Truth & Tenderness

By: Tere Michaels



“Fine, fine.” Matt lifted the lid of Jim’s laptop, waking the beast within. “Do we think he works for the CIA and all this movie and stage stuff is his deep cover?”

“No.” Jim made it to the door, then paused to shrug on his jacket against the early spring chill. “Maybe.”

“And then he could make a movie about him making movies while he was in the CIA.” Matt knocked on his head like it was a ripe coconut. “Tell Griffin this. I’ll split the profits with him.”

“Griffin. Griffin. Right. Guy with the tall hair and squinty eyes,” Jim said dryly. “I have his picture on the fridge so I don’t forget what he looks like.”

It was said lightheartedly, but then Jim ducked out, the wind and light rain rattling the walls until he slammed the door behind him.

Maybe not so much a joke anymore.

Matt didn’t mind driving up to Dutchess County to work at Jim’s place. At first it seemed better to have him down to Matt’s home office in Brooklyn—it was comfortable and he could stay for dinner if it got too late. But quickly Matt clued in to the fact that all the domestic bliss (even if it was two teenagers and the fleeting appearance of Evan) just brought him down even further.

So Matt took the train or hopped in the car to keep Jim company at his house.

He poked around the neatly organized folders on Jim’s laptop. Things were painstakingly labeled, color coded, and there wasn’t a single cute icon in sight. Even the background was a solemn blue-gray field.

Matt knew how to replace that with a kitten, and he put it on his to-do list.

Click, click, search. He found Bennett’s folder and all the subfolders beyond. The Ames family was his business’s sugar daddy, and it showed in the range of dates listed, of all the jobs he’d done for them. Matt scrolled down until he found “Bryant Park Office ReOrg” and clicked on it.

He didn’t know what he did wrong, but the program decided to quit, Matt cursing the whole time until he could click through the whole “no, I don’t want to report it, just give me the damn file.” He went to Recently Opened on the menu and thought he clicked the right folder.

But what popped up wasn’t the office specs for Bennett’s new place. It was a collection of clippings.

Matt leaned in.

Crime scenes. Reports. Notes typed in blocks between the official documents. SCHOOL SCHEDULE. CONFIRM HE WAS ON TRIP.

Maps of the West Coast.

Coroner’s reports from almost ten years ago.

Then? A name.

TRIPP INGERSOLL.

He didn’t need to go further. Matt knew exactly what this was.

Every cop—on the force, retired, hooked up to machines prolonging the months—had one of these. Their white whale, the case that just wouldn’t leave them alone.

The ones you lost. The ones you never solved. The faces that came with you after you retired.

Tripp Ingersoll, rich college kid accused of killing a teenaged hooker in LA. A jury that wanted to believe someone with so much going for him wouldn’t do something so horrible, so he’d been walking free the past few years, much to Jim’s horror.

Then Jim made his white whale a cop’s worst mistake: he became emotionally involved with the dead girl’s parents.

Matt clicked the little X on the corner of the document, somber. He didn’t bother to open the other file; he just got up and grabbed his jacket, then headed over to the house.





JIM WAS leaning against the counter when Matt walked in, texting with Griffin in Los Angeles.

When are you coming home?

Tuesday.

It’s Wednesday.

I know. I’m sorry. But Tuesday.

Jim?

I know, okay? Maybe you can come here?

Jim? Jesus, come on. I can’t do this again.

I’ll see if I can come out for the weekend.

THANK YOU. I love you.

I love you too.

Jim tossed his phone onto a stack of mail and magazines waiting for Griffin’s return. Everything in the house felt like someone had hit Pause.

Hold off on wedding plans.

Wait to redo the guest bathroom.

Don’t make an appointment with the rug guy just yet.

Fly three thousand miles to get five or six hours of your fiancé’s free time. Sex to reconnect and sleeping in each other’s arms to pretend nothing was strained and exhausting.

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