The What the Dead Know CD: The What the Dead Know CD

Overview

Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who'or what'could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?

Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her ...

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Overview

Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who'or what'could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?

Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been, why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead-end'a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.

In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
This stand-alone thriller from Laura Lippman (To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing, et al.) revolves around the mysterious disappearance of two young sisters in a Baltimore County shopping mall on Easter weekend in 1975. Still unsolved after more than three decades, the cold case suddenly becomes red hot when a middle-aged woman involved in a car accident informs police that she is Sunny Bethany, one of the sisters who went missing 30 years earlier. But her disjointed story, while factually accurate, raises concerns with Baltimore County cop Kevin Infante, who intuitively knows something isn't quite right.

The investigation is complicated further by the fact that many key players are either dead or suffering from degenerative illnesses. The mysterious woman's horrific account -- an abduction involving a police officer, years of sexual abuse, and the murder of her little sister, Heather -- sounds plausible enough, but when the elderly mother of the missing girls, now living in Mexico, is asked to meet with her alleged daughter, a terrible truth is finally revealed…

Reminiscent of 2005's To the Power of Three, this mystery/thriller features young, outwardly uncorrupted, and surprisingly savvy female protagonists -- and a bombshell of a conclusion that, interestingly enough, ties in with the peripheral theme of the spiritual discipline of the Fivefold Path: liberation through self-knowledge. Sharing similarities with an actual unsolved case that involved the disappearance of two Baltimore-area sisters in 1975, What the Dead Know is vintage Lippman -- emotionally charged, powerfully poignant, and hauntingly sublime. Highly recommended. Paul Goat Allen
Patrick Anderson
If you only know her from her Tess Monaghan series, or if you don't know her work at all, read What the Dead Know. It's an all but flawless performance by a writer at the peak of her powers.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
What the Dead Know, like the best books in this tradition, is doubly satisfying. You read it once just to move breathlessly toward the finale. Then you revisit it to marvel at how well Ms. Lippman pulled the wool over your eyes.
— The New York Times
Marilyn Stasio
…as artful as she is at interweaving disarming scenes of two spirited girls on the day they vanished with painful moments in the lives of their parents—maintaining all the while a thread of continuity in the current-day police investigation—Lippman pulls off something more ambitious than a high-wire act of technical virtuosity. With great thought and compassion, she uses her fractured narrative style to delve into the ways in which every serious crime tears to shreds the lives of its victims.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Emond sounds more than a little like Laura Linney, and her plainspoken, occasionally whispery reading of Lippman's disturbing novel of buried secrets often brings the acclaimed actress to mind. Lippman's novel shuttles back and forth between the present, where a middle-aged woman is involved in a hit-and-run accident, and a past in which two girls are abducted from a mall and never seen again. Do the two events have anything to do with each other? Emond brings a sense of quiet force to Lippman's story, her voice imprinted with sadness and a sense of life's tragic surprises. Her reading bridges the unbridgeable gaps between past and present in Lippman's story, offering little in the way of surprises but a marked amount of suppressed, nearly palpable emotion. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 22). (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

A woman is found disoriented and wandering the street after a hit-and-run accident. Although the accident is not that serious, police are intrigued by the woman's reluctance to provide identification and her claim to be one of a pair of sisters abducted from a shopping mall 30 years earlier. Following her statement, the woman clams up. No bodies were ever found, and many who worked on the missing sisters' case-including the girls' father-are dead or terminally ill. The story moves back and forth through time with suspenseful pacing as the listener gradually begins to understand the terrible consequences of this event. When the girls' mother is finally located, the dramatic suspense is breathtaking and leads to a finale that is completely plausible and satisfying. Linda Emond gives a wonderful performance, using different voices and accents to bring immediacy to the many characters and circumstances. Her pacing adds to the mystery and never leaves the listener in doubt as to the time frame and setting. Anyone who ever questioned why Lippman has won every major crime fiction prize will stop wondering after hearing this wonderful production. Highly recommended for adult and teen collections.
—Barbara Valle

