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Authors: James Patterson

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BOOK: Midnight Club
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23

Sarah McGinniss; Kennedy International Airport

“DADDY! DADDY!” SAM
hollered. His little-boy voice was light with joy and expectation.

At that instant, Sarah winced. Her pain was sharp and immediate, almost overwhelming. Roger the Dodger was striding toward them inside the streamlined, crimson and blue TWA terminal. He was straightening imaginary wrinkles in his corduroy sports jacket and trousers. Daddy was home.

His face, as usual, looked nervous and too thin. He finally smiled and waved at Sam, both arms crisscrossing high over his head.

Sarah had to reach inside herself for a deep breath. Roger’s smile made her remember how the two of them had been in the very beginning, for almost six years, actually. She remembered how funny and charming Roger could be, when he was in the mood. Plus the undeniable fact that he had been a good father, a real daddy, right up until the time he had left them.

“Hello, pumpkin.” Roger immediately picked Sam up. In her mind’s eye, Sarah could see him stooping and picking Sam up hundreds of times before that. She noticed how Sam was watching them both, still trying to understand what could have happened two years ago between his mom and dad. Sarah was still trying to understand that one herself.

“How are you, Sarah?” Roger finally acknowledged her. “Looking all summer-brown and pretty,” he answered his own superficial question. “You too, sport. Do you like your mom’s beach house?”

“Sure, it’s neat. Are you coming out there with us?” Sam asked, once again checking them out, both their reactions to his innocent-sounding question.

“Well, I don’t know. We’ll see, pal, but I think there will be enough other things for us to do for a while. I was thinking of taking Sam upstate to see my parents,” Roger announced to Sarah.

It was purely informational. He had Sam for two weeks during the summer, and two more weeks at Christmas, no strings attached. He could take him anywhere he liked. When he had called Sarah yesterday, Roger had even made a crack that this was a good time for Sam to be away—while she was working on such a potentially “dangerous” story.

Sarah was conscious of the way Roger had used
pumpkin, pal,
and
sport
to address Sam. It was a little like the way she might avoid using the same word twice in a sentence in her writing, very self-conscious and uncomfortable. She was surprised at how hard these occasional meetings continued to be.

“Do you remember going up to Batavia?” Sarah asked Sam. She sensed that her voice was strained and sounded slightly unreal.

“Sure Sam remembers,” his father said.

“Of course. Grandpa and Grandma live there. The snow gets twenty feet high in the winter. Mom calls it Outer Bavaria.”

“She’s quite the writer. Great imagination.”

Sarah didn’t want to let Sam go, and the three of them continued to exchange cheery, if hollow-sounding, small talk in front of a flight insurance kiosk.

Both of them waved good-bye, their own zany two-handed wave. They smiled as if this were no big deal.

Sarah finally forced herself to turn away. She started to walk back toward the airport parking lot and her car.

She noticed that she was biting her lower lip, and then, finally, she was crying. Hot tears streamed down both her cheeks, her throat, and under the collar of her blouse. Her mascara streaked, but she didn’t care. She coughed and began to choke as strangers stared.

A passing woman finally stopped and asked if she was all right, if she needed any help.

Sarah tried to explain that she was just being dumb—her ex-husband had two weeks of visiting rights with her little boy, and she missed Sam already.

The woman gave Sarah a sympathetic hug, and she kept lightly patting her arm while they talked. New Yorkers could perform such kind acts sometimes, Sarah knew, and it was especially touching when they did. She knew that she still loved Roger, in a strange, perplexing way. Sarah knew, too, at that moment, if not before, that she was over him. She had to move on with her life.

She felt so lonely, though. Sharing the moment with a stranger in Kennedy Airport, Sarah thought she had never been so alone in her life. All that she had was Sam, and now she didn’t even have him.

24

LATER THAT MORNING,
she was unusually apprehensive from the moment she entered One Police Plaza. She didn’t want to repeat the previous day’s ordeal with Lieutenant Stefanovitch, but she needed to see some more of the videotapes, possibly all of them.

Fortunately, she was the first to arrive at the small interior office where the television monitor and VCR unit had been set up the day before.

An obliging secretary unlocked the inner office. Sarah then made herself as comfortable as possible in the enemy’s camp. Over the next few minutes she developed a workable system for viewing the videotapes by herself.

