Read Empty Ever After Online

Authors: Reed Farrel Coleman

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

Empty Ever After (8 page)

BOOK: Empty Ever After
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I wanted to explode. He was right, but he was wrong too. I put in my time. I got us some of our biggest accounts, hired our best people. Even Aaron would have to admit that much. Klaus and Kosta were integral parts of our success and had been with us from year one. Both now owned small percentages of the business. Kosta was our head buyer and Klaus, besides running the day-to-day operations of the New Jersey store was, along with our lawyers and accountants, looking into the possibility of our franchising.
“Without me, there’d be no business,” I said.
“Yeah, I heard that refrain before. It used to mean something, too, when you said it last century. That was then. Four stores and twenty years later, it’s enough already.”
“Did Abraham Lincoln write that for you?”
“What?”
“Never mind.”
“Go play cops and robbers with your Spanish hottie.” Aaron was very much of my parent’s generation. I’m surprised he didn’t call our African-American employees colored. He wasn’t a bigot. Far from it. He was just old. He was born old.
“Puerto Rican.”
“What?”
“Carmella is Puerto Rican and she’s not my hottie. Where do you come up with these terms anyway,
Reader’s Digest
?”
“What’s wrong with
Reader’s Digest
?”
No matter what our arguments started over, they always ended in the same place.
“You want coffee?” I asked.
“Sounds good.”
“The usual?”
“Always. Hey, little brother …”
“Yeah.”
“I love ya.”
“I know. Me too.”
 
THE NORTHWEST TERMINAL was bustling. The area airports were always busy, but there was just something about LaGuardia that brought out the closet claustrophobic in even the most hardened New Yorker. I found myself wishing
I’d
made the travel arrangements instead of leaving them up to Sarah. All this foot traffic was going to make things that much more difficult. No doubt a late afternoon or evening flight would have been a better option, but there was no use giving myself
shpilkes
over it now. For the moment, I only wanted to think about the best thing in my life, Sarah.
I loved the kid so much it hurt. Maybe it was her only-child status or that we were baseball buddies, but I had never gotten used to her being away from home. The sting was particularly sharp today with LaGuardia being just a stone’s throw away from Shea Stadium. Sarah had a double-major as a kid, learning about baseball and aircraft as we sat and watched the big jets roar over Shea on their final approaches to the airport. I remembered the first game I took her to, a weekday matinee against the Padres. She lasted only a couple of innings in the baking sun and passed out on my shoulder. When she woke up, she said she was
firsty
. I remembered that day for other reasons too.
It was the summer of 1983 and I had been hired to look into the disappearance of a political intern named Moira Heaton. Moira was a plain looking girl, a cop’s daughter, who had gone missing from State Senator Steven Brightman’s neighborhood office on Thanksgiving Eve 1981. For two years Brightman had proclaimed his innocence. He’d done everything he could, cooperated completely with the police, posted a big reward, jumped through fiery hoops, but it was all to no avail. He had been tried and convicted in the press and in the court of public opinion. Trouble was, Brightman was the fair-haired boy, the next Jack Kennedy and he was too ambitious to just live out his days as a has-been that never was.
That’s where I came in. Thomas Geary, one of Brightman’s wealthy backers and the father of one of our former wine store employees, got the idea that I could magically clear the state senator’s name. My reputation was for luck, not skill. As my early clients had too often said, “We tried good, now we’re going to give luck a chance.” I guess, if I want to be honest, they were right. I was lucky. My luck extended as far back as 1972. On Easter Sunday of that year, a little girl named Marina Conseco was kidnapped off a Coney Island street. And once seventy-two hours passed,
the search for Marina silently morphed into a search for her remains. I found Marina severely injured but alive at the bottom of an old wooden water tank. She had been molested, then tossed in the tank and left to die. To this day, I’m not sure what made me look up and notice the tanks and think to search them. I was lucky then. I was lucky with Brightman too.
We were on the 7 train heading back home from Shea. Sarah was sleeping with her head of damp red curls resting on my leg. I was hot and tired too, but my eyes kept drifting to the front page of the
Post
that the man across the car from me was reading. On it was a picture of evil personified, a serial rapist the papers had dubbed Ivan the Terrible. He had scraggly hair, a cruel condescending smile, and black eyes. They were the blackest eyes I’d ever seen: opaque as the ocean on a moonless night. With a little bit of digging, I found a connection between Moira and Ivan. He eventually confessed to her murder. I was a little
too
lucky with that one. It all came just a bit too easily. In spite of it, I found the real facts behind the fabricated truths that had been sprinkled on the ground before me like so many bread crumbs.
I could never go to a game or drive past Shea Stadium without thinking of Sarah’s first Mets game. Every year I renewed my Mets season tickets, but it wasn’t the same without her and it was never going to be the same. These days I usually gave my tickets away to Aaron’s kids or Carmella’s little cousins or clients. I checked the Arrivals screen for the hundredth time in the last ten minutes and noticed Sarah’s flight number was flashing. So far, I had been able to filter Ivan the Terrible’s kind of evil out of my kid’s life and I meant to keep it that way. I dialed Carmella’s cell number.
“What?” she barked. “It’s so fucking noisy in here.”
“Her flight’s landed.”
“No shit! There’s like a screen two feet from my face.”
“You remember what Sarah looks—”
“For chrissakes, Moe! I know your daughter for ten years. I know what the fuck she looks like. I could spot that red hair from halfway across the state.”
“What the fuck’s eating you lately?”
“My stomach’s been bothering me for weeks. I’m sorry, Moe, I know I been cranky.”
“Okay, she should be getting down here in a few minutes.”
“Don’t worry. Anybody comes near her, I got it covered.”
“Anything suspicious?”
“I got my eye on a few mutts, but you know these town car drivers try to scam rides. We’ll see soon.”
Not everything I got right was about luck. I was a good cop before
my accident. I still possessed the ability to anticipate, to see what might be coming around the next corner, and what I saw coming was trouble for Sarah. Whoever had done this stuff with Patrick had gone through a lot of trouble. So far the only direct targets had been Katy and me, but if you really want to hurt, frighten, or generally fuck with people, you go after their kids. That’s why I had arranged for Carmella to come to the airport before me and stake out the baggage claim area. She was less certain about the setup than me.
“What about that lady in Ohio? They fucked with her brother’s grave, no?”
“Collateral damage,” I said. “It enhanced the effect of what was going on here, a bit of sleight of hand to distract me. It worked, too. I was out in Dayton looking at a grave when I should have been home keeping my eye on the ball. I’m not gonna let them catch me off guard again.”
She was right about one thing. We’d see soon enough.
My least favorite part of the airport was baggage claim. Baggage claim was like the final insult after the long ordeal, just another opportunity to hurry up and wait. Folks looked defeated waiting for their bags. And no matter how they spruced up the area, the machinery always seemed positively medieval.
My phone buzzed, then stopped. That was Carmella’s signal that people were spilling into the baggage claim area. Sarah appeared. I couldn’t help hoping that I was being foolish and over protective, that Carmella was right. She wasn’t. Everything seemed to happen at once. Even before I was fully conscious of Sarah’s presence, the pocket of space closed around her. Carmella came out of nowhere and tackled someone, Sarah screamed, a crowd surged in their directions. I put my head down and charged through the sea of bodies.
“Get the fuck off me, bitch! You breakin’ my finger.”
A chubby black kid of maybe seventeen was face down on the floor, Carmella twisting his thumb and wrist behind his back. Sarah’s expression was more surprised than anything else. Then I noticed a brown shipping envelope in her hands that I hadn’t seen her holding when she first came into view.
“Give that to me, kiddo.” I held my hand out to Sarah and she placed the envelope in my palm. “Let him up, Carm, so we can talk privately.”
Carmella pulled the kid to his feet as I assured everyone that it was all right.
“Just a misunderstanding,” I lied, sounding authoritative as hell. I didn’t flash my badge. When the cops showed up—which they would—I didn’t need to try and explain away a potential felony charge. “Show’s over, folks. Go get your bags and have a safe trip back home.”
By nature, New Yorkers are disobedient bastards. On the other hand they take an inordinate amount of pride in their unshockability. This time unshockability won out and they went back to reclaiming their luggage while we hustled the kid into a corner. As we walked, I tore open the envelope. It was another wilted rose and a “self-portrait” of Patrick done on an eight by eleven piece of Masonite. The familiar initials PMM were in the lower right hand corner. This wasn’t funny anymore.
“Okay, asshole, what’s this about?” I said, pressing my face into the kid’s. His wide, frightened eyes told me he knew I wasn’t fucking around.
“Guy gimme a twenty ta give dat package to da red-headed girl come out dat door.”
“What guy?” I asked, pressing my face even closer to his.
“Dat one,” he said, pointing.
“Which one?” I stepped back to see where he was pointing.
“Him.”
He was pointing at the portrait.
“Bullshit!” Carmella hissed in the kid’s ear, tightening the thumb lock.
He winced. “I ain’t fuckin wich y’all.”
Carmella yanked and twisted. The breath went out of the kid and I thought he might pass out from the pain.
“Carmella, stop it!” Sarah said. “Dad, tell her to stop it.”
“Look! Der he at.” The kid’s voice was barely a whisper, but he pointed toward the exit doors with his free hand.
I turned and my heart jumped into my throat. There he was, tattoo and all. The world around me crawled. There was a muted roar in my ears. I could hear individual noises—the squeaky wheel of a baggage cart, the smack of a suitcase as it hit the metal railing, a limo driver screaming “Mr. Child. Mr. Child. Mr. Child,” the whoosh of the doors—but none of it made any sense. I told my legs to run, but they wouldn’t move. I tried to shout, but I could form no words. Something was tugging my arm.
“Dad! Dad!” Sarah was shouting, pulling my sleeve.
“Moe, what’s up?” It was Carmella.
“Let the kid go,” I heard myself say. “Let him go.”
“What?”
“Let him go.”
My legs finally started moving, but not fast enough. Strong arms grabbed me.
“Where the fuck you think you’re going, buddy?”
“Huh?”
“C’mon, pal,” the Port Authority cop said. “And the three of youse too, let’s go. Now!”
I didn’t argue, but kept watching the door as I moved.
I didn’t know ghosts used doors.
 
