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23

The lab at the Roundhouse was busy, the criminalists bright-eyed except one. She was the one Brinkley had had working all night, liaising with the FBI and running the DNA tests he needed. He'd had to rush the report of the result, to stay ahead of Davis. Brinkley thought about saying thank you to the tech, but didn't. It was part of her job. If she didn't like it, she should find another. 'What did you find out about the earring back?' he asked, standing with Kovich at the black-topped lab table. Before them was a row of microscopes and slides, which were carefully stored and numbered by case. 'It's hers, isn't it?'

The stiff's?'

'No, the daughter's. The earring back is Paige Newlin's, isn't it?'

'No, it's not. I took some flakes of skin off the hair you gave me and compared it with the earring back. There's no match.'

'What?* Brinkley couldn't hide his disappointment. 'You're sure about that?'

'Hair? What hair?' Kovich asked, but Brinkley ignored him.

'You damn sure about that?' he repeated. He would have bet his life it was the daughter's earring.

'Absolutely, Detective. I did a visual inspect and double-checked with a DNA analysis, just to make sure -'

'Hold on.' Kovich smiled crookedly. 'Let's get back to the hair.'

'The hair's not your concern,' Brinkley said, but Kovich pushed up his glasses.

'Excuse me, Mick, I'm very interested in this hair. You

may not know this, but hair is a hobby of mine. In fact, if I get to see this hair for even one minute, I bet I can tell you where it came from. I am a fucking hair expert.'

The criminalist looked from Kovich to Brinkley and held up her hands. 'Don't get me in the middle, okay? I was told to look it over on the QT, so I looked it over.'

'S'all right,' Brinkley said, but Kovich held out his hand.

'Cough it up. Gimme the hair. I can carbon-date it. I amaze my friends, really. You oughta see me at parties.'

'Here.' The criminalist slid the bagged hair from an unmarked case folder and handed it over.

'Well, well.' Kovich took the bag and held it up to the fluorescent lighting. 'Yes, it's quite clear that this is a very special hair. Subject hair belongs to a gorgeous young model who is innocent of any major felony, but who is so good-looking she should be locked up.'

Brinkley could hear the edge to Kovich's voice. He said to the criminalist, 'Did you check what I asked you?'

'Yeh. Lookit.' The criminalist turned around and peered into a large black microscope that rested on a white lab table. She took a second to bring the scope into focus, twisting the chrome knob. 'Check it. It's a match.'

Brinkley elbowed Kovich aside and looked in the microscope. A perfect circle of bright white stared back at him, and through the center of the circle was a thick stalk of red, with a line in the middle. That's a hair? What's that line in the middle?'

'It's the cortex. The center of the hair, basically. Now look at this slide.'

Brinkley watched as the circle went bright white and another red stalk appeared. 'It looks the same.'

'It is.'

'Nice,' Brinkley said, under his breath, and Kovich nudged him out of the way.

'Let me play.' The heavy detective bent over the scope. 'Ah, yes, even more hair, my specialty.'

'A hair found on the decedent's body,' the criminalist said. 'One of several actually. It is the same hair as those in the bag.'

'You dig, Kovich?' Brinkley asked. 'We got the daughter's hair on the mother. What's that tell you?'

Kovich came up from the scope, his expression sour. 'It tells me you and me are goin' for a ride, Mick.'

'You know it's good, Stan.'

'We'll talk about it. Let's not fight in front of the lady. Foul language may be involved.' Kovich turned to the criminalist. Thanks.'

'You're not gonna make a stink, are you, Detective Kovich?'

'Nah. I'm just gonna bitch-slap my partner here. You wanna watch?' Kovich turned to go, with Brinkley following.

'Don't forget the reports,' the criminalist called after them, and she thrust a set of papers at Brinkley. 'By the way, the dirt in Baggie A, from the coffee table? It was gravel, soot, silica, and paniculate of dog feces. Like you'd get off a sidewalk.'

'I coulda told you that, Mick,' Kovich said, as he led Brinkley out. 'I am a particulate-of-dog-feces expert.'

Brinkley didn't reply and tucked the reports unread under his arm.

It was impossible to keep a secret in a police station, so Brinkley and Kovich always fought in the Chrysler. It wasn't that they planned it that way, it was just that the fights always seemed to break out when they were driving. Or maybe that was the only time they talked to each other, Brinkley didn't know. 'The hair on the mom is the daughter's,' he was saying, increasingly exasperated. 'You tellin' me that that doesn't mean anything?'

'No. It means something.' Kovich was driving aimlessly in the north end of town. He squinted over the steering wheel into the bright sunshine. 'It means the mom hugged her daughter.'

'But the daughter told us she wasn't with the mom that day.' The Chrysler, a shitwagon, hadn't warmed up enough to turn the heat on, so Brinkley kept his jacket buttoned up. The car was an '88 model, left over from another unit. Homicide got all the castoffs; their motor pool was a disgrace.

'So she hugged her mother another day. A day the mother was wearing the same blouse.'

'What's the likelihood of that? They didn't live together.'

They worked together and they hugged.'

'And the hair didn't fall off since then?'

'No. I'm the hair expert and I say hair sticks. Half the time, I got dog hair all over me and the dog's been dead a year.'

'Shit. Come on, Stan. We wouldn't charge on that kind of evidence, but we'd sure as hell follow up. But we're not. We're lettin' the daughter go free.'

'We already charged, Mick.' Kovich slowed the car to a stop at the light. 'We locked the guy up.'

'So we unlock him.'

Kovich laughed, his head jerking back like he had whiplash, though the car was at a standstill. That's not happening and you know it.'

'It should happen.'

'Yeah, right.'

'We go to the lieutenant and we say, look we got some doubts here.' Brinkley gestured, palms up. 'I tell him, gimme a day. Gimme two days. Let me talk to this kid and open her up. Lemme get down to it.'

Kovich sighed audibly as the light changed and the car cruised forward. ' Davis is sure of his case.'

'He's wrong.'

'He got the prints, everything.'

'All staged.'

Kovich steered right onto Broad Street, which thronged with Temple students in down jackets, carrying heavy knapsacks. McGonigle Hall and the university's other buildings lined the street, and its bright garnet flags, bearing a huge white T, hung from the streetlights, filling like sails in the wind. One was ripped. Kovich flipped on the heat in the car. Frigid air blew through the vents.

'You gonna back me up?' Brinkley asked, but Kovich was already shaking his head. Seemed to Brinkley he'd been shaking his head since the case began.

'No.'

'Thanks.' Brinkley looked out the window, watching the students. They walked in a throng from the Students' Pavilion, past the ivy-covered Mitten Hall, built with grey stones usually seen in medieval churches, and under the wrought-iron gate that led to Berk Mall. The college girls were young and pretty but Brinkley barely noticed. He fiddled with the air vent, trying to break it.

'Sorry, Cholly.'

'Got it.'

Kovich squinted hard. 'I'm not a bad cop, Mick.'

'I didn't say you were.' Brinkley moved the vent slats this way and that.

'Just that there's somethin' you don't understand. This isn't about Newlin at all. Not anymore.'

'What you mean?'

'Let's pretend that Newlin is innocent, like you say. I don't think it, but let's pretend. Like Gene London used to say.'

'Gene London?'

'Kid's show. You don't remember The Gene London Show, when we were little? "Let's pretend that it's story time"?'

'No.' *

'How about Pixanne? Chick in green tights? Flies around like a fairy?'

'No.'

'Chief Halftown? Guy in an Indian headdress?'

'No.'

Kovich frowned. 'Where the fuck were you raised, Mick?'

'Not the same Philly as you. So what?'

'Forget it. Say Newlin is innocent. You think that matters.'

'Of course. It's the truth.'

'No.' Kovich clucked as he swung the car onto a side street and powered it forward. 'You wrong, home. Newlin used to matter, but he stopped mattering the minute he picked up the phone and told nine-one-one he did it. Then the case wasn't about him anymore, it was about dispatch, the uniforms, the techs, and us. You follow so far?'

'No.'

'You do, too. Next it got to be about the crime lab and the bloody prints and then, shit, the D.A.' Kovich hit the steering wheel with a palm. 'The D Fucking A. Mr Dwight Davis and his crew. Then the bail commissioner, and at the prelim it'll be the Municipal Court judge. Now it's about the American Justice Machine. Still with me?'

Brinkley stopped playing with the air vent. It was unbreakable. Nothing had been going his way, not since the lady left.

'Now Newlin's in the machine, and the machine is callin' the shots. And you know what? Newlin don't seem to mind very much. In fact, he's the clown who got the machine in motion. Cranked the sucker up. Engaged it, like a clutch. Poked that tiger with a stick. You understand?'

Brinkley's gaze fell on the reports in his lap. The daughter's hair was still in the folds of paper. Part of him wished he'd never taken it. Maybe he could forget about it then. Just let it go. He'd been wrong about the earring and the hummus. What was the matter with him?

'So, you get it, this is not about Mr Newlin at all. He may have been a rich, powerful lawyer, but now he's the guy who switched on the machine, and it ate him up like it was the whale and he was Jonah. Ain't nobody can save Mr Jonah now, not you and not me. Can't even see him no more. He's gone, Mick. All gone, and before you start cryin' for him, remember he brought the whole damn thing on himself.'

Brinkley stared at the reports encasing the hair. CRIMINALISTICS LABORATORY REPORT. It was for nothing. If the truth didn't matter anymore, then Brinkley didn't know what did. It was like with Sheree. He could never convince her that she already had what all her new friends were looking for. Whether she called it God, Allah, or Jehovah, it was all about love. And Sheree already had love. With him.

'So my question to you, is if our Mr Newlin wants himself convicted and the American Justice Machine wants him convicted, and even his own daughter wants him convicted, why you think you can try and stop it?'

The words on the reports swam before Brinkley's eyes. Was he losing it? Always thinking about Sheree, instead of business. Maybe that was his problem. The black letters on the crime lab reports came into sharp focus. It was the DNA comparison of the skin on the hair, Sample A, with the skin on the earring, Sample B. Lots of little letters that meant no match. Sample A indicated the DNA of a female. Sample B indicated the DNA of a male. Brinkley read the sentence again. The earring back was from a man's earring?

'Stan, pull over,' Brinkley said, and the car came to an abrupt halt.


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