Authors: Alan Jacobson
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime, #Thrillers, #Suspense
THE CRACK OF LIGHTNING PULSED against the pitch sky, backlighting the barren landscape around the Westchester Surgery Center.
Lieutenant Carmine Russo, arthritic joints aching from the winter rain, paced outside the door to the operating suite where Oliver Henry, MD was at work. He felt the jolting belt of thunder as the sound waves concussed against the windows, shaking the building in an explosive burst. The storm was close.
Russo ignored it, keeping his feet moving and his mind off what was going on in the adjacent room where a much younger Ben Dyer lay. A lifetime ago Russo had been Dyer’s Big Brother, taking the at-risk youth under his wing and mentoring him. Now Russo was trying to save him yet again.
The door to the surgical suite swung open and out stepped Dr. Henry, clad in maroon operating room greens. His creviced face was long and drawn. He joined Russo near the window and in a low voice, said, “The medication’s already taken effect. He should be okay to travel now.”
Russo, who’d stopped pacing when the door opened, had only one question: “How’s he doin’?”
Henry turned toward the window as another flash lit up the dim room. “Here’s the deal. The tumor’s been removed and he’s got some dissolvable sutures in the sole. I’ll want to monitor his condition closely, check him in a week. Remember what I said about the drug’s effect on his memory. Be patient.”
Russo faced the window but said nothing. Finally, he nodded.
“I think the prognosis is good,” Henry said. “We got it early. It could’ve been a lot worse if we hadn’t taken care of it so quickly.”
A noise from behind them. “Hey, Loo.”
Both men whipsawed around. Detective Ben Dyer was standing in the doorway, aluminum crutches shoved beneath his armpits and a medical boot on his foot.
“You ready to go?”
Russo forced a smile. “Sure, Ben. Let’s blow this place.”
THEY ARRIVED AT DYER’S APARTMENT in midtown Manhattan and took the elevator up to five. Russo helped Dyer navigate the hall, then waited in front of the door while Dyer rooted out his keys.
“This new?” Russo asked, nodding at a wreath made of wine bottle corks that hung around the peephole.
“Amy, she’s got good taste.”
Dyer keyed the lock and pushed the door open, then grabbed the crutch and hobbled inside.
“Amy?” Dyer called into the darkness. He flipped the light switch and walked in, his wet shoe and crutch tips squeaking on the wood floor as he moved deeper into the apartment looking for his fiancé. “Amy?”
“Ben,” Russo said, guiding him into the living room. “Let’s sit, have a chat, okay?”
“Yeah, sure, I just wanna tell Amy I’m home, tell her how it went—”
“That’s what I wanna talk about.”
Dyer squinted at his lieutenant and then took a seat at right angles to him, buttocks on the sofa’s edge, crutches on the floor.
Russo studied the muted maroon area rug at his feet, and then looked up. “Amy ain’t here. Something happened, she witnessed a murder, and she had to go into protective custody. Gettin’ a new identity, the whole—”
Dyer blurted a laugh. His face got round and broad. “Good one, Loo, I thought you were serious for a second. So where is she?” He looked into the dark recesses of the apartment. “Amy!”
“I’m not kidding, Ben. I know this is…it’s hard to get your head around. I get that. But I’m being straight with ya.”
Ben’s face slouched as he realized his longtime friend, the one man he trusted with his life, was serious. “Witness protection?”
“We’ve been through all this, when you were in recovery. That goddamn anesthesia they gave you…it makes you forget things.” He shook his head. “Doc Henry warned me about that.”
“But I don’t remember any of what you’re—”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Russo sighed. “I’ll take you through it one more time. Marshals were called in and they took Amy into WITSEC. Had to be done.”
Dyer blinked through his confusion. “But she was here this morning when I went to work, she didn’t say anything. Nothing.”
“That was days ago, Ben. You’ve been in the hospital.”
Dyer rubbed at his temples a minute, then looked up. “When did it happen, the murder?”
“Monday. Mob hit. Amy was afraid if she told you, you’d try to talk her out of leaving. Or that you’d wanna go with her. And she didn’t want you to throw your career away. She knew you’d wanna go. But I convinced her to tell you. She came by the hospital before the marshals took her away.”
“When? I don’t remember—”
“Yesterday, you were still sedated. The doc tried waking you, but—”
“No.” He bowed his head and grabbed two fistfuls of hair. “Loo, this can’t be happening. Amy, I mean, we were gonna get married. How could she leave?”
