Read I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel Online

Authors: Laura Lippman

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I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel (20 page)

BOOK: I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
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up to?” Walter asked Eliza. It was a natural question. So natural it seemed even more unnatural.

She found herself tempted to tell him about their perfect Sunday. Of course, she would not. She would not speak of her children to Walter, ever, and, so far, he had the good sense not to inquire about them. Besides, it would have been insensitive to prattle on about her happiness, cruel and taunting. That, of course, was part of the appeal. It would have been a way of saying, indirectly:
I am where I am, I have what I have, because I am a good person at heart. You are where you are because you're bad. Just because I was dragged into your life for almost forty days doesn't make me bad, too.

But the more pressing need was to have
the conversation with someone, anyone. She had tried to engage Peter on the topic, but satisfactory husband that he was, he was a man and not one inclined to wax poetic about a day of cupcakes and movies. Vonnie had no patience for such conversations, and Eliza's own mother often ended up talking about how difficult Vonnie was when Eliza spoke of her trials with Iso. As for friends—she had yet to make any. People were friendly, but they seemed to think she was reserved. Funny, because Eliza had been considered ebulliently capital
American during her London years, and now her countrymen—countrywomen?—seemed to find her cool, detached. Or perhaps she had yet to make friends because most of the parents she met were in Iso's peer group, where Eliza was probably known as the mother of the subtle bully. Maybe, in retrospect, she should have overlooked Iso's lie about the mall if only to form an alliance with that friendly-seeming mother.

And here was Walter, someone who knew her in a way that almost no one did. With the exception of her parents and Vonnie, there was no one left in her life who had ever called her Elizabeth. She remembered being sixteen, filling out the papers for her new school. “Why can't I change my name?” she had asked her parents. “Legally?” her father asked. “I suppose it could be done.” “No, I mean, just change it, call myself something else.” “Bureaucracies are bureaucracies,” her mother said. “Your name has to match the name on your birth certificate or they won't enroll you.” “But I could shorten it, say it's something else, or use my middle name.” “Of course you can,” her mother said.

Her full name was Elizabeth Hortense Lerner, after her maternal grandmother. Elizabeth Hortense Babington had lived on Baltimore's North Side, walking distance from the Quaker meetinghouse she attended. But then—she walked everywhere and didn't even own a car, relying on cabs for journeys that could not be made on foot. If she had been someone else's grandmother, Elizabeth and Vonnie probably would have considered her queer,
this thin, black-clad woman with long, woolly hair, out of time and out of place as she marched through the city's streets. Elizabeth had always been proud to carry her name, Vonnie a little bitter that she had been named for their father's mother, Yvonne Estelle. It was awful to cut down her grandmother's elegant name, almost like cutting up a wedding dress for bedding. But it presented so many possibilities: Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Betsy, Bette, Bets…Eliza! It retained more of her real name than any other version yet sounded different enough that it was plausible no one would put it together. It was Uh-liz-a-beth Lerner who had been kidnapped a county over. E-Li-Za Lerner was the new girl.

So she had amputated “Beth” and never looked back.

“My life is very ordinary,” she told Walter. “It doesn't produce much drama.”

“Same here,” he said, with a laugh. That was new. She didn't remember Walter being able to laugh at himself. “But I guess, in your case, that's a good thing. You've put together a very nice life for yourself.”

“That wasn't what you said in your letter.”

“What do you mean?” Puzzled, on the boundary of hurt.

“You said you expected more of me.”

“No,” Walter countered. “I said it wasn't what I
for you.”

She couldn't argue the words; she had shredded the letter. But she could contest the meaning. “But that was the implication. That you expected me to achieve in a career setting.”

“No, I don't think so,” Walter said. “I mean, no offense”—she braced herself for the insult that inevitably followed those words—“but you didn't even like kids. You were always pointing out how grubby this one was, or complaining about the ones who cried.”

