Authors: Molly Greene
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths, #Contemporary Fiction, #Detective
A Thousand Tombs
© 2014 Molly Greene
COPYRIGHT NOTICE - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The content of this book is protected under Federal and International Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be electronically or mechanically reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or retention in any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from Molly Greene.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, locations, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
e-book ISBN: 978-0-9855112-4-1
Also by Molly Greene:
Mark of the Loon
The Last Fairytale
Paint Me Gone
A Thousand Tombs
(excerpt at the end!). Visit my
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A Thousand Tombs
Take away love and our earth is a tomb.
~ Robert Browning
They were heading into dinner when the kid came pounding down the sidewalk. His arms and legs were pumping like pistons, and his fingers were splayed like he was trying to grab air. His breathing was ragged. He’d run flat out for a while, and from the looks of him, he didn’t have much left to give.
Genevieve Delacourt and Mackenzie Hackett had linked arms as they crossed the street, but Mack stopped and eased ahead of her at sight of the runner. His cop reflexes kicked in and he caught the kid by the back of the shirt as he raced by, then gripped his shoulder so he couldn’t break free and marched him into Tosca Café, slick as you please.
Gen followed and closed the door behind them.
The kid struggled, but he didn’t cry out. He was distracted, trying to haul in enough oxygen to re-fill his depleted lungs. Everything had happened so fast, he was probably still trying to make sense of it.
“You don’t want to make a scene.” Mack didn’t have to lower his voice much. The restaurant was packed, and the noise level near the bar was as loud as a Bieber concert. “It’s a cop hangout,” he added, “and the place is rockin’ tonight.”
The kid went limp as a noodle, the fight blowing out of him like air from a balloon.
Mack and Gen exchanged a look. His eyes said he might have made a mistake, but she shook her head. No worries. She was amused by the cop comment, though. What a crock. Police personnel wouldn’t be caught dead in here, and he knew it.
“Hello Sal,” Mack called. “Table for three when you have one please, my friend.”
The maître d’ bobbed his head and waved, then squeezed his fingertips together and shook his upturned hand. He was saying the place was crowded, but he needn’t have wasted his time.
Gen moved behind Mack and circled her arms around his waist. When she turned to rest her cheek against his back, she caught movement outside and shifted her focus from his abs to the window.
Two guys sauntered by. The duo was doing their best impression of casual but ruined the act by moving a skosh too fast. They were alert and scanning the Friday night crowd, on the lookout for something.
She moved beside him again and nudged Mack with her elbow. He rolled a nonchalant glance toward her, then flicked his eyes to take in the scene outside and back again. He lowered his lips to her mouth, then faced the room and used his body to shield the kid from the street, keeping a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder all the while.
“Sal, can you find us something quiet?” Mack called. “I can’t hear myself think.”
Sal pointed to the back of the house and threw up his arms. Were they interested in a seat near the kitchen? Gen nodded. Sal beckoned. Mack grasped the kid’s bicep and propelled him into the raucous crowd.
The booth was a four-top. The boy slid in against the wall, and Mack sat beside him. Gen took the bench opposite and got her first close look at their guest. He was a teenager of indiscriminate age and nearly Mack’s height. Right now, though, he was hunched over the table like an old man.
Depleted was a good word.
He was skinny, and he looked frayed around the edges. His clothes were decent but rumpled, and one of his elbows poked through a rip in his shirt. Could be the footrace had rendered it a little worse for wear. There was no reek of cigarette smoke or sweat or lack of soap and water, but still, she wondered if he was homeless.
Something about him said he was not unhappy about Mack’s snagging him up like a fish in a net. Maybe the pair outside wouldn’t have been as good for his health.
Mack caught her eye and mouthed,
Gen raised her shoulders in a lazy shrug. For now, she was fine with sitting across from him, taking in the view, admiring the strong line of his jaw. They stared at each other for a beat, then Mack raised a hand and the waiter was there.
He hooked a thumb toward the youngster. “Would you please bring my friend here a platter of spaghetti and meatballs? Biggest plate the kitchen has. Don’t wait for us to order, he’ll still be eating by the time we’re done. Kid has a hollow leg.”
Mack and Gen bantered until the food came. The boy shot covert looks at the pair while they talked. He seemed oddly comfortable with the situation, not angry or terrified. He was worried about something, that seemed clear, but she guessed it wasn’t them. The fact that they weren’t peppering him with questions seemed to give him time to adapt, but Gen couldn’t help but wonder what he was adapting from. It would be interesting to find out what Mack had gotten them into.
