Authors: Mary Higgins Clark
n Monday morning, carrying the note Mack had dropped in the collection basket, I set off for the District Attorney's office in lower Manhattan. It was beautiful out, sunny and warm with a balmy breeze, the kind of weather that would have been appropriate for Mother's Day instead of the cold, wet day that had spoiled any hope of outdoor gatherings.
Mom and Uncle Dev and I had gone out to dinner Sunday night. Obviously the note that Uncle Dev handed us sent Mom and me into a tailspin. Mom's initial reaction was to be thrilled that Mack might be so near. She has always been convinced that he is far away in Colorado or California. Then she became fearful that my threat to find him had put him in some kind of jeopardy.
At first I simply didn't know what to think about it, but now I had a growing suspicion that Mack might be head over heels in trouble and trying to keep us away from it.
The lobby at 1 Hogan Place was crowded, and the security was as tight as it gets. Even though I had plenty of identification, without a specific appointment to see
someone, I could not get past the guard. As the people on line behind me began to get restless, I tried to explain that my brother was missing, and we might finally have something to indicate where we could begin looking for him.
“Ma'am, you'll have to place a phone call to Missing Persons and make an appointment,” the guard insisted. “Now, please, there are other people who need to get upstairs to their jobs.”
Frustrated, I walked outside the building and pulled out my cell phone. Judge Huot had been in civil court, and I never had much contact with the Assistant D.A.s, but I did know one, Matt Wilson. I called the District Attorney's office and was connected to his phone. Matt wasn't at his desk and had recorded the usual answering machine instructions. “Leave your name, number, and a brief message. I'll get back to you.”
“This is Carolyn MacKenzie,” I began. “We've met a few times. I was Judge Huot's law clerk. My brother has been missing for ten years. He left a note for me yesterday in a church on Amsterdam Avenue. I need help to see if we can track him down before he disappears again.” I finished by giving my cell phone number.
I was standing on the steps. A man was going past me, a square-shouldered guy in his midfifties with close-cropped gray hair and a purposeful stride. I could tell that he had overheard me because, somewhat to my dismay, he stopped and turned around. For a moment we eyed each other, then he said abruptly, “I'm Detective Barrott. I'll take you upstairs.”
Five minutes later, I was sitting in a shabby small office
that contained a desk, a couple of chairs, and stacks of files. “We can talk in here,” he said. “Too much noise in the squad room.”
He never took his eyes off my face as I told him about Mack, only interrupting me to ask a few questions. “Calls only on Mother's Day?”
“Never asks for money?”
“Never.” I had put the note in a plastic sandwich bag. “I don't know if his fingerprints might be on it,” I explained. “Unless, of course, he had someone else drop it in the basket for him. It seems so crazy that he would take a chance on Uncle Dev spotting him from the altar.”
“Depends. He might have dyed his hair, could be twenty pounds heavier, be wearing dark glasses. It isn't hard to disguise yourself in a crowd, especially when people are wearing rain gear.”
He looked at the scrap of paper. The writing was plainly visible through the plastic. “Do we have your brother's fingerprints on file?”
“I'm not sure. By the time we reported him missing, our housekeeper had dusted and vacuumed his room at home. He shared the student apartment with two of his friends, and like most of those places, there were at least a dozen others who were in and out every day. His car was washed and cleaned after the last time he used it.”
Barrott handed it back to me. “We can run this paper through for prints, but I can tell you now we won't get anything. You and your mother handled it. So did your uncle, the monsignor. So did the usher who brought it
to your uncle. My guess is that at least one other usher might have helped to add up the collection.”
Feeling as though I needed to offer more, I said, “I'm Mack's only sibling. My mother and father and I came in to register with the familial DNA laboratory. But we've never heard from them, so I guess they've never found anyone who could be even a partial match.”
“Ms. MacKenzie, from what you tell me, your brother had absolutely no reason to willingly disappear. But if he did that, there was and is a reason. You've probably watched some of these crime programs on television so you probably have heard that when people disappear, the reason usually ends up being an accumulation of problems caused by either love or money. The jilted suitor, the jealous husband or wife, the inconvenient spouse, the addict frantic for a fix. You have to reexamine all your preconceived notions about your brother. He was twenty-one. You say he was popular with the girls. Was there one special girl?”
“No one his friends told us about. Certainly no one who ever came forward.”
“At his age, a lot of kids gamble too much. A lot more experiment with drugs and become addicted. Suppose he was in debt? How would your father and mother have reacted to that?”
I found myself reluctant to answer. Then I reminded myself that these were questions my mother and father had undoubtedly been asked ten years ago. I wondered if they had been evasive. “My father would have been furious,” I admitted. “He had no use for people who threw
away money. My mother has a private income from an inheritance. If Mack needed money he could have gotten it from her, and she wouldn't have told Dad.”
“All right. Ms. MacKenzie, I'm going to be perfectly honest with you. I don't think we have a crime here, so we can't treat your brother's disappearance as a crime. You can't imagine how many people walk out of their lives every day. They're stressed. They can't cope, or even worse, they don't want to cope anymore. Your brother calls you regularlyâ”
“Once a year,” I interrupted.
“Which is still regularly. You tell him you're going to track him down, and he responds immediately. âLeave me alone' is his message to you. I know it sounds rough, but my advice is to make yourself realize that Mack is where he wants to be, and the most connection he wants to have with you and your mother is that one Mother's Day call. Do the three of you a favor. Respect his wishes.”
He stood up. Clearly our interview was over. Clearly I should not waste the time of the police department any longer. I picked up the note and as I did, reread the message. “UNCLE DEVON, TELL CAROLYN SHE MUST NOT LOOK FOR ME.”
“You've been veryâhonest, Detective Barrott,” I said, substituting the word “honest” for “helpful.” I didn't think he had been helpful in the least. “I promise I won't bother you anymore.”
or twenty years, Gus and Lil Kramer, now in their early seventies, had been the superintendents of a four-story apartment building on West End Avenue that the owner, Derek Olsen, had renovated for student housing. As Olsen explained when he hired them, “Look, college kids, smart or dumb, are basically slobs. They'll have boxes of pizza piled up in the kitchen. They'll amass enough empty beer cans to float a battleship. They'll drop their dirty clothes and wet towels on the floor. We don't care. They all move out when they graduate.
“My point,” he had continued, “is that I can raise the rent as much as I want, but only as long as the common areas look sharp. I expect you two to keep the lobby and hallways looking like Fifth Avenue digs. I want the heat and the air-conditioning always working, any plumbing problems fixed on the double, the sidewalk swept every day. I want a quick paint job when a space is vacated. When the new arrivals come with their parents to check out the place, I want all of them to be impressed.”
For twenty years the Kramers had faithfully followed
Olsen's instructions, and the building where they worked was known as upscale student housing. All the students who passed through it were fortunate enough to have parents with deep pockets. A number of those parents made separate arrangements for the Kramers to regularly clean the lodgings of their offspring.
The Kramers had celebrated a Mother's Day brunch at Tavern on the Green with their daughter, Winifred, and her husband, Perry. Unfortunately, the conversation had been almost completely a monologue from Winifred, urging them to quit their jobs and retire to their cottage in Pennsylvania. This was a monologue they'd heard before, one that always ended with the refrain, “Mom and Dad, I hate to think of you two sweeping and mopping and vacuuming after those kids.”
Lil Kramer had long since learned to say, “You may be right, dear. I'll think about it.”
Over rainbow sherbet, Gus Kramer had minced no words. “When we're ready to quit, we'll quit, not before. What would I do with myself all day?”
Late Monday afternoon, as Lil was knitting a sweater for the expected first child of one of the former students, she was thinking about Winifred's well-meant but irritating advice. Why doesn't Winifred understand that I love being with these kids? she fumed. For us, it's almost like having grandchildren. She certainly never gave us any.
The ring of the telephone startled her. Now that Gus was getting a little hard of hearing, he had raised the volume, but it was much too loud. You could wake up
the dead with that racket, Lil thought as she hurried to answer it.
As she picked up the receiver, she found herself hoping that it wasn't Winifred following up on her retirement speech. A moment later, she wished it had been Winifred.
“Hello, this is Carolyn MacKenzie. Is this Mrs. Kramer?”
“Yes.” Lil felt her mouth go dry.
“My brother, Mack, was living in your building when he disappeared ten years ago.”
“Yes, he was.”
“Mrs. Kramer, we heard from Mack the other day. He won't tell us where he is. You can understand what this is doing to my mother and me. I'm going to try to find him. We have reason to believe that he's living in the area. May I come and talk with you?”
No, Lil thought. No! But she heard herself answering the only way possible. “Of course, you can. IÂ .Â .Â .Â weÂ .Â .Â .Â were very fond of Mack. When do you want to see us?”
Too soon, Lil thought. I need more time. “Tomorrow's very busy for us.”
“Then Wednesday morning around eleven?”
“Yes, I guess that's all right.”
Gus came in as she was replacing the receiver. “Who was that?” he asked.
“Carolyn MacKenzie. She's starting her own investigation into her brother's disappearance. She's coming to talk to us Wednesday morning.”
Lil watched as her husband's broad face reddened, and behind his glasses, his eyes narrowed. In two strides his short, stocky body was in front of her. “Last time, you let the cops see you were nervous, Lil. Don't let that happen in front of the sister. You hear me?
Don't let it happen this time!
n Monday afternoon, Detective Roy Barrott's shift was up at four
It had been a relatively slow day, and at three o'clock he realized that he had nothing to command his immediate attention. But something was bothering him. Like his tongue roving through his mouth to find the source of a sore spot, his mind began to retrace the day searching for the source of the discomfort.
When he remembered his interview with Carolyn MacKenzie, he knew that he had found it. The look of dismay and contempt he had seen in her eyes when she left him made him feel both ashamed and embarrassed now. She was desperately worried about her brother and had hoped that the note he'd left in the collection basket at church might be a step toward finding him. Although she hadn't said it, she obviously thought he might be in some kind of trouble.