Missing you, p.21
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       Missing You, p.21

          

  There seemed little to lose and so much to gain.

  So yes, as Martha stood by the door watching the chauffeur make his approach, she was both terrified and excited. There was also another damn quote on Sandi's wall, something about taking risks and doing one thing every day that scares you. If that was in any way the meaning of life, Martha had managed to never live even a single moment.

  She had never been so scared. She had never felt so alive.

  Sandi threw her arms around her. Martha hugged her back.

  "I love you," Sandi said.

  "I love you too."

  "I want you to have the best time in the whole world, you hear me?"

  Martha nodded, afraid that she'd cry. The chauffeur knocked on the door. Martha opened it. He introduced himself as Miles and took her suitcase.

  "This way, madame."

  Martha followed him out to the car. Sandi came too. The chauffeur put her suitcase in the trunk and opened the door for her. Sandi hugged her again.

  "Call me for anything," Sandi said.

  "I will."

  "If it doesn't feel right or you want to go home . . ."

  "I'll call you, Sandi. I promise."

  "No, you won't because you'll be having too much fun." There were tears in Sandi's eyes. "You deserve this. You deserve happiness."

  Martha tried very hard not to cry. "I'll see you in two days."

  She slipped into the back. The driver closed the door. He got into the front seat and drove her toward her new life.

  Chapter 27

  Chaz drove a Ferrari 458 Italia in a color he insisted on calling fly yellow.

  Kat frowned. "Label me unsurprised."

  "I call it the Chick Trawler," Chaz told her, handing her a Superman key chain.

  "A better name might be the Overcompensation."

  "Huh?"

  "Never mind."

  Three hours later, when the female GPS voice said, "You have arrived at your destination," Kat was sure it was some kind of mistake.

  She double-checked the address. This was the place--909 Trumbull Road. Northampton, Massachusetts. Home, according to both the web and online yellow pages, of Parsons, Chuback, Mitnick and Bushwell Investments and Securities.

  Kat parked on the street between a Subway and a beauty salon called Pam's Kickin' Kuts. She had expected the office to be something akin to Lock-Horne Investments and Securities, albeit on a small-town scale, but this place looked more like a weathered Victorian B&B, what with the salmon-pink door and the browning ivy climbing a white lattice.

  An old lady in a housedress rocked on the lemonade porch. Her legs had varicose veins that could have doubled as garden hoses.

  "Help you?" she said.

  "I'm here to see Mr. Chuback."

  "He died fourteen years ago."

  Kat wasn't sure what to make of that. "Asghar Chuback?"

  "Oh, right, Chewie. You say mister, I think of his dad, you know what I mean? To me, he's just my Chewie." She had to rock the chair a bit to make her way to a standing position. "Follow me."

  A fleeting wish that she had brought Chaz with her as backup whisked through her. The old lady brought her inside and opened the basement door. Kat didn't reach for her gun, but she was very aware of where it was and rehearsed in her head, as she often did, how she'd pull it out.

  "Chewie?"

  "What, Ma? I'm busy down here."

  "Someone here to see you."

  "Who?"

  The old lady looked at Kat. Kat shouted, "Detective Donovan, NYPD."

  A big mountain of a man lumbered over to the bottom of the basement stairs. His receding hair was pulled back into a tiny ponytail. His face was wide and sweaty. He wore baggy cargo shorts and a T-shirt that read TWERK TEAM CAPTAIN.

  "Oh, right. Come on down."

  The old lady said, "Would you care for an Orangina?"

  "I'm good," Kat said, descending the stairway. Chuback waited for her. He wiped his hands on his shirt before shaking her hand with a meaty paw. "Everyone calls me Chewie."

  He was thirty, maybe thirty-five, with a bowling-ball gut and thick, pale legs like marble pillars. There was a Bluetooth jammed into his ear. The basement looked like Mike Brady's office with wood paneling and clown paintings and tall filing cabinets. The desk area was made up of work benches, three of them forming a U, all loaded up with a dizzying variety of screens and computers. There were two huge leather chairs on large white pedestals. The arms of the chairs were covered with colorful buttons.

