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Missing you, p.25
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       Missing You, p.25

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
The gate opened, and the silver Mercedes pulled up the drive toward a sprawling Gatsby-esque stone mansion with a red tile roof. White Greco-Roman statues and cypress trees lined the drive. The courtyard featured a round pool with a high-spouting fountain.

The smiling thin man said, "If you please."

Kat got out on one side of the car, Smiley the other. She stared up at this mansion from another era. She had seen old photographs of it. A wealthy industrialist named Richard Heffernan had it built in the 1930s. His family had held on to it until about ten years ago, when the current owner purchased it, gutted it, and, if rumors were true, spent ten million dollars on the renovation.

"Lift your arms, please."

She complied while yet another dark-suited man in sunglasses frisked her with so much enthusiasm Kat almost asked for a penicillin shot. Smiley had already taken her gun and her phone, so there was nothing to find. Back in the day, her father had always carried a spare gun in his boot--Kat had often debated doing the same--but this guy would have found it for sure. When he was finished (and practically smoking a cigarette, for crying out loud), he nodded toward Smiley.

Smiley said, "This way, please."

They headed past a lush garden that seemed to be straight out of some glossy high-end magazine, which, Kat supposed, it probably was. The ocean was spread out in front of them now, almost as though it had gathered on command for a postcard shot. Kat could smell the salt air.

"Hello, Kat."

He was waiting for her on a porch with cushioned teak furniture. He wore all white, too-fitted clothing. This was maybe a passable look on a young, well-built man. On a squat, flabby man in his seventies, it was nearly obscene. The buttons of his shirt strained against his gut--that is, the buttons that weren't already undone, revealing a line of chest hair long enough for a curling iron. He wore gold rings on pudgy fingers. He had either a full head of sandy hair or a great toupee; it was hard to tell which.

"So we finally meet," he said.

Kat wasn't sure how to react. After all these years, after all the reading and obsessing and hating and deserved demonizing, Willy Cozone finally stood in front of her.

"I bet you pictured this day for a long time," Cozone said to her.

"I have."

Cozone spread his arms toward the ocean. "Was it anything like this?"

"No," Kat said. "You were in handcuffs."

He laughed at that as though he had never heard anything so funny in his life. Smiley the thin man stood next to her, hands folded. He didn't laugh. He just smiled. One-trick pony.

"You can leave us, Leslie."

Smiley Leslie did a half bow and walked away.

"Would you care to sit?" Cozone asked.

"No."

"How about some iced tea or lemonade?" He held up his own glass. "I'm having an Arnold Palmer. Do you know what that is?"

"I do, yes."

"Would you like one?"

"No," Kat said. "Not to put too fine a point on this, but it is against the law to kidnap a person at gunpoint, especially a police officer."

"Please," Cozone said. "Let's not waste time with minutiae. We have matters to discuss."

"I'm listening."

"Are you sure you won't sit?"

"What do you want, Mr. Cozone?"

He took a sip of his drink, watching her the whole time. "Perhaps this was a mistake."

Kat said nothing.

He started walking away. "I will have Leslie drop you back at your car. My apologies."

"I could charge you."

Cozone waved a hand in her direction. "Oh, please, Kat. May I call you Kat? I've beaten far more solid charges. I can produce a dozen witnesses who will verify my whereabouts. I can produce a surveillance video showing you were never here. Let's not waste our time playing games."

"That goes two ways," Kat said.

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, don't give me the 'I'll have Leslie drop you back' crap. You brought me here for a reason. I would like to know what it is."

Cozone liked that. He took a step toward her. His eyes were a light blue that somehow on him still looked black. "You are stirring up trouble with your current investigation."

"My investigation isn't current."

"Good point. Your father has been dead a long time."

"Did you have him killed?"

"If I did, what makes you think I'd ever let you leave here alive?"

Kat knew everything about Cozone--his birth date, his family history, his arrest record, his residences (like this one)--from studying his file. But it was always different when you see someone in person for the first time. She stared at his light blue eyes. She thought about the horror that those eyes had seen over their seventy-plus years. And how, in a sense, that horror never reached them.

"Theoretically," he continued, in a tone that bordered on the bored, "I could put a bullet in your brain right here. I have several boats. We could dump you at sea. Yes, your fellow officers would search hard, but we both know that they would find nothing."

Kat tried not to swallow. "You didn't bring me here to kill me."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I'm still breathing."

Cozone smiled at that. He had small peg teeth that looked like decaying Chiclets. His face was the kind of smooth that suggests a chemical peel or Botox. "Let's see how our conversation goes first, shall we?"

He collapsed into the cushioned teak and patted the seat next to him.

"Please sit."

As she did, a shiver passed through her. She could smell his cologne--something cloying and overly potent. The two chairs faced the ocean rather than each other. For a moment, neither of them said anything, both staring out at the churning surf.

"A storm is coming," he said.

"Ominous," Kat said, aiming for sarcasm and falling a little short.

"Ask the question, Kat."

She said nothing.

"You've waited nearly twenty years. So here's your chance. Ask me."

She turned and watched his face. "Did you have my father killed?"

"No."

