The mesmerizing, darkly original novel that heralded the arrival of now New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane, the master of the new noir—and introduced Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, his smart and tough private investigators weaned on the blue-collar streets of Dorchester.
A cabal of powerful Boston politicians is willing to pay Kenzie and Gennaro big money for a seemingly small job: to find a missing cleaning woman who stole some secret documents. As Kenzie and Gennaro learn, however, this crime is no ordinary theft. It's about justice, about right and wrong. But in Boston, finding the truth isn’t just a dirty business . . . it’s deadly.
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About the Author
Dennis Lehane is the author of thirteen novels—including the New York Times bestsellers Live by Night; Moonlight Mile; Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River; Shutter Island; and The Given Day—as well as Coronado, a collection of short stories and a play. He grew up in Boston, MA and now lives in California with his family.
Date of Birth:August 4, 1965
Place of Birth:Dorchester, Massachusetts
Education:B.A., Eckerd College, 1988; M.F.A., Florida International University, 1993
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A Drink Before the War
The old neighborhood is the Edward Everett Square section of Dorchester. It's a little less than five miles from the center of Boston proper, which means, on a good day, it takes only half an hour to reach by car.
My office is the bell tower of St. Bartholomew's Church. I've never found out what happened to the bell that used to be there, and the nuns who teach at the parochial school next door won't tell me. The older ones plain don't answer me, and the younger ones seem to find my curiosity amusing. Sister Helen told me once it had been "miracled away." Her words. Sister Joyce, who grew up with me, always says it was "misplaced,'' and gives me the sort of wicked smile that nuns aren't supposed to be capable of giving. I'm a detective, but nuns could stonewall Sam Spade into an asylum.
The day after I got my investigator's license, the church pastor, Father Drummond, asked me if I'd mind providing some security for the place. Some unfaithfuls were breaking in to steal chalices and candlesticks again, and in Pastor Drummond's words: "This shit better stop." He offered me three meals a day in the rectory, my very first case, and the thanks of God if I set up in the belfry and waited for the next break-in. I told him I didn't come that cheap. I demanded use of the belfry until I found office space of my own. For a priest, he gave in pretty easy. When I saw the state of the roomunused for nine years I knew why.
Angie and I managed to fit two desks in there. Two chairs too. When we realized there was no room for a file cabinet, I hauled all the old files back to my place. We splurged on a personal computer, put as much as we could on diskettes, and stowed a few current files in our desks. Impresses the clients almost enough to make them ignore the room. Almost.
Angie was sitting behind her desk when I reached the top step. She was busy investigating the latest Ann Landers column, so I stepped in quietly. She didn't notice me at firstAnn must have been dealing with a real headcase so I took the opportunity to watch her in a rare moment of repose.
She had her feet propped up on the desk, a pair of black suede Peter Pan boots covering them, the cuffs of her char coal jeans tucked into the boots. I followed her long legs up to a loose white cotton T-shirt. The rest of her was hidden behind the newspaper except for a partial view of rich, thick hair, the color of rainswept tar, that fell to her olive arms. Behind that newsprint was a slim neck that trembled when she pretended not to be laughing at one of my jokes, an unyielding jaw with a near-microscopic brown beauty mark on the left side, an aristocratic nose that didn't fit her personality at all, and eyes the color of melting caramel. Eyes you'd dive into without a look back.
I didn't get a chance to see them, though. She put the paper down and looked at me through a pair of black Wayfarers. I doubted she'd be taking them off any time soon.
"Hey, Skid," she said, reaching for a cigarette from the pack on her desk.
Angie is the only person who calls me "Skid." Probably because she's the only person who was in my father's car with me the night I wrapped it around a light pole in Lower Mills thirteen years ago.
"Hey, gorgeous,'' I said and slid into my chair. I don't think I'm the only one who calls her gorgeous, but it's force of habit. Or statement of fact. Take your pick. I nodded at the sunglasses. "Fun time last night?"
She shrugged and looked out the window. "Phil was drinking."
Phil is Angie's husband. Phil is an asshole.
I said as much.
"Yeah, well..." She lifted a corner of the curtain, flapped it back and forth in her hand. "What're you gonna do, right?"
"What I did before," I said. ''Be only too happy to."
She bent her head so the sunglasses slipped down to the slight bump at the bridge of her nose, revealing a dark discoloration that ran from the corner of her left eye to her temple. "And after you're finished," she said, "he'll come home again, make this look like a love tap." She pushed the sunglasses back up over her eyes. "Tell me I'm wrong." Her voice was bright, but hard like winter sun light. I hate that voice.
"Have it your way," I said.
Angie and Phil and I grew up together. Angie and I, best friends. Angie and Phil, best lovers. It goes that way sometimes. Not often in my experience, thank God, but sometimes. A few years ago, Angie came to the office with the sunglasses and two eight balls where her eyes should have been. She also had a nice collection of bruises on her arms and neck and an inch-tall bump on the back of her head. My face must have betrayed my intentions, because the first words out of her mouth were, "Patrick, be sensible." Not like it was the first time, and it wasn't. It was the worst time though, so when I found Phil in Jimmy's Pub in Uphams Corner, we had a few sensible drinks, played a sensible game of pool or two, and shortly after I'd broached the subject and he responded with a "Whyn't you fucking mind your own business, Patrick?" I beat him to within an inch of his life with a sensible pool stick.
I felt pretty pleased with myself for a few days there. It's possible though I don't remember, that I engaged in a few fantasies of Angie and myself in some state of domestic bliss. Then Phil got out of the hospital and Angie didn't come to work for a week. When she did, she moved very precisely and gasped every time she sat down or stood up. He'd left the face alone, but her body was black.
She didn't talk to me for two weeks. A long time, two weeks.
I looked at her now as she stared out the window. Not for the first time, I wondered why a woman like thisa woman who took shit from absolutely nobody, a woman who'd pumped two rounds into a hard case named Bobby Royce when he resisted our kind efforts to return him to his bail bondsmanallowed her husband to treat her like an Everlast bag. Bobby Royce never got up, and I'd often wondered when Phil's time would come. But so far it hadn't.
And I could hear the answer to my question in the soft, tired voice she adopted when she talked about him. She loved him, plain and simple. Some part of him that I certainly can't see anymore must still show itself to her in their private moments, some goodness he possesses that shines like the grail in her eyes. That has to be it, because nothing else about their relationship makes any sense to me or anyone else who knows her.
She opened the window and flicked her cigarette out. City girl to the core. I waited for a summer schooler to scream or a nun to come hauling ass up the staircase, the wrath of God in her eyes, a burning cigarette butt in her hand. Neither happened. Angie turned from the open window, and the cool summer breeze creased the room with the smell of exhaust fumes and freedom and the lilac petals which littered the schoolyard.
"So," she said, leaning back in the chair, "we employed again?"
"We're employed again."
"Ya-hoo," she said. "Nice suit, by the way."
"Makes you want to jump my bones on the spot, doesn't it?"
She shook her head slowly. "Uh, no."
"Don't know where I've been. That it?"
She shook her head again. "I know exactly where you've been, Skid, which is most of the problem."
"Bitch," I said.
"Slut." She stuck her tongue out at me. "What's the case?"
I pulled the information about Jenna Angeline from my inside breast pocket and tossed it on her desk. "Simple find-and-a-phone-call. "
She perused the pages. "Why's anyone care if a middle-aged cleaning lady disappears?"
"Seems some documents disappeared with her. State house documents."
I shrugged. "You know these politicians. Everything is as secret as Los Alamos until it hits the floor."
"How do they know she took them?"
"Look at the picture."
"Ah," she said, nodding, "she's black."
"Evidence enough to most people."
"Even the resident senate liberal?"
"The resident senate liberal is just another racist from Southie when he ain't residing in the House."
I told her about the meeting, about Mulkern and his lap dog, Paulson, about the Stepford wife employees at the Ritz.
"And Representative James Vurnanwhat was he like in the company of such Masters of State?"
"You ever see that cartoon with the big dog and the little dog, where the little dog keeps panting away, jumping up and down, asking the big dog, 'Where we going, Butch? Where we going, Butch?' "
"Like that," I said.
She chewed on a pencil, then began tapping it against her front teeth. ''So, you gave me the fly-on-the-wall ac count. What really happened?"
"That's about it.''
"You trust them?"
"So there's more to this than meets the eye, Detective?"
I shrugged. "They're elected officials. The day they tell the whole truth is the day hookers put out for free."
She smiled. "As always, your analogies are splendid. You're just a product of good breeding, you are." Her smile widened as she watched me, the pencil tapping against her left front tooth, the slightly chipped one. "So, what's the rest of the story?"
I loosened my tie enough to pull it over my head. "You got me."
"Some detective," she said.A Drink Before the War
. Copyright © by Dennis Lehane. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.