BEING IN NEW YORK AGAIN, EXPERIENCING the sights and smells, was a homecoming of sorts for Grace. She felt safer in the city. Her new look helped, too: cropped, chocolate-brown hair, dark makeup, baggy, mannish clothes. One of the girls at Bedford had told her that altering one's walk could dramatically change people's perceptions. Grace had spent hours perfecting a longer-strided, less girlish gait. It was still unnerving, catching sight of her "old" face whenever she passed a television or a newsstand. But as the days passed, she grew more confident that the combination of her disguise and the crowded anonymity of the city would protect her, for a while at least.

Her second day in the city, she'd braved a hole-in-the-wall Internet cafe and sent a message to the Hotmail address Karen had given her using the specified code: "200011209LW." Grace hoped this meant "please send $2,000 to zip code 11209 in New York in the name of Lizzie Woolley," but she still felt certain that something would go wrong. Was $2,000 too much to ask for or too little? She realized belatedly she had no idea how much money Karen's friend had, or was willing to send her. On the other hand, she didn't want to have to risk doing this every other week, not with half the country's police departments out searching for her.

In fact, the pickup had been as smooth as Cora told her it would be. There was a Western Union outlet in the pharmacy on the corner. A fat, depressed man in his midforties had glanced at Grace's ID and, not even bothering to make eye contact, still less examine her features, handed her an envelope full of cash and a printed receipt. "There you go, Ms. Woolley. Have a nice day."

Grace began to focus less on being captured and more on her impending meeting with Davey Buccola. Davey had been researching the alibis of everyone she and Lenny had invited to Nantucket that fateful weekend. It still didn't seem fully real to Grace, the idea that the Prestons or the Merrivales or even one of her own sisters could have done such a terrible thing - stolen all that money, killed Lenny, caused her to be imprisoned and gotten away with it. But what other explanation was there? She hoped that when she saw Davey's research in black and white, it would make things clearer. Everything depended on that meeting.

Alone in her tiny studio room, Grace pulled a stack of newspaper clippings out of the desk drawer and arranged them on the bed. There they were: Honor and Jack, Connie and Mike, Andrew and Maria and, of course, John and Caroline. Among them, those eight faces held the keys to the truth. Next to them, set slightly apart, Grace placed a ninth picture: Detective Mitchell Connors, the man whose job it was to catch her. He was definitely attractive. Grace found herself wondering if he was married, and if he loved his wife as much as she had loved Lenny.

He would catch her eventually, of course. Her luck wouldn't hold out forever. But eventually didn't matter to Grace. What mattered was doing what she had set out to do.

Closing her eyes, she spoke to Lenny, her words half promise, half prayer:

I'll do it, my darling. I'll do it for both of us. I'll find out who took you away from me and I'll make them pay, I promise.

She slept and grew strong.

"MORE TEA, DETECTIVE? MY HUSBAND SHOULD be back any minute."

Honor Warner was visibly nervous. Mitch noticed the way her hands shook as she lifted the silver teakettle from its tray. Hot brown liquid spilled all over the white upholstered coffee table.

"No thank you, Mrs. Warner. It was really you I came to see. Has your sister made any attempt to contact you since her escape?"

"Contact me? No. Absolutely not. If Grace had called, I'd have let the police know immediately."

Mitch cocked his head to one side and smiled engagingly. "Would you? Why's that?"

He was intrigued by this woman. She was Grace Brookstein's sister. At one time, by all accounts, the two women had been very close. They even looked alike. Yet when Grace fell from grace, Honor Warner had vanished into the ether.

"What do you mean? I don't understand."

"Only that Grace is your sister," Mitch explained. "It would be understandable for you to want to help her. It wouldn't be wrong."

This seemed to throw Honor completely. She looked around her, as if searching the room for a means of escape. Or perhaps she was scanning it for hidden microphones or cameras? Did she think she was being watched? Eventually she said, "Grace made a lot of enemies, Detective. She's in greater danger out of prison than she is inside. I'm thinking of her safety."

Mitch fought back a smile. Like hell you are.

"You didn't go to the trial."

"No."

"As I understand it, you never visited your sister in Bedford Hills either."

"No."

"Why was that?"

"I...my husband...we felt it was for the best. Jack's worked so hard to get to where he is today. For voters to associate him with Quorum...well. You understand."

Mitch made no effort to hide his disgust. He understood perfectly.

Reading his thoughts, Honor said defensively, "My husband has done a lot of good for his constituents, Detective. A lot of good. Is it right that he should be tainted by Lenny Brookstein's greed? Grace made her own choices. I'm worried about her, but..." She left the sentence hanging.

Mitch got to his feet.

"Thank you, Mrs. Warner. I'll see myself out."

IT WAS THE SAME STORY WITH Connie Gray.

"My youngest sister has never learned to take responsibility for her actions, Detective Connors. Grace believes she's entitled to wealth, to beauty, to happiness, to freedom. No matter what the cost to others. So in answer to your question, no, I don't feel sorry for her. And I certainly haven't heard from her. Nor do I expect to."

With friends like Grace Brookstein's, who needed enemies?

Talking to Grace's compassionless, embittered sister, Mitch almost felt sorry for the woman whose greed had brought New York to its knees. Connie's anger was like a physical presence in the room, emanating from her body like heat from a radiator. The atmosphere was stifling.

"Is there anyone else you can think of? Anyone Grace might call, or lean on? An old school friend perhaps? Or a childhood beau?"

Connie shook her head regally. "No one. When Grace married Lenny, she got swept up into his world completely."

"You sound disapproving."

"Lenny and I...Let's just say we weren't close. I always thought he and Grace were a mismatch. In any event, there are no old friends. John Merrivale supported Grace for a while, I believe, until Caroline got him to see sense. Poor John."