He kept his gaze on the water.

"Am I just supposed to believe you?"

"Do you know I'm from the old neighborhood?"

"Yep. Farrington Street near the car wash. You killed a kid when you were in fifth grade."

He shook his head. "May I share a secret with you?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"That story about me and the hammer is an urban myth."

"I talked to someone whose brother went to school with you."

"It's not true," he said. "Why would I lie to you about that? I like the myths. I've even had a hand in cultivating them. They've eased my way, to some degree. Not that it was easy. Not that my hands are clean. But fear is a wonderful motivating tool."

"Is that a confession?"

Cozone put his wrists together as though waiting for the cuffs. She knew that nothing he said here would be admissible or even helpful, but that didn't mean she wanted him to stop talking.

"I knew your father," he said. "We had an understanding."

"Are you saying he was crooked?"

"I'm not saying anything. I'm explaining to you that I had nothing to do with your father's death--that we were from the same world, he and I."

"So you never killed anyone from Flushing?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that."

"So what exactly are you saying?"

"Over the years, you have caused several of my enterprises to, let us say, interrupt services."

She had busted the heads of any "enterprise" even rumored to be connected to Cozone. She had, no doubt, cost Cozone money.

"Are you trying to make a point?" Kat asked.

"I don't want those days brought back again."

"So you thought by telling me that you didn't kill my father, it would all end?"

"Something like that. I thought--or rather I hoped--that we could come to an understanding."

"An understanding."

"Yes."

"Like the one you claimed to have with my father."

His eyes stayed on the surf, but a smile played with the corner of his lips. "Something like that."

Kat wasn't sure how to react to that. "Why now?" she asked.

He lifted his drink and brought it to his lips.

"You could have told me this years ago, if you thought it would lead to"--air quotes--"'an understanding.' So why now?"

"Things have changed."

"In what way?"

"A dear friend has passed away."

"Monte Leburne?"

Cozone took another sip of his drink. "You're tough, Kat. I'll give you that."

She didn't bother responding.

"You loved your father dearly, didn't you?"

"I'm not here to talk about me or my feelings."

"Fair enough. You asked why I told you this now. It is because Monte Leburne is now dead."

"But he confessed to the killing."

"Indeed. He also said that I had nothing to do with it."

"Right, but he also said you had nothing to do with the other two hits. Are you going to deny those too?"

He turned his head toward her just a little bit. His face hardened. "I'm not here to talk about the other two. Not in any way. Do you understand my meaning?"

She did. He wasn't confessing, but then again, as opposed to her father, he wasn't denying it either. The message was clear: Yeah, I did those two, but not your dad.

But that didn't mean she had to believe him.

Cozone wanted her off his back. That was the point of all this. He would spin any tale to get his way.

"What I'm going to tell you now is confidential," Cozone said. "Are we clear on that?"

Kat nodded because, again, it didn't matter. If he gave her information and she needed to use it, her quasi promise to a prominent killer wouldn't stop her. He probably knew that too.

"Let's travel back in time, shall we? To the day Monte Leburne was arrested. You see, when the feds nabbed Monte, I was somewhat worried. No reason to talk about why. Monte had always been one of my most loyal employees. I reached out to him immediately."

"How? He was in isolation."

He frowned. "Please."

He was right. Cozone would have his connections. It was also irrelevant.

"Anyway, I promised Monte that if he continued to be the loyal employee I knew that he was, his family would receive a generous compensation package."

A bribe. "And if he didn't stay loyal?"

"We don't need to go into hypotheticals, Kat, do we?"

He looked at her.

"I guess not."

"Besides, even with strong threats, many employees have sold out their bosses to better their own lot. I hoped to discourage Monte Leburne from doing that with a carrot rather than a stick."

"Seems you were successful."

"Yes, I was. But it didn't work out exactly as I had planned."

"How so?"

Cozone started to twist a ring around his finger. "As you probably know, Monte Leburne was originally arrested on charges involving two homicides."

"Right."

"He asked me for permission to confess to a third."

Kat just sat there for a moment. She waited for him to say more, but he suddenly seemed exhausted. "Why would he do that?"

"Because it didn't matter. He had a life sentence."

"Still. He didn't confess for the fun of it."

"No, he didn't."

"So why?"

"Let me explain why we haven't talked before. Part of my arrangement with Monte Leburne was that it would remain between the two of us. I won't hand you a line about honor among thieves, but I want you to understand. I couldn't say anything because I was sworn to secrecy. If I did, I would be betraying a loyal employee."

"Who might in return change his mind about not implicating you."

"The pragmatic is always a consideration," Cozone agreed. "But mostly, I wanted to demonstrate to Monte and to my other employees that I am a man of my word."

"And now?"

Cozone shrugged. "He's dead. The agreement is therefore null and void."

"So you're free to talk."

"If I wish. Naturally, I would prefer that you kept this between us. You've always believed that I killed your father. I am here to tell you that I didn't."

She asked the obvious: "Who did?"

"I don't know."

"Did Leburne have anything to do with it?"

"No."

"Do you know why he confessed?"

He spread his arms. "Why would anyone?"

