Missing you, p.30
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       Missing You, p.30



  "Number Six is on the run," Reynaldo said.

  Titus squeezed the phone. Something inside of him exploded. "How the hell . . . ?" He stopped himself and closed his eyes.

  Composure. Patience. When Titus lost those, he lost everything. He fought back the anger and in as calm a voice as he could muster, he asked, "Where is she now?"

  "She ran north behind the barn. The three of us are trying to find her."

  North, Titus thought. Okay, good. North was straight into miles and miles of forest. In her current condition, she couldn't last out there. They had never had anyone successfully run from them for more than a minute or two, but one of the beauties of the farm was the remoteness and security. To the north, it was all forest. Go south from the farmhouse and you still had almost a mile before you reached the main road. The entrance was fenced, as was the land east and west.

  "Let her run," Titus said. "Start back to the farm. Post Rick and Julio in position in case she circles back."


  "How long has she been gone?"

  "She ran a few minutes after you left."

  Three hours ago.

  "Okay, keep me in the loop."

  Titus hung up. He sat back and tried to analyze this situation rationally. To date, the operation had grossed more money than he had ever imagined. The current count was $6.2 million. How much, he asked himself, would be enough?

  Greed brought men down more than anything else.

  In short, was this the endgame? Had this profitable operation, like all others before it, run its course?

  Titus had planned for this day. He knew that no business venture could last forever. Eventually, too many people would be found missing. The authorities would have to take a good, hard look, and while Titus had tried to think of every eventuality, it would be hubris to think that if he continued, he would never get caught.

  He called back to the farmhouse. It took four rings for Dmitry to answer. "Hello?"

  "Are you aware of our problem?" Titus asked.

  "Reynaldo said Dana is on the run."

  "Yes," Titus said. "I need you to bring up her phone information."

  Mobile phones are traceable if left on, so when a new "guest" arrived, Dmitry transferred all the phone information onto his computer, basically duplicating the contents onto the hard drive. Once that was done, the batteries were pulled out of the phones and dumped in a drawer.

  "Dana Phelps," Dmitry said. "I got it up. What do you need?"

  "Bring up her contacts. I need her son's phone number."

  Titus could hear the typing.

  "Here it is, Titus. Brandon Phelps. Do you want his mobile or his number at school?"


  Dmitry gave him the phone number. Then he asked, "Do you need me to do anything else?"

  "It may be time to abort," Titus said.


  "Yeah. Set up the self-destruct on the computers, but don't enact yet. I'm going to grab the kid and bring him back."


  "If Dana Phelps is still hiding somewhere, we need to flush her out. She'll come out when she hears his screams."


  "I don't understand," Sugar said. "I thought they caught the man who killed your father."

  "No. He just took the fall."

  Sugar stood up and stared, pacing. Kat watched him.

  "Cozone found out about you two a few months before he died, right?" Kat asked.

  "Right." There were tears in Sugar's eyes now. "Once Cozone started to blackmail your father, everything changed."

  "Changed how?"

  "Your father broke it off with me. Said we were through. That I disgusted him. That rage, like when we first met--it came back. He hit me. You have to understand. He directed the rage at me, but it was mostly toward himself. When you live a lie--"

  "Yeah, I get it," Kat said, cutting him off. "I really don't need the pop psychology lesson right now. He was a self-hating gay man trapped in a straight, macho world."

  "You say it with such coldness."

  "No, not really," Kat said. She felt the lump in her throat and tried to make it go away. "Later, when I have the time to think about all this, it will break my heart. And when that happens--when I let it in--it will crush me that my father was in such pain and I couldn't see it. I will crawl into bed with a bottle and vanish for as long as it takes. But not right now. Right now, I need to do what I can to help him."

  "By finding out who killed him?"

  "Yes, by being the cop he raised. So who killed him, Sugar?"

  He shook his head. "If it wasn't Cozone, then I really don't know."

