Friday, October 29
In the shower Jessica thought about the previous night. Vincent had listened to her entire well-planned speech. He had been surprisingly receptive to the idea of adopting Carlos, considering that he was not the most open-minded person she had ever met.
They made love a second time, this time sweet, married love, and halfway through she saw something in Vincent's dark eyes that told her they might actually do this. Later Vincent told her, in the twilight before sleep, that he wanted to meet Carlos first before even thinking about making any decision, of course. Maybe he wanted to do a little male bonding, Jessica thought. Take the kid to a Flyers game, do a few Jager Bombs, leaf through a copy of the new Maxim.
As she was getting dressed, she realized that Vincent had made the bed - a first. She also noticed a flower on her pillow. Granted, it was a silk flower, and Vincent had taken it from the arrangement on the dining-room table. But it was the thought that counted.
Marcel's Costume Company was a storefront on Market Street near Third. Established in 1940, Marcel's carried a full line of Halloween outfits, professional make-up, wigs, and accessories. Marcel's also created costumes for local television shows and was quite often hired for supplemental wardrobe for Philadelphia's booming film-production industry.
But today it was all about Halloween. Marcel's was open twenty- four hours a day this week, and even at 7:30 a.m. the store was half full.
When Jessica and Sophie walked in, Jessica saw Rory behind the counter. Rory Bianchi was a kid from the old neighborhood who had always had a crush on Jessica, and ever since ninth grade they'd had the sort of relationship where the flirting went on but never went anywhere.
'The two prettiest girls in Philly,' Rory said. 'In my shop!'
'Hi, Rory!' Sophie said.
'Hey little darlin',' he said. 'Ready for the big night?'
Sophie nodded. A kid in a costume shop. Outside of a candy story, there was nothing cooler. Jessica remembered coming into Marcel's when she was a girl and Wonder Woman had been the rage.
'I have it for you right here,' Rory said.
Of all the costumes available - including Disney characters like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, which was Sophie's favorite movie - Sophie had picked something called the Snowflake Fairy. Jessica had tried to explain that Halloween was a fall holiday, but her words had fallen on deaf ears. Unlike her mother, Sophie loved the winter, especially snowflakes. Come December Sophie was endlessly cutting them out of construction paper and dotting the house with them.
'Do you want the wings and the wand, too?' Rory asked.
It was a dumb question, but Jessica looked at Sophie anyway. Sophie seemed to be in a fairy trance, the reflection of white satin in her big brown eyes.
'Sure,' Jessica said.
'I take it you'll want the tiara as well.'
Jessica took out her credit card as fast as she could, in case there was anything else.
Sophie floated out to the parking lot, still in a daze, the dress clutched tightly in her hands, as if Monica Quagliata might be lurking behind the next SUV - Monica with designs on the Snowflake Fairy costume.
When they got to the car, Sophie supervised the hanging of the costume on the hook in the back, pronounced it safely stowed for the few-mile journey. She slipped into the seat next to it, buckled in.
Before Jessica could start the car, a family crossed the street in front of them - mom, dad, two boys, two girls. Jessica looked over at Sophie.
'Do most of your friends have brothers and sisters?' Jessica asked. It was a rhetorical question, but one that Jessica needed to ask to get the conversation started.
Sophie didn't give this too much thought. She just nodded.
'Do you ever wish you had brothers and sisters?'
A shrug. 'Sometimes.'
'What would you think about having a brother?'
Jessica laughed. 'Yeah. A boy, sweetie.'
Sophie thought for a moment. 'Boys are okay. A little bossy, but okay, I guess.'
Jessica dropped Sophie off at school, stopped at Old City Coffee on Church Street. Outside, she picked up an Inquirer and a free copy of The Report, Philly's sleaziest tabloid - and that was saying something. As expected, the current spate of murders was splashed across the cover.
Philly Noir, the Geometry of Vengeance, screamed the headline.
Jessica tossed the Report in the trash, tucked the Inquirer under her arm. She got into her car, wondering how Byrne was faring.
Have you found them yet? The lion and the rooster and the swan? Are there others?
What did Christa-Marie Schönburg have to do with all this?
She checked her cellphone. No calls from Byrne.
The primary role of the Department of Human Services was to intervene and protect neglected, abused or abandoned children, as well as to guarantee their well-being when there were immediate threats or impending dangers in their lives.
The Children and Youth Division provided youth and family-centered services to more than 20,000 children and their families each year.
Although the main offices were located at 1515 Arch Street there were various facilities throughout the city - temporary shelters and foster-care centers.
Jessica arrived at Hosanna House, a stand-alone brick building on Second Street. She signed in and walked to the day room at the back. She was immediately assaulted by the sound of a dozen toddlers in full morning mania. The place smelled like orange juice and crayons.
Carlos sat at a table with two little girls and a young woman of about twenty. He wore a red cardigan. He looked adorable.
Jessica watched him for a few minutes. Kids were unbelievably resilient, she thought. Just two weeks earlier this little boy's life had been hell on Earth.
But Jessica knew enough, had seen enough cases of abused and neglected children to know that many times there was residual grief and anger and fear. Most of the people she had arrested in the past five years were, almost to a man or woman, products of broken homes.
Carlos looked up and saw her. He got out of his chair, rocketed across the room, and threw his arms around her. He ran back, got a piece of paper from the table, ran back to Jessica, handed it to her.
It was a crayon drawing of a room, possibly the living room where Carlos had lived with his mother. There was something that looked like a chair and a table, and a woman in the corner with wild dark hair, eyes the size of her whole head. Patricia Lentz, Carlos's biological mother, had blonde hair, almost white.
It didn't take Jessica long to realize the figure in the drawing just might be her. Right behind her was a bright sun. Jessica's heart felt ready to beat its way out of her chest.
She looked at the table in Carlos's drawing. On the table was something that Jessica had no trouble recognizing. It was a two-year- old boy's rendition of a gun.
Jessica suddenly felt a paralyzing wave of sadness. She fought it.
'Can I have this?' she asked Carlos.
'Stand up tall - let me look at you.'
Carlos stood at attention. His hair was combed, his face scrubbed. His sweater and pants looked new.
'This is a beautiful sweater,' Jessica said.
Carlos giggled, looked down, toyed with a button, perhaps thought better of messing with it. He was two. He knew his limitations.
'Where did you get your new clothes?'
Carlos turned toward the table, held out his tiny hand. Jessica walked over, hand in hand with Carlos. He sat down and tucked into a new drawing.
'Hi,' Jessica said.
The young woman at the plastic picnic table looked up. 'Hi.'
Jessica pointed to the drawing in her hand. 'This is pretty good for a two-year-old. I couldn't draw a straight line then. Still can't.'
The young woman laughed. 'Join the club.' She looked over at Carlos, smoothed his hair. 'He's such a beautiful boy.'
'Yes, he is,' Jessica said.
'I'd kill for those eyelashes.'
'Are you a counselor here?'
'No, no,' the young woman said. 'I just help out. I volunteer one day a week.'
Jessica nodded. The young woman had about her an air of competence, but also an air of sadness. Jessica felt the same way about herself sometimes. It was hard to see the things she saw every day and not be affected. Especially the kids. Jessica glanced at her watch. Her tour was starting.
'It was nice talking to you,' Jessica said.
Jessica extended her hand. 'My name is Jessica, by the way.'
The young woman stood, shook her hand. 'Lucy,' she replied. 'Lucy Doucette.'