You’ve lost your daughter.
She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.
Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.
You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.
And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head on.
Master storyteller and best-selling author Harlan Coben delivers an absorbing new novel about a frantic father’s search for his daughter that ensnares him in a web of intrigue and murder. The story was inspired by a visit to Central Park. As Coben was sitting in Strawberry Fields, listening to a street musician “mangling Beatles tunes,” he thought to himself, “What if that was my lead character’s daughter? What if she was strung out and he hadn’t seen her in six months and he finally found her? And if I open the book, that when he tries to rescue her, everything goes wrong?”
So as Run Away opens, Simon Greene once believed that he and his wife, Ingrid, a pediatrician, had established a nearly perfect life. They have three beautiful children, successful careers, a lovely home in Manhattan.
And then their oldest daughter, Paige, went away to college . . . and it all went wrong. Paige became a drug addict, dropped out of school, and acquired an abusive boyfriend, eleven years her senior. After all attempts to help her failed, she disappeared.
Brokenhearted, Simon could not bring himself to stop searching for her, even though he and Ingrid agreed to suspend their efforts. With a tip and some luck, he spots Paige playing the guitar and singing at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. But she’s clearly strung out to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. Hence the opening sentence of the book: “Simon sat on a bench in Central Park – in Strawberry Fields, to be more precise – and felt his heart shatter.” When Simon approaches her, begging her to come home with him, her boyfriend, Aaron, materializes and there is an altercation. In the chaos, Paige runs. Simon gets arrested after he punches Aaron and the whole incident is, of course, caught on video. It goes viral.
Three months later, Aaron has been brutally murdered and Paige may be in danger. Simon and Ingrid are now united in their effort to find Paige, and together they venture into a dangerous world. With tragic consequences.
Meanwhile, former FBI agent Elena Ramirez has lost the love of her life and been forced to leave the FBI following an injury that left her with a limp. Now working as a private investigator, she has been hired to find a missing twenty-four-year-old. Henry Thorpe’s wealthy father is not convinced that the text he received from his son saying he was heading west for a couple of weeks means Henry is not in trouble. Just the opposite, in fact.
I don’t really like writing about superheroes or machismo. . . . I think it’s more compelling to write about people more like you and me, people who are trying to do right but wrong still seems to find them. ~~ Author Harlan Coben
And Ash has been hired to kill two men. He doesn’t ask questions. He simply carries out his assignments, accompanied by his friend, DeeDee, with whom he was in foster care as a youth. DeeDee has joined a cult, the Shining Truth, and resides at its compound where she is known as “Holly.”
At the outset, how these three disparate story lines are related is a mystery. But Coben’s intricately plotted thriller progresses, it becomes clear that they will somehow converge.
First, Elena and Simon encounter each other and begin working together to find Paige. Both are empathetic characters. Simon is forced, through Paige’s disappearance and other events, to confront his effectiveness as a father and husband. His introspection fuels his determination to make amends for the mistakes he has made — even though he thought he was doing his best at the time — and be more present for his wife and children. If only he can find Paige and set things right in his family. Along the way, he finds a surprising ally who is street smart, savvy, and committed to bringing Paige home, as well as a few enemies who threaten not only his well-being, but that of his family.
Run Away’s pace never slackens as Coben chronicles Simon’s desperate search to find his daughter and bring her home safely. For a good period of time, he keeps readers guessing about how the three seemingly unrelated stories are, in fact, connected. And then, as he deftly links and merges the story lines, Coben injects numerous plot twists and surprising developments that propel the story forward. He wraps the story up with a jaw-dropping ending that will make readers gasp and then wonder why they didn’t guess the conclusion. About that, Coben relates,”I want you to ask yourself a few questions. You want to call your best friend to talk about it. I don’t want to say it’s dark or light, but it’s gray. And I really enjoyed that where it’s not just a gasp, but hopefully it’s a gasp that makes you think.”
Run Away is a pulse-pounding adventure and intriguing exploration of just how far a father and mother will go to protect their children. Coben specifically “wanted Simon and Ingrid to be real people, real parents — which means one part superhero when under threat, but three or four parts in over their heads.” He succeeds spectacularly because Run Away is also a tender — at times heart-breaking — examination of marriage and relationships that illustrates it is impossible to ever fully know another person no matter how many years you live with them or how many milestones you share. Everyone harbors secrets and with enough effort they can stay hidden. Coben illustrates how one close-knit family deals with secrets that are finally exposed, as well as whether some secrets can and should remain hidden for the sake of the family’s survival.
Run Away is a contemporary, engrossing story with endearing, empathetic characters that, just as Coben hopes, will leave readers pondering its themes long after they’ve finished reading the book.
Excerpt from Run Away
Simon sat on a bench in Central Park—in Strawberry Fields, to be more precise—and felt his heart shatter. No one could tell, of course, at least not at first, not until the punches started flying and two tourists from Finland of all places started screaming while nine other park visitors from a wide variety of countries caught the whole horrible incident on smart-phone video.
But that was still an hour away.
There were no strawberries in Strawberry Fields and you’d be hard-pressed to call the two-and-a-half-acre landscaped grounds a field (singular), let alone more than one, but the name was derived not from anything literal but from the eponymous Beatles track. Strawberry Fields is a triangular-shaped area off Seventy-Second Street and Central Park West dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, who was shot and killed across the street. The centerpiece of this memorial is a round mosaic of inlaid stones with a simple caption in the middle:
Simon stared straight ahead, blinking, devastated. Tourists streamed in and snapped photos with the famed mosaic—group shots, solo selfies, some kneeling on the inlaid stone, some lying down on it. Today, as it is most days, someone had decorated the word imagine with fresh flowers, forming a peace sign of red rose petals that somehow didn’t blow away. The visitors—maybe because the place was a memorial—were patient with one another, waiting their turn to step toward the mosaic for that special photo that they’d post on their Snapchat or Instagram or whatever social media platform they favored with some John Lennon quote, maybe a Beatles lyric or something from the song about all the people living life in peace.
Simon wore a suit and tie. He hadn’t bothered to loosen the tie after leaving his office on Vesey Street in the World Financial Center. Across from him, also sitting near the famed mosaic, a—what do you call them now? vagrant? transient? drug-addled? mentally ill? panhandler? what?—played Beatles songs for tips. The “street musician”—a kinder name perhaps—strummed an out-of-tune guitar and sang in a cracked voice through yellowing teeth about how Penny Lane was in her ears and in her eyes.
Odd or at least funny memory: Simon used to walk past this mosaic all the time when his children were young. When Paige was maybe nine, Sam six, Anya three, they would head from their apartment only five blocks south of here, on Sixty-Seventh Street between Columbus and Central Park West, and stroll across Strawberry Fields on their way to the Alice in Wonderland statue by the model-boat pond on the east side of the park. Unlike pretty much every other statue in the world, here children were allowed to climb and crawl all over the eleven-foot-tall bronze figures of Alice and the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit and a bunch of seemingly inappropriate giant mushrooms. Sam and Anya loved to do just that, swarming the figures, though Sam at some point always stuck two fingers up Alice’s bronze nostrils and screamed at Simon, “Dad! Dad, look! I’m picking Alice’s nose!” to which Sam’s mother, Ingrid, would inevitably sigh and mutter, “Boys,” under her breath.
But Paige, their firstborn, had been quieter, even then. She would sit on a bench with a coloring book and intact crayons— she didn’t like it when a crayon broke or the wrapper came off— and always, in an ironic metaphor, stayed within the lines. As she grew older—fifteen, sixteen, seventeen—Paige would sit on a bench, just as Simon was doing now, and write stories and song lyrics in a notebook her father had bought her at the Papyrus on Columbus Avenue. But Paige wouldn’t sit on just any bench. Something like four thousand Central Park benches had been “adopted” via big-money donations. Personalized plaques were installed on the benches, most of them simple memorials like the one Simon now sat on, which read:
IN MEMORY OF CARL AND CORKY
Others, the ones Paige gravitated toward, told little stories:
For C & B—who survived the Holocaust and began a life in this city . . .
