By midmorning I ventured out of my office to see if Marshall had materialized. I’d been calling her and leaving messages, but no one picked up. I was conflicted about her disappearance so soon after Mark’s murder. Either she was in trouble or it was a vanishing act. A lose-lose proposition. Could she be connected to Mark’s murder? Did the cops know she was gone? It seemed inconceivable she was the killer, and I wasn’t about to put her on the hook to get myself off.
I was hoping one of the associates knew where she was. I walked down the second floor hallway, avoiding the stare of another criminalist, and knocked on Renee Butler’s door. “Renee? You in? It’s Bennie.”
The door opened after a moment, and Renee, in baggy jeans and a gray sweatshirt, stood there, appraising me with a cold eye. “What?”
“Do you know where Marshall is? I’ve been calling her, but there’s no answer.”
“No,” she said. She turned without another word, went back to her desk, and sat down. I saw with dismay that the office had been almost completely emptied. Cardboard boxes were stacked on the floor and files and books were packed in shopping bags.
“I think we need to talk, don’t you?” I gestured at the chair across from her desk, but she shook her head.
“No, I don’t have anything to talk to you about.
Latorno is almost done, I’m double-checking the cites. It’ll be on your desk in an hour. My resignation will be with it. Today is my last day.”
“Today?” I sat down anyway, in what was left of her office furniture. Only her altar to Denzel Washington was still standing, in the corner; a poster of the star in a muscle shirt, sloe-eyed, with fan magazine cutouts beside it. I’d initially been opposed to the display, but Renee’s domestic abuse clients were tickled by it and they needed the levity. So did I, right now. “You sure you want to go, Renee?”
“What will you do?”
“Go solo. I’ll work out of my house, starting in a week or two. There’s room enough, it’s right in town, and Eve doesn’t mind.” She smoothed back her hair, which was pressed into a stiff French twist and emphasized the heart shape of her face. Renee had pretty features, her skin as rich a brown as her eyes, and I never minded her extra weight.
“Why not stay? I’m working on keeping the firm. We could use you.I could use you.” It was true. She was one of the smartest lawyers at R amp; B, her raw intelligence emerging despite a childhood in the projects and an education in the city schools.
“I don’t care if there’s a firm or not, I won’t work with you. I know you killed Mark.”
It fell like a blow. “No I didn’t. Why do you think I’m the killer?”
She leaned forward. “You saw Mark leaving you and taking R amp; B with him. You loved him and the firm, and you saw them both slipping away. You had to stop it. And you’re big enough and strong enough to do it, and you have no decent explanation for where you were at the time.”
“That’s all circumstantial. None of it proves anything. The cops haven’t even charged me.”
“Whether they ever do or not doesn’t matter to me. I know you did it. I know how angry you are inside.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She eased back into her chair. “What’s the point? I told myself I wasn’t going to talk about this with you, and I’m not. Our association is over. I dropped off those books you lent me. I told the cops what I knew.”
“Told the cops what? What do you know? There’s nothing to know!”
“I told them about that day we ran the steps at Franklin Field,” she said, the conviction in her tone infuriating.
“What day? What did I do?”
“It’s what you said.”
“What Isaid? You trying to hang me for something Isaid? I hired you, brought you along, and now you’re trying to hang me? Don’t you know you’re playing with my life?” I stood up and Renee stood up, too.
“I don’t have to lie for you, just because you gave me a job!”
“What lie? What are you talking about?”
“Get out of my office! I don’t need you in here, shouting at me.”
I almost laughed, but it hurt too much. “No, Renee. I still own this place.You get out. Put your papers on my desk. Be gone in an hour.”
I walked out of her office, stalked down the hall, and went into my office and slammed the door. I stood there for a moment, shaken. What did Renee tell the cops? What was she talking about? All I remembered was I took her running once. She had started another diet and asked me for help. What happened at Franklin Field? I had to know.
