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Authors: Laura Lippman

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BOOK: I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
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a letter, nothing more. That's the way she characterized her decision, when she spoke of it to Peter and her parents. “I'm going to write him a letter,” she said, “nothing more.” A letter would be private, final. (Although she supposed his mail was read by prison officials. Again, there was the worrying detail of his confidante, the person who had written the letter on his behalf, but she didn't want to write him in care of that PO box in Baltimore.) A letter seemed the best way to go if she wanted to keep this matter contained.

Yet whenever she sat down at Peter's home computer, trying to use those oddments of minutes at a mother's disposal, she ended up second-guessing herself. A letter wasn't a small thing, not these days.
Even when she lived in London, she hadn't written letters. Trans-Atlantic calls weren't that expensive, and e-mails were always handy for rushed bulletins, or sharing the details of their visits home. Eliza couldn't remember the last time she had written a letter, and Walter's was the first real one she had received in years, probably since Vonnie switched to computers for those furious missives about how everyone in the family had disappointed her, a brief mania during her early thirties, when she was under the sway of a disreputable therapist, possibly her lover. But how else did one communicate with a man in prison?

Eliza smiled in spite of herself, thinking how this question would fit nicely on the running list she and Peter kept, “Things We Never Expected to Say.” They had been keeping this since their college days, almost since the day they met, and it was actually a list of things they had overheard:
The bouillabaisse is dank. I left my poncho at the Ritz-Carlton. I have a fetish for fried chicken

How does one communicate with a man in prison
was not quite that bizarre, much less unique. Not in the world at large, and certainly not in Eliza's world in particular, given her mother's work at the Patuxent Institute and Eliza's peculiar history. One could even argue that it was an inevitable question, that if she had allowed herself to think about such things, she would have known that Walter would not leave this world without sending out some sort of manifesto. Not to her, necessarily. She really had come to be almost smug about how she had hidden herself in plain sight. She may not have deliberately chosen to hide herself from Walter, but between Peter's surname and the move to London, she had felt relatively invisible.

Walter always had a grandiose streak, a concept of himself as someone much larger than he was, in every sense of the word. He had insisted he was five nine, when he was clearly no more than five six or five seven. He became about as angry as Eliza ever saw him, talking about his height, claiming those inches
he didn't have. It was one of the rare times she felt she had the upper hand with him, which had been terrifying and pleasing in equal measure. She couldn't afford the upper hand with Walter, or so she thought. Later, when people used terms like “Stockholm syndrome”—not her parents, but people far removed from her, prosecutors, journalists, and that odious Jared Garrett—she had found it offensively glib. That experience of being labeled had left her with a lifelong distaste for gossip, a reticence so pronounced that many people thought her incurious, when her real problem was an almost pathological politeness. She hated Iso's fascination with celebrities, the way she pored over magazine and Internet photos, passing judgment on dresses and hairdos and habits of people she had never met. But Eliza could never explain the virulence of her revulsion to her daughter, not unless she was willing to tell her everything. She would, one day, not today.

As she dawdled at the computer—it was late, after ten, but Peter had yet another function, one from which she was spared because the babysitter had fallen through—an icon glowed in the lower corner of her screen, announcing her sister's arrival into this netherworld.

Hi, Vonnie,
she typed.

The exclamation mark signaled surprise, if not necessarily delight. Eliza had never before initiated an IM conversation with her sister, and had been famously taciturn when her sister tried to engage her via this mode.
What's up?

Nothing. Just trying to write something.

Vonnie might as well have typed:
Peter is a writer. I am a writer. You are not a writer.
She had always been territorial that way. The funny thing was—neither one was a writer, not anymore. Peter had left journalism for the world of finance, and Vonnie was an editor at a publication so small and arcane that it was essentially unaffected by the Internet-related problems roiling the mainstream media. Something that had never made sig
nificant money could not lose significant money. Vonnie edited a foreign policy journal that charged $150 a year and was even stodgier than its subscriber list, whose average age was sixty-five. The subscribers were actually beginning to petition for some limited Web-based content, but Vonnie was fighting the change. “Life is not a timed event,” she liked to say. “I want to run a magazine that has the luxury of thought, with no shot clock on responses.”

A letter,
Eliza wrote, reflexively honest with her family. But she thought before adding:
To Walter Bowman.


It was funny, provoking that kind of adolescent response from Vonnie. Her sister might as well have typed back:
For reals?
R U Serious?

He wrote me.

The phone rang within seconds.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Vonnie asked.

“You know, Iso might have been the one to pick up. It's not that late.”

