The Woods

Chapter 32

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Loren Muse was doing research on the Perez family.

Funny thing she noticed right away. The Perezes owned that bar, the one where Gil Perez had met up with Cope. Muse found that interesting. They'd been a family of poor immigrants, and now they had a net worth in excess of more than four million dollars. Of course, if you start with close to a million nearly twenty years ago, even if you just invested reasonably well, that number would make sense.

She was wondering what that meant, if anything, when the phone call came in. She reached for the receiver and jammed it up between her shoulder and ear.

"Muse here."

"Yo, sweetums, its Andrew."

Andrew Barrett was her connection at JohnJay College, the lab guy. He was supposed to go out this morning to the old campsite and start searching for the body with his new radar machine. "Sweetums?"

"I only work with machines," he said. "I'm not good with people."

"I see. So is there a problem?"

"Uh, not really."

There was a funny hum in his voice.

"Have you gotten out to the site yet?" she asked.

"You kidding? Of course we did. Soon as you gave me the okay, I was, like, so there. We drove out last night, stayed at some Motel 6, started working at first light."

"So?"

"So we're in the woods, right? And we start searching. The XRJ- that's the name of the machine, the XRJ-was acting a little funny, but we got it revved up pretty good. Oh, I brought a couple of the students with me. That's okay, right?"

"I don't care."

"I didn't think you would. You don't know them. I mean, why would you? They're good kids, you know, excited about getting some field-work. You remember how it is. A real case. They were Googling the case all night, reading up on the camp and stuff."

"Andrew?"

"Right, sorry. Like I said, good with machines, not so good with people. Of course, I don't teach machines, do I? I mean the students are people, flesh and blood, but still." He cleared his throat. "So anyway, you know how I said this new radar machine-the XRJ-is a miracle worker?"

"Yes."

"Well, I was right."

Muse switched hands. "Are you saying...?"

"I'm saying you should get out here pronto. The ME is on her way, but you'll want to see this for yourself."

Detective York's phone rang. He picked it up. "York." "Hey, it's Max down at the lab."

Max Reynolds was their lab liaison on this case. This was a new thing down at the lab. Lab liaison. Every time you had a murder case, you got a new one. York liked this kid. He was smart and knew to just give him the information. Some of the new lab guys watched too many TV shows and thought an explanation monologue was mandatory.

"What's up, Max?" "I got the results back on the carpet-fiber test. You know, the one on your Manolo Santiago corpse."

Okay

Usually the liaison just sent a report.

"Something unusual?"

"Yes."

"What?"

"The fibers are old."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"This test is usually a given. Car manufacturers all use the same carpet sources. So you might find GM and maybe a five-year window of when it might have been. Sometimes you get luckier. The color was only used in one kind of model and only for one year. That sorta thing. So the report, well, you know this, the report will read Ford-manufactured car, gray interior, 1999 through 2004. Something like that."

"Right."

"This carpet fiber is old."

"Maybe it isn't from a car. Maybe someone wrapped him up in an old carpet."

"That's what we thought at first. But we did a little more checking. It is from a car. But the car has to be more than thirty years old."

"Wow."

"This particular carpeting was used between 1968 and 1974."

"Anything else?"

"The manufacturer," Reynolds said, "was German."

"Mercedes-Benz?" "Not that upscale," he said. "My guess? The manufacturer was probably Volkswagen."

Lucy decided to give it one more try with her father.

Ira was painting when she arrived. Nurse Rebecca was with him. The nurse gave Lucy a look when she entered the room. Her father had his back to her.

"Ira?"

When he turned, she almost took a step back. He looked horrible. The color was gone from his face. His shaving was spotty so that there were spiky tufts on his cheeks and neck. His hair had always maintained an unruly air that somehow worked for him. Not today. Today his hair looked like too many years of living among the homeless.

"How are you feeling?" Lucy asked.

Nurse Rebecca gave her an I-warned-you glare.

"Not so good," he said.

"What are you working on?"

Lucy walked over to the canvas. She pulled up when she saw what it was. Woods. It took her back. It was their woods, of course. The old campsite.

She knew exactly where this was. He had gotten every detail right. Amazing. She knew that he no longer had any pictures, and really, you'd never take a picture from this angle. Ira had remembered. It had stayed locked in his brain.

