Pride and Penance is one of two stories in this issue to take the notion of apocrypha literally, and we like that. Says Susianne, "I know I wasn't the only one left with her jaw dropping open after the airing of 'Pride,' which left so many things unexplained and unanswered. I felt some clarification was needed. This story is a bridge between two longer pieces of my 'Death and Desire' series which chronicles the relationship between Mike Logan and Simone Broidveaux, a tough New Orleans Homicide detective with a soft candy center." The Big Easy beckons...
The music from the nightclubs was as steamy as the weather. Smells of coffee, inebriation, and cuisine clung to the humidity that enveloped the French Quarter. Detective Simone Broidveaux languished on her balcony, hands occupied with a margarita and a cigarette. Awash with relief that the last murder assigned to her was now in the DA's hands. It had been an ugly domestic squabble, ending when the girlfriend used her baby as a shield from the butcher knife her lover was flailing. Having suffered a miscarriage several months earlier, the sight of the tiny victim distressed and enraged Simone. She handed the mother some chastising smacks before sending her to the Central Lockup and was immediately appalled at herself. It was morning by the time she arrived home, but she couldn't sleep. As was her custom of late, she opened a bottle of tequila before calling her boyfriend Mike Logan in New York. Currently she couldn't keep her own schedule straight, much less his. She tried the precinct first, hoping that his latest case wasn't as heartbreaking as hers. Hoping, too, that he was in; his voice could help her where the tequila could not.
Simone's flamboyance fizzled over the past six months. She looked so pale and ill that even her lieutenant expressed concern. The increasing murder rate forbade her to leave the parish. She and Mike hadn't seen each other since her release from the hospital and their relationship depreciated from the lapse. Over the past three years, she balked at his insistence that she leave New Orleans, but now that she was ready, the promised transfer to the ranks of the NYPD didn't seem to be forthcoming. Simone didn't care if she ever carried a badge again. She'd gladly wait tables if it kept her in the arms of her cool-eyed, sensitive rebel.
This morning, he had no patience for her. His dark velvety voice, ragged as a glass shard, berated her. "I don't need this shit from you, Simone," he barked. "I have to go to court and make myself look like a goddamn Nazi so McCoy can save his conviction rate. I have four open homicides. I can't come down there and hold your hand!" Simone recoiled. His voice lowered. "If you think I didn't care about that kid, you're wrong. I know it wasn't your fault. If you're determined to fuck up my day, don't call me at work. I'll call you when I get home. Why don't you go bother the PD shrink and quit acting like a martyr?" He banged down the receiver.
Hurt and puzzled, Simone capped the tequila and went back to Homicide sans sleep.
He said he didn't blame her, but Simone knew better. That's why she was still in New Orleans. She tried to relax as she checked her watch, waiting for the phone to ring. And wept when it did not.
She had no way of knowing what had happened in New York that afternoon, of the fiasco caused by the verdict. Logan couldn't call her because, at the moment, he was glaring obstinately at the PBA attorney brought in to save his job, his pension, and himself from prosecution. The murder indictment against the Councilman had been sketchy at best and he resented having to testify to coercion in a last attempt to revive it. Court appearances were never his recreation of choice. The last thing he needed was Simone bawling long distance about her job and her baby and his partner harassing him to be nicer to her. Granted, Councilman Crossley was the most arrogant bastard ever elected to public office, the sort who deserved a smack in the mouth for good measure. Logan couldn't believe that he was the one who'd actually done it. For this murderer, acquitted because of public prejudice against his victim, to look him in the eye and say "We're on the same side" added a few more degrees to his already boiling rage. If he had to hit someone, Crossley was as good a target as any.
Immediately after the incident, sequestered in the DA's office, the only vote of confidence came from ADA Claire Kincaid. Perhaps because she and Simone were good friends and understood their emotional upheavals of the past few months. Or possibly because she understood the concept of loyalty better than the NYPD. Logan was too angry to feel remorse. As he tuned out the castigating litanies, he almost wished he had taken up Simone's counteroffer to join the NOPD. While he considered them inherently corrupt, he knew they were close-knit enough to let an incident like this slide.
His lieutenant, Anita Van Buren, was the most vocal. Like Simone, she was an ex-narc, but the former had left the job with her softness and kindness intact. Unlike the latter. "I don't know how you keep this job. You've been nothing but trouble," she accused.
"What the fuck do you know?" he spat back, green eyes glaring down at her. "You'd be writing parking tickets if it weren't for Affirmative Action."
And then his attorney had pressed him into retreat before the hole he had dug for himself became bottomless.
