Missing you, p.23
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       Missing You, p.23

          

  "How chivalrous," Kat said.

  "To quote you, 'Was that sarcasm?'"

  "I guess so, yeah."

  "Because it sounds a little like bitterness."

  "What's the difference?" Kat asked.

  "Fair point. Anyway, Jeff steps in to protect the girl. The drunk boyfriend, who's been arrested before for these kinds of altercations, snapped back with the classic mind-your-own-business-or-else. Jeff said he'll mind his own business if he leaves the lady alone. You know how it goes."

  Kat did. Her earlier comment may have been sarcastic or bitter, but misguided chivalry too often leads to brawls. "So who threw the first punch?"

  "Reportedly, the drunk boyfriend. But Jeff supposedly retaliated with a fury. Broke the guy's orbital bone and two ribs. Surprised?"

  "Not really," Kat said. "Were there any lawsuits?"

  "No. But not long after this, Jeff Raynes quits his job--he was working at The Cincinnati Post--and is pretty much never heard from again. Two years later, I have the first sign of Ron Kochman in a byline in something called Vibe magazine."

  "And now he lives in Montauk?"

  "All signs point that way. The thing is, he has a sixteen-year-old daughter."

  Kat blinked and took a deeper sip.

  "There's no sign of a wife."

  "On YouAreJustMyType.com, it says he's a widow."

  "That might be true, but I can't say for sure. I only know he has a daughter named Melinda. She attends East Hampton High School, so I was able to access their address via the school records."

  Kat and Stacy both stood there, at midnight, alone in some master of the universe's opulent office. Stacy dug into her pocket and took out a slip of paper.

  "Do you want me to give you the address, Kat?"

  "Why wouldn't I?"

  "Because he's done his damnedest not to be found. He changed not only his name, but he's created an entirely new ID. He doesn't use credit cards. He doesn't have bank accounts."

  "Yet he went on Facebook and YouAreJustMyType."

  "Using aliases, right?"

  "No. I mean, he used an alias on YouAreJustMyType. Brandon said his mom called him Jack. But on Facebook, he was Ron Kochman. How do you explain that?"

  "I don't know."

  Kat nodded. "But either way, your point remains. Jeff doesn't want to be found."

  "Right."

  "And when I contacted him on YouAreJustMyType, he said that he didn't want to talk to me and that he needed a fresh start."

  "Right again."

  "So driving up to Montauk out of the blue would be irrational."

  "Totally."

  Kat stuck out her hand. "So why am I going first thing in the morning?"

  Stacy handed her the address. "Because the heart don't know from rational."

  Chapter 30

  Kat's bottle of Jack tasted like fish ass after the cognac and Macallan 25.

  She didn't sleep. She barely tried. She just lay in bed and let all the possibilities swirl in her head. She tried to sort through them, tried to figure a way they could make sense, and every time she came up with an answer about what to do next, she'd close her eyes and the swirling would start again and she'd change her mind.

  She got out of bed at five in the morning. She could wait and go to Aqua's class--that might help clear her head--but with the way he'd been freaking out lately, it might do more to muddy the waters. Besides, in the end, Kat was again stalling. There really was only one choice here.

  She had to drive out to Montauk and figure out what happened to Jeff.

  Yes, she could list a million reasons why that was a dumb move, but the truth was, until she knew all, Kat could never let Jeff go. She might be able to resist taking the drive for a month, maybe two, but it would be that proverbial itch that would eventually need to be scratched raw. The choice had been made for her. She didn't have the discipline to stay away forever.

  There had never been closure with Jeff. There had never been closure with her father. She had let that stand for eighteen years.

  No more.

  There was no reason to put it off, either. She would drive to Montauk today, right now even. Chaz had already agreed to loan her his car. It was in the garage on 68th Street, waiting for her. She had no idea what she'd find in Montauk. Jeff probably wasn't even there. She could wait to make the trip until . . . until what? He may never return, right? Weren't they moving to Costa Rica?

