The concierge had summoned the upper floor express elevator for him, but it was a busy Thursday afternoon and there was a wait. The concierge must have seen Maglione discreetly flash his badge at the security desk in the lobby, because he brought Maglione away from the rest of the people waiting with him and placed him, alone, in front of a set of doors. He wanted to tell the concierge he didn't need his own elevator, but the guy staring out at him from the corner of his eye, his face blank with fear and certainty, like a jackrabbit powerless to flee the hawk-shaped shadow growing swiftly larger around it.
The concierge probably had a thimbleful of coke in his back pocket—minus a sniff or two, judging by the sweat around his collar—and was convinced that Maglione was here to place a large hand on his shoulder, whisper to him about not making a scene, and lead him gently out of the lobby.
Instead, Maglione just yawned again and continued waiting. On a better day he might have tried to talk to the guy, amuse himself by stoking his paranoia a little, but he was tired. He didn’t just work long hours, his work was spread throughout the day and into the night, so that even six hours of sleep was a luxury.
Sometimes Maglione felt like he’d been tired since the day he got out of the academy, certainly since he’d made detective. Maglione tried to think back to any point in his adult life when he’d felt truly well-rested, and the only time he could remember was more than a decade ago.
Maglione had been off on a Sunday night, driving home from the video store, when he passed a Domestic Disturbance on the sidewalk near the Stop 'n' Shop on Claiborne, right out in the open. A guy—dark but not too dark: maybe mixed race, maybe Latino—was slapping the everliving shit out of a black girl, and she was barely defending herself.
“Unbelievable,” Maglione said out loud, more exasperated than incredulous, and pulled the unmarked Caprice Classic over beside them. (God, how Maglione missed those old boxy Caprices, the last truly great American car.)
He got out of his car calmly and patted his pocket to make sure the extra key was there, then locked and closed the door with the engine still running, a habit his father had taught him.
“Mind your own business, pardner,” the man said, but Ron Maglione didn’t answer him. Everything in the world felt right, like he was following a script only he knew. The man didn't flinch at all, too busy cussing him to see the beautifully delivered roundhouse Ron Maglione deployed against his face.
Maglione had been a semi-professional boxer before joining the police force, but few of the punches he’d ever thrown in his career had felt as good, as solid, as that one. He felt the jaw break under his knuckles, knew the man was out cold even before his head had finished snapping back. Even back then, Ron Maglione’s job required so few duties that could be described as purely good and useful, but surely this was one of them.
He turned back to the girl. He knew his lines: he’d put her in the back of his car, call in the arrest, then take her statement and offer to get her a ride to her family or a shelter. He expected—like a chump, like a damn rookie—her gratitude. “Blimp,” she said, just as she pushed a distressingly long fingernail file into his abdomen.
Maglione staggered back. The black plastic handle, all that was visible of the file, became covered in thick blood. His blood. He stopped himself from pulling the blade out. It hurt on the inside.
“Why’d you do that?” he asked in shocked surprise.
He stumbled his way back to the driver’s side, tried the door and found it locked, then dug into his pocket for the key. There was blood on the door handle, blood on the jeans he wore only on his days off. This pair was new, he’d only worn them twice before, and now they were ruined. Number one rule of dealing with Domestics: separate them first. Separate them first.
Ron Maglione pulled out onto the deserted street and, picking up the suddenly slick microphone, called in to the overnight uptown dispatch.
“Hey, Ronnie Sweater,” Charlie said back. “I thought it was your night off.”
“Charlie, it’s a 10-8, a 10-8.”
Charlie sucked in his breath, and when he spoke again all emotion was left behind. “All right, everyone clear the air. This is a 10-8. Repeat, clear the air immediately. Come back, Ronnie.”
Maglione nudged the Caprice back into his lane. He remembered the times a 10-8 had come in while he was at the station, how everyone froze, staring to their radios to hear what had happened to the injured officer, then flew madly towards him. “Delachaise and Claiborne, proceeding…west, I guess. I got a 36-something…I can’t remember the codes. I been stabbed, Charlie. This girl, she stabbed me.”
“Oh, Ron…you got stabbed? Pull over, I got units all around you. Jesus Christ. Is it still in you? You didn’t pull it out, did you?”
