Sal Brooks would have described herself in a police report as early thirties, female, brown hair, five nine, exhausted, borderline breakdown case, shaking hands, haunted eyes. Then she’d have deleted everything after “nine” and continued with the details of the incident. In this case: Forensic analysis of the museum theft yielded an Astoria address. Arriving on the scene with warrant in hand, Detective Collins and I were fired upon from the window by a white male, late forties. After a brief exchange of fire, Detective Collins forced the door. Behind the door—
Sal set her badge and gun on her bureau and gripped the first two fingers of her left hand. Her stomach ran a floor routine even the Russian judge would give full marks.
She’d seen blood before, and bodies. The severed fingers in the ashtray on the coffee table in Astoria that afternoon . . . those were worse.
They’d yield prints, at least. Which would not help her sleep tonight.
Her cell phone rang. Perry. She didn’t pick up. The ringing stopped before the call forwarded to voice mail, then started again. Still him.
“Perry, this isn’t a good time,” was what she started to say, but she didn’t get halfway through her brother’s name before Hurricane Perry struck shore.
“Sal, thank you, thank you, thank you for picking up. I’m so glad, it’s wonderful to hear your voice, I missed you, how’re things, how long has it been anyway, can I come over, like, now?”
“It’s been a month.” She thumbed a gap in her blinds. The sidewalk under her window was bare, and the street almost empty. Red Toyota pickup, Honda Civic, garbage, two young guys staggering home after drinking off a Thursday night. Thank God. The last time she’d heard Perry talk like this, he was on the run from some crazy scenester drama and hadn’t waited for her permission to come over, just called her from the sidewalk in the rain and looked up, dripping, with that hangdog John Cusack look she knew he practiced in the mirror. “Since the last time you were in trouble.”
“It’s nothing big, Sal, I promise, nothing you should worry about, just, you know, internet stuff, and then I started arguing with my roommates and you know people can get crazy sometimes, like, crazy. It’s not the same thing as last month, I swear, I just need a place to be, you know. I’d get a hotel if I could.” If he had money for a hotel.
She peeked out her corner window just to be sure. He wasn’t down there either. “I’ve had a very long day, Perry.”
“I know, I know, every day’s a long day for you, I’m so sorry, but I just kind of need a place to rest for a little while, and I did apologize for last month, and I sent you flowers.”
“David still isn’t returning my calls.”
“You deserve better than a guy like that, a guy who doesn’t understand the importance of family.”
“David has a huge family. He’s a good guy. He just doesn’t like being kicked out of bed because my kid brother’s locked himself out of his apartment. That was a good thing, emphasis on the was. And the flowers you sent were fake.”
“Better that way, they don’t die, right? And it wasn’t just that I locked myself out. And anyway I’m improving, I mean, you don’t have anyone over now. Do you?”
Her eyes narrowed. She glanced out each window again. “Where are you?”
“What do you mean?”
She realized she could hear his voice twice: once through the phone, and once from the hall.
Sal marched from her bedroom past kitchen and living room to the door. She unbolted the bolt, unchained the chain, and pulled the door open.
Perry was less wet than she’d last seen him, at least. One hand pressed an oversized Star Trek phone to his ear. He wore a dirty tan trench coat, open, over a ratty black T-shirt with three pixelated hearts on the front and a fourth half-full, and jeans torn at the knee—from his nervous habit of clawing them while he worked on his computer, rather than from wear. His other hand held a large rectangular parcel wrapped in more T-shirts and duct tape, which he waved at her, then stuck under his arm, and waved again with an empty hand.
He deployed John Cusack version 1.2.
She clicked her phone shut.
He started warming up John Cusack version 1.7.
She sighed, and smiled, and hugged him. “Come in, doofus.”
He set up in the living room, and she put water in the kettle. “Do I want to know why you’re here?”
“Thank you so, so, so much.” He set the parcel on her living room table and undid the duct tape. “It’s not dangerous, I mean, I’d tell you if it were, you know, but I got into a fight with the roomies over a project we’re working on together, sort of, and I want to make sure I’m right before I go home. Just need some time to work on this thing myself. Bunch of posers. Don’t know Altaic from Aramaic.” He unwrapped the T-shirts layer by layer, each silk-screened video game reference worse than the last.
“I get that one,” she said. “It’s the, what, the game with the dysentery. Why all the T-shirts?”
“Sal, do you have any idea how old this thing is?” He...