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Commonwealth(5)
Ann Patchett

“No,” he said. “It’s a work thing.”

She blinked. “A christening party?”

“The guy’s a cop.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask the cop’s name because at that particular moment he couldn’t remember it. “Sort of a deal maker, you know? The entire office is going. I just need to pay respects.”

She’d asked him if the baby was a boy or a girl, and if he had a present. The question was followed by a crash in the kitchen and a great clattering of metal mixing bowls. He hadn’t thought about a present. He went to the liquor cabinet and picked up a full bottle of gin. It was a big bottle, more than he would have wanted to give, but once he saw the seal was still intact the matter was decided.

That was how he came to be in Fix Keating’s kitchen making orange juice, Dick Spencer having abandoned his post for the consolation prize of the blonde’s unimpressive sister. He would wait it out, showing himself to be reliable in hopes of scoring the blonde herself. He would juice every orange in Los Angeles County if that’s what it took. In this city where beauty had been invented she was possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever spoken to, certainly the most beautiful woman he had ever stood next to in a kitchen. Her beauty was the point, yes, but it was also more than that: there had been a little jolt between their fingers whenever she passed him another orange. He felt it every time, an electric spark as real as the orange itself. He knew that making a move on a married woman was a bad idea, especially when you were in the woman’s house and her husband was also in the house and her husband was a cop and the party was a celebration of the birth of the cop’s second child. Cousins knew all of this but as the drinks stacked up he told himself there were larger forces at work. The priest who he’d been talking to earlier out on the back patio wasn’t as drunk as he was and the priest had definitely said there was something out of the ordinary going on. Saying something was out of the ordinary was as good as saying all bets were off. Cousins reached for his cup with his left hand and stopped to roll his right wrist in a circle the way he’d seen Teresa do before. He was cramping up.

Fix Keating was standing in the doorway, watching him like he knew exactly what he had in mind. “Dick said I was on duty,” Fix said. The cop wasn’t such a big guy but it was clear that his spring was wound tight, that he spent every day looking for a fight to throw himself into. All the Irish cops were like that.

“You’re the host,” Cousins said. “You don’t need to be stuck back here making juice.”

“You’re the guest,” Fix said, picking up a knife. “You should be out there enjoying yourself.”

But Cousins had never been a man for a crowd. If this had been a party Teresa had dragged him to he wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes. “I know what I’m good at,” he said, and took the top off the juicer, stopping to rinse the buildup of pulp from the deep metal grooves of the top half before pouring the contents of the juice dish into a green plastic pitcher. For a while they worked next to one another not saying anything. Cousins was half lost in a daydream about the other man’s wife. She was leaning over him, her hand on his face, his hand going straight up her thigh, when Fix said, “So I think I’ve got this figured out.”

Cousins stopped. “What?”

Fix was slicing oranges and Cousins saw how he pulled the knife towards himself instead of pushing it away. “It was auto theft.”

“What was auto theft?”

“That’s where I know you from. I’ve been trying to put it together ever since you showed up. I want to say it was two years ago. I can’t remember the guy’s name but all he stole were red El Caminos.”

The details of a particular auto theft were something Cousins wouldn’t remember unless it had happened in the last month, and if he was very busy his memory might go out only as far as a week. Auto theft was the butter and the bread. If people didn’t steal cars in Los Angeles then cops and deputy district attorneys would be playing honeymoon bridge at their desks all day, waiting for news of a murder. Auto thefts ran together—those cars flipped exactly as they were found, those run through a chop shop—one theft as unmemorable as the next but for a guy who stole only red El Caminos.

“D’Agostino,” Cousins said, and then he repeated the name because he had no idea where that particular gift of memory had come from. That’s just the kind of day this was, no explanation.

Fix shook his head in appreciation. “I could have sat here all day and not come up with that. I remember him though. He thought it showed some kind of class to limit himself to just that one car.”

For a moment Cousins felt nearly clairvoyant, as if the case file were open in front of him. “The public defender claimed an improper search. The cars were all in some kind of warehouse.” He stopped turning the orange back and forth and closed his eyes in an attempt to concentrate. It was gone. “I can’t remember.”

“Anaheim.”

“I never would have gotten that.”

“Well, there you go,” Fix said. “That was yours.”

But now everything was gone and Cousins couldn’t even remember the outcome. Forget the defendant and the crime and sure as hell forget the cops, but he knew verdicts as clearly as any boxer knew who had knocked him down and who he had laid out cold. “He went up,” Cousins said, deciding to take the bet on himself, believing that any crook stupid enough to steal nothing but red El Caminos had gone up.

Fix nodded, trying not to smile and smiling anyway. Of course he went up. In a certain stretch of the imagination they had done this thing together.

“So you were the detective,” Cousins said. He could see him now, that same brown suit all detectives wore to court, like there was only one and they shared it.

“Arresting,” he said. “I’m up for detective now.”

“You’ve got a death card?” Cousins said it to impress him without having any sense of why he would want to impress him. He might be a grade-one deputy DA but he knew how cops kept score. Fix, however, took the question at face value. He dried his hands and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, fingering past a few bills.

“Fourteen to go.” He handed his list to Cousins, who dried his hands before taking it.

There were many more than fourteen names on the folded piece of paper, probably closer to thirty, with “Francis Xavier Keating” printed at the bottom, but half the names had a single line drawn through them, meaning Fix Keating was moving up. “Jesus,” Cousins said. “This many of them are dead?”

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