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The Lies We Tell

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The Lies We Tell

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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  For Julianne

  If you can’t remember anything, you have nothing to be scared of.



  “Ready or not, here I come.” I see Isabel’s bare toes peeking out from the cracked-open closet door in the hall. Hide and seek is her favorite game. She’s terrible at it. She’s not quite two.

  Since I already know where she is, I stay in bed and finish reading an unsettling article in the Trib about proposed healthcare reform that sounds great for perfectly healthy people.

  “Where did she go?” I ask. The question provokes a giggle, a would-be giveaway if she ever chose a different hiding spot. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve counted to ten this morning and still, being discovered delights her.

  I decide affordable health care is an act, fold up the paper, and try to “find” her.

  “Spa-ghe-tti,” I sing-song her nickname as I get out of bed and collect the half-dozen board books she left between getting lost and getting found. If I’m not pretending to look for her, I’m pretending it doesn’t bother me at all to pick up and put away what I already picked up and put away.

  I guess it doesn’t bother me, usually. I’m a little off today.

  “Could she be in the … bathroom?” I ask, because that’s where I’m going.

  “No,” I say, finding the Tylenol and swallowing two, “she’s not in here.” I’m hungover: during yesterday’s trip to the beach I got too much sun and too much heat and so this morning my lower back is killing me, my left leg, too.

  In the mirror I can see Isabel standing in the closet, though I pretend I can’t. Silent, she watches me from under her sheepdog bangs; she refuses to wear a barrette.

  “Is she in the—” I stop short when my phone rings in the kitchen.

  Isabel explodes from the closet and says, “Bodies?” her attempt to say “pictures,” because she thinks, pretty accurately, that the phone’s primary function is to view photos. Maybe because the camera is the only app I let her play with besides Peek-a-Zoo. Or maybe it’s because the pictures are the only way she sees her dad. My brother. George: who they mean when they say, Oh, brother.

  The phone is on the kitchen counter; someone’s calling from the office. I say, “No pictures. Work.”

  Isabel nods, repeats “work” without much of an r.


  “Who’s in charge over there this morning?” It’s Steve Duppstadt, one of the detectives who assigns cases and the one who always gives me flak about Isabel. He’s got three teen girls, though, so I know he gets a lot more than he gives.

  “Dupe,” I say, “you have something for me?” I hoist Isabel up, my good arm, and carry her back to the bedroom.

  “I’m hoping you have something for me,” he says. “You get anywhere on that battery handout Thursday? Victim, Rosalind Sanchez?”

  “Close to nowhere. Sanchez changed her mind. She won’t press charges.” I put Isabel on the bed and join her under the covers, my hiding spot all morning. “Didn’t you see my report?”

  “I did. But the suspect’s name popped up again today. Johnny Marble. Same charge, same MO. I thought you might be able to help.”

  “On my last day off.” I pull the covers over our heads, a pretty good fort. “What about Kanellis?”

  “Andy!” Isabel says. She loves my partner no matter how I feel about him.

  I give her the shh finger and say, “It’s his case, too.”

  Dupe says, “He’s looking for Marble.”

  “Isn’t that what you’re asking me to do?”

  “I want you to talk to the victim. It’s Marble’s mother. Her home-care worker called it in, and when the responding officer arrived, Mom refused to cooperate. She won’t press charges, either—same as your case. But I’m thinking, if you give her the grit on Sanchez, maybe she’ll change her mind.”

  “Maybe,” I say. “Where’s mom?”

  “Transported. Sacred Heart Hospital.”

  “So it’s you asking me to do this, or Kanellis?”

  There’s a telling pause. “Both of us.”

  “That miserable prick—” I catch myself saying it; I hope Isabel didn’t. “You know what this is: Kanellis doesn’t do hospitals.”

  “I also know you’re the best person for this job.”

  “Pwi…” Isabel tries to work her mouth around the r, “pwi—”

  “No,” I say to Isabel.

  “Come on,” Duppstadt says, “it’s your case, too.”

  I should say no, the way I’m feeling. But I don’t want him or anybody else getting the idea I can’t do it.

  “Okay, Dupe, give me the details.”

  I get my book from my purse and take quick notes—the who, the where, the how bad. Apparently Marble, an old guy, beat the crap out of his mother, an older—and impaired—woman. The caregiver said Marble showed up asking for money and when the vic refused, Marble decided to show her what it’s like to “be broke.” Did enough damage to get her an ambulance ride. I wish I could say I found the details shocking. I wish I didn’t know shit like this happens all the time.

  That’s part of the reason I take notes: this many years in to the Job, it’s hard to keep atrocities straight. The other part is that I used to keep an accurate mental file about things like this, and also things like my keys. Then Isabel came along.

  Also, yes, I’ve got mild cognitive impairment. But come on: name me someone between the ages of zero and dead who doesn’t have occasional trouble concentrating.

  When I hang up I realize Isabel has, in record time, completely dismantled my purse. What was expertly packed is now all over the floor. Every Kleenex out of the pocket pack, all cards and cash out of my wallet. Change is stacked in neat piles, goldfish swims in the carpet. She’s hand-sanitized, and she’s got my lipstick. It’s open. It’s pink.

  “Isabel. Give me that.”

  “No,” she says, in two syllables.

  Since taking it away will only cause tears, I find Meatball—her favorite plush bear—and offer a trade. I squeeze his foot and he says, “Hello, Isabel!”

  Isabel isn’t interested. She clutches the tube and twists.

  There is a brief struggle that ends when I swipe the tube. “Sorry, Isabel: not for babies.” Tears blur her sharp gray eyes. Like her mother’s, strangers often tell me.

  “I’m sorry,” I say again. I repeat myself a lot.

  Isabel, she cries a lot, but at this age she’s trying on the tears more often than not, so I pretend to ignore her while I repack my purse, pull on a pair of black straightlegs, and button a sheer fitted shirt over the white tank I’m already wearing. Then I pick her up and hug her while she hugs Meatball and cries some more and I get that this is about more than the lipstick: she’s getting pretty attached to me, and she knows I didn’t put on this monkey suit for a trip to the zoo.

  “I love you, Spaghet.
I also love that she’s still little enough to cling to me, a precious reflex.

  I hate that my reflex is to get on with it, but time’s a-wasting, so, “You know who else loves you? Almost as much as I do?”

  She leans back and wipes her nose. “Mabicabi?”

  “Yes, honey. I bet Maricarmen would love to play with you while I go to work.” Of course, Maricarmen doesn’t know this yet, but if she’s home, she’s game.

  “Okay,” she says, with just a little reluctance.

  I carry her and she carries Meatball and when we get to the kitchen I offer her an apple, a real project for a kid who only has a few front teeth. She has at it while I pack the diaper bag and also the other bag with stuff I forget, like diapers.

  When I’m ready to go I find the apple abandoned on the kitchen floor and Isabel under the table. She’s eating Cheerios that fell from her tray the last time we had a box of Cheerios, and trying to feed them to the bear. I shouldn’t scold her for finding something I forgot about, so I tell myself it’s good she’s sharing.

  “Isabel,” I say, “let’s get your shoes on.”

  “No,” she says, one syllable this time. She scoots back, away from me, Meatball her shield.

  “Please, Spaghet—”

  “Can you guess what I am?” Meatball says. She pushed his button. “Oink!”

  I am certain he’s programmed to push mine.

  “Shoes,” I tell her.

  “No,” Isabel says, this time because she thinks I’m answering the bear.

  We go around like this a lot.

  Meatball giggles. “I’m pretending to be a pig!”

  I leave them there and go get my own shoes.

  I’m by the front door forcing my own feet into my tac boots, my left foot really cramping, when I hear the postman drop mail in the box at the front door. I wonder if it’s mostly addressed to Tom.

  I tell myself it’s a legitimate reason to wonder about him, and then I wonder a bunch of other things about him, and then I wonder when I’ll finally start to wonder about someone else.

  Then, from knee height, Meatball asks, “Will you give me a hug?”

  I look down and Isabel is standing there, holding the bear by his paw.

  “Your timing is impeccable.” I gather them up in my arms.

  * * *

  Though it’s just down the street, we drive to Maricarmen’s, a bungalow painted mint green with holiday decals in the windows and gnomes on the steps and wind chimes and lawn ornaments and all sorts of other shit that’s meant to be decorative. To me it looks tacky. To Isabel it’s a wonderland.

  We met Maricarmen one evening last October when we strollered by and Isabel was interested in the huge inflated Snoopy situated among a bunch of haunted house–grade Halloween decorations. I was interested because I’d seen Maricarmen chase some gangbangers off the block earlier that day. We got to talking, and Maricarmen kept talking. And talking. I learned her life story right there: her migration from Sinaloa, her promising career as an operations manager at El Milagro Tortillas, her husband’s unexpected death, and then—surprise—the unbelievable debt from an undisclosed gambling problem. On her own she repaid his debts, raised four children, and welcomed eighteen of her children’s children. She was obviously a strong woman, but not a hard one.

  I didn’t feel the immediate connection Isabel did—what can I say, I’m more hard than strong. But when Izz nuzzled in Maricarmen’s lap, I felt relieved. I’d been doing it all myself. I’d been so lonely.

  Then, I talked and talked—about almost everything. I didn’t tell her about my disease; I don’t tell anyone about it because there’s no cure and there’s nothing to tell except what a ruthless bitch it is. I did tell her I was a cop, which is something else I don’t advertise except that it’s pretty easy to figure out. I said so because I wanted her to know I could help her with any trouble on the block. I was referring to the gangbangers.

  Turned out Maricarmen already knew I was a cop, and one of the gangbangers was her grandkid, and she was actually trying to chase him away from me.

  So our story goes that I wound up helping the grandkid when he was facing time, and Maricarmen wound up Isabel’s go-to babysitter. We became fast friends, fierce maternal instinct our bond.

  “Mabicabi!” Isabel says, recognizing the house.

  “Yes,” I tell her, happy that she’s happy. “When I get back, we’ll go for a swim, okay?” I always promise her something before I go, if only to make myself feel better about going.

  “Swim! Swim!” She repeats herself a lot, too.

  I leave her in the car seat singing her abc’s, most of the letters b, while I unpack the trunk. I take a case of Mountain Dew—Maricarmen accepts most Pepsi products as payment—and Isabel’s things. It always feels weird to know my service weapon is in there, underneath the little-person stuff.

  I put down the bags etcetera to get Isabel out of the car seat and then I pick up the bags etcetera and we head for the crosswalk. At the curb I say, “Hold my hand,” and Isabel looks up at me, curious, because she is holding my hand. I squeeze hers and try not to think about what I can’t feel.

  On the sidewalk she says, “Mama,” and reaches for me, because she wants me to carry her, so I do, along with everything else, despite myself. Her hair smells so sweet.

  When we get to the gate, Maricarmen appears in the front doorway, and Isabel gets down and then literally jumps up and down.


  “Hola, Isabel!”

  I open the gate and Isabel runs up the steps ahead of me to wrap herself around Maricarmen’s leg.

  “Girls, no zapatos?”

  “It’s summertime,” I say. I got about two steps in those block-heeled boots and took them off, making myself incapable of arguing with a toddler who doesn’t understand the point of wearing shoes in the first place.

  I put the bags etcetera inside the door. “I just need an hour or so. A work thing.”

  “I wish, just once, you had some other excuse.”

  Isabel runs around her legs and cheers, “Cicles! Cicles!” to be redundant as well as repetitive.

