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Precinct 11 01 the b.., p.11
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       Precinct 11 - 01 - The Brotherhood, p.11

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  It was Boone’s turn to pause. He didn’t want them in there without him. “No, I’ll go. But I wouldn’t mind a ride. Would that be too much trouble?”

  “We’re on our way.”

  “One more thing, Steve: would it be all right if I picked your brain a little tonight? Legal stuff.”

  In the car Pam was still teary from the day’s events. “I thought it was a lovely tribute,” she said. “Didn’t you, Boone?”

  It had been one of the worst ordeals of his life. “Uh, it was nice that so many people came.”

  “You have a lot of friends.”

  “Well, Nikki did. Me, not so much.”

  When they got to the house, the front light was on.

  “Weren’t the utilities down for a while?” Pam said. “If everything else is working, you could move back in.”

  “Not going to happen,” Boone said. “Would you be able to live here?”

  “No, I guess I wouldn’t.”

  “You don’t want to hear what I think,” Steve said. “I agree with Ambrose on this one.”

  “I know you do,” Boone said. “You’re thinking primarily financially, right?”

  Steve nodded. “Just makes sense.”

  “That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.”

  Once in the house it was clear this was harder than Pam thought it was going to be. Every picture, every toy, every piece of clothing seemed to remind her of Nikki and Josh, and she just stood caressing things or staring at them and weeping. Steve asked if she was going to be able to do this, and she assured him she would be all right.

  Boone said, “If you want a few things, I’d appreciate your showing me first, just so I know where everything is.” In truth, the whole idea of her pawing through their things still irritated him, but Boone tried to put himself in Pam’s place.

  “Thanks, Boone. And what if I choose something, you know, that you wanted?”

  I’ll let you know—don’t worry. “We’ll work it out, Pam.”

  Boone and Steve retreated to the kitchen and sat at the table, Steve pulling a small notepad from his pocket.

  “I’ve got a plan and a few ideas,” Boone said, “and I’m not looking for whether you think they make sense. I just want to know if they’re doable.”

  “Shoot.”

  “I know you and my dad think I should stay here because it makes the most sense from a money standpoint, but here’s what I want to do: either sell most everything left here or donate it to charity. I want to use the homeowners insurance to rebuild the garage and fix anything else that was affected by the fire. Then I want a Realtor to sell the place, and within reason I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t want to be here for showings, sit in on negotiations, any of that. I just want it done.”

  “Okay,” Steve said. “I’m following.”

  “When the life insurance policies are paid, I don’t want to handle those checks either. Can I have them just direct-deposited, along with the proceeds from the sale of the house?”

  “Sure, that can be done. You’re going to stay with Jack, what, indefinitely?”

  “No, I want to find my own place, something very small, maybe two bedrooms at the most and not far from work.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “I’m thinking I can find something that will cost not much more than half the mortgage payment here. I get almost two thousand a year for uniform allowance, and I have plenty of clothes. I’m a rut eater and like cheap food.”

  Steve was scribbling and nodding.

  “My plan is to live as simply and cheaply as possible, putting away every spare dollar.”

  “That’s smart thinking, Boone. It really is. Now what can I do to help?”

  “Just tell me who to talk to, to set this all up.”

  “I’ll make a list of potential names. I realize it’s way too early to have any idea what the rest of your life will look like, but this makes a whole lot of sense. Just start stockpiling your income, and your options will widen for whatever comes along.”

  Pam appeared in the doorway, eyes and nose red. Her arms were full. She set a couple of pictures on the table, along with three pieces of jewelry and a tiny pair of Josh’s shoes. One of the pictures was the one of Boone, Nikki, and Josh on the beach, Josh squinting under a floppy terry-cloth hat.

  Pain stabbed Boone afresh and his voice grew thick. “If I could just get you to send me a copy of that one . . .”

  “Of course. It’s so precious.”

