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6

Detective Reginald Brinkley stood alone in Two Squad's coffee room, which was shaped like a shoe box on its end. Yellowed panels of fluorescent lighting intensified the grim cast to the room without illuminating it. Sparsely furnished as the rest of the Roundhouse, the coffee room contained a steel-legged table on which rested a Bunn coffee machine and a square brown refrigerator. Everybody used the coffee machine; nobody used the refrigerator. Inside it was an open can of Coke, a white plastic fork, and twenty-odd packets of soy sauce.

To Brinkley the room smelled familiar, like fresh coffee and stale dust, and he felt at home in its institutional grey-green walls, plastered with outdated memos, Polaroid photos from the Squad's softball team, and a black bumper sticker bearing the unofficial motto of the Homicide Division: OUR DAY BEGINS WHEN YOURS ENDS. The slogan also

appeared on black sweatshirts and T-shirts under a picture of a smiling Grim Reaper, but the joke had worn thin to Brinkley and the other detectives. They never wore the shirts. They gave them away as gag gifts.

He shook Cremora into his hot coffee, in a thick Pep Boys mug. It was late at night but he hardly needed the caffeine. He tolerated the rotating tours pretty well; like his father he was partial to night work and he was still jiggered up from his interview with Newlin. It was impossible to tell by looking at him that he was jiggered up, which was what his wife, Sheree, used to complain about. You don't let me in, she used to say, like a daytime soap opera, and she'd even got him to go to a shrink over it. Brinkley had loved her that much.

He flinched inwardly at those memories. The couple had sat on the soft couch side by side for a full year, while Sheree and the lady shrink discussed Brinkley, his personality, his job, and his feelings. He rarely interrupted their conversation; they had him figured out so good he didn't have to come to the damn party. The therapy was bullshit anyway. Sheree was changing, by then was converting to Muslim, which finished them off. She had moved out over a year ago, and still he couldn't bring himself to answer the letters from her lawyer. Fuckin' lawyers.

He watched the tiny mountain of Cremora dissolve in his coffee, like a white island sinking slowly into a black sea. He hastened its demise by stirring the coffee gingerly with his index finger. The brew was too hot for his taste, and he had to wait for Kovich anyway. Brinkley had come to the coffee room to get away from the noise in the squad room. The guys not out on jobs were talking the Super Bowl pool again, and he had to think. He watched the black vortex in his mug while he thought about one lawyer in particular. Jack Newlin.

Brinkley hated lawyers, but for some reason, Newlin didn't strike him as the typical lawyer, much less the typical killer. Brinkley had sat across from psychos, wise guys, and bangers who'd just as soon cap you as sneeze. It always gave him a cold feeling in his gut when he took their confessions, delivered in a monotone but filled with details that made him sick. Last week he had listened to a punk tell him how he had tortured an old lady to death with a box cutter. The kid had looked stone bored when he told how he'd raped her postmortem.

Brinkley stirred up the coffee again, making a new whirlpool with his finger, and blew on it, preoccupied. Newlin didn't fit the abuser profile, either. Brinkley remembered the ones he'd convicted; Sanchez, McGarroty, Wertelli. Losers, the lot of 'em. They were the opposite of the stone-cold psychos; they had emotion to burn, hearts like

speedballs of rage. They usually had a bad employment history, dotted with booze, crack, or coke, and they were repeaters. Newlin didn't fit the bill. He was successful, his emotions tame and controlled, and two Scotches could 'enrage' him. Plus Brinkley had double-checked the file of suspected domestic abuse cases from local hospitals. Newlin's wife wasn't in them.

He kept blowing on his coffee, thinking. Then again, Newlin probably was the doer. The man confessed, and so what if the story wasn't smooth? Newlin might have been disoriented by the whole thing; murder had a way of throwing you for a loop. And Newlin was a lawyer and he'd be used to manipulating the system. He did it for a living, got rich doing it. He would bet he could whack his wife and come out smelling like a rose. That was why he'd called his lawyer at the end. Figured the story was confused enough to maybe get him off. Or maybe Newlin wanted to spill his guts, cut a quick deal, and be out in no time.

Brinkley shook his head. He used to think only rich white folks got away with murder until O.J. proved that rich black folks could buy justice, too. It gave a man hope. He sipped his coffee as Kovich entered the room.

'Cold enough?' Kovich asked, making a beeline for the coffeemaker.

'Not yet.'

'Don't know how you can drink coffee cold, especially with a fresh pot of hot sittin' right here.'

'Where were you? I been waitin' on you.' Brinkley held his mug at a distance from his clean suit, mindful of his partner's clumsiness. 'I want to get to the scene.'

'I know, so do I. ' Kovich reached for a Styrofoam cup and poured himself coffee. 'I was in the little boy's. Shoot me.'

'You were not. You were betting the Super Bowl pool.'

'Not me. Games of chance are illegal in the Commonwealth.' Kovich drank his coffee.

'Hurry up. We should've been to the scene already. It's

ass-backwards, talking to the husband first. I sounded like an asshole askin' him where the knife was. It was like shootin' in the dark.'

'What were we gonna do? We had no choice. The guy calls nine-one-one and confesses. They had to arrest him on the scene and we had to question him right away. The lieutenant didn't want Newlin on ice. We got a full confession and it's admissible. Shit, he woulda signed if-' Kovich stopped short. Both men knew the end of the sentence. If you hadn't fucked up, Mick.

Brinkley let the moment pass. He'd been right to question Newlin, and the lawyer was hardly the first suspect to change his mind about signing a confession. Brinkley didn't want to argue about it. He'd been partners with Kovich for five years and they had fallen into an easy, if distant, relationship. It was the way Brinkley liked it; he would accept Kovich's social invitations when he couldn't get out of it, but had never even asked Kovich why he called Brinkley 'Mick' instead of Reg. Or why he always said, 'Sorry, Cholly.' Or 'I guess, Bill.'

'Lemme have this one cup, then we go to the scene. Pick up what we need.'

'Pick up what we need?' Brinkley asked. 'That means you like him?'

'I don't like him, I love him.' It was code. Detectives talked about which suspects they 'liked.' If they liked someone, they suspected him of murder. If they 'loved' him, he was as guilty as sin. Nobody but Brinkley remarked the irony,

'You know what? I don't think I like him,' Brinkley said, surprising even himself, and Kovich stopped drinking his coffee.

'What?

'I don't like him. At least, not yet.'

'Oh jeez. Say what? You gotta be kiddin' me, Mick.'

'No.'

'What're you talkin' It's a duck!' Slang for an easy case. It waddled in the door.

'You heard me. I'm not sure yet.'

'Aw, hell. Why don't you like him?'

'Don't know.'

'Mick -'

'I'll think of a reason.'

'Mick. Honey. Baby. We got him on tape. The scumbag told you the story, hung together just fine. He had her blood on his friggin' hands. The uniforms were right to place him under. The lab's gonna find his prints on the knife.'

'It's his knife and his house. Of course they're gonna find his prints.'

'In blood?'

'Don't start with me on the knife anyway.' Brinkley had thrown a fit when he heard the techs had already bagged the knife. He had wanted to see it where it lay at the scene, and Polaroids weren't as good as the real thing.

'The lab is workin' on a match. Ten to one they get a full print in blood and it's his.'

'Did you call again? Any results?'

'In an hour. They know it's a box job.' A rush job, reserved for high-profile homicides. Two Squad hadn't seen many murders that were higher profile than Newlin. 'They already called the D.A., Mick. We'll be able to arraign Newlin in the morning.'

'No.' Brinkley had been worrying it would go down this way, the tail wagging the dog. 'It's too soon. I'm the assigned, I'm in charge. I call this shot, not them, for Chrissake.'

'Look, it's a silver platter. Newlin admitted to dispatch he did her. The uniforms told us there's no sign of robbery, nothing out of place. He came clean with us, right off. He wanted to get it off his chest, you heard him, and he was nervous as shit. I never saw anybody look that guilty, did you?' Kovich glanced out the door and lowered his voice. 'Besides, I gotta tell you they want us to clear this case? It's a monster. We arraign Newlin right away, we look sharp by the time it hits the papers. If we don't charge him, we look like we're playing favorites.'

'What favorites?'

'He's white, didn't you notice? Here I thought you was a big-time detective.' Kovich smiled, but it faded quickly. 'I don't get you, buddy. I thought you hated lawyers.'

'I do. That's why I don't like being worked by one.'

'You think he's working us?' Kovich looked concerned. He wasn't dumb, none of the detectives was. You had to be the elite to reach the detective level under the new commissioner. It was like the whole force came collectively to attention at the appointment. 'Setting up his own ass? Why?'

'I don't know that either.' Brinkley considered it. To protect someone.'

'Who?'

'The wife gets killed? Maybe he has a girlfriend.'

'Come on, Newlin didn't look like he was gettin' any on the side.'

'Mick, please.' Kovich glanced out the door again. 'Everybody but you and me is gettin' some on the side.'

'Maybe not a girlfriend, then.' Brinkley set down his full mug. He didn't have time for the coffee to cool. 'Let's get goin'.'

'A boyfriend?' Kovich tossed his cup into the waste-basket, where coffee washed against the sides. 'You never know.'

'Maybe anybody. We don't know enough.'

Kovich scoffed as he tightened his tie. 'You know what your problem is?'

'Yeah. Do you?'

'You gotta make everything hard. The coffee comes out hot, you gotta make it cold. The conviction gets handed to you, you gotta look it in the mouth. You know what I mean?'

Brinkley didn't answer. It was just what Sheree used to say. 'Hurry up. I need a partner, not a shrink.'


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