Missing you, p.16
Missing You, p.16
"You know the Phelps family, correct?"
He still had the prayer position going. Now he leaned it against his nose as though this were a tough question. "Very well."
"You were friends with Brandon's father."
A shadow crossed his face. His voice was suddenly soft: "Yes."
"In fact," Kat said, weighing her own words before letting them out, "of all the people the Phelpses could have trusted to handle their affairs, you were the one the family chose. That says a great deal not just for your business acumen--let's face it, there is no shortage of supposed geniuses down here--but my guess is that they chose you because they trusted you. Because you cared about their well-being."
Martin Bork let his eyes slide over to Brandon. Brandon just stared back at him. "I care about them very much."
"And you know that Brandon and his mother are close."
"I do. But that doesn't mean that she shares all of her fiduciary matters with him."
"Yes, she does," Brandon said, trying to keep the whine out of his voice. "That's why she gave me the passwords and account numbers. We don't keep secrets like that."
"He has a point," Kat added. "If his mother wanted to transfer money without his knowledge, wouldn't she have used another account?"
"I can't say," Bork said. "Perhaps Brandon should call her."
"Did you?" Kat asked.
"Before you made the transaction. Did you call Mrs. Phelps?"
"She called me," he said.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss--"
"Could you call her now?" Kat asked. "I mean, just to double-check."
"What's going on here?"
"Just call her, okay?"
"What will that prove?"
"Uncle Marty?" All eyes turned to Brandon. "I haven't heard from her in five days. It's like she just disappeared."
Bork gave Brandon a look that aimed to be sympathetic but landed firmly in the patronizing camp. "Don't you think it's time to cut the apron strings, Brandon? Your mother has been lonely for a long time."
"I know that," Brandon snapped. "Don't you think I know that?"
"I'm sorry." Bork started to rise. "For reasons both legal and ethical, I can't help you."
So much for trying the nice route. "Sit down, Mr. Bork."
He stopped mid-rise and looked at her, stunned. "Excuse me?"
"Brandon, wait out in the hall."
"Go," Kat said.
She didn't need to tell him twice. Brandon was out the door, leaving Kat alone with Martin Bork. Bork was still half standing, his mouth agape.
"I said sit down."
"Are you out of your mind?" Bork asked. "I'll have your badge."
"Yeah, that's a good one. The badge threat. Are you going to call the mayor or my immediate superior? I love both of those lines too." She gestured to the phone. "Call Dana Phelps right now."
"I'm not taking orders from you."
"Do you really think I'm here as a favor to her kid? This is an ongoing investigation into a dangerous series of crimes."
"Then show me a warrant."
"You don't want a warrant, believe me. You see, warrants require judges and then we have to go through everything, every file in your office, every account--"
"You can't do that."
True. It was a bluff, but what the hell. Better to come off a little crazy, a little unhinged. Kat lifted the receiver. "I'm asking you to make one call."
Bork hesitated for a moment. Then he took out his smartphone, found Dana Phelps's mobile number, and dialed it. Kat heard it ring once and then the voice mail picked up. Dana Phelps's happy voice asked the caller to leave a brief message. Bork hung up.
"She's probably on the beach," he said.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it."
"Your client transferred a quarter of a million dollars out of this country."
"Which is her right."
Realizing he said too much, Bork blanched as soon as the words came out of his mouth. Kat nodded at the mistake. So the money had been sent out of the country. She hadn't known that.
"It was completely on the up-and-up," Bork said, his explanation coming fast. "This company has a protocol with a transfer this substantial. Perhaps in the movies, it can be done with a just a few clicks on a computer. But not here. Dana Phelps made the request. I personally spoke to her on the phone about it."
"Do you know where she called from?"
"No. But she called from her own cell phone. I don't understand. What do you think happened here?"
Kat wasn't sure how to answer. "I can't reveal the full extent of my investigation."
"And I can't tell you anything without Dana's permission. She gave me strict instructions to keep this confidential."
Kat cocked her head. "Didn't you find that odd?"
"What? Keeping things confidential?" Bork considered that. "Not in this case."
"It isn't my job to judge. It is my job to honor the request. Now if you'll excuse me . . ."
But Kat still had one major card to play. "I assume you reported this transaction to FinCEN?"
Bork stiffened. Pay dirt, Kat thought. FinCEN stood for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a scary division of the Department of the Treasury. FinCEN looks at suspicious financial activity in the hopes of combating money laundering, terrorism, fraud, tax evasion, stuff like that.
"A transaction this big," Kat said. "It has to send up a red flag, don't you think?"
Bork tried to play it cool. "I have no reason to suspect that Dana Phelps has done anything illegal."
"Okay, then you won't mind me calling Max."
"He's my pal with FinCEN. I mean, if everything is on the up-and-up--"
"Cool." She took out her cell phone. It was another bluff, but an effective one. There was no Max at FinCEN, but then, how hard would it be to report something like this to the Department of the Treasury? She smiled now, trying again to look a bit unhinged. "I got nothing else, so I might as well--"
"There's no need for that."
"Dana . . ." He looked at the door. "I'm betraying a trust here."
"You can explain it to me," Kat said, "or you can explain it to Max and his team. Up to you."
Bork started to bite on his manicured thumbnail. "Dana asked for confidentiality here."
"To cover up a crime?"
"What? No." Bork leaned forward and spoke softly. "Off the record?"
Off the record. Did he think she was a reporter?
"Her transaction, I admit, is rather unconventional. We may indeed file an SAR, though I have thirty days to do it."
SAR stood for Suspicious Activity Report. By law, a transaction of this size out of the country should require that the financial institution or individual notify the Department of the Treasury. It isn't written in stone, but the large majority of honest institutions would do it.
"Dana asked for a little time first."
"What do you mean?"
"Again nothing illegal."
He looked toward the corridor. "You can't tell Brandon this."
"I mean it. Dana Phelps specifically requested that no one, especially her son, know about her plans."
Kat leaned in closer. "My lips are sealed."
"I wouldn't be telling you any of this--in fact, I shouldn't be--but my job is also to protect my clients and my business. I don't know what Dana would say, but my feeling is that she would not want her confidential wire transfer--one that her child should have never seen, by the way--scrutinized by the Department of the Treasury. Not because it is illegal. But because that could present a host of problems and attention."
Kat waited. Bork wasn't really talking to her right now. He was talking to himself, trying to find a justification to give her information.
"Dana Phelps is buying a house."
Kat wasn't sure what she was expecting him to say, but that wasn't it. "What?"
"In Costa Rica. Five-bedroom beach villa on the Peninsula Papagayo. Stunning. Right on the Pacific Ocean. The man she's traveling with? He proposed."
Kat just sat there. The word proposed turned into a stone and dropped down some internal mine shaft. She could see it all--the gorgeous stretch of beach, the coconut trees (were there coconut trees in Costa Rica? Kat didn't know), Jeff and Dana strolling hand in hand, a gentle kiss, lounging together on a hammock as the sun set in the distance.
"You have to understand," Bork continued. "Dana has not had it easy since her husband's death. She raised Brandon by herself. He wasn't an easy kid. His father's death . . . it really affected him. I won't get into more details than that, but now that Brandon's in college, well, Dana is ready for a life of her own. You can understand that, I'm sure."
Kat head spun. She tried to push away thoughts of a life in a beach villa and concentrated on the task at hand. What had the last text Dana sent her son said again? Something about having a great time and a big surprise . . .
"Anyway, Dana is getting married. She and her new husband may even decide to move down there permanently. Naturally, this is not news she wants to break to Brandon over the phone. That's why she's been incommunicado."