  "You're Asghar Chuback," Kat said.

  "I prefer being called Chewie."

  "Senior partner at Parsons, Chuback, Mitnick and Bushwell?"

  "That's me."

  Kat glanced around. "And who are Parsons, Mitnick, and Bushwell?"

  "Three guys I played basketball with in fifth grade. I just use their names for the masthead. Sounds fancy, though, right?"

  "So the entire investment firm . . ."

  "Is me, yep. Hold on a second." He tapped the Bluetooth. "Yeah, right, no, Toby, I wouldn't sell it yet. Have you seen the commodities in Finland? Trust me on this. Okay, I'm with another client. Let me call you back."

  He tapped the Bluetooth to hang up.

  "So," Kat asked, "was your mom the secretary my partner spoke with?"

  "No, that was me too. I have a voice changer on the phone. I can also be Parsons, Mitnick, or Bushwell if a client wants a second opinion."

  "That's not fraud?"

  "I don't think so, but truth? I make my clients so much money they don't much care." Chewie pulled joysticks and gaming consoles off the two large chairs. "Have a seat."

  Kat stepped onto the pedestal and sat. "Why does this chair look familiar to me?"

  "They're Captain Kirk's chairs from Star Trek. Replicas, sadly. I couldn't buy the original. You like? Truth? I'm not a Star Trek guy. Battlestar Galactica was so my thing, but these chairs are pretty comfy, right?"

  Kat ignored the question. "You recently issued a Suspicious Activities Report on a certain Swiss bank account, is that correct?"

  "It is, but why are you here?"

  "Pardon?"

  "You're NYPD, right? SARs go to the Financial Crime Enforcement Network. That's the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Treasury, not the city police department."

  Kat used the armrests, careful not to hit any of the buttons. "The account has come up in a case I'm investigating."

  "In what way?" he asked.

  "That's not something I'm willing to discuss."

  "Oh, that's too bad." Chuback rose from his chair and stepped down from the pedestal. "Let me show you out."

  "We aren't done here, Mr. Chuback."

  "Chewie," he said. "And yes, I think we are."

  "I could report this whole operation."

  "Go ahead. I'm a licensed financial adviser working in conjunction with an FDIC-insured banking institution behind me. I can call myself whatever I want. I filled out the Suspicious Activity Report because I am law-abiding and had concerns, but I'm not about to betray my clients or their financial confidences blindly."

  "What kind of concerns?"

  "I'm sorry, Detective Donovan. I need to know what you're after here, or I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

  Kat debated how to play it, but a grown man named Chewie had given her little choice. "I'm investigating another case where someone deposited a large sum of money in a numbered Swiss bank account."

  "And it was the same account I reported?" Chuback asked.

  "Yes."

  He sat back down and drummed his fingers over the multicolored Captain Kirk lights. "Hmm."

  "Look, as you pointed out, I'm not with the Department of Treasury. If your client is money laundering or evading taxes, I don't care."

  "What are you investigating exactly?"

  Kat decided to go for it. Maybe it would shock him into some kind of admission. "A missing woman."

  Chuback went slack-jawed. "Are you serious?"

  "I am."

  "And you think my client is somehow involved?"

  "I don't have a clue, quite frankly. But that's what I'm after. I don't care about financial improprieties. If you're willing to protect a client who may be involved in some kind of kidnapping--"

  "Kidnapping?"

  "--or abduction, I don't know--"

  "I'm not, no. Are you serious?"

  Kat leaned forward. "Please tell me what you know."

  "This whole thing," Chuback said. "None of it adds up." He pointed to the ceiling. "I have security cameras everywhere in this room. They're recording everything we say. I want your word--and I realize that your power is limited--that you'll help my client rather than aggressively prosecute him."

  Him. So at least she knew the gender now. She didn't bother hemming and hawing. The recording would be meaningless in a court of law anyway. "You have it."

  "My client's name is Gerard Remington."

  She scoured her memory banks, but the name meant nothing to her. "Who is he?"

  "A pharmaceutical chemist."

  Still nothing. "So what happened exactly?"