The painting was a night view. The moon lit up the treetops.

Lucy looked at her father. Her father looked at her.

"We'd like to be alone," Lucy said to the nurse.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

Nurse Rebecca thought that talking would make him worse. The truth was just the opposite. Something was locked up there, in Ira's head. They had to confront it now, finally, after all these years.

Ira said, "Rebecca?"

"Yes, Ira?"

"Get out."

Just like that. The voice wasn't cold, but it hadn't been inviting either. Rebecca took her time smoothing her skirt and sighing and standing.

"If you need me," she said, "just call. Okay, Ira?"

Ira said nothing. Rebecca left. She did not close the door.

There was no music playing today. That surprised her.

"You want me to put some music on? Maybe a little Hendrix?"

Ira shook his head. "Not now, no."

He closed his eyes. Lucy sat next to him and took his hands in hers.

"I love you," she said.

"I love you too. More than anything. Always. Forever."

Lucy waited. He just kept his eyes closed.

"You're thinking back to that summer," she said.

His eyes stayed closed.

"When Manolo Santiago came to see you-"

He squeezed his eyes tighter.

Ira?

"How did you know?"

"Know what?"

"That he visited me."

"It was in the logbook."

"But..." He finally opened his eyes. "There's more to it, isn't there?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did he visit you too?"

No. He seemed puzzled by this. Lucy decided to try another avenue.

"Do you remember Paul Copeland?" she asked.

He closed his eyes again, as though that hurt. "Of course."

"I saw him," she said.

The eyes popped open. "What?"

"He visited me."

His jaw dropped.

"Something is happening, Ira. Something is bringing this all back after all these years. I need to find out what." "No, you don't." "I do. Help me, okay?" "Why...?" His voice faltered. "Why did Paul Copeland visit you?" "Because he wants to know what really happened that night." She tilted her head. "What did you tell Manolo Santiago?"

"Nothing!" he shouted. "Absolutely nothing!"

"It's okay, Ira. But listen, I need to know-"

"No, you don't."

"Don't what? What did you say to him, Ira?"

"Paul Copeland."

"What?"

"Paul Copeland."

"I heard you, Ira. What about him?"

His eyes almost looked clear. "I want to see him."

"Okay."

"Now. I want to see him now."

He was growing more agitated by the second. She made her voice soft.

"I'll call him, okay? I can bring him-"

"No!"

He turned and stared at his painting. Tears came to his eyes. He reached his hand toward the woods, as if he could disappear into them.

"Ira, what's wrong?"

"Alone," he said. "I want to see Paul Copeland alone."

"You don't want me to come too?"

He shook his head, still staring at the woods.

"I cant tell you these things, Luce. I want to. But I cant. Paul Cope-land. Tell him to come here. Alone. I'll tell him what he needs to hear. And then, maybe, the ghosts will go back to sleep."

When I got back to my office, I got yet another shock.

"Glenda Perez is here," Jocelyn Durels said.

"Who?"

"She's an attorney. But she says you'll know her better as Gil Perez's sister." The name had slipped my mind. I beelined into my waiting area and spotted her right away. Glenda Perez looked the same as she had in those pictures on the fireplace mantel.

"Ms. Perez?"

She rose and gave me a perfunctory handshake. "I assume you have time to see me." I do.

Glenda Perez did not wait for me to lead the way. She walked head high into my office. I followed her and closed the door. I would have hit my intercom and said, "No interruptions," but I got the feeling Jocelyn understood from our body language.

I waved for her to take a seat. She didn't. I moved around my desk and sat down. Glenda Perez put her hands on her hips and glared down at me.

"Tell me, Mr. Copeland, do you enjoy threatening old people?"

"Not at first, no. But then, once you get the hang of it, okay, yeah, it's kinda fun."

The hands dropped from her hips.

"You think this is funny?"

"Why don't you sit down, Ms. Perez?"

"Did you threaten my parents?"

"No. Wait, yes. Your father. I did say that if he didn't tell me the truth I would rip his world apart and go after him and his children. If you call that a threat, then yes, I made it."

I smiled at her. She had expected denials and apologies and explanations. I hadn't given her any, hadn't fueled her fire. She opened her mouth, closed it, sat.

