Before I can say anything, Sergeant Boice decides, “Susan, why don’t you go with Tim to ask the brother about Ivan Briggston?”
Susan pulls up an address on the computer and writes it down.
I’m okay with her coming, and I’d probably decide the same thing if Sarge hadn’t beaten me to it. It’s better to have her talent with me, and I shouldn’t focus on the painting. I suppose wanting it makes me a crooked cop, though his animal business isn’t my case. Maybe it’s merely a perk.
Is that unhealthy view of sin? Breaking a “just” law of man is the same as breaking God’s law. I shake off the guilt riding my back. It’s not like there’s a clue on the back of that painting or anything. I’m in it for my love of beauty, and because I know Mercy will love it, if she ever wakes up. Certainly my hopes for her waking up are wrapped in that painting. But I try not to feel guilty.
The address we’re going to is not the warehouse, anyway.
I pull out of the station. A couple minutes later we pass by the hospital, and I yank the wheel and steer into its parking lot.
Susan’s face bunches up. “What are you doing?”
“Can you give me two minutes to see my daughter? I missed our time this morning.”
I’ve hardly taken a minute for myself. Since waking up and seeing the package next to my bed, I’ve been on the run. But Sophie’s life is not on a police schedule.
Susan looks at her watch and shrugs. “I’ll get a sandwich from the cafeteria, then. Take your time.”
I enter the elevator and press floor 5. My muscles tense. The elevator smells of sulfur.
Oh, no. Oh, no.
I know it’s Sophie. But what, and who?
If I could, I would have sped the elevator by pulling it up the cable, hand over hand. But I have to wait, two, three, four, and finally, five.
The door opens and I dart out toward Sophie’s room. The nurse’s eyebrows pinch, surprised to see me no doubt. I disregard her criticism and push open the door.
“Hi sweetie.” This room is likewise malodorous. Anger clenches my jaw. I peek into the bathroom. No one is there. I pull up a chair and take her hand. “How are you today?” If she’s afraid, I’ll have no mercy on that guy.
“I’m good. I had a nice morning. And slept. And just woke up. Weren’t you here when I was asleep? You were holding my hand, or I dreamed you were. Did you come back?”
I have no words for her. Telling her I wasn’t there will scare her. What are the nurses thinking, letting a stranger in?
Sophie starts rattling off her thoughts and ideas and imaginations and stories. She asks about her mother and I cover my tail with vague answers that seem to appease her. Why do I have so many things on my plate? I have a crazy man haunting my daughter, a comatose wife, a sick daughter, a murderer on the loose, and two kids whose bodies blobbed to death.
Those poor parents. What they must be thinking.
Brooke has faith. That must help her in her grief. But what of Ruthie Lewis? How can a mother face such a death? Did she know her daughter was pregnant? That would only exacerbate the pain and sorrow. A grandchild killed at the same time as a precious daughter. Lord, help me find the killer. Help me, Lord. Be with those mothers.
I’m with Sophie for half an hour when a nurse comes in with her medicine.
I stand up. “Forgive me, honey. I need to get back to work now.”
“Okay. Come with Mommy next time.”
Her words chew my heart.
“Mommy’s sick, sweetheart. She might not wake up by then.”
“She might wake up. I’m praying she does.”
Oh, for the faith of a child. I kiss her goodbye and leave the wing. I don’t chew out the nurses, saving that for another day. It will be different with that guy, if I ever see him again.
When I swing past the cafeteria, Susan jumps up and hands me a plastic-wrapped ham and cheese sandwich. I have no appetite. Did I even eat breakfast? I don’t know. All I know is solving this case will relieve me to no end. Then I’ll eat.
Grigory Braginsky’s house is on the other side of town. We drive a couple blocks and Susan breaks my angry silence.
“How’s Sophie doing?”
I still can smell that sulfur. I peek into the back seat to make sure he’s not here.
What did she ask? Oh, right—I forgot to ask the nurses. “She’s okay. Seemed pretty perky today.”
“Oh, the pleasures of youth,” Susan says. “They find positives in any negative situation.”
“Yeah.” I don’t want to talk about it. “She wants to see her mother.”
“Can’t you take her? Maybe it will do her good.”
“I might. Later.”
“How’re you doing? I’m surprised you haven’t taken time off. Maybe you should.”
“That’s what Maura says. But if I don’t work, I’m gonna think about it all the time. It’s a mercy to have something else to think about. My wife would always help me with her humor. It’s like she’s not around and I have nothing to laugh about.”
“Hmm. Like how?”
“She’d always use Doctor McCoy’s lines from Star Trek. The dog throws up, she says, ‘I’m a doctor, not a vet,’ or the sink is clogged and she says, ‘I’m a doctor, not a plumber.’” The jokes don’t sound as funny coming from me. “But then she’d go on and fix the problem.”
“What would she say to this case?”
“I don’t know. She was the quantum physics guru. She’d probably say, ‘I’m a doctor, not a magician.’”
I think about the circle in the center of the room, and the pipes leading across the ceiling.
“She’d have been able to decode William Black’s laboratory. I think the lab had something to do with this.”
“I agree. But we can’t prove it.”
My memory focuses again on the circle in the center of the room. Quantum physics. “If they’d died in the laboratory, we’d know it was related. But it’s impossible for… well, Einstein did say quantum entanglement was spooky action at a distance.”
“Is spooky action the same thing as murder? I don’t know. We need to bring in an expert.”
“I’d like an expert to look at that room. But do we have probable cause?” I still doubt it.
“Probable? No. Possible? Yes.”
We arrive and park in front of Grigory’s last known address, then walk to the door.
The door is ajar. We draw our weapons and push it open, announcing police presence. The house is empty.
Susan points out the furniture marks on the carpet. “They must have left recently.”
We check all the rooms and make our way back to the front room. The only thing in the house is a paper-wrapped rectangle on the living room wall. I know what it is before even approaching. But Susan reads some writing on it. “For Detective Reynolds. Tim, what’s this about?”
“A joke, I guess.” Grigory is telling me to stay quiet, to not pursue him, and ‘here you go, you get your prize.’ I unhook it from the wall, strangely hoping I get to keep it. What eerie power does that thing have over me?
“Aren’t you going to open it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just take it. We’ll talk with Sarge when we get to the station.” I’ll tell him everything and hope I don’t get demoted for this. Unlocking the trunk of the car, I shove it in and climb into the driver’s seat.
I no sooner touch the ignition key when I smell it. Sulfur.
Two hands reach over Susan’s shoulders and cover her face with a cloth. The ghostly man from my house sits sure as day in the back of the car, in a black coat with his face hidden under a hood.
Susan grips his wrists and struggles to get away, but I freeze and stare at the man, trying to catch his face. I’m tired of being manipulated by him. Who is he? Why was he at the hospital? Why is he meddling in this case?
“Drive home,” he says. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. Just do what I say.”
My gun is at my ankle. Susan’s is in her hip holster. I can grab one then the other and fight him off, then get him out of my car and out of my life.
Or I can do what he says.
Should I go with him or not?
Go with him
Fight him off