Travis opened his arms wide as he trundled toward her. Alice gaped at him. He must have been 50 pounds lighter the last time she had seen him. It had been years, and people did tend to accumulate weight as the time went by, but she never thought it would happen to Travis. She had a moment of self-consciousness and wondered how she had changed in the last four years.
“Alice! you look like you saw a ghost! Err…” Travis frowned, but didn’t slow his walk. “You know what I mean.”
Alice had a hard time staying stunned in the face of Travis’s enthusiasm. Something about him inspired a measure of hope and joy inside her. If she allowed herself, she might have even described him as jolly. She closed the distance to him, unsure at first, and then stepped in and accepted the offered hug.
Alice wasn’t short, a hair over five and a half feet tall, but Travis was still almost a foot taller than she was. And now he probably weighed more than twice as much as she did. Being hugged by him, especially while he was wearing his big cop winter coat gave her the sensation of what it would be like to be hugged by a friendly couch. It felt good, but Alice pulled away first.
“God, you must be freezing.” Travis put a hand on Alice’s shoulder. “We’ve got some gloves and a hat in the car.” He gently directed her toward the idling police car. “You’ve gotta ride in back. Sorry. Here are those gloves,” he said, handing her a pair of black gloves and a wool skull cap.
Alice muttered thanks, then finally worked up the nerve to ask Travis the question that had been on her lips since she saw him. “What the hell happened to you?”
Travis smiled. “Kids. C’mon, get in. Let’s get coffee. I’ll tell you about them on the way.”
Alice rode mostly in silence. Travis had gotten married. He had two kids, boys, Joseph and Peter, only a little over a year apart. His wife, Marybeth, stayed home with them. Alice was stunned, and Travis filled the silence with minutia about how the little one had started pulling up, and the older one was learning how to use the potty. He had pictures of them on his phone that he pushed up against the mesh grating between the front and back seats so Alice could see them. She nodded at the right times, she thought.
Travis’s partner did the driving. Travis introduced him as Michael O’Rourke, but then called him Rorky for the rest of the drive. Rorky looked like he might be the smallest guy on the force. He had a slight build and a short red beard, and wore a black skull cap not unlike the one Alice was currently wearing.
As Rorky was pulling them into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, Alice’s phone buzzed with an incoming text. She glanced down at it and saw that it was from an unknown number. All it said was “WTF RU”. She frowned, and then after a minute, sighed and wrote back, “omw delayed”.
They had stopped, and Travis was already getting out of the car, but Rorky was watching her in the rear view mirror. When Alice looked up, her eyes met his. “Hey, listen. I can’t really stay. I’ve got to get to an appointment.”
Travis stuck his head back down inside the car. “No problem. I figured. Let’s just get our coffee and we’ll drop you off. Where you headed?”
Alice gave him the address, and as she did, Travis and Rorky glanced at each other, then fell silent. After a moment, Travis spoke up. “That the Lucas place, right? You haven’t been watching the news have you?” Alice shook her head no, and he continued, “Esther Lucas got taken into custody this morning. It’s grisly stuff. Shit.” He shook his head. “I should have figured.”
Travis stood back up and looked longingly at the Dunkin Donuts. “Shit.” He got back into the car and shut the door. He turned in the seat to look at Alice. “I can’t drop you off at her door, but we’re close enough that you can walk. Our report today just says me and Rorky went through the Fens to JP, stopped for some coffee. No field contacts. Nothing eventful.” He looked pointedly at Rorky, who after a moment, nodded. Travis looked back to Alice, “And, uh… you gotta leave the hat and gloves. Sorry. It’s inventoried.”
Alice nodded slowly and started pulling the gloves off. Travis got out and opened the door for her. She left the hat and the gloves on the seat and got out. Travis put his hand on her shoulder and held her firmly. He might have packed on the pounds, but she could tell he was just as strong as he ever was. “Listen,” he said, “I don’t know what you came here for, and I don’t know if she did what they say she did, but Esther Lucas is bad news. Nothing good comes from being anywhere near her.”
Outside of the car, Alice felt her eyelashes freezing, but she was boiling inside. She hadn’t seen this asshole in years and suddenly he was going to protect her? She shrugged free of his hand and forced herself to unclench her own fists. She was not going to lose her temper. She took a deep breath and thought about her options. She might need him. She probably would not help herself any if she was seen getting into shoving match with a cop. She took another deep breath. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll take it from here.” She turned and started walking down the street. She forced herself not to look back.
She pulled out her phone and looked up the address. It wasn’t more than a mile away, so she decided to jog it. It was a cold walk, so she ran for no other reason than to generate some body heat, but it was nice to also limit the time she would be in the cold. She considered checking the news to see what her new employer had supposedly been arrested for, but figured she would find out soon enough when she got there. Or, if no one was around, she could look it up and figure out her next step.
It didn’t take her long before she was standing in front of the building. It had a plain brick facade and a wrought iron gate at the base of four stone steps that rose up to a small landing and a wooden door. There was a large brass knocker mounted there. Alice let herself in around the gate, climbed the steps, and lifted the knocker, then let it fall.