“You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a little kid, Dad. Besides, there’s no such thing as a small injustice.”
“I didn’t say it was right. I just said it’s the way it is.”
“Is that how you rationalized yourself to sleep when you were a cop?”
“When I was a cop, I slept like a baby. Being a cop isn’t about the big questions. It’s about doing the job.”
“Did doing the job include mistreating innocent people?”
“Sometimes, yeah, I guess it did.”
“Then that sucks too.”
“I’m glad I’m sending you to the University of Michigan so you can learn to use the word ‘sucks’ in every other sentence. You gonna try for the debate team next term?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Okay. Look, Carmella and me, we were just looking out for you. Raheem got the shit end of the stick today, but he also got a hundred and fifty bucks for getting his thumb twisted a little bit. You seem a lot more worried about his dignity than he did.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then I’m lost,” I said.
“It wasn’t necessarily what happened back there, but what it represented that bothers me. You guys got a free pass because you were once cops, not because of what you did or didn’t do.”
“Oh, kinda like how you got out of those speeding tickets last year because you were a cop’s kid and had the PBA and Detectives Endowment Association cards in your bag that Carmella and I gave you.”
Sarah had no snappy reply for that one, but sank into her seat and sulked for a few minutes.
“So what is it with you and Carmella anyway?” she said as we got off the Van Wyck and onto the Belt Parkway.
“That all? Just business partners like you and Uncle Aaron?”
“Not exactly. I get along better with Carmella. I’m not a disappointment to her like I am to your uncle.”
“Come on, Dad, Carmella is beautiful and you have that cop thing between you and—”
“Look, kiddo, if this is about me and your mother, forget it. What went wrong with us has nothing to do with Carmella.”
“Not even a little bit, not even about you and Mom not getting back together?”
“I love your mom, but it just doesn’t work between us anymore.”
“No buts. I hurt your mom and she can’t get past it. Until this stuff with Patrick, we were both okay with that.”
I got a little queasy just saying his name. What had happened at the air terminal came rushing back to me. I worried Sarah might notice. Then, of all people, I thought of Francis Maloney and smiled. A reaction I had never before had nor was ever likely to have again. The strange thing about my late father-in-law and me was that in spite of our mutual loathing, we never fought, not really. We were engaged in a long cold war. And just like in the real Cold War, both of us kept a finger close to the button that would bring our worlds crashing down around our heads.
We barely spoke, but there was one question Francis Maloney Sr. never missed the opportunity to ask me, “Do you believe in ghosts?” He never explained the question, never once discussed it. He didn’t want or expect an answer. After a few years, he didn’t even have to say the words. The question would come in the guise of a sideways glance or a churlish smile. His favorite form of silent sparring was to raise his glass of Irish to me, a toast to his sworn enemy.
Only in death did he explain. The mechanics of his revenge from the grave were particularly cruel. Included in Katy’s inheritance was a cold storage receipt. She thought it might be for her mom’s wedding dress. When we retrieved the item from cold storage, it wasn’t a wedding dress at all, but a man’s blue winter parka, the blue parka her brother Patrick had been wearing the night he disappeared. Katy recognized it immediately. So did I. In the pocket of the coat was a twenty-year-old handwritten note from Francis:
“Your boyfriend gave this to me on February 17, 1978. Ask him where he got it and why he swore me to secrecy. Did he never tell you he found Patrick?”
And so I came to understand the question he had asked me hundreds of times in a hundred different ways over the years. The coat proved I had found Patrick, that I had let him go, and that I had conspired to keep the secret from Katy forever. Patrick’s ghost had essentially ended our marriage. Francis, thinking that his death would protect him from the fallout, had miscalculated. For as angry as Katy was with me, the extent of it was nothing compared to the animus with which she regarded her late father. Katy and I might never reconcile and she would likely not forgive me, but we would always share Sarah.
Sarah was the best of both of us. On the other hand, Katy would hate her father for eternity.
