“Sit in the back,” said Tony, nodding toward the booths farthest from the diner’s windows, and Andrew sat in the back, where he couldn’t watch the street, and the street couldn’t see him.
The diner was quiet between breakfast and lunch, half-a-dozen men of retirement age sitting over coffee and newspapers. Two of them were together at a booth; the others sat solo at the counter. To a man they glanced at Andrew; three of them exchanged nods with him; all of them recorded mentally his presence, in the back of the diner. They kept their eyes on their papers, waiting to see what Tony would do.
Three of them were reading the Observer, with its front-page photo of Annie’s car, its rear blackened by fire. Andrew spread out his own copy of the Observer, wise in its tabloid size—not enough news around here for a broadsheet—and stared at the photo.
He thought about the night they’d been stopped in the dark, the dry cleaner bag hooked to Chloe’s crate, flapping in the breeze created by passing cars, and the cops on the scene, four of them with the chief, half of Schuyler’s police force and how none of them had made real eye contact. Eyes maybe, but not contact. Except for the chief.
Annie had liked this car, he found her this car and gave it to her and she liked it, even if her favorite part of it was probably the sunroof, he must find her another sunroof, and he thought about her driving around by herself night and day for this stupid newspaper. And that made him think of Ed’s accident, picturing this accident that he’d only been told about, and then to remember how a car had frightened Kathleen on the parkway last fall, and about all the ways you can make a car crash look like an accident.
They hadn’t done that here. Here they had said, this is not an accident.
Tony slid into the booth across from him, his back to the restaurant, which meant Andrew had about thirty seconds of his attention.
Andrew folded the newspaper and put it to one side, so that Tony could see that the table in front of him was empty. “I just need one cop,” he said.
Tony shook his head. “Not gonna happen.” His dark, curly hair was damp with the exertion of running a restaurant, and it occurred to Andrew they should be talking about that. He made himself stay on topic.
“They all support the chief?”
“Even if they don’t—“ Tony glanced the newspaper—“they do now.”
Tony sighed. “You wired?”
Andrew shook his head. “Just talking.”
Tony said two names, one of them female.
Andrew wrote nothing down. “Six-pack going to be charged?”
Tony nodded. “Then out on bail.”
“’Investigation continuing.’” Tony made tiny quotation marks with his fingers.
Behind Tony, 50 feet away, the diner door opened, to an older couple. Tony heard it and slid out of the booth.
“Hey,” said Andrew, “a friend of mine wants to open a restaurant—"
“Five miles east of here. Barbecue. No competition. Can he talk to you?”
“If he wants me to tell him not to do it. The state will kill him with rules and taxes.” Tony headed for the front.
Something to consider, thought Andrew, but in the meantime, if the chief were sitting across from him, what would he say? He thought about this, staring at the point where Tony’s head had been, knowing that anything he said to the chief would be recorded, somewhere, and that you couldn’t make a deal with the devil.
And he reminded himself, that really, he had done a lot in four months, he had a shitload of corroborated information, and if this took another month, or another four months, it could be worth it.
In his jacket pocket, his phone rang. Annie.
“The DA called Tina,” she said in a low voice. “Six-pack will be charged tomorrow morning. She’s sending Catherine for the paper, but I thought you might want to clear your calendar.”
“Sure do. Arson? Second degree? Did he turn himself in?”
“They picked him up this morning. He’s getting a lawyer. I don’t know the exact charges.”
“Thanks, darlin’. How are you?”
“Well, I’ve gone from being Tina’s favorite, which meant that she yelled at me once a day, to being her least favorite, which means once an hour.”
“You can leave any time, you know.”
She was gone, and before the phone had settled back into his pocket, it rang again—the reporter from the Times Union that he had worked with last fall, on the story about the state senator, Kathleen’s opponent, El Neanderthal.
“Real news. You had it yesterday.”
“The wire story. Now I’m working on it.”
“Coming down for court tomorrow?”
“With a photographer. But I want something real for tomorrow’s paper, and I have something to trade for it."
“You’ll help me?”
“—Background, not for attribution. Other than that, what’s it worth to me?”
“Our state senator is resigning. His press conference is the same time as your DA’s.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer