12

“The lieutenant wants to see you,” Steve called across the squad room.

Andy waved his hand in acknowledgment and stood and stretched, only too willing to leave the stack of reports he was working on. He had not slept well the night before and he was tired. First the shooting, then finding Shirl gone, it was a lot to have happen in one night. Where would he look for her, to ask her to come back? Yet how could he ask her to come back while the Belichers were still there? How could he get rid of the Belichers? This wasn’t the first time that his thoughts had spiraled around this way. It got him nowhere. He knocked on the door of the lieutenant’s office, then went in.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

Lieutenant Grassioli was swallowing a pill and he nodded, then choked on the water he was using to wash it down. He had a coughing fit, and dropped into the battered swivel chair, looking grayer and more tired than usual. “This ulcer is going to kill me one of these days. Ever hear of anyone dying of an ulcer?”

There was no answer for a question like this. Andy wondered why the lieutenant was making conversation, it wasn’t like him. He usually found no trouble in speaking his mind.

“They’re not happy downtown about your shooting the Chink kid,” Grassioli said, pawing through the reports and files that littered his desk.

“What do you mean—”

“Just that, Christ, just like I don’t have enough trouble with this squad, I got to get mixed up in politics too. Centre Street thinks you been wasting too much time on this case, we’ve had two dozen unsolved murders in the precinct since you started on this one.”

“But—” Andy was dumbfounded, “you told me the commissioner himself ordered me onto the case full time. You told me I had to—”

“It doesn’t matter what I told you,” Grassioli snarled. “The commissioner’s not available on the phone, not to me he’s not. He doesn’t give a damn about the O’Brien killer and no one’s interested in any word I got about that Jersey hood Cuore. And what’s more, the assistant commissioner is on to me over the Billy Chung shooting. They left me holding the bag.”

“Sounds more like I’m the one with the bag.”

“Don’t get snotty with me, Rusch.” The lieutenant stood and kicked the chair away and turned his back on Andy, looking out of the window and drumming his fingers on the frame. “The assistant commissioner is George Chu and he thinks you got a vendetta against the Chinks or something, tracking the kid all this time, then shooting him down instead of bringing him in.”

“You told him I was acting on orders, didn’t you, lieutenant?” Andy asked softly. “You told him the shooting was accidental, it’s all in my report.”

“I didn’t tell him anything.” Grassioli turned to face Andy. “The people who pushed me onto this case aren’t talking. There’s nothing I can tell Chu. He’s nuts on this race thing anyway. If I try to tell him what really happened I’m not only going to make trouble for myself, for the precinct — for everybody.” He dropped into his chair and rubbed at the twitching corner of his eye. “I’m telling you straight, Andy. I’m going to pass the buck to you, let you take the blame. I’m going to put you back into uniform for six months until this thing cools down. You’ll stay in grade, you won’t lose any pay.”

“I wasn’t expecting any award for cracking this case,” Andy said angrily, “or for bringing in the killer — but I didn’t expect this. I can ask for a departmental trial.”

“You can, you can do that.” The lieutenant hesitated a long time, he was obviously ill at ease. “But I’m asking you not to. If not for me, for the good of the precinct. I know it’s a raw deal, passing the buck, but you’ll come out of it okay. I’ll have you back on the squad as soon as I can. And it’s not like you’ll be doing anything different, anyway. We might as well all be walking a beat for the little detective work we do.” He kicked viciously at the desk. “What do you say?”

“The whole thing stinks.”

“I know it stinks!” the lieutenant shouted. “But what the hell else can I do? You think it’ll stink less if you stand trial? You won’t stand a chance. You’ll be off the force and out of a job and I’ll probably be with you. You’re a good cop, Andy, and there aren’t many of them left. The department needs you more than you need them. Stick it out. What do you say?”

There was a long silence, and the lieutenant turned back to look out of the window.

“All right,” Andy finally said. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do, lieutenant.” He went out of the office without being dismissed; he didn’t want the lieutenant to thank him for this.

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