Having come of age on the mob-controlled streets of 1960’s South Philly, Detective Mike Coletti learned early to walk the fine line between cops and criminals. That skill served him well during his thirty-one years in homicide. But it never stopped the nightmares. The screams in the sanctuary still haunt him, the sound of the gunshots still torment him, and the truth of the Confessional Murders still speaks to him, if only in his dreams. Now, on the eve of Coletti’s retirement, the priest whom he arrested for the decade-old crime is about to be put to death, and in one final nightmare, Coletti clearly sees the truth. The priest is innocent, and it all comes to light when the real killer reemerges and embarks on a killing spree that turns Philadelphia upside down. To set things right and stop the execution of an innocent man, Coletti must catch a mysterious killer who now calls himself the Angel of Death. As the chase winds through art galleries and gritty streets, ancient prophecies and holy ground, the game intensifies, cultures collide, and Philly’s best detective is forced to face his nightmarish past—a past that could very well destroy him.
Minotaur Books, November 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-58020-9, ISBN10: 0-312-58020-7,
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 304 pages
It was a few minutes after mass on a hot summer morning, and silence filled the cathedral as if the Lord himself had said, “Peace. Be still.”
The quiet didn’t last for long. As a breeze slipped between the cracks in the centuries-old walls, and the sun shone through the angels that adorned the stained glass windows, the priest’s heavy footfalls marched toward the confessional booth.
Father O’Reilly always walked with purpose to hear confession. He thought it was his most important duty as a priest. In helping his parishioners deal with their sins, he was more than a cog in the church’s wheel. He was an instrument in God’s holy symphony. That was why he loved to take his place in the confessional booth. It was there that he felt closest to heaven.
As he opened the sturdy wooden door and sat behind the screen, Father O’Reilly brushed his gray, thinning locks away from his eyes, fully prepared to play his part in the dance between sin and mercy.
By the time he closed the door, he could see that the first confessor was already sitting on the other side of the screen. His face partially obscured, the man spoke before Father O’Reilly could even greet him.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned,” he said in a thin, gravelly voice. “It’s been five years since my last confession, and …”
The words drifted off into an awkward silence. Father O’Reilly glanced through the screen at a young man whose face was a mere shadow beneath his wide fedora. There was something familiar about him—something so other-worldly that it turned the sanctuary’s whispering breeze into a chilling wind.
Father O’Reilly shivered in spite of himself. “Please, go on,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “It’s all right.”
“Is it really?” the man said, his tight smile evident in his voice. “Well, since it’s all right, these are my sins. I’ve lied to those who’ve tried to help me, and hidden myself from people who love me.”
Father O’Reilly felt uneasy about whatever was beneath those words. He folded his hands to keep them from shaking, and asked the question whose answer he already knew. “Is there more?”
The man chuckled. Then a loud burst of laughter escaped his lips before he suddenly went silent.
Father O’Reilly went from uneasy to fearful. “Listen, perhaps you should—”
“Let me guess,” the man snapped, the sound of his voice growing darker by the moment. “Seek professional help? Is that what you’re suggesting, Father? Well, that’s not what I need. I need forgiveness. Can you give me that?”
“Can you grant forgiveness!” the man yelled, his voice echoing through the sanctuary as he slammed his fist against the confessional wall.
The commotion got the attention of the sexton, who started toward the confessional booth from the other side of the vast cathedral. The priest, hearing the faint sound of the approaching footsteps, was relieved, and at the same time, anxious.
“God can grant forgiveness, if you confess,” the priest said, his voice shaking as the sexton came closer.
“Then these are my other sins,” said the man in a tone that was eerily calm. “I cut off a man’s finger while he slept on a park bench. I sliced a child’s leg when he wandered away from his mother at a playground. I’m sick, Father, and I don’t know what to do.”
“You’re doing the right thing now,” the priest said nervously. “You’re confessing.”
