THREE DAYS IN NOVEMBER 2003
It was 8:00 P.M. Monday in Hong Kong, 6:00 A.M. Monday in Chicago when Nancy Kissel called her father, Ira Keeshin. She was crying.
"Rob and I had a huge fight last night," she said. "I'm pretty badly beaten up. I'm sure he broke some of my ribs. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid he's going to come back and hurt me more."
"Wait. He hit you?"
"He was drunk. It was horrible..." She started crying so hard she couldn't talk.
"Where is he now?"
"I...I don't know. He left. He could be anywhere."
"How are you? Have you been to a doctor?"
"I'm going in the morning. My ribs are killing me. I'm all beat up."
"And you don't know where Rob is?"
"He could be anywhere. I'm scared he'll come back."
"How are the kids?"
"They're fine. They don't know anything."
"Are Connie and Min there?"
"Yes, they're here."
"Make sure they stay with you. And keep the door locked. Double-bolt it. This is awful. What the hell happened?"
Instead of answering, Nancy broke down in tears again.
"Never mind. Listen, I'll get down there as fast as I can. If he comes back, call the police. Stay safe. That's the most important thing. Don't go out anywhere he might be able to grab you. Keep Connie and Min with you. Call some friends to come over. I don't want you alone until we know where he is."
She was sobbing.
"Maybe he just lost it for a minute Maybe he's ashamed, that's why he left."
"No. This wasn't the first time."
"Just get here, please. I don't know what to do."
Ira was sixty years old, five seven, physically active, physically fit. He thought fast. He talked fast. He was impulsive. He was not a long-term planner. He had a quick sense of humor. He had a temper. He had a heart. He didn't have much contact with his first ex-wife, Nancy's mother, but he'd stayed on good terms with his second, even after he'd married for a third time.
He was the number two man at a specialty bread company that supplied bread and rolls of the highest quality to many of Chicago's finest restaurants and huge quantities of lesser-quality product to such national chains as Chili's, Cheesecake Factory, and TGIF.
He arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday night. He had visited Nancy and Rob there before. Nancy had said she'd have a car and driver meet him at the airport, but he found no one waiting for him. He took a taxi to Parkview, the multitower luxury apartment complex where Rob and Nancy lived. He checked into the hotel on the grounds, walked to their building, and took the elevator to the twenty- second floor.
Nancy was thirty-nine but looked younger. She was short and blond, flashy and feisty. She had lively eyes and a brilliant smile. Her shapeliness did not suggest that she'd borne three children. Heads still turned when she entered a room. Normally. Now she looked haggard and scared.
"Has he come back?"
"Has he called?"
She shook her head.
He started to hug her.
"Don't! Didn't I tell you he broke my ribs?"
Ira smelled scented candles. He glanced around the living room. Dozens of candles were burning. He thought he smelled lilac and vanilla. But he was too tired to smell straight, too tired to think straight, almost too tired to stand.
"Will you be okay overnight?"
"I'll be fine."
"Then I'll see you in the morning after I've had a little sleep. We'll go to the police, file a missing persons report."
"And an assault and battery complaint."
After kissing each of his three grandchildren as they slept, Ira went back to the hotel and to bed.
Isabel was nine, Zoe six, and Ethan three. Rob and Nancy had arrived in Hong Kong in 1997 when Zoe was an infant. Ethan had been born there. Rob had been sent to Hong Kong to make money for Goldman Sachs and for himself. He'd done both. Three years later, he'd moved to Merrill Lynch to make more.
Ira had breakfast with the children while Nancy got dressed. He took the girls down to their school bus. They were thrilled by Grandpa Ira's surprise visit. Connie, the nanny or amah, as nannies are called in Hong Kong would take Ethan to his preschool later.
The morning was cool, the sky clear. November marked the end of Hong Kong's summer. In November, the daytime temperature dropped into the seventies and the humidity eased. The air pollution lingered the pollution never went away anymore but it was slightly less oppressive than in summer.
Ira and Nancy took a taxi to the Aberdeen Division police station on Wong Chuk Hang Road, near the Ap Lei Chau Bridge. As soon as they arrived and stated their business they were led to a conference room and joined by Sergeant Mok Kwok-chuen, who was ready to write down the details.
But instead of speaking, Nancy started to tremble, as if on the verge of a seizure. Then she closed her eyes and began to rock back and forth, her arms crossed tightly in front of her, moaning.