  "So when was the last time you saw him?"

  "The night he died."

  Kat made a face. "I thought you said you broke up."

  "We did." Sugar stopped pacing and smiled through the tears on his face. "But he couldn't say away. That was the truth. He couldn't be with me, but he couldn't let me go, either. He waited for me behind the nightclub where I was working." Sugar looked up, lost in the memory. "He had a dozen white roses in his hands. My favorite. He wore sunglasses. I thought they were to disguise himself. But when he took them off, I could see his eyes were red from crying." The tears were flowing freely down Sugar's cheeks now. "It was so wonderful. That was the last time I saw him. And then later that night . . ."

  "He was murdered," Kat finished for him.




  "I never got over losing him," Sugar said. "He was the only man I ever really loved. Part of me will always hate him too. We could have run away. We could have found a way to be together. You and your brothers, you'd have understood eventually. We'd have been happy. I stayed with it all those years because that chance existed. You know what I mean? As long as we were alive, I think we both stupidly believed we would find a way."

  Sugar knelt down and took both of Kat's hands in his. "I'm telling you so you understand. I still miss him so damn much. Every day. I would give anything, forgive anything, just to be with him for even a few seconds."

  Block, Kat thought. Keep the blocks up for now. Get through this.

  "Who killed him, Sugar?"

  "I don't know."

  But Kat thought that maybe now she knew who could give her the answer. She just had to make him finally tell her the truth.

  Chapter 40

  Standing outside the precinct, Kat called Stagger's cell phone.

  "I don't think we have anything more to say to each other," Stagger said.

  "Wrong. I just talked to Sugar. I'm thinking there's still a lot to say."


  "Hello?" Kat said.

  "Where are you?"

  "I'm coming down to your office right now, unless this is yet again a bad time."

  "No, Kat." She had never heard Stagger sound so weary. "I think it's a good time."

  When she arrived, Stagger was sitting at his desk. The photographs of his wife and kids were in front of him now, as though that could somehow shield him. Kat started in on him pretty hard, accusing him of lying and worse. Stagger came right back at her. There were shouts and tears, but finally Stagger made several admissions.

  Yes, Stagger knew about Sugar.

  Yes, Stagger had promised Monte Leburne favors for a simple confession.

  Yes, Stagger had done that because he feared the affair would become public.

  "I didn't want that for your father," Stagger said. "I didn't want his name dragged through the mud. For his sake. For yours and your family's too."

  "And what about yours?" Kat countered

  Stagger made a maybe-yes/maybe-no gesture.

  "You should have told me," Kat said.

  "I didn't know how."

  "So who killed him?"


  "Who killed my father?"

  Stagger shook his head. "You really don't see?"


  "Monte Leburne killed him. Cozone or
dered him to."

  Kat frowned. "You're still trying to pedal that story?"

  "Because it's true, Kat."

  "Cozone had no motive. He had my father right where he wanted him."

  "No," Stagger said in that same tired tone. "He didn't."

  "But he knew about--"

  "Yeah, he knew about it. And for a little while, Cozone had your old man under his thumb. I sat back and watched your father back off. I even let him, so maybe I had something to lose here too. Once Cozone learned about Sugar, your father changed. He was trapped. He saw no way out until he just . . ." Stagger's voice faded away.

  "He just what?"

  Stagger looked up at her. "Had enough, I guess. Henry had lived with all those years of deception, but it hadn't affected his job. Now all of a sudden, in order to protect his lies, he had to compromise his police work. All men have their breaking point. That was your father's. So he told Cozone to go to hell. He didn't care anymore."

  "How did Cozone react to that?" Kat asked.

  "How do you think?"

  They stood there in silence.

  "So that's it?" she asked.

  "That's it. It's over, Kat."

  She didn't know what to say.

  "Take a few more days. Then come back to work."

  "I'm not being transferred?"

  "No. I'd like you to stay. Do you still want a new partner?"

