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Page 7 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

She rolled her eyes at me. “So,” she said, “what’s on tomorrow’s agenda?”

I shrugged, drank some beer from the can. Summer was definitely here; it tasted like tea. Van had finished singing about “crazy love,” and was heading “into the mystic.” I said, “I guess we wait for Billy to call, call him at noon if he doesn’t.”

“Sounds almost like a plan.” She drained her beer, made a face at the can. “Any more cold ones?” I reached into my wastebasket, which was doubling as a cooler, tossed a can to her. She cracked it, took a sip. “What do we do when we find Mrs. Angeline?”

“Haven’t a clue. Play it by ear.”

“You’re such a professional at this.”

I nodded. “That’s why they let me carry a gun.”

She saw him before I did. His shadow fell across the floor, crept up the right side of her face. Phil. The Asshole.

I hadn’t seen him since I hospitalized him three years ago. He looked better than he had then lying on the floor holding his ribs, coughing blood onto a sawdust floor but he still looked like an asshole. He had a hell of a scar beside his left eye, compliments of that sensible pool stick. I’m not sure, but I think I beamed when I noticed.

He wouldn’t look at me. He looked at her. “I’ve been downstairs honking for the last ten minutes, hon’. You didn’t hear me?”

“It was pretty noisy outside, and...” She pointed at the boom box, but Phil chose not to look at it because that would have meant looking at me.

He said, “Ready to go?”

She nodded and stood. She drained the beer in one long swallow. That didn’t seem to make Phil’s day. Probably made it worse when she flipped the can airborne in my direction and I tapped it into the wastebasket.

“Two points,” she said, coming around the desk. “See you tomorrow, Skid.”

“See you,” I said, as she took Phil’s hand and started walking out the door.

Just before they reached the door, Phil turned, her hand in his, and looked at me. He smiled.

I blew him a kiss.

I heard them work their way down the narrow, winding steps. Van had stopped singing and the quiet that replaced him felt thick and decayed. I sat in Angie’s chair, saw them below me. Phil was getting in the car, Angie standing at the passenger door, holding the handle. Her head was down and I got the feeling she was making a conscious effort not to look back up at the window. Phil opened her door from the inside, and a moment after she got in, they pulled out into traffic.

I looked at my boom box, at the cassettes scattered around it. I considered taking Van out and putting in some Dire Straits. Or maybe some Stones. No. Jane’s Addiction perhaps. Springsteen? Something really different, then. La-dysmith-Black-Mambazo or The Chieftains. I considered them all. I considered what would best fit my mood. I considered picking up the boom box and hurling it across the room at the exact spot where Phil had turned, Angie’s hand in his, and smiled.

But I didn’t. It’d pass.

Everything did. Sooner or later.

FIVE

I left the church a few minutes later. nothing left to keep me. I walked through the empty schoolyard, kicked a can in front of me as I went. I passed through the opening in the short wrought-iron fence that lined the yard and crossed the avenue to my apartment. I live directly across from the church in a blue-and-white three-decker that somehow missed the scourge of aluminum siding that overtook all its neighbors. My landlord is an old Hungarian farmer whose last name I couldn’t pronounce with a year of practice. He spends all day fussing about in the yard, and he’s said maybe a total of two hundred and fifty words to me in the five years I’ve lived there. The words are usually the same and there are three of them: “Where’s my rent?” He’s a mean old bastard, but he’s unfriendly.

I let myself into my second-floor apartment and tossed the bills that awaited me on a pile on the coffee table with their relatives. There were no women camped by my door, inside or out, but there were seven messages on my answering machine.

Three were from Gina of the Bubble Bath. Each of her messages was backed by the grunts and moans emanating from the aerobics studio where she worked. Nothing like a little summer sweat to get the wheels of passion turning.

One was from my sister, Erin, long distance from Seattle. “Staying out of trouble, kid?” My sister. I’ll have my teeth in a glass and a face like a prune, and she’ll still be calling me “kid.” Another was from Bubba Rogowski, wondering if I wanted to have a beer, shoot some pool. Bubba sounded drunk, which meant someone would bleed tonight. I nixed the invitation as a matter of course. Someone, I think it was Lauren, called to make nasty promises concerning a pair of rusty scissors and my genitalia. I was trying to recall our last date to decide if my behavior warranted such extreme measures, when Mulkern’s voice drifted into the room and I forgot all about Lauren.

“Pat, lad, it’s Sterling Mulkern. I assume you’re out earning your money, which is grand, but I wonder if you had the time to read today’s Trib?. That dear boy, Colgan, was at my throat again. Ah, the boy would have accused your own father of setting fires just so he could put them out. A real Peck’s bad boy, that Richie Colgan. I wonder, Pat, if you might have a word with him, ask him to lighten up a bit on an old man for a time? Just a thought. We’ve a table for lunch at the Copley, Saturday at one. Don’t forget.” The recording ended with a dial tone, then the cassette began rewinding.

I stared at the small machine. He wondered if I might have a word with Richie Colgan. Just a thought. Toss in the memory of my father for good measure. The hero fireman. The beloved city councilor. My father.

Everyone knows Richie Colgan and I are friends. It’s half the reason people are a little more suspicious of me than used to be the case. We met when we were both majoring in Space Invaders with a Pub Etiquette minor at the Happy Harbor Campus of UMass/Boston. Now Richie’s the Trib’s top columnist, a vicious bastard if he thinks you’re one of the three great evils an elitist, a bigot, or a hypocrite. Since Sterling Mulkern is an embodiment of all three, Richie orders him for lunch once or twice a week.

Everyone loved Richie Colgan until they ran his picture over his byline. A good Irish name. A good Irish boy. Going after the corrupt, fat party bosses in city hall and the Statehouse. Then they ran his picture and everyone saw that his skin was blacker than Kurtz’s heart, and suddenly he was a “troublemaker.” But he sells papers, and his favorite target has always been Sterling Mulkern. Among the monikers he’s given the Senator there’s “Santa’s Evil Twin,” “Siphoner Sterling,” “Three-Lunch Mulkern,” and “Hypo the Hippo.” Boston’s not a town for the sensitive pol.

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