School Library Journal

Adult/High School - After fleeing a car accident, a middle-aged woman with no ID is questioned by both the police and hospital administration. Refusing to reveal her identity (and proof of health insurance), she instead hints that she is the younger of two sisters, Heather and Sunny Bethany, who disappeared the day before Easter in 1975. This gets everyone's attention. She knows both too much and not enough about the case, leading Baltimore police on wild goose chases to Pennsylvania and Georgia, saying just enough to stay out of jail and keep them interested, albeit suspicious. The narrative threads unravel into the various accounts of that Saturday's events, the aftermath of the disappearance, the investigation, and Heather's own increasingly desperate attempts to evade further disclosure. This novel is a page-turner. Tantalizing revelations are dropped at chapter ends before veering into another part of the narrative, back and forth in time. Characters are well defined and varied, each with a different perspective on the nature of grief. Ultimately, after all of the half-truths and deceptions are played out, unexpected but moving forgiveness wins out.-Jenny Gasset, Orange County Public Library, CA

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061256554
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/13/2007
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs.
  • Pages: 9
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Lippman

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been heralded for her thoughtful, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. She is the author of twenty works of fiction, including eleven Tess Monaghan mysteries. She lives in Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City with her family.

Linda Emond's credits include The Sopranos, all four Law & Orders, and American Experience: John & Abigail Adams. On Broadway: 1776 and Life x 3 (Tony® nomination, Outer Critics Circle Award). Off-Broadway appearances include Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul (Lucille Lortel Award, Obie Award).

Biography

Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Biography from author's website.

Good To Know

In our interview, Lippman shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"I can do an imitation of Ethel Merman singing ‘Satisfaction.'"

"I'm not a Baltimore native -- I arrived here about six years too late for that. But I love the fact that I've convinced the world that I am."

"Like my character, Tess Monaghan, I used to row. Unlike her, I was very, very bad at it."

"I've written eight books in my series -- one not yet published -- and a stand-alone crime novel, but my subject is always, on some level, Baltimore.

It's a problem-place, neither northern nor southern, somewhat addicted to nostalgia, yet amnesiac about the more dicey parts of its past. I used an epigraph from H. L. Mencken in one of my books: ‘A Baltimorean is not merely John Doe, an isolated individual of Homo sapiens, like every other John Doe. He is a John Doe of a certain place -- of Baltimore, of a definite home in Baltimore.' I am a person of a certain place, and that place happens to be Baltimore."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.S., Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, 1981

Read an Excerpt

What the Dead Know

A Novel
By Laura Lippman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Laura Lippman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061128851

Chapter One

Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth. The water tower had been a key landmark in the old family game, although not the landmark. Once you spotted the white disk on its spindly legs, you knew it was time to prepare, like a runner crouched in blocks. On your mark, get set, I see

It hadn't started as a game. Spotting the department store nestled in this bend of the Beltway had been a private contest with herself, a way to relieve the tedium of the two-day drive home from Florida. As far back as she could remember, they had made the trip every winter break, although no one in the family enjoyed this visit to Grandmother's house. Her Orlando apartment was cramped and smelly, her dogs mean, her meals inedible. Everyone was miserable, even their father, especially their father, although he pretended not to be and took great offense if anyone suggested that his mother was any of the things that she undeniably was—stingy, strange, unkind. Still, even he couldn't hide his relief as home drew nearer and he sang out each state line as they crossed. Georgia, he growled in a Ray Charles moan. They spent the night there, in a no-name motor court, and leftbefore sunrise, quickly reaching South Carolina—"Nothing could be finah!"—followed by the long, slow teases of North Carolina and Virginia, where the only points of interest were, respectively, the lunch stop in Durham and the dancing cigarette packs on the billboards outside Richmond. Then finally Maryland, wonderful Maryland, home sweet home Maryland, which asked for only fifty miles or so, barely an hour back then. Today she had needed almost twice that much time to crawl up the parkway, but traffic was thinning now, up to normal speeds.

I see

Hutzler's had been the city's grandest department store, and it marked the Christmas season by setting up an enormous fake chimney with a Santa poised on its ledge, caught in a perpetual straddle. Was he coming or going? She could never decide. She had taught herself to watch for that flash of red, the promise that home was near, the way certain birds told a sea captain that the shore was within reach. It had been a clandestine ritual, not unlike counting the broken stripes as they disappeared under the front wheels of the car, a practice that quelled the motion sickness she never quite outgrew. Even then, she was tight-lipped when it came to certain information about herself, clear about the distinction between eccentricities that might be interesting and compulsive habits that would mark her as odd as, say, her grandmother. Or, to be absolutely truthful, her father. But the phrase had popped out one day, joyful and unbidden, another secret dialogue with herself escaping into the world:

"I see Hutzler's."

Her father had gotten the significance instantly, unlike her mother and sister. Her father always seemed to understand the layers beneath what she said, which was comforting when she was really little, intimidating as she got older. The problem was that he insisted on turning her private homecoming salute into a game, a contest, and what had once been hers alone then had to be shared with the entire family. Her father was big on sharing, on taking what was private and making it communal. He believed in long, rambling family discussions, which he called "rap sessions" in the language of the day, and unlocked doors and casual seminudity, although their mother had broken him of that habit. If you tried to keep something for yourself—whether it was a bag of candy purchased with your own money or a feeling you didn't want to express—he accused you of hoarding. He sat you down, looked straight into your eyes, and told you that families didn't work that way. A family was a team, a unit, a country unto itself, the one part of her identity that would remain constant the rest of her life. "We lock our front door against strangers," he said, "but never against each other."

So he seized "I see Hutzler's" for the family good and encouraged everyone to vie for the right to say it first. Once the rest of the family decided to play, that last mile of Beltway had been unbearable in its suspense. The sisters craned their necks, leaning forward in the old lap seat belts, the ones worn only on long trips. That's how things were back then—seat belts for long trips only, no bicycle helmets ever, skateboards made from splintery planks of wood and old roller skates. Pinned by her seat belt, she felt her stomach flip and her pulse race, and for what? For the hollow honor of being the first to say out loud what she had always been the first to think. As with all her father's contests, there was no prize, no point. Since she could no longer be guaranteed victory, she did what she always did: She pretended not to care.

Yet here she was again, alone, guaranteed the win if she wanted it, hollow as that victory would be, and her stomach still flipped, unaware that the store was long gone, that everything around the once-familiar cloverleaf had changed. Changed and, yes, cheapened. The placid dowager that had been Hutzler's was now a tacky Value City. Opposite, on the south side of the highway, the Quality Inn had morphed into one of those storage places. It wasn't possible from this vantage point to see if Howard Johnson's, home of the family's weekly fish-fry suppers, remained at the intersection, but she somehow doubted it. Did Howard Johnson's exist anywhere anymore? Did she? Yes and no.

What happened next transpired in seconds. Everything does, if you think about it. She would say that later, under questioning. The Ice Age happened in a matter of seconds; there were just a lot of them. Oh, she could make people love her if absolutely necessary, and although the tactic was less essential to her survival now, the habit was hard to break. Her interrogators pretended exasperation, but she could tell she was having the desired effect on most of them. By then her description of the accident was breathlessly vivid, a polished routine. She had glanced to the right, eastward, trying to recall all her childhood landmarks, forgetting the old admonition Bridges may freeze first, and felt a strange sensation, almost as if the steering wheel were slipping from her grasp, but the car was actually separating from the road, losing traction, although the sleet had not started and the pavement looked bone dry. It was oil, not ice, she would learn later, left from an earlier accident. How could one control for a coating of oil, invisible in the March twilight, for the inactions or incomplete actions of a crew of men she had never met, would never know? Somewhere in Baltimore, a man sat down to supper that night, unaware that he had destroyed someone else's life, and she envied him his ignorance.