Kat said nothing, still trying to process. A proposal. A beach villa. Not wanting to tell her son on the phone. Did all that add up?
"So Dana Phelps, what, wired the money to the home owner?"
"No, she transferred the money to herself. The real estate transaction involves some complicated local issues that require a level of discretion. It isn't my job to pry further than that. Dana opened a legal account in Switzerland and wired money from another account to fund it."
"She opened a Swiss bank account in her name?"
"Which is perfectly legal." Then: "But no, not in her name."
"Whose name, then?"
Bork was working on that manicured thumbnail again. It was amazing how all men, no matter how successful, still have the little-boy insecurity in them. Finally, he said, "No name."
She understood now. "A numbered account?"
"It isn't as dramatic as it sounds. Most Swiss accounts are numbered. Are you at all familiar with them?"
She sat back. "Pretend I'm not."
"Numbered accounts are pretty much just what you think--they have a number associated with the account instead of a name. This gives you a great deal of privacy--not just for criminals, but even the most honest people who don't want their financial situations known. Your money is safe and secure."
"To some degree, yes. But not like it used to be. The United States government now can, and does, find out about the account. Everyone looks out for criminal wrongdoing and has to report it. And the secrecy only goes so far. Many people foolishly believe that no one knows whose numbered account belongs to whom. That's ridiculous, of course. Select employees of the bank know."
"I'd like the bank name and number."
"It won't do you any good. Even I can't say for sure what name is associated with that number. If you somehow take out a warrant for information, the Swiss bank will tie you up for years. So if you want to prosecute Dana Phelps for some petty crime--"
"I have no interest in prosecuting Dana Phelps. You have my word on that."
"Then what's this all about?"
"Give me the number, Mr. Bork."
"And if I don't?"
She lifted her phone. "I can still call Max."
On the way out, Kat called Chaz and gave him the Swiss bank and account number. She could almost hear his frown over the phone.
"What the hell do you want me to do with it?" Chaz asked.
"I don't know. It's a new account. Maybe we can find out if there's any new activity on it."
"You're joking, right? An NYPD cop asking for information from a major Swiss bank?"
He had a point. This was indeed the long shot of all long shots. "Just send the number to Treasury. I got a source named Ali Oscar. If anyone issues an SAR or whatever in the future, maybe it will get a hit."
"Yeah, okay. Got it."
Brandon was oddly quiet on the subway back uptown. Kat had expected him to be all over her, demanding to know why he had to leave and what Martin Bork had told her. He hadn't. He sat in the subway car, deflated, shoulders slumped. He let his body sway and rock without putting up the least resistance.
Kat sat next to him. She imagined her own body language wasn't much better. She let the truth sink in slowly. Jeff had proposed. Or should she call him Ron now? She hated the name Ron. Jeff was a Jeff. He wasn't a Ron. Did people really call him that now? Like "Hey, Ron!" Or "Look, there goes Ronnie!" Or "Yo, It's Ronald, the Ronster, Ronamama . . ."
Why the hell choose the name Ron?
Dumb thoughts, but there you go. It kept her mind off the obvious. Eighteen years was a long time. Old Jeff had been so antimaterialistic in the day, but New Ron was crazy in love with an uber-rich widow who was buying him a house in Costa Rica. She made a face. Like he was her boy toy or something. Ugh.
When they first met, Jeff was renting this wonderful craphole overlooking Washington Square. His mattress had been on the floor. There was always noise. The pipes shrieked through the walls when they weren't leaking. The place always looked like a bomb had just exploded in it. When Jeff was writing a story, he'd get every photograph he could on the subject and randomly thumbtack them to the walls. There was no organization to the process. The mess, he said, inspired him. It looked, Kat countered, like when the cops on TV break into the killer's hidden room and find pictures of the victims everywhere.
But it felt so right with him. Everything--from the smallest, most mundane activity to the crescendo, if you will, of making love--felt true and perfect with him. She missed that wonderful craphole. She missed the mess and the photographs on the wall.
