Praying for a break, Christine pursues a killer along a strange path: a pilgrimage that takes her from a suburban covenant to a Brooklyn fruit market and deep into the sacrosanct world of the NYPD.
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It was the first St. Patrick’s Day in a long time that fell on a Sunday, so we had plans for the whole day and well into the evening. I had driven into the city on Friday and made myself comfortable in Jack’s Brooklyn Heights apartment. Because he and his best friend, Ray Hansen, were in the Detective Division and worked regular five-day weeks, they were off duty on Sunday. The third member of the trio of friends, Scotty McVeigh, was still in uniform but had managed to get the necessary approval to avoid working his regular tour that day.
Although they were off duty, all three were marching in the parade and I watched like a kid seeing her favorite uncle dressing up to be Santa Claus as Jack put on his uniform for the first time since I had met him last summer.
“Stop looking starry-eyed,” my guy said, buttoning the gold buttons on his blouse. “I think I have to lose a couple of pounds.”
“You look good to me.”
“You’ve lost your objectivity.”
“I never had any.”
He came over and kissed me. He smelled fresh and man-sweet, and his kisses made me tingle. We had gone to an early mass and come back to change for the parade, he to his uniform and I to a pair of brown wool slacks, a white cotton blouse with a small green silk scarf, and a brown suede vest that I had paid too much for and promised myself I would wear for the rest of my life. These were the first brown clothes I had bought since leaving the Franciscan convent where I had spent fifteen years. The Franciscan habit, which was obligatory, is brown, and I had surprised myself by returning to the color less than a year after giving it up. Not that you could compare what I was wearing today with what I had left behind.
“Did I tell you you look gorgeous today?”
I rubbed my cheek against his. “So do you.”
I punched him lightly. “Tough,” I said.
“We should go.”
He got his service revolver from the closet and put it in the holster on his belt, folding the Velcro flap over the top. Usually, when he wore plainclothes, he used a shoulder holster. He helped me on with my coat, and we left.
Because of its historical preponderance of recruits with Irish backgrounds, St. Patrick’s Day is very much an NYPD holiday. Almost everyone who isn’t working marches, and even people who haven’t worn a uniform for years, don one for the parade. Seeing all those men in blue go past me I decided the real reason they’re encouraged to march in uniform is to keep them aware of the fit. An awful lot of tight jackets went by, those gold buttons straining to contain years of police experience and heaven only knew how many doughnuts and Danish. I was pretty pleased to note that the women, as a group, looked a lot trimmer than their male counterparts. At least they looked as though they were breathing easier.
Jack had dropped me off west of Fifth Avenue, and I made my way east to a corner of Fifth, just north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was the last year before the Gay-Rights issue threatened to halt the parade altogether, and there were nothing but good feelings among the spectators. Although the idea of a parade thrilled me, the crowds proved a little too much for my peace of mind, not to mention the noise and the barely concealed beer drinking. It was a day recyclers could have made an instant fortune. But the location was terrific. Across the street we could just make out the cardinal on the steps of the cathedral, where he stood to review the parade.
I was meeting Jean McVeigh, Scotty’s wife; and Petra Muller. We were one wife and two girlfriends that day, Ray Hansen having separated from his wife some months earlier. I knew both women, but not well. On one occasion all six of us had been out together, and on two other (occasions Jack and I had gotten together with one couple and then the other. I liked Jean McVeigh enormously. She was a thin, redheaded, vibrant bundle of energy, the mother of two small children and a tireless volunteer for a number of causes.
I admired Petra. She was tall, dark-haired, and built like a model. When she walked, you half expected her to pivot to display the back of whatever she was wearing. She worked for a decorator whose name was apparently known to everyone in the world except me. I am still not entirely sure what a decorator does, but I know I can’t pay for it.
Perhaps because I had met Ray’s wife shortly before they split up, and liked her, I had been less than warm to Petra the first time we met. But the truth was she was a remarkable woman who seemed very good for Ray. She still spoke with the slightest German accent, having come over only a few years ago.
Petra shivered as the wind blew down the avenue. She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her coat sleeves with gloved hands. “I never get used to your winters here,” she said.
Jean McVeigh, holding her son up, so he could see the marchers, laughed. “Better stay in the East then. People in Minnesota think this is summer.”
“How can they stand it?” Petra said.
“Makes men out of them.”
Petra smiled. “Then I stay away from Minnesota.”
I laughed and jiggled Andrea McVeigh to relieve the weight on my arm. Her eyes were glued on the parade, searching for her father, who was marching with the Emerald Society, an organization of police officers who can trace their roots on one side or the other to the “auld sod.” We were standing on the west side of Fifth Avenue, close enough so that we could see St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the other side of the street, about a block south of us.
“There he is!” Jean called. “There’s Daddy.”
It took me a lot longer to spot him, but the children saw him in seconds and shrieked with delight. Scotty responded with a raised hand and a big smile. When Andrea announced, “That’s my daddy,” to the group assembled on the street around us, there were smiles and words from people who more normally probably moved through the city shunning both eye and voice contact. On St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish and a member of the family.
Jack was marching with the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, and when I saw him, I called and jumped up and down like the kid I never was. I had known him eight or nine months at that point and I don’t know why it took a parade to do it to me but as he gave me a quick grin, I said to myself: I love that man. I felt giggly and silly, but very happy.
The last of the three was Ray Hansen, who was marching with the Viking Society. For a city whose leaders talk a lot about the melting pot, the ethnic divisions in its police department sometimes confounded me. But there was Ray, finally, and Petra, like Jean and me before her, dropped her reserve and waved and called in a very undignified manner.
Jean had taken off with her children before the Viking Society came by, refusing my offer to accompany her. She was dropping the kids at her mother’s and then returning for the afternoon festivities. Petra and I kept each other company for another half hour, then started our long walk west. The parade would go on for hours without us.
As it always does, the Emerald Society sponsored a huge celebration on a Hudson River pier in honor of the holiday. Literally thousands of people were expected, a bigger crowd than I find comfortable. Perhaps Petra was thinking the same thing, because she said breezily, “Maybe we should ditch the guys and find a nice quiet bar and talk about life.”
“There isn’t a quiet bar in New York on March seventeenth,” I told her.
“Of course. Today is Christmas for bars. Well, OK. Then we go to the party and scream at each other.”
“We’ll talk about life another time, Petra. I expect you know a lot more about it than I do.”
“Why? Because you were a nun? I bet you know wonderful secrets the rest of us don’t know.”
I gave her a smile that I hoped was suitably enigmatic but probably came off just looking like a schoolgirl grin.
It didn’t matter much, because she turned toward the avenue we were approaching and cried, “Look, a taxi! Come on, Chris. My treat!” and in thirty seconds we were settling back in a blessedly overheated cab on our way to the pier.