28

“He gave me this big goofy grin,” she told Dugan later. “Like no big deal, but it was an act, you could tell. I almost lost it, driving home. My nose got all stopped up and I didn’t have anything to blow it on. Do you know how much that tickles?”

“Distracted driving. You can get ticketed for that.”

“A guy who grew up on the streets because his home life was so shitty finally finds a family to belong to, even risks going to prison to help this woman and her kid, but she makes it clear she doesn’t want him in her life. I suppose she has her reasons. She’s been through a lot, but it sucks for him.”

Anni told Dugan about it the day she found him sitting in her back garden, three weeks after Slovo had turned himself in. Dugan was comfortably sprawled in one of the two folding chairs he’d carried down from her porch. He’d placed a crate nearby with a dish towel spread across it, topped with a mason jar holding a bunch of tightly-folded tulips.

When she saw him, her heart started suddenly pounding, either from fear or something else. “What are you doing out here?”

“It’s too nice out to be indoors. That back fence needs something.” He showed her the gardening site he’d been browsing on his phone. “What do you think about trumpet vine?”

She dropped into the chair beside his. “I mean here, here. My place. Your case is wrapped up?”

He produced a champagne bottle from a bag beside him. “No more job-related separation. That calls for a celebration.”

She went inside to fetch plates and glasses as he emptied a Pete’s grocery bag, spreading out a picnic of fragrant Italian salami and paper-thin prosciutto, olives, cheeses, crackers, and fruit. As she nibbled an olive, he worked the champagne cork out with his thumbs until it made a satisfying pop and filled their glasses. She took his hand and looked over the yard where crocuses were blooming along with clusters of tiny blue flowers with a name she’d forgotten, sun dappling her lap through tree branches. She lifted her glass to it in a toast. “Thanks for this.”

“It’s just the cheap stuff. I could have sprung for something pricier, but honestly, I can’t tell the difference.”

“I meant for the garden. Remember what it used to look like? I never thought it could look this good. God, I missed you.”

“So did the garden. The weeds are taking over.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t want to pull out flowers by mistake. I can’t tell the difference.”

He squeezed her hand, then reached for his plate and filled it with food. “Catch me up. You had another guy staying here while I was away.” He gave her a fake leer.

“Hey, nothing happened. He just—”

“Kidding. But seriously, what was the deal with Slovo?”

“You probably know more than I do. Haven’t heard a thing since I dropped him off at headquarters.”

“And CPD turned him over to the feds. That’s all I know. What was he doing here? Why was Homeland Security all over him?”

“Long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

“A Ukrainian woman he knew was a witness in a trafficking investigation in Boston. It started local, but then the feds got involved. She apparently had a bit of an attitude, wasn’t sufficiently submissive or something. Or maybe it was just interagency politics, I’m not sure. Anyway, things escalated to where deportation was a possibility, and there was a good chance she would be killed if she was sent back. So he set her up with a smuggler so she could try for asylum in Canada. Until she actually got there and made her claim, he didn’t want to be questioned about her whereabouts, so he made himself scarce.”

“Canada? We have an agreement with them. Won’t they just repatriate her?”

“A politician has taken up her case. It’s getting a lot of publicity, given how we’ve been treating asylum seekers who come here looking for safety. It’s a point of national pride that a country so much smaller than ours now takes in more than we do. Looks like the prime minister is going to intervene on her behalf. Major international incident, coming soon to CNN.”

“How did Slovo get mixed up in all this? Is he back in law enforcement?”

“No, he works as a translator now.” She told him what she knew and what Slovo had said as she dropped him off. “It was sad, you know?”

“And on top of that, he’s facing serious legal trouble,” Dugan said. “Conspiring to transport an illegal alien can get you twenty years. If they want to screw him over, they have all they need.”

“He has a good lawyer.” Anni had exchanged some encrypted messages with Anita Brockhurst. Slovo was cooperating fully and his testimony and insider knowledge was key to convicting the Demchak brothers. On the other hand, the attorney expressed concern that the administration might turn it into a show trial; anti-immigrant sentiment was easily fired up, and Slovo’s checkered past would give them ammunition for a public character assassination. Brockhurst was spoiling for the fight, though, and seemed almost eager for a public battle she felt confident they would win.

