Keep Quiet – Lisa Scottoline

Jake Buckman knew his son had a secret, because his wife told him so. They didn’t know what it was but they suspected it was about a girl, since Ryan had been texting non-stop and dressing better for school, which meant he actually cared if his jeans were clean. Jake wished he and his son were closer, but it was probably too late to turn it around. Ryan was sixteen years old, and Jake couldn’t compete with girls, friends, the basketball team, Facebook, Call of Duty, Xbox, Jay-Z, Instagram, and pepperoni pizza. No father could, least of all an accountant. Jake drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting in front of the multiplex for Ryan, who’d gone to the movies with his teammates. The rift between father and son began five years ago, when Jake lost his job. The accounting firm he’d worked for had gone bankrupt in the recession, and he’d been out of a job for almost a year. They’d lived on his unemployment, his wife’s salary, and savings, but he felt ashamed at the brave smile on Pam’s face, the snow globe of bills on the kitchen table, and the endless rejection from jobs for which he was overqualified. He shuddered, thinking back. Since he hadn’t been able to get a job, he’d done something he’d always wanted to do, start his own financial-planning business. He named it Gardenia Trust for Pam’s favorite perfume and he’d dedicated himself to getting it off the ground. He’d worked days and nights at a rented cubicle, cold-calling everyone he knew to drum up clients. He’d said yes to every speaking engagement, keynote or not. He’d given seminars at retirement villages, Rotary Clubs, and libraries.

In time he became one of the top-ten ranked financial planners in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it had taken a toll on his family. He and Pam had fixed their marriage with counseling, but in the meantime, Ryan had grown up. Only Pam believed Jake could still fix his relationship with Ryan before their son left for college. She’d encouraged him, even tonight. Go pick him up at the movie, she’d said. He’s expecting me, but you go instead. The movie theater was wedged between Best Buy and Nordstrom, and cars idled out front, their exhausts making chalky plumes. Jake wondered if some of the other parents were in the cars, but he wouldn’t recognize them anyway. He’d only attended one or two parents’ nights, a National Honor Society induction, and assorted basketball finals, because Ryan played varsity. Pam went to all of Ryan’s games, having more flexibility in her work schedule, and Jake had told himself that her being there was the same as his being there, as if he could parent by proxy.

He’d been wrong. He’d made himself superfluous in his own son’s life. His wife was the keynote. A crowd flowed from the multiplex, lighting cigarettes, checking phones, and chatting as they passed in front of his headlights. Jake looked over to see Ryan push open the exit door with his shoulder and roll out of the theater with his teammates, whose names Jake had made a point to memorize: Caleb, Benjamin, and Raj. They were all tall, but Ryan was the biggest at six foot five and 225 pounds, the scruffy tentpole of a shuffling group of shaggy haircuts, black North Face jackets, and saggy pants—except for the two girls. Jake shifted upward in the driver’s seat, surprised. He hadn’t known Ryan and his buddies were going to the movies with any girls and he was pretty sure Pam didn’t, either. One girl was a redhead and the other a long-haired blonde, who stood near Ryan. Jake wondered if the blonde was the mystery girl and if he could get a conversation going about it with Ryan on the way home.

Pam always said her best conversations with him happened spontaneously, while they were driving around. If so, Jake would plan his spontaneity. The girls waved good-bye, and he waited for Ryan to notice the Audi. He’d texted to say he was coming, but Ryan hadn’t replied, so he couldn’t be sure the text got delivered. Jake didn’t honk, wave, or do something else dorky, so as not to embarrass himself or suburban fathers in general. Jake saw Ryan slide his iPhone from his pocket and flick his bangs back, so that the phone illuminated his son’s face. Ryan had large, warm brown eyes, a long, thin nose and largish mouth, his handsome features framed by wavy, chestnut-brown hair, which he kept longish. Everybody said Ryan was the spitting image of his father, but Jake knew that was true too many years and twenty-five pounds ago. Jake was forty-six years old, with crow’s-feet, graying temples, and a starter paunch to prove it. He always said that Ryan got his size from his father, but his brains from his mother, which was the best of both.