She clutched the steering wheel and pounded on the pedals, but the car ignored her. The boxy sedan slid to the left, moving like the needle on a haywire tachometer. She bounced off the Jersey wall, spun around, slid to the other side of the highway. For a moment it seemed as if she were the only one driving, as if all the other cars and their drivers had frozen in deference and awe. The old Valiant—the name had seemed a good omen, a reminder of Prince Valiant and all that he stood for, back in the Sunday comics—moved swiftly and gracefully, a dancer among the stolid, earthbound commuters at the tail end of rush hour.

And then, just when she seemed to have the Valiant under control, when the tires once again connected to the pavement, she felt a soft thump to her right. She had sideswiped a white SUV, and although her car was so much smaller, the SUV seemed to reel from the touch, an elephant felled by a peashooter. She glimpsed a girl's face, or thought she did, a face with an expression not so much frightened as surprised by the realization that anything could collide with one's neat, well-ordered life at any time. The girl wore a ski jacket and large, cruelly unflattering glasses, made worse somehow by white fur earmuffs. Her mouth was round, a red gate of wonder. She was twelve, maybe eleven, and eleven was the same age when—and then the white SUV began its lazy flip-flops down the embankment.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, she thought. She knew she should slow down, stop, check on the SUV, but a chorus of honks and squealing brakes rose up behind her, a phalanx of sound that pushed her forward in spite of herself. It wasn't my fault! Everyone should know by now that SUVs were prone to tip. Her mild little nudge could never have caused that dramatic-looking accident. Besides, it had been such a long day and she was so close. Her exit was the next one, not even a mile ahead. She could still merge into the I-70 traffic and continue west to her destination.

But once on the long straightaway toward I-70, she found herself veering right instead of left, toward the sign that read Local Traffic Only, to that strange, unfinished road that her family had always called the highway to nowhere. How they had gloried in giving directions to their house. "Take the interstate east, to where it ends." "How can an interstate end?" And her father would triumphantly tell the tale of the protests, the citizens who had united across Baltimore to preserve the park and the wildlife and the then-modest rowhouses that ringed the harbor. It was one of her father's few successes in life, although he had been a minor player—just another signer of petitions, a marcher in demonstrations. He was never tapped to speak at the public rallies, much as he longed for that role.

The Valiant was making a terrible sound, the right rear wheel scraping against what must be a crushed fender. In her agitated state, it made perfect sense to park on the shoulder and continue on foot, although the sleet had now started and she became aware with each step that something was wrong. Her ribs hurt so that each breath was like a jab with a tiny knife, and it was hard to carry her purse as she had always been instructed—close to the body, not dangling from her wrist, a temptation for muggers and thieves. She hadn't been wearing her seat belt, and she had bounced around inside the Valiant, hitting the steering wheel and door. There was blood on her face, but she wasn't sure where it was coming from. Mouth? Forehead? She was warm, she was cold, she saw black stars. No, not stars. More like triangles twisting and turning, strung from the wires of an invisible mobile.

She had been walking no more than ten minutes when a patrol car stopped alongside her, lights flashing.

"That your Valiant back there?" the patrolman called out to her, lowering the window on the passenger side but not venturing from the car.

Was it? The question was more complicated than the young officer could know. Still, she nodded.

"You got any ID?"

"Sure," she said, digging into her purse but not finding her wallet. Why, that— She started to laugh, realizing how perfect that was. Of course she had no ID. She had no identity, not really. "Sorry. No. I—" She couldn't stop laughing. "It's gone."

