the sun shone like an orange halo behind her head.


Mr. Fallon’s quarters were small and tidy, not unlike the man himself. His house-a bungalow, really-was way on the other side of the cemetery, close to the tool shed and equipment barn. All three-shed, house, and barn-were of similar rustic construction and painted a thoroughly depressing shade of brown, but everything looked neat and well-maintained. Fallon himself was less than thrilled at the prospect of our company, but the sheriff thought the bungalow was the best available option given that the station house was on the opposite side of the hamlet. So we formed an odd cortege, my car behind Katy’s behind the priest’s behind the sheriff’s behind the caretaker’s backhoe, and snailed across the fields of stone in the dying light. The youngest, wettest deputy and the crime scene investigator from the state troopers stayed behind.

Sheriff Vandervoort was a gruff, cinder block of a man who, in the space of a very few minutes, had twice boasted that his ancestors had lived in these parts since New York was New Amsterdam. He wore his insecurities like a rainbow. He was well aware of who the Maloneys were-everyone around here was. They knew about the hero son shot down over ’Nam and his big wheel father. Although nearly three years dead, the mention of Francis Sr.’s name still turned heads in Janus. Vandervoort knew, all right, and if he’d forgotten, there was little doubt Father Blaney would take the time to refresh his memory.

Vandervoort was just the sort to do things his way, like interviewing us as a group. It was a dumb move, but I wasn’t going to moan about it. In the end, it would probably save me some leg work. Small town policing, even in the new millennium, was different than any policing I understood. I’d gotten my first taste of that when I saw how the deputies mishandled the crime scene. As far as I could tell, they’d done nothing to preserve the scene beyond stringing the yellow tape. For a while there, I thought they might invite any passersby to add their footprints to the increasingly muddy mess that was the Maloney family plot.

The deputy who’d accompanied Vandervoort sat at Fallon’s small kitchen table taking notes as the sheriff asked his questions. Katy sat at the table too, as did the priest. Fallon had dried off a spot on the counter near the sink where the two of us sat. Most of the early questions were for Fallon and they were pro forma, the kinds of things you’d expect to be asked.

Did you hear anything? “Not me own self, no.”

Did you notice anything suspicious last night or this morning? “No.”

When did you first notice the damage? “Near noon. Was a slow day with the wet. Not one visitor I can recall. A disgrace to be sure. It took me that long to work me way over to that part of the cemetery.”

Has anything like this happened before? “Like this? Jesus and his blessed mother, no! In thirty years as caretaker, I’ve had but two incidents and then only a few stones were toppled.”

When? “Years ago.”

Who did you call first? “The father there.”

Other than revealing that he had been the one to alert Katy to the desecrations, Blaney’s answers shed less light on the matter than Fallon’s. I could tell by the tone of the old priest’s answers that he held the sheriff in even lower esteem than me. That was really saying something. I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Vandervoort or relieved for myself. The first part of Katy’s interview was about the same. She had asked Blaney to meet her at the family plot. Afterwards she called the sheriff and Sarah. And no, she couldn’t think of anyone who might want to do this sort of thing. I was glad he hadn’t asked me that question in front of Katy. Then things turned ugly.

“Your brother Patrick was murdered. Is that correct?” Vandervoort asked.

“Yes, but what does that have to-”

“Can you describe the circumstances surrounding his death?”

Katy went white. She bowed her head and stared at the linoleum floor.

“I can answer that,” I said, jumping off the counter.

“I’ll get to you in a minute, Mr. Prager. Right now I’m asking your wife-”

“Ex-wife,” Blaney corrected.

“I’m asking your ex-wife what happened to-”

“Okay, that’s it! Interview’s over.” I grabbed Katy by the elbow and we started for the door. “You want to ask her anything else, you go through her lawyer. My wife,” I said, glaring at Blaney, “is going home. She’s had a terrible day. I’ll be back in a few minutes to answer any questions you have for me.”

I could see Sheriff Vandervoort doing the calculations. He might’ve been a bit of a bully, but he wasn’t a total schmuck. There was little for him to gain by jumping ugly with the sole surviving Maloney. Town sheriff was an elective office and although the late Francis Sr. wasn’t exactly a beloved figure, a lot of people around this town owed their livelihoods to him. Ill will has lost a lot of elections over the years and my guess was Vandervoort understood as much.

“All right.” The sheriff stood aside. “I’m very sorry, Miss Maloney.”

“Prager!” she snapped.

“I was just trying to do my job. If I need anything from you, I’ll call. Rest up. I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Outside, I saw Katy to her car and told her to go back to her house and get some rest, that I’d call on my way home to Brooklyn to let her know how things turned out. She asked me to stop back at the house. I told her no. We had twice suffered the fallout from horizontal despair. Divorce creates new history, but it doesn’t blot out the past. It was just too easy for people who’d once loved each other as much as we had to succumb. Yet, the thing that drove us apart was never far away and fresh regret makes the next time that much harder. Neither of us needed to compound the hurt, especially not after the grief of the day. I had skillfully avoided mentioning the rose on my doormat and my talk with Mary White. But I could see in her face what she must’ve seen in mine: it was happening all over again. I didn’t watch her leave. I’d already seen that once too often.

“Sheriff,” I said, stepping back into the kitchen, “I believe there’s some things you want to know about Patrick’s death.”

“That’s right.”

“Short or long version?”

“Short,” he said. “If I need any details, I’ll ask.”

“Patrick was a student at Hofstra University on Long Island in December of ’77. He’d gone into Manhattan for a college fundraiser at a bar in Tribeca called Pooty’s. Sometime during the night, he vanished. Eventually his parents got worried and contacted the cops. After the investigation turned up nothing, his folks started organizing twice-daily bus trips of volunteers to go down into the city to put up posters and look for the kid.”

“I remember that. My folks went a couple of times. I think they just wanted the free ride to Chinatown.” The sheriff amused himself.

Father Blaney gave Vandervoort a category five scowl. Christ, with this guy around I might rise to sainthood in the old priest’s eyes. The sheriff got the message.

“Sorry, that was a bad joke. Continue.”

“When that didn’t work, the Maloneys hired PIs.”

“That’s where you came in,” he said to me.

“I was just retired from the cops and I wasn’t licensed then, but yeah. I tracked the kid down to an apartment in the West Village where he was staying with his lover.”

“So the kid was a fag, huh?”

I ignored that. “When I tracked him down, he asked me to give him a few more days and that he’d come back to his family on his own and on his own terms. I agreed.

“But he never turned back up. For twenty years, I assumed he’d run again.”

“Such hubris, Moses,” said the priest, “to play God like that. You should have grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and dragged him back home.”

So much for my beatification. Blaney was right, of course. Not bringing Patrick home was the single biggest mistake of my life. Not confessing the truth to Katy was a close second.

“So what did happen?” Vandervoort was curious.

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