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Missing you, p.7
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       Missing You, p.7

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
The heart icon next to his profile picture had a question mark on it, awaiting her approval to commence the conversation. For the past three hours, Kat had been working on her father's case. The file told her nothing new and yet held all the old problems. Henry Donovan had been shot in the chest at close range with a small Smith & Wesson. This too had always bothered her. Wouldn't you go for the head shot? Wouldn't you come up behind him and put the gun against the back of his head and pull the trigger twice? That had been Monte Leburne's MO. Why change it here? Why fire into the chest?

It didn't mesh.

Neither had something Monte Leburne said to Nurse Steiner when she asked 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."

Obvious question: Who were "they"?

But perhaps Monte had given her the answer. "They" had visited him in prison. Not only had they visited him, they had visited him the day after he got arrested.

Hmm.

Kat had grabbed the phone and called an old friend of hers, Chris Harrop, who worked for the Department of Corrections.

"Kat, nice to hear from you. What's up?"

"I need a favor," Kat said.

"What a surprise. I figured you were calling me for sweaty hot sex."

"My loss, Chris. Can you get me a visitor log for a prisoner?"

"Shouldn't be an issue," Harrop said. "Who's the prisoner and where is he doing time?"

"Monte Leburne. He was up at Clinton."

"For what date?"

"Um, well, it was March twenty-seventh."

"Okay, let me get on it."

"Eighteen years ago."

"Pardon?"

"I need his visitor log. From eighteen years ago."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I'm not."

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"Look, it'll take some time," Harrop said. "The computerization started in 2004. I think the old records are in storage in Albany. How important is this to you?"

"Hot-sweaty-sex important," Kat said.

"On it."

It was when she had hung up the phone that the YouAreJustMy Type instant message balloon had popped up. With a shaking hand, she clicked the question mark, said yes, and then, after a small delay, Jeff's words appeared: Hey, Kat, I got your message. How are you?

Her heart stopped.

Kat read the instant message from Jeff two more times, maybe three. It was hard to know. She saw the beating heart next to his name--he was online, right now, waiting for her response. Her fingertips found the keyboard.


Hey, Jeff . . .

She stopped, trying to think what to add to that before she hit SEND. She decided to go with what was on her mind: Hey, Jeff. You didn't recognize me, I guess.

Kat waited for his reply--an explanation that would probably be full of some sort of defensive baloney like "You're even prettier now" or "The new haircut is so flattering," something like that, whatever. Who cares anyway? It didn't make a difference. Why did she even raise it? Stupid.

But his answer surprised her:


No, I recognized you right away.

The heart next to his profile picture kept beating. She wondered about that little icon or avatar or whatever the hell you called it. A beating red heart--the symbol of romance and love, and if Jeff left right now, if he decided to disconnect, the heart stops beating and then fades away. You, the customer and potential partner, don't want that to happen.

Kat wrote: So why didn't you say so?

More blinking heart: You know why.

She frowned, gave it a moment, mulled it over. Then she typed: Actually, I don't. Then thinking even more about it, she added: Why didn't you say anything about the "Missing You" video?

Heart. Blink. Heart. Blink.

It's just that I'm a widower now.

Whoa. How to reply to that one? I saw that. I'm sorry.

She wanted to ask him a million questions--where he lived, what was his child like, when and how did his wife die, did he still think about Kat at all--but instead she sat there, nearly paralyzed, waiting for Jeff's reply.

Him: Being on here is weird for me.

Her: For me too.

Him: It makes me more cautious and protective. Does that make sense?

Part of her wanted to answer: "Yes, of course. That makes perfect sense." But a bigger part of her wanted to type: "Cautious? Protective? From me?"

Kat settled on: I guess.

The steady beating-heart icon was hypnotizing her. She could almost feel as though her own heart were keeping rhythm to the one next to Jeff's profile picture. She waited. He took longer than she expected to reply.

Him: I don't think it's a good idea for us to talk anymore.

The words landed on her like a surprise wave at the beach.

Him: Going back feels like a mistake. I need a fresh start. Do you understand?

For a moment, she truly hated Stacy for butting in and buying her this stupid account. She tried to shake it off, tried to remember that this had been a ridiculous fantasy to begin with, that he had dumped her before, hurt her, had broken her heart, and she would be damned before she would let him do it again.

Her: Yeah, fine, I understand.

Him: Take care of yourself, Kat.

Blink. Heart. Blink. Heart.

A tear escaped her eye and ran down her cheek. Please don't go, she thought, while typing: You too.

The heart on her screen stopped beating. It faded from red to gray to white before vanishing for good.





Chapter 10


Gerard Remington was losing his mind.

He could almost feel the brain tissue tearing off as though by some bizarre centrifugal force. Most of the time, he was in darkness and in pain and yet through the haze, a startling clarity had come to him. Perhaps clarity was the wrong word. Focus might be more apt.

The muscled man with the accent pointed to the path. "You know the way."

He did. This would be Gerard's fourth trip to the farmhouse. Titus would be waiting. Once again, Gerard considered making a run for it, but he knew he'd never get very far. They fed him just enough to keep him alive, no more. Even though he did nothing all day, locked away in that damn underground box, he was exhausted and weak. The trek on this path took all he had. There was nothing left.

Futile, he realized.

He still held out hope for some sort of miracle rescue. His body, yes, that had failed him. His brain, however, was another matter. He kept his eyes open and had started to piece together some basic information about his whereabouts.

Gerard was being held in rural Pennsylvania, a six-hour drive from Logan Airport, the place where they had kidnapped him.

How did he know?

The plain architecture of the farmhouse, the lack of electrical wires (Titus had his own generator), the old windmill, the buggy, the forest-green window shades--that all added up to his being on land owned by the Amish. Moreover, Gerard knew that certain color buggies are native to certain areas. Gray, for example, usually indicated Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, thus his conclusion as to his whereabouts.

It made no sense. Or perhaps it did.

The sun shone through the green of the trees. The sky was a blue only a deity could paint. Beauty always found refuge in the ugly. Truth be told, beauty couldn't really exist without the ugly. How can there be light if there is no dark?

Gerard was just about to enter the clearing, when he heard the truck.

For a moment, he let himself believe that someone had come to his rescue. Police cars would follow. There would be sirens. Muscled Man would pull his weapon, but an officer would gun him down. He could almost see it all happening--Titus being arrested, the police starting to comb through the grounds, the whole horrible nightmare being exposed for the world to see, if not comprehend.

Because even Gerard could not fully comprehend it.

But the pickup truck wasn't here to rescue anyone. Just the opposite.

From this distance, he could make out a woman in the back of the truck. She wore a bright yellow sundress. That much he could see. The sundress was so out of place among this horror that Gerard could actually feel a tear well up in his eye. He pictured Vanessa in a bright yellow sundress like that. He could see her slipping it on, turning toward him, smiling in a way that would thump-thump right into his chest. He could see Vanessa in that bright yellow sundress, and it made him think of everything else beautiful in the world. He thought about growing up in Vermont. He thought about how his father loved to take him ice fishing when he was little. He thought about how his father died when Gerard was only eight years old and how that really changed everything, but mostly how it destroyed his mom. He thought about her boyfriends, dirty horrible men, and how all of them dismissed Gerard as a weird kid or worse. He thought about how he had been bullied in school, the last kid picked for kickball, the laughs and the taunts and the abuse. He thought about how his attic bedroom had become the escape, how he would make it dark and just lie on the bed, how that box underground sometimes didn't feel so much different, how, as he grew up, the science lab would start serving the same function. He thought about his mother growing older and losing her looks, and then the men were gone and so she came to live with him, cooking for him, doting on him, being such a large part of his life. He thought about how she died of cancer two years ago, leaving him completely alone, and how Vanessa had found him and brought beauty--color like in that bright yellow sundress--into his life and how very soon it would all be gone.