Jake watched as Ryan looked up from his iPhone, spotted the Audi, and jerked his chin up in acknowledgment, then slapped Caleb’s palm and came toward the car. Jake unlocked the passenger door, and Ryan opened it and slid inside, his jacket sliding against the leather seat. “Where’s Mom?” he asked, eyebrows lifting. “She was busy, so I figured I’d come. How was the movie?” “Okay. You left Moose home?” Ryan kept an eye on his iPhone screen. “Oops, yeah.” Jake hadn’t thought to take the dog, though Pam carted him everywhere. He disengaged the brake, fed the car gas, and headed for the exit. “I get you didn’t want him to come.

This car is too awesome.” Ryan kept his head down, his thumbs flying as he texted, growing the blue electronic bubble on the phone screen. “No, it’s not that. I forgot. I’ll bring him next time.” “Don’t. He’ll drool on the seats. We must keep the machine pristine.” Ryan paused as he read the screen. “You mind if I keep texting? I want to stay with this convo.

” “It’s okay, do your thing.” Jake steered around the back of the King of Prussia mall, where the lights of JCPenney, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus brightened a cloudy night sky. Cars were rushing everywhere; it was Friday night, the busy beginning to the weekend. It should have been colder for February, but it wasn’t. A light fog thickened the air, and Jake remembered something he had learned tonight from the pretty weathergirl on TV. Fog is a cloud on the ground. He turned the defrost to maximum and accelerated toward Route 202, heading for open road. Ryan texted away, his hip-hop ringtone going off at regular intervals, punctuated by the Apple-generated swoosh. Jake wondered if his son was talking to the mystery girl. He himself remembered racking up huge phone bills when he first dated Pam, at college.

He’d fallen for her their freshman year at Pitt and felt unbelievably lucky when she married him. She was a great wife, and he gave her total credit for Ryan being so well-adjusted and popular, despite his naturally reserved manner. He was earning A’s in AP courses, got solid SAT scores, and was already being recruited by college basketball programs, some Division I. Jake switched into the slow lane, heading for the exit. He wanted to ask Ryan about the girls, but he’d warm up first. “So, how was the movie?” “Good. Like I said.” “Oh, right.” Jake forgot, he had asked that already. “How’s Caleb? And Raj and Benjamin?” He wanted to show he remembered the names.

“Fine.” “Everybody ready for the finals?” “Yep.” Jake was getting nowhere fast. He still wanted to know about the girls, and according to Pam, the trick with Ryan was to act like you didn’t care about the answer to the question you’d asked, or you’d never get an answer. So he said, offhandedly, “By the way, who were those girls at the movie?” Ryan didn’t look up from his phone, his thumbs in overdrive. Pink and green bubbles popped onto his phone screen, so he was texting with more than one person, like a conference call for teenagers. “Ryan?” Jake tried again. “The girls at the movie, who were they?” “Girls from school.” “Oh. Friends?” “Yeah.

” Ryan still didn’t look up. “Nice.” Jake let it go, an epic fail, in the vernacular. He pressed a button to lower the window, breathing in the moist, cool air. The fog was thickening, softening the blackness of the night, and the traffic dropped off as they approached the Concordia Corporate Center. They passed glowing signs for SMS and Microsoft, then turned onto Concordia Boulevard, which was lined with longer-stay hotels. He’d eaten enough of their reception-desk chocolate chip cookies to last a lifetime, because even his out-of-town clients were in the suburbs, the new home of American business. Jake returned to his thoughts. His own office was in a nearby corporate center, and he spent his days ping-ponging between his corporate center and his clients’ corporate centers, after which he drove home to his housing development. Some days the only trees he saw were builder’s-grade evergreens, planted in zigzag patterns.

Lately he felt as if his life were developed, rather than lived. He was a financial planner, but he was coming to believe that too much planning wasn’t natural for trees or accountants. Fog misted the windshield, and the wipers went on to clear his view, and Ryan chuckled softly. “Dad, this car is sick. I love how it wipes the windshield automatically.” “Me, too.” Jake grinned, feeling the spark of a reconnection. They both liked cars, and last year, when Jake’s old Tahoe hit 132,000 miles, he’d bought the Audi, mainly because Ryan had lobbied for one. Jake was a born Chevy guy, but Ryan had built umpteen online versions of the flashy Audi on the company website and designed what he called a “dream machine”—an A6 sedan with a 3.0 liter engine, Brilliant Black exterior, Black leather interior, and Brushed Aluminum inlay on the dashboard.

