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Page 11


Stewart Green. She thought that was one ghost that had long been buried. But you can’t bury a ghost, can you?
She shivered, put her hand around Dave’s waist, and nestled in closer. To her surprise, he took her hand and said, “You okay, hon?”
“I’m fine.”
Silence. Then he said, “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Megan figured that sleep would never come, but it did. She dropped into it as though off a cliff. At three A.M., when her mobile phone buzzed, she was still right up against her husband, her arm still around his waist. Her hand shot out for the phone without hesitation. She checked the caller ID, though there was no need.
Still half asleep, Dave cursed and said, “Don’t answer it.”
But Megan simply could not do that. She was already rolling out of bed, her feet searching for the slippers. She put the phone to her ear. “Agnes?”
“He’s in my room,” the old woman whispered.
“It’s going to be okay, Agnes. I’m on my way.”
“Please hurry.” The terror in her whisper couldn’t have been more obvious if it came with a blinking neon sign. “I think he’s going to kill me.”
BROOME DIDN’T BOTHER FLASHING HIS badge when he walked into La Crème, a “gentlemen’s lounge”—a euphemism in so many ways—located two short blocks geographically (but long blocks in many other ways) from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. The bouncer, an old-timer named Larry, already knew him.
“Yo, Broome.”
“Hey, Larry.”
“Business or pleasure?” Larry asked.
“Business. Rudy here?”
“In his office.”
It was ten A.M., but the place still had a few pathetic customers and even more pathetic dancers. One staff member set up the always-popular, all-you-can-eat (“food only”—ha-ha) buffet, mixing congealed food trays from Lord knows how many days ago. It would be trite to note that the buffet was a salmonella outbreak waiting to happen, but sometimes trite is the only sock in the drawer.
Rudy sat behind his desk. He could have worked as an extra on The Sopranos, except the casting director would deem him too much on type. He was a big man, sporting a gold chain thick enough to pull up a Carnival Cruise anchor and a pinkie ring that most of his dancers could wear around their wrists.
“Hey, Broome.”
“What’s happening, Rudy?”
“Something I can do for you?”
“Do you know who Carlton Flynn is?” Broome asked.
“Sure. Little pissant poser with show muscles and a booth tan.”
“You know he’s missing?”
“Yeah, I heard something about that.”
“Don’t get all broken up about it.”
“I’m all cried out,” Rudy said.
“Anything you can tell me about him?”
“The girls say he’s got a tiny dick.” Rudy lit a cigar and pointed it at Broome. “Steroids, my friend. Stay away from them. They make the cojones shrivel into raisins.”
“Appreciate both the health advice and imagery. Anything else?”
“He probably frequented a lot of clubs,” Rudy said.
“He did.”
“So why bug me?”
“Because he’s missing. Like Stewart Green.”
That made Rudy’s eyes widen. “So? What was that, twenty years ago?”
“Long time ago. In a place like Atlantic City, it’s a lifetime.”
Boy, did that make sense. You live in dog years here. Everything ages faster.
And, yes, though it was not widely reported, Stewart Green, doting dad of little Susie and Brandon, devoted husband of cancer-stricken Sarah, enjoyed La Crème’s bottle service and the company of strippers. He kept a separate credit card with the bills coming to his office address. Broome had eventually told Sarah about it, in as gentle terms as he could, and her reaction had surprised him.
“Lots of married men go to the clubs,” Sarah had said. “So what?”
“Did you know?”
But Sarah was lying. He had seen that flash of hurt in her eyes.
“And it doesn’t matter,” she insisted.
And in one way, it didn’t. The fact that a man might be enjoying innocent ogling or even getting his freak on had nothing to do with the importance of locating him. On the other hand, as Broome started to question patrons and employees of La Crème, a rather disturbing and lurid picture emerged.
“Stewart Green,” Rudy said. “I haven’t heard that name in a long time. So what’s the connection?”
“Only two things, Rudy.” Because, Broome knew, there was very little else Green and Flynn had in common. Stewart Green was married, a father of two, hard working. Carlton Flynn was single, pampered, living off Daddy. “One, they both went missing on the exact same day, albeit seventeen years apart. And two”—Broome gestured—“this quality establishment.”
In the movies, guys like Rudy never cooperated with the cops. In reality, they didn’t want trouble or unsolved crimes either. “So how can I help?”
“Did Flynn have a favorite girl?”
“You mean like Stewart had Cassie?”
Broome said nothing, letting the dark cloud pass.
“Because, well, none of my girls are missing, if that’s what you mean.”
Broome still said nothing. Stewart Green did indeed have a favorite girl here. She, too, had vanished that night seventeen years ago. When the hotshot feds, who had taken the case from Broome and the ACPD as soon as they thought it involved a high-profile, honorable citizen, saw this development, an obvious theory was rapidly formed and universally accepted:
Stewart Green had run away with a stripper.
But Sarah wouldn’t hear of it, and Broome never really bought it either. Green might be a narcissistic creepazoid who wanted some side action—but dumping the kids and skipping town? It didn’t add up. None of Stewart Green’s accounts had been touched. No money or assets squirreled away. No bags packed, nothing sold off, no sign at work that he had any plans to run. In fact, sitting at his tidy, methodically organized desk, nearly completed, was the biggest deal of Stewart’s career. Stewart Green had a steady income, a good job, ties to the community, loving parents and siblings.
If he had run, all signs pointed to it being spur of the moment.
“All right, I’ll ask around. See if Flynn liked one girl in particular. What else?”