Dont let go, p.2
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       Don't Let Go, p.2

          
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  I go for the ankle. When the bat crash-lands, the ankle gives way and spreads under the onslaught. There is a crunching sound like a boot stepping on dried twigs.

  "You never saw my face," I tell him. "You say a word, I come back and kill you."

  I don't wait for the reply.

  Do you remember when Dad took us to our first Major League Baseball game, Leo? Yankee Stadium. We sat in that box down the third-base line. We wore our baseball gloves the whole game, hoping a foul ball would come our way. It didn't, of course. I remember the way Dad tilted his face toward the sun, those Wayfarers on his eyes, that slow smile on his face. How cool was Dad? Being French, he didn't know the rules--it was his first baseball game too--but he didn't care, did he? It was a day out with his twin boys.

  That was always enough for him.

  Three blocks away, I drop the bat into a 7-Eleven Dumpster. I'd worn gloves so there would be no fingerprints. I had bought the bat years ago at a garage sale near Atlantic City. There is no way you could track it back to me. Not that I was worried. The cops wouldn't bother Dumpster diving into cherry Slurpees to help out the likes of a professional asshat like Trey. On TV, they might. In reality, they would chalk it up to a local beef or drug deal gone wrong or gambling debt or something else that made it well and truly deserved.

  I cut through the lot and take a circuitous route back to where I parked. I am wearing a black Brooklyn Nets cap--very street--and I keep my head down. Again, I don't think anyone would take the case seriously, but you might meet up with an overzealous rookie who pulls CCTV or something.

  It costs me nothing to be careful.

  I get into my car, hit Interstate 280, and drive straight back to Westbridge. My mobile phone rings--a call from Ellie. Like she knows what I'm up to. Ms. Conscience. I ignore it for now.

  Westbridge is the kind of American Dream suburb the media might call "family-friendly," maybe "well-to-do" or even "upscale," but it wouldn't reach the level of "tony." There are Rotary Club barbecues, July Fourth parades, Kiwanis Club carnivals, Saturday morning organic farmers' markets. Kids still ride their bikes to school. The high school football games are well attended, especially when we play our rival, Livingston. Little League is still a big deal. Coach Jauss died a few years ago, but they named one of the fields after him.

  I still stop by that field, though now in a police car. Yep, I'm that cop. I think of you, Leo, stuck out in right field. You didn't want to play--I know that now--but you realized that I might not have joined without you. Some of the old-timers still talk about the no-hitter I pitched in the state semifinals. You weren't good enough to make that team, so the Little League powers that be put you on as a statistician. I guess they did that to keep me happy. I don't think I saw that at the time.

  You were always wiser, Leo, more mature, so you probably did.

  I pull up to the house and park in the driveway. Tammy and Ned Walsh from next door--in my head he's Ned Flanders because he's got the pornstache and the too-folksy manner--are cleaning their gutters. They both give me a wave.

  "Hey, Nap," Ned says.

  "Hey, Ned," I say. "Hey, Tammy."

  I'm friendly like that. Mr. Nice Neighbor. See, I am the rarest of creatures in suburban towns--a straight, single, childless male is about as common out here as a cigarette in a health club--and so I work hard to come across as normal, boring, reliable.

  Nonthreatening.

  Dad died five years ago, so now I guess some of the neighbors perceive me as that single guy, the one who still lives at home and skulks around like Boo Radley. That's why I try to keep the house well maintained. That's why I try to make sure I bring my appropriate female dates back to the house during daylight hours, even when I know said date won't last.

  There was a time when a guy like me would be considered charmingly eccentric, a confirmed bachelor. Now I think the neighbors worry that I'm a pedophile or something along those lines. So I do all I can to alleviate that fear.

  Most of the neighbors also know our story, and so my staying here makes sense.

  I'm still waving to Ned and Tammy.

  "How is Brody's team doing?" I ask.

  I don't care, but again, appearances.

  "Eight and one," Tammy says.

  "That's terrific."

  "You have to come to the game next Wednesday."

  "I'd like that," I say.

  I'd also like to have my kidney removed with a grapefruit spoon.

  I smile some more, wave again like an idiot, and head into the house. I moved out of our old room, Leo. After that night--I always refer to it as "that night" because I can't accept "double suicide" or "accidental death" or even, though no one really thinks it is, "murder"--I couldn't stand the sight of our old bunk bed. I started sleeping downstairs in the room we called the "little den" on the first floor. One of us probably should have done that years earlier, Leo. Our bedroom was okay for two boys, but it was cramped for two teenage males.

  I never minded, though. I don't think you did either.

  When Dad died, I moved upstairs into his master bedroom. Ellie helped me convert our old room into a home office with these white built-ins in a style she calls "Modern Urban Farmhouse." I still don't know what that means.

  I head up to the bedroom now and start to shed my shirt, when the doorbell rings. I figure it's the UPS or FedEx guys. They're the only ones who stop by without calling first. So I don't bother going down. When the doorbell rings again, I wonder whether I ordered something that would need a signature. Can't think of anything. I look out the bedroom window.

  Cops.

  They are dressed in plain clothes, but I always know. I don't know if it's the bearing or the outfit or just some intangible, but I don't think it is strictly because I am one--a one-cop-to-another kind of thing. One of the cops is male, the other female. For a second, I think that it might be connected to Trey--logical deduction, right?--but a quick glance at their unmarked police car, which is so obviously an unmarked police car it might as well have the words "unmarked police car" spray-painted on both sides, reveals a Pennsylvania license plate.

  I quickly throw on a pair of gray sweats and check my look in the mirror. The only word that comes to mind is "dashing." Well, that isn't the only word, but let's go with it. I hurry down the steps and reach for the doorknob.

  I had no idea what opening that door would do to me.

  I had no idea, Leo, that it would bring me back to you.

  Chapter Two

  Like I said, two cops--one a man, one a woman.

  The woman is older, probably midfifties, and sports a blue blazer, jeans, and practical shoes. I can see the hip bulge from her weapon ruining the line of the blazer, but she doesn't hit me as the kind to care. The guy is probably forty and wears a suit of dead-leaf brown usually favored by your nattier vice principals.

  She gives me a tight smile and says, "Detective Dumas?"

  She pronounces my name Doo-mass. It's French, actually, Doo-MAH, like the famed author. Leo and I were born in Marseilles. When we first moved to the USA and the town of Westbridge at age eight, our new "friends" thought it was ridiculously clever to pronounce Dumas as "Dumb Ass." Some adults still do, but we, uh, don't vote for the same candidates, if you get my drift.

  I don't bother correcting her.

  "What can I do for you?"

  "I'm Lieutenant Stacy Reynolds," she says. "This is Detective Bates."

  I don't like the vibe I'm getting here. I suspect that they are here to deliver bad news of some sort, like someone close to me has died. I had done the condolence bit many times in my official capacity. It's not my forte. But pitiful as it may sound, I couldn't even imagine who in my life meant enough to me for anyone to send out a squad car. The only person is Ellie, and she's in Westbridge, New Jersey, too, not Pennsylvania.

  I skip the "Nice to meet you" and head straight for the "So what's this all about?"

  "Do you mind if we come in?" Reynolds says with a weary smile. "It's been a long drive."

  "I could use the bathroom," Bates adds.

  "Hit the head later," I say. "Why are you here?"

  "No need to be testy," Bates says.

  "No need to be coy either. I'm a cop, you've come a long way, let's not draw this out."

  Bates glares at me. I don't give a rat's buttock. Reynolds puts a hand on his arm to defuse the situation. I still don't give a rat's buttock.

  "You're right," Reynolds says to me. "I'm afraid we have some bad news."

  I wait.

  "There's been a murder in our district," she continues.

  "A cop killing," Bates adds.

  That gets my attention. There is murder. And there is a cop killing. You don't want those to be two separate things, one being worse than the other, but you don't want a lot of things.

  "Who?" I ask.

  "Rex Canton."

  They wait to see if I show anything. I don't, but I'm trying to work the angles.

  "You knew Sergeant Canton?" she asks.

  "I did," I say. "A lifetime ago."

  "When was the last time you saw him?"

  I am still trying to figure out why they are here. "I don't remember. High school graduation maybe."

  "Not since then?"

  "Not that I remember."

  "But you might have?"

  I shrug. "He might have come for a homecoming or something."

  "But you're not sure."

  "No, I'm not sure."

  "You don't seem broken up about his murder," Bates says.

  "On the inside I'm dying," I say. "I'm just supertough."

  "No need for sarcasm," Bates says. "A fellow officer is dead."

  "No need to waste our time either. I knew him in high school. That's it. I haven't seen him since. I didn't know he lived in Pennsylvania. I didn't even know he was on the job. How was he killed?"

  "Gunned down during a traffic stop," Reynolds says.

  Rex Canton. I knew him back in the day, of course, but he was more your friend, Leo. Part of your high school posse. I remember the goofy picture of you all dressed up as some mock rock band for the school talent show. Rex played the drums. He had a gap between his two front teeth. He seemed like a nice enough kid.

  "Can we cut to it?" I ask.

  "Cut to what?"

  I am so not in the mood. "What do you want with me?"

  Reynolds looks up at me, and maybe there's a hint of a smile on her face. "Any guesses?"

  "None."

  "Let me use your toilet before I pee on your stoop. Then we'll talk."

  I move out of the doorway to usher them in. Reynolds goes first. Bates waits, hopping up and down a bit. My mobile rings. Ellie again. I hit ignore and send her a text that I'll call her back as soon as I can. I hear the water running as Reynolds washes her hands. She comes out; Bates goes in. He is, uh, loud. As the old saying goes, he needed to pee like a racehorse.

  We move into the living room and settle in. Ellie fixed up this room, too. She aimed for "woman-friendly man cave"--wood paneling and huge-screen TV, but the bar is acrylic and the leatherette loungers are an odd shade of mauve.

  "So?" I say.

  Reynolds looks at Bates. He nods. Then she turns back to me. "We found fingerprints."

  "Where?" I ask.

  "Pardon?"

  "You said Rex was gunned down during a traffic stop."

  "That's right."

  "So where was his body found? His squad car? The street?"

  "The street."

  "So you found fingerprints where exactly? On the street?"

  "The where isn't important," Reynolds tells me. "The who is."

  I wait. Neither speaks. So I say, "Who do the prints belong to?"

  "Well, that's part of the problem," she says. "See, the fingerprints got no hits on any criminal database. The person has no record. But you see, they were still in the system."

  I have always heard the expression "the hairs on my neck stood up," but I don't think I ever quite got it until now. Reynolds waits, but I won't give her the satisfaction. She's carrying this ball now. I'll let her take it to the goal line.

  "The prints got a hit," she continues, "because ten years ago, you, Detective Dumas, put them in the database, describing her as a 'person of interest.' Ten years ago, when you first joined the force, you asked to be notified if there was ever a hit."

  I try not to show the shock, but I don't think I'm doing too good a job. I'm flashing back, Leo. I'm flashing back fifteen years. I'm flashing back to those summer nights when she and I would walk by moonlight to that clearing on Riker Hill and lay out a blanket. I flash back to that heat, of course, the exquisiteness and purity of that lust, but mostly I flash back to the "after," me flat on my back, still catching my breath, staring up into the night sky, her head on my chest, her hand on my stomach, and for the first few minutes we would be silent, and then we would start talking in a way that made me know--know--I would never get tired of talking to her.

  You would have been the best man.

  You know me. I never needed a lot of friends. I had you, Leo. And I had her. Then I lost you. And then I lost her.

  Reynolds and Bates are studying my face now. "Detective Dumas?"

  I snap out of it. "Are you telling me the prints belong to Maura?"

  "They do, yes."

  "But you haven't found her yet."

  "No, not yet," Reynolds says. "Do you want to explain?"

  I grab my wallet and house keys. "I'll do it on the ride. Let's go."

  Chapter Three

  Reynolds and Bates naturally want to question me right now.

  "In the car," I insist. "I want to see the scene."

  We are all heading down the brick walkway my father put in himself twenty years ago. I take the lead. They hurry to catch up.

  "Suppose we don't want to take you with us," Reynolds says.

  I stop walking and do a toodle-oo finger wave. "Buh-bye, then. Safe ride back."

  Bates really doesn't like me. "We can compel you to answer."

  "You think? Okay." I turn to head back inside. "Let me know how that turns out."

  Reynolds gets up in my face. "We are trying to find a cop killer here."

  "Me too."

  I'm a very good investigator--I just am, no reason for false modesty here--but I need to see the scene myself. I know the players. I may be able to help. Either way, if Maura is back, there is no way I'm letting this go.

  I don't really want to explain all this to Reynolds and Bates.

  "How long is the ride?" I ask.

  "Two hours if we speed."

  I spread my arms, welcoming-like. "You'll have me alone in a car for all that time. Imagine all the questions you can ask."

  Bates frowns. He doesn't like it, or maybe he's so used to playing bad cop to Reynolds's reasonable one that he is set on automatic. They will cave. We all know this. It is just a question of how and when.

  Reynolds asks, "How will you get back here?"

  "Because we ain't Uber," Bates adds.

  "Yeah, return transportation," I say. "That's what we should all be concentrating on."

  They frown some more, but this is done now. Reynolds gets in on the driver's side, Bates the passenger.

  "No one is going to open a door for me?" I say.

  Needless needling, but what the hell. Before I get in, I take out my phone and go to my Favorites. From the driver's seat, Reynolds gives me a WTF look. I hold up a finger to tell her this will only take a moment.

  Ellie answers, "Hey."

  "I have to cancel tonight."

  Every Sunday night I volunteer at Ellie's shelter for battered women.

  "What's up?" she asks.

  "Do you remember Rex Canton?"

  "From high school? Sure."

  Ellie is happily married with two girls. I'm godfather to both, which is odd, but it works. Ellie is the best person I know.

  "He was a cop in Pennsylvania," I say.

  "I think I heard something about that."

  "You never mentioned it to me."

  "Why would I?"

  "Good point."

  "So what about him?"

  "Rex was killed on the job. Someone shot him during a traffic stop."

  "Oh, that's awful. I'm sorry to hear that."

  With some people, it's just words. With Ellie, you could feel the empathy.

  "What's that have to do with you?" she asks.

  "I'll let you know later."

  Ellie didn't waste time with asking why or for more details. She got that if I wanted to say more, I would have.

  "Okay, call me if you need anything."

  "Take care of Brenda for me," I say.

  There is a brief pause here. Brenda is a mother of two and one of the battered women at the shelter. Her life has been made a living nightmare by a violent douchenozzle. Two weeks ago, Brenda fled to Ellie's shelter in the thick of night with a concussion, broken ribs, and nothing else. Since then, Brenda has been too frightened to go outside, not even to get some air in the shelter's isolated courtyard. She left everything other than her children behind. She shakes a lot. She constantly winces and cringes as if awaiting a blow.

  I want to tell Ellie that Brenda could go home tonight and finally pack her belongings, that her abuser--a cretin dubbed Trey--wouldn't be home for a few days, but there is a certain discretion even between Ellie and me here.

  They'd figure it out. They always do.

  "Tell Brenda I'll be back," I say.

  "I will," Ellie says, and then she hangs up.

  --

  I sit alone in the back of the squad car. It smells like squad car, which is to say of perspiration and desperation and fear. Reynolds and Bates are up front, like they're my parents. They don't start asking me questions right away. They are completely silent. I roll my eyes. Really? Did they forget I'm a cop too? They are trying to get me to talk, to reveal something, wait me out. This is the vehicular equivalent to sweating a perp in the interrogation room, intentionally making him wait.

  I'm not playing. I close my eyes and try to sleep.

  Reynolds wakes me up. "Is your first name really Napoleon?"

  "It is," I say.

  My French father hated the name, but my mother, the American in Paris, insisted.

  "Napoleon Dumas?"

  "Everyone calls me Nap."

  "Queer-ass name," Bates says.

  "Bates," I say. "Instead of Mister, do they call you Master?"

 
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