Missing you, p.19
"Where did he go, Mom?"
She closed her eyes. "Eat your sandwich."
"Was he doing jobs for Cozone?"
"Maybe." Then: "I don't think so."
Kat pulled the chair out for her mother to sit. Mom sat as though someone had cut her knees out from beneath her.
"What was he doing?" Kat asked.
"You remember Gary?"
"Right. He used to go to the track, remember? He kept losing everything they had. Flo would cry for hours. Your uncle Tommy, he drank too much. He was home every night, but rarely before eleven o'clock. He'd stop at the pub for a quick one and then it would be hours later. The men. They all needed something like that. Some drank. Some gambled. Some whored. Some, the lucky ones, found the church, though they could kill you with their sanctimonious baloney. But the point is, with men, real life was never enough. You know what my dad, your grandfather, used to say?"
Kat shook her head.
"'If a man had enough to eat, he'd want to grow a second mouth.' He also had a dirty way of saying it, but I won't repeat it here."
Kat reached out and took her mother's hand. She tried to remember the last time she had done that--reached out to her very own mother--but no memory came to her.
"What about Dad?"
"You always thought it was your father who wanted you to get out of this life. But it was me. I was the one who didn't want you stuck here."
"You hated it that much?"
"No. It was my life. It's all I have."
"I don't understand."
Mom squeezed her daughter's hand. "Don't make me face what I don't need to face," she said. "It's over. You can't change the past. But see, you can shape it with your memories. I get to choose which ones I keep, not you."
Kat tried to keep her voice gentle. "Mom?"
"Those don't sound like memories. They sound like illusions."
"What's the difference?" Mom smiled. "You lived here too, Kat."
Kat sat back in her chair. "What?"
"You were a child, sure, but a smart child, very mature for your age. You loved your father unconditionally, yet you saw him vanish. You saw through my fake smiles and all that sweetness when he came home. But you looked away, didn't you?"
"I'm not looking away now." Kat reached out her hand again. "Please tell me where he went."
"The truth? I don't know."
"But you know more than you're telling me."
"He was a good man, your father. He provided for you and your brothers. He taught you right from wrong. He worked long hours and made sure that you all got a college education."
"Did you love him?" she asked.
Mom started busying herself, rinsing a cup in the sink, putting the mayo back in the fridge. "Oh, he was so handsome when we met, your father. Every girl wanted to date him." There was a faraway look in her eye. "I wasn't so bad back then either."
"You're not so bad now."
Mom ignored the remark.
"Did you love him?"
"The best I could," she said, blinking until the faraway look was no more. "But it's never enough."
Kat started back toward the 7 train. School must have been letting out. Kids with giant backpacks shuffled by, their eyes down, most playing with their smartphones. Two girls from St. Francis Prep walked by in their cheerleader uniforms. To the shock of all who knew her, Kat had tried out for cheerleading her sophomore year. Their main cheer was the old standby: "We're St. Francis Prep, we don't come any prouder, and if you can't hear us, we'll shout it a little louder." Then you repeat the cheer louder and then louder still until it all felt a tad inane. The other cheer--she smiled at the memory--was when your team made a mistake. They'd do a quick clap while shouting, "That's all right, that's okay, we're gonna beat you anyway." A few years ago, Kat had gone to a game and noticed that they changed the cheer from "we're gonna beat you" to the more politically correct "we're gonna win."
Kat was just in front of Tessie's house when her cell phone rang. It was Chaz.
"You got my text?"
"About the license plate? Yeah, thanks."
"Yeah, I think so."
"Because," Chaz said, "there was one thing about the license plate that bothered me."
Kat squinted into the sun. "What?"
"The registration was for a black Lincoln Town Car. Not a stretch. Do you know anything about stretches?"
"Not really, no."
"They are all custom-made. You take a regular car, you strip the interior, and then you literally slice it in half. Then you pull it back, install the prefab exterior, rebuild the interior with a bar or TV or whatever."
More kids ambled past her, heading home from school. Again she thought back to her own days, when school dismissal was boisterous. None of these kids said a word. They just stared at their phones.
"Okay," Kat said, "so?"
"So James Isherwood's registration didn't read 'stretch.' It could be an oversight, no big deal. But I decided to take a deeper look. The car also doesn't have a livery license. Again, that isn't a huge deal. If the car was privately owned, that wouldn't be necessary. But the boyfriend's name isn't Isherwood, correct?"
"Correct," Kat said.
"So I looked some more. No harm, right? I called Isherwood's house."
"He wasn't home. Let me cut to the chase, okay? Isherwood lives in Islip, but he works for an energy company headquartered in Dallas. He flies out there a lot. That's where he is now. So, see, he parked his car in long-term parking."
A dark, cold shiver eased its way down the back of Kat's neck. "And someone stole his license plate."
