an optimist.

I check the entrance. No sign of Simon Fraser. I quickly get in my car and pull it into the BAROCHE spot, hugging the right so that mere inches separate my passenger side from his Tesla's driver's side. There is no way Simon Fraser could squeeze in and reach his door, forget opening it.

I wait. I'm good with waiting. Waiting doesn't bother me. I don't really have to do true surveillance here--he's not going to be able to get into his car in a hurry--so I break out the novel I brought, ease my car seat all the way back, and start to read.

It doesn't take long.

At 12:15 P.M., I spot Simon Fraser exiting the building in my rearview mirror. I stick my bookmark between pages 312 and 313 and place the book on the passenger seat. I wait. Simon is talking animatedly on the phone. He draws closer to the car. With his free hand, he fishes into his pocket and grabs his key fob. I hear the little beep-beep noise of the door unlocking. I wait some more.

When he stops short, I know he's realized the parking situation. I hear his muffled "What the hell?"

I lift my phone and put it to my ear and pretend I'm talking to someone. With my other hand, I take hold of the door handle.

"Hey . . . hey, you!"

I ignore Simon Fraser and keep the phone to my ear. This angers him. He comes around my side of the car and, using what I assume is his college ring, he raps on the driver's-side window.

"Hey, you can't park here."

I turn toward him and gesture with the phone to indicate I'm kinda busy. His face reddens. Simon Fraser knocks harder with the school ring. I regrip the door handle.

"Listen, assho--"

I open my car door fast, smacking him in the face. Simon Fraser falls back. His phone flies from his hand and crashes against the pavement. I don't know if it's broken or not. I get out of the car before he has time to recover and say, "I've been waiting for you, Simon."

Simon Fraser gently puts his hand to his face as if checking for . . .

"No blood," I say, "yet."

"Is that a threat?"

"Yeah, could be." I put my hand out to help him up. "Here, let me help you up."

He stares at my hand as if I'm holding a turd in it. I smile at him. I give him the crazy "I don't give any Fs" eyes. He scuttles back a bit.

"I'm here to save your career, Simon."

"Who are you?"

"Nap Dumas."

My intent with this whole play is not to hurt him so much as bewilder and disorient. This is a man who is used to being in control, to neat lines and rules, to making his problems go away with phone calls to well-placed sources. He is not accustomed to off-the-beaten-path conflict or lack of control, and if I play it right, I can take advantage of that.

"I'm . . . I'm calling the police."

"No need," I say, spreading my arms. "I'm a cop. What can I do for you?"

"You're a police officer?"

"I am."

His face turns a tad redder. "I'll have your badge."

"For illegal parking?"

"For assault."

"The car door? That was an accident, sorry. But, sure, let's call more cops to the scene. You can see about having my badge for opening a car door. And I"--I point to myself with my thumb--"can see about having you disbarred."

Simon Fraser is still on the ground. I hover over him, not really giving him room to rise without my help. It's not an uncommon power play. I reach out my hand again. If he tries anything--a possibility at this stage--I'm ready. He takes my hand and I pull him up.

Simon Fraser brushes himself off. "I'm leaving," he announces.

He walks over, picks up his phone, brushes that off too like it's a small dog. I can see the cracked screen from here. Now that there is some distance, he glares at me.

"You'll pay for any damage."

I smile back at him. "Nah."

He glances at his car, but mine still blocks the driver's door. I can tell he's now calculating the pros and cons of crawling across the passenger seat and driving away.

"You tell me what I need to know," I say, "we keep this all between us."

"And if I don't tell you?"

I shrug. "I destroy your career."

He snickers. "You think you can?"

"Not sure, to be honest. But I won't rest until I do. I have nothing to lose, Simon. I don't care if you"--I make quote marks with my fingers--"'have my badge.' I'm single. I have no social standing. In sum, to repeat: I have nothing to lose."

I take a step closer.

"But you, on the other hand, well, you have a family, a reputation, what the papers like to call"--again with the finger quotes--"'standing in the community.'"

"You can't threaten me."

"I just did. Oh, and if somehow I can't destroy your reputation, one day I'll come by and kick your ass. Plain and simple. Old-school."

He looks at me in horror.

"My brother is dead, Simon. You may be standing in the way of me finding out who killed him." I take another step toward him. "Do I look like the kind of guy who will just let that slide?"

He clears his throat. "If this has something to do with the work Officer Rex Canton did for our law firm . . ."

"As a matter of fact, it does."

". . . then I can't help you. As I've already explained, the work falls under attorney-client privilege."

"Not when that work you hired him to do is a crime, Simon."

Silence.

"Ever heard of entrapment?"

Another throat clear, less sure this time. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"You hired Officer Rex Canton to get dirt on ex-husbands so as to benefit your clients."

Simon snaps into lawyer mode. "One, I wouldn't characterize Officer Canton's work in that way. Two, having someone do background checks on the opposition is neither illegal nor unethical."

"He wasn't doing background checks, Simon."

"You have no proof--"

"Sure I do. Pete Corwick, Randy O'Toole, and Nick Weiss. Do those names ring a bell?"

Silence.

"Cat got your tongue, Counselor?"

More silence.

"By startling coincidence, Officer Rex Canton happened to arrest all three of these men for drunk driving. By startling coincidence, your firm represented all three of those men's wives in custody battles at the time of those arrests."

I grin.

He tries: "That isn't proof of a crime."

"Hmm. Think the media will see it that way too?"

"If you breathe a word of these unfounded accusations to the press--"

"You'll have my badge, I get it. Look, I'm going to ask you two questions. If you answer them honestly, that's it. Your short nightmare known as 'me' is over. If you don't answer them, however, I go to the papers and the American Bar Association and I tweet out what I know on Facebook or whatever the kids call it nowadays. Fair enough?"

Simon Fraser wouldn't say it, but I could see from the slump in his shoulders that I had him.

"So here is the first question: What do you know about the woman who worked with Rex on the DUI stings?"

"Nothing."

The answer came fast.

"You know he used a woman to seduce the guys into excess drinking, right?"

"Men flirting with women in bars." Simon Fraser shrugs, trying to recover a bit of his normal bluster now. "The law doesn't care why they drink, just how much."

"So who is she?"

"No idea," he says, and his words have the ring of truth. "Do you really think anyone in my firm, especially me, would want to know details like that?"

No. It was a long shot but worth taking. "Second question."

"Final question," he counters.

"Who hired your firm to set up the DUI the night Rex Canton was murdered?"

Simon Fraser hesitates. He is thinking it over. I let him. The red is gone from his face now, replaced with something more in the ash family.

"Are you implying that Officer Canton's, uh, work for our firm led to his murder?"

"More than implying."

"You have evidence of that?"

"An assassin flew in for just that purpose. He rented a car and headed to that bar. He pretended to get drunk with Rex's female associate. He waited until Officer Canton pulled him over. Then he shot and killed him."
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