Geilston gave one last tug on Ferry’s arm and they left the room.
I said, “What’s up?” expecting he had something private to tell me.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. “I just do that to show them who’s boss. It gives me a woody.”
He looked at my face, at the blood. “You’re not having a good day, are you?”
I shook my head slowly
His voice lost its levity. “Are you all right? Really? I’ve heard snippets of what happened, but not much.”
“I just want to go home, Cheswick. I’m tired and I got blood all over me, and I’m hungry, and I’m not in the best of moods.”
He patted my arm. “Well, I have good news from the DA then. From everything he’s heard, they have nothing to charge you with. You are to consider yourself released pending further investigation, don’t take any sudden trips, blah, blah, blah.”
“They keep that, I’m afraid. Ballistic tests, etcetera.”
I nodded. “Figures. Can we leave now?”
“We’re gone,” he said.
He took me out the back entrance to avoid the press, and that’s when he told me about the photographer. “I confirmed it with the captain. The man definitely took pictures of you. He strings for both papers in town.”
I said, “I saw them hustling him out of there, but it didn’t register.”
We walked through the parking lot toward his car. His hand was on my back, as if he were ready to run interference for me or simply to hold me up. I wasn’t sure which. He said, “Are you OK, Patrick? You may want to stop at Mass. General, have yourself checked out.”
“I’m fine. What about the photographer?”
“You’ll be on the front page of the News late edition, which should be coming out any minute now. I hear the Trib picked it up too. The papers love this sort of thing. Hero detective, a morning ”
“I’m no hero,” I said. “That’s my father.”
We drove through the city in Cheswick’s Lexus. It seemed strange, everyone going about their business. I’d half expected time to have stopped, everyone frozen in place, holding their breath, awaiting further news. But people ate lunch, made phone calls, canceled dentist appointments, got their hair cut, made dinner plans, worked their jobs.
Cheswick and I argued about my ability to drive in my present state, but in the end he dropped me back at Hamilton Place and told me to call him day or night on his private line if I required his services. He drove up Tremont, and I stood outside my car, ignored the ticket on the windshield, and looked at the Common.
In the four hours since it had happened, everything had gone back to normal. The barricades had been taken away, all the questions asked, all the witnesses’ names written down. Blue Cap had been lifted into an ambulance and driven off. They’d rolled Jenna into a body bag and zipped it up, carted her off to the morgue.
Then someone had come along and hosed the blood off the cement until everything was clean again.
I took one last look and drove home.
When I got home, I called Angie across the street. “You heard?”
“Yes.” Her voice was small and quiet. “I called Cheswick Hartman. Did he ?”
“Yeah. Thanks. Look, I’m going to take a shower, get into some clean clothes, eat a sandwich. Then I’ll be over. Any calls?”
“A ton,” she said. “But they’ll keep. Patrick, are you OK?” “No,” I said, “but I’m working on it. I’ll see you in an hour.”
The shower was hot and I kept turning it hotter, the jet blast pounding into the top of my head, water pellets drumming against my skull. No matter how lapsed, I’m still sort of Catholic, and my reactions to pain and guilt are all tied up with words like “scalding” and “purge” and “white-hot.” In some theological equation of my own making, heat = salvation.
I stepped out after twenty minutes or so and dried slowly, my nostrils still thick with the clogging scent of blood and the bitter aroma of cordite. Somewhere in all the shower steam, I told myself, was the answer, the relief, the purchase necessary to turn the next corner and get past all this. But the steam cleared, and nothing remained but me and my bathroom and the smell of something burning.
I wrapped the towel around my waist and entered the kitchen and saw Angie blackening a steak on my stove. Angie cooks about once every leap year and never with any success. If it was up to her, she’d trade in her kitchen for a take-out counter.
I instinctively hitched the towel up over my scar and came up behind her and reached around her waist to shut off the burner. She turned in my arms, her chest against mine, and I guess it’s the consummate declaration of my state of mind that I stepped around her and checked the rest of the oven for damage.
She said, “What’d I do wrong?”
“I think your first mistake was turning on the stove.”
She slapped the back of my head. “See the next time I cook for you!’
“And they say Christmas comes only once a year.” I turned from the stove and saw her watching me the way you watch a baby walking on the edge of a swimming pool. I said, “Thank you for the gesture. Really.”
She shrugged, continued staring at me, those caramel eyes warm and slightly damp. “You need a hug, Patrick?”
I said, “God, yes.”
She felt like everything good. She felt like the first warm gust of spring and Saturday afternoons when you’re ten years old and early summer evenings on the beach when the sand is cool and the waves are colored scotch. Her grip was fierce, her body full and soft, and her heart beat rapidly against my bare chest. I could smell her shampoo and feel the downy nape of her neck against my chin.
I stepped back first. I said, “Well...”
She laughed. “Well...” She said, “You’re all wet, Skid. My shirt’s soaked now.” She took a step back.
“Happens sometimes when you take a shower.”
She took another step back, looked down at the floor. “Yeah, well..., “she said again, “you have a pile of messages over there. And...” She stepped past me, picked up the steak, and carried it toward the garbage. “And...and I still can’t cook, obviously.”
I said, “Angie.”
She kept her back to me. “You almost died this morning.”