Missing you, p.15
Missing You, p.15
So no, Brandon wasn't walking through this Manhattan woodland because he suddenly had an appreciation for the great outdoors or fresh air or any of that stuff. He did it because walking like this bored him. It bored him silly.
Balance for the constant stimuli.
More than that, boredom was a kind of thinking tank. It fed you. Brandon didn't take walks in the woods to calm himself or get in tune with nature. He did it because the boredom forced him to look inward, to think hard, to concentrate solely on his own thoughts because nothing around him was worthy of his attention.
Certain problems cannot be solved if you are constantly entertained and distracted.
Still, Brandon couldn't help it. He had his smartphone with him. He had called Kat, but the call had gone to her voice mail. He never left messages on voice mail--only old people did that--so he sent her a text to call him when she could. No rush. At least, not yet. He wanted to digest what he had just learned.
He stayed on the winding pathways. He was surprised at how few people he saw. Here he was in the heart of Manhattan, ambling between 73rd and 78th Street (again according to the website--he really had no idea where he was), and he felt virtually alone. He was missing school, but that couldn't be helped. He had let Jayme Ratner, his lab partner, know that he was currently out of commission. She was okay with it. Her last lab partner had something like a nervous breakdown last semester, so she was just happy he wasn't down at mental health like, it seemed, half their friends were.
His cell phone rang. The caller ID read Bork Investments. He answered.
A woman's voice asked, "Is this Mr. Brandon Phelps?"
"Please hold for Martin Bork."
The hold music was an instrumental version of "Blurred Lines." Then: "Well, hello, Brandon."
"Hello, Uncle Marty."
"Nice to hear from you, son. How's school?"
"Wonderful. Do you have plans for the summer?"
"No rush, am I right? Enjoy it, that's my advice. You'll be out in the real world soon enough. You hear what I'm saying?"
Martin Bork was nice enough, but all adults, when they start with the life advice, sound like blowhards. "I do, yes."
"So I got your message, Brandon." All business now. "What can I do for you?"
The pathway started down toward the lake. Brandon got off it and moved closer to the water's edge. "It's about my mother's account."
There was silence at the other end of the line. Brandon pressed on.
"I see she made a pretty big withdrawal."
"How did you see that?" Bork asked.
Brandon didn't like the change in tone. "Pardon?"
"While I won't confirm or deny what you just said, how did you see this supposed withdrawal?"
"I have her password, if that's what you're worried about."
"Brandon, do you have any questions about your own account?"
He moved away from the lake and started over the stream. "No."
"Then I'm afraid that I'm having to go now."
"There's nearly a quarter of a million dollars missing from my mother's account."
"I assure you that nothing is missing. If you have any questions about your mother's account, perhaps it is best if you ask her."
"You talked to her? She approved this transaction?"
"I can't say any more, Brandon. I hope you understand. But talk to your mother. Good-bye."
Martin Bork hung up.
In something of a daze, Brandon stumbled over the old stone arch into a more secluded area. The vegetation was denser up here. He finally spotted a bird--a red cardinal. He remembered reading that the Cherokees believed cardinals were daughters of the sun. If the bird flew up toward the sun, it was good luck. If the bird chose to fly downward, well, obviously the opposite would be true.
Brandon stood transfixed and waited for the cardinal to make his move.
That was why he never heard the man lurking behind him until it was too late.
Chaz, her soon-to-be-ex-partner, called Kat's cell phone. "I got it."
Kat had just gotten out of the Lincoln Center subway station, which smelled decidedly like piss, and onto 66th Street, which smelled almost as decidedly like cherry blossoms. Kat New York. A text from Brandon had been waiting for her. She called, but there was no answer, so she left a brief voice mail.
"You were trying to put in a request for a surveillance video," Chaz said. "It came in."
"Hold up, how did that happen?"
"You know how that happened, Kat."
She did, bizarre as it was. Chaz had put in the request for her. The only consistent thing she understood about people was that they are never consistent. "You could get in trouble," Kat said.
"Trouble is my middle name," he said. "Actually, my middle name is Hung Stallion. Did you tell your hot friend I'm rich?"
Yep. Consistent. "Chaz."
"Right, sorry. Do you want me to e-mail you the video?"
"That'd be great, thanks."
"Were you trying to see what car that lady got in?"
"You watched the tape?"
"That was okay, right? I'm still your partner."
Fair point, Kat thought.
"Who is she?"
"Her name is Dana Phelps. That was her son who came to see me the other day. He thinks she's missing. No one believes him."
"I'm somewhat more open-minded."
"Could you tell me why?"
"It's a long story," Kat said. "Can it wait?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"So did Dana Phelps get in a car?"
"She did," Chaz said. "More specifically, a black Lincoln Town Car stretch limo."
"Was the driver wearing a black cap and suit?"
"Well, here's the thing. The bank video didn't pick up his plates. The guy kept the car on the street. Hard enough to figure out the make."
"Well, no, not really," Chaz said.
Chaz cleared his throat, more for effect than need. "I checked Google Earth and saw that there was an Exxon station two stores down in the direction the guy was driving. I made a few calls. The gas station surveillance video captures the street."