“I was?” She had been fifteen. She didn't remember thinking about children one way or another, but neither had she been thinking about a career. Her only goal was to be…grown-up.
Which she thought meant being some version of Madonna, crashing with a friend in a funky apartment where the phone was covered with pink fuzz and seashells, and where there was enough money for carry-out pizza, if not much else. Later, in college, she was the type of student who truly dreaded the question “What's your major?” not because it was such a cliché, but because she couldn't answer it until junior year, when she began to study children's literature with an eye toward becoming a librarian. Even then, she wasn't choosing a career path. She had been drawn to children's literature because it gave her an excuse to reread fairy tales, and her own young favorites,
The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
But her intellect had been engaged by the work in a way it never had been before—and never was again. Although she started graduate school in Houston, she dropped out when she was pregnant with Iso.

“No one likes children when they are a child,” she said now.

“Do you remember going to Luray Caverns?”

“Yes.” The answer was actually more complicated. Her time with Walter—it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory nor not-memory. It was like a story she knew about someone else, a story told in great detail so many times that she could rattle it off. It was The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, one of those grim Grimm fairy tales filled with horrible details—collapsing households, devoured animals, Red and Grandmama stepping out of the wolf's sliced-open belly—made tolerable by their happy endings.

“I tried to leave you there that day.”

“You did

“I thought about it. There was a group of schoolchildren, a few years younger than you, and they were loud and rowdy, and I thought, I'll just back away and she'll start talking to those kids and as soon as she's distracted, I'll run to the parking lot and drive away.”

She was weeping, as silently as possible, determined that he not know. “I don't believe you.”

“That's understandable. I don't doubt it sounds self-serving. You know what I did—taking you—it was so stupid. If I had had a moment to think about it, I would have realized that you didn't know anything, that you couldn't hurt me. I thought,
I have to kill her. She's in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But—look, whatever you think about me, whatever the law says about intent and first-degree, I never
to kill anyone. It happened, yes, but I would be in this, like, other state. I wouldn't even really remember doing it.”

“Walter—this is not a conversation I can have with you.”

“I'm sorry, I'm just trying to explain why I couldn't hurt you.”

“Walter, you more than hurt me. You raped me. Which would have been awful enough, under any circumstances, but I not only had to endure the rape, I had to endure it while assuming that you would kill me afterward, as you did with Maude.”

“I never told you what I did.”

“I found you at a grave. I understood what had happened. And then there was Holly…”

He sighed, the misunderstood man. “I didn't kill Holly. And the thing is, you know that. You've always known that, but people talked you out of it, told you it couldn't be.”


“I'm sorry. I don't mean to upset you, Elizabeth. But if we can't speak honestly of what happened that night, to each other…”

“I didn't see anything.
I wasn't there

A long pause. “I've clearly upset you, and that's the last thing I want to do. Truly. Where were we? Talking about you, as a mother. As I said, I just didn't think it interested you much. That's all I meant, when I wrote you that time. I wasn't denigrating what you do. I just never thought that was what you wanted.”

“You don't know me, Walter.”

“Now that's just hurtful, Elizabeth. Yes, I harmed you. There's no doubt in my mind that I victimized you, and I only wish I had been called into account for those things. That I wasn't is not my fault.” He had her there. She and her parents had asked that Walter not be prosecuted for rape, and he had accepted a plea bargain on the kidnapping charge, meaningless in the larger scheme of things, years attached to a life sentence that wasn't to have lasted this long. “And I don't know all of you, no, but, then—do you know me? Can you understand that I have changed, that I do understand the importance of making amends to those I've harmed?”

She felt she should apologize. Then she felt furious, being put in the position of thinking, even for a moment, that she owed Walter Bowman an apology.

“Elizabeth—I wish I could say these things face-to-face, let you see how remorseful I really am. Clearly, I can't persuade you over the phone. But if I looked into your eyes, I think you would see I am a different man.”

“I don't think so…”

“If I could see you—maybe I could apologize for everything.”

“You did apologize. You apologized the last time we spoke. You apologized just moments ago.”

“No, I mean for
. Maybe, if I saw you, I would talk about those things I never talk about.”

“Are you saying—?”

“I'm not going to be more explicit over a phone line. But if you come to see me—you might be surprised by what I would say.”

