Perfect Is Overrated

Karen Bergreen

St. Martin's Griffin


 
I emerge from my depression the moment I learn of Beverly Hastings’s death. She’s not just dead. She’s been murdered. Someone, apparently, liked her even less than I did.
I get out of bed, where I have been spending way too much time. And alone, at that. I turn the volume up on the television. A reporter is standing outside Beverly’s East Side town house, and cops are everywhere.
“Very little is known about the murder of Beverly Hastings. Police are withholding what appear to be gruesome details.”
Gruesome details. I perk up even more.
“I just feel sorry for the child.” An older woman identified as Sarah, Beverly’s neighbor, is speaking.
I, too, feel sorry for the child, but on the bright side, Bitsy will never again have to wear bloomers.
I unravel my Disney princess comforter—Molly’s actually, as mine has been in the laundry for two months—and start looking for the telephone. I haven’t used it in days, a lingering by-product of my acute, protracted depression. It’s not in the cradle. My apartment, once a masterwork of cleanliness and organization, is now a prime example of college-dorm-style disarray. I straighten Paul’s old NYPD sweatshirt and pick up the jeans that I left on the floor after returning to bed this morning. Then I shuffle from my lightless bedroom into the kitchen, which owes its brightness to the building’s architect rather than to any feat of mine. I realize I’m wearing one sneaker.
After I had returned home from dropping my daughter at school, I’d cleared off the counters, pleased that I had chosen a dark marble to hide the stains and grime. The dishes, Molly’s octopus bowl and cup, to be specific, are still in the sink, and so, apparently, is the phone. Please, battery, don’t be out. I promise to recharge you every day from now on. It works. I dial a number that is more familiar than my home phone.
Voice mail. I could have predicted that. “You’ve reached Detective Paul Alger. Leave a message.”
“Paul, it’s me.” I do my best to sound conversational. Although frankly, mere murder is nothing next to the rage I feel every time I hear the dulcet tones of my ex-husband. “Could you call me when you have a sec? Thanks.”
I put the phone back in its cradle as promised, and it starts to ring.
“Katie, is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah. Molly’s fine, I’m fine. I should have said it wasn’t an emergency, but do you know anything about this Beverly Hastings murder?”
“Nothing.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“I did it for Molly.”
Slightly energized, I scrub my daughter’s octopus bowl as I talk.
“Molly doesn’t even know Beverly.”
“Not true, they have met a few times. And she does know Bitsy.”
“But they’re not friends.”
“They’re four. At this age, they’re all friends.”
“You know I can’t say anything, Katie.”
“I know.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?” He’s convinced that I’ll never be okay.
“Truly, I am.” Truly I am. In fact, I’m sweeping. “I’ll drop Molly off later.”
“’Kay.”
He’s trying to be familiar, but I hang up in lieu of partaking in our old routine.
I will never forgive him. He makes my skin crawl. But we share a daughter.
And, he’s gotta know something.
*   *   *
I met Paul Alger in the Eleventh Precinct when I was an assistant district attorney and he was a homicide detective, first grade. It was Christmastime. I was picking up a file from a junior officer, and I grabbed a chocolate Santa from a bowl on his desk.
“Committing petit larceny in a police station?”
I heard a rich, low voice behind me and turned around. Standing there was the most handsome man I had ever seen—excluding television and movies. He had dark, wavy hair, olive skin, light brown eyes, and a large but lean build. Like in a scene in a Greek tragedy, I heard what sounded like a Delphic voice say, You are going to marry this man.
“Excuse me?” I said to both the man and the crazy voice in my head.
“You are stealing items from that individual’s desk. Technically, that’s a petit larceny.”
“Technically, it’s the holiday season and a dish of candy is everyone’s property.” It didn’t sound convincing, so I added, “There’s legal precedent.”
“Legal precedent, huh?” He winked at me. “I’m giving you a verbal warning now, but if I catch you stealing any more sweets, I’m not going to let you off so easily.”
I smiled. I also perused the room for another bowl of candy before leaving the building.
A few days later, I attended the precinct Christmas party, the kind of social event I typically dreaded. Everybody was either on call and downing Diet Coke, or overdoing it on soured beer and ecru cheese cubes. Inevitably, the holiday colloquy transformed into tales of career conquests. I often ate these up, but that night I found myself looking for something else—namely, the handsome, aggressive cop. Strictly a pantsuit lawyer, I had dusted off a dress that morning, a formfitting, black Tahari number that, along with an impressively high-heeled pair of jet suede sling-backs, gave me the slice of femininity called for under the circumstances.
I had gotten to the party early, careful to stake out a piece of cheddar, a place to stand, and a glass of wine. Detective Ken Sawicki, a stocky, balding cop with big blue eyes and pale, pale skin, offered to get me another drink, but then held it hostage in his drying, fleshy hands until he finished this year’s telling of arresting the mayor’s kid for shoplifting a pack of watermelon Bubblicious. Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing a good war story, especially from a cop, but he could do better than gum.
I nodded politely to Sawicki, attempting telepathically to make him hand over the Sauvignon Blanc.
And then he walked in.
“Alger,” Sawicki screamed to him, lifting his glass as if to toast while mine lay limply in his other hand, “merry, merry. What can I get you?”
“I’ll have what she’s having,” Paul said, taking my glass out of Sawicki’s fingers and handing it to me.
“Minus the story,” I whispered under my breath.
“Paul Alger.” He stuck out his hand.
He was even more alluring than I had remembered, and he clearly hadn’t dolled himself up for the occasion. In a fraying white oxford shirt and khaki pants, he was the best-looking man in the room. I studied him more carefully. Chocolate hair and striking, if asymmetric, cheekbones offset his amber eyes. He wore an expression that suggested an imminent wealth of emotion, which upgraded him from merely attractive to mesmerizing.
“Kate Hagen.”
“Kate? As in Kiss Me, Kate?” He paused for a second. “I bet you never heard that before.”
“It’s a first from a cop.”
“He’s no ordinary cop,” Sawicki said. “He’s a crime fighter.”
“Do you wear a leotard?” I couldn’t resist.
“Only when I’m working undercover.” Paul Alger was still holding my hand.
“Gotta love Paul,” Sawicki declared.
I already did.
“It would be fun to work together.” I sounded, I’m not proud to admit, like a fourth-grader looking for a school-project buddy.
“My thoughts exactly,” Paul agreed. “Let’s get out of here.”

 
Copyright © 2012 by Karen Bergreen