Jill didn’t hesitate before moving her computer’s cursor to the button requesting expert matchmaking. That was what she was paying for on her Visa card. God knew she hadn’t done well on her own when it came to attracting and choosing among men. Let the experts do it for her. If they could design her closet and scrapbook, they could design her life. She clicked the mouse and immediately felt relieved. She’d made her choice and followed through.
Time to wait, and at that she had become an expert.
They sat in a window booth in the Lotus Diner, by chance Quinn’s favorite booth, where he often had breakfast and read the papers over coffee. Daylight was battling dusk, and the sidewalks were still crowded. The steady stream of pedestrians hurrying past were mostly unaware of Quinn and Linda Chavesky, though they were at times less than a foot away on the other side of thick plate glass.
Quinn and Linda were ill at ease with each other at first, but by their second cup of coffee were somewhat more open. Quinn liked Linda, and he sensed that she liked him. Dressed in slacks and a loose-fitting yellow blouse, with her hair calculatingly mussed and a gold chain necklace, she seemed much more attractive than she had at the earlier crime scene. The light they were sitting in didn’t do her any favors, and she didn’t need any. Judging by the crows-feet just beginning to show at the corners of her intelligent blue eyes, Quinn guessed her to be in her early forties. That was the principal thing about her, he thought, her obvious intelligence. And a subtle sadness born of hard experience. Quinn recognized that expression; he’d seen it often in the mirror. She had some kind of makeup on this evening that mostly disguised the redness of her cheeks and the bridge of her nose.
“Rosacea,” she said, smiling at him. She’d noticed him staring.
“It’s a hereditary affliction that causes a kind of redness in a ring pattern on the face. At times it makes me look something like a raccoon.”
“I wasn’t thinking raccoon,” Quinn assured her, taking a sip of coffee.
“Also makes me look like a drunk, since alcoholics sometimes have the same look from ruptured capillaries.”
“Obviously, you’re not a drunk.”
“Well, I am, but a dry drunk. I intend to stay that way.”
“I had my own go-round with the bottle a few years ago,” Quinn said. “When I had the problem in the department and my wife left me.”
“When things finally worked out at least somewhat for you, did you have trouble quitting?”
“Not really. I don’t think it ever became a problem in itself. And I still have a drink now and then.”
“There’s the difference between you and friends of Bill, like me.”
They both knew “friends of Bill” was code for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Linda rotated her coffee cup on the wet saucer ring with both hands and fixed her blue eyes on Quinn. “You have a daughter, right?” The way she looked at him and spoke, her words and eyes boring into him, made it seem as if they were alone in the diner.
“Uh-huh. Lauri. A great kid. Woman. She’s living out in L.A. with her true love, a guy named Wormy who fronts a band.”
“I married young and divorced, never had kids. Too late now, and the alcohol messed me up when I could have gotten pregnant. Thank God I didn’t. An alcohol addiction doesn’t leave room for much else, including love or sex. My hell years.”
“Over now,” Quinn said. “For you and for me. Where’s your ex?”
“Back in St. Louis, selling mortgage insurance, last I heard. We don’t keep in touch. Not much sense in it.” Linda stared down into her cup, then up again at Quinn. “I damned near lost my medical license in St. Louis. Then I quit practicing and fought the booze for a few years, and came to New York for a new start. That was five years ago.”
“That’s when you started in the NYPD,” Quinn said. “In Latent Prints. Wasting your talents and qualifications. Couple of years and you became an assistant M.E. And a good one. I researched you.” Best to start off with honesty.
“Sure you did. You’re a cop. So am I, in a way. I ran a check on you, too. It’s too easy on the computer. I really didn’t have to do much bouncing around on NYPD databases to learn about you. You’re something of a legend in the department, Quinn. That’s why I was so nervous at first when I sat down here.”
“You didn’t seem nervous.”
“I still am, a little bit.”
He smiled at her. “We’ll have dinner.” He’d almost said, “with wine,” but caught himself. “A good meal will relax both of us. I’m still a little nervous, too. I remember seeing you at a few other crime scenes. You attract the eye.”
She blushed at the compliment. The rosacea made itself evident, as if she’d been wearing a mask and it had left faint marks. Quinn found it somehow attractive, this disorder.
“Your ex-wife, May, is in California, too,” she said. “Anywhere near your daughter?”
“Close enough. I’m sure they see each other, but not often. May doesn’t like Wormy. Who does?” He felt a little stab of guilt. “Well, tell you the truth, I’ve become sorta fond of him.”
“What about you and May?”
“We get along with each other. She’s remarried to an attorney out there. Elliott. Not a bad guy. She and I talk, but only about Lauri. Our marriage ended because May couldn’t be a cop’s wife.”
“Yeah. I don’t hold it against her. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone. Don’t worry about May.”
“Should I worry about Pearl?”
“That’s over,” Quinn said, thinking, We’re only meeting for coffee, then some dinner. But he knew there was much more going on here than that. They both knew it.
“Pearl know it’s over?” Linda asked.
“It’s her idea. I accept it.”
“You sound as if you’re trying to talk yourself into accepting it.”
“Maybe a little,” he admitted. “But it’s over.”
“I think so.”
Linda sighed and sat back in the booth. She glanced at the people streaming past out on the sidewalk, so near yet separated by a wall of glass. “So many people in this world. And cops seem able to make it long term only with other cops, or people in the same business.”
“I’m not so sure I believe that,” Quinn said.
Linda looked back at him with all her somber intelligence. “Sure you do. That’s why you’re here. That’s why we’re both here.”
“We don’t know each other all that well,” Quinn said, “but already I hate it when you’re right.”
Deputy Chief Wes Nobbler sat behind his desk and waited patiently for Greeve to enter his office. He knew “The Ghost” wouldn’t have wanted to see him so early in the morning unless he had something interesting to report.
There was a perfunctory knock on the door, and Greeve entered. As he did so, Nobbler absently lowered the file folder he’d just finished reading, placing it out of sight in a partly opened desk drawer.
Greeve looked this morning as he always did, slender and faintly mournful. He was wearing