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Page 44 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

Or maybe I’d do what I always do hang out and see what develops. Fatalist to the core.

Angie said, “What do you think?”

The sky was turning to ink, and there wasn’t a working streetlight for miles. I said, “Time for a little B and E.”

There was no one on the stoops as we came down the hill, but that wouldn’t last much longer on a humid Sunday night. This wasn’t the type of neighborhood where people took off to the Cape for the Fourth of July. We had to get in, find whatever it was we were looking for, and get out. People who don’t have much usually protect what they’ve got in lethal ways. Whether the trigger’s pulled by a Bobby Royce or a little old lady, the damage can often be damn similar.

Angie pulled the slim jim from her jacket as we approached the car, and before you could say “grand theft auto,” she’d slid it down beside the window and popped the lock. I had no idea what sort of house Jenna had kept the only time I’d seen it someone had gone through it like a storm front but she kept a pristine car. Angie took the backseat, reaching down under the seat and behind it, pulling up the mats, looking for telltale tears in the carpet.

I did pretty much the same in the front seat. I pulled open the ashtray, found it brimming with Marlboro butts, closed it. I took what looked like warranties and repair records and an owner’s manual from the glove compartment, but I stuffed it all in the plastic bag I’d brought anyway. Easier to check through it all when we got out of here. I reached under the dashboard, ran my hand around, didn’t find anything taped there. I checked the door panels for rips or cuts in the seams. Nada. I took a screwdriver to the running panel on the passenger side; maybe Jenna’d seen The French Connection. I opened it: maybe she hadn’t.

Angie was doing the same to the panel on the driver’s side. When she removed it, she didn’t shout “Eureka,” so I figured she hadn’t found any more than I had. We were steadily getting nowhere when someone said, “Ain’t they pretty?”

I sat up in the seat, my hand on my gun, and saw the girl who’d been sitting on the steps the last time I’d been here. Jerome was standing beside her and they were holding hands. Jerome said, “You meet Roland yet?”

I sat up in the seat. “Haven’t had the pleasure.”

Jerome looked at Angie, kept looking, not wide-eyed, just interested. He said, “The fuck you doing in his mother’s car, man?”

“Working.”

His girlfriend lit a cigarette. She took a drag, blew the smoke in my direction. A thick ring of red lipstick looped around the white filter. She said, “He’s the man was there when Jenna got herself killed by Curtis.”

Jerome said, “I know that, Sheila. Damn.” He looked at me. “You’re a detective, right?”

I looked at Sheila’s cigarette again. Something about it annoyed me, but I couldn’t figure out what yet. I said, “Yeah, Jerome. Got a badge and everything.”

Jerome said, “Beats working for a living.”

Sheila took another hit off her cigarette, placed another red ring slightly above the first.

Angie sat up in the seat and lit one too. Carcinogen city.

I looked at Sheila, then at Angie. I said, “Ange.”

“Yeah?”

“Did Jenna wear lipstick?”

Jerome was watching us with a cocked eyebrow, his arms folded across his chest. Angie thought about it. She took a few more drags off her cigarette, blew the smoke out in slow streams. She said, “Yeah. Come to think of it. It was subtle, a light pink, but yeah.”

I flipped open the car ashtray. “What kind of cigarettes she smoke, you remember?”

“Lights, I think. Or Vantage, maybe. Definitely something with a white filter.”

“But she’d just started again,” I said, remembering Jenna’s claim that she hadn’t smoked in ten years until the events of the past few weeks caused her to start back up.

The cigarettes in the ashtray had cork filters and no lipstick rings on them. I yanked the ashtray out, swung my legs out of the car. “Step back for a sec’ please, Jerome.”

“Yassuh, bawse, whatever you say.”

“I said ‘please,’ Jerome.”

Jerome and Sheila took two steps back. I dumped the ashtray on the sidewalk. Jerome said, “Hey, man, some of us got to live here.”

Metal gleamed up through the pile of ash. I reached down, scattered the ash, and picked up a key. I said, “We got what we came for.”

Angie said, “Neato,” and got out of the car.

Jerome said, “Congratulations. Now, pick that shit back up, man.”

I held the ashtray by the curb and brushed everything back into it. I put it on the seat and got out of the car. I said, “You’re all right, Jerome.”

Jerome said, “Thanks. Just knowing I please white folks like yourself makes me a complete man.”

I smiled and we walked back up the hill.

***

It was a locker key, number 506. Could have belonged to a locker at Logan Airport or the Greyhound Station in Park Square or the Amtrak Terminal at South Station. Or any number of bus depots in Springfield or Lowell or New Hampshire or Connecticut or Maine or God knew where else.

Angie said, “So, what do you want to do? Check them all?”

“Don’t have much choice.”

“That’s a lot of places.”

“Look on the bright side.”

“Which is?”

“Think of all the overtime we can pay ourselves.”

She hit me, but not as hard as I thought she would.

TWENTY-THREE

We decided we’d start in the morning. There were a lot of lockers in the state and we’d need all the energy we had; right now, we were running on fumes. Angie went home and Bubba followed. I slept in the office because it was harder to approach than my apartment; footsteps in the empty church would echo like cannon shots.

While I slept, a knot the size of a seashell worked its way into my neck, and my legs cramped up where they bent on the cot against the wall.

And sometime while I slept, war broke out.

***

Curtis Moore was the first to fall in the line of duty. Shortly after midnight a fire broke out at the nurse’s desk in the prison hospital ward. The two cops on duty by Curtis’s bed got up to take a look. It wasn’t much of a fire a rag doused in rubbing alcohol tossed in a trash can, a match thrown in for combustion. The two cops and the nurse found a fire extinguisher, doused it, and then it didn’t take the cops too long to figure out a possible motive behind it. By the time they burst back in the room, Curtis had a hole the size of a hand in his throat and the initials J. A. carved into his forehead.

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