“That’s not the problem, Father,” the man said as the sexton drew near.
“Then what is?”
The man stood up and pulled open his jacket, revealing a sawed-off shotgun. “The problem is … I’m the angel of death.”
The sexton opened the door and was about to speak, but the man never gave him a chance. He whirled on him and fired, the blast spattering the walls with the sexton’s blood-soaked innards.
Father O’Reilly tried to make his way around the wall that separated him from the killer. As he did so, the gunman confronted a man and a woman who had just arrived to give their confessions.
When they saw the gun, they both tried to turn and run. Both of them were too late.
The gunman shot the man in the back. The impact of the shell threw him into the woman, who fell, face first, to the ground. By the time she pushed the man’s dead weight from her back and stood up to run toward the door, the gunman was upon her.
“Please!” she said as she turned and looked at the killer’s eyes. “Have mercy!”
“Mercy is God’s job,” the gunman said coldly.
The final gunshot echoed through the sanctuary as Father O’Reilly watched in horror. When the woman fell to the ground, the killer dropped the gun and walked slowly toward the cathedral’s massive doors.
Father O’Reilly ran to the spot where the gunman dropped the weapon. Then he knelt down and picked it up. As he held it and looked at the bodies sprawled on the floor of his beloved cathedral, he was filled with a rage he had never known before.
Raising the weapon until he had the killer in his sights, the priest slowly squeezed the trigger. The angels looked down on him from the stained glass windows. A statue of the blessed virgin watched closely through hollow eyes. The hammer clicked. The gun was empty. So was Father O’Reilly.
He dropped to his knees as grief overwhelmed him. Though he pursed his lips and squeezed his eyes shut, neither gesture could hold the pain inside. Tears poured down his face and he screamed in anguish as the reality of the moment set in.
When the police arrived, he deliriously whispered that the gunman was the angel of death. They took the gun from his hands and lifted him to his feet. They shook his shoulders to stir him from the shock. However, the more they tried to rouse him, the deeper he seemed to fall. It was as if the floor of the sanctuary had opened and hell had risen up to swallow him.
He cried out to God as he fell into the enemy’s hands. He yelled for his father to save him from the torment he faced. He looked up to heaven as the tears poured down his cheeks. Then suddenly, someone reached down and snatched him up.
That’s when Michael Coletti awakened. As always, the nightmare left the detective disoriented. He looked around expecting to see the cathedral, but there were no marble statues, no magnificent arches, and no stained glass windows. There were only the threadbare furnishings of his one-bedroom apartment and the odors of stale smoke and sweat.
He ran his hands over his face and felt the wetness of the tears he’d cried in his sleep. He wondered what had snatched him from his nightmare and transported him back to his own reality. More importantly, Coletti wondered if being saved had done him more harm than good.
Pushing his sweat-soaked hair back from his face, Philadelphia’s most senior homicide detective flipped the covers off his naked body, propped himself up on his elbow and looked at his alarm clock. It was five-thirty a.m., August 25, 2009. Summer would be over in twenty-eight days. His career would be over in three.
He grabbed his Marlboros from his nightstand and lit one with shaking hands. The hiss of the burning tobacco filled the room as Coletti pulled the smoke into his lungs. He exhaled slowly and reflected on the things he’d seen in his twenty-five years on the force: crime scenes covered with the blood of children; women brutalized by men who claimed to love them; adulterous lovers shot dead in the throes of passion. None of it had affected him like the Confessional Murders.
For ten years, his dreams wouldn’t let him forget the crime. He wasn’t dreaming now, though, so Coletti did what he’d done every day for the last decade. He went on with his life.
Groaning as he got out of bed, he turned on the news, tramping through the pile of dirty clothes that led to the bathroom. Once there, he pulled the string that lit the lavatory’s single light bulb, and absently listened while a weatherman predicted a breezy late summer day with temperatures reaching the mid eighties.
He puffed his cigarette once more before flicking the butt into the toilet, and flushing away the evidence of his one cigarette a day habit. Splashing his face with cold water, he looked at his image in the mirror that hung haphazardly above the sink.
At a stocky five foot-eleven, with a craggy face and ample lips, he was almost, but not quite handsome. His features were dark, and distinctly Mediterranean, from his brown eyes and sculpted nose to his curly mop of salt-and-pepper hair. His body wasn’t as hard as it had been when he was younger, but his jaw, lined with stubble, was just as rugged.
As he stared into the mirror at the wear and tear of fifty eight years, the light struck the tiny gold crucifix dangling against his chest, and his tired eyes wandered to his slight paunch. Coletti looked a mess. He didn’t care, though.
He wasn’t looking for a woman. After thirty-one years on the force, his job was his mistress. He’d be leaving her in less than a week. After that, he planned to spend time with the only other companion that mattered: himself.
Coletti looked away from his image and began brushing his teeth while relishing the thought of being alone. Then he heard something on the television that stopped him cold.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused to hear defrocked priest Thomas O’Reilly’s final appeal in the Confessional Murders,” the newscaster said in a tone of mock-concern. “That means O’Reilly, who has always maintained his innocence in the decade-old triple murder, is scheduled to face execution this Friday—three days from now. In the words of his lawyer, ‘only a miracle can save him.’”
Coletti wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as a sick feeling bubbled in his gut. He remembered being the first cop to arrive at the cathedral. He remembered taking the weapon from the priest’s quivering hands. He remembered hearing O’Reilly’s repeated claims of innocence. Most of all, he remembered trusting fingerprints over feelings.
Now the priest who’d haunted his dreams for a decade was scheduled to be put to death the day Coletti was to retire.
As the light bulb in his bathroom began to flicker, Coletti fingered his crucifix and wondered if the priest’s execution would make the nightmares stop. Or if perhaps, like O’Reilly, Coletti would need a miracle, too.
* * *
At seven a.m., a well-dressed man stepped onto the platform of the Chestnut Hill Regional Rail station in Philadelphia’s diverse and affluent northwest. He looked to be about twenty-five, and he carried an almond-colored briefcase that was monogrammed with the letters, CLM.
Standing on the crowded platform in the cool of the morning with his neat black dreads, and sleek, athletic build, Charles Leonard Mann looked every bit the young businessman. Having finished graduate school five years before, the persona fit him, but it was just a charade.
Charlie Mann was a cop, one who was able to blend into environments that other officers couldn’t. He could adjust his style from Brooks Brothers to FUBU, or his dialect from Ebonics to Geek-speak. He was a new kind of policeman, and he was Homicide’s fastest rising star.
Mann had been selected to go to the train station when Homicide received a tip about a meeting between a suspected hitman and the drug dealer who employed him. The State Police would be assisting on this one, and Homicide couldn’t afford any screw-ups, especially with hundreds of commuters on the platform and on the trains. Mann knew that, and while he wasn’t about to violate the trust that they’d placed in him, he didn’t intend to let the suspect get away, either.
Pulling his iPhone from its case, Mann opened his pictures folder, and clicked on the mugshot of the person he’d come to arrest.
The suspect didn’t look like a killer. His freckled face was framed by stringy red hair. He sported a silver stud nose ring. His lips were thin and chapped. From the look of him, he would be more comfortable with a skateboard than with a gun. Yet there was something haunting about his lifeless and cruel gray eyes.
Beyond those eyes was an addict who’d traveled to Philadelphia for the purest heroin on the east coast, and learned along the way that drug dealers paid well for murder. Once he was armed with that knowledge, it was easy to transition from killing himself with needles to killing other people with guns. Over the last six months, he’d killed five times, and each time he was paid with drugs and cash, he’d come closer to dying himself.
As Detective Mann stared at the suspect’s picture on the screen, the iPhone began to vibrate. The mugshot disappeared and was replaced with the words, “Incoming call.” He reached up to his ear and tapped the button on his Bluetooth headset.
