“He always spoke fondly of you, Senator.”
Mulkern nodded, that being a matter of course. “Shame, him going early like he did. Seemed fit as Jack LaLanne, but” he tapped his chest with his knuckles “one never knows with the old ticker.”
My father had lost a six-month battle with lung cancer, but if Mulkern wanted to think it was a coronary, who’d complain?
“And now, here’s his boy,” Mulkern said. “Almost all grown.”
“Almost,” I said. “Last month, I even shaved.”
Jim looked like he’d swallowed a frog. Paulson squinted.
Mulkern beamed. “All right, lad. All right. You have a point.” He sighed. “I’ll tell you, Pat, you get to be my age, and everything but yesterday seems young.”
I nodded sagely, completely clueless.
Mulkern stirred his drink, removed the stirrer, and placed it gently on a cocktail napkin. “We understand that when it comes to finding people, no one’s better.” He spread his hand, palm up, in my direction.
“Ah. No false modesty?”
I shrugged. “It’s my job. Might as well be good at it.” I sipped the Molson, the bittersweet tang spreading across my tongue. Not for the first time, I wished I still smoked.
“Well, lad, our problem is this: we have a rather important bill coming to floor next week. Our ammunition is heavy, but certain methods and services we employed to garner that ammunition could be... misconstrued.”
Mulkern nodded and smiled as if I’d said, “Atta boy.” “Misconstrued,” he repeated.
I decided to play along. “And there is documentation records of these methods and services?”
“He’s quick,” he said to Jim and Paulson. “Yes sir. Quick.” He looked at me. “Documentation,” he said, “exactly, Pat.”
I wondered if I should tell him how much I hated being called Pat. Maybe I should start calling him Sterl, see if he minded. I sipped my beer. “Senator, I find people, not things.”
“If I may interject,” Jim interjected, “the documents are with a person who has recently turned up missing. A ”
“ Formerly trusted employee at the State House,” Mulkern said. Mulkern had the “iron hand in the velvet glove” routine down to an art. There was nothing in his manner, his enunciation, his bearing to suggest reproach, but Jim looked like he’d been caught kicking the cat. He took a long pull on his scotch, rattling the ice cubes against the rim. I doubted that he’d interject again.
Mulkern looked at Paulson, and Paulson reached into his attaché case. He pulled a thin sheaf of papers out and handed them to me.
The top page was a photograph, a rather grainy one. A blowup of a Statehouse personnel ID. It was of a black woman, middle-aged, worn eyes, a tired expression on her face. Her lips were parted slightly, and skewed, as if she were about to voice her impatience with the photographer. I flipped the page and saw a Xerox of her driver’s license centered on a white page. Her name was Jenna Angeline. She was forty-one, but looked fifty. She had a class three Massachusetts driver’s license, unrestricted. Her eyes were brown, her height five feet six inches. Her address was 412 Kenneth Street in Dorchester. Her social security number was 042-51-6543.
I looked at the three pols and found my eyes pulled toward the middle, into Mulkern’s black stare. “And?” I said.
“Jenna was the cleaning woman for my office. Brian’s too.” He shrugged. “As jigs go, I had no complaints.”
Mulkern was the kind of guy who said, “jigs,” when he wasn’t sure enough of the company to say, “niggers.”
“Until she disappeared nine days ago.” “Unannounced vacation?”
Mulkern looked at me as if I’d just suggested college basketball wasn’t fixed. “When she took this ‘vacation,’ Pat, she also took those documents with her.”
“Some light reading for the beach?” I suggested.
Paulson slapped the table in front of me. Hard. Paulson. “This is no joke, Kenzie. Understand?”
I looked at his hand, sleepy eyed.
Mulkern said, “Brian.”
Paulson removed the hand to check the whip marks on his back.
I stared at him, still sleepy eyed dead eyes, Angie calls them and spoke to Mulkern. “How do you know she took the... documents?”
Paulson dropped his eyes from mine, considered his martini. It was still untouched, and he didn’t take a drink. Probably waiting for permission.
Mulkern said, “We checked. Believe me. No one else is a logical suspect.”
“Why is she?”
“A logical suspect?”
Mulkern smiled. A thin one. “Because she disappeared the same day the documents did. Who knows with these people?”
“Mmm,” I said.
“Will you find her for us, Pat?”
I looked out the window. Perky the Doorman was hustling someone into a cab. In the Garden, a middle-aged couple with matching Cheers T-shirts snapped picture after picture of the George Washington statue. Sure to wow them back in Boise. A wino on the sidewalk supported himself with one hand on a bottle; the other he held out, steady as a rock, waiting for change. Beautiful women walked by. In droves.
“I’m expensive,” I said.
“I know that,” Mulkern said. “So why do you still live in the old neighborhood?” He said it like he wanted me to believe his heart still resided there too, as if it meant any more to him now than an alternative route when the expressway got backed up.
I tried to think of a response. Something to do with roots, and knowing where you belong. In the end, I told the truth: “My apartment’s rent-controlled.”
He seemed to like that.
The old neighborhood is the Edward Everett Square section of Dorchester. It’s a little less than five miles from the center of Boston proper, which means, on a good day, it takes only half an hour to reach by car.
My office is the bell tower of St. Bartholomew’s Church. I’ve never found out what happened to the bell that used to be there, and the nuns who teach at the parochial school next door won’t tell me. The older ones plain don’t answer me, and the younger ones seem to find my curiosity amusing. Sister Helen told me once it had been “miracled away.” Her words. Sister Joyce, who grew up with me, always says it was “misplaced,” and gives me the sort of wicked smile that nuns aren’t supposed to be capable of giving. I’m a detective, but nuns could stonewall Sam Spade into an asylum.