Authors: Lisa Scottoline
“No, I couldn’t.” Jake shuddered, flashing on the woman’s abraded face.
“Also it’s going to rain all night. Do you think she’s out there … in the rain?”
Jake hadn’t known it was raining. Pam’s blackout shades muffled sound, too. “I don’t want you to think about that anymore. What’s done is done. These first few days are going to be hard, I know, because you’re a good kid and you feel terrible.”
“I do, I feel
I keep wondering who she was. I keep thinking about her.”
Jake squeezed his shoulder. “I know, but we need to stay the course. Keep it to yourself, and obviously, don’t say anything to any of your friends or anyone on the team.”
“I wouldn’t, Dad. I’m not stupid.”
“I know, but you’re feeling bad and you could open up to people”—Jake didn’t know where he was going with this, so he let it go—“anyway, enough said. We did the right thing, in the circumstances.”
You really think we did the right thing? I don’t.”
“Listen, I’m your father and my job is to protect you. I feel horrible about what we did and if I could bring her back, I would. I tried to. I made the best decision I could on the spot, and in that moment, my first concern is always you.”
Jake’s chest tightened as he tried to explain the inexplicable.
“Look. If there were any chance of saving her life, I never would’ve left. But she was gone. It was an accident, I don’t know what purpose would have been served by your going to jail for a long, long time. Then two lives would have been destroyed, instead of one.”
“So you think it was the wrong thing, too.”
“Okay, yes, right.”
“It was the wrong thing. We did the wrong thing.”
“Yes, we did. Well, I did the wrong thing, for a good reason.”
“Forget it.” Jake raked his hand through his hair. He had done the wrong thing. He had acted too fast. He should have called the cops and taken the blame himself. Maybe Ryan could have held it together under questioning. Maybe Ryan could have run home, though it was miles away. Or hid in the woods. Or whatever. He hadn’t had time to think, on the scene. Either way, it was too late now.
“So then, maybe, we could change our minds. Could we do that?”
“No, we can’t,” Jake answered, more sharply than he intended. Moose lifted his head, then thumped his tail on the comforter,
whomp whomp whomp
“No, Dad, listen to me. I was thinking, couldn’t we go to the police now and tell them that we left, but we’re sorry we left … and tell them all about what happened?”
“No, we couldn’t, no.” Jake had been second-guessing himself, too, but he kept coming out in the same place. “Once we left the scene, we left the scene, and if they were to test you, they would find marijuana in your system. I think that stays in your system for days.”
“I know, they give us random drug tests on the team. They just tested us yesterday for the playoffs. That’s why we figured it was okay to smoke.”
“It ends now, Ryan. No more smoking.”
“Yes, agreed, of course, but maybe if we explained to them that I wasn’t high when I hit her, that it was a blind curve, they would—”
“Understand? Let it go? It doesn’t work that way, buddy.”
“No, I know they wouldn’t let me off or anything, but maybe I would get probation, or I wouldn’t go to prison for that long—”
“No, this was the right thing.”
Ryan scoffed. “Dad, it’s
the right thing. Stop saying that.”
Jake cringed. “Fair enough. But it’s the only thing we could do, and if it makes you feel any better, please remember it wasn’t your decision. It was my decision, and I think the thing to do, from here on out, is for you to live your life. It’s going to be hard in the beginning, but then it will get easier, I promise.”
“Why will it get easier?” Ryan asked, incredulous.
“Time changes things. It makes things easier.”
that lady. That’s wrong, like, forever. Time doesn’t change
Jake felt a stab of sympathy for him, so deep it felt like a knife wound. He had no immediate reply, because Ryan’s reasoning was logical, and in fact, he sounded just like his mother. Meantime, Moose had awakened and was stutter-stepping to them on the bed, then he plopped his feathery butt down and opened his mouth, so that his tongue lolled out. Jake decided to change tacks with Ryan. “So what are you doing tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. After this, I feel—”
“No, what were you going to do tomorrow, before this happened?”
“Well, it’s Saturday. Chemistry, Algebra. You know, homework.” Ryan shrugged, and Moose lay down, tucking his muzzle between his meaty front paws.
