Monday, September 16, 2013

Part Five

I stood there for a long moment, holding the door open. The boiler rattled into silence, and the only sound in the room for a long moment was her breath. I tried to read her face, but she wasn’t giving me anything. Finally, I took a step back to let her in. “Alison,”I said. I didn’t trust myself to say anything more.

“Tom,” she replied, walking inside and closing the door behind her. She didn’t say anything else. She looked around the room as if I was giving her a tour, but it only took a few seconds before she couldn’t hide the fact that she was avoiding my eyes. There just wasn’t enough to look at besides me. The room had a bare concrete floor that I kept scrupulously clear of any stains or mess—I was holding up pretty well, but even the most well-preserved corpse was still a corpse. I didn’t want to make things messy for Paulie. There was nothing on the walls except for a calendar that still read ‘June 1997’. I had a cot in the corner with no blankets. The room’s only window was too high to look out of, and it didn’t matter because the room faced onto an alley anyway. The only light came from a single bare bulb in the ceiling. If the lock had been on the outside instead of the inside, I probably could have gotten the ACLU to sue on my behalf, but nothing kept me here but knowing where else I could go. Alison still stared at it for a solid minute before she said anything past my name.

“You’re…keeping well, Tom,” she said, her fingers twitching as she spoke like she was aching for a cigarette. Alison gave up smoking about a week before I died, about three days after the first wave of resurrections. She told me she didn’t want to die of anything that would ever let her come back. I thought about blowing smoke into her face, but it didn’t seem to be worth the effort to inflate my lungs again just for that.

Instead, I sucked in just enough air to respond. “Probably all that junk food,” I said. “All those preservatives had to be good for something.” I gestured to the cot. “Have a seat and tell me why my ex-wife came down to see me.”

That got me a little eye contact. Alison’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, the kind you get when you wake up crying every morning and fall asleep crying every night. I’d seen that look a few times on homicide detail, talking to family members on those cases that dragged on for years without ever getting any closer to the killer. I wanted to sit down next to her and comfort her, but I knew that wouldn’t go well. “’Widow’, Tom,” she replied coldly. “The word you’re looking for is ‘widow’.”

It was about then that I noticed she was still wearing black. I’d been dead almost six months now, and she was still in mourning. Still, I figured it was a lot harder to move on when the dearly departed had an apartment downtown and was still making calls on your cell phone plan. Of course I felt sorry for her. She was my wife, and she was grieving like hell. But I’d have felt a lot sorrier for her if I hadn’t been the one she was grieving for.

I decided not to push it, though. If there was one thing I’d learned from all those hostage situations, it was that you couldn’t change someone’s mind about love by fighting with them. I bit my tongue—not literally—and said, “What do you need, Alison? You know I’m still trying to get someone to answer my question about benefits, nobody wants to stick their neck out before they rule on Knudson’s appeal—-“

“It’s not about money,” she said. “It’s…I was talking to Shauna, and she said that Bob mentioned that he saw you with Jim the other day. While he was, you know…on duty.” Her face was agonized with indecision, as though she wasn’t sure that she could talk about it even here, even third-hand. I didn’t know what she was worried about; Alison had never been a policewoman, but she’d been married to one for seven years. She had to know the way that gossip worked. If Bob knew, and if Shauna knew, and if they were talking to Alison about it, then it must have occurred to her that it couldn’t have been that big of a secret anymore. But maybe being dead changed the rules about that, too. Maybe dying was the kind of thing they wouldn’t even talk about behind your back.

“Not sure what you’re asking,” I said, “but yeah, I still talk to some of the old guys. They ask me about stuff sometimes, stuff that doesn’t make it back to headquarters. It’s not a big deal, or anything. You don’t have to worry about it screwing up my payout, whatever they decide it’s going to be called. Everyone downtown is turning a blind eye to the whole mess.”

“Can you listen for a minute, Tom?” she snapped. “I just told you it wasn’t about your stupid pension.” I’d heard her, but I hadn’t believed her. Not when Paulie had told me that Bob had told him that Shauna has said that Alison had put the house up for sale and moved back in with her mother. My Allie wasn’t a proud woman, but she’d bite clean through her own lips before she blamed me for dying on her. She already felt bad enough for admitting I was dead. If one of us was going to bring up money, it was going to have to be me.

“It’s about…” She lowered her voice. “You still do cop stuff, don’t you, Tom? Even after it killed you, you still do it?”

“Yeah.” I tried to take a drag off my cigarette, but I realized it had burned down to the filter while I wasn’t paying attention. I tossed it into a metal bucket in the corner that I was using as an ashtray. “I figure it’s got to be safer now than it was when I was alive, right?”

She didn’t rise to the bait. (I’m honest enough to admit that was exactly what it was.) She just slumped her shoulders and and took a deep breath, like a teenage girl at her first confession. “Then I need your help,” she said.

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