Darkest Fear Page 58

After the gatehouse, the dirt road stopped and a paved one began. New pavement from the looks of it colored the dark black-gray of heavy rain. Trees crowded the sides like parade watchers. Up ahead, the road narrowed. The trees closed in too. Myron veered the car to the left and passed through wrought-iron gates guarded by two stone falcons.

“What is this?” Myron asked.

Susan Lex did not reply.

A mansion seemed to push out of the green, elbowing its way forward. The exterior was classic off-white Georgian but on an oversized scale. Palladian windows, pilasters, fancy pediments, curved balconies, brick cornering, and what looked like real stone masonry were all garnished with hints of green ivy. A set of oversized double doors were dead center, the entire edifice perfectly symmetrical.

“Park in the lot over there,” Susan Lex said.

Myron followed her finger. There was indeed a paved lot. Myron figured it contained close to twenty cars. Various makes. A BMW, a couple of Honda Accords, three Mercedes of different lineage, Fords, SUVs, one station wagon. Your basic American melting pot. Myron glanced back at the oversized manor. He noticed ramps now. Lots of them. He checked the cars. Several had MD license plates.

“A hospital,” he said.

Susan Lex smiled. “Come along.”

They headed up the brick path. Gloved gardeners were on their knees, working on the flower beds. A woman walked by in the opposite direction. She smiled politely but said nothing. They passed through an arched entranceway and into a two-story foyer. A woman seated behind the desk stood, slightly startled.

“We weren’t expecting you, ma’am,” she said.

“That’s fine.”

“I don’t have security set up.”

“That’s fine too.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Susan Lex barely broke stride. She took the sweeping staircase on her left, staying in the middle, not touching a handrail. Myron followed.

“What did she mean about security?” Myron asked.

“When I visit, they make sure the hallways are kept clear and that no one else is present.”

“To keep your secret?”

“Yes,” she said. She did not stop moving. “Perhaps you noticed that she called me ‘ma’am.’ That’s part of the discretion here. They never use names.”

When they reached the top level, Susan turned to the left. The corridor had raised wallpaper in a classic floral design and nothing else. No small tables, no chairs, no pictures in frames, no Oriental runners. They passed by maybe a dozen rooms, only two with doors open. Myron noticed that the doors were extra wide and he remembered his visit to Babies and Children’s Hospital. Extra wide doors there too. For wheelchairs and stretchers and the like.

When they reached the end of the corridor, Susan stopped, took a deep breath, looked back at Myron. “Are you ready?”

He nodded.

She opened the door and stepped inside. Myron followed. A four-poster antique bed, like something you’d see on a tour of Jefferson’s Monticello, overwhelmed the room. The walls were warm green with woodwork trim. There was a small crystal chandelier, a burgundy Victorian couch, a Persian rug with deep scarlets. A Mozart violin concerto was playing a bit too loudly on the stereo. A woman sat in the corner reading a book. She too started upright when she saw who it was.

“It’s okay,” Susan Lex said. “Would you mind leaving us for a few moments?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the woman said. “If you need anything—”

“I’ll ring, thank you.”

The woman did a semi-curtsy/semi-bow and hurried out. Myron looked at the man in the bed. The resemblance to the computer rendering was uncanny, almost perfect. Even, strangely enough, the dead eyes. Myron moved closer. Dennis Lex followed him with the dead eyes, unfocused, empty, like windows over a vacant lot.

“Mr. Lex?”

Dennis Lex just stared at him.

“He can’t talk,” she said.

Myron turned to her. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“You were right before. It’s a hospital. Of sorts. In another era, I suppose one would have called it a private sanitarium.”

“How long has your brother been here?”

“Thirty years,” she said. She moved toward the bed, and for the first time, she looked down at her brother. “You see, Mr. Bolitar, this is where the wealthy store unpleasantness.” She reached down and stroked her brother’s cheek. Dennis Lex did not respond. “We’re too cultured not to give our loved ones the best. All very humane and practical, don’t you know.”

Myron waited for her to say more. She kept stroking her brother’s cheek. He tried to see her face, but she kept it lowered and away from him.

“Why is he here?” Myron asked.

“I shot him,” she said.

Myron opened his mouth, closed it, did the math. “But you were only a child when he disappeared.”

“Fourteen years old,” she said. “Bronwyn was six.” She stopped stroking the cheek. “It’s an old story, Mr. Bolitar. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times. We were playing with a loaded gun. Bronwyn wanted to hold it, I said no, he reached for it, it went off.” She said it all in one breath, staring down at her brother, still stroking the cheek. “This is the end result.”

Myron looked at the still eyes in the bed. “He’s been here since?”

She nodded. “For a while I kept waiting for him to die. So I could officially be a murderer.”

“You were a child,” Myron said. “It was an accident.”

She looked at him and smiled. “My, that means so much coming from you, thank you.”

Myron said nothing.

“No matter,” she said. “Daddy took care of it. He arranged for my brother to have the best care. He was a very private person, my father. It was his gun. He’d left it where his children could play with it. His business and reputation were both growing. He had political aspirations at the time. He just wanted it all to go away.”

“And it did.”

She tilted her head back and forth. “Yes.”

“What about your mother?”

“What about her?”

“What did she say?”

“My mother hated unpleasantness, Mr. Bolitar. After the incident, she never saw her son again.”

Dennis Lex made a sound, a guttural scrape, nothing remotely human. Susan gently shushed him.

“Did you and Bronwyn ever get help?” Myron asked.

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