  She shook her head. "No, I was wrong about that."

  "About what?"

  "About Chaz Faircloth."

  Stagger picked up his pen. "Kat Donovan just admitted she was wrong. Will wonders never cease?"


  The kitchen door of the farmhouse was unlocked.

  With the axe in one hand, Dana Phelps eased the screen door open, entered, and guided it to a close with a barely audible click. She stopped for a second and tried to gather herself.

  But only for a second.


  There, on the table in front of her, was a giant box of granola bars, the kind you buy at one of the price club stores. She had never experienced the horror of hunger before. She knew it would probably be smarter to search for a phone--and she would--but when she saw the food right there, so close by, it became beyond irresistible.

  Stop, she told herself. Take care of the task at hand.

  She checked for a phone in the kitchen. There were none. Now that she thought about it, there were no wires anywhere. She had heard the roar of a generator outside. Was that how they got electricity? Was there no phone hooked up?

  Didn't matter.

  There was, she knew, a computer with Internet in the other room. She could get help that way. If she could get to it. She wondered how much longer the computer guy would be outside on his smoke break. She had seen him throw down his cigarette and start turning toward her. Would he be lighting up another one or . . . ?

  She heard the front door open.


  Dana looked for a hiding spot. The kitchen was small and sparse. There were cupboards and a table. Ducking beneath the table would do no good. There was no tablecloth. She would be completely exposed. The refrigerator was small and brown, the same kind she'd had in college in Wisconsin when she first met Jason. There was no room to hide there. There was a door, probably leading to a cellar. She could maybe go down there, if there was time.


  Then another thought came to Dana: the hell with hiding.

  A swinging door separated the kitchen from the living room where Titus had grilled her. If the computer guy came in here, if he decided to make his way into the kitchen, Dana would hear and see him coming. It wasn't like before in the woods. Yes, she was exhausted. Yes, she needed one of those damn granola bars. But right now, if the computer guy entered this kitchen, she had the element of surprise in a big bad way.

  And she had an axe.

  The footsteps were coming toward her.

  She slid off to the side behind the door. She wanted to make sure she had room to wield the axe--yet she needed to leave herself enough of an angle so that he wouldn't be able to see her until it was too late. The axe was so damned heavy. She debated how to swing it exactly. An overhead chop would be a tough angle. If she aimed for his neck, if she tried to slice his goddamn head off, the target area would be pretty small. Her aim would have to be precise.

  The footsteps were right on the other side of the door now.

  Dana gripped the handle with both hands. She lifted the axe up and held it like a batter waiting for the pitch. That would be the best angle. Swing like a baseball bat. Aim for the center of the chest and hope to bury the blade deep in his heart. If she missed a little right or left or up or down, it would still cause massive damage.

  The footsteps stopped. The door began to creak open.

  Dana's body shook from the strain, but she was ready.

  Then a phone rang.

  For a moment, the door stayed still. Then a hand released it and the door swung back. Dana let the axe collapse back to her side. For a moment, her eyes fell back on the granola bar.

  The guy in the house would be busy, at least for the next few seconds. She grabbed a bar and tried her best to quietly unwrap it.

  From the other room, she heard the computer guy say, "Hello?"

  New plan, she thought. Grab a few granola bars. Go down into the cellar. Hide there with the axe and granola bars. Rest. Draw strength. Find a place where she could see someone coming and maybe take him down with the axe.

  Her jumpsuit had pockets. A break, for once. Still chewing, she jammed granola bars into the pockets. They might notice if the entire box was missing from the table, but five or ten bars gone from a box that had originally held sixty wouldn't draw anyone's suspicion.

  Dana reached for the cellar door when she heard the computer guy tell whoever was on the other end of the line: "Reynaldo said Dana is on the run."

  She froze and listened. She heard typing and then the computer guy spoke again.

  "Dana Phelps. I got it up. What do you need?"

  She kept her hand on the cellar door. Again she could hear the clacking of his fingers on the keyboard.

  "Here it is, Titus. Brandon Phelps. Do you want his mobile or his number at school?"

  Dana jammed her hand in her mouth so she wouldn't scream out loud.

  Her hand dropped back to the axe handle. She heard the computer guy give Titus her son's cell phone.

  No, oh God, no, not Brandon . . .

  She moved closer to the kitchen door and tried to hear what was being said, tried to figure out what Titus wanted with her son's phone number.

  But wasn't it obvious?

  They were going after her son.

  Conscious thought no longer entered the equation. It was now very simple. No hiding. No staying in the cellar. No worrying about her own safety. Only one thing consumed this mother's thoughts: Save Brandon.

  When the computer guy hung up the phone, Dana ran out of the kitchen and straight toward him.

  "Where's Titus?"

  The computer guy jumped back. When he saw Dana coming toward him, he opened his mouth to scream for help. That would be it. If he screamed, if he got the attention of the other guys . . .

  Dana moved with a speed and ferocity she didn't know she possessed. The axe was already in position, swinging toward the seated man at the computer with full force.

  She didn't aim for the chest. He was too low for that.

  The blades of the axe slammed straight into the mouth, smashing his teeth, ripping right through the lips and mouth. The spray of blood nearly blinded her. He fell back off the chair, his back slamming hard on the ground. Dana pulled back hard as he did, trying to free the blade. It came out of his face with a wet sucking pop.

  Dana didn't know if he was dead yet or not. But there was no hesitation, no squeamishness. The blood had already reached her face. The rust taste was already on her tongue.

  She lifted the blade again, this time straight up in the air.
He didn't move or resist. She brought the axe down hard, cleaving his face in two. The blade sliced through the back of the skull with surprising ease, as though it were a watermelon rind. His tinted glasses split in two, dropping to either side of what had once been his face.

  Dana wasted no time. She dropped the axe and started to fumble for the phone.

  It was then that she saw the front door was open.

  The old dog stood there, watching her, his tail wagging.

  Dana put her finger to her lips, tried to smile, tried to convince the old dog that all was okay.

  Bo's tail stopped wagging. And then he began to bark.


  Reynaldo was carefully going through the woods when he heard the bark.


  He knew all of Bo's barks. This one was not greeting a friendly face. This was a bark of fear and panic.

  With the other two men following him, Reynaldo took out his gun and sprinted back toward the farmhouse.

  Chapter 41

  Brandon was just settling onto a bar stool in Kat's apartment when a blocked call came into his mobile phone.

  He had already contacted as many of his friends as he could to start hacking into YouAreJustMyType.com. Six of them were with him right now, on Skype, all their faces on the computer screen. Back on campus, his friends had the powerful mainframe and so would be able to handle the hack better. Brandon would work it remotely in conjunction with those on campus.

  He picked up the phone. "Hello?"

  A voice he didn't recognize said, "Brandon?"

  "Yes. Who is this?"

  "Just listen. You have two minutes. Go downstairs and out the door. Turn right. On the corner of Columbus Avenue, you'll see a black SUV. Get in it. Your mother is in the backseat."


  "If you're not here in exactly two minutes, she dies."

  "Wait, who is this--?"

  "One minute fifty-five seconds."


  Brandon jumped off this stool and sprinted to the door. He threw it open and pressed for the elevator. It was on the ground floor. He was six floors up.

  Better to take the stairs.

  He did, more tumbling down them than running. His phone was still in his hand. He crossed the lobby and burst through the door. He leapt down the stoop to street level and veered right on 67th Street, nearly knocking over a man in a business suit.

  He didn't let up. He dashed down the street, looking at the cars ahead of him. There, at the corner per the phone call, was the black SUV.

  He was getting closer, when his cell phone rang again. Still in stride, he checked the caller ID.

  A blocked number again.

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