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“Well, no problem, Patrick,” he said, his voice dropping an octave for a moment. “You’re a busy man. What can I do for you?”

“How’s Cindy?” I asked.

“You know kids today,” he said. “At this point in her life, her father is hardly the most important thing to her. That will change, of course.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Got to let them grow up.”

“Sure,” I said.

“And then they come back to you.”

“They do,” I said. Sure they do.

“But enough about me,” he said. “I saw you in the papers the other day. Are you all right?”

“Fine, George. The media blew it all out of proportion.”

“They’ll do that sometimes,” he said. “But then, where would we be without them?”

I said, “The reason I called, George, I need a license number and I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

“You can’t get it through the police?”

“No. I need to play this one out by myself for a little while longer before I take it to them.”

“OK, Patrick,” he said, thinking about it. “OK,” he repeated, brightening a bit. “Yeah, we can do that. You’ll have to give me ten minutes or so to access the computer down there. Is that all right? Can you wait that long?”

“You’re doing me the favor, George. Take all the time you need.” I gave him Jenna’s name, driver’s license number, and address.

“OK. Fifteen minutes at most. I’ll call you back.”

“You have my number?”

“Of course,” he said, as if we all keep the phone numbers of people we met twice two years ago.

“Thanks, George,” I said and hung up before he could say, “No, thank you.”

We waited. Angie shot a Nerf ball through the hoop above the boom box, and I tossed it back to her each time. She’s got a nice arc, but she doesn’t use the backboard enough. She leaned back in the chair and sent one up in a high arc. Before the foam ball swished through the hoop she said, “We going to call Devin in on this one?”

I tossed the ball back to her. “Nope.”

“Why not, exactly?” She put another one up and missed.

“Because we’re not. Use the backboard a little more.”

She tossed the ball up above her, bouncing it off the ceiling. “It’s not standard procedure,” she said in singsong.

“Standard procedure? What, we’re the army now?”

“No,” she said, the Nerf bouncing off her fingers, down her leg, and across the floor. She turned in her chair. “We’re detectives who have a pretty good relationship with the police, and I’m wondering why we’re risking that by not letting them in on evidence in a Murder One investigation.”

“What evidence?” I leaned out of my chair and scooped up the ball.

“The picture of Socia and Paulson.”

“Doesn’t prove anything.”

“That’s for them to decide. Either way, it was the last thing the murder victim gave you before she was killed. That definitely makes it something they’d be interested in.”

“So?”

“So, this should be a dual investigation is ‘so.’We should be telling them we’re going to look at Jenna’s car. We should be asking them for the plate number, not having poor George break into the Registry computers.”

“And if they were to come across the evidence our clients hired us to find before we do?”

“Then, once they’re finished with it, they hand it over to

us.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“And if it’s incriminating? If it’s against our clients’ best interests to have the police see it, what then? How good is our business then? If Mulkern wanted to get the police to look for those ‘documents’ he would have. Instead, he hired us. We’re not law enforcement, Ange, we’re private investigators.”

“No shit, Sherlock. But ”

“But what? Where the hell’s this coming from? You’re talking like a novice.”

“I’m no fucking novice, Skid. I just think you should level with your partner about your motives.”

“My motives. And what are my motives, Ange?”

“You don’t want the police to get their hands on this, not because you’re afraid of what they’ll do with it. You’re afraid of what they won’t do. You’re afraid it might just be so bad, as bad as Jenna said, and someone in the State House will make a phone call and the evidence will disappear.”

I kneaded the foam ball in my hand. “You’re suggesting my motives are contrary to the interests of our clients?”

“You’re damn right I am. If these ‘documents’ are as bad as Jenna said, if they incriminate Paulson or Mulkern, what’re you going to do then? Huh?”

“We’ll have to see.”

“Bullshit we’ll have to see. Bullshit. This job should have been over half an hour after we found Jenna in Wickham. But you wanted to play things out, be a goddamn social worker. We’re private investigators. Remember? Not moralists. Our job is to turn over what we’re hired to find to the people who hired us to find it. And if they cover it up, if they buy off the police, fine. Because we’re out of it. We do our job and we get paid. And if ”

“Wait a minute ”

“ you don’t do this, if you turn this into some sort of personal crusade to get back at your father through Mulkern, we can kiss this business and this partnership goodbye.”

I sat forward, my face two feet from hers. I said, “My father? My fucking father? Where’s he come into this?”

“He’s been in this. He’s Mulkern, he’s Paulson, he’s every politician you ever met who shakes your hand with one hand and stabs you in the back with the other. He’s ”

“Don’t you talk about my father, Angie.”

“He’s dead,” she yelled. “Dead. And I’m real sorry to inform you but lung cancer took care of him before you got the chance to do it yourself.”

I moved closer. “You my analyst now, Ange?” My face felt warm and the blood rippled through my forearms, tingling my fingers.

“No, I’m not your fucking analyst, Patrick, and why don’t you back the fuck up?”

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