He got out of the patrol car and attempted to take the purse to look for himself. Her scream shocked her even more than it did him. There was a fiery pain in her left forearm when he tried to slide the purse past her elbow. The patrolman spoke into his shoulder, calling for assistance. He pocketed her keys from her purse, walked back to her car, and poked around inside, then returned and stood with her in the sleeting rain that had finally started. He mumbled some familiar words to her but was otherwise silent.

"Is it bad?" she asked him.

"That's for a doctor to say when we get you to the ER."

"No, not me. Back there."

The distant whir of a helicopter answered her question. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But it wasn't her fault.

"It wasn't my fault. I couldn't control it—but still, I really didn't do anything—"

"I've read you your rights," he said. "The things you're saying—they count. Not that there's much doubt you left the scene of an accident."

"I was going to get help."

"This road dead-ends into a park-and-ride. If you really wanted to help them, you'd have pulled over back there or taken the Security Boulevard exit."

"There's the old Windsor Hills Pharmacy at Forest Park and Windsor Mill. I thought I could call from there."

She could tell that caught him off guard, her use of precise names, her familiarity with the area.

"I don't know of any pharmacy, although there's a gas station there, but— Don't you have a cell phone?"

"Not for my personal use, although I carry one at work. I don't buy things until they work properly, until they're perfected. Cell phones lose their connections and people have to yell into them half the time, so you can't safeguard your privacy. When cells work as well as landlines, I'll buy one."

She heard her father's echo. All these years later, he was in her head, his pronouncements as definitive as ever. Don't be the first to purchase any kind of technology. Keep your knives sharp. Eat tomatoes only when they're in season. Be kind to your sister. One day your mother and I will be gone, and you'll be all that each other has.

The young patrol officer regarded her gravely, the kind of awed inspection that good children reserve for those who have misbehaved. It was ludicrous that he could be so skeptical of her. In this light, in these clothes, the rain flattening her short, spiky curls, she probably looked younger than she was. People were always placing her at a full decade below her real age, even on those rare occasions when she dressed up. Cutting her long hair last year had only made her look younger still. It was funny about her hair, how stubbornly blond it remained at an age when most women needed chemicals to achieve this light, variable hue. It was as if her hair resented its years of forced imprisonment under those home applications of Nice'n Easy Sassy Chestnut. Her hair could hold a grudge as well as she could.

"Bethany," she said. "I'm one of the Bethany girls."

"What?"

"You don't know?" she asked him. "You don't remember? But then I guess you're all of, what—twenty-four? Twenty-five?"

"I'll be twenty-six next week," he said.

She tried not to smile, but he was so much like a toddler claiming two and a half instead of two. At what age do we stop wishing to be older than we are, stop nudging the number up? Around thirty for most, she assumed, although it had happened to her far earlier. By eighteen she would have done anything to renounce adulthood and be given another chance at childhood.

"So you weren't even born when— And you're probably not from here either, so no, the name wouldn't mean anything to you."

"Registration in the car says it belongs to Penelope Jackson, from Asheville, North Carolina. That you? Car didn't come up stolen when I called the tag in."

She shook her head. Her story would be wasted on him. She'd wait for someone who could appreciate it, who would understand the full import of what she was trying to tell him. Already she was making the calculations that had long been second nature. Who was on her side, who would take care of her? Who was against her, who would betray her?



Continues...

Excerpted from What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman Copyright © 2007 by Laura Lippman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

What the Dead Know

Chapter One

Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth. The water tower had been a key landmark in the old family game, although not the landmark. Once you spotted the white disk on its spindly legs, you knew it was time to prepare, like a runner crouched in blocks. On your mark, get set, I see

It hadn't started as a game. Spotting the department store nestled in this bend of the Beltway had been a private contest with herself, a way to relieve the tedium of the two-day drive home from Florida. As far back as she could remember, they had made the trip every winter break, although no one in the family enjoyed this visit to Grandmother's house. Her Orlando apartment was cramped and smelly, her dogs mean, her meals inedible. Everyone was miserable, even their father, especially their father, although he pretended not to be and took great offense if anyone suggested that his mother was any of the things that she undeniably was—stingy, strange, unkind. Still, even he couldn't hide his relief as home drew nearer and he sang out each state line as they crossed. Georgia, he growled in a Ray Charles moan. They spent the night there, in a no-name motor court, and left before sunrise, quickly reaching South Carolina—"Nothing could be finah!"—followed by the long, slow teases of North Carolina and Virginia, where the only points of interest were, respectively, the lunch stop in Durham and the dancing cigarette packs on the billboards outside Richmond. Then finally Maryland, wonderful Maryland, home sweet home Maryland,which asked for only fifty miles or so, barely an hour back then. Today she had needed almost twice that much time to crawl up the parkway, but traffic was thinning now, up to normal speeds.

I see

Hutzler's had been the city's grandest department store, and it marked the Christmas season by setting up an enormous fake chimney with a Santa poised on its ledge, caught in a perpetual straddle. Was he coming or going? She could never decide. She had taught herself to watch for that flash of red, the promise that home was near, the way certain birds told a sea captain that the shore was within reach. It had been a clandestine ritual, not unlike counting the broken stripes as they disappeared under the front wheels of the car, a practice that quelled the motion sickness she never quite outgrew. Even then, she was tight-lipped when it came to certain information about herself, clear about the distinction between eccentricities that might be interesting and compulsive habits that would mark her as odd as, say, her grandmother. Or, to be absolutely truthful, her father. But the phrase had popped out one day, joyful and unbidden, another secret dialogue with herself escaping into the world:

"I see Hutzler's."

Her father had gotten the significance instantly, unlike her mother and sister. Her father always seemed to understand the layers beneath what she said, which was comforting when she was really little, intimidating as she got older. The problem was that he insisted on turning her private homecoming salute into a game, a contest, and what had once been hers alone then had to be shared with the entire family. Her father was big on sharing, on taking what was private and making it communal. He believed in long, rambling family discussions, which he called "rap sessions" in the language of the day, and unlocked doors and casual seminudity, although their mother had broken him of that habit. If you tried to keep something for yourself—whether it was a bag of candy purchased with your own money or a feeling you didn't want to express—he accused you of hoarding. He sat you down, looked straight into your eyes, and told you that families didn't work that way. A family was a team, a unit, a country unto itself, the one part of her identity that would remain constant the rest of her life. "We lock our front door against strangers," he said, "but never against each other."

So he seized "I see Hutzler's" for the family good and encouraged everyone to vie for the right to say it first. Once the rest of the family decided to play, that last mile of Beltway had been unbearable in its suspense. The sisters craned their necks, leaning forward in the old lap seat belts, the ones worn only on long trips. That's how things were back then—seat belts for long trips only, no bicycle helmets ever, skateboards made from splintery planks of wood and old roller skates. Pinned by her seat belt, she felt her stomach flip and her pulse race, and for what? For the hollow honor of being the first to say out loud what she had always been the first to think. As with all her father's contests, there was no prize, no point. Since she could no longer be guaranteed victory, she did what she always did: She pretended not to care.

Yet here she was again, alone, guaranteed the win if she wanted it, hollow as that victory would be, and her stomach still flipped, unaware that the store was long gone, that everything around the once-familiar cloverleaf had changed. Changed and, yes, cheapened. The placid dowager that had been Hutzler's was now a tacky Value City. Opposite, on the south side of the highway, the Quality Inn had morphed into one of those storage places. It wasn't possible from this vantage point to see if Howard Johnson's, home of the family's weekly fish-fry suppers, remained at the intersection, but she somehow doubted it. Did Howard Johnson's exist anywhere anymore? Did she? Yes and no.

What happened next transpired in seconds. Everything does, if you think about it. She would say that later, under questioning. The Ice Age happened in a matter of seconds; there were just a lot of them. Oh, she could make people love her if absolutely necessary, and although the tactic was less essential to her survival now, the habit was hard to break. Her interrogators pretended exasperation, but she could tell she was having the desired effect on most of them. By then her description of the accident was breathlessly vivid, a polished routine. She had glanced to the right, eastward, trying to recall all her childhood landmarks, forgetting the old admonition Bridges may freeze first, and felt a strange sensation, almost as if the steering wheel were slipping from her grasp, but the car was actually separating from the road, losing traction, although the sleet had not started and the pavement looked bone dry. It was oil, not ice, she would learn later, left from an earlier accident. How could one control for a coating of oil, invisible in the March twilight, for the inactions or incomplete actions of a crew of men she had never met, would never know? Somewhere in Baltimore, a man sat down to supper that night, unaware that he had destroyed someone else's life, and she envied him his ignorance.

She clutched the steering wheel and pounded on the pedals, but the car ignored her. The boxy sedan slid to the left, moving like the needle on a haywire tachometer. She bounced off the Jersey wall, spun around, slid to the other side of the highway. For a moment it seemed as if she were the only one driving, as if all the other cars and their drivers had frozen in deference and awe. The old Valiant—the name had seemed a good omen, a reminder of Prince Valiant and all that he stood for, back in the Sunday comics—moved swiftly and gracefully, a dancer among the stolid, earthbound commuters at the tail end of rush hour.

And then, just when she seemed to have the Valiant under control, when the tires once again connected to the pavement, she felt a soft thump to her right. She had sideswiped a white SUV, and although her car was so much smaller, the SUV seemed to reel from the touch, an elephant felled by a peashooter. She glimpsed a girl's face, or thought she did, a face with an expression not so much frightened as surprised by the realization that anything could collide with one's neat, well-ordered life at any time. The girl wore a ski jacket and large, cruelly unflattering glasses, made worse somehow by white fur earmuffs. Her mouth was round, a red gate of wonder. She was twelve, maybe eleven, and eleven was the same age when—and then the white SUV began its lazy flip-flops down the embankment.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, she thought. She knew she should slow down, stop, check on the SUV, but a chorus of honks and squealing brakes rose up behind her, a phalanx of sound that pushed her forward in spite of herself. It wasn't my fault! Everyone should know by now that SUVs were prone to tip. Her mild little nudge could never have caused that dramatic-looking accident. Besides, it had been such a long day and she was so close. Her exit was the next one, not even a mile ahead. She could still merge into the I-70 traffic and continue west to her destination.

But once on the long straightaway toward I-70, she found herself veering right instead of left, toward the sign that read Local Traffic Only, to that strange, unfinished road that her family had always called the highway to nowhere. How they had gloried in giving directions to their house. "Take the interstate east, to where it ends." "How can an interstate end?" And her father would triumphantly tell the tale of the protests, the citizens who had united across Baltimore to preserve the park and the wildlife and the then-modest rowhouses that ringed the harbor. It was one of her father's few successes in life, although he had been a minor player—just another signer of petitions, a marcher in demonstrations. He was never tapped to speak at the public rallies, much as he longed for that role.

The Valiant was making a terrible sound, the right rear wheel scraping against what must be a crushed fender. In her agitated state, it made perfect sense to park on the shoulder and continue on foot, although the sleet had now started and she became aware with each step that something was wrong. Her ribs hurt so that each breath was like a jab with a tiny knife, and it was hard to carry her purse as she had always been instructed—close to the body, not dangling from her wrist, a temptation for muggers and thieves. She hadn't been wearing her seat belt, and she had bounced around inside the Valiant, hitting the steering wheel and door. There was blood on her face, but she wasn't sure where it was coming from. Mouth? Forehead? She was warm, she was cold, she saw black stars. No, not stars. More like triangles twisting and turning, strung from the wires of an invisible mobile.

She had been walking no more than ten minutes when a patrol car stopped alongside her, lights flashing.

"That your Valiant back there?" the patrolman called out to her, lowering the window on the passenger side but not venturing from the car.

Was it? The question was more complicated than the young officer could know. Still, she nodded.

"You got any ID?"

"Sure," she said, digging into her purse but not finding her wallet. Why, that— She started to laugh, realizing how perfect that was. Of course she had no ID. She had no identity, not really. "Sorry. No. I—" She couldn't stop laughing. "It's gone."

He got out of the patrol car and attempted to take the purse to look for himself. Her scream shocked her even more than it did him. There was a fiery pain in her left forearm when he tried to slide the purse past her elbow. The patrolman spoke into his shoulder, calling for assistance. He pocketed her keys from her purse, walked back to her car, and poked around inside, then returned and stood with her in the sleeting rain that had finally started. He mumbled some familiar words to her but was otherwise silent.

"Is it bad?" she asked him.

"That's for a doctor to say when we get you to the ER."

"No, not me. Back there."

The distant whir of a helicopter answered her question. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But it wasn't her fault.

"It wasn't my fault. I couldn't control it—but still, I really didn't do anything—"

"I've read you your rights," he said. "The things you're saying—they count. Not that there's much doubt you left the scene of an accident."

"I was going to get help."

"This road dead-ends into a park-and-ride. If you really wanted to help them, you'd have pulled over back there or taken the Security Boulevard exit."

"There's the old Windsor Hills Pharmacy at Forest Park and Windsor Mill. I thought I could call from there."

She could tell that caught him off guard, her use of precise names, her familiarity with the area.

"I don't know of any pharmacy, although there's a gas station there, but— Don't you have a cell phone?"

"Not for my personal use, although I carry one at work. I don't buy things until they work properly, until they're perfected. Cell phones lose their connections and people have to yell into them half the time, so you can't safeguard your privacy. When cells work as well as landlines, I'll buy one."

She heard her father's echo. All these years later, he was in her head, his pronouncements as definitive as ever. Don't be the first to purchase any kind of technology. Keep your knives sharp. Eat tomatoes only when they're in season. Be kind to your sister. One day your mother and I will be gone, and you'll be all that each other has.

The young patrol officer regarded her gravely, the kind of awed inspection that good children reserve for those who have misbehaved. It was ludicrous that he could be so skeptical of her. In this light, in these clothes, the rain flattening her short, spiky curls, she probably looked younger than she was. People were always placing her at a full decade below her real age, even on those rare occasions when she dressed up. Cutting her long hair last year had only made her look younger still. It was funny about her hair, how stubbornly blond it remained at an age when most women needed chemicals to achieve this light, variable hue. It was as if her hair resented its years of forced imprisonment under those home applications of Nice'n Easy Sassy Chestnut. Her hair could hold a grudge as well as she could.

"Bethany," she said. "I'm one of the Bethany girls."

"What?"

"You don't know?" she asked him. "You don't remember? But then I guess you're all of, what—twenty-four? Twenty-five?"

"I'll be twenty-six next week," he said.

She tried not to smile, but he was so much like a toddler claiming two and a half instead of two. At what age do we stop wishing to be older than we are, stop nudging the number up? Around thirty for most, she assumed, although it had happened to her far earlier. By eighteen she would have done anything to renounce adulthood and be given another chance at childhood.

"So you weren't even born when— And you're probably not from here either, so no, the name wouldn't mean anything to you."

"Registration in the car says it belongs to Penelope Jackson, from Asheville, North Carolina. That you? Car didn't come up stolen when I called the tag in."

She shook her head. Her story would be wasted on him. She'd wait for someone who could appreciate it, who would understand the full import of what she was trying to tell him. Already she was making the calculations that had long been second nature. Who was on her side, who would take care of her? Who was against her, who would betray her?

What the Dead Know. Copyright © by Laura Lippman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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