Thursday, November 2
I would not have pulled the trigger.
was just after ten when I tuned the boxy police scanners to their
stations. I set the Bearcat to cover Precincts 1, 5, and 7. The
HomePatrol would hit Precincts 20 and 24. I tuned the Whistler to listen
in on Precincts 19 and 23.
I lined them up on the marble coffee
table next to the picture of Simone on Eric's shoulders at the Bronx
Zoo. The photo of me in dress blues, shaking the police commissioner's
hand. My leather holster, empty now, yet clinging to the shape of its
old duty, its new regrets.
On the windowpane, I watched the same
scene that played out a thousand times each day, like the jumbled pieces
of a puzzle I was sure would never fit. A hand that was my hand
reaching for my sidearm. My Glock aimed at my partner's head. A thumb
that was my thumb cranking back the hammer. My voice, a command: Don't
I would not have pulled the trigger.
this like I knew my own name. What I didn't know was why I had done it,
why I had blown up my life for the sake of a perp who was caught hours
after I helped him get away. This was three, maybe four, minutes of my
life. Yet, like an explosion, it had devastated everything.
turned up the volumes on the scanners until they hurt my ears. I closed
my eyes. I waited for the static to drown out my noise.
north block of Seventy-Ninth at Columbus, an officer called in a Level
1. Shots fired. Dispatch sent an Emergency Service Unit for an evidence
At the Port Authority, a man was struck by a northbound A
Train. A robbery. A traffic accident. A suspicious vehicle on
Fifty-Seventh and Lex. But no homicides. I sat on the sofa that still
carried Eric's musk and wool scent. I sipped water like I had a reason
to be sober. But there were no homicides.
On other nights, when a
Signal 7 had come through, I would piece together enough of the scene
to interrupt my regularly scheduled spiraling. A woman killed in her
apartment was usually a domestic. A man killed in the park was a mugging
gone awry. Shot in a vehicle meant gang violence. Sometimes drugs.
After a while, these images would blot out the memory of how I'd ruined
everything. Finally, I could sleep.
But not tonight.
was close to midnight when my cell buzzed. It was my little brother.
He'd already tried me three times this week. Each time I felt a little
guiltier for not answering. If he really needed me, I told myself, he'd
As I waited for voicemail to pick up yet again, outside my
window, the video-arcade lights of the Empire State Building shifted
from blue to red. I used to love their predictability, the way they
could surprise me. Now as they blurred against the rain, all I felt was
an overwhelming sense of the city's indifference to me, even after all
I'd done to keep it safe.
I swiped to answer the call.
"Leigh? It's me, Ronan."
"I know who it is," I said, my voice a little hoarse. "Your name comes up on my phone."
"I know, but it's polite. Hey, sorry to call so late. I've been trying to reach you. Did you get my messages?"
I assured my brother that, yes, I'd gotten his voicemails, which had all said, unhelpfully, Call me back.
Yes, I was fine. I was Busy Evaluating My Options. I was Reassessing
and Regrouping. I was Planning Next Steps. I was the same as every other
time he'd called over the past six months, still trying to imagine the
future, still stuck trying to decode the past.
"I'm sorry, Leigh." Over the line, a pause like an axe swinging. "And Eric? Are you guys still separated?"
"I knew it was coming," I replied. By which I meant, I hadn't seen it coming at all.
stood up too fast, stumbling. I strode past the uncluttered living
room, cavernous now with Eric's things gone, and into the galley
kitchen, where it was always dark, always wet smelling. I started
opening a bottle of wine with the corkscrew I'd left out after I'd put
my four-year-old to bed. I never started drinking until after she was
down. I pretended this made me virtuous.
"You know, Leigh," Ronan said, "we would hire you."
The cork popped, loud like a safety disengaging. It jolted my gut. We, as in the Copper Falls Police Department. We as
in the tiny police force housed in the stone building just off the main
street. In winter, they hung Christmas lights. On the Fourth of July,
they had a booth for twisting balloons into hats. I said, "I can't ask
you to do that."
"You don't have to. That's why I've been calling. It's already done."
"What do you mean it's already done?" I pulled the screw from the cork. "You're just asking me now."
"I cleared it with the chief. Leigh, you're hired."
"Ronan." The corkscrew clattered against the bowl of the sink. "I didn't ask for this."
calm down. It's no big deal. You're my sister, right? It's my job to
help." As Ronan spoke, I pulled a glass from the open shelving. I filled
it to its brim. The glug was loud, like a drain emptying into a sewer.
But if Ronan heard, he didn't say. In my family, alcohol was believed to
disinfect even psychological wounds. In this, we were all devout.
I stood at the counter. I held the glass to my lips. "Does your chief even know why I was suspended?"
"He didn't ask so I figure he doesn't care."
I went back to the living room. I shook my head. I swallowed another mouthful of wine.
"I'm telling you, Leigh, he loves the idea. A big-city cop? On his squad? Plus, we don't have any women."
"So I'd be a quota hire?"
"Is that any worse than being hired because you're my sister?"
I eased onto the sofa in front of the window. I placed my glass on the arm.
"Come on," Ronan said. There was a smile in his voice that begged me to reciprocate. "Don't you miss it? Even a little?"
been fourteen years since I'd stepped foot in the place I'd grown up.
Yet I could conjure its image as effortlessly as if I'd just left:
sunset oaks that arched over the drive leading up to the old house.
Knobby balustrades like turrets surrounding the porch. Wide, wooden
stairs that bent with every step. In the distance, the waterfall, the
creek. Everywhere, the scent of water.
I pictured the rooms-all
those rooms-cathedral height and embellished with decorative woodwork.
Ceilings stamped in tin. The house was beautiful from a distance. Yet
even in my memory, even after all these years, I could still sense it.
That residue that could never be washed away, like stains after a flood.
The water recedes and you paint over its marks. Yet still the mold
grows. It will always grow. You will always be sick from it if you stay
inside that house.
"That's a generous offer." I rubbed the warmth back into my skin. "Please, extend my thanks."
Ronan made a sound like a tire deflating. In the background, the floor groaned. "You didn't even think about it."
"I did think about it. But I'm not going to uproot my life."
"Your roots are here, Leigh. We're here. Me. The uncles. The town. Everybody. Would it be so bad? Coming back?"
me, raindrops raced. Behind them, new ones wove down their tracks. I
wished for lightning, for the bray of thunder. Outside, there were only
sirens. Their urgency. Their rush. They faded as they sped away.
"Look," Ronan said.
I took a drink.
"I know you're some big-time detective. I know small-town policing isn't, like, on your vision board or anything."
"I don't have a vision board."
"But before you turn us down, please just remember one thing."
I stared at the callus on my trigger finger. It had turned yellow, the way leaves change color before they fall.
"Here, at least, we look after our own."
slap was not subtle. But it was also deserved. I had, after all,
abandoned my family to become a soldier in a faceless city. I had put my
trust in people who weren't my own. Really Leigh, I could hear him thinking, in a city like that, what did you expect?
looked away from the police scanners, toward the tunnel of my kitchen,
gray scale now, cast in darkness. "What would I even do there?" I was
just humoring him. I needed him to see for himself this wouldn't work.
"I'm a detective," I said, "not a beat cop. There's no major crime."
tinge of hope spread through Ronan's voice. It made me feel sorry for
him. "I can think of lots of major crimes. There was that family
reunion. The one where everyone got burned alive? The FD says that was
I knew what he was talking about. It was Copper Falls lore. "That was more than sixty years ago."
"Okay. Well. How about those guys who tried to cook up meth? Out in the Sticks?"
"I'm homicide," I said. "Dead bodies only."
was quiet for a long moment, so long in fact that I thought I'd finally
ended the conversation. I expected him to say something too earnest, to
add a You can't blame a guy for trying. Then the calls would stop. "Leigh," Ronan said. "There's something else."
"Unless it's a dead body, I don't care."
"It's not a dead body."
"Then I don't-"
"It's not one dead body." Ronan's voice sounded strange, reluctant. "It's three of them."
Friday, November 3
Simone and I stepped through the gold, revolving doors of the entrance
to Eric's building, the chill of autumn gave way to the sterile breath
of indoor space. We reached the doormat, and my daughter stilled. She
watched me with concern. That's when I realized I was holding my breath.
worked to smile. I said, "Did you know armadillos have hair on their
bellies?" I touched the stuffed armadillo in her hand. His name was
Arnie, and she took him everywhere.
Simone brightened. "And did you know they eat worms?"
funny. Because I heard they eat spiders." I used my fingers to imitate
legs crawling up her shoulder. Simone giggled. I held her tiny hand in
mine. I exhaled as we stepped across the parquet floor, toward the tall
desk in the lobby.
The doorman wore a suit that was too big for his frame. He smelled of pepper and cologne. He said, "Your name?"
"Leigh O'Donnell. This is Simone Walker. We're here to see Eric Walker."
always said this when I dropped off Simone. Yet the doorman, whichever
one it was, always looked at me with condescending amusement, as if I
were a tourist who'd asked for directions to Central Park. Eric had
noticed this, too. Not just with doormen, but with witnesses, suspects,
prosecutors, other cops. It was something about the way I spoke or how I
dressed, or that my teeth were a little crooked in front. Yet even when
I was new to police work, Eric had never underestimated me. Not ever.
The doorman replaced the receiver on the hook. "Mr. Walker is coming down."
"No," I said. "We go up."
"Mr. Walker was very clear. He asked that you wait."
"But this is his daughter. I'm his wife."
it was again, that look. I felt the impending explanation of how
lobbies worked, the invitation to sit on the sofa and enjoy the people
watching of Madison Square Park.
I picked up my daughter. I started us toward the bank of elevators.
"It won't do you any good," the doorman said to my back. "I have to unlock them."
posted us in front of a wide beveled mirror with a scrollwork frame. I
was breathing deep now, trying to make myself calm. Simone wrapped her
arms tighter around my neck. She held Arnie in the crook of her elbow.
She said, "Say again. About the ball?"
I met my daughter's eyes.
We were the spitting image of each other, Simone and I, just painted
with different palettes. Whereas my skin was pale and pink, hers was
dark and brown. My hair was light and wavy. Hers was brown and textured.
I had green eyes and hers were the color of cherrywood. But I couldn't
look at her and not see myself. I couldn't look at her and not see Eric.
I said, "When armadillos get scared, they curl up into a ball. Their
armor seals them shut. That way, no one can hurt them."
cuddled Arnie as she hugged me tighter. I inhaled her shea butter scent.
I felt sealed up. Yet I knew this particular armor had a chink.
Behind us, the elevator pinged. We turned, and the doors swept open. Then there he was. My husband.
was six foot two, sturdy, with ropy muscles. He had the same dark skin
as his daughter. The same cherrywood eyes. But whereas Simone's face was
expressive and open, his was cool and guarded.
He came toward us
wearing the smile he reserved for press conferences and people he
didn't like. He said, "Hey there, baby." He wasn't speaking to me.
reached for him. I let her weight release into his arms until mine were
empty and his were full. I clasped my hands just to have something to
do with them.
"I'll have her back Sunday night." Eric pressed the elevator button.
"I need her back tomorrow," I said.
The elevator chimed. He stepped into it. "Sunday. It's what we agreed."
I took a breath. Was I really doing this? "Tomorrow is when we leave for Ohio."
was only then that Eric turned. Only then that his eyes met mine. A
fire lit inside of me, out from my chest, up to my throat. Eric stepped
out of the elevator. The door closed behind him. He worked his jaw. He
said, "You didn't tell me you were taking a trip."
"It was just decided." I was electric under his gaze. "I want Simone to meet my family."
"You don't have any family."
don't have any parents." My father had died from a heart attack
freshman year of high school. My mother had died less than a year later,
from grief. "But I have family." The way I said it felt like a plea.
"Right." He evaluated my face. "And now it's important that you see them, even though you've never visited?"
"I’ve been busy," I said. "It doesn’t mean I don’t care."
In his eyes there was this flicker. Like I was a witness with
inconsistencies he needed to bring to light. He did this sometimes, went
from being my husband to being a Captain with the NYPD. He did it with
the shift of cadences, with the tone of his voice. He did it and my
pulse fired. I wanted to run my fingers underneath his clothes until
that tension between us bucked and released.
“I’ll have her to you tomorrow morning.” Eric looked away. "When will she be back?"
"Two weeks. Maybe three."
His eyebrows lifted. "Three weeks?"
Eric asked Simone to play on the couch. After a beat, she scrambled
away, Arnie in hand, bookbag bouncing. When she reached the lemon-yellow
sofa in the corner of the lobby, Eric pinned me with his eyes.
"Why are you going to Ohio?"
"You said it yourself. I never visit."
"I have time."
A sharp intake of breath. A voice like an explosion: "Leigh, please.
Just tell me the truth.”"Eric held me with his eyes. Color was rising in
his cheeks. It rose in mine. I didn’t take my eyes off him. He didn’t
Push me. Keep pushing. Don’t ever stop.
At last, I said, "I am telling you the truth." What I meant was, I need to do this. What I meant was, This is how I right our course. What I meant was, Trust me. Please.
Eric inched closer. His skin had a chemical scent I didn’t recognize. I ignored it. He said, "Leigh, it’s backwater out there."
"You’re worried she won’t be safe?"
"Yes," he said. "I am."
We both looked at Simone. She was bouncing on the couch, preparing to
stand. Eric was right to be concerned. The people in Copper Falls were
all white. But it was also true that the people there didn’t care about
anything but their own town and their own petty squabbles. They believed
they weren’t racist because, in a place so white, race was irrelevant. I
knew that wasn’t true. Race was always relevant. But I could shield
Simone for three weeks. I said, "I grew her inside of me."
Eric brought his eyes to meet mine.
"I’d never let anything happen to her. Whatever else you think about me, you have to believe that."
The thing that passed between us was like that moment after sex, that
moment when wanting gives way to relief. You know it’s only temporary
but at least for now the throb of it is gone. A line split across Eric’s
forehead. I wanted to skate my finger across it, to show him that I
still knew him, that I still loved him, that I wasn’t done with our