Page 100 of Mystic River

Dave shook his head. "Still working on this one."

"Come on," Val said. "Live it up."

Dave looked into his scrunched, smiling face and said, "Okay, fine."

"Good man." Val slapped his shoulder and walked up to the bar.

Dave watched him standing up at the bar, chatting with one of the old dockworkers as he waited for his drinks, Dave thinking the guys in here knew what it was to be men. Men without doubts, men who never questioned the rightness of their own actions, men who weren't confused by the world or what was expected of them in it.

It was fear, he guessed. That's what he'd always had that they didn't. Fear had settled into him at such an early age? permanently, the way Val's prison friend had claimed sadness did. Fear had found a place in Dave and never left, and so he feared doing wrong and he feared fucking up and he feared not being intelligent and he feared not being a good husband or a good father or much of a man. Fear had been in him so long, he wasn't sure he could remember what it had felt like to live without it.

A passing headlight bounced off the front door and flashed white directly in his face as the door opened and Dave blinked several times, caught only the silhouette of the man who came through the door. He had a bulky frame and what could have been a leather jacket on. He looked a bit like Jimmy, actually, but bigger, wider at the shoulders.

In fact it was Jimmy, Dave realized as the door shut again and his eyes began to clear. Jimmy, wearing a black leather jacket over a dark turtleneck and khakis, nodding at Dave as he stepped up to Val at the bar. He said something in Val's ear and Val looked back over his shoulder at Dave and then said something to Jimmy.

Dave started to feel woozy. It was all the booze on an empty stomach, he was sure. But it was also something about Jimmy, something about the way he'd nodded to him, his face blank and yet somehow determined. And why the hell did he look bulked up, as if he'd gained ten pounds since yesterday? And what was he doing over here in Chelsea, the night before his daughter's wake?

Jimmy came over and slid into Val's seat, across from Dave. He said, "How's it going?"

"Little drunk," Dave admitted. "You gain some weight?"

Jimmy gave him a quizzical smile. "No."

"You look bigger."

Jimmy shrugged.

"What're you doing around here?" Dave asked.

"I come here a lot. Me and Val have known Huey for years. I mean, going way back. Why don't you drink that shot, Dave?"

Dave picked up the shot glass. "I'm feeling a bit hammered already."

"Who's it hurt?" Jimmy said, and Dave realized Jimmy held a shot of his own. He raised it and met Dave's glass. "To our children," Jimmy said.

"To our children," Dave managed, really feeling out of sorts now, as if he'd slid out of the day, through the night, and into a dream, a dream in which all the faces were too close, but their voices sounded like they were coming from the bottom of a sewer.

Dave downed the shot, grimacing against the burn, and Val slid into the booth beside him. Val put his arm around him and took a drink of beer directly from the pitcher. "I always liked this place."

"It's a good bar," Jimmy said. "No one bothers you."

"That's important," Val said, "no one bothering you in this life. No one fucking with you or your loved ones or your friends. Right, Dave?"

Dave said, "Absolutely."

"This guy's a hoot," Val said. "He can get you going."

Jimmy said, "Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah," Val said, and squeezed Dave's shoulder. "M' man, Dave."

* * *

CELESTE SAT on the edge of the motel bed as Michael watched TV. She had the phone in her lap, her palm flexing over the receiver.

During the late afternoon hours she'd spent with Michael by the tiny swimming pool in rusted chairs, she'd gradually begun to feel tiny and hollow, as if she could be seen from above and she looked discarded and silly and, worse, unfaithful.

Her husband. She'd betrayed her husband.

Maybe Dave had killed Katie. Maybe so. But what had she been thinking when she told Jimmy, of all people? Why hadn't she waited, thought some more on it? Why hadn't she considered every other conceivable alternative? Because she was afraid of Dave?

But this new Dave she'd seen in the last few days was an aberration, a Dave produced by stress.

Maybe he hadn't killed Katie. Maybe.

The point was, she needed to at least give him the benefit of the doubt until the matter was ironed out. She wasn't sure she could live with him and put Michael at risk, but she knew now she should have gone to the police, not to Jimmy Marcus.

Had she wanted to hurt Dave? Had she expected something more to come from looking into Jimmy's eyes and telling him her suspicions? And if so, what? Of all the people in the world, why had she told Jimmy?

There were a lot of possible answers to that question, and she didn't like any of them. She picked up the receiver and dialed Jimmy's home. She did so with tremors in her wrists, thinking, Please, someone, answer. Just answer. Please.

* * *

THE SMILE on Jimmy's face was sliding now, back and forth, up one side, back down, and then up the other, and Dave tried to focus on the bar, but that was sliding, too, as if the bar were on a boat and the sea was getting pissed.

"'Member we took Ray Harris here that one time?" Val said.

"Sure," Jimmy said. "Good old Ray."

"Now Ray," Val said, and slapped the table in front of Dave, "was one hilarious son of a bitch."

"Yeah," Jimmy said softly, "Ray was funny. He could make you laugh."

"Most people called him Just Ray," Val said as Dave tried to concentrate on just who the fuck they were talking about. "But I called him Ray Jingles."

Jimmy snapped his fingers, pointed at Val. "That's right. 'Cause of all the change."

Val leaned into Dave, spoke into his ear. "This guy, right? He carried like ten bucks in change in his pocket on any given day. No one knew why. He just liked having a lot of change in his pocket, case he had to make a phone call to Libya or some fucking place, I guess. Who knows? But he'd walk around with his hands in his pockets and just jingle that change all day long. I mean, the guy was a thief, and it was like, 'Who wouldn't hear you coming, Ray?' But apparently, he left the change at home during jobs." Val sighed. "Funny guy."

Val took his arm off Dave's shoulder and lit another cigarette. The smoke climbed up into Dave's face, and he felt it crawl all over his cheeks and burrow through his hair. Through the smoke, he could see Jimmy watching him with that flat, determined expression, something in Jimmy's eyes he didn't like, something familiar.