It was late afternoon on Spain's Atlantic coast, the sun turning golden in the lower layers of atmosphere over the water. At the ocean's edge ran a seawall, not a barrier of rocks but a solid stone wall that broke the gentle surf. A section had been cut away to let water feed into a bathing pool, a dark-watered rectangle about half the size of a swimming pool, submerged stone benches cut all around the sides.
It was like something an ancient Roman city builder might have created, both simple and decadent. Egalitarian, as well. There were no fences, and locals seemed as welcome to come here as the well-heeled vacationers. Sunbathers came in to cool off, and children swam, darting across and back from one bench to another, like birds changing roosts in an aviary.
Genevieve Brown had brought me here, Gen who'd once been my partner in the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department. On the job she'd been measured and cautious, and I'd expected the same from her here. But she'd taken the lead, stepping down onto the bench and immediately from there into the center of the pool, tucking her knees to let the water cradle her cupped body as her dark, shoulder-length hair made a cloud around her head.
Now Genevieve sat next to me on one of the benches, her face tipped up into the sun. Her skin seemed already to be turning a warm, creamy brown. Genevieve was of Southern European extraction, and while she'd never been a sun worshipper, her skin would tan in the weakest early-spring rays.
"This is nice," I said, raising my face into the late-afternoon sunlight. Already the salt water was drying on my face, tightening the skin. I wondered if my face would have a faint salt glaze, a shimmer under light, if I decided not to rinse in fresh water afterward.
"You're overdue for some good times," Genevieve said. "Last year was . . . difficult."
It was an understatement. Last spring Genevieve's daughter had been murdered, and last fall I lost my husband to prison. At the end of that extraordinarily bad year, Genevieve had quit the Sheriff's Department, reconciled with her estranged husband, Vincent, and gone to live in his adopted home of Paris.
We'd talked about me coming to visit, of course, almost from her first transatlantic call in December. Five months had passed, though, before I did. Five months of snow and subzero temperatures, of heating my car's engine with an extension cord and myself with bad squad-room coffee, of the double shifts and extra assignments I'd volunteered for. Then I'd taken Gen up on this invitation, to meet her down the coast.
"Have you heard anything about the Royce Stewart investigation?" Gen asked, her voice casual. It was the first she'd mentioned it.
"I heard a little about it early on, in December," I said, "but then nothing happened. I think it's stalled."
"That's good," she said. "I'm happy for you."
I hadn't told Genevieve about the investigation into Stewart's death, much less that I'd been suspected of the murder. That was curious. If I hadn't told her, who had? She'd said she wasn't in touch with anyone else from her old life in Minnesota.
"Who told you I was under suspicion?" I asked.
"Nobody," Gen said. "It just stands to reason."
A small drop of seawater fell from my wet hair onto my shoulder. "Why does it stand to reason?" I asked.
"Because you killed him," she said.
I looked quickly at the trio of women sitting at the other end of the bathing pool, but they gave no sign they'd heard.
Quietly, I said, "Is that supposed to be some kind of a joke? I didn't kill Royce Stewart. You did."
"No, Sarah," Genevieve said softly. "It was you, remember? I would never do something like that." Her eyes darkened with pity and concern.
"This isn't funny," I said, my voice low and stiff. But I knew this wasn't some mean-spirited joke on her part. Her tone communicated nothing but compassion. It said that her heart was breaking for her friend and partner.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but someday, everyone's going to know what you did."
A siren went off beyond the horizon, piercing and almost electronic in its pitch, relentless in its one-note anxiety.
"What's that noise?" Genevieve said.
I opened one eye to see the glowing digits of my clock radio, the source of the electronic wail, then raised my hand and squelched the alarm. It was late afternoon in Minneapolis; I'd been sleeping before my shift. Through the windows of my bedroom, the elms of Northeast Minneapolis cast greenish shadows on the warped wooden floor; they were in the early leaf of spring. It was early May; that much was true.
Also true: Genevieve was in Europe, and my husband, Shiloh, a cop once recruited by the FBI, was in prison. All this is because of what happened last year in Blue Earth. You might have read about it, if you follow the news, but you didn't read all of it.
