KIDNAPPED: PART 5

 

Wednesday, 10:40 p.m.

The occupants of the car were silent as Tagliotta and LaTralla drove the Van Horns back to Washington Mews.

The FBI had dispatched a mini-army of agents to search the streets of Camden, New Jersey, block by block.  They’d found three apartment buildings numbered 865, but thorough searches hadn’t turned up Marius, and none of those three buildings had two large pine trees in a parking lot.  The computer guys were trying to figure out the exact location from which the electronic notes from “Marius” had been sent, but they weren’t having any luck; the ISP showed China, which pointed to a hoax.  But Tagliotta wasn’t giving up hope just yet.

Kwan and Murphy greeted them at the door of the Van Horns’ apartment.  Sitting in the living room were three people whom Tagliotta and LaTralla had interviewed late the night before in their Upper East Side apartments: Greta’s parents, Joelle and Quentin Jorgensen, and Nicholas’ widowed mother, Martha Van Horn.  Exhausted hugs were exchanged among parents and children.

“What are they doing here?  As if we don’t have enough to worry about,” Tagliotta whispered angrily to Murphy.

“They just showed up and said they wanted to be here,” Murphy replied.  “You can’t blame them, Rich.”

“Tell them not to get in the way,” Tagliotta growled.

LaTralla watched the gathering from the heirloom Louis XIV chair on which she was perched.  How, exactly, had those parents raised two people like Nicholas and Greta?  Mrs. Van Horn had been widowed early and had raised Nicholas on her own while running an import firm out of her tiny apartment on inconvenient York Avenue.  The Jorgensens were both academics, he teaching anthropology at Columbia, she teaching art history at Barnard.  How, exactly, had two Ph.D.’s managed to raise a blank-faced society woman who seemed to have no interests other than sleeping, doing drugs, and playing tennis?

But the greatest difference between the parents and their children, LaTralla thought, lay not in their personalities but in something else.  Watching the five adults across the room, LaTralla could read the same feelings on the faces of all three grandparents: grief, shock, worry, anger.  In contrast, their kids—Nicholas and Greta—just looked sort of…what?  Harried?  Inconvenienced? Guilty?

LaTralla whispered to Tagliotta.  “Look at them, Rich.  Look at them.  We’re going about this the wrong way.  We have to turn up the heat on Nicky and Gretsky.  They know more than they’re letting on.”

Tagliotta turned his gaze on the five adults.  “Which one do you want?”

“Him.”

“Good.  Because I want her.”

 

Thursday, 7:25 a.m.

The apartment phone hadn’t rung the entire night.  Tagliotta had sent LaTralla home at 2 a.m. to get some shut-eye.  Greta and Nicholas had gone to bed at eleven; so had the grandparents, who’d dispersed to the guest room and to Katrina’s room, which was empty while Katrina stayed with her family in Brooklyn.

Tagliotta’s cell phone vibrated at 7:25.  Maybe word from the FBI?  Had the boy been found in Jersey?  Please, please….

“Yeah?” Tagliotta barked.

It was LaTralla.  “I’m on my way up.  We’re going to find that kid today.”

A minute later, LaTralla was rapping on the front door.  Tagliotta let her in.

“Look at these,” she said, thrusting a sheaf of papers into Tagliotta’s hands.  “Cell phone records for Nicky and Gretsky.  They sat on your desk all last night because Charlesworth forgot to put them in a red envelope.”

Tagliotta shook his head in disgust and began leafing through the pages.  LaTralla stood by quietly, waiting for Tagliotta’s reaction to the names and numbers she’d highlighted in yellow.

“God damn it,” he whispered.

LaTralla nodded angrily.

Tagliotta snapped into action.  “Murphy, you and Kwan wait here for the call.  When everyone wakes up, send the grandparents home.  We’ve been indulgent enough, now it’s time for them to vamoose.”

On their way out of the apartment, Tagliotta asked LaTralla, “Who you going to see first?”

“Her.  What about your guy?”

“He’s French.  He’ll cave.  That’s what the French do.”

 

Thursday, 8:15 a.m.

According to her story, Greta had arrived home at 7:30 and hadn’t checked the messages on the apartment’s answering machine until 10 p.m., when her husband arrived home.  Then they’d listened to the messages together, which had led Greta to check her cell phone for messages and Nicholas to check his.

But the AT&T Wireless record told a different story.  Why had Greta used her cell phone to call her own apartment at 8:02 p.m.?  The doorman had confirmed Greta’s arrival at 7:30.  So that meant that Greta had called her home phone while in her apartment.  Could it be that Greta had listened to Katrina’s voice mail earlier than she let on, and had called her own phone so that the answering machine light would be blinking when Nicholas got home?  Nicholas had confirmed that he’d seen the light blinking.

The first question was: Were Greta and Nicholas in this together, or not?  If Tagliotta had to guess, he would have said not.  Unless they were extremely good actors, the two seemed entirely uninterested in each other’s lives.  But he didn’t care about the Van Horns’ marriage.  He cared about finding Marius.

The second question was: Why, after using her cell phone to call her apartment at 8:02, had she placed a phone call to Philippe D’Arget at 8:04?  When a kid gets kidnapped, the last person you’d expect a mother to call would be her tennis pro.

The manager of the ritzy Gotham Racquet Club installed Tagliotta in his office, then went to retrieve D’Arget.  Philippe arrived a few minutes later, looking artificially tan.  His teeth seemed an unnatural white, and he wore a pooka-shell choker that set Tagliotta’s teeth on edge.

“Sit, Mr. D’Arget.  You know why I’m here?”

“Yes.  You want to know if Greta Van Horn has any enemies at the club.”

“Does she?”

“None that I know of.  I spend time with my clients one on one, mostly.  I don’t really see them interact with other people.”

“I see.  Is your relationship with Greta Van Horn strictly teacher/student?”

Philippe hesitated for just a second.  “What do you mean?”

“Mr. D’Arget, kindly do not yank my chain.  You’re a walking stereotype.  The tan, the teeth, the accent, the necklace.  How many of your clients do you sleep with?”

“What I do with my clients, on my own time, is my own business.”

“And where do you live, Mr. d’Arget?”

“In the Village.”

“Yes, in a three-bedroom co-op, right?  That must cost you a pretty penny.  You can swing it on a tennis pro’s salary?”

“I manage my money wisely.”

“Any other sources of income?”

“That’s a private question.”

“OK, here’s another private question.  Why did Greta Van Horn call you at 8:04 p.m. on the night her son disappeared?”

After thinking a moment, Philippe said, “I would like to have an attorney.”

“Why do you need an attorney?  Have you done something wrong?”

“No.  But you’re very hostile, and I don’t like what you’re implying.”

“OK, then maybe instead of implying things, I should come right out tell you what I think.  I think that if we go to your apartment right now, we’ll find Marius Van Horn.”

Philippe’s jaw dropped open in shock.  “What?  That’s ridiculous.  What do I want with a kid?”

“You tell me.”

“I’ve never even met the boy.”

“Do you know how long you can go away for kidnapping and molestation?  A long, long time.”

“This is crazy.”  Philippe choked out the words.

“Should we go there now, then?  Give me a tour of your nice three-bedroom place and let me look in all the closets and other nooks where an eight-year-old could be gagged and blindfolded.”

“You’d need a search warrant for that.”

“Once I tell the judge about your phone call with Greta Van Horn, and show him the cell phone record as proof, he’ll give me a search warrant for any place you’ve been in the last three months.”

“I swear to God, he isn’t there.  I’ve never even seen the kid.  Except on TV and on the missing kid flyers.”

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why don’t you tell me about that phone call?”

“So we hook up once in a while.  It’s not a big deal.”

“You have sex with Greta Van Horn?”

“Yes.”

“And did you have sex with her the afternoon her son disappeared?”

Philippe nodded.  “And I do feel really bad about that.”

“Yeah, you have a real kind heart.  So you guys were in the sack while some perv was taking her kid.”

“I guess so.”

“And she called you…why?”

“She was afraid that once you guys started talking to her, you’d figure it out and everything would come out.  Obviously, she doesn’t want her husband to know.”