“Okay, so do your homework. Do everything you would do. Go out on that date, with that blonde, Janine Mae—”
“Dad, are you serious right now? That’s not possible.”
“I know it’s not easy, but it’s the only way, and we did this so you can have a life. So live your life.”
“Is that why we did it? For me?”
“No, well, for us both.”
“No, for me.” Ryan’s voice softened, pained. “Tell the truth, Dad. You did it for me. You were going to tell the cops that you were driving, for me, before you even knew about the weed.”
Jake waited, not understanding or not wanting to answer, or both. “Is that a question?”
“That’s, like, so unselfish of you.”
Jake felt a surge of emotion that constricted his chest. “Son, I love you and I’d do anything for you. It’s as simple as that.”
“I love you, too.” Ryan paused. “Dad, what are you doing tomorrow? Are you going to the office?”
“No, I’m—” Jake caught himself. “I told your mother I’m going in early, but I have to take care of the car.”
Ryan gasped. “Oh no, I forgot! What about the car? Is there blood on it? Is it dented?”
“I’ll handle it.” Jake had found a dent on the front bumper and on the undercarriage. “I don’t want you to think about this anymore. Let me handle everything. These are my decisions, not yours. The less you know the better, as a general matter.”
“Can I go with you?”
“To the body shop.”
“No. Now lie back, and go to sleep. In fact, make sure you sleep in. You always sleep in on Saturday mornings, and your mother expects that, so don’t change anything.” Jake sensed it would be safer if Ryan wasn’t alone with his mother, in the short run. The boy was too fragile right now, and Pam could cross-examine a rock.
“Dad, how am I gonna sleep late? I can’t sleep now.”
“Stay in bed anyway. I’ll be back before noon, and I’ll come get you. Okay? Don’t worry, let me handle everything. Now lie down and try to rest.” Jake gave him a final pat on his shoulder, then rose to go. “I’ll be down the hall in my office.”
“I have some work to do.” Jake realized he’d just told his third lie of the night and resolved to stop counting. “Try to get some sleep. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Jake went to the door, taking one last look at Ryan, who was hugging the dog in the dark. He flashed on his son as a child, cradling Moose as a fuzzy puppy, just brought home from the shelter. The memory was completely fresh, and for a moment, Jake felt stunned by its appearance, the sweetness of the past clashing so horribly with the anguish of the present.
Jake thanked God he had a son to put to bed when he knew somewhere there was a family, right now, waiting for someone who would never come home. Jake felt a wave of new shame. Then he slipped out of the bedroom, closed the door behind him, and padded down the hall to his office.
He was a planner, and he needed a plan.
Jake slipped into his office, flicked on the overhead light, and closed the door behind him, so he didn’t wake Pam up. He blinked while his eyes adjusted to the brightness and crossed the room, making a beeline for his desk, a cherrywood computer table facing the wall between two windows. He moved the mouse to wake up the computer, then sat down while it fired up. He wanted to know the penalty for vehicular homicide in Pennsylvania.
The large monitor came to life, and onto the screen popped his screensaver, which was their official family portrait, posed for his firm’s website and brochure, to show that he was a good family man. Jake felt his chest constrict at the sight. The photograph was taken when Ryan was only in middle school, and both father and son were wearing identical blue oxford shirts that emphasized how much they looked alike, except that Ryan was all unruly hair and big goofy grin, with orthodonture for miles. His son said the same thing, every time he saw the photo:
Quite the grille.
In the picture, Jake stood beaming next to Ryan, and in front of them, seated on some ridiculously ornate chair, was Pam, who wore a light blue shirtdress, her legs crossed demurely at her ankles. She’d chosen the color to complement their outfits and the cerulean backdrop, which was meant to be clear blue sky but came off like a Tiffany’s box, more upscale than anybody intended. Pam had been running for judge at the time and had made her unhappiness known to the photographer.
Don’t you have a different backdrop? We elect judges in this state, and I have to get votes from normal people. I’m not running for Queen.
Jake went online and typed his search request into Google. He clicked through the first few websites and found himself reading one DUI site after another, featuring the crassest sort of brochureware with glossy photos of grave-faced lawyers in three-piece suits, troubled kids in handcuffs, and a six-pack of beer, with one spilled out. He’d wanted to read the actual law, but the DUI bar had evidently bought the neutral-sounding website names. One DUI firm had a pop-up showing a smiling man on the telephone,
NEED A DUI LAWYER?
Jake kept searching and finally found a website that cited Pennsylvania statutes regarding the juvenile system. He read that if Ryan were charged as a juvenile, he’d go before a judge and there would be a trial that would send him to a juvenile facility for six months, then he’d be under court supervision until he was twenty-one. It was lighter punishment than Jake had thought, but then he saw a sentence that chilled him to the bone:
Call now to avoid serious ramifications, such as your child being charged and tried as an adult!
He knew vaguely that the district attorney had discretion in deciding whether to charge a juvenile as an adult, and it could go either way with Ryan. It was certainly possible that Ryan could be tried as an adult, because the crime was serious enough, resulting in death. And Pam’s status as a judge could cut either way. Either the district attorney would do her a favor and keep Ryan in the juvenile system or he might want to make an example of him, showing that Ryan didn’t receive preferential treatment.
Jake didn’t know the penalties if Ryan was tried as an adult, so he went back to the search engine, plugged in
Pennsylvania vehicular homicide DUI,
and got his answer in a nanosecond:
Under 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3735, the criminal offense of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence (DUI) is punishable as a second degree felony. A conviction for this offense can result in a prison sentence from three to ten years and/or a fine up to $25,000.
Jake felt his gut clench. A three-year sentence would derail Ryan’s future, and a ten-year sentence would obliterate it. If they hadn’t left the scene, Ryan would’ve ended up a convicted felon. It was the worst-case scenario, and as a financial planner, Jake was supposed to make a living out of estimating the downside risk and preventing worst-case scenarios. He felt heartsick thinking about it now, too late. If he’d been considering the worst-case scenario on Pike Road, he never would have let Ryan drive and that woman would still be alive. He’d underestimated the downside risk, and a human being had lost her life.
He leaned back in the chair, his stomach in a knot. A woman was dead, and he was responsible, as surely as if he had been driving. He was the adult, and he should have known better. He would carry his remorse with him forever; he felt it to the marrow, as if guilt were seeping into his very cells. He never should have left the scene, but that wouldn’t bring the woman back. He wished he had called the cops, but that wouldn’t bring her back either. He hadn’t wanted to destroy two lives, one of them his own beloved son’s. It would kill Pam.
Jake swallowed hard, thinking of his wife, sleeping down the hall. She would know DUI law, because as an appellate judge, she had a general overview of all state law, which governed the nuts and bolts of real-life, from premeditated murder to employees who stole trade secrets. He tried to remember if Pam had written any significant opinions in any DUI cases, but couldn’t. He was too distraught and exhausted to think clearly, and his heart kept returning to the dead woman.
He palmed the mouse again and navigated to the local news site to see if her body had been found. He scanned the front page, then the next few, but there was nothing except an upcoming snowstorm and articles about budget cutbacks in the township. He was surprised that the police still hadn’t found her, and he wondered if she didn’t have any family or if it just hadn’t found its way into the news yet.
Jake rubbed his cheek, slumping back in his chair. His gaze traveled around his plush home office, taking in the beige sofa, matching chairs, and tasteful cherrywood shelves filled with books and awards. He didn’t deserve an office like this, he was every inch a fraud. He found himself looking out the window, framed by beige curtains handpicked by his discerning wife.
This is the perfect color, see how it picks up the sisal rug?
Jake had laughed.
Is sisal the same as straw? Because to me, this rug is straw.
Outside the window, a steady rain came down, running in rivulets on the windows and graying out the houses across the street, identical to his own. It was raining hard, and Jake knew it would be turning cold, with the snowstorm coming. He couldn’t bear to think that the woman was still lying on the street and wondered why it was taking the police so long to find her.