I took a deep breath. There was one way to find out. Retrace my steps. Go for a run. I needed to manage my stress anyway. My head felt like it was going to burst, and I hadn’t exercised since the shit hit the fan. I changed quickly into the running shorts and top I kept in the office, shoved a ten-dollar bill and my keys into the little pocket in my pants, and left the townhouse by the back entrance, ignoring the reporters who’d discovered the back door.
“Any comment, Ms. Rosato?” “Did you do it?” “What about the will?” “Going for a run?” “Ms. Rosato, Ms. Rosato, please!” I sprinted off, leaving the reporters behind, and it wasn’t until I’d turned the corner of the backstreet that I saw him.
Detective Azzic. He sat, smoking, in a dark blue car parked on Twenty-Second Street. He was barely hidden, so he must have wanted me to know he was watching. He expected me to run scared. On the contrary. I sprinted down the row of parked cars until I reached the unmarked Crown Vic.
“Hey, good lookin’,” I said, popping into his open window. “What’s your sign?”
“Leo the Lion.” He stubbed his Merit out in an overflowing ashtray, his mouth a twisted line. “Once I dig in I don’t let go.”
“Sounds sexy. So, what time you get off?”
His eyes remained flinty through leftover smoke. “You think it’s funny, Rosato?”
“No, I think it’s harassment, Azzic. Don’t you have anything better to do? Suspects to beat up? Bribes to take?”
“I’m just doin’ some routine surveillance. Anytime you wanna come down to the division and talk, you can.”
“Is this an invite? Will there be a cheese-ball? And are you gonna wear that weird tie?” I waved at his paisley Countess Mara.
“If you talk, I’ll listen. Leave the Boy Wonder at home. I think you can handle it on your own. I was surprised to see you takin’ orders, big-time lawyer like yourself.”
I smiled. “You’re trying to get my Irish up, Detective, but I’m not Irish. I think.”
His broad shoulder dipped as he started the car’s huge V-8. “You know, I used to wonder why lawyers like you do what you do. Now I just don’t care.”
“It’s cops like you that keep me in business.”
“Oh, we do it, that’s it?” He snorted. “Not the murderers, the rapists, the critters whose money you take.”
“You mean my clients? They have rights, the same as you. The right to an honest police force. The right to a fair trial. I never understood it better than I do now.”
He gunned the breathy engine. “You know what your problem is, Rosato? There’s no right or wrong for you. We can’t get a confession because of you, we can’t get a conviction because of you. You’re on the TV, in the papers, explaining everything away. Me, I was a priest before I was a cop.”
“I was a waitress before I was a lawyer. So what?”
“I know right from wrong.”
“I see, this is God’s law you’re enforcing now. You got a personal relationship with the Chief Justice in the sky. He picked you, out of all the weird ties.”
Azzic shook his head. “You don’t believe in God, do you, Rosato?”
“That’s kind of personal,” I said, to jerk his chain, but the answer was no. I stopped believing when I realized my mother lived a nightmare, every day of her life. Haunted, terrified, every single second.
“All right, don’t answer, I don’t give a fuck. Here’s how it is. I have twenty other cases on my desk, but this is the most important.”
“Is it my perfume?”
“Let me tell you something, funny girl. National clearance rate for homicides is about sixty-five percent. My squad, we run at about seventy-seven. Me personally, I’m doing even better than that. You know what that means?”
“You got a C average? You’ll never get into law school with that, pal.”
“It means I’m on your ass, wherever you go, ’til the day I put you behind bars.”
“Oh yeah? Then catch me if you can, Detective.” I ducked out of the car and took off.
The engine roared as Azzic pulled away from the curb, but I darted across the street and bolted the wrong way up the block. In two one-way streets, up Spruce Street and Pine, I had lost the local constabulary and was running free.
One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe.
Franklin Field is a football stadium and running track at the eastern edge of Penn’s campus, ringed by bleachers and a high, redbrick wall. I’d been running its steps once a week since college, to increase my wind and build strength for rowing. The electronic score-board was dark this time of year and the bristly Astroturf empty, but the steps were open for anyone crazy enough to run them.