Amateurs steal cars to commit crimes. That was messy. Stolen cars are immediately reported to the police. But if you swipe a license plate, especially a front one from some long-term garage, it could be days or weeks before the theft is reported. Even then, it is harder to spot a license plate than an entire car. With a stolen car, you can be on the lookout for a specific make and model. With a stolen license plate, especially if you're smart enough to steal it off a car with a similar make . . .
Chaz said, "Kat?"
"We need to find out everything we can about Dana Phelps. See if we can ping her phone location. Get her recent texts."
"This isn't our jurisdiction. They live in Connecticut."
The front door of Tessie's house opened. Tessie stepped outside.
"I know," Kat said. "Tell you what. E-mail all you got to a Detective Schwartz at the Greenwich Police Department. I'll contact him later."
Kat hung up the phone. What the hell was going on? She debated calling Brandon, but that seemed premature. She needed to think it through. Chaz was right--this wasn't their case. That was clear. Plus, Kat had her own issues right now, thank you very much. She would pass it on to Joe Schwartz and leave it at that.
Tessie was making her way toward her. Kat flashed back to when she was nine years old, hiding behind the kitchen door, listening to Tessie cry about being pregnant. Tessie was one of those people who kept it all hidden with a smile. She had eight kids in twelve years in an era when husbands would sooner drink from a septic tank than change a diaper. Her children were scattered around the country now as though tossed by a giant hand. Some kept moving. Usually at least one still stayed at their childhood home. Tessie didn't care. She didn't like the company or dislike it. Motherhood was over for her, at least the labor-intensive part. They could stay or they could leave. She might make the occasional tuna fish sandwich for Brian or she might not. It didn't matter to her.
"Is everything okay?" Tessie asked.
Tessie looked doubtful. "Sit with me a minute?"
"Sure," Kat said. "I'd like that."
Tessie had always been Kat's favorite of Mom's friends. During Kat's childhood, despite the chaos and exhaustion,
Maybe familiarity--accent on the familia--did indeed breed contempt.
Tessie's house was a tired Tudor. It was spacious enough, but when it had housed ten, it seemed as though the walls were buckling from the onslaught. There was a fence across the driveway. Tessie opened it so they could head into the backyard, where she kept her small garden.
"Bad year again," Tessie said, pointing toward the tomato plants. "This global warming or whatever keeps messing with my timing."
Kat sat on the bench.
"Do you want something to drink?"
"Okay, then," Tessie said, spreading her arms. "Tell me."
So Kat did.
"Little Willy Cozone," Tessie said, with a shake of her head when Kat finished. "You know he's from the neighborhood, right? Grew up on Farrington Street near the car wash."
"My older brother, Terry, graduated from Bishop Reilly with him. Cozone was a scrawny kid. Threw up in first grade at St. Mary's. Vomited all over the nun, right in the middle of class. Stunk up the whole room. The kids started picking on him after that. Called him Stinky or Smelly or something. Real original." She shook her head. "You know how he stopped it?"
"Being picked on."
"Cozone beat a kid to death when he was in fifth grade. Took a hammer to school and bashed his head in. Pried open the back of the skull with the claw part."
Kat tried not to make a face. "I didn't see that in the files."
"The records were sealed, or maybe they never convicted him, I don't know. It was kept pretty hush-hush."
Kat just shook her head.
"When Cozone was around, well, pets used to disappear from this neighborhood, if you know what I'm saying. They'd find like a paw or something in the trash. That would be it. You know he lost his whole family to violence."
"Yes," Kat said. "And all this, I mean, that's why I don't believe my dad worked for him."
"I don't know one way or the other," Tessie said.
Tessie started busying herself with the garden, retying the plants to the stakes.
"What do you know, Tessie?"
She inspected a tomato, still on the vine. It was both too small and too green. She let it go.
"You were around," Kat said. "You knew about my father's vanishing acts."
"I did, yes. Your mother used to pretend it was all okay. Even to Flo and me, she'd lie."
"Do you know where he went?"
"Not specifically, no."
"But you had some idea."
Tessie stopped fiddling with the tomatoes and stood up straight. "I'm of two minds on this."
"The obvious. It's none of my business. It's none of your business. And it all happened a long time ago. We should respect your mother's wishes."
Kat nodded. "Understandable."
"What's the other mind?"
Tessie sat down next to her. "When you're young, you think you have all the answers. You're right wing or you're left wing and the other side is a bunch of idiots. You know. When you get a little older, though, you start to more and more see the grays. Now I understand that true idiots are the ones who are certain they have the answers. It is never that simple. Do you know what I mean?"
"I'm not saying there's no such thing as right or wrong. But I'm saying what may work for some doesn't work for others. You talked before about your mother confusing memories with illusion. But that's okay. That's how she survives. Some people need illusions. And some people, like you, need answers."
"You also need to weigh the hurts," Tessie said.
"What do you mean?"
"If I tell you what I know, it is going to hurt you. A lot, probably. I love you. I don't want to hurt you."
Kat knew that Tessie, unlike Flo or even Mom, did not lean toward the melodramatic. It was not a warning to take lightly. "I can take it," Kat said.