“It’s okay, Charlie. I’m six blocks from the Baptist Hospital. Call the emergency room, let ‘em know I’m coming. I’ll be there in a minute.”
All around him, in the distance, he could hear sirens firing up. Every member of the New Orleans Police Department within a five mile radius was screaming towards the Baptist. What a pain in the ass, Maglione thought with half-closed eyes. Charlie mumbled something urgent to an operator, then came back. “You with me, Ronnie? Where you at now?”
The steering wheel was hard to hold on to, and blood was pooling under his lap on the seat, making it feel like he’d wet himself. “Claiborne and Milan. I’m almost there.”
“You’re slurring your words, Ron. Look, just put it in park, right in the middle of the street. I’ll have someone there in seconds.”
Maglione doesn’t remember the rest of the trip, but he somehow made it to the Baptist Hospital and up the emergency ramp, bouncing like a pinball off the sides twice before coming to a stop. When the paramedics got him out of the car, he’d asked the ER doctors “Can I pass out now?” and, after getting their permission, drifted off.
He woke up a day and a half later. The fingernail file had nicked an artery and then, when he sat down in the car, pierced his bladder. The dirt from under her fingernails had caused an infection that they were still fighting. “Nobody give this girl a real weapon,” was the most common joke.
They never found the girl or the guy, hadn’t even known what to look for or where to look. And Ron Maglione was in trouble again, of course, back then he was always in trouble: for not calling it in beforehand, for not following Domestic Disturbance procedures, for not calling for back-up, for excessive force (even though the only proof they had of this was his own story), for driving on a public street in his condition, for damaging his patrol car and the hospital. He even had to pay to have the blood in his car cleaned out.
But Ron Maglione didn’t care that much. All he knew was that he got to sleep for 36 hours, and then spent a week in the hospital dozing off and on with no beeper, no phone calls, and no alarm clock.
The infection cleared up, but he was kept in the hospital a few more days for observation, and the nurses kept slipping him a sleeping pill every night with a wink. He suspected he was being kept at the hospital so that his superiors could finish dotting the Ts and crossing the Is of his official reprimands.
Towards the end of his stay he awoke to find that he had two visitors—one white, one black, both in suits—sitting at the small table by the window. The clock said 6:30, and outside the sky was bruised with color, but Maglione had lost track of day and night and didn't know if he was seeing the beginning of a sunrise or the last evidence of a sunset.
"Detective Maglione," the black man said, looking up from the copy of the Times-Picayune he'd been looking through. He had an efficient smile and a voice that simulated warmth. "You're awake, good. You're not in any pain, are you?"
"No. No, sir." Maglione recognized him, of course. It was Jerome Johnson, Mayor Thomas' right hand man. He'd just announced his candidacy for City Council about a month before.
The white guy, Assistant District Attorney Lucas Budd, had been reading from the free Bible that had been sitting for a week, untouched, on the dresser. He held up a finger and began to read. "'And out of the desert came Ron The Baptist, preaching Repent ye, and turn away from sin. The axe is laid unto the root and every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit will be hewn down, and cast into the fire. The day of reckoning is close at hand.’ So what do you think? It's a lot catchier, right?"
Johnson nodded over at his associate and smiled thinly. "He's trying to give you a new nickname."
"Yeah, what is this people are calling you? Ronnie Sweater? Because you sweat a lot? It's disgusting."
Maglione closed and opened his eyes. Lucas Budd and Jerome Johnson were in his hospital room, arguing about his nickname. He was pretty sure he was hallucinating, but he played along. "No, no...it's because of my last name. Maglione is Italian: ‘Sweater.’ Like the clothes."
Budd shrugged. "Okay, fair enough. But still, it's unpoetic. 'Ronnie Sweater,' it doesn't scan right. The syllables are all wrong."
"So he's trying to get people to call you Ron The Baptist instead." Jerome Johnson tugged at the fabric of his pant leg.
