Missing you, p.22
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       Missing You, p.22

          

  "What did you say?"

  "I asked her about the money transfer."

  "What did she say?"

  "She kinda got angry. She said it was personal and that I had no right to be poking through her stuff."

  "Did you tell her that you'd gone to the police?"

  "I told her about Detective Schwartz. I think she called him after me. I didn't tell her about you, though."

  Kat wasn't sure what to make of all this.

  "Kat?"

  "Yeah?"

  "She said that she'd be home soon and that she had a big surprise for me. Do you know what it is?"

  "I might."

  "Does it have something to do with your old boyfriend?"

  "It might."

  "My mom asked me to leave it alone. I think maybe what she's doing with the money isn't completely legal and that asking around will get her in some kind of trouble."

  Kat sat in the car, frowning. Now what? There had been so little evidence of any wrongdoing before. Now that Dana Phelps had called her son and probably Detective Schwartz, there was literally nothing here but a bizarre paranoid conspiracy theory coming from an NYPD detective who had recently been given a leave by her superior because, well, she had voiced another bizarre paranoid conspiracy theory.

  "Kat?"

  "Will you do that image search for me, Brandon? That's all I'm asking right now. Run that search."

  There was a brief hesitation. "Yeah, okay."

  Another call was coming in, so Kat said a quick good-bye and took it.

  Stacy said, "Where are you?"

  "I'm in Massachusetts, but I'm heading back home. Why?"

  "I found Jeff Raynes."

  Chapter 28

  Titus was lying on the grass, staring up into the perfect night sky. Before he moved to this farm, he half believed that stars and constellations were the stuff of fairy tales. He wondered whether the stars simply didn't shine in the big city or if he had just never taken the time to lie down like this, his fingers interlaced behind his head, and look up. He'd found a constellations map online and printed it out. For a while, he would bring it out here with him. He didn't need it now.

  Dana Phelps was back in her box.

  She was tougher than most, but in the end, when the lies and distortions and threats and confusion do not guarantee cooperation, all Titus had to do was hold up a picture of a child, and a parent fell in line.

  Dana had made the call. Eventually, they always do. There had been one man who tried to warn the caller. Titus had cut him off immediately. He had debated killing the man right then and there, but instead, he let Reynaldo work on him with the old Amish pruning saw in the barn. The blade was dull, but that just made Reynaldo enjoy himself more. Three days later, Reynaldo brought him back. The man begged on his knees to cooperate. He would have clasped his hands in prayer position, but all his fingers were gone.

  And so it goes.

  Titus heard the footsteps. He kept his eyes on the stars until Reynaldo loomed over him.

  "Is everything okay with the new arrival?" Titus asked.

  "Yes. She's in her box."

  "Did she pack her laptop?"

  "No."

  Not surprising. Martha Paquet had been more reticent than others. Her getaway to this farm hadn't been a week to some reclusive warm-weather locale. They had instead broken her in with something more digestible--two nights at a bed-and-breakfast in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. It had seemed at first as though Martha wouldn't take them up on it--no matter, you just cut the bait and move on--but she eventually acquiesced.

  Having her laptop would have been helpful. Most people have their lives on theirs. Dmitry could go through it and find bank accounts and passwords. They would check her smartphone, but he didn't like to leave it on too long--though unlikely, a phone that was powered on could be traced. It was why he not only took the phones but removed the batteries.

  The other difficulty was, of course, that Titus had less time to work with her. She didn't have much family, just a sister who had been encouraging Martha to take this chance. The sister might buy it if Martha decided to stay a few extra days, but there was still a small degree of urgency.

  Sometimes, when they first arrived at the farm, Titus liked to keep them locked in the underground box for hours or even days. It softened them up. But other times--and Titus was still experimenting here--it was best to get on with it and use the shock to his advantage. Eight hours ago, Martha Paquet had left her house, believing she was on her way to find true love. Since then, she had been locked in a car, assaulted when she got out of hand, stripped of her clothes, and buried in a dark box.