“I think our boy’s walking up to the platform,” a woman’s voice said in a calm whisper. “Jeans and a blue T-shirt, about thirty yards to your left.”
“Yeah, honey, I miss you, too,” Mann said, speaking in code as he moved through the crowd to get a better look at the suspect.
The blond-haired woman who was feeding him the information was sitting on a bench at the far end of the platform. In her pantsuit and heels, with Styrofoam coffee cup in hand, she looked to be just another passenger. In truth, Mary Smithson was the state police profiler who’d spent months studying heroin addicts from Philadelphia’s drug-infested Kensington neighborhood, eventually narrowing the list down to a single suspect. She was there to provide technical support for the operation.
“So what are the kids doing?” Mann asked.
“We’re in position,” said the Homicide lieutenant who was on the line with them. He was one of two officers hiding on the opposite platform. There was also a sharpshooter on a rooftop nearly fifty yards away.
“Where’s Joey?” Mann asked, using the code name for the drug dealer.
“He’s not here yet,” the lieutenant whispered into the phone. “But we can’t wait anymore. We’ve gotta move now.”
“Okay, honey,” Mann said, reaching into his jacket and gripping the butt of his gun. “I’ll see you when I get home.”
A train’s flickering light rounded the bend, prompting most of the commuters to move toward the edge of the platform. Mann darted between them, pushing ever faster toward the suspect.
“Hey, watch it!” a woman said when Mann stepped on her foot.
“Sorry,” he said, moving faster as the train approached the station.
The woman was about to turn away when she noticed Mann’s hand in his jacket. She watched in horror as he dropped his briefcase, drew his weapon, and started toward the suspect.
“He’s got a gun!” she shouted, and the platform exploded in chaos.
Women began screaming as Mann broke through the crowd. Men started pushing toward the arriving train. The suspect looked around, his face contorted into the pitiful expression of an addict in need of a fix. When he saw Mann charging toward him, his drooping eyes grew wide and he bolted in the other direction.
The detectives on the opposite platform were trapped in their positions when the train pulled into the station. The sharpshooter on the roof was unable to get a clear shot. The commuters on the platform were screaming and running toward the train.
Mann was their best hope to catch him.
He sprinted after the fleeing killer, who reached into his waistband and grabbed a .38.
Mann took aim and hoped for a clean shot, but Mary Smithson had already beaten him to the punch.
“Stop!” Smithson shouted as she stood and aimed her weapon at the suspect.
Trapped between Mann and Smithson, the hitman did as he was told. He stopped, and as terrified commuters looked on, he held the .38 at his side.
“Drop the gun!” Mann bellowed from behind him.
A smile spread across the hitman’s face. He closed his eyes and slowly raised the gun toward Smithson. As he did so, Smithson’s finger tightened on her trigger, but Mann fired first.
The bullet exploded through the back of the hitman’s head. As he fell to the ground, Mann fired another round through his torso.
There was a moment of tortured silence as the commuters absorbed what had just happened. Out of the hundreds of people who had witnessed the shooting, Mann was the first to speak.
“Are you all right?” he asked Smithson as the killer lay dead between them.
“I’m fine,” she said, but her quivering hands said otherwise as she lowered her weapon.
With blood pooling against the platform and dumbfounded commuters watching in shocked disbelief, Mann and Smithson walked slowly to the body.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” he asked without looking at her.
She was quiet for a few moments, trying to come up with an answer that wouldn’t betray her fear. Then she remembered the information she’d gathered on the suspect’s psychological profile.
“The mindset of a man who’d kill for drugs is the same as one who’s suicidal,” she said, masking her raging nerves with her matter-of-fact tone. “When he raised that gun, he wasn’t trying to kill me. He was trying to kill himself.”