“From what I’ve seen, she doesn’t seem to care too much about what her husband thinks.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.  She needs his money.  Her parents have nothing except the clothes on their backs.  If he divorces her and there’s proof she was having an affair, she won’t get very much.”

“Yeah,” Tagliotta said.  “I know how things work.  Who knows about the two of you?”

“Just me and Greta.  I mean, I haven’t told anyone.  I never do.  The club frowns on it.  Maybe she told some of her friends, I don’t know.”

“The kidnapper told her she has to give up tennis if she wants her kid back.”

“I saw her say something about that on the news.”

“Where do you two have your trysts?”

“At my place.”

“So if I talked to your doorman, would he say Greta was at your place two days ago?”

“He probably would remember.  And there are security tapes you could look at.”

“You don’t know where Marius Van Horn is?”

“No.  I swear, I don’t.  Look, I’m pretty happy with my life.  I don’t need to kidnap a kid and screw everything up.”

“You seem pretty worried that I’ll get your apartment searched.  Why?”

“No one wants their home ripped apart.”

“Not because the boy is there?”

“I told you, no.”

“So then what don’t you want us to see?”

Philippe hesitated a moment.  Tagliotta continued.  “You know, Mr. D’Arget, there are a few basic rules that never let a detective down.  Rule 1: Find out who’s sleeping with who.  Rule 2: When someone has too much money, figure out where it’s coming from.  I have the answer to my first question: Now I need to know how you can afford that three-bedroom co-op.  The way I figure it, it’s one of two things.  Either you’re a hooker, which makes sense, in which case we’ll get you for prostitution and tax evasion.  Or you have a second career.  Someone’s getting Greta Van Horn all those drugs stuffed into every nook and cranny of her apartment.  I’ll bet my left testicle it’s you, and that Greta called to place an order the night her son got kidnapped.”

Philippe said nothing.

“And that’s what you don’t want us to find in your apartment.  Right?”

“I really do want a lawyer.”

“Call him now.  But I’m gonna make a deal with you.  I don’t care if you screw for dollars or sell Valium to society gals.  But I do care about that kid.  You help us find him, and I’ll forget everything I heard here today.  Here’s my number.  Call me if any memories suddenly come flooding back.”

Tagliotta left feeling very satisfied.  Maybe he was less good looking than the average tennis pro, but he was a hell of a lot smarter.

 

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KIDNAPPED: PART 4

Wednesday, 4:10 p.m.

“Got it,” Kwan said.  “Public phone at MLK Boulevard and 140.  We’re on our way.”  Kwan and Murphy were on their cell phones as they ran out of the Van Horns’ building, asking their uptown colleagues to get the pay phone secured as quickly as possible.  If they were lucky, they might get some prints.

OK, Tagliotta thought. This is good news.  The boy is alive—if the caller wasn’t lying.  Tagliotta wondered whether the voice was that of a man trying to sound like a woman, or a woman trying to sound like a man.  They hadn’t yet ruled out the possibility of a team of kidnappers, one male and one female.  The kid’s teacher had seen Marius run to a woman, but most women need a man to help keep a boy in line.

The Van Horns had some explaining to do.  What, exactly, had the kidnapper’s cryptic demands meant?  A kidnapper who didn’t ask for money, and who seemed to hint at private matters….  This might point to someone associated with the family—a resentful nanny or neighbor, for example—but a stranger couldn’t be ruled out.  In a city as densely populated as New York, you could make an unknown enemy on every block: the cabbie you undertipped, the person you inadvertently jostled in the elevator.  Greta was easy to hate:  rich, self-absorbed, and a terrible mother to boot.  And people hated doctors almost as much as they hated lawyers.  People found them cold, impersonal, and materialistic; they hated them for charging them $125 for a ten-minute office visit, for treating them like numbers in an HMO plan.

Tagliotta turned to Nicholas.  “Dr. Van Horn, why does the caller want you to stop seeing older patients?”

“I have no idea.  I don’t age-discriminate in the patients I take on.”  By which you mean, Tagliotta thought, that you’re happy to suck money out of people from all walks of life.  “And it’s not like I have a gerontological practice.  I see patients of all ages.”

