Just One Look

Chapter 8


Space. Jack said he needed space. And that was all wrong. Never mind that "needing space" was one of those lame, cloying, namby-pamby, New Age we-are-the-world terms that was worse than meaningless-"needing space"-a terrible euphemism for "I'm soooo outta here." That would have been a clue perhaps, but this went much deeper.
Grace was home now. She had mumbled an apology to Perlmutter and Daley. Both men looked at her with pity and told her that it was all part of the job. They said that they were sorry. Grace offered up a solemn nod and headed for the door.
She had learned something crucial from the phone call.
Jack was in trouble.
She had not been overreacting. His disappearance had nothing to do with running away from her or fear of commitment. It was no accident. It had not been expected or planned. She had picked up the photograph from the store. Jack had seen it and run out.
And now he was in serious danger.
She could never explain this to the police. First off, they wouldn't believe her. They would claim that she was either delusional or naive to the point of a learning disability. Maybe not to her face. Maybe they would humor her, which would be both a tremendous irritant and waste of time. They'd been convinced that Jack was on the run before the call. Her explanation would not change their minds.
And maybe that was best.
Grace was trying to read between the lines here. Jack had been concerned about police involvement. That was obvious. When she said that she was at the police station, the regret in his voice was real. That was no act.
That was the main clue. If he had just told her that he was leaving for a few days, blowing off steam, running off with a stripper he'd met at the Satin Dolls, okay, she might not believe him, but it would be in the realm of possibility. But Jack hadn't done that. He had been specific about his reasons for disappearing. He even repeated himself.
Jack needed space.
Marital codes. All couples have them. Most were pretty stupid. For example, there was a scene in the Billy Crystal movie Mr. Saturday Night when the comic Crystal played-Grace couldn't remember the name, barely remembered the movie-pointed at an old man with a terrible toupee and said, "Is that a toupee? I, for one, was fooled." So now, whenever she and Jack saw a man with a possible toupee, one would turn to the other and say, "I for one?" and the spouse would either agree or disagree. Grace and Jack started using "I for one" for other vanity enhancements too-nose jobs, breast implants, whatever.
The origin of "Need space" was a bit more risque.
Despite her current predicament, Grace's cheeks couldn't help but flush from the memory. Sex had always been very good with Jack, but in any long-term relationship, there are ebbs and flows. This was two years ago, during a time of, uh, great flow. A stage of more corporeal creativity, if you will. Public creativity, to be more specific.
There had been the quick nooky in the changing room at one of those upscale hair salons. There had been under-the-coat manipulation in a private balcony at a lush Broadway musical. But it was midway through a particularly daring encounter in a British-style red phone booth located, in of all places, a quiet street in Allendale, New Jersey, when Jack suddenly panted, "I need space."
Grace had looked up at him. "Excuse me?"
"I mean, literally. Back up! The phone receiver is pressing into my neck!"
They'd both laughed. Grace closed her eyes now, a faint smile on her lips. "Need space" had thus joined the ranks of their private marital language. Jack would not use that phrase haphazardly. He was sending her a message, warning her, letting her know that he was saying something he didn't mean.
Okay, so what did he mean then?
Jack couldn't speak freely for one thing. Someone was listening. Who? Was someone with him-or was he afraid because she was with the cops? She hoped the latter, that he was alone and simply didn't want police involvement.
But when she considered all the facts, that possibility seemed unlikely.
If Jack had been free to talk, why hadn't he called her back? He'd have to realize that she'd be out of the police station by now. If he were okay, if he was alone, Jack would have called again, just to let her know what was going on. He hadn't done that.
Conclusion: Jack was with somebody and in serious trouble.
Did he want her to react or sit tight? In the same way she knew Jack-in the same way she knew that he'd been sending her a signal-Jack would know that Grace's reaction would not be to go quietly into that good night. That was not her personality. Jack understood that. She would try to find him.
He had probably counted on that.
Of course, this was all no more than conjecture. She knew her husband well-or maybe she didn't?-so her conjectures were more than mere fancy. But how much more? Maybe she was just justifying her decision to take action.
Didn't matter. Either way, she was involved.
Grace thought about what she'd already learned. Jack had taken the Windstar up the New York Thruway. Who did they know up there? Why would he have gone that way so late at night?
She had no idea.
Hold up.
Roll it back to the start: Jack comes home. Jack sees the photograph. That was what set it off. The photograph. He sees it on the kitchen counter. She starts asking him about it. He gets a call from Dan. And then he goes into his study...
Stop. His study.
Grace hurried down the hall. Study was a rather ornate word for this converted screened-in porch. The plaster was cracking in spots. There was always a draft in the winter and a stifling lack of anything approaching air in the summer. There were photographs of the kids in cheap frames and two of her paintings in expensive ones. The study felt strangely impersonal to her. Nothing in here told you about the past of the room's main occupant-no mementos, no softball signed by friends, no photo of a golf foursome taking to the links. Other than some pharmaceutical freebies-pens, pads, a paperclip holder-there were no clues as to who Jack really was other than a husband, father, and researcher.
But maybe that was all there was.
Grace felt weird, snooping. There had been strength, she thought, in respecting one another's privacy. They each had a room closed off to the other. Grace had always been okay with that. She'd even convinced herself it was healthy. Now she wondered about looking away. She wondered if it'd derived from a desire to give Jack privacy-needing space?!-or because she feared poking a beehive.
His computer was up and online. Jack's default page was the "official" Grace Lawson Web site. Grace stared at the chair for a moment, the ergonomic gray from the local Staples store, imagining Jack there, turning on the computer every morning, having her face greet him. The site's home page had a glam shot of Grace along with several examples of her work. Farley, her agent, had recently insisted that she include the photograph in all sales material because, as he put it, "You a babe." She reluctantly acquiesced. Looks had always been used by the arts to promote the work. On stage and in movies, well, the importance of looks was obvious. Even writers, with their glossy touched-up portraits, the smoldering dark eyes of the next literati wunderkind, marketed appearances. But Grace's world-painting-had been fairly immune to this pressure, ignoring the creator's physical beauty, perhaps because the form itself was all about the physical.
But not anymore.
An artist appreciates the importance of the aesthetical, of course. Aesthetics do more than alter perception. They altered reality. Prime example: If Grace had been fat or homely, the TV crews would not have been monitoring her vital signs after she'd been pulled from the Boston Massacre. If she'd been physically unappealing, she would have never been adopted as the "people's survivor," the innocent, the "Crushed Angel," as one tabloid headline dubbed her. The media always broadcasted her image while giving medical updates. The press-nay, the country-demanded constant updates on her condition. The families of victims visited her room, spent time with her, searched her face for ghostly wisps of their own lost children.
Would they have done the same had she been unattractive?
Grace didn't want to speculate. But as one too-honest art critic had told her: "We have little interest in a painting that has little aesthetic appeal-why should it be different with a human being?"
Even before the Boston Massacre Grace had wanted to be an artist. But something-something elusive and impossible to explain-had been missing. The whole experience had helped take her artistic sensibilities to the next level. Yes, she knew how pretentious that sounded. She had disdained that art-school clatter: You have to suffer for your art; you need tragedy to give your work texture. It had always rung hollow before, but now she understood that there was indeed something to it.
Without changing her conscious viewpoint, her work developed that vague intangible. There was more emotion, more life, more... swirl. Her work was darker, angrier, more vivid. People often wondered if she'd ever painted any scenes from that horrible day. The simple answer was only one portrait-a young face so full of hope that you knew it would soon be crushed-but the truer answer was that the Boston Massacre shaded and colored everything she touched.
Grace sat down at Jack's desk. The phone was to her right. She reached for it, deciding to try the simplest thing first: Hit redial on Jack's phone.
The phone-a new Panasonic model she'd picked up at Radio Shack-had an LCD screen so she could see the redialed number come up. The 212 area code. New York City. She waited. On the third ring a woman answered and said, " Burton and Crimstein, law office."
Grace wasn't sure how to proceed.
"This is Grace Lawson calling."
"How may I transfer your call?"
Good question. "How many attorneys work at the firm?"
"I really couldn't say. Would you like me to connect you with one?"
"Yes, please."
There was a pause. The voice had a shade of that trying-to-be-helpful impatience now. "Is there one in particular?"
Grace checked the Caller ID. There were too many numbers. She saw that now. Usually long distance calls had eleven numbers. But here there were fifteen, including an asterisk. She mulled that over. If Jack had made the call, it would have been late last night. The receptionists would not have been on duty. Jack probably hit the asterisk button and plugged in an extension.
"Extension four-six-three," she said, reading off the screen.
"I'll connect you."
The phone rang three times.
"Sandra Koval's line."
"Ms. Koval please."
"May I ask who is calling?"
"My name is Grace Lawson."
"And what is this in reference to?"
"My husband, Jack."
"Please hold."
Grace gripped the phone. Thirty seconds later, the voice came back on.
"I'm sorry. Ms. Koval is in a meeting."
"It's urgent."
"I'm sorry-"
"I just need a second of her time. Tell her it's very important."
The sigh was intentionally audible. "Please hold."
The hold music was a Muzak version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It was strangely calming.
"Can I help you?"
The voice was all clipped professionalism. "Ms. Koval?"
"My name is Grace Lawson."
"What do you want?"
"My husband Jack Lawson called your office yesterday."
She did not reply.
"He's missing."
"My husband is missing."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but I don't see-"
"Do you know where he is, Ms. Koval?"
"Why on earth would I know?"
"He made a phone call last night. Before he disappeared."
"I hit the redial button. This number came up."
"Ms. Lawson, this firm employs more than two hundred attorneys. He could have been calling any of them."
"No. Your extension is here, on the redial display. He called you."
No reply.
"Ms. Koval?"
"I'm here."
"Why did my husband call you?"
"I have nothing more to say to you."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Ms. Lawson, are you familiar with attorney-client privilege?"
"Of course."
More silence.
"Are you saying my husband called you for legal advice?"
"I cannot discuss the situation with you. Good-bye."