‘The truth is,’ Jessica’s father went on, ‘her mother and I hadn’t heard from our daughter in over a year, and that was just a Christmas card.’
Martinez thought about all her stories of home, the tales of Thanksgiving and Christmas visits, the photos in which her mother had looked strained, but which had been the only hint that life back home hadn’t always been straight out of a Frank Capra movie.
Except, of course, for the oddness of not wanting to share their happy news.
‘You probably think we’re bad parents,’ Kowalski said now.
‘Why would I think such a thing?’ Martinez said.
‘Life with Jessica wasn’t always easy,’ the other man said. ‘She was a needy child, but sometimes very hard to help or even to understand. But we loved her, and at least I can do this much for her.’
‘A lot of people here were very fond of Jess,’ Martinez told him. ‘She was a very good person, always helping others.’
‘It’s nice of you to say so,’ Kowalski said.
The pause that followed felt awkward.
Martinez figured it was time to tell the poor guy goodbye.
And then Kowalski said: ‘We always knew it would be too much for her.’
‘What exactly, sir?’ Martinez asked.
‘Life,’ Jess’s father answered.
And put down the phone.
Sam and Grace came together at the end of the day.
‘I hope you don’t mind my coming along,’ Grace said.
‘Are you kidding me?’ he said.
It was the first time Martinez had seen her since the abduction, and he noticed that she looked thinner than he’d ever seen her.
Sam, too, matter of fact.
‘How are you guys holding up?’ he asked.
‘Pretty well,’ Sam said. ‘Glad to be alive.’
He winced soon as the word was out of his mouth.
Martinez grinned wryly. ‘If I hadn’t figured you would be glad, maybe I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of shooting the sonofabitch.’
They went out into the backyard with some beers and the extra large pizza – a Mediterranean from Master’s, one of Martinez’s favourites – that they’d picked up on the way.
They talked about the case for a while, about all the blind alleys and wasted lives, and Sam spoke a little about his own burden of guilt for not having glimpsed even a trace of the evil in Dooley and Regan, and then he stopped going down that route because it seemed to him an indulgence.
And anyway, they were here for Martinez and because of Jess.
He told them about his conversation with George Kowalski.
‘I wanted to know what he meant by that last thing he said – about life being too much for her, but I figured it would have been like prying.’ His eyes were filled with sorrow. ‘I think I gave up the right to understand her when I told her to get lost.’
‘I’m not sure that’s true,’ Grace said, gently.
‘Me neither,’ Sam said.
Martinez gave a sad, wry smile. ‘It’s how I feel. And I think Jess might prefer me to remember her the way she wanted me to. Before, you know?’
‘Sure we do,’ Sam said.
Martinez raised his bottle of Bud.
‘To Jessie,’ he said.
Sam raised his beer too. ‘To Jess.’
‘Sleep peacefully,’ Grace said.
Martinez tilted his bottle, drank, wiped his mouth with his free hand.
His dark brown eyes were wet.
‘Sleep sweet, pretty girl,’ he said.
ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-EIGHT
am, taking the whole weekend off work, found the small padded package in their mailbox eight days later, on Saturday morning.
The handwriting on the white label was vaguely familiar.
It was addressed to ‘Detective Samuel L. Becket’.
Sam lifted it higher in the sunlight, not exactly looking for wires, but finding that he had a
about the package, perhaps because he seldom received mail at home addressing him as ‘detective’; and then he tore open a corner, saw that it was harmless, shook his head, smiling at his paranoia, and took it into the house.
Woody wagged his tail, hopeful of a walk.
‘Soon,’ Sam told him.
Grace was at the kitchen table, Joshua in his high chair.
‘Anything good?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know yet.’
Sam kissed the top of his son’s head, then sat down at the table and opened the envelope fully, saw there was a CD inside, and withdrew it. Grace leaned across to look at it, saw that it was a recording of two ancient Beatles hits:
Love Me Do
PS I Love You.
‘Did you order that?’ she asked.
And then she saw what Sam was looking at.
The words ‘Love’ had both been crossed through, and ‘Hate’ had been inserted, in the same handwriting as on the label, in the spaces above both titles.
Sam looked inside the envelope, saw a folded piece of paper.
He took it out carefully, unfolded it, held it by one corner.
They read it together.
It was good seeing you and Grace again.
Good to be back on the ocean too.
I guess you think that what happened to Ms Kowalski was an accident.
I imagine you’re asking yourself right now how I could have known about your partner’s girlfriend before, and I guess you’ll conclude that I could not. That there’s no way I could have been following your lives so closely, that probably I just read about her dying in the local newspaper. And maybe that’s so, and maybe it isn’t.
But you’ll never know for sure, will you?
Fire is an ugly way to go.
You may be surprised to know that I was happy to hear that you and Grace survived the ‘Couples’ killers.
I guess there are just some pleasures I’d rather keep for myself.