David Rosenfelt Excerpt: Fade to Black
In Fade to Black, the thrilling sequel to Blackout from David Rosenfelt, Policeman Doug Brock helps a fellow victim of amnesia untangle a murder case and discovers he may not be as distant as he thinks (available March 13, 2018).
After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. He’s reunited with his fiancé and started to get some of his memories back. He hopes he can continue to recover with the help of an amnesia support group and that the damage from his past isn’t permanent.
It isn’t until fellow group member Sean Conner approaches him after a meeting that Doug realizes the trouble is just beginning. Sean has discovered in his attic what can only be called a scrapbook of a murder victim, but he has no recollection of the girl’s identity or why he might have gathered this information. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open what had been a cold case. When he discovers that he had a personal connection to this case, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about the case, about Sean, and about his own past.
“Doug, my name is Sean Connor. Can I talk to you about something?”
IT’S ONE OF THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE AMNESIA RECOVERY group, coming up to me after our meeting. I’ve seen him here a couple of times, but he’s been quiet.
I’m not thrilled with the request. I’m sort of talked out right now when it comes to memory loss, and I’m sure that’s what this is about. My hero status in the media has made me something of a celebrity in the group, when I’d much rather be anonymous. I’ve been thinking of bailing out of the group entirely; I feel worse when I leave a session than when I went in. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way.
“You mean now?” I ask. “Because I really need to get home.”
“No, not now. There’s something I have to show you, and I don’t have it with me.”
“Okay. Maybe before the next meeting?”
“I was hoping that maybe we could meet somewhere away from here. It’s pretty important, and I want to keep it private.”
He seems nervous about making the request, and I’m feeling a little bad for him. “What’s it about, Sean?”
“I really can’t say right now; you need to see what I have. But I wouldn’t be asking unless . . .”
I finish the sentence for him. “ . . . it was important.”
He smiles a nervous smile. “Yeah. I promise I’m not going to waste your time, although in a way I hope I am.”
That’s a little cryptic, but I don’t really want an explanation right now. “Okay, Sean, but I don’t know any more about this stuff than you do. I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to figure it out.”
He shakes his head again. “It’s not about memory loss. Well, it is, in a way, but that’s not why I’m coming to you.” He pauses for a moment, as if trying to decide whether to go on. Finally, “I’m talking to you because you’re a police officer.”
I don’t feel like I should be asking more questions; it seems like he’s going to let the information dribble out when and where he wants to. I’m also not all that interested. “When would you like to talk, Sean?”
“I was thinking tomorrow, maybe eight in the morning?”
I tell him that’s fine with me, and we make a plan to meet at a small coffee shop that he says is near his house in Clifton. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this,” he says, “no matter how it turns out.”
Nate Alvarez is waiting for me across the street when I come out.
HE IS STILL PARKED IN HIS UNMARKED POLICE CAR, IN FRONT OF the Dunkin’ Donuts, just where he was when I went in. He is finishing off a cup of coffee as I get in the car.
“You been talking all this time?” Nate asks.
“It seemed longer in there, believe me. But mostly I’ve been listening. You didn’t have to drive me here and wait like this.”
“I got nothing else to do; I’m off today.” He points to the Dunkin’ Donuts. “You want some coffee?”
“I’m gonna get another cup.”
“There are a lot of donuts in there,” I point out. “It’s a danger zone. Might be safer to use the drive-through.” Nate is six foot three and two hundred and eighty pounds, and is always claiming to be on a diet. If that’s true; it has been the least successful diet in history.
“No problem,” Nate says. “I was in there before. Just coffee all the way; no donuts for me. It’s a mind-over-matter situation.”
“I think matter might have won the last round. You’ve got powdered sugar on your face.”
Nate is caught in the act, and the fact that he quickly wipes his face cannot erase his guilt. Instead, he angrily goes on the offensive. “It’s goddamn entrapment in there. They advertise coffee, and then they practically shove those donuts in your face when you walk in. We should shut them down.”
“It’s called Dunkin’ Donuts, Nate.”
“I know what it’s called.”
“I was just pointing out that you’re on a diet.”
“That you remember?” he asks. “Everything else you forget, but when it comes to my diet, you’ve got total recall? My diet is going fine; you don’t have to worry about it.”
“I know. You’re looking great. How much have you lost?”
“You mean on a scale?” Nate asks, obviously scoffing at the idea. “I don’t worry about scales; they don’t mean anything, and those digital ones are the worst. I don’t let scales run my life; they’re up and down. I go by distance from the wheel.”
“What does that mean?”
Nate points to his stomach. “You see that? Last month my stomach was right up against the steering wheel; now look how far away it is. You can drive a truck through that space.”
“Did you push the seat back?”
“You know, I liked the old you a lot better. How was the loony group today?”
“They are not loony. We are all having memory issues.”
“Well, excuse me. Then how was the shrink this morning?”
“I wait out here for almost an hour and you give me ‘it’s personal’?”
He shakes his head. “Shrink in the morning, loony group in the afternoon. What’s on tap for tonight, yoga? Meditation?”
“I’m going to watch a basketball game, but thanks for asking.”
“You coming back to work?”
I nod. “I am. Tomorrow. After breakfast.”
“It’s about time.” Then, “Where am I dropping you?”
“What the hell does she see in you?” he asks.
I shrug. “To tell you the truth, I don’t remember.”
“Let me know if you find out.” Then, “Although you must have something going for you; I wouldn’t risk going into a Dunkin’ Donuts for anyone else.”
Jessie’s not home from work yet when I get there, but I have a key, so I let myself in. Her work and office are the same as mine used to be, and will be again starting tomorrow. She’s a state police lieutenant, in charge of the cyber division, and she supervises all electronic surveillance as well.
It’s not an assignment that thrills her. She used to be a regular cop, out on the street, but had the smarts and misfortune to show an aptitude for computers and technology. Since we were not exactly an operation full of officers with that or a similar talent, she just naturally eased into the job. She’d rather be back out in the action, but I think down deep recognizes her value where she is.
We’re not officially living together; she’s still in this house, and I have my apartment in Hackensack. But I’m spending more and more nights here, especially since we got engaged, and this is probably where we’ll live once we’re married.
Of course, I don’t know when that will be; Jessie hasn’t had the guts to agree on a date yet, so I’m not sure it’s even an official engagement. We’re sort of engaged to be engaged; we have a commitment to make a commitment.
Even though I’ve been spending so much time here, I still enter warily. That’s because Jessie’s dog, Bobo, doesn’t seem thrilled by my being around. He’s never been aggressive toward me; he just stares at me with a barely concealed disdain.
I like dogs very much, so ordinarily Bobo’s attitude would be something I would just take in stride and gradually overcome. But the thing about Bobo is that he’s enormous. Jessie says that he’s a Newfie mix, and while I’m sure that’s true, he must be mixed with brontosaurus. He looks like a refrigerator with hair.
He grudgingly agrees to let me take him for a walk, which I do pretty regularly when Jessie is not home. I never know whether to use a leash or a saddle, because I think there’s a decent chance Bobo could win the third race at Santa Anita.
When we get back, I feed him, in a vain attempt to get on his good side. Then he goes to sleep, only awakening when he hears Jessie come to the door. He loves Jessie, which is the one thing Bobo and I have in common.
Jessie is all smiles, and we chat about meaningless stuff while she avoids asking me the question she most wants to ask. Finally, as we’re getting ready to go to bed, she blurts it out, while trying to sound casual.
“How did it go with Pamela?”
“Fantastic. I’m completely cured.”
“Doug . . .”
“I talked, she listened. Then she talked and I listened. We had a blast.”
“Don’t expect too much too soon,” she says.
I laugh. “Believe me, there’s no danger of that.”
“Do you still remember that you love me?”
“Absolutely. But I’m having trouble remembering why.”
“Maybe I should show you,” she says.
“Maybe you should.”
So she does.
And another great new memory is created.
Sean Connor is waiting for me when I arrive at the coffee shop.
HE’S SITTING AT A TABLE NEAR THE BACK, WHILE THE HALF-dozen other diners in the place are up near the front. That will give us some privacy, which is what I think Sean wants. He looks even more nervous than he did yesterday; what he has to say may turn out to not be a big deal to me, but it certainly is to him.
“Hey, thanks for coming,” he says, standing slightly and then sitting back down when I get there.
“No problem.” I take the chair across from him and pick up the menu. “What’s good here?”
“What?” he asks, as if surprised by the question. I have a feeling he never actually considered the possibility that we might be eating breakfast at our breakfast meeting.
“What’s good to eat? Have you been here before?”
“Oh . . . sure. Everything’s good.” Then, “Get the pancakes.”
I don’t ever have to be convinced to get pancakes, so I don’t even bother to look at the menu. The waitress comes over with some much-needed coffee, and I order blueberry pancakes.
“Short stack or full?” she asks.
