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Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep 3


  Move! orders my father’s voice. While they’re still confused.

  Retracing my steps to the exhibition room is easy; I simply follow the babble of conversation echoing through the empty halls. The men are still milling around, talking about me, no doubt, the Sleeping Woman who isn’t sleeping and certainly isn’t dead. I feel no fear as I approach them. Somewhere between the document room and this place labeled “Nude Women in Repose,” I shoved my sister into a dark memory hole and became the woman who has covered wars on four continents—my father’s daughter.

  With my sudden reappearance, the Chinese draw together in excited knots. A museum guard is questioning two of them, trying to find out what happened. I walk brazenly past him and shoot two pictures of the woman in the bathtub. The flash of the little Canon sets off a blast of irate Chinese. Moving quickly through the room, I shoot two more paintings before the guard gets a hand on my arm. I turn to him and nod as though I understand, then break away toward the painting of Jane. I get off one shot before he blows his whistle for help and locks onto my arm again, this time with both hands.

  Sometimes you can b.s. your way out of situations like this. This is not one of those times. If I’m still standing here when Someone In Authority arrives, I’ll never get out of the museum with my film. I double the guard over with a well-placed knee and run like hell for the second time.

  The police whistle sounds again, though this time with a faint bleat. I skid to a stop on the waxed floor, backpedal to a fire door, and crash through to the outside, leaving a wake of alarms behind me. For the first time I’m glad for the teeming crowds of Hong Kong; even a roundeye woman can disappear in less than a minute. Three hundred yards from the museum, I hail a taxi and order him not to the Star Ferry, which someone might remember me boarding, but through the tunnel that crosses beneath the harbor.

  Back on the Hong Kong side, we race to my hotel. I’m staying at the Mandarin, which is too expensive for me but has great sentimental value. As a child, I received several letters from my father on its stationery. Inside my room, I throw my clothes into my suitcase, pack my cameras into their aluminum flight cases, and take a different cab to the new airport. I intend to be out of Chinese airspace before some enterprising cop figures out that, while they may not have my name, they have a perfect likeness of my face on their museum wall. They could have flyers at the airport and the hotels in less than an hour. I’m not sure why they would—I’ve committed no crime, other than stealing a Walkman—but I’ve been arrested for less before, and in the paranoid world of the Hong Kong Chinese, my behavior around multimillion-dollar paintings would make me an excellent candidate for “temporary detention.”

  Hong Kong International Airport is a babel of Asian languages and rushing travelers. I have a reservation on an Air China flight to Beijing, but that plane doesn’t leave for three hours. The departure screens show a Cathay Pacific flight leaving for New York in thirty-five minutes, with a two-hour layover at Narita in Tokyo. Presenting my worn passport at the Cathay counter, I let the ticket agent gut me for full fare on a first-class ticket. The money would buy a decent used car in the States, but after what happened in the museum, I can’t sit shoulder-to-shoulder with some computer salesman from Raleigh for twenty hours. That potential reality brings another to mind, and I ask the female agent if she can seat me next to a woman. On this day of all days, I cannot deal with being hit on, and twenty hours gives a guy a long time to strategize. Last year, on a flight from Seoul to Los Angeles, some drunk jerk actually asked if I wanted to go to the restroom with him and join the Mile High Club. I told him I was already a member, which was true. I’d joined nine years earlier, with my fiancé, in the cargo hold of a DC-3 somewhere over Namibia. Three days later, he was captured with some SWAPO guerrillas and beaten to death, which put me in an even more exclusive club: the Unofficial Widows. Now, at forty, I’m still single and still a member. The Cathay Pacific agent smiles knowingly and obliges my request.

  Which puts me where I am now: three scotches down and my short-term memory back in gear. The alcohol is serving several functions, one of them being to damp the embers of grief stirring at the bottom of my soul. But nineteen hours is a long time to hide from yourself. I have a supply of Xanax in my fanny pack, for the nights when the open wound of my sister’s unknown fate throbs too acutely for sleep. It’s throbbing now, and it’s not even full dark yet. Before I can second-guess myself, I pop three pills with a swallow of scotch and take the Airfone out of my armrest.

  There’s really only one useful thing I can do from the plane. After a few swipes of my Visa and some haggling with directory assistance, I’m speaking to the operator at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, who transfers me to the offices of the Investigative Support Unit. The ISU has more impressive digs than it once did, but Daniel Baxter, the chief of the unit, likes the bunker atmosphere of the old days, the era before Hollywood overexposure turned his unit into a myth that draws eager young college grads by the thousands. Baxter must be fifty now, but he’s a lean and hungry fifty, with a combat soldier’s eyes. That’s what I thought when I first saw him. A guy from the ranks who found himself an officer by default, the result of a battlefield promotion. But no one will ever question that promotion. His record of success is legendary in a war where victories are few and the defeats almost unbearable. To wit, my sister and her ten sisters in purgatory. Baxter’s unit scored a big zero on that one. But the grim fact is, when a certain kind of shit hits the fan, there’s no one else to call.

  “Baxter,” says a sharp baritone voice.

  “This is Jordan Glass,” I tell him, trying to hide the slur in my voice and not doing well at all. “Do you remember me?”

  “You’re hard to forget, Ms. Glass.”

  I take a quick swallow of scotch. “A little over an hour ago, I saw my sister in Hong Kong.”

  There’s a brief silence. “Are you drinking, Ms. Glass?”

  “Absolutely. But I know what I saw.”

  “You saw your sister.”

  “In Hong Kong. And now I’m in a 747, bound for New York.”

  “You’re saying you saw your sister alive?”

  “No.”

  “I’m not sure I understand.”

  I give Baxter as lucid a summary as I can manage of my experiences at the museum, then wait for his response. I expect some expression of astonishment—maybe not a Gomer Pyle “Shazam,” but something—but I should have known better.

  “Did you recognize any other New Orleans victims?” he asks.

  “No. But I never studied the photos of those beyond number six.”

  “You’re one hundred percent sure it was your sister’s face in that painting?”

  “Are you kidding? It’s my face, Baxter. My body, naked to the world.”

  “Okay . . . I believe you.”

  “Have you ever heard of these paintings?”

  “No. I’ll talk to our fine arts people in D.C. as soon as we get off. And we’ll start taking this Christopher Wingate’s life apart. When will you be in New York?”

  “Nineteen hours. Around five P.M. New York time.”

  “Try to get some sleep on the plane. I’m going to book you a flight here from JFK. American Airlines. It’ll be an e-ticket, just show your license or passport. I’ll drive up to Washington and meet you at the Hoover Building. I have to be up there tomorrow anyway, and that’s more convenient for you than Quantico. In fact, I’ll have an agent pick you up at Reagan Airport. Do you have any problem with that?”

  “Yes. I think they should have left it Washington National.”

  “Ms. Glass, are you all right?”

  “I’m great.”

  “You sound upset.”

  “Nothing pharmacological therapy won’t cure. Mixed with a little of Scotland’s finest.” A hysterical laugh escapes my lips. “I need to take the edge off. It’s been a tough day.”

  “I understand. But leave a little edge in place, okay? I need you sharp and thin
king.”

  “It’s nice to be needed.” I terminate the connection and replace the Airfone in the armrest.

  You didn’t need me thirteen months ago, I say silently. But that was then. Now things have changed. Now they’ll want me around until they get a handle on the significance of the paintings. Then they’ll cut me off again. Exclusion is the worst fate for a journalist, and a living hell for a victim’s family. Better not to think about that right now. Better to sleep. I’ve practically lived in the air for twenty years, and sleeping on planes was effortless until Jane disappeared. Now it takes a little help from my friends.

  As the chemical fog descends over my eyes, a last cogent spark flashes in my brain, and I take out the phone again. I’m in no state to hassle with directory assistance, so I plug into an entirely different connection. Ron Epstein works Page Six at the New York Post; he’s a human who’s who of the city. Like Daniel Baxter, he’s addicted to his work, which means he’s probably there now, despite the early hour in New York. When the Post operator puts me through to his section, he answers.

  “Ron? It’s Jordan Glass.”

  “Jordan! Where are you?”

  “On my way to New York.”

  He responds with a giggle. “I thought you were off in the hinterlands, taking pictures of clouds or something.”

  “I was.”

  “You must need something. You never call just to kibitz.”

  “Christopher Wingate. Ever heard of him?”

  “Naturellement. Very chic, very cool. He’s made Fifteenth Street the envy of SoHo. The old dealers kiss his ass now, and the more they do, the more he treats them like shit. Everyone wants Wingate to handle their stuff, but he’s very picky.”

  “What about the Sleeping Women?”

  A coo of admiration. “Aren’t you in the circle. Not many American collectors know about them yet.”

  “I want to see him. Wingate, I mean.”

  “To photograph him?”

  “I just want to talk to him.”

  “I’d say you have to stand in line, but he might just be intrigued enough to talk to you.”

  “Can you get me his phone number?”

  “If I can’t, no one can. But it may take a while. I know he’s not listed. He lives above his gallery, but I don’t think the gallery’s listed either. It’s that exclusive. This guy will skip a sale just because he doesn’t like the buyer. Are you somewhere I can call you?”

  “No. Can I call you tomorrow? I’m going to sleep for a while.”

  “I’ll have it for you then.”

  “Thanks, Ron. I owe you dinner at Lutèce.”

  “Let me choose the place, honey, and you’re on. I hope you’re not sleeping alone. No one I know needs love more than you.”

  I glance around the first-class cabin at a rumpled platoon of businessmen. “No, I’m not alone.”

  “Good. Tomorrow, then.”

  The fog is descending so fast now that I can barely get the Airfone back in the armrest. Thank God for drugs. I couldn’t bear to be alert right now. When I wake, the museum will seem like a bad dream. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a door. A door to a world I have no choice but to reenter. Am I ready for that? “Sure,” I say aloud. “I was born ready.” But deep down, beneath the brittle old bravado, I know it’s a lie.

  3

  TWO HOURS BEFORE the Cathay Pacific jet landed in New York, I surfaced from my drug-induced dive, stumbled to the restroom and back, and asked the flight attendant for a hot towel. Then I called Ron Epstein and got Christopher Wingate’s number. It took an hour of steady calling to get the art dealer on the phone. I had worried that I might have to mention the Sleeping Women to get Wingate’s attention, but Epstein’s hunch proved correct: Wingate was intrigued enough by my modest celebrity to see me at his gallery after hours without explanation. I couldn’t tell much about him from his voice, which had an affected accent I couldn’t place. He did mention my book-in-progress, so my guess is that he hopes I’m looking for a dealer to sell my photographs to the fine art market.

  Meeting Wingate alone is a risk, but my work has always involved calculations of risk. Photographing wars is like commercial fishing off Alaska: you know going out that you might not come back. But on an Alaskan boat, it’s you against the ocean and the weather. In a war zone there are people trying to kill you. Going to see Christopher Wingate could be like that. I have to assume he’s heard about the scene at the museum by now. He won’t have my name, but he will know that the woman who caused the disturbance in Hong Kong looked exactly like one of the Sleeping Women. Does he know that one of the Sleeping Women looks like the photographer Jordan Glass? He knows my reputation, but it’s unlikely that he’s seen a photo of me. I haven’t lived in New York for twelve years, and my work wasn’t nearly so well-known then. The real danger depends on how involved Wingate is with the painter of the Sleeping Women. Does he know that the subjects in the paintings are real? That they’re missing and probably dead? If so, then he’s willing to turn a blind eye to murder in order to earn a fortune in commissions. How dangerous does that make him? I won’t know until I talk to him. But one thing is certain: If I go on to Washington now and meet the FBI, they’ll never let me close to him. Every piece of information I get will be secondhand, just like it was after Jane disappeared.