  Hopelessness was much more potent when it started out as hope. Think about it: If you want to drop something so it lands hard and cracks, you first have to lift it up as high as possible.

  Put more simply, there has to be hope in order to take it away.

  Titus stood in one fluid motion. "Send her up the path."

  He made his way back to the farmhouse. Dmitry was waiting for him. He had the computer up. Dmitry was computer savvy, but his expertise didn't factor into this work all that much. It was Titus's job to get their account numbers, their e-mails, their passwords--all the information. Once you had that, all you needed to do was plug them into the proper prompts.

  Reynaldo would be pulling Martha Paquet out of her box now. He would make her hose off and then give her the jumpsuit. Titus checked the time. He still had about ten minutes. He grabbed a snack from the kitchen--he loved rice crackers with almond butter--and put a kettle of boiling water on the stove.

  There were various ways for Titus to bleed his "guests" dry. For the most part, he tried to do it slowly so no one, to keep within the metaphor, applied a tourniquet too early. Over the first few days, he would have them transfer amounts close to ten thousand dollars to various accounts he had set up overseas. The moment any money arrived, Titus transferred it to another account, then another, then another. In short, he made it virtually impossible to track.

  Just like in the old days when he watched a girl getting off a bus at the Port Authority, Titus knew that patience was key. You had to wait, letting some targets go by, so that you could find ones more ideal. With the buses, Titus would hope to encounter maybe one or two potential marks per week. But the Internet made the possibilities endless. He could hunt from a steady pool of targets on various dating sites. Many were deemed worthless immediately, but that was okay because there were so many more out there. It took time. It took patience. He wanted to make sure they didn't have much family. He wanted to make sure that a lot of people wouldn't miss them. He wanted to make sure they had adequate funds to make the enterprise profitable.

  Sometimes the mark bit. Sometimes they didn't. C'est la vie.

  Take Martha for example. She had inherited money recently from her deceased mother. She told only her sister about Michael Craig. Since their rendezvous was over a weekend, there was no reason for Martha even to tell her bosses at NRG. That would have to change, of course, but once Titus got her e-mail password, it would be easy for "Martha" to inform her employer that she had decided to take a few days off. With Gerard Remington, it was even easier. He had planned a full ten-day vacation-cum-honeymoon with Vanessa. He had notified the pharmaceutical company that he was taking some of his much accrued vacation time. Gerard was a lifelong bachelor and had virtually no family. Transferring the bulk of his account was easy to explain, and while his financial adviser had asked plenty of questions, there was really no serious issue.

  Once that was done--once Titus had taken as much as he could from Gerard or any mark--they were useless to him. They were the rind of a just-eaten orange. He obviously couldn't let them go. That would be far too risky. The safest and neatest solution? Make the person disappear forever. How?

  Put a bullet in their brains and bury them in the woods.

  A live person leaves a lot of clues. A dead body leaves some clues. But with a person simply missing, supposedly alive and seeking contentment, there were virtually no clues. There was nothing for anyone, especially overworked law enforcement officers, to investigate.

  Eventually, family members might wonder and worry. They might, weeks or months later, go to the authorities. The authorities might investigate, but in the end, these "missing" people were consenting adults who had claimed they wanted to start anew.

  There were no signs of foul play. The adults in question had given reasonable explanations for their supposed disappearance--they'd been sad and lonely and had fallen in love and wanted to start a new life.

  Who couldn't relate to that fantasy?

  On the rare occasion that someone might not buy it--that some ambitious law enforcement officer or family member might want to investigate further--what would they find? The trail was weeks old. It would never lead to an Amish farm in rural Pennsylvania, one that was still registered to Mark Kadison, an Amish farmer, who had sold the land for cash.

  Titus stood in the doorway. In the darkness, he saw the familiar movement on his left. A few seconds later, Martha shuffled into view.

  Titus was always careful. He kept his crew small and paid them well. He didn't make mistakes. And when a mistake was made, like Claude's idiotic petty greed with the ATM, Titus cut all ties and removed the threat. It was harsh perhaps, but everyone who worked here understood the rules from day one.