“Think.  Have you had any elderly patients lately who might blame you for something?  Someone who might hold a grudge?”

“Detective Tagliotta, I don’t hurt people. I help them.”

“I need your office manager to get me the names and records of everyone over 65 that you’ve seen in the last year.  Tell her to pull it all together and call here when the list is ready.”

Tagliotta looked at Greta.  “Mrs. Van Horn, why does the caller want you to stop playing tennis?”

“Oh, who knows!  He’s crazy!  He kidnapped my son!”

“Is there someone at your club you might have offended?  A locker room attendant?  Have you stood in the way of a rival winning a tournament?”  What an insane idea, that someone would kidnap a child to prevent the mother from winning a tennis match—but in a world where mothers took out contracts on the lives of their daughters’ cheerleading rivals, nothing could be ruled out.

“No, I haven’t offended anyone.  And as a player I’m mediocre at best.”

Tagliotta looked at LaTralla.  “Call Kwan and tell him we need a list of the entire membership of the Gotham Racquet Club, plus all employees, with addresses.”

Tagliotta turned his gaze back to the parents.  “All right, last question for both of you.  What did you do to your son that warrants an apology?”

“We lost him,” Greta said in a tone much more apologetic than anything Tagliotta had heard thus far.

 

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

“So, where are the parents of the year?”  Murphy asked as he shoveled a mass of chicken lo mein onto a paper plate at the precinct house.

Tagliotta answered.  “Getting ready for the newscast.  They’re going live on NBC news at ten to offer the apology.”

“What are they gonna say?”

“The usual plea to the kidnapper to return their kid.  And a promise that she’ll give up tennis, and he’ll stop taking on old farts as patients.  Kwan—any word on the tennis club?”

“We’ve talked to all the managers and some of the staff.  They know Greta Van Horn, but she seems to keep a low profile.  The people at the front desk say she isn’t overly friendly, but she isn’t rude either.  We’re talking to the people she plays in the league with, one at a time,” Kwan continued.  “A lot of other women just like her, too much time and money on their hands.  The tennis pro who gives her lessons, a guy named Philippe D’Arget, had the day off, but he’ll be in at seven tomorrow morning.  I stopped at his apartment but he wasn’t there.”

Tagliotta continued the questioning.  “Murphy, what about Van Horn’s older patients?  How much money has he sucked out of ‘em?”

“Talked to about a dozen so far.  Nothing out of the ordinary, they all think he’s a good chiropractor.  Some say he’s helped them a little, some say a lot.  You gotta see these people.  A detective knocks at their door and asks them to talk about their ailments.  It’s like a lifelong dream come true for them.  I have a few possible dates with single granddaughters.”

“Have those single gals give me a call before they do anything rash,” LaTralla put in.

“But I’ll tell you something I didn’t like,” Murphy continued, ignoring LaTralla’s barb.  “I didn’t like the vibe from the nurse.  Sonia Litchfield.  She seemed nervous.  I mean, more nervous than the average person who’s dealing with a detective.  How much you think nurses make?”

“Maybe fifty or sixty?  Van Horn doesn’t seem like the type to overpay his staff.”

“She was wearing some pretty expensive jewelry.  Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds.”  Murphy knew precious gems; he’d worked a big counterfeiting case a decade earlier and had learned enough about jewels to write a book.

“She sleeping with Van Horn, you think?”  Tagliotta asked matter-of-factly.

“Doubtful.  Greta is at least a knock-out.  Litchfield is older, matronly, ankles like Hillary Clinton.”

“Should we bring her in?” Tagliotta asked.

“Why don’t you let me go see her?” LaTralla suggested.

The three men in the room nodded simultaneously.  LaTralla’s expertise in such matters was unquestioned.

“OK, here’s an update on the call,” Tagliotta said.  “No prints on the phone.  Wiped clean.”

Tagliotta continued.  “No one in the neighborhood remembers seeing anyone on the phone at four o’clock.” Which made sense, of course; most passersby would not pay the least attention to a stranger talking on a public phone.  The East Harlem guys were in the process of talking to the local business owners and residents.  Maybe they’d get lucky and find a shut-in who sat at his window all day long, observing what happened on the block.

