Page 36 of Mystic River

She picked the green trash bag up off the floor and twisted it in her hands until it resembled a scrawny old man's neck, then wrung it tight and tied it off in a knot at the top. She paused then, thinking it strange that it had reminded her of an old man's neck. Where had that come from? And she noticed that the TV had gone blank. One moment Tiger Woods was stalking the green, the next the screen was black.

Then a white line blipped up the screen, and Celeste knew that if this TV had blown a picture tube, too, it was going off the porch. Right now, fuck the consequences, it was going.

But the white line gave way to the newsroom studio, and the anchorwoman, looking rushed and harried, said, "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a breaking story. Valerie Corapi is on the scene outside Penitentiary Park in East Buckingham, where police have launched a massive search for a missing woman. Valerie?"

Celeste watched as the studio shot gave way to a helicopter shot? a jerky overhead view of Sydney Street and Penitentiary Park and what looked like an invading army of police milling around outside. She saw dozens of small figures, black as ants from the distance, walking through the park, and police boats on the channel. She saw a line of the antlike figures moving steadily toward the grove of trees that surrounded the old drive-in screen.

The helicopter was buffeted by wind and the camera lens shifted, and for a moment Celeste was looking at the land on the other side of the channel, at Shawmut Boulevard and its stretch of industrial parks.

"This is the scene here in East Buckingham right now where police arrived early this morning and commenced a large-scale search for a missing woman that continues now into the early afternoon. Unconfirmed sources have told News Four that the woman's abandoned car showed signs of foul play. Now, this, Virginia, is? I don't know if you can see it yet?"

The helicopter camera turned away from the industrial parks on Shawmut in a nauseating one-eighty and pointed down at a dark blue car with its door open that sat on Sydney Street, looking somehow forlorn as police backed a tow truck up to it.

"Yes," the reporter said. "What you are looking at now is what I have been told is the missing woman's car. Police found it this morning and immediately launched this search. Now, Virginia, no one will confirm either the name of the missing woman or the reasons for this rather large? as I'm sure you can see? police presence. However, sources close to News Four have confirmed that the search seems to be focusing on the old drive-in screen, which, as you know, is the site of local theater in the summer. But this is not a fake drama playing out for us here today. This is real. Virginia?" Celeste was trying to figure out what they'd just told her. She wasn't sure she'd learned anything except that police had, in fact, descended upon her neighborhood like they were taking it over.

The anchorwoman looked confused, too, as if she was being cued off camera in a language she didn't understand. She said, "We'll keep you posted on this?developing story as we learn more. Now we return you to your regularly scheduled program."

Celeste changed channels several times, but no other stations seemed to be covering the story yet, so she turned back to the golf and left the volume up.

Someone was missing in the Flats. A woman's car had been abandoned on Sydney. But police didn't launch this kind of massive operation? and it was massive; she'd noticed both state and city police cruisers down on Sydney? unless they had evidence of something more than just a missing woman to go on. There had to be something about that car that suggested violence. What had the reporter said?

Signs of foul play. That was it.

Blood, she was sure. It had to be blood. Evidence. And she looked down at the bag still twisted in her hand and thought:




JIMMY STOOD on the civilian side of the yellow tape, facing a ragged line of cops, as Sean walked away through the weeds and into the park, not looking back once.

"Mr. Marcus," this one cop, Jefferts, said, "get you some coffee or something?" The cop looked at Jimmy's forehead, Jimmy feeling a mild contempt and pity in the loose gaze and the way the cop used the side of his thumb to scratch his belly. Sean had introduced them, telling Jimmy this was Trooper Jefferts, a good man, and telling Jefferts that Jimmy was the father of the woman who, uh, owned the abandoned car. Get him anything he needs and hook him up with Talbot when she arrives, Jimmy figuring Talbot was either a shrink with a badge or some disheveled social worker with a mountain of student loans and a car that smelled of Burger King.

He ignored Jefferts's offer and walked back across the street to Chuck Savage.

"What's going on, Jim?"

Jimmy shook his head, pretty sure he'd puke all over himself and Chuck, too, if he tried to put what he was feeling into words.

"You got a cell phone?"

"Yeah, sure." Chuck scrambled his hands through his windbreaker. He put the phone in Jimmy's open hand, and Jimmy dialed 411, got a recorded voice asking him what city and state, and he hesitated a second before throwing his voice out into the phone line, had an image of his words traveling through miles and miles of copper cable before dropping down a vortex into the soul of some gargantuan computer with red lights for eyes.

"What listing?" the computer asked.

"Chuck E. Cheese's." Jimmy felt a sudden wave of bitter terror at saying such a ridiculous name on the open street near his daughter's empty car. He wanted to put the whole phone between his teeth and bite down, hear it crack.

Once he'd gotten the number and dialed, he had to wait as they paged Annabeth. Whoever had answered the phone hadn't put him on hold but merely placed the receiver down on a countertop, and Jimmy could hear the tinny echoes of his wife's name: "Will an Annabeth Marcus please contact the hostess stand? Annabeth Marcus." Jimmy could hear the peal of bells and eighty or ninety kids running around like maniacs and pulling one another's hair, shrieking, mingled with desperate adult voices trying to climb above the din, and then his wife's name was called again, echoing. Jimmy pictured her looking up at the sound, confused and frazzled, the whole Saint Cecilia's First Communion squad fighting for pizza slices around her.

Then he heard her voice, muffled and curious: "You called my name?"

For a moment, Jimmy wanted to hang up. What would he tell her? What was the point of calling her with no hard facts, only the fears of his own crazed imagination? Wouldn't it be better to leave her and the girls in the peace of ignorance for a little while longer?

But he knew there was already too much wounding going on today as it was, and Annabeth would be wounded if he left her unaware while he pulled out his hair on Sydney Street by Katie's car. She'd remember her bliss with the girls as unearned and, worse, as an assault, a false promise. And she'd hate Jimmy for it.