"Stuart Nichols, personal secretary to Commissioner Curtis. If you'll follow me."

He didn't offer his hand or meet their eyes. He rose from the bench and climbed the wide marble stairs and they fell into place behind him.

"Merry Christmas," Mark Denton said to his back.

Stuart Nichols looked quickly over his shoulder, then straight ahead.

Mark looked over at Danny. Danny shrugged.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," Danny said.

"Why, thank you, Officer." Denton barely suppressed a smile, reminding Danny of his and Connor's days as altar boys. "And a Happy New Year to you, sir."

Stuart Nichols was either oblivious or didn't care. At the top of the stairs he led them down a corridor and then stopped outside a frosted glass door with the words BPD COMMISSIONER stenciled in gold leaf. He opened the door and led them into a small anteroom and went behind the desk and lifted the phone.

"They're here, Commissioner. Yes, sir."

He hung up the phone. "Take a seat, gentlemen."

Mark and Danny sat on the leather couch across from the desk and Danny tried to ignore the feeling that something was askew. They sat there for five minutes as Nichols opened his valise, removed a leather-bound notebook, and jotted in it with a silver fountain pen, the nib scratching across the page.

"Is the mayor here yet?" Mark asked, but the phone rang.

Nichols picked it up, listened, and replaced it in the cradle. "He'll see you now."

He went back to his notebook and Danny and Mark stood facing the oak door that led into the office. Mark reached for the brass knob and turned it and Danny followed him over the threshold into Curtis's offi ce.

Curtis sat behind his desk. His ears seemed half as big as his head, the lobes hanging down like flaps. His flesh was florid and splotchy and breath exited his nose with an audible rasp. He flicked his eyes at them. He said, "Captain Coughlin's son, yes?"

"Yes, sir."

"The one who killed the bomber last month." He nodded, as if the killing were something he'd planned himself. He looked at some papers spread across his desk. "It's Daniel, is that right?"

"Aiden, sir. But people call me Danny."

Curtis gave that a small grimace.

"Take a seat, gentlemen." Behind him an oval window took up most of the wall. The city lay beyond, sharp and still on Christmas morning, white fields and red brick and cobblestone, the harbor stretching off the end of the landmass like a pale blue pan as fingers of chimney smoke climbed and quivered through the sky.

"Patrolman Denton," Curtis said. "You're with the Ninth Precinct. Correct?"

"Yes, sir."

Curtis scribbled something on a notepad and kept his eyes there as Danny took his seat beside Mark. "And Patrolman Coughlin--the First Precinct?"

"Yes, sir."

Another scratch of the pen.

"Is the mayor on his way, sir?" Denton draped his coat across his knee and the right arm of the chair.

"The mayor is in Maine." Curtis consulted a piece of paper before writing again in his notepad. "It's Christmas. He's with his family."

"Then, sir . . ." Mark looked over at Danny. He looked back at Curtis. "Sir, we had a meeting scheduled for ten o'clock with yourself and Mayor Peters."

"It's Christmas," Curtis repeated and opened a drawer. He rummaged for a bit and came out with another piece of paper which he placed to his left. "A Christian holiday. Mayor Peters deserves a day off, I would think, on our Lord's birthday."

"But the meeting was scheduled for--"

"Patrolman Denton, it's come to my attention that you've missed several roll calls on the night shift at the Ninth Precinct."

"Sir?"

Curtis lifted the piece of paper to his left. "This is your watch commander's duty report. You've missed or been tardy for nine roll calls in as many weeks."

He met their eyes for the first time.

Mark shifted in his chair. "Sir, I'm not here as a patrolman. I'm here as the chief officer of the Boston Social Club. And in that capacity, I respectfully submit that--"

"This is a clear dereliction of duty." Curtis waved the paper in the air. "It's in black and white, Patrolman. The Commonwealth expects its peace officers to earn their pay. And yet you haven't. Where have you been that you couldn't attend nine roll calls?"

"Sir, I don't think this is the issue at hand. We're going down a--"

"It very much is the issue at hand, Patrolman. You signed a contract. You swore to protect and serve the people of this great Commonwealth. You swore, Patrolman, to abide by and fulfill the duties assigned to you by the Boston Police Department. One of those duties, expressly stated in Article Seven of that contract, is attendance at roll call. And yet I have sworn affidavits from both the watch commander and the duty sergeant at the Ninth Precinct that you have elected not to perform this essential duty."

"Sir, I respectfully submit that there were a few occasions when I was unable to attend roll call due to my duties with the BSC but that--"

"You don't have duties with the BSC. You elect to perform labor on its behalf."

"--but that . . . In all cases, sir, I was given clearance by both the watch commander and the duty sergeant."

Curtis nodded. "May I finish?" he said.

Mark looked at him, the muscles in his cheek and jaw gone taut.

"May I finish?" Curtis repeated. "May I speak without fear of interruption? Because I find it rude, Patrolman. Do you find it rude to be interrupted?"

"I do, sir. That's why I--"

Curtis held up a hand. "Let me dispel the notion that you hold some moral high ground, Patrolman, because you most certainly do not. Your watch commander and your duty sergeant both admitted that they overlooked your tardiness or outright absence from roll call because they themselves are both members of this social club. However, they did not possess the right to make such a decision." He spread his hands. "It's not within their purview. Only a rank of captain or higher can make such allowances."

"Sir, I--"

"So, Patrolman Denton--"

"Sir, if I--"

"I am not finished, sir. Would you please allow me to fi nish?" Curtis propped his elbow on the desk and pointed at Mark. His splotchy face shook. "Did you or did you not show gross indifference to your duties as a patrol offi cer?"

"Sir, I was under the impress--"

"Answer the question."

"Sir, I believe--"

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