Missing you, p.4
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       Missing You, p.4

          

  "Not long."

  Stagger started to come around the desk, maybe to offer comfort or a hug, but he pulled up short.

  "This is good, Kat. He deserves to die. He deserves worse."

  She shook her head. "No."

  "Kat . . ."

  "I need to speak to him again."

  He nodded slowly. "I thought you'd say that."

  "And?"

  "I made the request. Leburne refuses to see you."

  "Too bad," she said. "I'm a cop. He's a convicted murderer about to die with a big secret."

  "Kat."

  "What?"

  "Even if you could get him to talk now--and come on, we know that won't happen--he won't live until trial anyway."

  "We can put him on tape. Deathbed confession."

  Stagger looked skeptical.

  "I have to try."

  "He won't see you."

  "Can I borrow a car from the pool?"

  He closed his eyes, said nothing.

  "Please, Stagger?"

  So much for only calling him captain.

  "Your partner will cover for you?"

  "Sure," she lied. "Of course."

  "Doesn't feel like I have much of a choice anyway," he said with a sigh of resignation. "Fine, go."

  Chapter 5

  Gerard Remington finally saw daylight.

  He had no idea how long he had been in the darkness. The sudden burst of light exploded in his eyes like a supernova. His eyes shut. He wanted to shield them too, but his hands were still tied. He tried to blink, his eyes watering with the light.

  Someone stood directly above him.

  "Don't move," a man's voice said.

  Gerard didn't. He heard a snapping noise and realized that the man was cutting the bindings. For a brief moment, hope filled his chest. Perhaps, Gerard thought, this man has come to rescue me.

  "Get up," the man said now. He had a hint of an accent, maybe something from the Caribbean or South America. "I have a gun. If you make any moves, we kill you and bury you here. Do you understand?"

  Gerard's mouth was so dry, but he still managed to say, "Yes."

  The man climbed out of the . . . box? For the first time, Gerard Remington could now see where he had been kept all these . . . hours? It was somewhere in size between a coffin and a small room, maybe four feet deep and wide, and perhaps eight feet long. When he stood up, Gerard saw that he was surrounded by deep woods. The room was buried in the ground. A hidden bunker of some sort. Maybe something to hide in during a storm, or somewhere to store grain. It was hard to say.

  "Get out," the man said.

  Gerard squinted up. The man--no, he was closer to a teen, really--was big and muscular. His accent now seemed to have a little Portuguese in it, maybe Brazilian, but Gerard was no expert. His hair was short, tight curls. He wore torn jeans and a fitted T-shirt that worked almost like a tourniquet on his bloated biceps.

  He also had a gun.

  Gerard climbed out of the box and into the woods. In the distance, he saw a dog--a chocolate Lab maybe--run up a path. When the man closed the top of the bunker, the bunker vanished from sight. You could see only two large metal rings, a chain, and a padlock--all on the door.

  Gerard's head spun.

  "Where am I?"

  "You stink," the young man said. "There's a hose behind that tree. Wash yourself off, do your business, and put this on."

  The young man handed Gerard a one-piece jumpsuit in camouflage colors.

  "I don't understand any of this," Gerard said.

  The muscled man with the gun moved right up next to him. He started flexing his pecs and triceps. "Do you want me to kick your ass?"

  "No."

  "Then do what I say."

  Gerard tried to swallow, but again his throat was too parched. He turned toward the hose. Forget washing off. He needed water. Gerard started to run toward the hose, but his knees buckled, almost knocking him down. He had been in that box too long. He managed to stay upright long enough to reach the hose. He turned the faucet. When the water appeared, he drank greedily. The water tasted like, well, old hose, but he didn't care.

  Gerard waited for the man to bark at him again, but suddenly the man had patience. That bothered Gerard for some reason. He looked around. Where was he? He turned in a circle, hoping to find a clearing or a street or something. But there was nothing. Just woods.

  He listened for any noise. Again nothing.

  Where was Vanessa? Was she waiting for him at the airport, confused but safe?

  Or had she been grabbed too?

  Gerard Remington stepped behind the tree and removed his soiled clothes. The man still watched him. Gerard wondered when he had last been naked in front of another man. Physical education class in high school, he assumed. An odd thing to think about at a time like this--modesty.

