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Missing you, p.14
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       Missing You, p.14

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
Chapter 19


Hoping cooler heads would prevail--and needing to make an official police request--Kat showed up at the precinct for work the next day. Her still-partner (ugh) Chaz, resplendent in a suit so shiny Kat reached for her sunglasses, stood by her desk with his fists on his hips. He looked surprised to see her.

"Yo, Kat, need something?"

"No," she said.

"Boss man said you were on leave."

"Yeah, well, I changed my mind. I just need to do one quick thing and then I want to hear what's going on."

Kat sat at her computer. Last night, she had used Google Earth to figure out what nearby surveillance cameras could give her a fuller view of the street near Dana's ATM. She hoped to see what car Dana got into, maybe get a license plate or some other lead.

Chaz peeked over her shoulder. "This about that kid who was in here the other day?"

She ignored him, made the info request, and was prompted for her user name and password. She typed them in and hit RETURN.


ACCESS DENIED

Kat tried again. Same thing. She turned back to Chaz, who stood watching her with his arms crossed.

"What's going on, Chaz?"

"Boss man said you were on leave."

"We don't disable someone's computer access because they take a leave."

"Yeah, well." Chaz shrugged. "You did ask for it, didn't you?"

"Ask for what?"

"You wanted a transfer, so I guess you're getting one."

"I never asked for a transfer."

"That's what the captain told me. Said you put in for a new partner."

"I put in for a new partner. I didn't ask for a transfer."

Chaz looked wounded. "I still don't know why you'd do that."

"Because I don't like you, Chaz. You're crude, you're lazy, you have no interest in doing the right thing--"

"Hey, I have my own way of working."

She didn't want to get into this now.

"Detective Donovan?"

Kat looked behind her. It was Stephen Singer, her immediate superior.

"You're on voluntary leave."

"No, I'm not."

Singer moved closer. "Voluntary leave is something that no one holds against you. It doesn't show up on your record as, say, insubordinate conduct toward a superior officer."

"I didn't--"

Singer cut her off by raising his hand and closing his eyes. "Enjoy your vacation, Kat. You've earned it."

He walked away. Kat looked at Chaz. Chaz said nothing. She understood what was being said--keep quiet, take the slap, it will all go away. That was the smart move, she guessed. The only move, really. She stood up and reached down to turn her computer off.

"Don't," Chaz said.

"What?"

"Singer said to get out of here. So do it. Now."

Their eyes met. Chaz may have given her the slightest nod--she couldn't be sure--but she didn't shut the computer off. As she headed down the stairs, Kat glanced toward Stagger's office. What the hell was his problem anyway? She knew he was a stickler for rules and regulations, and yeah, maybe she should have more respect, but this felt like overkill.

She checked her watch. Her day was somewhat free now. She changed subways three times on her way down to the Main Street stop on the 7 train in Flushing. The Knights of Columbus hall had wood paneling and American flags and eagles and stars and any other emblem you might loosely associate with patriotism. The hall was, as at every event, boisterous. Knights of Columbus halls, like school gymnasiums, are not meant to be quiet. Steve Schrader, who was retiring at the tender age of fifty-three, stood near a keg, handling the reception line like a groom.

Kat spotted retired detective Bobby Suggs sitting at a corner table overflowing with bottles of Budweiser. He wore a plaid sports coat and gray slacks so polyester they made Kat itch. As Kat started toward him, she glanced at the faces. She knew so many of them. They stopped and hugged her and wished her well. They told her--they always told her this--that she was the spitting image of her dear father, God rest his eternal soul, and asked when she would find a man and start a family. She tried to nod and smile her way through them. It wasn't that easy. Their faces leaned in close to be heard, too close, smothering, as though the pockmarks and burst vessels were going to swallow her whole. A four-piece polka band led by a tuba started up. The room smelled of stale beer and dance sweat.

"Kat? Sweetheart, we're over here."

She turned toward the familiar raspy voice. Mom's face was already flush with drink. She waved Kat toward the table where she sat with Flo and Tessie. Flo and Tessie waved her over too, just in case she didn't know that Mom's wave was indicating she should join them.

