Page 27 of Mystic River


"I mean, dancing's in your blood, right?"

"I dunno. I guess."

"But now that you've been told you can't do it anymore, you've stopped, right? It might hurt, but you've faced it."

"Okay?"

"Okay," he said, and slid a cigarette out of the pack that lay on the stone bench between them. "So, yeah, I was good at what I did. But I took a pinch and my wife died and that fucked my daughter up." He lit the cigarette and took a long exhale as he tried to put it exactly as he'd said it in his mind a hundred times. "I ain't fucking my daughter up again, Annabeth. You know? She can't go through another two years of me doing time. My mother? She ain't a well woman. She dies while I'm locked down? Then they take my daughter, make her a ward of the state, put her in some sort of Deer Island for tots. I couldn't take that shit. So that's it. In the blood, out of the blood, whatever the fuck, I'm staying straight."

Jimmy held her gaze as she studied his face. He could tell she was searching for flaws in his explanation, a whiff of bullshit, and he hoped he'd somehow managed to make the speech fly. He'd been working on it long enough, preparing for a moment like this. And, fact was, what he'd said was mostly true. He'd only left out that one thing he'd sworn to himself he'd never tell another soul, no matter who that soul was. So he looked in Annabeth's eyes and waited for her to make her decision, and tried to ignore images from that night by the Mystic River? the guy on his knees, saliva dripping down his chin, the screech of his begging? images that kept trying to push their way into his head like drill bits.

Annabeth took a cigarette. He lit it for her, and she said, "I used to have the worst crush on you. You know that?"

Jimmy kept his head steady, his gaze calm, even though the relief flooding through him was like a jet blast? he'd sold the half-truth. If things worked out with Annabeth, he'd never have to sell it again.

"No shit? You on me?"

She nodded. "When you'd come by the house to see Val? My God, I was, what, fourteen, fifteen? Jimmy, forget it. My skin would start to buzz just hearing your voice in the kitchen."

"Damn." He touched her arm. "It ain't buzzing now."

"Oh, sure it is, Jimmy. Sure it is."

And Jimmy felt the Mystic roll far away again, dissolve into the dirty depths of the Pen, gone from him, rolling off into the distance where it belonged.

* * *

BY THE TIME Sean got back to the jogging trail, the CSS woman was there. Whitey Powers radioed all units on-scene to do a sweep-and-detain of any vagrants in the park and squatted down beside Sean and the CSS woman.

"The blood heads that way," the CSS woman said, pointing deeper into the park. The jogging path went over a small wooden bridge and then curled off and down into a heavily wooded section of the park, circling around the old drive-in screen down at the far end. "There's more over there." She pointed with her pen, and Sean and Whitey looked back over their shoulders, saw smaller blood spatters in the grass on the other side of the joggers' path by the small wooden bridge, the leaves of a tall maple having protected the spatters from last night's rain. "I think she ran for that ravine."

Whitey's radio squawked and he put it to his lips. "Powers."

"Sergeant, we need you over by the garden."

"On my way."

Sean watched Whitey trot onto the jogging path and then head for the garden co-op around the next bend, the hem of his son's hockey shirt flapping around his waist.

Sean straightened from his squat and looked at the park, felt the sheer size of it, every bush, every knoll, all that water. He looked back at the small wooden bridge that led over a tiny ravine where the water was twice as dark and twice as polluted as the channel. Crusted with a permanent greasy film, it buzzed with mosquitoes in the summer. Sean noticed a spot of red in the thin, greening trees that sprouted along the bank of the ravine and he moved toward it, the CSS woman suddenly beside him, seeing it, too.

"What's your name?" Sean said.

"Karen," she said. "Karen Hughes."

Sean shook her hand, the two of them focused on that spot of red as they crossed the joggers' path, not even hearing Whitey Powers until he was almost on top of them, trotting, short of breath.

"We found a shoe," Whitey said.

"Where?"

Whitey pointed back down the joggers' path, past where it curved around the garden co-op. "In the garden. Woman's shoe. Size six."

"Don't touch it," Karen Hughes said.

"Duh," Whitey said, and got a look from her, Karen Hughes having one of those glacial looks that could shrink everything inside of you. "Excuse me. I meant? duh, ma'am."

Sean turned back to the trees, and the spot of red was no longer a spot, it was a torn triangle of fabric, hanging from a thin branch about shoulder high. The three of them stood in front of it until Karen Hughes stepped back and snapped several photographs from four different angles, then dug in her bag for something.

It was nylon, Sean was pretty sure, probably from a jacket, and slick with blood.

Karen used a pair of tweezers to pull it from the branch and stared at it for a minute before dropping it into a plastic baggie.

Sean bent at the waist and craned his head, looked down into the ravine. Then he looked across to the other side, saw what could have been a heel print dug into the soft soil.

He nudged Whitey and pointed until Whitey saw it, too. Then Karen Hughes took a look and immediately snapped off a few shots from her department-issue Nikon. She straightened and crossed over the bridge, came down on the embankment, and took a few more photographs.

Whitey dropped into a squat and peered under the bridge. "I'd say she might have hid here for a bit. Killer shows up, she bolts to the other side and takes off running again."

Sean said, "Why's she keep going deeper into the park? I mean, her back's against the water here, Sarge. Why not cut back toward the entrance?"

"Could be she was disoriented. It's dark, she's got a bullet in her."

Whitey shrugged and used his radio to call Dispatch.

"This is Sergeant Powers. We're leaning toward a possible one-eighty-seven, Dispatch. We're going to need every available officer for a sweep of Pen Park. See if you can scare up some divers, maybe."

"Divers?"

"Affirmative. We need Detective Lieutenant Friel and someone from the DA on-scene ASAP."

"The detective lieutenant is en route. DA's office has been notified. Over?"

"Affirmative. Out, Dispatch."

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