  Where was Vanessa? Was she okay?

  He didn't know, of course. He didn't know anything. He didn't know where he was or who this man was or why he was here. Gerard tried to slow himself down, tried to think rationally about his next move. He would have to cooperate and try as best he could to keep his wits about him. Gerard was smart. He reminded himself of that right now. There, good, that made him feel better.

  He was smart. He had a woman he loved and a great job and a wonderful future ahead of him. This brute had a gun, yes, but he was no match for Gerard Remington's intellect.

  The man finally spoke. "Hurry."

  Gerard hosed himself off. "Do you have a towel?" he asked.

  "No."

  Still wet, Gerard slipped into the jumpsuit. He was shivering now. The combination of fear, exhaustion, confusion, and deprivation was taking its toll.

  "Do you see that path?"

  The man with the swollen muscles pointed toward the same opening Gerard had seen the dog run up.

  "Yes."

  "Follow it until the end. If you step off of it, I will shoot you."

  Gerard did not bother to question the order. He started down the narrow path. Running away did not seem to be an option. Even if the man didn't shoot him, where would he go? He could hide in the woods maybe. Hope to outrun him. But he had no idea which direction to head. He had no idea if he would be running toward a road or deeper into the wilderness.

  It was, it seemed, a fool's plan.

  Plus, if these people wanted to kill him--he assumed that there was more than one since the brute had said "we"--they would have done so by now. So stay smart. Stay observant. Stay alive.

  Find Vanessa.

  Gerard knew his stride was approximately 81 centimeters. He counted the steps. When he reached two hundred steps, which added up to 162 meters, he saw a break in the path. There was a clearing not far away. Twelve steps later, Gerard was out of the thick woods. Up ahead, there was a white farmhouse. Gerard studied it from afar, noticing that the upstairs window shades were dark green. He looked for electrical wires leading toward the house. There were none.

  Interesting.

  A man stood on the porch of the farmhouse. He leaned casually against a porch post. His sleeves were rolled up, his arms crossed. He wore sunglasses and work boots. His hair was dirty-blond and long--shoulder length. When he spotted Gerard, the man beckoned for him to come inside. Then the man slipped through the door and out of sight.

  Gerard started toward the farmhouse. Again he noticed the green shades. There was a barn to his right. The dog--yep, it was definitely a chocolate Lab--sat in front of it, patiently watching. Behind the dog, Gerard could see the corner of what looked like a gray buggy for a horse. Hmm. Gerard also spotted a windmill. That made sense. These were clues. He didn't know what they added up to--or maybe he did and that just made the situation even more confusing--but for now, he just let the clues sink in.

  He walked up the two porch steps and hesitated by the open door. He took a deep breath and stepped into the front foyer. The living room was to his left. The man with the long hair sat in a big chair. His sunglasses were off now. His eyes were brown and bloodshot. Tattoos covered his forearms. Gerard studied them, trying to form a mental photograph, hoping for a hint as to who the man might be. But the tattoos were simple designs. They told him nothing.

  "My name is Titus." There was a lilt in the man's voice. Something silvery and soft and almost fragile. "Please sit down."

  Gerard moved into the room. The man named Titus pinned him down with his eyes. Gerard sat. Another man, what one might call a hippie, entered the room. He wore a colorful dashiki, a knit cap, and pink-tinted glasses. He sat at the desk in a corner and opened a MacBook Air. All MacBook Airs look alike, of course, which was why Gerard had put a small piece of black tape on the top of his.

  The black tape was there.

  Gerard frowned. "What's going on? Where's Vanessa--"

  "Shh," Titus said.

  The sound sliced through the air like a reaper's scythe.

  Titus turned to the hippie with the laptop. The hippie nodded at him and said, "Ready."

  Gerard almost asked, "Ready for what?" but the sound of that shush still kept him silent.

  Titus turned back to Gerard and smiled. It was the single most frightening sight Gerard Remington had ever seen.

  "We have some questions for you, Gerard."