Trapped, Kat started toward them. She kissed her mother on the cheek and said hello to Flo and Tessie.

"What?" Flo said. "No kiss for your aunt Flo and Tessie?"

Neither woman was an aunt, just close family friends, but Kat kissed them anyway. Flo had a bad red dye job that sometimes leaned toward purple. Tessie kept her hair a gray that also had a tendency toward purple. Both smelled a little like potpourri on an old couch. The two "aunts" grabbed Kat's face before kissing her cheek. Flo wore heavy ruby-red lipstick. Kat wondered how to discreetly wipe it away.

All three widows openly inspected her.

"You're too skinny," Flo said.

"Leave her alone," Tessie said. "You look fine, dear."

"What? I'm just saying. Men like a woman with a little meat on her bones." To emphasize her point, Flo hoisted up her substantial bosom without the slightest sense of embarrassment. Flo was always doing that--adjusting her bosoms as though they were unruly children.

Mom continued to study Kat with not-so-subtle disapproval. "Do you think that hair flatters your face?"

Kat just stared at her.

"I mean, you have such a pretty face."

"You're beautiful," Tessie said, as always the defiant albeit normal one. "And I love your hair."

"Thank you, Aunt Tessie."

"Did you come for Tim's son the doctor?" Flo asked.

"No."

"He's not here yet. But he will be."

"You'll like him," Tessie added. "He's very handsome."

"He looks like that guy on The Price Is Right," Flo added. "Am I right?"

Mom and Tessie nodded enthusiastically.

Kat asked, "Which guy?"

"What?"

"You mean the guy who hosts it now or the one who used to host it?"

"Which guy," Flo repeated. "Never you mind which guy, Miss Picky. What, one of them isn't handsome enough for you?" Flo hoisted up the bosom again. "Which guy?"

"Stop that," Tessie said.

"What?"

"With the booby play. You're going to put someone's eyes out with one of those."

Flo winked. "Only if he's lucky."

Flo was big and bouncy and still wanted to a catch a man. She caught their eyes far too often--but it never lasted. Despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary, Flo was still a hopeless romantic. She fell in love hard and fast, and everyone but Flo could see the oncoming wreck. She and Mom had been best friends since elementary school at St. Mary's. There was a brief period, when Kat was in high school, when the two women didn't talk for maybe six months or a year--a fight over a houseguest or something--but other than that, they were inseparable.

Flo had six grown kids and sixteen grandchildren. Tessie had eight kids and nine grandkids. They had lived hard lives, these women--raising tons of children under the thumbs of uninvolved husbands and an overly involved church. When Kat was nine years old, she came home from school early and saw Tessie crying in their kitchen. Mom sat with her, in the stillness of that midday kitchen, holding Tessie's hand and telling her how sorry she was and how it would all be okay. Tessie just sobbed and shook her head. Nine-year-old Kat wondered what tragedy had befallen Tessie's family--if maybe something had happened to her daughter Mary, who had lupus, or if her husband, Uncle Ed, lost his job, or if Tessie's hoodlum son Pat had failed out of school.

But it wasn't any of that.

Tessie was sobbing because she'd just learned she was pregnant yet again. She cried and clutched tissues and repeated over and over that she couldn't handle it, and Mom listened and held her hand and then Flo came over and Flo listened and eventually they all cried.

Tessie's children were grown now. After Ed died six years ago, Tessie, who had never gone any farther than an Atlantic City casino, started traveling extensively. Her first trip had been to Paris three months after Ed's death. For years, Tessie had been taking out language tapes from the Queens Library and teaching herself French. Now she put it to use. Tessie kept her personal travel diaries in leather binders in the den. Tessie never pushed them on anyone--rarely admitted what they were--but Kat loved to read them.

Kat's father had seen it early. "This life," Dad had told her, eying Kat's mom standing over an oven. "It's a trap for a girl." The only girls Kat grew up with who stayed in the neighborhood had been knocked up young. The rest, for better or worse, had fled.