“What was he doing in Chicago, anyway?”

“Ah, that’s . . . I told you he knew Feliks Król, didn’t I? He was totally convinced Feliks didn’t hurt Danny Truscott, so he tracked me down to argue the point.”

“He came all the way from Boston for that?”

“I know. A little extreme, but he had to hide out for a while, and once he was here, he met Adam, who needed a house sitter, so.”

“He didn’t make a pass at you for old time’s sake?”

She punched his arm. “If he had, there would be a body buried out here under one of your flowerbeds.”

“Ow.” He rubbed his arm for show. “Do you buy what he said about Król?”

She hesitated. She wanted to tell him everything, but as a sworn officer he would feel duty bound to report Danny’s whereabouts. Or, out of loyalty to her, he might keep her confidence, but he would feel bad about it. There would always be a barrier, those things they couldn’t share. It was all mixed up with her own feelings about the job, about how estranged she had become from a community she’d so wanted to be part of, a community that had shut her out.

“We can talk openly,” he said, being a mind reader as usual. “I quit my job.”

What?

He held up a palm. “That came out wrong. I meant to tell you I got a new job. Officially turned in my star today, hence the celebration.” He topped off their glasses and raised his in a toast. She was too stunned to follow his lead.

“It’s fine,” he added. “Great, actually. Haven’t felt so good in ages.”

“But your career. It’s your life.”

“I’ll still be investigating homicides, only I’ll be doing it for the Cook County Public Defender’s office.”

She gaped at him.

He pointed to her glass. “Are you going to wait until all the bubbles are gone before you drink that?”

She downed her champagne in a few gulps and refilled it. “Wow. That’s a change. What does your family think?”

“They’ll come around.”

“Dugan, jeez.” They’ll blame me, she thought. And why not? She blamed herself. “You shouldn’t . . . I mean, we could have . . .”

“Whoa, you got the wrong end of the stick. It’s not you, it’s the job. I started to lose the faith years ago. That’s why I left headquarters. I thought maybe on the streets I could do real work, work that helped people. But I was being delusional. It’s the whole system, it’s messed up top to bottom. Hell, you know what I’m talking about. After Laquan I knew I couldn’t keep lying to myself.”

Laquan McDonald, a kid shot by a cop for walking away, for being Black and not subservient enough. It was covered up, but made national headlines when the video surfaced that proved the official story about lunging with a knife was a lie. It might have shocked the conscience, but it wasn’t a surprise to anyone on the inside. The city budgeted millions of dollars every year for payouts to victims of police misconduct. It was just the way things worked, the way they’d always been. It was the same attitude that had forced Anni out after she crossed the blue line in a courtroom.

“I thought if I got out of the halls of power and back onto the streets . . . but, nope. It was even more obvious out there. At some point you’re just propping up something you can’t fix. So, time for a change. The upside is I’ll be able to bitch to you about my cases, now. Aren’t you lucky.”

She shook her head. “Leaving will be hard, Dugan. I’ve been there, I know. Worse for you, though. Working for the public defender? That’s like going over to the enemy. Your whole family is in law enforcement. You guys are close, but—”

“They’ll come around,” he said firmly. It almost sounded as if he meant it.

He topped off his glass and filled his plate. “Enough of that. I want to hear about your cases. Josh McLaren, for one. Sounds as if your client maybe isn’t a cold-blooded killer in spite of his frequent confessions to mass murder.”

“Have you heard something?”

“Just that it’s not the slam-dunk it seemed, and the brass are trying to figure out how to spin it. They weren’t too happy with Elijah Morton, complicating a high-profile case. Not exactly thrilled with your guy’s mother, either. She’s determined.”

“No shit.”

“She gives you credit. Or blame, depending on your point of view. So, tell me how you managed to ruin the commissioner’s day.”

