Missing you, p.24
Titus had four such accounts, each communicating with a different person. This one was from his contact in Switzerland: Stop using 89787198. SAR was filed by a financial firm called Parsons, Chuback, Mitnick and Bushwell and now an NYPD detective named Katarina Donovan has followed up.
Titus deleted the draft and signed out of the account. He wondered about this. Suspicious Activity Reports had been issued on his accounts before. He seldom worried about it. When you moved large sums of money overseas, they were mandatory. But the Department of the Treasury was mostly hung up on possible terrorism financing. Once they checked into the person's background and saw nothing suspicious, they rarely followed up.
But this was the first time he had seen two questions for one account. Moreover, instead of just the Department of the Treasury, Titus had now drawn the attention of a New York City cop. How? Why? None of his recent guests had come from New York City. And what possible connection could there be between a chemist from Massachusetts and a socialite from Connecticut?
He could ask only one of them.
Titus rested his hands on the desk for a moment. Then he leaned forward and brought up a search engine. He typed in the name of the detective and waited for the results.
When he saw the photograph of Detective Donovan, he almost laughed out loud.
Dmitry walked into the room. "Something funny?"
"It's Kat," Titus said. "She's trying to find us."
After the old man slammed the door in her face, Kat wasn't sure what to do.
She stood on the stoop for a moment, half tempted to kick in the door and pistol-whip the old man, but where would that get her? If Jeff wanted to reach out, she had given him all the tools he needed. If he still ignored her, did she really have the right or even desire to force it?
Have some pride, for crying out loud.
She headed back to the car. She began to cry and hated herself for it. Whatever happened to Jeff in that Cincinnati bar, it had nothing to do with her. Absolutely nothing. Stacy had said last night that she would continue to look into the bar brawl, see if the two drunk guys had additional records, if somehow they were looking for Jeff and that might explain his disappearance, but really, what was the point?
If these two men had been after him, would he still be so afraid to see Kat?
Didn't matter. Jeff had his life. He had a daughter and lived with a grumpy old man. Kat had no idea who the old man was. Jeff's own father had died years ago. Jeff had chosen to go on a dating website. Kat had reached out to him, and he had slapped her hand away. So why was she still pursuing it?
Why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, was she still not buying it?
Kat got back on Montauk Highway and headed west. But she didn't travel far. A few miles down the road, she turned left onto Napeague Lane. Funny what you remember after nearly twenty years. She made the turn onto Marine Boulevard and parked near Gilbert Path. She took the wooden boardwalk toward the ocean. The waves crashed. The sky darkened, hinting of an upcoming storm. Kat made her way around a pathetic fence with shattered rails. She slipped off her shoes and started on the sand toward the water.
The house hadn't changed. It had been newly built in that sleek modern style that some people found too boxy but Kat had grown to love. The place would have been way out of their price range, even for a weekend rental, but Jeff had been the owner's TA at Columbia, and loaning him the house had been her way of thanking him.
It had been nearly twenty years, and Kat could still tell you every single moment of that weekend. She could tell you about the visit to the farmers' market, the quiet walks in town, eating three times at the expanded shack restaurant nicknamed Lunch--because they both got addicted to their lobster roll--the way Jeff sneaked up behind her on this very beach and gave her the most tender kiss imaginable.
It had been during that tender kiss that Kat knew she had to spend the rest of her life with him.
Tender kisses don't lie, do they?
She frowned, again hating herself for the sentimentality, but maybe she should cut herself some slack. She tried to find the very spot where she had been standing that day, checking her bearings by using the house, moving a few feet left, then right, until she was certain, yes, this was the spot where that tender kiss took place.
She heard a car engine and turned to see a silver Mercedes idling on the road. She half expected that it would be Jeff. Yes, that would be perfect, wouldn't it? He would follow her here and come up behind her, the same way he had all those years ago. He would take her in his arms and yeah, it was dumb and corny and hurtful, but that didn't mean the longing wasn't there. You have very few perfect moments in your life, moments you want to put in a box and stick on the top shelf so that when you're alone, you can take the box down and open it up again.
That kiss had been one of the moments.
The silver Mercedes drove away.
Kat turned back to the churning ocean. The clouds were gathering now. It was going to start pouring soon. She was about to head back to the Ferrari, when her phone rang again. It was Brandon.
"Bastard," he said. "That lying, cheating bastard."
"Jeff or Ron or Jack or whatever the hell his name is."
Kat stood very still. "What happened?"
"He's still hitting on other women. I couldn't see the communication, but he was in touch with both of them yesterday."
"How many other women?"
"Maybe he was saying good-bye. Maybe he's telling them about your mother."
"Yeah, I don't think so."
"Because that would be one, maybe two, direct messages. These were more like twenty or thirty. That bastard."
"Okay, listen to me, Brandon. Did you get the names of the two women?"
"Could you give them to me?"
"One is named Julie Weitz. She lives in Washington, DC. The other lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Her name is Martha Paquet."
The first thing Kat did was call Chaz.