"It’s about more than the nickname. It’s about respect. Look, Detective...all the guys out on the street, I've been talkin' to them, you know what they're saying? They're saying you were out on your night off, you saw some creep beating on a woman, and you took care of business. The patrolmen, the other detectives? They got a lot of respect for that. You even drove yourself to the hospital. That's real police." He pronounced it the way cops did: real PO-lice. "And now you're up here in the hospital and the big boys, the ones who haven't been at a crime scene in years, they want your head on a platter for it."
"Like John The Baptist," Jerome Johnson explained.
"Exactly. Now, a lot of your colleagues don't think it's right, and I don't think it's right, and Jerome here doesn't think it's right either."
Jerome Johnson hit the newspaper softly against his slacks, and nodded once in agreement, his lips firm with conviction. "You know, Detective Maglione, when Lucas and I were in law school we'd go over to the boxing matches across the river. We saw you fight a few times."
"Did we ever. You're tough, Ron...and more important, you're tenacious. What was that fight where you got knocked down, what was it? Eight times?"
"Just seven. Against Joe Dumaine."
"That's right, Lapalco Joe. You just kept getting back up. They should have called the fight after the third time...after the seventh the whole crowd was chanting 'Stay down'—we thought we were watching a suicide—but then when you got back up all of us, even Jerome here, went so nuts I thought the roof of the Civic Center was going to come off."
Maglione nodded for him. "Thank you, sir. I don't remember anything after my fourth trip to the mat."
"Doesn't matter. What matters is you got back up. You didn't win the fight, but by God you were on your feet when they announced it."
Jerome Johnson started to speak, then stopped himself, pursed his lips, and started again. "Lucas and I are here today because that's a character trait that we’d like to see more of in the NOPD."
"Look, we'll cut to the chase. I know a lieutenant was by here earlier in the week, detailing exactly what was going to happen to you once you got out of here. Well, you can forget about that. It's off the table."
Ron looked from one to the other. "What do mean? Why?"
Jerome Johnson laughed for the first and only time during his visit. "You have a lot to learn, Detective. When City Hall tells you to forget about something, you don't ask 'why.'"
"Ron, we took care of it, that's all you need to know. We don't need guys like you putting themselves on the line and then getting shit on for it. You walk out of here tomorrow, the next day, it's like nothing happened. You were on vacation for a week. We couldn't get you a hero's citation, but this is good enough, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
On the table was a manila file folder that Jerome Johnson picked up and showed to Ron. "We've been looking through your service record, Detective. You won't be offended if I say that it's not terribly distinguished, will you?"
"No, sir, not at all. I've messed up a bunch, and I'll probably mess up a bunch more."
Johnson nodded deeply. "That's good, that's good. Own your shortcomings." He opened the folder for a moment, then let it fall shut again. "Of course, it wasn't all your fault, was it? A lot of this…wheel-spinning has to do with your talents being wasted."
"Exactly," Lucas Budd said. "A man with your qualities, your abilities, checking pawn shops every week for stolen merchandise? Quote-unquote investigating car thefts? It's not right."
Maglione didn't say anything.
"So we created a new position for you, you start it in a week. Right now we're just calling you a Special Liason, but we'll come up with something better, especially if Jerome finds a way to get elected next month."
Johnson crossed his legs. "We're not pushing you, Detective...you can say no if you want and go right back to your old job. But the sort of work we have in mind requires a special touch, and we think you've got what we're looking for. All we ask is that you think about it."
"I don’t have to think about it. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen." Maglione’s voice was thick. The sleeping pills in his system were making him groggy again, turning all of this slippery and insubstantial, and he clenched his teeth so he didn't have to yawn in their faces. "Besides, I owe you guys now, right?"
The last thing he heard before tripping heavily back into sleep was Lucas Budd laugh out loud. "See, Jerome? He's a quick learner."
The next morning Maglione was discharged and he waited in the sunshine in front of the Baptist hospital for the patrol car he'd requested, wearing the clothes his sister had brought him. The conversation hadn't been a dream; his partner told him that a bright shiny transfer order, signed by Mayor Thomas himself, was waiting on his desk. Ron Maglione smiled to himself, even though he had no idea what his new job entailed. He smiled because the sun was out and glowing on the maples and he felt fully-rested, totally awake, and ready for whatever was awaiting him.
And that had been fifteen years ago.