To my sweetie Anne—I love you, I adore you, I cherish you.
Will you marry me? . . .
This spot is where our love story began on April 12, 1942 . . .
The bench that Paige most preferred, the one she’d sit on for hours on end with her latest notebook—and maybe this was an early indicator?—memorialized a mysterious tragedy:
The beautiful Meryl, age 19. You deserved so much better & died so young. I would’ve done anything to save you.
Paige would move from bench to bench, read the inscriptions, find one to use as a story prompt. Simon, in an attempt to bond, tried to do that too, but he didn’t have his daughter’s imagination. Still, he sat with his newspaper or fiddled with his phone, checking the markets or reading the business news, as Paige’s pen moved in a flurry.
What happened to those old notebooks? Where were they now?
Simon had no idea.
“Penny Lane” mercifully came to an end, and the singer/pan- handler segued right into “All You Need Is Love.” A young couple sat on the bench next to Simon. The young man stage-whispered, “Can I give her money to shut up?” to which his female companion snickered, “It’s like John Lennon is being killed all over again.” A few people dropped some coins into the woman’s guitar case, but most people stayed clear or backed away making a face that indicated they had gotten a whiff of something of which they wanted no part.
But Simon listened and listened hard, hoping to find some semblance of beauty in the melody, in the song, in the lyrics, in the performance. He barely noticed the tourists or their tour guides or the man who wore no shirt (but should) selling water bottles for a dollar or the skinny guy with the soul patch who told a joke for a dollar (“Special: 6 Jokes for $5!”) or the old Asian woman burning incense to honor John Lennon in some vague way or the joggers, the dog walkers, the sunbathers.
But there was no beauty in the music. None.
Simon’s eyes stayed locked on the panhandling girl mangling John Lennon’s legacy. Her hair was matted clumps. Her cheekbones were sunken. The girl was rail-thin, raggedy, dirty, damaged, homeless, lost.
She was also Simon’s daughter Paige.
Simon had not seen Paige in six months—not since she had done the inexcusable.
It had been the final break for Ingrid.
“You leave her be this time,” Ingrid had told him after Paige ran out.
And then Ingrid, a wonderful mother, a caring pediatrician who dedicated her life to helping children in need, said, “I don’t want her back in this house.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do, Simon. God help me, I do.”
For months, without Ingrid’s knowledge, he’d searched for Paige. Sometimes his attempts were well organized, like when he hired the private investigator. More often, his efforts were hit-and-miss, haphazard, consisting of walking through dangerous drug-infested areas, flashing her photograph to the stoned and unsavory.
He’d come up with nothing.
Simon had wondered whether Paige, who had recently celebrated her birthday (how, Simon wondered—a party, a cake, drugs? Did she even know what day it was?), had left Manhattan and gone back to that college town where it all began to go wrong. On two separate weekends, when Ingrid was on shift at the hospital and thus wouldn’t be able to ask too many questions, Simon had driven up and stayed at the Craftboro Inn next to the campus. He walked the quad, remembering how enthusiastically all five of them—Simon, Ingrid, incoming freshman Paige, Sam, and Anya—had arrived and helped settle Paige in, how he and Ingrid had been so cockeyed optimistic that this place would be a great fit, all this wide-open green space and woodland for the daughter who had grown up in Manhattan, and how, of course, that optimism withered and died.
Part of Simon—a part he could never give voice to or even admit existed—had wanted to give up on finding her. Life had, if not improved, certainly calmed since Paige ran away. Sam, who had graduated from Horace Mann in the spring, barely mentioned his older sister. His focus had been on friends and graduation and parties—and now his sole obsession was preparing for his first year at Amherst College. Anya, well, Simon didn’t know how she felt about things. She wouldn’t talk to him about Paige—or pretty much anything else. Her answers to his attempts at conversation consisted of one word, and rarely more than one syllable. She was “fine” or “good” or “’k.”
Then Simon got a strange lead.
His upstairs neighbor Charlie Crowley, an ophthalmologist downtown, got into the elevator with Simon one morning three weeks back. After exchanging the usual neighborly pleasantries, Charlie, facing the elevator door as everyone does, watching the floors tick down, shyly and with true regret, told Simon that he “thought” he had seen Paige.
Simon, also staring up at the floor numbers, asked as nonchalantly as possible for details.
“I might have seen her, uh, in the park,” Charlie said.
“What, you mean like walking through?”
“No, not exactly.” They reached the ground floor. The doors slid open. Charlie took a deep breath. “Paige . . . was playing music in Strawberry Fields.”
Charlie must have seen the bewildered look on Simon’s face. “You know, um, like for tips.”
Simon felt something inside him rip. “Tips? Like a—”
“I was going to give her money, but. . .”
Simon nodded that it was okay, to please continue.
“ . . . but Paige was so out of it, she didn’t know who I was. I worried it would just go . . .”
Charlie didn’t have to finish the thought. “I’m sorry, Simon. Truly.”
That was it.
Simon debated telling Ingrid about the encounter, but he didn’t want to deal with that particular fallout. Instead he started hanging around Strawberry Fields in his spare time.
He never saw Paige.
He asked a few of the vagrants who played if they recognized her, showing a photo off his phone right before he tossed a couple of bills into their guitar case. A few said yes and would offer more details if Simon made that contribution to the cause somewhat more substantial. He did so and got nothing in return. The majority admitted that they didn’t recognize her, but now, seeing Paige in the flesh, Simon understood why. There was almost no physical overlap between his once-lovely daughter and this strung-out bag of bones.
But as Simon sat in Strawberry Fields—usually in front of an almost-humorously ignored sign that read:
A QUIET ZONE—NO AMPLIFIED SOUND OR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
—he had noticed something odd. The musicians, all of whom leaned heavily on the grungy-transient-squalid side, never played at the same time or over one another. The transitions between one street guitarist and the next were remarkably smooth. The players changed on the hour pretty much every hour in an orderly fashion.
Like there was a schedule.
It took Simon fifty dollars to meet a man named Dave, one of the seedier street musicians with a huge helmet of gray hair, facial hair that had rubber bands in it, and a braided ponytail stretching down the middle of his back. Dave, who looked to be either a badly weathered midfifties or an easier-lived seventy, explained how it all worked.
“So in the old days, a guy named Gary dos Santos . . . you know him?”
“The name is familiar,” Simon said.
“Yeah, if you walked through here back in the day, boy, you’d remember him. Gary was the self-appointed Mayor of Strawberry Fields. Big guy. Spent, what, twenty years here keeping the peace. And by keeping the peace, I mean scaring the shit out of people. Dude was crazy, you know what I’m saying?”
“Then in, what, 2013, Gary dies. Leukemia. Only forty-nine. This place”—Dave gestured with his fingerless gloves—“goes crazy. Total anarchy without our fascist. You read Machiavelli? Like that. Musicians start getting in fights every day. Territory, you know what I’m saying?”
“I know what you’re saying.”
“They’d try to police themselves, but come on—half these guys can barely dress themselves. See, one asshole would play too long, then another asshole would start playing over him, they’d start screaming, cursing, even in front of the little kids. Sometimes they’d throw punches, and then the cops would come, you get the deal, right?”
Simon nodded that he did.
“It was hurting our image, not to mention our wallets. So we all came up with a solution.”
“A schedule. An hour-to-hour rotation from ten a.m. to seven p.m.”
“And that works?”
“It ain’t perfect, but it’s pretty close.”
Economic self-interest, thought Simon the financial analyst. One of life’s constants. “How do you sign up for a slot?”
“Via text. We got five regular guys. They get the prime times.
Then other people can fill in.”
“And you run the schedule?”
“I do.” Dave puffed out his chest in pride. “See, I know how to make it work, you know what I’m saying? Like I never put Hal’s slot next to Jules because those two hate each other more than my exes hate me. I also try to make it what you might call diverse.”
“Black guys, chicks, spics, fairies, even a couple of Orientals.” He spread his hands. “We don’t want everyone thinking all bums are white guys. It’s a bad stereotype, you know what I’m saying?”
Simon knew what he was saying. He also knew that if he gave Dave two one-hundred-dollar bills torn in half and promised to give him the other halves when Dave told him when his daughter signed up again, he would probably make progress.
This morning, Dave had texted him:
11AM today. I never told you. I ain’t a snitch.
But bring my money at 10AM. I got yoga at 11.
So here he was.
Simon sat across from Paige and wondered whether she would spot him and what to do if she bolted. He wasn’t sure. He’d figured that his best bet was to let her finish up, pack up her measly tips and guitar, make his approach.
He checked his watch. 11:58 a.m. Paige’s hour was coming to an end.
Simon had rehearsed all kinds of lines in his head. He had already called the Solemani clinic upstate and booked Paige a room. That was his plan: Say whatever; promise whatever; cajole, beg, use whatever means necessary to get her to go with him.
Another street musician in faded jeans and ripped flannel shirt entered from the east and sat next to Paige. His guitar case was a black plastic garbage bag. He tapped Paige ’s knee and pointed to an imaginary watch on his wrist. Paige nodded as she finished “I Am the Walrus” with an extended “goo goo g’joob,” lifted both arms in the air, and shouted, “Thank you!” to a crowd that was not even paying attention, let alone applaud- ing. She scooped the few pathetic wrinkled singles and coins up and then lowered her guitar into the case with surprising care. That simple move—lowering that guitar into the case—hit him hard. Simon had bought that Takamine G-Series guitar for her at the Sam Ash on West Forty-Eighth Street for her sixteenth birthday. He tried to conjure up the feelings to go with the memory—Paige’s smile when she plucked it off the wall, the way she closed her eyes as she tested it out, how she threw her arms around his neck and shouted, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” when he told her it was hers.
But the feelings, if they were real, wouldn’t come.
The awful truth: Simon couldn’t even see the little girl any- more.
Oh, for the past hour he had tried. He tried again now to look at her and conjure up the angelic child he’d taken to swim classes at the 92nd Street Y, the one who sat on a hammock out in the Hamptons while he read her two full Harry Potter books over the three-day Labor Day weekend, the little girl who insisted on wearing her Statue-of-Liberty Halloween costume complete with green face two weeks early, but—and maybe it was a defense mechanism—none of those images would come to him.
Paige stumbled to a stand. Time to make his move.
Across the mosaic, Simon stood too. His heart pounded hard against his rib cage. He could feel a headache coming on, like giant hands were pressing in against both his temples. He looked left, then right.
For the boyfriend.
Simon couldn’t say exactly how it all started spiraling, but he blamed the boyfriend for the scourge brought on his daughter and by extension his entire family. Yes, Simon had read all about how an addict has to take responsibility for her own actions, that it was the addict’s fault and the addict’s fault alone, all of that. And most addicts (and by extension, their families) had a tale to tell. Maybe their addiction started with pain medication after an operation. Maybe they traced it back to peer pressure or claimed that one-time experimentation had somehow evolved into something darker.
There was always an excuse.
But in Paige’s case—call it a weakness of character or bad parenting or whatever—it all seemed somewhat simpler:
There was Paige before she met Aaron. And Paige now.
Aaron Corval was scum—obvious, unsubtle scum—and when you blended scum and purity, the purity was forever sullied. Simon never got the appeal. Aaron was thirty-two years old, eleven years older than his daughter. In a more innocent time, this age difference had concerned Simon. Ingrid had shrugged it off, but she was used to such things from her modeling days. Now, of course, the age difference was the least of it.
There was no sign of Aaron.
A small bird of hope took flight. Could Aaron finally be out of the picture? Could this malignancy, this cancer, this parasite who fed off his daughter have finished his feast and moved on to a more robust host?
That would be good, no question about it.
Paige started east toward the path across the park, her gait a zombie-like shuffle. Simon started to make his move.
What, he wondered, would he do if she refused to go with him? That was not only a possibility but a likelihood. Simon had tried to get her help in the past, and it had backfired. He couldn’t force her. He knew that. He’d even had Robert Previdi, his brother-in-law, try to get a court order to have her committed. That hadn’t worked either.
Simon came up behind her now. Her worn sundress hung too loosely off her shoulders. There were brown spots—sun? illness? abuse?—on her back, blotting the once-flawless skin.
She didn’t turn around, didn’t so much as hesitate, and for a brief second, Simon entertained the fantasy that he had been wrong, that Charlie Crowley had been wrong, that this disheveled bag of bones with the rancid smell and shot voice was not his firstborn, not his Paige, not the teenager who played Hodel in the Abernathy Academy production of Fiddler on the Roof, the one who smelled like peaches and youth and broke the audience’s heart with her “Far from the Home I Love” solo. Simon had never made it through one of her five performances without welling up, nearly breaking into sobs when Paige’s Hodel turned to Tevye and said, “Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again,” to which her stage father replied, “Then we will leave it in His hands.”
He cleared his throat and got closer. “Paige?”
She slowed but did not turn around. Simon reached out with a trembling hand. Her back still faced him. He rested his hand on the shoulder, feeling nothing but dried bone covered by papery skin, and tried one more time.
“Paige, it’s Daddy.”
Daddy. When was the last time she had called him Daddy? He had been Dad to her, to all three kids, for as long as he could remember, and yet the word just came out. He could hear the crack in his voice, the plea.
She still wouldn’t turn toward him.
And then she broke into a run.
The move caught him off guard. Paige had a three-step lead when he snapped into action. Simon had recently gotten himself into pretty good shape. There was a health club next to his office and with the stress of losing his daughter—that was how he looked at it, as losing her—he had become obsessed with various cardio-boxing classes during his lunch hour.
He leapt forward and caught up to her pretty quickly. He grabbed Paige by the reedlike upper arm—he could have circled the flimsy bicep with his index finger and thumb—and yanked her back. The yank may have been too hard, but the whole thing— the leaps, the reach—had just been an automatic reaction.
Paige had tried to flee. He had done what was necessary to stop her.
“Ow!” she cried. “Let go of me!”
There were loads of people around, and some, Simon was sure, had turned at the sound of her cry. He didn’t care, except it added urgency to his mission. He would have to act fast now and get her out of here before some Good Samaritan stepped into “rescue” Paige.
“Honey, it’s Dad. Just come with me, okay?”
Her back was still to him. Simon spun her so that she would have to face him, but Paige covered her eyes with the crook of her arm, as though he were shining a bright light in her face.
“Paige? Paige, please look at me.”
Her body stiffened and then, suddenly, relaxed. Paige lowered her arm from her face and slowly turned her gaze up at him. Hope again took flight. Yes, her eyes were sunken deep into the sockets and the color was yellow where it should have been white, but now, for the first time, Simon thought that maybe he saw a flicker—life—there too.
For the first time, he saw a hint of the little girl he once knew. When Paige spoke, he could finally hear the echo of his daughter: “Dad?”
He nodded. He opened his mouth, closed it because he felt too overwhelmed, tried again. “I’m here to help you, Paige.”
She started to cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.”
He stretched out his arms to sweep his daughter into safety, when another voice sliced through the park like a reaper’s scythe.
“What the fuck . . . ?”
