Missing you, p.29
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       Missing You, p.29

          

  Change of plans.

  Dana started heading back toward the farmhouse.

  *

  Cozone's man Leslie had given Kat the address of a town house on the corner of Lorimer and Noble streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, near the Union Baptist Church. The neighborhood was redbrick and concrete stoops. She drove past a broken-down building with a temporary sign reading HAWAIIAN TANNING SALON and couldn't imagine any odder juxtaposition than a Hawaiian tan and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

  There were no free parking spaces, so she stuck the fly-yellow Ferrari in front of a fire hydrant. She climbed the stoop. A plastic name tape reading A. PARKER was peeling off by the second-floor buzzer. Kat pushed it, heard the sound, and waited.

  A black man with a shaved head trudged down the stairs and opened the door. He wore work gloves and blue coveralls with a cable company logo. A yellow hard hat was tucked under his left arm. He stood in the doorway and said, "Can I help you?"

  "I'm looking for Sugar," she said.

  The man's eyes narrowed. "And you are?"

  "My name is Kat Donovan."

  The man stood there and studied her.

  "What do you want with Sugar?" he asked.

  "It's about my father."

  "What about him?"

  "Sugar used to know him. I just need to ask her a few questions."

  He looked over her head and then down the block. He spotted the yellow Ferrari. She wondered whether he too would make a comment. He didn't. He looked the other way.

  "Pardon me, Mister . . . ?"

  "Parker," the man said. "Anthony Parker."

  He glanced to his left again, but didn't really seem to be checking the street so much as buying time. He seemed uncertain what to do.

  "I'm here alone," Kat said, trying to reassure him.

  "I can see that."

  "And I don't want to cause any trouble. I just need to ask Sugar some questions."

  His eyes rested on hers. He managed a smile. "Come on inside."

  Parker opened the door all the way and held it for her. She stepped into the front foyer and pointed up the stairs.

  "Second floor?" she asked.

  "Yes."

  "Is Sugar up there?"

  "She will be."

  "When?"

  "Right behind you," Anthony Parker said. "I'm Sugar."

  *

  Dana had to move slowly.

  Two other men had joined the search. One had a rifle. One had a handgun. They were communicating with Reynaldo via some kind of hands-free mobile phone or walkie-talkie. They swept back and forth, preventing her from making a straight line back to the farmhouse. Often, she had to stay perfectly still for minutes at a time.

  In a very odd way, it was almost as though being buried underground had helped train her for this. Every part of her body ached, but she ignored it. She was too tired to cry. She thought about hiding out here, finding a covered spot and just staying put in the hopes that someone would come and rescue her.

  But that wouldn't work.

  For one thing, she needed sustenance. She had been dehydrated before all this started. Now it was getting worse. For another, the three men after her kept crisscrossing the woods, keeping her on the move. One of the men had been so close to her at one point that she could overhear Juicehead say, "If she's out that far, she'll die before she ever gets back."

  It was a clue. Don't keep running in that direction away from the farm. There was nothing for her out that way. So what to do?

  She had no choice. She had to get back to the farmhouse.

  So for the last . . . she had no idea how long; time had become irrelevant--Dana kept on the move, moving a yard or two at a time. She stayed low. She didn't have a compass, but she thought she still knew the general direction. She had run out here in pretty much a straight line. The return was more a zigzag.

  The woods were thick, making her rely more on sound sometimes than sight, but finally, up ahead, she thought that she saw a clearing.

  Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

  Dana commando-crawled toward it, moving with everything she had, which wasn't all that much. It wouldn't do--commando crawling was simply too exhausting. She risked getting to her feet, her head reeling from the blood rush, but every time her foot touched down on the dirt, a fresh jolt of agony rushed up her leg. She got back down and tried all fours.

  It was slower going.

  Five, maybe ten minutes later, she broke through the last line of trees and reached the farmhouse clearing.

  So now what?

  She had somehow managed to come back to exactly the place she had entered the woods. Up ahead of her was the back of that barn. To the right stood the farmhouse. She had to move. Staying where she was left her too exposed.

  She made a dash for the barn.

  With death so close behind her, Dana figured that she'd be able to push past the pain in her foot. But that wasn't working. The daggers turned her sprint turn into a spastic one-legged hop. Her joints ached. Her muscles tightened.

  Still, if she stopped, she would die. A simple equation when you thought of it that way.

  She half fell against the side of the barn, pressing her body tight against the wall as though that might make her invisible.

  So far, she was in the clear.

  Okay, good. No one had spotted her yet. That was the key. Next step?

  Get help.

  How?

  She thought about running down the drive. That had to lead to an exit, right? But she had no idea how far it was, and worse, it was wide open. She would be spotted and picked off easily.

  Still, it was an option.

  Dana craned her neck, trying to see to the end of the road. It was too far away.

  So now what?

  She had two choices. One, run down the road. Take your chances that way. Two, hide someplace. Hope someone comes to rescue her or maybe she could sneak out under nightfall.

  She couldn't think straight. Hiding till nightfall seemed somewhat feasible, but she couldn't count on anything approaching an immediate rescue. Her tired, confused brain added up the pros and cons and reached a conclusion: Making a run for it was the best of a lot of bad options. No, she had no idea how far it was to the road. No, she didn't know how close any other people or traffic were.

  But she couldn't just stay here and wait for Juicehead to come back.

  She had gone only about ten yards toward the road when the front door of the farmhouse opened. The computer guy with the knit cap, tinted glasses, and wild shirt stepped onto the porch. Dana hopped to the left and dove headfirst into the barn. She scrambled on all fours toward the metal tool table. The rope--the one Juicehead had planned to tie her with--was still on the floor.

  She waited to see if the computer guy came into the barn. He didn't. Time passed. She had to risk it. This "hiding" spot was too exposed. She slowly crawled out from under the table. Tools were hung on the wall in front of her. There were several saws, a wooden mallet, a sander.

  And an axe.

  Dana tried to stand up. Whoa, the head rush again. She started to black out, forcing her to take a knee.

  Slow down. Steady.

  Running down that road wasn't feeling like much of an option anymore.

  Deep breaths.

  She had to move. Juicehead and his friends would be coming back soon. Dana struggled to her feet and reached for the axe. She pulled it off the wall. It was heavier than she thought, almost knocking her back to the floor. She regained her balance and gripped the axe with two hands.

  It felt good.

  So now what?

  She took a peek out the barn door. The computer guy was smoking a cigarette near the drive.

  Running was definitely out.

  So what was option two again? Hiding, right?

  She took a look behind her. There was no decent place in the barn to hide. Her best bet, she realized, was to get to the farmhouse. She looked toward the back. The kitchen, she knew, was there.

  Kitchen. Food.

  Just the thought of that--of getting food in her belly--made her dizzy.

  But more than that, there was a computer in the farmhouse. A phone too.

  A way to get help.

  The guy with the knit hat still had his back to her. There wouldn't be a better chance. Keeping one eye on him, Dana crept toward the kitchen door of the farmhouse. She was completely exposed now, tiptoeing at a spot about halfway between the barn and the back of the house, when the guy with the knit hat dropped the butt of his cigarette onto the ground, stomped on it, and turned toward her.

  Dana lowered her head and sprinted with all she had to the back of the house.

  *

  Titus waited in the car near the corner of Columbus Avenue. He didn't like being back in the city, even though the ritzy Upper West Side had about as much to do with his old life as a vagrant has to do with a hedge fund manager. It was almost as if something were drawing him back to the life Titus had neatly put behind him.

  He didn't want to be here.

  Clem Sison crossed the street and slid back into the driver's seat. "Donovan's not home."

  Clem had gone into Kat Donovan's building with a "package" that needed her signature. The doorman had informed him that she wasn't home right now. Clem thanked him and said that he'd return.