Ira tried to calm her. She quivered and sobbed. Sergeant Mok was attentive and solicitous. Ira told him that Nancy had been badly beaten by her husband, who had then gone missing and who was still missing after three and a half days.
Eventually, Nancy was able to stutter a brief account of what had happened. She said her husband had been drunk and had begun hitting and kicking her when she'd resisted his attempts to have sex. Then he'd left their apartment and she didn't know where he'd gone. The account came out in fits and starts. Nancy would speak a few coherent sentences, then slip back into a state in which all she did was tremble, moan, and cry.
Sergeant Mok explained that he could issue a missing persons report, but that before Nancy could press assault and battery charges a police doctor would have to examine her and record her injuries. He said that could be done at Queen Mary Hospital in nearby Pok Fu Lam, not far from the University of Hong Kong. Ira and Sergeant Mok helped her to a waiting patrol car.
It was almost noon when they arrived. Queen Mary, the teaching hospital for the medical school of the nearby University of Hong Kong, was one of the largest and busiest acute-care facilities in the territory. The lobby was overflowing with patients waiting to be seen. The Hong Kong patrolman who brought Ira and Nancy to the hospital explained to a receptionist why they had come. The receptionist told him that Nancy would have to wait her turn. They sat and they waited. And they sat and waited. Nancy did not like to sit and wait under any circumstances. She didn't see why she should be made to now. This was the sort of thing she'd been putting up with for six years. The Chinese did not seem able to grasp the obvious fact that certain people should not be made to sit and wait.
Ira asked the patrolman how much longer the wait would be. He didn't know. Nobody knew. Nancy had already been waiting for two hours. She said enough was enough. She was a busy woman. The children would soon be getting out of school. She and Ira left. Maybe she'd come back tomorrow.
That evening, Ira and Nancy brought Isabel, the nine-year-old, back to school for a dance lesson. Like most children of wealthy expatriates in Hong Kong, the Kissel girls attended the Hong Kong International School, the territory's most costly and prestigious day school.
After Isabel ran inside, Ira suggested that they drive down the hill to Repulse Bay. He thought the quiet beach, the peaceful waters, the open air, and sense of space space being Hong Kong's most precious commodity might comfort his daughter. On the way she stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought a pack of cigarettes. Ira had never seen her smoke. "I've been smoking for a while," she said. "Rob hated it. Fuck him."
They found a gazebo at the edge of the beach and sat down. They talked about how sad it was that everything had fallen apart. Rob and Nancy had been married for fourteen years. They'd been in Hong Kong for six. At first, Rob had worked for Goldman Sachs. After three years, he'd moved to Merrill Lynch. He had an important job. He made a lot of money. He was planning to make a lot more. Nancy enjoyed the royal lifestyle of the wealthy expat. She liked to spend. Suddenly, all that seemed over.
Ira was perplexed by Rob's disappearance. Nancy said Merrill Lynch had told her he hadn't been in his office all week. He found that hard to imagine. Rob was obsessed with his work. He was driven. He'd often said he could not rest as long as anyone he knew was making more money than he was. But now? Ira sensed that divorce was inevitable. Nancy said she'd been living a nightmare all year. No matter how sorry Rob might be, she couldn't forgive him this time. She'd take the children and move back to the United States and let lawyers hammer out the details. Ira, an emotional man, began to weep. So did Nancy. They sat together at the edge of the bay, his arm gently around her because he did not want to hurt her ribs, and cried together.
They met Isabel in the parking lot after the lesson. They could not talk about Rob in front of the children. Nancy had told them he was on another business trip. He traveled everywhere from Mumbai to Manila, and he was gone more than he was home, so the children didn't question the explanation.
Isabel climbed into the backseat of Nancy's Mercedes and asked her to play the Avril Lavigne CD. Her favorite song on it was "Complicated." On the way back to Parkview she and Nancy sang along.
Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you're actin' like you're somebody else...
They dropped Ira at the hotel. He was still jet-lagged and worn to the nub by emotional strain. He went to his room and fell asleep.
The phone woke him at 11:00 p.m. It was Nancy.
"You've got to come over! You've got to come over right away! The police are here. They're asking me questions. There's just so many police. You've got to come over right away!"
Copyright © 2007 by Joe McGinniss