I had no idea how tormented he was. None. And what torments me is wondering if I could have helped him. I mean, from the time he was a kid, when we were both kids.
Alan and I were cousins, the only children of two sisters. We lived for quite a few years in the same neighborhood, in fact only four houses apart. And being five years older, I was like a big brother to him, more than just a cousin. He used to enjoy being in my company, following me around, which I took on as my role even though once in a while, like all little kids, he was a nuisance.
Of course things changed as we grew older, as we followed separate careers, different interests. But we still called and saw each other now and then; and when I got married, he was my best man.
So what torments me is that maybe—no, not maybe, surely—I could have helped him, starting when he was a kid, been a true big brother. And then, later on, surely there was a clue here and there to his troubles, all of which I missed not only despite our closeness but despite the books and many articles I have written on crime.
I tell myself now that I should have done this, that, or whatever. But one of the things I’m not sure about is whether I would have advised him to make that trip to Cape Cod or just let things be.
I do know from what he told me that for almost every mile of that trip he was torn apart by doubts.
Turn back, he kept telling himself. Turn back, turn back.
You don’t have to know if you killed her, he told himself. You’ve lived all these years, fifteen years, without knowing. And you’ve got a good life that you’re going to destroy, you’re only thirty, a lawyer, you have someone you love, and a new career, one where you can do so much good. You’ve never had it better. For God’s sake turn around!
He told me that when it really hit him like this he was only about ten miles from home, had some three hundred more to go. But despite his pleas to himself he drove on, trying to assure himself that he could turn back at any point. And what’s more, even if he did go on it wasn’t as if he was going there to confess. And the point was, there might be nothing to confess. He really didn’t know if he’d killed her; hurt her, yes, he’d hurt her, but killed her? He was sure he hadn’t. He’d run from the scene in terror, falling, jumping up, running on, a kid in horror at himself, a fifteen-year-old kid who had never knowingly hurt anyone in his life, afraid at that moment that he’d killed her, but then gradually, back in his home and over the years that followed, sure he hadn’t.
Except at those times when he wasn’t sure, and a flame would sweep through his whole body.
It was winter, mid-February, but the highway under the bright sky was free of snow except on the shoulders and on the dark limbs of trees. And it was pretty much free of cars.
He wasn’t even sure how he would find out. The answer lay in one of the towns on Cape Cod, South Minton. He had found out the name of the newspaper there, the Cape Cod Breeze, a daily, and had looked it up on his computer, trying to go back to July 8, 1989; but the paper’s Web site only had stories as far back as ‘92. And he hadn’t seen anything about such a crime in the handful of other newspapers throughout the state he’d been able to find online. Nor had he seen it, on the several occasions he’d dared to look, on any of the "unsolved true crime" shows on television.
So how did he expect to find out now? The newspaper office was one way, of course, and if not there, the public library, or maybe a paper in another town up there. But all of these options could be risky, might arouse suspicion, even though he would ask for papers starting way before that day and ending way after.
He just had to know.
He felt as if he couldn’t go on any longer with Anna, or even with his new work, if he didn’t know.
His eyes kept checking the gas: It was getting low and he would have to stop soon. Only at that moment did something strike him, although of course he had known it all along—that this was the same highway they had taken, his mother and father and him, in that motor home they’d rented.
And he remembered the three of them even, yes, singing.
Copyright © 2006 by Seymour Shubin