Walking through the city at night. The air cleansed by a thunderstorm
and sweet from ozone
Cars appear as white headlamps and then hiss by on damp pavement to turn to red in the distance. Men in raincoats hide from the mist behind turned up collars. Kids in sweatshirts bolt from running cars into convenience stores, and then out again with six-packs and milk.
She doesn't like to walk at night. But she feels safe with me. Do I mind that she says that? She wants to tell me what she really feels, but it's too soon and so probably not legit.
I'm not going to wait. I tell Jane McFadden I know love thin and electric. Invisible. Etherial as the rumble of a distant waterfall.
It catches you in mid stride. One moment you're free; the next you're in its grasp. It changes everything to deep blue, and then there isn't anything that isn't beautiful.
She wonders where I sleep. I tell her nowhere.
She wonders when I sleep. I tell her I don't.
"Everyone has to sleep, Ray," she says. I'll explain it to her, some day. Terrible irregularities in the limbic system. Pontine lesions. Reciprocal connectivity between the substantia nigra, and the pedunculopontine nucleus. My life is one long narcoleptic dream, only I'm not sleeping.
So I tell her, because I know it's what she needs to hear, "This is what I want, Jane McFadden. The woman I love will carry lines on her face from years of smiling. She'll have streaks of gray in her hair she refuses to cover because she's enjoying the way it looks like feathers on a great bird. She will be impervious to hot grease splatters. She will know ways through town I could never imagine.
"She will know how to quench the troubles in my mind.
"There will be parts of me in jars she keeps away on shelves in her heart. And I will rejoice to know I am hers."
Jane says, "I want someone to love me like that."
We get to her door. She invites me up. Not tonight. No.
I tell her, "Love is the spirit part of you that believes it doesn't need to eat when another is near.
Love is what's left when you're gone."
And I kiss her on the lips, and then on her neck, under her ear.
"You will come back, though?" she asks.
Yes I will. Yes.
Detective Lentini closes his notebook when he sees me coming. Says, "Here's my secret weapon. What took you so long?"
"Got tied up with a friend."
"Tying up your friends?" he says, and leads me toward the trees. "I didn't know you had any friends."
I try to ignore the remark, but his eyes catch a bit of me and he repents. "Didn't mean it that way."
We cross the yellow tape and he brings me to where a camera strobe lights the grove like gunfire.
The object of the photographer's attention is a human body. Female. Nude. Arms and legs bound with gray duct tape. Plastic garment bag sealed over the head.
The body is tattooed in black blue bruises and cuts.
"Looks like Moneyshot Barrydog had enough of one of his girls," Lentini says as I touch the body and offer my nearly silent prayer to bless the dead. "Or do you disagree?"
When I stand up I tell him what I know. "She's not in the sex trade. I think she's the legitimate girlfriend of one of his customers. A wife." Yes, I feel it now. "A wife. Mother of two children. It's the husband who did this. I can find him. Do you want that?"
Lentini's new partner is watching us. The plain clothes cop nods at me and asks Lentini, "This your psychic?" as if I'm not there.
"See how good he is? You can't fool this guy. Ray, this is Bosco," he says, and I shake the younger man's hand. "He's already hotter than hell so tell him what we know."
"This is Ellen Maguire. Thirty-six year old caucasian. Buyer for Macy's. Reported missing by her husband five days ago. Never came home from work, he said. Thought she was getting some on the side. Hired a private snoop to take pictures. The husband's been with us at the station two, three times a day since he reported her. He's never been out of sight of witnesses. Time of death, roughly twelve hours ago."
"His hands bound her," I tell him, reliving the woman's last moments in my mind. "She was having an affair. He discovered them. The man is also dead, though in a much more violent manner. She watched her husband kill her lover. The place is somewhere rural. I can find it. What do you want me to do?"
"Tell me if we'll nail the guy," Lentini says.
As I start to consider the outcomes, Bosco says, "I don't get what you're asking this guy for."
Lentini says, "He's good for a lot of things," and I know what he needs to hear.
"Yeah," I say. "You get him. There's DNA evidence he hasn't cleared in the trunk of his car, and also on some of his children's clothing."
"The children?" Lentini asks.
And I'm not feeling any danger their way. "Are fine," I say. "But he's going to get off, eventually. His lawyer is going to prove the city's DNA amplifier was operated incorrectly. He'll be out in two years."
"Can you give me the lottery numbers?" Bosco asks. Then to Lentini, "What kind of bullshit is this?"
"Shut the fuck up," Lentini says to him, and I'm thinking to go back to Jane, how nice it would be to spend the evening in the quiet of her apartment listening to her breathe.
"Say we take this guy out, what happens?" he asks me.
"If you leave him alone, he's not going to commit any more crimes, if that's what you want to know. This was a crime of emotion. He can't believe what he's done. He's in an incredible amount of torment that will be with him until the moment he dies--which will be in a car wreck twenty-three years from now. Or maybe a suicide. Depends on the situation. Free will of others. Hard to say."
"Shit," says Lentini. "So, I can't make this call. I bet ten-thousand years ago things were a lot simpler."
I tell him, "No. They were exactly the same back then."
Lentini rubs his forehead, smirking. "I think that's all I need, Ray. Thanks."
I tell Bosco it was nice to meet him. Bosco asks, "How'd he do it when he was under our noses the whole time?"
"The woman was bound and gagged and sedated in the trunk of his car in the PD parking lot for the past four days. He didn't decide to kill her until he was sure you wouldn't find the man."
"That's a different crime, then, Ray," Lentini says.
"You changing your mind?" I ask him.
"Is it going to make any difference?"
I say, "No," because someone has to watch out for the children. "I'll take care of it."
The best place to find Phil is at Manny's at three AM. He's always in booth twenty-seven by then. Sipping coffee, eating cheesecake, and grading homework papers.
I slide into the red vinyl booth and he barely gives me a nod as he makes a couple of corrections in red on a kid's math quiz. Wendy sets a coffee and a slice of cake in front of me and I thank her.
"Hear you found yourself a woman," Phil says, glancing at me over the top of his reading glasses.
"I guess," I say. I hadn't thought it got to that level of commitment. And besides, she found me.
"You want to talk about it?"
Hadn't thought about that, either. What would I say? --Hey Phil, This woman jumped me at Gabriel's funeral?-- Then I would hear all about how I had to be careful about such things. Demons never sleep, either.
"Maybe. I don't know."
He gathers his papers and puts them into his briefcase. Folds his glasses and stuffs them into his shirt pocket.
"It can be confusing," he said. Then smiled. "It never works; you know that."
"That's what they say. But--"
"You gotta find out for yourself. We all do. Who knows? Maybe you'll be the lucky one."
Wendy comes back holding the pot. She warms our cups. Says, "What are my vampires up to this evening?"
"Ray's got a girlfriend," Phil says. "Any advice you can spare our friend tonight?"
She says without hesitation, "When she asks you how she looks it's because she wants you to tell her she's beautiful. How many men don't get that? All of 'um. That's how many."
"That explains why I could never stay married," Phil says.
"What about you?" Wendy says to Phil. "Seems like you could use some advice, too. How about--why not stay home at night instead of roaming the streets? If you were my husband I'd think you were sleeping around the whole damned city the way you're never home."
Phil says, "Well, then we're perfect for each other. We both know exactly where we are at three in the morning. Wanna try it?"
Wendy bats her lashes and touches the ends of her hair with her free hand. "If I didn't already have three ex-husbands..."
"We could introduce them to my ex-wives," Phil says, and Wendy moves on to some patrons at another table.
When Wendy's out of earshot I say to Phil, "Excuse me for changing the subject, what's really on my mind is these kids. The father killed the mother--Lentini's thing. He just showed it to me tonight. You got anything on it?"
Phil purses his lips. Says, "You think this one's coming to you for the kids?"
I shrug. I don't know what to think.
"You think it's Michael?" Phil says. He sips at his coffee cup. Stares out the window into the lights beyond. "Nah. There'd be something huge going on. I can come with you, if you want. Just to be sure."
"That would be great," I tell him, and finish my cheesecake.
We find Danny Maguire in East River Park where I expect him to be at four-thirty AM. He's sitting in the middle of a bench thinking he's alone, wallowing in his own torment, oblivious to the cold and the dark. The chilling fog. When Phil and I slide in on either side of him, he's startled.
There's a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol in his hands. He points it towards Phil's face and I stick a finger against the back of his neck.
