Days of Grace
by Elize

Part 4
posted  August 2004
 
 

 
 

17

While waiting for the photographs the surveillance team had taken at the funeral, Grace picked up the stack of postcards she took from Malachi's desk drawer. She sat back in her office chair, and with a mug of coffee next to her she began to organize the cards. Ruth – the sender according to the signature – had written the date in the upper left corner of every card, so the work was swiftly performed. Thankful, Grace sent Ruth a thought of appreciation.

The first card was sent from Chicago in May 1984; Ruth told about the weather being cold and her rose buds having frozen.

“Something I could have written,” Grace mumbled and read the next one. It, too, was from Chicago as were the following ten. The last Chicago card was written in October 1989. Five cards in five years was not bad in Grace's opinion. She had not sent her brother a post card in years, so Ruth was quite a social butterfly in comparison. Yet, there was something sad about the cards. She wrote about ordinary chores, told Malachi she thought about him but also understood he was busy and could not visit.

Then the first one from Santa Fe showed up. Ruth must just have arrived; the tone was full of awe and she praised the weather, the landscape and the people. She wrote: “Time has a different meaning here, Brother. Stress is not in the vocabulary and you do what you have to do – when you feel like it. You would love it here.” Grace smiled and turned the card; red mountains, adobe buildings and clouds hovering like space ships on a bright-blue sky. Breathtaking, was the only word she could come up with.

The rest of the cards were all written with the same energetic touch as the first from Santa Fe . Ruth rarely mentioned the weather nor that she missed Malachi; instead she spoke of art fairs, trips to the mountains and chile peppers. Along the way, Grace figured out Ruth cultivated her own chili and made salsa for friends. Grace read: “David, my neighbor, offered to take a sample of the green chile salsa, but I told him no. I like my life as it is.” A new name; Grace wrote it down on a piece of paper.

Eventually, she got to the card she read in the rectory - the one before Ruth headed to Mesa Verde. To her surprise, this was also the last card.

“I'm going to Mesa Verde tomorrow,” Ruth wrote. “Remember how much we talked about it when we were young and dreamt about going there? Well, I am not waiting any longer.” Grace reached for the coffee mug, put her legs on her desk and looked at the gray sky outside the window. Ruth seemed disappointed in this last card. Even though she ended in the usual sunny spirit, Grace got a hunch Ruth and Malachi were arguing about something. Ruth and Malachi seemed very different from each other.

Gently, Grace restacked the cards. She could not decide if Ruth was of any importance to the case. Probably not, but no matter, reading the postcards awakened Grace's curiosity; who was this sister of Father Malachi and where was she now? Grace emptied her mug of coffee. It had gone cold and she grimaced. She decided that learning about Ruth and Malachi's relationship was important, at least for her.

Sean's rapid work on the keyboard caught her attention. He paused for a moment, read something next to him and then continued to type.

“What are you doing?” Grace asked, wondering what caused this sudden frenzy.

Her partner typed for a few more seconds then mumbled, “Some kid called in about the homeless guy.” Sean briefly looked up and met Grace's glance. “Said he believed it was his old man.”

Grace nodded. One of many tragic cases with deceased homeless people they had on their plate at the moment. The first cold nights were rough on those without proper shelter, and, in their desperation, the interaction on the streets could be ruthless. This man, an old drunk, had been hit in the head and stripped naked. The case ended up with Grace and Sean last week and they were both pretty certain someone at this very moment walked the cold Cleveland streets dressed in their John Doe's clothes. Most often no one showed up asking about a homeless relative; probably because the relative had been missing for a long time already. Grace hoped this man could end up being buried with his real name marked in the records.

Still looking at Sean, Grace unconsciously tapped her pencil against the palm of her hand. She did not like having names without a face, no less than she liked having bodies without a name. “I need to figure out more about this sister,” she eventually said.

Sean nodded indicating he was listening. Grace continued. “I mean, we can't just accept no one even mentions anything about a sister. And why are there no more postcards?” Her tone had picked up and Sean smiled without looking at her.

“Perhaps the rest of the post cards are somewhere else,” he suggested while typing.

Though a possibility, it was not good enough for Grace. “I still want to know more about this woman,” she muttered.

“So, how are you going to find her?”

Grace thrummed the pencil against her hand again and began nibbling her lower lip. It was a good question and she replied, “I don't know. Yet.”

Sean clicked his computer mouse and the machine began to buzz. “While you think about that -,” He sat back in his chair. “Why don't we backtrack over what we have this far?”

For a moment Grace looked at him then stood up. “Right. Good idea.” Grabbing the crime scene report and case folder, she followed Sean to the wipe-off board across the room.

Sean wrote Father Malachi on top of the board; under he wrote: Pamela Griffin, Brother William, Mary Parker, Andry Chirkin and Bishop Collina.

Leaning against a desk her arms crossed over her chest, Grace read the names. “Put Ruth's name there too,” she told him. Sean chuckled, but did as she wished.

Under silence, they both looked at the names on the board. “It would be nice if we could erase a name,” Sean mused. Grace did not respond, but reading them over and over she agreed. Too many names, she agreed.

Finally, she said, “First of all, we have to talk to Chirkin and we have to come up with a smooth way of doing so. I don't want to storm in there accusing him of something without evidence, but we need to sort out his relationship with Malachi.”

“If there is one.”

Grace sighed. “Yeah. It's not that far a stretch though. According to Ms. Parker, Malachi did have money problem.”

Sean, hands in his pockets began to play with his keys. Irritated by the sound, Grace nudged him to stop. “Let's move on,” she said.

Opening up the crime scene report, Grace said, “According to this, Malachi died some time between 5 pm and 7 pm.” She looked at Sean. “Pamela Griffin said she saw him around 5 pm but then found him dead around 6.30 pm.”

“So we have half an hour and a half to trail back to.”

“And the longer we wait to talk to Chirkin, the further away we will get.”

Again under silence, they stared at the board. Grace could not connect any dots as it was but eventually she said, “Let's say Malachi did owe Chirkin money; he couldn't pay: that is one reason to kill him.”

“And another,” Sean added, “is Mary Parker freaking out because he threatened to reveal her past.”

They agreed to stick with these two motives for now.

Just then someone called Grace's name. She turned her head and saw Tim Riley from surveillance stepping across the room waving an envelope.

“Got your pictures, Jacobson.”

“Great.” She zigzagged between desks and snagged the envelope from Tim's hand.

“Did you see anyone familiar?” she asked as she sat down and pulled out a stack of 8 by 11-size pictures from the envelope.

Grinning, Tim pushed up his baseball cap. “Not anyone with murderer stamped on his forehead,” he said. “But I guess that's your job to figure out.” He winked and turned on his heel.