Russo drew a thick hand across his damp brow. “Look, Ben, it is what it is, okay? She had to go. She loved you, you know that. Believe me, if I thought there was another way, you know I woulda talked them into it. But her life was at stake. It was the right call, and, well, it’s a done deal.”
“Just tell me where she went, I’ll leave the department, be with her.”
“This is real bad, I know. It’s gonna hurt for a while. But we've had bad shit happen before, and you and me, we always get through it, don't we?”
Dyer rose from the seat and hobbled to the dining room. The melamine buffet table was empty, slight outlines left in the dust where personal effects had once been. “She took her stuff. The glass salt and pepper shakers she bought in Hawaii. Amy loves those.”
“They only let her take things that couldn’t be traced back to her, or to you. No family photos, shit like that.”
Dyer looked over at Russo. “She really left?”
He studied Dyer’s face a moment, and then added, “US Attorney was real clear. Don’t go lookin’ for her, could put her life at risk. You hear me? They got rules, to keep her safe.”
Dyer stood at the counter a long moment, and then spun around. “Which fucking family?”
Russo shook his head, and then made his way over to Dyer. “All I know. She was at a supermarket in Queens and this guy walks in, puts a canon against another guy’s head and blows it into fucking meatloaf. Amy was the only one who saw it. You know Amy, Miss Good Samaritan. She dropped the dime and they picked the guy up a couple hours later. He was a known hit man for the family. Next day, someone took a shot at her. A cop from the one-fifteenth was with her. She freaked, the uni called me, I called the marshals, and because of the people involved, they pushed it through real fast. Two days later, they came for her.”
“Who’s the guy—the trigger?”
“Can’t tell you. Bad shit only thing’d come from that. Trust me, we’re takin’ care a this guy. And if we don't get to him first, the Fibbies are hot on him too.” He chuckled. “He’s either gonna disappear like Jimmy Hoffa or he'll be sweatin’ out his last days on death row.”
“I can find out, Loo. All it takes is a call—”
“And I’m tellin’ you not to do that. Cause trouble for you—and for me. This point in my career, I don’t need that shit.”
Dyer bit his bottom lip, then shook his head slowly. “Why the hell couldn’t she wait? Till I woke up? This happened when?”
Russo placed a hand on Dyer’s shoulder. “You were in Dallas, that counterterrorism workshop. You got home and had to get ready for surgery in the morning. I told her not to tell you, I didn’t want you freakin’ right before goin’ under the knife. It was tough on her, the whole thing had her pretty worked up. All she wanted to do was the right thing, and it ended up tearing her life apart.” Russo stared off at the wall, lost in thought.
Dyer eased himself onto the sofa, opposite the coffee table.
“Best thing, Ben, is to just forget about her.” He waved a hand in surrender. “Shit. I know that ain’t possible. At least…in time, the pain won’t be so bad. All wounds heal. Like your foot, yeah?” He smiled, hoping to lighten the moment. “You beat the Cancer, Ben. Some things you gotta thank God for. Keep it all in perspective.”
But Dyer wasn’t biting. A tear coursed down his cheek.
Russo sucked in a deep breath and said, “Look, I gotta go. It’s our anniversary, Sofia made some special pasta.” He studied Dyer’s face a moment. “Go pack a bag. Stay with us awhile. Till you feel better. You want, I can arrange a few extra days off to get your head in order. And, you need, there’s always the shrink. The police doc. He’s cool, won’t tell no one.”
Dyer was looking at the floor. “I’m… I’ll just stay here. And I don’t need a shrink. I’ll…work through this. Just need a few days.”
Russo adjusted his raincoat and headed toward the door. “You change your mind, come over. Any time. Two, three, whatever.”
As he turned the knob, Dyer called out, “Thanks, Loo.”
Russo winked. “I’ll always be there for you, Ben. You know that.”
Dyer sat there, the apartment quiet except for the driving rain outside, and wept for the first time since he was seven years old, when his parents died.
DYER AWOKE THE NEXT DAY to a knock at the door. He rose from the couch and had to grab the arm of the sofa to steady his dizzy head. A near-empty bottle of Bud rested on its side. Dyer righted the beer, setting it next to the five others on the coffee table, then limped over and pulled open the door.
“Big Ben, ’sup, man?”
Standing there was Enrique Cruz, Dyer’s partner all of three weeks.
“Yeah, I, uh— What time is it?”
“Two? Shit. I fell asleep on the couch last night.” He turned, his eyes searching the dark apartment.
