The next morning, Tom called Sal. He paced the kitchen, compulsively rubbing a hand over his freshly shorn scalp, feeling the strange coldness and the bristles that scratched along his palm. Sal picked up after a few rings.
“You find anything yet?”
“Just about to call you,” Sal said. “I think I did.”
“When can we meet?”
“Tom, I appreciate your enthusiasm,” said Sal, “but we might want to just call the cops.”
“Sure,” said Tom. “After I see what’s in the file.”
Sal relented. Tom and Ellen got in the car. Ellen had thrown a few old trash bags over the backseat, and hung a pair of lemon scented air fresheners over the rearview mirror. They drove with the windows down.
“Couldn’t you have picked someplace else?” asked Ellen, as they slowed near Traner Park. “We didn’t have such good luck last time we were here.”
They both scanned the park, looking for the boys that ratted them out, but the kids were nowhere to be seen.
“We have to get used to the wrong people knowing where we are,” Tom said. “I don’t know that hiding’s going to do us much good anymore.”
They walked the block from Traner Park to Sal’s office only to find his front window dark, the neon signs advertising low-interest bail bonds all clicked off. Tom tried the door and found it unlocked. As they entered, Ellen’s hand kept slipping into the pocket where she used to keep her padlock. Now she carried a knife.
“Sal?” Tom called. “You home?”
There was a noise from the back, and both of them tensed until Sal appeared in the doorway, holding the file they’d stolen from Valiss’ office. “Lock that, would you?”
Tom twisted the deadbolt. Sal sighed.
“You know what you brought me?”
“Tell me,” said Tom. Sal thwapped the folder down on his desk and switched on a small lamp.
“This is what we call a smoking gun,” said Sal. “Proves the Prelligates had an interest in Rebecca Strahm. Proves they knew about the stolen art, and her part in moving it. Can’t go to jail for knowing things. But.” He flipped through the papers until he found the one he was looking for. “This is the transcript of a conversation Valiss had with your Ms. Strahm. They arranged to meet for a discussion.”
Sal had, helpfully, highlighted the relevant portion of the transcript.
“October Twenty-ninth,” Tom read. “11:30.”
“Puts him with Rebecca at her time of death. Either he’s the unluckiest son-of-a-bitch to walk the Earth, or he’s got some explaining to do.”
Tom looked at Ellen. “You know the law. Is this enough?”
“Nope.” She wiped her nose on her hand, the hand on her jeans. “It’s not proof. Not to mention we didn’t exactly come by this information legally. Not to mention he’s got Prelligate backing him. It’s useless.”
“You kids,” Sal sighed, shaking his head. “You don’t nail guys like Valiss and Prelligate in court. You get leverage. You make a deal.”
“I don’t want a deal,” said Tom. “I want the person who killed Rebecca to pay for it.”
“Not gonna happen, Tom. Sorry. You have to understand what you’re up against, and believe me, you don’t have a clue.” Sal put the papers back into the folder and tossed it inside his desk. “You need to think long and hard about what you want to happen. We can bring some shit down on Valiss, if that’s what you want. Maybe make him cop to a few other less-than-legal activities to keep Josephine Prelligate’s name out of the papers. You’d be surprised how fast a gal like Prelligate will turn if she thinks she’ll make the evening news.”
“So, what, Valiss gets a slap on the wrist?” asked Tom. “Loses a cushy job? That’s not enough. Not by half.”
Sal looked at Ellen, eyes pleading. She took hold of Tom’s wrist.
“It’s more than I’d expected,” she told him. “I would have had you give up three days ago. It’s not perfect, Tom, but it’s something, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want something,” said Tom. “I want everything. Everything and more.”