The truck did not stop. It vanished in a cloud of dust.

"Gerard?"

Titus never screamed. He never got angry or threatened violence. He didn't have to. Gerard had met men who commanded respect, who walked into a room and immediately took control of it. Titus was like that. His even tone somehow grabbed you by the lapels and made you obey.

Gerard turned toward him.

"Come."

Titus disappeared back into the farmhouse. Gerard followed him.

An hour later, Gerard started back down the path. His gait was unsteady. He began to shake. He didn't want to go back into that damned box. Promises had been made, of course. The way back to Vanessa, Titus had promised him, was to cooperate. He did not know what to believe anymore, but really, did it matter?

Gerard once again considered making a run for it. He once again dismissed it as nonsense.

When he reached the clearing, the Muscled Man stopped playing with his chocolate Lab and gave him an order in what Gerard believed was Portuguese. The dog ran up the path and out of sight. The Muscled Man pointed a gun at Gerard. Gerard had been through this routine before. Muscled Man would keep the gun on him as Gerard entered the box. Muscled Man would close the door and throw on the lock.

Darkness would smother him again.

But there was something different this time. Gerard could see it in the man's eyes.

"Vanessa," Gerard said softly to himself. He had taken to repeating her name, almost like a mantra, something to calm and soothe him, like his mother at the end with her rosary beads.

"This way," Muscled Man said. He pointed with his gun toward the right.

"Where are we going?"

"This way."

"Where are we going?" Gerard said again.

Muscled Man walked up to Gerard and put the gun against his head.

"This. Way."

He started toward the right. He had been here before--it was the spot where he washed off with the hose and changed into this jumpsuit.

"Keep going."

"Vanessa . . ."

"Yep. Keep walking."

Gerard trekked up past the hose. Muscled Man stayed two steps behind, the gun pointed at Gerard's back.

"Don't stop. Almost there."

Up ahead, Gerard could see a smaller clearing. He frowned, confused. He took one more step, saw it, and froze.

"Keep going."

He didn't. He didn't move. He didn't blink. He didn't even breathe.

To his left--next to a thick oak tree--was a pile of clothes. Lots of clothes, like someone was waiting to do laundry. It was hard to say how many outfits. Ten. Maybe more. He could even see the gray suit he'd been wearing on his way to Logan Airport.

How many of us . . . ?

But his gray suit and even the sheer height of the pile wasn't what drew his eye. That wasn't what made him pull up, stop, and let the truth finally crash over him hard. No, it wasn't the volume of clothes. It was one article of clothing, sitting atop the pile like a cake decoration, that shattered his world into a million pieces.

A bright yellow sundress.

Gerard closed his eyes. His life actually did pass before his eyes--the life he had, the life he almost had--before the blast ushered the darkness back in, this time forever.





Chapter 11


Two weeks later, Kat was finishing up some paperwork in the precinct when Stacy stormed in like a Doppler-tracked weather system. Heads turned. Tongues lolled. Most higher-level brain activity ceased. Simply put, nothing lowers a man's IQ like a curvaceous woman. Chaz Faircloth, who was sadly still Kat's partner, straightened his perfectly straightened tie. He started toward her, but Stacy shot him a look that knocked him back a step.

"Lunch at the Carlyle," Stacy said. "I'm buying."

"Deal."

Kat started to sign off her computer.

"So how did your date go last night?" Stacy asked.

"I hate you," Kat said.

"Yet you'll still have lunch with me."

"You said you were buying."

Kat's first three dates from YouAreJustMyType were unfailingly polite, nicely dressed, and, well, blah. No sparks, no sizzle, just . . . nothing. Last night--her fourth in the two weeks since Jeff had semi-redumped her--had given her early hope. She and Stan Something--no reason to memorize the last name until she reached the so-far-unreachable Second Date--had been walking on West 69th Street, heading to Telepan restaurant, when Stan asked: "Are you a Woody Allen fan?"

Kat felt her heart flutter. She loved Woody Allen. "Very much so."

"How about Annie Hall? You ever see Annie Hall?"

It was only one of her favorite movies of all time. "Of course."

Stan laughed, stopped walking. "You remember that scene when Alvy's going on his first date with Annie and he says something about them kissing before the date so they could relax?"

Kat almost swooned. Woody Allen stops before he and Diane Keaton arrive at the restaurant, kind of like Stan here just did, and says, "Hey, gimme a kiss." Diane Keaton replies, "Really?" Woody says, "Yeah, why not, because we're just gonna go home later, right, and then there's gonna be all that tension, we've never kissed before and I'll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we'll kiss now and get it over with, and then we'll go eat. We'll digest our food better."

Oh, how she loved that scene. She smiled at Stan and waited.

"Hey," Stan said, doing a meh impression of Woody, "let's go have sex before we eat."

Kat blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Right, I know that's not the exact line, but think about it. I won't know when to make the right move and how many dates before we jump in the sack and, when you think about it, we might as well start off doing the horizontal mambo because if we aren't good in bed, well, what's the point, you know what I mean?"

She looked for him to start laughing. He didn't. "Wait, you're serious?"

"Sure. We'll digest our food better, right?"

"I can feel my last meal coming up right now," Kat said.

During dinner, she tried to stay on the rather safe topic of Woody Allen movies. It soon became apparent that Stan wasn't a fan, but he had seen Annie Hall. "See, here's what I do," Stan confided to her in a low whisper. "I just search on the site for women who love that movie. That line? It didn't work with you, but most of Woody's fans immediately get their legs in the air."

Terrific.

Stacy listened intently to Kat's story about Stan, trying her best not to laugh. "Wow, he sounds like such a douche."

"Yep."

"But you're still being too picky. That guy on the second date. He sounded nice."

"True. I mean, he didn't ruin any of my favorite movies for me."

"I hear a but."

"But he ordered a Dasani. Not a bottle of water. A Dasani."

Stacy frowned. "Let me rephrase: Wow, he sounds like such a Massengill."

Kat groaned out loud.

"You're being too picky, Kat."

"I probably need more time."

"To get over Jeff?"

Kat said nothing.

"To get over a guy who dumped you, what, twenty years ago?"

"Shut up, please." Then: "Eighteen years."

They were just about out the door when Kat heard a voice behind her call her name. They both stopped and turned. It was Chaz.

"Need you for a sec," Chaz said.

"Heading out to lunch," Kat said.

Chaz beckoned her with a finger, all the while keeping his eye on Stacy. Kat sighed and headed up to meet him. Chaz turned his back and pointed with his thumb down toward Stacy. "Who's the Grade A, prime beef, select choice hottie?"

"Not your type."

"She looks my type."

"She has the capacity to think."

"Huh?"

"What do you want, Chaz?"

"You have a visitor."

"I'm on my lunch hour."

"I told the kid that. Said I'd help him, but he said he'd wait."

"Kid?"

Chaz shrugged.

"What kid?"

"I look like your secretary? Ask him yourself. He's sitting by your desk."

She signaled to Stacy to give her another minute and headed up another level. A teenage boy sat in the chair next to her desk. He sat, well, like a teenager--slouching to the point of nearly melting, as though someone had removed his bones and propped him up. His arm was draped over the back of the chair as if it was something that didn't belong to him. His hair was too long, aiming for boy band or lax bro, but it hung down in his face like a tassel curtain.

Kat approached him. "Can I help you?"

He sat up, pushed the curtain off his face. "You're Detective Donovan."

It was more a statement than a question.

"That's right. What can I do for you?"
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