  It might be denial, but she still wasn't buying that. She was missing something here.

  Didn't matter. Kat had the time. If Jeff had gone away with Dana Phelps, Kat could find out where and clear up that little mystery too. She grabbed a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on Columbus Avenue and started the drive. She was halfway to Montauk when she realized she had no plan. Would she simply knock on his door? Would she wait till he appeared in his yard or something?

  She had no idea.

  Kat was driving through East Hampton--she and Jeff had walked these very streets a lifetime ago--when her cell phone trilled. She put it on speaker and said hello.

  "I did that image search you wanted," Brandon said. "Wow, do you know this chick personally?"

  Men. Or should she yet again say boys. "No."

  "She's, uh . . ."

  "Yeah, I know what she is, Brandon. What did the image search dig up?"

  "Her name is Vanessa Moreau. She's a model. She specializes in bikinis."

  Terrific. "Anything else?"

  "What else do you want to know? She's five-eight, weight one hundred twelve pounds. Her measurements are thirty-eight, twenty-four, thirty-six; she's a D cup."

  Kat kept her hands on the wheel. "Is she married?"

  "It doesn't say. I found her modeling portfolio. The picture you sent me is from a website called Mucho Models. They do casting, I guess. It gives her measurements and hair color and says if she'll do nudes or not--she does, by the way. . . ."

  "Good to know."

  "They also have a part where the model writes a bio."

  "What does hers say?"

  "Currently looking for paid gigs only. Will travel if expenses paid."

  "What else?"

  "That's it."

  "Home address?"

  "Nope, nothing."

  So Vanessa was the woman's real name. Kat wasn't sure what to make of that. "Could I ask you another favor?"

  "I guess."

  "Could you break back into YouAreJustMyType again and access Jeff's communication?"

  "That will be harder."

  "Why?"

  "You can't stay on long. Sites are always changing their passwords and looking for hacking. So I would go in, take a brief look, go out. I never stayed long. The hard part is initially getting in--finding the first portal. Theirs is password protected. It took us a few hours to get past it, but now that I'm out, I'd have to start again."

  "Could you do it?" Kat said.

  "I can try, I guess, but I don't really think it's a good idea. I mean, maybe you were right. I was invading my mother's privacy. I don't really want to read more of that."

  "That's not what I'm asking."

  "Then, what?"

  "You said that when Jeff was first with your mom, he was still talking with other women."

  "Including you," Brandon added.

  "Right, including me. What I want to know is if he's still talking to other women."

  "You think he's, what, cheating on my mom?"

  "You don't have to look at the specific communications. I just need to know if he's communicating with any other women and their names."

  Silence.

  "Brandon?"

  "You still think something is wrong, don't you, Kat?"

  "How did your mother sound on the phone?"

  "She sounded fine."

  "Did she sound happy?"

  "I wouldn't go that far. What do you think is going on?"

  "I don't know. It's why I'm asking you to check."

  Brandon sighed. "On it."

  They hung up.

  Montauk is located on the far tip of the South Fork of Long Island. It's a hamlet, not a town, and part somehow of East Hampton. Kat made her way to Deforest Road and slowed down. She let the car slide past the address Stacy had given her. The house was what realtors would probably label a cozy Cape Cod with cedar shingles. Two vehicles were in the driveway, a black Dodge Ram pickup truck loaded up with what appeared to be fishing gear, and a blue Toyota RAV4. Neither was fly yellow. One point for the Kochmans.

  Jeff's daughter, Melinda, was sixteen. You don't get your full license in New York State until you are seventeen. So why two vehicles? Both could belong to Jeff, of course. A pickup truck for hobby or work--wait, was he a fisherman now?--and the Toyota for general travel.

  So now what?

  She parked down the end of the block and waited. She tried to imagine a car less suited for surveillance work than a fly-yellow Ferrari, but nothing came to mind.

  It still wasn't yet eight A.M. Wherever Jeff aka Ron spent his days, there was a decent chance he hadn't gone to it yet. She could wait here a little while and keep watch. But no. There was no reason to waste time. She might as well get out of the Chick Trawler and walk right up to his house.