* * *
An hour after the shooting, a disheveled Mike Coletti walked into Homicide and sat behind his scarred metal desk. His mind racing with the news of Father O’Reilly’s impending execution, he loosened his tie while drinking coffee from an old cracked cup.
The steaming brew was part of a morning ritual that he’d observed for the past thirty-one years. On days like this one, it helped him to quiet his mind and remember what was truly important, just like his father used to do.
Even now, more than three decades after his father’s death, the detective still remembered him clearly. A no-nonsense butcher who migrated to South Philly from Naples, Italy, Michelangelo Coletti Sr., would begin each morning with a cup of his wife Gloria’s freshly brewed espresso. He’d leave the house at sunrise to open his Ninth Street shop, and butcher meat until well after dark to provide a good living for his wife and his only son, whose name they shortened to Michael.
The Colettis were simple people with an abiding sense of pride in their heritage, and a core set of values that came from their native land. Honor and tradition, family and respect were enforced with Michelangelo’s iron fist, encouraged by Gloria’s velvet glove, and reiterated every Sunday at mass.
But even with all he learned at home and at church, the streets of South Philly taught young Michael the most. Living near the Italian Market, where blocks of rickety shacks brimmed with meats and cheeses, and hucksters sold everything from fresh milk to ice, he learned the value of hard work early on. However, there was a flipside to the neighborhood.
There were men who lived just blocks from his home who twisted the values of honor, family and loyalty, and applied them to lives of crime. These mobsters convinced boys he’d grown up with to abandon childhood games in order to join South Philly’s Mafia.
Michael resisted that temptation, graduating from South Philadelphia High School in 1968—a year that embodied all the turbulence of the Sixties. Vietnam escalated. King and Kennedy were assassinated. Riots burned neighborhoods in Philadelphia and other cities.
For a year, Coletti watched it all on a black and white TV with rabbit ears as he worked in his father’s shop. He wasn’t picked in the draft lottery when he turned eighteen, thus avoiding the trip to Vietnam. But he couldn’t avoid the internal war that determined the man he’d become.
He saw his father, Michelangelo, toiling for their home and family. He saw Frank Rizzo, the police commissioner from nearby Rosewood Street, fighting to maintain the status quo. He saw the mobsters killing and conniving for their piece of the pie. Then one day, he looked at himself.
He was twenty-three by then, and he didn’t have a thing. He didn’t want to live that way, so he began weighing his options. He hated the mundane life of his father. He didn’t want the responsibility of a cop. He was intrigued by the notion of taking what he wanted, so he contemplated joining the mob. When Michelangelo Coletti found out, his response was anything but mundane.
“You wanna shoot?” his father said in his heavy Italian accent as he marched him to the recruiter. “You shoot for your country.”
Coletti always smiled when he thought of that day. That day was what allowed him to see a bit of the world during his four year tour of duty as a supply clerk on bases in Italy and Germany. That day was also one of the last times he saw his father as he’d been.
When he came back to South Philly from overseas, his father’s once-strong voice had been ravaged by throat cancer. In seven months, Michael Coletti’s hero was gone. Five months later, his mother died from what could only be described as a broken heart.
After he buried her, Coletti sold the butcher shop that his father had spent his life building up, and something inside him changed. He got angry. He withdrew. Then he set out to keep his parents memories alive by finding a way to enforce their values. He chose to do so by pursuing the very job he’d initially tried to avoid. He became a cop.
For most of his career in the police force, he tried to serve with the honor and integrity he’d learned from his mother and father. He’d slipped a few times and made some mistakes, but he always worked hard to earn everything he ever got, just like his father before him.
In Coletti’s mind, not everyone embraced such values, and that, more than anything, set him off.
“You all right, Coletti?” said a detective with a thick brown mustache and heavy eyebrows to match.
“Yeah,” he said, taking another sip of his coffee. “I was just thinking.”
“Did you hear what happened up in Chestnut Hill this morning?”