He would contact both women and make sure they hadn't gone away with their online paramour. But as Kat made her way toward her car--she was going back to that house in Montauk and she'd kick the old man in the balls if he didn't talk to her--something started bothering her again. It had started to nag her early on, from the beginning of all this, really, but she still couldn't see what it was.
Something was making her hang on to Jeff.
Most would have said that it was the blinding potency of a foolish heart. Kat would have agreed. But now Kat was maybe getting a little clarity on the situation. The thing that had been bothering Kat involved her own messages with Jeff on YouAreJust MyType.com.
She kept going over his words, replaying the ending so many times in her head--all that crap about protecting himself and being cautious and going back to the past would be a mistake and him needing a fresh start--that she hadn't really gone over their earliest communications.
It had all started when she sent him that old music video of John Waite singing "Missing You."
And how had he responded?
He hadn't remembered it.
How could that be? Okay, maybe she had stronger feelings than he did, but he had, after all, proposed. How could he forget something that was so crucial to their relationship?
More than that, Jeff had written that the video was "cute" and that he liked a girl with "a sense of humor" and that he was "drawn" to her photograph. Drawn. Gag. She had been so hurt and surprised, and so she had messaged him and said . . .
There was a thin man in a dark suit leaning against the yellow Ferrari. He had his arms folded across his chest, his legs crossed near the ankles. Still reeling with the revelations, Kat staggered toward him and said, "May I help you?"
"Yeah, I get that a lot. You mind getting off it?"
"In a second, sur
The silver Mercedes pulled up next to her.
"Get in the back," the man said.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You have a choice. We can shoot you here in the street. Or you can get in and we can have a nice little chat."
Reynaldo got the message via the walkie-talkie feature on his smartphone.
"Base to box," Titus said. "Come in."
Reynaldo had been tossing a tennis ball with his Labrador retriever, Bo. Bo lived up to his breed, constantly wanting to play fetch, never ever tiring of the game, no matter how many times or how far Reynaldo threw the tennis ball.
"I'm here," Reynaldo said into the phone, throwing the ball yet again. Bo ran-hobbled after it. Age. Bo was, according to a vet, eleven years old. He was still in good shape, but it made Reynaldo sad to see the sprint slowing to a lumber. Still, Bo wanted to play, always, almost stubbornly insisting on more throws when it was clear that his stamina and arthritis couldn't really handle it. Sometimes Reynaldo tried to stop, for the sake of old Bo, but it was as though Bo could see what his master was trying to do and didn't like it. Bo would whine and bark until Reynaldo picked up the ball and threw it yet again.
Eventually, Reynaldo would send Bo up the path so he could rest on the soft dog bed in the barn. Reynaldo had bought that bed after he found Bo wandering along the East River. The bed had held up well.
Bo looked up at him expectantly. Reynaldo rubbed behind Bo's ear as Titus via the walkie-talkie said, "Escort Number Six up."
They never used the phones or texts at the farm, just the walkie-talkie app. Untraceable. They never used names for obvious reasons, but Reynaldo didn't know the names anyway. They were all numbers to him, corresponding with their location: Number Six, a blond woman who had arrived in a yellow sundress, was in Box Six.
Even Titus would admit that this sort of security was overkill, but it was always better to err on the side of too much caution. That was his creed.
When Reynaldo rose, Bo stared up at him, disappointed. "We'll play again soon, boy. I promise."
The dog gave a small whimper and nudged Reynaldo's hand. Reynaldo smiled and petted Bo. The dog's tail wagged slowly in appreciation. Reynaldo felt his eyes well up.
"Go get dinner, boy."
Bo looked both disappointed and understanding. He hesitated for another moment and then started trotting up the path. The tail did not wag. Reynaldo waited until Bo was out of sight. For some reason, he didn't want Bo to see inside the boxes. He could smell them, of course, knew what was inside, but when the targets saw Bo, when they sometimes even smiled at the friendly dog, it just . . . it just felt wrong to Reynaldo.
His key chain dangled from his belt. Reynaldo found the proper key, unlocked the padlock, and pulled up the door from the ground. The sudden light always made the targets blink or shield their eyes. Even at night. Even if there was just a sliver of moon. The box was complete and utter darkness. Any illumination, even the slightest from a distant star, hit them like an assault.
"Get out," he said.
The woman groaned. Her lips were cracked. The lines on her face had darkened and deepened, as though the dirt had burrowed into every facial crevice. The stench of her body waste wafted up toward him. Reynaldo was used to that. Some of them tried to hold it in at first, but when you go days in the darkness, lying in what was essentially a coffin, the choice was taken away.
It took Number Six a full minute to sit up. She tried to lick her lips, but her tongue must have been like sandpaper. He tried to remember the last time he had given her a drink. Hours now. He had already dropped the cup of white rice down the mailbox-type slot in the door. That was how he fed them--through the slot in the door. Sometimes, the targets tried to stick their hands through the slot. He gave them one warning not to do that. If they tried it again, Reynaldo crushed the fingers with his boot.
Number Six began to cry.
"Hurry," he said.
The blond woman tried to move faster, but her body was starting to betray her now. He had seen it before. His job was to keep them alive. That was all. Don't let them die until Titus said, "It's time." At that stage, Reynaldo walked them out into the field. Sometimes, he made them dig their own graves. Most times not. He walked them out and then he put the muzzle of the gun against their heads and pulled the trigger. Sometimes, he experimented with the kill shot. He would press the muzzle against the neck and fire up or he'd press it against the crown of the skull and fire down. Sometimes, he put the muzzle against the temple, like you always see suicide victims do in the movies. Sometimes, the kill was quick. Sometimes, they lived until the second bullet. Once, when he had shot too low by the base of the spine, the victim, a man from Wilmington, Delaware, had survived but had been paralyzed.
Reynaldo buried him alive.
Number Six was a mess, defeated, broken. He had seen it often enough.
"Over there," he said to her.
She managed to utter one word: "Water."
"Over there. Change first."
She tried to move fast, but her gait was more like the shuffle Reynaldo had seen on that zombie television show. That, he thought, was appropriate. Number Six was not dead yet, but she wasn't really alive either.
Without prompting, the woman stripped out of her jumpsuit and stood before him naked. A few days ago, when she had first tearfully and reluctantly taken off that yellow sundress, asking him to turn away, trying to duck behind a tree or cover herself with her hands, she had been much more attractive. Today she didn't worry about modesty or vanity. She stood before him like the primitive being she had become, her eyes pleading for water.
Reynaldo picked up the hose with the spray nozzle with the pistol grip. The water pressure was strong. The woman tried to bend down, tried to catch some of the flow in her mouth. He stopped the hose. She stood back up and let him water her down, her skin turning red from the harshness of the jet stream.
When he was finished, he tossed her another jumpsuit. She slipped into it. He gave her water in a plastic cup. She downed it greedily and handed it back to him, indicating that she would do pretty much anything for more. He worried that she would be too weak to make the trip up the path to the farmhouse, so he filled the cup again. She drank this one too fast, almost choking on it. He handed her a breakfast bar he had bought at a Giant food store. She almost ate the wrapper in her haste.
"The path," he said.
The woman started up it, again walking with the shuffle. Reynaldo followed. He wondered how much more money there was to bleed from Number Six. He suspected she was wealthier than most. Surprisingly, Titus preferred male targets to females at a ratio of about three to one. The women were usually higher-profit prey. This one, when she arrived, had expensive jewelry and the certain swagger of the upper class.
Both were gone now.
She walked tentatively, glancing behind her every few steps. She was, he supposed, surprised that Reynaldo was coming with her. Reynaldo was a little surprised too. He was rarely told to escort the targets. Titus somehow liked the idea of making them walk to the farmhouse on their own.
He wondered, since this was her second visit of the day, if this was now her endgame--if Titus would tell him, "It's time."
When they reached the farmhouse, Titus was in his big chair. Dmitry sat by his computer. Reynaldo waited by the door. Number Six--again without prompting--took the hard wooden chair in front of Titus.
"We have a problem, Dana."
Dana, Reynaldo thought. So that was her name.
Dana's eyes fluttered. "Problem?"
"I had hoped to release you today," Titus continued. His voice was always smooth, as if he was always trying to hypnotize you, but today Reynaldo thought he heard a little tension beneath the even tones. "But now it appears that there is a police officer who is investigating your disappearance."
Dana looked dumbfounded.
"A New York City police detective named Katarina Donovan. Do you know her?"
"She goes by Kat. She works in Manhattan."
Dana stared off, seemingly unable to focus.
"Do you know her?" Titus asked again, a sharp edge in his voice.
Titus studied her face another moment.
"No," she said again.
Yep, half dead, Reynaldo thought.
Titus glanced at Dmitry. He nodded. Dmitry tugged on his knit cap and then spun the computer monitor so that it faced Dana. There was a picture of a woman on the screen.
"How do you know her, Dana?" Titus asked.
Dana just shook her head.
"How do you know her?"
"Before you left for your trip, did she call you?"
"You never spoke to her?"
"How do you know her?"
"Have you ever seen this woman before? Think hard."
"I don't know her." Dana broke down and started sobbing. "I've never seen her."
Titus sat back. "I'm going to ask you one more time, Dana. The answer will either get you home with your son or back in the box alone. How do you know Kat Donovan?"
Kat had asked the men several times where they were taking her.
The thin man sitting next to her just smiled and pointed the gun at her. The guy driving kept his eyes on the road. From the back, all she could see was a perfectly shaved head and shoulders the size of bowling balls. Kat kept prattling on--where were they going, how long would it take to get there, who were they?
The thin man sitting next to her kept smiling.
The ride ended up being short. They had just gone through the center of Water Mill when the silver Mercedes veered to the left onto Davids Lane, heading toward the ocean. They turned off onto Halsey Lane. Ritzy neighborhood.
Kat now had a pretty good idea where they were heading.
The car slowed past an enormous estate blocked off by a solid wall of high shrubs. The hedge wall stretched for several hundred yards before being interrupted by a drive protected by a completely opaque gate. A man in a dark suit and sunglasses, with an earpiece, talked into a sleeve microphone.
Missing You by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes