A slim, unconscious smile slipped onto Pat’s face as he shook his head slightly, turned down the corner of his newspaper, and replied, “I love this place, Huft.”
“Of course you do,” Steve sighed as he stuffed a cigarette in his mouth and threw the rest of the pack down on the table. “It fits you too well, Brookfield.”
Pat did a half assed job of folding his newspaper up, took a sip of his coffee, and said, “This ain’t the smoking section. Besides, since when do you smoke?”
Steve shrugged and lit his cigarette, “Since I was fifteen. I’ve been quit for about three years.” Then he dragged deep on it and coughed, “This fucking case, though.”
Before Pat could say anything else the waitress was standing at the edge of the table. “Smoking section’s over there,” she said, pointing toward the back of the place.
“I told him that,” Pat looked up at her and smiled.
Steve rolled his eyes at Pat, looked up at the waitress, read her nametag, and said, “Ellen, there ain’t nobody else in her but us. Can you cut me some slack and bring me an ashtray and a coffee?”
After a quick look around, she thought for a moment and sighed, “Fine. The place will be empty until lunchtime anyway.”
“You’re a doll, Ellen,” Steve winked over a broad smile that followed her as she walked away. When his gaze dropped back down to Pat, he shrugged and added, “See? I told you.”
Pat chuckled. Then he sipped his coffee and asked, “So, how’s Cheeks doing? I haven’t heard from him at all since that night.”
“He’s doing good, riding a desk. He hates that, but he’s healing up nice,” Steve took too big a gulp of the coffee Ellen had just dropped off and had to suck a bunch of air in through pursed lips, “Fuck that’s hot.” Once the burn calmed down a bit he added, “He’s been kind of depressed. That’s probably why he hasn’t gotten back to you.” After a more delicate sip he finished with, “You guys are pretty close, hey?”
“Kind of,” Pat shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess not so much anymore. We used to be a lot closer, best friends in high school.”
“I wouldn’t read too much into it. He’s been in a funk.”
“I’m not. We’ve gone months without talking to each other. Real life gets in the way sometimes.”
“It sure does, Brookfield. It sure does.”
Pat grinned at the nickname Huft had branded him with. Brookfield. That name had never sounded so generic to him as it did when it came out of Steve’s mouth. The way he said it gave it a dirty, backwater feel, like torn overalls and a floppy hat.
“Why the fuck are you looking at me like that?” Steve asked as he pounded the spent butt of his cigarette in the ashtray Ellen had dropped off with his coffee.
Pat hadn’t noticed the dopey grin that had invaded his face until Steve called him out on it, “Oh…sorry. I don’t know.” He chuckled, raised his hands palms up, and added, “You’ve been rubbing me the wrong way since we met, but somehow I still like you, Huft. I don’t know why. More than half of the shit that comes out of your face pisses me off, and yet, I can’t help but giggle at it.”
“Because everything I say is true, Brookfield,” Steve shrugged. “It’s honesty. I’m honest. I call it as I see it, and I don’t give a fuck about your feelings. So, sometimes the shit I say pisses you off. However, when you really think about it, you know I’m right.”
“Maybe you are,” Pat smiled, “and maybe you’re just full of shit.” Pat nodded up at Ellen who topped off his coffee cup. Then he sipped it and asked, “So, how did you and Cheeks get away with everything? I mean, there wasn’t any connection to mine. It wasn’t our case. But you guys… Shit, Cheeks was shot. I mean, didn’t anybody ask?”
Steve lit another cigarette, shook his head, and said, “First of all, the Ramsey’s – except for Mark – are still missing persons. None of them have been found. They’ve got the bodies of Vinny’s crew and tied the massacre in Coleman to it. They were also able to connect one of the corpses to the Rosatti’s. It’s a loose connection, obvious in my opinion, but loose nonetheless. I mean, they know that Vinny took the kids, and now they know that the punk was either working for somebody else or trying to make a deal. However, they can’t really use it unless they can find something stronger. And what would they use it for anyway? Everybody’s dead. That’s all they’ve got.
“They can’t connect anything to the bloodbath at the rest area. Sure it’s between here and there, but there wasn’t any useable evidence. None of the corpses have been identified, and their van was a twisted hunk of melted metal. They didn’t get anything off of that,” he paused, sipped his coffee, and added, “Oh, yeah, and that other carcass in the barn just down the road, he was fucked up. They haven’t been able to find anything on him either. The feds have had it for a month and haven’t been able to put anything together. It’ll be a memory before you know it.”
Pat was nodding long before Steve finished, “Yeah, but Cheeks was shot. How the hell did you explain that?”
“We said I shot him,” Steve laughed.
“What?” Pat laughed back at him. “Why would you shoot him?”
“It was an accident,” Steve shrugged, still giggling. “We were at the range. His gun jammed. I looked at it. He was too close and it accidentally went off.”
“Wait a minute,” Pat squinted. “They’d be able to tell that his gun didn’t fire that bullet.”
“No,” Steve dragged hard on his smoke before busting the cherry off in the ashtray, “not if it wasn’t there. I have a doctor buddy. Not to mention, all of the equipment we used in Lake Geneva had been scrubbed. You’ve never worked in a place like New York, Pat. I have my ways. You have no idea how easy it is to erase things.”
“You didn’t call me Brookfield,” Pat reached over and grabbed one of Steve’s cigarettes, “May I?”
“Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”
“My wife will kill me if she smells this on me. I haven’t smoked in over five years.”
“Anyway,” Steve lit another cigarette, sipped his coffee, and said, “The only one who looked sideways at either of us about it was French.”
“Yeah, he fucking knows.”
“How much does he know?”
Steve shook his head, “I don’t, but he knows a lot.”
“Captain French knows everything,” Steve shrugged. “I don’t know how he does it, but he does. He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know whether I should pin a medal on your chest or punch you in the mouth.’ I played dumb, but he knew. He told me that if the feds didn’t find anything that could place me and Cheeks at the scene in Coleman or Lake Geneva, he would give us atta boys. If they did, he’d send us up the river.”
“Did he really say, ‘Up the river’?” Pat chuckled.
“He did,” Steve nodded. “He says shit like that all the time. He also said that it would have been a real bonus if we could have found the kids. This case is going to be open forever until they’re found. I told him that I figured the mom had them. He agreed, and that was it.”
“Wow,” Pat shook his head. “That’s crazy.”
“Yep,” Steve dragged deep on his cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly around his words, “Then I gave my notice. I’m gone in a month.”
“I can’t do it anymore, Pat. I’m not like you. I wish I was. You’re a good person. You care about people. You want to help them. That’s why you’re a cop, because you want to help people. I wish that was why I did it. I’ve been trying to convince myself that it is for the past five years. This case reminded me that it’s not. I don’t give a fuck about anybody, not even myself. My wife, I care about her. I don’t give a fuck about anybody else. I’m a hunter, Pat. I miss the hunt. I miss tracking a scent and gunning it down like a fucking hound dog. Man, there ain’t nothing to hunt in a shithole like West Allis. It’s too fucking small. Do you want to know what kind of cases I get here?” He paused and raised his eyebrows at Pat, “Well, do you?”
Before Pat could answer, Steve continued, “I’ll tell you, domestic violence. Nine times out of ten if there is a homicide in my jurisdiction, it’s a half-bald beer belly that didn’t get quite as far as he wanted to in life so he drowns his sorrows with a case of beer or a fifth of whisky or brandy or some other fucking thing, and then lets all of his pent up aggressions out on his wife whose only crime was standing by his side through failure after failure. Most of the time, the killer is the one who calls it in. Sure, he lies about what happened, like he fucking found her that way, but I never have to look passed the front door to find all the fucking clues I need. Case fucking closed.”
“Wow,” Pat raised his eyebrows and stole another one of Steve’s cigarettes. “I normally write traffic tickets to speeders. But, I get where you’re coming from with the whole domestic disturbance. The ones in my town seldom end in murder.”
“Most don’t in my town either,” Steve shook his head. “That isn’t the point. The point is they’re all crimes of passion. I don’t care if it’s some drunk stabbing another drunk at the bar or some asshole throwing his wife down the stairs, these aren’t elaborate, well thought out murders. They’re easy. They’re dirty, and they’re easy to solve.”
A heavy silence settled in between the two of them as Steve watched Pat awkwardly light the cigarette he had just stolen from him. Pat’s face twisted into a series of different expressions. A couple of times he looked like he was going to say something but changed his mind. Just as Steve was about to ask what the hell he was thinking so hard about, Pat finally broke the silence, “Where are you going to go?”
“Braston,” the word sounded kind of oily as it came out of his mouth.
“Braston?” Steve asked, furrowing his brow. “Why Braston, isn’t that place kind of a shithole?”
“It’s a horrible shithole,” Steve slammed his cigarette butt down in the ashtray a couple of times and quickly lit another, “but I grew up there. On top of that, I have a friend on the force. We worked together in New York. He moved back, says his captain is interested in talking to me.”
“What does your wife think?”
“Mary? She hates the idea. But I think she hates West Allis more,” Steve grinned. “Not to mention, she can’t stand me moping around all the time. We need a change, and she’s supporting me. What can I say? Maybe she misses the big city too.”
A faraway look spread across Pat’s face, “I’m going to miss you, Huft.”
“You know what, Brookfield,” Steve paused, “Pat, I’m going to miss you too. We’ll keep in touch. You make a trip out to the big city, and I’ll show you a good time.”
Pat chuckled, “Big city, you make it sound like I’m a country boy. That sounds good, though. Let’s do that. Let’s keep in touch.”
Steve sipped his coffee, “So what about you? What’s next for the pride of the Brookfield P.D.?”
“Same shit, writing tickets,” Pat stretched and glanced out the window at the empty parking lot. When he looked back at Steve he added, “I’m going to get to know a stranger that I should have gotten to know a long time ago.”
“Yeah,” Steve shrugged. “I’ve spent a lot of my life subconsciously hating the guy, and for what? He is who he is, and he’s a part of me.”
“Father and son camping trip,” Steve smiled.
“No,” Pat laughed, “nothing like that. He’s a stranger that should be an old friend. He’s been all over the place too. I’m kind of interested in knowing more about him, more about where I come from. I don’t know. I don’t really expect anybody else to understand.”
“I get it, Pat. I’d want to do the same thing.”
“Yeah?” Pat asked.
“Yeah,” Steve replied.
Then they both looked out at the empty parking lot, completely out of things to say.