Simon felt his heart drop. He looked to his right. Aaron.
Paige cringed away from Simon at the sound of Aaron’s voice. Simon tried to hold on to her, but she pulled her arm loose, the guitar case banging against her leg.
“Paige . . .” Simon said.
But whatever clarity he had seen in her eyes just a few seconds ago shattered into a million pieces.
“Leave me alone!” she cried.
Paige started to backpedal away. Simon reached out for her arm again, a desperate man falling off a cliff and trying to grasp a branch, but Paige let out a piercing scream.
That turned heads. Lots of them. Simon did not back away.
“Please, just listen—”
And then Aaron stepped between them.
The two men, Simon and Aaron, were eye to eye. Paige cowered behind Aaron. Aaron looked strung-out, wearing a denim jacket over a grungy white T-shirt—the latest in heroin chic minus the chic. He had too many chains around his neck and had that stubble that aimed for fashionable but fell way short, and work boots, which were always an ironic look on someone who wouldn’t recognize a day of honest work if it kicked him in the groin.
“It’s okay, Paige,” Aaron said with a smooth sneer, still meeting Simon’s gaze. “You just keep moving, doll.”
Simon shook his head. “No, don’t. . . ”
But Paige, almost using Aaron’s back for leverage, pushed off and started to sprint down the path.
“Paige?” Simon shouted. “Wait! Please just—”
She was getting away. Simon veered right to go after her, but Aaron slid with him, blocking his path.
“Paige is an adult,” Aaron said. “You got no right—”
Simon cocked his fist and punched Aaron straight in the face.
He could feel the nose give way under his knuckles, heard the break like a boot stomping on a bird’s nest. Blood flowed.
Aaron went down.
That was when the two tourists from Finland screamed.
Simon didn’t care. He could still see Paige up ahead. She turned to the left, off the pavement and into the trees.
He jumped to the side of the fallen man and started toward her, but from the ground, Aaron grabbed his leg. Simon tried to pull free, but now he could see other people—well-meaning but confused people—approaching, a lot of them, some taking videos with their damn phones.
They were all shouting and telling him not to move.
Simon kicked free, stumbled, got his legs back. He started down the path, down toward where Paige had veered off.
But it was too late now. The crowd was on him.
Someone tried to tackle him up high. Simon threw an elbow. He heard the tackler make an oof noise and his grip slackened. Someone else wrapped their arms around Simon’s waist. Simon pulled him off like a belt, still running toward his daughter, still moving like a halfback with defenders all over him toward the goal line.
But eventually, there were too many of them.
“My daughter!” he screamed. “Please . . . just stop her . . . ”
No one could hear over the commotion, or perhaps they simply weren’t listening to the violent madman who had to be taken down.
Another tourist jumped on him. Then another.
As Simon finally began to fall, he looked up and saw his daughter back on the path. He landed with a crash. Then, because he tried to get back up, blows rained down on him. A lot of them. When it was all over, he would have three broken ribs and two broken fingers. He would have a concussion and need twenty-three stitches in total.
He didn’t feel a thing, except for the ripping in his heart.
Another body landed on him. He heard shouts and screams and then the police were on him too, flipping him onto his stomach, digging a knee into his spine, cuffing him. He looked up one more time and spotted Paige staring from behind a tree.
But she didn’t come to him. Instead she slipped away as, once again, Simon realized that he had failed her.
For a while, the cops just left Simon facedown on the asphalt with his hands cuffed behind his back. One cop—she was female and black with a nametag that read—HAYES—bent down and calmly told him that he was under arrest and then read him his rights. Simon thrashed and screamed about his daughter, begging someone, anyone, to stop her. Hayes just kept reciting the Miranda rights.
When Hayes finished, she straightened up and turned away. Simon started screaming about his daughter again. No one would listen, possibly because he sounded unhinged, so he tried to calm himself and conjure up a more polite tone.
“Officer? Ma’am? Sir?”
They all ignored him and took statements from witnesses. Several of the tourists were showing the cops videos of the incident, which, Simon imagined, did not look good for him.
“My daughter,” he said again. “I was trying to save my daughter. He kidnapped her.”
The last part was a quasi lie, but he hoped for a reaction. He didn’t get one.
Simon turned his head left and right, looking for Aaron. There was no sign of him.
“Where is he?” he shouted, again sounding unhinged. Hayes finally looked down at him. “Who?”
“The guy I punched. Where is he?”
The adrenaline rush began to taper off, allowing a nauseating level of pain to flow through his body. Eventually—Simon had no idea how much time had passed—Hayes and a tall white cop with the nametag white hoisted him up and drag-walked him to a squad car. When he was in the backseat, White took the driver’s side, Hayes the passenger. Hayes, who had his wallet in her hand, turned around and said, “So what happened, Mr. Greene?”
“I was talking to my daughter. Her boyfriend got in the way. I tried to move around him . . .”
Simon stopped talking.
“And?” she prompted.
“Do you have her boyfriend in custody? Can you please help me find my daughter?”
“And?” Hayes repeated.
Simon was crazed, but he wasn’t insane. “There was an altercation.”
“Walk us through it.”
“Walk you through what?”
“First tell me about my daughter,” Simon tried. “Her name is Paige Greene. Her boyfriend, who I believe is holding her against her will, is named Aaron Corval. I was trying to rescue her.”
“Mm-hmm,” Hayes said. Then: “So you punched a homeless guy?”
“I punched—” Simon stopped himself. He knew better.
“You punched?” Hayes prompted.
Simon didn’t reply.
“Right, that’s what I thought,” Hayes said. “You got blood all over you. Even on your nice tie. That a Hermès?”
It was, but Simon didn’t say anything more. His shirt was still buttoned all the way to the throat, the tie ideally Windsored.
“Where is my daughter?”
“No idea,” Hayes said.
“Then I don’t have anything else to say until I speak to my attorney.”
Hayes turned back around and didn’t say anything else. They drove Simon to the emergency room at Mount Sinai West on Fifty-Ninth Street near Tenth Avenue, where they took him immediately to X-ray. A doctor wearing a turban and looking too young to get into R-rated films put Simon’s fingers into splints and stitched up his scalp lacerations. There was nothing to be done for the broken ribs, the doctor explained, other than “restrict activity for six weeks or so.”
The rest was a surreal whirlwind: the drive to Central Booking at 100 Centre Street, the mug shots, the fingerprints, the holding cell. They gave him a phone call, just like in the movies. Simon was going to call Ingrid, but he decided to go with his brother-in-law Robert, a top Manhattan litigator.
“I’ll get someone over there right away,” Robert said. “You can’t handle it?”
“I’m not criminal.”
“You really think I need a criminal—?”
“Yeah, I do. Plus Yvonne and I are at the shore house. It’ll take me too long to get in. Just sit tight.”
Half an hour later, a tiny woman in her early to mid seventies with curly blonde-to-gray hair and fire in her eyes introduced her- self with a firm handshake.
“Hester Crimstein,” she said to Simon. “Robert sent me.”
“I’m Simon Greene.”
“Yeah, I’m a top-notch litigator, so I pieced that together. Now repeat after me, Simon Greene: ‘Not guilty.’ ”
“Just repeat what I said.”
“Beautiful, well done, brings tears to my eyes.” Hester Crim- stein leaned closer. “Those are the only words you’re allowed to say—and the only time you’ll say those words is when the judge asks for a plea. You got me?”
“Do we need to do a dry rehearsal?”
“No, I think I got it.”
When they headed into the courtroom and she said, “Hester Crimstein for the defense,” a buzz started humming through the court. The judge raised his head and arched an eyebrow.
“Counselor Crimstein, this is quite the honor. What brings you to my humble courtroom?”
“I’m just here to stop a grave miscarriage of justice.”
“I’m sure you are.” The judge folded his hands and smiled. “It’s nice to see you again, Hester.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“You’re right,” the judge said. “I don’t.”
That seemed to please Hester. “You’re looking good, Your Honor. The black robe works on you.”
“What, this old thing?” “Makes you look thin.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” The judge sat back. “What does the defendant plead?”
Hester gave Simon a look.
“Not guilty,” he said.
Hester nodded her approval. The prosecutor asked for five thousand dollars in bail. Hester did not contest the amount.
Once they went through the legal rigmarole of paperwork and bureaucracy and were allowed to leave, Simon started for the front entrance, but Hester stopped him with a hand on his forearm.
“Not that way.”
“They’ll be waiting.”
Hester pressed the elevator button, checked the lights above the doors, said, “Follow me.”
They hit the steps and took them down two levels. Hester started leading him toward the back of the building. She picked up her mobile.
“You at the Eggloo on Mulberry, Tim? Good. Five minutes.”
“What’s going on?” Simon asked.
“You keep talking,” Hester said, “when I specifically told you not to.”
They headed down a dark corridor. Hester led the way. She turned right, then right again. Eventually they reached an employee entrance. People were flashing badges to come in, but Hester just barreled through to exit.
“You can’t do that,” a guard said.
He didn’t. A moment later, they were outside. They crossed Baxter Street and cut through the green of Columbus Park, passed three volleyball courts, and ended up on Mulberry Street.
“You like ice cream?” Hester asked.
Simon did not reply. He pointed to his closed mouth.
Hester sighed. “You have permission to speak.”
“Eggloo has a Campfire S’mores ice cream sandwich that’s to die for. I told my driver to grab two for the ride.”
The black Mercedes was waiting in front. The driver had the ice cream sandwiches. He handed one to Hester.
“Thanks, Tim. Simon?”
Simon shook off the other. Hester shrugged. “All yours, Tim.” She took a bite of her own and slipped into the backseat. Simon got in next to her.
“My daughter—” Simon began.
“The police never found her.”
“How about Aaron Corval?”
“The guy I punched.”
“Whoa whoa, don’t even joke around about that. You mean the guy you allegedly punched.”
“Not whatever. Not even in private.”
“Okay, I got it. Do you know where—?”
“He took off too.”
“What do you mean, ‘took off ’?”
“What part of ‘took off ’ is confusing? He ran away before the police could learn anything about him. Which is good for you. No victim, no crime.” She took another bite and wiped the corner of her lips. “The case will go away soon enough, but . . . Look, I got a friend. Her name is Mariquita Blumberg. She’s a ballbuster—not a sweetheart like me. But she’s the best handler in the city. We need Mariquita to get on your PR campaign right away.”
The driver started up the car. The Mercedes started north and turned right on Bayard Street.
“PR campaign? Why would I need—?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute, but we don’t need the distraction right now. First tell me what happened. Everything. From beginning to end.”
He told her. Hester turned her small frame to face him. She was one of those people who raise the phrase “undivided attention” into an art form. She had been all energy and movement. Now that energy was more like a laser beam pointed directly at him. She was focusing on every word with an empathy so strong he could reach out and touch it.
“Oh man, I’m sorry,” Hester said when he finished. “That truly sucks.”
“So you understand.” “I do.”
“I need to find Paige. Or Aaron.”
“I’ll check again with the detectives, but like I said, my understanding is that they both ran off.”
Another dead end. Simon’s body started to ache. Whatever defense mechanisms, whatever chemical responses that delay if not block pain were eroding in a hurry. Pain didn’t so much ebb through as flow in.
“So why do I need a PR campaign?” Simon asked.
Hester took out her mobile phone and started futzing with it. “Hate these things. So much information and so many uses, but mostly it ruins your life. You have kids, right? Well obviously. How many hours a day do they spend. . . ” Her voice drifted off. “Not the time for that particular lecture. Here.”
Hester handed him the phone.
Simon saw that she’d brought up a YouTube video with 289,000 views. When he saw the screenshot preview and read the title, his heart sank:
PROSPERITY PUNCHES POVERTY
WALL STREET WALLOPS VAGABOND
DADDY WARBUCKS DESTROYS THE DESTITUTE
BROKER BOPS BUM
“HAVE” HITS “HAVE-NOT”
He flicked his eyes up at Hester, who gave him a sympathetic shrug. She reached across and tapped Play with her index finger. The video had been taken by someone with the screen name ZorraStiletto and posted two hours ago. ZorraStiletto had been panning up from three women—perhaps his wife and two daughters?—when some kind of disturbance drew his attention. The lens jerked to the right, regaining focus with ideal timing on a pompous-looking Simon—why the hell hadn’t he changed out of that suit or at least loosened the goddamn tie?—just as Paige was pulling away from him and Aaron was stepping up to get between them. It looked, of course, as though a rich, privileged, suited man was accosting (and maybe worse) a much younger woman, who was then being rescued by a stand-up homeless guy.
As the scared, fragile young woman cowered behind her savior’s back, the man in the suit started screaming. The young woman ran away. The man in the suit tried to push past the homeless guy and follow her. Simon knew, of course, what he was about to see. Still he watched, wide-eyed and hopeful, as though there were a chance that the suited man would not be moronic enough to actually pull back his fist and punch the brave homeless man straight in the face.
But that was exactly what happened.
There was blood as the kindly homeless Samaritan crumpled to the pavement. The uncaring rich man in the suit tried to step over the rubble of him, but the homeless Samaritan grabbed his leg. When an Asian man in a baseball cap—another Good Samaritan no doubt—entered the fray, the suited man elbowed him in the nose too.
Simon closed his eyes. “Oh man.” “Yep.”
When Simon opened his eyes again, he ignored the cardinal rule for all articles and videos: Never ever read the comment section.
Rich guys think they can get away with stuff like this.”
“He was going to rape that girl! Lucky that hero stepped in.”
“Daddy Warbucks should get life in jail. Period.”
“I bet Richie Rich gets off. If he was black, he would have been shot.”
“That guy who saved that girl is so brave. If the mayor lets this rich guy buy his way to freedom.”
“Good news,” Hester said. “You do have a few fans.” She took the phone, scrolled down, pointed.
“The homeless guy is probably on food stamps. Congrats to the suit for cleaning up the trash.”
“Maybe if that smelly meth bum gets a job instead of living off the dole, he won’t get decked.”
The profile avatars of his “supporters” had either eagles or American flags on them.
“Terrific,” Simon said. “The psychos are on my side.”
“Hey, don’t knock it. A few might be on the jury. Not that this is going to a jury. Or even a trial. Do me a favor.”
“Hit the Refresh button,” Hester said.
He wasn’t sure what she meant, so Hester reached across and hit the arrow at the top. The video reloaded. Hester pointed to the viewer count. It had jumped up from 289,000 views to 453,000 in the last, what, two minutes.
“Congrats,” Hester said. “You’re a viral hit.”
Simon stared out the window, letting the familiar green of the park blur in front of him. When the driver made the left off Central Park West onto West Sixty-Seventh Street, he heard Hester mutter, “Uh-oh.” Simon turned.
News vans were double-parked in front of his apartment. Maybe two dozen protestors stayed behind blue wooden-horse barriers that read:
POLICE LINE—DO NOT CROSS
“Where’s your wife?” Hester asked.
Ingrid. He had completely forgotten about her or what her reaction might be to all this. He also realized that he had no idea what time it was. He checked his watch. Five thirty p.m.
“She’s a pediatrician, right?”
He nodded. “At New York–Presbyterian at 168th Street.”
“What time does she finish?”
“Does she drive home?”
“She takes the subway.”
“Call her. Tim will pick her up. Where are your kids?”
“I don’t know.”
