“Oh, dear God.”
“—four people walked back out. Does this make any sense to you?”
“What? No. It’s gibberish.” He came off the couch, one hand jiggling the keys in his pocket as he rocked back and forth against his heels. “Is my daughter dead?”
I held his desperate gaze for a moment.
“I have no idea.”
He looked away and then back again. “Well, that’s the problem when it comes to kids, isn’t it? We have no idea. Not one of us.”
While she’d been smoking her cigarette, Angie had called 411 for the phone number of Elaine Murrow of Exeter, New Hampshire. She’d then called Elaine, who agreed to see us.
We spent the early portion of our thirty-minute drive to the Granite State in silence. Angie looked out the window at the bare brown trees along the highway, the cake frosting of last night’s snow hugging the ground in quickly balding patches.
“I just wanted to go over that coffee table,” she said eventually, “and gouge his fucking eyes out of his head.”
“Amazing you never got invited to the debutantes ball,” I said.
“Seriously.” She turned from the window. “He’s sitting there talking about ‘values’ as he sends his daughter to sleep on some bench in some bus station. And calling me ‘Angela’ like he fucking knows me. I hate, hate, fucking hate when people do that. And, Jesus, did you hear him ranting on about the dead mother’s ‘wholly unfit environment’? Because, what, she liked granola and watching The L Word?”
“Am I what?” she said.
“Done,” I said. “Because I was there to get information on a missing girl who can lead me to another missing girl. I was doing, ya know, my job.”
“Oh, I thought you were shining his shoes with your tongue.”
“My other option was what? To get all self-righteous and blow up at him?”
“I didn’t blow up at him.”
“You were unprofessional. He could feel you judging him.”
“Isn’t that what they say about you at Duhamel?”
Damn. Not bad.
“But I was never a tenth as bad as you were in there.”
“A tenth, huh?”
“So, I’m just supposed to sit back and let an emotionally abusive parent swim in his own self-righteousness?”
“I mean, is this it?” she said. “Is this the job? Did I forget it’s just talking to people who make you want to scour your skin with a Brillo pad?”
“Sometimes.” I looked over at her. “All right—most times.”
Traffic thinned as we neared the New Hampshire border. I picked up enough speed so that the trees along the highway turned into a brown blur.
“Trying to close out the year with one final speeding ticket?” Angie asked.
As long as my daughter wasn’t in the car, I always drove fast. And Angie had long ago accepted it the way I accepted her smoking. Or so I’d thought.
“What,” I said, “the fuck crawled up your ass this morning, babe?”
The silence that followed got thick enough to make me consider rolling down the windows, but then Angie slammed the back of her head against the headrest and slapped the soles of her shoes against the glove compartment, and let loose a long “Arrgggghhh.” She followed it with, “I’m sorry. Okay? I truly am. You were right. I was unprofessional.”
“Could you repeat that into my tape recorder, please?”
“I am serious.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Apology accepted. And greatly appreciated.”
“I really did blow it back there.”
“No, you didn’t. You almost did. But I smoothed it over. It’s all cool.”
“It wasn’t, though.”
“You haven’t done this in a while. There’s bound to be rust.”
“Yeah.” She ran her hands back through her hair. “And I’m covered in it.”
“You still got those, uh, mad computer skills, though.”
She smiled. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Think you could hop on your BlackBerry and Google James Lighter?”
“Who’s . . . ?”
“Zippo. Let’s see if he shows up anywhere.”
“Ah.” She tapped the keys for a bit and then said, “Oh, he shows up all right. Shows up very dead.”
“No shit. He’s positively ID’d as a corpse found in Allston about three weeks ago.” She read it aloud to me. The body of James Lighter, 18, had been found in a field behind a liquor store in Allston the weekend after Thanksgiving. He’d been shot twice in the chest. Police had no suspects and no witnesses.
Midway through the article, his predictably shitty back story appeared: when he was six years old, his single mother gave him to a friend to babysit and never came home again. To this day, the whereabouts of Heather Lighter were unknown. Her son, James, grew up in a series of foster homes. His last foster parent, Carol “Weezy” Louise, was quoted as saying she’d always known he’d end up this way, ever since he’d stolen her car when he was fourteen.
“Steal Weezy’s car,” I said, “and you apparently deserve two in the chest.”
“What a waste,” Angie said. “A whole life adds up to . . .” She searched for the word.
“Zip,” I said.
“I’m not going to claim Sophie was some perfect kid until her father came along and destroyed everything.” Elaine Murrow sat on a red metal couch without cushions in the center of the converted barn she used as a studio for her sculpture. We sat on red stools across from her. They were metal, too, and cushionless and about as comfortable as sitting on the mouth of a wine bottle. The barn was warm, but the sculptures kept it from being cozy; they were all metal or chrome and I wasn’t sure I could recognize what they were supposed to represent. If I had to guess, I’d say most were supposed to be oversize fuzzy dice. Without the fuzz. And there was a coffee table (I think it was a coffee table) in the shape of a chain saw. Which is to say, I don’t understand modern art and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t understand me, so we leave it at that and try not to bother each other.