  "Mr. Remington instructed me to transfer the bulk of his account to that Swiss bank account. That's not illegal, by the way."

  Again with the illegal. "So why did you report it?"

  "Because the activity could indeed be considered suspicious. Look, Gerard isn't just a client. He's also my cousin. His mom and my mom--that's the lady who showed you in--were sisters. His mom died a long time ago, so we're pretty much all the family he has. Gerard is a bit, well, he's on the spectrum, as they say. If he were younger, someone would have categorized him as autistic or having Asperger's or something like that. He's a genius in many ways--he's a helluva scientist--but socially he is inept." Chuback spread his arms and smiled. "And yes, I realize how strange that sounds coming from a grown man who lives with his mother and sits in Star Trek chairs."

  "So what happened?"

  "Gerard called me and asked me to wire money into this Swiss bank account."

  "Did he say why?"

  "No."

  "What did he say exactly?"

  "Gerard said that it was his money and that he didn't have to give me a reason. I pressed a little more. He said he was starting a new life."

  A cold blast ran down her neck. "What did you make of that?"

  Chuback rubbed his chin some more. "I thought it was bizarre, but when it comes to people's money, well, bizarre is almost the norm. I also have a fiduciary responsibility to him. If he asks for confidentiality, I have to honor it."

  "But you didn't like it," Kat said.

  "No, I didn't. It was out of character for him. But there wasn't much I could do."

  Kat saw where this was heading. "Of course, you also have a fiduciary responsibility to the law."

  "Exactly."

  "So you filled out the SAR, half hoping someone might investigate."

  He shrugged, but Kat could see that she had hit bone. "And here you are."

  "So where is Gerard Remington now?"

  "I don't know. Overseas somewhere."

  Kat felt another frosty skin prick. Overseas. Like Dana Phelps. "By himself?"

  Chuback shook his head, turned around, and hit his keyboard. The screens all came to life, showing what Kat assumed was his screen saver: a curvaceous woman who looked as though she'd just stepped out of the pornographic dream of a fifteen-year-old boy--or to say the same thing in a slightly different way, the sort of evocative image you see almost every time you go on the Internet. The woman's smile was come-hither. Her lips were full. Her bosom was large enough to qualify for financial aid.

  Kat waited for him to press another button, so the screen-saving bimbo would disappear. But he didn't. Kat looked at Chuback. Chuback nodded.

  "Wait, are you saying your cousin went away with her?"

  "That's what he told my mother."

  "You're kidding, right?"

  "That's what I said. I mean, Gerard's a nice guy and all, but a chick who looks like this? Way out of his league. See, my cousin can be rather naive. I was concerned."

  "Concerned in what way?"

  "At first, I thought that maybe he was being conned. I'd read about guys who meet girls online who get them to carry drugs to South America or do something stupid. Gerard would be the perfect mark."

  "And you don't think that anymore?"

  "I don't know what to think," Chuback said. "But when he made the transfer, he told me that he's very much in love. He wants to start a new life with her."

  "And that didn't sound like a con to you?"

  "Of course it did, but what could I do about it?"

  "Report it to the police."

  "And say what? My weird client wants me to transfer his money to a Swiss bank account? Come on. Plus, there was still financial confidentiality."

  "He swore you to secrecy," Kat said.

  "Right, and in my business, that's like confessing to a priest."

  Kat shook her head. "So you did nothing."

  "Not nothing," he said. "I filled out an SAR. And now here you are."

  "Do you know the woman's name?"

  "Vanessa something."

  "Where does your cousin live?"

  "It's about a ten-minute drive."

  "Do you have a key?"

  "My mom does."

  "Then let's go."

  *

  Chuback unlocked the door and ducked inside. Kat followed, her eyes scanning ahead. Gerard Remington's home was indecently neat and clean and organized. It looked more like something behind glass--something for show--than a true human habitat.

  "What are you looking for?" Chuback asked.

  It used to be that you would start opening drawers and closets. Now searches were often simpler. "His computer."

  They searched the desk. Nothing. They searched the bedroom. More nothing. Not under the bed or on the night table.