The express elevator's doors slid open and revealed the Law Offices Of Harry Sebastian in all its casual glory. Every time he visited Harry's office, Maglione questioned the choices he’d made in life...the exact response Sebastian's downtown office was designed to elicit. The elevator up to the 43rd floor opened right in his lobby, and as the doors slid open visitors saw three things all at once:
First was the office itself, which made the business look less like a law firm and more like a successful advertising agency's converted warehouse offices. The walls were exposed brick, decorated with tasteful black & white photographs of New Orleans artifacts shot in extreme close-up: a pile of Mardi Gras beads, a Hubig's pie wrapper, an old Meyer's Pharmacy sign. Overhead, exposed pipes ran between thick wooden beams that had been sanded and stained a dark reddish brown.
It was like no other law office you'd ever been in, and this was exactly what Harry Sebastian, who styled himself as being like no other lawyer you'd ever met, was going for. Maglione knew Harry had paid a lot of money to get this effect, too; the office looked like a loving renovation, but it was all expensive artifice. This was the 43rd floor of a mirrored skyscraper, it's not like the walls were really brick or supported by wood timbers. The bricks were probably an inch thick at most, and the heavy beams were actually hollowed-out timbers attached to the ceiling with hidden screws.
(Maglione, who could never quite turn off the cop part of his brain, realized these empty beams would be a pretty genius place to hide contraband. If his business here today went really south, he'd have to remember to add the fake ceiling beams to the eventual search warrant.)
The next thing visitors noticed when stepping off the elevator was the receptionist's desk, which was so big and elaborate that it was more of a wooden fortress. It enclosed the receptionist completely in low carved walls, accessible only through knee-high doors. In a previous life it had been a 19th century clerk's station in a courtroom before being discovered in an Lake Charles antique store by Harry's wife and meticulously restored by a team of antiquarians. A specialist came by once a month to check the finish and to polish the wood until it shined so brightly it could cast a shadow.
Harry's receptionists were always precise and efficient young ladies, maybe two years out of college, with delicately thin eyeglasses and haircuts that looked like a stylist trimmed each individual strand one at a time. They were all frighteningly good at their job, routing office visitors and phone calls with the smooth grace of a Tai Chi master. The faces changed every year or so, but each new receptionist took the departed’s place seamlessly, as though she inherited the experience and knowledge of all her predecessors instantly.
Maglione had no idea where Harry found these girls or where they went after they left his law firm, because he never saw women like this anywhere else in New Orleans. He tried to picture them away from that desk and he never could. He decided they were part of a secret sisterhood, selected at birth according to arcane methods then raised in the dark secrets of the Receptionist Arts. They spent ten years traveling from front desk to front desk of whatever elite businessman could afford their cabal's pricy services, then retired back to the shadowy nunneries of their Order to spend the rest of their lives training the next generation of receptionists...
Damn, I should write this stuff down.
"Good morning, Detective. Is he expecting you?" He'd never seen this one before—a redhead whose lovely face had less pigment than Maglione's inner thigh—but of course she somehow already knew everything about him. Then again, it wasn't like Ron Maglione could ever go undercover: everything about him, from his sports coat to his haircut to his broad-shouldered thick-gutted physique screamed police detective at top volume.
"No, no, just in the neighborhood."
"I'll let him know you're here."
There were two other men in the waiting area with him. One was a young guy, probably a Tulane kid spending the summer in town, with the sour and arrogant look of the hungover. The other was a middle-aged black guy with his arm in a sling, who glared at the hardwood floor of the lobby, mouthing a slow but constant stream of silent words. Here was DUI and Personal Injury, the twin pillars of Harry Sebastian's empire.
Ron turned his attention away from them, though, drawn into the third feature of the lobby every visitor was struck by when they first arrived: the incredible view of the city offered by the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the far wall of the entire office.
The Citadel Center was a few blocks off to the side of New Orleans' central business district, so the view of the other downtown skyscrapers was remarkable: they were just far enough away that they didn’t block out the vista, but so close that there was no way to ignore their massive size.
