Long Bright River

I lift my head. My forehead got knocked pretty badly when Lafferty plowed into me, and I’m still seeing stars. My neck aches.

—You stand up, McClatchie says to me.

I glance at Kacey, who nods quickly, and I comply.

Then McClatchie does something I don’t understand: still aiming at Lafferty, he edges toward me until we’re standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side. He hands me the weapon.

—You’re better off with this, he says. I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

As soon as I take the gun and turn it on Lafferty, McClatchie puts his hands behind his head, takes a big breath of relief. He walks to the railing at the edge of the choir loft, leans on his elbows, and looks out at the church below.

* * *

I hear footsteps coming up the staircase behind us. For a tense moment, I aim back and forth between Lafferty and the stairs.

The door flies open. I see Mike DiPaolo and Davis Nguyen emerge, guns drawn.

—Drop your weapon, DiPaolo says to me calmly, and I put it on the ground.

I don’t understand.

I think, for a moment, that it was Lafferty who called for backup, which will make the job of explaining my case much harder.

—He’s dangerous, I say, about Lafferty, and Lafferty starts to protest, but suddenly Kacey’s raising her voice above all of us.

—Did Truman Dawes send you? she says to DiPaolo and Nguyen.

—Who’s asking? DiPaolo says. He and Nguyen are still stiff-arming their weapons, aiming them at all of us in turn. I can imagine their confusion.

—My name is Kacey Fitzpatrick, says Kacey. I’m her sister, she says, nodding at me. I’m the one who contacted Truman Dawes. And that, she says, nodding toward Eddie Lafferty, is the man you’re after.

Nguyen and DiPaolo call for backup. Then they take all of us down to the station—me and Kacey and Lafferty and McClatchie—all of us in separate cars.

We’re kept apart, and then we’re interrogated.

I tell the two of them everything I know, from start to finish. I leave nothing out: I tell them about Cleare. I tell them about Kacey. I tell them about Thomas. I tell them about Lafferty, and what Kacey told me about him. I even tell them about Truman, and my embarrassing behavior in that regard.

I tell them the truth, the whole truth, for the first time in my life. Then the two of them leave.

* * *

— Several hours go by. It occurs to me that I’m starving, and that I have to go to the bathroom, and that I’ve never wanted a glass of water so badly in my life. I shift uncomfortably. I’ve never been on this side of things before.

Finally, DiPaolo enters the room I’m being held in. He looks tired. He nods at me, pensive, his hands in his pockets.

—It’s him, he says. It’s Lafferty.

Wordlessly, he holds forth a printed picture of a young woman, smiling, wearing a pretty dress.

—You recognize her? he says.

It takes me a moment, and then suddenly I’m back on the Tracks in October, leaning over a log, peering toward the first victim. Next to her, in my memory—I shudder to think it—is Eddie Lafferty. I think of the face of the victim, on that day: pained and unpeaceful. I think of the spattering of red dots near her eyes. The violent way she died. I think of Lafferty’s reaction to her. Impassive. Aloof.

—Who is she? I say.

—Sasha Lowe Lafferty, says DiPaolo. Eddie Lafferty’s most recent ex-wife, he says.

—No, I say.

DiPaolo nods.

I look at the picture again. I remember Lafferty talking about his third wife, about her youth. She was immature. Maybe that was the problem.

—She was badly hooked herself, says DiPaolo. Using every day. The rest of her family had cut ties with her over a year before. They’ve had no contact with her since then. Her only contact was with Lafferty.

He pauses.

—Why she was never reported missing, I guess, he says.

—Jesus, I say.

I’m still looking at the photo. I’m glad to see this woman at a different moment in her life. I close my eyes quickly. Open them again. I let the image of the smiling woman before me replace in my mind the pained, deceased version of Sasha Lowe Lafferty that I’ve been carrying around in my mind since I found her.

—Guess where they met, says DiPaolo.

I know before he says it.

—Wildwood, I say.

DiPaolo nods.

—Jesus, I say again.

DiPaolo looks like he’s hesitating for a moment. Then he continues. You asked about Simon Cleare, he says.

