Days of Grace
by Elize

Part 6
posted  February 2005
 
 

 
 

24

It was almost 6:30 when Grace swooshed in through the door to her house. Eric lay on a blanket on the floor gurgling; his mother sat in the couch watching the news. Grace peeked at Fran for a moment. Was she still mad? Judging by her steadfast gaze on the TV and the fact that she barely blinked, Grace assumed so. She wriggled out of her coat, hung it on the coat rack and practiced a smile before heading into the living room and Fran.

In a pitiful voice she said, “I'm sorry I'm late.” She sat down next to Fran, pulled her legs up under her and waited. Fran said nothing nor did she move. A commercial about a potency medication started and it was extraordinarily bad.

One minute passed then another. The silence was piercing and Grace tried to breathe quietly, just so it would not disturb. Thinking about her breathing became ridiculous and suddenly she felt a giggle begin to bubble inside her. The corners of her mouth turned upwards although she did try to keep them down.

“Is something funny, Grace?” Fran frostily asked.

Pursing her mouth together, Grace blurted, “No.”

“Good.“ Fran turned to her. “Because if it is you might want to share that with me.”

Suddenly, Eric made a loud, gurglish laugh and that was it for Grace. Laughing, she turned to face Fran. “I'm sorry, but I got caught up.” Fran pinned her down with her gaze, but Grace saw a glimmer of a smile playing across her mouth. Grace grabbed the moment. “I'll do anything you want,” she whispered and placed kisses along her jaw line.

Not knowing how it happened, Grace swiftly found herself on her back with Fran straddling over her. Grinning she said, “I'm not mad at you, silly, but since you now have promised to do anything for me --.” She pulled up Grace's shirt and dug her fingers into her waist.

“No!” Grace screamed. “No tickling!”

“But you said anything,” Fran laughed.

Grace could barely breathe -- again. “Stop!” she cried, wrestling to get Fran off her. Focusing, she managed to find a good hold on Fran's arm and a leg in between Fran's. Thank God for police training, she thought as they both fell off the couch.

Gasping for air, they lay in a bundle on the floor. “You still mad?” Grace asked.

“Not as mad as I was before you got home.”

 

A while later they stood in the kitchen preparing turkey sandwiches with lettuce and tomatoes. Eric sat on the floor looking at them.

“Did Dr. Cohen say anything about what kind of hours you would get?“ Grace asked as she squeezed out mayonnaise on her rye bread.

Fran placed a lettuce leaf on her sandwich. “No. But I have to get in there soon and work that out.” She stopped what she was doing, looked at Grace and took a deep breath. “God damn it!”

Grace's eyebrows shot up. It was not often Fran swore, but when she did she really meant it.

“I don't want to go back to work now.”

“I know,” Grace said placing a slice of tomato on top of the lettuce. “But you just have to do it, Fran. It will be alright.”

Sighing, Fran relied, “Yeah, you're right.”

With their sandwiches on a plate, they sat down by the kitchen table. Fran served green tea and then sat back in the chair across the table. Looking down at Eric, she said, “Perhaps Mom can watch him for a few months.”

Grace took a big bite. “Do you think that's such a good idea?” She did not want either her parents or Fran's parents to look after their child, not on regular basis. This was probably something she had with her from her own childhood: you took care of yourself and didn't hand over your responsibilities on others. In Fran's family, caring for grandchildren was not seen as a problem, though, and they helped one another if necessary. Grace did not mind that -- to a certain degree. But letting Andrea Gentile handle Eric for three months could all of a sudden mean she would daycare him forever and then she would have an opinion about how Fran and Grace raised him. Grace sensed she was jumping to conclusion, yet she could see it coming.

She said, “Can't you see if there is room for him at the hospitals daycare first?”

Fran smirked. “Mom is not that bad, Grace.” She took a sip of tea then added. “I turned out pretty well.”

“Yeah, pretty well,” Grace mumbled. She said, “But you know what I mean. We have talked about this.”

A beat of silence fell. Fran munched her sandwich, obviously thinking about the response then stated, “Yes, you're right. I'll check on it.”

Another beat of silence fell before Fran lifted the mug to her mouth and mumbled, “But it would save us money.”

At that moment, Eric laughed on the floor. Grinning, Grace looked at him. “I know, kid, your Mom is paranoid.” Her attention on the boy, Grace did not see the tomato slice sweeping through the air before it landed in her face.

 

25

Grace's eyes itched. It was before 7 am when she drove out from Clifton Boulevard onto Cleveland Memorial Shoreway heading toward downtown Cleveland . For a reason she now cussed, she had set the alarm early with the intention of getting to work before her 7.30 shift actually started. Her plan had been to get a few things off her desk before the commotion began. Rubbing her eyes, she now wondered if she would manage much more than a cup of coffee.

To her left lay Edgewater Park followed by the Edgewater Marina; beyond them lay Lake Erie , brown in color and rolling from the northern wind. She was just about to turn inland when her glance caught someone jogging along the parallel road.

“Brother William?” she asked herself aloud. A split second later, she peeked in the rear view mirror trying to see him. She could not.

“Damn it,” she swore and hit the gas pedal as she passed under the railroad tracks. A minute later she took off on the West 25 th exit, made a u-turn across the curb and drove back onto the shore way again.

No more than four minutes had passed. She scanned ahead, trying to see him. A dark silhouette was off in the distance beyond the park. It could be him. Grace turned off the highway and down into the park. The jogger was already up among the trees and no matter how Grace tried, she would not get to him without making a big mess. Should she speed on the walk path or across the lawn? No, she did not think so.

Instead she parked, turned off the engine and waited. If she was lucky, he would come back the same way. Waiting, she looked at the tree clad hill where she had seen the jogger disappeared. A woman was walking her dog - a fat Labrador . Down by the abandoned beach, nothing but trash and seagulls camped out. Grace turned on the radio; the news reader rattled about rising oil prices and an increasing budget deficit.

Sighing, Grace shook her head. “It's going south,” she muttered.

Shortly after, Grace saw a jogger coming down the slope. She turned off the radio and turned on the engine then anxiously waited for the jogger to come closer. With an impressive pace he came closer to Grace and now she could see it really was Brother William. He ran onto the road along the marina and Grace put the car in motion.

She passed by him, continued for some hundred feet then stopped and stepped out from the car. As their eyes met, William's face remained strained – focused on what he was doing.

“Hello there,” Grace hollered.

William slowed down and came to a halt. Sweat glimmered in his face, his blue hat soaked. His jogging suite was somewhat similar to one Grace owned. Considering his outfit and the pace she had seen him have, he was a regular runner.

“Detective,” William puffed while shaking his legs so not to stiffen.

Grace knew his muscles would contract, especially on a cold day like this, and it would be tough to find the rhythm again. Personally, she sincerely disliked breaks while she was running. But ignoring the friar's muscles, she stated, “You're a good runner, Brother. Out often?”

Exhaling, William answered, “As often as I can. It's good for the soul.”

Whatever. “I'm a runner myself. Ran the Buffalo Marathon in June.” She tried to get his confidence. “Aiming for the marathon here next year.”

“You should try Akron , unless you already have,” William suggested.

Grace shook her head.

“It's a nice trail.”

Smiling, Grace said she would look it up. “So, how come you ended up a runner?”

William crossed his arms and tramped on the mark. “I don't know. Feels like I've always done it. My memories as a little boy are running; drove everybody insane.”

Grace's mind traveled back to Father Malachi's closet and the sweat pants in the laundry basket. “Do you know if Father Malachi jogged?”

The young man's face turned sad and a looked away. “Yeah, he did. We used to get out together at least once a week.” He looked back at her. “He was a good running partner. Strong for a man his age.”

“I hear he also was a boxer, “Grace said looking at William. His lips were turning blue. “Did you join him?”

William shook his head. “Not in many years. Boxing wasn't my thing.”

Many years, Grace thought. The friar was not that old. She asked William what kind of relationship he had with Father Malachi.

“He was like a father to me,” he said faintly. Looking down, William seemed to retreat to the past. Grace let him be, patiently waiting for him to return.

Eventually, he said, “I grew up with the Ursuline Sisters.”

Too many times now this case caught Grace off guard and this was no exception. The Ursuline Sisters-- again.

“I never knew my mother. She left me at the Sisters, so I grew up there.”

Grace watched the young, athletic man. Nuns raised him. She could not help but wonder what that could do to a young boy. Growing up in a surrounding where everything was supposed to be good? Grace could not help but believe he must have missed a lot of what it meant being a child -- to act from his heart and learn by his mistakes. And all those women -. Eric. How was that going to affect him?

Regaining herself, Grace asked, “Did Father Malachi take care of you after you moved out from the Sisters?”

“Sort of. I lived at Saint Andrews Abby, but for the last four years I've been in the community at St Matthew's.”

“Under Father Malachi's supervision?”

William nodded in response.

Digging her hands deep into her pockets, Grace asked, “Ever wonder who your mother was?”

“All my life,” William answered looking far out over the lake. “All my life.”

“Aren't there records you can look through?”

William shook his head. “It's confidential. It's a promise the Sisters give so people don't hesitate to ask for their help.”

What would he say if she turned out to be a prostitute? Grace thought. On the other hand, William wasn't stupid. He probably knew already where the kids at the convent came from. Grace kept the question to herself.

The wind and humidity crept inside Grace's coat, she saw the young man begin to shiver. She knew how cold he must be at the moment and asked if he wanted to ride with her back to his house. William politely declined, but told her he should get going unless he wanted to catch a cold.

 

Back in the car, she did not know what to do with this new information. The Sisters kept coming up and Grace hadn't paid them the attention she should have.

She shook her head. “That's stupid, Grace.” Who knew what could surface after a couple of questions?

All the loose ends, the connections between people that seem to come from out of nowhere, baffled Grace. There was something she had missed, no question, but what was it?

She drove off the highway at West 25 th and as she sat under the traffic lights by St Matthew the sense of things unraveling grew. As the light turned green, Grace took a quick left turn instead of right and drove up to the church.

The church and the rectory. There must be some answers in these two buildings, she thought and stepped out of the car.

Fighting the wind, she paced to the rectory and stepped inside. It wasn't much warmer inside than it was on the outside and Grace shivered. It was damp and the cold penetrated Grace's clothes. She sniffed the air. “An open window would do a miracle.”

She looked into the living room. “I should probably not be here without telling someone,” she mumbled, promptly ignoring her own advice. The room looked exactly as Grace remembered it -- the seating group, the coffee table, the crucifix and the open bible.

She turned right and scanned the kitchen then turned back to the living room again then decided to walk up the stairs to Malachi's bedroom.

Standing in the doorway, Grace looked over the room. The remote control lay on the table, the bed still neatly made. But, the room was darker. She remembered light had flood through the windows; it had been warm despite the cold outside. But this gray day the room was chilled.

With her head slightly tilted she scanned every window. Something was different. They were all closed. “Wasn't one window open the last time?” Grace asked herself and walked over to the windows.

“Someone has been in here.” While thinking it probably was a smart thing to shut the windows, she wasn't happy about not knowing who. She made a mental note to ask the bishop who had access to the rectory since.

Grace turned and walked over to the closet. Here, too, everything looked as remembered. No one seemed to have gone through the belongings. Glancing around, she caught the sight of the jogging shoes on the floor. She squatted and lifted one up. On the floor was a subtle trace of sand and dirt. Grace recalled something Patty had told her: dirt from Edgewater Park was found on the floor in the sacristy. Grace dug up a sample bag and a pair of rubber gloves from her pocket. She wriggled the gloves onto her hands and gently brushed some of the dirt into the bag before she stood up.

Again, Grace flipped through the shirts and pants, looked in the boxes and on the shelves. Nothing suspicious was to be found. She stepped out of the closet, shut the door behind her and said, “Don't you have a box somewhere, Malachi? Stuff you don't want anyone to see.”

The bed, a simple twin-size construction with a dark wooden frame, called for Grace's attention. Could Malachi be so naïve to simply hide his secrets under the mattress? She walked around the bed and lay down on the floor.

“It would be embarrassing if we'd missed something under here,” she grunted and peeked in under the bed.

Nothing but dust. Looking up from this vantage point, Grace noted a difference in the knobs of the bedposts. One was slightly off-kilter. She stood up and gave the knob a twist. It began to turn. Grace continued twisting it and once it came off, she noticed a string followed the knob. She pulled on the string and felt a bit of resistance. She immediately drew the string up and found a distressed envelope attached to the end of the string. Her heart racing now she opened it.

First, she peeked inside without touching anything – papers, and possibly money. Gently, she removed the contents. Money; she counted six twenty dollar bills and laid them on the bed. Next was a piece of paper. A receipt – a betting receipt. Grace whistled as she read the sum: four hundred dollars on a baseball game. She examined the small piece of paper. It was white and no larger than a movie ticket. The game and date were written with a straggling handwriting and on the bottom was a green-colored ink stamp. Grace looked closer – it was of a laurel wreath.

Looking up and out at the gray sky outside the window, she wondered about the seal. Could it really be that obvious?

