The Inn by James Patterson
SOMETHING VERY BAD was about to go down.
There are things you know as a cop in Boston. You know how the city feels, because its streets are your veins and the voices of its people come through your lips when you talk. You know the smell of the salt in the harbor like the scent of the back of your wife’s neck, and it’s just as precious, reassuring. The hammering of footsteps out of Back Bay Station for the morning rat race wakes you up, and the wail of sirens in the old Combat Zone at night puts you to sleep. Every Christmas, you gather up some young wide-eyed uniforms to take poor kids from East Boston and Hyde Park into the toy stores, try to show the new cops and the kids that they can get along. You know that in a few years, some of those cops and some of those kids will end up killing each other. But that’s how the city works. It’s like a living thing. It sheds, and it hurts, and it bleeds.
I could feel what was about to happen in the air. It was an unexpected and dizzying heat, surreal against the snow on the ground outside the car.
When my partner Malone and I got a call to go to the commissioner’s office downtown, I knew we were in for it. A Boston cop knows that being called to the commissioner’s office is a bad, bad thing.
Malone always made fun of me for thinking I had Boston’s pulse, a sense about approaching trouble in the city. On the morning of the marathon bombing, we’d been a mile up Boylston Street doing crowd control and I told Malone I felt hot and weird, like I had a fever. We felt the thump of the first blast under our feet a second or two later.
We were in the back of the cruiser, Malone looking out the window, joggling his knee and picking his teeth.
“Wait. I know what this is,” he said suddenly. “This is about that baby. We’re getting a medal for the baby last week.”
The week before, Malone and I had been walking out at the end of a shift when a woman outside a café two doors from the station started screaming like she was on fire. She was standing in the street pointing at a balcony five floors above, where a toddler was sitting on the concrete ledge, having the time of his life. A crowd gathered, and it was quickly established that the mother was inside but wasn’t answering the door or her phone. While some guys went in to try to break down her apartment door, Malone and I watched, pulling out our own hair, while the toddler crawled along the ledge and then, wobbling, stood up.
There was no time to decide who would catch the kid. Malone and I both went in and snared him in a tangle of arms about two feet off the ground while the people around us hollered and screamed. Turned out the mother had been so damned tired from working two jobs that she fell asleep with the baby on the couch, the balcony doors open and a pot of peas cooking dry on the stove.
It was a good get, the kind of thing that wins you cheers when you walk into the station the next day. Ribbing about how tubby you look in the YouTube footage. Calls from the Globe. A medal, maybe. The toddler catch had gotten my wife, Siobhan, on the phone for a week, bragging to all her friends, telling them to watch the news, patting my head and saying she was proud of me like I was some kind of heroic dog.
But today wasn’t about the kid. I could feel it in my bones.
“This is bad,” I told Malone. “They only send a car for you when they know you’ll be too fucked up to drive home afterward. We’re in big trouble here. You better start thinking what we’ve done to piss off the top brass.”
Malone, still twitching and joggling his knee, settled back and watched our driver. I gripped the seat belt and let Boston roll by, trying to guess what they were about to tell us.
The car dropped us at the building on Tremont Street. We went in, and as the elevator doors closed on us, I noticed that all Malone’s twitching had suddenly stopped.
“I’m sorry,” he said. His eyes were fixed on the floor. “I’m real sorry for this, Bill.”
“You’re sorry for what?”
He didn’t answer. I had to hear it from the commissioner.