"Why 'poor John'?"

"Oh, come on, Detective. You've met him. He worshipped Lenny. He was his bag carrier for years."

"He was more than that, surely?"

"John? No! Never!" Connie laughed cruelly. "The media paint him as some sort of financial wizard, a key Quorum insider. It's farcical! He wasn't even a partner, after the best part of twenty years. Lenny used him. So did Grace. Even now he's stuck cleaning up the mess at Quorum. No wonder your colleagues at the FBI haven't found that money. Talk about the blind leading the blind."

THE PRESS CONFERENCE WAS OPENLY HOSTILE. People wanted answers and Mitch Connors didn't have them.

It was almost a week now since Grace Brookstein's dramatic escape from Bedford Hills and pressure was mounting on Mitch and his team to report some progress. The media seemed to have gotten it into their heads that the NYPD was withholding information. Mitch smiled. If only that were true! The truth was he had nothing. Grace Brookstein had walked out of that jail and vanished into thin air like David friggin' Blaine. She had contacted no one, not family, not friends. Yesterday, in a move that had been widely and correctly interpreted as desperation, the NYPD put out a $200,000 reward for anyone who provided information leading to Grace's capture. It was a mistake. Within two hours, Mitch's team had received over eight hundred calls. Apparently Grace Brookstein had been spotted everywhere from New York to Nova Scotia. A couple leads looked like they might pan out, but both ended up coming to nothing. Mitch felt like a kid trying to catch hold of bubbles, not knowing which way to turn and destroying everything he touched. And to think, he'd thought this case would be a slam dunk.

"That's it for today, folks. Thanks."

The grumbling press pack dispersed. Mitch crawled back to his office to hide, but it seemed there was to be no respite today. Detective Lieutenant Henry Dubray was no oil painting at the best of times. Today, squatting in Mitch's torture chair like a giant toad, he looked even worse than usual. His skin was blotchy and drink-ravaged, and the whites of his eyes were as yellow as sunflowers. The pressure of the Brookstein case was taking its toll on all of them.

"Give me some good news, Mitch."

"The Knicks won last night."

"I'm serious."

"So am I. It was a great game. You didn't watch?"

Mitch smiled. Dubray didn't.

"I'm sorry, boss. I don't know what to tell you. We got nothing."

"We're running out of time, Mitch."

"I know."

Dubray left. There was nothing left to say. Both men knew the reality. If Mitch didn't come up with a solid lead in the next twenty-four hours, he'd be taken off the case. Demoted, certainly. Maybe even fired. Mitch tried not to think about Celeste, and the expensive private school Helen wanted him to pay for. In that moment he hated Grace Brookstein.

He stared at the whiteboard on the wall of his office. Grace's picture was in the middle. Radiating outward from it, like the points of a star, were various groups of other photos: Bedford Hills inmates and staff; Grace's family and friends; Quorum connections; members of the public who'd called in with the most promising leads. How could so many sources lead to nothing?

The phone rang.

"Call for you on line one, Detective Connors."

"Who is it?"

"Grace Brookstein."

Mitch gave a mirthless laugh. "Yeah, thanks, Stella. I'm not in the mood for crank callers."

He hung up. Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again.

"Stella, I told you, I got enough problems without - "

"Good morning, Detective Connors. This is Grace Brookstein speaking."

Mitch froze. After listening to hours of recordings of Grace's court testimony, he'd have recognized her voice anywhere. He waved frantically to his colleagues in the outer office. "It's her," he mouthed. "Trace the call."

He made a conscious effort to speak slowly. He couldn't show his excitement. More important, he had to keep her talking long enough to make the trace. "Hello, Ms. Brookstein. What can I do for you?"

"You can listen to me."

The voice was the same as the one in the court recordings, but the tone was different. Harder, more determined.

"I'm listening."

"My husband and I were framed. I never stole any money and neither did Lenny."

Mitch paused, trying to keep her on the line.

"Why are you telling me this, Ms. Brookstein? I'm not a jury. Your conviction has nothing to do with me."

"It's Mrs. Brookstein. I'm a widow, Detective, not a divorcee."

You're a fool. You should never have made this call. Just keep talking.

"I'm telling you because I saw you on TV, and you look like a good man. An honest man."

The compliment surprised Mitch. "Thank you."

"You look like a man who would want to know the truth. Are you?"

Actually I'm a man who wants to keep you on the line for the next ten seconds. Nine...eight...

"You know, Mrs. Brookstein, the best thing you could do right now would be to turn yourself in." Six...five...

Grace laughed. "Please, Detective. Don't insult my intelligence. I have to go now."

"No. Wait! I can help you. If you are innocent, as you say you are, there are legal channels - "

Click.

The line went dead. Mitch looked hopefully at the guys on the other side of the glass, but the shake of their heads told him what he already knew.

"Two more seconds and we'd've had her."

Mitch sank into his chair and put his head in his hands. Immediately, the phone rang again. Mitch leaped on it like a jilted lover, willing it to be her. "Grace?"

A man's voice answered. "Detective Connors?"

Mitch felt the hope drain out of him like blood from a severed vein. "Speaking."

"Detective, my name is John Rodville. I'm the head of admissions at the Putnam Medical Center."

"Uh-huh," Mitch said wearily. The name meant nothing to him.

"We have a patient here, brought in last week with a knife wound to the back. He was in a coma till this morning. We didn't think he'd make it. But he pulled through."

"That's terrific, Mr. Rodville. I'm happy for him."

Mitch was at the point of hanging up when the man said cheerily, "Yeah, I thought you might be. Especially since he just identified his attacker as Grace Brookstein."




Line : 91

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