“Call them too. The firm has an apartment in midtown. You guys can stay there tonight.”
“We can get a hotel.”
Hester shook her head. “They’ll find you if you do that. The apartment will be better, and it’s not like we don’t charge.”
He said nothing.
“This too shall pass, Simon, if we don’t feed the fire. By tomorrow, the next day at the latest, the loonies will all be on to the newest outrage. America has zero attention span.”
He called Ingrid, but with her working in the emergency room today, it went directly into her voicemail. Simon left her a detailed message. Then he called Sam, who already knew all about it.
Sam said, “The video’s gotten over a million hits.” His son seemed both startled and impressed. “I can’t believe you punched out Aaron.” Then he repeated: “You.”
“I was just trying to get to your sister.”
“Everyone’s making it sound like you’re some rich bully.”
“That’s not what happened.”
“Yeah I know.”
“So this driver, Tim, will pick you up—”
“That’s okay. I’ll stay with the Bernsteins.”
“Are you sure?”
“Is it okay with his parents?”
“Larry says it’s no problem. I’ll just go home with him after practice.”
“Okay, if you think that’s best.”
“It’ll just be easier.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. If you change your mind though . . .”
“Right, got it.” Then Sam said in a softer voice, “I saw . . . I mean, Paige in that video . . . she looked . . .” More silence.
“Yeah,” Simon said. “I know.”
Simon tried his daughter Anya three times. No answer. Eventually he saw on his caller ID that she was calling him back. When he picked up though, it wasn’t Anya on the line.
“Hey, Simon, it’s Suzy Fiske.”
Suzy lived two floors below him. Her daughter Delia had been going to the same schools as Anya since Montessori when they were both three.
“Is Anya okay?” he asked.
“Oh, she’s fine. I mean, don’t worry or anything. She’s just really upset. You know, about that video.”
“She saw it?”
“Yeah, you know Alyssa Edwards? She was showing it to all the parents during pickup, but the kids had already . . . you know how it is. All the tongues wagging.”
He did. “Can you put Anya on, please?”
“I don’t think that’s a great idea, Simon.”
I don’t give a shit what you think, he thought, but wisely enough—learning curve after his earlier outburst?—he didn’t actually say it out loud.
This wasn’t Suzy’s fault anyway.
He cleared his throat and aimed for his calmest tone. “Could you please ask Anya to get on the line?”
“I can try, Simon, sure.” She must have turned away from the phone, because the sound was tinnier now, more distant. “Anya, your dad would like . . . Anya?” Now all sound was muffled. Simon waited. “She just keeps shaking her head. Look, Simon, she can stay here as long as you need. Maybe you can try later or maybe Ingrid could give her a call when she’s off work.”
There was indeed no reason to push it. “Thanks, Suzy.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“I appreciate your help.”
He pressed the End button. Hester sat next to him, staring straight ahead with her ice cream sandwich.
“I bet you wish you’d taken that ice cream when I offered it to you, right?” Then: “Tim?”
“You have that extra ice cream in the cooler?”
“I do.” He handed it back to her.
Hester took out the sandwich and showed it to him.
Simon said, “You’re billing me for the ice creams, aren’t you?”
“Not me personally.”
She shrugged. “Why do you think I push them so hard?”
Hester handed the ice cream to Simon. He took a bite, and for a few seconds, it was better.
But that didn’t last.
The law firm apartment was located in a business tower one floor beneath Hester’s office, and it showed. The carpets were beige. The furniture was beige. The walls were beige. The accent pillows . . . beige.
“Great interior decorating, don’t you think?” Hester said.
“Nice if you like beige.”
“The politically correct term is ‘earth tones.’”
“Earth tones,” Simon said. “Like dirt.”
Hester liked that one. “I call it Early American Generic.” Her phone buzzed. She checked the text. “Your wife is on her way. I’ll bring her up when she arrives.”
Hester left. Simon risked a peek at his phone. There were too many messages and missed phone calls. He skipped them all except the ones from Yvonne, both his partner at PPG Wealth Management and Ingrid’s sister. He owed her some sort of explanation. So he texted her:
I’m fine. Long story.
He saw the little dots showing Yvonne was writing him back:
Anything we can do?
No. Might need coverage tomorrow.
I’ll fill you in when I can.
Yvonne’s reply was some comforting emojis telling him that there was no pressure and that all would be good.
He scanned the rest of the messages.
None from Ingrid.
For a few minutes he paced around the apartment’s beige carpeting, checked out the view from the windows, sat on a beige couch, stood again, paced some more. He let the calls go to voice- mail until he saw one coming in from Anya’s school. When he picked it up and said, “Hello,” the caller sounded startled.
“Oh,” a voice Simon recognized as belonging to Ali Karim, the principal of Abernathy Academy, said, “I didn’t expect you to answer.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Anya is fine. This isn’t about her.”
“Okay,” Simon said. Ali Karim was one of those academics who wore it—tweed blazers with patches on the elbow, unruly mutton- chops on the sides of his face, balding with too-long shocks of hair on the crown. “So what can I do for you, Ali?”
“This is a bit sensitive.”
“It’s about the parent charity ball next month.” Simon waited.
“As you know, the committee is meeting tomorrow night.”
“I do know,” Simon said. “Ingrid and I are co-chairs.”
“Yes. About that.”
Simon felt his hand tighten around the phone. The principal wanted him to say something, to dive into the silence. Simon didn’t.
“Some of the parents feel it’s best you not come tomorrow.”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Simon, don’t make this harder than it has to be. They’re upset about that video.”
“Aww,” Simon said.
“Is that all, Ali?”
“Uh, not exactly.”
Again he waited for Simon to fill the silence. Again Simon didn’t.
“As you know, the charity ball this year is raising funds for the Coalition for the Homeless. In light of the recent developments, we feel that perhaps you and Ingrid shouldn’t continue as co-chairs.”
“What recent developments?”
“Come on, Simon.”
“He wasn’t homeless. He’s a drug dealer.”
“I don’t know about that—”
“I know you don’t,” Simon said. “It’s why I’m telling you.”
“—but perception is often more important than reality.”
“Perception is often more important than reality,” Simon repeated. “Is this what you guys teach the kids?”
“This is about doing what’s best for the charity.”
“The ends justify the means, eh?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You’re some educator, Ali.”
“It seems that I offended you.”
“More like disappointed, but okay, whatever. Just send us back our check.”
“You didn’t make us co-chairs because of our winning personalities. You made us co-chairs because we donated big bucks for this ball.” He and Ingrid hadn’t given the money strictly because they believed in the cause. Things like this—it’s rarely about the cause. The cause is a by-product. It’s about sucking up to the school and the administrators like Ali Karim. If you want to support a cause, support a cause. Do you really need the enticement of some boring rubber-salmon dinner where you honor a random rich guy to get you to do the right thing? “Now that we’re no longer co-chairs . . .”
Ali’s tone was incredulous. “You want to take back your charitable donation?”
“Yep. I’d prefer if you overnighted the check, but if you want to send it two-day express, that’s fine too. Have a great day, Ali.”
He hung up and chucked the phone onto the beige pillow on the beige couch. He’d still give the money to the charity—he couldn’t be that much of a hypocrite—just not via the school’s fundraising ball.
When he turned around, Ingrid and Hester were standing there, watching him.
“Personal rather than legal advice,” Hester said. “Don’t engage with anyone for a few hours, okay? People have a tendency to be rash and stupid under this kind of pressure. Not you, of course. But better safe than sorry.”
Simon stared at Ingrid. His wife was tall with a regal bearing, high cheekbones, short blonde-to-gray hair that always looked in vogue. In college she’d worked a bit as a model, her look described as “aloof, icy Scandinavian,” and that was still probably the first impression, which made her career choice—pediatrician who needed to be warm with kids—a bit of an anomaly. But kids never saw her that way. They loved and trusted Ingrid immediately. It was uncanny, the way they saw straight to her heart.