“Speaking of phones, maybe we should get records for the Van Horns, just in case.  Cell and home numbers, and for the husband, the office records, too,” LaTralla suggested.

“Good idea,” Tagliotta said.  “Delegated to you, of course.”

 

Wednesday, 8:45 p.m.

Tagliotta was reading a slew of interview reports from the tennis club, poring over every detail, looking for that one tiny bit of information that would help crack open the case, when Murphy burst into his office.

“We started getting calls about ten minutes ago.  Look at this.”  He handed Tagliotta a few sheets of paper.

The pages had obviously been printed from an Internet browser.  Tagliotta read:

 

I AM MARIUS VAN HORN.  I AM SOMEWHERE IN NEW JERSEY, I THINK THE TOWN IS CALLED CAMDON.  I AM IN A BRICK APARTMENT BUILDING WITH TWO BIG PINE TREES IN THE PARKING LOT.  I THINK THE BUILDING NUMBER IS 865, THAT’S WHAT I CAN SEE FROM THIS WINDOW.  I AM AFRAID OF THIS MAN, I THINK HIS NAME IS GARY.  PLEASE SEND HELP.

 

The other sheets of paper held similar messages.

“Jesus,” Tagliotta said.  “Where’d these come from?”

“They’re postings on Internet newsgroups and bulletin boards.  Started showing up about an hour ago.”

“Real or fake?”

“Don’t know yet.  They come from a free Yahoo address, MVanHorn@ yahoo.com.  It’s a new account, apparently set up only a minute or two before these things started showing up.”

Tagliotta allowed himself to feel a moment of pinched hope.  “Isn’t the kid supposed to be good with computers?”

Murphy nodded.

 

Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.

The NBC news anchor sat on a small platform across from Greta and Nicholas Van Horn, his earpiece hidden behind his shellacked helmet hair.

“Good evening.  I’m Lars Burke.  Our top story tonight:  Marius Van Horn, an eight-year-old Greenwich Village boy, disappeared from the playground of P.S. 41 on West 11th Street at approximately 3 p.m. yesterday.  Joining us this evening are Marius’ parents, Greta and Nicholas Van Horn.  Greta, Nicholas, thank you for being with us.”

“Thank you for having us, Lars,” Nicholas said in a voice less booming than usual.  Tagliotta had coached him not to appear overly confident, cocky, or aggressive.

“Mrs. Van Horn, do you have anything you’d like to say to the kidnapper?”

Greta seemed sedate, or at least sedated.  “Yes, I do, Lars.  First, I want to beg the person who took Marius to please bring him back to us.  We won’t ask any questions at all.  Second, Marius, if you are watching, I want to apologize, from the bottom of my heart, for not picking you up at school yesterday.  I want to say how sorry I am for not being there when you needed me.  Third, I want you to know I’m giving up tennis so that we can spend afternoons together, and I’m giving up all the things that are bad for me, too.”

“Dr. Van Horn, I understand you’d like to make a statement as well.”

“Yes, I would, Lars.  I want to apologize to my son, also, for not being there when he needed me.  I get too wrapped up in my job, and I understand now how that affects my family.  Marius, if you’re watching, I want you to know I’m going to be a better father.  I’m going to start by not taking on so many new patients in my practice, whether they’re young or old.”

Nicholas had followed the script exactly.  Everyone had agreed that he shouldn’t specifically talk about taking on fewer elderly patients; doing so would have raised eyebrows and questions.

The cameras swung to the news desk, where the female co-anchor took over.  Nicholas and Greta ripped their microphones off and joined Tagliotta and LaTralla.

“What now?” Nicholas Van Horn asked.

“We go back to your apartment and wait.”

*  *  *

Philippe D’Arget was eating a sandwich in front of his TV while watching the news.

He understood exactly what Greta meant when she said she was giving up tennis.  He’d already had a call from the club manager saying the police would be at the club to interview him the next morning.

Should he tell them the truth?  Greta had begged him not to.

*  *  *

Sonia Litchfield sat in front of the TV in her small Sixth Avenue Apartment.  This was to be her last week in the place; she’d recently bought a large two-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side.  Packed boxes were crammed into every corner.

Her blood froze when she heard Dr. Van Horn say he wasn’t taking on any new patients.

She’d never thought that what she was doing was all that bad.  She was simply signing a few papers and helping Dr. Van Horn.  But had it led to the kidnapping of sweet little Marius, who sometimes visited the office with his nanny?

But nobody knew—no one.  Just her, and Dr. V, and the accountant.  And the accountant was making more money than she was, so why would he tell anyone?

She didn’t sleep a wink the entire night.

 

KIDNAPPED: PART 3

Wednesday, 2:15 p.m.

LaTralla had wanted to question Katrina in the apartment, but Tagliotta was a big proponent of using the station house as a means of intimidation.

“I want lawyer,” Katrina said.

“Why do you need a lawyer?” Tagliotta asked.  “Did you do something wrong?”

“I can have lawyer.  Government pay for lawyer.”

“You’re absolutely right, Miss Lebchenko.  When you’re arrested, you’re entitled to a lawyer, which the taxpayers pay for.  You do know what a taxpayer is, right?  Or maybe you don’t, since you don’t pay any taxes on the salary the Van Horns pay you.”

Katrina was taken off guard but stood firm.  “I want lawyer.”

“OK, we’ll get you a lawyer.  But first we’ll have to arrest you.  In fact, why don’t we do a double arrest?  I’ll arrest you right here for the kidnap and murder of Marius Van Horn.  Detective LaTralla, call the IRS and have them send down an officer.  He can arrest Miss Lebchenko for tax evasion at the same time.” 

As LaTralla made a display of leaving the room, Tagliotta began unhooking his handcuffs from his waist.

“I love Marius, I do nothing wrong,” Katrina said firmly.

LaTralla jumped in at the perfect time—as always.  “Miss Lebchenko, if you didn’t do anything wrong, then why would you choose to be arrested?  Don’t you know how tough the government is getting with immigrants?  Let’s suppose you’re innocent, which I’m sure you are.  Do you really want an arrest on your record?  And believe me, the Internal Revenue Service isn’t forgiving when people come to this country, use our services, and don’t pay any taxes.”

She’d said the magic words.  Like Tagliotta, she’d never met a suspect who didn’t break when threatened with deportation or the IRS.

“No arrest.  I will talk with you.”

“Katrina”—LaTralla had switched to a first-name basis for greater intimacy—“we have all the facts from the Moscow police.  You were hired to care for Vassily Lednev.  He drowned while in your care.”

“Bad things seem to happen to kids while you’re around,” Tagliotta put in.

“It was accident.  I loved Vassily, he was like son to me.”

“But I’ve read the files,” Tagliotta said.  “Everyone the police talked to said how much you hated Mr. and Mrs. Lednev.  And the best way to get revenge on people you hate is by hurting their children.”

“It is true, I hated Lednev family.  So much money, he was member of nomenklatura, they have huge apartment, big Mercedes, maid, cook, nanny, while my family starve, eight people in one-bedroom apartment!  But I loved Vassily.”

“The police couldn’t prove he drowned by accident.  They said someone could have held his head under the water.”

“That police man hates my family.  He is enemy of my brother, he hates Sasha because Sasha date his sister but refuse to marry her because she is crazy.  He likes to make trouble for my family.”

“So he made the whole thing up?” Tagliotta asked dryly.

Katrina glared at him.  “You don’t know Russian police work.  Ask anyone from Russia, they tell you.  Police man try to embarrass me, ruin my family.  My father have to sell everything to keep me from prison and send me to America.”

“Why don’t you tell us exactly what happened?” LaTralla asked gently.

“We all go to beach resort for vacation.  Mrs. Lednev go shopping every day with rich wives, Mr. Lednev meet with Russian mafia to get and give money.  I take Vassily to beach, he is playing with other little boys.  The sun is very hot and bright, I fall asleep on beach.  Vassily was good boy, he let me sleep.  All people leave to go for dinner, and while I sleep Vassily decide to swim one more time.  And while I sleep, he drown.  Police arrest me, Mr. and Mrs. Lednev want police to execute me, my brother’s enemy help them.”