She told him about the suspicious investment into Kyle Peterson’s startup, about tracking down Josh on an island in Jackson Park, barefoot and distraught. Remembering his feral look made her think of Feliks Król’s strange paintings of threatened children, of the way Danny Truscott stared, fascinated, at specks of dust floating in the sunlight. She finished explaining how she found the suspicious business investment that led her to suspect Josh had been set up.

“Nice. What about that other thing, the work you’re doing on that artist?”

She hesitated, then realized they didn’t need to keep secrets anymore. She could trust Dugan, she would always trust him, so she told him.

“After all these years,” Dugan murmured. “You found him at last.”

“It was Slovo’s idea. I should have figured this out years ago.”

“And returned Danny to his father to mess up his life? Good thing you didn’t.”

“True. Still, I need to find a way to close this case. Shirley McGrath is too good. She won’t let it go, and Danny could still have his life messed up. There has to be a way to throw her off.”

“Maybe it’s time I spill the beans about my recent case,” Dugan said. “That touchy one that they thought I couldn’t be trusted to keep my mouth shut about.”

“Was it to do with Slovo’s situation?”

“What? No. Caught people totally by surprise when he showed up to turn himself in. Nah, it was about Danny’s dad and his involvement in a messy scandal that involves city officials and some creative financial types with mob ties. Brian Truscott is in this shit up to his neck.”

“I’d heard rumors.”

“Yeah, it’s been leaking out. He could go to prison. Or he’ll flip and become a cooperating witness, but he won’t be doing those big real estate deals anymore. He’ll lose his shirt. Those talk shows will drop him. It won’t happen fast, though. An investigation this complex can drag on for years before anyone’s even indicted.”

“Meanwhile, Shirley could figure it out, and Danny could end up with his dad while Joyce is charged with kidnapping, along with her cousin downstate. I need to figure something out.”

We need to,” he corrected. “But not tonight. Tonight we celebrate.”

 

Resolving the Danny Truscott case took all three of them, and four months to make it happen. Dugan frequently had to interview prisoners in connection with cases taken up by the public defender’s office. He scouted possibilities until he found a few candidates who could be plausible witnesses given the right incentives.

Anni sent the potential names Dugan gave her to Slovo, who was spending a lot of time being grilled by officials from three-letter agencies. In time, a couple of Dugan’s names matched Slovo’s voluminous inventory of past informants. They settled on a man who remembered Slovo well and was willing to play along in exchange for Slovo topping up his commissary account on a regular basis for the duration of his sentence. Slovo, in turn, vouched for him as an honorable criminal who didn’t necessarily respect legal boundaries but could be trusted to keep a deal. For her part, Anni did the legwork to make sure the jailhouse confession the inmate would report to authorities would hold up when Shirley McGrath and her partner checked it out.

Every now and then her conscience pinched her hard for setting up a dead man, albeit one who had been convicted of killing another child, for a crime he didn’t commit, but then she pictured Danny watching dust motes dance in the sun. It might not be by the book, but it was a kind of justice. She waited anxiously for Shirley McGrath and her partner to wrap up their investigation.

It was late fall when Anni got the word. After a thorough investigation, authorities were satisfied the confession of a dead man, passed on by another inmate, was genuine. She immediately called Joyce, who now lived in a condo in the city. She had hired a lawyer and secured a decent divorce settlement before the rumors that were circulating put Brian Truscott’s wealth at risk.

“I just heard from the police,” Anni told her. “About Danny. They’ll be coming to tell you what happened to him.”

She heard Joyce suck in her breath.

“They’re certain he was murdered not long after the abduction. An incarcerated man told a fellow prisoner he kidnapped and murdered your son. I’m sorry, I know it must be tough to hear.”

She waited for Joyce to respond. “But how . . . I don’t understand.”

“Shirley called to tell me. They’re going to have a press conference later, but all the details checked out. They’re confident they can close the case.”

“This man, he confessed?”

“The inmate he confided in didn’t tell anyone until long after the man was dead, but they investigated and concluded the guy had told the truth. He was downtown around that time, he was a known offender, and he was serving time for a similar crime. He’d taken and killed another little boy, like Danny, only that time he got caught. Unfortunately, they don’t expect to find Danny’s remains. The man didn’t say where he was buried. I’m sorry about that, but they’re convinced they know who was responsible. It’s over.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I just got off the phone with Detective McGrath. She’s on her way to tell you in person, but I thought I should give you a heads up. Give you time to collect your thoughts. I hope this will give you some peace at last.”

“Yes,” she said faintly. Then again, more firmly, “Yes, it will. Thank you for all you’ve done.”

Anni never learned if Etta Mae had told her cousin that she and Slovo had found Danny. There was a flurry of publicity, but she didn’t speak with Joyce again. She worried at first that Shirley McGrath had her doubts that a long-dead offender had killed Danny and disposed of the body in a hidden grave. There was something alert and knowing in the way she studied Anni’s reaction when she told her about the promising lead from the prison in Joliet. It was a fleeting impression, a jolt of uncertainty, but by the time the investigation concluded, Shirley seemed content to close out the file and move on.

Az Abkerian was a concern, though. He contacted Anni about the mad artist who had been suspected and then vindicated of murder for an in-depth story that he had pitched successfully to The New Yorker. It was his first big break since leaving the Trib. She’d nervously agreed to meet him to talk over Danny’s case.

She approached the meeting with a mix of caution and dread, though found herself enjoying his company as he recounted the stories he’d written and the times their paths had crossed over cases. After three beers, Az was into reminiscing, and he didn’t have the deadline pressure of news reporting that usually cut their conversations short. He made several follow up calls, digging into Danny’s story, confirming facts, always probing for more. He had coaxed out of the CPD and the Illinois Department of Corrections all the details on the man they concluded was guilty, but she worried Az would interview the convict who pinned it on him and unravel the story or, worse yet, look up the downstate relatives for backstory and discover what really happened.

 

When the article appeared, she skimmed it anxiously and called him. “You bastard.”

“Hello to you, too.”

“We had an understanding.”

“Don’t blame me. The first draft I submitted left you out completely, just like you wanted. Wasn’t what the editor wanted, though. He insisted.”

“I don’t care what the editor wanted.”

“Good for you. I don’t have that luxury. I need my career back.”

“You said our conversations were off the record. What about protecting your sources?”

“From what? You come off looking good. Besides, everything in there was confirmed by multiple sources.”

“It’s not the story you told me you were writing. How’d I end up being the center of everything?”

“It kind of evolved, okay? My first attempt was too dry, too much straight news. They want nuance, complexity, a meaningful narrative frame. At least, that’s what they said. Honestly? I had no idea what I was doing, but the editor kind of fell for you as the heart of the story, and after half a million drafts it turned out okay. More than okay. It may even be the best thing I ever wrote.”

“You had to bring my family into it?”

“Human interest. Plus, thematically it fit too well to leave out. A guy who grew up orphaned and misunderstood, shunned by society, but made amazing art that everybody misinterpreted. A detective who grew up in foster homes and got kicked out of the force for telling the truth, someone who regularly looks out for mentally ill people who go missing. Look, this is my shot at reviving my career, Koskinen. I need the string to get to the nationals, and it’s working. I’m already getting calls.”

“Me too, you jerk. That’s the last time I help you with a story.” She ended the call, wishing she still had a landline so she could slam a receiver down. Then she blocked his number.

The other reporters were harder to avoid. She couldn’t afford to miss messages from clients or call-backs for the jobs she was doing for Thea Adelman. She took calls from unfamiliar numbers just long enough to learn if it was a reporter, a true crime podcaster wanting to set up an interview, or a legitimate work-related call.

 

One afternoon she took a call from an unfamiliar number, prepared to cut it short.

“Hi. Um, do you have a minute? I’d like to talk to you about . . . this is a little hard to explain.”

The voice wasn’t ingratiating and organized like a reporter, and Anni was used to hearing hesitation from clients. “No worries. Go ahead.”

“This will sound weird, but . . . I’m pretty sure I knew your mother.”

Anni said nothing for a moment. She became aware of the hum of her refrigerator, the sound of a car alarm honking rhythmically some distance away. She took the phone in her other hand and wiped her palm on her jeans. “How’d you get my number?”

“I’m not trying to get anything from you. I got a grant to do some research at the Newberry, so when knew I was going to be in Chicago, I thought I should make contact. See if you might want to meet.”

“My number. How—”

“Oh, right. It was that article. ‘Missing Persons.’ Your name jumped right out at me. So I contacted the author and he gave me your phone number. He also said you might hang up on me.”

She felt like it. Ending the call, blocking the number. Putting it down to some crank. But instead she asked, almost without intending to, “What makes you think you knew my mother?”

“The dates match up. Her story. And the name, it’s not all that common outside Finland. I’m pretty sure it’s her, but I have some photos. You’ll be able to tell.”

“I doubt it. I was only two years old when she abandoned us. I barely remember her.”

“Oh.” There was a moment of silence before the woman added. “You should have the photos, anyway, and the letters she wrote to me. In case it’s her.” She waited for a response, but Anni didn’t speak. “I’m sorry. This must be a shock. Would you like me to call back later?”

“No.” She closed her laptop, stood up and wandered to the window, looking out without seeing the street below, flicking through the few memories she had: an Indian-print skirt with a spicy smell. A warm lap. A necklace she played with, holding the blue glass beads up in the sun to catch the light. “Where do you want to meet?”

“I’m staying downtown. There’s a café nearby on the corner of State and what it is? Chestnut, I think. I was there last night, it didn’t seem too busy. Or we could meet somewhere else. I don’t know the city well, but I can take a cab.”

“The café is fine. I can be there by six-thirty. What’s your name?”

She heard the woman take a breath and let it out before she answered. “It’s Anni. Anni Koskinen.”

 

The café was dimly lit, most of its tables empty. Anni saw her immediately. A slim woman in her fifties with hair so blond it looked white, skin as pale as skimmed milk, and a tentative smile as she made a half-hearted wave, the kind when you’re not sure if you’re greeting the right person. Anni went to her table. “You’re Anni Koskinen?”

“And so are you.” Her smile flickered on, then off.

Anni took the seat across from her. “Apparently not. I mean, it’s a fake name.”

“No. She gave it to you. It’s yours now.” A server was angling toward them, carafe in hand.

“Just coffee for me,” Anni told her, not really wanting anything, and waited for her to leave. “So, this woman . . .”

“Her name was Lisa Schmidt. We grew up together in Eveleth, Minnesota. It’s up north, in the iron range. Home of the world’s largest hockey stick and a lot of Finns, including my family. Koskinen is Finnish.”

“I know.”

“Your mother—”

“This Lisa Schmidt person.”

She registered Anni’s skepticism with a nod. “Right. She was my best friend, growing up. We went to kindergarten together, were in the same class until ninth grade. Let me show you . . .” She twisted around to reach into her bag, took out an envelope. Opened it and sorted through snapshots, emotions washing over her face before she bundled them together, tapped them straight, and handed them to Anni. “She was so young. Only fifteen when she left.”

Anni sifted through them. Two little girls on a dock in swim suits, one blond and one brunette, grins showing matching gapped teeth. A posed school picture of the brunette in a turtleneck, her brown hair long and straight, her smile secretive. Some group photos of kids in a playground, at school, hanging out. A candid snapshot of the brunette as an almost-adult, dark pines behind her, her face warmly lit and glowing, her hair catching the light, a smile brimming with joy.

“We were at a bonfire that night,” the other Anni Koskinen said. “A friend had them at his farm almost every weekend. They were fun.”

It was the same face, a little younger, a lot softer, as in the photo Anni had hanging on her wall beside the kitchen table. The photo she’d managed to hang onto through all the foster homes, the one Dugan had restored and framed for her after it got crumpled and stained.

“We’d smoke weed and drink beer and Kevin Makonnen would brag about almost blowing up the chemistry lab again. Whatever drama was happening in our lives, we’d leave it behind. Any thoughts about enlisting in the military or applying for college or getting a job at the mine, it didn’t come up, whatever was coming next. It felt like we’d be hanging out together in those woods forever.”

Anni set the stack of photos aside when the server brought her coffee.

“I didn’t realize how bad things were for Lisa,” the woman went on. “I mean, I knew, but . . . not really. Her people lived in a trailer park on the edge of town. They had the wrong kind of friends, and the police were out there a lot. Her father went to prison when we were nine, and before long another man moved in. She hated him. Later I wondered if he had been abusing her, but at the time I didn’t know what to think, other than that she was growing up faster than me, having boyfriends, cutting class, getting drunk. And then she was gone.”

She peered into the manila envelope again and drew out a bundle of papers tied with a ribbon. She untied it and sorted through them. “Here. This is the note she left me.”

Anni unfolded the piece of lined notebook paper, stained sepia with age along the folds. “Andy’s giving me a ride to the cities!! I’ll send you a postcard! You’re my bestest best friend forever. XoXo Lisa. PS: I’ll pay you back soon as I can.” The handwriting was round, hearts instead of dots over the letter i, the signature exuberant and underscored with a flourish of looping lines, ending in a butterfly. A happy, hopeful moment captured in fading ball point ink.

“’I’ll pay you back’?” Anni read aloud.

“I’d brought money to school that day for a band trip. Two hundred and fifty dollars saved up from working at the drugstore. She took it, plus my driver’s license. I’d only had it for a week. I had been bragging about getting mine when her birthday was still two months away. When I read that note, I was so mad. It wasn’t just the money, it was because she was going to have a real life and I was left behind. It wasn’t until I got older that I figured it out why she probably had to leave home. The signs were all there. I just didn’t know what I was seeing. When I read that New Yorker article and found out what happened to her . . . dammit.” She flicked the corners of her eyes with a finger. “Sorry. It’s just that we were such good friends.”

Anni picked up the picture from the bonfire. “So her name was Lisa, huh?”

 

It was close to ten when Dugan texted to see if it was okay to come over. He arrived at her flat half an hour later, looking worn and discouraged, his tie hanging loose. “Hard day?” she asked.

“Yeah. Pretty crummy.”

“There’s wine.” She pointed with her glass to the bottle by the sink. He picked the bottle up and frowned at the low level. “And plenty of beer in the fridge,” she added.

He got one out, wrenched off the top as if strangling someone and slugged half of it down. He stared at nothing thoughtfully for a moment, then held a fist to his chest and belched. “Spent all day talking to a defendant’s neighbors, his family. Witnesses. No sign so far of anything mitigating.” He drank the rest of his beer, tossed it in the recycling bin, and got out a second. “This one’s bad.” He closed his eyes and rubbed them with a finger and thumb.

“I’m guessing your guy’s not innocent.”

“Not even close. This is when I should have a speech in my back pocket about justice for all and making sure the system works. But honestly? His own mother wants him locked up. Thought we might have a couple things to work with, but none of it panned out. What’s all this?” He had wandered to the couch where the photos were scattered around her. He looked at her, suddenly aware. “Hey.”

She gathered up the photos and handed him the fireside snapshot as he sat beside her. “This is my mom,” she said.

He studied it, taking his time. Then he took the other photos, handling them with the same care. “How did you get these?”

“A woman who knew her when they were kids read Az’s article. She’s a college teacher, in town for some research she’s doing. She gave me these, and some letters. Nothing but good news in them, friends she’d made, some cool place she was staying. Nothing about tricking or drugs. A lot about Martin learning to walk, having a tantrum at the corner grocery, dancing with her at some concert. There’s one about me being born. It’s weird. She seemed totally happy about having another kid even though, you know. It wasn’t like having another baby was going to make things easier.”

He brushed her hair back and gently ran his thumb across her cheek, his fingers cold. “And I thought my day was tough.”

“It’s good. I mean, knowing more. Having a name. I just wish things hadn’t been so hard for her, you know?”

“I know,” he mumbled into her hair. She leaned into him, smelling that Indian-print skirt, feeling that faint memory of a warm lap. “Have you talked to your brother about this yet?”

“I’ll wait until he comes here for breakfast Sunday. It’s part of our routine, that’s probably the best time. I don’t know how he’ll feel about it. I mean, he was older. He remembers her.” She ran a finger along the edge of the photo. “At least I’ll have some stories to tell him about her.”

