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Page 28 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

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The Hero swung his fire ax into my head and I sat bolt upright in the chair. The TV screen was snowing. I trained a blurry eye on my watch: 4:15 a.m. Molten fire surged under my sternum. All the nerves in my skull were freshly exposed by the ax, and I stood up and just made the bathroom before I yakked up the Glenlivet. I flushed the toilet and lay on the cool tile, the room smelling of scotch and fear and death. This was the second time in three nights I’d thrown up. Maybe I was getting bulimia.

I made it to my feet again and brushed my teeth for half an hour or so. I stepped into the shower, turned it on. I stepped back out, removed my clothes, and got back in. By the time I finished, it was almost dawn. Three Tylenol, and I fell on top of my bed, hoping that whatever I had upchucked contained all those things that made me afraid to sleep.

I dozed on and off for the next three hours, and, thankfully, no one came to visit. Not Jenna, not the Hero, not Curtis Moore’s foot.

Sometimes, you get a break.

“I hate this,” Angie said.”I...hate...it.”

“You look like shit too,” I offered.

She gave me that look and went back to fiddling violently with the hem of her skirt in the back of the taxi.

Angie wears skirts about as often as she cooks, but I’m never disappointed. And for all her bitching, I don’t think it’s as painful for her as she pretends. Too much thought had gone into what she was wearing for the result to be anything less than “Wow.” She wore a dark cranberry silk-crepe wraparound blouse and a black suede skirt. Her long hair was brushed back off her forehead, pinned back over her left ear, but tumbling loosely along the right side of her face, cowling in slightly around her eye. When she raised her eyes from under her long lashes and looked at me, it hurt. The skirt was damn near painted on and she kept tugging at the hem to get comfortable, squirming in the backseat of the cab. The sight, all in all, wasn’t hard to take.

I was wearing a gray herringbone double-breasted with a subtle black crisscross pattern. The jacket was tight where it hugged my hips for that cosmopolitan look, but fashion designers are usually kinder to men, and all I had to do was unbutton it.

I said, “You look fine.”

“I know I look fine,” she said, scowling. “I’d like to find whoever designed this skirt, because I know it was a man, and shove him into it. Turn his ass soprano real quick.”

The cab dropped us on the corner, across from Trinity Church.

The doorman opened the door with a “Welcome to the Copley Plaza Hotel,” and we went in. The Copley is somewhat similar to the Ritz: they were both standing long before I was born; they’ll still be here long after I’m gone. And if the employees at the Copley don’t seem as plucky as those at the Ritz, it’s probably because they have less to be plucky about. The Copley’s still trying to bounce back from its status as the city’s most forgotten hotel. Its latest multimillion-dollar refurbishment will have to go a long way to erase its once dark corridors and staid-to-the-point-of-death atmosphere from people’s minds. They started with the bar, though, and they’ve done a good job. Instead of George Reeves and Bogey, I always expect to see Burt Lancaster as J. J. Hunsecker holding court at a table, a preening Tony Curtis at his foot. I mentioned this to Angie as we entered.

She said, “Burt Lancaster as who?”

I said, “Sweet Smell of Success.”

She said, “What?”

I said, “Heathen.”

Jim Vurnan didn’t rise to meet me this time. He and Sterling Mulkern sat together in oaken shadows, their view protected from the trivialities of the outside world by dark brown slats. Pieces of the Westin Hotel peeked in through the window slats, but unless you were looking for it, you wouldn’t notice. Which is just as well I suppose the only hotel uglier than the Westin in this city is the Lafayette and the only hotel uglier than the Lafayette hasn’t been built yet. They noticed us about the time we reached their booth. Jim started to get up, but I held up my hand and he slid over to make room for me. If only they made dogs and spouses as accommodating and loyal as they made state reps.

I said, “Jim, you know Angie. Senator Mulkern, this is my partner, Angela Gennaro.”

Angie held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you, Senator.”

Mulkern took the hand, kissed the knuckles, and slid along his seat, leading the hand with him. “The pleasure is completely mine, Ms. Gennaro.” That smoothie. Angie sat down beside him, and he let go of her hand. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Partner?” He chuckled.

Jim chuckled too.

I thought it rated a slight smile. I sat beside Jim. “Where’s Senator Paulson?” I asked.

Mulkern was smiling at Angie. He said, “Couldn’t get him away from his desk this afternoon, I’m afraid.”

I said, “On Saturday?”

Mulkern took a sip of his drink. “So, tell me,” he said to Angie, “where is it that Pat’s been hiding you?”

Angie gave him a brilliant smile, all teeth. “In a drawer.”

“Is that a fact?” Mulkern said. He drank some more. “Oh, I like her, Pat. I do.”

“People usually do, Senator.”

Our waiter came, took our drink orders, crept away silently on the deep carpet. Mulkern had said lunch, but all I saw on the table were glasses. Maybe they’d discovered a way to liquefy the menu.

Jim touched my shoulder. “You had quite a day yesterday.”

Sterling Mulkern held up the morning Trib. “A hero like your father now, lad.” He tapped the paper. “You’ve seen it?”

“I only read ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’“I said.

He said, “Yes, well...wonderful press, really. Great for business.”

“But not for Jenna Angeline.”

Mulkern shrugged. “Those who live by the sword...”

“She was a cleaning woman,” I said. “Closest she ever came to a sword was a letter opener, Senator.”

He gave me the same shrug and I saw that his mind wasn’t for the changing. People like Mulkern are used to creating the facts on their own, then letting the rest of us in.

“Patrick and I were wondering,” Angie said, “if the death of Ms. Angeline means our work for you is done.”

“Hardly, my dear,” he said. “Hardly. I hired Pat, and you as well, to find certain documents. Unless you’ve brought those to the table with you, you’re still working for me.”

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