“Helene’s got this boyfriend,” she said. “Her latest? Been in prison, of course. Guess what for.”
I shook my head in frustration and tried to wave her off.
Twelve years ago, Amanda McCready had been kidnapped by her uncle Lionel and some rogue cops who’d had no interest in ransoming or hurting her. What they’d wanted was to put that child in a home with a mother who didn’t drink like she owned stock in London gin or pick her boy toys from the Sex Freaks Shopping Network. When I found Amanda, she was living with a couple who loved her. They’d been determined to give her health, stability, and happiness. Instead, they’d gone to prison, and Amanda had been returned to Helene’s home. By me.
“You owe, Patrick.”
“I said you owe.”
I could feel the rage again, a tick-tick turning into a tom-tom beat. I had done the right thing. I knew it. I had no doubt. What I had in place of doubt, though, was this rage—murky and illogical and growing deeper every day of the last twelve years. I put my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t punch the wall with the white subway map on it. “I don’t owe anyone anything. I don’t owe you, I don’t owe Helene, I don’t owe Lionel.”
“What about Amanda? You don’t think you owe her?” She held her thumb and index finger a whisker from touching. “Just a little bit?”
“No,” I said. “Take care, Bea.” I walked toward the turnstiles.
“You never asked about him.”
I stopped. I dug my hands deeper into my pockets. I sighed. I turned back to her.
She shifted her weight from her left foot to her right. “Lionel. He should have been out by now, you know, a normal guy like him. The lawyer told us when we pled guilty that he’d be sentenced to twelve years but only do six. Well, that was the sentence. They told the truth about that.” She took a step toward me. She stopped. She took two steps back. The crowd streamed between us, a few people giving us looks. “He gets beat up a lot in there. Worse things, too, but he won’t talk about that. He isn’t meant for a place like that. He’s just a sweetie, you know?” She took another step back. “He got in a fight, some guy trying to take whatever my husband didn’t want to give? And Lionel, he’s a big guy, and he hurt this guy. So now he has to do the full twelve and he’s almost done. But they’re talking about new charges maybe unless he turns rat. Helps the feds with some gang that’s running drugs and things in and out of there? They say if Lionel doesn’t help them, they’ll mess with his sentence. We thought he’d get out in six years.” Her lips got caught between a broken smile and a hopeless frown. “I don’t know sometimes anymore, you know? I don’t.”
There was no place for me to hide. I held her eyes as best I could but I eventually dropped my gaze to the black rubber flooring.
Another group of students walked behind her. They were laughing about something, oblivious. Beatrice watched them go and their happiness shrank her. She looked light enough for the breeze to toss her down the stairs.
I held out my hands. “I don’t do independent work anymore.”
She nodded at my left hand. “You’re married, uh?”
“Yeah.” I took a step back in her direction. “Bea, look—”
She held up a hard hand. “Kids?”
I stopped. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t find the words suddenly.
“You don’t have to answer. I’m sorry. I am. I was stupid to come. I just thought, I dunno, I just . . .” She glanced off to her right for a moment. “You’re good at it I bet.”
“I bet you’re a real good father.” She gave me a wadded-up smile. “I always thought you would be.”
She turned into the crowd exiting the station and vanished from my view. I went through the turnstile and down the stairs to the subway platform. From there I could see the parking lot that led out to Morrissey Boulevard. The crowd streamed from the stairwell onto the asphalt, and for a moment, I saw Bea again, but just for a moment. Then I lost sight of her. The crowd was thick with high school kids, and most were taller than her.
My commute was only four stops on the Red Line. Still, when you’re crammed into a moving can with a hundred other people, four stops can wrinkle a suit pretty good. I exited South Station and shook my arms and legs in a futile attempt to restore luster to my suit and topcoat, and then I walked over to Two International Place, a skyscraper as sleek and heartless as an ice pick. Here, on the twenty-eighth floor, sat the offices of Duhamel-Standiford Global.
Duhamel-Standiford didn’t tweet. They didn’t have a blog or pop up on the right side of a Google screen when someone typed in “private investigation greater boston.” Not to be found in the Yellow Pages, on the back of Security and You magazine, or begging for your business at two A.M. between commercials for Thighmaster 6000 and 888-GALPALS. Most of the city had never heard of them. Their advertising budget amounted to the same number every quarter: 0.
And they’d been in business for 170 years.
They occupied half of the twenty-eighth floor of Two International. The windows facing east overlooked the harbor. Those facing north peered down on the city. None of the windows had blinds. All doors and cubicles were constructed of frosted glass. Sometimes, in the dead of summer, it made you want to put your coat on. The typeface on the glass entrance door was smaller than the door handle:
Suffolk County, MA
After I was buzzed through that door, I entered a wide anteroom with ice-white walls. The only things hanging on the walls were squares and rectangles of frosted glass, none more than a foot wide or tall and most in the seven-by-nine range. It was impossible to sit or stand in that room and not suspect you were being watched.
Behind the sole desk in that vast anteroom sat a man who’d outlived everyone who could remember a time when he hadn’t sat there. His name was Bertrand Wilbraham. He was of indefinable age—could have been a weathered fifty-five or a sprightly eighty. His flesh reminded me of the brown bar soap my father used to keep in the basement washroom and, except for two very thin and very black eyebrows, his head was hairless. He never even sported a five-o’clock shadow. All male employees and subcontractors of Duhamel-Standiford were required to wear a suit and tie. The style of said suit and tie was up to you—although pastels and floral prints were frowned upon—but the shirt had to be white. Pure white, no pinstripes, however subtle. Bertrand Wilbraham, however, always wore a light gray shirt. His suits and ties changed, hard as it might have been to tell, from solid grays to solid blacks to solid navies, but the gray, protocol-busting shirts remained the same, as if to say, The revolution will be dour.