Sean joined her and they began looking through the stack of photographs of the funeral attendees. Most of the faces were familiar, but some of them they could not recall. For instance, one police officer arriving with his wife and the owner of Whiskey Island Restaurant with a young man by his side was new to her.

“Strange we never saw him,” Grace said tapping her finger on the picture with the obese restaurant owner.

Humming in response, Sean pulled out a new picture. “Perhaps we were occupied with this.” He handed the picture to Grace.

It was a close-up of Grace and Fran; Grace with a girly smile looking up at Fran who met Grace's glance with a more smug expression. Sean stood in the background grinning. Remembering how Sean said he thought Fran looked cooler then Grace, she frowned and put the picture aside.

Sean handed her another photograph. It was of a woman, perhaps 25 years old. Immediately, Grace thought she looked familiar but she could not place her. She held the picture at arm's length; the woman's straight hair reached her shoulders. It looked thin, not well cared for. A dark, blue coat reached down to her knees, black pants and --.

“Tennis shoes!” Grace pointed at the woman's shoes and then peeked at Sean. His eyebrows arched; Grace looked back at the picture and she remembered. “Isn't this the girl who sat on the sidewalk down by Public Square last summer?” Again, she turned to Sean; his brows now furrowed. She added, “Homeless and pregnant.” Grace could almost see Sean's brain working.

“Yeah, I remember her,” he mused. “Wonder what she is up to these days? Besides going to funerals.”

Looking at the tennis shoes, Grace said, “Something tells me she does not have a high-paying job. Perhaps someone down at VICE knows more about her.”

Sean volunteered to check on this. Other pictures revealed nothing odd -- nothing, until the photo of the dark haired man who arrived late lay in Grace's hand. The very same Lexus that had picked him up also dropped him off. The license plate was clearly visible and Grace immediately tapped the letter-number combination into the computer system. I few seconds later the result blinked on the screen: Club Caesar.

“That is Chirkin's nightclub,” Sean said. “One of them.”

Grace dropped the picture on her desk, sat back and glanced across the room. Captain Darby stood in his office looking at something in his bookcase; two other colleagues – Thomas and Alvaro -- just entered with a terribly argumentative woman in cuffs and Dodge sat talking on the phone. They had to get to Chirkin, but without making him sweep his entire business under the carpet.

Straightening up she said, “Okay, this is what we're doing.” In a fairly low voice she told Sean they should go to Connor's Food Import and poke around about the stuff Malachi bought. Meanwhile, they should have someone waiting outside so when Grace and Sean left, if someone from the store left right behind them, they could be tailed. “I'm pretty certain someone will rush away to talk to Chirkin,” she said. “And when that happens, you and I will show up.” She smirked. “If possible.”

Rolling back a bit, Sean put his feet on Grace's desk. “We need to tap his phone.”

“Whose?”

“Connor's. He could just pick up the phone and call Chirkin.”

Grace felt like the train was leaving without her. Why does it have to be so difficult, she thought looking at Captain Darby. Seated now, Grace saw his bald head bobbing as if he was jamming to a tune. She came to the conclusion he was talking on the phone. She sighed. “I'll talk to Darby,” she said. Something told her he was not going to be as enthusiastic about this idea as she was.

Fifteen minutes later, she left Darby's office, his voice still ringing in her head. It was not the first time he had told her to read the rulebook, yet she could not help but think he was stiff as an iron bar. She could not understand why he did not even wish to try bending the rules; she knew it was possible.

She whiffed her hand across Sean's shoulder before she sank down on her chair. “Too many rules,” she muttered looking back to scowl at Darby. Again she saw his head bob; she took a deep breath then turned her attention to Sean.

“He said selling food is not enough of a reason to tap Connor's phone.”

“Well, when you say it like that I have to agree,” Sean shot back.

Frustrated, Grace ruffled her hair then let her head fall back. Someone had put gum on the ceiling; briefly, she wondered who. “We have to give it a try without the tap. We just need to have someone waiting outside. Someone like -,” she looked around. “Someone like Dodge would work fine.”

She heard Sean chuckle as Dodge suddenly looked their way. Disregarding his confusion, she looked at Sean. “I mean, he is only going to follow Connor if he leaves the store. How hard can that be?”

“Are you talking about me?” Dodge whispered covering the phone with his hand.

Grace did not respond, but waited for Sean to agree with her. After, what seemed like many long seconds, Sean nodded. Flashing a smile, Grace gave a thumb up then turned to Dodge. The young man still covered his phone and looked back and forth between Sean and Grace.

“I need your help,” Grace said ignoring the fact Dodge was on the phone.

Dodge brightened. “Now?” he whispered loudly so everyone in the room could hear.

About to say yes, Grace threw a glance at her watch: it was 6.30pm. My God, she yelled inwardly. Aloud, she asked, “How can it be so late?” The sky outside the window was pitch black. “Damn. I've got to go.” Quickly, she stood up. She put the pictures back in the envelope, wrapped the ribbon around Ruth's postcards and put both in her desk drawer.

“Are you going to your daughter's tomorrow?” she asked Sean as she got ready.

“Yeah,” Sean replied with little enthusiasm. “Laura actually called and invited me.”

“That's good.”

Hesitant, Sean said, “I don't know. Her weirdo in-laws are going to be there, too. Can't stand the woman.”

“What is it you want me to do?” Grace suddenly heard Dodge ask behind her. Stressed about being late, she said, “Just be here on Saturday morning. We'll let you know.” Before she rushed out, she stepped up closely to Dodge and whispered, “It's top secret.”

As she left, she heard Dodge curiously asking Sean what Grace meant. She never heard if he replied, but doubted he would reveal anything. Knowing Dodge would sit on pins and needles all Thanksgiving was all the incentive Sean needed.

 

18

Opening her eyes after a brief nap in the backseat of the car, Grace watched the first snowfall of the season. Fran had just made a comment about it from the driver's seat, but half asleep, Grace did not hear exactly what she said. Leaning against the window behind the passenger seat, she watched the dark curtain of trees flashing by behind the white foil of snow.

“Is it bad?” Grace asked pretending to have heard Fran's comment.

Chuckling, Fran reached between the seats searching for Grace. “No, but it could be.” She found Grace's knee.

Grace grabbed Fran's wandering hand and slowly sat up. No, it was not too bad, she stated as the icy flakes hit the windshield, but it would probably make this normally three hour drive to her parents in Buffalo a tad bit longer.

Eric sat strapped in his baby seat next to Grace. He grinned as she looked at him.

“What are you grinning about?” she asked tickling his tummy. Eric gurgled in response, grinned again and then turned his focus in the window direction. His mouth fell open; Grace frowned.

