Tuesday, 11:22 p.m.
If she’d read the notes, picked up her voice mail, or answered her cell phone, it never would have happened. As she said to the police, when she could speak in coherent sentences.
* * *
He left the running of the household to his wife and the endless supply of help she hired to manage their lives. He had a practice to run, and that’s what he’d been doing while other people were supposed to be taking care of his kid.
* * *
It was her fault. Where was her little man? And what would happen to her? Would they deport her back to Russia? Living on the streets, eating garbage and sleeping on sewer grates, would be better than that. Execution would be better than that.
It was only a matter of time before they found out about Vassily. Should she volunteer the information? No.
Miss Lebchenko, when you picked Marius up at school, did you ever see anyone waiting around the schoolyard? Any cars with people sitting in them, watching the kids? Any men wearing sunglasses?
No, I see nothing.
The policemen frowned. They didn’t believe her.
* * *
Back at the 6th Precinct, Detective John Murphy asked his boss, “What did you think of the nanny?”
Chief of Detectives Rich Tagliotta set his mouth in a hard frown. “Lying. You running her file?”
“Should have it in a couple of hours.”
Tagliotta huffed. “The kid could be dead by then.”
Who was he kidding? The kid was probably already dead.
Unless a ransom note showed up, or a ransom phone call was received, soon. Usually that happened with 24 hours of a snatch. If they were lucky, the kid would have been grabbed by a money-desperate drug addict instead of a murderous pervert.
“Kwan and LaTralla are there manning the phones?”
Tagliotta threw himself into his rickety chair. “Jesus Christ. Losing your kid like you lose your car keys. This is a first.”
Wednesday, 7:45 a.m.
“Mrs. Van Horn, we need to go over the details of yesterday again.” Tagliotta surveyed the living room of the Van Horns’ spacious duplex on Washington Mews, which had probably cost more than he’d earn in twenty years.
“How many times are you going to put me through this?” Greta Van Horn wailed dramatically.
“As many times as I need to. So let’s start from the beginning. What time did you wake up yesterday?”
“About noon or 12:30.”
Must be nice, Tagliotta thought.
“Anyone in the apartment when you finally woke up?”
“No, just me.”
“Katrina Lebchenko brings your son to school each morning?”
“And yesterday she took Marius to school as usual?”
“That’s what she says.”
“What did you do after you woke up?”
“I took a bath and then went for my tennis lesson.”
“Did you go into the kitchen?”
“So you didn’t see Katrina’s note.”
Tagliotta pulled a Xerox copy of the note from a pile of papers. The original note was undergoing a thorough forensic examination.
“Is this Katrina’s handwriting?”
Greta looked at the note:
Mrs. Van Horn:
There is emergency in Brooklyn. My uncle has had heart attack and may die. I must go to Brooklyn after I bring Marius to school. Please, you pick him up. Also I will ask Cassandra to pick up Marius. If she can get Marius, she will tell you.
I will return this evening as early as I can.
“Yes, that’s her handwriting.”
Katrina had written the same note twice, leaving one on the kitchen table, where Greta usually drank her early afternoon coffee, and one tacked to the door of the master bedroom.
“You didn’t see the note on the bedroom door, either?”
“No, I was rushing to get ready. If Katrina wanted me to see the note, she should have left it in the exercise room. That’s where I keep my tennis clothes, and she knew I had a lesson.”
That’s right—blame the nanny because you spend your life in a drug-induced haze. Tagliotta’s quick search through the master bath had confirmed the suspicions raised by Greta’s dilated pupils and hesitant speech. The medicine chest was stuffed with enough amphetamines to keep all of NYU awake during finals week, and enough barbiturates to tranquilize every hysteric in New York City.
“You didn’t check the answer machine, either?”
“No, I was running late.”
The evening before, Tagliotta had heard the message Katrina had left on the Van Horns’ answering machine the previous morning:
Mrs. Van Horn, this is Katrina. I want to make sure you receive note I leave. I am in Brooklyn now, my uncle is very sick. Please, you get Marius from school. I cannot find Cassandra. Thank you so much, I am sorry for problem.
The message had been time-stamped 11 a.m., and the Caller ID box had confirmed that the call had been placed from the home of Katrina’s aunt in Brighton Beach. But Greta hadn’t picked up the message. The message indicator light was still blinking at 7:30 p.m. when Greta arrived home, and she hadn’t thought to check messages until 10 p.m., when neither Katrina nor Marius had arrived home. That was when she’d listened to the message and her husband had called the police.
“What about your cell phone?”
“When I turned it on, it didn’t say I had any messages waiting. You know how unreliable cell phones are.”
And, indeed, the conscientious Katrina had left not one, but two, voice mails on Greta’s cell phone, the first time-stamped 12:30 p.m. and the second 2:10. In both, Katrina reminded Greta to pick up her son at school, indicating that she hadn’t been able to reach Cassandra. Two similar messages had been left for Nicholas Van Horn, one at his office and one on his cell. Like his wife, Nicholas hadn’t picked up either message until late Tuesday evening, long after Marius had been abducted.
Tagliotta flipped through his notepad. “Your tennis lesson was at 2:00 at the Gotham Racquet Club. The lesson lasted until what time?”
“I went shopping. First Barney’s, then Ann Taylor. I have receipts from both places.”
A red flag shot up from the ground and unfurled itself. What sort of distraught mother would think to offer store receipts as an alibi to prove she’d been shopping?
“Did anyone go with you?”
“What time did you get home?”
The Barney’s receipt indicated a purchase at exactly 4 p.m. The Ann Taylor receipt showed a purchase at 4:46 p.m. That left approximately two hours and 45 minutes unaccounted for.
“Did you find it strange that Katrina and Marius weren’t home when you got here?”
“No. Sometimes they go to the movies or the bookstore.”
“So, when you got home, you didn’t see the notes or check your messages then, either?”
“No, I was tired. I laid down on the couch and ended up falling asleep.”
“When did you wake up?”
“About ten, when Nicholas got home.”
“And that was when you started to get worried about Marius?”
“Mrs. Van Horn, do you have any idea where he might be?”
Greta burst into tears. “Why would we be having this ridiculous conversation if I knew where he was?”
* * *
It was true, she hadn’t see those notes, at least not in the morning. She had seen the answering machine light blinking when she’d been rushing around to get ready, but she’d made a conscious decision not to retrieve the waiting messages. Ditto for the messages on her cell phone.
She’d been looking forward to Tuesday afternoon for weeks. The voice mails awaiting her might be from people with emergencies, which might require her to change her plans. No, it was better not to listen to the messages.
When she’d finally listened to Katrina’s messages on her home phone at 8 p.m., she’d known something was terribly wrong, and that she was likely to get caught. So she’d called the apartment line from her cell—with its private, blocked number—and hung up when the machine picked up. That way, the indicator light would be blinking when Nicholas got home, and she could act as if she’d never heard the message at all.
Of course, she’d had to place another call from her cell phone immediately afterwards.