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SOMETHING VERY BAD was about to go down.
There are things you know as a cop in Boston. You know how the city feels, because its streets are your veins and the voices of its people come through your lips when you talk. You know the smell of the salt in the harbor like the scent of the back of your wife's neck, and it's just as precious, reassuring. The hammering of footsteps out of Back Bay Station for the morning rat race wakes you up, and the wail of sirens in the old Combat Zone at night puts you to sleep. Every Christmas, you gather up some young wide-eyed uniforms to take poor kids from East Boston and Hyde Park into the toy stores, try to show the new cops and the kids that they can get along. You know that in a few years, some of those cops and some of those kids will end up killing each other. But that's how the city works. It's like a living thing. It sheds, and it hurts, and it bleeds.
I could feel what was about to happen in the air. It was an unexpected and dizzying heat, surreal against the snow on the ground outside the car.
When my partner Malone and I got a call to go to the commissioner's office downtown, I knew we were in for it. A Boston cop knows that being called to the commissioner's office is a bad, bad thing.
Malone always made fun of me for thinking I had Boston's pulse, a sense about approaching trouble in the city. On the morning of the marathon bombing, we'd been a mile up Boylston Street doing crowd control and I told Malone I felt hot and weird, like I had a fever. We felt the thump of the first blast under our feet a second or two later.
We were in the back of the cruiser, Malone looking out the window, joggling his knee and picking his teeth.
"Wait. I know what this is," he said suddenly. "This is about that baby. We're getting a medal for the baby last week."
The week before, Malone and I had been walking out at the end of a shift when a woman outside a café two doors from the station started screaming like she was on fire. She was standing in the street pointing at a balcony five floors above, where a toddler was sitting on the concrete ledge, having the time of his life. A crowd gathered, and it was quickly established that the mother was inside but wasn't answering the door or her phone. While some guys went in to try to break down her apartment door, Malone and I watched, pulling out our own hair, while the toddler crawled along the ledge and then, wobbling, stood up.
There was no time to decide who would catch the kid. Malone and I both went in and snared him in a tangle of arms about two feet off the ground while the people around us hollered and screamed. Turned out the mother had been so damned tired from working two jobs that she fell asleep with the baby on the couch, the balcony doors open and a pot of peas cooking dry on the stove.
It was a good get, the kind of thing that wins you cheers when you walk into the station the next day. Ribbing about how tubby you look in the YouTube footage. Calls from the Globe. A medal, maybe. The toddler catch had gotten my wife, Siobhan, on the phone for a week, bragging to all her friends, telling them to watch the news, patting my head and saying she was proud of me like I was some kind of heroic dog.
But today wasn't about the kid. I could feel it in my bones.
"This is bad," I told Malone. "They only send a car for you when they know you'll be too fucked up to drive home afterward. We're in big trouble here. You better start thinking what we've done to piss off the top brass."
Malone, still twitching and joggling his knee, settled back and watched our driver. I gripped the seat belt and let Boston roll by, trying to guess what they were about to tell us.
The car dropped us at the building on Tremont Street. We went in, and as the elevator doors closed on us, I noticed that all Malone's twitching had suddenly stopped.
"I'm sorry," he said. His eyes were fixed on the floor. "I'm real sorry for this, Bill."
"You're sorry for what?"
He didn't answer. I had to hear it from the commissioner.
BOSTON PD LEGEND says that the visitor's chair in the commissioner's office is an old electric chair. I'd heard whispers around the department that some sadistic jerk occupying the top job had acquired the chair from a prison auction in Ohio and simply cut the straps and headgear off to make it acceptable for the office. Malone and I entered and took two identical chairs, either of which might indeed have been an Old Sparky sourced from the depths of the Midwest. The wood was eerily warm, and there were gouges in the arms that perfectly fit my fingernails.
