Gone for Good Page 76

“Wait a second,” I said.

“I don’t have time for this now,” she said shortly. “My father will be wondering where I am.”

I stood. “Call me, okay?” I gave her the cell phone number. I’d already memorized hers.

She slammed the door on her way out.

Katy Miller reached the street. Her neck hurt like hell. She was pushing too hard, she knew that, but that could not be helped. She was fuming. Had they gotten to Will? It hadn’t seemed possible, but maybe he was just as bad as all the rest. Or maybe not. Maybe he really believed he was protecting her.

She would have to be even more careful now.

Her throat was dry. She craved a drink, but swallowing was still a painful chore. She wondered when this would all be over. Soon, she hoped. But she would see this through to the end. She had promised herself that. There was no going back, no end, not until Julie’s murderer had been brought to justice one way or the other.

She headed south to 18th Street and then headed west into the meat-packing district. It was quiet now, in that lull between the daylight unloading and the perverse past-midnight nightlife. The city was like that, a theater that put on two different shows daily, changing props and sets and even actors. But day or night or even dusk, this street always had that rotted-meat smell. You could not get it out. Human or animal, Katy was not sure which.

The panic was back.

She stopped and tried to push it away. The feel of those hands clamped on her throat, toying with her, opening and closing her windpipe at will. Such power against such helplessness. He had stopped her breath. Think about that. He had squeezed her neck until she stopped breathing, until her life force began to ebb away.

Just like with Julie.

She was so lost in the horrible memory that she did not know he was there until he grabbed her elbow. She spun around. “What the—?”

The Ghost did not loosen his grip. “I understand you were calling for me,” he said in that purr voice. Then smiling, he added, “Well, here I am.”


I sat there. Katy had every right to be mad. But I could live with her anger. It was far preferable to another funeral. I rubbed my eyes. I put my feet up. I think I might have fallen asleep—I can’t say for sure—but when the phone rang, I was surprised to see it was morning. I checked the caller ID. It was Squares. I fumbled for the receiver and put it to my ear.

“Hey,” I said.

He skipped the pleasantries. “I think we found our Sheila.”

Half an hour later, I entered the lobby of the Regina Hotel.

It was less than a mile from our apartment. We had thought she had run across the country, but Sheila . . . what else was I supposed to call her? . . . had stayed that close.

The detective agency Squares liked to use had little trouble tracking her down, especially since she’d gotten careless since her namesake’s death. She had deposited money in First National and taken out a debit Visa card. You cannot stay in this city—hell, most anyplace—without a credit card. The days of signing into motels with a false name and paying cash are pretty much over. There are a few dives, dwellings not truly fit for human habitation, that might still look the other way, but almost everyplace else wants to, at the very least, take a credit card impression—in case you steal something or seriously damage your room. The transaction doesn’t necessarily go through the system—like I said, they might just make an impression—but you still need the card.

She probably assumed that she was safe and that was understandable. The Goldbergs, a couple who survived by being discreet, had sold her an ID. No reason to believe that they would ever talk—the only reason they had was because of their friendship with Squares and Raquel, plus the fact that they in part blamed themselves for her theoretical murder. Add on to that the fact that now Sheila Rogers was “dead” and thus nobody would be tracking her down, well, it made sense that she would let down her guard just a bit.

The credit card had been used to withdraw funds from an ATM yesterday in Union Square. From there it was just a question of hitting the nearby hotels. Most detective work is done through sources and pay-offs, which are really one and the same. The good detectives have paid sources at phone companies, the tax bureau, credit card companies, the DMV, whatever. If you think this is difficult—that it would be hard to find somebody who will provide confidential information for cash—you do not read the papers much.

But this was even easier. Just call the hotels and ask to speak with Donna White. You do that until one hotel says “Please hold” and connects you. And now, as I took the steps into the lobby of the Regina Hotel, I felt the jangle. She was alive. I couldn’t let myself believe that—would not believe it—until I saw her with my own eyes. Hope does funny things to a brain. It can darken as well as lighten. Where before I had made myself believe that a miracle was possible, now I feared that it might all be taken away from me again, that this time, when I looked into that casket, my Sheila would be there.

Love you always.

That was what her note said. Always.

I approached the front desk. I’d told Squares that I wanted to handle this alone. He understood. The receptionist, a blond woman with a hesitant smile, was on the phone. She shot me the teeth and pointed to the phone to let me know that she would be off soon. I gave her a no-rush shrug and leaned against the desk, feigning relaxed.

A minute later, she replaced the receiver and gave me her undivided attention. “May I help you?”

“Yes,” I said. My voice sounded unnatural, too modulated, as if I were hosting one of those lite-FM programs. “I’m here to see Donna White. Could you give me her room number?”

“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t give out our guests’ room numbers.”

I almost slapped myself in the forehead. How stupid could I be? “Of course, my apologies. I’ll call up first. Do you have a house phone?”

She pointed to the right. Three white phones, none with keypads, lined the wall. I picked one up and listened to the ring. An operator came on. I asked her to connect me to the room of Donna White. She said—and I noticed that this is the new all-purpose, hotel-employee catch phrase—“A pleasure,” and then I heard the phone ring.

My heart crawled up my windpipe.

Two rings. Then three. On the sixth ring, I was transferred into the hotel’s voice mail system. A mechanical voice told me that the guest was not available at this time and what to do if I wanted to leave a message. I hung up.

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