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Page 29 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

Angie smiled. “Patrick and I work for ourselves, Senator.”

Jim looked at me, then down at his drink. Mulkern’s face stopped moving for a moment, then he raised his eyebrows, amused. He said, “Well, exactly why did I sign that check made out to your agency?”

Angie never missed a beat. “Service charges for the loan of our expertise, Senator.” She looked up as the waiter approached. “Ah, the drinks. Thank you.”

I could have kissed her.

Mulkern said, “Is that the way you see it, Pat?”

“Pretty much,” I said and sipped my beer.

“And, Pat,” Mulkern said, leaning back, gearing up for something, “does she usually do all the talking when you’re together? And all other duties, I’m assuming?”

Angie said, “She doesn’t appreciate being spoken of in the third person when she’s in the room, Senator.”

I said, “How many drinks you had, Senator?”

Jim said, “Please,” and held up his hand.

If this had been a saloon in the Old West, the place would have cleared about now, the loud rustling of fifty chairs pushing back from tables, wood scraping against wood. But it was a posh bar in Boston in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and Mulkern didn’t look like he’d wear a six-gun real well. Too much belly. But then, in Boston, a gun never was much of a match for a signature in the proper place, or a well-chosen slur dropped at precisely the right moment.

Mulkern’s black eyes were staring at me from under heavy lids, the look of a snake whose lair has been invaded, the look of a violent drunk itching for a fight. He said, “Patrick Kenzie,” and leaned across the table toward me. The bourbon on his breath could have ignited a gas station. “Patrick Kenzie,” he repeated, “now you listen to me. There is absolutely no way I will be spoken to in this manner by the son of one of my lackeys. Your father, dear boy, was a dog who jumped when I told him to. And you have no other hope in this town but to carry on in his footsteps. Because” he leaned in farther and suddenly grasped my wrist on the table, hard ”if you show disrespect to me, boyo, your business will be lonelier than an AA meeting on St. Patrick’s Day. One word from me, and you’ll be ruined. And as for your girlfriend here, well, she’ll have a lot more to worry about than a few pops in the eye from her deadbeat husband.”

Angie looked fit to decapitate him, but I put my free hand on her knee.

I took it back and reached into my breast pocket to remove the Xerox I’d made of the photograph. I held it in my hand, away from either Mulkern or Vurnan, and smiled slightly, coldly, I imagine, my eyes never leaving Mulkern’s. I leaned back a little, avoiding his toxic halitosis, and said, “Senator, my father was one of your lackeys. No argument. But, dead or alive, he can piss up a rope as far as I’m concerned. I hated the bastard, so don’t waste your distilled breath on appeals to my sentimentality. Angie is family. Not him. Not you.” I flicked my wrist and my hand came free of his. Before he could pull his back, I closed mine around it and yanked. “And Senator,” I said, “if you ever threaten my livelihood again” I flipped the photocopy on the table in front of him ”I’ll blow a fucking hole in your life.”

If he noticed the photocopy, he didn’t show it. His eyes never left mine, just grew smaller, pinpoints of focused hatred.

I looked at Angie and let go of Mulkern’s hand. “I’m done,” I said and stood up. I patted Jim’s shoulder. “Always a pleasure, Jim.”

Angie said, “Bye, Jim.”

We walked away from the table.

If we made it to the door, I’d be on welfare come autumn. If we made it to the door, the picture meant nothing more than guilt by association and they had nothing to hide. I’d have to move to Montana or Kansas or Iowa or one of those places where I imagine it’s so boring no one would want to wield political influence. If we made it to the door, we were done in this city.

“Pat, lad.”

We were eight or nine feet from the door; my faith in human nature was restored.

Angie squeezed my hand and we turned around like we had better things to do.

Jim said, “Please, come back and sit down.”

We approached the table.

Mulkern held out his hand. “I’m a tad peckish this early in the day. People seem to misunderstand my sense of humor.”

I took the hand. “Ain’t that always the way.”

He held it out to Angie. “Ms. Gennaro, please accept the apologies of an ornery old man.”

“It’s already forgotten, Senator.”

“Please,” he said, “call me Sterling.” He smiled warmly and patted her hand. Everything about him screamed sincerity.

If I hadn’t upchucked the night before, I think we all would have been in danger.

Jim tapped the photocopy and looked at me. “Where did you get this?”

“Jenna Angeline.”

“It’s a copy,” he said.

“Yes, it is, Jim.”

“The original?” Mulkern said.

“I have it.”

“Pat,” Mulkern said, his smile keeping his voice in check, “we hired you for the purpose of retrieving documents, not their photocopies.”

“I keep the original of this one until I find the rest of them.”

“Why?” Jim asked.

I pointed at the front page of the newspaper. “Things have gotten messy. I don’t like messy. Ange, do you like messy?”

Angie said, “I don’t like messy.”

I looked at Vurnan and Mulkern. “We don’t like messy. Keeping the original is our way of stepping around the mess until we’re sure what it is.”

“Can we help you, Pat, lad?”

“Sure. Tell me about Paulson and Socia.”

“A foolish indiscretion on Brian’s part,” Mulkern said.

“How foolish?” Angie asked.

“For the average man,” Mulkern said, “not very. But for one in the public eye, extremely foolish.” He nodded at Jim.

Jim folded his hands together on the table. “Senator Paulson engaged in a night of... illicit pleasure with one of Mr. Socia’s prostitutes six years ago. I can hardly make light of it under the circumstances, but in the grand scheme of things, it amounts to little more than an evening of wine and women.”

“None of these women being Mrs. Paulson,” Angie said.

Mulkern shook his head. “That’s irrelevant. She’s a politician’s wife; she understands what’s expected of her at a time like this. No, the problem would arise if any documentation of this affair ever surfaced in the public eye. Brian is presently a very strong, silent voice advocating the street terrorism bill. Any association with people of...Mr. Socia’s type could be very damaging.”

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