They’d gone together to pick it up, and Jake had given Ryan a few driving lessons in it, when Ryan had the time. “Dude.” Ryan shifted forward, sliding the phone into his jacket pocket. “We’re coming up on Pike Road. Can I drive?” Jake checked the dashboard clock, which read 11:15. “You’re not supposed to drive after eleven o’clock. You only have a learner’s permit.” “But Dad, I’ve had it for five months already. I only have one month left before I can get my license. I did fifty-five out of the sixty-five hours, and all the nighttime driving hours and bad-weather hours.

And you’re with me, you’re an adult.” “It doesn’t matter, technically.” Ryan deflated. “Oh, come on, there’s never traffic on Pike, not on the weekends. I can do it, Dad. You know I’m an excellent driver.” “We’ll see when we get to Pike. If there’s people around, no.” Jake wanted to keep the conversational momentum going, especially when Ryan’s ringtone started up again. “So.

It sounds like you’re in demand tonight.” “I’m blowing up.” Ryan smiled. “Is something going on, or is it just the usual women beating down your door?” Ryan snorted. “Yeah, right. I’m a chick magnet.” “Nobody’s a chick magnet, buddy. That’s why God invented cars.” “Ha!” Ryan slapped his hands together. “That’s what I’m talking about! Agree!” Yes! Jake realized he’d said the exact right thing, and Ryan shifted around to face him, with a new grin.

“When I get my license, you’ll lend me the machine, right? I won’t have to drive the Tahoe all the time.” “I will.” Jake smiled. “Awesome! Dad, guess what, I’m so stoked. I might have a date tomorrow night.” Bingo! “Really? Who?” “Wait. Whoa. Hold on, it’s Pike Road, we’re here. Please, please, pull over.” Ryan gestured to the right side of Pike, where the asphalt ended without a curb.

“Right over there.” “Relax, remain calm.” Jake braked as he approached the street. “Please let me drive. We’re almost home. Look, the place is dead.” Ryan waved toward the corporate center. The follow-up ringtone sounded in his pocket. “Can I drive?” “We’ll see.” Jake cruised to a stop, letting an oncoming truck pass, then made a left and pulled over, so he could scope out the scene.

Pike Road was a long street that ran between the woods on its right and the Concordia Corporate Center, on its left. It was used mainly as a shortcut to the corporate-center parking lots, and during the week, corporate running teams and athletic teams from Jake’s high school used it to train. There was no traffic on the weekends. “Dad, please.” Ryan leaned over, his eyes pleading, and Jake didn’t want to ruin the mood. “Okay, let’s do it.” “Sweet!” Ryan threw open the door and jumped out of the car. Jake engaged the parking brake, opened the door, and straightened up, but Ryan was already running around the front, slapping him a strong high-five. “Thanks, dude!” Jake laughed, delighted. “Speed limit is forty, but watch out for deer.

” “Gotcha!” Ryan plopped into the driver’s seat, and Jake walked to the passenger seat, got in, and closed the door behind him. He didn’t have to adjust the seat because they were the same size. “Now. Hold on. Before you go anywhere, adjust the mirrors, outside and in.” “On it.” Ryan pushed the button to rotate the outside mirror, then reached for the rearview, and Jake watched him line it up, with approval. His son was careful and methodical, a perfectionist like him. Ryan even enjoyed practicing, especially basketball. Once he had told Jake that it took two-anda-half hours to shoot a thousand foul shots, and Jake didn’t have to ask Ryan how he knew.

“Don’t forget your harness.” “I wasn’t going to.” Ryan fastened himself into the seat with a click. “I have the low beams on. For this street, with no lights, I recommend the high beams.” “Agree.” Ryan peered at the dashboard and switched them on. “Take a second and look around.” Jake looked down the street with Ryan, the high beams cutting the light fog. Pike Road was a straight shot the length of the corporate center, then took a sharp curve to the right.

