Praise | Book Description

Coming August 16, 2007

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“Legal gambling. Legal prostitution. It’s a cash city. I first got there, I dressed up in a golf outfit like an old retiree. Hit the casinos. ‘Here, have some quarters, try out the slots. Have some chips, try the blackjack table.’ I’d play pissant, nickel and dime, till they got bored watching me, go on to the next place with leftover money in my pocket. Kept it up longer than you’d think. I started driving a cab. Soon the hotels are paying me to bring fares from the airport, I got deals with a couple of hookers to bring ’em customers. Everybody’s tossing cash around like it doesn’t count till tax time.”

“Perfect place for you,” I said.

“Well, yeah.”

“So why’d you leave?” His expression flattened, like the question was out of line, like I’d cheated at the game.

The check came before he bothered trying to answer. I paid it while Pop and Irina used the bathroom. Then we headed out to the parking lot under the cold, dark sky and the glow of the neons.

I let out a breath. “Okay. Where’d you park the Olds? We have to go get it.”

“Can’t get it,” he said. “We ditched it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Parked it, wiped it down. Ditched it.”

I scanned the lot as it dawned on me. “You’re telling me I just helped you dump a stolen car.”

“Borrowed. We borrowed it.”

We piled back into my Caprice and I headed up Burnet again toward Denny’s. Pop said, “There’s no point. It’s ridiculous.”

I wasn’t even sure by then why I was taking him back to the car. He’d only ditch it again. But at least I wouldn’t have helped him ditch it.

“You made me accessory,” I said. “Now I have to either lie for you or bust you.”

“You’re serious.”

“I’m a cop.”

“Whose side are you on?”

“I’m not gonna help you steal a fuckin’ car!”

“When you were a kid you used to help me.”

No argument there. When I was a kid, I helped him unload stolen TV’s and sofas off a truck. I even played lookout while he slipped through the occasional unlocked window. And once I helped him move a U-Haul full of stolen coffins. Any of this could have landed him back in Stir and me in Juvie. He should have been the one to keep me from doing that stuff. But there was no telling him that.

Now I was finally pulling my life together, my family’s life. And here was my father showing up and dragging us all down. Now he wanted favors. And he wouldn’t believe I was really a cop until I arrested him, a development I hoped to avoid.

As we approached Denny’s again, Pop said, “Turn left.” I went off onto a side street. He said, “Um. Wait. Right?” I went right. “No, go back.” We doubled back, then made another circle. I could keep this up as long as he could. Finally we saw an elementary school, and next to it, a stretch of greenery— a children’s playground, a soccer field, and a baseball diamond with a chain link backstop. “Over there.” Across the park, maybe 200 feet away, parked in front of the houses along the field, sat the car, gleaming silver, with a shadowed figure standing by it.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“How do I know?”

To get to the car we’d have to circle around the school or make a left onto Northcross Drive, wait for the light, and another left back to the park. Or drive across the field. The shadowed figure opened the car door and got in.

“He’s stealing it,” Pop said, in near monotone. “Holy shit. He’s stealing our car.”
I got out of the Chevy and strolled across the grass. Pop hissed, “Wait a second. Wait a second!” I ignored him, approached the baseball diamond as Pop climbed out of my car. I had plenty of time while the thief hotwired the Cutlass. I just wanted to scare him off, deal with the car some other way. Maybe legally, if my father hadn’t ruled that out.

Suddenly the engine started and the lights went on. I sprinted for the street, Pop a hundred feet behind me. I reached the pavement and stood in the car’s path. I could see the driver jolt at the sight of me in his headlights. He slapped the Cutlass into gear and screeched forward, closing in and weaving. I faked right then leaped left onto the grass. He turned hard, passed me, jumped the far curb and rolled into the backstop. I headed toward him, waving my arms. He ground gears, found reverse and floored it, heading for a driveway and missing it, instead crashing his rear bumper into a Range Rover. I could make out that he was a youngish Caucasian with long, dark hair. I flashed my badge, yelling, “Police!”

If he heard me, he didn’t change his tune. This time he found Forward, and pulled out of the Range Rover, heading toward me in the street. I jumped aside and he roared down the block, weaving.

I walked back across the playing field. Pop, winded, met me halfway. I stared him down and kept walking, then got back into my car. Pop got in beside me, Irina still in back. “He hotwired it pretty fast,” I said. No comment. “You left the key.”

“I left the key. Now it’s his problem.”

“Tell me something,” I said. “What the hell were you doing in Pennsylvania?” It crossed my mind that my home town of Elmira, New York, stood only a couple of miles from the Pennsylvania border. In a pinch you could walk it. In a real pinch, you could run. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Were you in New York?”

“What are you worried about?” he said, now angry. “What’s with the gloom? Jesus!”

Something ratcheted my spine tight as I made the realization. He wouldn’t tell me where he’d been. There was only one town in America where he had no good reason to go, and plenty of reasons to avoid.

“Holy shit,” I said. “You were in Elmira.”


Sitting in my Chevy in the cool night, parked a few blocks from the playing field, I waited for Pop to explain what the hell he was doing in Elmira, the town we’d left when I was 15, fleeing for our lives. He stonewalled, grumbling in the passenger seat. I counted to thirty, then put the car in gear and headed up to the Greyhound station by Highland Mall. When we got there, I said, “Here we are.”

“It’s closed.”

“It’ll be open in a few hours.”

He waited a moment. Then with no fanfare, he got out and tipped the seat forward for Irina. She climbed out with her raincoat and bag and somehow, her dignity. Pop slammed the door and zipped up his jacket, and they took positions by the bus station entrance, gazing off in opposite directions. I pulled away.

I got to the other end of the vast parking lot before I realized I wasn’t going anywhere. To leave, I’d have to follow the driveway out to Airport Boulevard and keep going, leaving my father to spend the night in a parking lot outside a bus station, while he was in two different kinds of trouble, maybe more. He’d gotten himself into all that trouble, sure. But I couldn’t just leave him there.
When I drove up to the bus station again, Pop and Irina hadn’t moved, maintaining a stoic stance like they were posing for a painting. I opened the door and they climbed in, registering neither surprise nor gratitude. I shouldn’t have expected either.

It was nearly 2 AM when we reached my house. I got them settled into the den. I gave them all the spare blankets we had, figuring they could make a comfortable pallet on the carpet. Or two separate pallets. I didn’t stay to find out. I almost made it into bed, back to Rachel, when the phone rang.


“Lieutenant Reles, this is Dispatch. We have a sort of situation. Who’s next in line?” The homicide squad took turns as the murders came in, with me, the man in charge, keeping track of the line-up. Usually I gave two or three names in advance to Dispatch, but I’d lost track and another case had come in earlier that day, taking their last name.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Well, it’s headed to HQ, to the auto shop. It’s, um…It’s a silver Oldsmobile Cutlass.”

I felt a wave of suspicion which I located about the area of the den. I scoped Pop crossing the hall toward the bathroom. He saw me. “What?” he said.

“I’m headed in,” I told the operator, still staring at Pop. “I’ll take a look myself.” I clicked off.

“What?” he repeated.

Less than an hour had elapsed since we watched the Cutlass get stolen. A patrol must have seen the driver weaving, with a smashed tail end, and pulled him over.

“Put your shoes on,” I told my father, and then gave him a statement he’d surely heard before, if he hadn’t said it himself. “We’re going for a drive.”


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