“Why didn’t you tell us this yesterday?”

“Why should I tell you?  It happened long ago, it was terrible accident.  I have family emergency in Brooklyn, I leave notes for Mrs. Van Horn, I call her FOUR times, I call Mr. Van Horn TWO times, I call Cassandra THREE times, I do everything I can to see that Marius is safe!  I love Marius, but I love my family too.”

LaTralla secretly believed Katrina.  And Katrina’s story had checked out. She had been in Brighton Beach all of Tuesday. The testimony of family had been corroborated by hospital staff who’d talked to Katrina because her English was so much better than her aunt’s and cousins’.

Tagliotta jumped into make some trouble, one of his specialties.

“What do you think of Dr. and Mrs. Van Horn?” he asked slyly.

Katrina narrowed her eyes.  “They pay me on time.”

“They pay you on time?  Their only son has been kidnapped, and you comment on their regular payment of your tax-free salary?”

“I do not get involved with employers. I care for boy.  Parents do not matter to me.”

“Is this your way of saying you don’t like them?” LaTralla asked.

“I do not think about them.”

“Come on, Katrina,” Tagliotta said impatiently.  “You hate their guts.  In fact, you don’t like anyone who’s better off than you.  You didn’t like the Lednevs because they had all the money and the nice place to live.  You don’t like the Van Horns for the same reasons.  You live in their home and you take their money, but you hate their guts.”

Katrina turned to stare Tagliotta directly in the eye.  “And do you like the man you work for?  Maybe I do not like the parents, the mother with her drugs and her laziness, and maybe I do not like the father with his greed.  But I am HAPPY to live in their home.  Yes, I am!  And why?  Because Marius needs person to talk to, friend to listen to him and walk with him. I did not kidnap Marius, I rescued him from parents every day!”

LaTralla glanced at Tagliotta; and she knew that he believed Katrina’s story.

“You’re free to go,” Tagliotta said to Katrina.  “But let me give you a piece of advice.  If you want to take care of kids for a living, you’d better get used to the idea that only wealthy people can afford a nanny.  If you’re sick of working for the moneyed class, get yourself a job in a day care center, where you can make minimum wage and take care of kids whose parents go to work every day.”

 

Wednesday, 4:00 p.m.

How funny to find oneself in a part of the city one has spent one’s life avoiding, she thought, as she cruised along East 137th Street in her old Toyota Corolla.

She’d originally thought she’d call from a pay phone somewhere in the north Bronx, but that was a little too close to home.  So then she’d planned to call from Inwood or Washington Heights, but then she thought the police might think: She made the call from Inwood because she didn’t want to call from the Bronx, which might lead them to start looking for her in Westchester.  So here she was, in East Harlem. 

She spied what appeared to be a working pay phone on MLK Boulevard.  After circling for ten minutes, she found a parking spot on East 145th.  An obese man was yelling at someone loudly on the pay phone.  As she walked past him, he abruptly slammed the phone down and stalked off.  After he turned the corner, she put on a pair of driving gloves, strode purposely to the phone, took a kerchief out of her purse, and wrapped it around the mouthpiece.  Then she put two dollars worth of quarters into the slot and punched in the number.

The phone was answered on the fourth ring.

“Hello?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, attempting to make her voice husky and masculine.  “Your son is fine.  He’ll be home soon.”

“Is Marius alive?”

She continued speaking as if she hadn’t been interrupted, as if the detectives weren’t encouraging Nicholas Van Horn to keep her on the line as long as it took to trace the call.  “You need to do just three things to get your boy back.  Number one.  The mother stops playing tennis and kicks the habit.  Number two.  The father stops taking on so many older patients.  Number three.  They both go on the news in the next 24 hours and apologize to their son.”

She hung up the phone, her heart beating a mile a minute.  She walked quickly back to the Toyota, which remained unvandalized in the place she’d parked it.  Less than an hour later, she was back at her comfortable home in Chappaqua, New York.

The boy was playing computer games when she walked in.  She reached out and touched his hair gently. 

“What do you feel like for dinner, Marius?”

“Pizza!  Pizza!” the boy said.