Authors: Lisa Scottoline
“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 …
!” Ryan shouted back, his words indistinct, his tears and mucus flowing.
“Ryan, stop. We’re going to tell the cops
killed her. Do you hear me? You
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—”
” 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.”
“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.”
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
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.”
“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 no-win decisions.
“Jake, you’re beating around the bush.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. Honey, what is
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
are a bitch. I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize.” Jake knew that when the Superior Court sat
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.”
“That happens.” Pam nodded in an encouraging way. He’d seen her do the same thing in the courtroom, trying to put a lawyer at ease during oral arguments.
Counsel, don’t let us intimidate you,
Judges are people too. Just smarter.
“Well, we were driving home from the movie, and I was trying to have a conversation with him, but he was texting the whole time.”
“I don’t let him do that in the car.” Pam’s lips pursed. “It’s the same rule as at mealtimes. The principle is the same, whatever the location. He doesn’t get to ignore his parents or people around him. It’s just plain rude.”
“Right, I think so, too, but I didn’t want to lower the hammer—”
“Oh, be honest.”
. Jake reddened, stricken. “What do you mean? Honest about what?”
“You wanted to be Fun Dad.” Pam snorted. “That’s why you didn’t lower the hammer.”
Jake tried to recover, but she was right. That was exactly what had happened. He never should have let Ryan drive. He’d made the classic mistake. He’d acted like a friend, not a parent. Pam would never have made such a terrible decision. He sighed heavily, feeling the weight of his conscience. “I know, you’re right. I know, I know, I know.”
“Honey, enough. Don’t beat yourself up.”
Jake couldn’t help it. If she only knew. He tried to return to the story, to spit it out. “So anyway, I didn’t tell him to stop texting. My plan was to win him over, to see if I could engage him on my own. Make it volitional, not a rule.”