Tall trees lined the road, their branches jagged and bare. “Good to go.” Ryan released the emergency brake as his phone signaled an incoming text. “Don’t even think about getting that text. No texting while driving.” Jake himself had stopped texting while he drove unless he was at a stoplight, and he talked on the phone only if he had the Bluetooth. “I know.” Ryan fed the car gas. The follow-up ringtone played but he stayed focused on his driving. “That’s just Caleb, anyway.

He’s hyper tonight. He likes one of those girls we were with, the redhead with the white coat.” “I saw her.” Jake relaxed in the seat, since Ryan had everything in control. “Anyway, this girl I might go out with tomorrow night? She’s new.” Ryan smiled as he drove, warming to the topic. “Her family moved here over the summer from Texas. She rides horses. Barrelracing. How baller is that?” “Baller.

” Jake knew baller meant good. They passed Dolomite Road on their left, which ran behind the corporate center. “Was she the other girl at the movie? The blonde?” “Yes.” Ryan burst into an excited grin. “Did you see her? Isn’t she mad cute?” “I did see her. She’s very cute.” “Yo, I’d be so lucky to be with this girl! She’s short, but it works on her, you know?” “Sure. Short is good. I like short. Your mom is short.

” Jake smiled. Pam was only five foot three, and his mother had called them Mutt and Jeff, back in the days when people knew who Mutt and Jeff were. Jake’s mother had died ten years ago of blood cancer, and he still missed her every day. He didn’t miss his father at all, though his father had outlived his mother by six years, which proved that not only was life unfair but death was, too. “Her name’s kinda weird, not gonna lie. Janine Mae Lamb. Janine Mae is her first name. You have to say both names.” Ryan maintained his speed as they approached the curve, marked by a caution sign with an arrow pointing right. “I don’t think that’s a weird name.

I think it’s pretty. Feminine.” Jake made approving noises to keep up the good vibe. The car’s headlights illuminated the caution sign, setting its fluorescence aglow. “Lower your speed. It’s a blind curve.” “On it.” Ryan slowed down. “So what’s she like, personality-wise?” “She’s funny. She has a Texas accent.

She says pin when she means pen.” “Accents are good. Accents can be adorable.” “Agree!” Ryan beamed as they reached the curve, and Jake felt happy for him. “So you’re going out with her tomorrow night? Why don’t you take her someplace nice, on me, like a restaurant?” “ A restaurant? Dude, we’re not olds like you!” Ryan looked over in disbelief as he steered around the curve, and Jake met his eye, bursting into laughter. But in that split second, there was a sickening thump. They jolted as if they’d hit something, and Ryan slammed on the brakes, cranking the wheel to the left. The right side of the car bumped up and down, fishtailed wildly, and skidded to a stop. And then everything went quiet. Chapter Two “What was that?” Jake threw an arm across Ryan, but the accident was over as suddenly as it had begun.

The noise had come from the passenger side of the car, toward the front. “Dad, I’m sorry, I hit something, I think it was a deer.” Ryan shook his head, upset. “I didn’t see it, I was looking at you. I hope I didn’t hurt it or the car.” “It’s okay. Don’t worry about the car.” Jake hadn’t seen anything because he’d been looking at Ryan. The car sat perpendicular on the street, its headlights blasting the trees. The airbags hadn’t gone off.

The windshield was intact. The engine was still running. “If it’s a deer, maybe it’s not dead. Maybe we can call the vet. Dr. Rowan is a good guy. He’d come, wouldn’t he?” “Hmm, I don’t know. It’s kind of late to call him.” Jake twisted around and checked behind them. The back of the car had stopped short of a tree and a yellow stanchion sticking out of the ground with a sign that read GAS PIPELINE.

He shuddered to think how much worse it could have been. “Maybe the emergency vet then? Can we call them?” “Let me go see. You stay here.” Jake patted Ryan’s arm, opened the car door, and got out, steeling himself for the sight. He’d hit a deer two years ago and still felt guilty. He looked to the right, where the sound had come from. Something dark and lumpy lay off the road, in the raggedy fringe of brush bordering the woods, bathed in the red glow of their taillights. Oh my God. Jake knew what he was seeing, in his heart, before his brain let him accept the reality. He found himself racing toward the dark and fallen form.