  Martha took another step. Titus put on a warm smile and beckoned for her to follow him inside. She made her way toward the porch, hugging herself, shivering from either cold or fear, though more likely a toxic combination of both. Her hair was wet. Her eyes had that look Titus had seen plenty of times before--like two shattered marbles.

  Titus sat in the big chair. Dmitry sat by his computer, wearing, as always, his knit cap and dashiki.

  "My name is Titus," he said in his soothing voice when she entered. "Please sit down."

  She did so. Many of them started to ask questions at this point. Some, like Gerard, clung to the belief that their newly found loved one was still out there. Titus could use that, of course. Gerard had refused to cooperate until Titus threatened to hurt Vanessa. Others see immediately what is going on.

  That seemed to be the case with Martha Paquet.

  Titus looked toward Dmitry. "Ready?"

  Dmitry adjusted his tinted glasses and nodded.

  "We have some questions for you, Martha. You are going to answer them."

  A lone tear ran down Martha's cheek.

  "We know your e-mail address. You wrote to Michael Craig often enough. What is the account's password?"

  Martha said nothing.

  Titus kept his voice low and measured. There was no need to shout. "You're going to tell us, Martha. It is just a question of time. With some people, we keep them in that box for hours or days or even weeks. With some people, we turn on the kitchen stove and hold their hand against the burner until we can't stand the smell. I don't like to do that. If we leave too many scars on a person, it means we will need to get rid of the evidence eventually. Do you understand?"

  Martha stayed still.

  Titus rose and moved toward her. "Most people--and yes, we've done this quite a few times--understand exactly what is going to happen here. We are going to rob you. If you cooperate, you will go home somewhat poorer but in perfect health. You will continue to live your life as though nothing ever happened."

  He sat on the arm of her chair. Martha blinked and shuddered.

  "In fact," Titus continued, "three months ago, we did this with someone you know. I won't mention her name because that's part of the deal. But if you think hard enough, you might figure it out. She told everyone she was going away for the weekend, but really, she was here. She gave up all the information we needed right away and we sent her home."

  This almost always worked. Titus tried not to smile as he saw the wheels in Martha's head start to work. It was a lie, of course. No one ever left the farm. But again, it wasn't merely about tearing someone down. You had to give them hope.

  "Martha?"

  He put his hand gently on her wrist. She almost screamed.

  "What's the password on your e-mail?" he asked with a smile.

  And Martha gave it to him.

  Chapter 29

  Since Kat had to return the Chick Trawler anyway, she and Stacy decided to meet up in the lobby of the Lock-Horne Building. Stacy wore a black turtleneck, sprayed-on blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Her hair cascaded down in ideal just-mussed waves, as if she simply got out of bed, shook her head, and voila, perfection.

  If Kat didn't love Stacy, she'd hate her so much.

  It was near midnight. Two women, one petite and lovely, the other huge and dressed flamboyantly, exited an elevator. Outside of them, the only person in the lobby was a security guard.

  "Where should we talk?" Kat asked.

  "Follow me."

  Stacy showed her ID to the security guard, who pointed to an elevator alone on the left. The interior was velvet lined with a padded bench. There were no buttons to press. No lights told them what floor they were approaching. Kat looked a question at Stacy. Stacy shrugged.

  The elevator stopped--Kat didn't have a clue on what floor--and they stepped onto an open-space trading floor. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of desks were laid out in neat rows. The lights were out, but the computer screens provided enough illumination to give the whole place a sinister glow.

  "What are we doing here?" Kat whispered.

  Stacy started down the corridor. "You don't have to whisper. We're alone."

  Stacy stopped in front of the door with a keypad. She typed in a code and the door unlocked with an audible click. Kat entered. It was a corner office with a pretty great view up Park Avenue. Stacy flicked on the lights. The office was done in early American Elitism. Rich burgundy leather chairs with gold buttons sat atop a forest-green oriental carpet. Paintings of foxhunts hung on dark wood paneling. The expansive desk was pure oak. A large antique globe rested next to it.

  "Someone has serious cash," Kat said.

  "My friend who owns the place."