At the root of everything that happened in Blue Earth was a man named Royce Stewart, who'd raped and murdered Genevieve's daughter, Kamareia, and gotten off on a technicality. Months later, Shiloh had gone to Blue Earth, intending to run down Stewart in a stolen truck. But Shiloh had found himself incapable of murder. It was Genevieve who, in a chance encounter, had stabbed Stewart in the neck and burned down the tiny shack he'd lived in.
It was Shiloh who'd gone to prison, though, for stealing the truck, while Genevieve, her crime unwitnessed by anyone but me, had gone to Europe to start a new life. I didn't blame her for that. My husband was already behind bars; I didn't want my old friend there, too.
It wasn't until Genevieve was virtually on the plane for France that I'd been tipped off that I was a suspect in Stewart's death. Disturbing as it was, it made sense. I was the one who'd been in Blue Earth, looking for my husband. It was me who had been seen having unfriendly words with Stewart in a bar, just before his death.
Two Faribault County detectives came to the Cities to interview me, recording my carefully rehearsed, evasive answers. They didn't appear convinced by anything I'd said.
I didn't tell Genevieve what was happening, because I feared she'd fly home to bail me out by confessing. Nor did I seek Shiloh's counsel, because at the prison his mail was almost certainly being monitored, and it was impossible to explain the situation without referring to Genevieve's guilt.
But a strange thing happened, or rather, didn't happen. One month passed, then two, but I was never arrested, nor even questioned again. The investigation seemed to have stalled.
Then the Star Tribune ran its investigative piece.
The Suspect's Death, the headline had read, with an extended sub-headline below: Royce Stewart was suspected of killing a Hennepin County detective's daughter. Seven months later, he died in a suspicious late-night fire. A former MPD cop has confessed to planning his murder, but not to carrying it out. While the case is still technically open, the answers may have gone up in flames.
It was the Star Tribune piece that had mentioned what all the other stories hadn't:
In an unexplained sidelight, several documents note that Shiloh's wife, Hennepin County Detective Sarah Pribek, was in Blue Earth the night Stewart died. Faribault County officials have refused to answer questions about whether Pribek is suspected of involvement in the death and the house fire.
Just two sentences, but they acknowledged at last the rumor that had been circulating in Minneapolis's law-enforcement community for months. The Monday morning after the article ran, there was a very awkward silence when I arrived at work.
What bothered me most was this, though: after the Strib story ran, I saw something in the eyes of the young male rookies when they looked at me. I saw respect. They believed I'd killed Royce Stewart, and they thought better of me for it.
It would have been an easier burden to bear if it had been shared by my ex-partner and my husband. I didn't blame them for not being here. Genevieve had been wise to get away, safely out from under the growing cloud of suspicion and speculation. And Shiloh, of course, had been imprisoned; he was not gone by choice. But I felt their absence every day. They were more than my immediate family. They were my history here in Minneapolis. Shiloh and Genevieve had known each other before I'd met either of them. That was why, even when the three of us weren't together on a daily or even a weekly basis, there had been a web of interconnectedness between us that gave me a sense of stability. Without them, I had lost something deeper than daily companionship, something I felt the lack of in conversations with co-workers that were polite and pleasant and nothing more than that.
As two months turned into three, four, and five, still I wasn't charged with anything, and I realized that the investigation was stalled, perhaps forever. But I understood something else: if I would never be outright accused of Stewart's murder, neither would I ever be exonerated. At work I sensed a silent verdict: probably guilty by reason of persistent rumor. My lieutenant did not assign me another partner. The major-crimes and missing-persons work that Gen and I had done dried up, replaced with interim and odd assignments. Like the one I had tonight.
The three brothers were Croatian. They'd been in America about eight days, living with their parents in the crowded home of their assimilated aunt, uncle, and cousins, who'd been in Minneapolis over a year. The boys still weren't totally on Central Time, and they often woke when their father and uncle got up at four to go to their jobs at a snack-foods plant.
The brothers were also enamored of their cousins' bicycles, which they had just learned to ride. That morning, awake and adventurous as kids of that age often are, they went out for a ride after their father went to work, even though they'd been forbidden to take the bikes out without supervision.
It was the boy perched on the handlebars that had gone over the railing when his brother lost his balance and let the bike wobble. That same brother, the oldest, had jumped into the water after him. He'd survived the rescue attempt; it was the younger brother, small and thin, who'd been sucked down to die.
The parents had insisted on coming downtown the day after the accident to thank me. They were accompanied by their relatives, who spoke fractured but passable English; I was accompanied by our department spokeswoman, who seemed as uncomfortable as I was. It was an encounter that was linguistically awkward and terribly sad, and I wished they hadn't bothered.
I hadn't been back at my desk long when my lieutenant stopped by, on his way out.
"Detective Pribek," he said. "How are you."
William Prewitt, in his mid-fifties, had a way of asking questions that often didn't sound like questions.
"Good, thanks," I said. "And you?"
"Fine," he said briskly. "I might have something for you to run down. A small thing."
"Sure," I said. "What is it?"
"We've been hearing some rumors, just a few whispers, about someone practicing medicine without a license," he told me.
"Sounds like a job for the State Board of Medicine to me," I said.
"This isn't a simple licensure issue, like a doctor forgetting to send in the renewal paperwork," Prewitt corrected me. "We're not at all sure this guy is really a doctor. He's probably just passing himself off as one. He's also possibly operating out of a public housing building somewhere."
"That's daring," I said. "Has this guy botched anything and dumped someone on the ER doorstep?"
"Not that I've heard," Prewitt said. "But we really don't know very much. It's just a subtle, persistent rumor. There may be nothing to it."
There were two ways that statement could be interpreted. It could mean, This case is probably a dead end, so I'm kicking it down to my youngest and least-experienced investigator, the one who's already under a cloud around the department. Or he could be saying, This is a tricky case with few leads, one that needs to be handled carefully. Show me your stuff, Pribek.
"What do you want me to do?" I asked.
"Just ask around, check out the story with your informants,"
Prewitt told me.
"Sure," I said. "I can do that."
He left with a little tilt of his chin that said, Carry on.
I slid open my lowest desk drawer and found an envelope toward the back. Inside it was a motley assortment of pieces of paper, the names and phone numbers of my informants. Now I shuffled through them, thinking of where to start. Prewitt hadn't said anything to suggest the unlicensed doctor was urgent. Nor had he even sounded hopeful that I was going to find anything. For that very reason, I wanted to start working on this right away. I was going to find this guy, and faster than Prewitt expected, too. I was going to show him my stuff.
Someone cleared her throat before me. "Sarah?"
It was Tyesha, one of our nonuniformed support staff, standing in front of my desk. She was five-two and still thin at 30 despite having three children. She greeted people at the front desk, answered the phone, and generally directed traffic.
"What's up?" I said.
"There's a young woman here who wants to talk about her brother being missing," Tyesha said.
"Has she filed a report?" I asked.
"She says she has, but that it's a little more complicated than that," Tyesha explained. "She'd like to talk to someone about it."
"Okay," I said. "Send her back."
Tyesha returned a moment later with a woman even shorter than she, about five-one, with a fragile, slender build. She wore what I took for office clothes, a shimmering lavender silk shirt over black trousers and low-heeled black shoes. She had long blond hair, blue eyes, milk-white skin. "This is Detective Sarah Pribek," Tyesha said. "Sarah, this is . . ."
She stopped, in the manner of someone who's either forgotten a name or how to pronounce it. "I'm sorry," she said to the visitor.
"Don't be," the young woman said. "It's Marlinchen."
"Nice to meet you, Marlinchen," I said. "Please, have a seat."
She did, and Tyesha left us together.
"Spell your name for me, will you?" I asked her.
The young woman reached for the yellow sticky pad on my desk and turned it around to face her. Taking a pen from her backpack, she wrote quickly, then pulled off the top sheet.
Marlinchen Hennessy, it said. She'd added her phone number underneath.
"Is this a Swedish name?" I asked.
" ‘Marlinchen' is German," she said. "Technically, it's pronounced
Mar-leen-chen, but everyone gives it an Americanized pronunciation: Mar-lin-chen." It had the sound of a speech she'd given many times before. "The last name, Hennessy, is Irish, of course. My brothers all have traditional Celtic names. My twin brother's name is Aidan." Her voice dropped a little lower. "He's the one I'm here about."
"Tell me about that," I said. "You said that you filed a report already?"