  Titus didn't like staying away from the farm any longer than necessary. He considered heading back and leaving Clem behind to make the grab, but Clem wouldn't be able to handle this alone. He was muscle, good with a gun and taking orders and not much else.

  So what now?

  Titus plucked at his lip and considered his options. His eyes were still locked on the front of Kat Donovan's building, when he saw something that stunned him.

  Brandon Phelps was walking through the door.

  What the . . . ?

  But hold on, maybe this explained everything. Had Brandon Phelps initiated all this? Was the problem here Kat Donovan or Brandon Phelps--or both? Brandon Phelps, Titus knew, had been something of an issue from the start. The mama's boy had sent dozens of homesick e-mails and texts. Now all of a sudden, here he is with Kat Donovan, an NYPD cop. Titus ran the scenarios through his head.

  Had Kat Donovan been onto Titus earlier than he'd suspected?

  Could that be? Could Kat have been pretending to be Ron Kochman's ex to draw him out in some way? Had Brandon gone to Kat--or had Kat gone to Brandon?

  Did it even matter?

  Titus's mobile phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw that it was Reynaldo.

  "Hello?"

  "We have a problem," Reynaldo said.

  Titus's jaw clenched. "What is it?"

  "Number Six is on the run."

  Chapter 39

  Two crocheted afghan blankets covered the couch. Kat sat on the small space between them. Anthony Parker tossed his yellow hard hat onto a spare chair. He took off one work glove, then the other. He carefully put them on the coffee table, as though this was a task of great importance. Kat let her eyes wander around the apartment. The lighting was poor, but maybe that had something to do with the fact that Anthony Parker had switched on only one dim lamp. The furniture was old and made of wood. There was a console TV on top of a bureau. The wallpaper was busy blue chinoiserie with egrets and trees and water scenes.

  "This was my mother's place," he said by way of explanation.

  Kat nodded.

  "She died last year."

  "I'm sorry," Kat said, because that was what you said under such circumstances and she couldn't think of anything else right now.

  Her entire body felt numb.

  Anthony "Sugar" Parker sat across from her. He was, she guessed, in his late fifties or early sixties. When he met her eyes, it was almost too much. Kat had to angle her body away, just a little, just enough so that they weren't so face-to-face. Anthony Parker--Sugar?--looked so damned normal. His height and build would be listed on a police blotter as average. He had a nice face, but nothing special or even feminine.

  "You can imagine my shock at seeing you," Parker said.

  "Yeah, well, I think I may have you beat in that area."

  "Fair enough. So you didn't know I was a man?"

  Kat shook her head. "I'd guess you'd call this my personal Crying Game moment."

  He smiled. "You look like your father."

  "Yeah, I get that a lot."

  "You also sound like him. He always used humor to deflect." Parker smiled. "He made me laugh."

  "My father did?"

  "Yes."

  "You and my father," she said, with a shake of her head.

  "Yes."

  "I'm having trouble believing it."

  "I understand."

  "So are you telling me my father was gay?"

  "I'm not defining him."

  "But you two were . . . ?" Kat made her hands go back and forth in a near clap.

  "We were together, yes."

  Kat closed her eyes and tried not to make a face.

  "It's been nearly twenty years," Parker said. "Why are you here now?"

  "I just found out about you two."

  "How?"

  She shook it off. "It's not important."

  "Don't be angry with him. He loved you. He loved all of you."

  "Including you," Kat half snapped. "The man was just so full of love."

  "I know that you're in shock. Would it be better if I were a woman?"

  Kat said nothing.

  "You have to understand what it was like for him," Parker said.

  "Could you just answer my question?" Kat said. "Was he gay or not?"

  "Does it matter?" Parker shifted in his seat. "Would you think less of him if he was?"

  She wasn't sure what to say. She had so many questions, and yet maybe all of this was indeed beside the point. "He lived a lie," she said.

  "Yes." Parker tilted his head to the side. "Think about how horrible that is, Kat. He loved you. He loved your brothers. He even loved your mother. But you know the world he grew up in. He fought what he knew for a long, long time until it consumed him. It doesn't change who he was. It doesn't make him any less manly or any less a cop or any less of the things you think he is. What else could he do?"

  "He could have divorced my mother, for one thing."

  "He suggested it."

  That surprised her. "What?"

  "For her sake, really. But your mother didn't want it."

  "Wait, are you saying my mother knew about you?"

  Parker looked down at the floor. "I don't know. What happens with something like this, with a huge secret you can't let anyone know, everyone starts living the lie. He deceived you, sure, but you also didn't want to see. It corrupts everyone."

  "Yet he asked her for a divorce?"

  "No. Like I said, he suggested it. For her sake. But you know your neighborhood. Where would your mother go from there? And where would he go? It wasn't as though he could leave her and let the world know about us. Today, it's better than it was twenty years ago, but even now, could you imagine it?"

  She couldn't.

  "How long were you two"--she still couldn't believe it--"together?"

  "Fourteen years."

  Another jolt. She had been a child when it started. "Fourteen years?"

  "Yes."

  "And you two were able to keep it secret all that time?"

  Something dark crossed his face. "We tried. Your father had a place on Central Park West. We would meet up there."

  Kat's head started to swim. "On Sixty-Seventh Street?"

  "Yes."

  Her eyes closed. Her apartment now. The betrayal just grew and grew, and yet should it be worse because it was a man? No. Kat had prided herself on being more open-minded, right? When she assumed her father had a mistress, she had been upset but understanding.

  Why should it be worse now?

  "Then I got a place in Red Hook," Parker said. "We'd go there. We traveled together a lot. You probably remember. He'd pretend to be away with friends or on some kind of bender."

  "And you cross-dressed?"

  "Yes. I think it was easier for him. Being with, in some ways, a woman. Freaky in his world was still better than being a faggot, you know what I'm saying?"

  Kat didn't respond.

  "And I was in drag when we first met. He busted a club I was working in. Beat me up. Such rage. Called me an abomination. I remember there were tears in his eyes even as he was hitting me with his fists. When you see a man with such rage, it is almost like he's beating himself up, do you know what I mean?"

  Again Kat didn't respond.

  "Anyway, he visited me in the hospital. At first, he said it was just to make sure I didn't talk, you know, like he was still threatening me. But we both knew. It didn't happen fast. But he lived in such pain. I mean, it came off him in waves. I know you probably want to hate him right now."

  "I don't hate him," Kat said in a voice that she barely recognized as her own. "I feel sorry for him."

  "People are always talking about fighting for gay rights and acceptance. But that isn't really what a lot of us are after. It's the freedom to be authentic. It's living honestly. It is so hard to live a life where you can't be what you are. Your father lived under that horrible cloud for his entire life. He feared being exposed more than anything, and yet he couldn't let me go. He lived a lie and he lived in terror that someone would find out about that lie."

  Kat saw it now. "But someone did find out, didn't they?"

  Sugar--suddenly, Kat was seeing him as Sugar, not Anthony Parker--nodded.

  It was obvious now, wasn't it? Tessie knew about it. People had seen them together. To the neighbors, it meant her father had a thing for black prostitutes. But to someone savvier, someone who could use the information for his own good, it would mean something different.

  It would mean an "understanding."

  "A lowlife thug named Cozone gave me your address," Kat said. "He found out about the two of you, didn't he?"

  "Yes."

  "When?"

  "A month or two before your father's murder."

  Kat sat up, pushing aside the fact that she was the daughter, taking on the cop role. "So my father was onto Cozone. He was getting close. Cozone probably sent men to follow him. Dig up dirt, if they could. Something he could leverage to stop the investigation."

  Sugar didn't nod. He didn't have to. Kat looked at him.

  "Sugar?"

  Sugar's eyes slowly came up and met Kat's.

  "Who killed my father?"

 
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