Rosita's notes were virtually indecipherable. She had assigned numbers to people-Wink was obviously "#1," the rest a toss-up, although "#2" was someone close to him, someone who, judging from Rosita's notes, she suspected of killing him. And she had made a plausible case for homicide, arranging and rearranging the known facts of the case until a scenario emerged: Wink, drunk and then drugged by someone he knew, had been placed in the car when he passed out. The problem was, Rosita had made an even more plausible case for herself as a pathological liar. How could Tess trust anything she said, even in her private, coded notes?
"Garage door locked," Rosita had written. "But was door from garage to mud room locked? If number 2 had dragged number 1 to car from house, number 2 could have left through house. Ask cops about drag marks. Burglar alarm on? Ask number 3 who has keys to house. Ask the M.E. if it's possible to know whether number 1 was unconscious before carbon monoxide kicked in. Check enrollment records."
Enrollment records? Rosita had lost her completely. But perhaps Rosita was lost, too, for she hadn't been able to take these electronic files with her when she left. If Tess offered her the printouts, would she break the code in exchange? It was worth a try. If Rosita was working on something legitimate, it would be nice to pass the information along to Feeney as a peace offering, even if neither of them had started the war between them. Perhaps it was time for another surprise visit to Rosita's.
Cutting through downtown and heading uptown on Charles Street, she noticed people streaming out of churches, palm fronds in hand. How could it be Palm Sunday beneath these leaden skies? A lot of Easter hats and outfits were going to be wasted if the weather didn't improve markedly over the next week. No matter the weather, it was a torturous season for Tess. April meant the return of rowing, and it was always a struggle to readjust to a 5:30 A.M. alarm, especially after daylight savings stole yet another hour. Worse, this time of year meant putting in appearances at both the Monaghans' Easter Sunday dinner and the Weinsteins' Seder, with little time for recovery in between. April was the cruelest month.
At Rosita's apartment building, it was no trick to once again blend in with a group of residents, allowing them to carry her through the security door and into the elevator. On the eighteenth floor, she knocked-politely at first, then a sharp rap, and finally an out-and-out pounding. No response. Tess tried the door and it swung open. Wonderful. Maybe Rosita was down in the basement laundry room, or making a quick run for Sunday papers at the deli across the street. She'd just take a quick look around.
The apartment hadn't changed, with the exception of a pizza box and an empty Chardonnay bottle on the kitchen counter. Same impersonal air, same Kit-Kat Klock keeping time. Tess looked around, her gaze settling again on the pizza box. She couldn't help herself-she loved cold pizza and she hadn't eaten anything since the Mint Milanos at Colleen's apartment. She looked at the side of the box, trying to figure out which pizzeria it had come from, then flicked open the grease-spotted lid. Sausage, her favorite. She picked off one of the nubbly pieces, popped it in her mouth. Yech. Turkey sausage. What an aberration. What an oxymoron-healthful sausage, low-fat fat. You should do things full out, Tess always reasoned. Hedging, trying to have it both ways, was what got you into trouble. She'd have to share this bit of wisdom with Rosita.
The porridge segment of her Goldilocks impersonation concluded, she began prowling around the small apartment, looking for the box of files Rosita had carried home on Friday. Maybe the key to her notes was there. She checked the hall closet, looked beneath the sagging springs of the sofa, opened kitchen cabinets. The apartment was eerily quiet, the only sound coming from the swinging tail of the Kit-Kat Klock, moving back and forth in the same cadence as its wide eyes. Funny, Rosita didn't have a computer-that seemed unthinkable for someone of her age and profession. Perhaps she had set up an office in a corner of her bedroom.
A blast of cold air surprised Tess when she opened the bedroom door. The sliding door to the tiny balcony was open, its gauzy curtains blown parallel to the floor in the stiff wind. Tess walked over to shut the door, then stepped outside instead, an acrid taste in her mouth.
Some people experience dread as a sensation that their stomachs are falling twenty stories; others feel a humming-bird-fast pulse flapping high in their chests. For Tess, fear and anxiety always had the flavor of something bitter, like a shriveled peanut in a bag of fresh roasted ones. Or a piece of turkey sausage, when you were expecting the real thing.
