Blue… Red… Blue… Red… My SUV’s strobes bring a grim festivity to the scene. Smashed guitars lie next to upturned amplifiers buzzing the sky for help.
Too late for the victim.
Bile rises to my mouth as I throw a glance at the corpse hanging in a nearby tree. This doesn’t happen in Renaissance.
“Probably did it in a meth rage,” one of my deputies mumble on the way to the victim.
“Or a ritual,” another mutters. “You know how they are.”
“Looks like a piñata.”
I rub my arms to settle my hackles and walk away. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but the person hanging from the tree beaten beyond recognition is as far from a candy-stuffed paper animal as I could think. Except for the blood stained baseball bats strewn about.
“See if you can get prints on those.” Is it wrong that my blood is buzzing? It’s been years since I quit the NYPD, came home… I shake it off and stare up at the mangled person. The remains of the green and blue mohawk marking the victim as one of them.
Blood drips down from his tight fist. What’s he holding?
“Laine?” Mr. Piñata - Jack Flynn - sounds hesitant now. “What can I do?”
“Find the caller yet?”
“Nope. I’ll go round up the rest of the punks and see if we can scare out a quick confession.”
I frown at Jack, hunting for a nice way to cut him down. Policing isn’t about taking anything for granted. It’s about finding truth and justice. If it existed.
This isn’t New York. I forget that sometimes. I’ll see everyone at church tomorrow.
A bitter bark of laughter draws us both around to where one deputy is sidling away from a girl about my son’s age. Dried tears and mascara warp her face. Smudged black lips jump from laughter to crying until sobs win out. “We’re different, so we’re evil?”
Jack looks ready to speak, but I silence him with a single look. Shut up or be suspended without pay.
I choose to avoid the topic altogether. “Let’s move away from the scene.”
The girl combs her fingers through her bright pink hair. “Ray was a good person.”
Jack snorts before sauntering to where the medical examiner is unloading his pick-up.
“Ray?” I run my thoughts through the families I know in town.
Shit. His parents sit two rows in front of me. “Were you here when it happened?”
Her pink bob weaves as she nods. “We all were. It was supposed to be a concert.” She wipes her nose on the back of her mittened hand. “A fun night out.”
“They came out of nowhere and started beating people. Most of us ran, but Ray…”
My heart contracts at that word. They. Would I know them? “They?”
The girl snarls as she stares up at the victim. “Yes. They. The jocks. The town’s little angels.”
Part 2: Keith Masterson
Where is it? Not under my unmade bed, not in any of my shoes lying around unused. I pick up my clothes and shake them.
No chain. No class ring.
Wait… maybe it’s being washed with my clothes. Maybe it’s being sucked into the washing machine’s innards or to that place where socks go.
Or maybe I lost it somewhere outside. My stomach turns at the ground that covers. I’d been everywhere this week and I can’t remember when the ring wasn’t hanging around my neck.
Mom is so going to kill me.
The front door slams shut, hitting me like a thunder clap. Of course she’d show up now. The ring has to wait. There’s no way I’m going to tell her I’d lost Dad’s class ring. What do I do? Go greet her? No. That will tip her off that something's up.
I fling myself onto my bed and grab some book next to it. It’s barely open before she appears by my door. I take one look at her tired eyes and muddy boots and my heart stutters.
“Who died?” Her frown makes me want to bite my tongue off. A hundred ways to introduce the topic and I fall into the worst one. Shit she makes me nervous when she stares.
“How did you know someone died?”
Because I’d spoken to Brad minutes ago and news traveled fast in a shithole like Renaissance. Because she’d been out working since yesterday morning, adding the tally to about 50 hours. Because she looked like hell.
I put the book aside. “Murders always hit you hardest.”
Maybe I should just dig my tongue out with a spoon.
She didn’t miss that mistake either. “How did you know it’s murder?”
“Do you know who did this?”
Shit. Just what I was worried about. Do I or don’t I finger Brad and the boys? Damn it I have to keep cool. “Mom! This is Renaissance.”
She blinks a few times. “Right.” Rubs the spot between her brows. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to go all cop on you.”
Mom never goes cop. She is cop.
“It’s ok. Will you make it to the game?”
Mom’s mouth turns down and her eyes go distant on me. What’s on her mind?
“I don’t know. I’m hoping to solve this thing fast. The last thing this town needs is another unsolved tragedy.”
A waste of space like Sean Drummond was hardly tragic, but I keep that thought very far from my face.
“Had any friends over while I was gone?”
Her eyes burn mine and my palms sweat. She isn’t asking for no reason. She’s asking for my alibi. This is my last chance. Either I finger my team or I cover for them. Whatever I decide, I have to stick with it no matter what. Not much of a choice. Captains watch out for their teams.
Can Mom notice my heart drumming in my throat?
“Yeah, I had the guys over for pizza. Hope you don’t mind.”
“When was this?”
Her face brightens a little. “What about I grill us some steaks?”
I want to throw up, but I summon a reply to her smile. “Sounds great. If you’re not too tired.”
She shakes her head and kicks off her shoes before slipping away.
When the banging of pans reaches me, I shut the door and pull my cell from my jeans. Come on man… we rattle some cages. Straighten them out. No biggie. Yeah. Right.
Oh. I remember where I lost the ring.
Part 3: Molly Parker
Laine Masterson is a local legend. She might even be able to bring the jocks down.
She analyzes me from my black hair to the edge of the table between us. “Thank you for coming in, Molly.”
Her office is weird. Neat. No pictures. No belongings except for the bubbling percolator filling the air with a promise of coffee. “Please call me M. I’m not a Molly.”“M, then.” She reaches for her legal pad, clicks her pen and pins the Masterson stare on me.
I will not flinch.
“You said that the jocks killed Ray. Did you see them?”Here we go. Excuse fishing. “They wore masks.”
“Yeah, but their voices were muffled.” I lie back into my chair to get comfortable for the legal runaround. “But I know it was them.”
Laine’s brows deepen the one prominent line on her face. “How?”
“Since the Movement started, the jocks tried to get us in line.”
She doodles something. “Movement?”“It’s what we call ourselves. Anyone else would call us punks.”
Her eyes turn back to me. “What do you mean ‘get us in line’?”
“They’d jump us. Harass us. Spread rumors.”
“Did you report it?”
How I hate those four words. “In the beginning.”“Why not after?”
“The first few times I tried, I was told we provoke people. So it’s always our fault.”
The scratching of pen to paper puts me on edge. Come on insulation.
“Some of my deputies say you guys are troublemakers.”
Why the fuck am I even talking to her?
“No shit. We’re trying to land their football team in jail.”“My son is the football captain.”
Ah. There it is. I pull the numbness on like a jacket. Now it doesn’t hurt as much to speak. “Well then. I see I’ve wasted your time.”
Laine shakes her head and pours me a cup of coffee. She pushes the mug across the table with a sugar pot. No milk. “So this attack on Ray was unprovoked?”“I wouldn’t say that.”
“The time before this, we fought back. We got them good.” I add an extra spoon of sugar to compensate for the lack of milk. “They got us better. Ray was our source of strength.”
“He told you to fight back?”
“The night he was killed, why didn’t he run?”
“He tried to reason with them. To get this madness to stop.”
If I was alone I’d cry. Because of loss. Because of anger. Because this is a game I’m going to lose.
I sip my coffee instead. It goes rancid in my mouth as memories of that night taunt me. The crack of Ray’s bones against wood. Ray’s blood speckling the killers with every hit he takes. Their howling shouts as they hit him some more. His pleads for mercy provoking them to lynch him.
Laine’s cell phone goes off yanking me back to now. She takes the call. “Describe it.”
Her rage rolls over me as she disconnects. She shoots out of her chair and hurls the phone across the room. The shattered pieces tinkle to the floor as she draws her anger into herself.
It’s like watching the creation of a black hole.
“We identified one of the killers.”
So they’d done their job for once. So will the defence attorneys. Justice will miss the court date.
I will not cry.
So I laugh.
Part 4: Laine Masterson
Everything jars me. Every breath drums against my chest. Air burns my lungs. My heart beats quake through my body. All I can think of is the ring lying in an evidence bag. In the morgue. Like a message from the dead. What are you going to do?
What am I going to do?
My merciful mind flings me back to an easier time. To the perfume of warmed chocolate and fresh cookies. Keith with doe eyes and crumbs on his chin. “No mom, I didn’t steal any cookies.”
I never notice the bustle in the offices anymore. I notice it now that it stops in consternation and shock.
Maybe I should have told the staff that Jack would be bringing Keith in. But then, this is Renaissance. News could have reached Keith before Jack did.
Keith. My son.
I got him arrested.
Guilt slams into me like a bullet to the head.
Keith frowns as Jack leads him into my office. “Mom?”
“Sit down. Jack? Please bring us some bagels.”
Jack doesn’t bat an eyelash as he leaves.
He should have. I shouldn’t be here, drowning in a conflict-of-interest soup.
Keith’s prodding settles me a little. He always does it when I space out on him. I glance his way, knowing that I’m at the edge of disaster. If he really did have something to do with this… Do I really want to know?
I close my eyes, unable to face him as I drop the bad news on his head. “Your father’s class ring was found in Sean Drummond’s hand.”
A deep gust of breath rushes out of him. I open my eyes in time to see him putting his facial expression back together. “Oh?”
What do I do? How do I react? “I have evidence putting you at the crime scene and all you say is ‘oh’?”
He shifts forward in his chair, his face greying. “What sort of evidence? Only the ring?”
The homicide detective in me snaps back before I do. She pipes up before I know to stop her. “DNA.”
Any remorse I might have felt for the lie vanishes as I watch his grey skin turn a waxy white.
“Impossible what? Impossible you weren’t there or impossible you’re too slick to leave evidence?” Det. Masterson’s on a roll.
Keith rubs both his hands down his face. “Mom! Could you be my mother for just a second?”
So helpless. Like the boy he once was, left at home when I got called. All that time that we could have spent together… The least I can do now is have his mother present too.
I kneel down in front of him, grasping his knees and looking up into his terrified eyes.
“Tell me you didn’t kill Sean.”
I wish with all that I am I didn’t spot his convulsive swallow.
“I didn’t kill him.”
No mom, I didn’t steal any cookies.