Marlinchen Hennessy nodded. "I reported Aidan missing in
Georgia. That's where he's been living for the past five years. He --- "
I held up a hand to stop her. "Wait. He lives in Georgia and that's where he's missing from, but you want Hennepin County to look into it?"
She nodded quickly. "Aidan's from here, and has connections here. He could be headed back this way, and I thought that might make it pertinent to you, here in Hennepin County."
I frowned. " ‘Headed back this way'? In other words, you think he's traveling of his own volition?"
"That's what they think down in Georgia," Marlinchen said.
"If that's true," I said, "then there's nothing to investigate. Adults are free to move about without checking in with relatives."
"Aidan's not 18 yet," she said quietly.
"But you said he's your twin," I said.
"I'm 17," she said.
I hoped my surprise didn't show on my face. I'd taken her for
20, 21. "Okay," I said, thinking, "this raises another issue entirely.
What are your parents doing about all this?"
"My mother is dead," Marlinchen told me.
"I'm sorry," I said. Then, just as she was about to speak again, I asked, "How long ago?"
"Ten years," she said.
"I'm sorry," I said, then realized I'd just said that a moment earlier.
Marlinchen Hennessy moved on. "My father is Hugh Hennessy, the writer." She looked for recognition in my face. "He wrote
The Channel?" she prompted.
"That sounds familiar," I said, "but we're getting off the point.
Where is your father today?"
"Why do you ask?" she said.
"What I'm wondering is why he's sent his 17-year-old daughter to deal with the Sheriff's Department instead of coming himself," I explained.
"He doesn't know about Aidan," Marlinchen said quickly. "He's up north, in a cabin he owns near Tait Lake. It's kind of remote, and it doesn't have a phone."
Her eyes had an odd glitter to them. It looked like alarm, but I didn't understand its source.
"Dad goes there to write," she said. "When his work isn't going well, he needs lots of quiet and solitude. But he didn't start going up there until I was old enough to take care of my three younger brothers. He's very responsible."
She'd veered off into a defense of her father's parenting methods, for no reason I could ascertain. I tried to bring her back on course.
"But there's someone who can go get him, right?" I said. "A neighbor, a ranger, somebody like that? I'm just saying that this is something Aidan's father should know about."
That remark didn't quite have the calming effect I'd planned.
"I don't understand why there's this emphasis on my father!" Marlinchen said, her voice rising. "He's not a policeman. He's not going to find Aidan. That's the job of the police, and they're not doing anything as far as I can tell!"
I tapped the end of a pencil against my desk. "If this is the quality of cooperation you're giving the police in Georgia," I said, "it's hard for me to imagine what they could do for you."
"I shouldn't have come," Marlinchen said quickly, jumping to her feet.
"Wait," I said placatingly, but she was already nearly running for the exit. Everyone working around me stopped to watch her flight.
"Wait," I said more loudly, standing. But she was gone.
"She's fleeing the interview! She's fleeing the interview!" a deputy said, mimicking Frances McDormand's broad Minnesotan accent inFargo. The other deputies laughed.
"Thanks," I said. "If you enjoyed the show, my monkey will be around shortly with a tin cup."
With no way to follow up on that resounding success, I drove to
South Minneapolis to talk to my first informant about Prewitt's medical-fraud case.
When Shiloh had gotten accepted to the FBI Academy and quit the MPD, he'd had a kind of fire sale, giving me some useful phone numbers, from his contacts with federal agencies to street-level informants. Like Lydia Neely, who he knew from his early career in
Narcotics. Lydia had been arrested while driving over the county line with a lot of British Columbian marijuana in the trunk of her car. Several officers had been in on the bust, as is typical of Narcotics cases, but it was Shiloh who'd taken an interest in Lydia's situation. He was the one who'd found out that she had no priors and was muling or a boyfriend who subscribed to the theory that women are less likely to be stopped by drug agents. Had someone not informed on Lydia, the boyfriend would have been right.
Shiloh, with his typical concern for the unfortunate, had gone out of his way to intercede for Lydia and to keep her out of prison. She'd done some time in the workhouse, and checked in with a probation officer afterward. She'd also become Shiloh's informant, and when he left the MPD, I'd inherited her name and number.
I hadn't seen Lydia in some time, mostly because she wasn't the most useful informant anymore. She'd gotten a good job in a South Minneapolis salon, and the new and better boyfriend she'd found had recently become a husband. That sort of rehabilitation was the point of the intervention Shiloh had made, but it also meant that she didn't associate with criminals much anymore, and so she didn't get to hear interesting things. It's a truth the public doesn't want to hear: good citizens often don't make for good informants, and good informants are necessary to police work.
But I had to start somewhere in my search for Prewitt's unlicensed doctor, and Lydia still lived close to the ground.
Her job made it particularly convenient for me to stop by. For obvious reasons, I didn't identify myself as a cop when visiting informants. It was useful, for that reason, to be a female investigator visiting a women's salon; it raised no antennae among bystanders. More good fortune: she was working in a narrow back room of shampooing stations when I arrived, with no one close enough to overhear us.
"Hey, Detective Pribek," Lydia said. Hard plastic clattered as she rinsed a set of curlers with a jet of water from the hose, her brown hands moving in the sink.
"Sarah," I corrected her.
"You want a cup of coffee?" she asked me.
"No, thanks," I said. Her courtesy made me uncomfortable, because I didn't feel I'd built any personal rapport with her; rather, I sensed she tolerated me because she'd liked Shiloh. "I'm not going to take up too much of your time," I went on. "I just need to know if you've heard about something."
When I explained my errand, something flickered in Lydia's eyes.
"You know who I'm talking about?" I prompted.
"Not by name," Lydia said. "You hear him whispered about, but that's all."
"So what's his story?" I asked. "Is he even a doctor, or is he an unemployed vet, or what?"
Lydia shook her head. "Sorry, I don't know any of those things." Then she added, "I think Ghislaine knows him."
"Oh," I said. "I didn't know you knew her."
Ghislaine Morris had been another of Shiloh's informants. He had given me her number, too, but I hadn't had much opportunity to deal with her.
"She was my roommate," Lydia said. "Before the bust." She meant her own arrest for transporting.
"All right," I said. "I'll talk to Ghislaine."
Lydia slid a clear plastic bin of rollers into a cabinet above the line of shampoo bowls and closed the door. I moved into the doorway but didn't leave.
"How's married life?" I asked.
"Good," Lydia said.
"You like it?" I added lamely. She just said as much, stupid, I told myself.
"Yeah," she said.
"Well, I'll let you get back to work," I said.
But she spoke as I turned away. "Detective Pribek," she said, hesitant.
I turned back.
"I noticed . . . I don't mean to pry, but I noticed that you don't wear your wedding ring anymore."
"Oh," I said. Self-consciously I touched my ring finger. "I'm doing a detail on the street that doesn't allow me to wear a wedding band." I didn't say the words prostitution decoy, but Lydia probably got the picture.
Maybe she sensed even more than that. "Shiloh's okay, isn't he?" she said.
Had she read the papers? Did she know about Blue Earth?
Her dark eyes gave me no clue.
"I'll tell him you asked about him," I said, evading her question, "the next time I see him."
The next time I see him. I hadn't been back to Wisconsin since the visit I'd made shortly after Shiloh was sent there. We were separated by more than simple geographical distance. Blue Earth lay between us. My trip West to meet his family lay between us. Things that were too difficult to speak about. Even in the good times, Shiloh could be unnervingly quiet; for my part, I was never good at putting feelings into words. I suppose it was inevitable that in hard times, we'd fallen back on old ways. We'd fallen silent.
A small storm moved across Hennepin County that night, toward Wisconsin. I slept through the thunder, yet woke abruptly before daylight. A brief moment of disorientation --- Where's Shiloh? --- and then things came together in my mind, and I realized that the telephone was ringing.
"Hello," I said, my voice rusty with sleep.
"What the hell, Gen?" My voice had become stronger, but also more irritable. "It's five --- "
"I know what time it is in Minneapolis. This is important."
The note of dismay in her voice brought me from awake to alert. "What is it?" I asked.
"You know this is the last thing I wanted to have happen --- "
"Just tell me."