Two of Harry's employees passed in front of the window, both of them flipping through printouts as they walked, neither of them even looking up to see the city spread out beneath them. Maglione spent all of his days down in the streets below, and he couldn't imagine ever getting so used to this view that he would ever walk right by it without at least glancing out. You can get used to anything.
He moved past the reception area and stood up against the window. Directly across the street from the Citadel Center was the Superdome, and from this angle the sheer size of the thing was tremendous: the white canopy of the dome swelled up just beneath his feet and took up almost a quarter of the view. Maglione's baby sister had been born on the day the Superdome opened, all those years ago, and her baby book held the two never-used tickets his father had spent almost an entire paycheck on. Instead, he had to watch the game at the hospital, feeding dimes into a B&W set with ten-year-old Ronnie on his lap, but he always said it was the best game he ever attended.
Beyond the Dome was the huge Crescent City Connection bridge, as tall as many of the downtown buildings, high enough to let ocean-going ships pass under its span on the way up to Baton Rouge. It was three o'clock on a Thursday, and the Mississippi River was busy with freighters and tugboats and ferries, and it glowed bright gold in the afternoon sun despite the filth underneath.
Traffic was just starting to pick up down below him. Maglione watched the cars poke around, stopping and starting, and he saw how modern and clean New Orleans looked from up here, just another 21st century American city. From up here it looked like a real city...from up here you'd never guess that it belonged to neither this century nor this country: built in a swamp on the banks of the most dangerous river in America; susceptible to hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, floods, and fires; infested with rats, thumb-sized cockroaches, toxic caterpillars, alligators, and nutria; surrounded by noveau riche hillbillies and God-fearing shitkickers who would push the city into the Gulf Of Mexico if they thought Louisiana could survive without the tax revenue; and ran by genuinely evil mofos who’d gladly burn the whole thing down themselves if they thought they could get either votes or profit out of it.
Maglione closed his eyes but resisted the temptation to put his forehead against the cool glass. He didn't mean it, he didn't mean any of it. He loved New Orleans, he was just in a bad mood because of what he was about to do. And he was tired. He was always tired.
High heels clicked behind him as the receptionist returned to her desk. Harry Sebastian, wearing suspenders, was standing in the hallway with his trademark fedora was pushed back on his head. "There he is...Ron The Baptist."
Harry's eyes narrowed and his voice got raspy. "What are pennies made of?"
Maglione chuckled. "Dirty copper."
Harry clapped him on the back, smiling broadly. Their exchange was dialogue from some old gangster movie, Maglione couldn't remember which one, with James Cagney or maybe Spencer Tracy. Harry had shown him the clip on YouTube during one of Maglione's earlier visits to the office, and now he wanted to recite it every time they got together.
On the way back to Harry’s private office, they passed more of Harry's employees, young lawyers in jeans and tennis shoes. Harry took great pride in running a casual office with no dress code, where everyone—including himself—was on a first name basis. Maglione saw, however, that the "no dress code" culture was just as strict as any other. There were no suits, no ties, but also no shorts and no t-shirts. For an office without a dress code, everyone looked surprisingly similar: all the lawyers wore immaculate jeans, collared shirts with the sleeves rolled, and brown or black lace-ups. There was a dress code, just not one that was ever spoken of.
Despite the casual atmosphere, though, Harry's law firm was well-known in the legal world of New Orleans for being fiercely competitive and dispiriting. The work wasn't exciting, and could even be depressing as hell, so Harry preferred to hire fresh young lawyers more than willing to spend eleven hours a day in a cubicle fighting on the phone with insurance companies. Every spring Harry hired something like the top 90% of Tulane Law graduates; the best of them eventually became trial lawyers, the rest were gotten rid of to make way for the next class. A judge once told Maglione there were only two kinds of personal injury lawyers in New Orleans: those who worked for Harry Sebastian and those who'd been fired by him.
"How's your bride? Her business doing well?" Valerie Sebastian, Harry's wife, had a "lifestyle boutique" in the Quarter that sold clothes, jewelry, and home decor to other Notable Wives like herself. Someone had broken into the store just before Christmas, and NOPD barely investigated, just said it was probably a couple of addicts and scratched out a police report for her insurance claim. Maglione helped Harry out and did a little extracurricular snooping, even though he secretly thought the NOPD's lazy guess was probably the correct one. He discovered, to his genuine surprise, that the robbery was an actual whodunit: there WERE two addicts behind it, yeah, but one of them was Valerie's assistant manager, who had planned the break-in, carried it out with her boyfriend, and did an almost flawless job of making it look like a random smash ‘n’ grab. Almost.