I steel myself. I nod.

—I want you to know, he says, I looked into it. I wasn’t trying to blow you off. After we met, I assigned a guy to tag him a few days in a row. Sure enough, on day two he heads up to Kensington, middle of a workday, no assigned reason to be there.

—Okay, I say.

DiPaolo looks at me. He’s got a problem, Mickey, he says. He was there for the same reason everyone else goes to Kensington. Bought a thousand MGs of Oxy off a guy we know. No heroin, that I know of, but that’s probably next. How he affords that much Oxy on a detective salary . . .

DiPaolo trails off. Whistles.

I look down at the table.

—I see, I say. That makes sense.

I think of Simon’s words to me when I was young. The tattoo on his calf. I went through a phase of it myself, he told me, when I was frightened for Kacey.

At the time, it had brought me such comfort.

After Kacey and I are released, the two of us leave together through the front door of the station. My car is all the way back at the cathedral, two miles from the station. So is the car Kacey borrowed from our father.

Speaking of our father: I call him as soon as I can. Tell him Kacey’s okay. That she’ll be home soon.

—And you? he says.

—Excuse me?

—Are you okay too? says my father.

—Yes, I say. I’m okay.

* * *

I am, in fact, feeling quite relieved. As Kacey and I walk, side by side, I look at our surroundings. Kensington itself looks different, somehow changed, or perhaps I am simply noticing things about it that I never noticed before. It’s a lovely neighborhood in many ways, and several of its blocks are quite nice, well maintained, blocks that have managed to stave off the encroaching chaos, blocks with grandmothers who have never left and never will, who sweep their stoops each morning, then sweep all the stoops of their neighbors, and sometimes the street itself, even if the city doesn’t come around. We pass a street, on the right, with white lights strung across it for Christmas.

At last, Kacey recounts her morning to me.

She, too, went first to the house with three Bs, the last place she knew Connor McClatchie to be living. When she found the house vacant and condemned, she went back to the Ave to ask around. Fairly soon, she learned where McClatchie had gone.

She drove over to find him. She wanted to tell him what was going on. Ask what he knew about Eddie Lafferty.

—I can’t believe you did that, I say, interrupting. Why would you do that?

—I told you, says Kacey. I knew when he found out that Eddie Lafferty might be the one killing those women, he wouldn’t stand for it. I know him.

I shake my head. I notice, suddenly, that Kacey looks unsteady and pale. She has her hands on her stomach. She is six months pregnant, now, and seems to feel it. I don’t know if she’ll make it the whole way. She keeps insisting she’s fine, but she’s bent forward slightly. How long has it been, I wonder, since her last dose of methadone?

—Are you okay? I ask her.

—Fine, Kacey says, tightly.

We walk in silence a little longer. Then she goes on.

—Connor can do bad things, Kacey says, but he’s not all bad. Almost nobody is.

I have nothing to say to this. I picture Mrs. Mahon, her hand tipping back and forth in the air above the chessboard. They’re bad and good both, all the pieces. It is possible to acknowledge, on some level, the truth of this. And yet I hate Connor McClatchie for what he did to my sister. And I know, without a doubt, that I’ll never forgive him.

—Anyway, Kacey says, Connor told me that Lafferty approached him last summer, told him he was a cop. Told him he’d keep him protected in exchange for a cut. That’s why I recognized him, she tells me. And that’s why they went off to the side to do their business. Lafferty was taking kickbacks from Connor.

—That fucker, I say suddenly.

—Which one?

—Both of them, I say. Both fuckers.

A thought occurs to me then: Did Ahearn assign Lafferty to my car so that he could dig up some dirt on me? Six months ago, I would have said that was absurd. Now, I don’t know.

—And Ahearn’s a fucker too, I say. I bet he knew. Maybe got a cut too.

Kacey, I notice, is laughing.

—What? I say. What?

—I don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse before, says Kacey.

—Oh, I say. Well, I do now.

—Well, says Kacey. You’re right. Connor told me Lafferty wasn’t the only one. Taking payment, I mean. Said it happens more regularly than you know.

—I believe it, I say.