  After I clear customs at JFK, I roll my bags to the American Airlines gate, collect my e-ticket to Washington, and check my bags on that flight. Then I walk out of the airport and hire a cab. I don’t like letting my cameras go to Washington without me, but later tonight, when I tell Daniel Baxter I got sick and missed my plane, he’ll be more likely to believe me.

  Before going to Lower Manhattan, I have the cabbie take me to a pawnshop on Ninety-eighth Street. There, for $50, I buy a can of Fortified Mace to carry in my pocket. I’d prefer a gun, but I don’t want to risk it. The NYPD takes weapons violations very seriously.

  When the cab pulls up to Wingate’s Fifteenth Street gallery in the failing light of dusk, I find a simple three-story brownstone like a thousand others in the city, with a bar on one side and a video rental store on the other. The tony atmosphere of the Chelsea art district stays in another part of Chelsea, I guess.

  After paying the cabbie to wait, I get out and study the doorway from the curb. There’s a buzzer by the front door, which looks normal enough but probably hides all sorts of security devices. I slip on sunglasses as I approach, in case there’s a videocam.

  There is. I push the buzzer and wait.

  “Who are you?” asks the stateless voice I recognize from my earlier call.

  “Jordan Glass.”

  “Just a moment.”

  The buzzer burps, the lock disengages, and I pull the door open. The ground floor of the gallery is half-illuminated by fluorescent light from the second floor, spilling down an iron staircase. With my sunglasses, it’s hard to see, but the decor seems spare for a trendy New York art gallery. The floor is bleached hardwood, the walls white. The paintings look modern for the most part, or what my idea of modern is, anyway. A lot of stark color arranged in asymmetrical patterns, but it means little to me. I’ve been called an artist—often during attacks by purist photojournalists—but that doesn’t qualify me as a judge of art. I’m not even sure I know it when I see it.

  “Do you like that Lucian Freud?” asks the voice I heard on the speaker outside.

  There’s a man standing on the landing, where the iron staircase turns back on itself. Fixed squarely in a shaft of light, he looks as though he simply materialized there. He is wiry and balding, but he compensates for the baldness with a shadow of trimmed black stubble. In his black jeans, T-shirt, and leather jacket, he looks like the midlevel mafia thugs I saw in Moscow a few years back: slightly underfed but fiercely predatory, particularly around the eyes and mouth.

  “Not really,” I confess, with a quick look at the painting hanging nearest me. “Should I?”

  “Should doesn’t come into it. Though it would hav
e a better chance of impressing you if you took off those sunglasses.”

  “I wouldn’t like it any better. I’m not here to see this.”

  “What are you here to see?”

  “You, if you’re Christopher Wingate.”

  He beckons me forward with his hand, then turns and starts back up the stairs. I follow.

  “You always wear sunglasses in the evening?” he asks over his shoulder.

  “Something wrong with that?”

  “It’s just so Julia Roberts.”

  “That’ll be the one thing we have in common, then.”

  Wingate chuckles. He’s barefoot, and his pale dirty heels seem to float up the steps. He passes the second floor, which houses sculpture, and continues up to the third. This is clearly where he lives. It has a Danish feel, all spare lines and Scandinavian wood, and it smells of fresh coffee. Standing in the middle of the room is a large, unsealed wooden crate with packing material spilling out of its open end. There’s a claw hammer lying atop the crate, a scattering of nails around it. Wingate brushes a proprietary hand against the wood as he passes the crate, which comes to his shoulder.

  “What’s in the box?”

  “A painting. Please, sit down.”

  I gesture at the crate. “You work up here? This looks like your apartment.”

  “It’s a special painting. It may be the last time I see it in person. I want to enjoy it while I can. Would you like an espresso? Cappuccino? I was about to have one.”

  “Cappuccino.”

  “Good.” He walks to a blue enameled machine on a counter behind him and starts to fill a small mug. While his back is to me, I move to the open crate. There’s a heavy gold frame inside. Peeking between the box and the frame, I can’t see much, but it’s enough: the upper torso and head of a nude woman, her eyes open and fixed in a strangely peaceful stare. Wingate is dispensing the cup as I back away.