It wasn’t a deer. It was a human being, on its side, facing away from him. It couldn’t be anything else from the shape. And it was lying still, so still. Jake threw himself on the ground beside the body. A woman runner in a black jersey and black running tights lay motionless on her side, her skinny body like a limp stick figure. “Miss, Miss!” Jake called out, frantic. She didn’t reply or moan. He pressed her neck to see if she had a pulse, but didn’t feel anything. He couldn’t see much in the dim light.

The woman was petite. She had long hair. Dark blood flowed from a wound near her hairline. Her features glistened, abraded by the asphalt. Road dirt pitted her nose and cheek. “Miss!” Jake leaned over her chest, trying to hear a heartbeat, but he couldn’t hear anything. He turned the woman over on her back to begin CPR and put an arm under her neck to open her airway. Her head dropped backwards. He realized with horror that she was dead. “Ryan! Help! Call 911!” Jake shouted, horrified.

He’d left his phone in the car. He knew CPR. He’d been an Eagle Scout. He prayed the protocol hadn’t changed. He bent over and began CPR, breathing into her mouth, willing oxygen into her lungs, counting off breaths in his head. Her lips were still warm, but she didn’t respond. “Dad! Oh my God, oh my God!” Ryan came running up, his hands on his head, doubled over in shock. “It’s a lady! I hit a lady?” “Call 911!” Jake stopped breathing for her, shifted position, linked his fingers, and pumped the woman’s chest, counting off in his head, praying to God he could resuscitate her. He had to bring her back. She couldn’t be dead.

This couldn’t be happening. “What are you doing? Tell me she’s alive! She’s alive, isn’t she? No, this can’t be! She has to be alive! I’m calling 911!” Ryan shook his head, edging backwards. His breaths came in ragged bursts. He pulled his phone from his pocket, but dropped it, agitated. “Dad, she … doesn’t look like she’s alive! She’s alive … isn’t she? She can’t be … dead!” “Stay calm, pick up your phone, and call 911.” Jake pumped her chest, counting off the beats, trying to stay in emotional control. The woman still didn’t respond. He kept pumping. “Dad … no it can’t be true!” Ryan cried out, bursting into an anguished sob. “I have to call … my phone! They can help her!” He dropped to his knees, frantically looking in the dark for his phone, crying and crawling around the street.

“She can’t be dead … where’s my phone? I can’t find my phone!” Jake kept pumping on the woman’s chest. His efforts became futile, grotesque. He was abusing her body. She had become a corpse. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t understand. It was inconceivable. She had been alive a minute ago, running around the curve. Now she was dead. They had killed her.

God, no. Jake stopped pumping and leaned back on his haunches. Tears came to his eyes. His hand went to his mouth, reflexively stifling himself. He looked down at the woman in the dim light. The sight broke his heart, and he knew it would be seared into his brain for the rest of his life. He bent his head and sent up a silent prayer on her behalf. “No, no! Where’s my … phone?” Ryan sobbed, scrambling for his phone on all fours. “I killed … a lady, I killed … a lady, I wasn’t looking … it’s all my fault!” “Ryan, she’s gone,” Jake whispered, his throat thick with emotion. “No, no, no, no, she’s not gone … she’s not gone … what did I do?” Ryan fell over, collapsing into tears, his forehead on the asphalt.

“Dad, I killed her … no, no, no!” Jake rubbed his eyes, dragged himself to his feet, and half-walked and half-stumbled to Ryan. “No, no, no!” Ryan cried, his big body folded onto itself, racked with sobs. “I can’t … believe this. I … killed someone, I killed that … lady!” “We’ll get through this, Ryan.” Jake gathered him up and hugged him tight, and they clung to each other in a devastated embrace. “I killed … that lady … I killed … that lady! I wasn’t … looking!” “I didn’t see her either. I’m at fault too, we both are.” Jake held him close, then spotted Ryan’s phone glinting in the light, by the side of the road. “I killed her! Oh no oh no … what did I do?” Ryan wept and permitted himself to be held, and Jake’s thoughts raced ahead. He’d call 911, but if he told the police that Ryan had been at the wheel, Ryan could get a criminal record, since he’d been driving after hours on a learner’s permit.

