Just One Look

Chapter 9


It didn't take Grace long to put it together.
The Internet could be a wonderful tool when used properly. Grace had Googled the words "Sandra Koval," for Web hits, for newsgroups, for images. She checked the Burton and Crimstein Web site. There were bios of all their lawyers. Sandra Koval had graduated from Northwestern. She had gotten her law degree at UCLA. Based on the years of graduation, Sandra Koval would be forty-two or so. She was married, according to the site, to one Harold Koval. They had three children.
They lived in Los Angeles.
That had been the giveaway.
Grace had done a little more research, some the old-fashioned way: with a telephone. The pieces started to come together. The problem was, the picture made no sense.
The drive into Manhattan had taken less than an hour. Burton and Crimstein's reception desk was on the fifth floor. The receptionist/ security guard gave her a closed-mouth smile. "Yes?"
"Grace Lawson to see Sandra Koval."
The receptionist made a call, speaking in a voice below a whisper. A moment later, she said, "Ms. Koval will be right out."
That was something of surprise. Grace had been prepared to launch threats or accept a long wait. She knew what Koval looked like-there had been a photograph of her on the Burton and Crimstein Web site-so she'd even accepted the fact that she might have to confront her as she left.
In the end Grace had decided to take the chance and drive into Manhattan without calling first. Not only did she feel she'd need the element of surprise, but she very much wanted to confront Sandra Koval face to face. Call it necessity. Call it curiosity. Grace had to see this woman for herself.
It was still early enough. Emma had a play-date after school. Max attended an "enrichment program" today. She wouldn't need to pick either of them up for several hours yet.
The reception area of Burton and Crimstein was part old-world attorney-rich mahogany, lush carpeting, tapestry-clad seating, the decor that foreshadows the billing-and part Sardi's celebrity wall. Photographs, mostly of Hester Crimstein, the famed TV attorney, adorned the walls. Crimstein had a show on Court TV cleverly dubbed Crimstein on Crime. The photos included Ms. Crimstein with a bevy of actors, politicos, clients, and, well, combinations of all three.
Grace was studying a photograph of Hester Crimstein standing alongside an attractive olive-skinned woman when a voice behind her said, "That's Esperanza Diaz. A professional wrestler falsely accused of murder."
Grace turned. "Little Pocahontas," she said.
"Excuse me?"
Grace pointed at the photograph. "Her wrestling name. It was Little Pocahontas."
"How do you know that?"
Grace shrugged. "I'm a swarm of useless facts."
For a moment Grace openly stared at Sandra Koval. Koval cleared her throat and made a big production of looking at her watch. "I don't have much time. Please come this way."
Neither woman spoke as they headed down the corridor and into a conference room. There was a long table, maybe twenty chairs, one of those gray speakerphones in the middle that looks suspiciously like a dropped octopus. There were a variety of soft drinks and bottled water on a counter in the corner.
Sandra Koval kept her distance. She crossed her arms and made a gesture that said, Well?
"I did some research on you," Grace said.
"Care to sit?"
"Mind if I do?"
"Suit yourself."
"How about a drink?"
Sandra Koval poured herself a Diet Coke. She was what you'd call a handsome woman rather than pretty or beautiful. Her hair was going a gray that worked for her. Her figure was slim, her lips full. She had one of those lick-the-world postures that let your adversaries know that you were comfortable with yourself and more than ready to do battle.
"Why aren't we in your office?" Grace asked.
"You don't care for this room?"
"It's a tad large."
Sandra Koval shrugged.
"You don't have an office here, do you?"
"You tell me."
"When I called, the woman answered 'Sandra Koval's line.' "
"Uh huh."
"Line, she said. Line. Not office."
"And that's supposed to mean something?"
"On its own, no," Grace said. "But I looked up the law firm on the Web. You live in Los Angeles. Near the Burton and Crimstein West Coast office."
"True enough."
"That's your home base. You're visiting here. Why?"
"A criminal case," she said. "An innocent man wrongly accused."
"Aren't they all?"
"No," Sandra Koval said slowly. "Not all."
Grace moved closer to her. "You're not Jack's lawyer," she said. "You're his sister."
Sandra Koval stared at her drink.
"I called your law school. They confirmed what I suspected. Sandra Koval was the married name. The woman who graduated was named Sandra Lawson. I double-checked it through LawMar Securities. Your grandfather's firm. Sandra Koval is listed as a member of the board."
She smiled without humor. "My, aren't we the little Sherlock."
"So where is he?" Grace asked.
"How long have you two been married?"
"Ten years."
"And in all that time, how many times has Jack talked about me?"
"Pretty much never."
Sandra Koval spread her hands. "Precisely. So why would I know where he is?"
"Because he called you."
"So you say."
"I hit the redial button."
"Right, you told me that on the phone."
"Are you saying he didn't call you?"
"When did this call purportedly take place?"
Sandra Koval shrugged. "Always the lawyer."
"Last night. Around ten o'clock."
"Well, there's your answer then. I wasn't here."
"Where were you?"
"At my hotel."
"But Jack called your line."
"If he did, nobody would have answered. Not at that hour. It would have gone into voice mail."
"You checked the messages today?"
"Of course. And no, none from Jack."
Grace tried to digest that. "When was the last time you spoke to Jack?"
"A long time ago."
"How long?"
Her gaze flicked away. "We haven't spoken since he went overseas."
"That was fifteen years ago."
Sandra Koval took another sip.
"How would he still know your phone number?" Grace asked.
She didn't reply.
"You live at 221 North End Ave in Kasselton. You have two phone lines, one the phone, one the fax." Sandra repeated the two numbers from memory.
The two women looked at each other. "But you've never called?"
Her voice was soft. "Never."
The speakerphone squawked. "Sandra?"
"Hester wants to see you in her office."
"On my way." Sandra Koval broke the eye contact. "I have to go now."
"Why would Jack try to call you?"
"I don't know."
"He's in trouble."
"So you say."
"He's disappeared."
"Not for the first time, Grace."
The room felt smaller now. "What happened between you and Jack?"
"It's not my place to say."
"The hell it isn't."
Sandra shifted in her seat. "You said he disappeared?"
"And Jack hasn't called?"
"Actually, he has."
That puzzled her. "And when he called, what did he say?"
"That he needed space. But he didn't mean it. It was code."
Sandra made a face. Grace took out the photograph and placed it on the table. The air rushed out of the room. Sandra Koval looked down and Grace could see her body jolt.
"What the hell is this?"
"Funny," Grace said.
"Those are the exact words Jack used when he saw it."
Sandra was still staring at the picture.
"That's him, right? In the middle with the beard?" Grace asked.
"I don't know."
"Sure you do. Who's the blonde next to him?"
Grace dropped the blowup of the young woman onto the table. Sandra Koval looked up. "Where did you get these?"
"The Photomat." Grace quickly explained. Sandra Koval's face clouded over. She wasn't buying it. "Is it Jack, yes or no?"
"I really can't say. I've never seen him with a beard."
"Why would he call you immediately after seeing this picture?"
"I don't know, Grace."
"You're lying."
Sandra Koval pushed herself to a stand. "I have a meeting."
"What happened to Jack?"
"What makes you so sure he didn't just run away?"
"We're married. We have two kids. You, Sandra, have a niece and nephew."
"And I had a brother," she countered. "Maybe neither one of us knows him that well."
"Do you love him?"
Sandra stood there, shoulders slumped. "Leave it alone, Grace."
"I can't."
Shaking her head, Sandra turned toward the door.
"I'm going to find him," Grace said.
"Don't count on it."
And then she was gone.