Authors: Lisa Scottoline
“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. “
what I’m talking about! Agree!”
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.”
“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.
” 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-and-a-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
“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. Barrel-racing. How baller is
“Baller.” Jake knew
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
“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?”
? Dude, we’re not
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
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.
?” 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
. 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
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 …
“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
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.
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 …
?” Ryan sobbed, scrambling for his phone on all fours. “I
… a lady, I
… 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
… she’s not gone … what did I
?” 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 …
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.
… that lady …
I killed … that lady!
“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 …
did it …
I killed that lady
!” 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.”