“You know, Eric, if you're going to be a great ball player, you better stop looking stoned all the time.” Eric grabbed onto her finger, but kept looking out through the window.

Feeling relaxed -- Fran's hand in her left, Eric's around her right index finger, Grace sighed and looked straight ahead. The traffic on I-90 northward was fairly heavy; it was almost noon and many were heading toward Thanksgiving dinners.

They had planned on getting out of the house earlier, but time had not been on their side this morning. Things had to be packed -- with Eric around, more than ever -- the house had to be shut down, and, before they hit the highway, the car needed gas and windshield washer fluid. Getting somewhere seemed to be more and more complicated.

She gave each knuckle on Fran's hand a soft kiss then let go. Fran hummed in appreciation.

Grace smiled. “It feels good sitting here with you, looking at the snow and just -,” she paused for a moment then added, “being.” She met Fran's blue eyes through the rearview mirror; Fran smiled. “You think I'm silly?”

“No,” Fran laughed. “But you're cute when you are like this.”

“Like what?”

Being almost bumper-to-bumper with a car in front of them, Fran took a quick peek in the rearview mirror before she pulled out into the left lane. “Sleepy and helpless,” she said hitting the gas pedal.

“I'm not helpless,” Grace argued as they passed by the other car. In the back seat sat a teenage boy looking out through the window. His glance seemed empty, bored perhaps. Dinner with the family was possibly not what he dreamed about.

Fran steered into the right lane again. “Not helpless as in – you know – helpless, but when you allow yourself to just come along. Like sitting in the back of the car letting me drive.” Again, Grace faced Fran's glance through the mirror. “For instance, how often do you let Sean drive?”

Grace had to think for a moment, yet she could not remember a single time she let Sean sit behind the wheel. But instead of admitting to that, she said, “It's because we always use my car.”

“Right,” Fran replied.

Grace was certain Fran had that smug smile on her face: the “I-told-you-so” smile. Carefully, Grace leaned in between the seats to look. Oh, yes. There it was. “Are you grinning at me?” Grace whispered in a wicked voice. “Because if you are, I might have to punish you.”

The control Fran tried to maintain failed and she laughed out aloud. Grace leaned forward and trailed her lips across Fran's jaw line. “Get back to where you belong, Grace! And put on your seatbelt!”

Eric gurgled in his baby seat. Grace saw him grin and winked. “The ladies like when you tease them,” she said wiping drool from his chin. “Mama will teach you all the tricks.”

About thirty seconds after Grace sat back and put on the seatbelt, the inevitable happened.

“Francesca,” she whispered. She got an icy glance through the mirror in response. Grace flashed a smile. “I need to pee.”

 

Eventually, they reached Grace's parent's home situated in a quiet suburb of Buffalo . Carol and Stan Jacobson greeted them with their usual restraint: not too loud, not too physical. Both Grace and Fran were whisked away fairly quickly, though Eric was the main attraction. Grace had gotten used to the idea she was no longer the center of attention and she certainly did not mind. Being the youngest in the family, she had had her share of attention.

“So, how is work?” her father asked. His speech was slow, so slow one could figure out what he was about to say before he said it. Grace was used to it, but the older she got, the more it wore on her patience.

Like so many times before, Grace sat in the small space her father called ‘the office' sipping a single malt whiskey. Looking down in the glass, she shrugged and said, “It's good.” With a crooked smile she looked up at him. “As good as it can be working with murder.”

Stan nodded. “I read about the priest.”

It was Grace's turn to nod. Sinking into the soft chair, she glanced around the familiar room: the computer on the desk, tons of paper and a shelf filled with books about nature. Her father was particularly fond of birds, but worked to maintain the whole ecosystem in the national park. In the corner of the room stood a tripod supporting a large binoculars. He was only a few years from retirement; Grace hoped he would maintain his interests and not fall into some sort of I'm-old-and-done mood. She could not imagine that would ever happened, but one never knew.

Returning her attention to her father, she wondered, “Did I tell you he was Fran's parent's priest?”

“No, you didn't.” Stan got a sudden horrified expression, straightened up in his office chair and combed his fingers through his gray beard. “How are they taking it?”

Without thinking about it, Grace felt a small sardonic smile escape. “You know how Andrea is – over the top.” Stan showed no signs of finding her comment amusing. Grace continued. “And Fabio doesn't say anything. I met them at the funeral yesterday and while Andrea emoted everywhere, Fabio stood in the background.”

Stan took a sip of whiskey. “Well, it must have been a shock for them,” he said twirling the glass in his hand. “You should think about that.”

Before Grace responded, the voice of her brother, Chris, traveled through the house. Her father cast a glance at his watch.

“The boy is late,” he mumbled standing up.

Looking out through the window, Grace clearly understood why: the piling snow was starting to drift. She drank the rest of her whiskey. “Air traffic is weather sensitive,” she said grimacing as the beverage flushed down her throat.

Her mother had already swept Chris into a hug. Meeting his gaze over their mother's shoulder, Grace grinned. He made a grimace, but a friendly one. Blond, a bit taller than Fran with big, blue eyes; he was a good-looking guy although Grace had difficulty admitting it. After all, he was her childhood tormenter.

The five years that separated them had been a lot when he was ten and Grace five; his friends and what they did impressed her. She wanted to come along and do what they did, but he had not been interested in having her around. As the years passed, his way of brushing her off changed to a more protective nature. Grace could still recall the day he beat up a classmate of his for trying to hustle Grace; she was only fourteen, still curious about boys but naïve to know what they were after. It took her a year or two after that incident before she realized why she never found the boys attention as charming as her girlfriends did. Today, still five years apart, the significance of age was gone. They were equal and shared a great friendship.

“Hi there, little one,” he said embracing Grace in a bear like hug. “You been here long?”

With her arms around his waist, she replied, “Only one whiskey long.” She grinned, as did he. Once they were of legal age, their father invited Grace and Chris into his office for a drink. A tradition Grace came to appreciate more and more over the years, just a short moment but intimate - an important bond between father and child. Grace looked forward to sharing that tradition with Eric.

Letting go of one another, Chris said, “You look tired, Grace. Is someone keeping you up at night?” he asked then winked.

To her surprise, Grace blushed. She did not know why, but in her moment of confusion she realized his question could be interpreted in two ways. “Not often,” she blurted in response just as soft footsteps came down from the second floor. Rescued. She turned around and saw Fran coming down the stairs with Eric in her arms. Fran in blue jeans, a black fleece sweater; Eric in a green cotton suit. A beautiful picture, she thought a smile spreading across her face.

