Stay Close

Page 24


Celeb Experience: Paparazzi for Hire.
Oh man.
She turned the card over. Lorraine had written: Weak Signal Bar and Grill.
“Is this where Ray hangs out?” Megan asked.
“No, but Fester does.”
“Guy who Ray works for. Fester. Used to be a bouncer back at that old club down the street, you don’t remember him?”
“Should I?”
“Not really. Anyway, I’ve known Fester for years. Got him filed under ‘Chubby Chaser.’ The one benefit of age—I got crossover appeal now. I’m fat enough for the chubby chasers. I’m old enough for the cougar chasers or the MILF lovers, whatever. I’m like the complete package here.”
Megan stared at the card.
“Do you want my advice?” Lorraine asked.
“Go home and change my drapes?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
BROOME PULLED HIS CAR INTO the driveway of a split-level with brick and aluminum siding. He parked in front of the two-car garage below the bedroom window and started up the concrete steps. A tricycle was on its side, blocking the path to the door. This oh-so-ordinary dwelling was where ACPD Detective Erin Anderson, the only woman Broome would ever love, lived with her husband, a CPA named Sean.
Whenever he visited, Broome couldn’t help but think, It could have been me. One would have thought that would lead to a strong yearning on his part. It did and it didn’t. His most immediate and powerful reaction was relief—a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God, whistling-past-the-graveyard sort of escape from his own destiny. But then, well, he looked at Erin’s face and all that fell away.
Years ago, he and Erin had started off as cop partners riding together. They had quickly fallen deeply in love and married. That was the end of their riding together—no married couples in the same squad car—and the beginning of their troubles. The marriage, despite the love, was a disaster. That was how it worked sometimes. Marriage builds bonds in some relationships. It destroys everything in others.
He knocked on the door. Erin’s four-year-old, Shamus, answered it, a melted ice pop lining his mouth red and coloring his teeth. The kid looked exactly like his father, and for some reason that pissed Broome off. “Hey, Uncle Broome.”
Even kids called him Broome.
“Hey, kid. Where’s Mom?”
“I’m in the kitchen,” Erin shouted.
After he and Erin divorced, they petitioned to ride again together as partners. It took a while, but permission was finally granted. Balance was restored—at least, their version of it. But they couldn’t let each other go. Even as they tentatively began to date other people, Broome and Erin continued to sleep together on the side. This went on for a long time. Too long. They would try to make themselves stop, but when you are in close proximity hour after hour, well, as they say, the flesh is weak. They had hooked up several times during her courtship with Sean, even as Sean and Erin grew serious, finally stopping once and for all when the new couple said, “I do.”
But even now, even after all these years, the feelings were still there, that undercurrent. Last year, with two kids in tow and twenty-five years on the job, Erin had taken early retirement. Well, semiretirement—one day a week for managerial purposes. Broome remained a part of her life. He came to her for advice. He came to her for help on a case. He came to her because even though she had clearly moved on and her new marriage made her happy and he had blown his best chance at true happiness, Broome was still in love with her.
The computer’s wallpaper was a family photo of Erin, Sean, the two kids, and the dog in front of the Christmas tree. Broome tried not to roll his eyes.
“How was your meeting with Cassie?” Erin asked.
“Do tell.”
He did. Erin wore a bright green polo shirt and a pink skirt that showed off her legs. She always had great legs. She looked at him the way she always did, and he tried to pretend that it wasn’t affecting him. Erin was happy now. She was a mother and in love with Sean. Broome had been relegated to the past, someone she still cared about and loved in a way, but nothing that kept her up at night anymore.
Part of him was glad about that. Most of him was heartbroken.
When he finished Erin said, “So what do you make of it?”
“Don’t know.”
“Any clue at all?”
Broome thought about it. “She wasn’t lying, but I don’t think she was telling the entire truth. I need to look into it more.” He gestured with his chin toward the laptop and files. “What have you got?”
Her smile said that she found something big. “The surveillance videos from La Crème.”
“What about them?”
“I’ve been going through them.”
Erin clicked a button on the keyboard. The Anderson family Christmas picture vanished, thank the Lord, and a still frame from the video appeared. Erin hit another key. The video came to life. There were maybe two seconds of silence and then a group of clearly inebriated men stumbled out the club’s entrance.
“Did you see Carlton Flynn in any of the videos?” Broome asked.
“Then what?”
“Just watch,” Erin said with the small smile on her face. “What do you see on the screen?”
“A bunch of drunk idiots leaving a strip joint.”
“Look closer.”
He sighed and squinted at the screen. She hit another key on the computer. Yet another group of drunks came stumbling out. She hit the key again. Another group. One more click of the key. This time, a couple came out, also clearly inebriated. The woman stopped suddenly, turned to the man, grabbed the beads around the man’s neck, and pulled him in for a hard kiss.
Broome frowned at the sight. He was about to ask her what the big deal was when he stopped. Something clicked into place.
“Wait, go back one.”
Still smiling, Erin clicked the back button. Broome squinted again. The drunken men were wearing beads too. She clicked back again. The same thing. Broome thought back to his own work with the videos. So much drinking. So much partying.
And so many beads.
“Mardi Gras,” Broome said softly.
“Bingo,” Erin said. “Now guess what day Mardi Gras was this year.”
“February eighteenth.”
“And for the bonus points, guess what day Mardi Gras was seventeen years ago.”
“February eighteenth.”
“Correct answers. Mardi Gras is a different date every year—the day before Ash Wednesday, forty-seven days before Easter. So I checked the other guys you had on your list. For example, when Gregg Wagman vanished three years ago on March fourth… ?”