"I think they're investigating you for Royce Stewart's murder,"
Relief warmed me. "Oh, that," I said. "I've known that for a while, but don't worry; I think it's dead in the water. Nobody from
Blue Earth's been up here since they interviewed me six months ago."
"Six months?" Gen's voice, very clear despite the fact that she was halfway around the world, carried a distinct note of disbelief. "You've known about this for six months and you never told me?"
"Don't be mad, but I knew before you even left for France," I said. "I was tipped, but I didn't tell you, because I knew you'd react just this way. Overreact, I mean."
"Who tipped you?" Curiosity briefly diluted her alarm.
"Christian Kilander," I said. "You know him; he hears everything."
"Has he told you anything lately?" she said.
"What do you mean, 'lately'?"
"A man came to Doug and Deb's house asking questions. He was there yesterday, Deb said."
"Yesterday?" I sat up in bed, sheets sliding away.
Deborah and Doug Lowe were Gen's sister and brother-in-law.
Gen had lived with them at their farmhouse in Mankato after her daughter's death, and it was to their place that we'd returned, late at night, after Stewart's death. Naturally, they'd be of interest to an investigator.
"I asked Deb his name, but she couldn't remember." She listened for a response. "Are you there?"
"I'm here," I said. "Look, everything will be fine. They can't put Stewart's death on me. I didn't kill him."
"That's faulty logic and you know it," she said.
"Let me handle it," I said. "Promise me you won't worry."
"I can't promise that. This is --- "
"Gen," I said, "I'm really not going to discuss this anymore."
The silence on the other end of the line suggested something repressed, a sigh or a sharp word. Finally she yielded. "You sound hoarse," she said. "You're not getting a cold, are you?"
"I'm never sick," I told her. "I'm probably hoarse because I just woke --- oh, wait."
I was thinking back to a day ago, the time I'd spent shivering in the cool early-morning air, soaking wet.
"What?" Gen prompted.
I explained to her about the boys and drainage canal.
When I was finished, she chided me. "What is it with you?
You're like a dog. Always this headfirst impulse to rescue people."
I smiled, because she sounded like the older sister and teacher she'd been in the days of our partnership. I, too, fell into my role. "Not true," I said. "I went in feet first."
"Go back to sleep," Genevieve said gently. "Call me sometime when you've got a day off."
"I will," I said.
That evening I made a very convincing streetwalker, wan and surly. My throat felt raw and wet, and I knew Gen's words, You're not getting a cold, are you? were true. But my sullenness seemed to have an aphrodisiac effect on the men on the street. I would have beaten my record for busts in one night, if I hadn't taken a half hour break for a prearranged meeting with Ghislaine Morris.
On the way there, I tried to recall what it was that Shiloh had said about her. I did remember that he'd hesitated before handing off Ghislaine's number.
"I don't really talk to her much anymore," Shiloh had said, sorting through the cardboard box of his things, long legs kicked up on the coffee table.
"Why not?" I said. "Is she not useful?"
"No, Gish is a sponge," Shiloh said. "She hears everything."
"So what's the story?" I'd said.
He'd shrugged. "No story. Something about her just bothers me. I don't know what, exactly."
I'd pressed him to elaborate, but he wouldn't, and when Shiloh doesn't want to talk about something, it's over.
So I'd met with Ghislaine personally, a month or two later --- I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't who'd showed up.
Ghislaine Morris was 22, not thin, but not fat either. She had a sweet, open face and full hips. Her blond hair was cropped in a short, boyish style, and her brown eyes were friendly. She was pushing a stroller, with a then six-month-old baby in it. He had curly brown hair and cinnamon skin and huge eyes that took in the world like documentary cameras.
Over an inexpensive meal, Ghislaine told me about her life, about Shadrick's father, who was "no longer in our lives," and about her parents in Dearborn, Michigan, who'd kicked her out of the house when they'd found out she was pregnant with a child whose father was black, so that Ghislaine had to come to Minnesota to stay with a friend. She had a shoplifting bust on her record, but had gotten probation. She told me she wanted to go back to school as soon as she could.
It was a meeting that I'd left rather confused. I had no earthly idea what it was that Shiloh saw in her that he didn't like. Shiloh was a preacher's son; if he had a flaw, it was his judgmental streak.
Maybe he couldn't overcome a Puritan's disapproval of single motherhood at such a young age. For my part, I'd found her chatter infectious and her devotion to her son palpable. If her ambitions to go back to school and "make something" of herself were somewhat generic, who was I to judge?
Tonight, she was late to our meeting at an unassuming little diner. I ordered a mug of herbal tea and sucked on a eucalyptus cough drop. My throat had started to stiffen up when I swallowed.
"Holy shit," Ghislaine said, when she arrived, pushing Shadrick in his stroller. "I didn't even recognize you."
She settled into the booth across from me, her eyes widening guilelessly. "So this is what you look like when you're undercover?"
I'd already warned her on the phone about my vice-detail look.
"Undercover's a strong word," I said. "This is just soliciting busts. It's not a complicated sting operation."
"Wow," she said, and opened the menu.
The waitress, approaching on crepe-soled shoes, set a mug of tea down in front of me. "You ready, sugar?" she asked Ghislaine.
"I'd like a cheeseburger with curly fries, and a strawberry milk shake," Ghislaine said, folding up the menu and handing it to the waitress.
"We've got booster seats, if you want one for him," the waitress told Ghislaine.
"No, that's okay," Ghislaine said.
"He's a handsome little guy."
"He sure is," Ghislaine agreed.
As if he knew he was being discussed, Shad squealed, a surprisingly loud sound. Ghislaine leaned out of the booth and put her hands on the sides of his face, on his cheeks. "That's right,you've got a fan club, don't you!" she said cheerfully.
The waitress disappeared into the kitchen. I cleared my throat, and Ghislaine straightened up. "So what's up?" she asked, turning to business.
"Like I told you on the phone," I said, "I need some information."
"Really?" Ghislaine said. "How much?" She was asking how much it was worth.
"Let's wait and see if you know anything," I said. "We've been hearing some things about a guy who's practicing medicine without a license," I said. "Out of a private residence, maybe in one of the projects."
Ghislaine's expression turned sour. "Oh, him," she said.
Jackpot. That was fairly easy, I thought. I'd only had to ask two informants.
"Cisco who?" I said.
"I don't remember his last name," Ghislaine said.
"You've seen him?" I asked her.
The waitress reappeared at our side, setting down the burger and fries, then a long tulip-shaped glass of strawberry milk shake and the extra in the silver tumbler. A curly fry fell from the plate.
"Anything else?" she said.
"No," I said for both of us. The waitress moved off.
"You've been to see this guy?" I asked Ghislaine. "In a professional capacity?"
Ghislaine picked up the fallen french fry and leaned out of the booth, handing it down to Shadrick.
"By professional, you mean medical?" she said. "Yeah, I did. I had this thing that wouldn't go away. In my lungs, like bronchitis."
I was curious. "Why not just go see a doctor?"
Ghislaine shrugged. "I heard he was good," she said.
I heard he was good. That was something people said about someone they were looking at for an elective surgery, not someone working for cash under the table. But I let it slide. "Did he help with your bronchitis?"
"I don't know," Ghislaine said. "It went away. But I wouldn't go back and see him again."
"Why? Did he seem incompetent?"
She shook her head.
"Was his behavior toward you inappropriate?"
She shrugged unhelpfully. "I don't know, I just didn't like him."
"Why not?" I asked.
"I just didn't. Are you going to bust him?" Ghislaine applied her rosebud mouth to her straw.
"If this guy's doing what people say he's been doing, then yes, we will," I said. "Where does he live?"
"You know where the towers are, right?" She named a main thoroughfare in South Minneapolis, referring to a pair of public housing buildings that stood there.
"Sure, I know them," I said. "What's the apartment number?"
"I forget," Ghislaine said. "But he lives on the very top floor. You just get off the elevator and it's the second door down on that side of the hall."
"Top floor of which building?"
"The one closest to the street," she said.
"Don't I need to call first?"
Ghislaine shook her head, drank a little more of her milkshake.
"He's drop-in, all hours," she said. "This guy's an agoraphobic or something, never goes out."
"Thanks," I said. I laid several bills on the table. "That should cover the tab, and the help."
Excerpted from SYMPATHY BETWEEN HUMANS © Copyright 2005 by Jodi Compton. Reprinted with permission by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc.. All rights reserved.