“I don’t know; I haven’t fully thought it through.”
She takes a step back and looks at my body, focusing on my stomach. “You look like you can handle the full.”
I laugh. “Okay, thanks. That’s the best compliment I’ll have all day. Go for it. But sugar-free syrup.”
Sean says he’s good with just coffee, and she frowns slightly but goes off to put in the order.
“So what’s on your mind, Sean?”
“I know you’re doing me a favor by coming here, and I appreciate it more than you could know . . . but I need some assurance first.”
“Assurance of what?” I ask.
“Confidentiality. I need you to promise that my name will not be attached to this, that you will not mention my involvement to anyone.”
“Sean, if you’re confessing to a crime, I can’t give that to you. I’m not your priest or your lawyer. So if that’s the case, you might want to reconsider.”
“I understand that. I’m not confessing to a crime, and if you find out that I committed one, you’re free to do with it whatever you want. But until that point, my name stays out of it. Please.”
I can’t imagine where he’s going with this, but it’s getting interesting. “Fair enough.”
“Thank you. Does the name Rita Carlisle mean anything to you?”
I think for a moment. I have that disconcerting feeling again, the one where it feels like something is familiar, and I should know it, but I don’t.
“Not at the moment, no.”
“She went missing three years ago, and was never found. It was a big case around here.”
I’m searching my memory bank, which in terms of size is not exactly Goldman Sachs. I come up with nothing. “It must be in one of my blank periods,” I say. Since it happened three years ago, and my memory loss covers the last ten years, I’m not surprised.
He smiles a humorless smile. “Believe me, I understand.” He pulls a briefcase from near his feet up onto the table. I hadn’t noticed it was there. He opens it and takes out what seems to be a newspaper clipping, and puts it in front of me. “Here’s a picture of her.”
It’s a story about the kidnapping, and the photo is of a young, pretty woman. It looks like it could be a college graduation photo, or maybe one that was originally part of a marriage announcement.
I look at it and don’t say anything, and he starts taking out other clippings. “Here’s another . . . and another . . . and another.” They’re all stories about the kidnapping.
“What about her?” I ask, looking through them.
“I’m hoping you can tell me, that you can find out what’s going on. But I’m getting ahead of myself,” he says.
“Yes, I think you are.”
“If there are levels of memory loss, I have it worse than you,” he continues. “I remember almost nothing about the last four years of my life. It’s a clean slate. I’ve pieced a lot together, of course. I had a very good job; I was a financial counselor, and I made a lot of money. I lived in Westchester.”
“Why did you move here?”
He points to the briefcase. “I’m getting there. After my accident—I was in a car accident and suffered a head injury, that’s how I lost my memory. Once I came to terms with my condition, I spent a lot of time and effort learning as much as I could about myself. I’m sure you know how that is.”
I nod, because I certainly know how that is, and he continues.
“I actually searched my own house to look for clues, and at one point I went into the attic. There was a lot of junk up there, but I went through it all. Eventually I found this; it was in a plastic bag, tucked under some things. Almost like it was hidden. Sorry . . . exactly like it was hidden.”
He takes what looks like a scrapbook out of the briefcase and puts it in front of me. I slowly turn the pages, but I already know what I am going to find. Every page is another media story about the Rita Carlisle kidnapping; whoever put this together, and I have to assume it was Sean, was obsessed with the case.
“Did you know her?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I have no memory of it.”
“You want me to take this?” I ask, meaning the scrapbook.
He shakes his head. “I’d rather hold onto it for now, if you don’t mind.”
“Is this all you have that connects yourself to this woman?”
He shakes his head. “There’s one more thing. Apparently she was at a bar in Paramus with her boyfriend the night she disappeared. They had a fight, and she stormed off.”
“I went back over my credit card records; I was there that night. The bill is a small one, probably just two drinks, or a drink and an appetizer, so I was probably alone. But obviously I can’t know that for sure.”
“Maybe that’s why you became obsessed with the case.”
“Maybe,” he says, obviously doubtful about it. “Or maybe I had a more direct involvement.”
“That’s unlikely, Sean. You were there, you saw her, then you read about what happened and it hit you really hard that she went missing. So you followed it closely, you clipped out articles. These kind of things happen all the time.”
“I clipped the articles and then hid them in my attic? Why would I do that? I wish I could believe you.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” I ask, although I already know the answer.
“You’re a cop, and you also understand what I’m going through with my memory loss. I want you to find out if I kidnapped that poor woman. And if I did, I want to pay the price for it.”