It would jeopardize his college admissions, basketball scholarships, everything. And Pam would never forgive him for letting Ryan drive or letting this happen. The open secret of their marriage was that his wife loved their son more than she loved him. Jake reached a decision. “Ryan, listen to me. We need to call the police, but we can’t tell them the truth. We’re going to tell them that I was driving, not you. Got it? We’ll say I was the driver, and you were the passenger.” “No, no … I did it … I killed that lady … she’s dead!” Ryan sobbed harder, his broad chest heaving. Tears poured down his cheeks.

His nose ran freely, his mucus streaming. “Ryan, look at me. Look at me.” Jake put his hands on his son’s tearstained face. They had to get the story straight before they called the police. They had no time to lose. A car could come along any minute. “I need you to listen to me.” “I killed her!” Ryan kept shaking his head, hiccuping with sobs. “Dad—” “Ryan, listen, try to calm down—” “I can’t, I can’t!” Ryan shook his head back and forth, almost manically, out of control.

“I killed her, I killed her!” “Ryan, listen!” Jake shouted, only because Ryan was becoming hysterical. “We’re going to tell the police I was driving the car, do you understand? I was driving the car and you were the passenger. Got it? I’ll do all the talking, you keep quiet. You can do that, can’t you?” “No, no, no, I … killed her!” Ryan shouted back, his words indistinct, his tears and mucus flowing. “Ryan, stop. We’re going to tell the cops I killed her. Do you hear me? You cannot contradict me, no matter what they ask you. I’ll do the talking, you keep your mouth shut.” “Dad … no!” Ryan lurched out of his arms, scrambled backwards, and staggered to his feet, shaking his head. “No, no, Dad.

No!” “Yes, do what I say, it’s the only way.” Jake got to his feet, hustled to the phone, and picked it up to call 911. “No, no, wait … look. Wait.” Ryan plunged his hand into his pocket, pulled out a plastic Ziploc bag, and showed it to Jake, sobbing. “Dad … I … bought this … today. What do I do with it … when the cops come?” “What is it?” “I’m sorry … it’s weed … I’m sorry—” “What?” Jake asked, aghast. “I smoked up … with Caleb … after practice.” Ryan wept, his hand flying to his hair, rubbing it back and forth. “But I’m not … high now, I swear it … I’m not, I’m not.

” “You smoke dope? Since when?” “I don’t do a lot … I swear. I did it today … but I’m fine now … that’s not why I hit the lady—” “Give me that!” Jake grabbed the bag from Ryan’s hand. It was a quarter full of marijuana. “I killed that lady … she’s dead!” Ryan dissolved into tears, holding his head, falling to his knees. He rocked on his haunches, back and forth, becoming hysterical. “She’s dead … because of me … Dad, what do we do? I killed her … I killed her … I killed her!” Jake had to make a split-second decision, wrestling with his conscience. A woman was dead, horribly, but that couldn’t be changed. If Jake called the police and told them the truth, then two lives would be destroyed—hers and Ryan’s. And Ryan was too distraught to maintain any lie to the police. Even if Jake tried to claim that he himself had been driving the car, the cops would question them both.