  A wistful look crossed her face. The media had a short period of speculation about the CEO of Lock-Horne Investments and Securities, but like all stories, it died out when nothing new fed it.

  "What really happened to him?" Kat asked.

  "He just"--she spread her arms and shrugged--"checked out, I guess."

  "Nervous breakdown?"

  A funny smile came to Stacy's face. "I don't think so."

  "Then what?"

  "I don't know. His business used to take up six floors. With him gone and all the layoffs, it's down to four."

  Kat realized she was asking too many questions, but she pushed past that. "You care about him."

  "I do. But it wasn't meant to be."

  "Why not?"

  "He is handsome, rich, charming, romantic, a great lover."

  "I hear a but."

  "But you can't reach him. No woman can."

  "Yet here you are," Kat said.

  "After he and I were, uh, together, he put my name on the list."

  "The list?"

  "It's complicated. Once a woman is on it, they have access to certain spaces, in case they need time alone or whatever."

  "You're kidding."

  "Nope."

  "How many women would you guess are on this list?"

  "I don't know," Stacy said. "But I'd guess there are quite a few."

  "He sounds like a nutjob."

  Stacy shook her head. "There you go again."

  "What?"

  "Judging people without knowing them."

  "I don't do that."

  "Yeah, you do," Stacy said. "What was your first impression of me?"

  Airheaded bimbo, Kat thought. "Well, what was your first impression of me?"

  "I thought you were cool and smart," Stacy replied.

  "You were right."

  "Kat?"

  "Yes?"

  "You're asking me all these questions because you're stalling."

  "And you're answering them all because you're stalling too."

  "Touche," Stacy said.

  "So where is Jeff?"

  "Near as I can tell, Montauk."

  Kat's heart felt as though it'd been kicked. "On Long Island?"

  "Do you know another Montauk?" Then in a softer voice: "You could use a drink."

  Kat shoved the memory away. "I'm fine."

  Stacy moved toward the antique globe and lifted a handle, revealing a crystal decanter and snifters. "Do you drink cognac?"

  "Not really."

  "He only drinks the best."

  "I'm not sure I'm comfortable drinking his expensive cognac."

  Another sad smile--Stacy really liked this guy--hit her face. "He would be upset if he knew that we were here and didn't imbibe."

  "Pour, then."

  Stacy did so. Kat took a sip and managed not to gasp in ecstasy. The cognac was God's nectar.

  "Well?" Stacy asked.

  "That's the closest thing I've had to an orgasm in liquid form."

  Stacy laughed. Kat had never considered herself materialistic or someone who reveled in expensive tastes, but between the Macallan 25 and this cognac, tonight was definitely changing her thinking, at least on the alcohol front.

  "You okay?" Stacy asked.

  "Fine."

  "When I said Montauk--"

  "We were there once," Kat said quickly, "in Amagansett, not Montauk, it was wonderful, I'm over it, move on."

  "Good," Stacy said. "So here's the deal. Eighteen years ago, Jeff Raynes leaves New York City and moves to Cincinnati. We know that he got into a brawl at a bar called Longsworth's."

  "I remember that place. He took me there once. It used to be a firehouse."

  "Wow, great story," Stacy said.

  "Was that sarcasm?"

  "It was, yes. Mind if I continue?"

  "Please."

  "Jeff was arrested, but he pleaded down to a misdemeanor and paid a fine. No big deal. But here is where things get a little hairy."

  Kat took another sip. The brown liquor warmed her chest.

  "There is absolutely no sign of Jeff Raynes after the plea. Whatever made him change his name, it must have had something to do with the fight."

  "Who did he fight with?"

  "Whom."

  "Shut up."

  "Sorry. Two other men were arrested that night. They were friends, I guess. Grew up together in Anderson Township. Both also pleaded down to a misdemeanor and paid a fine. According to the arrest report, all three men were inebriated. It started when one of the guys was being rude to his girlfriend. He may have grabbed her arm hard; the testimony is a little fuzzy on that. Anyway, Jeff stepped in and told him to knock it off."

 
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