New York City
He lunges across Sixth Avenue mid-block and against the light,
leaving in his wake squealing brakes, honking horns, angry curses
through car windows.
No need to look over his shoulder; he knows they’re back
there, closing in on him.
Darting up the east side of Sixth, he blows through an obstacle
course of office workers on smoke breaks, tourists walking four
abreast, businessmen lined up at street food carts. Ignoring the
indignant shouts of jostled pedestrians, he searches the urban
landscape as he runs. July heat radiates in waves from concrete and
asphalt. Sweat soaks his tee shirt.
Just ahead, across Fortieth Street, he spots the subway entrance.
For a split second, he considers diving down the stairs. If a train
happens to be just pulling in, he can hop on and lose them–at
least for the time being.
If there’s no train, he’ll be trapped like a rat in a
hole--unless he hoofs it through the dark tunnel and risks being
electrocuted by the third rail or flattened by an oncoming
Nothing can happen to him. Not now. Not when the plan is about to
come to fruition.
Not when sweet victory is so close he can taste it like
He races past the subway, his thoughts careening through various
scenarios of how the next few minutes of his life might play out.
They all end the same way: he’s apprehended.
Even if he could possibly hide in midtown Manhattan in broad
daylight with the cops hot on his trail, it makes no sense to try.
The NYPD aren’t the only ones looking for him.
At least if he’s arrested, he’ll be safe–for
But first, he has to stash the file where no one can possibly
stumble across it–and where he himself will easily be able to
retrieve it and resume his plan. When he’s free.
Where? Come on, think. Think!
If only he had time to open a safe deposit box somewhere.
If only he could bury it like treasure, entrust it to a stranger
for safekeeping, throw it into an envelope addressed to a trusted
friend in a far-off place...
Before all this, he had a circle of confidantes.
Now, he trusts no one other than Mike.
He tried to call his old friend yesterday, since he has a vested
interest in this thing.
He did leave a message: “Mike, it’s me. Dude, I was
right. It’s bigger than I thought. I’ll be in
Now that he’s had time to think things through, though,
he’s glad he didn’t reach Mike. Better not to drag him
into this dangerous game.
He bounds across Fortieth and up the wide concrete steps into
Bryant Park, zigzagging northeast past dog walkers and the
carousel; past stroller-pushing nannies and office workers eating
lunch out of clear plastic deli containers.
Approaching the crowded outdoor dining patio of the Bryant Park
Cafe, he spots a commotion beside the entrance. A young wife tries
to soothe the screaming baby propped against her shoulder as her
agitated husband argues loudly with the hostess about a
reservation. The baby’s stroller is abandoned in his path, a
fuzzy pink stuffed animal lying on the ground beside it.
Seeing it, he’s struck by an idea–one that’s
either so far out there it’ll never work, or so far out there
that it has to work.
There’s no time to sit around considering the odds.
Rather than leap over the stuffed animal, he scoops it up as he
passes, hoping bystanders are too busy watching the argument at the
hostess stand to notice. He doesn’t bother to look back, and
nobody calls out after him as he cannonballs down the wide concrete
steps on the north side of the park.
Emerging onto West Forty-Second Street, he hurtles eastward,
passing the main branch of the library. He scoots across Fifth
Avenue amid hordes of pedestrians in the crosswalk, then across
East Forty-Second against the red Don’t Walk sign. With the
stuffed animal tucked under his right arm, high against his
chestlike a football, he sprints the remaining block and a half to
Grand Central Terminal.
No one–not even the national guardsmen on patrol in this post
9/11 era--gives him a second glance as he races at full speed from
the Vanderbilt entrance toward the cavernous Main Concourse.
Otherwise-civilized people zip pell-mell through here all the time.
The MTA conducts its Metro North commuter line on a precise
schedule; a few seconds’ delay might mean waiting an hour to
catch the next train to the northern suburbs.
It’s been awhile, yet he knows the layout of vast rail
station very well. Knows the location of the ticket counters and
subway ramps, the arched whispering gallery near the Oyster Bar,
the upper and lower level tracks, the Station Master’s
office, the food court, the Lost and Found...
The Lost and Found.
Looking furtively over his shoulder, he spots a blue uniform at the
far end of the corridor. Changing direction, he veers toward the
steep bank of escalators leading to the subway station below Grand
Central, slowing his pace just enough to be sure the cop has time
to spot him. Then he skirts down the left side of the escalator
with the harried walkers, past the line-up of riders holding the
rubber rail along the right.
At the bottom, he hops the turnstile. Predictably, those behind him
protest loudly. He races through the familiar network of corridors
to an exit and a set of stairs leading up to Grand Central Terminal
again, closer to Lexington Avenue. Again, he runs toward the main
concourse, emerging at last beneath the domed pale blue ceiling
with its celestial markings.
He takes the stairs beneath the balcony back down to the lower
level, and then ducks into a doorway leading to an empty
Panting, huddled in the shadows against the wall, he turns the
stuffed animal over and over, looking for the most unobtrusive
With his index finger, he probes at a seam in the synthetic fur.
The toy is well made; it takes a few moments before the stitching
gives way. He creates a small tear just wide enough.
Then he takes the memory stick from his wallet and shoves it into
the hole until it disappears into the stuffing.
Swiftly examining the toy, he convinces himself no one could
possibly discover the gap in the seam unless they were looking for
He tucks the animal under his arm again and scurries back out into
the station and down a short corridor to the Lost and Found.
“Can I help you, sir?” asks the middle-aged woman at
the service window, looking up from sorting through a labeled bin
marked February: Mittens and Gloves.
Winded, he holds up the stuffed animal. “I just found
She reaches for a pen. “Where? On a train?”
“No...on the floor.”
“Where on the floor?”
“By the clock,” he improvises.
She doesn’t ask which clock. In this terminal, “the
clock” means the antique timepiece with four luminescent opal
faces that sits atop the information booth, a meeting spot for
thousands of New Yorkers every day.
“All right—“ She reaches for a form—
“if you can fill this out and--”
“Sorry,” he cuts in, “but if I don’t catch
the 4:39, my wife is going to kill me.”
He’s already out the door.
He takes the stairs back up to the main concourse two at a time.
Nearby, at the base of the escalators leading up to the Pan Am
building, a transit cop scans the crowd while speaking into a
A moment later, the cop spots him, and he knows it’s
Glenhaven Park, New York
Startled by her daughter’s scream, Lauren Walsh drops the
apple she was about to peel and bolts from the kitchen, taking the
paring knife with her, just in case.
Sadie is in the living room–in one piece, thank God, and
sitting on the couch in front of the television, right where Lauren
left her about two minutes ago. Tears stream down her face.
“What’s wrong, sweetie? What happened?”
“Fred! Fred’s gone!”
She immediately grasps the situation, seeing the contents of
Sadie’s little Vera Bradley tote dumped on the couch beside
her: a sticker album and stickers, a couple of Mardi Gras
necklaces, a feather boa, and the pack of Juicyfruit Lauren bought
her at Hudson News right before they got on the train.
So there’s no intruder to fight off with a paring knife. She
loosens her grasp on the handle, the notion of using it as a weapon
suddenly seeming laughable.
Almost laughable, anyway.
Lauren has never been the kind of woman who checked the closets and
under the bed. She spent dauntless years on her own, single in the
city, before she met Nick.
But this is different. Living alone with a preschooler in a
sprawling Victorian while the older kids are gone at sleepaway camp
and their dad is–well, gone–has bred a certain
degree of paranoia, no doubt about it.
“Mommy, find Fred!” Sadie’s cherubic face is
stricken, her green eyes filled with tears.
Before Nick moved out last winter, Fred was just another stuffed
animal on Sadie’s shelf. Someone brought it to the hospital
back when Sadie was born, with a mylar It’s A Girl balloon
tied to its wrist.
When Nick left, all three of the kids developed strange new habits.
