Detective LaPorte quashed his cigarette in the lonely ashtray on the cafe table. Then he looked at the blonde woman who was sitting across from him.
Well, ‘sitting’ wasn’t quite the right word. More like ‘hunching’.
If this had been a grimy alley in New York the woman’s bearing would have been indistinguishable from one of the bag ladies after she had combed the trash containers and found nothing.
It didn’t fit with her blood-red lipstick, the icy green mojito in front of her, or the lazy breeze in the palm trees above their corner.
And LaPorte didn’t miss New York.
“So, miss … ” He looked at her skeptically. “You say you work for Jeremy Banner. What exactly is it that you do here?”
“What does it look like I do?” She gazed out at the beach which was the next stop for every one of the noisy clientele around them after they had downed enough drinks.
LaPorte looked around, too, but at the man with the slick hair over at the counter who was in close communication with another woman of the same age, one hand on her butt and another waving impatiently at the bartender for more to drink. He looked at other men and women who looked the same. Different kinds of hunger in their eyes, different reds, different bikini thong cuts. It didn’t matter much.
“Look … ” LaPorte leaned slightly over the table. “I’m too old and too busy for games … ”
He let it hang in the air.
“Jeremy is … okay,” the woman said. “He has had some problems, sure—” She looked down and LaPorte could see that she hadn’t quite been able to cover the bruised left eye with mascara and sunglasses “—but it’s not his fault. It’s these … Montioso goons. They come here and scare the shit out of people. They are a real, real bad deal. Jeremy just wants them to go away.”
“Then he should come to us,” LaPorte said, looking straight at the blonde. There was a steadiness in his voice that was easy to hear, even above all the noise. “Why hasn’t he?”
“I don’t know. Why are you asking me?” The woman took off her sunglasses.
LaPorte didn’t flinch. He sensed a strength in this girl that was not yet quenched, but he also knew exactly what she was doing.
And although he had made an effort of will to forget Ella, and what had happened to her, he knew he would do it again.
“I want you to do what’s sensible,” he said to the woman, and his voice felt hoarse. He reached for his own drink but found it was already empty.
He saw Ella’s bloody face again. Heard the zipper of the black bag that the paramedics had put her in.
“You’re one of the girls I still have hope for—” he looked around again “—you’re not from here. You’re not part of … all this.”
“I am now. How do you know I’m not going to tell Jeremy about you?”
“Look, Carrie …” LaPorte took out another smoke from the packet “… You’re just some good girl from up North who got in with a lot of bad company. You don’t need to be here. You will do what is right. You will let us know if Jeremy is selling us out to the Montioso’s. They come in here all the time.”
“And if I don’t?”
For a moment LaPorte hesitated. But felt tired. He wanted to … help. He didn’t want to see another Ella. But maybe what had happened to Ella had happened because he wanted to help? Because he had gotten too old for these kinds of things?
Then he thought of what Bridget was going to cook when he came home. Or what furniture she had smashed this time.
He rubbed his brow. “The key of coke we found last night in your car … it has your prints all over it.”
Carrie looked down. “He said he’d beat me if I didn’t do it.”
LaPorte held the cigarette without lighting it. A sudden gust of wind from the sea blew a few ashes out of the tray and onto his white jacket. He dusted them off quickly. “I believe you and I just want to help.”
There was acid in Carrie’s voice now. “But if I don’t spy on Jeremy for you again, you’ll throw me in prison?”
LaPorte threw the cigarette away. “What’ll it be?”
Carrie looked at him, and he thought he saw something glint in her eyes. It wasn’t the sun, but it felt just as searing.
“You know, I wanted to be a lawyer once,” she said coldly.
“You can get back to the life you want again,” LaPorte said. “There are mitigating circumstances. And if you help us, you won’t go anywhere but home.”
She looked out over the ocean. “Or somewhere else …”
LaPorte nodded, but all he saw was Ella. The blood. The body bag.
He coughed. “You know, you can go back to your education. Maybe even be a lawyer. There are programs … “
“No,” Carrie said. “That life is gone forever. But I will still help you because it’s what I once wanted to be. Not because of that stupid key.”
He nodded again and felt a heaviness that only came in the late hours, not in the middle of the day like this.
Carrie put back on her dark glasses. “Guess a cop like you wouldn’t understand a crazy attitude like that … “
LaPorte stood up. His voice was still hoarse. “I guess I wouldn’t.”