So I sat there in the driver’s seat, smiling, thinking of the late Francis Maloney Sr. and wondering whether he would have appreciated today’s delicious irony. I closed my eyes just for a second and saw him raise his glass of Irish. In my head I heard him ask, “Do you believe in ghosts?” And this time I answered, “Maybe.”
“Dad, what are you smiling at?”
“I was just thinking about your grandfather.”
“No, Grandpa Francis.”
“But you hated him, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m smiling.”
“You’re so weird, Dad.”
“I suppose I am, sometimes. At least you didn’t say I suck.”
FOR THE SECOND
time that day I drove into Brooklyn Heights, but the road ahead hadn’t gotten any clearer. Now I was facing down the sun sliding slowly behind the curve of the Earth and the blue of the water was less assertive. The green spaces and bike paths that ran along the Belt Parkway were crowded with couples, joggers pushing strollers, tanned skater girls, dogs on long leashes, dogs on no leashes at all. Kites bathed in dying orange light flirted with the Verrazano Bridge and dreamed of untethered flight. These were not the cheap, diamond-shaped kites I flew as a kid, kites made of splintered balsa wood and paper, trailing tails of my mother’s old house frocks or whatever other
were laying around. No, these were proper kites, fierce and sturdy things that loved the wind and did not fear it. I wondered if I were a kite, would I love the wind or fear it? It’s odd what you think about sometimes.
By the time I turned off the BQE at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and into Cadman Plaza, the sun and the kites were gone. There may be no silence in Brooklyn, ever, but there are lulls when its symphony quiets down just enough to hear individual instruments: a tugboat horn, the squeal and rumble of a lone subway, the
thwack, thwack, thwack
of a low-flying helicopter. I used to love this time of night. I would sit on the steps outside Bordeaux In Brooklyn and listen to the reassuring buzz of tires along the metal grate deck of the Brooklyn Bridge. The buzz was gone now that they had paved over the deck. I knew it was silly to miss it and that the bridge was far safer this way, especially in the rain. Still, I listened for the buzz as I walked from my car to the lobby of 40 Court Street.
Working nights never bothered me much nor did staying late at any of the wine stores. I did hate coming to 40 Court at night. Office buildings are depressing places, lonely and desperate places after dark. Bored square badges read the papers, slept in the shadows, spoke broken Spanish to the cleaning girls. As I walked from the elevator, I checked for light leaking through the bottoms of other office doors. I thought about the men and women behind those doors.
Was it always about the work? Was it about avoiding a loveless marriage? An empty apartment? Or worse, an emptier bed?
Carmella didn’t greet me when I came through the front door, so I went into my office and collected my bottle of Dewar’s and two glasses before heading in to see her. Just lately, it seemed like she needed more than a few drinks and I’d been scotch jonesing since the airport. I hadn’t wanted to drink in front of Sarah. Crazy, right? It’s not like she’d never seen me drink before. I mean, she was twenty and I owned four fucking wine stores, for chrissakes. But she’d never seen me drink at home and never alone. She had never seen me drunk and I wanted to keep it that way.
I knocked on Carmella’s office door and walked in. Her chair was turned toward the window, but not completely so that I couldn’t see her profile. She was crying. I had seen her cry only once before, when the NYPD finally did to her what they had done to me. They had wanted to show her the door almost immediately after she was wounded at Crispo’s Bar in Red Hook in ’89, but the only thing Carmella Melendez ever wanted to be was a cop and she wasn’t going to give up as easily as I had. Amazingly, she hung on for seven more years and made it to detective first before getting the boot. She’d taken a lot of shit to make it that far, but that last year had been particularly hard on her. And after her last shift, she broke down.
“Here,” I said, as I poured. “You look like you could use this.”
Carmella still did not face me. “I’m not drinking these days.”
“No wonder you’ve been such a bitch.” I was laughing. She wasn’t. “Come on, you know I hate to drink alone.”
“What the fuck is the matter with—”
I drank my scotch, quickly, then drank the glass I poured for Carmella. After that, I said nothing. Sometimes, the two of us would talk about my divorce and what had gone wrong between Katy and me. We almost never talked about Carmella’s social life. That was mostly my doing, I suppose. Her taste in men sucked and I wasn’t shy about voicing that opinion. I
also tended to pile on when the latest asshole would inevitably disappoint her. It didn’t take her long to tire of hearing me say, “I told you so.” She thought she could read my mind.
“Go ahead, say it. I know you’re thinking it.”
“No, I’m not. What I’m thinking is are you gonna be okay?”
“I’m always okay. You know what I been through. I can take anything.”
She was right. She had been through a lot. Her whole life seemed to be one long drawn-out test of her will to survive. Outside her family, only I knew just how cruel that test had been. I walked over and knelt down in front of her chair.
“Just because you always survive doesn’t mean you’re always okay,” I said, stroking her hair. I wiped her tears away with my thumb.
“What am I gonna do, Moe?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
“I want not to have gotten knocked up is what I want.” The anger shut off her tears. She looked up at the ceiling. “I pray to God, always. Since I was a little girl, I pray to God, but he don’t answer my prayers.”
She crossed herself, then flipped up the middle finger of her right hand. I went back around the desk and poured myself another scotch.
“You remember Israel Roth?”
, your friend? Sure, I remember. Nice man.”
“You know he survived two years in Auschwitz, right?”
“What Mr. Roth used to say was that the problem with God wasn’t that he didn’t answer prayers. The problem was his answer was usually no.”
“Smart man, but that don’t help me.”
“Have you told the father?”
I didn’t touch that line. “Who is he?”
“Doesn’t matter, just another jerk in a long line of jerks.” She stood up and came to stand close by me. “It’s your fault, you know.”
“How’s it my—”
“You know,” she said, threading herself through my arms and wrapping hers around me. “Why don’t you love me?”
“Carmella, we’ve been through this bef—”
She pushed the end of the word back into my mouth with her tongue. At first, I just took it, but I was returning her kiss soon enough. When I had allowed myself to fantasize about being with her, I told myself that a second kiss would never match the first. I was right. The second kiss was better. The first kiss had been rather chaste, more a tender brush of the lips, heavy with possibility and light on passion. This kiss would not
be mistaken for a chaste brush of the lips. Her slight sigh broke the spell and I pushed myself away.
“I’m not doing this,” I said.
“Not that again. That was forever ago. You can’t keep punishing me for what someone else did to me.”
“It’s never been about that.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“You mean other than your being pregnant?”
That quieted her. There was chemistry between us. There always had been, but this kiss had been about distraction, not chemistry. It had done a fairly good job of distracting me as well.
“Oh, Christ, Moe, what am I gonna do?” She pulled herself close again and rested her head on my chest.
“Do you want the baby?”
“Me? I’m a thirty-five-year-old unmarried woman. What am I gonna do with a baby?”
“That’s not an answer. Do you want it?”
“Yes and no.”
“Now that’s an answer,” I said, once again stroking her hair. “How far along are you?”
“Not so far.”
“Whatever you choose, you know, it’s good with me.”
I reached under her chin and tilted her head so that she was looking up directly into my eyes. “Just one thing, Carm, don’t think that because you’re not far along that you have a lot of time. The longer you wait, the harder it will get. Whatever decision you make will be a permanent one and you’ll have to live with it forever.”
She smiled sadly. “Maybe not forever, but just as long as I live.”
“Yeah, I guess everybody’s forever is a little bit different.”
Now she pushed herself away, wiping off what was left of the tears with the backs of her hands. “Come on, we got work to do. Go put that bottle away and then get your ass back in here.”
By the time I returned to her office, she had completely regained her composure. I hadn’t invested in this partnership because of her looks. Of the two of us, she was the professional detective. I’d only ever been in uniform. When Carmella needed to, she could be all business. You couldn’t’ve worked homicide the way she had without the ability to check your emotions. There were times when her knack for emotional distance verged on antiseptic and, given what was going on with my family at the moment, that was probably a good thing. I was too close to it, way too close.