Most people understand on some level that there are a lot of surveillance cameras out there, but very few people really get it. There are forty million surveillance cameras in the United States alone and the number keeps growing. You never go through a day without being recorded.
"Anyway," Chaz said, "the request may take another hour or two, but when we get it, we should be able to spot the license plate."
"I'll call you when it comes. Let me know if you need anything else."
"Okay," Kat said. Then: "Chaz?"
"I appreciate this. I mean, you know, uh, thanks."
"Can I have your hot friend's phone number?"
Kat hung up. Her phone rang again. The caller ID read Brandon Phelps.
But the voice on the other end wasn't Brandon's. "May I ask with whom I'm speaking?"
"You called me," Kat reminded him. "Hey, who is this? What's going on?"
"This is Officer John Glass," the man on the phone said. "I'm calling about Brandon Phelps."
Central Park's 840 acres is policed by the 22nd Precinct, the city's oldest, better known as the Central Park Precinct. Kat's father had spent eight years there in the seventies. Back then, the officers of the "two-two" were housed in an old horse stable. They still were, in a way, though a sixty-one-million-dollar renovation had given the place maybe too much of a new shine. The precinct now looked more like a museum for modern art than anything to do with law enforcement. In a typically New York City move--that is, you didn't know if it was for real or a joke--the rather impressive glass atrium had been built out of bulletproof glass. The original estimate called for the renovation to cost almost twenty million less, but in what one might also consider classically Manhattan style, the builders had unexpectedly run across old trolley tracks.
The old ghosts never quite leave this city.
Kat hurried to the front desk and asked for Officer Glass. The desk sergeant pointed at a slender black man behind her. Officer Glass was in uniform. She may have known him--Central Park Precinct was pretty close to her own 19th--but she couldn't be sure.
Glass was talking to two elderly gentlemen who looked as though they'd just come from a gin tournament in Miami Beach. One wore a fedora and used a cane. The other wore a light blue jacket and trousers the orange of a mango. Glass was taking notes. As Kat approached, she heard him tell the two old men that they could go now.
"You have our numbers, right?" Fedora asked.
"I do, thank you."
"You call us if you need us," Mango Pants said.
"I'll do that. And again, thanks for your help."
When they started away, Glass spotted her and said, "Hey, Kat."
"We know each other?"
"Not really, but my old man worked here with your old man. Your dad was a legend."
You become a legend, Kat knew, by dying on the job. "So where's Brandon?"
"He's with the doctor in the back room. He wouldn't let us take him to a hospital."
"Can I see him?"
"Sure, follow me."
"How badly was he hurt?"
Glass shrugged. "Would have been a lot worse if it hadn't been for those two reliving their youth." He gestured toward the two old men, Fedora and Mango Pants, slowly exiting the atrium.
"You know about the Ramble's, uh, flamboyant past, right?"
She nodded. Even the official Central Park website referred to the Ramble as a "gay icon" and a "well-known site for private homosexual encounters throughout the twentieth century." Back in the day, the dense vegetation and poor lighting made it perfect for so-called gay cruising. More recently, the Ramble had become not only the park's premier woodland but something of a historical landmark for the LGBT community.
"Seems those two guys met in the Ramble fifty years ago," Glass said. "So today they decided to celebrate their anniversary by going behind the old bushes and engaging in a little, uh, nostalgia."
"In the daytime?"
"They told me that, at their age, it's hard to stay up late anymore. Or even up, I guess. So anyway, they were whatevering and they heard a commotion. They ran out--I don't want to know in what stage of undress--and saw some 'homeless guy' attacking your boy."
"How did they know he was homeless?"
"That was their description, not mine. It looks like the perp sneaked up on Brandon and punched him in the face. No warning, nothing. One of our witnesses said he saw a knife. The other said he didn't, so I don't know. Nothing was stolen--there was probably no time--but this was either a robbery or some guy off his meds. Maybe an old-fashioned gay basher, though I doubt that. Despite the actions of Romeo and, uh, Romeo, the Ramble isn't known for that anymore, especially not in the daytime."
Glass opened the door. Brandon was sitting on a table, talking to the doctor. There was tape across his nose. He looked pale and skinny, but then again, he always looked that way.
The doctor turned toward Kat. "Are you his mother?"
Brandon smiled at that. For a moment, Kat was insulted, but then she realized that, first off, she was indeed old enough to have a son his age--wow, that was depressing--and second, his actual mom probably looked younger than Kat. Double depressing.
"No. Just a friend."
"I'd like him to go to the hospital," the doctor said to Kat.
"I'm fine," Brandon said.
"His nose is broken, for one thing. I also believe that he probably suffered some sort of concussion in the assault."
Kat looked over at Brandon. Brandon just shook his head.
"I'll look after him," Kat said.
The doctor shrugged his surrender and headed out the door. Glass helped them with the rest of the paperwork. Brandon never saw his attacker. He didn't seem to care much, either. He hurried through the paperwork. "I have something I need to tell you," he whispered when Glass stepped away.
"Let's concentrate first on what just happened, okay?"