She turned her attention to the menu.
Before long, the waiter hustled down the aisle with a plate of pasta as tall as Vesuvius. The boy’s fingers trembled as he grasped a fork and dug in. It wasn’t anxiety. Gen bet he hadn’t eaten today, and the Olympic track performance had done him in.
They ordered and sipped wine and held hands across the table, politely ignoring their charge while he inhaled carbs. She’d forgotten what it was like to be a teenager, forever hungry and seldom finding enough to satisfy. But Mack must have excellent recall. He’d known what to expect.
Ten minutes later the fork slowed.
Mack set down his glass. “So what’s your name?”
“I’m Mack. This is Genny.”
The kid dipped his head. “Pleased to meet you.” The respectful tone in his voice spoke volumes. Gen knew he hadn’t been raised in a barn, that he had a Jersey accent, and that his mother, wherever she might be, was doubtless missing him right now.
“The pleasure is ours,” Mack said. “It looked like you needed a quick change of scenery.” His voice held a thread of sarcasm that the kid couldn’t have missed.
Luca’s face pinked; he was embarrassed.
When their food came, she filled a plate with antipasto and passed it across to the boy. Mack cut a generous slice from his eggplant parmesan, put it on a salad plate, and passed the plate to Luca. “So tell us what’s going on.”
“A couple guys tried to steal my guitar. I took off running and stashed it in an alley so it wouldn’t slow me down, but they picked me up again. That was eight or ten blocks from here.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble for a guitar. What was it, a diamond-studded Martin?”
“No, sir. They were just looking for trouble.”
“And you weren’t.”
The kid turned wide, innocent eyes to Mack and shook his head.
“You got a crib?” Mack asked.
“Let’s enjoy our meal. When we’re done, we’ll go get your six-string, then we’ll drop you off.”
North Beach on a Friday night was a hot ticket. Groups of pedestrians wandered by, either on their way to dinner or coming from it and looking for a place to continue the party.
Mack’s Chevy truck was parked at the curb down the street, and he stayed close to Luca as they walked toward it. He didn’t keep a hand on the boy like before; he was either willing to let their dinner companion rabbit off, or he was testing the kid.
Luca kept his head down. If he had an exit strategy, it wasn’t obvious.
They reached the truck, and Mack unlocked it with the remote. “Genny, why don’t you slide in next to the console.”
Luca held the door and let Gen slip over, then clambered in after her. Mack angled himself into the driver’s seat and fired up the pickup.
“Cross Broadway, then go right at Grant.” Luca pointed up the street. “Then left on Green. Then go slow and I’ll show you.”
Mack followed instructions. Luca gestured at the mouth of an alley, and he pulled to the curb and cut the engine. The three of them sat still for a beat, thinking their own thoughts. Gen got the feeling the boy wasn’t all that anxious to part company.
“I’ll just go on from here,” Luca finally said. He was staring straight ahead, through the windshield and into the night. “I really appreciate you buying me dinner.”
“No problem,” Mack replied. “But let’s go grab your git-fiddle. You and me. It’d be a drag if somebody was waiting for you. After that, we’ll drop you at your place.”
Gen cut her eyes right in time to see Luca’s jaw flex. She’d bet fifty bucks nothing was stashed anywhere, unless it was a purse he’d pinched or something snatched from the pair of thugs on the lookout for him earlier.
But she was wrong.
The guys climbed out and walked into the dark, then emerged two minutes later. Luca grasped the handle of a black case. Mack reached out and the kid handed it over, but slowly. He didn’t really want to give it up.
She was curious to see where this would go.
Mack pulled the driver’s seat forward and tucked the instrument behind it. They climbed in. Mack fired up the Chevy and pulled away.
“Where to now?”
“You know the apartments on Medau?”
“No,” Mack replied.
“Right at the corner, then I’ll show you.”
They pulled up in front of a dingy building. “This is it,” Luca said. Four stories, built in a U-shape with a central quad. That was all Gen could make out in the dark.
“Any time.” Mack stepped onto the curb. Luca slid out the other side, then came around and took the guitar. They shook hands.
“See you around, Luca.”
“Thanks, Genny,” Luca called.
