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Page 23 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

“And I’m very sorry about Jenna, but you almost died.” “Yes.”

“I wouldn’t have...” Her voice cracked and I could hear her inhale until she got it under control. “And I wouldn’t have handled it very fucking well, Patrick. I don’t like thinking about it, and it’s got me a little... off, right now.”

I heard Jenna’s voice in my head when I told her Angie needed me. “You best hold on to her then.” I took a few steps across the floor and put my hands on her arms.

She tilted her head back so that it nestled under my chin.

The air seemed impossibly still in the kitchen and I don’t think either of us took a breath. We stood there, our eyes closed, waiting for the fear to go away.

It didn’t.

Angie’s head left my chin and she said, “Let’s get past this. Do some work. We’re still employed, right?”

I let go of her arms and said, “Yeah, we’re still employed. Let me change and we’ll get to work.”

I came back out a few minutes later in an oversize red sweatshirt and a pair of jeans.

Angie turned from the kitchen counter, a plate in her hand, a sandwich on it. “I think I’m safe around deli meat.” “Didn’t try to cook it or anything, did you?”

She gave me that look.

I got the point and took the sandwich. She sat across the table from me as I ate. Ham and cheese. A little heavy on the mustard, but otherwise fine. I said, “Who called?”

“Sterling Mulkern’s office. Three times. Jim Vurnan’s office. Richie Colgan. Twice. Twelve or thirteen reporters. Also, Bubba called.”

“What’d he have to say?”

“You really want to know?”

Usually one doesn’t with Bubba, but I was feeling loose. I nodded.

“He said to call him next time you go ‘a coon hunting.’“

That Bubba. Hitler might have won the war with Bubba at his side. I said, “Anyone else?”

“No. But Mulkern’s office sounded pretty pissed off by the third call.”

I nodded and chewed.

Angie said, “You going to tell me what we’re into here, or you just going to sit there and do your village idiot impersonation?”

I shrugged, chewed some more, and she took the sandwich away from me. “I believe I’ve been chastised,” I said.

“You’ll be a lot worse than that, you don’t start talking.”

“Ooooh. Tough girl. Scold me some more,” I panted.

She looked at me.

“All right,” I said. “But we’re going to need liquor for this.”

I made us two scotches neat. Angie took one sip of hers and poured it down the sink without a word. She grabbed a beer from the fridge, sat back down, and raised an eyebrow.

I said, “We may be in over our heads on this one. Way over our heads.”

“So I gathered. Why?”

“Jenna didn’t have any documents that I saw. That was bullshit.”

“Which you half-figured.”

“True,” I said, “but I didn’t think it would be too far off the mark. I don’t know what I thought she had, but I didn’t think it was this.” I handed her the photo of Paulson in his skivvies.

She raised her eyebrows. “OK,” she said slowly, “but still, so what? This picture’s, like, six or eight years old, and all it shows is Paulson, half-dressed. However unappetizing, it’s not news. Not worth killing over.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Look at the guy with Paulson, though. He doesn’t look like he runs in the same circles exactly.”

She looked at the guy. He was slim, wearing a blue crew-neck shirt over a pair of white trousers. He wore a lot of gold on his wrists, his neck and his hair looked simultaneously matted and flyaway. His eyes were all sullen reproach, those of the terminally angry. He looked to be about thirty-five.

“No, he doesn’t,” she said. “We know him?”

I shook my head. “He could be Socia. He could be Roland. He could be neither. But he definitely doesn’t look like a state rep.”

“He looks like a pimp.”

“That too.” I pointed to the cheap chest and mirror in the photo. Reflected in the mirror was a bed, unmade. Beyond that, the corner of a door. On the door were two square pieces of paper. I couldn’t make out what they said, but one looked like the rules and regulations of a motel, and the smaller one below it looked like a check-in, check-out time reminder. A Do-Not-Disturb sign hung from the doorknob. “And this looks like...”

“A motel,” she said.

“Ver-ry good,” I said. “You should be a detective.”

“You should stop impersonating one,” she said and flipped the photo back on the table. “So, what’s all this mean, Sherlock?”

“You tell me, Spanky.”

She lit a cigarette and sipped her beer and thought about it.

“These photos might be the tip of the iceberg. Maybe there’re more of them, and they’re a lot worse. Someone, either Socia or Roland or dare I say it? someone in the political machine had Jenna eliminated because they knew she’d blow the whistle on whatever it is. That what you’re thinking?”

“That’s what I’m thinking.”

“Well,” she said, “either they’re really dumb, or you are.” “Why’s that?”

“Jenna had the pictures in her safety-deposit box, correct?”

I nodded.

“And when someone is murdered, standard police procedure is to get a court warrant and open every can of worms the victim had in her pantry. Of which, the safety-deposit box is definitely one. I assume they’ve already figured the bank was the last place before she...”

“Died,” I said.

“Yes. So, they’re probably on their way down to open it as we speak. And anyone with half a brain could have foreseen that.”

“Maybe they figured she’d taken everything out of there and given it to me.”

“Maybe,” she said. “But that’s leaving an awful lot to chance. Don’t you think? Unless, somehow, they were positive that she wasn’t going to leave anything behind in there.”

“How would they know?”

She shrugged. “You’re a detective. Detect.”

“I’m trying.”

“Something else,” she said, putting her beer down, sitting up.

“Pray tell.”

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