  Steve appeared overcome too. He cleared his throat and got back to business. “If you’ll just give me your banking information and get me all the other legal stuff, I can make this happen and you won’t have to worry about it.”

  “I didn’t want you to go to a lot of trouble.”

  “I’d really like to do this for you, Boone.”

  While they were on their way out to the car, Mrs. Gustavson called out from next door. “Mr. Drake! I was wondering when you’d be back.”

  “Just picking up a few things.” He introduced Nikki’s parents.

  “Oh!” she said, approaching and embracing them both. “I loved her! The baby too! I wanted so much to go to the funeral but just didn’t think I would be up to it. I followed it on the news, and it was so big, I think I made the right decision. It certainly looked wonderful, though. It must have been very hard for you all. Well, of course it was. Now, Boone, I wish you’d drop in on me now and then. Don’t become a stranger now, and I mean it.”

  “We’ll see,” he said. But the truth was he wouldn’t likely ever see Mrs. Gustavson again. Coming back tonight made one too many times. Being rid of this place and its horrible memories couldn’t happen too soon to suit him.

  “We heard about everything you did that day, ma’am,” Pam said. “Thanks so much for trying.”

  “It was horrible,” Mrs. Gustavson said, “though I don’t need to tell you that. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I suppose that’s true of all of you, too.”

  They nodded. Boone wondered if he should recommend wine, but he didn’t want to horrify the McNickles. “Ma’am,” he said, “would you like a memento or two, something personal of Nikki’s or Josh’s to remember them by?”

  She put a hand to her throat. “Why yes, yes I would. What a thoughtful idea.”

  “Come on over right now, because if I do come back here, it won’t be for a long while. Can you?”

  She took his arm and they went back into the house. The woman found a squeeze toy she said “Joshie was rarely without.” And she found a picture of the three of them by their car on the way to Josh’s baby dedication. “I shot this one,” she said. “Remember? You were leaving just as I was getting back from Mass. Look how he’s dressed. Can you spare this one?”

  “Absolutely.”

  Boone walked Mrs. Gustavson back home, and at the front door she hugged him tight and long and whispered in his ear. “I know you’re not Catholic,” she said, “but I’ll light a candle for you Sunday. For Nikki’s parents, too.”

  Boone’s sleep was not much better than before. His rage had turned to a sorrow so deep it seemed to have no bottom. But he talked himself out of resorting to alcohol. As he had little to wake up for, if he couldn’t sleep, he’d just lie there staring at the ceiling or even take a walk. Then he’d doze during the day.

  Sunday morning came and went, and Boone had no more interest in church than he’d expected. That afternoon his phone buzzed several times, and Jack Keller, who was on the street, called him during his break.

  “That Indian doctor from your church is trying to get hold of you. Sounds important, actually.”

  Boone called Dr. Sarangan.

  “Oh, Mr. Drake! I missed you in church this morning. I spoke with Dr. O’Connor—you remember, the surgeon. She said her people just came across an envelope with some personal items of your wife’s that was turned in by the EMTs. Apparently it was overlooked in all the activity.”

  “Personal items?”<
br />
  “I have not looked, sir, but she said the envelope is labeled with your wife’s name, so if she had any money or jewelry or anything on her person, that’s what it would be.”

  “I, uh, thought nothing survived the fire.”

  “I am only telling you what I was told. It is at the hospital if you wish to retrieve it.”

  Curiosity and boredom led Boone to Presbyterian St. Luke’s. Sure enough, the woman at the front desk handed him a large manila envelope. It was so light, he wondered if anything at all was inside. He sat among waiting patients and opened it, lifting one end so the contents slid out into his palm.

  Three buttons he recognized from Nikki’s blouse—still intact because that was where she had pressed Josh to herself in a desperate attempt to save his life.

  And her diamond, just the stone and a thin, curled-up section of the mostly melted band. Boone remembered the night he had knelt before her in front of the jewelry store; then they had entered and he had shown her the stone he had in mind. She loved it, feared it was too large and that he couldn’t afford it, then selected the band and mounting.

