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Missing you, p.5
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       Missing You, p.5

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
Kat thought that question was rhetorical, but Nurse Steiner stopped and waited for an answer. "I don't know."

"Think about it. For any experience, good or bad: If you don't remember it immediately after it happens, does it really count?"

Again she waited for an answer. Again Kat said, "I don't know."

"Neither do I. It's an interesting question, isn't it?"

Where the hell was she going with this? "I guess so," Kat said.

"We all want to live in the moment. I understand that. But if you can't recall that moment, did it ever really happen? I'm not sure. The Germans started twilight sleep. They thought it would make childbirth more bearable for the mothers. But they were wrong. We stopped using it, of course. The child came out drugged. That was the main reason--at least, that's what the medical people claimed." She leaned conspiratorially toward Kat. "But between us, I don't really think that was it."

"Why, then?"

"It wasn't what happened to the babies." Nurse Steiner stopped at the door. "It was the mothers."

"What about them?"

"They had issues with the procedure too. Twilight sleep allowed them to miss the pain, yes, but they never experienced the birth, either. They went into a room and next thing they remembered, they were holding a baby. Emotionally, they felt disconnected, removed from the birth of their own child. It was disconcerting. You've been carrying a child for nine months. You've started labor and then poof--"

Nurse Steiner snapped her fingers for emphasis.

"You wondered whether it really happened," Kat finished for her.

"Exactly."

"What does this have to do with Monte Leburne?"

Nurse Steiner's smile was coy. "You know."

She didn't. Or maybe she did. "You can put him in twilight sleep?"

"Yes, of course."

"And you think--what?--I can get him to talk and then he'll forget about it?"

"Not really, no. I mean, yes, he won't remember. But morphine isn't all that different from sodium thiopental. You know what that is, don't you?"

Kat did, though it was better known as Sodium Pentothal. In short: truth serum.

"It doesn't work like you see in the movies," Nurse Steiner continued. "But when people are under, well, the mothers tended to babble. Confessing, even. At more than one delivery, with the husbands pacing in the other room, they confided that the baby wasn't his. We didn't ask, of course. They would just say it, and we would pretend that we didn't hear. But over time, I started to realize that you could actually carry on conversations. You could ask and learn a great deal and, of course, she would never remember a thing."

Nurse Steiner met Kat's eye. Kat felt a shiver run down her back. Nurse Steiner broke the contact and pushed open the door.

"I should point out that there is a huge problem with reliability. I've seen it happen many times with morphine. The patient will speak convincingly about something that can't possibly be true. The last man who died in this infirmary? He swore that every time I left him alone, someone would kidnap him and take him to different cat funerals. He wasn't lying. He was convinced it was happening. Do you see?"

"Yes."

"So you understand, then. Shall we continue?"

Kat didn't know. She had grown up in a cop family. She had seen the dangers of bending the rules.

But what choice did she have?

"Detective?"

"Go ahead," Kat said.

The smile widened. "If Monte hears your voice, it will put his defenses up. If you let me handle it, we may get some useful information for you."

"Okay."

"I'm going to need some information about the shooting."

It took about twenty minutes. Nurse Steiner added scopolamine into the mix, checked vitals, made adjustments. She was doing this with all too much a practiced hand, so that, for a moment, Kat wondered whether this was the first time Nurse Steiner had done it for reasons that were not purely medical. Kat couldn't help but wonder about the implications of twilight sleep, the potential for abuse. Nurse Steiner's seemingly cheery justification--if you don't remember it immediately after it happened, did it happen?--sounded too easy.

The woman was off, no doubt about it. Right now, Kat didn't much care.

Kat sat low in the corner, out of sight. Monte Leburne was awake now, his head lolling back on the pillow. He started calling Nurse Steiner Cassie--the name of his sister who died when she was eighteen. He started talking about how he wanted to see her when he died. Kat marveled at how Nurse Steiner seemed to lead him further and further down the path she wanted him to travel.