She leaned over the balcony, not sure what she would see from this height, not sure what she was looking for. Everything was still so brown and lifeless, even the overgrown brush in the gully that ran behind the apartment house. The only color was from the hundreds of blue plastic grocery bags caught on the dried vines, like puffy wild-flowers. And a flash of white surrounded by beige, one shade lighter than the earth.
When the coroner pulled Rosita Ruiz from the gully, she was wearing bicycle shorts and the same mermaid T-shirt she had worn the last time Tess had visited her. La Sirena. Well, La Sirena had sung her last song.
Tess called Sterling from Rosita's apartment and he arrived while the two homicide detectives were still questioning her. The detectives were politely solicitous of Tess, who looked a little green at the edges, but she could tell they had no real interest in considering Rosita's death a homicide, too. That would involve admitting fault, prolonging a case the county cops were ready to close as soon as the tox screens came in. If there was an angry lover or ex-lover, someone with a personal grudge against Miss Ruiz-fine, they were all ears. But it was inconceivable to them that Rosita had been thrown off the balcony by Wink's killer, because it was inconceivable to them that Wink had a killer.
"That's kind of far-fetched, Miss Monaghan, especially when you consider Miss Ruiz was fired on Friday," said Detective Tull, a slight, short man with remarkably tiny feet and an acne-scarred face. The scars gave his handsome face a touching vulnerability. He must be used for the remorseful ones, Tess thought, the tearful women who yearned to confess.
"You see, Miss Monaghan, it makes more sense if she jumped-especially when you see the empty bottle of white wine. Alcohol is a depressant and she was probably plenty depressed, right? She drinks, she eats a little pizza, she thinks about her life, and she steps out on her balcony, then steps out into space. The medical examiner will look for signs of a struggle-skin beneath her fingernails, scratches on her body that might tell us more about how she fell. But everything here is saying suicide. A footstool is pushed up next to the balcony, so she could climb up to the railing. The open balcony door. No one reported hearing a scream last night or early this morning, and no one saw anyone going into her apartment last night."
"No one here ever sees anyone," Tess protested. "Besides, she was a writer, or thought of herself as one. She would have left a note."
"Notes are less common than you think. A whole bottle of wine is considerable when you're as small as she is and you haven't eaten very much-there are only two slices of pizza gone. My guess is the M.E. is going to find she was legally intoxicated." Tull turned to Sterling. "Do you know how to find the next of kin? We'll have to notify them."
"We should have a contact number down at the paper."
Tull stood to leave. His partner, a tall, graceful black man who looked like a dancer, had been standing all along, leaning against the kitchen counter as if he were just passing through.
"You know, normally we don't give the victim's name to the press until we've made that call," Tull said. "We can't keep you from printing what you know, but it would be better if you waited until we talk to her parents."
"Under these circumstances, there won't be a story. We don't write about suicides unless they're somehow public, or involve public figures."
"Well, for now, it's not officially a suicide." Tull looked at Tess, and she knew he was humoring her. "The M.E. will make the ruling on that. We're going to canvass the building, see if anyone heard anything or saw anything. You can sit here for a while, Miss Monaghan, if you don't feel up to driving just yet."
Tess smiled wanly at Tull. She did feel light-headed. Rosita's broken body had looked disturbingly peaceful and composed, sleeping on its bier of brambles and blue grocery bags. If there was an argument to be made for suicide, it was the strange serenity in her face, more relaxed in death than it had ever been in life.
As soon as the detectives left, Sterling got up and came back with a glass of water and two ibuprofen capsules from Rosita's medicine cabinet.
"I don't know what good these will do, but I can't help wanting to do something for you," he said. "You've had a pretty rough day."
To say nothing of a rough night. She thought of telling him about her conversation with Colleen Reganhart, but it didn't seem particularly important now. Her brain was stuck in a single gear, endlessly revving. She looked around the apartment-the strafing glance of the Kit-Kat Klock, the disappearing cowboy poster, the pizza box on the counter, the empty wine bottle, the piles of books and papers.