“However, she didn't. I promise I'll be more careful in the future. Meanwhile, let me repeat: Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“No, this is something I've been thinking about for a while. His letter came”—she did a quick calculation—“about ten days ago.”

“And I'm just hearing about it now? I bet you told Mom and Dad.”

Eliza had fumbled that, and badly. But Vonnie was so exhausting, ceaselessly demanding, always pulling focus. She hadn't told her precisely because she wanted to avoid this conversation. She decided to try and glide by that detail.

“He recognized me, in one of those society photos taken for a local magazine. Apparently, we're pretty easy to find, once you
know we're in Bethesda. I think he used property records.” She was hedging her bets again, not telling Vonnie that Walter clearly had an accomplice in this. Jared Garrett? She couldn't see him as the owner of that perfect purple penmanship.

“But why would you write him back?”

“Because”—she made up an answer on the spot, then realized it had the virtue of being true—“because he'll write again, and again, until I do. I know him, Vonnie.”

“He's a sociopath. No one
a sociopath. He's bored, in prison. He has every reason to reach out and poke you, see if he can get a response. That's his problem, not yours. Ignore him.”

Vonnie had never suffered from uncertainty, about anything.

“They've scheduled his execution date.”

“Ah, there's your smoking gun. He's using the cultural mania for closure to reach out to you. The man's a sadist. If I were you, I'd write back and ask if he's trying to get in touch with his victims. Particularly the Tacketts.”

“Why ‘particularly'?” she asked, more sharply than she intended. Eliza had always been sensitive to this sense of hierarchy among Walter's victims, in part because she had always been at the bottom
the top, if such a thing were possible. She was the most interesting because she lived; she was the least interesting because she lived. Holly was the prettiest, the golden girl. Holly's death had been particularly violent.

“Well, hers is the death that will result in his death, right? That's the one he's going to die for.”

“Right.” Maude had been killed in Maryland, which kept capital punishment on the books but was increasingly disinclined to use it. Holly Tackett had been killed in Virginia, which apparently suffered from no such qualms. “But why would he write the Tacketts, what would he say?”

“He might confess, for once. That's not so much to ask for, is it?”

Eliza thought, but did not say:
For Walter, that's huge.
Walter never said anything that he didn't want to say. He hated, more than anything, to be forced into saying he was wrong, no matter how small the matter. The first time he had hit Eliza was when she had corrected him on the facts of the War of 1812. It had been a strange hit—a punch, direct to the stomach, something a boy might have done to another boy, and it had knocked the wind out of her. But she never corrected him again, no matter how wrong he was, and he was often wrong. On history, on math, on picayune matters of grammar and usage. And, frequently, about people. Eliza had never known anyone who was more wrong about people, women in particular.

“Look, Eliza.” Vonnie had softened her tone. “You're too nice for your own good. Forget Walter. Not
—I know that's impossible—”

“You'd be surprised. I'd barely thought of him, particularly in the past few months.”


Eliza knew how to change the subject with her sister. “What's new with you?”

“Nothing. Everything. I was online at this godforsaken hour because I want to check on events in the Middle East in real time. I can't wait for the morning paper anymore, or even CNN. I hate how swiftly the world moves now, how glib everyone has become. We need to think more, not more quickly. Someone—the secretary of state, administration officials—will be on all the news programs tomorrow, delivering up these great gobs of sound bites, and people will be blogging like mad. It's not productive. Foreign policy is too nuanced, too steeped in centuries of history to be reduced to banal homilies. This isn't a partisan position,” she said, almost as if rehearsing her own talking points. “It's an intellectual one. These issues must be addressed with gravitas.”

Eliza didn't disagree. She felt the same way, only her concerns
were domestic. The world was moving too swiftly, although it was strange to hear that complaint from caffeinated Vonnie. Iso and Albie were growing up too fast, Peter's new job gobbled up twelve, fourteen hours a day, in exchange for promises that they might be rich, truly rich, within a year or two.

Her own days, however, were molasses slow. They were full, with places to go and things to do, and she was exhausted at the end of them. But they trundled along like dinosaurs. The sauropod or the stegosaurus, which, according to Albie, were the slowest of the dinosaurs.

After listening sympathetically to her sister for another fifteen minutes, agreeing with virtually everything she said, Eliza begged off, saying she was tired. Yet she remained at the computer, writing. She was self-aware enough to realize that it was not incidental that she suddenly found the words she wanted to write to Walter. She was still at the computer when Peter returned an hour later, although she quickly closed the file, reluctant to discuss the matter again this evening, even with his sympathetic ear. She was, she decided, Waltered-out.


to the bathroom outside before. She knew it was an odd point on which to fixate, given what was happening to her, but it was embarrassing. She tried to persuade the man that she would behave if he would allow her to use a restroom at a gas station or fast-food place, but he wouldn't hear of it. He wasn't harsh or cruel. He simply shook his head and said, “No, that won't work.”

They had been in the truck about three hours at this point. He had stopped and gassed up, but he had pumped his own gas and told her beforehand that it would be a bad idea for her to try to get out. “I don't want to hurt you,” he said, as if she were
in control, as if her behavior would determine what he did. He pulled the passenger side of the truck very close to the pump; if she opened the door, there would barely be room for her to squeeze out, and even then, she would be between the door and the hose. Of course, she could go out the other way, the driver's side. As the gas pump clicked away—it was an older pump, at a dusty, no-name place, and the dollars mounted slowly, cent by cent—she tested his reactions, leaning slowly toward the left. He was at the driver's-side door faster than she would have thought possible.

“You need something?”

“I was going to change the radio station.”

“It isn't on,” he pointed out. “I don't leave the key in the ignition when I pump gas. I knew a guy, once, he left his key in the ignition and the car blew up. He was a fireball, running in circles.”

“I was going to change it for later,” she said, almost apologetically. Why did she feel guilty about switching a radio station? He had kidnapped her. But the odd thing about this man was that he didn't act as if he were doing anything wrong. He reminded her a little of Vonnie in that way, especially when they were younger. Vonnie would do something cruel, then profess amazement at Elizabeth's reaction, focusing on some small misdeed by Elizabeth to excuse her behavior. When Elizabeth was three, Vonnie had tied her to a tree in the backyard and left her there all afternoon. Admonished by their parents, Vonnie had said: “She was playing with my Spirograph and she wouldn't stop putting pieces in her mouth. I just wanted to keep her from choking.” One April Fools' Day, she had volunteered to fix Elizabeth milk with Oval-tine, then given her a vile concoction with cough syrup and cayenne pepper hidden beneath the pale brown milk. As Elizabeth had coughed and retched, Vonnie had said: “You spilled a little.” As if the stains from the drink were more damning than the devious imagination of the person who had prepared it.

“You don't like my music?”

She weighed her answer. They had been listening to country music, which was uncool according to most people she knew. “It's okay,” she said. “But I like other stuff, too.”

“What do you listen to?”

“C-c-c-current stuff.”

“Madonna,” he said, looking at her fingerless lace mitts. “I'm guessing Madonna.”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “But also—” She racked her mind for the music she liked. “Whitney Houston. Scritti Politti. Kate Bush.”

Except for the first name, these were Vonnie's musical choices, and Elizabeth wasn't sure why she was appropriating them. Because they made her seem older, wiser? Or because she sensed that the man wouldn't know most of them and that would give her some sort of power?

“She's a bad girl,” he said.

“Kate Bush?”

“Whitney Houston. ‘Saving all my love for you,' right? She's having an affair with a married man. That's wrong.”

“But she loves him. And isn't what he's doing more wrong?”

“Women are better than men. Most, anyway. Men are weak, so women need to be strong.” He reached in and punched a button on the radio, returning it to his station, although she had never touched it. The gas pump clicked off, and she hoped he might have to go inside to pay the attendant and then she would—she looked around. What would she do? It was surprising how quickly the landscape had turned into out-and-out country, real hicksville. If she had the chance to jump from the truck, where would she go? Later, when he pulled into a drive-through to buy her a hamburger, she had tried to announce to the attendant that she had been kidnapped, but he had placed his hand over hers, squeezing hard, and said: “Don't make jokes about things like that, Elizabeth.” (She had given him her name at his insistence, but he had
yet to share his.) The cashier, a teenager not much older than Elizabeth, had looked bored, as if she saw such things every day. She even seemed a little resentful, tired of couples playing out their dramas and private jokes in front of her. The girl had bad acne and frizzy hair, and her uniform pulled tightly across her broad torso. Elizabeth wanted to say: “He's not my boyfriend! I've never had a boyfriend! I'm more like you than you think, except I'm not old enough to work or drive a car.”

He had kept squeezing her hand. It seemed to her at the time that he managed to exert just enough pressure to let her know that, in the next squeeze, he would crush every bone in her hand if she disobeyed him. Then he stroked her arm, along the inside. She remembered a game she played with her friends, where you closed your eyes and tried to guess when a trailing finger landed in the crook of your elbow. Depending on where it stopped, you were oversexed or undersexed. Everyone screamed in protest if they got oversexed, but, of course, that was the thing to be.

Elizabeth always ended up being undersexed, begging for the finger to stop well short of the elbow hollow.

The gas tank full, they drove on. An hour later, she asked if she could go to the bathroom. She expected him to scold her, as her father might have, for not asking when they were at the gas station. But he just sighed and said: “Okay, I'll find a place where you can have some privacy.”

It took her a second to get it.

“Why can't I just go to a gas station or a fast-food place? Or even a restaurant.”

“No,” he said. “I don't think so.” This was his way, she was learning. He said no, but, unlike her parents, he never explained his reasons, didn't provide enough information to allow argument.

“I'll be good,” she said. “I don't want to go to the bathroom outside.”

“Number one or number two?” he asked.

She thought about lying, but she didn't think the answer would change his mind. “Number one.”

“If I were you,” he said, “I'd take my panties off. Some girls leave 'em on one leg, but if you want to stay clean, it's better to take them all the way off, then squat. Keep your feet wide, too.”

It made her sick, hearing him say the word
. She thought about the things he was going to do to her, later. She thought about her parents, sitting down to dinner with Vonnie, wondering where she was. They wouldn't be worried, not just yet. They were calm people, unexcitable compared to most parents she knew. They trusted her. They would be irritated that she hadn't called, they would be readying a lecture on consideration, how the freedom they gave her came with responsibility. But they wouldn't worry about her until the sun set, which was still late this time of August, about eight or so.

Squatting in the dirt, her panties placed carefully on a nearby rock, she cried as she peed, then did a little dance, hoping to shake free whatever drops remained. She wasn't going to use leaves to blot herself, despite his advice. What if she picked poison ivy by mistake?

“Why are you crying?” he asked in the truck. He didn't retie her, though.

As darkness fell, he considered a few small motor inns, finally settling on one in a U-shaped court. “We won't do this often,” he said. “This is a treat because we've both had a long day and need a real mattress. Tomorrow, we'll get a tent, some sleeping bags.” Once in the room, after testing the bed and finding out it was bolted to the floor, he bound her hands and feet, then gagged her. She began crying again, the tears falling down into the corners of her mouth.

“Shush,” he said. “With time, when I can trust you, it won't have to be like this. But you have to earn my trust, okay? You earn
my trust and you can have all sorts of freedoms. But if you wrong me, I'll kill you and your whole family. I'll kill your family while you watch, then kill you. Don't think I won't.”

Her parents had given her similar instructions about trust—except for the killing part. She cried harder, wondering how awful it was going to be. She had read stories about rape, of course. Quite a few, given her taste in reading. And four years ago, she had watched, along with millions of others, an episode of a soap opera where a rape victim married her rapist. Of course, they had come a long way by then, Luke and Laura. They had been on the run together, evaded death, grown close. They were in love, and she had forgiven him. Vonnie had insisted, loudly and at great length, that it was all crap. But when the afternoon of the wedding came, Vonnie was there, watching as raptly as Elizabeth and her friends. They did not find the groom particularly handsome, but they understood that he was desirable because he loved his bride so much, that his love for her had driven him to commit crimes and take enormous risks. That one of those crimes had been an assault on his alleged beloved was tricky, but they understood. To be loved that way, to be desired to the point where you drove a man mad—what more could any girl want?

“Look,” the man said, “can you be brave? Can you be good?”

She nodded, although she was sure she could not.

“Okay,” he said. “I'll take the gag out. But you have to be good. You know what I mean, by good? No screaming or crying. If you make a sound, I'll put the gag in and show you the ways I know how to hurt people. I'm not a man to be messed with. Just go to sleep, and we'll talk things out in the morning.”

Her mouth freed, she thought for a moment about screaming her head off but found she could not make the sounds come. She was too frightened, too scared. His hands lingered near her throat. She thought about the mound of dirt where she had first seen the man, working with his shovel. He had not said, explicitly, what he
had done, but she knew. He was capable of killing someone. He had done it. Elizabeth decided in that moment that she would do whatever was necessary to survive. She would endure whatever plans he had for her, as long as she was allowed to live.

“What's your name?” she whispered.

“Walter,” he said. “I think sometimes I should shorten it to Walt. What do you think?”

She was terrified that there was a right answer, and she wouldn't give it. “Both are nice.”

He watched her for a while, hands at the ready to clamp over her mouth. His gaze was detached, curious. She snuffled and gagged a little on her tears, but was otherwise quiet as commanded. He took his hand away—and went to sleep.

Eventually, she slept, too, and they stayed that way, side by side, on top of the bedspread. He touched her only once, turning her on her side and complaining: “You snore.”

BOOK: I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
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