That didn’t help much, but I promised to let Toni know if I heard anything, and she promised the same. I was thinking of getting “I’ll let you know when I hear something about Sharon” printed on a T-shirt just to save time, but that wouldn’t help much on the phone. And it was too cold to just wear a T-shirt, anyway.
I had barely hung up when the phone rang again, and the caller ID indicated that the Midland Heights Police Department was on the line. I was getting used to having my heart in my mouth, and the taste was disgusting.
“I don’t know anything yet,” Dutton said as soon as I picked up. “But your ex-wife’s current husband called.”
“Soon-to-be second ex-husband,” I corrected him.
“Yes. Because that’s so much easier to say.”
“What did Gregory want?” I asked. “Is that pesky kid next door walking across his lawn and trampling the petunias again?”
“He says someone broke into their house and tossed the place,” Dutton said.
“I’m on my way.”
I heard Dutton say, “Elliot . . . ,” but I ignored him and hung up. Then I walked into the lobby and told Meg where I was going.
“Do you want me to come with you?” she asked.
“No. I don’t want Dutton to think I’m bringing in my own cops,” I answered.
“Barry wouldn’t mind,” Meg told me. I’d forgotten she and Dutton knew each other professionally.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said.
Meg drove to Sharon’s house, mostly because riding on the handlebars of my bicycle didn’t seem dignified. To her. We didn’t talk much, but then, it wasn’t a very long drive.
The house Sharon was unwillingly sharing with Gregory is, actually, not unlike the one I’d grown up in: it was a Victorian with a wraparound porch, but where my old house had been lovingly restored by my father over thirty years, this one had been profitably restored by contractors at Sharon’s behest. It was still very attractive, but not as idiosyncratic, and therefore not as lovable. It was a very nice house, whereas mine had been a lovely home.
Dutton’s Crown Vic was already outside when we got there, but he was still sitting in the driver’s seat. He got out when he saw me, and buttoned his woolen topcoat against the wind. He is a very dapper police chief.
“I don’t suppose there’s any way I can dissuade you from going inside,” he started. A lot of people would have opened with “hello,” but Dutton was his own man; I admired that.
“You called me,” I said, passing him on my way to the door.
“Teach me to share information,” I heard Dutton say behind me. Then he noticed Meg, who was walking up the drive, and smiled. “Margaret Vidal,” Dutton said. “How did he talk you into coming up here? He think I can’t solve this one myself?”
Meg gave Dutton a peck on the cheek, and then shook her head. “Elliot tried to talk me out of coming,” she said. “I’m just here for moral support.”
They caught up before I rang the bell. Gregory opened the door, looking surprised to see me there, as if it
make sense that calling the police would naturally summon his soon-to-be ex-wife’s previous ex-husband (try saying
five times fast!). “Elliot,” he said. “Have you heard something?”
“Yes,” I said, “but not about Sharon.” I can’t ever give Gregory a straight answer; it’s against the code. A man steals your wife, you have to sass him forever. It’s a very specific code, one designed especially for me. All right, so I designed it myself.
“May we come in?” Chief Dutton asked, apparently feeling that my tormenting the man who broke up my marriage wasn’t as important as the investigation of a burglary and possible clues into Sharon’s disappearance. Some people don’t get the code.
Introductions were made, and Gregory let us in. I could see that Meg was sizing up Gregory, and finding him wanting. Dutton, trained investigator that he is, looked around the room and said, “Where did the break-in occur, Dr. Sandoval?”
The question seemed to puzzle Gregory, who swept his arm dramatically around the extremely tidy and well-furnished living room—two things you could never say about mine—and said, “Right here.”
pretty puzzling: There wasn’t so much as a throw pillow out of place. The hardwood floor was buffed to within an inch of its life; the sofa, armchairs, love seat, and ottoman were all perfectly placed and dust free; even the Persian rug appeared to have been recently vacuumed. I flashed on a mental image of my own living room, with the state’s largest comedy collection strewn about it, and came very close to tears.
“Well, nothing appears to be out of place,” Dutton observed, quite accurately.
“Of course not,” Gregory said, his tone clearly wondering how this man ever graduated from the police academy. “I
wasn’t much point in Dutton filing a report, he said. Gregory had noticed nothing missing, and there was no obvious sign of forced entry, although Gregory told Dutton that a back window had been open when he’d arrived home. It was, of course, closed and locked now. Dusting for fingerprints would have created, you know,
, and it wasn’t clear whether Gregory was as interested in finding out who had burglarized his home (he said there had been photographs, videos, books, and CDs strewn about the living room, all neatly replaced on shelves now) as he was in keeping the place spotless.
“I don’t want Sharon coming home to a mess,” he said.
I saw Meg Vidal stifle a laugh.
There was also no point in talking to Gregory—there never is—so Meg asked Dutton whether he’d gotten the report on my burglary yet.
Gregory, now officially superfluous in the conversation, looked like he wanted us all to leave.
“Yes, they faxed it over,” Dutton told her. “There wasn’t anything in it that Elliot hadn’t already told me.”
I asked Dutton if anything had come of the credit card receipts. Gregory’s ears perked up at the mention of credit cards, and Dutton filled him in on the apparent purchases in Manhattan, informing me along the way that there was no further news on new purchases.
“The purchases were all made after seven in the evening, but since we don’t know what time your house was burglarized, Elliot, that doesn’t help us much,” Dutton reported.
“Have you asked the NYPD about the businesses where stuff was bought?” I asked. “Have they sent anybody in with a picture of Sharon?”
“Believe it or not, Elliot, I did call the New York police,” Dutton said, his tone a bit irritated. It wasn’t that I didn’t respect the man. It was that Sharon was still missing. “They’ll get someone out there within a day.”
“A day!” Gregory moaned. “Anything can happen in a day.”
“He’s right,” I said, not believing I’d used those words in connection with Gregory. “If you give me a list of those businesses, I’m taking the train into the city right now with a picture of Sharon.”
“I’ll go with you,” Gregory said, already reaching for his very expensive Burberry trench coat.
“In that case,” I said, “you drive.”
Dutton held up a hand. “I can’t send a couple of civilians in without badges to . . .”
“Do you want to deputize us?” I asked.
“Then you don’t have a choice. You’re not sending us. We’re going. All you’re doing is providing a list of businesses.”
“I don’t see any reason to provide sensitive police data to . . .”
Gregory gave Dutton his best condescending look, which I’ve seen directed at me many times, and I can tell you it’s effective. “Then all Elliot needs to do is call his credit card company and ask for the charges from the past forty-eight hours,” he said.
“Fine,” Dutton sighed. “I’ll give you the list. But . . .” Then his cell phone rang, and he took the call.
I used that opportunity to ask to borrow Meg’s cell phone. “What’s wrong with yours?” she asked.
“Aside from the fact that I don’t own one, nothing.”
She didn’t say what she was thinking, and handed me her phone. I called the theatre. Dad answered. “We’ve got it narrowed down,” he said of the mysterious leak. “Everything works but the urinals.”
“Isn’t that a problem?” I asked.
“Yeah, but not one that closes the theatre. Men can use the stalls too, you know.”
“This isn’t the time to relive my potty training, Dad. Thanks for the help. I’ll call Sophie.”
“I can call her. What do you need?” Dad asked.
“Tell her we’ll open tonight. I didn’t have time to cancel the ads, so at least Leo Munson will be there. Leo comes every night, and he gets mad when I close and don’t let him know. Tell Sophie I’m going into the city to check on something, and she’s in charge.”
He was clearly writing all this down. “Of what?” Dad asked.
I didn’t hang up on him, but I ended the call as soon as I could.
I turned back toward Meg. “Can I borrow this”—I indicated the phone—“for the rest of the day?” I asked.
“Maybe I should come with you two,” Meg suggested.
“Do you really want to be around when two civilians start conducting an investigation?” I asked her.
“Good point. Maybe you should stay home, and let me go.”
Dutton was putting his phone away. “Meg, how do you think your captain would react if I asked to borrow you for a day or two?” he asked.
“I’m a homicide detective,” she said.
“Yeah,” Dutton said. “We don’t have a detective dedicated to that.”
My blood pressure spiked. “Why do you need a homicide detective?” I asked, my voice only slightly higher than Frankie Valli’s.
“Calm down; it’s not Sharon,” Dutton answered. “That was the ME.” He looked at Sergeant Vidal. “Meg?”
“Since I basically told my captain I was leaving for a few days and he’d have to deal with it, I don’t think it would be a problem,” she said. “What did the medical examiner want?”
“They have a slight problem in the Russell Chapman case.”
Meg raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Russell Chapman’s body is missing.”
Meg looked at me “I think I’ll be needing that phone, Elliot,” she said.
do you suppose it means?” Gregory asked. He was driving his almost-new Lexus (a car with which I was uncomfortably familiar—he had once tried to run me over with it) up the New Jersey Turnpike, heading toward the exit for the Lincoln Tunnel, which I estimated was now about ten minutes away. “Does that mean Chapman
“Who am I, Carnac the Magnificent? How the hell am I supposed to know what it means?”
“Jesus, Elliot, calm down a little. You’re not the only one who’s worried, you know. I mean, what did I ever do to . . .” Then he realized he had stolen my wife, and the car was quiet (luxury vehicles excel at quiet) for a while.
“It’s entirely possible they just misplaced Chapman’s body,” I said, mostly to myself. “Dutton said Chapman’s body was there Thursday night; his daughter identified him. Maybe they mixed him up with someone else. Things happen at hospitals, right? I mean, when you’re not knocking people out, you’re a doctor, right?”
Gregory, still smarting from my tone a moment ago, drove on without saying anything.
Maybe I was being too hard on him. After all, Sharon had obviously seen something in the guy that I was lacking, or she wouldn’t have left me for him. Well, she still might have left me, but not for him. I figured I should try to find out what that something might be.
“You and Sharon met at the hospital, right?” I asked. She was, after all, the only topic we had in common. I didn’t even know what kind of movies Gregory liked. He probably only watched documentaries on PBS, and went to see foreign films and independent, gritty dramas released by ministudios about New Yorkers who dress in black and use heroin. That would be my guess.
He smiled, probably despite himself. “Yes,” he said. “She needed an anesthesiologist for a patient whose face had been cut by some broken glass, and I was on call that night.”
“You crazy romantic,” I said.
Gregory’s face closed up again. “I didn’t expect you to understand,” he said.
“But I do,” I told him. “I met Sharon when she was a med student and I was writing for a trade magazine for teachers. A feature on teaching hospitals. I first saw her when she was on rounds, tending to a patient with phlebitis.”
“You crazy romantic,” Gregory said. I might have seen the tiniest hint of a grin on his face. Then it clouded over. “So, have you seen a lot of Sharon lately?”
“Why, is there more of her than there used to be?” You watch enough Groucho and it becomes a reflex.
“I’ve just gotten the feeling that she was . . . involved with someone since we . . . separated. Thought maybe it was you. Sharon would be one to fall back on a familiar face.”
I didn’t even try to respond to that. For one thing, Sharon and I
been out a few times (and
one time, if you know what I mean), but not recently. If there was another man, I didn’t know about it, and wasn’t sure I wanted to. No, I was sure: I didn’t want to know.
“Not me,” I told Gregory, and then I shut up.
He maneuvered us into the E-ZPass lane for the tunnel, and the traffic was unusually light. I guess either going into Manhattan on a Saturday after the matinees have already begun isn’t as popular as it used to be, or E-ZPass has really speeded up the toll process.
We were through the Lincoln Tunnel in fifteen minutes, and looking for a parking lot within twenty-five.
“Are we splitting the parking?” Gregory asked.
“Don’t be cheap. You own a Lexus.”
He scowled, probably wishing he could use that Lexus to run me down again, but said nothing else. We found a lot on Forty-sixth Street near Broadway, and left the car there. A quick reading of the rates indicated parking there for two or three hours wouldn’t cost Gregory more than forty dollars, the skinflint.