A drink before the war, p.1
A Drink Before the War, p.1Dennis Lehane
A Drink Before the War
This novel is dedicated to my parents,
Michael and Ann Lehane, and to
Lawrence Corcoran, S.J.
The bar at the Ritz-Carlton looks out on the Public…
The old neighborhood is the Edward Everett Square section of…
Jenna Angeline, like me, was born and raised in Dorchester.
Shortly after I got back to the office, we ordered…
I left the church a few minutes later. Nothing left…
While I slept the sleep of idiots, the Hero came…
We were just about to call Billy Hawkins the next…
The drive to Wickham is not a fun one. You…
“Sit down, Simone. Please.” Everything Jenna said came out as…
Angie said, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” It…
Like the Hero, I made the front page of both…
When I got home, I called Angie across the street.
Simone Angeline’s eyes were ringed with red on the other…
We were halfway back to Boston, avoiding any conversation about…
Richie left a little after midnight, and I carried the…
The rest of the day was a wash.
Bubba never made it to my office that night. Typical.
“One angry child, our Roland,” Devin was saying.
We left the bar about an hour later. Roy’s friends…
I took the subway to Downtown Crossing, climbed up some…
Bubba met us at the parking garage on Bromfield Street…
We called George Higby at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
We decided we’d start in the morning. There were a…
We took Boylston down to Arlington and came back around…
I sat in the front pew of St. Bart’s and watched…
We couldn’t go home. Devin was right. I had no…
We flagged down a bus and climbed on. Everyone on…
When I got there, there was a squad car double-parked…
Devin said, “Socia’s definitely lost the war. He’s been underground…
His last week alive, my father’s six-foot two-inch frame weighed…
It was one-thirty in the morning on the fifth of…
We tried to have a conversation with Richie in the…
The photograph we’d given Richie showed Senator Paulson in all…
Enter the Worlds of Dennis Lehane
Darkness, Take My Hand
Gone, Baby, Gone
Prayers for Rain
About the Author
Other Books by Dennis Lehane
About the Publisher
Most of the action in the novel takes place in Boston, but certain liberties have been taken in portraying the city itself and its institutions. This is wholly intentional. The world presented here is a fictitious one, as are its characters and events. Any resemblance to actual incidents, or to actual persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
My earliest memories involve fire.
I watched Watts, Detroit, and Atlanta burn on the evening news, I saw oceans of mangroves and palm fronds smolder in napalm as Cronkite spoke of lateral disarmament and a war that had lost its reason.
My father, a fireman, often woke me at night so I could watch the latest news footage of fires he’d fought. I could smell the smoke and soot on him, the clogging odors of gasoline and grease, and they were pleasant smells to me as I sat on his lap in the old armchair. He’d point himself out as he ran past the camera, a hazy shadow backlit by raging reds and shimmering yellows.
As I grew, so did the fires, it seemed, until recently L.A. burned, and the child in me wondered what would happen to the fallout, if the ashes and smoke would drift northeast, settle here in Boston, contaminate the air.
Last summer, it seemed to. Hate came in a maelstrom, and we called it several things—racism, pedophilia, justice, righteousness—but all those words were just ribbons and wrapping paper on a soiled gift that no one wanted to open.
People died last summer. Most of them innocent. Some more guilty than others.
And people killed last summer. None of them innocent. I know. I was one of them. I stared down the slim barrel of a gun, looked into eyes rabid with fear and hatred, and saw my reflection. Pulled the trigger to make it go away.
I heard the echoes of my gunshots, smelled the cordite, and in the smoke, I still saw my reflection and knew I always would.
The bar at the Ritz-Carlton looks out on the Public Gardens and requires a tie. I’ve looked out on the Public Gardens from other vantage points before, without a tie, and never felt at a loss, but maybe the Ritz knows something I don’t.
My usual taste in clothes runs to jeans and diver’s shirts, but this was a job, so it was their time, not mine. Besides, I’d been a little behind on the laundry recently, and my jeans probably would’ve hopped the subway and met me there before I got a chance to put them on. I picked a dark blue, double-breasted Armani from my closet—one of several I received from a client in lieu of cash—found the appropriate shoes, tie, and shirt, and before you could say, “GQ,” I was looking good enough to eat.
I appraised myself in the smoked-glass bar window as I crossed Arlington Street. There was a bounce to my step, a bright twinkle in my eyes, and nary a hair out of place. All was right with the world.
A young doorman, with cheeks so smooth he must have skipped puberty altogether, opened the heavy brass door and said, “Welcome to the Ritz-Carlton, sir.” He meant it, too—his voice trembling with pride that I’d chosen his quaint little hotel. He held his arm out in front of him with a flourish, showing me the way in case I hadn’t figured it out by myself, and before I could thank him, the door had closed behind me and he was hailing the best cab in the world for some other lucky soul.