He couldn’t be sure Ryan wouldn’t blurt out the truth about who was driving, and if Ryan did, the cops would test him and find marijuana in his blood. They would convict him of driving under the influence and vehicular homicide. He would go to jail. There would be no college, no future, no nothing. Ryan’s entire life would be ruined—and all because Jake had let him drive. Jake’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t bring himself to look back at the poor woman lying off the road, lifeless. He had no more time to ponder. He was a family man, and he’d lived his whole life being good, moral, and honest. He’d never broken the law in any way. So he knew he was making the absolute worst decision of his life when he stuffed the cell phone and Ziploc bag into his pocket, grabbed Ryan by his coat, and pulled him to his feet. “Get back in the car, son,” Jake said, grimly. “Hurry.” Chapter Three Jake entered the kitchen to face his wife ahead of Ryan, according to plan. He felt sick to his stomach with guilt and horrified at what they had done. All he could think about was the dead woman, but he had to keep it together for Ryan’s sake, to get past Pam. He’d been able to wipe the blood off his face and hands in the car, and he’d hidden his blood-stained parka in the garage. Pam wouldn’t think it was strange that he didn’t have a coat on because he often left it in the car, since their garage was attached. On the way home, Jake had pulled over and quieted his weeping son, even as he’d laid down the law. Ryan, don’t tell Mom. Never, ever. I … never ever would. Are you … insane? I mean it. No matter what. You know what she’d do. She’d have to. I swear … I won’t tell Mom … I won’t tell anybody. “Jake, what took you so long?” Pam was standing at the sink and turned toward him, a petite, naturally pretty woman with intelligent blue eyes, an upturned nose, and a small mouth with a perfect smile. She had her horn-rimmed glasses on, and with her long brown ponytail, gray hoodie, and jeans, she looked exactly like what she was, the smartest girl in the class, his valedictorian wife. “Ryan was starving, and we stopped at the diner.” Jake tried to mask his emotions and avoided her eye, while Moose trotted over and began sniffing him, wagging his feathery tail harder than usual. The golden retriever must have been smelling the blood he hadn’t been able to wipe off his jeans, because it had seeped too quickly into the fabric. He hoped Pam wouldn’t notice, since there wasn’t much and the denim was dark blue, but Jake felt repulsed at the very thought. He never would have imagined himself being responsible for the death of an innocent woman, much less leaving her body by the side of a road. “Why didn’t you call?” Pam shut the dishwasher door with a solid clunk, then looked past him for Ryan, as if she was already sensing something amiss. “Sorry, I should have.” Jake put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, feeling like Judas himself. He had never lied to her, except to tell her that he liked all the wacky things she did to her hair. Highlights, lowlights, whatever, she was beautiful to him. He loved her. “So why didn’t you call?” Pam pulled away, with a slight frown. “Fill you in later,” Jake whispered quickly, as if he were trying to say it before Ryan came in. He pressed Moose’s muzzle away from his jeans, but the dog wasn’t giving up, so he reached down and scratched the dog’s head, as if he wanted him close. “Okay.” Pam’s forehead relaxed, and Jake could see that she had put a wifely checkmark in the box next to Explanation Pending. He glanced at the TV, which showed the local news, playing on low volume. He couldn’t bear it if a breaking news report about the accident on Pike Road came on, with a lurid HIT AND RUN banner. Every time he’d seen a hit-and-run report on the news, he’d wondered to himself what kind of person would do such a hateful thing. And now he knew. He’d just become the guy he hated. In fact, he’d just become the guy everybody hated. He turned off the TV, his hand shaking slightly. Pam looked over when Ryan entered the kitchen and she flashed him a warm grin. “Hey honey, how was the movie?” “Okay,” Ryan answered, his voice sounding almost normal. Jake turned around to see what his son looked like in the bright lights of the kitchen, and his eyes were predictably reddish and puffy, his fair skin mottled. Jake’s heart broke for him, because he knew how guilty and anguished Ryan was feeling. Yet at the same time, Jake was relieved that they had their story in place, because any mother could tell that the boy had been crying, especially as good a mother as the Honorable Judge Pamela A. Buckman, of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. “Only ‘okay’? The reviews were excellent.” Pam folded her arms and leaned a slim hip against the kitchen island, getting ready for a conversation, but Ryan kept walking through the kitchen to the hallway, precluding any question-and-answer, as planned. “Mom, I’m going up, I’m beat,” Ryan called out, tugging Moose away by the collar, on the fly. “See you in the morning. Good