"So," I said, "let's skip the posturing. Your brother walked out of those woods twenty years ago. I need to know what happened."

Glenda Perez wore a gray business suit. Her stockings were that sheer white. She crossed her legs and tried to look relaxed. She wasn't pulling it off. I waited.

"That's not true. My brother was murdered with your sister."

"I thought we were going to skip the posturing."

She sat and tapped her lip.

"Are you really going to go after my family?"

"This is my sister's murder we're talking about. You, Ms. Perez, should understand that."

"I will take that as a yes."

"A very big, very nasty yes."

She tapped her lip some more. I waited some more.

"How about if I lay a hypothetical on you?"

I spread my hands. "I'm all for hypotheticals."

"Suppose," Glenda Perez began, "this dead man, this Manolo Santiago, was indeed my brother. Again just in terms of this hypothetical."

"Okay, I'm supposing. Now what?"

"What do you think it would mean to my family?"

"That you lied to me."

"Not just to you, though."

I sat back. "Who else?"

"Everyone."

She started with the lip tap.

"As you know, all four families engaged in a lawsuit. We won millions. That would now be a case of fraud, wouldn't it? Hypothetically speaking."

I said nothing.

"We used that money to buy businesses, to invest, for my education, for my brothers health. Tomas would be dead or in a home if we hadn't won that money. Do you understand?"

"I do."

"And, hypothetically speaking, if Gil was alive and we knew it, then the entire case was based on a lie. We would be open to fines and per haps prosecution. More to the point, law enforcement investigated a quadruple homicide. They based their case on the belief that all four teenagers died. But if Gil survived, we could also be accused of obstructing an ongoing investigation. Do you see?"

We looked at each other. Now she was doing the waiting.

"There is another problem with your hypothetical," I said.

"What's that?"

"Four people go into the woods. One comes out alive. He keeps the fact that he's alive a secret. One would have to conclude, based on your hypothetical, that he killed the other three." Tapping the lip. "I can see where your mind might go in that direction."

"But?"

"He didn't."

"I just take your word for that?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it does."

"If my brother killed them, then this is over, isn't it? He's dead. You can't bring him back and try him."

"You have a point."

"Thank you."

"Did your brother kill my sister?"

"No, he didn't."

"Who did?"

Glenda Perez stood. "For a long time, I didn't know. In our hypothetical. I didn't know that my brother was alive."

"Did your parents?"

"I'm not here to talk about them."

"I need to know-"

"Who killed your sister. I get that."

"So?"

"So I'm going to tell you one more thing. And that's it. I will tell you this under one condition." "What?" "That this always stays hypothetical. That you will stop telling the authorities that Manolo Santiago is my brother. That you promise to leave my parents alone."

"I can't promise that."

"Then I can't tell you what I know about your sister."

Silence. There it was. The impasse. Glenda Perez rose to leave.

"You're a lawyer," I said. "If I go after you, you'll be disbarred-"

"Enough threats, Mr. Copeland."

I stopped.

"I know something about what happened to your sister that night. If you want to know what it is, you'll make the deal."

"You'll just accept my word?"

"No. I drew up a legal document."

"You're kidding."

Glenda Perez reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the papers. She unfolded them. It was basically a nondisclosure agreement. It also made clear that I would say nothing and do nothing about Manolo Santiago's being Gil Perez and that her parents would be immune from any prosecution.

"You know this isn't enforceable," I said.

She shrugged. "It was the best I could come up with."

"I won't tell," I said, "unless I absolutely have to. I have no interest in harming you or your family. I'll also stop telling York or anyone else that I think Manolo Santiago is your brother. I will promise to do my best. But we both know that's all I can do."

Glenda Perez hesitated. Then she folded the papers, jammed them back into her pocket and headed to my door. She put her hand on the knob and turned toward me.

"Still hypothetically speaking?" she said.

"Yes."

"If my brother walked out of those woods, he didn't walk out alone."

My whole body went cold. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I tried to say something but nothing came out. I met Glenda Perez's eye. She met mine. She nodded and I could see her eyes were wet. She turned away and turned the knob.

"Don't play games with me, Glenda."

"I'm not, Paul. That's all I know. My brother survived that night. And so did your sister."

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