UPSTAIRS, PARAMEDICS LEANED OVER ANDREW PRESTON'S body, pumping the chest. Mitch could tell instantly that it was hopeless. They were just going through the motions.
"Crime-scene guys got here yet?"
One of the medics shook his head. "You're the first. Detective Falke is on his way."
"Yeah. Through there."
The medic gestured toward the living room. The window was open. On the tasteful oak coffee table, between the two tasteful beige suede armchairs, a piece of paper fluttered in the breeze, pinned down by a heavy glass ashtray. Without bothering to put on gloves, Mitch moved the ashtray and picked it up. In neat, cursive handwriting, Andrew Preston had written seven words.
It was my fault. Forgive me, Maria.
"What the FUCK are you DOING?"
Mitch jumped, dropping the note. Detective Lieutenant Dubray's voice boomed off the walls like an angry giant's. "Are you out of your mind?"
Mitch opened his mouth to explain himself, then closed it again. What could he say? He knew he shouldn't be here. Still less should he be messing with another detective's crime scene. Dubray was incandescent with rage.
"That's evidence tampering! Do you understand how serious that is? I could have you thrown off the force. I should have you thrown off the force."
"I'm sorry. I needed to talk to Andrew Preston."
"You're a little late for that."
"Yeah. So I see. Look, sir, I would have waited for Falke, but I knew he'd be obstructive. He probably wouldn't even have let me see the note."
"Of course he wouldn't! And why the fuck should he? This is not your case, Mitch."
"But, sir, he's not even asking the obvious questions. Like what was Maria Preston doing in Sag Harbor anyway. And who knew she was gonna be there."
"Don called me half an hour ago. He told me you were poking your nose in, rambling about Lenny goddamn Brookstein. He thinks you've lost it..."
"Oh, come on, sir. You know Don Falke's always had it in for me."
"I think you've lost it, too. I'm sorry, Mitch. But you've gone too far this time. You're on suspension until further notice."
"Consider yourself on indefinite leave until you hear from me otherwise. And don't look so goddamn hard done by. You're lucky you aren't fired. If I didn't know how much Helen and Celeste count on that paycheck, I wouldn't think twice. Now get out of here, before I change my mind."
ON HIS WAY HOME, MITCH PASSED the bar where he'd first met with Davey Buccola. He went inside and ordered a scotch. "Keep 'em coming," he told the barman.
Mitch shrugged. Bad year. Bad life. Part of him wished he had never laid eyes on Davey Buccola. If it hadn't been for Davey's ferretlike digging into Lenny Brookstein's death, none of this would have happened. Mitch would have arrested Grace and been done with it. Moved on to the next case, like everyone wanted him to. Maybe even made captain.
Instead, here he was, alone, suspended from duty, all because of Buccola's file and the promise he'd made Grace. Grace. Mitch wondered again where she was. No one would tell him anything. He imagined her being interrogated, locked in solitary confinement, sleep-deprived. He thought about her sad eyes, her courage, her surprising sense of humor, even in the direst of situations, and hoped her spirit hadn't already been broken.
Through the whiskey haze, Grace's words floated back to him.
Forget about me.
It was much too late for that. Mitch realized that in the last two months, he'd barely thought about Helen. Grace had taken her place in his subconscious, his dreams. Now it was Grace he was letting down, Grace he was failing. Just as he'd failed Helen and Celeste. Just as he'd failed his father. I've disappointed everyone I ever loved. I let them all down.
Fuck suspension. Fuck toeing the line. And fuck giving up.
Tomorrow Mitch would take a flight to Nantucket Island.
The truth couldn't wait.