Sterling looked startled at her sudden interest in food. "Sure. We can go get pizza if you like."
"No, it's the pizza box. There's no delivery slip on it. When you order a pizza to be delivered, there a piece of paper on the box-trust me, this is one of my fields of expertise. Rosita was barefoot, in shorts and a T-shirt. Someone brought this pizza to her, Jack-used it to get in the door downstairs, so they wouldn't look suspicious."
"And then sat down, shared a couple of pieces with her and tossed her off the balcony?" Sterling shook his head. "I hate to side with the detectives on this, Tess, but that's nonsensical. She could have gone out and gotten the pizza, then changed."
"Okay, so where's the box, the box of notebooks and personal artifacts she carried home from work? It's not here, so someone must have taken it. And why would someone take it? Because her notes held the key to Wink's murder."
Sterling made the same walk-through of the apartment she had already made, opening drawers and closet doors, looking under the sofa's sagging springs. Then he picked up the pizza box, turning it slowly in his hands, as if the delivery slip still might show up.
"I'll go get Detective Tull," he said at last.
Sterling went back to the office to wait for Detective Tull's call. Tess went home and tried to sleep, but she was too restless and ended up at the Brass Elephant. Although anxious to hear what the police had found, she could never sit in the newsroom, where she knew the skeleton staff of Sunday reporters would be wandering around, stunned and bewildered. Journalists had no language for their own tragedies. When it was one of their own, they could not make grim jokes or callow rationalizations, or call up relatives with that age-old assurance: it might be cathartic for them to speak of it. And they could not reduce someone they had actually known to the series of meaningless catch-phrases used for strangers. Smart but down-to-earth. Ambitious but caring. A quiet person who kept to himself-no, that was the code reserved for demented loners. At any rate, by any measure, Rosita Ruiz was not a good death.
It was almost 8 o'clock when Feeney found Tess, an empty plate of tortellini in front of her. She had no memory of eating it. She could, however, remember martinis 1 and 2, and she was now on martini 3, using the discarded toothpicks to trace figures in the linen tablecloth. Curvy number 2s, which disappeared in a few moments, like the magnetic lines on those "magic" drawing boards you had as a kid.
"First things first," Feeney said. "Your uncle's awake."
"And?" Her heart sky-rocketed, then plummeted to earth. Feeney was playing good news-bad news with her.
"That's all I know. Kitty called the paper, looking for you. Said Spike's awake. His speech is a little slurry and his right side doesn't have much feeling, but he's awake. Keeps talking about the years, Kitty said."
"The ears," Tess corrected absently. "Now what about Rosita?"
"The box of notes was in the trunk of her car, and there's nothing in them, not of any importance. And there was pizza in Rosita's stomach."
"She was killed, Feeney, I know she was. By number two."
"I saw files she had in the computer-don't ask me how, I won't tell you. But there was someone, someone she called number two. She thought this person killed Wink, although her notes didn't provide a motive."
"So who is number two?"
"I haven't a clue. It could be Lea-she's wife number two, although the notes suggest she's number three. Or his first wife-if Wink is number one, there's no reason Linda couldn't be number two. If Wink had threatened to cut off her alimony because he needed to be more liquid…and there was something about enrollment records, and Wink and Linda were in school together after all-"
Feeney placed his hand over Tess's right hand, the one with the toothpick. Without realizing it, she had started drawing numbers again as she spoke.
"She killed herself, Tess. It's not your fault, but you'll probably always think it was."
"I wouldn't say Rosita was murdered just because I feel guilty."
"Why not? I sure wanted to think someone killed Wink. I was the one who encouraged Rosita to see if someone might have knocked him out with booze, then put him in the car. But how do you convince someone to drink himself into a coma, Tess? And if someone killed him, why would the murderer then call my pager and punch in Wink's number?"
"You interviewed all these people for the story, they all had your pager number. Besides, the tox screens aren't back yet. If someone slipped him some kind of drug-I've heard about this tranquilizer from Mexico, they call it the date-rape drug-the combination could have made him lose consciousness. Or any strong sedative. He wasn't a big guy, it wouldn't take much."