IT DIDN’T TAKE long to straighten things out with the Port Authority cops, especially once we showed them our old badges and shields. You should never underestimate the power of the
us against them
mentality. Once cops, always cops. Raheem—that was the kid’s name—was no fool either. He understood that he wasn’t going to get a whole lot of sympathy once the policemen’s love fest began. So for a hundred bucks and a sincere apology, he was willing to forget all about Carmella’s tackle and death grip. For an extra fifty, he agreed to have coffee with Carmella so she could debrief him about how he’d been approached to deliver the package to Sarah.
I had to get Sarah back to my condo so we could talk about the full extent of what was going on with Katy and so she could decide if she wanted to stay with me or her mom. Having Sarah in the car to talk to was helping me not to obsess over who I thought I saw at the airport. The distraction of driving had also let me regain some measure of equilibrium. It wasn’t Patrick—that’s what I kept telling myself—but I was meant to think so. My new mantra was, “Don’t fall for it. Don’t fall for it. Don’t fall …” But Christ, that guy in the airport terminal looked an awful lot like him.
“So talk to me, kiddo.” I wasn’t quite pleading.
“I didn’t like that back there.”
I didn’t like it either, at least not the part where I saw a ghost. I didn’t think Sarah had seen him, so I played dumb. “You wanna give me a hint here?”
“How you guys treated Raheem.”
“We were only being cautious. Don’t hold it against Carmella. She was trying to protect you. Blame me. More has been going on at home than I’ve let on.”
“Not that part,” she said, staring out the window as we passed Shea and smiling wistfully.
“Then I’m a little confused.”
“How the cops blew him off because he was a black kid and you guys were cops. If the roles were reversed and he had tackled you or Carmella, the cops would have beat the shit out of him. They wouldn’t have been slapping him on the back and inviting him out for drinks like they did with you and Carmella.”
“You’re right. I’d like to tell you it’s not true, but it is. That’s a cop’s world sometimes.”
“Well, it sucks.”
“There’s a lot of injustice in the world, Sarah. Some of it’s big. Some of it’s small. In the scheme of things, today’s events were a small injustice.”
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