God, how she had loved him.
They got off on 66th Street near Lincoln Center. There was a chill in the night air. Brandon still seemed lost in his thoughts. She let him stay there. When they got back to Kat's apartment--she really didn't think it would be good for him to be on his own right now--she asked, "Are you hungry?"
Brandon shrugged. "Guess so."
"I'll order a pizza," Kat said. "Pepperoni okay?"
Brandon nodded. He collapsed into a chair and stared at window. Kat called La Traviata Pizzeria and placed the order. She took the chair across from him.
"You're awfully quiet, Brandon."
"I was just thinking," he said.
"My dad's funeral."
Kat waited. When he didn't say anything more, Kat prodded gently. "What about it?"
"I was thinking about Uncle Marty's--that's what I call Mr. Bork--I was thinking about his eulogy. Not so much what he said, though it was really nice, but what I remember most was when it was over, he kinda rushed out of the chapel or whatever you call it. So he finished and he hurried out. I followed him. I don't know. I was still blocking on the whole thing. It was like I was just at some service and I was removed and it had nothing to do with me. Does that make any sense?"
Kat remembered the numbness at her own father's funeral. "Sure."
"Anyway, I found him in some back office. The lights were out. I could barely see him, but I could hear him. I guess he held it together for the eulogy but lost it after. Uncle Marty was on his knees and crying his eyes out. I just stood in the doorway. He didn't know I was watching him. He thought he was alone."
Brandon looked up at Kat.
"Uncle Marty told you that my mother called him, right?"
"He wouldn't lie about that."
Not sure what else to say, Kat went with "That's good to know."
"Did he tell you why she moved the money?"
"But you're not going to tell me."
"He said your mother asked for confidentiality."
Brandon kept his eyes on the window.
"My mom dated another guy. Not someone she met online. He lived in Westport."
"When was this?"
Brandon shrugged. "Maybe two years after my father died. His name was Charles Reed. He was divorced. He had two kids who lived with their mom in Stamford. He got them on the weekends and some night during the week, I don't know."
"So what happened?"
"Me," Brandon said. "I happened." A strange smile came to his face. "When you visited Detective Schwartz, did he tell you I'd been arrested?"
"He said there had been some incidents."
"Yeah, well, they cut me a lot of slack, I guess. See, I didn't want my mom dating anyone. I kept picturing, you know, this guy taking over for my dad--living in my dad's house, sleeping on his side of the bed, using my dad's closet and drawers, parking his car in my dad's spot. You know what I mean?"
"Of course," Kat said. "Those feelings are natural."
"So that's when I started 'acting out'"--he made finger quotes--"as my therapist used to say. I got suspended from school. I slashed a neighbor's tires. When the police would bring me home, I'd be smiling. I wanted her to suffer. I'd tell my mom it was all her fault. I'd tell her I was doing this because she was betraying my father." He blinked hard and rubbed his chin. "One night, I called her a whore."
"What did she do?"
"Nothing," Brandon said with a faraway chuckle. "She didn't say a word. She just stood there and stared at me. I will never forget the look on her face. Never. But it didn't stop me. I just kept at it until, well, Charles Reed was gone."
Kat leaned toward him. "Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because I blew that for her. He was a nice enough guy, I guess. Maybe he would have made her happy. So I'm asking you, Kat. Am I doing that to her again?" Brandon turned and met her gaze. "Am I screwing this up for my mom, like I did last time?"
Kat tried to step back and look at it like, well, a detective. What did they really have? A mother goes away and doesn't contact her son. If that had been out of character or unusual, hadn't Martin Bork clarified her reasons for that? As for the ATM transaction and surveillance tape, what had Kat really found? A black limousine and a driver waiting for her--which perfectly fit into the explanation Dana Phelps had given her regular limo company: Her boyfriend had sent the limousine for her.
Missing You by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes