Sean looked at Whitey. Whitey shrugged.
"No," Jimmy said, "don't do that. Don't look at him like I'm crazy. I'm not crazy. I'm not in shock."
"I'm just saying there are threads, okay? Threads in our lives. You pull one, and everything else gets affected. Say it rained in Dallas and so Kennedy didn't ride in a convertible. Stalin stayed in the seminary. Say you and me, Sean, say we got in that car with Dave Boyle."
"What?" Whitey said. "What car?"
Sean held up a hand to him and said to Jimmy, "I'm losing you here."
"You are? If we got in that car, life would have been a very different thing. My first wife, Marita, Katie's mother? She was so beautiful. She was regal. You know the way some Latin women can be? Gorgeous. And she knew it. If a guy wanted to approach her, he better have some big fucking balls on him. And I did. I was King Shit at sixteen. I was fearless. And I did approach her, and I did ask her out. And a year later? Christ, I was seventeen, a fucking child? we got married and she was carrying Katie."
Jimmy walked around his daughter's body in slow, steady circles.
"Here's the thing, Sean? if we'd gotten in that car, been driven off to God knows where and had God knows what done to us by two ass-fucking freaks for four days when we were, what, eleven?? I don't think I'd have been so ballsy at sixteen. I think I would have been a basket case, you know, stoked on Ritalin or whatever. I know I never would have had what it took to ask out a woman as haughty-gorgeous as Marita. And so we never would have had Katie. And Katie, then, never would have been murdered. But she was. All because we didn't get in that car, Sean. You see what I'm saying?"
Jimmy looked at Sean like he was waiting for a confirmation, but a confirmation of what Sean didn't have a clue. He looked as if he needed to be absolved? absolved of not getting in that car as a boy, absolved of fathering a child who would be murdered.
Sometimes during a jog, Sean found himself back on Gannon Street, standing on the spot in the middle of the street where he and Jimmy and Dave Boyle had rolled around fighting, then looked up to see that car waiting for them. Sometimes Sean could still smell the odor of apples that had wafted from the car. And if he turned his head real quick, he could see Dave Boyle in the backseat of that car as it reached the corner, looking back at them, trapped and receding from view.
It had occurred to Sean once? on a bender about ten years before with some buddies, Sean and a bloodstream full of bourbon turning philosophical? that maybe they had gotten in that car. All three of them. And what they now thought of as their life was just a dream state. That all three of them were, in reality, still eleven-year-old boys trapped in some cellar, imagining what they'd become if they ever escaped and grew up.
The thing about that idea was that even though Sean would have expected it to be the first casualty of a night's drinking, it had remained lodged in his brain like a stone in the sole of his shoe.
And so occasionally he found himself on Gannon Street in front of his old house, catching glimpses of the receding Dave Boyle out of the corner of his eye, the odor of apples filling his nostrils, thinking, No. Come back.
He met Jimmy's plaintive glare. He wanted to say something. He wanted to tell him that he had also thought about what would have happened if they'd climbed in that car. That the thought of what could have been his life sometimes haunted him, hovered around approaching corners, rode the breeze like the echo of a name called from a window. He wanted to tell Jimmy that he occasionally sweated through his old dream, the one in which the street gripped his feet and slid him toward that open door. He wanted to tell him he hadn't truly known what to make of his life since that day, that he was a man who often felt light with his own weightlessness, the insubstantial nature of his character.
But they were in a morgue with Jimmy's daughter lying on a steel table in between them and Whitey's pen poised over paper, so all Sean said to the plea in Jimmy's face was: "Come on, Jim. Let's go get that coffee."
* * *
ANNABETH MARCUS, in Sean's opinion, was one tough goddamned woman. She sat in a cold, late-Sunday, municipal cafeteria with its warmed-over, cellophane-'n'-steam smell, seven stories above a morgue, talking about her stepdaughter with cold, municipal men, and Sean could tell it was killing her, yet she refused to crack. Her eyes were red, but Sean knew after a few minutes that she wouldn't weep. Not in front of them. No fucking way.
As they talked, she had to stop for breath a few times. Her throat would close up in midsentence, as if a fist wormed its way through her chest, pressing against her organs. She'd place a hand on her chest and open her mouth a little wider and wait until she'd gotten enough oxygen to continue.
"She came home from working at the store at four-thirty on Saturday."
"What store was that, Mrs. Marcus?"
She pointed at Jimmy. "My husband owns Cottage Market."
"On the corner of East Cottage and Bucky Ave.?" Whitey said. "Best damn coffee in the city."
Annabeth said, "She came in and hopped in the shower. She came out and we had dinner? wait, no, she didn't eat. She sat with us, talked to the girls, but she didn't eat. She said she was having dinner with Eve and Diane."
"The girls she went out with," Whitey said to Jimmy.
"So, she didn't eat?" Whitey said.
Annabeth said, "But she hung out with the girls, our girls, her sisters. And they talked about the parade next week and Nadine's First Communion. And then she was on the phone in her room for a bit, and then, about eight, she left."
"Do you know who she talked to on the phone?"
Annabeth shook her head.
"The phone in her room," Whitey said. "Private line?"
"Would you have any objections if we subpoenaed the phone company records to that line?"
Annabeth looked at Jimmy and Jimmy said, "No. No objections."
"So she left at eight. As far as you know to meet with her friends, Eve and Diane?"
"And you were still at the store at this time, Mr. Marcus?"
"Yeah. I did swing shift on Saturday. Twelve to eight."
Whitey flipped a page in his notebook and gave them both a small smile. "I know this is tough, but you're doing great."
Annabeth nodded and turned to her husband. "I called Kevin."
"Yeah? You talk to the girls?"
"I talked to Sara. I just told her we'd be home soon. I didn't tell her anything else."