Whitey said, "Good point. Sorry, Mrs. Marcus."
"Oh, come on."
"No way. Sorry."
"Sean," Jimmy said, and when Sean looked over at him, Jimmy tried to convey through his eyes that this was good, this was what they needed right now. A respite. A conversation that had nothing to do with homicide or funeral homes or loss.
Sean's face softened until for a moment it looked like the face he'd had as an eleven-year-old, and he nodded.
He turned back to Annabeth and said, "I buried a guy in phantom tickets."
"You what?" Annabeth leaned forward, cigarette held up by her ear, eyes wide.
Sean leaned his head back, took a drag from his cigarette, and blew it out at the ceiling. "There was this guy I didn't like, never mind why. Anyway, once a month or so, I'd enter his license plate into the RMV database as a parking offender. I'd mix it up? one month it was parking at an expired meter, the next it was parking in a commercial zone, et cetera, et cetera. Anyway, the guy goes into the system, but he doesn't know it."
"Because he never got a ticket," Annabeth said.
"Exactly. And every twenty-one days he gets hit another five bucks for failure to pay, and then the fines keep racking up until one day he gets a summons to court."
Whitey said, "And finds out he owes the Commonwealth about twelve hundred dollars."
"Eleven hundred," Sean said. "But yeah. He says he never got the tickets, but the court didn't believe him. They hear that all the time. So the guy's screwed. He's in the computer, after all, and computers don't lie."
Dave said, "This is great. You do this a lot?"
"No!" Sean said, and Annabeth and Jimmy laughed. "No, I do not, David."
"Calling you 'David' now," Jimmy said. "Watch out."
"I did it this one time to this one guy."
"So, how'd you get caught?"
"Guy's aunt worked in the RMV," Whitey said. "You believe that?"
"No," Annabeth said.
Sean nodded. "Who knew? The guy paid the fines, but then he put his aunt on it and she traced it back to my barracks, and since I had a previous history with the gentleman in question, it was easy for the commander to add motive to opportunity and narrow down the suspects, so I got bagged."
"Exactly how much shit," Jimmy said, "did you have to eat over this?"
"Bags of it," Sean admitted, and this time all four of them laughed. "Big, huge, trash-can-size bags." Sean caught the glee in Jimmy's eyes and started laughing himself.
Whitey said, "Poor old Devine ain't had the best year."
"You're lucky no one in the press got to this," Annabeth said.
"Oh, we take care of our own," Whitey said. "We may have kicked his ass, but all the lady at the RMV had was the barracks the tickets emanated from, not the badge number. What'd we blame? clerical error?"
"Computer glitch," Sean said. "Commander made me pay full restitution, blah, blah, blah, suspended me a week without pay and put me on three months' probation. Could've been a lot worse, though."
"Could've demoted him," Whitey said.
"Why didn't they?" Jimmy said.
Sean stubbed out his cigarette and held out his arms. "Because I'm Supercop. Don't you read the papers, Jim?"
Whitey said, "What Ego-head here is trying to tell you is that he's put down some pretty serious cases in the last few months. Has the highest 'solved' rate in my unit. We got to wait till his average goes down before we can dump him."
"That road-rage thing," Dave said. "I saw your name once in the paper."
"Dave reads," Sean said to Jimmy.
"Not books on shooting pool, though," Whitey said with a smile. "How's that hand feeling?"
Jimmy looked over at Dave, caught his eyes just as Dave dropped them, Jimmy getting a strong sense the big cop was fucking with Dave, pushing him. Jimmy had experienced enough of that back in the day to know its tone, and he realized it was Dave's hand the cop was razzing him about. So what had he meant about shooting pool?
Dave opened his mouth to speak, but then his face was stricken by something over Sean's shoulder. Jimmy followed his gaze and every inch of him stiffened.
Sean turned his head and saw Celeste Boyle holding a dark blue dress, the hanger up by her shoulder so that the dress hovered beside her as if covering a body no one could see.
Celeste saw the look on Jimmy's face and said, "I'll take it over to the funeral home, Jim. Really."
Jimmy looked like he'd forgotten how to move.
Annabeth said, "You don't have to do that."
"I want to," Celeste said with a weird, desperate laugh. "Really. I'd like to. It'll get me out for a few minutes. I'd be happy to, Anna."
"You're sure?" Jimmy said, his voice coming out of him with a small croak.
"Yeah, yeah," Celeste said.
Sean couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a person so desperate to leave a room. He came out of his chair toward her, hand extended.
"We met a few times. I'm Sean Devine."
"Oh, right." Celeste's hand was slick with sweat as it slid into Sean's.
"You cut my hair once," Sean said.
"I know, I know. I remember."
"Well?" Sean said.
"Don't want to keep you."
Celeste let out that desperate laugh again. "No, no. So it was good seeing you. I gotta go."
Dave said, "Bye, honey," but Celeste was already moving down the hallway and heading for the front door like she'd smelled a gas leak.
Sean said, "Shit," and looked back over his shoulder at Whitey.
Whitey said, "What?"
"I left my report pad in the cruiser."
Whitey said, "Oh, better go get it then."
As Sean went down the hall, he heard Dave say, "What, he can't borrow a page from yours?"
He didn't get to hear whatever bullshit Whitey slung, because he moved out through the doorway and down the stairs, came out onto the front porch as Celeste reached the driver's side of the car. She got her key in the lock and opened the door, then reached in and unlocked the back door. She opened it and slid the dress carefully onto the backseat. When she closed the door, she looked over the roof and saw Sean coming down the stairs, and Sean could see pure terror in her face, the look of someone who expected to get hit by a bus. Now.
He could be subtle or direct, and one look at her face told him direct was the only hope he had. Get her while she was unbalanced for whatever reason.