Kat turned around, her gaze heading back toward Suggs's table. He was staring straight at her. He didn't look away when she spotted him. Instead, he brought the bottle up toward her in a distant, sad toast. She nodded in return. Suggs took a deep long swig, his head back, his throat sliding up and down.

"I'll be right back," Kat said, starting toward him.

Suggs rose and met her halfway. He was a short, burly man who walked as though he'd just gotten off a horse. The room was warm now, the weak air-conditioning no match for the crowded hall. Everyone, including both Suggs and Kat, had a thin sheen of sweat on them. They hugged, no words exchanged.

"I guess you heard," Suggs said, releasing her.

"About Leburne? Yeah."

"Not sure what to say here, Kat. 'I'm sorry' doesn't seem appropriate."

"I know what you mean."

"I just wanted to know I was thinking of you. I'm glad you're here."

"Thanks."

Suggs raised his bottle. "You need a beer."

"That I do," Kat agreed.

There was no bar, just a bunch of coolers and kegs in the corner. Ever the gentleman, Suggs opened the bottle with his wedding band. They clinked bottles and drank. With all due respect to the Bob Barker or Drew Carey look-alike, Kat had traveled here to talk to Suggs. She just wasn't sure how to begin.

Suggs helped her out. "I heard you visited Leburne before he died."

"Yeah."

"What was that like?"

"He said he didn't do it."

Suggs smiled as though she'd just told him a joke that he was pretending he found amusing. "Did he, now?"

"He was on a mess of drugs."

"So I guess he was telling one last lie."

"Just the opposite. They were more like a truth serum. He admitted killing others. But he said that he just took the blame for Dad's murder because he was serving life anyway."

Suggs took a long sip of beer. He was probably in his early sixties. He still had a full head of gray hair, but what always struck her about him--what struck most people about him--was that he had the kindest face. Not handsome or even striking. Just kind. You couldn't help but like a man with that face. Some people look like jack-offs, even though they may be the sweetest person in the world. Suggs was the opposite--you couldn't imagine a man with this face could be anything but trustworthy.

You had to remind yourself that it was just a face.

"I found the gun, Kat."

"I know."

"It was hidden in his house. In a false panel under his bed."

"I know that too. But didn't you ever find that odd? The guy was always so careful. He'd use his weapon and dump it. But suddenly, you find the murder weapon stashed with his unused guns."

The quasi amused smile stayed on his lips. "You look like your old man, you know that?"

"Yeah, so I hear."

"We had no other suspects or even theories."

"Doesn't mean there weren't any."

"Cozone put out a hit. We had a murder weapon. We had a confession. Leburne had means and opportunity. It was a righteous bust."

"I'm not saying you guys didn't do good work."

"Sure sounds like it."

"There are just some pieces that don't fit."

"Come on, Kat. You know how these things go. It is never a perfect fit. That's why we have trials and defense lawyers who keep telling us, even when the case is completely solid, that there are holes or inconsistencies or that the prosecution's case doesn't"--he made quote marks with his fingers--"fit."

The band stopped playing. Someone took the microphone and began a long-winded toast. Suggs turned and watched. Kat leaned closer to him and said, "Can I ask you one more question?"

He kept his eyes on the speaker. "I couldn't stop you if I still carried my piece."

"Why did Stagger go up to see Leburne the day after he was arrested?"

Suggs blinked a few times before turning his face toward her. "Come again?"

"I saw the visitors' logs," Kat said. "The day after the feds arrested Leburne, Stagger interrogated him."

Suggs mulled it over. "I would say something like 'I think you're mistaken,' but my guess is, you've already confirmed it."

"Did you know about it?"

"No."

"Stagger never told you?"

"No," Suggs said again. "Did you ask him?"

"He said he went up on his own because he was obsessed with the case. That he was impetuous."

"Impetuous," Suggs repeated. "Good word."

"He also said that Leburne didn't talk to him."

Suggs started peeling the label off his beer. "So what's the big deal, Kat?"

"Maybe nothing," she said.

