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Missing you, p.3
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       Missing You, p.3

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
Most days, Kat vanished into the poses. Her body worked hard. Her breathing slowed down. Her mind surrendered. In her regular life, Kat drank, smoked the occasional cigar, did not eat right. Her job could be a pure, uncut hit of toxin. But here, with Aqua's soothing voice, all of that was usually flushed away.

Not today.

She tried to let go, tried to be in the moment and all that Zen stuff that sounded like such nonsense unless Aqua said it, but Jeff's face--the one she had known, the one she had just seen--kept haunting her. Aqua saw her distraction. He eyed her warily and took a little more time adjusting her poses. But he said nothing.

At the end of each class, when the students rested in Corpse Pose, Aqua put you fully under his relaxation spell. Every part of you surrendered. You would drift off. He would then ask you to have a blessed, special day. You would lie there a few more moments, taking deep breaths, your fingertips tingling. Slowly, your eyes would flutter open--as Kat's did now--and Aqua would be gone.

Kat slowly came back to life. So did the other students. They rolled up their mats in silence, almost unable to speak. Stacy joined her. They walked for a few minutes past Conservatory Water.

"Do you remember that guy I was sort of seeing?" Stacy asked.

"Patrick?"

"Right, him."

"He seemed really sweet," Kat said.

"Yeah, well, I had to give him his walking papers. Found out he did something pretty bad."

"What?"

"Spinning class," Stacy said.

Kat rolled her eyes.

"Come on, Kat. The guy takes Spinning classes. What's next, Kegels?"

It was funny walking with Stacy. After a while, you no longer noticed the stares and catcalls. You weren't offended or ignoring them. They just ceased to exist. Walking beside Stacy was the closest thing Kat would ever know to camouflage.

"Kat?"

"Yes?"

"You going to tell me what's wrong?"

A big guy with gym muscles, the kind featuring prominent veins, and slicked-back hair stopped in front of Stacy and let his eyes drop to her chest. "Whoa, that's a really big rack."

Stacy stopped too and let her eyes drop to his crotch. "Whoa, that's a really tiny dick."

They started walking again. Okay, so maybe they didn't totally cease to exist. Depending on the approach, Stacy handled the attention in different ways. She hated the showy bravado, the wolf whistlers--the rude ones. The shy guys, the ones who simply admired what they were seeing and enjoyed it, well, Stacy enjoyed them back. Sometimes she would smile or even wave, almost like a celebrity who gave a bit of herself because it was a little thing and made others happy.

"I went on that website last night," Kat said.

That made Stacy smile. "Already?"

"Yep."

"Wow. That didn't take long. Did you hook up with someone?"

"Not exactly."

"So what happened?"

"I saw my old fiance."

Stacy pulled up, her eyes wide. "Come again?"

"His name is Jeff Raynes."

"Wait, you were engaged?"

"A long time ago."

"But engaged? You? Like a ring and everything?"

"Why does this surprise you so much?"

"I don't know. I mean, how long have we been friends?"

"Ten years."

"Right, and in all that time, you've never been within sniffing distance of love."

Kat gave a half shrug. "I was twenty-two."

"I'm at a loss for words," Stacy said. "You. Engaged."

"Could we move past that part?"

"Right, okay, sorry. And last night you saw his profile on that website?"

"Yes."

"What did you say?"

"Say to who?"

"Whom," Stacy said.

"What?"

"Say to whom. Not to who. Prepositional phrase."

"I wish I was carrying my gun," Kat said.

"What did you write to, uh, Jeff?"

"I didn't."

"Pardon?"

"I didn't write him."

"Why not?"

"He dumped me."

"A fiance." Stacy shook her head again. "And you never told me about him before? I feel like I've been had."

"How's that?"

"I don't know. I mean, when it came to love, I always thought you were a cynic, like me."

Kat kept walking. "How do you think I became a cynic?"

"Touche."

They found a table at Le Pain Quotidien inside Central Park near West 69th Street and ordered coffee.

"I'm really sorry," Stacy said.

Kat waved her off.