His comment about the phone line, the implication that it was insecure, jogged her memory. “Walter—did you call Sunday?”

“No.” Adamant, but not defensive. “You told me during which hours I could call, and I've followed that to the letter.” He almost seemed to expect praise.

“Someone did. Called and hung up, at least twice. Have you given this number to anyone else?”

“Well, it's on my sheet. And Barbara knows, but I've told her not to use it, ever. But, no, I haven't
it to anyone. I wouldn't want anyone else to have it.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You'll visit?”

“No. I mean—I'll talk about it—I mean, I'll think about it.” Again, she didn't want to admit to the intimacy of her marriage, how she reviewed all important decisions with Peter.

“Time is running out,” he said.

“I realize that.”

“And once I'm dead—well, let's just say that some secrets are going to go with me. But maybe that's what you're counting on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing. I don't know. A person gets a little ornery, at times, living as I do. I'm not a saint. And I'm offering you something pretty big, Elizabeth. But it's only for you, no one else.”

“Walter—I need to go.”

“Right—there's soccer practice on Wednesday.”

How do you know that?
But she didn't ask. He wanted her to ask, she was sure of that much. Still, he knew he had rattled her. The pause alone gave her away.

“Good-bye, Walter. We'll talk soon.”

“In person, I hope. Eventually.”

“We'll see.” But, again, she had paused, given herself away. He knew she was considering it.

seat looked over Jared Garrett's shoulder at the notes he had arrayed on his tray table. He had hoped she would. He had taken out his index cards because he was bored and restless, his mind churning from the events of the day. It seemed primitive to him that Amtrak didn't provide wireless service on its trains. He would have been better off driving, after all, but he had assumed he could do e-mail en route. Now he was stuck on this wheezy old regional—only a sucker or a fool would pay extra for the Acela, which cut a mere ten minutes off the trip—with another forty minutes before he arrived back in Philadelphia. He could actually write, he supposed, but it felt odd to write without the option of the “publish” button, waiting to reward his
efforts. Of course, the Bowman story was bigger than his blog. He must not waste it there, tempting as it was. He remembered when people criticized him as a cut-and-paste writer because he had managed to deliver his manuscript on Bowman within six weeks of his death sentence in the first trial. That pace seemed positively leaden by today's standards.

“Colored index cards,” the woman said. “Are you a writer?”

“Yes,” he said. If his wife were here, she would roll her eyes or give an exaggerated sigh. She saw his writing as a hobby, one used to escape her in the evenings, when she parked herself in front of the television to watch reality shows. She wasn't entirely wrong.

“What kind of books do you write?”

“Nonfiction,” he said. “Usually about crime.”

“True crime?”

“Nonfiction,” he repeated. “Fact crime is probably the best label. One of my books was nominated, once, for best fact crime.” He did not mention the name of the prize because it was not well known, but it was a prize, and he had been nominated for it. And
fact crime
might not be the most elegant construction, but it was better than
true crime
. Of course,
fact crime
was problematic, too, as it sounded almost like a criminal act driven by fact, like a so-called hate crime. But
true crime
had acquired a nasty taint over the years.

“Would I have read any of your books?”

The inevitable question. He wanted to turn it on her, say, “How would I know what you've read or not read? Are you a world-famous reader?”

Instead, he said: “My best-known book was about the Walter Bowman case, but that was over twenty years ago. I haven't published for a while.”

“Walter Bowman?” The name clearly didn't resonate with her. But then—Walter Bowman didn't resonate. Jared always felt that Walter's lack of charisma had dampened interest in his book, kept
it from becoming the success it might have been. If only he could have written about someone like Charlie Manson or Ted Bundy. He had thought he lucked out, all those years ago, when the big guns didn't come to Virginia. Turned out the big guns knew what they were doing.

But now—now the story had its long-missing climax, and it was going to be all Jared's. Oh, other journalists might write about the execution. But no one would get to talk to Walter. He had Barbara LaFortuny's word.

“A spree killer, back in the eighties,” he said. “Probably a serial killer, but that was never proven.”

“Is there a difference?”

He began to explain but almost immediately felt the woman's attention drifting away from him. He interrupted himself, pointed to the cards arrayed before him: “I should get back to my work,” he said.

“Of course,” she said with apparent relief. “I'm going to go to the café car.” He couldn't help noticing that she took her computer bag and purse. She would probably stay in the café for the rest of the trip, drinking white wine, sizing up the men. She was on the prowl, Jared decided, a lonely woman on a train. He was grateful for his thirty-year marriage, his solid life with Florence, even if she did roll her eyes at him from time to time. A woman alone—that was a sad thing. Barbara LaFortuny had seemed pathetic to him, although he had tried not to betray this. No one liked to be pitied.

He had Googled her, of course, as soon as she had e-mailed him. She had made a point of telling him that she wasn't some sad sack, pining for Walter, but he thought she was kidding herself. Walter was good-looking, at least in photographs. Less so in person, but she had never seen him in person. She may not admit it, but LaFortuny was motivated by something more than a principled stand against the death penalty.

Still, it seemed clear, after several e-mails, that she really did have something to offer. He had taken a sick day from work, reasoning that his sick days were one of his remaining benefits in a world of shrinking benefits and he shouldn't be penalized just because he was healthy. By not taking his sick days, he was cutting his own pay, in a sense. But the first half of the day, spent driving around sites he had long ago explored on his own, had been a big honking disappointment, and he had begun to feel that he was being taken, especially when she drove out to a large county park.

“Walter Bowman's never been linked to this area,” he said, thinking of his own obsessive map, how he had examined every missing person case. The true-crime bloggers who followed the Bowman case fell across a wide range, from total apologists who would deny even the two obvious murders to those who basically put every missing teenage girl, 1980 to 1985, in his column. Jared was one of the more moderate, believing that Walter could be linked to at least four unsolved murders and four missing person cases in the Mid-Atlantic region. Jared had his own formula based on distance, opportunity, and victim. Distance: Walter Bowman had never been more than three hundred miles from home in his entire life and, per Elizabeth Lerner's testimony, he seemed to rotate around a fixed point in his mind, staying in Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Opportunity: He had nonconsecutive days off and, before he killed Maude Parrish, had never spent a single night away from home. Finally, victims: Both were young, under sixteen, and not the least bit streetwise, so throwing in every random hooker killing was really missing the mark. Hookers didn't fit Walter Bowman's pattern.

But then—neither did Elizabeth Lerner, not in the looks department.

At any rate, he had known, when Barbara turned into this suburban park, that it had no connection at all to Bowman and
he was beginning to get a little angry at being suckered this way. He was on a six-thirty train, and that was by Barbara LaFortuny's instruction. She said she had tickets to a play, or something. That had been over lunch, at a vegan place called Roots, which hadn't exactly thrilled Jared.

“Sounds like you have a nice life,” he said, just to make conversation, hoping to conceal his dismay at the menu offerings.

“I do,” she said. “Being attacked was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not because it freed me from working, but because it showed me that my life was empty, purposeless, and that was through no one's fault but my own.”

He pulled out his microcassette recorder, more to be polite than anything else, and let her drone on and on about her life. Perhaps this was all she had to offer, he thought. Perhaps she thought it was a great gift, the Walter Bowman story, as strained through the eyes of his greatest supporter. The thing is, she hadn't told him a single thing about Walter that he didn't know, and her insistence that Walter had changed—he couldn't buy it. Barbara LaFortuny had a near-death experience through no fault of her own. She should be able to see that Walter wouldn't be able to experience that kind of awakening until they strapped him to the gurney. And even then, even if some miracle happened and he didn't die, he probably wouldn't change.

She had let one tantalizing detail drift across the lunch table. “You know about the autopsies, right? What wasn't there?”

“What wasn't…oh, yes. I wrote about that. I thought you had read my book?”

“I did. I just wanted to remind you.”

“It doesn't matter, not in the case of Holly Tackett.”

“No, it doesn't. If one believes the testimony of Elizabeth Lerner. And you seem to be the one person willing to be skeptical of her.”