They both stood there, pretending to listen to the speaker.

Then Suggs asked: "When did Stagger visit exactly?"

"The day after Leburne was arrested," Kat said.

"Interesting."

"Why?"

"Leburne didn't even come up on our radar until, what, a week later."

"Yet Stagger was up there first."

"Could have been a good hunch on his part."

"One you and Rinsky missed, I guess."

Suggs frowned. "You really think I'm going to take that bait, Kat?"

"Just saying. It's bizarre, right?"

Suggs made a maybe-yes/maybe-no gesture. "Stagger was gung ho, but he was also pretty good about leaving us alone. He respected that Rinsky and I were running the investigation. The only thing we let him do was run down that fingerprint hit, but by then, we already had Leburne dead to rights."

Kat felt a small tingle in the base of her spine. "Wait, what fingerprint?"

"It was nothing. A dead end."

She put a hand on his sleeve. "Are you talking about the fingerprint found at the murder scene?"

"Yep."

Kat couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I thought you never got a hit on it."

"Not while the case was live. It was no big deal, Kat. We got an ID a few months after Leburne confessed, but the case was already closed."

"So you just let it go?"

He looked crestfallen by her question. "You know Rinsky and me better than that. No stone unturned, right?"

"Right."

"Like I said, Stagger checked it out for us. Turns out it was some homeless guy who offed himself. A dead end."

Kat just stood there.

"I don't like the expression on your face, Kat."

"The fingerprints," she said. "Would they still be in the file?"

"I guess so. I mean, sure. It would be in the warehouse by now, but maybe--"

"We need to run them again," Kat said.

"I'm telling you. It's nothing."

"Then do it for me, okay? As a favor. To shut me up, if nothing else."

Across the room, the speaker finished up. The crowd applauded. The tuba started up. The rest of the band followed.

"Suggs?"

He didn't reply. He left her alone then, winding his way through the crowd. His friends called out to him. He ignored them and headed toward the exit.





Chapter 20


Brandon needed to walk it out.

His mom would be proud of that. Like every parent, Brandon's mom bemoaned the time her child spent in front of screens--computers, televisions, smartphones, video games, whatever. It was a constant battle. His dad had understood better. "Every generation has something like this," he'd tell Brandon's mother. Mom would throw her hands up. "So we just surrender? We let him stay in that dark cage all day?" "No," Dad would counter, "but we put it in perspective."

Dad was good at that. Putting things in perspective. Offering a calming influence on friends and family. In this case, Dad would explain it to Brandon like this: Way back when, parents would bemoan the lazy child who always had their nose in a book, telling the child they should get out more, that they should experience life instead of reading it.

"Sound familiar?" Dad would say to Brandon.

Brandon would nod his head.

Then, Dad said, when he was growing up, his parents were always yelling at him to turn off the television and either get outside or--and this was kind of funny when you remember the past--read a book instead.

Brandon remembered how his dad had smiled when he told him that.

"But, Brandon, do you know what the key is?"

"No, what?"

"Balance."

Brandon hadn't really understood what he meant at the time. He'd been only thirteen. Maybe he would have pressed the point if he knew that his father would be dead three years later. But no matter. He got it now. Doing any one thing--even something fun--for too long isn't good for you.

So the problem with taking long walks outside or any of that nature stuff was, well, it was boring. The worlds online may be virtual, but they were constant stimuli in constant flux. You saw, you experienced, you reacted. It never bored. It never got old because it was always changing. You were always engrossed.

Conversely, walking like this--in the wooded area of Central Park called the Ramble--was blah. He looked for birds--according to the web, the Ramble "boasted" (that was the word the website used) approximately 230 bird species. Right now, there were zero. There were sycamores and oaks and plenty of flowers and fauna. No birds. So what was the big deal about walking through trees?

He could, he guessed, understand walking through city streets a little better. At least there was stuff to see--stores and people and cars, maybe someone fighting over a taxi or arguing over a parking spot. Action, at least. The woods? Green leaves and some flowers? Nice for a minute or two, but then, well, Dullsville.
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