NINETY minutes later my body had exhausted every last molecule of caffeine, and I was ready to drop. With the lights finally out downstairs and Matt tucked into his old guest room down the hall, I pulled my chestnut hair free of its barista ponytail and changed into the softest garment I owned-no, not a pashmina nightie-an oversized Steelers football jersey.
When I was a little girl, growing up in Western Pennsylvania, my father ran an illegal sports book in back of my grandmother’s grocery. Naturally, the Pittsburgh teams were his bread and butter. But that wasn’t the reason I wore the shirt. My grandmother believed in signs, and she’d become convinced that Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception during the Steelers playoff with the Oakland Raiders was some kind of miracle. So she gave me the football jersey with Harris’s 32 on it and said if I slept in it, I would be protected.
Yeah, I know. To the typical modern-thinking urbanite, this notion would be waved away as ridiculous, a joke, some kind of psychosis. But Nana grew up in a remote Italian village where curses were more common than slip-and-fall lawyers, and things not seen carried at least as much validity as earth and sky. To her, the malocchio wasn’t some quaint old-world notion. The evil eye was very real, something to be actively warded off.
Growing up in an American suburb, I didn’t have nearly the same level of imagination as my grandmother, but I wore the jersey to humor her-until I grew out of it. When I was seventeen, preparing for my freshman year of fine arts studies, she bought me a brand-new one. It was the last one she gave me before leaving this life, and it’s the one I still wear. Its edges are frayed now, its logo massively faded, but I wouldn’t trade the threadbare talisman for a truckload of Himalayan cashmere.
Yawning like a sleepwalker, I swung my legs beneath the covers of the mahogany four-poster, but I didn’t turn off the bedside lamp. Not yet. Despite the fact that my eyes were practically closed, I couldn’t shut them completely until I heard one last voice.
I grabbed my cell phone off the nightstand and speed-dialed the second number on my list (the first was my daughter’s). Holding my breath, I listened as the electronic pulses made the connection I’d been aching for all evening: one ring, two-
“Nice to hear from you, sweetheart…”
I closed my eyes and smiled. Mike and I had been friends for well over a year before we’d become lovers. Now his deep voice felt as familiar and protective as my timeworn night-shirt.
“Sorry I’m calling so late,” I said, “but I wanted to say good night…”
I actually wanted to do more than that with Michael Ryan Francis Quinn, and I wanted it to start with kissing. Some men treated the act perfunctorily, as nothing more than a speedy prelude to other things. Not Mike. The man’s kisses were sweet and lazy and exploratory. When we were alone, he took his time.
“You in bed?” he asked, his voice low.
“So what are you wearing? Or not wearing?”
Mike’s voice had slid down even further-to a provocative level of growl that seemed to touch parts of me right through the phone line. I swallowed, ready to reply, when I heard a strange man chuckling suggestively in the background.
“Okay, Sullivan, just shut up and drive.” Mike’s voice was muffled, his hand obviously covering the phone. Then he was back. “Go ahead, sweetheart, I’m listening…”
I rolled my eyes. “Mike, I’m not giving you phone sex if you’re still on duty.”
“Not even a little dirty talk?”
“No. And I can’t believe you’d suggest it with a colleague in the car.”
“Sullivan’s not a colleague. He’s a pain in my neck, not to mention a lousy driver.”
“Awwww…” Sullivan called, presumably from behind the wheel. “Love you, too, Lieutenant.”
“Eyes on the road, Sully. One more fender bender, and I’m personally revoking your license. So…” His voice was now talking to me. “How was your night?”
Mike laughed. “I heard there was a shooting on Hudson. Did you know about that?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I had a front-row seat for it.”
“I was with the girl who was killed.”
Mike swore. “Christ, Clare, why didn’t you call me sooner?!”
“Things got too crazy around here. You have your own work, and Lori Soles and Sue Ellen Bass were assigned to the case. They were really helpful, too. But I’d still like to talk with you about it, if that’s all right?”
“Of course,” Mike said. Then he fell silent a moment. “You okay? Do you want me to come over?”
“I’m fine, and as far as you coming over… You do remember what we discussed last night, right?” I’d already warned him about Matt’s using the apartment’s guest room.
“Yeah, I remember. Doesn’t mean I like it any better.”
“Well, he’s only here until Saturday, and then he’s out of my living space for good. After the wedding ceremony, he’s officially handing me his key.”
“Then I guess you and I better make sure that wedding takes place.”
Mike’s tone had turned hard, but I couldn’t blame him. He had never trusted Matteo Allegro, and the feeling was mutual on Matt’s part. Since their first meeting involved guns, handcuffs, and an interrogation (in this very apartment, come to think of it), I couldn’t blame my ex-husband, either.
The thing Mike Quinn really disliked, however, was my living situation. As the owner of this multimillion-dollar West Village town house, Madame had given both me and her son the legal right to use the duplex (rent free, thank you very much).
The arrangement hadn’t mattered when Quinn and I were just friends, hanging out at the espresso bar, talking about his cases. Matt had used the guest room infrequently, no more than one week a month when he wasn’t traveling. But after Quinn’s wife left him and we started dating, things got complicated.
Quinn refused to put up with my ex-husband barging in any time he liked, so I made the sane and logical decision to move out. Thankfully, Matt proposed marriage to Breanne and moved out first. Problem solved (apart from this week, anyway).
“Matteo’s really not that bad of a guy,” I said. “Once you get to know him better, you’ll see.”
“No, really. He turned down a chance to go to Scores with his pals tonight. And for once he didn’t attempt a pass at me. I wouldn’t say he’s a changed man, but I do think he’s willing to make some adjustments in his lifestyle to see that his second marriage succeeds. I know it’s important to him.”
“Enough about your ex-husband. When can I see you again?”
“After Matt’s wedding on Saturday.”
“That’s too long, Cosi. Come over to my place tomorrow night.”
“I wish I could, but I have way too much to do this week. And by the way, Lieutenant, didn’t you tell me the next six weeks are going to be pretty hairy for you?”
Ten days ago, Mike had been assigned to step in for a detective lieutenant on medical leave. The man had been overseeing a special experimental task force. As Mike explained it to me, prescription drug abuse along with an increased availability of heroin and opiates were resulting in a rash of overdose fatalities in the city. CompStat identified the pattern, and Mike’s captain at the Sixth had proposed a special task force.
The small unit of detectives Mike was now overseeing combined his past expertise in homicide as a precinct detective and narcotics as an anticrime street cop. Nicknamed the OD Squad, these detectives were tasked with investigating any drug overdose within New York ’s five boroughs, lethal or not, and documenting the victim’s sources, whether legit or not. It was a complicated tour of duty that involved liaising with medical professionals, DEA agents, and New York ’s Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
Tonight’s case had put Mike on the Upper East Side. He and another detective were just driving away from the hospital, where a wealthy young banker was taken after he’d overdosed on a mix of prescription drugs and cocaine.
“The guy was still alive when the maid found him,” Mike said. “But just barely. We thought we might get a statement out of him, but he’s down for the count. We’ll try again in the morning.”
“Oh, God. I hope he makes it.”
“Yeah, so do I. He’s twenty-six and already divorced. The ex-wife showed right away at the hospital, even before the mother. None of them knew anything about his habit.”
I closed my eyes, the details bringing back way too many bad memories. Suddenly, I was feeling more tired than ever-and wanting to see Mike more than ever, too. “Promise me you’ll stop by the Blend when you get a chance, okay?”
“Sure, but I still don’t believe you can’t get away for one night this week.” Mike’s deep voice went low again, back to sexy growl mode. “Come on, Cosi, one night. Believe me, sweetheart, I’ll make it worth your while.”
I didn’t doubt he could. “Let’s see how the week goes.”
WHEN my bedside phone rang the next morning, I rolled over and picked it up with eyes closed and a dreamy smile on my face.
Mike and I had been making love in a secluded Hawaiian cove on white sugar sand. The sweet weight of his solid body was stretched out on top of me, his caramel-brown hair lifting on the Pacific evening breeze. A banner of glittering stars flickered above us, the rhythmic crashing of the night surf the only sound.
“Hello?” I whispered, expecting to hear Mike Quinn’s delicious growl again.
“Clare, dear, are you awake?”
“Madame?” My eyelids instantly lifted.
“You’re opening in less than an hour. My goodness, aren’t you out of bed yet?”
Except for the cotton candy pinkish crack of sunrise between the drawn drapes, the room was still dark. I reached over and clicked on the lamp. The clock radio read 6:40.
“I ended up closing last night,” I told Matt’s mother through a half-stifled yawn, “so Tucker agreed to open for me today.”
“I woke you then? I’m so sorry, dear.”
“It’s okay.” I yawned again and rubbed my eyes. “What do you need?”
“I was worried about you, Clare. The morning news is reporting that a woman was shot on Hudson last night. It’s on Channel 1 right now, and I can see from the background that the violence was perpetrated a block away from the Blend. Did you know about this?”
“Are you all right?
“What about Joy? She’s not in yet, is she?”
“No. Her flight’s on Wednesday. She didn’t want to miss the luncheon you’re throwing Thursday for the coffee guys.”
“What about this woman who was shot? Did you know her?”
“In a way…”
“She was a customer?”
“No…” I slowly sat up and between yawns briefly explained what had happened. Needless to say, Matt’s mother was flabbergasted.
“My goodness! What a tale! You’re going to investigate, aren’t you? You know you can count on me to assist!”
“I’m sure I could,” I said carefully, “but there are two very capable female detectives already on the case.”
“Oh,” Madame replied, her disappointment obvious. “Well… how do you know the shooter wasn’t gunning for Matt or you, my dear? How do you know the shooter didn’t simply miss?”
I blinked, considering the possibility for an entire five seconds before letting it go. “There’s nothing to worry about,” I said, then quickly flailed around my sleep-addled brain for a change of subject. “So, listen, are you all set with your dress for the wedding?”
“The wedding…” Madame sighed. “Hasn’t that son of mine changed his mind yet?”
Oh, jeez, here we go… “No. Matt hasn’t changed his mind. So don’t you think it’s about time you considered changing yours?”
“Not until my boy opens his mouth to say, ‘I do,’ which I fully expect will come out ‘I don’t.’ ”
“The wedding is in four days!”
“And the universe was created in six.” Madame paused just then, and her voice went quiet, as if we were conspiring together. “Now that he’s moved back in with you, I have high hopes.”
For the hundredth time, I pointed out the list of reasons Madame needed to accept her son’s decision to marry whomever he wanted. Matt’s age for one-he was over forty now, probably old enough to make decisions without his mother’s approval. And the proposal hadn’t exactly been rash. Matt had been sleeping with Breanne Summour for quite some time. Finally, I reminded my former mother-in-law the myriad ways Matt had transformed in Breanne’s shadow: wardrobe, attitude, expectations of entitlement…
But all of my arguments were to no avail.
“He doesn’t love her,” Madame declared. “And I can’t accept that Matt’s father and I gave birth to a son who would pledge himself in marriage to a woman he doesn’t love.”
I massaged my forehead, desperate for another change of subject, because in about two seconds the woman was going to start in again about how Matt still loved me.
“Listen,” I said quickly, “do you know what Matt told me last night?”
“That he still loves you?”
Ack. “No! He said he thought maybe the young woman who was shot had been killed by mistake.”
“What do you mean?”
I explained Matt’s theory. “Given the remote possibility that Matt’s right, can you think of anyone who would want to harm Breanne?”
Madame laughed, short and sharp. “That woman makes enemies on a daily basis.”
“That’s not helpful.”
“Well, I can’t very well narrow it down for you if you don’t let me assist.”
“There’s nothing to assist!”
I took a breath. Then I calmly reiterated the stuff about the two very competent detectives already on the case. The line fell silent after that, but I could feel Madame frowning from fifteen blocks away.
“Well,” she finally said, “I am quite outraged that this poor girl was shot down in the street like some kind of game animal. Such a beautiful girl, too.”
“Yes, you know-” I blinked. “Wait. How do you know she was a beautiful girl?”
“ New York 1 is showing a photo of her right now. Her employer provided it, I believe. And she had such a lovely, old-fashioned first name. I haven’t heard that one in years…”
I sat up straighter. “They’re giving out her name?”
“Yes, do try to follow me, dear. The newspeople have it right up there on the television screen: Hazel Boggs, twenty-two, of Wheeling, West Virginia.”
“Clare? Are you still on the line?”
“I’ve got to go,” I said, scrambling off the bed. “Talk to you later.”
I hung up the phone and grabbed my robe. I needed coffee and lots of it. Then I’d have to shower and dress fast. Matt would be waking in an hour or two, and I was going to have to break some very bad news.
I’d been wrong about the timing on Hazel’s name being released to the pubic. I thought we’d have a few days, but clearly the detailed report on the young woman’s murder was already being broadcast.
The fact was: if the shooter had wanted to kill Hazel, the release of her name wouldn’t matter one whit. But what if Matt was right? What if the shooter actually meant to kill Breanne?
I still had major doubts about Matt’s look-alike-stripper-shot-by-mistake theory, but the man nearly had a heart attack explaining it to me last night. As I stumbled toward the coffeepot, I knew I’d have to treat Matt with kid gloves this morning, because if he woke up still believing Breanne was in danger, then I was in for a heck of a lot more grief.