My shoes clacked with military crispness on the marble floor, and the sharp creases of my pants reflected in the brass ashtrays. I always expect to see George Reeves as Clark Kent in the lobby of the Ritz, maybe Bogey and Raymond Massey sharing a smoke. The Ritz is one of those hotels that is resilient in its staid opulence: the carpeting is deep, rich oriental; the reception and concierge desks are made of a lustrous oak; the foyer is a bustling way station of lounging power brokers toting futures in soft leather attaché cases, Brahmin duchesses in fur coats with impatient airs and daily manicure appointments, and a legion of navy blue-uniformed manservants pulling sturdy brass luggage carts across the thick carpeting with the softest whoosh accompaniment as the wheels find their purchase. No matter what is going on outside, you could stand in this lobby, look at the people, and think there was still a blitz going on in London.
I sidestepped the bellman by the bar and opened the door myself. If he was amused he didn’t show it. If he was alive, he didn’t show it. I stood on the plush carpet
The youngest, Jim Vurnan, stood and smiled when he saw me. Jim’s my local rep; that’s his job. He crossed the carpet in three long strides, his Jack Kennedy smile extended just behind his hand. I took the hand. “Hi, Jim.”
“Patrick,” he said, as if he’d been standing on a tarmac all day waiting for my return from a POW camp. “Patrick,” he repeated, “glad you could make it.” He touched my shoulder, appraised me as if he hadn’t seen me just yesterday. “You look good.”
“You asking for a date?”
Jim got a hearty laugh out of that one, a lot heartier than it deserved. He led me to the table. “Patrick Kenzie, Senator Sterling Mulkern and Senator Brian Paulson.”
Jim said “Senator” like some men say “Hugh Hefner”—with uncomprehending awe.
Sterling Mulkern was a florid, beefy man, the kind who carried weight like a weapon, not a liability. He had a shock of stiff white hair you could land a DC-10 on and a handshake that stopped just short of inducing paralysis. He’d been state senate majority leader since the end of the Civil War or so, and he had no plans for retirement. He said, “Pat, lad, nice to see you again.” He also had an affected Irish brogue that he’d somehow acquired growing up in South Boston.
Brian Paulson was rake thin, with smooth hair the color of tin and a wet, fleshy handshake. He waited until Mulkern sat back down before he did, and I wondered if he’d asked permission before he sweated all over my palm too. His greeting was a nod and a blink, befitting someone who’d stepped out of the shadows only momentarily. They said he had a mind though, honed by years as Mulkern’s step-and-fetch-it.
Mulkern raised his eyebrows slightly and looked at Paulson. Paulson raised his and looked at Jim. Jim raised his at me. I waited a heartbeat and raised mine at everyone. “Am I in the club?”
Paulson looked confused. Jim smiled. Slightly. Mulkern said, “How should we start?”
I looked behind me at the bar. “With a drink?”
Mulkern let out a hearty laugh, and Jim and Paulson fell in line. Now I knew where Jim got it. At least they didn’t all slap their knees in unison.
“Of course,” Mulkern said. “Of course.”
He raised his hand, and an impossibly sweet young woman, whose gold name tag identified her as Rachel, appeared by my elbow. “Senator! What can I get you?”
“You could get this young man a drink.” It came out somewhere between a bark and a laugh.
Rachel’s smile only brightened. She swiveled slightly and looked down at me. “Of course. What would you like, sir?”
“A beer. Do you have those here?”
She laughed. The pols laughed. I pinched myself and remained serious. God, this was a happy place.
“Yes, sir,” she announced. “We have Heineken, Beck’s, Molson, Sam Adams, St. Pauli Girl, Corona, Löwenbräu, Dos Equis—”
I cut in before dusk fell. “Molson would be fine.”
“Patrick,” Jim said, folding his hands and leaning toward me. Time to get serious. “We have a slight…”
“Conundrum,” Mulkern said. “A slight conundrum on our hands. One we’d like cleared up discreetly and forgotten.”
No one spoke for a few moments. I think we were all too impressed by the realization that we knew someone who used “conundrum” in casual conversation.
I shook off my awe first. “What is this conundrum, exactly?”
Mulkern leaned back in his chair, watching me. Rachel appeared and placed a frosted glass in front of me, poured two-thirds of the Molson into it. I could see Mulkern’s black eyes holding steady with my own. Rachel said, “Enjoy,” and left.
Mulkern’s gaze never wavered. Probably took an explosion to make him blink. He said, “I knew your father well, lad. A finer man…well, I’ve never known one. A true hero.”
“He always spoke fondly of you, Senator.”
Mulkern nodded, that being a matter of course. “Shame, him going early like he did. Seemed fit as Jack LaLane, but”—he tapped his chest with his knuckles—“one never knows with the old ticker.”
My father had lost a six-month battle with lung cancer, but if Mulkern wanted to think it was a coronary, who’d complain?
“And now, here’s his boy,” Mulkern said. “Almost all grown.”
“Almost,” I said. “Last month, I even shaved.”
Jim looked like he’d swallowed a frog. Paulson squinted.
Mulkern beamed. “All right, lad. All right. You have a point.” He sighed. “I’ll tell you, Pat, you get to be my age, and everything but yesterday seems young.”
I nodded sagely, completely clueless.
Mulkern stirred his drink, removed the stirrer, and placed it gently on a cocktail napkin. “We understand that when it comes to finding people, no one’s better.” He spread his hand, palm up, in my direction.
“Ah. No false modesty?”
I shrugged. “It’s my job. Might as well be good at it.” I sipped the Molson, the bittersweet tang spreading across my tongue. Not for the first time, I wished I still smoked.
“Well, lad, our problem is this: we have a rather important bill coming to floor next week. Our ammunition is heavy, but certain methods and services we employed to garner that ammunition could be…misconstrued.”
Mulkern nodded and smiled as if I’d said, “Atta boy.” “Misconstrued,” he repeated.
I decided to play along. “And there is documentation—records of these methods and services?”
“He’s quick,” he said to Jim and Paulson. “Yes sir. Quick.” He looked at me. “Documentation,” he said, “exactly, Pat.”
I wondered if I should tell him how much I hated being called Pat. Maybe I should start calling him Sterl, see if he minded. I sipped my beer. “Senator, I find people, not things.”
“If I may interject,” Jim interjected, “the documents are with a person who has recently turned up missing. A—”
“—Formerly trusted employee at the State House,” Mulkern said. Mulkern had the “iron hand in the velvet glove” routine down to an art. There was nothing in his manner, his enunciation, his bearing to suggest reproach, but Jim looked like he’d been caught kicking the cat. He took a long pull on his scotch, rattling the ice cubes against the rim. I doubted that he’d interject again.
Mulkern looked at Paulson, and Paulson reached into his attaché case. He pulled a thin sheaf of papers out and handed them to me.
The top page was a photograph, a rather grainy one. A blow-up of a State House personnel ID. It was of a black woman, middle-aged, worn eyes, a tired expression on her face. Her lips were parted slightly, and skewed, as if she were about to voice her impatience with the photographer. I flipped the page and saw a Xerox of her driver’s license centered on a white page. Her name was Jenna Angeline. She was forty-one, but looked fifty. She had a class three Massachusetts driver’s license, unrestricted. Her eyes were brown, her height—five feet six inches. Her address was 412 Kenneth Street in Dorchester. Her social security number was 042-51-6543.
I looked at the three pols and found my eyes pulled toward the middle, into Mulkern’s black stare. “And?” I said.
“Jenna was the cleaning woman for my office. Brian’s too.” He shrugged. “As jigs go, I had no complaints.”
Mulkern was the kind of guy who said, “jigs,” when he wasn’t sure enough of the company to say, “niggers.”
“Until…,” I said.
“Until she disappeared nine days ago.”
Mulkern looked at me as if I’d just suggested college basketball wasn’t fixed. “When she took this ‘vacation,’ Pat, she also took those documents with her.”
“Some light reading for the beach?” I suggested.
Paulson slapped the table in fro
I looked at his hand, sleepy eyed.
Mulkern said, “Brian.”
Paulson removed the hand to check the whip marks on his back.
I stared at him, still sleepy eyed—dead eyes, Angie calls them—and spoke to Mulkern. “How do you know she took the…documents?”
Paulson dropped his eyes from mine, considered his martini. It was still untouched, and he didn’t take a drink. Probably waiting for permission.
Mulkern said, “We checked. Believe me. No one else is a logical suspect.”
“Why is she?”
“A logical suspect?”
Mulkern smiled. A thin one. “Because she disappeared the same day the documents did. Who knows with these people?”
“Mmm,” I said.
“Will you find her for us, Pat?”
I looked out the window. Perky the Doorman was hustling someone into a cab. In the Gardens, a middle-aged couple with matching Cheers T-shirts snapped picture after picture of the George Washington statue. Sure to wow them back in Boise. A wino on the sidewalk supported himself with one hand on a bottle; the other he held out, steady as a rock, waiting for change. Beautiful women walked by. In droves.
“I’m expensive,” I said.
“I know that,” Mulkern said. “So why do you still live in the old neighborhood?” He said it like he wanted me to believe his heart still resided there too, as if it meant any more to him now than an alternative route when the expressway got backed up.
A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes