The Amtrak train pulled into Pennsylvania Station after the ten-hour journey from the Piedmont Triad to New York City. The new Mr. and Mrs. Joe Calloway rode up the long escalator to the main terminal. Qi looked around in awe. She’d been to New York many times, but this was her first time inside the vast terminal. The sheer mass of people both thrilled and terrified her. Joe felt her nails digging into his palms. They stepped aside at the end of the escalator and looked around. Joe spotted his smiling cousin a few feet away.
Déjà vu rushed over Joe in waves. He remembered a time when he was around six and standing on this very same platform. Fiona knelt down in front of him and pushing his cowlick down on his head. She’d said, ‘Now remember, Joey. This is our special secret. Not a word to your dad, okay?’
“Hiya, Joe. Welcome to New York.” Conor O’Brien stepped forward and wrapped Joe in a bear hug. He turned to Qi and did the same.
“Thanks for meeting us, Cuz.” Said Joe. “We’ve been here before, haven’t we?”
“We sure have. You were about five or six.”
“I remember now.”
Conor stepped back and put a hand on a young girl’s back pulling her towards the couple. “Guys, this is my daughter Charlie. Charlie, these are your cousins, Joe and Qi.”
Charlie stepped forward and held her arms out for a hug. Qi grabbed her first and kneeled so they were the same height. “Hi, Charlie. You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.”
“Thank you. You’re beautiful too.”
Joe bent down and did the same. “Hi, Charlie. It’s wonderful to meet you.”
“Hi, Cousin Joe. Welcome to New York.”
Joe stood back up. Conor pulled a young woman forward. “This is Charlie’s Auntie Sophie. Charlie’s mother couldn’t make it today. Sophie, this is Joe and Qi.”
Joe waggled a finger between the two of them. “Are you two…?
They both looked stricken. Conor said, “Oh no. Just friends. Sophie’s my ex-sister-in-law.”
Sophie stepped forward and shook hands with Qi and Joe. She quickly changed the subject. “I know your work, Qi. I’ve read your blog. I’m a big fan.”
“I heard that.” She looked between Qi and Joe. Her grin indicated she was in on their secret.
Conor smiled. “We should go. We still have a long drive ahead of us.”
The past six weeks were a whirlwind. Joe and Qi flew back to Denver, where Joe tidied up his exit from the bank and Qi combined her wedding shower with one last show at the Foundry. The only thing she didn’t do was Party with Her Shirt Off. Apparently old married ladies don’t do that. They packed up their house in Denver, hired a moving truck and then drove Joe’s car across the country. It might be their only chance to make such a trip, so they spread it out and saw the sights of Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. Then it was time for some serious wedding planning.
The ride out to Long Island was a long one. Qi sat up in the front seat of the SUV. She was now four months pregnant and prone to car sickness. Strangely enough, she was fine on the train. Conor could just smile and nod as she kept a running banter going. Joe, Charlie and Sophie sat in the back, taking turns playing a game on Charlie’s iPad. Joe was enchanted with his little cousin. He was also intrigued with her beautiful auntie. The woman was economical with her words, but when she did speak it was with a spirit that reminded Joe of Fiona. It was November on Long Island. The last half hour of the journey was along the coast. The Long Island Sound was on the inland side of the island, with Connecticut on the other side. Squalls were sweeping across New England and the wind and waves were battering the shoreline. The water was still choppy and forbidding. It was dusk by the time they got to Rock Haven.
“This is us.” Said Conor, looking at Joe through in the rearview mirror. “You guys picked the wrong time of year to honeymoon on Long Island.”
“It’s fine. We just need to decompress from the last two months of mayhem. We appreciate you, Con, and your generous offer.”
“Our grandparents built this house for all of us, Joe. Feel free to come back any time.” Conor pulled the latch on his door. “I’m going to get the place unlocked so you guys can go straight in. No sense getting soaked if you don’t have to.”
“Thanks, Con.” Conor ran up to the massive oak door. He opened it and lit the front of the house. He came back out and waved them in. “Why don’t you ladies head inside? I’ll help Conor with the bags.” The remote hatch started beeping on cue. The girls ran inside. The guys grabbed the bags. They were just in time. Conor closed the heavy door as curtains of rain started belting the house.
“So what the hell happened?” Conor was sitting on the hearth of a huge stone fireplace, nursing a budding fire with a poker. Sophie and Qi were folded up on opposite ends of the couch. Joe was lounging in a leather recliner and Charlie was sprawled out on the floor with a book.
“We’ll probably never know. The bottom line is this. Three known drug dealers and two Cormack cops ended up dead. The cops killed the first guy, the guy whose car hit Fiona, and then the cops killed the drug dealers and some unknown shooter killed the cops.”
“So what’s the deal with the unknown shooter. And why did they kill Fiona?”
Joe shrugged. “It could have been about the redevelopment. It could have been as simple as him being angry for being kicked out of the bar. It could just as easily have been an accident that they covered up. We do know that Hickman and Dalton were crooked as hell.”
“Follow the money.”
“Follow the money and you’ll find the shooter. You’re a forensic accountant at heart. Look into their finances, see where the money came from.”
“I don’t do that anymore. I’m just a humble bartender.”
“Bullshit.” Conor looked over at his daughter. “Sorry, Charlie.”
She didn’t look up from the book. “It’s okay.”
Sophie laughed. “You two.” She looked at Qi, pointing to Charlie and Conor. “They’re always like this.”
Conor picked up where he left off. “Enough with the humble bartender crap. You’re a free agent, a five tool player.” He was an old athlete, with sports analogies for days. “People will pay good money for what you know, what you can do.”
“What about that girl? What was her name?”
“Yeah, Vivienne. How did that feel when you saved her?”
“I didn’t save her. She still had to make it through a gun battle.”
“Yeah, but you gathered all the info and got there when you needed to be. Any earlier and you might have been one of the casualties.”
Qi raised her voice. “Joey, you didn’t tell me that.”
“I wasn’t in any danger. It was all over by the time I got there. Besides, I was with Ethan and Parrish.”
“Whatever.” Qi did a perfect impression of Joe. He stood and went to the window. The rain was still coming in off the Sound. Countless bolts of lightning struck the surface of the water. It reminded Joe of tornado season in Denver.
“It’s nasty out there. Are you sure you guys don’t want to stay tonight?”
Sophie said, “We can’t do that. It’s your wedding night.”
“Our wedding was two nights. And Qi wore me out on the train today.”
“It’s true.” Qi said matter-of-factly. “I can’t let him get out of practice while I’m pregnant.” Four sets of eyes went to Charlie, but the eight year-old wasn’t paying attention.”
Sophie sat up on the edge of the sofa. “I want to know about the pictures. How did that happen.”
“My assistant’s boyfriend stole my phone. He uploaded the pictures because he was jealous of my success.”
“How did you find out? I mean, did he confess.”
“My assistant confessed when I shut down the websites. It was horrible.”
“Did you fire her, the assistant?”
“I fired him. Though he really fired me. He was a real drama queen anyway. It’s okay. I was ready to get off the road.” A clap of thunder rattled the chandelier. “You really should stay tonight. It’s dangerous out there.”
Conor looked at Sophie and they both shrugged.
“Well I guess that settles it.” Conor said. “Hot chocolate, anyone?”