Ryan took to biting his nails. Lucy pulled out her eyelashes. Poor
little Sadie, already a notoriously fussy eater, now lives on white
bread, peanut butter, and the occasional sliced apple. She also
regressed to thumb sucking and pants-wetting, and started dragging
the pink plush rabbit, newly christened Fred, everywhere she
Which wasn’t much of anywhere until recently, because Lauren
couldn’t bring herself to leave the house most days. She felt
as if the whole town was talking about her husband leaving her for
Probably because they really were talking about it. In a tiny
suburban hamlet like Glenhaven Park, the gossip mill runs as
efficiently as the commuter train line.
“It’s okay, Sadie. Where’s Chauncey? Maybe he
took Fred.” God knows their border collie has been known to
steal a fuzzy slipper or two—which is why he hasn’t
been allowed upstairs in the bedrooms in years.
“No, Fred wasn’t in my bag. He didn’t come into
the house with me.”
“Okay, so he’s probably in the car.”
“Go look! Please!”
Lauren is already headed for the kitchen to exchange the paring
knife for her keys, biting her tongue. It’s probably not good
parenting to say, “I told you so” to a four
But she did tell Sadie not to bring Fred with them to the
city today. And when she insisted, Lauren wanted to carry the
stuffed rabbit herself, worried Sadie would lose it.
Sadie protested so vehemently that it was simply easier to give in.
More bad parenting.
And the fact that Lauren’s about to serve apple slices with a
side of peanut butter for dinner doesn’t exactly cancel it
out. But why bother cooking for two—one finicky preschooler
and one mom who lost her appetite, along with a lot of other
things, in the divorce drama.
The screen door squeaks as Lauren steps out the back door into the
hot glare of late afternoon sun. The neighborhood at this hour is
so still she can hear the bumblebees lazing in the coneflowers
beside the small service porch.
She could cut some of the purple and white blooms and bring them
But again, why bother? It’s just her and Sadie.
Why bother…why bother…
So goes the depressing refrain.
There was a time when she didn’t consider cooking or
gardening a bother at all.
She remembers wandering around the yard with pruning shears on
summer days as Ryan and Lucy romped on the wooden play set.
She’d fill the house with a hodgepodge of colorful flowers
arranged in Depression-era tinted glass Ball jars discovered on a
cobwebby shelf in the basement. Then she’d feed and bathe the
kids early, letting them stay up just long enough to greet Nick off
the commuter train. He’d tell her about his day as they
shared a bottle of wine over a home-cooked dinner for two,
something decadent and cooked in butter or smothered in melted
That was before Nick became overly health conscious—which,
surprise, surprise, was not long before he left.
But she doesn’t want to think about that.
Nor does she necessarily want to think about the good old days, but
she can’t seem to help herself. It was on one of those hot
summer nights, Lauren recalls, that Sadie the Oops Baby was
conceived, after an unhealthy, fattening romantic dinner laced with
cabernet and Van Morrison.
The pregnancy put on hold their plans to remodel the house. They
were going to expand the kitchen, add a mudroom, replace the back
stoop with a deck–something that wouldn’t clash with
the Queen Anne style. Nick was a big believer in preservation of
Only when it came to marital integrity did he run into
They never did get around to remodeling.
Now they never will.
Lauren gazes up at the house–two stories, plus a large attic
beneath the steep, gabled roof.
The clapboard façade, fish-scale shingles, and gingerbread
trim are done in period shades of ochre and brick red. The classic
Victorian design—tall, shuttered bay windows, a cupola, and a
spindled, wraparound porch--charmed her the first time she laid
eyes on it, years ago.
Painted Lady Potential, proclaimed the ad in the Sunday
Times real estate section.
She kept reading. It got better.
Four bedroom, two bath fixer-upper in family neighborhood.
Eat-in kitchen, large, level yard, detached garage. Walk to shops,
It was located, the Realtor told her when she called about the ad,
on Elm Street in Glenhaven Park. Elm Street—evocative of
leafy, small town charm. Elm Street—where families live
happily ever after.