He spent the remainder of the night with a bottle of Jack Daniels, demolishing anything breakable in recrimination. There was a large framed picture of Simone beside his bed. He snatched it up and, with blind fury, smashed it against the wall, punctuating each strike with an emphatic "Bitch!" Rage spent, he sank to the floor and, with bleeding fingers, smoothed out the photograph. And smiled ruefully. She must be the only white girl who shops at Soul Train Fashions. He adored this woman, the ex-narc who swore like a goodfella, soaked up tequila like sponge, and chain-smoked like a junkie. Yet she was the sweetest, most loving creature he had ever known. Regret twisted cruelly through him as he remembered his harsh words to her earlier. Logan knew that he should have begged, borrowed, or stolen vacation days to spend more time with her these past few months. Like so many other painful incidents in his life, he chose to deal with it as little as possible, hoping the anguish would diminish. Leaving Simone, for the most part, to fend for herself. A day did not go by that he did not curse himself for it.
He hoped the Department would punish him with a mere suspension. If he lost his job or was demoted, he could never bring himself to face Simone. Although, he mused, she could kick a little ass in his behalf. She was fearless enough to say "Bite my bush" to a judge who refused to sign a search warrant.
Dizzy from the whiskey, he crawled into his unmade bed and tried to doze. If Simone were here, she could fend off his self-destructive behavior. She would turn her Scarlett O'Hara wiles on the powers-that-be and smooth everything over. Logan's fingers slipped over the telephone. You got yourself into this. Get yourself out.
Claire flipped through the newspaper, avoiding the cover story. She lingered excessively long in EADA Jack McCoy's office, hoping to hear the results of Logan's disciplinary hearing. The moment he walked up to her before court that day, she knew that he shouldn't take the stand.
"How's Simone?" Claire had greeted him. "I haven't talked to her lately."
"If you want a 20-minute lecture on the haunted womb syndrome, give her a call," he growled, and brushed past her.
She went right to McCoy and asked him to substitute Logan's older, calmer partner, but he refused her request. "You're the most sensitive feminist I've ever seen, Counselor," he joked.
Now, as she toyed with the paper, she debated calling Simone herself. McCoy's cavalier attitude angered her. With all that had happened to Logan within the past year -- Simone's miscarriage, an old friend's suicide, and testifying against the pedophile priest from his childhood -- Claire felt that she could argue for a justifiable leave of absence.
McCoy waved her off and speculated that he would be relegated to walking a beat in some nondescript precinct for a few years. He shrugged, as if to allay her worries. "He'll be fine."
"You smug bastard!" she gasped, amber eyes flashing. "He will not be 'fine.' He doesn't deserve to be crucified like this, and you know it! Where's your sense of responsibility, Jack? You made him your scapegoat and still lost the case." She pushed past him, into the hall. "Excuse me. Something stinks around here."
The messages backed up on his answering machine. There wasn't a single friend or relative he wanted to talk to. Now that everyone knew about his indiscretion, Logan felt like a hunted animal. He had been ostracized, demoted back to uniform. He would rather have been fired. Relinquishing the gold shield he worked so hard to attain devastated him. It had been difficult to sit in silence as pawns of the politicos lambasted his character and service record. His parents, his superiors, his teachers, and now this panel said he was "nothing but trouble." Well, maybe they were right. He had failed on the job and in his personal life. If he had brought Simone to New York, this would never have happened. As much as he adored her, he had been hesitant about commitment. And now....he couldn't ask her to come now, under these circumstances. She had been through enough in her life, and deserved better than this. Better than him.
He took deep swallows from the bottle of Lynchburg's finest as he played back his telephone messages. People were crawling out of the sewers to call him: his father, sister, assorted cousins, his partner, former partner, widow of a former partner, former supervisor, former ADAs Stone and Robinette, and finally, last on the tape, Simone. Was everything connected to his job now to be designated "formerly"? No way could he talk to his father, especially with a bellyful of Black Jack. The old man had been so ostensibly proud of him. Mike loved his father very much, and it sickened him to think of the hurt he caused. His sister's kids who idolized him...what would they think of him now? No matter what precinct they sent him to, his reputation and this reprimand would precede him. The other cops would know what a failure he was. Everyone had been right from the start -- he would end up a useless drunk somewhere, clinging to a barstool like his mother.
He should do himself a favor. He should do everyone else a favor. Carefully he checked the chamber of his service revolver. He picked up the little blue rosary with the St. Michael's medal from the night-table. His life was not in order, but the paperwork connected to it was. Over a year ago, he had gone to the PBA and made Simone (and any children resulting from their relationship) the sole beneficiary of his estate, such as it was. He was aware that she would rather have him than his death benefit or Eric Clapton CDs. At that moment, however, the CDs seemed to be a better exchange. He worried that Simone might hurt herself when she got the news, but tossed the thought aside. She had been an undercover narc for six years and was much stronger than he was.
