Dante Fosse loosened his tie. His self-critique led him to abandon the silk adornment altogether. Who in their right minds decided a noose is fashionable? He smiled as wide as he could, his gleaming teeth displaying a lifetime’s worth of careful dental hygiene. Even so, he walked away with slumped shoulders.
“I’m not going.” Dante ran a hand over his short-cropped hair.
Crystal gazed at him as if he had announced his intention to join a monastery. “What? Are you crazy? This is all you’ve been talking about the last two days.”
Nodding, he shrugged as he sauntered over to his sister. “I know. I’m not in the right mood. After everything I’ve seen today—”
“Today?” Crystal’s eyes bulged. “Are you kidding me? You’ve seen worse I’m sure.”
“Worse than a murder?” Dante shook his head and walked back into the bathroom. “There’s a difference between studying crime scene photos and witnessing firsthand the result of such – such violence! That poor, old man didn’t even have a face anymore!”
Her hand rested on his shoulder. He shivered at the unexpected touch. Looking into his sister’s eyes he found warmth that reassured.
Crystal injected her words with sympathy. “If it was really that horrible, I’m sure Alyssa will understand. You can always reschedule these things, but is this really the message you want to send? Your profile makes you out to be this tough cop ready to take on the world and—”
“Then show her. You care about the people you’re sworn to protect, and you don’t have the weak stomach of some wannabe who runs at the first sign of actual trouble!”
Dante glared at his sister. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Crystal backed away a step. “Then talk to someone who does. I just worry that if you let your job interfere now, you’ll never be able to start a romantic relationship.”
“I tried.” Dante frowned at the memory. “My partner – Wexler – she’s such a tough customer. Never seems to let anything get to her. I asked her how she can keep going after all she sees. All she’d say was, ‘Don’t let it get to you, Dante.’ What does that even mean? What even would be the first step in that process?”
Shaking her head, Crystal rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Then find someone else. The department must have a counselor on the payroll. Whatever you do, do not let this become your excuse.”
“Alright.” He gritted his teeth.
“She’s gonna love you, Dante.”
He stopped short, as if in panic. “Love? A bit early for that, don’t you think?”
“Oh, you know what I mean.”
“Do I, though?” Dante allowed the grin to show through. When his sister noticed, she gave him a playful smack on the arm. Their laughs mingled as he at last headed for the garage. “Don’t wait up for me.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
Dante’s car started once he applied his thumb to the print reader. It had been one of the few upgrades he could afford on his salary. As an officer of the law, however, he had to prioritize safety over air conditioning. The mufflers rumbled as he pulled onto the street. Tapping out a beat on his steering wheel, he did all he could to think of anything other than the crime scene and the sticky mess of dried blood that had splattered everywhere.
Most television shows about cops feature a murder-of-the-week, so dealing with violent crime had not been that much of a shock. His academy training featured classes that prepared cadets for approaching homicides. He knew all the department’s protocols and investigative tactics. But there was a difference between reading a textbook and walking into a crime scene, not expecting a mutilated corpse.
Dante kept replaying the dispatch call in his head. There had been no warning of the mess he would have to walk into. He steeled himself as his mind rebelled against his need to clear out all these memories. Don’t let it get to you, Dante. But how?
Upon arriving at Caidella’s Caribbean Cuisine, Dante checked his reflection one last time. He wiped away a few drops of sweat before exiting the vehicle. Mom would’ve liked this choice, taking pride in my Jamaican heritage. I wonder what she’d think of me dating a white girl, though. The waitress, a squat woman in her mid-forties, greeted him at the door with a familial smile despite never having met Dante. Then she seated him at a pristine table for two. He had twelve minutes to glance over the menu before Alyssa Gram arrived. Standing, he grinned at the woman. Her wavy, blonde hair swayed as if it belonged in a shampoo commercial. Her dark eyes looked almost as black as her pupils.
“Hi, I’m Dante. Glad to finally meet you, Alyssa.”
“Uh, huh. Yeah. Sure.” She sat at the table without giving him a second glance.
Did I say that in a weird voice? Dante brushed the wrinkles out of his shirt as he sat. “Have you ever been here before?”
“Huh?” Alyssa busied herself with her phone, flicking through messages.
“I hear the jerk pork is a real treat here.”
“Jerk? Why would you even say that? That’s so rude.”
“No, no. I wasn’t calling you a – you know, it doesn’t really even matter. I’ll just let you look through the menu yourself.”
After a half minute, Alyssa stowed her device in her purse. “Sorry, Dante. I must seem like a spaz. I’ve just had the worst day ever. You would not even believe.”
“Why? What happened?”
Alyssa’s eyes lit up. “Okay, so I was out last night, and my MUSE wires fell out while I was crossing the street. Right in the middle of my song. Well, they got run over by some jerk. So today, I had to go to a Questae provider for a replacement. The wait for someone to help me? It lasted, like, two whole hours! Can you believe it? Two! And when they got to me, they were out of the color I wanted. Terrible luck, right?”
You’re kidding me. That’s this girl’s idea of the worst day ever? “Oh. Okay. I guess that might be a little frustrating.”
“A little? It should be a crime against humanity. I should have you go arrest them for being so cruel. I mean, it must be breaking the Constitution or something.”
“Yeah. You know. We have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Dante clapped his palm to his face. “That’s the Declaration of Independence.”
“Who are you? The civics police?”
Standing up, Dante looked down at Alyssa. “Look, I don’t think this is going to work out. I need to go.”
“But what about our date? I was looking forward to it.”
“Well, now you can look back on it. Because it’s over.”
Dante turned around and walked to the exit. All the while, he heard Alyssa raising a great stink because she had not eaten yet and had not brought money with her to pay her own way. She screamed that he was an ass. He sighed, disappointment setting in as the restaurant’s door closed behind him.