  What treasures these were! Boone sat there, streaming tears and ignoring curious stares. He’d never been one for jewelry on men besides rings, but he had an idea for the buttons and the diamond. He would have the buttons affixed to a leather band he would wear as a bracelet. And he would have the diamond somehow mounted on his own wedding band.

  Starting Monday and every three days for the next three weeks, Boone met with a fiftyish matronly counselor at CPD headquarters on South Michigan Avenue. She introduced herself as Brigita Velna as she ushered Boone down a long corridor to an office just large enough for her desk, two large file cabinets, and a round table with two chairs. Everything was institutional green.

  “What accent am I detecting?” Boone said.

  “Latvian,” Ms. Velna said, unsmiling. “I do not mean to be unpleasant, but we are not here to talk about me.”

  She pointed to one of the chairs at the table and sat across from him.

  “Fair enough, but as long as you’re being direct with me, may I be with you too?”

  “Certainly,” she said. “One thing you will learn about me is that I appreciate openness above all.”

  “Good. Frankly, I’m not sure you can help me. You have my file. You know what happened. I just have to get through all of this; that’s all.”

  Brigita Velna looked bored, and her sigh confirmed it. She slid Boone’s file folder before her and opened it. “Again,” she said, “I do not wish to be adversarial, and I would like that our times together be mutually beneficial. However, it is important for you to understand that I am not here to help you.”

  Boone realized he was smiling for the first time since the tragedy. “Forgive me,” he said, “but that’s about the best news I’ve heard in forever.”

  “Why is that?”

  “Everybody is trying to help me, and of course no one can. But I am curious. If it’s not your place to help me, what would you say is your role?”

  “The fact is that I am an advocate of the department. I am not unsympathetic to your issues. In fact, I have known my share of personal tragedy and have some small idea what you’re going through. I can recommend therapists, counselors, whatever you wish. But I am not here to treat you. I am here to ask questions on behalf of the Chicago PD. I will be asked to determine whether—and when—you are fit to return to duty.”

  “Interesting.”

  “I think so, Officer. But you’d be surprised how many misunderstand it. As you can imagine, much of my work concerns officers who have fired their weapons in the line of duty, have been wounded, or have exhibited some unacceptable behavior while on the job. Most can be restored, of course, but the CPD is eager to stay away from behavior that would leave the city vulnerable. The bottom line is, no one wants you back on the street until we’re confident you’re ready. Determining that is my job. I ask questions.”

  “Fire away.”

  Ms. Velna leafed through Boone’s folder. “Downstate, mm-hm, church, Scouts, sports.” She looked up. “Popular overachiever—would that be a fair assessment?”

  “Except in class, I guess. I was above average in grades, but nothing special.”

  “Pretty nice life growing up?”

  “Pretty nice.”

  “Was this recent incident your first major disappointment?”

  “Disappointment? Now there’s a word choice you could improve upon.”

  “Granted. I understand this was horrible for you, Officer Drake. It’s why you’re here, after all. But I mean, never dumped by a girl, had a friend betray you, lost a big game?”

  Boone scowled and cocked his head. “Yes, all those, but I’d hardly put them in this category. I bad-mouthed the girl, told off the friend, kicked a watercooler, and got on with my life. But I don’t know what to do with this.”

  Ms. Velna grew quiet and leafed through some more papers, but Boone could tell she wasn’t really studying them. She was stalling. Finally she looked up and took a breath. “Officer Drake, are you suicidal?”

  He shook his head. “Tell you the truth, I’m a little surprised I’m not, because I don’t know what I’m living for now. I won’t deny I’ve had my moments.”

  She seemed to study him. “You still a churchgoer? Consider yourself a man of faith? I know the funeral was at a church, but how about you?”

  Boone hesitated, knowing there was no benefit in being coy. “I’m a Christian,” he said. “Fact is, I’m finding out I wasn’t much of one, because this has really rocked me.”

  “Oh, son, it would rock anyone. But, what, you’re questioning God now?”

  “Of course.”

  “You blame him?”

  “Sort of.”

  “You do or you don’t.”

  “I don’t think he killed my wife and son, if that’s what you mean, but I’ve always been taught that he’s all-powerful. I can’t get around that he allowed this, and I don’t understand why.”

  Boone had grown emotional with that last answer, and Ms. Velna stood and busied herself tidying her desk and shuffling papers. Clearly she was giving him time to compose himself, and Boone appreciated that.

  She sat back down. “I must ask this, Officer. If you had to evaluate your own emotions, as you sit here today, would you say you are more sad than angry or more angry than sad?”

  Boone had to think about that one. He sat back and stared at the ceiling. “How important is this?”

  “Most important question of the day,” she said. “A sad cop is an empathetic cop. An angry cop can be dangerous. You need to be brutally honest with me.”

  “Can I think about it?”

  “No rush. I wouldn’t recommend your returning to duty in fewer than fifteen working days anyway. We meet again Thursday. Answer me then.”

  “And there’s no way around that I’m definitely out of service for three weeks?”

  She shook her head.

  “What am I supposed to do with myself? I can’t get this off my mind anyway, but sitting around doing nothing is going to drive me nuts.”

  “That’s beyond my purview. There must be legal things you have to deal with.”

  “They’re pretty much under control. My father-in-law is a lawyer, and he’s handling a lot of that.”

  “You’re living alone right now?”

  Boone told her the arrangement with Jack and that he planned to move as soon as he could.

  “Have you considered moving back home?”

  Boone held up a hand. “Already decided. You can leave that alone. Sorry.”

  “No problem. I don’t recommend your living alone, at least for a while. But that is up to you. I do have an idea for you, though. Is there anything you’ve ever really wanted to study? It’s not a cure-all, but when you find yourself with blocks of free time and you’re trying to keep from unduly obsessing over the matter, it’s something to think about.”

  Boone nodde
d. “I’ll try to think of something. But I can’t imagine anything taking my mind off . . . you know . . .”

  “Of course not. I won’t promise this wouldn’t be just a temporary diversion. And there will be times you will be wholly unable to concentrate. It’s just something to consider.”

  There was something Boone liked about Brigita Velna. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it had something to do with her straightforwardness, her honesty. And he liked that she didn’t fake smiles or pretend that he—rather than the police department or the city of Chicago—was her priority.

  By the time he met with her again, Boone had thought through the big question. He’d also heard from Steve McNickle that everything was in place legally and with his bank and the insurance companies. All would happen as he wished, and he could stay entirely out of it. In a month or two, unless the real estate market dictated otherwise, his garage would be repaired, the contents of the house sold or donated, the house closed on, the life insurance policies paid, and all proceeds deposited directly into Boone’s bank account.

  It was still too early to look for his own place, but as he and Jack discussed things each night, it came to Boone what he wanted to study. Jack told him that things were progressing with his own testing and interviewing, and it appeared that within a month or two he would be transferred and promoted to the role of deputy chief in the Organized Crime Division.

  “I’m lookin’ forward to serving under the OCD chief, Fletcher Galloway,” Jack said.

  “A legend.”

  “Tell me about it. I studied under him at the academy a century ago. You know OCD is under the Bureau of Investigative Services, so I’ll officially become a detective.”

  “Which you’ve always wanted.”

  “You know a cop who doesn’t? You want to be a detective, don’t you, Boones?”

  “It’s why I’m on the force.”

  “And I’m going to want you in the Organized Crime Division if I get the job.”

  “How likely is that, given my age and seniority?”

  “Not very, I suppose. But I’ll have friends in high places, and you’ll bring yourself up to speed. Keep doing what you were doing when you were on the street, and that’ll make it easier for me to ask for you. And in the meantime, you better get yourself familiar with the history of organized crime in this city.”

 
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