I wouldn't have liked to be sitting in front of Commissioner Rachel McGinniskin even if the news were congratulatory. The red-haired, narrow-faced woman was a descendant of Barney McGinniskin, the first Irishman ever handed a police baton in Boston. From the moment Barney pulled on his blue coat, his appointment spurred hysterical newspaper reports, violent riots, and Irish bashings nationwide. The anti-immigration, anti-Catholic parties dumped him out of his job after only three years, and years later, Rachel McGinniskin had fought her way up the ladder in the force out of pure spite.
The commissioner opened a laptop and swiveled it on the desk so that the screen was facing us. She pushed a button and a black-and-white video began to play.
Only minutes into the video, I could feel sweat sliding down my ribs beneath my shirt. I looked at Malone, but he wouldn't meet my eyes.
McGinniskin pointed to a guy in the video. "Detective Jeremiah Malone," she said. "Is that you there on the screen?"
Her tone was strangely heavy, like she was the one getting the bad news. Malone didn't say anything. Just nodded, defeated. She let the video play a while longer.
"Detective William Robinson." She pointed at the screen again and looked at me, her eyes blazing. "Is that you?"
"It is," I said. Malone still wouldn't meet my gaze. Look at me, you prick, I thought. But the bastard put his face in his hands. McGinniskin turned the laptop back around and slammed it shut.
"You're both out," she said. The muscles in her jaw and temples were so tight, they bulged from beneath the skin. "And I've got to admit, gentlemen, after seeing that tape, it gives me great pleasure to say it. There's no place in my police force for people like you. Your discharge will take effect immediately. If I hear that either of you have inquired about pensions, I'll make sure you can't get a job in this city as a fucking mall cop." McGinniskin swept her hair back from her temples, chasing composure. "Give me your badges and your weapons," she said.
It was hard for me to get out of the chair. Gravity seemed to have tripled. I took my gun off, walked what seemed like a hundred miles to her desk, and put my weapon down at the same time Malone did. He finally looked at me as we took our badges off. Then we left. Neither of us spoke until we were outside her office.
"Bill," Malone said. "Buddy, listen. I—"
"I can't believe you did this." I was shaking all over. "I can't believe you did this to us. We're out. That's it. It's over. You lying, backstabbing piece of shit."
My job. My city. The walls of the old stone building were pulsing around me, closing in. Malone had killed us. We were being expelled from the living thing. Shed like dead skin, like waste. I couldn't breathe.
"I'm so sorry, Bill." Malone sounded panicky. "I was trying to—"
I grabbed my partner by the shirt and slammed him into the wall beside McGinniskin's door. It was all I could do not to knock his teeth out right there. I put a finger in his face and eased the words out from between my locked jaw.
"You and me?" I said. "We're done."
Two Years and Five Months Later
THE DEATH TOLL was eight, according to Cline's count.
He knew it was narcissistic, but every day he sat under the big bay windows on the second floor of his house where he could see the ocean beyond the cypress trees and checked the papers for signs of his work. Some days he told himself he was being too proud, and other days he knew it was just good business. Since he had moved to the tiny seaside town of Gloucester, there had been eight overdose deaths. Two a month. The papers were blaring out words that excited him. Epidemic. Crisis. Downfall. Whenever things started to slide, Cline felt happy. Being a criminal meant his concept of the world was upside down. Reversed. A downward slide for others meant an upward rise for him.
That didn't mean it was time to take it easy on anyone. As he sat reading the paper spread flat on the table before him, the way he used to in the can so that he could keep an eye on the movement of other prisoners, his lieutenants started assembling before him. Cline had made sure from the outset that his standards were known and respected. Tailored shirts. Cuff links. Ties for meetings. No speed-stripe buzz cuts, no neck tattoos, none of this gold-chain, bling-bling shit. They were a business, not a gang. The men who entered the room looked like a bunch of lawyers attending a daily meeting, but they came in punching each other and giggling and talking trash, and he silenced them with a glance. They were street thugs and prison bitches and violence-intervention-program dropouts he had recruited from rock bottom, but he'd make them true soldiers before long.
"Where's Newgate?" Cline asked when everyone was settled. "You fuckers know to be on time." There were uncomfortable looks around the crew, and then Newgate appeared with a baby in his arms. No, not a baby, a little girl, though she seemed like a baby in this setting, surrounded by hard men who made their living dealing in death. Cline stood and watched as big, muscle-bound, scar-faced Newgate put the barefoot child on the floor.
"I'm real sorry, boss." Newgate gave a dramatic sigh. "I had a fight with my girl and she dropped the baby on me this morning and ran off. I didn't know what to do."
Cline watched the girl toddling around the room, pulling books off his shelves, slapping her greasy palms on the huge bay windows. He felt a muscle twitching in his neck as he went to the desk and got his gun.
"No problem, Newby. These things happen," Cline said. "I'm sure she won't cause us any trouble. Let's give her something to play with while we talk. Come here, little princess. Come on."
The lieutenants watched in horror as Cline loaded a full clip into his pistol and flicked the safety off. Newgate's daughter gave a coo of intrigue, tottered over to Cline, and took the gun. Squid, perched on the edge of the couch, didn't dare retreat but he hid beneath his gangly arms like they could protect from the child's aim. The little girl swung the heavy gun around wildly, then lifted the barrel to her eye and looked down into the blackness. Cline's eyes seared into Newgate's, daring him to protest. The little girl walked up to her father and pointed the gun at him.
"Bang-bang!" The girl laughed. Newgate reached for the weapon as his daughter fumbled with the trigger, unable to get her pudgy finger around the steel. Before Newgate could take the gun, Cline reached forward and grabbed it. He pointed it at Newgate, whose face contorted as he realized what was happening.
"Like this, princess," Cline said, smiling.
PLANE CRASH, I thought. That's the only thing that can save me now.
I'd done everything I could to dissuade the residents of the Inn from holding a memorial service for my wife, Siobhan, on the second anniversary of her death. And yet here I sat at the end of a plastic foldout table in the forest of pines that surrounded the large house, tearing a yellow napkin into tiny pieces, waiting for it to begin, fantasizing about something that could interrupt it. Gas-leak explosion in the kitchen. Ferocious black bear suddenly appearing at the edge of the woods. Airbus A380 plunging into the slate-gray sea just visible through the trees. The truth was, nothing was coming. The people around me were going to talk about Siobhan, and I was going to have to listen.
They'd made a good effort, which was unusual for them, because it was difficult to get the permanent residents of the Inn to collaborate on anything. They had nothing in common save Siobhan's recruitment of them in the months after I was fired. Siobhan had done everything to set up our new life in the north. She'd found the guesthouse for sale, sourced the furniture, got the licenses and approvals we needed to run a bed-and-breakfast by the sea—her retirement dream realized years earlier than she'd imagined it would be. She'd collected a motley crew of weirdos, down-and-outs, and deeply troubled characters, and she accommodated them all. I'd moped in my sweatpants about my lost job, having no idea that I was about to lose her too.
At the end of the table, Marni stood up. She was the resident wayward teenager, Siobhan's second cousin who'd been sentenced to the house for having constant screaming matches with her mother and running away multiple times. As I sat in my chair watching her prepare to speak, I felt a twinge of guilt. Since I'd lost my wife, Marni had been my responsibility, and like I'd done with everything else, I let her slip. She'd gotten a couple of piercings on her face recently, and there was a little pink heart on her left cheekbone that I wasn't convinced she drew on every day with lip liner despite what she'd told me. She was fifteen. Tattoos, piercings, and the attitude to go with them. She smoothed out a crumpled piece of paper extracted with some difficulty from the pocket of her jeans. A little speech. I rubbed my temples.
"Now, listen," Marni said, wagging a finger with chipped black nail polish at me. "We know you said you didn't want anything like this, Bill. But we've all got something to say about Siobhan, and we think you should hear it. The first year, nobody did anything, you know? It's kind of like we ignored it. And that just makes me totally sad."
"So get on with it, then." I gave a dismissive wave. My best friend in the house, Nick Jones, elbowed me in the ribs. Nick and I pull each other into line whenever we can, but it's not always easy. I like the muscle-bound black man because he's ex-army and has hundreds of horror stories from his time in the Middle East that are so hideous, they pulverize my own trauma like a sledgehammer smashes a walnut.
"Give it a rest, man," Nick said.
"You give it a rest." I took a croissant from the plate in front of me and tossed it at him. He caught it against his chest and started eating it.
"The thing I miss most about Siobhan," Marni told the gathering, "is her terrible taste in music."
Everybody nodded in agreement; some people laughed. I clasped my hands so tight, my knuckles cracked, and I searched the sky for planes.
"Siobhan was a great cook, and she used to play music in the kitchen," Marni said, looking at her paper for guidance. "You couldn't get from the back of the house to the stairs without her grabbing you and making you dance around the kitchen with her. It was so embarrassing. She filled the house with these lame love ballads. Whitney. Bonnie. Celine. Really ancient, weird stuff."
"Ancient?" I scoffed. I leaned in toward Nick. "The prime of Celine Dion's career was the mid-nineties."
"Shut it," he whispered.
"I liked the way Siobhan sang Bonnie Tyler with her arm out and her face all crumpled up, using her wooden spoon like a microphone," Marni said. "I know all the words to those songs because of Siobhan, and even though they suck, I'll never forget them. I miss her so bad. I've already got a mom, but Siobhan was, like, my better mom."
Everybody looked to me to see what I thought of Marni's tribute. I folded my arms and sighed.
The second person to stand was Sheriff Clayton Spears. He too had a piece of paper with a prepared speech. For a moment, I appreciated the amount of planning that had gone into this breakfast memorial for my wife that I'd been railroaded into attending. The table was cluttered with yellow paper plates and yellow napkins, and someone had filled several glasses with yellow flowers. Her favorite color.
Clay was in uniform, likely because he'd just worked an overnight shift. His enormous belly sagged so low in front, it hid his gun belt.
"You all know, uh, that I came to the house because my marriage broke down." Clay's chin wobbled with emotion. "It's not easy to be a proud man when your wife runs off with someone else. Because of my position as the head of law enforcement in Gloucester, the whole town knows my story."
Sheriff Spears's wife hadn't run off with just anyone. She'd left him for a young male model who had been staying with some friends in the apartment next door to theirs for a single weekend. It had taken him all of two days to convince Mrs. Spears to dump her life with the sheriff, pack a bag, and jump in the car with him and a crew of beautiful nineteen-year-old men. She hadn't been seen since.
"Siobhan stayed up with me many nights, listening to me talk through my breakup," Clay said. "She was the best listener. She was endlessly encouraging. We would sit out here in the garden eating slices of pepperoni pizza and looking at the stars and…and she just made me feel like…you all know I'm no George Clooney. But Siobhan told me that I deserved love and that I was a great man, and I believed her."
Clay sat down quickly, perhaps attempting to get his butt planted before he burst into tears, and the plastic lawn chair beneath him creaked in a concerning way.
I noticed a car drive up to the house and stop with a spray of gravel.
"My name is Angelica Grace Thomas-Lowell." The third speaker had risen from her chair. Angelica had lived in the house for more than two years, but for some reason she always introduced herself with her full name. "I'm a vegan. Activist. Provocateur. Bestselling author."
The car at the front of the house was a welcome distraction. I leaned to the side in my chair to see around Angelica, but her thin, veiny arms were in the way. The paper she held looked like a full page of typed notes.
"'I'd like to announce firstly my sincere appreciation for Siobhan's constant willingness to act as a confidential sounding board for my ideas,'" Angelica read. "'The creative process isn't always straightforward. It's fluid, magnetic, sometimes chaotic. Though Siobhan's reading history was firmly located in trash novels, I found her somewhat naive critiques of my works in progress—those few I entrusted to her—refreshing.'"
Nick suddenly stood up beside me. I looked over and saw a woman running from the house toward the gathering. Not a plane crash, gas-leak explosion, or ferocious bear, but something. I stood with him.
I recognized the woman from town. Ellie Minnow. She grabbed Nick by his scar-covered arm.
"Nick, Bill, you've gotta help me. It's Winley."
"What is it?" Nick asked. "What's happened?"
"We'll help." I grabbed my phone from the table. "Whatever it is, we'll help."
Marni was already pouting. I brushed her shoulder in consolation as I passed. "Sorry, everyone, duty calls. Feel free to continue on without us."
I DROVE, NICK in the seat beside me, Ellie in the back. The gravel road to the Inn became the forest-lined road into town, curving around the marina jam-packed with bright, glossy cruisers and crab boats weeping rust. Nick was giving me the side-eye.
"The crew were trying to do a nice thing for you, Cap," he said.
Nick calls me "Cap," short for Captain. It's not a habit from his army days but a carefully chosen term that I take seriously. Everybody needs a captain in life—a guiding force, a confidant, a rock, an anchor when tumultuous winds blow in. Siobhan had been my captain. Nick had picked me as his when he first moved in, but I had disappointed him ever since. The expression I saw on his face now hurt me, the way remembering how Siobhan danced and sang and listened and laughed hurt. Like a kick to the chest.
"What do you want me to say?" I asked Nick. "I told them I didn't want a memorial."
"Those people back there, they loved her too, you know," Nick said. "You don't get to be the only person who misses Siobhan."
"Well, they can go miss her in their way, and I'll miss her in mine," I said. "I don't like circle jerks."
"You prefer individual jerks?"
"Something like that."
"You're a lone wolf who's lost his mate." Nick rolled his eyes. "Your heart is broken and it can't be mended, and now you're cursed to wander the earth alone."
"I kind of wish I were alone right now," I said, nodding. I looked in the rearview mirror at Mrs. Minnow and changed the subject like a practiced master. "What's Winley done this time, Mrs. Minnow?"
Gloucester is a small town. When Siobhan and I moved into the area, the story started circulating that I was ex–Boston PD, that I'd been sacked and was bitter about it. I hadn't done anything to quash that rumor, taking up residence at the back of the lobster shack on the waterfront most afternoons, downing JD shots and refusing to answer questions about it. A couple of months after Siobhan got the Inn up and running, people began coming to me with issues they didn't trust Sheriff Spears to handle. They wanted me to talk to the angry neighbor about his aggressive dog. To hustle the scary homeless guy camped out near the pier a little farther down the road. Find the punks who had spray-painted graffiti on an old woman's fence and rattle their skulls a bit.
In truth, being the unofficial town muscle was far more satisfying than running the Inn. Riding around with Nick beside me, I could pretend I was back in the city before my terrible fall. I could imagine sometimes that Nick was Malone, the version of my old friend before he'd betrayed me and morphed before my very eyes into a liar and a schemer. Little jobs like this took me into the past that I never stopped thinking about, a time before I lost everything.
Mrs. Minnow had called me once before about her son Winley, after the boy stole her car and drove it into a ditch off the Yankee Division Highway. She shifted uncomfortably now, perhaps remembering.
"Winnie's much worse this time. He's gone crazy." Ellie was staring out the window, rubbing her wrist. "He's just out of control. I've never seen him this angry. He snaps at me whenever I try to get him out of bed. He just slugs around the house. I got a call from the school saying he hasn't been there in three days. I tried to talk to him about it this morning…"
I turned and looked at her wrist, glimpsed red finger marks. She hid them from me.
"Did the kid hurt you?" I asked.
"No, no." She tucked a curl behind her ear. "He would never—"
"If he's hurt you, I'll kick his ass," I said. "He's not too young to learn what you get if you raise your hand to a woman. Once I've finished kicking his ass, Nick will kick his ass, and then the two of us will hold him down while you kick his ass."
I've got a real issue with men who beat up on women. It's part of a large collection of emotional baggage that would make a team of bellhops throw in their hats.
The Minnow residence was covered in bougainvillea; the mailbox was balanced on the top of a gray concrete post. I turned off the engine and was about to open my door when a coffee table smashed through the front window of the house and landed upside down in a flower bed.
TIME LOOPS AROUND
- On Sale
- Mar 3, 2020
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing