Page 68 of Mystic River

She was picking the picture up off the nightstand when she heard Dave's voice from the pavement below: "You two again."

And she'd sat there, dying in increments, as she heard Dave and the policemen talk, and then heard what Sean Devine and his partner said after Dave had crossed the street to get Annabeth's cigarettes.

For ten or twelve horrible seconds, she almost vomited on Katie's blue dress. Her diaphragm lurched up and down and her throat constricted, and the contents of her stomach boiled. She bent in half, trying to hold it in, and a hoarse hacking noise escaped her lips several times, but she didn't throw up. And it passed.

She still felt nauseous, though. Nauseous and clammy, and her brain seemed to have caught fire. It burned, something raging in there, dimming the lights, filling her sinuses and the spaces immediately behind her eyes.

She lay back on the bed as Sean and his partner ascended the stairs, and she wished to be struck by lightning or have the ceiling cave in on her or to simply be lifted by some unknown force and tossed out the open window. All of these scenarios were preferable to the one she found herself facing now. But maybe he was merely protecting someone else, or maybe he had seen something he shouldn't have and he'd been threatened. Maybe the police questioning him meant only that they considered him a suspect. None of this meant, beyond a doubt, that her husband had murdered Katie Marcus.

His story about the mugger had always been a lie. She'd known that. She'd tried to hide from that knowledge several times over the last couple of days, to blot it out of her head the way a thick cloud blots out the sun. But she'd known, since the night he'd told her, that muggers don't punch with one hand when they can stab with the other, and they didn't use clever lines like "Your wallet or your life, bitch. I'm leaving with one of them." And they didn't get disarmed and beaten up by men like Dave who hadn't been in a fight since grade school.

If it had been Jimmy who'd come home with the same story, that would be another thing. Jimmy, slim as he was, looked like he could kill you. He looked like he knew how to fight and had simply matured past the point where violence was necessary in his life. But you could still smell danger coming from Jimmy, a capacity for destruction.

The scent Dave gave off was of another kind. It was of a man with secrets, grimy wheels turning in a sometimes grimy head, a fantasy life going on behind his too-still eyes that no one else could enter. She had been married to Dave for eight years, and she'd always thought his secret world would eventually open for her, but it hadn't. Dave lived up there in the world of his head far more than he lived down here in the world of everyone else, and maybe those two worlds had seeped into one another so that the darkness of Dave's head had spilled its darkness onto the streets of East Buckingham.

Could Dave have killed Katie?

He'd always liked her. Hadn't he?

And, honestly, could Dave? her husband? be capable of murder? Of chasing the daughter of his old friend into a dark park? Of beating her and hearing her scream and plead? Of firing a gun into the back of her head?

Why? Why would anyone do such a thing? And if you accepted that someone, in point of fact, could, was it a logical leap to assume Dave could be that person?

Yes, she told herself, he lived in a secret world. Yes, he'd probably never be whole because of the crimes committed against him when he was a child. Yes, he'd lied about the mugger, but maybe there was a reasonable explanation for that lie.

Like what?

Katie was murdered in Pen Park shortly after leaving the Last Drop. Dave had claimed to have fought off a mugger in the parking lot of the same bar. He had claimed he left the mugger there, unconscious, but no one had ever found the guy. The police had mentioned something about finding blood in the parking lot, though. So, maybe Dave had been telling the truth. Maybe.

And yet, she kept coming back to the timing of everything. Dave had told her he was at the Last Drop. Apparently, he'd lied about that to the police. Katie was murdered between two and three in the morning. Dave had walked back into the apartment at ten past three, covered in someone else's blood and with an unconvincing story as to how it had gotten there.

And that was the most glaring coincidence of all? Katie is murdered, Dave returns home covered in blood.

If she wasn't his wife, would she even question the conclusion?

Celeste bent forward again, trying to keep her insides in and block the voice in her head that kept saying the words in a hissing whisper:

Dave killed Katie. Jesus Christ. Dave killed Katie.

Oh, dear God. Dave killed Katie, and I want to die.

* * *

"SO YOU'VE DISCOUNTED Bobby and Roman as suspects?" Jimmy said.

Sean shook his head. "Not completely. It doesn't rule out the possibility that they hired someone."

Annabeth said, "But I can see it in your face, you don't think that's likely."

"No, Mrs. Marcus, we don't."

Jimmy said, "So who do you suspect? Anyone?"

Whitey and Sean looked at each other, and then Dave came into the kitchen, unwrapping the cellophane from a pack of cigarettes, and handed them to Annabeth. "Here you go, Anna."

"Thank you." She looked at Jimmy with a minor embarrassment in her face. "I just got the urge."

He smiled softly and patted her hand. "Honey, whatever you need right now is fine. It's cool."

She turned to Whitey and Sean as she lit up. "I quit ten years ago."

"Me, too," Sean said. "Can I bum one?"

Annabeth laughed, the cigarette jerking between her lips, and Jimmy thought it may have been the first beautiful sound he'd heard in twenty-four hours. He saw the grin on Sean's face as he took a cigarette from his wife, and he wanted to thank him for making her smile.

"You're a bad boy, Trooper Devine." Annabeth lit his cigarette.

Sean took a puff. "I've heard that before."

"Heard it last week from the commander," Whitey said, "if I remember right."

Annabeth said, "Really?" and fixed Sean in the warmth of her interest, Annabeth being one of those rare people who could invest as much effort in her listening as in her talking.

Sean's grin widened as Dave took a seat, and Jimmy could feel the air in the kitchen grow lighter.

"I'm just coming off a suspension," Sean admitted. "Yesterday was my first day back."

"What did you do?" Jimmy said, leaning into the table.

Sean said, "That's confidential."

"Sergeant Powers?" Annabeth said.

"Well, Trooper Devine here? "

Sean looked over at him. "I got stories about you, too."