They waited, implicitly asking for more. Roy took another sip of coffee to give himself time to think about what to say, then went on. “He was some kind of mystery kid. His mother was a Jane Doe who died in childbirth. His name was picked at random by CPS. He never got adopted, spent a lot of time on the streets. Lived with four different foster families and kept getting in trouble all the way through high school. Beyond his ex-wife and his daughter, his only family is a foster father he calls his uncle. Dude’s a retired MPD officer. Maybe he can tell you more.”
“Nothing about living anywhere else? He lived in St. Louis the whole time growing up?”
The man was still scribbling. Roy wondered what the point was. It had begun to look very exotic, like Eastern religious art.
He shrugged. “He’s never said anything. Just that he was in juvie a few times, didn’t straighten out until he took that uncle’s advice and joined the Army. Got into the MPs after he got sick of deployments. Came back here once he reached twenty years, ’cause he’d married a girl who was also from St. Louis.”
Cipolli had begun nodding in the middle of his answer. He laid his pen down and noted, “That’s pretty much the same as we have.”
Then he pulled a photo– a genuine hardcopy print– out of his pocket and held it out. “This is the other thing. Do you know the woman with him in this picture?”
Roy took the photo, glanced at it, handed it back, trying not to get angry again. Cipolli left it laying out on the table.
“Yeah, I know her. And you already know I met with her yesterday, don’t you?”
Payton sighed. “Mendez, relax. Isn’t that chip on your shoulder getting a little heavy?”
He ignored her and told Cipolli, “That’s Sandra, Jack’s ex. Some idiot released Jack’s name to the media before Grief Counseling Services could talk to their daughter. The lieutenant had me drive the poor kid home from school and stay until her mom got there.”
The two nodded and shot each other glances that made him suspicious. “I ain’t been messing around with my partner’s ex, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Payton scowled. “Roy, you do understand we’re not Internal Affairs, right? He’s asking for a completely different reason.”
“What reason? What’s the issue with Sandra?”
Cipolli twisted his mouth, then stated, “I think this is the point where we tell you that you would be better off staying out of it from now on. You need to go back to life as usual and leave the rest to us.”
“What’s the issue with Sandra?” he repeated, more slowly.
Payton lost some of her friendly veneer, her patience growing thin, as she answered, “We’re covering the bases, Roy. We’re just covering the bases.”
Cipolli glanced at her, then said, “Look, change of subject. I want to get you to think back to the fire.”
He tapped his pen on the random scribble drawing Roy’s attention to it. A clear memory came back to him of waking up with the paramedics working on him…
Farther back, he heard Cipolli suggest. He tried, and remembered a hell of flames. It seemed like there were hands holding him up. There was an angel holding him up…
The angel gazed down at him, and he was thinking, Her eyes look like Sandra’s…
But the angel was speaking to him, and he was thinking, No, that’s not Sandra’s voice…
“Roy?” Payton was asking, and he realized he was just staring down at his coffee.
“Huh? Wh… wow, I… musta dozed off or somethin’.”
Just a moment ago, he had been thinking really hard about something, and he couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was. It had been important, too.
Payton noted, “You’ve been up a while. You better finish that coffee before you go home.”