"I'm sure you can. Plus, I have to weigh that hurt against the dull ache you feel from always wondering, from never knowing. There's a pain in that too."
"A greater pain, I'd argue," Kat said.
"And I don't disagree." Tessie let loose a long breath. "There is one more problem."
"My information. It is all based on rumors. A friend of Gary's--you remember Gary?"
"Right. So a friend of Gary's told Gary and Gary told Flo and Flo told me. So for all I know, it's a load of garbage."
"But you don't think it is," Kat said.
"Right, I don't think it is. I think it's the truth."
Tessie seemed to be bracing herself.
"It's okay," Kat said in the gentlest voice she could muster. "Tell me."
"Your father had a girlfriend."
Kat blinked twice. Tessie had warned that this revelation would hurt. It would, Kat supposed, but right now, it was as though the words were skimming the surface, not yet penetrating the skin.
Tessie kept her eyes on Kat. "I would say it's no big deal--hell, I'd bet more than half the married men in this town had girls--but there were a few things that made this case different."
Kat swallowed, trying to sort her thoughts. "Like what?"
"You sure you don't want a drink?"
"No, Aunt Tessie, I'm fine." Kat straightened her back and fought through it. "What made my father's case different?"
"For one thing, it seemed to be ongoing. Your father spent quite a bit of time with her. Most guys, it's one night, one hour, a strip club, maybe a short fling with a girl at work. This wasn't like that. This was more serious. That's what the rumors were, anyway. That's why he'd disappear. They traveled together, I guess, I don't know."
"I don't know, honey." Then: "Yes, I think so."
"Why didn't she leave him?"
Tessie smiled. "And go where, sweetheart? Your mother was raising three children. He was the provider and the husband. We didn't have options back then. Plus, well, your mother loved him. And he loved her."
Kat snorted. "You're kidding, right?"
Tessie shook her head. "See, you're young. You think things are simple. My Ed had girlfriends too. You want to know the truth? I didn't care. Better her than me, that's what I thought. I had all these kids and was always pregnant--I was happy he was leaving me alone, if you want to know the truth. You don't imagine feeling that way when you're young, but you do."
So that was it, Kat thought. Dad had a girlfriend. A whole bunch of emotions ricocheted through her. Per her yoga training, she saw the emotions, but for right now, because she needed to stay focused, she simply let them go.
"There's something else," Tessie said.
Kat raised her head and looked at her.
"You have to remember where we live. Who we are. What the times were like."
"I don't understand."
"Your father's girlfriend," Tessie said. "Well, again this is what Gary's friend said. See, a married man with another woman? No surprise, right. No one would have said boo. Gary's friend wouldn't have even noticed, except he said that this girlfriend was, um, black."
Again Kat blinked, not sure what to make of it. "Black? You mean like African American?"
Tessie nodded. "Rumor--and again, this is just rumor probably fueled by racism--but someone thought she was some prostitute he busted. That was how they met or something. I don't know, I doubt that
Kat felt dizzy. "Did my mother know?"
"I never told her, if that's what you're asking."
"That's not what I'm asking." Then Kat remembered something. "Wait, Flo told her, didn't she?"
Tessie didn't bother to confirm or deny. Now, finally, Kat knew another truth--why there had been a yearlong silence between Flo and Mom. Flo had told Mom about the black prostitute, and Mom had promptly gone into denial.
But as emotionally wrenching as this was--Kat still didn't know how she felt other than sad--it also seemed irrelevant to the issue at hand. She could cry about it later. For now, Kat needed to figure out if any of this had anything to do with her father's murder.
"Do you know the woman's name?" Kat asked.
"Not really, no."
Kat frowned. "Not really?"
"Let it go, honey."
"You know I can't," Kat said.
Tessie looked everywhere but at Kat. "Gary said her street name was Sugar."
She shrugged. "I don't know if that's true or not."
"I don't know."
The blows just kept coming. Kat wanted to curl up in a ball and ride them out, but she didn't have that luxury. "Do you know what happened to Sugar after my father's murder?"
"No," Tessie said.
"That's all I know, Kat. There's nothing more." Tessie started back on the plants again. "So what are you going to do now?"
Kat thought about it. "I'm not sure."
"You know the truth now. Sometimes that's enough."
"Sometimes," Kat agreed.
"But not this time?"
"Something like that," Kat said.
"The truth may be better than lies," Tessie said. "But it doesn't always set you free."
Kat understood that. She didn't expect to be free. She didn't expect to be happier even. She just expected . . .
There was nothing to be gained here. Her mother would be hurt. Stagger, who probably did this out of loyalty to her father, could be open to tampering charges if he convinced Monte Leburne to stay quiet or change his testimony. Kat knew the truth now. Enough anyway.
"Thank you, Aunt Tessie."
"For telling me."
"I don't think a 'you're welcome' fits here," Tessie said, bending down and picking up the spade. Then: "You're not going to leave it alone, are you, Kat?"
"No, I'm not."
Missing You by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes