Missing you, p.10
Missing You, p.10
"Jeff Raynes," she said, spelling it with the y for him. "And I don't have a clue or a care where he lives."
Bethesda Fountain was the heartbeat of Central Park. The towering angel statue crowning the fountain holds lilies in one hand while blessing the water in front of her with the other. Her stone face is serene to the point of boredom. The water she eternally blesses is called simply the Lake. Kat always liked that name. The Lake. Nothing fancy. Call it what it is.
Beneath the angel were four cherubs representing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. The fountain had been there since 1873. In the sixties, hippies occupied it day and night. The first scene in Godspell was filmed there. So was a key scene in Hair. In the seventies, Bethesda Terrace became the focal point of drug trafficking and prostitution. Kat's father had told her that even cops were scared of the terrace back in those days. It was hard to imagine now, especially on a summer day like this, that the place was ever anything but paradise.
Stagger sat on a bench overlooking the Lake. Tourists speaking every language imaginable floated by in boats, struggling with the oars before giving up and letting the nearly nonexistent current take them. On the right, a large swarm had gathered for the street performers (or were they park performers?) called the Afrobats. The Afrobats were black teens who did a show combining acrobatics, dancing, and comedy. Another street performer carried a sign that read: $1 A JOKE. LAUGHTER GUARANTEED. People statues--that is, people who stood still and pretended they were statues and posed for pictures with tourists; who was the first person to do this?--dotted the landing. There was a guy who looked like your favorite uncle enthusiastically playing the ukulele, and another guy wearing a ratty bathrobe pretending to be a Hogwarts wizard.
The black baseball cap on Stagger's head made him look like a little boy. His gaze skimmed along the waterway like a flat stone. It was, in many ways, a typical Manhattan scene--you are surrounded and yet you find solace; you find isolation in the tornado of people. Stagger stared out at the water, looking bewildered, and Kat wasn't sure what she felt.
He never turned as she approached. When Kat was standing above him, she waited a moment and then she simply said, "Hey."
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
He kept his eyes on the water when he spoke.
"You don't just go busting into my office like that."
Stagger finally turned toward her. If the eyes had been calm looking out at the water, that calm was gone now.
"I didn't mean any disrespect."
"It was just that I finally got Leburne's visitor logs."
"And, what, you desperately needed my take on them?"
"You couldn't even wait until my meeting was over?"
"I thought . . ." Behind them, the crowd roared with laughter at the Afrobats' joke about robbing them. "You know how I am about this case."
"It's Dad, Stagger. How do you not get that?"
"Oh, I get it, Kat." He turned back to the water.
"You know what I found, don't you?"
"Yeah." A slow smile came to his face. "I know."
His eyes found a boat and stayed on it.
"Why would you visit Leburne the day after he was arrested?" she asked.
Stagger said nothing.
"The feds arrested him, not NYPD. You had nothing to do with it. You weren't even working my dad's case, since he was your partner and you found the body. So why were you there, Stagger?"
He looked almost amused by her question. "What's your theory, Kat?"
"I don't have a theory," she said.
Stagger faced her. "Do you think that I had something to do with what happened to Henry?"
"No. Of course not."
She wished she had a better answer: "I don't know."
"Do you think I hired Leburne or something?"
"I don't think Leburne had anything to do with it. I think Leburne was just a fall guy."
He frowned. "Come on, Kat. Not that again."
"Why were you there?"
"And again, I reply, Why do you think?" Stagger closed his eyes for a second, took a deep breath, turned back toward the Lake. "I see now why we never let people with personal connections handle a case."
"You not only have no objectivity, you barely have any clarity."
"Why were you there, Stagger?"
He shook his head. "It couldn't be more obvious."
"Not to me."
"My point exactly." His eyes locked on the boat, watching teens flail furiously and incompetently with the oars. "Go back for a second. Think it through. At the time of his murder, your father was coming close to bringing down one of the leading crime figures in the city."
"Of course, Cozone. Suddenly, he gets executed. What was our theory at the time?"
"It wasn't my theory."
"No offense, Kat, but you weren't a cop. You were a sprightly little coed at Columbia. What was our official theory?"
"The official theory," Kat said, "was that my father was a threat to Cozone and so Cozone eliminated him."
"But Cozone knew better than to kill a cop."
"Don't let the bad guys fool you with their so-called rules. They do what they think is best for long-term profit and survival. Your father was an impediment to both."
"So you think Cozone hired Leburne to kill my father. I know this. It still doesn't explain why you visited Leburne."
"Sure it does. The feds arrested one of Cozone's most active hit men. Of course we immediately followed up that lead. How can you not see that?"
"Bobby Suggs and Mike Rinsky were the lead cops on the case. So why did you go?"
He smiled again, but there was no joy in it. "Because I was like you."
"Meaning your father was my partner. You know what he meant to me."
"I wasn't in the mood to wait while NYPD and FBI dealt with their pissing contest over territory and jurisdiction. It would give Leburne time to lawyer up or whatever. I wanted in. I was impetuous. I called a friend with the bureau and asked a favor."
"So you went to interrogate Leburne?"
"Pretty much, yeah. I was a dumb young cop trying to avenge his mentor before it was too late."
"What do you mean, too late?"
"Like I said, I was worried he would lawyer up. But even more than that, I worried Cozone would take him out before he could talk."
"So you spoke to Leburne?"
Stagger shrugged. Again, with the baseball cap and the shrug, she could imagine what he looked like in grade school. Kat gently put her hand on his shoulder. She wasn't sure why. Maybe to remind him that they were on the same side. Maybe to offer an old friend some degree of comfort. Stagger had loved her father. Not like her of course; death doesn't stay with friends or coworkers. They grieve and move on. Death only stays with the family. But his anguish was real.
"And I got nowhere," Stagger said.
"Leburne denied it?"
"He just sat across from me and said nothing."
"And yet later, Leburne confessed."
"Of course. His lawyer made a deal. Kept the death penalty off the table."
The Afrobats closed with their big finale--one of them leapt over spectators who had volunteered. The crowd erupted in applause. Kat and Stagger watched the crowd slowly disperse.
"So that's it," Kat said.
"You never told me."
"What should I have said, Kat? That I visited a suspect and got nowhere?"
"You were a college student on your way to getting married."
There was maybe more edge in her voice than she intended. Their eyes met, and something passed through them. He turned away.
"I don't like the implication, Kat."
"I'm not implying anything."
"Yeah, you are." He stood. "You're not good with the passive-aggressive. It isn't you. So let's put it all on the table, okay?"
"Leburne claimed to the very end that he alone decided that your father had to be killed. We both know it's a lie. We both know Cozone ordered the hit and that Leburne protected him."
Kat said nothing.
"We spent years trying to get him to recant and tell us the truth. He didn't. He went to his grave without turning, and now, well, we don't know how to get justice for your father. It is frustrating and it makes us desperate."
Kat frowned. "Now who's being passive-aggressive?"
"You don't think I hurt too?"
"Oh, I think you hurt. You want to put it all on the table? Let's do that. Yes, for years, I worked under the theory that Cozone ordered a hit and Leburne carried it out. But I never really bought it. It never quite rang true to me. And when Leburne--with no reason to lie--told that nurse that he had nothing to do with it, I believed him. You can say he was drugged or lying, but I was there. His words finally rang true. So yeah, I want to know why you visited him before anyone else. Because, putting my cards on the table, I don't believe you, Stagger."
Something behind his eyes exploded. He fought hard to keep his tone level. "So tell me, Kat. Why did I go up there?"
"I don't know. I wish you'd tell me."
"You're calling me a liar?"
"I'm asking you what happened."
"I already told you," he said, pushing past her. He turned. There was indeed anger in his eyes, but there was something else there. Anguish. And maybe even fear. "You have some vacation days coming. I already checked. Take them, Kat. I don't want to see you in my precinct until I put in for your transfer."
Kat grabbed her laptop and headed over to O'Malley's Pub. She sat on her father's old stool. Pete the bartender ambled over to her. Kat was examining the bottom of her dusty shoes.
"What?" he asked.
"Did you guys put down more sawdust than usual?"
"New guy. He overdid the concept of dive chic. What'll you have?"
"Cheeseburger medium rare, fries, a Bud."
"You want an angiogram after that?"
"Good one, Pete. Next time, I'll sample one of your gluten-free vegan entrees."
The crowd was a mix. At the corner tables, a few masters of the universe were having postwork cocktails. The bar had the few loners all bars need, those guys who sat quietly peering into their glasses, shoulders hunched, longing for nothing other than the numbness the amber liquid could provide.
She had pushed too hard with Stagger, but subtle wasn't going to play here. Still, she didn't know what to make of Stagger. She didn't know what to make of Brandon. She didn't know what to make of Jeff.
So now what?
Curiosity got the better of her. She flipped open her laptop and started doing a search on Brandon's mom and Jeff's new lover, Dana Phelps, mostly under images and on social networks. Kat told herself that she was just following up, fully closing the case, making sure, per her one worry, that the kid she'd met was indeed Brandon Phelps, the son of Dana, and not some con man or worse.
With ten empty stools, a guy with a soul patch and frosted tips in his hair sat right next to her. He cleared his throat and said, "Hello, little lady."
She found the first picture of Dana on a site that covered "Connecticut Society Happenings," one of those places that takes pictures of rich people at parties so fancy they are called balls, and these rich people, with so much in their lives, can't wait to click on the site to see if their picture is on it.
Last year, Dana Phelps had hosted a gala in support of an animal shelter. It didn't take long to see why Jeff had been drawn to her.
Dana Phelps was a stunner.
She wore a long silver gown that draped and clung in a way Kat would never experience. Dana Phelps oozed class. She was tall and blond and pretty much everything Kat was not.
Kat chuckled out loud. Frosted Tips took this as an invitation. "Something funny?"
"Yeah, your face."
Pete frowned at the lameness of the retort. Kat shrugged. He had a point, but it worked. Frosty took a hike. She drank some more, trying to give off a leave-me-be vibe. It worked for the most part. She did an image search on Brandon Phelps, and yes, he was indeed the skinny, stringy-haired kid who had visited her. Damn. It would have been easier if he'd just been lying about his identity or something.
Kat was starting to feel tipsy, the kind of tipsy when you drunk-text an old boyfriend, except, of course, she had no idea what Jeff's phone number was. She chose instead to do the next best thing ex-lovers do--cyber-stalk him. She put his name into several search engines, but there was nothing on him. Absolutely nothing. She knew that was going to happen--this wasn't her first time drunk-Googling him--but it still surprised her. A few Internet advertisements popped up and offered to find Jeff or, better yet, see if he had a criminal record.
She decided to head back to Jeff's profile page on YouAreJustMy Type.com. It was probably closed down now, what with his jetting off to some exotic locale with a statuesque blonde. They were probably walking the beach right now, hand in hand, Dana wearing a silver bikini, the moon reflecting on the water.
Kat clicked on Jeff's profile page. It was still there. She checked the status. It still read: Actively Looking. Hmm. No big deal. He had probably not remembered to turn it off. He'd probably been so excited about getting High Society Blonde in the sackola that he couldn't be bothered with niceties like clicking a button to let other potential suitors know he was off the market. Or maybe handsome Jeff had a backup plan, a Plan B, in case Dana didn't pan out (or put out) in the way he hoped. Yeah, ol' Jeff could have a bunch of women waiting with baited breath, just in case he needed a substitute or . . .
Her cell phone mercifully knocked her out of her stupor. She answered it without checking the caller ID.
It sounded like Brandon.
"On Jeff Raynes. There is absolutely nothing."
"Oh, I could have told you that."
She was slurring her words. "What do you want, Brandon?"
"There's nothing on Jeff Raynes."
"Yes, I know. Didn't we cover this already?"
"How can that be? There is something on everyone."
"Maybe he keeps a low profile."
"I checked through all the databases. There's three Jeff Raynes in the United States. One in North Carolina. One in Texas. One in California. None of them are our Jeff Raynes."
"What do you want me to say, Brandon? There are plenty of people who keep a low profile."
"Not anymore. I mean, seriously. No one is this low profile. Don't you see? Something isn't right."
The jukebox started playing "Oh Very Young" by Cat Stevens. The song depressed her. Cat--her sorta namesake--sang about how you want your father to last forever but "you know he never will," that this man you loved would fade away like his best jeans, denim blue. Man, that lyric always hit her hard.
"I don't know what I can do about it, Brandon."
"I need one more favor."
"I checked my mom's credit cards. There is only one hit in the past four days. She took out money from an ATM the day she vanished."
"She didn't vanish. She--"
"Fine, whatever, but the ATM was in Parkchester."
"So we go to the airport via the Whitestone Bridge. Parkchester is at least an exit or two out of the way. Why would she go out of her way?"
"Who knows? Maybe she missed her turn. Maybe she wanted to stop at some fancy lingerie boutique you don't know about and buy something sexy for the trip."
Kat shook her head, tried to clear it. "Listen to me, Brandon. I have no jurisdiction anyway. You need to go to that cop you spoke to in Greenwich. What's his name . . ."
"Please. Can't you do it?"
"Look into the ATM charge."
"What do you think I'll find, Brandon?"
"Mom never uses her ATM card. I mean, like, never. I don't even think she knows how. I always got cash for her. Can't you, I don't know, check the surveillance video or something?"
"It's late," Kat said, remembering her own rule about doing too much thinking while drinking. "Let's talk in the morning, okay?"
She hit the END button before he could respond. With a quick nod for Pete to put it on her tab, Kat headed out into the fresh air. She loved New York. Friends tried to get her to see the joys of the woods or the beach and yeah, sure, maybe for a few days, but hiking bored her. Plants, trees, greens, fauna could be interesting, but what was more interesting than faces, outfits, headwear, shoes, storefronts, street vendors, whatever?
There was a crescent moon tonight. When she was a little girl, the moon had fascinated her. She stopped and stared and felt the tears pushing into her eyes. A memory blindsided her. When she was six years old, her father put a ladder in the yard. He led her outside and pointed to the ladder and told her that he'd just put the moon up there, especially for her. She believed him. She believed that was how the moon got up to the sky at night until she was much too old to believe such a thing.
Kat had been twenty-two when her father died--too young, for sure. But Brandon Phelps had lost his father when he was only sixteen.
Was it any wonder he clung so strongly to his mother?
It was late when Kat reached her apartment, but it wasn't as though police stations kept hours. She looked up the phone number of the Greenwich Police Department and called, giving her NYPD title and figuring to leave a message for Detective Schwartz, but the dispatcher threw her a curve.
"Hold on. Joe is here. I'll connect you."
Two rings later, "This is Detective Joseph Schwartz. How may I help you?"
Missing You by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes