Missing you, p.33
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       Missing You, p.33

          

  Time slowed.

  Somewhere in the distance, Reynaldo heard Bo bark.

  And then there was no sound at all.

  Chapter 44

  The full accounting would take weeks, but here was what they learned in the first three days: Thirty-one bodies had so far been dug up at the farm.

  Twenty-two were men, nine were women.

  The oldest was a seventy-six-year-old man. The youngest was a forty-three-year-old woman.

  Most had died of gunshot wounds to the head. Many were malnourished. A few had severe injuries beyond the head wounds, including severed body parts.

  The media came up with all kinds of terrible headlines. CLUB DEAD. THE DATE FROM HELL. DOA CUPID. WORST DATE EVER. None was funny. None reflected the pure, undiluted horror of that farm.

  The case was no longer Kat's. The FBI took it over. That was fine with her.

  Seven people, including Dana Phelps, had been rescued. They were all treated at a local hospital and released within two days. The exception was Brandon Phelps. The bullet wound had shattered his kneecap. He would need surgery.

  All of the perpetrators of this horror were dead, with one notable exception: The leader, Titus Monroe, had survived Kat's bullet.

  He was, however, in critical condition--in a medically induced coma and on a respirator. But he was still alive. Kat didn't know how she felt about that. Maybe if Titus Monroe woke up, she would have a better idea.

  *

  A few weeks later, Kat visited Dana and Brandon at their home in Greenwich, Connecticut.

  As she pulled into the driveway, Brandon hobbled out on crutches to greet her. She got out of the car and hugged him, and for a moment or two, they just held on to each other. Dana Phelps smiled and waved from the front lawn. Yep, Kat thought, still stunning. A little thinner perhaps, her blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, but now her beauty seemed to emanate more from resiliency and strength than privilege or good fortune.

  Dana lifted a tennis ball into the air. She was playing fetch with her two dogs. One was a black Lab named Chloe.

  The other was an old chocolate Lab named Bo.

  Kat walked toward her. She remembered what Stacy had said about Kat being quick to judge. Stacy had been right. Intuition was one thing. Preconceived notions--about Dana, about Chaz, about Sugar, about anyone--were another.

  "I'm surprised," Kat said to her.

  "Why's that?"

  "I would think the dog would bring bad memories."

  "Bo's only mistake was loving the wrong person," Dana said, tossing the ball across the green grass. There was a hint of a smile on her face. "Who can't relate to that?"

  Kat smiled too. "Good point."

  Bo sprinted toward the ball with all he had. He picked it up in his mouth and jogged toward Brandon. Leaning on one crutch, Brandon lowered himself and patted Bo's head. Bo dropped the ball, wagged his tail, and barked for him to throw it again.

  Dana shaded her eyes. "I'm glad you could come out, Kat."

  "Me too."

  The two women watched Brandon with the dogs.

  "He'll always have a limp," Dana said. "That's what the doctors told me."

  "I'm sorry."

  Dana shrugged. "He seems okay with it. Proud even."

  "He's a hero," Kat said. "If he hadn't broken into that website, if he hadn't somehow known you were in trouble . . ."

  She didn't finish the thought. She didn't have to.

  "Kat?"

  "Yes?"

  "What about you?"

  "What about me?"

  Dana turned to her. "I want to hear everything. The whole story."

  "Okay," Kat said, "but I'm not sure it's over yet."

  *

  When Kat arrived back home on 67th Street the day after they brought down the farm, Jeff was sitting on the stoop.

  "How long have you been waiting here?" she asked him.

  "Eighteen years," he said.

  Then Jeff begged her for forgiveness.

  "Don't," she said.

  "What?"

  But how could she explain? As Sugar had said, she would have given or forgiven anything. She had him back. That was all that mattered.

  "Just don't, okay?"

  "Yeah," he said. "Okay."

  It was as though some invisible giant had grabbed ahold of eighteen years ago in one hand, grabbed ahold of today in the other, pulled them together and then sutured them up. Sure, Kat still had questions. She wanted to know more, but at the same time, it no longer seemed to matter. Jeff began to fill her in bit by bit. Eighteen years ago, there was an issue at home, he explained, forcing him to go back to Cincinnati. He foolishly believed that Kat wouldn't wait for him or it wouldn't be fair to ask her to wait, some chivalrous nonsense. Still, he had hoped to come back to her and, yep, beg her forgiveness, but then he got into that fight at the bar. The drunk boyfriend whose nose he had broken was mobbed up. They wanted revenge, so he ran and got a new ID. Then he got Melinda's mother pregnant and . . .

  "Life got away from me, I guess."

  Kat could see that he wasn't telling all, that he was shading the story for reasons still unknown. But she didn't rush it. Oddly enough, the reality was better than she could have imagined. They had both learned much over the painful years, but perhaps the greatest lesson was also the simplest: Cherish and take care of what you value. Happiness is fragile. Appreciate every moment and do everything you can to protect it.

  The rest of life, in a sense, is background noise.

  They had both been hurt and heartbroken, but now it felt as though it had been meant to be, that you can't reach this high without at one point being that low, that she and Jeff had to go their separate ways so that, surreal as it sounded, they could end up together in this better place.

  "And here we are," she said, kissing him tenderly.

  Every kiss was like that now. Every kiss was like that tender one on the beach.

  The rest of the world could wait. Kat would get her revenge on Cozone. She didn't know how or when. But one day, she would knock on Cozone's door and finish this for her father.

  Just not right now.

  Kat asked for a leave from the force. Stagger gave it to her. She needed to get out of the city. She rented a place in Montauk, near Jeff's house. Jeff insisted that Kat stay with them, but that felt like too much too soon. Still, they spent every second together.

  Jeff's daughter, Melinda, had been wary at first, but once she saw Kat and Jeff together, all doubts fled. "You make him happy," Melinda told Kat with tears in her eyes. "He deserves that."

  Even the old man, Jeff's former father-in-law, welcomed her into the fold.

  It felt right. It felt wonderful.

  Stacy visited for a weekend. One night, when Jeff was barbecuing for them in the yard, both women holding wineglasses and watching the sun set, Stacy smiled and said, "I was right."

  "About?"

  "The fairy tale."

  Kat nodded, remembering what her friend had said so long ago. "But even better."

  *

  A month later, Kat was lying on his bed, her body still humming from the pleasure, when the fairy tale came to an end.

  She hugged the pillow postcoital and smiled. She could hear Jeff singing in the shower. The song had become the ultimate delight and the ultimate dreaded earworm, never leaving them: "I ain't missing you at all."

  Jeff couldn't carry a tune if you tattooed it on him. God, Kat thought with a shake of her head. Such a beautiful man with such a horrible voice.

  She was still feeling deliciously lazy when she heard her cell phone ring. She reached over and hit the green answer button and said, "Hello?"

  "Kat, it's Bobby Suggs."

  Suggs. The old family friend. The detective who had worked her father's homicide.

  "Hey," she said.

  "Hey. You got a minute?"

  "Sure."

  "You remember you asked me to look into those old fingerprints? The ones we found at the murder scene."

  Kat sat up. "Yes."

  "I gotta tell you. It was a pain in the ass. That's why it took so long. The warehouse couldn't find them. No one had the results anymore. I guess Stagger must have thrown them away. I had to run them again."

  "Did you find the fingerprints?" she asked.

  "I got a name, yeah. I don't know what it means, though."

  The shower had stopped running.

  "What's the name?" she asked.

  And then he said it.

  The phone slipped from Kat's hand. It dropped onto the bed. She stared at it. Suggs kept talking. Kat could still hear him, but the words no longer reached her.

  Still lost, she slowly turned toward the bathroom door. Jeff stood in the doorway. A towel was wrapped around his waist. Even now, even after this ultimate betrayal, she still couldn't help but think he was beautiful.

  Kat hung up the phone. "You heard?" she asked.

  "Enough, yeah."

  She waited. Then she said, "Jeff?"

  "I didn't mean to kill him."

  Her eyes closed. The words landed like the most crushing blow. He just stood there and let her take the eight count.

  "The club," Kat said. "The night he died, he went to a club."

  "Right."

  "You were there?"

  "No."

  She nodded, seeing it now. A club for cross-dressers. "Aqua?"

  "Right."

  "Aqua saw him."

  "Yes."

  "So what happened, Jeff?"

  "Your father went into that club with Sugar, I guess. They were, I don't know. Aqua never told me any details. That's the thing. He would have never said a word. But Aqua saw him."

  "And Dad saw Aqua too?"

  Jeff nodded.

  Dad knew Aqua from O'Malley's. She could hear the disapproval in her father's voice whenever he saw her with him.

  "What happened, Jeff?"

  "Your father lost it. He called Stagger. Told him that they had to find this guy."

  "Aqua?"

  "Yes. Your father didn't know we were roommates, did he?"

  Kat had seen no reason to tell him.

  "It was late. I don't know. Two, three in the morning. I was downstairs in the laundry room. Your father broke in. I came back up. . . ."

  "And what happened, Jeff?"

  "Your father was just beating on him. Aqua's face . . . he was a mess. His eyes were closed. Your dad was straddling his chest, just whaling on him. I shouted for him to stop. But he wouldn't listen. He just kept . . ." Jeff shook his head. "I thought maybe Aqua was already dead."

  Kat remembered now that Aqua had been hospitalized after her father's death. She'd figured he had been admitted for psychiatric help, but now she realized that he had been dealing with other problems as well. He would eventually recover from the physical injuries, but the truth was, Aqua's mental health had never recovered. There had been psychotic episodes before. But after that night, after her father had beaten him . . .

  It was why Aqua kept saying it was his fault. It was why he blamed himself for the breakup, why he wanted to return the debt and protect Jeff, even going so far as to attack Brandon.

  "I jumped on top of him," Jeff said. "We fought. He knocked me over. I was on the floor. He stood up and kicked me in the stomach. I grabbed his boot. He started to reach into his holster. Aqua regained consciousness and tackled him. I still him had by the boot." Jeff looked off now, his eyes twisted in pain. "And then I remembered you telling me that he always kept a weapon there, a throw-down gun."

  Kat started shaking her head no.

  "He was reaching into his holster again. I told him to stop. But he just wouldn't listen. So I reached into his boot and grabbed his spare gun. . . ."

  Kat just sat there.

  "Stagger heard the shot. Your dad told him to be a lookout or something. He rushed in. He was panicked. His career, at the very least, was on the line. We would all go to jail, he said. No one would believe us."

  She found her voice. "So you covered it up."

  "Yes."

  "And then you just pretended that nothing happened."

  "I tried to."

  Despite it all, a smile came to her lips. "You're not like my dad, are you, Jeff?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "He could live with the lies." One tear slid down her face. "You couldn't."

  Jeff said nothing.

  "That was why you left me. You couldn't tell me the truth. And you couldn't face me with that lie for the rest of your life."

  He didn't respond. She knew the rest now. Jeff had run away and started what he had called his self-destructive stage. He got into the fight at that bar. Once he was booked, once his fingerprints had finally gotten a hit, they showed up in the homicide file. Stagger had covered it up, but that might not last forever. Stagger had probably gone to Cincinnati then, explained to Jeff that he had to hide, that if anyone ever looked for him, he couldn't be around.

  "Did Stagger help you get the Ron Kochman identity?"

  "Yes."

  "So you ended up living a lie anyway."

  "No, Kat," he said. "It was just a different name."

  "But now you are, right?"

  Jeff said nothing.

  "These past weeks with me, you've been living with the lie. So what were you going to do, Jeff? Now that we're back together, what was your plan?"

  "I didn't have one," he said. "At first, I just wanted to be with you. I didn't care about anything else. You know?"

  She did know, but she didn't want to hear it.

  "But after a while," he said, "I started to wonder."

  "Wonder what?"

  "Would it better to live a lie with you or a truth without you?"

  She swallowed. "Did you ever come up with an answer?"

  "No," Jeff said. "But now I'll never have to. The truth is out. The lies are gone."

  "Just like that?"

  "No, Kat. Nothing with us is ever 'just like that.'"

  He moved toward the bed and sat next to her. He didn't try to embrace her. He didn't try to get too close. She didn't move toward him either. They just sat there, staring at the wall, letting it all rush over them--the lies and secrets, the death and murder and blood, the years of heartbreak and loneliness. Finally, his hand moved toward hers. Her hand closed the gap, covered his. For a very long time, they both stayed like that, frozen, touching, almost afraid to breathe. And somewhere, maybe on a car radio driving by, maybe just in her head, Kat could hear someone singing, "I ain't missing you at all."

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The author wishes to acknowledge the following in no particular order because he can't remember exactly who helped with what: Ray Clarke, Jay Louis, Ben Sevier, Brian Tart, Christine Ball, Jamie McDonald, Laura Bradford, Michael Smith (yes, "Demon Lover" is a real song), Diane Discepolo, Linda Fairstein, and Lisa Erbach Vance. Any mistakes are theirs. Hey, they're the experts. Why should I take all the heat?

  If I accidentally left your name off this list, just let me know and I'll throw you in the next book's acknowledgments. You know how forgetful I am.

  I'd also like to give a quick shout-out to: Asghar Chuback Michael Craig John Glass

  Parnell Hall Chris Harrop Keith Inchierca Ron Kochman Clemente "Clem" Sison Steve Schrader Joe Schwartz Stephen Singer Sylvia Steiner These people (or their loved ones) made generous contributions to charities of my choosing in return for having their names appear in this novel. If you'd like to participate in the future, visit www.HarlanCoben.com or e-mail giving@harlancoben.com for details.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  HARLAN COBEN is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Six Years, Stay Close, Live Wire, Caught, Long Lost, and Hold Tight as well as the Myron Bolitar series and, more recently, a series aimed at young adults, featuring Myron's nephew, Mickey Bolitar. The winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony awards, he lives in New Jersey.

  In 1864, E. P. Dutton & Co. bought the famous Old Corner Bookstore and its publishing division from Ticknor and Fields and began their storied publishing career. Mr. Edward Payson Dutton and his partner, Mr. Lemuel Ide, had started the company in Boston, Massachusetts, as a bookseller in 1852. Dutton expanded to New York City, and in 1869 opened both a bookstore and publishing house at 713 Broadway. In 2014, Dutton celebrates 150 years of publishing excellence. We have redesigned our longtime logotype to reflect the simple design of those earliest published books. For more information on the history of Dutton and its books and authors, please visit www.penguin.com/dutton.

 


 

  Harlan Coben, Missing You

  (Series: # )

 

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