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AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE By Frank Zafiro


At This Point in My Life By Frank Zafiro Copyright 2012 Frank Scalise Edited by J.M. Morton Cover Design by ISBN 978-/


For my own daughter, Maria.


Once I had the strength but no wisdom; Now I have the wisdom but no strength. - Persian Proverb


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ONE “You really gonna do it, Mac? You really gonna drop your papers?” Detective Third Grade Jeremiah Taylor stood at my desk, his palms planted on the edge as he leaned toward me. A wunderkind with less than six months as a detective and just five short years on the job, he didn’t have anywhere near enough gray in his beard to be asking me a question like that. Or to be calling me ”Mac,” for that matter. But if I was ever the kind of guy to mention that to a kid like him, that time had long passed. Detective Second Grade Angie Scialfa had no such compunction. Before I could answer, she called from her chair, two desks away. “What the hell do you care, chucklehead? You’ve got your shield already. Him retiring doesn’t bump you at all. Unless you’re in a hurry to make Second Grade, that is.” Jeremiah swallowed. A trace of red blossomed on his cheeks. He looked like someone who had just walked through a cobweb of nervousness and was trying to decide whether anyone would notice if he swept his hands over his face to remove it. Angie had that effect on a lot of people. “I was...just wondering,” he finally mumbled. 1


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“Yeah? Well, go wonder at your own desk, then,” Angie told him. “Leave Mac alone.” Jeremiah cast me a sheepish glance, then turned and shuffled out of the North Precinct bullpen, headed toward his own desk in the South Precinct offices across the hall. I watched him go, trying unsuccessfully to work up a trace of pity for him. “Stupid rookie,” Angie grumbled. I shrugged. “He seems like a nice enough kid. Smart, too.” She snorted. “Too smart, if you ask me. He’s like one of those genius code breakers who can’t tie their own shoe and are too socially inept to handle ordering a Happy Meal.” That made me smile. She was right. But Angie had a way of putting things that cut to the my funny bone. I watched her lean back in her chair and prop her feet on the corner of her desk. High heels contrasted with the rest of her mostly conservative business attire. I suppose the neck line of her white blouse dipped a little lower than most other female detectives would allow, but that was Angie. You can take the girl out of New Jersey, but you can never take the Jersey out of the girl. How she worked in those heels, though, I never understood. She removed a bag of Western Family brand baby carrots from her desk and tossed one in her mouth, crunching it with her teeth. “You want?” she asked, extending the bag toward me. I shook my head. Angie shrugged. She chomped for a few moments longer, then motioned toward the open file on my desk. “You got anything going there?” I looked down at the file and sighed. “Not really. 2


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Theft of a lawn mower.” Her jaw dropped. She swung her legs off the desk and planted them on the ground, staring at me in disbelief. “Akeela gave you a stolen lawn mower for your final case? You’re kidding me.” “It doesn’t matter.” “Bullshit, Mac. It matters.” “A case is a case,” I said, repeating what could be the mantra for my entire career. “Maybe day in and day out,” Angie said, “but your last case is your swan song. It should be something special. Something memorable. Not some goddamn lawn mower heist.” “It was an expensive lawn mower,” I offered. “The riding kind.” Angie held up her hands and leaned back in mock surrender. “Oh, well sorry. That changes everything. Fucking grand theft auto over here. That’s totally different.” I shrugged. “It really doesn’t matter.” Angie gave me a long look and sighed. “It does matter, Mac.” She paused, then added, “Lots of things matter. That’s your problem, though. You don’t see those things.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Angie shook her head. “Never mind. Go solve your high profile GTA.” “Angie...” She tossed the carrots back into the drawer and returned to her own case file, ignoring me. I knew from experience that there was no getting past that wall once she threw it up, so I sighed and turned back to my case file. My last case file. 3


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I wasn’t certain how I felt about that. I’d come close to retiring once before. I was all set to go. I even mentioned it to a few people, which was a mistake. Anytime someone utters the ”R” word around the police department, it causes a hum. That’s particularly true if the potential retiree has any rank at all. If a major retires, a captain is promoted to major. That promotion has a domino effect through lieutenant and sergeant to the line level. One retirement might make three or four different promotions. So, naturally, when whispers of someone cashing in their chips start flying, people get interested. Being a detective, my retirement didn’t raise as much of a stir, though Kevin Brown, the patrol officer sitting number one on the promotional list, definitely raised an eyebrow. He even came to ask me if the rumor was true. By then, I was getting cold feet, so I told him I wasn’t sure. When I eventually decided not to go, it didn’t make him too happy. The list died with him sitting at number one. He hasn’t tested well enough to be within striking distance since. No surprise, he still doesn’t talk to me. Why’d I stay? Hard to say, really. I guess that when I stood at that precipice and looked over, I just didn’t see a soft landing below. The question of ”what next?” plagued me and I didn’t have an answer. At fifty years old, I just couldn’t see waking up in the morning not knowing what I was going to do that day. It could be something more. Maybe I wanted to stay and earn Detective First Grade. I’d never had any breakout, high profile cases in my career. Those big moments just seemed to come along when I was on days off or assigned to another case. At best, I worked in a support role, one that may or may not even require 4


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testimony at trial. The cards just seemed to fall that way. So maybe, I hoped, if I stayed a few more years, my karma would change and I’d hit some case worth remembering. One that defined a career. What I found was that people don’t change and neither does your karma. I spent another six years on the job, catching the same kinds of cases I’d caught for the previous fifteen as a detective. In the ten years before that, as a patrol officer, I’d been answering the same kinds of radio calls. Ultimately, I figured that’s what defined my career. I eventually made First Grade the same day I made my thirty years on the job. Sergeant Williamson pushed the paperwork through, citing “twenty years of consistent, diligent, solid investigations” and ”steady reliability in all assignments.” In other words, sustained mediocrity. The brass bought it, though, and I got my stripe and pay bump. This event made me think about the job and about my attitude toward my career, in general. I came to realize that I was like an addict who was still copping, trying to find that first, magical high again. They call it ”chasing the dragon.” As every addict knows, the harder you pursue it, the more unattainable it becomes. Surely that was what kept me on the job. I wasn’t young enough to be kicking in doors and chasing down the big players anymore. Hell, almost all of them had dates of birth fresher than my date of hire. If I’d had a family, it’d be like chasing my kids’ classmates around this city. I’m fifty-six years old. I had thirty-one years on the job. Enough. 5


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I blinked, bringing my eyes back into focus. The type on the police report in my case file remained slightly blurred. I muttered a curse, slid my drawer open and dug for my reading glasses. Angie cast a glance over her shoulder at me. “What’s the matter?” “Nothing.” “Don’t give me that,” she said. “Five years I’ve been sitting here. I know when something’s wrong.” “It’s nothing,” I repeated. “I just can’t read this report.” “Eyes going?” “No.” “You looking for your glasses?” “No.” “They’re next to your phone,” she told me. I stopped digging in my drawer. A quick look at my phone told me she was right. I returned to digging in the drawer. “I was looking for a highlighter pen.” “Sure.” I found a yellow highlighter pen and set it on the desk triumphantly. “See?” “Yeah. You’re full of shit, Mac.” I sighed. Ever since Angie was assigned to the North Precinct five years ago, we’d become unofficial partners. Her biting sarcasm and my mild grouchiness could have been a toxic combination, but somehow we both seemed to find some comfort in it. No one else seemed to have me figured out quite like she did. Guess no one else cared enough to take the time. “It’s just that the goddamn patrol officer selected a point size so small that it’s impossible to read,” I explained. “Lazy bastard probably did it so that he could fit the whole report on one page and not have to 6


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fill out an additional narrative sheet.” Angie cocked an eyebrow at me. I never told her, but when she did that, the lines in her face became more pronounced. She refused to divulge her actual age, but I put her in her early forties. Most days, she could pass for mid-thirties, though. Except when she cocked that eyebrow. “What?” I asked her. “The point size is standard,” she said matter-offactly. I shook my head. “Not this one. It’s small so he could fit it on one page.” “No, it’s not.” “Angie, cops have been doing this for years. You write small so you don’t have to—” She held up her hand, stopping me. “Yeah, you’re right. We used to do it all the time when we wrote reports by hand. It saved filling out the header for an additional. Saved all of about four minutes.” “Exactly my point.” She shook her head. “Mac, they don’t have to worry about that anymore. The report writing program autofills additional pages. The computer does it for them. There’s no reason to keep it all on one page. No reason to write, or type, small.” I stared at her for a moment. Then I reached up and scratched my neck, looking at her. She was right, of course. I knew it, too. My reverie slipped me off track and I forgot. Angie kept looking back at me, so I said, “Then I guess this asshole just likes writing his reports in tiny letters.” Angie smiled. “You’re grouchy enough you could have been born in Jersey, Mac. “Whatever.” 7


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“Put on your magic glasses,” she instructed, turning back to her own case file. “The words will suddenly get bigger. Clearer, too.” I waited a few moments, drumming my fingers on the desk. Then I reached for my eye glasses. Sure enough, as soon as I settled them on my nose, the type became crisper and easier to read. I grunted my displeasure. “Told ya,” Angie said without looking my direction. I grunted again. “You know what goes right after the eyes, Mac?” “Give it a rest, Scialfa.” “First the vision fails,” she said, “and then pretty soon you’ll have a tough time getting other parts to work when you want them to.” “My eyes are fine,” I said. “So’s everything else. Now shut up so I can read, please.” She fell silent, but I could sense her grin from where I sat. “And stop smiling,” I added. “You’re not the boss of me,” she said. I shook my head and continued reading the case file. The further I got into it, the more it became obvious why Akeela had assigned it to me. The thing was a slam dunk. Two different neighbors saw the suspect loading the lawn mower onto the back of a pickup truck. It didn’t get much easier than that. The suspect even lived on the same block. About the only hole in the case was that neither neighbor realized that the lawn mower was stolen at the time, so no one thought to get the license plate number of the truck. Still, this was a case that I could easily clear. I glanced at my watch. Barely nine in the morning. I could have this wrapped up before one, which was 8


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when the big sendoff for me was scheduled to take place. That was probably what Akeela had in mind when he made the assignment, in fact. I stood and reached for my jacket. “You want to come out with me on this?” I asked Angie. “On the grand theft lawn mower?” she asked. “Yeah. I want to interview the suspect.” “Sure. What the hell.” She closed her case file. “This caper blows anyway.” “Don’t do me any favors,” I said. “Don’t worry, stud,” she said, standing up and putting on her coat. “I won’t.” On the way out to my car, I filled her in on the bare details of the case. She wrinkled her nose. “Why don’t you just cut an affidavit and request a warrant based on the eyewitness testimony? You’ve got probable cause.” I held the exit door open for her. “Probable cause doesn’t get the guy his lawn mower back.” Angie chuckled. “You’re such a white knight, Mac. What the fuck do you care if he gets his lawn mower back?” “Isn’t that supposed to be my job?” “It’s your job to catch the bad guy,” Angie said. “If you recover the property, that’s a bonus.” “It’s evidence.” “Fine, but you don’t need it. You’ve got good witnesses. That’ll make the case just fine. Then you can move on to the next one.” I shook my head as we headed out to the motor pool. The crisp March air bit into my hands. If we got any rain today, it’d be dangerously close to snow. “There is no next one for me,” I told her. “Oh. Yeah, I forgot.” “Besides, we have a responsibility to the victim,” I 9


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said, repeating what my mentor had said to me hundreds of times when I first made detective twenty years ago. “That’s Akeela talking,” Angie said. “You pull that shit out whenever you know I’m right.” I didn’t say anything until we located my pale blue Crown Victoria in the parking cage. I opened the driver’s door and popped the lock for her. Once inside, I started the car and let the engine warm up. “Heat,” Angie requested, rubbing her hands together briskly. “It’ll only blow cold air,” I told her. “Let the engine warm up.” “You always say that.” “Well, I’m right.” I waited a moment, then said, “And so was Akeela . He was a great detective in his time.” “I know,” Angie said. “He’s a fucking legend. But he didn’t deal with the volume of cases we deal with now, Mac.” “He understood our duty,” I said. Angie sighed. “Look, you know the numbers as well as I do. We’ve got the same number of detectives working now as we did in 1964. Same number. But the population of the city has grown by what, fifty or sixty thousand since then? And the crime rate has tripled, at least.” “That doesn’t change anything.” “It changes everything,” she countered. “We have to be more selective in the cases we work and how far we work them. Get in, get out and move on. That’s the way it is today.” “I don’t like it.” “Duh. That’s why you’re retiring.” 10


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A silence fell between us. I scowled and stared down at the temperature gauge, waiting for it to nudge off of ”cold.” Angie sat impatiently, blowing on her fingertips. Finally, the red needle twitched. I dropped the car into gear and headed out of the parking lot. I cruised slowly toward the suspect’s address, almost on auto-pilot. After thirty-one years of working this city, I knew the streets like the back of my hand. Driving the most direct route to any address was second nature. But in the last ten years or so, I started noticing how every block I drove down had an eerie familiarity to it. I recalled radio calls I’d responded to or cases I’ve investigated that took place in houses on that street. Most of those calls and cases were pleasant memories. For me, there were ghosts on every block now. About half way to our destination, Angie spoke up. “Look, Mac, I’m not trying to tell you how to run your case. If you want to interview the suspect for stronger PC, that’s cool. And recovering the evidence props things up, too. I’m just saying that you don’t absolutely need it. That’s all.” “The victim deserves it,” I said. “The victim has insurance, right?” Angie replied. “He’ll get a new mower out of the deal.” I shrugged. “Don’t pout,” she said. “I’m not.” “You’re scowling, and that’s how you pout.” “Stop acting like my wife.” “I might as well be your work wife,” she said. She paused, then added, “From what I can tell, that’s about as close to getting laid as you’ve come in recent history.” 11


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I turned my head to look at her. “Detective Scialfa, did you just proposition me?” “Dream on,” she answered. “I’m just making a statement of record.” “Let’s not worry about my love life, okay?” “Okay.” “It’s not a problem.” “Whatever you say.” “It’s not.” “I believe you,” she said. After a pause, she added, “I mean, I’m sure you have it well in hand.” “Says the social butterfly,” I popped back. She raised an eyebrow. “Is that veiled reference to my virtue?” “Or lack thereof,” I said. Her eyes narrowed. “Those who can do,” she said. “Those who can’t…mock.” I shrugged. There was no defeating her. The best strategy was surrender. We fell silent again, each left to our own thoughts. I drove mechanically, considering her point. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was an old thing in a new world. The telegraph after the telephone was invented. Maybe the world has moved on. Now was a new world—not my world any longer. New ideas were taking hold with new priorities and new rules. It was no place for me to be any longer. This case would be my final opportunity to finish things my way, regardless. The suspect, James Kerry, lived on a decent block of West Nebraska Street. I pulled to a stop a few houses west of the residence and put the cruiser in park. I pointed through the windshield. “It’s the blue house,” I told Angie. 12


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“Yeah, I recognized the numbers on the front from the case file,” Angie shot back and opened the door to get out. I shook my head. “Ball breaker to the end,” I muttered, following her up the sidewalk. The outside of Kerry’s house was accented with some peeling paint. The yard wasn’t as nicely tended as those in the rest of the block, either. I assumed the house was a rental. For some reason, criminals, particularly thieves, tend not to take care of their homes, cars or other belongings. Maybe it has something to do with not respecting others’ property. I knocked on the door and waited. Angie shifted impatiently from foot to foot, trying to peer through the front window. I doubted she’d be able to see past the dingy curtain, but you never know. After almost a minute, there was a rustle behind the door, the knob rattled and a disheveled man around thirty swung open the door. His tweaked hair looked like he’d been sleeping, but with dirtballs, you never knew. “Whuh?” he said, his tone irritated. I flashed my badge. “Detective McCrae, Spokane PD.” He stared at the badge for a few seconds before looking me over. His back straightened and his jaw tightened slightly. He glanced over at Angie. “This is Detective Scialfa,” I said, answering his next question. “We’re looking for James Kerry.” The man returned his gaze to me. “Why?” “Are you James Kerry?” He shook his head. “No.” “Then it isn’t any of your business,” I told him. “Is he here?” 13


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His eyes narrowed slightly before he answered. “No.” “Where is he?” “Out.” “Out where?” “Out out,” he repeated. “And who are you?” “A friend.” “You got a name?” He gave me another hard look. “I’m a friend,” he repeated. I raised my eyebrows slightly, returning his look with a neutral expression. I allowed a few moments of silence to pass. He squirmed after just a few seconds. “So if that’s all,” he said, starting to close the door. Angie stepped forward. She stopped the door with her hand. “Maybe you don’t understand, jerk off,” she said. “Jerk off?” he asked, surprised. She gave him a tight smile and continued. “We’re investigating a serious felony here. James Kerry is involved. We have to talk to him. So we come to James Kerry’s house. You know, so we can talk to him. And then you answer the door. Get it?” “I’m not him,” he said. “Yeah, I heard that song already. Not a Top Forty hit. You can’t even dance to it.” “Huh?” “Look,” Angie said, not missing a beat. “Maybe you’re not Kerry. But we need to identify you to be sure of that. Otherwise, we’ll just slap cuffs on you and take you down to the station for some fingerprints. With the NCIC computer backed up, it’ll only take a day or two for them to come back.” 14


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“A day or two?” She nodded. “Yup. Or an ID card now. Your call.” He let out a long, resigned sigh. “Hold on,” he said and disappeared back into the house. Angie kept the door propped open, watching for him. “Nice,” I said quietly. She shrugged. “Not even my A game. He’s bush league.” “Still.” I watched her as she lifted up her high heel and brushed some dirt from the toe. Times had changed. The dirt bags were the same, but the detectives were different. She glanced up at me. “You were always too nice, Mac. For an old school guy, you just always seemed to stay on the nice guy track way too long.” “My charming personality, I guess.” The man reappeared and handed Angie his identification card. She glanced at it, then handed it to me. I read the name on it. Alan Tucker. “All right, Alan,” I said. “Where’s James?” “Like I told you, I don’t know.” He motioned to his license. “Can I have that back?” I jotted down his name and date of birth, then handed the license back to him. “Any idea when he’ll be back?” “Nah. Probably late, though.” “I need to talk to him,” I said, reaching into my jacket for one of my business cards. “Have him call—” I felt Angie’s hand on my forearm. Her other hand extended a business card toward Tucker. “Have him call me,” she said. “I’ll take care of the interview.” I allowed a small smile to touch my mouth. That’s right. I wasn’t going to be around to do the follow up. 15


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Tucker grabbed the card. “Fine, but I can’t guarantee…” “He calls,” Angie said, “or when I come back, I’ll arrest him and do a search warrant on this house. Anything else I find might cause trouble for anyone else living here. How would that be?” Tucker scowled. “I’ll make sure he gets the message.” “You do that.” We turned and walked away. Once we were out of earshot, she chuckled. “Child’s play,” she said. “You’ll interview him?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll consider it your last wish before you ride off into the sunset.” “Thanks.” “Now, let’s get you back to the station for your big celebration.” It was my turn to sigh. “I don’t want any big deal made. I just want to retire and go away.” “Too bad. We’re having cake. Don’t bitch about it.” We got into the cruiser and headed back to the station. I typed up and printed my brief report and gave it to Angie. That made me realize that I still needed to change my telephone message. I recorded a greeting in my professional police voice, advising the caller that I had retired and referring them to Detective Scialfa or Sergeant Williamson, depending on their need. Once I’d completed the task, the monotone voice of a female computer told me that I had a new message. I punched a button to listen. “Detective McCrae? Mac? This is Rachel Kittredge.” She spoke quickly, a trace of nervousness in her tone. 16


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“You, uh, you probably don’t remember me, but I really need to talk to you about something. It’s too personal to get into over the phone, but it’s important. Can you call me?” She recited her number, which I jotted down out of habit. Then she said thanks and hung up. I deleted the message, trying to remember ever meeting a Rachel Kittredge. The voice sounded like it belonged to a woman in her thirties, but I couldn’t place the name. After thirty-plus years, that happens to you. Too many names, too many cases. I tossed the slip of paper with her name and number into the box with my personal stuff in it. Then I half sat on the edge of my desk, dreading what was to come. I wasn’t much for parties to begin with. Being the focus of attention made it even worse. Angie’s elbow in my ribs every minute or so didn’t help, either. About twenty-five detectives were assembled in the North Precinct bullpen. They milled around or stood in small clumps of three and four, probably wanting to get this over as quickly as I did. They all had cases to solve and coffee to drink. Almost involuntarily, I glanced around the room, looking at the collection of cops with a curious eye. It felt strange to admit it, but they were the current generation now. Not me. My time was done. Akeela caught me looking around and tipped me a wink. I wondered if my expression betrayed my thoughts to him. Probably. He was one insightful son of a bitch. Sergeant Perry “Akeela” Williamson registered a shade over six feet tall. Despite his advancing age, he stood like the old Marine he was, carrying himself with 17


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a dignity that seemed more and more rare these days. His dark skin was mottled with a few even darker spots on his cheeks, made even more prevalent by the stark white in his short afro and goatee. His eyes scanned the room with a combination of keen intelligence and constant assessment. Nothing got by “The White Wolf”. I doubted that any of the other cops standing around bullshitting had any clue what I was thinking or feeling. Hell, every year, fewer and fewer of them even knew where Akeela’s nickname came from. They just assumed it was some kind of back-to-the-roots African name or something. But it wasn’t. It came from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Akeela was the leader of the wolf pack that adopted the man-child, Mowgli. Near the end of the story, he is old and frail, but remained a regal leader to the last. Perry got that name about a year after he made sergeant. He’d had a touch of gray at his temples even then, but within a year his entire head of hair was white. He took great pains to look out for his people, not hesitating to bark at them if they needed it. Another cop with a college education (or maybe he just read a lot) dubbed him Akeela. Some joker added the additional moniker of “The White Wolf” a little later. The name stuck. Most people called him Sarge, but some of us still called him Akeela. It bugged me to think that the story behind the name might be forgotten. No one reads the classics anymore. I glanced over at Angie. She was listening in on a conversation a few feet away between two hot-dog Street Crimes detectives. That lovely, familiar smirk sat on her face like a comfortable shirt, calling “bullshit” on their cowboy arrest story without uttering a word. I ought to tell her about Rudyard Kipling. She should 18


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know what his name meant. Akeela stepped forward into the middle of the bullpen and conversation tapered off. He looked around the room as if taking roll call, then settled his gaze on me. “I think we all know why we’re here,” he said in his deep, gravelly voice. “Today is Jack McCrae’s last day. He’s had a long career here at the Spokane Police Department. What is it, Mac? Thirty years?” “Thirty-one,” I answered. He knew how many years. Hell, he probably knew how many days. He just wanted to get me talking. Akeela nodded. “Lots of changes in thirty-one years. Lots of new things.” I nodded back, saying nothing. “Yeah,” a voice piped up from the back of the crowd. “Like cars and radios.” A rumble of chuckles rolled through the room. “And no more flintlock rifles,” someone else added, and the rumble exploded into laughter. I smiled and endured it, waiting for the dinosaur references to make their appearance. Akeela held up his hand to stem the laughter, a slight smile playing on his lips. “Lots of changes,” he repeated, “but one thing remains the same. The need for good, honest police work. That’s what Mac has given us for three decades. He deserves our thanks for that.” With that, Akeela put his hands together in a slow clap. Moments later, the rest of the group joined in and everyone clapped. A lump rose in my throat, but I forced it down. “Speech!” someone from the back yelled, probably that same clown who made the crack about flintlocks. “Speech!” 19


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A murmur of agreement came from the assembled group. I raised both my hands for quiet. I looked around at the group of men and women that I’d spent the last several years working around. Standing there, at the penultimate moment of my career, it occurred to me that I probably couldn’t tell you five things about any one of the people staring back at me. Except maybe Angie. Akeela, too. But beyond that? Not a thing. That should have made me sad, shouldn’t it? But it didn’t. It just made me feel empty. Once it was quiet, I said, “Thank you.” I waited a beat, then pointed over at the serving table. “Please have some cake.” No one said anything for a moment, then everyone laughed. My reputation for being a man of few words probably made the lack of a speech seem fitting. But the truth was, I just didn’t have anything to say. Angie leaned in close to me and whispered, “Wow. You really know how to work a crowd.” I didn’t answer. Cops love free food. It doesn’t matter the reason why the food is available. If it’s free, they love it. My fellow detectives were no exception. They swarmed the cake table like locusts, scooping squares of the white cake with SPD blue frosting onto little paper plates. I tried to avoid having any, since I’m not a big cake fan. But Angie came back from the scramble with two plates, so I felt obliged. People get insulted if you don’t eat a piece of your own celebration cake. After giving me my cake, Angie moved away to give me some space. I figured we’d say our goodbyes later, but for now, other detectives stopped by to offer congratulations and the obligatory we’ll-miss-yous and take-cares. I gave each of them a grateful nod. If they 20


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offered a hand, I shook it. But all the while, I was thinking about how they didn’t know me any better than I knew them. Akeela eventually drifted over. Even he had fallen prey to the confectionary seduction, taking tiny bites from a small piece of cake as he approached. Once he reached my desk, he swallowed and asked, “You close out that case I gave you?” I half-shrugged. “Sorta. I wrote up my report. There’s PC, but I couldn’t get an interview with the suspect. Angie’s going to follow up and cut the affidavit for me.” He nodded his approval. “She’s a sharp one,” he commented. “She is.” “Sharper than you.” “Like that’s a high standard.” Akeela grinned tightly. “Good point.” “Don’t get too attached,” I told him. “You’ll lose her to Homicide within two years.” “No doubt.” We stood quietly, chewing our cake for a while. Then I asked him, “Does all this make you think about going?” He shook his head. “I’m here for life. You know that.” “Don’t want that ex-wife to get half your retirement, huh?” “That’s right.” “Except there is no ex-wife.” Akeela gave me an amused look. “Mac, you just might be the last man around here who actually knows that to be true.” “Secret’s safe with me.” 21


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“Good.” “Don’t know why you say that, though. About the ex-wife.” Akeela finished his cake and tossed the paper plate into the nearest garbage can. “I suppose a man needs to give people a reason they can accept as to why he’s not retiring. Love for the job just doesn’t convince people these days.” “Why not?” “People are suspicious of love,” he answered. “That’s not what the songs on the radio say,” I joked. “Have you listened to the radio recently, Mac? There isn’t anything I’d call music on most of those stations.” He shook his head. “No, being motivated by love makes people suspicious. But spite?” He smiled grimly. “Well, people have no problem believing that.” “You’re a wise man, Akeela.” He shook his head. “Just old,” he said. Angie hovered around me later as I finished cleaning out my desk. I’d returned most of my duty gear to the quartermaster earlier in the week, keeping only my flashlight, handcuffs and my gun. While I was there, he’d given me several boxes for my personal items. As I picked through my desk, I realized that ninety percent of the stuff was work-related. If I wanted to fill even one box, I was going to have to consider stealing a stapler or something. After I had every conceivable personal item in a box, I kicked the others to the side and sat down. The small clock on my desk read 4:10. I was supposed to stay until five. The next fifty minutes figured to drag on forever. I sighed. “Call it a day,” Angie said. “What’re they going to 22


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do? Fire you?” She was probably right. Again. I didn’t answer right away. Instead, I sat at my desk with conflicting emotions. I was ready to leave, but felt reluctant to get out of my chair for the final time. It didn’t make sense to me. After a few moments of sitting there like a lump, I decided Angie was right. I stood up. So did she. “This isn’t going to get teary-eyed, is it?” I asked her. “You wish,” she shot back. “No, I’m just gonna say goodbye.” She rose and came to my desk. I stood to meet her. She started to hold out her hand, then pulled it back and embraced me instead. I put my arms around her in a brief hug. Her light, flowery perfume filled my nostrils. She gave me a hard squeeze, then stepped back. “Take care of yourself, Mac,” she said. “And keep in touch.” “You do the same,” I answered. She smiled at me, then turned away. I picked up my half-filled box of meager possessions and made my way to Akeela’s office. He sat erect in his chair, scrawling his signature on paperwork. A pair of reading spectacles hung on the end of his nose. I set my box on the floor beside the open door and knocked. He removed his glasses and motioned me in. “Sneaking out early?” he asked. “I think so,” I said. “If that’s all right.” “One time in thirty years? I’d say that’s all right.” Without a word, I put my flashlight on his desk. I followed that with my handcuffs and spare magazines. It took me a few seconds to disengage the holster from 23


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my belt, but then I laid that on the desk, too. It made a heavy clunk on the solid wood. Lastly, I unclipped my badge and set it beside the gun. Akeela stared at the pile of equipment for a moment. Then he opened his desk drawer and removed a gold badge. He held it out to me. I took it. The style was the same as my detective’s badge, only the word ‘retired’ was emblazoned across the bottom of it. I slid the badge into my pocket. “Thanks,” I said simply. “You’ve been a good cop for me,” he said. I shrugged. “Good, but not great.” Akeela frowned. “You do something good for over thirty years, I’d call that great.” He stood up and stuck out his hand. “Best of luck, Mac.” I took his hand. His skin was dry and calloused. I squeezed and shook. He squeezed and shook back. When our hands broke away, I turned around and walked out, pausing to pick up my box. After that, I didn’t stop walking until I was out of the building. And just like that, I stopped being a cop.

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TWO My first week off just seemed like a long weekend. I sat outside on my little apartment patio. I read two books. I rented a couple of movies. The Bruce Willis one was funny, though I don’t think it was supposed to be. I drank a little more wine than I meant to. It wasn’t on purpose. In the past, I usually stopped after a glass or two because I had to work the next day. I drank wine for the experience, anyway, not to get hammered. I think a metal singer once said something about how wine was fine, but whisky was quicker? Even so, the vino snuck up on me. A couple of nights, I drained an entire bottle and found myself contemplating opening a second one. Not good. Not when you’re alone and sitting around wondering about things. So I forced myself back into work mode – two glasses, maximum. Up at seven in the morning. I figured that the routine would help. All it helped me do, though, was to read the newspaper earlier and to drink more coffee. Inevitably, my attention drifted to the police-related stories in the newspaper. Since the paper was never friendly to the department, I wondered what really happened in each incident. I drew clues from the 25


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newspaper account, then sat and pieced together what was the most likely scenario. I did it a lot. Too much. So I decided to quit reading the paper. I went to the bookstore instead. The hole-in-the-wall independent stores in town did not exist any more. All the bookstores were trendy, corporate establishments, complete with an accompanying coffee bar and a wireless internet connection. I wandered into one with a few other sheep, selected a couple of titles, paid for them and found the coffee lounge. I ordered black coffee. The barista stared at me for a minute, then asked me what size. “Regular.” “You mean Tall.” “No, regular.” “Tall is regular.” I gave her a look before answering. I started to ask why they didn’t just call it regular, but changed my mind with the question half-formed. She was nineteen years old, maybe twenty-three at the most, and probably couldn’t remember a world where there wasn’t a Starbucks every quarter mile. So I nodded. “Yeah, okay. Tall.” She turned away and drew my cup. I paid her and left a small tip. Maybe the size of the tip was because she insisted on calling it a Tall, but then again, I was on a fixed income now. I plunked down in an overstuffed chair and blew on my coffee. The two books I bought stared up at me, inviting. I re-read the blurb on the jacket backs and 26


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flipped through the pages. I just couldn’t seem to get interested enough to start reading either one. Instead, I sat and people-watched while sipping my coffee. I learned a long time ago that I could never turn off my cop eyes. Of course, early in a career, who wanted to? But as the years rolled on, there were times when I just wanted to get away from work completely. Take a break. That wasn’t entirely possible, though, because I could never turn off my cop eyes. I always saw what I was trained to see. It’s automatic. Ten minutes of sitting in the coffee shop and I had virtually every person that walked through pegged. I was seeing stories I didn’t want to see anymore. When I’d half-finished my coffee, I rose and tossed the cup in the trash. In a stroke of inspiration, I returned to the bookshelves. In the “Classics” section, I found a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, paid for it and left. “Detective Scialfa,” she answered her phone briskly. “You settle out that lawn mower heist yet?” I asked her. “Mac! Good to hear from you. How’s retirement?” “Great,” I lied. “I bet.” “So the mower...?” “Oh, yeah. I took care of it.” She chuckled. “Guy called me back, so I brought him down here for a chat. Put him in the box and he confessed. Wrote it up and everything.” “Nice work.” “Easy as pie. Now your final case was a big success. I even found out who he sold the mower to, so the vic got that back.” 27


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“Was he happy?” “Surprisingly, yeah. Of course, he hadn’t even started the insurance paperwork yet, so who knows?” I smiled. Even when she was wrong, Angie was right. I glanced down at the book on my coffee table. “You think we can get some lunch?” I asked her. “I have something for you.” “For me?” “Yeah, you.” “That’s sweet, Mac. But....” She trailed off, her voice hesitant. “What?” “It’s just that I’m working on a push-in robbery right now,” she explained. “There’s a lot of physical evidence and a bunch of different witnesses. I’m kinda slammed.” “A robbery? How’d you get that?” “Spill-over from Major Crimes. They’re working that homicide up on Eastmont.” “One homicide has the whole unit busy?” She sniffed. “You don’t have time to read the paper now that you’re retired, Mac?” “I quit reading it.” “Well, the vic was a councilman’s mom. So they’re concentrating their efforts, I guess.” I grunted. “Don’t grunt,” she said. “We’ll get lunch another time.” I grunted again. She grunted back. I didn’t think it was possible to inject sarcasm into a grunt, but Angie proved me wrong on that one, too. “Well, bye, then,” I said. “Bye, Mac.” 28


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I broke the connection and stared at the phone for a long while. There’d been something different in Angie’s voice. Something small. Almost undetectable. She probably didn’t even realize it herself, but it was there. And I knew what it was. I wasn’t a cop any more. So what was I? I hung up the phone. The box containing all of my possessions from work sat next to the telephone on the counter. I read the print on the outside of the cardboard, advertising a brand of law enforcement gear. “Well,” I muttered to the empty room, “if I’m not a cop anymore, then I guess I should put all of this cop shit away.” I dug through the box, trying to decide what to remove first. A few certificates for schools I attended. I suppose they could go on the wall. That’d be a real sad testament, though. I spend thirty-one years on the job and I’m going to display my certificate for a forty-hour class on blood spatter? I pushed them aside and dug some more. A halffilled notepad of scribblings. A scrap of paper with a name and a phone number. Three pens, two of which were department issue Bics. A memo from the Chief congratulating me on thirty years. Two coupons for the Hula House, Angie’s favorite place for lunch— I stopped and went back to the scrap of paper. The name ‘Rachel Kittredge’, and a phone number, written in my hurried script. I squinted, trying to remember why on earth I’d saved this. Then I remembered. The voicemail message on my last day. She said she needed to talk to me. And something about it being too personal for the phone. 29


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Not my problem, right? I should just put it in Angie’s book and let her call. I wasn’t on the job any longer. I didn’t know what I was now, but I wasn’t a cop anymore. The name bothered me. Not a common name, but I didn’t recognize it. If it was a case I’d worked, I should at least get a tickle of recognition from hearing and seeing the name. Then again, maybe she was a witness I never talked to. Someone with new information. A good Samaritan. I could almost see Angie’s smirk at the thought. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the sound of her voice on the phone message. It wasn’t easy, because I’d been distracted at the time. But after a few moments, the sense of her voice drifted back to me. I listened to it in my memory, replaying it several times. No, I didn’t think that she was offering something. She wanted something. But she sounded like a citizen, not some skeevie doper planning to rat out an accomplice for the reward money. When I opened up my eyes, her telephone number stared up at me. Hell with it. I’m not a cop anymore. Over the next couple of days, I read the books I’d purchased at the bookstore. The copy of The Jungle Book that I bought for Angie sat untouched on my counter. I didn’t call her again, and she didn’t call me. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit hurt, even though I knew it wasn’t intentional. She was busy with her cases. Angie always carried a larger-than-average caseload, anyway. She worked late a lot. And she probably just didn’t think about it after work. She’d be tired, right? 30


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So I read my books and drank my wine. Whenever I realized I was scowling, I forced my expression into neutral. Sometimes I looked up from my book and stared at the inside of my apartment. A few landscape portraits hung on the clean white walls. No pictures of family. No wife, no kids. Not even brothers or sisters or their kids. I used to have a picture of my parents but after Mom died ten years ago, I took it down. I don’t know why. You’d think that without any other family to speak of, I would have left it up there. But I didn’t. When I leave this world, there won’t be any pictures of me on anyone’s walls, either. I poured another glass of wine. The phone awakened me a little after eleven. I started in my chair, and my reading glasses fell off my face, plunking onto the book in my lap. For a moment, I wasn’t sure why I’d woken up, but then the phone rang again, and I realized what was going on. I reached for the receiver. “Hello?” “Mac?” I thought it was Angie for a second, but the voice didn’t sound quite right. “Yeah?” “Oh, good. I wasn’t sure if this number would work.” Definitely not Angie. Whoever it was sounded a little off, like maybe she’d been drinking. Or that could the buzz in my own head. “Who is this?” “Rachel.” I drew a blank. “Rachel Kittredge,” she said. “I called you before.” “Oh, yeah.” My last message. The one I decided to 31


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leave for Angie to deal with. “Well, I’m retired now. Detective Scialfa is handling my old cases. Let me give you her number.” “I don’t want to talk to her. I want to talk to you.” I paused. My wine addled brain was starting to catch up to the conversation. “Wait a minute. How’d you get this number? It’s unpublished.” She sighed. “I’ll explain everything. Just meet me.” “Meet you? I don’t even know who you are.” Another sigh. “That’s sad. But meet me, anyway.” “I –” “Look, Mac. You got anything else going on right this second that’s more important?” I glanced down at the open book on my lap and then at the empty wine glass on the end table next to me. “No,” I admitted. “I’m at Scooby’s Tavern. You know it?” “Yeah.” It was about six blocks from my apartment. “See you there.” “Now?” She hung up. I sat holding the phone receiver, blinking. Who was she? How did she know my name? What did she want? Eventually, there was a click and the dial tone kicked in. I hung up the phone, stood up and put on my shoes. There was only one way to answer those questions. I decided to walk the six blocks. The cold air and the exercise might clear my head. Plus, it gave me some more time to think. By the time I strode into the parking lot of Scooby’s Tavern, though, I wasn’t any closer to figuring things out. The buzz in my head hadn’t faded, either. All I really got out of the walk was a cold face and stiff 32


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knees. A blast of warm air met me when I opened the door to Scooby’s, and I welcomed it. I closed the door behind me quickly, and looked around the place. The inside of was dimly lit but comfortable. There appeared to be enough people to keep the doors open and the lights on, but it didn’t seem crowded. My gaze swept across the clusters of people at the bar and at the tables. There weren’t any women by themselves. “Mac?” The voice came from behind me. I turned to look. A dishwater blonde woman in her mid-thirties stood outside the women’s restroom. She wore tight jeans, heeled boots and dark blue blouse that hugged her chest. There was something vaguely familiar about her eyes, but I couldn’t put my finger on the memory. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s me.” She moved in close and grabbed me in a sudden, awkward hug. Her breasts pressed against my chest. I could smell her perfume, something musky, and her hairspray. The liquor on her breath when she spoke was strong. “I’m glad you came,” she said with the slightest of slurs, and disengaged from the embrace. She smiled, her eyes lighting up. “We’re in the corner,” she said, pointing to an empty table. “We?” I asked. “Yeah. You and me.” She brushed past me and headed for the table. I took a deep breath and followed her. We sat down at the small table. Her brown jacket hung off the back of the chair. Out of habit, I adjusted my seat so I could see the entire room. 33


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A waitress appeared at our table. “Another for me,” Rachel said. The waitress nodded, then turned to me expectantly. “Just water,” I said. “Bullshit,” Rachel said. She raised her empty drink glass and flashed two fingers at the waitress. The waitress left, and Rachel turned back to me. “Just water,” she said in a deep voice, mocking me and shaking her head. “You can’t have just water, Mac. We’re celebrating.” “Celebrating what?” I asked. “And how do you know my name? I don’t know you.” “But you did once,” she said, smiling mischievously. “And now you do again. That’s what we’re celebrating.” I was tempted to just get up and leave. I didn’t like getting jerked around like this. But I’d come this far, so I figured I might as well solve this little mystery. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s celebrate.” “There you go,” she said. “That’s the attitude.” “How about we start by you telling me how you got my phone number?” She waved my question away. “You’re a detective. How would you find an unlisted number?” “I’d call the phone company. But that takes a badge.” “Or a friend at the phone company,” she said. I stared at her, trying to work out in my head why her face seemed familiar. She said I once knew her, so it had to be a few years ago. Where had I seen her before? She smiled. “Ah, Mac. It really is good to see you again. It’s been a long, long time.” “How long?” “You don’t recognize me, then?” She cocked her head slightly and pretended to pout. 34


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I shook my head. “Not exactly.” “But I do look familiar, right?” “Look, I don’t want to play games here. Just tell me who you are and what you want.” The world’s fastest waitress arrived table-side. She plunked down a drink in front of each of us, then stood waiting. Rachel looked at me and raised her eyebrows. I sighed, removed a twenty from my wallet and put it on the waitress’s serving tray. Her fingers flashed and she dropped the change onto the table, all in ones. I handed her back one of the dollar bills. She walked away. “Not a big tipper, huh?” “I guess not.” “She’s pretty fast. You should loosen up the purse strings a little bit. Waitressing is a hard job.” “I’m sure it is. Now who exactly are you?” Her smile dimmed and the playfulness left her eyes. “I’m Rachel.” “Rachel who?” “Kittredge. But that’s my married name.” I glanced down at her left hand, but the ring finger was bare. “I’m divorced now,” she explained. “My maiden name was Rachel Tate.” Tate, I thought. Tate. That was familiar, but it wasn’t an uncommon name, either. I looked at her, still drawing a blank. She shrugged, then said, “My mother’s name was Julia.” My jaw dropped. Rachel laughed in a light snort, covering her mouth. “Sorry,” she said, “but you should see the expression on your face.” 35


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I managed to close my mouth, but I’m sure the dumbfounded look didn’t leave. “You’re little Rachel?” I asked. She nodded, sipping her drink through the tiny straw. She swallowed and said, “Not so little anymore, huh?” I glanced at the low cut of her blouse and shook my head. “Unbelievable. I haven’t seen you in….” “About twenty-five years,” she finished. “Yeah.” “Yeah,” she echoed, raising her eyebrows and taking another long pull from her drink. We sat in silence. I reached down and brought the drink to my lips and took a healthy slug. The taste of whisky and coke washed away the residue of the cabernet I’d been sipping earlier in the night. I swallowed, took another drink, and put the glass down on the table. We stared at each other for a little while. Images of her mother paraded past my mind’s eye. Her smile in Riverfront Park. Tousled hair and a lustful gaze. And the frantic yelling over almost nothing. “How’s your mother?” I finally managed. “She’s dead.” “Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry. She was...uh, she was a good woman.” Her smile returned, but not enough to wash all of the shadow away. “You’re a terrible liar. I thought cops were good at that.” “I’m not a cop anymore,” I told her. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I just called you at the station like a week ago. What happened?” “I retired. You called me on my last day.” “Retired?” “Yeah.” 36


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She thought about it for a second, then shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. That might be better, actually.” “Better for what?” She just smiled at me and raised her glass. “Here’s to your retirement, Mac.” Reluctantly, I raised my glass and clinked hers. We both drank. “So why’d you lie?” Rachel asked. “About what?” “What you said about my mother. I mean, that was a lie, right?” I shrugged. “I was being polite. It’s disrespectful to speak ill of the dead.” She let out an small, ironic chuckle. “That’s sweet. Really. But I think we both know my mother had some serious problems. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have left her back then. I mean, you left for a reason, right?” I nodded reluctantly. “I did.” “Let me guess. She was crazy?” I didn’t detect any sarcasm in her voice, so I nodded again. “Crazy might be a strong word.” “Maybe when you knew her,” Rachel said, her tone drifting slightly colder. “But it wasn’t long before you would say crazy was an understatement. Even if you were being polite.” She finished off the rest of her drink and signaled the waitress. Then she motioned to me. “Drink up, Mac. You’re falling behind.” I took a sip of my drink and scratched my cheek, staring down at the table. My mind whirred. I tried to wrap my thoughts around what she was saying. “A lot to take in, isn’t it?” Rachel asked me. “A bit,” I admitted. The waitress put two fresh drinks in front of us. 37


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Rachel wrapped her hand around her glass, but didn’t drink. I polished off the last off my own drink and pushed the empty glass aside. “Their whisky and coke is the best in town,” Rachel told me. “Much better than the dive I work in. You know the secret?” I shook my head. “They use RC Cola instead of Coke. And they don’t use Jack Daniels, either. I can’t get Wanda to tell me what brand they use, but the combination is the best.” I took another drink, savored the taste, and nodded. It was good. “See? I know, right?” She paused, then her small smile broadened just a little more. “I liked you best, you know that? Of all the men my mother had come around, and believe me, there were plenty, I liked you the best.” “Yeah?”My head was beginning to buzz a little from the first whisky. I took another sip of this one, taking a moment to enjoy the taste again. “Yeah. You were sweet, but in a real way. Most of them pretended to be sweet to me for show, you know? Just for my Mom’s benefit and all. They’d bring me stuffed animals and shit like that. Near the end, before I left home, the men that she was attracting didn’t even bother with that.” “I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “Don’t be. That’s life.” “It doesn’t have to be.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. But it was good that you were sweet like that. It gave me an idea of how someone should treat me. That way, I knew when it wasn’t happening.” She let out a rueful laugh. “For all the good that did me.” 38


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I swallowed, wondering how I could have made things turn out differently if I’d stayed. She took a drink and cocked her head at me slightly. “How long were you with her? Do you remember?” “A year,” I said. “About a year.” She nodded. “I suppose that’s right. Time seemed different back then. I was never really sure if it was just a few months or maybe even a couple of years. I only remember you being around for one birthday, though. When I turned ten. Do you remember that?” I thought for a moment. Snippets of memories, long dormant, flashed through my head. I saw one containing a little blond girl in a pointed hat, holding a noise maker. She leaned forward close enough so that when she blew on it, the tip extended out and whacked me in the cheek. That caused her to shriek with laughter. “I do,” I whispered. “You had a nickname for me,” she said quietly. “Most of them did, but yours was the best. Do you remember? You used to call me—” “Little Lamb,” I finished for her. She met my gaze. Her eyes moistened and she nodded. “Yeah. I never knew why that name, though.” I gave her a tentative smile. “That’s what Rachel means in Hebrew.” Rachel dabbed her eyes with the napkin, wiping away her mascara that ran slightly. I noticed that there was a small black shadow on her cheek that didn’t leave when she wiped it. “Yeah, well, so anyway.” She took a deep breath and sighed, banishing the tears. “Mom got worse after you left. She even had some kind of breakdown or something. I went to live with my Nana here in 39


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Spokane for about a year while Mom went home to Cousins.” “Cousins?” “It’s in central Oregon. That’s where she’s from and where most of her family still lives.” She peered more closely at me. “She didn’t ever tell you that?” I shrugged. “Not that I remember. I got the impression that she was on the outs with her family.” “Yeah, she was, at least back then. She tried to get away from that town her whole life, it seemed like. But she always ended up going back.” Rachel shook her head. “She came back after about a year or so and we lived here until I finished high school. Eventually, though, she went back home. And that’s where she was when she died.” “I’m sorry,” I repeated. Rachel shrugged, but seemed to accept the consolation. “I hardly ever went to Cousins, you know? I didn’t really fit in with her family. But I went down there for her funeral. It was everything I remembered. Small, close-minded, fucked up little town. And everyone in her family gave me that disapproving look that people save for someone who is family that they ashamed of.” “Why would they be ashamed of you?” She snorted. “Oh, gee, I don’t know, Mac.” My expression didn’t change. “I mean it. Why?” “You serious?” I nodded. She looked at me for another moment, then said, “They just were. It was apparent in every glance and every word.” “That could’ve just been grief,” I suggested. “People respond in strange ways to grief.” 40


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“Yeah, I doubt it. But I don’t care. I was there to go to the funeral, to go through her things and to get the hell out of town. They didn’t want me there, anyway.” “How do you know that?” “They had me sitting in the third pew, for one thing.” I considered that a moment, then shrugged. She had a point. Rachel took a long drink, then continued. “Anyway, after the service, I skipped the reception and started going through my mother’s things. It took me the rest of that Friday and most of Saturday.” She paused, then reached for her purse. She opened it up and dug through it. I took a sip and waited. “Mom had a lot of stuff. You know, clothes and shoes and things like that? But she didn’t have a lot of personal items. No keepsakes, really. Just a photo album. That took me at least an hour to go through on Friday night.” She chuckled darkly. “I have to admit, I had some Jim Beam for company that night. And more than a few tears.” “Understandable.” “Yeah. Well, there was more in store for me on Saturday. I was going through a closet when I came across a shoebox full of old pictures.” She slid a photo face-down across the table toward me. “I found this inside.” I looked at her questioningly, but she motioned toward the photo. I reached down, turned it over and looked at it. The photo stock was thick and obviously an old Polaroid instant shot. Faded colors bathed the Julia Tate that I remembered. She stared out of the picture with the same haunted, nervous eyes that had 41


