It’s Sal’s turn to spring for coffee, so he swings past the 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts in Andrew Square and runs in for two large regulars. By the time he gets back to the sedan Renee is snapping her phone shut like she’s trying to punish it, hurling it into the deep canyon of her purse. She looks really, really pissed.
“What?” He hands over one of the enormous Styrofoam cups, careful. Back when they were first partnered he spilled thirty-two ounces of hazelnut all over her lap. The light from inside the shop catches the badge on her uniform, the tiny gold cross she always wears around her neck. “Hey. What?”
“Nothing.” Renee shakes her head. “Don’t.”
So he doesn’t. Dorchester’s the main street of a ghost town at this hour, stores shuttered, pavement slick with an icy sheen of water and neon. Sal pulls out into traffic. The radio hums.
His first day back on active duty after the thing and she dropped a sack of French crullers in the center of the chaos on his desk.
“Is that, like, a cop joke?” he asked, squinting up at her. Eight-thirty in the morning and her hair was already falling out of its braid, a dark corona around her face. The elastic at the end was screaming purple, one of her daughter’s. Renee always smelled faintly of pears.
“It’s a congratulations, dumbass,” she said, and just barely bumped the side of his ankle with the toe of her boot. “Welcome back.”
Still, she wouldn’t look him in the eye.
Active duty was maybe an overstatement: they’re sitting on a side street next to a desiccated playground in the Cathedral Projects, a meetup point for a dope ring that caught a seven-year-old in the crossfire over the weekend. It’s eleven degrees Fahrenheit, too cold even for the bangers. The coffee went tepid right away.
Renee is quiet, staring out the window at a discount store Santa listing on somebody’s lawn. “You all right?” he finally asks.
Renee smiles at the glass, the faintest reflection. “I’m great,” she replies, and she’s full of shit but Sal lets it go. They’ve been partners four years; he’s used to her silences.
They’ve been partners four years and he’s loved her just about that long.
Three weeks ago they caught a domestic on the west side of Southie, all cheap beer and epithets, TV bleating in the background. Sal pulled the squalling wife into the kitchen, her nails raking livid tributaries up and down his arms, and when he turned around the husband was aiming a nine at Renee with one shaking hand.
Sal thinks he said, “Put the gun down.”
He thinks he said, “Put the gun down now or I will shoot you.”
He’s pretty sure that’s what he said.
“I was supposed to sew tinsel on a bathrobe for Kaylee’s play before I came in,” she tells him, out of nowhere. It’s quarter of one and she slips her hands between her thighs to warm them, leans her head back against the seat.
Sal blinks. “Tinsel on…?”
“She’s the angel Gabriel.” Renee shakes her head. “ Anyway, of course I forgot, because I’m a terrible mother, so I had to call Damien and get him to do it before he went to bed. That’s … you know. With the phone.”
“Oh.” Damien is Renee’s ex-husband, though they’re still living in the same triple decker in Revere, so. Sal isn’t really sure how much ex that actually is. “Can Damien sew?”
“I don’t know. No. He’ll staple it on there. That’s not really the point, Sal.”
“No,” Sal says, and listens. A block or two over there’s shouting, but from this far away it’s only noise. “I guess it’s not.”
The night of the shooting she showed up at his place in Charlestown and muscled past him into the living room, sharp elbows and ready for a fight. “The hell were you doing?” she demanded, so close their ribs were almost touching. Her cheeks were raw and reddish from the cold. “Quite seriously, what in the hell did you think you were doing?”
Sal blinked. “What?”
“I was handling it!”
“You were handling it.” He tried to remember the last time he’d been so completely, shatteringly angry, and couldn’t. He’d killed a man this afternoon. “Guy’s got a bottle in one hand and a gun to your fucking head, but I should mind my own business because you were handling it.”
“You can’t do this,” she said, shaking her head like she was panicking, like it was about more than just today, and he almost interrupted but she was right on the edge of something so he didn’t. “We can’t–just because we–Jesus Christ, Sal, can this please just be the one area of my life that I am not perpetually fucking up beyond all recognition? Please?” She looked around then, like she’d never been to his apartment before. For a second she was quiet. “Do you have a date here?” she asked.
“I thought you might have a date here.”
“Yeah, well.” His lips twitched; he felt his fingers flex once at his sides. “Never stopped you before.”
“You’re not a terrible mother,” he says eventually. It’s sleeting again, ice on the wide gray expanse of the sedan. The wind rattles the swings on the playground, a shrill worrying sound. “And you’re not fucking everything up.”
“I’m fucking this up,” she says, and it’s the closest they’ve come to talking about it. “Am I not?”
Sal doesn’t have an answer for that.
It started right when she and Damien were splitting, back when she first found out about the waitress in town and Sal was pretty sure they were going to get divorced like normal people. For a couple of weeks she worked a ton of overtime, an extra set of clothes in her locker and Kaylee at her grandma’s in Methuen, so Sal worked a lot of overtime, too.
“Look,” she said that first time, in the car, and her mouth was on his neck and his jaw and the hard line of his cheekbone. Her coat was in a heap on the floor mat. The armrest dug into his back. “I’m not – I don’t want you to think I was planning on – I’m wearing mom underwear right now, Sal, so just –.”
“Renee,” he said quietly, and he wanted to remember this in case it never happened again. His heart was slamming away inside his rib cage. “I swear to Christ I could not care less about your lame underwear right now.”
Renee threw her head back and laughed.
“They’re not going to show, are they,” she says. It’s close to four in the morning, and the sleet has turned to snow. Fucking Massachusetts, Sal swears to God.
“Would you?” he asks. “They’re laying low. They’re just,” and he shrugs here, his voice doing a weird thing he doesn’t entirely appreciate. “They’re laying low.”
Renee gives him this look like she’s trying to see the tissue under his skin. A plastic bag blows across the street. “Yeah,” she says finally. “I know that.”
They sit in the car and wait for something to happen. Her cold hand slips into his.