Just One Look

Chapter 7


At exactly 10:15 A.M., Grace arrived at the Photomat.
Josh the Fuzz Pellet was not there. As a matter of fact, nobody was there. The sign in the store window, probably left from the night before, read CLOSED.
She checked the printed hours. Opens at 10 A.M. She waited. At ten-twenty, the first customer, a harried woman in her mid-thirties, spotted the CLOSED sign, read the hours, tried the door. She sighed in high drama. Grace gave her a commiserating shrug. The woman huffed off. Grace waited.
When the store had still not opened at 10:30 A.M., Grace knew that it was bad. She decided to try Jack's office again. His line kept going into voice mail-eerie hearing Jack's too-formal recorded voice-so she tried Dan's line this time. The two men had, after all, spoken last night. Maybe Dan could offer a clue.
She dialed his work number.
"Hi, Dan, it's Grace."
"Hey!" he said with a tad too much enthusiasm. "I was just about to call you."
"Where's Jack?"
"I don't know."
He hesitated. "When you say you don't know-"
"You called him last night, right?"
"What did you two talk about?"
"We're supposed to be making a presentation this afternoon. On the Phenomytol studies."
"Anything else?"
"What do you mean, anything else? Like what?"
"Like what else did you talk about?"
"Nothing. I wanted to ask him about a PowerPoint slide. Why? What's going on, Grace?"
"He went out after that."
"Right, so?"
"I haven't seen him since."
"Wait, when you say you haven't seen him...?"
"I mean, he hasn't come home, he hasn't called, I have no idea where he is."
"Jesus, did you call the police?"
"And nothing."
"My God. Look, let me get out of here. I'll be right over."
"No," she said. "I'm fine."
"You sure?"
"Positive. I have some things to do," she said lamely. She moved the phone to the other ear, unsure how to put this. "Has Jack been okay?"
"You mean, at work?"
"I mean anywhere."
"Yeah, sure, he's Jack. You know."
"You haven't noticed any change?"
"We've both been stressed about these drug trials, if that's what you mean. But nothing unusual. Grace, are you sure I shouldn't come up?"
There was a beep on her phone. Call Waiting. "I need to go, Dan. That's the other line."
"Probably Jack. Call me if you need anything."
She clicked him off and checked the Caller ID. Not Jack. At least, not his cell. The number was blocked.
"Ms. Lawson, this is Officer Daley. Has there been any word from your husband?"
"We tried you at home."
"Right, I'm out."
There was a pause. "Where are you?"
"In town."
"Where in town?"
"I'm at the Photomat store."
A longer pause. "I don't mean to sound judgmental, but isn't that a strange place to be when you're concerned about your husband?"
"Officer Daley?"
"There's this new invention. It's called the cell phone. In fact, you're calling me on it right now."
"I didn't mean to-"
"Have you learned anything about my husband?"
"That's why I'm calling, actually. My captain is in now. He'd like to do a follow-up interview."
"A follow-up?"
"Is that standard?"
"Sure." He sounded like it was anything but.
"Have you found something?"
"No, I mean, nothing to be alarmed about."
"What does that mean?"
"Captain Perlmutter and I just need more information, Mrs. Lawson."
Another Photomat customer, a recently streaked quasi-blonde about Grace's own age, approached the empty store. She cupped her hands around her eyes and peered inside. She too frowned and scoffed away.
"You're both at the station now?" Grace asked.
"I'll be there in three minutes."
Captain Perlmutter asked, "How long have you and your husband lived in town?"
They were jammed into an office more fitting for the school custodian than the police captain of a town. The Kasselton cops had moved their station house to the former town library, a building with history and tradition but very little comfort. Captain Stu Perlmutter sat behind his desk. He leaned back at the first question, hands resting on a tidy paunch. Officer Daley leaned against the door frame, trying to look comfortable.
Grace said, "Four years."
"Like it here?"
"Well enough."
"Great." Perlmutter smiled at her, a teacher approving of the answer. "And you have kids, right?"
"How old?"
"Eight and six."
"Eight and six," he repeated with a wistful smile. "Man, those are great ages. Not babies, and not teens yet."
Grace decided to wait him out.
"Mrs. Lawson, has your husband ever disappeared before?"
"Are there any problems with the marriage?"
Perlmutter gave her a skeptical look. He didn't wink, but he came close. "Everything is perfect, eh?"
Grace said nothing.
"How did you and your husband meet?"
"I asked-"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"I'm just trying to get a feel here."
"A feel for what? Have you found something or not?"
"Please." Perlmutter tried on what he must have believed was a disarming smile. "I just need to get some stuff down. For background, okay? Where did you and Jack Lawson meet?"
"In France."
He wrote it down. "You're an artist, aren't you, Mrs. Lawson?"
"So you were overseas studying your art?"
"Captain Perlmutter?"
"No offense, but this line of questioning is bizarre."
Perlmutter glanced at Daley. He shrugged to signal that he meant no harm. "Maybe you're right."
"Have you learned something or not?"
"I believe Officer Daley explained to you that your husband is of age, that we really aren't obligated to tell you anything?"
"He did."
"Right, well, we don't think he's met up with foul play, if that's your concern."
"What makes you say that?"
"No evidence of such."
"Meaning," she said, "that you haven't found bloodstains or anything like that?"
"That's correct. But more than that"-Perlmutter looked over at Daley again-"we did find something that, well, we probably shouldn't share with you."
Grace adjusted herself in the seat. She tried very hard to meet his eye, but he wouldn't face her. "I'd very much appreciate knowing what you found."
"It's not much," Perlmutter said.
She waited.
"Officer Daley called your husband's office. He's not there, of course. I'm sure you know that already. He also didn't call in sick. So we decided to investigate a little more. Unofficially, you understand."
"You were helpful enough to give us your car's E-ZPass number. We ran it through the computer. What time did you say your husband went out last night?"
"Around ten o'clock."
"And you thought that maybe he went to the grocery store?"
"I didn't know. He didn't tell me."
"He just upped and left?"
"And you never asked him where he was going?"
"I was upstairs. I heard the car start up."
"Okay, here's what I need to know." Perlmutter let go of the paunch. His chair creaked as he leaned forward. "You called him on the cell phone. Pretty much right away. Is that correct?"
"Well, see, that's the problem. Why didn't he answer you? I mean, if he wanted to talk to you?"
Grace saw where he was going with this.
"Do you think your husband-what?-got in an accident right away? Or maybe someone grabbed him within minutes of leaving your house?"
Grace hadn't really thought about that. "I don't know."
"Do you ever drive up the New York Thruway?"
The change of subject threw her. "Not often, but sure, I've taken it."
"Ever go to Woodbury Commons?"
"The outlet mall?"
"I've been, yes."
"How long do you figure it takes to get there?"
"Half an hour. Is that where he went?"
"I doubt it, not at that hour. The stores are all closed. But he used his E-ZPass at the tollbooth on that exit at precisely 10:26 P.M. It leads to Route 17, and heck, that's how I go to the Poconos. Give or take ten minutes either way, that would fit a scenario where your husband left your house and drove straight in that direction. From there, well, who knows where he went? It's fifteen miles to Interstate 80. From there you can go straight to California if you'd like."
She sat there.
"So add it up, Mrs. Lawson. Your husband leaves the house. You call him immediately. He doesn't answer. Within a half hour or so, we know he's driving in New York. If someone had attacked him or if he got in an accident, well, there's no way he could have been snatched and then his E-ZPass used up there in that short a time frame. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
Grace met his eye. "That I'm a hysterical bimbo whose husband ran out on her."
"That's not what I'm saying at all. It's just... Well, we really can't investigate any further at this point. Unless..." He leaned a little closer. "Mrs. Lawson, is there anything else you can think of that could help us here?"
Grace tried not to squirm. She glanced behind her. Officer Daley had not moved. She had a copy of the strange photograph in her purse. She thought about Fuzz Pellet Josh and the store not opening. It was time to tell them. In hindsight she should have told Daley about it when it first showed up.
"I'm not sure it's relevant," she began, reaching into her purse. She pulled out a copy of the photograph and passed it to Perlmutter. Perlmutter took out a pair of reading glasses, cleaned them with his shirttail, and pushed them into place. Daley walked around and bent down over the captain's shoulder. She told them about finding the photograph mixed in with her others. The two officers stared at her as if she'd taken out a razor and started shaving her head.
When Grace was done, Captain Perlmutter pointed to the picture and said, "And you're sure that's your husband?"
"I think so."
"But you're not sure?"
"I'm pretty sure."
He nodded in that way people do when they think you're a lunatic. "And the other people in the photo? The young lady somebody crossed out?"
"I don't know them."
"But your husband. He said it wasn't him, right?"
"So if it isn't him, well, this is irrelevant. And if it is him"-Perlmutter took off the glasses-"he lied to you. Isn't that correct, Mrs. Lawson?"
Her cell phone rang. Grace grabbed it fast and checked the number.
It was Jack.
For a moment she went very still. Grace wanted to excuse herself, but Perlmutter and Daley were both looking at her. Asking for privacy was not really an option here. She hit the answer button and brought the phone to her ear.
The sound of his voice should have filled her with relief. It didn't.
Jack said, "I tried you at home. Where are you?"
"Where am I?"
"Listen, I can't talk long. I'm sorry about running out on you like that."
His tone was aiming for casual, but it wasn't hitting the mark.
"I need a few days," he said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Where are you, Grace?"
"I'm at the police station."
"You called the police?"
Her eyes met Perlmutter's. He wiggled his fingers, as if to say, Give me the phone, little lady. I'll handle it.
"Look, Grace, just give me a few days. I..." Jack stopped. And then he said something that made the dread grow tenfold. "I need some space."
"Space," she repeated.
"Yes. A little space. That's all. Please tell the police that I apologize. I have to go now. Okay? I'll be back soon."
He didn't reply.
"I love you," Grace said.
But the phone was dead.