  "He only has a laptop," Chuback said. "He may have taken it with him."

  Damn.

  Kat started going old school--that is, opening drawers and closets. Even they were impossibly neat. The socks were rolled, four sets in each row, four rows. Everything was folded. There were no loose papers or pens or coins or paper clips or matchbooks--nothing was out of place.

  "What do you think is going on?" Chuback asked.

  Kat didn't want to speculate. There was no actual evidence that any crime had been committed, other than maybe fuzzy monetary laws on moving sums of money to a foreign account. There were oddities, of course, and activities that one might deem suspicious, but right now, what could she do with that?

  Still she had some contacts at the FBI. If she learned a little more, she might be able to run it by them, get them to take a more serious look into it, though, again, what would they find?

  She had a thought. "Mr. Chuback?"

  "Call me Chewie," he said.

  "Right, Chewie. Can you e-mail me that picture of Vanessa?"

  He winked. "You into that kind of thing?"

  "Good one."

  "Lame, right? But hey, he's my cousin," he said as though that explained everything. "I'm weirded out here too."

  "Just send it to me, okay?"

  There was only one framed photograph on Gerard's desk. A black-and-white shot taken in the winter. She picked it up and took a closer look.

  Chuback came up behind her. "The little kid is Gerard. And the guy is his father. He died when Gerard was eight. I guess they liked to ice fish or something."

  They were both dressed in parkas with big, fur bomber hats. There was snow on the ground. Little Gerard held up a fish, a huge smile spread across his face.

  "You want to hear something weird?" Chuback said. "I don't think I ever saw Gerard smile like that."

  Kat put down the photograph and started checking the drawers again. The bottom drawer contained files, again neatly labeled in a handwriting that could have been a computer font. She found the bills for his Visa card and pulled out the most recent.

  "What are you looking for?" Gerard asked.

  She started to scan down the row. The first charge that stuck out was for $1,458 to JetBlue Airways. The charge gave no further details--where he planned on traveling or when--but she could trace that back pretty easily. She snapped a photograph of the charge and e-mailed it to Chaz. He could look into it. JetBlue, Kat knew, didn't offer first class, so odds were, that amount was for two round-trip tickets.

  For Gerard and the buxom Vanessa?

  The rest of his charges seemed normal. There was the cable company and his cell phone (she might need that information), electric, gas, the usual. Kat was about to put the bill back in the drawer, when she saw it near the bottom.

  The payee was a company called TMJ Services.

  That didn't strike her as anything unusual. She probably would have passed it by except for the amount.

  $5.74.

  And then she thought about the name. TMJ. Now reverse the order of those initials. TMJ becomes JMT. How discreet.

  JMT billing for $5.74.

  Like Dana Phelps, like Jeff Raynes, like Kat Donovan herself, Gerard Remington had been using YouAreJustMyType.com.

  *

  When Kat was back in the fly-yellow Ferrari, she called Brandon Phelps.

  He answered with a tentative. "Hello?"

  "How are you, Brandon?"

  "I'm okay."

  "I need a favor."

  "Where are you?" he asked.

  "I'm driving back from Massachusetts."

  "What's up there?"

  "I'll fill you in in a little while. But right now, I'm sending you a photograph of a rather robust woman."

  "Huh?"

  "She's in a bikini. You'll see. Remember that image-search thing you did on the pictures of Jeff?"

  "Yes."

  "I want you to do the same thing with her picture. See if she's online anywhere. I need a name, address, whatever you can get on her."

  "Okay," he said slowly. Then: "This doesn't have anything to do with my mother, does it?"

  "It might."

  "How?"

  "It's a long story."

  "Because if you're still looking for my mother, I think you should probably stop."

  That surprised her. "Why?"

  "She called me."

  "Your mother?"

  "Yes."

  Kat pulled the Ferrari off onto the shoulder. "When?"

  "An hour ago."

  "What did she say?"

  "She said that she'd just gotten e-mail access and saw all my e-mails and that everything was fine. She said that I should stop worrying, that she was really happy and might even stay a few days longer."

 
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