16

Faron strolled past a row of gravestone, wishing he had worn a more comfortable pair of shoes. Though he lived not too far from this Boston cemetery, he didn’t know it well. A vaguely paranoid impulse had led him to park some distance away from their meeting place. He stopped from time to time to study a headstone, using the pause to scan for followers, feeling simultaneously edgy and foolish. For cover, he carried a sheaf of flowers that he had bought at the grocery store along with the skim milk, pasta, olives, and lemons his wife had asked him to pick up on the way home. She would have raised an eyebrow at the flowers, a mix of wilted daisies and carnations dyed an unnatural shade of green. Lonnie being Lonnie, she would have thanked him for his thoughtfulness while slipping in a lecture about the environmental impact of importing flowers from Chile and the terrible working conditions for the women who earned next to nothing harvesting those very flowers. It was her little way of getting even with him for being The Man. She may have fallen in love with someone who had the bad taste to wear a badge and a gun to work, but she didn’t have to let him off easy.

He looked around, puzzled. Was he in the wrong section? The cemetery seemed designed to be confusing, with all the curving roads, the rows of gravestones looking too much alike. Then he turned full circle and spotted the angel on its plinth. As he headed toward it, he also saw Slovo, slipping out of the shadow of a mausoleum that looked like a gothic cottage turned to stone.

“Is this drama really necessary?” Faron asked him. He was looking a little raggedy, Faron thought, but then, he usually did.

“I thought you could use a little fresh air. Besides, it’s more peaceful here than your office.”

“Peace is overrated. What do you need?”

“Wondering what you’ve been hearing.”

“About what?”

“Jesus, Faron. What’s Maloney going to do?”

“You think anyone’s going to tell me? I’m one of your known associates. They put me on burglaries. Way things been going, I’m just lucky I’m not back on patrol, busting up bar fights in Roxbury or some shit.”

“Damn. Sorry. I didn’t know.”

“There seems to be a lot you don’t know. Like where that star witness of yours is. Nobody knows, not even you, from what I hear. Is that true?”

“Depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

“There you go, being your usual helpful self. How’d you let things get so complicated?”

“Wasn’t my idea. This could have been simple.”

Faron snorted. “Not when you’re around. I should have known.”

“I didn’t mean to screw up your career.”

“I’ll survive. Don’t know about you, though. Remember the good old days when you just had a bloodthirsty gang of East European mobsters after you? Now you got a U.S. attorney and two federal agencies riding your ass.”

“Your tax dollars at work. You don’t know anything, huh?”

“Not a damned thing. I can guess, though. Maloney would get a lot of entertainment value out of throwing you under the bus. He’s pissed off that things didn’t play out like they were supposed to. He had a sure thing, an easy way to score some points. Now, with Homeland Security breathing down his neck, he’s losing face, and frankly? He blames you. For some strange reason, your personality rubs him the wrong way. Imagine that. I’d stay out of his way for a while if I were you.”

“That can be arranged.”

“Better yet, bring in your witness, get some actual cooperation going, and this whole thing could be turned around. That’s assuming you haven’t totally lost contact.” He tried to read Slovo’s expression. His friend had an abstracted look. “You listening to me at all?”

“Sorry, did you say something?”

“Motherfucker.”

Slovo gave him one of those cockeyed grins that suddenly made him look like an eight-year-old with a whoopee cushion.

“You want my advice?” Faron squatted down and propped his flowers against the angel’s plinth. They looked even shabbier against the polished stone. His knees creaked as he rose. “Go in on Monday ready to eat a big helping of humble pie. You have information they need.”

“And what happens to my witness?”

Faron spread his hands, making a point, but was suddenly aware that he was holding them, palms up, just like the angel, who watched them with a sad stone smile on her face. “You did what you could.”

“Not good enough. This is fucked up.”

“It’s how it is. No point in beating yourself up over it.” Faron put his hands against his spine and leaned back, trying to get a crick out. First his knees, then his back. Getting too old for this shit. “Say, you want to come over? Knock back a completely tasteless light beer, share our healthy cholesterol-free dinner? Lonnie’d love to see you.”

“Thanks, but I got stuff to do tonight.”

“Of course you do. Maybe when this is over then. Oh, there was one thing. Some woman’s trying to get hold of you.”

“Who’s that?”

“Cathy? Katie? From Chicago. I wrote it down.” He pulled a small notebook out of his breast pocket, flipped through the pages, squinting, then fumbled for a pair of glasses. “It’s in here, somewhere. This guy who teaches at Northeastern, sends students out to study us all the time, like we’re an art farm or something? He was harassing everybody about it.”

“Not Jeannie?”

“No, not your ex. I remember her, she’s scary. It was somebody who knew you in Chicago. Now she’s a college professor or something.”

“Know what it’s about?”

“Child support.” He waited for a beat, enjoying the look on his friend’s face before saying, “Just kidding. I got no idea. Wait, here it is. Looks like Annie something.”

“Annie Moscowitz? Anna Jones?”

“Nope.” He squinted. “Starts with a K and ends with something I can’t read.”

“Koskinen?”

“That could be. What kind of name is that, anyway? You know her?”

“Used to. It figures she’d end up at a university. Grew up on the North Shore, got promoted because of her connections. Being female, a minority, and cute didn’t hurt, either.”

“Was she one of your conquests?”

“Maybe. I didn’t keep track.”

“You dawg. Here’s her number, anyway.” He tore the sheet out of the notebook and handed it to him. “Want me to drop you somewhere?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Sure?” When they’d first met, Slovo was recovering from a cascade of injuries that left him with  pieces of metal in his leg, a crutch to take the weight off, and a habit of chasing pain pills with whiskey. He still had a limp and on bad days used a cane. “Long walk to the T,” Faron added.

“Who says that’s where I’m headed?” All prickly and suspicious suddenly.

“Hey, relax. I just figured—” He broke off as Slovo gave him one of those grins. Just fooling. “Whatever. No need to tell me what craziness you’re up to. Just do me a favor and keep out of trouble.” He punched Slovo’s shoulder, maybe a little harder than he had to, then headed for his car, thinking that short walk was plenty far enough. His feet hurt. He looked forward to being home in his chair with a beer in his hand, Lonnie next to him with her glass of white wine, her egghead NPR news station telling them in a familiar comfortable patter all the shit gone wrong with the world that day.

“Hey Faron?” Slovo called out as he reached his car. “Give Lonnie my love.”

“Will do.”

As he dug his car keys out of his pocket, Faron turned to look back, but the angel was standing all by herself, arms raised as if to say “what can you do?” Slovo had melted away in that sneaky cat-like way he had.

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