The Woods

Chapter 41

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I didn't know what to think. There was almost no time either. Five minutes after Mrs. Perez left my room, Muse entered.

"You got court."

We checked out of the hospital without fuss. I had an extra suit in my office. I changed into it. And then I headed to Judge Pierces chamber. Flair Hickory and Mort Pubin were already there. They had heard about my episode the night before, but if they cared, they weren't about to show it today.

"Gentlemen," the judge said. "I'm hoping we can find a way of settling this case." I was in no mood. "That's what this is about?"

It IS. I looked at the judge. He looked at me. I shook my head. It made sense. If they had tried to pressure me by digging up dirt, what would have stopped them from doing the same with the judge?

"The People aren't interested in a deal," I said.

I stood.

"Sit down, Mr. Copeland," Judge Pierce said. "There maybe problems with your DVD evidence. I may have to exclude it."

I started for the door.

"Mr. Copeland!"

"I'm not staying," I said. "Its on me, Judge. You did your part. Blame me."

Flair Hickory frowned. "What are you talking about?"

I didn't reply. I reached for the doorknob.

"Sit down, Mr. Copeland, or be in contempt."

"Because I don't want to settle?"

I turned and looked at Arnold Pierce. There was a quiver in his lower lip. Mort Pubin said, "Will somebody explain to me what the hell is going on?"

The judge and I ignored him. I nodded to Pierce that I understood. But I wasn't about to give in. I turned the knob and left. I started down the hallway. My wounded side ached. My head throbbed. I wanted to sit down and cry. I wanted to sit down and ponder what I had just learned about my mother and my sister.

"I didn't think it would work."

I turned. It was EJ Jenrette.

"I'm just trying to save my son," he said.

"Your son raped a girl."

"I know."

I stopped. He had a manila folder in his hand.

"Sit a second," Jenrette said.

"No."

"Imagine your daughter. Your Cara. Imagine that one day she grows up. Maybe she has too much to drink at a party. Maybe she drives and hits someone with the car. Maybe they die. Something like that. She makes a mistake."

"Rape is not a mistake."

"Yeah, it is. You know he'd never do it again. He screwed up. He thought he was invincible. He knows better now." "We're not getting into this again," I said. "I know. But everyone has secrets. Everyone makes mistakes, commits crimes, does whatever. Some people are just better about burying them."

I said nothing.

"I never went after your child," Jenrette said. "I went after you. I went after your past. I even went after your brother-in-law. But I never went near your child. That was my own personal line."

"You're a prince," I said. "So what do you have on Judge Pierce?"

"It's not important."

He was right. I didn't need to know.

"What can I do to help my son, Mr. Copeland?"

"That horse is out of the barn," I said.

"You really believe that? You think his life is over?"

"Your son will probably serve five, six years tops," I said. "What he does while he's in there, and what he does when he gets out, that'll decide what his life is." EJ Jenrette held up the manila envelope. "I'm not sure what to do with this."

I said nothing.

"A man does what he can to protect his children. Maybe that was my excuse. Maybe that was your father's." "My father's?" "Your father was KGB. Did you know that?" "I don't have time for this." "This is a summary of his file. My people translated it into English."

"I don't need to see that."

"I think you should, Mr. Copeland." He held it out. I didn't take it. "If you want to see how far a father might go to make a better life for his children, you should read this. Maybe you'll understand me a little better."

"I don't want to understand you." EJ Jenrette just held the file out. Eventually I took it. He walked away without another word.

I headed back to my office and closed the door. I sat at my desk and opened the file. I read the first page. Nothing surprising. Then I read the second page and yet again, just when I thought I couldn't hurt any more, the words tore open my chest and shredded me apart.

Muse came in without knocking.

"The skeleton they found at that camp," she said. "It's not your sister." I couldn't speak. "See, this Dr. O'Neill found something called a hyoid bone. That's in the throat, I guess. Shaped like a horseshoe. Anyway, it was snapped in half. That means the victim was probably manually strangled. But see, the hyoid bone isn't this brittle in young people-it's more like a cartilage, I guess. So O'Neill ran some more ossification tests with X-rays. In short, it is much more likely that the skeleton belonged to a woman in her forties, maybe even her fifties, than someone Camille's age."

I said nothing. I just stared at the page in front of me.

"Don't you get it? It's not your sister."

I closed my eyes. My heart felt so damn heavy.

"Cope?"

"I know," I said.

"What?"

"It's not my sister in the woods," I said. "It's my mother."

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