“Yep, Charlie shot a suspect with a hundred commuters in the line of fire,” Coletti said, pausing for effect. “I wonder if he would’ve been that trigger happy if he was shooting at one of his own.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” a voice called out from across the room.
Coletti looked up and saw Mann walking in with a thin, blond-haired woman beside him. Mann looked angry, but Coletti wasn’t about to back down.
“You went to college and you don’t know what ‘one of his own’ means?” Coletti asked coolly.
“Yeah, I know what it means,” Mann said angrily. “It means you don’t think I belong here.”
“You belong if you earn it,” Coletti shot back. “But you don’t make Homicide just because somebody decides there’s a quota.”
A million answers went through Mann’s mind, ranging in tone from eloquent to ignorant. When he’d considered every possible verbal retort, and found them all to be lacking, he chose the only response he could.
His face clouding over with rage and his fingers curling into fists, Mann bolted across the room.
Coletti stood up, prepared to fight. Three detectives came between them a second before the first punch could fly.
As Mann and Coletti grunted and struggled to get past the peacemakers, Mary Smithson walked to Mann’s side while carefully studying Coletti.
“Who the hell are you?” Coletti asked in an agitated tone.
“Lieutenant Smithson, State Police,” she said, nodding toward Mann. “I’m one of his own.”
As she spoke, Mann jerked his arm away from the men who were holding him. A few seconds later, Coletti did, too. When they were sure that both had calmed down, the detectives who had restrained them stepped aside.
“What do you mean, you’re one of his own?” Coletti asked while rubbing his arms where his colleagues had gripped them.
“You implied that he looks out for his own,” she said in a level tone. “Well, I’m the one he looked out for today. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the reason I’m still alive.”
“Look, lady, I—”
“My name’s Mary,” she said, extending her hand.
He looked at her eyes. They were blue and bottomless, filled with curiosity and intelligence. It took everything within him not to stare.
“I’m Mike Coletti,” he said, shaking her hand while forcing himself to look away.
“We came to fill out the paperwork on what happened this morning,” Mann said, his eyes scanning the room. “But I guess there’s no need for that since I don’t belong here.”
There was an awkward silence as the other detectives tried to decide who would answer first.
“Coletti doesn’t speak for me,” said the one with the bushy mustache. “As long you do your job, I don’t have a problem with you or anybody else.”
A few piped up in agreement. Several more mumbled placating words. Then Coletti spoke.
“Look, kid,” he said, clearing his throat as he searched for the right words. “I didn’t mean it to come out that way. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and—”
“Save it,” Mann said, stalking angrily to his desk as Commissioner Kevin Lynch walked in.
There were half-hearted greetings as the man who’d rocketed from Homicide to the top of the department crossed the room and stopped at Mann’s desk.
Lynch smiled, his bald brown head shimmering nearly as brightly as the stars on his shoulders. Unlike Mann, he relished the resentment of his former squad. It drove him to succeed.
“Mann, Smithson, I need to talk to both of you,” he said, beckoning for them to follow him out to the hallway. “You too, Coletti.”
Wearing a bewildered expression, the old detective walked out behind them. When the door closed, the commissioner turned to Mann and Smithson.
“Internal Affairs, Homicide and the state folks are gonna need to interview the two of you about the shooting. Mann, you’ll be reassigned to desk duty for a few days, and Smithson, I’m sure you’ll be glad to get back to your desk out in Dunmore after all this is over.”
“Actually, Commissioner, I was hoping to hang around here for at least a day or so,” she said, smiling nervously before casting a furtive glance in Coletti’s direction.
Lynch caught the look. Mann did, too, but he had more pressing matters to attend to.
“Sir, if I’m going to be strapped to a desk,” he said, his jaw tight with anger, “I’d just as soon have it be in another unit, especially since Homicide will be investigating.”
