Stay Close

Page 7


If she were asked, Megan would claim that she didn’t plan it. It was spur of the moment, no big deal, but on her second night down staying at the Tropicana, a scant two blocks from La Crème, she donned her clingiest outfit and visited the club.
“You saw me?” Megan asked.
“No. And I guess you didn’t seek me out.”
There was hurt in Lorraine’s voice. Megan had seen her old friend behind the bar and kept her distance. The club was big and dark. People liked to get lost in places like that. It was easy not to be seen.
“I didn’t mean…” Megan stopped. “So who then?”
“I don’t know. But it’s true?”
“It was only one time,” Megan said.
Lorraine said nothing.
“I don’t understand. What’s the problem?”
“Why did you come back?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not to me,” Lorraine said. “But a cop found out. Same one who’s been looking for you all these years. He’s never given up.”
“And now you think he’ll find me?”
“Yeah,” Lorraine said. “I think there’s a pretty good chance he’ll find you.”
“So this visit is a warning?”
“Something like that.”
“What else is it?”
“I don’t know what happened that night,” Lorraine said. “And I don’t want to know. I’m happy. I like my life. I do what I please with whom I please. I don’t get into other people’s stuff, you know what I’m saying?”
“And I may be wrong. I mean, you know how the club is. Bad lighting. And it’s been, what, seventeen years? So I could have been mistaken. It was only for a second, but for all I know it was the same night you were there. But what with you back and now someone else gone missing…”
“What are you talking about, Lorraine? What did you see?”
Lorraine looked up and swallowed. “Stewart,” she said, fiddling with the unlit cigarette. “I think I saw Stewart Green.”
WITH A HEAVY SIGH, Detective Broome approached the doomed house and rang the bell. Sarah opened the door and with nary a glance said, “Come on in.” Broome wiped his feet, feeling sheepish. He took off the old trench coat and draped it over his arm. Nothing inside the house had changed in all these years. The dated recessed lighting, the white leather couch, the old recliner in the corner—all the same. Even the photographs on the fireplace mantel hadn’t been switched out. For a long time, at least five years, Sarah had left her husband’s slippers by that old recliner. They were gone now, but the chair remained. Broome wondered if anybody ever sat in it.
It was as though the house refused to move on, as though the walls and ceilings were grieving and waiting. Or maybe that was projecting. People need answers. They need closure. Hope, Broome knew, could be a wonderful thing. But hope could crush you anew every single day. Hope could be the cruelest thing in the world.
“You missed the anniversary,” Sarah said.
Broome nodded, not ready to tell her why yet. “How are the kids?”
Sarah’s children were practically grown now. Susie was a junior at Bucknell. Brandon was a high school senior. They had been little more than babies when their father vanished, ripped from this tidy household, never to be seen by any of his loved ones again. Broome had never solved the case. He had never let it go either. You shouldn’t get personally involved. He knew that. But he had. He had gone to Susie’s dance recitals. He had helped teach Brandon how to throw a baseball. He had even, twelve years ago and to his great shame, had too much to drink with Sarah and, well, stayed the whole night.
“How’s the new job?” Broome asked her.
“Is your sister coming in soon?”
Sarah sighed. “Yep.”
Sarah was still an attractive woman. There were crow’s-feet by the eyes, and the lines around her mouth had deepened over the years. Aging works well on some women. Sarah was one of them.
She was also a cancer survivor, twenty-plus years now. She had told Broome this the first time they met, sitting in this very room, when he had come here to investigate the disappearance. The diagnosis had been made, Sarah explained to him, when she was pregnant with Susie. If it wasn’t for her husband, Sarah insisted, she would have never survived. She wanted Broome to understand that. When the prognosis was bad, when the chemo made Sarah vomit continuously, when she lost her hair and her looks, when her body started to decay, when no one else, including Sarah, had any hope—that word again—he and he alone had stuck by her.
Which proved yet again that there was no explaining the complexities and hypocrisies of human nature.
He stayed up with her. He held her forehead late at night. He fetched her medicines and kissed her cheek and held her shivering body and made her feel loved.
She had looked Broome in the eye and told him all this because she wanted him to stay with the case, to not dismiss her husband as a runaway, to get personally involved, to find her soul mate because she simply could not live without him.
Seventeen years later, despite learning some hard truths, Broome was still here. And the whereabouts of Sarah’s husband and soul mate was still very much a mystery.
Broome looked up at her now. “That’s good,” he said, hearing the babble in his own voice. “I mean, about your sister’s visiting. I know you like when your sister visits.”
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Sarah said, a voice flat enough to slip under a door crack. “Broome?”
“You’re giving me small talk.”
Broome looked down at his hands. “I was just trying to be nice.”
“No. See, you don’t do just being nice, Broome. And you never do small talk.”
“Good point.”
Despite all the trappings—bright yellow paint, fresh-cut flowers—all Broome could see was the decay. The years of not knowing had devastated the family. The kids had some hard years. Susie had two DUIs. Brandon had a drug bust. Broome had helped both of them get out of trouble. The house still looked as though their father had disappeared yesterday—frozen in time, waiting for his return.
Sarah’s eyes widened a little as if struck by a painful realization. “Did you find… ?”