Sight unseen, Lauren was sold.
Nick was not. “Nightmare on Elm Street,” he
told Lauren. “Ever see that movie?”
She hadn’t. But lately, she’s been feeling as though
she lived it.
How did she end up living alone in the house of their dreams?
She’ll never forget the day she and Nick first set foot
inside, looked at each other, and nodded. They knew. They knew this
house would become home.
It—like the fact that they’d found each other, fallen
in love, gotten married—seemed too good to be true.
They marveled at the china doorknobs, gaslight fixtures, cast-iron
radiators, chair rails, and pocket doors; high ceilings with crown
molding; the ornate wooden staircase in the entrance hall. There
were even a couple of hidden compartments where the nineteenth
century owners had stashed their valuables.
Yes, the place needed work. So what? They were young and had a
lifetime ahead of them.
Now Lauren wonders, as she often has for the past few months,
whether she’ll have to sell the house. Some days, she wants
to list it as soon as possible. Others, she’s certain she
can’t bear to let go.
What’s the old saying?
If something seems too good to be true, it probably
She takes a deep breath, inhaling the green scent of freshly mown
grass. The lawn service guys must have been here today while she
and Sadie were in the city. The flowerbeds have been freshly weeded
and the boxwood hedge has been shorn into a precision horizontal
The yard looks a lot tidier than it did in summers past, when she
handled the gardening and Nick mowed. But when they moved up here
from the city, they never wanted that manicured landscape style.
They never wanted to become one of those suburban Westchester
families that relied on others to maintain the yard, the house, and
the pets, even the kids.
Yeah, and look at us now.
First came the weekly cleaning service Lauren’s friends
insisted on hiring for her right after she had Sadie. By the time
the two-month gift certificate expired, colic was in full swing and
Lauren was relieved to let someone else continue to clean the
toilets and do the laundry.
She kept the cleaning service.
By the time Sadie was toddling, her older siblings’ travel
sports teams kept the whole family on the go. Chauncey was left
behind so often that Lauren was forced to hire a dog-walking
service. Sure, she occasionally misses those early morning or dusk
strolls with Chauncey–but not enough to go back to doing it
She kept the dog walkers, too.
Nick hired the lawn service last March, just in time for the spring
thaw, as he put it–ironic, because it was also just in time
for the killing frost that ended their marriage.
Yes, she had seen it coming. For a few months before it happened,
anyway. That didn’t make it any easier for her to bear.
And the kids--Lauren hates Nick for their pain; hates herself,
perhaps, even more. She was the one who’d gone to great
lengths to maintain the happy family myth, such great lengths that
the separation blindsided all three of them.
Nick had wanted to tell Ryan and Lucy last fall that they were
seeing a marriage counselor. But Lauren was afraid they’d
start piecing things together, suspecting the affair. Or that
they’d ask pointed questions that would demand the ugly truth
or whitewashed lies.
Nick was probably right–though she wouldn’t admit that
to him. They should have given the kids a heads up when things
first started to unravel.
He was right, too, that sending Ryan and Lucy away to camp for
eight weeks was the healthiest thing for everyone.
When he suggested it back around Easter, Lauren–who for years
had frowned upon parents who shipped their kids hundreds of miles
to spend summers in the woods among strangers–had taken a
good, hard look at what their own household had become. She was
forced to recognize that her older children would be better off
elsewhere while she picked up the pieces.
Still, she didn’t give in to Nick about camp without a fight.
God forbid she make anything easy on him in the blur of angry,
bitter days after he left. She wanted only to make him
In the end, though, Ryan and Lucy went to camp.
They were homesick at first–so homesick Lauren was tempted,
whenever she opened the mailbox to another woe-is-me letter, to
drive up there and bring them both home. Now that it’s almost
August, though, it’s clear from their letters that Ryan and
Lucy are having a blast in the Adirondacks.
Lauren has only Sadie to worry about for the time being, while she
figures out how to move on after two decades of marriage.
She has yet to come up with a long-term plan. It’s hard
enough to keep her voice from breaking as she reads bedtime stories
in an empty house, to fix edible meals for two–and to keep
tabs on Sadie’s toys.
She walks down the back porch steps, past fat bumblebees lazing in
the flowers, and crosses over to the Volvo parked on the
Please let Fred be in the back seat...
Please let Fred be in the back seat...
Fred is not in the back seat.
A lot of other crap is: crumpled straw wrappers, a dog-eared
coloring book and two melted crayons, a nearly empty tube of
Coppertone Kids, a couple of fossilized Happy Meal fries, and one
of Sadie’s long-missing mittens whose partner Lauren finally
threw away in May.
Lauren carries it all back into the house and dumps it into the
kitchen garbage before returning, empty-handed, to the living
Sadie, tear-stained and sucking her thumb, looks up
“Sweetie, you must have dropped him, somewhere in the city. I
Cut off by a deafening wail, Lauren helplessly sinks onto the
couch. “Oh, Sadie, come here.” She gathers her daughter
into her arms, stroking her downy hair–not as blonde this
summer as it has been in years past.
Is it because she’s growing up?
Or because she’s been stuck hibernating with a
shell-shocked mother who’s barely been able to drag herself
out of bed and face the light of day…
Riddled with guilt, Lauren says, “I’m sorry,
baby.” About so much more than the lost toy.
“I want Fred! I love him! Please,” Sadie begs. “I
need him back”
I know how you feel.
In silence, Lauren swallows the ache in her own throat and fishes a
crumpled tissue in the back pocket of khaki shorts that last August
felt a size too small. Now they’re a few sizes too big,
cinched at the waist with her fourteen-year-old’s belt.
The Devastation Diet. Maybe she should write a book.
Lauren wipes her daughter’s tears, then, surreptitiously, her
own. “Come on, calm down. It’s going to be
“I want Fred!”
Lauren sighs. “So do I.”
I want a lot of other things, too.
Looks like we’re both going to have to suck it up, baby
“Please, Mommy, please...where is he? Where?
“Shh, let me think.”
Mentally retracing their steps, Lauren is sure the stuffed animal
was with them in the cab from her sister Alyssa’s apartment
to Grand Central, because it almost fell out of Sadie’s bag
when they climbed out on Lexington. She remembers carrying both
Sadie and the bag across the crowded sidewalk, through the wooden
doors, along the Graybar passageway. She set Sadie down and gave
the bag back to her when they stopped to buy a New York Post and
some gum at Hudson News.
“You must have dropped Fred at the station or on the train.
Next time we go to the city we can check Lost and Found at Grand
Central,” Lauren promises.
That’s not going to cut it: Sadie opens her mouth and
Lauren closes her eyes and lifts her face toward the ceiling.
Where the hell is Fred?
Never mind that, where the hell is Nick?
Why does he get to start a new life and leave Lauren here alone to
handle the fallout from the old? Lost toys, lost souls...none of it
seems to be his problem anymore. No, he’s moved on to a
two-bedroom condo down in White Plains–furnished with
“really cool stuff,” according to Lucy. Complete with a
“gi-mongous, kick-butt flat-screen,” according to Ryan.
On a high floor, “close to God and the moon,” according
“Good for Daddy,” Lauren says whenever the kids tell
her stuff like that. She tries hard to keep sarcasm from lacing her
words because you’re not supposed to speak negatively about
your ex to the children. That’s got to be right up there with
letting them have their way, saying Why Bother? and I
Told You So, and giving them apples for dinner.
Then again, as far as Lauren’s concerned, any bad parenting
on her part is vastly outdone by the ultimate worst parenting on
Nick’s. Walking out on three kids pretty much takes the
Sadie sobs on.
Lauren’s eyes snap open.
“You know what? Daddy will get Fred for you.”
That’s right. Let Daddy deal with something for a change.
Excerpted from LIVE TO TELL © Copyright 2010 by Wendy Corsi
Staub. Reprinted with permission by Avon. All rights reserved.