  “I’m making tamales,” Maricarmen says, so I don’t have to ask about lunch. She always plays down a last-minute favor by playing up a meal.

  “See you in a—” I start to say to Isabel, but she’s already off and running toward the kitchen. Sometimes I wish goodbyes were harder for her.

  “Hasta pronto,” Maricarmen says.

  * * *

  I beat it over to Sacred Heart hospital. I get into my boots and get out of the car. I pop the trunk and immediately decide to ditch the duty belt; it’s heavy. Hot. I tuck my .40 S&W in the back of my waistband. My star goes on a lanyard around my neck and my bag over one shoulder, cross body, so my hands are free, though I may as well tie my left hand behind my back—the way it’s buzzing, tactility blunted, it’s like I’m wearing an oven mitt. Never aspired to be ambidextrous, though; I’ve always attempted more of a balancing act.

  Inside, I show my star at the desk and they tell me where to find Kay St. Claire.

  I walk down a corridor and wonder what’s up at the other end where somebody is yelling her guts out and it turns out that somebody is in Kay St. Claire’s room and the only two people in Kay St. Claire’s room are a nurse and presumably Kay St. Claire, the one doing the yelling.

  “I need to leave!” is what she yells at me. One eye is swollen shut, one arm is in a sling.

  “She is welcome to refuse treatment,” the nurse tells me, “but if she wants to leave, she needs to put on her shoes.”

  Funny thing.

  “Kay St. Claire?” I ask.

  She looks at me with her good eye. “CeCe?”

  “No. My name is Detective Gina Simonetti. I’m here to talk to you about your son, Johnny Marble.”

  “I want to talk about why they brought me here. There’s nothing wrong with me. They know that. I want to go home.”

  “You’ve been h
urt,” I say, “that’s why you’re here.”

  “You don’t know hurt.” She throws her shoes across the room. Her good arm is pretty good.

  “Mrs. St. Claire, your son is a suspect in a similar crime involving a young woman. Two days ago, she was treated for broken ribs and a black eye that looks a lot like yours.”

  “Is that so? Well, did they bring her all the goddamned way down here to talk to her like she’s a noodle?”

  “Excuse me,” a young guy says from the doorway and I turn back to find a young kid in a lab coat. His badge reads DODD.

  “Did you call Robin?” St. Claire asks him.

  “We’re still trying to reach her.”

  “She’ll get me the hell out of here.”

  “Um, yes,” he says, like it’s never going to happen. Then he looks up at me—literally—though I bet we’d be the same height if not for my heels. He looks away so he can say, “May I, sort of, speak to you in the hall?”

  “Sure,” I say. I wonder, once out there, what sort of bullshit he’s scripted to say.

  “I just,” Dodd says, his gaze drawn to the ceiling like there’s something up there besides fluorescents, “the attending physician wants to, I don’t know, maybe speak with you, and he told me to page him when you arrived.”

  “Did you page him?”


  “Then you’ve done an excellent job.”

  I wonder why he’s acting like all his fingers are thumbs. Then I bet he’s probably wondering why I’m acting like such a bitch.

  “Listen,” I say, “I’m happy to talk to the doctor—really. It doesn’t sound like Mrs. St. Claire is interested in cooperating with anybody. But right now, I need to know if she wants to press charges. May I do that?”

  “I think you would need to talk to Dr. Kitasaki first.”

  “Where would I find him?”

  * * *

  Dodd takes me to the lunchroom and angles toward a table where a striking man in scrubs—presumably a doctor—sits across from a dude in a suit. The doctor unwraps a Saran-wrapped turkey wrap, the skin between each of his fingers raised and rough, a red, scaly rash that looks like contact dermatitis. The suit toys with thin wire-rimmed glasses, his trouble more internalized. The only hair he’s got grows thin and blond in a bad spot at the top of his head, which I can see because I’m standing over him.

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