One, two, three, breathe. I pounded from bleacher to bleacher, bench to bench. Straight up, at a fifty-degree grade. We called it running the steps, but running the steps would have been easy compared with running the benches, which were farther apart. I broke a sweat in the humidity of the hazy afternoon. Keep your knees high. One, two, three, breathe.
At the top were old wooden benches that had weathered to gray and splintered. Here and there a new plywood board had been installed, and heavy bolts, black with age and tarnish, stuck incongruously through the new wood. I played a game as I ran up the middle of the benches, sidestepping the bolts and letting my mind wander. It was the only way to remember. And I needed to remember.
One, two, three, breathe. Land on the balls of the feet. I raced up, my footsteps thundering as I reached the vertiginous heights of the stadium. I darted out of the sun and toward the airy top deck, under the painted iron rafters that supported the upper level of the stadium. It was breezy here, dark and cool. Still, up, up, up. Sweat poured down my forehead. My heart pumped like a piston. I’d run hard like this with Renee, that day. I tried to reconstruct it in my mind.
The sun is unseasonably hot. Renee is wearing a pair of navy gym shorts and a T-shirt that’s too thick. She’s sweating, her chest heavy, and a silver chain with a key bounces around her neck as she runs.
I landed on the top bench and stopped a minute, panting, then turned around and ran down again. One, two, three, down. Harder than it looked, going down, trying not to lose your balance a hundred feet from the ground, with your head dizzy from exertion. The bumpy tread on my sneakers gripped the wood of the bench and I bounded down, down, down, leaping from one bench to the next.
One, two, three, breathe. The lowest fifteen benches were of gaudy red and blue plastic, and I aimed for them headlong, past the wooden benches, down through to the plastic. When I reached the bottom I huffed just long enough to turn around again and start back up, an Ivy League Sisyphus.
One, two. I was breathing hard. Trying to maintain my rhythm. Trying to remember. Renee, at about thirty pounds overweight, isn’t able to keep up. She stops and rests, huffing and puffing under the rafters at the top of the stadium. It’s chilly there, cool as under the boardwalk. It feels private, too, almost secretive. She stops to catch her breath and I keep her company. We start talking.
I dashed up the red and blue benches and reached the wooden ones. There were numbers painted on them, white-stenciled; 2, 4, 6, 8. They were a blur then and they were becoming a blur now.
Renee’s conversation turns from work to clothes to men.Iused to have a boyfriend, she says.But he threw me over.
I charged up the steps, past the white smear of numbers, the sun prickly on my back and shoulders. One, two, three. Breathe, girl. There were thirty-one benches in all. Or thirty. I tried to count them but each time it came out different. My conversation with Renee came back to me in bits and pieces, like a radio signal piercing static.
Sounds familiar, I tell her. Our eyes meet and we both know I’m talking about Mark.
Told me to get out, just like that, in the middle of a snowstorm. And we were gonna buy a house together.We’re sitting in the breezy shade under the rafters, our backs resting against the crumbly brick wall.Iwasn’t so hurt, really. What I was most was angry. Damn, was I angry.
Me, too, I say, thinking of Mark.
Remember. Think. I reached the top of the steps and stood in the shade, chest heaving, heart thumping. The wind swirled around me. My muscles tingled, my veins swelled with blood. I felt strong, good. I wanted to remember, I had to. I threw my arms out, stretching my fingers to the sky. Willing the memory to me, pulling it out of the blue.
I used to hope he’d die, like in a car accident,she tells me, with a naughty giggle.Every day I’d read the obituaries and pray he’d be there.
And every time I’d see that somebody younger than him died, I’d think, Damn.That was mychance. She snaps her fingers.
You should’ve just killed him,I say.That’s whatI’ddo. Why leave it to chance? We both laugh out loud because weboth know I’m kidding.
But it won’t sound that way in the telling. To Azzic.
Or to the jury.