night, guys.” “Oh, okay, sleep tight, honey.” Pam shifted her gaze to Jake, lifting an eyebrow. Jake called out, “Good night, Ryan!” They both watched as Ryan crossed the entrance hall and climbed the stairs, followed by Moose, wagging his fluffy tail. As soon as their son was out of sight and Jake was alone with Pam, he felt the tension level rise, as if their kitchen had a barometric pressure of its own. He had to tell Pam a convincing lie, but all he could think of was the woman he’d left dead, in the darkness. He’d driven away, too appalled and disgusted with himself to look in the rearview mirror. Her face had glistened with dark blood, slick and black as tar, covering her features so completely that he couldn’t see what she looked like or how old she was. “So what’s going on?” Pam asked, mystified. “Was he crying? It looked like he was crying.” “He was, but he’ll be okay, you’ll see.” Jake crossed to the sink and turned on the faucet, thinking about the dead woman. He felt stricken, knowing that she had been somebody’s mother, wife, or even daughter. “Why was he crying?” Pam followed him, tucking a strand of hair into her ponytail. “We had a fight after the movie, but we worked it out.” Jake pumped overpriced hand soap into his palm, lathered up, and began washing his hands of the poor woman’s blood. He didn’t see any telltale pink water going down the drain, and the very notion made his stomach turn. He felt as if he were in a waking nightmare, walking in the shoes of someone else entirely. A murderer, a criminal, a liar, or all three. “But you guys don’t fight. You don’t talk enough to fight.” Jake reddened, but it gave him an idea for a better story. He’d been about to tell the story they’d made up in the car, involving Ryan getting mad at Caleb, but his new idea didn’t involve a third party. He kept rinsing his hands, as if it would cleanse him of his guilt, like some villain in Shakespeare, he couldn’t remember which. “Well, we fought this time, a bad one.” “Really.” “Yes, believe it or not.” Jake kept his head down and his eyes on the water. The image of the woman’s face reappeared. He could feel the warmth of her lips, when he was trying to get her breathing again. Maybe he shouldn’t have given up so soon. Maybe he should have kept trying. He couldn’t bring her back to life. She was really gone, and they had killed her. “So what was it you fought about?” Pam folded her arms. “And why do I have to take your deposition? Tell me already.” “I am telling you.” Jake realized she was right. He was stalling. He didn’t want to lie to her. Once he did, the nightmare would become real, and there would be no going back. He didn’t know if he could lie to her anyway. He hated lying to her, and he hated telling her the truth. It was a night of nowin decisions. “Jake, you’re beating around the bush.” “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you are. Honey, what is going on?” Man up! Jake willed himself to get a grip. There’d been no going back the moment he’d left the scene. He twisted off the faucet, reached for the dishcloth, and started drying his hands, but he still couldn’t make eye contact with her. “Okay, you’re right, maybe I am. I don’t feel that great about it, is all.” He thought fast, realizing that his obvious discomfort could serve his story. “I mean, think about it from my point of view. I go to pick him up at the movies to get closer to him, and we fight and I make him cry, pushing him further away. I tried to do a good thing, but it turned out wrong.” His throat caught when he realized that he was telling the truth, in a way. All of the emotions were real, if not the facts. “So now I’m home, and I have to tell you what happened.” “Aw, honey.” Pam’s voice softened, and she rubbed his back lightly. “I didn’t mean to be sharp. I’m so tired. The weeks we sit en banc are a bitch. I’m sorry.” “No need to apologize.” Jake knew that when the Superior Court sat en banc, the entire court would come to Philadelphia to hear oral arguments. There was a lot of preparation, and Pam worked extra hard, drafting opinions into the night to keep up with her regular caseload. Still, she wasn’t so tired that she wasn’t peering at him, intently. “So tell me what happened.” “Okay, but it won’t be easy for you to understand, because you guys have such a good relationship.” Jake folded the dishcloth and set it in its pile by the paper towels, more deliberately than necessary. “Plus I’m worried that, the way I handled it tonight, I blew it. I’ll never get in sync with him now, not before he goes to college.” “Aw, yes you will.” Pam rubbed his back again. “So what happened already, ya big lug?” Jake cringed inwardly, because he loved when she called him that. Pam liked his size because she said it made her feel safe, and he always thought he could protect her and Ryan—until tonight. He never would have guessed there’d be a jogger around the curve. He never would have foreseen they’d hit her. He told himself to get back on track and tell the story. He said, “It was silly, a little thing that got to be a big thing.”


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