“Wow!” Chris burst brushing by Grace aiming for the mother and son. He stopped, gave Fran a quick kiss and then looked down on Eric. After a few seconds he said, “Can I -?”

“Sure.” Fran handed Eric to Chris.

Slowly, he turned around. Grace noticed his eyes were shiny. With Eric resting in his arms, he whispered, “Wow.” Grace wondered if “wow” was the only word in his vocabulary. She did not ask. Instead, for the first time since Eric's birth, she felt what she feared she would: jealousy.

 

It was during spring last year when Fran said she wanted to have a child. Somehow, for as long as she could remember, Grace had managed to push the thought of children far away. It was simply not in her mindset to have children - not as a lesbian. For some reason, she simply accepted the fact she could not have any the natural way and that was it. Although more and more of their friends decided to extend their families with children, Grace and Fran, fully occupied with their careers, moved on without seriously talking about it. Not until that Sunday afternoon.

“When did this happen?” Grace asked sitting on the bed while Fran lay down, her head on the pillow.

Fiddling with the fabric of her sweater, Fran shrugged. “I don't know. One day I just realized I'm going to be forty pretty soon and -.” She never finished the sentence.

One surprise after another, Grace thought while Fran tried to suppress her emotions. Sure, 36 years old, Fran was reaching the critical age but when did that become a problem? Grace had never thought about it and was quite taken aback by the sudden life crisis. Life crisis. It was almost funny. Smiling, Grace reached out, put her hand under Fran's chin and motioned for her to face Grace. “Do you feel old, Fran?”

Fran chuckled. “I'm not getting younger.” She paused looking Grace straight into her eyes. “But I don't feel old,” she added with a smirk.

They did not talk much more about it that day, but Grace kept mulling the question in her mind. She tried to get used to the mere thought of having a child; a baby toddle across the kitchen; the screaming, the diapers, the first tooth, kindergarten, pimples, dirty clothes. The thoughts exhausted Grace. She realized she had to approach the topic from a different angle: a positive one. Many people have kids. She had read about them. A little boy or girl Grace could pitch ball with, go camping with, or, in a nerdy way, teach about problem solving. The last possibility would probably be well received. How hard could it be?

A couple of days after Fran brought up the issue, they sat on the couch watching a movie when Grace asked, “Have you thought about how we should have a baby?”

The question was blunt, but Fran responded without hesitation. “First I thought about adoption.” She turned to Grace. “I mean -- a lot of children are in need of parents. We both know that.”

Grace nodded realizing Fran had thought about this for a long time, perhaps longer than she would ever admit. At the moment, Grace was not certain what to think having been excluded from this process. But she chose not to comment. Instead she said, “I sense a ‘but' in here.” She saw Fran take a deep breath and then turn back to watch the movie. “Fran?” Grace leaned over to get a glimpse of Fran's eyes.

Fran's gaze was on the TV, but nothing from the movie seemed to be registering. Her mouth moved as if she was talking with herself. Grace waited and then Fran said, “I feel selfish when I say this, but --,” she turned back to Grace. “I want to feel my child grow inside me. I want to be part of it all -- the kicks, the morning sickness.” She paused. Tears began trickling down her cheeks. “I want to feel it.”

For a brief moment, Grace thought about checking Fran's nightstand. This was where she would hide any odd pills; the only thing Grace could think of was that Fran was eating hormones -- for horses. The thought caused a smile to crack on her face, but with a crying Fran sitting next to her, she quickly shoveled the smile away.

Sobering from her stray thoughts, Grace realized how a child in their home was coming closer to reality. It did not take a rocket scientist to see this was important to Fran. But was it important to her? Grace's mind raced. Yes, Fran bringing a child into their life was important, but getting one was not. It would have been a lie to come to any other conclusion – she could live without a child. But she did not want to live without Fran so a child she would have.

Grace's mental ping-pong took only a few moments and her attention again turned to Fran. She was crying; it was not often Fran cried. The few times it happened, Grace had felt a bit clumsy barely knowing what to do or what to say.

Those who could scream of joy and scream in sadness; Grace wondered how they did it. Did the loud emotional expressions come from the heart? The stomach? Could one feel it? Grace had never felt, or expressed, neither joy nor sadness like that.

But Grace felt even more in love brushing away the tears from Fran's cheek. She pulled her into a soothing embrace. Fran, her head resting against Grace's chest, sobbed and Grace rocked her back and forth. It was a big day in their life.

Feeling Fran settle down, Grace pulled back a bit. Fran's face was tear streaked, her eyes wet and red. Smiling, Grace kissed the last tears away saying, “I'm going to make sure you get whatever you need except --.” She searched eye contact. “I really don't know how I feel about you sleeping with a man.”

Fran sobbed out a chuckle. “I don't want to do that!” she cried taking Graces hands. Looking down on their entwined hands, she whispered, “I want you to make me pregnant.”

And there it was. Grace could not get Fran pregnant. From then on out, Grace occasionally felt a sting of irrational guilt about her lack of manhood. Browsing through catalogs of potential sperm donors did not make her feel any better. As if sensing Grace's frustration, one morning Fran suggested they ask Grace's brother to be the donor.

“What?” Grace was confused, shocked even.

“Come on, Grace. Think about it.” Fran leaned across the table and grabbed Grace's hand. “He is the closest to you we can get. With him, our child will look like you, too.”

With Fran massaging Grace's hands and looking straight into her eyes, Grace thought about it. Her brother: charming, funny. A real man. Fran: charming, funny. A real woman. It would be an alpha child. Grace felt worthless. Hurt. “Well,” she began, her lower lip trembling. “You and he will share something you and I can never have!” She spat out the last words then rushed from the table, went upstairs and put on her running clothes. With Fran's pleading voice ringing in her head, she went out for her longest run ever.

She ran with an aggressive pace leaving mile after mile behind her. Rain and wind whipped her face, but neither concerned her. Pain. She needed it. But, no matter how much pain she took, how much her heart ached, her lungs burned, Fran's suggestion hurt more.

The hard concrete hit her feet, she stumbled up and down curbs; she ran against a red light and a car screeched. With the look of a mad woman, she pinned the driver down with her gaze and pounded her hand against the hood. The driver screamed after her, but she ignored him. He was an idiot.

While rain and sweat dripped down her face, images of her brother suddenly appeared in her mind. She increased the pace but there was no more fire inside her. Again, she saw her brother's smiling face, remembered when he taught her to pitch ball, when he took her to the game. Distracted, she stepped right into a deep puddle. The water reached her knee and a shiver passed through her body. She stopped in her tracks.

Chris had had pneumonia once; he had been hospitalized. Grace recalled how terrified she had been when he was away. Grace thought back to the incident. She could not have been more than six years old. Chris was her hero back then.

Breathing heavily, she bent forward and rested her hands on her thighs. Chris was still her hero. Fran was right: he was everything Grace could want. Some unknown guy jerking off in a cup could never be a better donor. The mere thought made her sick.

“I will know you come from the very best,” she mused aloud to the unknown child waiting for them.

Sweaty and cold, she arrived home after more than two hours away. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Fran met her at the door. She made an attempt to say something but Grace hushed her.

“I'm sorry,” Grace said falling into her arms. “You're right. Chris will be the best dad our kid can have.”

 

Now, almost a year and a half later, Grace watched her brother holding Eric, a strained smile pained her face. The destructive thoughts return to gnaw at her. She did not like herself at the moment; she knew – deep, deep inside – her fear was not justified. To hell with it, her consciousness spat and then kicked all logic far away.

This moment of self-pity was not allowed to stay unchallenged though. “Here -.” Chris's voice penetrated Grace's grumpy conscious. She looked first at Chris, then Eric. Chris motioned for her to take the boy and reluctantly she did. The warm body wriggled a little before settling down on her arm. Unconsciously, a smile slipped through Grace's defenses.

“He is one lucky kid, Grace.”

Unaware of the attention, Eric yawned and closed his eyes. Smiling, Grace looked up at Chris. “And he has very lucky parents.”

The subtle smile suddenly vanished from Chris's lips. “Take good care of him,” he said in a serious tone.

Grace defenses shot up again. How should she interpret what he just said? What is he insinuating? She looked at her brother while stroking Eric's fleece-clad toes. The small foot jerked and Grace turned her attention to Eric. His mouth moved, a wrinkle between his eyes. She stopped caressing his toes and the boy eased back into undisturbed sleep. She could not help but smile again. Chris is only being nice, she argued inwardly. Eric was worth every word of advice.

Chris patted Grace's arm and followed Stan into his office. Whiskey. Looking after them, Grace could feel her fear return nesting in her heart. In the distance, she heard her mother and Fran talk in the kitchen; voices she loved. She took a deep breath and walked towards the voices. That and the smell of the turkey.

“There you are, Grace.” Carol crossed the kitchen with a steaming pot of something and put it down on the marble workspace.

Still carrying Eric, Grace asked if she could do anything to help. She observed Fran lifting the lid off the pot her mother just had carried to the workspace. It contained potatoes.

“You can prepare the salad,” Fran suggested as she began to mash the potatoes in a determined rhythm.

Grace looked down on the small boy on her arm. Salad. A sting of reluctance passed. She could feel her arms numbing. Sooner rather than later, she would have to let go of Eric – salad or no. Fran was working, so she could not take him; her mother was even busier.

Feeling a hand brush against her shoulder, Grace twirled around. Her mother stood with the turkey baster in her hand, the other one resting on her hip. “Get upstairs and put the boy in bed, Grace.” Caught in her mother's wisdom, Grace did not move. Carol looked straight into her eyes and Grace felt as if her mother could see her soul. Working hard not to look away, it felt like an eternity passed before Carol finally leaned closer and whispered, “No one is going to take him away from you, Grace.” She then smiled and moved on with her chores.

Lost and unsure, Grace met Fran's gaze from across the kitchen. Her blue eyes smiled; Grace could see a small wrinkle in the corner of her eyes: Fran's hidden smile. Grace pondered for a beat whether to ask her for advice: could she leave Eric upstairs in bed? Fran poured cream over the mashed potatoes, whipped them for a bit then added some milk. Just like Grace liked it. Kicking irrationality out into the snow, she took eric upstairs.

 

The rest of the day continued like so many other Thanksgiving Day's: they ate turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and stuffing; homemade rolls and butter; on top of it all -- an apple pie. Like so many other Thanksgiving Day's, Grace was incapable of breathing after dinner. She was stuffed up to her eyeballs. Every year she tried to figure out a way to enjoy all the delights without feeling sick afterwards, but nothing seemed to work.

After the obligatory nap, they all took the obligatory walk around the block. This year the walk was a greater adventure than normal due to the heavy snowfall, but even this had its charm. Grace hit Chris with a snowball in the back of his head and the snow, to Grace's loud amusement, slid down inside his collar; soon Grace found herself face down on ground. She screamed of joy forgetting for a brief moment she was 37 and the mother of one.

 

Not that many hours later, Grace hurried across the wooden floor in her old bedroom and dived in under the down comforter in search of Fran's open arms. She curled half way on top of Fran, wriggled to find the most comfortable position then Fran wrapped her arms around her. Taking a deep breath, Grace forced herself to relax and waited for her body temperature to increase. Caressed across her back, Grace closed her eyes, and took in the sweet scent of Fran's skin. Clean. Warm. It did not take long before she felt dreamland tease her to drop by; sleep was not far away.

“It was nice to see your family again,” Fran mumbled while beginning to place soft kisses on top of Grace's head. “We should do it more often.”

Opening her eyes, Grace looked at the dark contour of Eric sleeping in his crib next to the bed. “Yeah,” she mumbled while thinking he seemed to be able to sleep anytime. Anywhere. He did not care where he was -- as long as he got a pallet to sleep on.

“Are you okay, Grace?”

Still looking into the dark, she heard Fran's heart beat against her ear and felt her chest rise and fall. Grace felt a lump in her throat and tears well up in her eyes. She was sad and did not like it. Helpless and out of control, she could not point out what it was that bothered her. It just sat there laughing at her, jerking her to prove she could not control everything. She winked the tears away and took a deep breath.

“It's nothing,” she whispered. Her voiced failed her and she knew Fran caught it.

“Grace?” Fran tried to get Grace to look at her. It did not work, but Fran had other tricks up her sleeve. Two seconds later Grace was lying on her back and she found herself being observed by Fran. Embarrassed about her stubbornness, Grace tried to avoid looking at her lover, but failed. Again.

“I saw how you froze when Chris held Eric.” It was dark in the room but Grace made an attempt to look beyond Fran, out beyond them, but Fran caught her. “Don't shut me out when this happens, Grace. Your feelings are important; they are not stupid. You are Eric's mother.”

Pouting, Grace mumbled, “It felt like I wasn't needed.”

“Did anything happen that made you feel that?”

Grace bit back. Nothing had happened and she knew it. “No,” she mumbled. Nothing. Still, she felt she could scream. Frustration simmered; why did Fran have to bring this up? Fiddling with the fabric on Fran's pajama sweater, she suddenly became irritated more with herself then anyone else. That was even more frustrating.

Fran caressed her cheek. Grace twirled the hem of her pajama shirt between her fingers while looking out in the dark room. Her old book case still stood in the corner filled with her old books – mystery novels, baseball and a couple about tropical islands. She had read them all – several times. Fran caressed her nose; Grace closed her eyes for a moment, let her hand rest on Fran's shoulder.

Fran caressed her lips with the tip of her fingers. Unconsciously, Grace opened her mouth to greet them. Salt with a scent of soap. The frustration faded although Grace was not certain she was okay with it.

“Mm,” Fran hummed, her fingers continued their trail. Grace knew Fran smiled. The seductive smile that made Grace's heart melt and run wild at the same time.

In the faint light slipping in through the shades, she saw Fran: her dark hair gathered over her right shoulder, her eyes meeting hers, her mouth slightly opened. Inviting. Grace swallowed.

Her mother and father slept in the room just across the hallway from Grace's room. It made her nervous, like she was doing something very, very naughty. Dangerous. Grace was attracted to danger.

“I feel much better now,” she whispered raising her hand to caress the top of Fran's chest and up along her neck. Soft hair filled her hand; she found Fran's ear and brushed her thumb up along its line.

With a slight tremble in her voice, Fran said, “I can tell.” Her voice was deep. She leaned down and placed soft kisses along Grace's jaw line, down her neck.

Grace could feel the blood rush inside her body, all of it aiming for a special destination. It was suddenly extremely hot.

 

When the first rays of day light trickled in between the shades, Grace opened her eyes. The house was still quiet, but Grace knew her father would soon be up and then it would not take long before the smell of coffee made its way upstairs, teasing Grace to get up.

Fran lay with her arms stretched above her head, a peculiar smile draped across her mouth. With the memories of last night perfectly clear, Grace grinned -- a proud grin. Had she been a gorilla, she would have stood up, beat her chest and hollered, “I'm the Queen of this tribe!”

Now, she kissed Fran's cheek, sat up and looked around. A pair of pajama pants hung over the railing of Eric's crib; a sweater lay on the floor. Again, Grace grinned. Before she got up, she saw her old teddy bear sitting on a desk to the left of the bed; she could have sworn the bear grinned as well.

 

19

Saturday morning, Grace entered homicide in a surprisingly good mood. She felt rested and whatever problem she had had -- if any -- was now pushed into the back of her mind.

Sean on the other hand, looked like he had been sitting in his office chair since she left him Wednesday. His face puffy, his hair mussed up and his shirt wrinkled. A cup of coffee hung in his left hand while he read the morning paper spread out on his desk.

“Anything interesting?” Grace asked hanging her jacket on the hook on the wall.

“Nothing new,” he sighed. “Looks like the same news from last Thanksgiving. Family fights, drunk driving, a house burned down, and a new case for our department.”

Grace sat down, turned on her computer and placed an abandoned pen in the mug full of other pens. “Do I dare to ask about your family holiday?”

Sean chuckled in response; amused, Grace cast him a glance before gathering a couple of stray papers with a paper clip and putting them in the stack of cases on hold.

“It turned out Laura's father in-law, Roy , is a party kind of guy. I'd forgotten about that,” Sean said and laughed. “Well, we swung a couple of beers and some scotch. Must say I had a hard time keeping up with him.”

Grace saw him smile. Personally, she was extremely happy Sean was not her father in-law. The whole thing sounded awful to her, but she was glad he had had a good time.

Sean continued. “His wife was a real bitch though - just as I remember.” A dark cloud sank over his face and he added, “Whiny, ol' thing.”

Grace realized it was time to change direction. Instead she said, “It must have been good seeing Laura.” She hoped his daughter's name would bring out the best of Sean.

But unfortunately, his daughter's name did not put him in any better mood. He said, “Yeah, but that husband of hers is a real sissy. Something's wrong with that guy.”

He shook his head and Grace knew she would have to deal with some bad attitude for a while. Luckily, Dodge pranced in whistling ‘Singing in the Rain' to partake in the morning.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Sean growled.

Dodge glided down on his chair, flashed his row of white teeth in Sean's direction and sang, “What a lovely morning.”

As Grace and Fran returned to Cleveland last evening the snow changed to slush and now it was raining. Grace was not much for snow, but she was not at all for the dirty slush. Cleveland got darker than necessary. Obviously, this did not bother Dodge at all this morning and Grace had a fairly good idea what caused her colleague's jolly mood.

Grace's mind traveled back to the Thursday night at her parents'. She smiled and instantly her ears burned. To her good fortune, her flush passed Sean unnoticed. Back to reading his paper, he muttered something about ‘testosterone and pheromones'. Grace decided it was time to work.

 

An hour later, Grace and Sean were walking across Lorain Road to Connor's Food Import's. Dodge sat in a blue Ford Taurus on the other side of the intersection. Grace threw him a glance, but gave no sign of recognition.

Since Captain Darby was not informed about their short excursion, she had decided not to be wired, which meant Dodge could not hear the conversation. She would have preferred it, but saw no reason to stretch their adventure.

Inside the store, Grace was hit by the smell of garlic, pepper, and perhaps olives. She could not sort out all the fragrances circulating in the air, but she liked it. To the right of the entrance was a long counter and to the left three rows of shelves.

Sean strolled along the far left wall and Grace walked into the middle aisle. On the shelves were jars with pickles, ajvar, sardines and much more. She picked up a jar of Dijon mustard. The price was half in comparison to an ordinary grocery store. Grace could not resist it and brought it along.

She met Sean by the end of the aisle, took a right and they walked together. Sean picked up a package of pasta, hummed and put it down again.

Eventually, they reached the counter. First was a cooler containing salami, Parma ham, olives, feta cheese; next was a display of bread and then the counter where a man dressed in an Adidas jacket waited behind the cash register: the man from the funeral – O'Connor himself, perhaps. Grace smiled back.

“Good morning,” she said and placed the mustard jar on the counter.

“Morning.” The man took the jar and looked at it. “Dollar twenty-six,” he said and put the jar in a bag, handing it to Grace.

Grace nodded and reached for her wallet inside her coat pocket. “That was cheap,” she said still smiling and gave the man two one-dollar bills. O'Connor didn't respond to her charm and Grace had to accept use of her authority was necessary.

When O'Connor returned with Grace's change, she flashed her badge. “Detective Jacobson, Cleveland Police,” she said. The man pulled back his hand with the money. “This is Detective Leary.” Grace snagged her change from the man's hand and continued. “We would like to talk to you about Father Malachi.”

“I don't know him,” the man responded a little too quickly.

Grace looked at Sean. “He doesn't know him.”

“Well, in that case we should leave,” Sean said.

“Yeah.” She turned back to O'Connor; his glance jumped between Sean and her. A barely noticeable pearl of sweat glimmered in his hairline. Grace knew he was lying. “Before we leave, I would just like to know what you were doing at Father Malachi's funeral. Since you don't know him.”

Seconds passed before O'Connor managed to figure out what to say. “He was a customer,” he said quickly with a hint of relief and brushed his hand through his dark hair.

“That was nice of you,” Grace said again smiling. “I doubt anyone from the store I shop at would come to my funeral.”

O'Connor said nothing. Grace juggled the bag with the mustard jar in her hand while gaining time. “What is your name?” she asked before putting the jar inside her coat pocket.

“Daryl Walton.”

“And who is O'Connor?” Sean asked.

Walton shrugged. “Don't think there is one.”

Grace let time pass for a moment, hoping Mr. Walton would regain more self-confidence. In her opinion, people talked more when they believed they were in charge of the situation. Men in particular were difficult when cornered. Fortunately, Grace found they were easy to fool.

Just then a young woman entered from a back room. She wore an apron and her blond hair was tied back. Walton looked at her and shook his head. Grace met the woman's glance -- young yet somewhat nervous. Walton barked at her to leave and she quickly left to where she came from.

“We know Father Malachi bought food here,” Grace mused aloud. Walton slowly looked back at Grace who shot him another smile.

“What?”

Grace knew he had heard what she said and added, “What kind of food did he buy?”

Again brushing his hands through his hair, Walton looked at Sean then back to Grace. The sweat pearl had multiplied to several now close to trickling down his cheek. Grace assumed he was tired of talking to her.

“I don't remember,” he finally said, now with a hint of irritation. “I can't remember what everyone buys.”

“But you attended his funeral, so he must have been a pretty good customer. Don't you recall anything?”

Walton sighed and combed his hair with his fingers. “Pasta and ground pork. For the homeless.”

Grace looked at Sean who nodded. They had revealed to Walton they knew about Malachi shopping in the store, now it was up to Walton if he would be able to stay cool or run for support from his superior.

“Guess that was all,” Sean said.

“Yes. Thank you for you cooperation, Mr. Walton.”

Both Grace and Sean started walking towards the exit. Just as Grace was about to leave, she turned around and asked, “Do you know Andry Chirkin, Mr. Walton?” She could not help herself.

Walton's facial expression froze and his motion stalled before he shook his head. Grace nodded and left.

 

They then drove away, leaving Dodge to watch the action around Connor's Food Import's.

“How is it going?” Grace asked Dodge over the speakerphone. She drove across the bridge back downtown and stopped by the traffic lights outside Jacobs' Field ballpark.

“Still calm,” Dodge replied. “No one has left or entered.”

Grace was nervous. She wanted this to work; she did not want to meet Chirkin without something to deal with. It would be easier to get Chirkin to be cooperative with Walton there -- Walton who did not know Chirkin.

The light turned green and Grace turned left. Sean muttered some words of warning to Dodge not to fall asleep and lose Walton. Inspired with confidence, Dodge laughed at him and told him not to worry. Grace felt Sean look at her and offered him a strained smile.

When they hit East 9 th Street , Dodge's voice pitched a higher tone. “Here he comes!”

“Great!” Grace's heart rate picked up. “Follow him. But keep a distance!”

“Aye.”

Grace pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. If everything worked as she hoped, Walton would drive by Chirkin's club on St Clair.

Momentarily, her luck was thrown off when Dodge said Walton turned on West 25 th and to the Flats. Having read Chirkin's records, Grace knew he had more places, but Club Caesar on St. Clair Street was suppose to be where he spent most his time. As it turned out, Walton just took the long road to St Clair. When he reached the intersection at East 9 th Grace smiled in relief.

“You take a left now, Mr. Walton,” she whispered looking at Walton's red Chevrolet. “And park outside Club Caesar.”

She turned on the engine and when Walton did like she wished – turned left – she pulled out to follow. Dodge was behind them and she said, “Great work, kid. Drive back to the office and we'll meet you there later.”

Cheerfully, he responded, “Aye, aye. Be careful.”

Smiling, Grace peeked at Sean. “We will.” she said to Dodge as Sean shook his head. “If Darby's there, don't tell him what we're up to.”

Sean hit the ‘Off' button on the phone before Dodge managed to respond.

Walton parked on St. Clair Street outside a remodeled industrial building. A large sign reading ‘Club Caesar' hung out over the sidewalk. Quickly, Grace pulled up behind a couple of cars with a clear view of Walton hurrying toward the entrance. Before he walked inside, he paused and looked up and down the street. Grace met his worried look from behind her dark tinted windshield.

As the door closed after him, Grace looked at Sean and silently counted to ten. “Now,” she said and they both opened their car doors. Just as Grace put her foot on the asphalt, a monstrous tractor trailer passed by. The wake of wind slammed Grace's door to closed.

“Damn it!” she cried as the sharp edge of the doorframe cut across her shins. “Oh, God.” She thought she was going to faint.

Sean was already half way to the door when he noticed Grace was not with him. Before he came up with the idea to return to the car, Grace forced herself up on her legs. “Coming,” she hissed limping after him. She did not even dare to think about what her leg would look like.

“You run worse than I do.” Sean smirked when he saw she was somewhat okay.

Grace could have killed someone at the moment. Had she been alone she could have cried, now she hissed, “Imagine, I need to be one-legged before you can beat me.”

“After you, Ma'am.” Sean held up the door and, hiding her pain, Grace brushed by him.

 

Club Caesar was a murky place. The flooring was black and there were no windows. To the right were around ten clusters of square aluminum tables followed by a long bar. The bar then continued along the opposite wall from the entrance; the wall behind boasted of a variety of bottles and glasses. Behind the bar stood a tall man, another sat on a bar stool mumbling rapidly. Although it was dark, Grace recognized Walton.

To the left were more tables and at the far end a small stage. Soft music played and a woman, dressed in a handkerchief-and-a-prayer outfit, rehearsed her moves around a pole.

“Nice place,” Grace muttered. Her leg still throbbed and she was not in the mood for chauvinistic entertainment.

“We're closed!” the man behind the bar yelled.

“Nice people, too,” Sean filled in.

They slowly walked toward the bar. Grace noticed another man as he came out from a dark corner. Adrenaline pumped, her senses on edge. She watched the men by the bar – every motion – and heard every step of the man from the corner.

“Hi, Chirkin,” Sean said casually.

Grace met Walton's gaze through the mirror behind the bar, a subtle smile challenged his more confused expression.

“Ah, Mr. Leary,” Chirkin said in an accent of East-European origin, his voice theatrically happy. “Haven't seen you in a while?” He put both hands on the counter; his shoulders flexed and he seemed bigger than before.

“I try to see you as little as possible.”

Chirkin laughed as Sean sat down on the stool next to Walton.

Grace wondered what old encounters her partner had had with the Russian. He had not told her anything out of the ordinary, but she now suspected their paths had crossed during the years. With Sean more than thirty years on the force, a collision was not unexpected; Chirkin, his less than honest businesses began a long time ago.

“And who is your company?” Chirkin asked looking down on Grace, a sticky smile draping his mouth.

Grace smiled back. “Detective Jacobson.”

“Charming.” Chirkin stretched out his arm offering Grace his hand.

The handshake was firm, yet not rough. A thick gold bracelet dangled around his wrist and a gold ring sat on his finger; the top buttons of his white, well-ironed shirt were open, revealing a gray haired chest. The gray did not match the dark hair on top of his head. Grace's smile suddenly felt honest.

“We're here to ask what made you lend your car to Mr. Walton,” she said and turned to the now pale man to her right. Chirkin's eyebrows shot up and Grace added, “To attend Father Malachi's funeral.”

“Ah,” the Russian turned sad. Again he leaned against the counter, now shaking his head. “Very sad, very sad indeed.”

Neither Grace nor Sean said anything, but let Chirkin complete his contrite act. Glancing across the room, his mouth pursed together, he said, “Malachi was a good friend of mine.” He paused for a beat. “Unfortunately, I was occupied during his funeral so --,” he nodded at Walton, “I sent my friend, Daryl.”

Grace could not help but smile as Walton brushed his fingers through his hair. “Interesting,” she said. “Your friend, Daryl told us earlier today he didn't know you.” Pleased with her conspiracy, she turned back to Chirkin. The man's expression was now clouded, his gaze on Walton was dark.

“I am sure he misunderstood your question,” he said in an icy voice. “Right, Daryl?”

They all looked at Walton who took his time before he slowly nodded. “Yes, of course.”

Grace was not really interested in the relationship between Walton and Chirkin, and dropped the issue immediately. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other man moving towards them. Barely visible, Chirkin shook his head, the man stopped. Grace threw a glance in the man's direction. Behind him, the woman on the stage just tossed her bra; unconsciously, Grace's eyebrows arched. This was turning out to be a long day.

“You said,” Grace began and turned back to Chirkin, “Malachi was a friend of yours.”

“Yes.”

“What kind of friend?”

Chirkin shrugged. “We've known each other for many years. He used to practice boxing at my club.”

Boxing. Grace was not prepared for that. The boxing glove's, sweat pants, Speedo's – they did suspect Malachi exercised, but somehow she never thought it would be something people knew about. Silently, she cussed her ignorance.

“Was he a good boxer?” Sean asked.

Chirkin told them he used to be very good featherweight, one of the best in town although he never competed. “Figured the Bishop wouldn't like that,” he added with a smirk.

Probably not, Grace thought. “We heard Malachi had a problem with gambling.” She decided to be abrupt and get to the point. Life was too short to spend it with these men, in this place and with a stripper. Besides that, she had to think about the boxing for a while.

Nodding, Chirkin smiled. “I don't know everything about the man.”

“But you do know a lot about gambling in town. At least you records say so.”

Chirkin's face darkened. “Well, Miss Jacobson, let me tell you -,” he leaned forward; one inch closer and Grace would have been able to taste his musk stanching aftershave. Sean growled at him to back off; Grace, steadfast, met his gaze and Chirkin straightened up a bit. “I run a legitimate business,” he hissed between his teeth.

Unflinching, Grace replied, “Detective Jacobson.”

Walton moved on his stool trying to get away, but one look from Chirkin and he stayed put.

“Oh, both you and I know you do,” Sean argued.

Sarcastically, Chirkin laughed. “A man can change, Leary.” He tapped his finger on his chest. “Even a man like me.”

Sean laughed. Feeling like she was observing a frat party, Grace broke in. “Where were you last Monday between 5 and 7 pm?”

Chirkin was not a stupid man and bristled at the question. “Listen, Detective, unless you have something better to come at me with, you better get out of here.”

He looked in the direction of the stage and the man now standing next to it. Grace had no intention of being tossed out just yet, and shot an apologetic smile at Chirkin. “Can you tell me something more about his boxing?”

The man's eyebrows stitched together. “Nothing more to say.”

“Was he at the club a lot?”

“Why?”

Grace unbuttoned her coat and put her hands in her pant pockets. “Because you seem to be the only one who knows anything about him outside of the church.”

Chirkin smirked. “The man trusted me. I can't see why I should break that trust.”

“Because he's dead, Chirkin.” Sean was loosing his patient, Grace could hear it in his voice.

“Come on, just about the boxing,” Grace pressed. Threats would not work with this man. He was too much of a scoundrel for that. They could bring him down to the station, but for what reason? They did not have enough of anything and it would just stir things up. It was better to get Chirkin to talk about boxing than pissing him off by nagging about gambling. She would have to look more into that later.

After some moments of consideration, Chirkin said, “Until couple of years ago he was there a few times every week.” He looked at the stage, grinned and then returned to Grace. “He actually told me he did some prize fighting when he was young, but with his job he couldn't compete in public.”

Yet another surprising, but fun contribution to Father Malachi's resume, Grace thought and asked Chirkin if he knew why he stopped.

Chirkin began thrumming against the counter with his fingers. Suddenly, he told Walton to get lost and to not come back until later that night. Walton did not seem to mind; without saying anything, he walked out the door.

“One night two years ago,” Chirkin began, “I found Malachi beating the hell out of the bag. Thought the guy was going to punch a hole in it.”

Both Grace and Sean leaned against the counter, carefully listening to where this would go. Chirkin told them Malachi cried, and after some persuasion he had managed to take him aside.

“He cried like a baby,” Chirkin said shaking his head. “Eventually, he told me what it was.” He paused for a beat, eyeing between Grace and Sean. “He told me she had died.”

Grace and Sean looked at one another, then back to Chirkin. “Who?”

“Ruth.”

In the mirror behind Chirkin, Grace could see her chin drop and her expression was nothing close to the one of a mastermind. “His sister died?” she asked.

“Sister?” Chirkin picked up three glasses from behind the counter, grabbed a bottle of vodka from the shelf behind him and then poured one glass full. He offered them a drink, but both Grace and Sean declined.

“Ruth was not his sister, Detective. She was an old flame.”

 

Back in the car, Grace and Sean sat quietly looking out through the window. Ruth Vassel. Chirkin had given them her last name and Grace was one step closer to finding out more about her. At the moment, thinking gave Grace a headache, yet she knew she had a lot of thinking to do. An old flame and not his sister. And Grace's leg hurt. At the moment she did not care; she felt the need to jog and clear her mind.

 

 
 
Continue to Part 5

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