“Angels from heaven could be investigating, Detective Mann. It won’t make a difference. A suspect pointed a gun at a fellow officer. You shot to kill. Case closed. But if it’ll make you feel better, you’ll be on loan to the Delayed Police Response Unit—D.P.R. You’ll take stolen car and theft from vehicle reports over the phone for a couple days, but you’ll still be attached to Homicide.”
“You think you’re the only one who’s ever had a hard time in Homicide?” Lynch snapped. “Well, I’ve got news for you, Detective. You’re not. When I came to Homicide, I was the college boy who was rising a little too fast, and everybody hated me, too, right Coletti?”
“Nobody hated you,” Coletti said to the commissioner before nodding toward Mann. “And nobody hates him, either. The kid just rubs me the wrong way.”
“Why? Because I’m black?” Mann asked as Smithson shifted uncomfortably.
“No, because you’re just like I was when I got to Homicide. A smartass who thinks he’s got it all figured out.”
“Racists always have an excuse,” Mann mumbled.
“Look, I’m not a racist,” Coletti said, shifting his gaze from Mann to Lynch and back. “But I shouldn’t have said what I said, and I’m man enough to admit I was wrong.”
Clearly, Mann wasn’t prepared to accept Coletti’s apology. It was Lynch who broke the silence.
“Everything isn’t always what it seems, Detective Mann. If you’re gonna be a good cop, you need to learn that.”
“Not from him,” Mann said, staring angrily at Coletti.
“Oh, I think he’ll be a fine teacher,” Lynch said. “That’s why I’ve decided to make the two of you partners. Mann, you’ll make your appearance in DPR. After that, you’ll partner with Coletti. He’s gonna share all the lessons he learned back when he was the young hotshot, and before he retires, he’s gonna show you what it takes to be the top detective in this unit.”
“And if I don’t?” Coletti said.
“Somebody might lose your paperwork. I’ve heard pensions get held up for years when that happens.”
Coletti was speechless as the commissioner turned to Mann and Smithson.
“You two need to get up to Internal Affairs now, and I need to get to a press conference about the shooting.”
Lynch started down the hall, then stopped and turned around. “I almost forgot, Coletti. I heard they rejected Father O’Reilly’s appeal. I know you’ll be glad when that’s finally over.”
Coletti watched as Lynch walked to his press conference. A second later, Mann headed up to Internal Affairs. Coletti didn’t notice that Smithson was still standing there. He couldn’t. The commissioner’s mention of the Confessional Murders had taken him back to the nightmare from that morning.
“Are you all right?” Smithson asked, sounding concerned.
“I’m fine,” he said, but the thin film of sweat on his suddenly pallid face said otherwise.
Her eyebrows crinkled as her eyes moved from his chest to his face. “You don’t look so hot.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” he said sarcastically.
Smithson chuckled. “Just calling it like I see it.”
“Well I wish you wouldn’t see it so clearly,” he said. “It’s bad for my ego.”
She smiled at his quick wit, and as Coletti tried to think of a way to end the conversation without making a fool of himself, she said something he didn’t expect.
“Listen, I’ve got to go up to give my statement about this morning. But since we’ve both had a bit of a rough day, I was thinking we could take a walk down to Second Street after work.”
Coletti looked at her quizzically. “For what?”
“I heard there were good exhibits here and I’ve always wanted to see them. We don’t really have many art galleries in upstate Pennsylvania, and it’d be great if—”
“I’m not really the art gallery type,” Coletti said, turning to walk away from her.
“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t drag you in and out of every exhibit, but there is one I want to see that I read about in the paper. It’s at the Old City Art Gallery.”
“I don’t think so.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder and he turned to face her. Before he knew it, he was once again lost in her eyes.
“If you’re too embarrassed to be seen with me …”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Good. I’ll meet you outside on the corner of Eighth and Race at five o’ clock,” she said.
Coletti opened his mouth to protest, but she silenced him by placing a finger against his lips.
“I promise you’ll like the exhibit,” she said, her tone low and convincing. “It’s called Confessions.”