“Hail, Caesar!” she mumbled and proceeded to go through the remaining receipts.

Grace found eleven more receipts – football, basketball, boxing, race cars -- and each receipt was hundred dollars. One, a boxing match between someone named Floyd Mayweather and José Luis Castillo on April 20 th 2002, was worth $2000.

Gently, she put the receipts and the money back into the envelope. “Hope you didn't loose that one.”

Picking up her phone, she called Sean and gave him a quick briefing about where she was and what she found.

“You shouldn't be there on your own,” Sean muttered.

“Too late now,” Grace responded as she walked down the stairs. “I'll take the envelope to the Coroners office for analysis before I come to the office. Tell you more later.”

As she reached the exit door, Grace finished the phone call and headed back to the car.

 

26

When Grace eventually strolled into the office, everybody was already in full motion. Or at least it looked like it; a closer look revealed something else. Dodge was talking about a football game with Thomas, Alvarez scanned a report while nursing a cup of coffee and Sean read the paper. An ordinary day before noon.

Breaking the casual mood, Grace tossed her coat on a chair, put her coffee cup on the desk and sat down. “Did I tell you who I ran into on my way here?”

Sean looked up from his paper. “You have too much energy today.”

“It's been a busy morning.” Grace felt enthusiastic. “I met Brother William. He was jogging!” Sean peeked up at her, Grace smirked. “And,” she said and took a sip of coffee, “guess where he grew up?” She held on to the response, hoping for Sean to burst of curiosity, but no such thing happened. Disappointed, but not surprised, she sat down, kicked up her feet on the desk and stated, “The Ursuline Sisters!”

Sean looked up, his eyebrows raised. “Seems like the entire town was there,” he mused and sat back.

“Doesn't it, though?”

Captain Darby came into the office a paper under his arm and his cup of tea in hand. Walking to his office, he nodded wordlessly at the detectives. He closed the door behind him everyone knowing it would take one hour before he came out again, calling for someone to report.

“So,” Grace began again. “We have two women who left a child to the Sisters and one child who left the Sisters.”

“And they all have a connection to Father Malachi.”

Grace nodded. “Anyhow, they were pretty busy at the coroners, but I had them run the evidence during the day.”

Sean straightened up. “Did you get a copy of the receipts?”

“Sure.” She turned around, reached for a couple of Xerox copies in her coat pocket and handed it across the desk to Sean.

Grace sat quiet and watched Sean scanning the first sheet. His eyebrows crinkled as he slowly leafed to the next one. When he was done, he looked up.

“I'll check these games to confirm if he lost or won.”

“That's a good idea,” Grace said. She saw Sean organize the papers on his desk. “Can I make a copy first?” Sean looked up, met her eyes. “I'm going down to Vice. They must have something on Chirkin already.”

 

Grace strolled into VICE situated one floor below homicide. The office looked essentially the same as homicide; most of the staff was gathered around one of the desk and Grace had a feeling she was about to intrude on some kind of meeting. One of them looked up and saw Grace – Detective Claudia De Rossi.

“Hey, Jacobson. What brings you down here?”

De Rossi was in her mid forties, tall and lanky, with a brutally straightforward way. Grace had worked with her a couple of times in the past and they got a long well.

Grace waved her paper. “Do you have a moment to take a look at this?”

Walking over to a desk in the middle of the room, De Rossi hinted for Grace to join her.

“What do you have?” she asked and took the paper from Grace.

Eyeing De Rossi, Grace answered, “I found receipts in the investigation of Father Malachi's murder. You've seen one before?”

Still examining the receipt, De Rossi slowly nodded. “I'll be damned.” She looked up at Grace. “Chirkin. The Russian guy who owns Club Caesar on St. Clair.” Again she turned to the paper. “I've seen both of these and him before.”

“Great!”

De Rossi put the paper down on the desk and turned to Grace. “We've had an eye on Chirkin for a long time, but haven't been able to get to him. He was caught for racketeering once and sent to prison for a year, but we're pretty sure he continued his business from behind the bars.”

The crowd around the other desk split up and Grace nodded to one after the other as they passed by.

“According to witnesses, Father Malachi owed Chirkin money,” Grace said. “Gambling money – and we suspect that might be the reason for Malachi's murder.” She eyed De Rossi as she stretched out her long legs across the floor and rested back on her hands. “You think he would do something like that?”

A moment of silence fell. De Rossi just looked at Grace, scanned her as if trying to figure out what to say or how to say it. Eventually, she straightened up and leaned forward.

“Here's the deal. I'm pretty sure Chirkin would kill someone for money, but I'm even more certain he had other interests to protect.”

Grace also leaned forward and their faces were only one foot apart. “What interests?”

“Prostitution.” De Rossi leaned in. “About a year ago we followed every move Chirkin made, tried to get proof that Club Caesar is much more than just a bar with erotic dancing.” De Rossi leaned back in her chair again. “We'd heard a rumor that Chirkin kept women locked up to work for him.” Sighing, she shook her head. “We couldn't find any hard proof, but we're sure the source was right.”

Grace's mind raced. “Who was the source?”

“A homeless woman we found down in the Flats. She was in pretty bad shape but convinced women like her disappeared.”

It was almost too good to be true, Grace thought. Could Malachi have known about it? Grace got a tingling feeling he might have. Brushing her hand through the hair, Grace hoped for a revelation about how to move on from here. She found one.

“Listen --,” Grace said. “You think we can work together on this?” She saw De Rossi's eyebrows shoot up. “If we can get someone to visit Club Caesar, get behind the façade, we could take Chirkin down. I think we can get an approval to have someone work undercover now when we have a connection between Chirkin and Malachi and Chirkin and prostitution.”

Nibbling her lower lip, De Rossi looked at something behind Grace. “I don't know --. We haven't worked on this for quite some time.”

“But that's because you didn't have any other leads!”

De Rossi looked back at Grace and grinned. “You're such an aggressive girl, Jacobson.”

Grace smirked. “We can do this. You can get your proof about Chirkin and we can squeeze out the truth about Malachi's death.”

After some further discussion back and forth, Grace and De Rossi came to an agreement. Grace would talk to Darby and De Rossi to her chief about having someone visit Club Caesar on a regular basis, trying to get hooked up with one of Chikin's prostitutes.

 

Happy about the progress, Grace strolled back to her own department. What a day, she thought. And it's not even noon.

Sean just finished up his work with the receipts when Grace sank down in her chair.

“How did it go?” they asked in chorus.

Grace smiled. “You first.”

Her partner cleared his throat and shuffled the papers back and forth before he sat back and said, “The receipts have a total value of $14,320.00 and the old man didn't win one single game.”

“Wow! That's a lot of money to lose for a priest.”

Sean nodded.

Grace figured Malachi's paycheck hadn't covered much of that and he had been pressured to find ways to pay Chirkin. The question was what he did to get Chirkin off his back? She pushed the though aside for a moment and told Sean about her meeting with De Rossi.

“Vice has been keeping an eye on Chirkin for prostitution,” she said and saw a smirk – a subtle but one – wrinkle the corner of his mouth.

“Chirkin --,” Sean clucked. “He's such a dog. And it's gonna bite him in the ass.”

“You seem happy about this.”

Sean pushed back his chair and kicked up his feet on his waste basket. “Karma's great when it's someone else getting it.”

Father Malachi, money, Chirkin and prostitution. Grace tried to see a pattern, tried to see why Malachi was in the same equation. The church helped those in need, so helping prostitutes wasn't strange for Malachi. But being a priest and owe Chirkin money was strange.

“I think,” Grace began, “Malachi somehow found out about the prostitutes and that is what made Chirkin kill him. But we need to be sure Chirkin is dealing with prostitution.”

“Doesn't sound like a stretch of imagination,” Sean commented.

No it didn't, but they could still be wrong.

“How's the Boss doin' in there?” Sean asked. “We should talk to him.”

Grace looked beyond Sean to Darby's office. She could see him looking down as if he was reading. He lifted the mug to his mouth and flipped a page. Yes, he was still reading the paper, catching up on what the rest of the city already knew.

“We better wait a moment,” she said, pulling out her note pad. She took a mouthful of coffee then jotted down first what William had told her and then what she had talked to De Rossi about.

“Do you have a second?”

Grace looked up to Detective Jameson looking down on her with a piece of paper in her hand. “Sure,” she replied.

It was the Gory Bar report from the interviews Jameson had conducted in regards to the murder. “I just want you to skim through it,” Jameson said. “To keep updated.”

The report was in perfect order. Grace was not surprised. She flipped through the pages, made a few notes in the margin, asked Jameson a couple of questions. It had been crowded at the moment of the shooting and a pretty good description of the shooter was given: white male, thirty something old, Indians baseball hat and a tattoo on the back of his hand. It was not often something as obvious as a tattoo showed up.

Grace offered Jameson a few suggestions of what to do and who to talk to.

“We should get this one pretty soon,” Jameson said and headed back to her own desk.

Hopefully, Grace thought. Just then she saw Darby stand up signaling he was now ready for report.

“He's ready, Sean.”

Grace and Sean walked in to Darby's office. “We need to talk to you,” Grace said.

“Okay,” Darby frowned and sat down. He motioned with his hand for them to do the same.

Looking down in her notepad for a moment, Grace said, “We're having a couple of ideas in regards to Malachi's murderer.”

Squinting, Darby eyed them both then nodded. A man of few word, he said, “Go ahead.”

Grace told him about Malachi the gambling receipts she found under Malachi's bed and how he lost more than $14,000. Darby made no sign of interrupting, so Grace continued telling him about the meeting she'd had with De Rossi and the idea they had about having someone undercover as a guest at Club Caesar. The latter caught Darby's attention.

“An undercover,” he began and stood up. “That's expensive and not something MacArthur will be excited about.”

Grace knew he was right, but they had to get to the core of Chirkin's business.

“We need to find out what Chirkin is doing and if he deals with prostitution we can bring him in for that,” she said.

“But that wouldn't really answer why he killed Malachi, now would it?”

Grace looked away for a moment then said, “I have a feeling he got caught in the middle of Chirkin's full business and somehow that didn't turn out well. The answer is with Chirkin.”

Darby walked over to the window and looked out across the gray town. She knew what he was thinking about: risks. Having someone work undercover was always dangerous, so evidence had to justify the risk.

Slowly, Darby turned around and nodded. “You said Vice is involved already?”

Grace nodded. “They've been trying to get to Chirkin but didn't have enough on the feet. If we work this together, both of us may get what we need.”

“Okay, here is what has to be done.” Darby looked at Grace. “I'll have a talk with Vice so we can join forces in the discussion with MacArthur and the DA. Meanwhile, you start planning. We should be ready to start tomorrow.”

“Yes, Sir,” Grace and Sean said at the same time. Standing up to leave, Darby suddenly ordered Sean to stay for a moment. Grace threw a glance over her shoulder as she stepped out only to see Sean close the door. What was that about? she wondered as she continued back to her desk.

Grace sat down and corrected the mess of papers that seemed to always just appear. From Darby's office, however, she suddenly heard livid tones and it struck what it must be about.

 

Moments later, Sean stormed out from the boss' office. The day of constructive thinking was already over.

“God damn it!” her partner hissed and sat down.

Grace looked up. His face was red to bursting. Grace thought, he might have a heart attack. Seriously.

“Was it about Collina?”

Sean hissed. “I should have known that weasel would tell. And now --.” He stood up and motioned to the interrogation rooms. Grace barely made it into the room before he shut the door. “Darby is forcing me into therapy!”

He looked extremely miserable, but Grace could not help but chuckle.

“This is not funny, Jacobson.”

Biting back a grin, Grace looked away. He was right. If the therapist found him unfit for duty he could pull him off the street. That would kill Sean. She said, “I know, I know but --. Have you ever been to therapy?” She flashed him a smile of pity.

Sean frowned. “Hell, no!”

Grace thought back to his latest outbursts. Raging about like a madman was not acceptable for a man in his position and whatever caused it would have to be exposed. A little help would do him good.

Grace had been in therapy herself once. Twice a week. For two months. She was just a kid: twenty three years young and a rookie. The true world was a brutal place, she knew that beforehand, but when that brutality kicked her innocence and smeared it out over a concrete road she lost faith in everything. Herself, humanity, and the world. Still to this day, if Grace closed her eyes, she could relive the images of eight year old Kellie Bowman and her molested body. The bruised face, the mouth opened as if she still screamed. The blood. Grace had never seen so much blood. She was sick for days after the finding, and although she denied the need for help, her boss at the time sent her to counseling. Nothing had been amusing about Grace's therapy, but she learned to live with little Kellie Bowman instead of leaving her alone on the concrete.

“So, when do you start?” she asked Sean.

“Thursday,” he muttered.

Well, Grace thought. This ought to be interesting. She could not wait to see what would come out of this process. Cloaking a smile, Grace imagined Sean in a therapist chair - on a chaise lounge - boiling about his childhood. Besides the consequences – it was indeed a funny picture. Poor therapist, she thought.

“When you're done having fun at my expense,” Sean growled and opened the door. “Perhaps we can get back to work.”

To get some privacy, they moved back into one of the interrogation room and worked till well after lunch on how to set the operation in action. Operation Chick Pea. In contrast to Sean, Grace found the name quite fitting. Chick peas had, after all, been Father Malachi's last meal.

With papers spread all over the small table, empty coffee cups and only crumbs left of donuts; Grace stretched her arms above her head. The planning did not go as they hoped.

Tapping her pencil on a sheet of paper full of scribbling, Grace said, “Mary Parker.” She looked at Sean, his tie completely untied and the top two buttons on his white shirt open. “I would like to talk to her again.”

“What do you mean?”

“According to our homeless woman, Beth; and Mary Parker, Malachi helped women getting their babies adopted. And Parker said she has helped many prostitutes. Now seems like a good time to put some pressure on Parker about this issue.”

Sean's eyebrows knitted together. “You mean tell her Chirkin might be involved in prostitution?”

Grace pondered for a moment then shook her head. “But, I'm sure she knows more than she has told us this far. I mean, she must have talked to the women she helped. Fished for information.”

Crossing his hands behind his neck, Sean wondered why she would like to help them. “Malachi did threaten Parker about the very issue of prostitution.”

Grace shrugged. “Can't see her as being vengeful. I don't think she is a bad person.”

Sean scratched his head and stuck his pencil behind his ear. “The girls,” he mused eying her. “Parker probably has some sympathy for these women. I'm sure she will tell us if she realizes we know parts of it.”

Grace nodded and wrote ‘the girls' on the paper then drew a circle around it. “Perhaps I should talk to her myself. You know -- girl talk.”

Sean chuckled. “Yeah, and you're such a girly girl.”

“I can be,” Grace replied winking.

They decided Grace would call Parker into the station and talk to her here. It was easier to get people's attention inside the gray walls of the interrogation room than at home in someone's kitchen. Especially, with a cat crying for attention, Grace thought. This operation could not afford distractions.

A cheesy melody from the 80's suddenly began playing. It was Grace's cell phone. “Oh, damn,” Grace muttered grabbing the phone from her belt.

“Jacobson,” she answered giving the clucking Sean a grim look.

“It's me.” It was Fran. “You busy?”

In an attempt to hide who the caller was, Grace casually said, “Yes.” Her voice came out ridiculously stern and Sean clucked louder. Grace turned around.

“Are you sure?” Fran asked.

“Yes.”

A deep breathe in Grace's ear then Fran said, “Pick up dry cleaning on your way home. Bye.” The line went dead.

Nodding, Grace continued her act. “I will. Yes. Bye.”

She put the phone back on her belt, sat back and looked at the mottled wall behind Sean. Spotty gray as the day outside the window. The standard police issue décor -- a non-smoking sign taped on the wall, a poster with interrogation do's and don'ts next to it. The fluorescent overhead hummed and cast a greenish light. How could anyone be creative in this room? Grace wondered to herself.

 

Her mind went back to her childhood. She was probably ten years old; the door to her father's office was slightly open and Grace peeked inside. He sat by his desk surrounded by books, papers and maps; the light from his desk lamp spread a warm light. He looked up and met Grace's curious look.

“Come here, Blondie,” he said and held out his arms.

Like entering a sacred place, Grace tiptoed toward him and crawled into his lap. She looked over his desk top: his notes, the text in the books, the lines and colors on the map. Mesmerizing.

“Look at this,” he said and held up a jar containing a small, brownish bug. The bug ran back and forth, tried to climb the glass walls of its prison. “This little fellow is munching on our trees till they die.”

The bug, not even an inch long, kept running. Grace thought about the trees in the woods; tall and so wide not even her father could embrace them. The small bug scratched its little feet at the walls and Grace could not imagine it killing the trees.

“We don't know where they come from,” her father said, “and we don't know what to do about them, but something has to be done.” He put the jar back in the corner of his desk and then looked at Grace. “You want to help me figure this out?”

 

Grace returned to present time and the gray room. Her eyes itched; she was getting tired and her body stiff. Stretching her arms high up above her head, she asked, “Would be impossible that Malachi was somehow involved in the prostitution in a more direct way?”

Sean eyed her. “I don't think anything is impossible, but I would hope he had some decency left.”

Not too convinced, Grace proposed, “If he was involved, he could have told Chirkin he wanted out. We don't know what Malachi confessed to Collina, but it sounded to the bishop like Malachi was pretty remorseful.”

“Really?” Sean questioned.

Grace stressed, “At least for the last two years he met Collina more often, so that might indicate he was feeling cornered.”

“It's possible he did Chirkin some favors instead of paying back his debt.”

Grace agreed. “He probably had to.”

The door opened. Grace turned her head and saw Darby and Detective Claudia De Rossi from Vice walk in.

“I got an undercover for you,” Darby said.

Surprised, Grace put her feet on the floor and straightened up. “Already?”

Walking a full circle around the desk, Darby ended up behind Sean. “Time is ticking,” he said.

“So, who's doing the job?”

“We're bringing in an officer from Columbus ,” Darby said. “It's too big of a risk that Chirkin and his men will recognize someone from Cleveland .”

Grace met Sean's eyes. He seemed concerned, but she could see in his eyes -- by the tension in his face -- he agreed.

Grace became nervous. All these years in the service and she had never handled an undercover operation.

She had participated in one though. It was during a drug investigation some ten years ago -- female drug dealers. Grace had never heard about anything similar, but with a microphone stitched inside her bra, she had knocked on a Motel 6 room along I-80 one Sunday morning in June. Young and inexperienced, her heart beat so fast she was certain no one in the back-up team would hear anything of what was said. She carried cocaine worth $70.000 in a gym bag while sweat trickled down her spine. Her part in that operation took five minutes -- the one the officer from Columbus would perform could take weeks.

Holding her gaze on a jagged ring from a coffee cup, Grace felt weeks were longer than an eternity.

“He'll be here tomorrow afternoon,” Darby said. “Be ready by then so he doesn't have to sit here waiting.”

Grace looked up at him and nodded. “Yes, Sir.” An eternity, yet time ticked faster then ever.

Darby gazed at them both, serious and quiet. Then he turned to the tall woman who leaned against the wall. “De Rossi will work with you and I expect full communication. No holding back on information.”

“Sure,” both Grace and Sean replied.

Darby left them alone and Grace pulled out a chair for De Rossi.

“Welcome to the cave,” she said.

“Stinks like murder in here,” De Rossi snorted and sank down on the chair.

Grace smirked. “Could be the smell of brain activity.”

De Rossi sniffed. “Nope. It's definitely murderer.” She kicked up her feet on the chair Grace just moments ago had her feet on. “So, Chirkin. As I told Jacobson, we had him under our radar some years ago, but we couldn't find anything. But I think – or hope – his days are numbered now.”

Both Grace and Sean chuckled. “I wouldn't mind seeing his smug face behind bars,” Sean said.

Grace thought back to the bar, the dancers and Chirkin's ballsy attitude. He was not someone she would like to be involved with. On the other hand, he had given them the information about Ruth --. “Well,” Grace said, “I'm positive it won't be hard to figure out if there are more businesses going on at Club Caesar than just drinking and topless girls. With some patience, the undercover will get access to that.”

De Rossi took a deep breathe then exhaled slowly. “Hope you're right.”

“Well --.” Grace felt a sting of pressure in her gut. “Let's move on.”

 

They decided Sean should head over to the technicians and get equipment for wire-tapping and video monitoring ready. The undercover officer would mostly work by himself, but they wanted a surveillance team ready outside. They also decided he would meet with Grace and Sean every morning; De Rossi would be informed by Grace after their meeting.

“I don't mind if you do most of the work yourself,” De Rossi said. “But I want to be well informed and, if something happens VICE have to be the department doing the arrest. There will be a lot of unnecessary questions otherwise.”

That sounded like a good agreement to Grace. As long as Sean and she weren't tossed out from the groundwork, De Rossi could handle whatever she wanted when that day came. Besides, Grace wasn't that interested in prostitution -- all Grace wanted was Malachi's murderer.

 

Some hour later Grace walked through the narrow alley of West 2 nd Street to Union Square . It was biting cold, but she needed some air. The interrogation room had been muggy and sucked out all energy from her.

She stopped by her regular hot dog vendor.

“Same as usual?” the vendor asked holding the hotdog on a piece of paper.

Grace thought for a moment if she should get something different, but concluded this was not a day for such a big change.

The vendor grinned and put chili, hot mustard, onion and ketchup on the hotdog.

After a bit of chit-chatting, Grace stuffed the last piece of the hotdog in her mouth and headed back to the office.

The sun was already setting. Most people around her scurried with their briefcases in hand on their way home. Outside the entrance, she reflexively said ‘goodnight‘ to colleagues from different departments. Some she knew, others not. Grace's day would continue for a couple of hours more. When she eventually got home, the house was already dark and quite. Without delays, she carefully walked up the stairs and into the bedroom. Fumbling in the dark, Grace let her clothes drop to the floor and changed into flannel pants and a cotton shirt. Barely breathing, she snuck in under the covers, sank back against the pillow and closed her eyes. Her breathing found the rhythm of Fran's and soon Grace faded away.

 

27

The next morning, nursing a cup of coffee while seated at her desk, Grace glanced at her watch. In thirty minutes Mary Parker would show up. Grace had called her the day before, asking her to get down to the department because they needed her help. Parker had not sounded overly enthusiastic about the request but said she was going to come.

Again, Grace looked at the time. Three minutes had passed.

“Nervous about something?”

She looked up and met Dodge's glance as he sat down by his desk.

Nervous, Grace thought as Dodge's sparkling white teeth blinded her eyes. Has he bleached them? She couldn't help but chuckle.

“No, I'm just eager to get the day rolling,” she replied and then asked how his cases were going. For about five minutes, Dodge went on about the troubles and hard work; Grace only listened half that time.

Her phone rang. Saved, she thought and turned away from Dodge.

It was the Coroner's office. “We found some faint prints of Malachi,” the man said. “Not unexpected.”

“No, that makes sense. Nothing more?”

The man hummed and Grace could hear him flip pages. “There was another print – not complete but still there – on four of the receipts. I ran them against the database but can't get more than eighty percent certainty.”

“Eighty is good,” Grace blurted. Every inch closer was good enough for her. Right now she would have been happy with fifty.

“Always eager,” the man said. “Anyhow, we have three possible names: Charles Rickman, Arnold Branch and Andry Chirkin.”

A smile, so bright she felt ridiculous, burst across her mouth. “Great!”

Just then Mary Parker entered and Grace asked to get the lab report sent over. Enthusiastic, she hung up the phone and greeted Mary.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Grace asked. “Coffee?”

“Tea, please.”

Grace smiled and asked Mary to wait a moment.

 

“I hope you didn't have to cancel anything because of this,” Grace said as they sat down in the very same interrogation room Grace had spent most of her previous day.

Mary shook her head. “It is actually kind of quiet these days,” she said.

Grace eyed her. “Why is that?”

There was a slight pause before Mary said she did not know. “The Bishop has moved everything away from St. Matthew: the books, supervision, planning. I don't know if he doesn't trust us or if he's waiting for the new priest to arrive.”

“So, for the moment, you are out of work?”

“Not officially. I still get paid, but I don't have any work to go to.”

Sitting back, Grace noticed dark bags under Mary's eyes and her lips were almost white. Sleep deprived? Aloud she said, “I'm sorry to hear that,” and reached for her notepad on the table and placed it in her lap. She flipped through the pages until she eventually came to the one where she had noted her questions.

She read the first question then looked up at Mary. Seriously, she said, “Ms. Parker. We have entered a sensitive phase of the investigation and we need your help.”

Mary's glance flickered and she fidgeted with one of her nails, tried to stop but was soon there again. Grace noticed the nails were not long, yet well-cut.

No reason to waste more time. “Can you tell me about the women Father Malachi asked you to help?”

Mary flinched and a piece of nail fell to the table. “I have already told you about them.”

“I know, but tell me again. Tell me more.”

Mary looked down on her hands. “Father Malachi would come to me, or call me, and tell me a woman was waiting for me in an apartment, in a park or -.” She paused for a moment then said, “Anywhere.”

Grace wrote down what Mary said. “You said apartment -- how many times was it an apartment?”

Looking at the small window and the gray sky beyond, Mary estimated it had been five times. Grace asked if it had been different apartments or the same one.

“Mostly different,” Mary responded. “But I've been in one on Lorain Ave , close to West 50 th a couple of times.”

Grace tried to stay cool, but could feel her hands begin to tickle and her eyebrows shoot up. “Do you know which apartment?”

“I can show it to you.”

“Great,” Grace said calmly although she felt anxious about the possibility the apartment would be in a name they recognized.

Grace suggested they should drive by the apartment after their meeting. “By the way, how long ago was it you met someone in this apartment?”

Mary estimated it had been four years since the last time and probably six since the first. That was a quite some time, Grace thought feeling her hopes falter. Hopefully, they could backtrack; at least the owner of the building would be easy to find through the county's tax assessor.

Taking a mouthful of coffee, Grace scanned the remaining questions. “Did the women tell you anything where they came from, Mary?”

“How do you mean?”

“Why did they need your help? Where did they live? What did they do?”

Mary looked down and Grace could almost see hesitation build up inside her. She shrank, becoming even grayer than normal. Grace tilted her head. “Mary?”

Mary shook her head, but the response was so hesitant it didn't convince Grace. She said, “I have a feeling you want to help these women, Mary. If you tell me everything you know, I promise you will help many, many more.”

Moments passed. Mary glared at the table while ripping one nail off after another.

Without looking at Grace, Mary whispered, “I might have asked a few times -.” She paused, stretched out her soar fingers on the desk and took a deep breath. “Father Malachi told me they were homeless; that they needed a woman to talk to.” Staring down, Mary paused for a second. “I know how it is. They all work for someone.” Her fingers curled in under the palm of her hand, she tightened her fist till her knuckles whitened. Shortly, she relaxed. “I recognized the look in their eyes, the lifeless eyes --. They worked for someone, I understood that from the beginning and although I didn't really want to know I asked. I soon realized I would get the same response every time, so I stopped asking.”

Grace's heart beat hard in her chest.

“Chirkin. His name is Chirkin.” Mary whispered.

Sitting back, Grace closed her eyes. I got you now, she thought with a satisfied grin growing inside her. It was a pure feeling, selfish recognition of power; an emotion, a dangerous drug balancing on the barricade between right and wrong, good and evil. Satisfaction of success.

Pulling herself together, Grace watched Mary sitting with her head down and hands twitching frantically. “Chirkin,” Grace said. “Have you ever met him personally?”

Mary shook her head. “No, but I have understood he knows about me.”

Concerned, Grace wondered what made her believe that. Mary told Grace that one girl some years ago had informed her Chirkin mentioned Mary's name. “She said he had promised it wouldn't be any problem because I was one of them.”

“One of them?” Grace bounced back although already knowing the answer.

Holding back for a beat, Mary eventually looked up and straight into Grace's eyes. “A prostitute.”

Grace could not help but smile. There was a sense of pride in Mary's voice, a stance in her reaction not exposed before. The normally submissive and rather dull Mary was for a moment gone. Why now? Grace did not know, but she hoped it was something Mary would carry with her, use instead of hide.

Although eager to get hold of Sean and tell him the news, Grace still had some more questions to ask. Flipping the page in her notepad, Grace read the name ‘Brother William' in the top. She thought back to their encounter the day before; the young man full of energy, yet shaded by a suggestion of sadness.

“What do you know about Brother William?” Grace asked.

The name brought a smile onto Mary's face. “A lot, I would say. We have a lot in common.”

“How's so?”

Still smiling although now crooked, Mary said, “You know more than you want to imply, Detective.”

Trying to maintain her poker-face, Grace suppressed the smirk playing in the corner of her mouth. She lifted the coffee cup to her mouth, told Mary that perhaps she did and then took a sip.

Mary tore off the label from the tea bag in her cup and sat back. Beginning to fold the minimal piece of paper, she said, “He is the same age as my boy would be in.” She looked up. “Do you have children, Detective?”

Hesitantly, Grace nodded. “Yes, a son.”

“How old?”

Grace felt her personal space being intruded as the questions got too close. Girl talk, she reminded herself. This is what this is. She forced a smile upon her face. “He's only six months old. Already a handful.”

“Really?” Mary seemed surprised. “You don't look like you've just had a baby.”

Taking a deep breath, Grace replied she was fortunate. It was not a total lie: she was fortunate.

Steering the conversation back on track, Grace asked if Brother William knew about Mary's story. Mary said they had talked about it. “But it was many years ago. William takes good care of me.” She smiled.

‘All my life.' Brother William's words from the day before echoed in Grace's mind. The young man had never known his mother, yet always wondered who she was. The common denominator between William and Mary was a mother – or rather the lack of having one or being one.

“Have you ever thought of William as your son?” Grace asked.

Putting the now folded tea bag label on the table, Mary shrugged. “Possibly.” She looked away, her glance stuck on something behind Grace. “I don't think I've done so consciously but when you mention it -- I probably have.” She turned back to Grace. “He is a sweet boy -- a good man.”

Grace nodded. He did seem nice. She felt her eyebrows stitch together. Almost too nice, she thought. “Do you know if William is aware of Chirkin and Father Malachi's business?”

“You will have to ask him,” Mary replied quickly. She glanced down then added, ”William joined Malachi in Chirkin's boxing club while he still lived with the Ursuline Sisters, but he didn't like it.” Smiling, she looked up. “Boxing is really not a sport for someone like him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He is --.” She paused, seemingly looking for a word. “He is soft.”

Soft. Brushing the tops of her fingers with her thumb, Grace recalled the soft handshake William had given her in the church; his slender figure --. Soft, yes, that would be correct.

Grace had sunken back in her chair and straightened up again. “Do you think you can write down a list of all the women you've helped?”

Mary shook her head. “I don't remember all of them.”

“List as many as you remember and then try to recall the rest of them.” Grace tapped her pencil against her notepad. “We need people who are willing to testify, Mary.”

Irritation suddenly flashed from Mary. “You know, as well as I, that these women will not be interested in testifying. And besides, what does this have to do with Malachi?”

Remaining calm, Grace explained she couldn't tell Mary about the investigation. “But I can say that Malachi's connection to Chirkin is of importance.” She saw Mary sink sitting back in the chair, her shoulders relaxing. “To catch Malachi's murderer, we need to know everything possible about Chirkin.”

Grace didn't want to tell the woman Chirkin was their prime suspect. She would have to figure that out herself.

“If we get a couple willing to testify, it would help.” Grace sought eye contact with Mary. “A lot.”

Mary sighed. “I'll see what I can do.”

The last point among her notes was in regards to the money Mary helped Malachi get. Technically, Mary could be charged with embezzlement, but Grace was going to make sure that did not happen. Barter was a fine instrument in law enforcement.

“Let's talk a little about Malachi's money problems,” Grace said. “The first time we spoke you told us people had been coming to the church that didn't belong there, looking for Father Malachi. You said they were Russians, but you didn't now the name of those men.”

Mary fidgeted with her nails again and avoided Grace's look. Since she made no attempt of jumping into the conversation, Grace continued. “I understand if you are afraid, Mary, but it's time to tell me the truth. We will make sure nothing happens to you.” Mary frowned and Grace got the feeling Mary's experience with the police may not be the very best.

Taking a deep breath, Mary met Grace's glance. “I've never met Chirkin. I doubt he was coming to the church.” She looked away. “Men like him wouldn't.”

Mary was right. Chirkin would send out others to collect his money. But no matter what, Grace would have liked if Mary told them about Chirkin earlier. Time had been lost. A knot of irritation tightened in Grace's stomach and pushed something sour up her throat. Grace swallowed then reached for the coffee cup, lifted it to her mouth before seeing it was empty. She swallowed again. It was too late to fuss about things that had not been done. Just move on, she ordered herself.

“What did Malachi say about these men?” Grace asked. “How did he react after he'd met them?”

Shaking her head, Mary told Grace she believed they had been there more than once; three times perhaps. “The last time I saw them, Father Malachi was shaken. Pale.”

Grace wished she could have seen this with her own eyes – fear.

“What happened?”

“Just a couple of days later we got a $20,000 check from an anonymous donor. It came via a lawyer.” Mary sat back, tilted her head backwards and looked up in the ceiling. Her eyelids closed and Grace could see a tear glimmer at the rim of her eye. With a quick motion, Mary wiped it off with the palm of her hand then faced Grace again. “When he saw the check he began crying and then said he wanted to borrow the money. I told him it was impossible and then he became angry.” She paused, pursed her mouth. A faint sob slipped out before she said, “He yelled and said he just needed the money for a short period of time. He said it was the least I could do -- help him as he had helped me.”

For some reason, Grace had not thought about this incident for a while: Malachi betraying a friend, someone who trusted in him. Grace had little compassion for cowards.

Tears trickled down Mary's face. Grace asked why she didn't refuse to give him the money.

“Why?” Mary sniveled in response. “I know how it is on the street! I know what they do to you out there and I am not going back.”

Grace could understand. Mary had worked hard to cover up her past, yet the foundation was fragile and she could easily fall back again.

“So, you gave him the money,” Grace said. “Was it cash or a check?”

Mary looked away. “Cash. First, I cashed the check at one of those small places in the suburbs. I gave Father Malachi $5,000 and then deposited the rest in the churches account.”

Grace jotted down the information. “When was this?” she asked.

“A couple of weeks before he died.”

A couple of weeks. Had Malachi paid back everything he owed Chirkin? No, Grace didn't think so. The receipts indicated there was more money to pay. A lot more. Was Chirkin tired of waiting for his money or was it something else that triggered the murder, something different than money. Grace had a nagging feeling about the latter.

 

28

Grace took Mary on a drive to the apartment complex where Malachi had sent her to meet with the women.

The shabby brownstone had seen better days and in Grace's opinion it would be better to pull it down. The decay irritated Grace and she believed it undermined people's respect for one another and the environment.

The street-side door was open and they both climbed the two flights to the second floor. ‘Smith' was the name on the door. Mary told Grace she now remembered it had been Walter when she was there the last time. Grace was not surprised. No one stayed for long in a place like this and neither would she.

Grace wrote down the address of the building and drove back to the station. Before she let Mary go, Grace reminded her about the list of women.

“I'll call you tomorrow and have someone come out to pick up the list up.”

“Don't expect too much,” Mary said and left.

 

Sean was not by her desk when Grace returned. With little patience, she strolled around and bugged the rest of the staff while waiting for him. Eventually, she saw him stomp in and before he managed to reach his desk, she pulled him by the arm.

“Let's have lunch,” she said, handing him his coat.

 

The murky sports bar a couple of blocks away from the headquarters was mostly occupied by white collar workers. A group of men in their mid-thirties talked about the latest football game -- yet another the Cleveland Brown's lost. Some still had hope while others had given up a long time ago.

Five men and one woman sat at the bar. The men watched TV, the woman read a paper.

Sean took a bite of his tuna sandwich. “I had to threaten that stupid technician to he would get a microphone and recorder set up for tonight.”

Grace grinned. No one liked to be the last one informed, especially if they had to put everything else they were doing aside.

Sitting by a table facing a mirrored wall, Grace watched the woman stand up. She said something to the bartender then walked to the back. To the ladies room, perhaps. Grace resumed eating.

She told Sean about her meeting with Mary. Sean mumbled something to the fact that Mary had known about Chirkin the first time they talked to her. Grace decided not to encourage his scolding. There was no time to fuss over past events.

Sean also had an opinion about Brother William whom he believed would be a better man if be behaved like one instead of longing for a mother. Grace bit back any comments and instead dreamed of a newborn Sean, an emotionally stable partner who spread sunshine where ever he walked. Hopefully, the therapist would find some evidence of a heart inside Sean's chest.

 

Later at the office, Captain Darby entered the department floor with a boxy man in tow. Brushing by Grace's desk, he said, “Come on, Jacobson.” Both Grace and Sean fell into the line behind Darby.

Inside Darby's office, Sean shut the door behind them. “Officer Michael Panov, Columbus PD,” Darby said addressing the man Grace until now only heard of.

Panov's handshake was firm, his hand dry. He looked Grace straight into the eyes and she could feel this was someone with a lot of confidence. Good.

A man like Chirkin normally surveyed every potential customer with a great sense of suspicion. Every one asking Chirkin for a woman was a potential liar, someone who could ruin him. Panov's first encounter with Chirkin would be important. Every flinch, every sign of acting differently would be a danger to both the operation and Panov. Grace suddenly realized Panov's self-confidence could be a problem. Or? Were men nervous when they picked up a prostitute? Grace did not know.

She handed Panov a folder and briefly related the game plan. He would be forty-five year old Giorgi Malevich. Similar to Panov's family, Malevich was from Ukraine . He immigrated to the USA the day after Ukraine 's independence from Russia in 1991. His personal character had two sides: a womanizer who avoided everything that could be called commitment; on the other hand he was a genius – a chess player and classical musician. The latter came from Panov's own biography.

Panov was assigned to visit Club Caesar that night. If Chirkin was there, Panov would not approach him. “Just stay cool. Don't rush onto him, but let him come to you.” Grace was certain Chirkin would take care of his new customer as soon as he learned something about him. The bartender would most probably handle that part.

“I participated in a similar operation in Pittsburgh a few years ago,” he revealed. “This shouldn't be any problem.”

 

That night Grace dreamt about babies. Babies with no mothers and babies with so many mothers they did not know what to do with them. One baby picked up a suit at the drycleaner's then took off in a red sports car. Grace heard herself groan.

She woke up; it was dark and quiet. She peeked at the clock by her bed: 3:46. Grace turned over to return to sleep. The pillow was lumpy. She straightened it out and then lay on her stomach. Something was wrong with the sheets.

At 6:30 the alarm went off. Grace opened one eye – it hurt. Fran's brown eyes met her one. Irritated, Grace wondered what the woman next to her had to smile about.

 

 
   
 
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