"Oh, Val’s place is doing gangbusters business, let me tell you, Ron. Last month was her most profitable one yet...she was only in the red by about three grand." Harry shrugged. "Look, she has something to do, she's not in my hair all day, and I catch a healthy tax break on her losses every year...trust me, the money I sink into that place is money well-spent."
They were inside Harry's windowless private office now. The big office from all the late-night commercials—Harry sitting on the edge of his desk with the Superdome behind him as he tore up an insurance company's insultingly paltry check—was only used to impress colleagues, business partners, and the more lucrative of his clients. Harry did most of his work in this smaller office off to the side, which held a desk and a couch and was as sparsely decorated like a dorm room.
Harry gestured to the couch, but before Maglione sat down he half-turned and pushed the door to the office closed. If Harry noticed, he took it in stride. "How about that nephew of yours, is he keeping it under the speed limit?"
About a year before, Maglione's nephew had somehow gotten a ticket way across the lake in Mandeville, where Maglione didn't have any favors owed to him (or at least none that he wanted to call in over a speeding ticket), but Harry made a single two-minute phone call and the ticket vanished.
"Well, I've been driving a white hatchback around, if that tells you anything."
Harry shook his head. "You're kidding me."
"The goof got arrested for street racing. Can you believe that...racing a Honda? It makes no sense. And, hey, you wanna know the worst part?"
"The little creep lost the race, and I had fifty bucks on him."
Harry laughed, and leaned back in chair so he could prop his feet up on the desk. "Hey, Ron, you want anything to drink? I got a mini-fridge right beside you that's pretty well stocked up."
"Nah, I appreciate it, but I'm only here for a second."
"So what's up?"
"Oh, it's nothing, I just wanted to give you a head's up about something." Maglione fished a few index cards out of his jacket pocket. "And don't worry about it, because I already deaded it. But you know that task force that's doing the Lucas Budd investigation? They recorded a phone call the other night from Lucas—I mean 'recorded' like they wrote down the time and duration of the call, not, you know, recorded. Anyway, they looked up the number he called and it was a cell phone registered in your name."
Harry was a good lawyer, Maglione had to admit: he didn't flinch or even react much, aside from furrowing his brow a little.
"How do they know it was actually from Lucas?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I said, too. You know these task force guys: teach a bunch of jock traffic cops how to trace a phone call and all of a sudden they think they're in the CIA."
"I don't know what to tell you, Ronnie, other than I haven't talked to the guy since...gosh, I don't know, that Gaudioso fundraiser back in March, maybe?"
Maglione laughed and shook his head. "Hey, look, I know you're not in a conspiracy with Lucas Budd. Hell, even if you were, it's none of my business. That's not what this is about. I just wanted you to know that, one, it popped up and, two, I squashed it."
Harry nodded deeply at the detective on the couch. "And I appreciate it. But I'd still like to get to the bottom of it. Are you sure it was my personal phone?"
"Nope, and that's exactly what I told them, too. 'Both of these guys are successful lawyers, they probably have fifteen cell phones each that are registered in their names. Who knows what number the guy called. These dumb fucks don't understand anything about relay towers, didn't stop to find out where the call actually originated from. I said, 'Look, Harry's kid has been friends with the Budd kids since they were in cribs together. Maybe that pretty little Budd girl is in Lafayette feeling lonely, decides to call the Sebastian boy and get him to drive out to Lafayette for a quickie, we don't know.'"
Harry chuckled. "Could be, could be. He hasn't mentioned hearing from the twins, but it's possible."
"The point is, there's a million different innocent reasons. It doesn't matter...I made it a dead issue. I'm not here to get to the bottom of it, I'm just here because I figured you'd want to know it happened."
Harry Sebastian brought his wingtipped feet down from the table one at a time. Slap...slap. "Well, Ron, I want you to know that I truly appreciate it. I owe you one."