“Loo had a meeting with the commish, but he said to get over here and see how you were gettin’ along, you know, check up on you. How’s that foot doin’?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Gonna be off a few days.” Dyer looked around again, fidgeted with his outturned pocket, then invited his partner in. “Not using those stupid crutches, so that’s good, right?” He limped over toward the couch. “Have a seat. Want something?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“He said some shit went down while you were in the hospital, but wouldn’t tell me anything.”
Dyer sat down heavily. “Hard to know where to start.” He went through the facts by rote, the pain stinging his empty stomach like poison.
“That fuckin’ sucks, man. I’m sorry. I was in Connecticut, on the lake, with Mary. I didn’t get Loo’s message till late last night. Wouldn’t tell me the deal, said I had to hear it from you. You— You know, you holdin’ up okay?”
“Just trying to get by. Still kinda shocked.”
“You miss her already.”
“Shit yeah. I mean, nothing’s perfect. We had our share of problems. She hated the hours, but what was I gonna do, I was tryin’ to make detective.”
“And you did.” Cruz nodded at the bottles on the coffee table. “Doin’ some drinking, Big Ben? Aren't you on medication or something, for the pain? Shouldn't mix that stuff.”
Dyer rose and started pacing, his slight limp evident. “I had a rough night, okay?”
Cruz threw up his hands. “Hey, I’m not judgin’ you or nothing. I’m just saying.” Cruz looked back at the coffee table.
Dyer stopped and saw his partner’s eyes moving: he was counting empty bottles.
“Thing is, Ricky, no matter how messed up life gets, at least you say goodbye, right? You don’t just take off, even if it is WITSEC. I woulda left the department, I woulda found a way to make it work with her.”
“She tried, man. I know it sucks and all, but…well, it’s not like she just up and left without trying.”
“But—fuck! I didn’t get to say goodbye!” Dyer held out a hand, calmed himself, and sat back down. “I coulda talked her out of it.” He grabbed one of the bottles and stabbed at the label with a fingernail. “But talking her out of it, that wouldn’ta been right. Goddamn mob, if I ever find out who threatened her—” He closed his eyes. “If she needed to leave, Ricky, I woulda gone with her.”
Cruz shrugged. “Maybe she’ll call. Maybe she’ll realize she made a mistake.” He studied Dyer’s face and asked, “You’d really leave the job to be with her?”
“Yeah,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation. “I mean, being a cop’s really important to me—it helped me find myself. But Amy is… She’s like my compass, my GPS, you know?” He sat down heavily onto the couch. “I don’t know how to live without her.” Dyer waved a hand. “Don’t know if that makes any sense.”
“No, man. It does. I get it. If Mary left, it'd kill me.” Cruz stared off at the wall a moment. “It was me, I’d go looking.”
Dyer’s gaze snapped up from somewhere on the ground. “It’s WITSEC, Ricky, I’m not supposed to do that.”
“All I’m sayin’. Was me, I’d be scouring the country. I mean, why sit in your apartment feelin’ sorry for yourself? Get your ass in gear. You’re a dick, man, you know how to find facts, find answers, find
Cruz was right.
“And you know how to keep off the grid, to make sure no one’s following you. So you wouldn’t really be putting Amy in danger.”
Dyer nodded slowly.
“Besides, if you can find her, maybe the mob can, too. Marshals need to do a better job. So you’d be helpin’ her out if you found her, right?” He stood up. “You need something, anything, lemme know. I gotta get back to the house.” He held out his fist. “Later, man.” Dyer hit the top of Cruz’s hand, then the bottom.
The door clicked closed and Dyer stood there a long moment, then turned and began his search: the closets, phone book, drawers, night tables.
He rummaged through the trash, hoping to find something the marshals may’ve scribbled an address on…a city. A hotel.
But there was nothing.
They’re too smart for that. They’ve been doing this for decades, they know how to make someone disappear. How the hell am I gonna find her?
He lit a cigarette, popped open a Bud, booted up his laptop, and logged on to Amy’s American Express card account. While he waited for the page to load, he realized the rain had resumed after a reprieve that began some time during the night. He turned his attention back to the screen, where he started with the most recent statement.
All charges ceased three days ago. That would make sense; she stopped buying stuff after fingering the mobster. Last purchase was a Jet Blue ticket for $410. Cross country, he figured. It coincided with the day he left for Dallas, which made no sense. He called the airline, identified himself, and explained he was working a case. All they would tell him was the flight number, that it was direct to San Francisco, and that Amy had checked in.