Later, he ordered some food and she told him what she now knew about Lisa Schultz, a kid growing poor up in a trailer park in a mining town where kids hung out in the woods together, thinking it would never end.

 

The next morning Anni was still in bed, half asleep, drinking a mug of coffee that Dugan had brewed, when her phone rang. “Shit,” she muttered, recognizing the number. Then she took a breath and answered. “Hi, Donna.” Dugan, who was dressing for work, rolled his eyes in sympathy.

“You need to check on Josh,” Donna said brusquely. “He just told me he killed someone.”

“What, again?”

“How can you joke about it?”

“Sorry.”

“He has an illness. He’s not a murderer.”

“I know.” She’d been sent to check on Josh just last week, and the week before that. He was doing fine, happy to tell her about some incomprehensible math problem he was working on without any tightly-wound anxiety that showed itself when reality was warping around him. He was still troubled by fragmented memories of that night and the stressful aftermath, but no more than anyone would be. His mother remained on constant alert, though. “How bad did he sound?” Anni swallowed the rest of her coffee, then rose and rummaged in her closet for a clean pair of jeans and a T shirt.

“I don’t know. Not that bad. Actually, he told me he was kidding, but why would he make a joke about a thing like that? I mean, after all we’ve been through. Did I tell you that boy, the dentist’s son – what was his name?”

“Kyle.”

“Did I tell you he had the nerve to send me a letter of apology?”

“Yup.” More than once.

“As if I’d ever forgive him for lying to the police, for going along with a plan to pin the murder on Josh just to get money for some stupid business venture. If I hadn’t given the police those phone records, I hate to think what would have happened.”

“The cops had their suspicions about the setup from the start. They would have figured it out.”

Only a week earlier, while making a records request for Thea Adelman at police headquarters, she’d run into Elijah Morton. He gave her a good-natured ribbing about the New Yorker article and filled her in on the investigation. It had only taken a couple of weeks to break down Kyle and Devon Oachs’ friends, a few more to get an indictment. Oachs was out on bond awaiting trial scheduled for the following year. The detective wasn’t looking forward to the media circus or the experience of being cross-examined by expensive attorney and had his fingers crossed a plea deal would let him off the hook.

Donna made a scoffing noise. “Are you serious? You didn’t see how they treated poor Josh. They assumed he was guilty. Anyway, I need you to check on him for me. In person.”

“Sure.”

“He’s spending the day in the math library, at least that’s what he said. He didn’t sound too bad this time. I mean, he actually called me. It’s my birthday tomorrow. He remembered and he called. That’s something, isn’t it?”

“It’s a good sign.”

“You’ll check, though, and let me know?”

“I’ll head down there right now.”

Dugan filled their travel mugs as she dressed and packed up her computer. After checking in with Josh, she would spend some time at the university library, reading up on the history of orphanages and mental institutions. Though Ben Sidlo seemed disappointed to find his disturbing artist wasn’t a notorious killer after all, she was still coaxing what she could out of archives and people’s fading memories, looking for those nuggets that might explain Król’s vision of the world while paying for a new roof. Sometimes she read through the notebooks, seeing something different in them now. Something that turned harrowing truths into mythic stories of innocence and experience.

She parted with  Dugan on the sidewalk. “Good luck with your case.”

“I’ll do what I can for this guy, even if he’s the kind of bonehead I used to feel good about arresting.” He glanced at his phone and barked a laugh. “My brother just texted me, giving me a hard time. Can’t wait till Sunday dinner when the whole family piles on. My place tonight?”

“Sounds good.” Their kiss lingered a little longer than usual. His family was, as he predicted, starting to come around, tested but finding ways to make room for their black sheep at their table. She watched him walk toward his Jeep, a phone already pressed to his ear, watched him juggle the phone and coffee mug as he got out his keys.

He glanced up and saluted with the mug, a little coffee splashing out of it. She returned the salute, then climbed into her car and went to work.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

In the Dark by Barbara Fister, 2020, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.