  The front door opened.

  Kat wasn't sure what to do. She started to duck down but stopped herself. She was probably a hundred yards away. With the morning glare, no one would be able to see inside the car. She kept her eyes on the door.

  A teenage girl appeared.

  Could it be . . . ?

  The girl turned behind her, waved good-bye to someone in the house, and started down the path. She carried a maroon backpack. Her ponytail sneaked out the back of a baseball cap. Kat wanted to get closer. She wanted to see whether there was any resemblance between the teen with the awkward gait and her old fiance.

  But how?

  She didn't know or really care. She didn't think it through. She started up the Ferrari and drove toward her.

  It didn't matter. If she blew her cover--though maybe in this car, she could disguise herself as a middle-aged man with erectile dysfunction--so be it.

  The girl's steps became more like dance movements. As Kat got closer, she could see that Melinda--why not call her that in her mind?--was wearing white earbuds. The cord dangled past her waist, doing its own little dance.

  Melinda turned suddenly and met Kat's eye. Kat looked for a resemblance, an echo of Jeff, but even if she did see one, that could simply be her imagination.

  The girl stopped and stared.

  Kat tried to play it cool. "Uh, excuse me," Kat called out. "How do I get to the lighthouse?"

  The girl kept a safe distance. "You just get back on Montauk Highway. Keep driving until the end. You can't miss it."

  Kat smiled. "Thanks."

  "Nice car."

  "Yeah, well, it's not mine. It's my boyfriend's."

  "He must be rich."

  "I guess so."

  The girl started walking away. Kat wasn't sure what to do here. She didn't want to lose this lead, but cruising alongside the girl was getting creepy. The girl picked up speed. Up ahead, a school bus made the turn. The girl started to hurry toward it.

  Now or never, Kat thought.

  "You're Ron Kochman's girl, Melinda, right?"

  The girl's face lost color. Something close to panic filled her eyes. She nearly sprinted away now, jumping on the bus without so much as a wave good-bye. The bus door closed and whisked her away.

  Well, well, Kat thought.

  The bus disappeared down the road. Kat turned the Ferrari around so it faced the Kochman home again. She had clearly spooked the kid. If that meant anything--if she had spooked the girl because she had something to hide or if the girl's reaction had something to do with a weird woman quasi-stalking her--it was hard to say.

  Kat waited, wondering if someone else was going to emerge from the house. She took it a step further, moving the car and parking it directly in front of the Kochman home. She waited a few more minutes.

  Nothing.

  The hell with waiting.

  She got out of the car and headed straight up the walk. She hit the doorbell once and knocked firmly for good measure. There was beaded glass on either side of the door. Kat couldn't make anything out through it, but she could see movement.

  Someone had passed by the door.

  She knocked hard again and, with an internal shoulder shrug of why not, called out, "This is Detective Donovan from the New York Police Department. Could you please open the door?"

  Footsteps.

  Kat backed off and braced herself. She absentmindedly smoothed out her shirt and even--God, help her--patted down her hair. She saw the knob turn and the door opened.

  It wasn't Jeff.

  A man Kat would estimate to be around seventy years old peered down at her. "Who are you?'

  "Detective Donovan, NYPD."

  "Let me see some identification."

  Kat reached into her pocket and pulled out her badge. She flipped it open. That was usually enough, but the old man reached out and took hold of it. He examined it closely. Kat waited. He squinted and kept examining it. Kat half expected him to break out one of those jeweler's magnifying glasses. Finally, he handed it back to her and gave her the full-on stink-eye.

  "What do you want?"

  He wore a brown flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, Wrangler jeans, and brown soft-toe work boots. He was good-looking in a weathered way, the kind of guy you imagined had spent the majority of his life working outdoors and it agreed with him. His hands were gnarly. His forearms were the kind of sinewy you get from life, not a gym.

  "May I ask your name, sir?" Kat said.

