They drove mostly in silence, except for a brief moment when the car started to slide in the snow and it looked like they might plow into a couple of parked cars until Travis accelerated into it and managed to bring the car back under control after skidding into an intersection. There was an appropriate amount of swearing between the two of them, and the relieved sighs after escaping the accident that made Alice feel a little relieved, and a little grateful to be with her brother.
But when he pulled into the parking lot of the same Dunkin’ Donuts she had last seen him in, Alice turned to him and said “This is your idea of taking me out for dinner?”
He put the parking break on and said, “Relax. We’re going to a place down the street.”
“You’re not worried about getting towed?” She asked as she got out of the car.
Travis waved at the man behind the counter inside the coffee place, and he waved back. “I’m a regular here and there’s no other parking.”
“You don’t think it has more to do with you being a cop?”
Travis shrugged. “Take what you can get.”
Alice felt herself shrugging with him. She couldn’t fault him for enjoying the perks of his job, even if he was basically a glorified crossing guard.
They walked side by side down the lamp lit street to a small door with the word “Hearth” on it is brass lettering set between a real estate office and a burrito place. Travis pushed the door open and led Alice down the narrow stairs into a small, dimly lit bar with a few tables scattered throughout. Against the back wall was a gas fireplace with a cheery fire dancing in it, the light absorbing into the wood paneled walls.
The place was deserted except for the bartender leaning against the bar with a stereotypical rag in his hand, chatting quietly with the only other customer in the place.The bartender looked up as they came into the warm room and gave Travis a familiar smile. Travis raised his arm in a half wave in response and said, “Hey Mike.”
Mike stood straighter, “Anywhere you like, Trav. I’ll be right over.”
“No need. Just two beers, two burgers. When you get a chance.” Travis choose one of the tables near the back of the room. As they settled in and took off their coats, Travis said, “I love this place. The burgers are huge. What are you gonna eat?” He smiled and laughed at his own joke.
Alice chuckled softly in spite of herself. “So, Trav, to what do I owe the honor?”
“You know. I felt badly after earlier.” He said. “We should have made time to at least have coffee together.”
Alice nodded. “Yeah, but I was working. You could have called and we could have scheduled something tomorrow. What’s up?”
Travis cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair. “You know we haven’t seen each other in a while. Like, a real long time. And I don’t want to be telling you how you live your life, but-”
Alice cut him off. “But you’re going to tell me how to live my life? Shit, Travis. Tell me again why couldn’t this have waited until tomorrow.”
Travis slumped, his massive frame hunching forward. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you’re your own woman. It’s just… I’m still your big brother. Esther Lucas isn’t someone you want to be messing around with. She’s not…” He let himself trail off as Mike walked over with their beers.
“It’s gonna be a few for the burgers,” Mike said. “I’ll be in the back. Ring the bell if you need another drink.”
Travis and Alice nodded their appreciation and Travis held up his drink to toast. “To family.”
Alice scowled and took a sip as Mike walked away. “Finish what you were saying.”
“Look, it’s just. Janice Stiles spent a lot of time with Esther Lucas. From what we know, she moved into the house there.”
“Okay. So what else do you know about Janice Stiles?”
Travis sighed. “Well, we know Esther didn’t do it. Beyond that…” he trailed off and shrugged.
“You don’t get to act like you know something and then say you don’t. Say what you want to say.”
Travis leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Fine. We don’t know anything yet. We’ve got no leads. The autopsy’s not done. Esther Lucas has an alibi, and she didn’t give us anything useful during questioning.”
“Bullshit. I know more than that. I knew Janice was connected to Esther Lucas. I know she was drained of blood and somebody cut out her heart and lungs. I know whoever did it was either doing it as a part of some ritual, or was trying to make it look like one. What do you know?”
“How the heck do you know all that?” Travis asked.
Alice didn’t know what to say. She had just seen something exhilarating. Esther had done something. Magic. Real magic. Alice had seen indisputable proof of it, that there was more to this world than there appeared. But she knew Travis wouldn’t believe her. He would just think she was crazy. Besides, she had broken into a crime scene, and stolen and contaminated evidence that could have been used to track down the murderer. And Travis was a cop now. She didn’t know how he would react if she told him about that, if she told him about Bruce’s pictures. He might have to turn her in. He wouldn’t be happy she told him, she was sure of that.
Travis put his hand over Alice’s on the table, interrupting her thoughts. “Alice. What’s going on?”
Alice pulled her hand back instinctively. “Travis, I’ve got work to do. You know what I think is going on.”
Travis shook his head. “This again?” It didn’t come out as a question so much as an accusation. Travis continued to slowly shake his head. “You should get a real job. Something with a retirement plan. Sick days. Something where you don’t have to work with people who believe in magic.”
“Like being a cop? I don’t know if I’m cut out for directing traffic, Travis. We both know there’s more important shit to deal with out there than keeping homeless people off the benches or-”
The anger on Travis’s face grew as Alice spoke, and he slapped his hand on the table interrupting her. “Enough!” The guy at the bar looked over at them. Travis pursed his lips and blew out a thin stream of air, a long ffffff sound. He yawned and rubbed his jaw. “I don’t want to talk about this shit again, Alice. I’ve got kids. A family, you know? There’s people I care about other than you.”
“Yeah, you made that pretty fucking clear. What about mom?”
“Oh fuck you, Alice.” Travis pushed himself back from the table. “Mom is gone. And I don’t want to hear it again. We both know what really happened, and there’s no amount of pretending that’s going to make it any more different or interesting than a woman with shitty options turning to drugs and wasting her life away on them. I get that you don’t want that to be what happened, but that’s the truth. And we can’t do shit to change it.”
Alice’s face drained of color. She set her beer down in front of her, turning it idly. She couldn’t think of anything to say that would matter. They had seen the same things. They had both watched as their mother had wasted away in front of them, as the night time visitor had come and taken bits of her life with him every time he left. And once you had seen that, there was no choice in it for Alice. Once she knew that there were monsters like that in this world, there wasn’t anything else she could do but stand against them.
But Travis was different. She guessed his only option was to pretend that the story in the police report was the real one, ignore what he saw happen to their mother. How else could he bring kids into this world. Get married? How else could he live a normal life unless he ignored the fact that monsters really exist? The idea that there was such a thing as a normal life seemed enormously funny to Alice and she couldn’t hold back a short and soft laugh.
The color rose in Travis’s face as Alice tried to stifle her chuckle, but the damage was already done. “Fine,” he said, standing. “I knew this was a mistake.” He pulled out a billfold and put two twenties on the table.
Alice wanted to stop him, to say something that would make everything better, but she couldn’t think of anything that would fix things between them. So she said nothing, just sipped her beer and looked straight ahead.
Travis paused for a moment to give her an opportunity to speak, but when she didn’t take it, he said, “Okay, then. Do me a favor. When you talk to Esther, ask her about Carrie Graham. And Mila Yomo. And ask her why she lives with somebody who works for the Carmetti family. Ask her why they call him Mr. Gone.” Then he turned and left.