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55

Mary dropped her briefcase in surprise at the sight. 'Is the bus that slow?' she said, and laughed.

Detective Stan Kovich smiled sheepishly from behind the tiny kitchen table. His large frame barely fit the rickety chair. 'I could have given you a ride, but then I would have been fired.'

Mary slipped out of her coat. 'Somebody want to fill me in?'

That would be me.' Brinkley gestured over a rather large plate of fried green peppers and soft scrambled eggs. She couldn't help noticing he'd been served first, so her mother and the Clock had made a truce. 'Siddown, we got something to tell you.'

'Yes, si.' Vita DiNunzio came over in her flowered housedress, with crisscrossed bobby pins holding the pin curls in front of each ear. She took Mary by the arm. 'Maria, you sit and eat. Your friend Jack, he okay?'

'He's fine, thanks,' Mary said, giving her mother a quick kiss before she sat down.

'You want coffee?' her father asked, but he was already scuffing over in his plaid bathrobe and slip-on slippers, bearing the steel pot. He poured her a cup, an arc of steaming brown.

'Thanks, Dad.' Mary looked at Brinkley. 'Okay, Reg, you go first, then I do.'

Brinkley nodded. 'We know that our boy Trevor deals coke to lots of rich kids at area schools. He was picked up for it last week, with a kid named Rubenstone. One of the kids he sold to was Whittier's son, who goes to a private school in the subs. Kovich found out from a buddy

of ours in juvy. That's the connection between Whittier and Trevor.'

'Jesus, I knew it!' Mary launched into the story about the kid on the bus to show she had figured it out herself, but her mother kept glaring at her from the stove for taking the Lord's name in vain.

'Well, you were right. Here's proof.' Brinkley passed a piece of paper over the table. It looked like an official form with redacted portions in the typed narrative. 'Kovich had to wait 'til his buddy got back to find the papers, because the complaint was withdrawn. The next day, in fact. Christian Whittier was one of the kids Trevor sold to, and a William Whittier picked him up. We think Whittier paid to bury the complaint. It can't be an accident that the arresting officer's on vacation.'

Mary frowned. 'So let's think about this. Trevor and Whittier met last week? That doesn't give us anything.'

'No, last week is the only time we know about, probably the most recent. But it isn't the first time Whittier's son makes a buy from Trevor, I guarantee it. Once a junkie makes a connection, they stay with it, especially these kids. They don't want to go a bad neighborhood to make a buy. They might get their hands dirty.'

Mary glanced at Paige, silent behind an empty plate. The teenager had been beside herself when she heard Trevor had been killed and looked like she hadn't slept at all. Still, Mary had to press her. 'Paige, do you know anything about this?'

'No,' Paige said. She brushed a strand of red hair from weary eyes, trying to rally. 'I didn't know Trevor was so into drugs and I didn't know anybody he sold it to. I just knew he had it all the time.'

'It's okay,' Mary said, patting her hand. The kid was going through hell, and judging from the empty plate, maybe having morning sickness. No matter what, Vita DiNunzio would force-feed her. Food equaled love in this household. Mary turned to Brinkley. 'So, go on, Reg.'

'We figure that Trevor and Whittier's kid were at least acquaintances, maybe even friends, Assume. Trevor sells to Whittier's kid from time to time. Whittier finds out. He knows that Trevor is the boyfriend of Paige Newlin, Honor and Jack's daughter, and he blackmails Trevor into killing Honor.'

'Where do you get the blackmail?' Mary asked, and Kovich raised his hand like a kid in school.

'That's from me. When me and Donovan interviewed Whittier, he told us that Trevor was blackmailing him over Newlin's drug use. It was the same thing he said at the scene, when Trevor got shot, the uniforms told me. Whittier had to have made that shit up on the spot, to explain what he was doin' at the office so late at night. And he ain't the sharpest tool in the shed, was my impression.'

Brinkley nodded, picking up the story like a relay team. 'People, when they lie, they make it up from something they knew. We see it every day. Like there's a grain of truth in it. Somebody was blackmailing somebody, it's just the other way around. If Whittier is behind this, like we think, that's how he gets Trevor to do the murder. He says, Kill her or I'll turn you in for the drugs you sell my kid. You can't pull strings forever, even in this town. Maybe Whittier pays Trevor, too, to sweeten the deal.'

That sounds like Trevor,' Paige added sadly. 'Sorry to say it, but he liked money.'

Mary thought about it. 'So now all we have to do is catch Whittier. That's up to me.' Her mother glared at her again as she ladled scrambled eggs onto a flowered plate, and Mary recognized it not as the watch-your-language glare, but the if-you-get-yourself-killed-I'll-kill-you glare. Only a few Italian mothers had perfected it, all members of well-known crime families. Her mother said nothing as she carried a plate of peppers and eggs over and set it in front of Mary with more clatter than necessary.

'Eat,' her mother commanded, but Mary knew she wanted to say. Choke.

'Mom, of course, I'll be very, very careful,' she said, and her father smiled. 'Now, as I was saying. I think it's up to me because I'm the lawyer in the group and I can go over to Tribe without suspicion.'

'It's a start.' Brinkley said. He finished the last of his eggs and turned to her mother at the stove. 'Vita, this was terrific. Best breakfast I ever had.'

'You deserve,' her mother said warmly.

Mary smiled, mystified. Brinkley was getting along with her mother better than she was. 'When did you two become such good friends, Mr I Have A Gun?'

'Since I fixed the pilot light,' Brinkley explained, and Mary laughed, as the doorbell rang and six heads looked at the front door in alarm.

Mary stood stricken at the silhouette of the police officers and Detective Donovan on her parents' marble stoop and felt instantly angry at herself for bringing this into her parents' home. 'What are you doing here?' she demanded, though she suspected the answer.

'We're here for Detective Brinkley,' Donovan answered, self-satisfied in his black wool topcoat. 'May we come in?'

'Not unless you have a warrant,' Mary told him, but his hard eyes widened when not only Brinkley but Kovich appeared behind Mary.

'Figured I'd find you here, Reg, but I didn't figure on you, too, partner.' Donovan sounded sterner than his years. 'I bought that dentist story.'

Right behind Kovich and Brinkley hobbled Vita DiNunzio, flushed with anger and brandishing a wooden spoon clotted with scrambled eggs. 'Whatta you doin' inna my house?' her mother demanded, but Mary held her back.

'Ma, relax, it's okay,' she soothed, feeling the balance of power shift to the flying DiNunzios. It meant trouble when

her mother had The Spoon. The cops had only guns. It was no contest.

Brinkley touched her mother's shoulder, dismay marking his thin features. 'It's okay, Vita's all right,' he said. 'Sorry this happened here, at your house. I'm going along with these gentlemen and I'll be fine.'

'Excuse me, Mrs DiNunzio, is it?' Donovan said, with smile that would get him nowhere. 'We'll be gone in a sec. If Detective Brinkley doesn't resist us, we can avoid cuffing him.'

'Cuffing?' Mary's mother repeated, making the g ring out like truth, waving the eggy spoon. 'I cuffa you one! You no touch Reggie Brinkley. No touch!'

'Don't worry, Vita,' Brinkley said again, as he grabbed his coat from the couch. On the way out, he gave Mary a hug close enough to slip something into her jacket pocket. She'd had a guess as to what it was, but would check later.

'I'll have a lawyer down there in an hour,' she told him. In front of her parent's house idled five police cruisers, exhaust pouring from their tailpipes and turning to steam in the cold air. Uniformed cops hustled Brinkley and Kovich into the backseat of the closest car.

Donovan flashed a smile at the DiNunzios. Thank you very much, and sorry about the intrusion.'

Mary's mother snorted in a way you didn't have to be Abruzzese to understand. 'You!' She waved the spoon. 'You wanna good smack?

Mary sat at the parents' ancient telephone table, holding the receiver of a black rotary phone that could qualify as a blunt instrument in most jurisdictions. She would be nagging her parents to replace it with a cordless if they weren't already so upset, huddling together on the sofa like a soft mountain of bathrobe, the wooden spoon back in its scabbard.

'Jude,' Mary said into the receiver, when her best friend picked up. 'Have I got a client for you.'


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