"Money?"

"For one thing."

"What else?"

"This is where it gets trickier, Kat."

"What do you mean?"

"He was promised favors."

"What kind of favors?"

"Better treatment in prison. A better cell. Extra rations. Employment help for his nephew."

Kat frowned. "Who provided him with that?"

"He never told me."

"But you have your suspicions."

"It does me no good to talk about hypotheticals."

"So you've said. What kind of job did the nephew get?"

"It wasn't a job. It was more getting into a school."

"What kind of school?"

"The police academy."

The skies opened up as though on cue. The rain began over the ocean, swirling the current. It slowly moved over the yard and toward them. Cozone rose and stood back a little, so as to stay fully under the roof. Kat did the same.

"Leslie will give you a ride back to your car," Cozone said.

"I have more questions."

"I've said too much as it is."

"And if I don't believe you?"

Cozone shrugged. "Then we continue as we have."

"With no understanding?"

"So be it," he said.

She thought about all he had said, about honor among thieves, about understandings and agreements. "Understandings don't matter after someone dies, right?"

He said nothing.

"I mean, that's what you said. Whatever deal you and Leburne worked out, it's over now."

"Correct."

Smiley Leslie appeared. But Kat didn't move.

"You also had an understanding with my father," Kat said. Her voice sounded funny in her own ears. "That's what you said."

The rain pounded down on the roof. She had to speak louder to be heard.

"Do you know who Sugar is?" she asked him.

Cozone looked off. "You know about Sugar?"

"To some degree."

"So why are you asking me?"

"Because I want to talk to her."

His face tilted in a question.

"If you don't know anything about who killed my father," Kat said, "maybe Sugar does."

Cozone might have nodded. "Maybe."

"So I want to meet her," Kat said. "Does that make sense?"

"In some ways," he said almost too carefully.

"Could you help me find her?"

Cozone looked toward Leslie. Leslie didn't move. Still Cozone said, "We could try, yes."

"Thank you."

"Under one condition."

"That being?"

"You promise to leave my operation alone."

"If you're telling the truth about no involvement--"

"I am."

"Then no problem," she said.

He stuck out his hand. She reluctantly shook it, imagining all the blood that had once been on it, imagining it all flooding back and then splashing onto her. Cozone held on.

"Are you sure that's what you want, Kat?"

"What?"

"Are you sure you want to meet Sugar?"

She pulled her hand away. "Yes, I'm sure."

He looked back toward the churning waves. "I guess maybe that's okay. I guess that maybe it's time to let all the secrets out, no matter how destructive."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kat asked.

But Cozone turned then and started to head inside. "Leslie will drive you back to your car. He will call you when he's found an address on Sugar."





Chapter 34


Titus asked Dana the same question a dozen more times. As he more or less expected, she stuck to her story. She didn't know Kat. She had never seen her. She had no idea why she would be investigating anything involved with Dana's disappearance.

Titus believed her.

He leaned back and rubbed his chin. Dana stared back at him. The slim flicker of hope remained in her eyes. Behind her, Reynaldo was leaning against the doorjamb. Titus wondered whether he could use Dana to get another payout, but no, he had always lived by the rule of patience. Don't get greedy. It was time to cut the line. He would bet that Detective Kat Donavan hadn't told anybody about her investigation yet. She had too little evidence, for one thing. For another, she wouldn't want to admit how she had stumbled across this particular crime.

By stalking a former boyfriend.

He debated the pros and cons. On the one hand, once he removed Dana Phelps, it would be over. She would be dead and buried. There would be no clues. On the other hand, Kat Donovan had gotten further than anyone else. She had put together Gerard Remington's disappearance with Dana Phelps's. She had a personal stake in this now.

She might not give up all that easily.

Eliminating a cop was extremely risky. But so, in this case, was letting her live.

He needed to run a full cost-benefit analysis--kill her or not--but in the meantime, there was another matter that needed attending.

Titus smiled at Dana. "Would you like some tea?"

She nodded with everything she had, which wasn't much. "Yes, please."

Titus looked toward Dmitry. "Would you make Ms. Phelps some tea?"

Dmitry got up from the computer and headed into the kitchen.

Titus rose. "I'll be back in a moment," he told her.

"I'm telling the truth, Mr. Titus."

"I know that, Dana. Please don't worry."

Titus moved toward where Reynaldo was standing by the door. The two men stepped outside.

"It's time," Titus said.

Reynaldo nodded. "Okay."

Titus looked over his shoulder. "Do you believe her?"

"Yes."

"So do I," Titus said, "but we need to be absolutely certain."

Reynaldo's eyes narrowed. "So you don't want me to kill her?"

"Oh. I do," Titus said, looking toward the barn. "But take your time about it."

*

Chaz called Julie Weitz. A woman answered the phone and said, "Hello?"

"Is this Julie Weitz?"

"It is."

"I'm Detective Faircloth from the New York Police Department."

Chaz asked her a few questions. Yes, she was talking to a man online, more than one actually, but that wasn't anyone's concern but her own. No, she had no plans to go away with him. How on earth was that police business anyway? Chaz thanked her and hung up.
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