Long Bright River

One morning, at the start of an A-shift, I walk into the common area where roll call is conducted and notice a stranger in the room. He is young, sharply dressed in a gray suit. Serious-looking. Right away, I like him. He has one arm crossed around his insubstantial waist. In the other hand he holds a manila folder. A detective, I think. He says nothing to anyone. He is waiting for a sergeant.

When Ahearn arrives, he asks for everyone’s attention, and the young man introduces himself. He is Davis Nguyen, he says, from the East Detectives. He has some news.

—Overnight, says Nguyen, we had two homicides in the district.

I am relieved to hear that they have already been identified. One is Katie Conway, a Delco girl, seventeen years old, white, reported missing one week prior. The other is Anabel Castillo, an eighteen-year-old home health aide, Latina.

Both, says Nguyen, were found in similar locations and were similarly arrayed: Conway was found in an empty lot off Tioga, uncovered and visible from the street; Castillo was found in an empty lot off Hart Lane, her legs obscured beneath a burned-out car, her head and shoulders exposed and in plain sight of passersby.

Both, he says, were most likely engaged in sex work. Both, he says, were most likely strangled. And both bodies had gone unreported for hours. (The unconscious, in Kensington, are such a common sight that they often don’t receive a second glance.)

Nguyen puts pictures of Katie and Anabel up on the computer display on the wall. For a few long seconds, everyone in the room stands still, looking at the victims as they smile back on us from happier times. There is young Katie, at a party, her sixteenth birthday party, maybe, standing by a pool. Anabel is hugging a child I hope is not her son.

—All of this information, says Nguyen, is confidential. We haven’t released the names or descriptions to the media, though the families have been notified.

After a moment, he continues. Additionally, he says, we’ve reopened the case of a young woman found on the Gurney Street tracks in October, though initially her autopsy was inconclusive.

I glance at Ahearn. He won’t meet my eye.

Nguyen continues.

—She’s still unidentified. But given the events of last night, we have reason to reconsider that assessment.

Ahearn isn’t looking up. He’s still on his phone.

—What this means, says Nguyen, is that there may be a single perpetrator of multiple homicides at large in your district.

No one speaks.

—Anything you hear, says Nguyen, take a report or send them directly to us. We’ve got a couple of leads but nothing credible. We’re asking for your help.

For a while after roll call, I sit alone in my vehicle and contemplate my cell phone. The oaks that overhang the asphalt parking lot are moving wildly in a sudden strong wind. Thomas’s favorite tree.

A slow, uneasy feeling has been building inside of me ever since we found the woman on the Tracks. The fact is that I haven’t seen Kacey anyplace in the neighborhood since then. And I suppose, if I’m being honest, that I have been casually looking. It’s not uncommon for a month to go by without a sighting of my sister—sometimes, in fact, this means she is actively trying to get into recovery—but the timing of her absence from the Avenue gives me a certain amount of pause, and causes within me the same low hum of anxiety that I had as a very young child when our mother was gone from the house too long.

* * *

Officially, Kacey and I no longer speak to one another. We haven’t for five years. There have been rare occasions since then—three, to be precise—when I have been required to interact with her at work, in my capacity as an officer and in her capacity as a suspect—and during each of those times I have conducted myself with dignity, as any professional would, either processing her or releasing her, as I would do for any offender. To her credit, she, too, has conducted herself respectfully. When it is necessary to do so, I gently place handcuffs on the wrists of my sister, and I tell her the particular offense for which she is being arrested (usually, solicitation and possession of narcotics, one time with intent to sell), and then I narrate her rights to her, then I place a gentle hand on the crown of her head to ensure that she doesn’t obtain an injury as she enters the backseat of our vehicle, and then I quietly close the door, and then I drive her to the station, and then I book her, and then the two of us sit silently across from one another in the holding cell, not speaking, not even looking at each other.

Truman was with me each time, and each time he, too, remained silent, watching the two of us guardedly, his eyes darting back and forth from me to Kacey to me again, waiting to see what would happen.

—That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, he said, as we were driving away after the first of these episodes. I shrugged, and didn’t reply. I suppose it would look ‘weird’ to someone who doesn’t understand the particulars of our history and the tacit agreement we’ve come to in recent years. I’ve never tried to explain it to Truman or anyone else.

—You look out for her, he said another time.

When I demurred, he continued:

—You would have been done with patrol years ago if you weren’t out here keeping an eye on your sister. You would have taken the detective exam.

I told him that this was not, in fact, true: it’s just that I’ve grown fond of the neighborhood, and have grown to care a great deal about its well-being, and also I find the history of the neighborhood interesting, and I like to watch it as it grows and changes. And, lastly, it’s never boring. On the contrary: it’s exciting. Some people do have trouble with Kensington, but to me the neighborhood itself has become like a relative, slightly problematic but dear in the old-fashioned way that that word is sometimes used, treasured, valuable to me. I am invested in it, in other words.

—Why haven’t you taken the exam? I said to Truman, at the time. Truman is one of the smartest people I know. He could easily have been promoted, and could easily have transferred elsewhere if he wanted to. When I said this, he laughed.

—Same reason as you, I guess, he said. I can’t bring myself to miss any of the action.

* * *

    Ten minutes have gone by, and I’m still gazing at my phone, when I realize I’m the last car in the lot. God forbid Sergeant Ahearn come outside and see me idling there. In the last year—between moving to Bensalem, swapping Thomas’s reliable nursery school for the unreliable Bethany, and losing my longtime partner—my productivity has decreased dramatically, a fact about which Ahearn likes to regularly remind me.

I back out and drive toward my assigned PSA.

On the way, however, I make a detour toward Kensington and Cambria. If I can’t find Kacey, at least I might find Paula Mulroney there.

Paula is not, when I arrive at said intersection, immediately evident. Alonzo’s convenience store is on the same corner, though, so I stop in on Alonzo and on his favored cat, Romero, named after a long-gone Phillies pitcher. From the front window of the store, it is usually possible to see Paula and Kacey.

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