Feeney's face was unbearably kind as he squeezed her hand.
"Tess, I know. I know what it's like to be an indirect agent in someone's death. I know what it's like to be the one to find him-or her. I also know all the conspiracy theories in the world aren't going to change anything. You're going to need help with this. Maybe professional help, but help from your friends as well. Don't make the mistake I did, pushing people away."
"I don't have many people to push away right now. I broke up with Crow, and now Whitney and I are kind of on the outs."
"She told me. She called me today and made a clean breast of things. Whatever you said to her last night, it really hit home. But Whitney's not a bad person, she's just self-centered. She got lost inside her desire for something and she made a bad mistake, a mistake she's learned from." Feeney took a piece of bread from the basket on the table and swiped it through the rich sauce she had left behind. "Rosemary, that's for remembrance. You know, she's jealous of you."
Tess meant to give a soft, derisive snort, but the martinis had robbed her of any modulation, and the noise she made sounded more like an old man blowing his nose. "Right."
"You're a free spirit, while Whitney is weighed down by so many things. Her family's name, her money, everyone's expectations for her. She hasn't learned to live her life for herself yet. Maybe now she will."
The bartender came over and Tess asked for a coffee. Feeney asked for a beer and helped himself to another piece of bread. "I don't know if I should tell you this, but there's a sad little coda to Rosita's story. She's not Rosita Ruiz."
"Part of the reason it took so long for Detective Tull to call back tonight is that the contact number in Rosita's file was for some family called Rodrigue in New Bedford, Mass. They kept insisting they had never heard of a Rosita Ruiz from Boston, although they did have a daughter named Rosemary, about the same age, working on the copy desk in Baltimore. She couldn't be a writer, they said, because she never had any stories to show them. I had to get on the computer to figure it out. The Social Security numbers matched-the one assigned to Rosemary Rodrigue had started showing up as Rosita Ruiz's number about two years ago, right after college graduation. But there was another Rosita Ruiz from Boston University-different Social Security number, now in a training program at some New York bank. Turns out Rosita-Rosemary-changed her name legally after graduation to match that of a former classmate, a Latina with stellar grades. Then, when employers checked her college record, it matched. That explains why she was inconsistent sometimes-she kept getting her two identities confused."
A long-forgotten detail managed to come to the surface in Tess's martini-stewed brain. "Like putting on her r'esum'e that she was a cum laude, when the real Rosita-Rosemary-was a magna?"
"Yeah, that would fit."
"So why do it? I mean, why steal a life that's essentially a lateral move?"
"Apparently, she wanted a little of that affirmative-action action. Without a journalism degree and no real newspaper experience, she thought transforming herself into a disadvantaged Latina from Roxbury was the only way to kick-start her career."
"If Rosita-Rosemary-had been really smart, she would have had a sex change operation and appropriated the name and r'esum'e of some Harvard boy. She'd have gotten ahead even faster as Roger Smith, Rhodes scholar."
"Touch'e, Tess. Touch'e."
Funny, how words echo, then change in their echoes. Dorie had said the same thing, only hours ago. Touch'e-Too-Shay-Tooch-Toooooooooch. Two. The number 2 man on Wink's ownership team, his constant sidekick. She saw him limping into the Wynkowskis' home, the apparent possessor of his own key. She felt his heavy bulk on her back. "I just figured he took some drug, because he's such a sissy." Wasn't he, in the end, the one who stood to gain the most from Wink's death? Linda's lot hadn't changed a whit, and Lea had lost so much ground she was almost back in Atlantic City. With three kids to raise, she would probably fall into the arms of the first man who promised to take care of her. And there was Paul Tucci, the man who had introduced her to Wink, the man who had always stood in Wink's shadow, suddenly at the forefront and in the limelight. The soon-to-be team owner.
"Drive me home?" Tess asked Feeney. "I'll take the bus back in the morning and get my car."
"Sure." He studied her face. "Peace will come, Tess. I don't know when-I'm still waiting for it myself-but you'll feel better sooner if you accept what's really happened."
"I'm feeling better already," she said truthfully.