A boy emerged from the deep shadows under a dripping doorway awning, a cautious mollusk venturing from its shell. He was sixteen or so, his face a small, pale triangle above dark clothes, eyes hidden by dark lank hair and gloom. When he saw Oscar’s car, he retreated into darkness.
Inside the tired sedan, Oscar Mariani gripped the wheel unhappily. Dusk: the hour when Delete addicts and street prostitutes rose to score or hook. The car’s engine kept the repainted police cruiser’s interior warm, and the windows were lightly fogged. Rain tapped on the roof, the sound muffled by the sagging hood lining. It was not a muscular downpour but a constant, weeping drizzle barely more substantial than mist. Oscar wondered if this rain would ever stop. It would ease, certainly, then a foggy morning might open onto a rare day of sunshine, then an inevitable storm . . . and another week of this god- awful wet.
He’d parked on the cruddy street opposite the mouth of a lane so narrow it was almost an alley. Halfway down it, the red and blue lights of patrol cars intruded, slicing through the drizzle, reflecting off the dull eyes of windows and turning the droplets of water on his sedan’s windows into startling instants of sapphire and blood. Somewhere down there, dogs barked.
Oscar reached for the door handle and stopped to look at the man staring back at him in the rearview mirror. The stubble on his thin face badly needed either taming with a razor or grooming into a beard. Under thick coppery hair, his tall forehead was beginning to wrinkle as thirty faded and forty loomed. But it was his own stare that held him: gray, wide- set eyes that one woman long ago had called beautiful and another much more recently had called disturbed. Now they just looked exhausted.
Down the alley, figures crossing in front of the turning emergency lights cast long, insect shadows with scissor legs and swollen heads. Another polished white police car, glistening with raindrops, rolled around the corner near Oscar and turned down the alley to join the others. By its headlights, he could see a woman in a yellow raincoat hunched under an eave near the collection of squad cars. Neve was here already.
Oscar sighed and pulled on his waxed cotton motorcycle jacket, patched in several places but warm and blessed with lots of pockets, all full. From the seat beside him he took his black hat—a wide-brimmed squat thing with all the style of a dropped towel—and pulled it low onto his head. It was ugly, but it kept the rain off.
And the rain was cold; it whispered shyly on Oscar’s shoulders and hat as he put the car key in the door and gave it an arcane series of twists until it caught and locked. He headed toward the flashing lights.
Old townhouses crowded in on both sides of the alley; their small back courtyards were separated from the garbage- strewn thoroughfare by a continuous fence that was an alternating patchwork of graffitied brick, graffitied timber, graffitied metal, and barbed wire. Despite the steady rain, the air smelled of burned things and urine. Three white patrol cruisers stood out like pearls in a coal hopper; in front of them were a Scenes of Crime van and an unmarked patrol car. Onlookers had gathered under awnings and in doorways: gray- faced people loosely hunched in tired clothes, smoking silently and watching with the attention of seagulls observing picnickers, wondering what might be left behind.
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