"I signed you up for that site so you could get laid. Lord knows you need to get laid. I mean, you need to get laid as badly as anyone I know."

"This is some apology," Kat said.

"I didn't mean to conjure up bad memories."

"It's not a big deal."

Stacy looked skeptical. "Do you want to talk about it? Of course you do. And I'm curious as all get-out. Tell me everything."

So Kat told her the whole story about Jeff. She told her about how they'd met at Columbia, how they'd fallen in love, how it felt like forever, how it all felt easy and right, how he proposed, how everything changed when her father was murdered, how she became more withdrawn, how Jeff finally walked out, how she'd been too weak or maybe too proud to go after him.

When she finished, Stacy said, "Wow."

Kat sipped her coffee.

"And now, almost twenty years later, you see your old fiance on a dating website?"

"Yes."

"Single?"

Kat frowned. "There are very few married people on it."

"Right, of course. So what's his deal? Is he divorced? Has he been sitting at home, still pining like you?"

"I'm not still pining," Kat said. Then: "He's a widower."

"Wow."

"Stop saying that. 'Wow.' What are you, seven years old?"

Stacy ignored the mini outburst. "His name is Jeff, right?

"Right."

"So when Jeff broke it off, did you love him?"

Kat swallowed. "Yes, of course."

"Do you think he still loved you?"

"Apparently not."

"Stop that. Think about the question. Forget for a second that he dumped you."

"Yeah, that's kinda hard to do. I'm more of an 'actions speak louder than words' girl."

Stacy leaned closer. "There are few people who've seen the flip side of love and marriage more clearly than yours truly. We both know that, right?"

"Yes."

"You learn a lot about relationships when your job, in some ways, is to break them up. But the truth is, almost every relationship has breaking points. Every relationship has fissures and cracks. That doesn't mean it's meaningless or bad or even wrong. We know that everything in our lives is complex and gray. Yet we somehow expect our relationships to never be anything but simple and pure."

"All true," Kat said, "but I don't see what you're driving at."

Stacy leaned closer. "When you and Jeff broke up, did he still love you? Don't give me the 'actions speak louder than words' stuff. Did he still love you?"

And then, without really thinking about it, Kat said, "Yes."

Stacy just sat there, staring at her friend. "Kat?"

"What?"

"You know a hundred ways over I'm not religious," Stacy said, "but this feels a little like, I don't know, fate or kismet or something."

Kat took another sip of her coffee.

"You and Jeff are both single. You're both free. You've both been through the ringer."

"Damaged," Kat said.

Stacy considered that. "No, that's not what I . . . Well, yes, that's part of it, sure. But not so much damaged as . . . realistic." Stacy smiled and looked away. "Oh man."

"What?"

Stacy met her gaze, the smile still there. "This could be the fairy tale. You know?"

Kat said nothing.

"But even better. You and Jeff were good before, right?"

Kat still said nothing.

"Don't you see? This time, you can both go into it with eyes open. It can be the fairy tale--but real. You see the fissures and cracks. You go into it with baggage and experience and honest expectations. An appreciation for what you both messed up a long time ago. Kat, listen to me." Stacy reached her hand across the table and grasped Kat's. There were tears in her eyes. "This could be really, really good."

Kat still didn't reply. She didn't trust her voice. She wouldn't even let herself think about it. But she knew. She knew exactly what Stacy meant.

"Kat?"

"When I get back to my apartment, I'll send him a message."





Chapter 4


As Kat showered, she thought about what exactly to put in her message to Jeff. She ran through a dozen possibilities, each lamer than the one before. She hated this feeling. She hated worrying about what to write to a guy, as if she were in high school and leaving a note in his locker. Ugh. Didn't we ever outgrow that?

The fairy tale, Stacy had said. But real.

She threw on her plainclothes cop uniform--a pair of jeans and a blazer--and slipped on a pair of TOMS. She pulled her hair back in a ponytail. Kat had never had the courage to cut her hair short, but she'd always liked it pulled back, off her face. Jeff had liked it that way too. Most men liked her hair cascading down. Jeff didn't. "I love your face. I love those cheekbones and those eyes. . . ."

She made herself stop.

Time to get to work. She'd worry about what to write later.

The computer monitor seemed to be mocking her as she walked past, daring her to leave. She paused. The screen saver did its little line dance. She checked the time.

Get it over with now, she told herself.

Kat sat down and once again brought up YouAreJustMyType .com. When she signed in, she saw that she had "exciting new matches." She didn't bother. She found Jeff's profile, clicked the picture, read his personal statement yet again: Let's see what happens.

How long, she wondered, had it taken Jeff to come up with something so simple, so enticing, so relaxed, so noncommittal, so engaging? It was no pressure. An invitation, nothing more. Kat clicked the icon to write him a direct message. The box came up. The cursor blinked impatiently.

Kat typed: Yes, let's see what happens.

Ugh.

She immediately deleted that.

She tried a few others. Guess who; Been a long time; How are you, Jeff?; It's nice to see your face again. Delete, delete, delete. Every utterance was lame to the nth degree. Maybe, she thought, that was the nature of these things. It was hard to be smooth or confident or relaxed when you're on a site trying to meet the love of your life.

A memory brought a wistful smile to her face. Jeff had a thing for cheesy eighties music videos. This was before YouTube made it easy to watch any and all at a moment's notice. You'd have to find when VH1 was running a special or something like that. Suddenly, she pictured what Jeff would be doing now, probably sitting at his computer and looking up old videos by Tears for Fears or Spandau Ballet or Paul Young or John Waite.

John Waite.

Waite had an early MTV classic, a quasi new-wave pop song that never failed to move her, even now, if she was flipping radio stations or in a bar that played eighties hits. Kat would hear John Waite singing "Missing You," and it would bring her back to that truly cornball video, John walking alone in the streets, repeatedly exclaiming, "I ain't missing you at all," in a voice so pained it made the next line ("I can lie to myself") superfluous and overly explanatory. John Waite would be in a bar, drowning his obvious sorrows, flashing back to happy memories of the woman he will forever love, all the while still chorusing that he wasn't missing her at all. Oh, but we hear the lie. We see the lie in every step, every movement. Then, at the end of the video, lonely John goes home and puts his headphones on, now drowning his sorrow in music rather than drink, and so, in a tragedy reminiscent of something Shakespearean by way of a bad sitcom, he can't hear when--gasp--his love returns to his door and knocks on it. In the end, the great love he was meant to be with forever knocks again, puts her ear against the door, and then walks away, leaving John Waite forever brokenhearted, still insisting that he doesn't miss her, lying eternally to himself.

Ironic in hindsight.

The video became something of a running joke between her and Jeff. When they were apart, even for a short while, he would leave messages saying, "I'm not missing you at all," and she might even comment that he could lie to himself.

Yeah, romance isn't always pretty.

But when Jeff wanted to be more serious, he would sign his notes by the song title, which right now Kat found her fingers almost subconsciously typing into the text box: MISSING YOU.

She looked at it a moment and debated hitting SEND.

It was overkill. Here he was being wonderfully subtle with the Let's see what happens and she comes on with MISSING YOU. No. She deleted it and tried one more time, quoting the actual line from the chorus: "I ain't missing you at all."

That felt too flip. Another deletion.

Okay, enough.

Then an idea came to her. Kat opened up another browser window and found a link to the old John Waite video. She hadn't seen it in, what, twenty years maybe, but it still held all the sappy charm. Yes, Kat thought with a nod, perfect. She copied and pasted the link into the text field. A photograph from the video's bar scene popped up. Kat didn't stop to think about it anymore.

She hit the SEND button, stood quickly, and almost ran out the door.

*

Kat lived on 67th Street on the Upper West Side. The 19th Precinct, her workplace, was also on 67th Street, albeit on the east side, not far from Hunter College. She cherished her commute--a walk straight across Central Park. Her squad was housed in an 1880s landmark building in a style someone had told her was called Renaissance Revival. She worked as a detective on the third floor. On television, the detectives usually have some kind of specialty like homicide, but most of those subspecialties or designations were long gone. The year her father was murdered, there were nearly four hundred homicides. This year, so far, there had been twelve. Six-man homicide detective groups and the like had become obsolete.

As soon as she passed the front desk, Keith Inchierca, the sergeant on duty, said, "Captain wants to see you pronto." Keith pointed with his beefy thumb as though she might not know where the captain's office was located. She took the steps two at a time up to the second floor. Despite her personal connection with Captain Stagger, she was rarely called into his office.

She rapped her knuckles lightly on his door.

"Come in."

She opened the door. His office was small and rain-pavement gray. He was bent over his desk, his head lowered. Kat's mouth suddenly went dry. Stagger's head had been lowered that day too, eighteen years ago, when he had knocked on her apartment door. Kat hadn't understood. Not at first. She always thought she would know if that knock came, that there would be a premonition of some sort. She had pictured the scene a hundred times in her head--it would be late at night, pouring rain, a pounding knock. She would open the door, already knowing what was to come. She would meet some cop's eyes, shake her head, see his slow nod, and then fall to the ground screaming, "No!"

But when the knock actually came, when Stagger had come to deliver the news that would cleave her life in two--one person before that moment, another thereafter--the sun had been shining without hesitation or care. She had been heading uptown to the campus library at Columbia to work on a paper about the Marshall Plan. She still remembered that. The damn Marshall Plan. So she opened the door, preparing to head to the C train, and there was Stagger, standing, his head lowered, just like now, and she hadn't had a clue. He didn't meet her eyes. The truth--the weird, shameful truth--was that when she first saw Stagger in the hallway, Kat had thought that maybe he had come for her. She had suspected Stagger had a little crush on her. Young cops, especially those who considered Dad something of a father figure, fell for her. So when Stagger first popped up on her doorstep, that was what she thought: that despite knowing she was engaged to Jeff, Stagger was about to make a subtle move on her. Nothing pushy. Stagger--his first name was Thomas, but no one ever used it--wasn't the type. But something sweet.

When she saw the blood on his shirt, her eyes had narrowed, but the truth still didn't reach her. Then he said three words, three simple words that came together and detonated in her chest, blowing her world apart: "It's bad, Kat."

Stagger was nearing fifty now, married, four boys. Photographs dotted his desk. There was an old one of Stagger with his late partner, Homicide Detective Henry Donovan, aka Dad. That's how it was. When you die on the job, your picture ends up everywhere. Nice memorial for some. Painful reminder for others. On the wall behind Stagger, there was a framed poster of Stagger's oldest, a high school junior, playing lacrosse. Stagger and his wife had a place in Brooklyn. It was a nice life, she supposed.

"You wanted to see me, Captain?"

Outside of the precinct, she called him Stagger, but when it came to professional matters, she just couldn't do that. When Stagger looked up, she was surprised to see his face ashen. She involuntarily stepped back, almost expecting to hear those three words again, but this time she beat him to it.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Monte Leburne," Stagger said.

The name sucked the air out of the room. After a worthless life of nothing but destruction, Monte Leburne was serving a life sentence for the murder of NYPD Homicide Detective Henry Donovan.

"What about him?"

"He's dying."

Kat nodded, stalling, trying to regain her footing. "Of?"

"Pancreatic cancer."

"How long has he had it?"

"I don't know."

"Why are you just telling me this now?"

Her voice had more edge than she'd meant. He looked up at her. She gestured her apology.

"I just found out myself," he said.

"I've been trying to visit him."

"Yeah, I know."

"He used to let me. But lately . . ."

"I know that too," Stagger said.

Silence.

"Is he still up at Clinton?" she asked. Clinton was a maximum-security correctional facility in upstate New York near the Canadian border, seemingly the loneliest, coldest place on earth. It was a six-hour drive from New York City. Kat had made that depressing ride too often.

"No. They moved him to Fishkill."

Good. That was much closer. She could make it there in ninety minutes. "How long does he have?"
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