Hester said, “I’ll leave you guys to it.”
She didn’t specify what “it” referred to, but maybe she didn’t have to. When they were alone, Ingrid shrugged a what-the-hell and Simon launched into the story.
“You knew where Paige was?” Ingrid asked.
“I told you. Charlie Crowley said something to me.”
“And you followed up. Then this other homeless guy, this Dave—”
“I don’t know if he’s homeless. I just know he runs the schedule for the musicians.”
“You really want to play semantics with me now, Simon?”
He did not.
“So this Dave . . . he told you that Paige was going to be there?”
“He thought she might, yes.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t know for sure. Why upset you if it was nothing?”
She shook her head.
“You never lie to me, Simon. It’s not what you do.”
That was true. He never lied to his wife and in a sense, he wasn’t lying here, not really, but he was shading the truth and that was bad enough.
“I’m sorry,” Simon said.
“You didn’t tell me because you were afraid I’d stop it.”
“In part,” Simon said.
“Because I’d have to tell you the rest of it. How I’d been searching for her.”
“Even though we both agreed that we wouldn’t?”
Technically he hadn’t agreed. Ingrid had more or less laid down the law, and Simon hadn’t objected, but now didn’t seem the time for that kind of nuance.
“I couldn’t. . . I couldn’t just let her go.”
“And what, you think I could?”
Simon said nothing.
“You think you hurt more than I do?”
“No, of course not.”
“Bullshit. You think I was being cold.”
He almost said, “No, of course not” again, but didn’t part of him think that?
“What was your plan, Simon? Rehab again?”
Ingrid closed her eyes. “How many times did we try . . . ?”
“One time too few. That’s all. One time too few.”
“You’re not helping. Paige has to come to it on her own. Don’t you see that? I didn’t ‘let her go’”—Ingrid spat out the words— “because I don’t love her anymore. I let her go because she’s gone—and we can’t bring her back. Do you hear me? We can’t. Only she can.”
Simon collapsed on the couch. Ingrid sat next to him. After some time passed, she rested her head on his shoulder.
“I tried,” Simon said.
“And I messed up.”
Ingrid pulled him close. “It’ll be okay.”
He nodded, even as he knew it wouldn’t be, not ever.
Three Months Later
Simon sat across from Michelle Brady in his spacious office on the thirty-eighth floor directly across the street from where the World Trade Center towers once stood. He had
seen the towers fall on that terrible day, but he never talked about it. He never watched the documentaries or news updates or anniversary specials. He simply couldn’t go there. In the distance on the right, over the water, you could see the Statue of Liberty. It was small out there, dwarfed by all the closer high-rises, bobbing alone in the water, but she looked fierce, torch held high, a green beacon, and while Simon had long grown tired of most of his view—no matter how spectacular, if you see the same thing every day, it grows stale—the Statue of Liberty never failed to offer comfort.
“I’m so grateful,” Michelle said with tears in her eyes. “You’ve been a good friend to us.”
He wasn’t a friend, not really. He was a financial advisor, she his client. But her words touched him. It was what he wanted to hear, how he himself viewed his job. Then again, wasn’t he a friend?
Twenty-five years ago, after the birth of Rick and Michelle Brady’s first child, Elizabeth, Simon had set up a custodial account so that Rick and Michelle could start saving for college.
Twenty-three years ago, he helped them structure a mortgage for their first home.
Twenty-one years ago, he got their paperwork and affairs in order so they could adopt their daughter Mei from China.
Twenty years ago, he helped Rick finance a loan to start a specialized printing service that now served clients in all fifty states.
Eighteen years ago, he helped Michelle set up her first art studio.
Over the years, Simon and Rick talked about business expansion, about direct depositing paychecks, about whether he should become a C corporation and what retirement plan would work best, about whether he should lease or buy a car, about whether private school for the girls would be affordable or too big a stretch. They talked investments, portfolio balance, the company payroll, the cost of family vacations, the purchase of the fishing cabin by the lake, a kitchen upgrade. They had set up 529 accounts and reviewed estate plans.
Two years ago, Simon helped Rick and Michelle figure out the best way to pay for Elizabeth’s wedding. Simon had gone, of course. There had been lots of tears on that day as Rick and Michelle watched their daughter walk down the aisle.
A month ago, Simon ended up sitting in the same pew in the same church for Rick’s funeral.
Now Simon was helping Michelle, still reeling from losing her life partner, learn how to do the little things she’d left Rick to handle: balancing a checkbook, setting up charge cards, seeing what funds had been in joint and separate accounts, not to mention how to keep the business running or decide whether they should sell.
“I’m just glad we can help,” Simon said.
“Rick prepared for this,” she said.
“Like he knew. I mean, he always seemed so healthy. Were there any health issues he hid from me? Did he know, do you think?”
Simon shook his head. “I don’t, no.”
Rick had died of a massive coronary at age fifty-eight. Simon wasn’t an attorney or an insurance agent, but part of being someone’s wealth manager was to prepare the estate for any eventuality. So he talked about it with Rick. Like most men his age, Rick had been reluctant to consider his own mortality.
Simon felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He had a strict rule: No interruption when he was with clients. Not to get highfalutin about it, but when people came to this office, they wanted to talk about something that meant a great deal to them.
Pooh-pooh it all you want. Money may not buy happiness, but. . . well, nonsense. Money, pretty much more than anything else you might be able to control, can conjure up and elevate that elusive ideal we call happiness. Money eases stress. It provides better education, better food, better doctors—some level of peace of mind. Money provides comfort and freedom. Money buys you experiences and conveniences and most of all, money buys you time, which, Simon had realized, was right up there with family and health.
If you believe that—and even if you don’t—the person you chose to handle your finances was up there with choosing a doctor or clergyman, though Simon would argue that your wealth manager was even more involved in your daily life. You work hard. You save. You plan. There are virtually no major life decisions you make that are not in some way based on your finances.
It was an awesome responsibility when you stepped back and thought about it.
Michelle Brady deserved his undivided attention and complete focus. So the pocket phone-buzz was a signal that something important was up.
He surreptitiously glanced at the computer screen. A message had come up from their new assistant, Khalil:
A POLICE DETECTIVE IS HERE TO SEE YOU.
He stared at the message long enough for Michelle to notice.
“You okay?” she asked him.
“I’m fine. It’s just . . .” “What?”
“Something has come up.”
“Oh,” Michelle said. “I can come back . . .”
“Can you just give me two seconds to . . . ?” He gestured toward the phone on his desk.
Simon lifted the receiver and pressed Khalil’s line.
“A Detective Isaac Fagbenle is on his way up to see you.”
“He’s in the elevator?”
“Keep him in reception until I tell you.”
“Do you have the credit card forms filled out for Mrs. Brady?”
“Have her sign them. Make sure that the cards are issued for her and Mei today. Show her how the automatic payment works.”
“I should be done by then.”
Simon hung up the phone and met Michelle’s eyes. “I’m really sorry about this interruption.”
“It’s okay,” she said.
No, it wasn’t. “You know about my, uh, situation from a few months ago.”
She nodded. Everyone knew. Simon had joined the pantheon of viral video villains, up there with the dentist who shot the lion and the racist lawyer who had the meltdown. The morning shows on ABC, NBC, and CBS had fun with it the day after it happened. Cable news too. As Hester Crimstein had predicted, the notoriety had burned hot for a few days and then quickly faded to near oblivion by the end of the month. The video shot up to 8 million views in the first week. Now, nearly three months later, it was still short of 8.5.
“What about it?” Michelle asked.