"Oh, you will see me, Monte," Nurse Steiner said. "I will be waiting on the other side. Except, well, there could be issues with the people you killed."

"Men," he said.

"What?"

"I only killed men. I wouldn't kill no woman. Not ever. No women, no children, Cassie. I killed men. Bad men."

Nurse Steiner shot a glance toward Kat. "But you killed a police officer."

"Worst of them all."

"What do you mean?"

"Cops. They ain't no better. Don't matter, though."

"I don't understand, Monte. Explain it to me."

"I never killed no cop, Cassie. You know that."

Kat froze. That can't be right.

Nurse Steiner cleared her throat. "But, Monte--"

"Cassie? I'm sorry I never defended you." Monte Leburne started to cry. "I let him hurt you, and I didn't do nothing to help."

"That's okay, Monte."

"No, it's not. I protected everyone else, right? But not you."

"It's over. I'm in a better place now. I want you to be here with me."

"I protect my family now. I learned. Dad was no good."

"I know that. But, Monte, you said you never killed a cop."

"You know that."

"But what about Detective Henry Donovan?"

"Shh."

"What?"

"Shh," he said. "They'll hear. It was easy. I was toast anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"They already had me for killing Lazlow and Greene. Dead to rights. I was going to get life anyway. What's one more, if it provides, you know what I mean?"

A cold hand wrapped itself around Kat's heart and squeezed.

Even Nurse Steiner was having trouble keeping her tone even. "Explain it to me, Monte. Why did you shoot Detective Donovan?"

"Is that what you think? I just took the fall. I was already toast. Don't you see?"

"You didn't shoot him?"

No answer.

"Monte?"

She was starting to lose him.

"Monte, if it wasn't you, who killed him?"

His voice was far away. "Who?"

"Who killed Henry Donovan?"

"How should I know? They visited me. Day after I got arrested. They told me to take the money and the fall."

"Who?"

Monte's eyes closed. "I'm so sleepy."

"Monte, who told you to take the fall?"

"I should have never let Dad get away with it, Cassie. What he did to you. I knew. Mom knew. And we didn't do nothing. I'm sorry."

"Monte?"

"So tired . . ."

"Who told you to take the fall?"

But Monte Leburne was asleep.





Chapter 7


On the drive back, Kat kept both hands on the wheel. She focused hard on the road, too hard, but it was the only way to keep her head from spinning. Her world had keeled off its axis. Nurse Steiner had again warned her that Monte Leburne had been disoriented under the medication and that his claims should be viewed with a strong dose of skepticism. Kat nodded as the nurse spoke. She understood all that--about disorientation and unreliability and even imagination--but she'd learned one thing as a cop: Truth has its own funky smell.

Right now, Monte Leburne reeked of truth.

She flipped on the radio and tried to listen to angry talk radio. The hosts always had such easy answers to the world's problems. Kat found their simplicity irritating and thus their shows, in an odd way, wonderfully distracting. Those who had easy answers, be they on the right or the left, were always wrong. The world is complex. It is never one-size-fits-all.

When she arrived back at the 19th Precinct, she headed straight to Captain Stagger's office. He wasn't there. She could ask when he'd be back, but she didn't feel like drawing attention to herself quite yet. She settled on sending him a quick text: Need to talk.

No immediate reply, but then again, Kat hadn't expected one. She took the stairs up a level. Her current partner, Charles "Chaz" Faircloth, stood in the corner with three other cops. When she approached, Chaz said, "Well, hey there, Kat," stretching it out so that even these benign words carried a sarcastic edge. Then, because Chaz was funny like this, he added: "Look what the Kat dragged in."

Sadly, the men with him actually chuckled.

"Good one," she said.

"Thanks. Been working on my timing."

"It's paying off."

Oh man, she was so not in the mood for him right now.

Chaz wore an expensive, chintzy, perfectly tailored suit, the kind that glistens as though wet, a tie Windsored by someone who had too much time on their hands, and Ferragamo shoes that brought to mind that old adage about judging a man by the shine of his shoes. The adage was crap. Guys who always shined their shoes were usually self-involved asswipes who figure superficiality trumps substance.

Chaz had the waxy, pretty-boy good looks and almost supernatural charisma of, well, a sociopath, which Kat suspected he was. He was a Faircloth, yes, one of the Faircloths, a loaded and well-connected family whose members often played at being cops because it looked good when they ran for public office. Still keeping his eye on her, Chaz whispered a little joke to the guys, probably at her expense, and the group dispersed with a laugh.

"You're late," Chaz said to her.

"I was working a case for the captain."

He arched an eyebrow. "Is that what they call it?"

What an ass.

With Chaz, everything was a double entendre that bordered on, if not crossed into, harassment. It wasn't that he hit on women. It was that his entire personality was hitting on women. Some men are like this--they communicate with all females as though they'd just met in a singles bar. He couldn't talk about what he had for breakfast without making it somehow smarmy, as though you'd just had a one-night stand and cooked it up for him.

"So what are we working on?" Kat asked.

"Don't worry. I covered for you."

"Yeah, well, thanks, but do you mind filling me in?"

Chaz gestured toward her desk, flashing emerald-stone cuff links. "The files are all there. Have at it." He checked his oversize and too-shiny Rolex. "Gotta bounce."

He strutted out with his shoulders back, whistling some lame tune about shorties in a club. Kat had already spoken to Stephen Singer, her immediate superior, about getting a new partner. Once Chaz heard about her request, he'd been shocked, not so much because he really liked Kat but because he could not fathom how this woman--or any woman--hadn't fallen under his spell. He reacted by turning up the charm, sure that there was no woman anywhere in the free world he couldn't bend to his whim.

With his back still facing her, Chaz waved a hand up and said, "Later, babe."

Not worth it, she told herself.

There were more important issues at hand. For example: Could Monte Leburne have been telling the truth?

What if they had had it wrong all these years? What if her father's killer was still out there?

It was almost too overwhelming to consider. She needed to unload, to talk to someone who had known all the players and the situations, and the first name to come to mind, the first person who popped in her head, God help her, was Jeff Raynes.

She glanced at the computer on her desk.

First things first. She brought up every file on Monte Leburne and the murder of Detective Henry Donovan. There was a ton of material. Okay, fine. She could read it tonight at home. Of course, she had already read it a hundred times, but had she ever gone into it with the supposition that Monte Leburne was a fall guy? No. Fresh eyes. She would read it with fresh eyes.

Then she started wondering whether Jeff had replied to her YouAreJustMyType.com message yet.

The desks on either side of her were empty. She looked behind her. No one was there. Good. If the guys in here saw her bring up an online dating site, she would never hear the end of it. She sat at the computer and took another look. The coast was clear. She quickly typed "YouAreJustMyType.com" into the field and hit RETURN.


Site blocked. To access, please ask your direct superior for access code.

Uh-uh, no way. The police department was like a lot of businesses--they were trying to up productivity by not allowing employees to spend time on personal websites or social networks. That was what was happening here.

Earlier she had debated putting the YouAreJustMyType app on her phone, but that felt way too desperate. It would simply have to wait. Which was fine. Except that it wasn't.

Cases came in through the door. Kat handled them. A taxi driver claimed a socialite was trying to beat a fare. A woman complained that her neighbor was growing pot plants. Minor stuff. She checked her cell phone. No reply from Stagger. She didn't know what to make of that. She sent him another message: Really need to talk to you.

She was about to pocket her phone when she felt the vibration. Stagger's answer had come in: Assume this has to do with prison visit?


Yes.

The delay was longer this time.


Busy until eight. I could stop by tonight or we can wait till the morning.

There was no delay on Kat's part.


STOP BY TONIGHT.

*

Kat didn't pretend that she wasn't anxious to see if Jeff had replied.

At the end of her shift, she changed into jogging clothes, ran across the park, hurried past the doorman with a smile and nod, took the stairs two at a time (the elevator could be slow), and unlocked her door in one smooth motion.

The computer was in sleep mode. Kat gave the mouse a shake and waited. The little hourglass popped up and started going round and round. Man, she needed a new computer. She was thirsty from the run and debated getting up for a glass of water, but the hourglass stopped.

She loaded up YouAreJustMyType.com. It had been too many hours since her last visit, so the site had again logged her out. She typed in her user name and password and clicked CONTINUE. The welcome screen came up with six words big, bright, and green: One response waiting in your inbox!

Her heart pounded. She could actually feel it, the slow, steady thud that she was sure would be visible to the eye. She clicked the green lettering. The inbox came up along with the tiny profile photograph of Jeff.

Now or never.

The subject line was blank. She moved her cursor over it and clicked to open the e-mail. Jeff's message came up: HA! Cute video! I always loved that one. I know men always say that they love a woman with a sense of humor, but that was really a clever way of reaching out. I'm also really drawn to your photographs. Your face is beautiful, obviously, but there is something . . . more there. It's nice to meet you!

That was it. No signature. No name.

Nothing.

Wait, what?

The truth smacked her hard across the face: Jeff didn't remember her.

Was that possible? How could he not remember her? Hold the phone, let's not get ahead of ourselves. She took a deep breath and tried to think it through. Okay, at the very least, Jeff didn't recognize her. How much had she changed? A lot, she supposed. Her hair was darker and shorter now. She had aged. Men are luckier, of course. The gray at Jeff's temples just made him better-looking, damn him. Being objective, the years perhaps had not been as kind to her. Simple as that. Kat stood up, started pacing, looked in the mirror. You don't see it on yourself, of course. You don't see the changes that the years bring. But now, as she started to search her drawers for old pictures of herself--the bad hair, the chubbier cheeks, the glowing youth--she could almost get it. He had last seen her as a bright-eyed albeit devastated twenty-two-year-old. She was now forty. Big difference. Her profile offered up no real personal information. It didn't list her address or degree at Columbia or anything so that you'd know it was Kat.

So on one level, it made sense that Jeff may not recognize her.

Of course, when she started to think about it a little more, her justification started to, if not fall apart, at least unravel a bit. They'd been in love. They'd been engaged. That song--that video--had been more than "cute" to them, more than something you'd pass off or forget or . . .

Something snagged her gaze and held it.

Kat leaned closer to the computer monitor and saw a beating heart next to Jeff's profile photograph. According to the little grid at the bottom, that meant he was currently online and would accept instant messages from "those who've previously communicated" with him.

She sat down, opened up the instant message box, and typed, It's Kat.

To send, you had to hit the RETURN button. She didn't waste time or give herself a chance to talk herself out of it. She hit the RETURN button. The message was sent.

The cursor blinked impatiently. Kat sat there and waited for his response. Her right leg started jackhammering up and down. She had never been diagnosed with restless leg syndrome, but she guessed she was on the borderline. Her father used to shake his leg too. A lot. She put her hand on her knee and willed herself to stop. Her eyes never left the screen.

The blinking cursor vanished. A small cloud popped up.

That meant Jeff was typing his reply. A moment later, it popped up on her screen: No names. At least, not yet.

She frowned. What the hell did that mean? Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembered reading something during her initial "orientation" to YouAreJustMyType.com, some warning to users not to use their real names until they were certain that the person was someone they'd want to meet in person.

So he wasn't sure?

What was going on here? Her fingers found the keypad and started typing: Jeff? Is that you? It's Kat.

The cursor blinked exactly twelve times--she counted--and then, the beating red heart disappeared.
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