“I merely raised some questions. Killers have patterns. Eliza
beth Lerner breaks the pattern in almost every way. She finds him, he doesn't find her. He takes her and—if you believe her—doesn't attempt sex with her for weeks, and then only once. She's not a tall, shapely blonde. If she's not actively helping him, why does he keep her around? I mean, I know the prevailing theory was that she was a witness and Walter always killed while in some sort of near-psychotic state, brought on by the other victims' sexual rejection of him. And maybe all she did differently was submit, not fight him. Still, no, I think there's always been something off about her testimony.”

The check came and Barbara LaFortuny picked it up, although she seemed surprised that he didn't offer. But he had come down here on his own dime and he sure hadn't chosen to eat vegan. What did she expect? And now she had brought him to some park. What could she possibly have for him here?

“Athletic field number nine,” she said, stopping the car.

“What about it?”

“It's at the top of this hill. I have to stay here, because she knows my car, my face. It's not a face people easily forget.” She laughed at her own lopsided visage, as if it were a delightful joke. “But you can probably walk up and get close enough to see her.”


“Elizabeth Lerner. Although, of course, that's not the name she uses now. But go on, take a gander.”

“What name does she use now? How did you find her?”

She smiled. “We'll save that for another day. I just wanted you to know how much we can give you, if you're patient.”


“Walter and I.”

“How can Walter have any influence over her?”

“As I said, they're talking.”

“Will I be able to recognize her?”

“Look for the redhead, with the redheaded son and a rather
ugly dog. Her daughter is number seventeen, I believe. Doesn't look a thing like her. If anything—well, you'll see.”

He felt ridiculous, trudging up the long drive in his loafers and work clothes. If he were one of these parents, he'd make him for a pedophile. Yet the parents, almost all mothers at this time of day, paid him no mind. The drive was on an incline and he was puffing and sweating by the time he arrived at field nine. A quick sweep—no one. Wait, there was the redheaded boy and dog, romping along the sidelines.

And there she was. He would not have recognized her in a crowd, or without the expectation of seeing her. She was curvy, whereas the teenage Elizabeth had been straight up and down, with no shape. (He had speculated, too, that Walter might have confused sexual leanings. Walter hadn't liked that, but it was fair, given what Elizabeth looked like and how he had made her dress. And it was consistent with the other evidence.) But there was something else that was different about her, something that took him a moment to diagnose.

She looked happy. Wind ruffling her hair on this pleasant October afternoon, eyes trained on—which one? Oh, the little beauty, long-legged and lean, not at all like her mother, at least not like any version Jared ever saw. The daughter—the daughter looked more like Holly Tackett than she did like her mother. Not in the coloring, but in her grace, her long-limbed body, her ease with herself. Out of her soccer uniform, in street clothes, she would appear much older than she was.

Elizabeth wasn't one of the more vocal mothers, but she was clearly proud of her daughter. And when her son came running up with the dog, his small grubby hand thrust forward to show her something, she inspected his offering with grave interest.

Jared watched her for a little while longer, hoping that her husband might arrive, or that the game might end and he could, discreetly, follow her to her car. With a license plate, he wouldn't
be dependent on Barbara LaFortuny. He could get a name, an address, a phone number. Perhaps he could ask some other parent about the team, figure out where it was based, how to get the roster. But, no, that would invite attention. If he had his camera, he could pretend to be a photographer, but photographers did not dress like auditors, as he did, being an auditor. No, better to keep his distance. For now.

He remembered the one photograph he had managed to take of Elizabeth, back in the courthouse hallway, camera held hip level. “Hey, Elizabeth,” he had called, and she had looked back, for only a split second, which was all he needed to grab the shot. It wasn't great, but it was better than the damn school photo, which had been used on her missing posters. She looked startled, wide-eyed, even a little guilty. They had used it on the cover, with Walter's mug shot and a heartbreaking photo of Holly Tackett between them.

His train slowed for the approach to Philadelphia. He couldn't wait to get home, to get on the Internet. He must not write about this yet. But it would be fun tonight to sit in his study and read the other bloggers, to imagine their envy and astonishment when he broke this story. How had Walter found her again? Perhaps she had found him.

BOOK: I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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