Maybe he shouldn’t go there. Then again, maybe he should. “There’s a cop on his way up here to see me.”
If you expect your clients to open up to you, well, was it fair to make that street one-way? It wasn’t Michelle’s business, of course, except that now he was interrupting her time and so he felt that she had the right to know.
“Rick said the charges were dropped.”
Hester had been right about that too. There had been no sign of either Aaron or Paige in the past three months, and with no victim, there was no case. It also didn’t hurt that Simon was fairly well-off or that Aaron Corval, as Simon soon found out to his chagrin if not surprise, had a fairly extensive criminal record. Hester and the Manhattan DA made a deal quietly, away from prying eyes.
Nothing signed, of course. No obvious quid pro quo. Nothing so gauche. But then again, hey, there was a fundraising campaign coming up, if Simon and Ingrid wanted to attend. Principal Karim had also reached out two weeks after the incident. He didn’t directly apologize but wanted to offer his support, reminding Simon that the Greenes were part of the Abernathy Academy “family.” Simon was all set to tell him to go fuck off, but Ingrid reminded him that Anya would be entering her freshman year there soon, so Simon smiled and returned the check and life continued.
The one small caveat was that the Manhattan DA wanted to wait a bit before he officially dropped the charges. The incident needed to be far enough in the rearview mirror that the media wouldn’t notice or ask too many questions about privilege or any of that.
“Do you know why the police are here?” Michelle asked.
“No,” Simon said.
“You should probably call your attorney.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Michelle stood. “I’ll leave you to it.”
“I’m really sorry about this.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Simon’s office had a glass wall looking into the cubicles. Khalil walked by and Simon nodded for him to come in.
“Khalil will get you all set with the paperwork. When I’m done with this police officer—”
“Just take care of yourself,” Michelle said.
She shook his hand across the desk. Khalil escorted her out. Simon took a deep breath. He picked up his phone and called Hester Crimstein’s office. She got on the line fast.
“Articulate,” Hester said.
“That’s how a friend answers his phone. Never mind. What’s up?”
“A cop is here to see me.”
“Where is here?”
“No, Hester, this is a prank call.”
“Great, wiseasses are my favorite clients.”
“What should I do?”
“Asswipes,” she said.
“Those asswipes know I’m your attorney of record. They shouldn’t approach you without calling me first.”
“So what should I do?”
“I’m on my way. Don’t talk to him. Or her. I don’t want to be sexist here.”
“It’s a him,” Simon said. “I thought the DA was dropping the charges—that they had no case.”
“They are and they don’t. Sit tight. Don’t say a word.”
There was a gentle knock on his door and Yvonne Previdi, In- grid’s sister, slid into his office. Yvonne, his sister-in-law, was not quite as beautiful as her model sister—or was that bias on Simon’s part?—but way more fashion obsessed, Yvonne wore a pink pencil skirt with a sleeveless cream blouse and four-inch, gold-studded Valentino pumps.
He had met Yvonne before Ingrid, when they were both in the training program at Merrill Lynch. They had become instant best friends. That was twenty-six years ago. Not long after they finished their training, Yvonne’s father, Bart Previdi, had taken two partners into his growing firm—his daughter Yvonne and his not- yet son-in-law Simon Greene.
PPG Wealth Management—the P’s in the name stood for the two Previdis, the G stood for Greene.
Motto: We Are Honest But Not Very Creative With Names.
“What’s up with the hot cop?” Yvonne asked.
Yvonne and Robert had four kids and lived in the tony New Jersey suburb of Short Hills. For a short time, Simon and Ingrid had tried the suburbs too, moving from their Upper West Side apartment to a center-hall colonial, right after Sam’s birth. They did that because that’s what you did. You lived in the city until you had a kid or two and then you moved out to a nice house with a picket fence and a backyard and good schools and lots of sports facilities. But Simon and Ingrid didn’t like the suburbs. They missed the obvious: the stimulation, the bustle, the noise. You take a walk at night in the big city, there is always something to see. You take a walk at night in the suburbs . . . well, nada. All that open space—the hushed backyards, the endless soccer fields, the town pools, the Little League diamonds—it was all so damned claustrophobic. The quiet wore on them. So did the commute. After giving it two full years, they moved back into Manhattan.
A mistake in hindsight?
You could make yourself crazy with such questions, but Simon didn’t think so. If anything, the bored kids out in the burbs were acting out and experimenting more than their urban counterparts. And Paige had been fine in high school. It was when she left the big city for the rural-ensconced college—that was when the problems had started.
Or maybe that was rationalization. Who knows?
“You saw him?” Simon asked.
Yvonne nodded. “He just got to reception. Why’s he here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you call Hester?” “Yes. She’s on her way.”
“He’s awfully good-looking.”
“The cop. Looks like he should be on the cover of GQ.”
Simon nodded. “That’s good to know, thanks.”
“You want me to take care of Michelle?”
“Khalil’s on it, but you might want to look in on her.”
Yvonne turned to leave, when a tall black man in a sleek gray suit suddenly blocked the doorway. “Mr. Greene?”
Yep, right out of GQ. The suit didn’t look so much tailored as birthed, created, cultivated for him and only him. It fit like some tight superhero suit or like a second skin. His build was rock solid. He sported a shaved head and perfectly trimmed facial hair and big hands and everything about the guy just screamed “cooler than you.”
Yvonne gave Simon a nod that said, “See what I mean?”
“I’m Detective Isaac Fagbenle with the NYPD.”
“You shouldn’t be back here,” Simon said.
He flashed a smile so dazzling Yvonne took a step back. “Yeah, well, I’m not here for a standard appointment, am I?” He took out his badge. “I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Yvonne didn’t move.
“Hi,” he said to her.
Yvonne waved, speechless for once. Simon frowned.
“I’m waiting for my attorney,” Simon said.
“Would that be Hester Crimstein?”
Isaac Fagbenle crossed the office and sat uninvited in the chair across from Simon. “She’s good.”
“One of the best, I hear.”
“Right. And she wouldn’t want us talking.”
Fagbenle arched an eyebrow and crossed his legs. “No?”
“So you’re refusing to talk to me?”
“I’m not refusing. I’m waiting for my attorney to be present.”
“So you won’t talk to me right now?”
“Like I said, I’m going to wait for my attorney.”
“And you just expect me to do the same?”
There was an edge in his voice now. Simon glanced at Yvonne.
She’d heard it too.
“Is that what you’re telling me, Simon? Is that your final answer?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, are you really refusing to talk to me?”
“Only until my attorney gets here.”
Isaac Fagbenle sighed, uncrossed his legs, and stood back up. “Buh-bye then.”
“You can wait in reception.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
“She should be here soon.”
“Simon? Can I call you Simon, by the way?”
“You take good care of your clients, don’t you?”
Simon glanced at Yvonne, then back to Fagbenle. “We try.”
“I mean, you don’t waste their money, right?”
“I’m the same. My clients, you see, are the taxpayers of the city of New York. I’m not going to waste their hard-earned dollars reading financial magazines in your reception area. Do you understand?”
Simon said nothing.
“When you and your attorney are available, you can come down to the precinct.”
Fagbenle smoothed down his suit, reached into his jacket pocket, and plucked out a business card. He handed it to Simon.
Simon read the card and saw something that surprised him. “The Bronx?”
“It says your precinct is in the Bronx.”
“That’s right. Sometimes you guys in Manhattan forget that New York has five boroughs. There’s the Bronx and Queens and—”
“But the assault”—Simon stopped, hit rewind—“the alleged assault took place in Central Park. That’s in Manhattan.”
“Yep, true,” Isaac Fagbenle said, flashing the dazzling smile again, “but the murder? That took place in the Bronx.”
Excerpted from Run Away copyright © 2019 Harlan Coben. All rights reserved.