Shortly past noon, the door to the office opened slowly. Sarah’s eyes rose from the sheaf of log notes in her hands. Lieutenant Stefanovitch had arrived.

He hesitated before coming all the way into the room. Actually, he looked different today, almost like a real policeman. He was wearing a brown tweed sports jacket, green khaki shirt, semi-pressed trousers, and desert boots.

“I didn’t know you were here.” He smiled. He was actually being moderately civil.

“I turn the volume down when I fast-forward,” Sarah offered an explanation for the silence.

“Anything interesting in the latest batch?” Stefanovitch asked.

She held up a pad that was full of the morning’s notes. “I’m keeping a log. What I’ve seen on the tapes is a mixture of organized crime figures, legitimate businessmen, an awful lot of show business celebrities, especially the Los Angeles-to-New York jet set.

“I made coffee,” Sarah said before she took another sip. She noticed that Stefanovitch was still being reasonably nice.

He was actually starting to laugh.

“You’re laughing at me.” Sarah frowned. “I’m playing by all of your rules, too.”

“I’m not laughing. It’s just that you’re so serious. The investigative reporter.”

It was Sarah’s turn to smile.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could still see naked bodies dancing on the television screen.

“Lieutenant, I’m from Stockton, California. Do you know Stockton? Truck farms, migrant workers. My family grew up as onion toppers, lettuce thinners, pea pickers. I got out somehow. Got a newspaper job. As Red Smith used to say, ‘I make a living working a typewriter.’ The money, any notoriety, that just happened. I was lucky. I caught a very good story.”

“You also wrote a good book. That wasn’t luck. That was you being super-serious again.”

John Stefanovitch found himself studying Sarah McGinniss a little more closely. There was a hint of sweetness in her smile. Her cheeks were slightly flushed. She was embarrassed, and he was surprised that she would be so vulnerable.

“Listen, Sarah.” Stefanovitch looked contrite. “I’m sorry for being a shit yesterday. That’s the act
I’ve
had to play since all of this happened. Sometimes I overdo it just a little.”

“Maybe just a little.” Sarah smiled.

The small room was quiet for a few seconds. The pencil in Sarah’s hand tapped lightly against the rigid spine of her log pad.

“Listen, are you hungry? Because I am. How about if we go around the corner for a bite? Do you know Forlini’s? C’mon, Lieutenant. Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.”

25

ON THE WAY
to the restaurant in Little Italy, Stefanovitch slipped a folded-up dollar to a street beggar, a wino wearing a heavy, black, tattered winter coat in June.

“Are you always so generous?” Sarah asked him.

Stefanovitch mumbled something about soup kitchens, about trying to do the right thing every once in a while. Sarah let it drop. Still, she was oddly touched. The image of this strangely charismatic man in a wheelchair helping out panhandlers stuck in her mind.

At Forlini’s, the maître d’ greeted Sarah with an effusive smile and a gallant, almost seductive handshake. “Ah,
la bella signora,
so nice to see you always.”

Since she had been writing
The Club
and spending so much time downtown at Foley Square and Police Plaza, Forlini’s had become one of her favorite lunchtime haunts. The maître d’, and most of the waiters, knew her from several past visits. The maître d’ took their drink order after escorting them to a corner table. He hurried away to the bar.

Sarah had brought other policemen there, and she always seemed to pay the check. Women paying for dinners in Little Italy was still unusual, highly suspect.

“So tell me about working on newspapers,” Stefanovitch said once the waiter had left them. “I get to watch a few pretty good reporters occasionally.
Times
guys.
New York Daily News.
You broke into a tough club.”

“It’s not quite so macho on the West Coast. Maybe a little bit where I started, in San Francisco. Certainly not in Palo Alto.”

Sarah had never really felt comfortable talking about herself, not even after her book had become successful. She didn’t particularly want to talk about herself now, either.

“Why don’t you go first?” she said across the small, intimate table. “Tell me something about yourself, Lieutenant, anything you’d like. I’m going to have to write about you in the book. I’ve already written a little.”

“You wrote about yesterday?” Stefanovitch coughed and patted his chest.