Maglione waved it away. "It was nothing. I watch out for my friends."
Friends? Later, this would be the only thing he regretted: the two of them had a history together, Harry had done some secret business for Maglione's bosses in the past, and they enjoyed each other's company. They were friendly, but they weren't really friends, and invoking the word in the middle of this crummy business was a low blow.
"I'm just doing everything I can to protect the innocent on this one. This Lucas Budd case is a monster—a hungry monster—and when it goes to trial it's just going to devour everything in its path."
The two of them were standing up now. Harry seemed distracted. "Yeah, it's gonna be a bitch all right."
"And anyone with even the slightest connection to Budd, especially after his arrest, is just going to get demolished, no matter how big they are. The word going around is that the FBI is about to get involved…we might have our fun and games down here, but once shit goes Federal we're all on the hook."
Harry Sebastian nodded, looking at Maglione's face but not quite looking into his eyes.
"So when a whisper about someone I know starts going around, you better believe I'm gonna put that to bed with a quickness. Especially someone like you, Harry, who I know has the good sense to stay the fuck away from Lucas Budd at all costs, you know?"
Harry kept nodding, lost in thought.
"You know what I mean, Harry?"
The lawyer blinked slowly and made eye contact with Maglione. "Yeah, I know what you mean," he said in a low voice.
"I'm glad to hear it."
But Harry Sebastian was a natural lawyer, and he was his old self again almost immediately. He squeezed Maglione on the shoulder as he walked him to the door of the office. "Listen, thanks for watching out for me, again. I really do appreciate it. I don't want the people you're working for to think I have anything do with this."
Maglione paused in the doorway, pushing index cards back into his jacket. "The only people I’m working for are the people of New Orleans.”
Harry smiled at this, the corners of his mouth going sour. "Keep saying it, Ron. Maybe we'll both start to believe it."
Maglione walked back to the reception area alone, feeling loathsome, with his hands pushed deep into his jacket pockets. He slowly rotated his jaw from one side to the other.
He couldn't really say why he felt the way he did: it hadn't taken him long to figure out that Harry wasn't really in league with Lucas Budd, and what little he was involved with had just been scared out of him. That was good news, right? It meant one less potential confederate for Budd and it meant that Harry, the guy he'd just called his friend, was safe.
But still...but still, as Maglione walked back down the brick-lined hallway, he couldn't help but think that these kind of tasks were too delicate for his clumsy paws. This Budd business was no damn good.
"Have a good afternoon, Detective," the blonde receptionist said as he passed, not looking up from her Day Planner.
Maglione turned back to her. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"
"Of course." She looked up and smiled, straightening her glasses. Most people, a detective starts asking them questions and it's like you just sent them to the principal's office. Not her, though...her face was as open and innocent as the winter sun.
"It's Saturday night: you wanna go out, you wanna have a little fun. Where do you go?"
"I'm sorry?" She tilted her head to the side, still smiling, probably thinking this was the setup for a joke. In ‘sorry’ he heard a slight Midwestern rounding of the vowels; maybe Wisconsin, maybe Minnesota.
"Don't worry, I'm not asking you out, I'm just wondering...look, you gotta buy groceries, right? Where do you go?" His voice was too loud, he realized too late. "How come I never see you at Schweggman's? How come I never see you at gas stations, banks, bus stops?"
Now she was confused, looking over her shoulder with a slowly fading smile. A young lawyer, around 25, looked up from the copier and drifted closer to the desk, maybe about to come between Maglione and the receptionist.
Maglione squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them. "Listen, forget it. I was out of line. I'm investigating a...case, a girl about your age. I thought...never mind. Sorry."
"Good luck, Detective."
"Yeah, thanks." He was already turned away, moving towards the elevators now. "Keep Harry in line for me."
Thank God the elevator was fast. He waited only about ten seconds, the whole time refusing to turn around while the "what was that all about?" glances shot back and forth. He heard the young lawyer say "huh," with a wary laughing voice, but Maglione kept looking straight ahead until those doors opened.
He just needed to get some sleep. That was all, just some sleep. He pressed Lobby and left this world of glass and steel behind, descending back to the streets where he belonged.