You see? Excellent manners. Whatever he was now, someone had given the boy a good start.
“G’night,” she replied.
Mack pulled himself back behind the wheel and drove away, but all he did was circle the block and return. He killed the lights and pulled to the curb just shy of the entry to the building’s inner patio.
Gen snuggled against him and he wrapped an arm around her, then turned his head and gave her the deep kiss she’d been missing since they walked into Tosca.
But it didn’t last long.
Mack raised his head and stared into the dark. He’d seen something, and Gen soon caught sight of the shadow, too. It was Luca, backlit by one dim streetlight. He was hurrying along the sidewalk with the case firmly in his grasp.
Oblivious, he crossed the street and bore down on them, but he was too busy popping his head right and left and over his shoulder to sense that this time the trouble was dead ahead.
Mack was out the door and on him before Luca knew what was up. “Suppose you tell us what’s really going on?” He pried the guitar away from the boy, stowed it behind the seat, and told him to get back in the truck.
Gen slid over.
Luca obeyed, but he remained tight-lipped and stoic. He looked as though he planned to deny anything and everything.
“Don’t be a nitwit, kid. Give it up.” Mack’s tone was semi-gentle, but she knew he wouldn’t take much more baloney.
“There’s nothing–” Luca stopped.
Gen didn’t know much about teenagers, but she remembered well enough the urge to push back when an adult started slinging orders around. The easy-going tactic she’d learned from watching Mack might get the wheels turning. She wondered why he hadn’t applied his own routine; something about this boy must have hit a nerve.
“Luca.” Her voice was mellow. “We’re all friends here. What’s going on with you? Maybe we can help.”
It worked. Luca sighed as if he was about to lose the weight of a ten-ton tank. “Where are you going to take me?” His voice trembled with the question.
“You got any place to sleep, kid?” Mack turned the key and idled at the curb.
“Well then, I guess you’re coming home with us.”
Gen and Luca’s heads both jerked left at the same time.
Mack avoided her eyes, instead staring the boy down. “I’ll give you a choice here. I’m betting you’re underage. I can call Child Protective Services and drop you there, or you can stay at my place until we figure out what needs to be figured out.”
“What are you, a cop?” Luca’s words were tinged with frustration.
“That’s my day job.”
The boy huffed a few breaths. He was angry, but he didn’t voice it. When his breathing regulated again, he spoke. “My stuff is in a bag. Back where that was stashed.” He hooked a thumb in the direction of the guitar.
Mack fed the truck some gas and returned to the mouth of the alley. “You stay here,” he said. “I’ll get it.”
Once Mack left, Luca seemed to draw in on himself even more, so Gen kept her mouth shut. She was definitely out of her element. Should she offer comfort? Should she let him be? She waited for the right words, but she was still waiting when Mack emerged, clutching a brown paper grocery sack.
Something about the bag pierced Gen’s heart. It wasn’t full enough to be much of a load, which meant the kid’s possessions amounted to not much more than a change of clothes.
They were on the surface streets and headed for the bridge when Luca spoke again. “Why aren’t you handing me over to someone?”
“Did you do something that would warrant that?”
“I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Would you tell us if you had?”
Luca dropped his face into his upturned hands and inhaled, then scrubbed his eyes with a closed fist. When he was done, he leaned back and dug two fingers into a pocket of his Levi jeans. He came up with a small velvet bag, the kind that closed at the top with a double looped string. He held onto it for a minute, rubbing the material in his fingers, then handed it to Gen.
“I didn’t steal it,” he said.
Gen released the ties and upended the bag into her palm. Something heavy slid out. She tilted her hand right and left to get a better look, and the street lights strobing overhead revealed a gold coin. It looked ancient. The writing was foreign.
“An old coin, Mack. It’s hard to make out the words. Latin, maybe.”
“You rob somebody, Luca?” Mack asked. Gen recognized his cop voice. “Maybe the wiseguys who were looking for you earlier. We saw them outside the restaurant. You sure you’re telling the truth?”
“I swear I didn’t.” Luca’s voice had gone anxious and reed thin, as if it was important that Mack and Gen believed him. “It was the old man. He dropped that. I just took my time giving it back.”
“You pocketed something valuable that belongs to an old man?” Mack shook his head. “Boy, your mama would tan your hide if she knew.”
That did it. Luca dropped his head in his hands again, but this time he was crying.