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stared back at me for that year we were together, long ago. Next to Julia was a small girl no more than four years old. Her hair and face seemed an almost carbon copy of Julia. Her eyes and smile were bright, however. They shone with the power of innocence and love that only a child can muster. “Who is this?” I asked Rachel. “I think it is my sister,” Rachel said. “You think?” “Yes. I never knew her, whoever she is.” “She could be a cousin or something,” I suggested. Rachel shook her head. “Look at her face. She’s like a miniature of my mother. No, I think she’s my sister and they never told me about her.” “They? Your mom’s family?” “Yes.” “Why would they do that?” “I don’t know.” “It seems a little far-fetched,” I said skeptically. “You don’t know Cousins,” Rachel insisted. “Or the Tates.” I shrugged. “I just don’t see a reason not to tell you about her, that’s all.” “I’m sure there’s a reason. I’m sure it’s a shitty, selfserving reason, too. But I want to find out.” She pointed at the picture in my hand. “I want to know who this girl is. If she’s my sister, I want to find her and meet her.” “Did you ask while you were down there for the funeral?” She half-shrugged. “Sort of. I showed my uncle. He danced around the subject and tried to take the Polaroid away from me. But I wouldn’t give it to him.” “Anyone else?” 42


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“Not really. No one would answer a straight question about it.” “Why?” “Like I said, you don’t know Cousins. My uncle is a big deal there. If he lets it be known that he doesn’t want people to tell me things about this or about anything else, they listen. So when I figured out the score, I quit asking.” “Why not just push harder?” “Because,” she said, “I didn’t want to screw up the chances of eventually getting information. So I shut up.” I exhaled slowly and heavily. “It sounds like a tough situation. I’m sorry.” “You don’t have to be sorry, Mac. You can do something about it. You can help me.” “I can’t do that.” “Sure you can.” “No, I can’t. I’m retired now.” “Which makes it easier for you to pick up and leave for Cousins,” she answered. “I can’t.” “You mean you won’t.” I took another sip and was surprised to find it the last one in the glass. Rachel stared at me for a moment, then tipped her own glass back and drain it in three gulps. She raised her hand toward Wanda, the waitress. “No,” I said. “We don’t need another round.” “Sure we do,” Rachel said. “We need to finish celebrating.” My head was buzzing. “I think we’ve celebrated enough.” “The hell with that,” Rachel said. “We had a drink 43


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for your retirement, and we had one for my dead mother. We’ve got one more thing to celebrate.” “Rachel, I’m sorry for your situation. I really am. But—” Wanda appeared at the table with two new drinks. They were on the table and the empty glasses on her tray before I could say another word. “Final round,” Rachel said. I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “All right.” She raised her glass. I raised mine. “To finding out that the heroic Mac is no different than every other man out there,” Rachel said, her smile ferocious. I lowered my glass. “Come on. What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She shrugged and took a drink. “Men always let you down. I guess you’re no different.” “That’s manipulative bullshit,” I said. I was conscious of the slur in my own voice now. “No, that’s truth.” I should have stood up and left, even if I would have staggered a little bit. But instead, I sat there staring at her. My sense of decency had just been attacked and I had a hard time walking away from that. “I don’t owe you anything,” I said, my tone defensive. “Spoken like a true man,” she said, raising her glass. “Let’s toast that.” When I didn’t lift my own glass, she took a drink and shrugged. “You and Charlie would get along great.” “Who the hell is Charlie?” She pointed to the shadow on her cheek. “My ex. He didn’t figure he owed me anything, either. Except the back of his hand.” 44


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I stared at her for a few seconds. Then I leaned forward and said, “Fuck this. I’m leaving.” I started to rise, but she put her hand on my forearm. Her expression had softened and instead of hard sarcasm, I saw something else. Something vulnerable, and even a little panicky. “Please,” she said. “Stay. Just for a little while.” I didn’t move. Her hand was warm on my arm. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Really.” After a moment, I nodded. “Okay.” I pulled my arm away and picked up my drink. “But don’t try to work me like that again.” She raised her glass. “To honesty, then.” I could drink to that. I clinked her glass and took a swallow. “I meant what I said earlier,” she said. “Which?” I asked. She smiled. “When I said I liked you best.” “Oh.” “And how you treated me nice.” “You were a little girl,” I said. “Of course I did.” “Of course,” she said, raising her glass for a toast. So we toasted and we drank. We talked some more about her job, which she hated but said she was good at. She asked about my career and I regaled her with a couple of stories I’d been on the periphery of. We laughed a little, then a lot. Then we had another round. What did I say about the metal singer? Wine is fine but whisky’s quicker? After another round, things felt more relaxed. We laughed about common experiences. About movies we’d both seen and about stupid people. We didn’t speak about her mother or the little girl that might be 45


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her sister. She didn’t ask me to go anywhere or do anything. “What’s with this guy Charlie?” I asked her some time later. She frowned. “I sent him packing.” “To jail?” “What? No, down the road. What do you mean, jail?” “He hits you, cops show up and see that bruise on your cheek, he goes to jail,” I said, my sentence running out in a blur. Rachel laughed a little. “Mac, I haven’t called the cops since I was about thirteen and some guy was pushing my Mom around the apartment. Until tonight, that is.” She laughed again. “And I guess that doesn’t even count, since you’re not a cop anymore.” “Probably not,” I agreed. I lifted my glass, but it was empty. “What about this fucking Charlie, though?” “What about him?” “Was that the first time he hit you?” She waved my question away. “Forget him. He’s history.” “No, really. Did he—” “Dance with me.” I stopped. Blinked. “What?” “I love this song. Dance with me.” I looked around the bar. No one else was dancing. In fact, most everyone else had left. I glanced down at my wrist but I’d forgotten to put on my watch when I left the apartment. “Dance?” “Jesus,” Rachel said, standing and reaching out to take my hand. “Hurry up before the song is over.” I got to my feet. Her hand was small and warm, but 46


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she pulled me to an open space with a quiet confidence. I recognized the tune from the eighties, but the chorus hadn’t come yet, so I didn’t know the title. Rachel slipped her arms around me, pressing her cheek into my shoulder. The warmth of her body soaked into me. Her hair smelled clean and fresh, like a new day. I stood like a statue for a second with my arms held out stiffly. Then I relaxed them and embraced her lightly. And then we were dancing. We swayed slowly to the music. The song hit the chorus and then I remembered it in a flash. It’d been a popular slow dance song back then, and for years afterward. But it had been a long time since I’d danced to it. A long time since I’d held a woman, or felt this kind of closeness with anyone. The song ended too soon. As the last notes of the piano were fading, Rachel brushed her lips across my cheek. “Thanks, Mac,” she whispered. “I needed that.” I didn’t answer. What was I supposed to say? That she was welcome? That I’d needed it, too? Christ. I didn’t have to say anything, though. She walked away from me and back to the table. Once she sat down, she ordered another round. I joined her. “Last call,” Wanda said as she put the drinks on the table. I handed her two bills to square up the tab. When she handed me back a small stack of ones, I waved them away. “Nice,” Rachel said once Wanda was out of earshot. “You’ve finally loosened up.” “She plied me with liquor.” “Whatever works,” she said. 47


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I wanted to ask her more about her life, but it didn’t seem right. Things felt good. They felt happy. I didn’t want to be a downer. I realized I was smiling. Rachel noticed, too. “What?” she asked. “What?” I repeated. “You’re smiling.” “I am?” “You are.” “You’re right.” “Why?” I thought about it for a second. I took a deep breath and let it out. “I guess because I’m having fun.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” I nodded. “Definitely. In fact, I think I’ve had more fun tonight than I’ve had in…well, in a long time.” “Good,” she said. She drained her glass and put on her jacket. “Then this was worth it, after all.” “Huh?” “You were nice to me once, right? Now I’ve been nice to you, too. Like you said, now nobody owes nobody.” “You’re still mad,” I said. She shook her head. “No. I’m not. Really. I’m glad we had a good time. We should try to do it again sometime.” “Yeah,” I said, but I couldn’t be sure if she meant it. Rachel zipped up her jacket. She leaned in and kissed me lightly on the cheek. “See you around, Mac. Enjoy retirement.” I watched her turn to go. Then my brain caught up with things. “Wait,” I said. 48


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She stopped and looked over her shoulder at me. “You can’t drive,” I said. “Sure I can.” I shook my head. “No way. You’re a deuce.” “Deuce?” “DUI,” I said. “You’ll never make it home.” “I’m fine.” “No, you’re not.” “How do you know?” “Because I’m not,” I said, standing up and walking purposefully toward her. “And you’ve had at least as much as me.” “Maybe you’re a lightweight.” “Even so. Let me call you a taxi.” “I don’t want a taxi.” “Why?” “They’re humiliating.” I blinked and stared at her, trying to figure out how in the hell a taxi could be humiliating. “How…how…?” “They just are.” “Okay,” I said. “I just don’t see….” “Are you going to take one?” “What?” “You’re at least as drunk as I am. Are you taking a taxi, or is it just a girl thing?” I shook my head. “I walked.” “Walked.” “Yeah.” I motioned with my hand. “My apartment is, like, six blocks away.” We stood there in silence for a long moment. I had a thought, then pushed it down along with a boatload of guilt. Then another thought came along. “You could crash on my couch,” I said. She stared at me, saying nothing. 49


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“Really,” I said. “It’s comfortable enough. And like I said, I’m a five minute walk away. You could come back and get your car in the morning.” She kept staring at me, then nodded slowly. “Okay, Mac. Yeah. Thanks.” She slid her arm around mine. “Let’s do it. Let’s go.” We staggered out of the tavern together and down the sidewalk. Neither of us was fit to walk a straight line but we managed to stay on the sidewalk. I got my key in the door on the second try and flipped on some lights. She looked around the kitchen and then the living room. “Nice place,” she said. “Be it ever so humble,” I said, then realized how stupid that sounded. Oh, well. I was past making sense tonight. I needed to sleep this off and get my head straight. I pulled some sheets and blanket from the hallway closet. Rachel watched me as I clumsily tucked the sheet under and around the couch cushions. I spread the blanket over the top, then looked at the mess I’d made. Something was missing. “Oh,” I said. I glanced over at Rachel and raised my index finger. “Just a second.” I went into the bedroom and grabbed one of my pillows. Once I was back in the living room, I plopped it down and spread my arms in a flourish. “Voila,” I said. “Thanks,” she said quietly, a strange look on her face that I couldn’t interpret. I pointed down the short hallway. “The bathroom is through there.” She nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Goodnight, then.” 50


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I thought about giving her a small kiss on the cheek or forehead, but thought better of it. Instead, I smiled at her, turned and headed down the hallway. “Good night,” she said after me. I used the bathroom quickly, then stumbled into my bedroom. Inside of a couple of minutes, I’d shed my outer clothing and slipped into bed. The apartment was quiet, but I could hear her movements. She used the bathroom, then walked back out to the living room. Good. We both needed to sleep. I didn’t know how things were going to look in the morning, but I knew I wasn’t looking at anything right at the moment. I closed my eyes. The taste of whisky and cola was strong in my mouth and filled my nostrils with every breath I took. My head was swimming, but luckily there wasn’t any nausea. Images flashed through my mind. Some were of Julia, Rachel’s mother. I tried to remember her clearly, but nothing was clear right now. All I could recall with any clarity was the earthy smell of her skin. Eventually, or maybe quickly, I fell asleep. The creak of my bedroom door woke me most of the way. Waking felt as if I were clamoring my way up from the watery depths of a warm, cottony lake. The sound was distinct, but muffled and distant. Footsteps padded across the carpeted floor toward me. I willed myself to wake completely to reach for the nightstand where I’d always kept my service pistol. Then I wondered if this were merely a dream. One of those dreams in which I tried too hard to wake myself, but couldn’t. That followed with the thought that I didn’t have my 51


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service pistol anymore. I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t anything. I was asleep. I was weak. I couldn’t wake up and protect myself. And whoever was coming into the room was going to find me defenseless. I felt the blankets lift and cool air touch my skin. That helped me pull myself closer to wakefulness. A moment later, there was the shifting of the mattress as a body settled onto it. Then came the warmth of that body sliding close to me, pressing gently against my back. The skin of her legs was warm and soft against my own legs. The pillowy cushion of her breasts rested against my back. Her breath plumed into the back of my neck. The perfumed scent of her soap and skin washed over me, mixed with the harshness of liquor. I felt her hand caress my shoulder as she said nothing. I was nearly awake and could clearly read her intent. I rolled over to face her, to tell her to stop. But my movements were slow and languid. Once I was facing her, the heat from her body caused my own to react. Befuddled by the whisky and the rush of desire, I fumbled around in my head for the right words. Before I could speak, her lips found mine. The kiss was gentle, but expert. She tasted of whisky and mint. I responded naturally, returning the kiss for a moment, my hand finding the curve of her hip. Her tongue touched mine softly and I felt a rush of passion and lust that I hadn’t experienced in a long while. I tried to say no. I tried to say something. Anything. But all I could do was kiss her back and fall into it all, deeply, wetly, completely.

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THREE I woke in the morning, dazed and confused. My head throbbed with pain. My tongue felt thick and tasted like a dirty rug. Blinking against the sunlight that streamed in through the window, I sat up slowly. My stomach lurched slightly. I groaned. Then I looked to the other side of the bed. It was empty. It wasn’t a drunken dream. I knew that. Not the whole thing, anyway. I’d definitely gone to see Rachel at the bar. We’d walked home. That was absolutely true. But the rest? Could that have been just a dream? An old man’s fantasy? I took a deep breath and exhaled. Stop kidding yourself. I was naked, for one thing. And the smells in the room were womanly and sexy. I could feel it in my body, too. It was real. All real. I wasn’t getting off the hook so easily. I listened for a moment. I could hear the shower running in the bathroom. So she was still here. I rose and pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, then made my way out into the kitchen. 53


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I washed down a couple of aspirin with some water from the kitchen faucet. Then I realized she’d made coffee. I sighed and poured a cup, then sat down at the kitchen table. A few minutes later, she came out, wrapped in my robe. Her hair was still wet. “You found the java,” she said, when she’d noticed me. “I did. Thanks.” “Your grind,” she said with a shrug. “I just put some water through it.” She poured herself a cup. Then she sat down at the table across from me. We sat in silence for a few moments. Then, I said, “Rachel, look—” “Don’t you dare apologize,” she interrupted. “I—” “I mean it.” I stopped. “Look,” she said, “I don’t want to hear how we were both drunk or how you’re sorry or whatever. We’re both adults. We did what we did because we wanted to. That’s all.” I shook my head. “I don’t feel right about it.” “Funny, you didn’t say so last night.” “I was—” I started to say, then stopped. “You’re right,” I said instead. “I know,” she said. She sipped her coffee and looked at me. “Now what?” I asked. “Now we drink coffee.” “And then?” “Then we head to Oregon.” I sighed. “I can’t do that, Rachel.” “I thought we covered this last night at the bar. You 54


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can. If you won’t, well.…” she shrugged. “I guess that’s something else, then.” “It’s not that I’m not sympathetic. It’s just –” “It’s just that it’s not your problem,” she finished for me. I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess that’s it. Something like that, anyway.” She didn’t say a word. I sat and drank my coffee, feeling like a shit heel. I wanted to help her. She clearly needed my help. But at the same time, I wanted her to leave and to never have to see her again. I wanted to tell her that I was too old to take on something like this. “It doesn’t have to happen again,” she told me quietly. “What?” I thought she meant the sex. I was pretty certain it wouldn’t happen again, because I didn’t plan on letting it. I wasn’t going to get drunk with her, and— “You leaving me. You don’t have to do it this time. You can stay. You can see it through.” She paused. “You can help me.” I didn’t answer right away. Finally, I managed to say, “I didn’t leave you, Rachel. I left her.” “Felt the same to me.” “I’m sure it seemed that way. But – “ “I was ten, Mac. How else was it going to seem?” “Jesus.” I ran my hand through my hair and then rubbed my face. “This can’t happen again,” I told her. “You and me. It wasn’t right.” “Fine.” “I mean it. It feels…creepy.” “I get it.” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t because she wasn’t beautiful, because she was. I wanted to tell her it was because I wanted to remember her as that little girl in 55


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the party hat, and this ruined that possibility. I might be able to get it back after just this one time, but if we continued– “You’re still not going to help me?” I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.” She waited a moment, looking at me. Then she pulled the robe tight around her and leaned forward. “Do you know when that picture was taken, Mac?” “No.” “Wait here.” She stood and left the table. When she came back a few moments later, she slid the picture across the table to me wordlessly. I flipped it over and looked at the date stamp. It was about five years after Julia and I split up. “So?” “So she went down to Cousins within a couple of months of you leaving us.” She paused. “Leaving her, I mean. And five years later, she’s in a picture with a four year old girl that looks just like her.” She squinted at me meaningfully. “You used to be a detective. You can’t be that hung over. Consider the clues. Do the math.” I stared back at her, my mind reeling. Jesus. Realization flooded me. “It’s me,” I said in a croaked whisper. Rachel nodded. “Now you’re getting it. The girl in the picture –” “Is my daughter,” I finished. “Yeah,” Rachel said. She paused, then added, “So now you got a reason.”

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