“A little. Sure. I write every morning.” The look on her face was slightly impish, not so serious after all. Sarah McGinniss was actually much prettier than he had thought the other day. Her eyes had a nice sparkle.

“How did I come off in what you wrote this morning?”

“Just the way you were. Tough, pretty obnoxious. Remember, you’re the one who told me not to act so serious.” They both laughed. Things were improving.

Their drinks came and the maître d’ made the usual impassioned plea for several of the house specials. Stefanovitch chose the calamari, plus mozzarella and beefsteak tomatoes. He was still learning to curb his appetite, adjusting to life in the Chair. Sarah went with a linguine, clam, and shrimp dish; prosciutto and melon to start.

“My first impression was that you were pretty serious yourself,” Sarah said. She was talking with her head cocked to one side. The effect was captivating. “Aren’t you?”

Stefanovitch thought that she was working him a little bit, interviewing him. He found that interesting, a challenge to be dealt with.

“I don’t know if I trust first impressions very much anymore,” he said. “People are becoming too slick nowadays. There are too many good actors out in the world.”

“Now you sound like a cop again,” Sarah said.

“I am a cop. That was just my impression of one, though. Want to hear the Minersville, Pennsylvania, impression? The navy port-of-call impression? I do a few different voices, a few acts. Every street cop has to be a little bit of a con artist.”

Sarah decided to take a chance as she listened to John Stefanovitch become more human. Afterward, though—while they were heading back to Police Plaza—she would wonder if she’d had any right to ask the next few questions.

She leaned forward on her elbows, holding his eyes with her own. “Tell me something about your life before the shooting, Lieutenant. Your wife’s name was Anna, wasn’t it? She was a teacher?”

Stefanovitch moved uncomfortably in his wheelchair. He raised his wineglass but didn’t drink from it. His fingers lightly twirled the glass.

Sarah saw that he was uneasy with her questions.

“Yes, her name was Anna. Originally, she was Anna Maddalena. We met in Ashland, Pennsylvania, after I got out of the navy. I was in for four years.”

“Tell me about Anna.” Sarah’s voice was quiet, confidential. Instinctively, she’d always been a good interviewer. She knew how to listen to people.

“I think that, uh… Let’s see. When I was growing up, somewhere in between the usual bar-hopping stints, I guess I wondered what love was all about. Like how are you supposed to know when you’re actually in love?”

He was much more open than she’d expected. It was almost as if Stefanovitch needed to talk.

“How do you know that this is it for your lifetime?” he continued. “I was kind of lucky. Very lucky. For about four years, my priorities in life were very clear. Anna was first. Then came my job. In that order, and never a doubt about it in my mind.”

Sarah was noticing that Stefanovitch’s hands had slid together. He had workingman’s hands. His fingers were clutched a little tightly, though, white at the tips.

“We just happened to fit very nicely together. I guess we completed each other. When I heard about Anna’s death—I don’t know how to describe what I felt. An emptiness, a sense of nothingness. Something shattered inside. I—I don’t even know what to say to you.”

It was a small, subtle thing, but Sarah heard his voice catch on the last few words.

“End of interview,” he said. “Okay?”

A terrible sorrow had been etched across his face. His brown eyes darted away, infinitely sad in that moment of truth, but then he forced them back to look at her.

Sarah felt ashamed. Something in his eyes had reached out and touched her unexpectedly, completely caught her off guard.

“I’m sorry. I haven’t done that in a long time.” He offered a smile.

Sarah felt warmly toward him for the first time. She understood a lot more about who he was, and she regretted having intruded on his grief. She noticed that her own hands were clenched.

“No, no. I’m sorry. You probably haven’t had somebody asking you personal questions like that. I feel bad. I’m so sorry. Really I am.”

Stefanovitch suddenly extended his hand across the table, carefully threading a path between the wineglasses. He was smiling again. A resilient man, Sarah thought.

“This is going to work out after all,” he said.

Sarah was still feeling embarrassed about her leading questions. She took Stefanovitch’s offered hand and shook it.

She looked into his eyes, and knew she saw honesty there. Maybe he was right, maybe first impressions shouldn’t be trusted anymore.

“So tell me what you saw at the dirty movies today,” he finally asked.

BOOK: Midnight Club
2.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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