  Chapter 6

  Fishkill Correctional Facility's original name was the Matteawan State Hospitial for the Criminally Insane. That was in the 1890s. It remained, in one capacity or another, a state hospital for the mentally ill until the 1970s, when courts made it harder to arbitrarily commit those deemed insane. Now Fishkill was labeled a medium-security prison, though it had everything from minimum-security work-release prisoners to a maximum-security S Block.

  Located in Beacon, New York, nestled somewhat picturesquely between the Hudson River and the Fishkill Ridge, the original brick building still greeted you upon arrival. With the razor wire and the disrepair, the place looked like an Ivy League campus by way of Auschwitz.

  Kat used professional courtesy and her gold badge to get past most of the security. In the NYPD, cops on the street had a silver badge. Detectives had the gold. Her badge number, 8115, had belonged to her father.

  An elderly nurse, dressed completely in white with a vintage nurse's cap, stopped her at the hospital wing. Her makeup was garish--deep blue eye shadow, neon-red lipstick--and looked as though someone had melted crayons onto her face. She smiled too sweetly, the lipstick on her teeth. "Mr. Leburne has requested no visitors."

  Kat flashed the badge again. "I just want to see him"--she spotted a name tag reading SYLVIA STEINER, RN--"Nurse Steiner."

  Nurse Steiner grabbed the gold badge, took her time reading it, then looked up to study Kat's face. Kat kept her expression neutral.

  "I don't understand. Why are you here?"

  "He killed my father."

  "I see. And you want to see him suffer?"

  There was no judgment in Nurse Steiner's voice. It was as if this would be the most natural thing in the world.

  "Uh, no. I'm here to ask him some questions."

  Nurse Steiner took one more look at the badge and handed it back. "This way, my dear."

  The voice was melodic and angelic and downright creepy. Nurse Steiner led her into a room with four beds. Three were empty. In the fourth, the one in the far right corner, Monte Leburne lay with his eyes closed. In his day, Leburne had been a big, beefy bruiser of a man. If a crime involved a need for physical violence or intimidation, Monte Leburne had been the meathead to call. An ex-heavyweight boxer who'd definitely taken a few too many shots to the head, Leburne had used his fists (and more) in loan-sharking, extortion, turf wars, union busting, you name it. After a rival family gave him a particularly brutal beating, his mob bosses--who respected Leburne's brand of loyalty because it was so akin to stupidity--had given him a gun and let him work the physically less demanding task of shooting their enemies.

  In short, Monte Leburne had become a mid-level hit man. He wasn't bright or clever, but really, when you stopped and thought about it, how smart did you have to be to shoot a man with a gun?

  "He's in and out," Nurse Steiner explained.

  Kat moved toward the bed. Nurse Steiner stayed a few paces behind her. "Could you give us some privacy?" Kat asked.

  The sweet smile. The creepy, melodic voice: "No, dear, I can't."

  Kat looked down at Leburne, and for a moment, she searched herself for some sign of compassion for the man who killed her father. If it was there, it was pretty well hidden. Most days, her hatred for this man was red-hot, but some days, she realized that it was like hating a gun. He was the weapon. Nothing more.

  Of course, weapons should be destroyed too, right?

  Kat put her hand on Leburne's shoulder and gave him a gentle shake. Leburne's eyes blinked open.

  "Hello, Monte."

  It took a moment for his eyes to focus in on Kat's face. When they did--when he recognized her--his body went stiff. "You're not supposed to be here, Kat."

  Kat reached into her pocket and took out a photograph. "He was my father."

  Leburne had seen the photograph plenty of times before. Whenever she visited him, Kat brought it. She wasn't sure why. Part of her hoped to reach him, but men who execute people are rarely subjected to bouts of regret. Maybe she brought it for herself somehow, to steel her own resolve, to have, in some odd way, her own father as backup.

  "Who wanted him dead? It was Cozone, wasn't it?"

  Leburne kept the back of his head flat on the pillow. "Why do you keep asking me the same questions?"

  "Because you never answer them."

  Monte Leburne smiled up at her with peglike teeth. Even at this distance, she could smell the decay on his breath. "And what, are you hoping for a deathbed confession?"

  "There's no reason not to tell the truth now, Monte."

  "Sure there is."

  He meant his family. That was his price, of course. Stay quiet and we will take care of your family. Open your mouth and we will hack them into small pieces.

  The ultimate carrot and stick.