"You heard Officer Glass. It was a random attack."
Kat wasn't buying that. Random? Now, when they were in the throes of . . .
There was still no evidence to suggest any crimes were taking place. Besides, what other theories were there? Had the black-suited chauffeur disguised himself as a homeless man and followed Brandon into the Ramble? That made no sense either.
When Glass walked them back into the bulletproof atrium, Kat asked him to let her know the moment they learned anything.
"Will do," Glass promised.
He shook both of their hands. Brandon thanked him, still in a rush to get outside. He sprinted away from the front door. Kat followed him up to the huge body of water--it took up an eighth of the park--called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Yes, for real.
Brandon checked his watch. "There's still time."
"To get down to Wall Street."
"Someone is stealing my mother's money."
Kat didn't want to go.
Bork Investments was located in a sleek uber-skyscraper on Vesey Street and the Hudson River in Manhattan's Financial District, a stone's throw away from the new World Trade Center. Kat had been a fairly young officer on that bright, sunny morning, but that wasn't much of an excuse. When the first tower was hit at 8:46 A.M., she was sleeping one off only eight blocks away. By the time she woke up and fought through her hangover and got down there, both towers were down and it was too late to do anything about the dead, especially her fellow officers. Many who died had come down on their own from a lot farther away. She hadn't made it in time.
Not that she could have done anything anyway.
No one could in the end. But the survivor's guilt stayed with her. She attended every cop funeral she could, standing there in uniform, feeling like a complete fraud. There were nightmares--almost everyone who was there that day had them. In life, you can forgive yourself for a lot, but for reasons that made very little rational sense, it is very hard to forgive yourself for surviving.
It was a long time ago. She didn't think about it much anymore, maybe around the anniversary. That outraged her on another level, the way time does indeed heal wounds. But since that day, Kat stayed away from this area, not that there was much reason for her to come down here anyway. This was the land of the dead, the ghosts, and the power suits with the big money. There was nothing here for her. Lots of the boys from her old neighborhood--yes, some girls too, but far fewer--had made their way here. As children, they had admired and feared their cop and firemen fathers and grew up wanting to be nothing like them. They went to St. Francis Prep and then to Notre Dame or Holy Cross, ended up selling junk bonds or derivatives, making a lot of money and getting as far away from their upbringing and roots as they could--just as their fathers had run from their fathers who had toiled in mills or starved in lands far away.
We have this sense of continuity and nostalgia in America, but in truth, every generation runs away from the one before it. Oddly enough, most of the time, they run to someplace better.
Judging by his plush office, Martin Bork had run to someplace better. Kat and Brandon waited in a conference room with a mahogany table the size of a landing strip. There was a food spread waiting--muffins, donuts, fruit salad. Brandon was starving and started wolfing down the food.
"How do you know him again?" Kat asked.
"He's our family financial adviser. He worked with my dad at a hedge fund."
Kat didn't know exactly what a hedge fund was, but the phrase never failed to make her cringe a little. She checked out the view of the Hudson River and New Jersey in the distance. One of those mega cruise ships floated north toward the piers off Twelfth Avenue, in the fifties. Passengers on deck waved. Even though there was no way they could see into this building, Kat waved back.
Martin Bork entered the room and gave a tight "Good afternoon."
Kat had expected Bork to be some fat cat with plump fingers, a tight collar, and a stroke-red flush in his skin. Wrong. Bork was short and wiry, almost like a bantamweight boxer, with olive-toned skin. She guessed his age at a youthful fifty. He wore funky designer glasses that would probably have worked better on a younger guy. There was a smoothness to his face that indicated some kind of cosmetic treatment, and a diamond stud in his left ear that traveled quickly from hip to desperate.
Bork's mouth dropped open when he saw Brandon. "My God, what happened to your face?"
"I'm fine," Brandon said.
"You don't look fine to me." He started toward him. "Did someone hit you?"
"He's fine," Kat assured him, not wanting to get off track here. "Just a minor accident."
Bork looked dubious, but there was nowhere else to go with this. "Let's sit."
He took the seat at the head of the table. Kat and Brandon grabbed the two chairs closest to him. It felt weird, three people at a table that could probably hold thirty.
Bork spoke to Kat first. "I'm not sure why you're here, Miss . . . ?"
"Donovan. Detective Donovan. NYPD."
"Yes, sorry about that. I don't quite understand why you're a part of this, though. Are you here in some official capacity?"
"Not yet," she said. "This is more informal."
"I see." Bork put both hands together in a prayer gesture. He did not bother looking at Brandon. "And I assume that this has something to do with Brandon's call to me earlier today."
"We understand that a quarter of a million dollars had been removed from his mother's account."
"Do you have a warrant, Detective?"
"I do not."
"Then not only am I under no obligation to talk to you, but it would be unethical to say more."
Kat hadn't really thought this through. She had come down here buoyed by Brandon's enthusiasm for his money discovery. Since the ATM withdrawal, there had been no activity on her credit cards or checking accounts. But yesterday, Dana Phelps made a "wire transaction"--that was how it was listed on the online statement--for approximately $250,000.
Missing You by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes