Just One Look

Chapter 19


The color in Officer Daley's face had ebbed away. Perlmutter sat up. "What is it?"
Daley stared at the sheet of paper in his hand as if he feared it might flee. "Something doesn't make sense here, Cap."
When Captain Perlmutter had started working as a cop, he hated the night shift. The quiet and solitude got to him. He had grown up in a big family, one of seven kids, and he liked that life. He and his wife Marion planned on having a big family. He had the whole thing figured out-the barbecues, the weekends coaching one kid or the other, the school conferences, the family movies on Friday night, the summer nights on the front porch-the life he'd experienced growing up in Brooklyn, but with a suburban, bigger-house twist.
His grandmother used to spew Yiddish quotes all the time. Stu Perlmutter's personal favorite had been this: "Man plans and God laughs." Marion, the only woman he had ever loved, died of a sudden embolism when she was thirty-one. She'd been in the kitchen, making Sammy-that was their son, their only child-a sandwich when the embolism hit. She was dead before she landed on the linoleum.
Perlmutter's life pretty much ended that day. He did what he could to raise Sammy, but the truth was, his heart was never really in it. He loved the boy and enjoyed his job, but he had lived for Marion. This precinct, his work, had become his solace. Home, being with Sammy, reminded him of Marion and all they'd never have. Here, alone, he could almost forget.
All of that was a long time ago. Sammy was in college now. He had turned into a good man, despite his father's inattentiveness. There was something to be said for that, but Perlmutter did not know what.
Perlmutter signaled for Daley to sit down. "So what's up?"
"That woman. Grace Lawson."
"Ah," Perlmutter said.
"I was just thinking about her too."
"Something about her case bothering you, Captain?"
"I thought it was just me."
Perlmutter tipped his chair back. "Do you know who she is?"
"Ms. Lawson?"
"She's an artist."
"More than that. You notice the limp?"
"Her married name is Grace Lawson. But once upon a time, her name-her maiden name, I guess-was Grace Sharpe."
Daley looked at him blankly.
"You ever hear of the Boston Massacre?"
"Wait, you mean that rock concert riot?"
"More a stampede, but yeah. Lot of people died."
"She was there?"
Perlmutter nodded. "Badly injured too. In a coma for a while. Press gave her the full fifteen minutes and then some."
"How long ago was that?"
"What, fifteen, sixteen years ago maybe."
"But you remember?"
"It was big news. And I was a big fan of the Jimmy X Band."
Daley looked surprised. "You?"
"Hey, I wasn't always an old fart."
"Heard their CD. It was pretty damn good. Radio still plays 'Pale Ink' all the time."
"One of the best songs ever."
Marion had liked the Jimmy X Band. Perlmutter remembered her constantly blasting "Pale Ink" on an old Walkman, her eyes closed, her lips moving as she silently sang along. He blinked the image away.
"So what happened to them?"
"The massacre destroyed the band. They broke up. Jimmy X-I don't remember his real name anymore-was the front man and wrote all the songs. He just up and quit." Perlmutter pointed to the piece of paper in Daley's hand. "So what's that?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
"Something to do with the Lawson case?"
"I don't know." Then: "Yeah, maybe."
Perlmutter put his hands behind his head. "Start talking."
"DiBartola got a call early tonight," Daley said. "Another missing husband case."
"Similarities to Lawson?"
"No. I mean, not at first. This guy wasn't even her husband anymore. An ex. And he isn't exactly squeaky clean."
"He's got a record?"
"Did time for assault."
"Rocky Conwell."
"Rocky? For real?"
"Yep, that's what it says on his birth certificate."
"Parents." Perlmutter made a face. "Wait, why does that name ring a bell?"
"He played a little pro ball."
Perlmutter searched the memory banks, shrugged. "So what's the deal?"
"Okay, like I said, this case looks even more cut-and-dry than Lawson. Ex-husband who was supposed to take his wife out shopping this morning. I mean, it's nothing. It's less than nothing. But DiBartola sees the wife-her name is Lorraine-well, she's a royal babe. So you know DiBartola."
"A pig," Permutter said with a nod. "Ranked in the top ten by both the AP and UPI."
"Right, so he figures, what the hell, humor her, right? She's separated, so you never know. Maybe something would swing his way."
"Very professional." Perlmutter frowned. "Go on."
"This is where it gets weird." Daley licked his lips. "DiBartola, he does the simple thing. He runs the E-ZPass."
"Like you."
"Exactly like me."
"What do you mean?"
"He gets a hit." Daley took another step into the room. "Rocky Conwell crossed the tollbooth off Exit 16 on the New York Thruway. At exactly ten-twenty-six last night."
Perlmutter looked at him.
"Yeah, I know. Exact same time and place as Jack Lawson."
Perlmutter scanned the report. "You're sure about this? DiBartola didn't accidentally run the same number we did or something?"
"Checked it twice. There's no mistake. Conwell and Lawson crossed the toll at the exact same time. They had to be together."
Perlmutter mulled it over and shook his head. "No."
Daley looked confused. "You think it's a coincidence?"
"Two separate cars, crossing the toll at the same time? Not likely."
"So how do you figure it?"
"I'm not sure," Perlmutter said. "Let's say they, I don't know, ran away together. Or Conwell kidnapped Lawson. Or hell, Lawson kidnapped Conwell. Whatever. They'd be in the same car. There would be only one E-ZPass hit, not two."
"Right, okay."
"But they were in two separate cars. That's what's throwing me. Both men in separate cars cross the toll at the same time. And now both men are missing."
"Except Lawson called his wife," Daley added. "He needed space, remember?"
They both thought about it.
Daley said, "You want me to call Ms. Lawson? See if she knows this Conwell guy?"
Perlmutter plucked on his bottom lip and thought about it. "Not yet. Besides it's late. She's got kids."
"So what should we do?"
"A little more investigating. Let's talk to Rocky Conwell's ex-wife first. See if we dig up a connection between Conwell and Lawson. Put his car out there, see if we get a hit."
The phone rang. Daley was working the switchboard as well. He picked it up, listened, and then turned to Perlmutter.
"Who was that?"
"Phil over at the Ho-Ho-Kus station."
"Something wrong?"
"They think an officer might be down. They want our help."