Danny's eyes are bloodshot and ringed in black. His hair is greasy. His clothes are stained in dirt and yellow. He smells of urine and fermenting sweat.
"We're not here to hurt you, Mr. Maguire," Phil says calmly. "We want to talk about your children. Where are they? Who's watching them now?"
"Get out of here or God help me--" he pushes the gun against Phil's forehead, and I palm the back of his neck. From where I'm sitting I can see that not only is the safety on, but the ejector on the Beretta isn't showing so he doesn't even have a round in the chamber.
"We know you killed your wife and her boyfriend," I say to him. He pulls the gun away from Phil and shoves it into my gut, making me grunt a little.
I say, "You want to stop playing with that?" and grab the pistol by the barrel, force it downward as he squeezes the trigger repeatedly, ineffectively.
I wrench it out of his hand. With the gun out of his grasp he tries to bolt, but Phil holds him on the seat.
He shouts once. I palm his adam's apple while Phil drives a thumb into the bottom of his chin.
Phil says, "Do you know who we are?"
"Dreaming about you--" Danny says in gasps. "You're the devil."
Phil says, "And that would make my friend here, who?" The confused man's eyes roll backward into his head and then refocus.
"Whom," I correct him. "My friend here here is 'whom?'"
Phil rolls his eyes. "Who's the teacher--me or you? It's who. My friend is 'who?' It's the same as saying, 'Who is my friend?' Capisce?"
"I don't know who your fucking friend is," Danny says in squeaks. I lighten my grip on his throat. "Get it over with."
"What drove you to this, Dan?" Phil asks. "You used to be such a good man. A good husband and father. Little league coach. Never forgot your wedding anniversary. Always made time for the family."
"Fucking bitch--" he says, and now he's sobbing.
"All she did was sleep with the guy," Phil says. "A little boom-boom. Spices up life. She still loved you. It was a stupid fling. You could have gone into counseling. Separated for a while. Got a little on the side yourself. Hell, even a divorce. But man, you tortured her for four days. Four. You know how many years you gotta spend to make up for that? The woman loved you, man."
"Not to mention what you did to Bob," I add.
At the sound of the name, he stiffens. "I killed the fucker." Tears roll from his eyes.
"And you fed him to your family," Phil says. "The kids, man. Think about it. You're watching too many movies. Hollywood's wrecking civilization as we know it--I tell you. Look, Dan. All we want to ask you is, was that right?"
I don't know where Phil is going with the question. It's obvious to me the man hasn't had a coherent thought since he discovered his wife had a lover.
"We should just give this guy the message and go," I say to Phil. Now I'm thinking of Jane. In my mind's eye I can see her in bed. Her hair splayed out over her pillow like a halo. And I want to be there with her. Is this love?
"Let me go," Danny croaks.
"Here's the deal," Phil says. "Plain and simple. You kill anyone else, including yourself, you'll be dealing with Brad Pitt here and our bretheren. But you make one move toward those children--I mean, all you have to do is think about it--"
Phil takes Danny's head by the jaw, forces his head around and stares into his eyes, twisting his soul. I knew what he was making him see. Classic biblical torment. Burning flesh melting from seething muscles. Festering boils. Human bodies turned inside out.
I fill in the narration. "There'll be hell to pay."
We get up. Danny's going through the last of his convulsions as I rack the slide on the pistol, check off the safety, and toss the gun onto Danny's lap.
As we make our way down Houston street we hear the shot.
Phil says, "I'm not suggesting you did anything wrong by giving him the gun back because it was his in the first place--but really, was that for the best? He was too weak for this trial. Shoulda tried a different one. Something less taxing. I mean, those kids are definitely not Michael, but even so, I think we got a little too enthusiastic."
"He tortured and murdered two people. Free will, Phil. Told Lentini I'd do something. Ok? Look--you got time for another coffee?" I ask him, as images of Jane stirring enter my mind. I want to ask him how he handled it. Sex is such a powerful diversion to the work. Love is even worse. What was our heavenly father thinking when he invented that stuff?
"Sorry," he says, and pats my shoulder. "I gotta finish grading my papers. And it's first Friday, man. You forget? We have a fourth-grade assembly today and then we're taking all the kids to mass so they finish their novena before summer recess."
"Every Catholic school kid wants a happy death," I say, because it's what Phil teaches them.
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