  "You knocked on my door, remember?"

  "I do. And I've given you my name. I'd very much appreciate it if you'd extend me the same courtesy."

  "Appreciate my ass," he said.

  "I would, really," Kat said, "but those jeans are a little baggy."

  His mouth twitched. "You messing with me?"

  "Not as much as you're messing with me," Kat said.

  "My name ain't important," he snapped. "What do you want?"

  There was no reason to play around with this guy. "I'm looking for Ron Kochman," she said.

  The question didn't seem to faze him.

  "I don't have to answer your questions," he said.

  Kat swallowed. Her voice sounded as though it were coming from someone else. "I don't mean him any harm."

  "If that's true," the old man said, "then maybe you should be leaving well enough alone."

  "I need to talk to him."

  "No, Detective Donovan, I don't think you do."

  His eyes pinned her down, and for a moment, it felt as though he knew who she was. "Where is he?"

  "He's not here. That's all you need to know."

  "Then I'll come back."

  "There's nothing left for you here."

  She tried to speak, but no words came out. Finally: "Who the hell are you?"

  "I'm going to close my door now. If you don't leave, I'm going to call Jim Gamble. He's the chief of police here. I don't think he'll like some NYPD cop hassling one of his residents."

  "You don't want that attention."

  "No, but I can handle it. Good-bye, Detective."

  "What makes you think I'll just go away?"

  "Because you should know when you're not wanted. Because you should know that the past is the past. And because I don't think you want to cause any more destruction."

  "What destruction? What are you talking about?"

  He took hold of the door. "It's time for you to go."

  "I just need to talk to him," Kat said. She could hear the pleading in her voice. "I don't want to hurt anybody. Tell him that, okay? Tell him I just need to talk to him."

  The old man started to close the door on her. "I'll be sure to pass on that message. Now get off my property."

  Chapter 31

  The farm, in keeping with the Amish way of life, had no connection to the public electric grid. Titus liked that, of course. No billing, no reading meters, no outside maintenance. Whatever reason the Amish had for not using public energy sources--he had heard everything from a fear of outsiders to blocking access to television and the Internet--it worked well for this operation.

  The Amish, however, do not shun electricity altogether. That seemed to be a common myth. This farm had used a windmill to provide enough electricity for their modest needs. But it wouldn't do for Titus. He had installed a DuroMax generator that ran on propane gas. The farm's mailbox was on the edge of the road, far from the house or any clearing. He had put in a gate so no cars could drive through. He never ordered anything, so there were no deliveries. If they needed something, he or one of his people fetched it, usually at a Sam's Club eight miles away.

  He tried to give his men time away from the farm. He and Reynaldo enjoyed the solitude. The other men got antsy. There was a strip club twelve miles from there called Starbutts, but to be on the safe side, Titus asked his men to drive the extra six miles to one called the Lumberyard ("Where Real Men Go for Wood"). They were allowed to go once every two weeks, no more. They could do what they pleased, but they could not, under any circumstances, make a scene. They always went alone.

  Mobile phones and the like had no reach there, so Dmitry had set up phone and Internet services via a satellite that bounced all web activity via a VPN that originated in Bulgaria. Almost no calls ever came in, so when Titus heard his private account ring at eight in the morning, he knew something was wrong.

  "Yes?"

  "Wrong number."

  The caller hung up.

  That was his signal. The government monitors your e-mails. That was no longer a secret. The best way to communicate via e-mail without getting anyone's attention was to not send the e-mail. Titus had a Gmail account he kept off-line except when signaled to check it. He loaded the homepage and signed in. There were no new e-mails. He had expected that.

  He hit DRAFTS and the message popped up. That was how he communicated with a contact. They both had access to the same Gmail account. When you wanted to send a message, you wrote it, but--and this was the important thing--you didn't send it. You just saved it as a draft. Then you signed off, signaled with the call, and your recipient signed on. The recipient, in this case Titus, would then read the message in the draft folder and delete it.

 
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