He then called New Orleans, pleased that Simone snagged the receiver in mid-ring. Immediately she began to apologize for upsetting him, and he let her ramble. Logan enjoyed listening to her quirky accent. He wished that he could feel her soft, sumptuous body pressed against him, or smell the incense that was her perfume. He tested the barrel of the .38 against his temple and at an angle beneath his chin as he attended to her.
"What's the matter, baby?" Simone detected the slurred, dull speech that pointed to intoxication.
"How'd your trial turn out?"
Mike bit his lip. Had Claire called her? "Bastard walked. McCoy fucked up. Surprise, surprise."
"Yeah, you right. He's a cute ol' thing, but he ain't no Ben Stone in the courtroom." She lit a cigarette. "Sugar, I'm sorry I upset you. You know I go to the PD therapist when I can, but we had over 500 murders last year. I barely have time to eat, though you'd never know it to look at me. Toussaint promised me dibs on vacation time. I hope it's soon. I need to be with you."
"Me too, babe." He gave the cross on the rosary a reverent kiss. Old habits resurfaced at the oddest times. She'd be with him sooner than she thought, all right. "It's just taking a while to find a precinct that can use a narc like you."
"I don't need a gold shield. I told you that."
"You damn well do. You're the best undercover cop I know. You should be proud of it."
"Pride goeth before a fall, honey." There was a long silence. "What's the matter, baby?" she asked again. "You sound like you're tore down."
No kidding. "Nothing. Maybe I'm just burned out."
"You been in Homicide a long time. Maybe you should ax for a transfer."
A dry, mirthless laugh. "Yeah, right."
"For true. Someplace like Juvenile or Child Abuse. You're so good with abused kids. You can talk to them on their level because you've been there. They trust you." She stubbed out her cigarette and lit another. She felt as if she were trying to coax a wounded animal out of a corner. "Sometimes I think that only me and the occasional abused kid knows how kind and understanding you are. The capacity you have for love and tenderness."
Logan swallowed hard. His eyes stung. "Don't start with that Danielle Steele shit. You know that isn't true."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were on the rag. You think I don't got no taste? What am I, a gazoonie?"
Unbidden, he laughed. "I know you don't got no taste. The word ‘fashion' hasn't made it to your closet."
"It's better than them fuckin' plaid ties you wear, my little tartan bag," she teased back. "I need to take you to the mall. Seriously."
"I wish you were here, Simone," he said impulsively.
Simone blinked, surprised. Normally he was not so verbally affectionate. "I wish you were here as a bowl of grits so's I could butter and eat you." She giggled youthfully. The sound was like a healing tonic.
"And you call yourself a ‘nice Catholic girl,'" he scoffed.
"What I learned at Mt. Carmel ain't hurt you none, has it?"
As they talked, Logan realized that he couldn't step out and leave Simone. She was his only stability. Sooner or later, he would swallow his pride and tell her what happened. Until then, it was easier to play dumb via telephone and suffer through the lies.
"It's nearly midnight, heart," she said at last. "My shift is fixing to start. Call me tomorrow?"
He set down the revolver. "Yeah. Be careful. Don't go into the Projects without backup, for God's sake." A Bronx cheer breezed through the receiver. "I love you, Simone."
"Love you too, baby. Take a cold shower and dream about me, okay?"
Without Simone's effervescence to distract him, Logan was forced to think about his job again. After all, how bad could it possibly be? If they let you keep the badge, that meant you were never too old to chase crack-heads or rattle abusive drunks. How would the other cops in his new precinct view him -- as a troublemaker or a martyr? Would he be an object of trust or one of ridicule? Was it all some elaborate ploy to get him to quit without having to do the dirty work themselves?
Think about that. Suppose quitting was the only option. What else could he do? The vision came to him so clearly and suddenly, it was like an electric shock. He remembered visiting Simone at home, curled up in her black iron bed, with a ceiling fan spinning lazily overhead. He saw her so vividly -- her whiskey eyes, skin pale and fragile as a magnolia petal -- asking in her appealing, girlish voice, "Have you ever considered a career in Southern law enforcement?" She then snickered with all the good-hearted derision of a TV junkie when he didn't understand the reference to Miami Vice.
Could he turn up without explanation, like a refugee on her pink Creole flagstones? If his exile became unbearable, there was always the last bastion of hedonism in the swamps. He could barely speak the language or understand the culture, but Simone was there. Right now, she was the only one who would be glad to see him.
He carefully put away the near-empty bottle and revolver. The rosary still entwined in his fingers as he turned off the light.