  This had always been the problem for her. She had nothing to offer him.

  You didn't have to be a doctor to realize that Monte Leburne didn't have much time left. Death had already nestled into a cozy spot and started clawing its way to inevitable victory. Monte's entire being was sunken, as though he'd eventually disappear into the bed and then the floor and then, poof, completely vanish. She stared now at his right hand--his gun hand--loaded up with fat, loose veins that looked like old garden hoses. The IV was attached near his wrist.

  He gritted his teeth as a fresh wave of pain coursed through. "Go," he managed to say.

  "No." Kat could feel her last chance slipping away. "Please," she said, trying to keep the pleading from her voice. "I need to know."

  "Go away."

  Kat leaned closer. "Listen, okay? This is just for me. Do you understand? It's been eighteen years. I have to know the truth. That's all. For closure. Why did he order the hit on my father?"

  "Get away from me."

  "I'll say you talked."

  "What?"

  Kat nodded, trying to keep her voice firm. "The moment you die, I will arrest his ass. I will say you ratted him out. I will tell him I got a full confession from you."

  Monte Leburne smiled again. "Nice try."

  "You don't think I'll do it?"

  "Don't know what you'll do. I just know no one will believe it." Monte Leburne looked past her toward Nurse Steiner. "And I got a witness, don't I, Sylvia?"

  Nurse Steiner nodded. "I'm right here, Monte."

  A fresh roll of pain made him wince. "I'm really tired, Sylvia. It's getting pretty bad."

  Nurse Steiner quickly moved closer to his bedside. "I'm right here, Monte." She took his hand. What with the garish makeup, her smile looked literally painted on, like something on the face of a scary clown.

  "Please make her go, Sylvia."

  "She's leaving now." Nurse Steiner started pressing the pump, releasing some kind of narcotic into his veins. "Just relax, Monte, okay?"

  "Don't let her stay."

  "Shhh, you'll be fine." Nurse Steiner gave Kat the baleful eye. "She's as good as gone."

  Kat was about to protest, but Nurse Steiner pressed buttons on the IV box again, making the point moot anyway. Leburne's eyes started to flutter. A few moments later, he was out cold.

  *

  A waste of time.

  But then again, what had Kat expected? Even the dying man had scoffed at the idea of a deathbed confession. Cozone knew how to keep his employees quiet. You do your time, your family gets taken care of for life. You talk, everyone dies. There was no incentive to get Leburne to talk. There never had been. There certainly was none now.

  Kat was just about to head back toward the car when she heard the sickly sweet voice behind her. "You handled that very poorly, dear."

  Kat turned to see Nurse Steiner standing there, looking like something out of a horror movie with the nurse getup and the paint-can makeup. "Yeah, well, thanks for your help."

  "Would you like my help?"

  "Pardon?"

  "He has very little remorse, you know. I mean, true remorse. A priest stops by, and he says the right words. But he doesn't mean it. He's just trying to bargain his way into Heaven. The Lord isn't so easily fooled." She gave the creepy, lipstick-on-teeth smile again. "Monte murdered many people, is that correct?"

  "He confessed to killing three. There were more."

  "Including your father?"

  "Yes."

  "And your father was a police officer? Like you?"

  "Yes."

  Nurse Steiner made a tsk-tsk noise of sympathy. "I'm very sorry."

  Kat said nothing.

  Nurse Steiner chewed on her lipsticked bottom lip for a moment. "Please follow me."

  "What?"

  "You need information, am I correct?"

  "Yes."

  "Please stay out of sight. Let me handle this."

  Nurse Steiner spun and started back toward the infirmary. Kat hurried to catch up. "Wait, what are you going to do?"

  "Do you know anything about twilight sleep?" Nurse Steiner asked.

  "Not really."

  "I started my career working for an ob-gyn doing baby deliveries. In the old days, we'd use morphine and scopolamine as anesthesia. It would produce a semi-narcotic state--the expectant mother would stay awake, but she wouldn't really remember anything. Some say it dulled the pain. Perhaps it did, but I don't think so. I think what happened was, the expectant mother forgot the agony she was forced to endure." She tilted her head, like a dog hearing a strange sound. "Does pain happen if you don't remember it?"

 
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