When he was sleepless, which was less often than it used to be, Jesse Stone would get into the black Explorer he'd driven from L.A. and cruise around Paradise, Massachusetts, where he was chief of police. Nights like tonight, with the rain slating down through the dark, and the streets shiny in the headlights, were the ones Jesse liked best. It would have been nice, Jesse thought, on a night like this, to have been a town marshal somewhere in the old west, where he could have relaxed into the saddle under his skin slicker with his hat yanked down over his eyes and let the horse find its own direction. He drove slowly pas the town common with its white colonial meeting house on which the rain had fallen for two hundred years. The blue glare of the mercury street lamps diffused by the rain was restrained and opalescent. Except for the headlights of the Explorer, there were no other lights in this part of town. The neat houses with large lawns around the common were still and unlit. Nothing moved. The town library was blank. The high school stood inert, its red brick glistening with rain, its black windows implacable in the arc of headlights as Jesse turned into the parking lot.
He stopped the car for a moment and flicked on the high beams. The headlights rested on the baseball diamond: the rusting screen of the backstop, the slab of rubber on the pitcher's mound, bowed slightly, the hollow in front of it where the high school kids lunged off the rubber, trying to pitch off leg drives like Nolan Ryan. When he'd been in the minors, he could play the deepest short in the league because he had the big arm and could make the throw from the hole. Gave him range. Gave him more time. He could run. He had good hands. He could hit enough for a middle infielder. But it was the arm. Bigger arm than Rick Burleson, they used to tell him. Ticket to the show. Jesse rubbed his right shoulder as he looked at the baseball field. He remembered when he hurt it, at the start of double play. It had been a clean take out. And it ended his career.
Jesse let the car slide forward and turned and went down Main Street toward the water. He pulled off the street into the empty parking lot at Paradise Beach. He let the motor idle. The rain intensified the sea smell. In the headlights the surf came in and curled and crested and broke, the black ocean making the hard rain seem trivial. A thermos of pina coladas would be nice to drink sitting here, and maybe some music. He thought about Jenn. She had an infinite capacity for romance. If she were here, she would lean back with her eyes closed and talk with him and listen to him and let herself feel the romance of the late night and the rain and the sound of the ocean. And let him share it with her. Sometimes he thought he missed that more than anything else in the marriage. Ten years in L.A. Homicide hadn't extinguished his sense of romantic possibility. It had demonstrated beyond argument that romance was not at all likely. But in showing its evanescence, experience had made Jesse more certain that the possibility of romance was the final stay against confusion. Maybe for Jenn too. Long after the divorce, they were still connected. When she heard last year that he was in trouble, she'd come east. It wasn't the kind of trouble she could help with. She would have known that. She had come, simply, he supposed, when he allowed himself to think about it, to be there. And she was still here, living here. And what the hell were they going to do now? He put the car in drive and turned slowly out of the parking lot and drove along the beachfront toward downtown. Neither booze nor his ex-wife were good for him, and he shouldn't spend too much time thinking of them.
The marquee of the movie theater were unlit. The stores were dark. The street lights cycled through the red, yellow, green changes unobserved. He went up Indian Hill and into Hawthorne Park. He parked very near the edge of the high ground and shut off the headlights and let the car idle again while he looked out over the harbor. To his left the harbor emptied into the open ocean. To his right the harbor dead-ended at the causeway that ran from Paradise to Paradise Neck. The neck was straight across the harbor, a low dark form with a lighthouse on the north point. Just inside the lighthouse point, a hundred yards off shore, crossing the T of the point at a slant, was Stiles Island. The near end of it shielded the harbor mouth, the far end jutted beyond the point into the open sea. In the channel, between the island and the neck, where the land pressed the water on either side, Jesse knew that the ocean currents seethed dangerously, and the water was never still. But from here, there was no hint of it. The calm sweep of the lighthouse just touched the expensive rooftops of the carefully spaced houses, and ran the full length of the barrel-arched bridge that connected it to the neck. The rest was darkness.
Jesse sat for a long time in the darkness looking at the ocean and the rain. The digital clock on the dash read 4:23. In clear weather the eastern sky would be pale by now and in another half hour or so, this time of year, it would be light. Jesse turned on the headlights and backed the car up and headed back down the hill to shower and change and put on his badge.
Reprinted from TROUBLE IN PARADISE by Robert B. Parker. © Copyright 1998, The Book Report, Inc. All rights reserved.