Seventy-two emails had come in over the weekend -- and usually anything more than fifty meant he wouldn't get home before 8:00 p.m. all week. He began to weed through them, adding notes to a devil's To Do list -- one that never got any shorter, no matter how hard he worked.
Today, Patrick had to drive drugs down to the state lab -- not a big deal, except that it was a four-hour block of his day that vanished right there. He had a rape case coming to fruition, the perp identified from a college face book and his statements transcribed and ready for the AG's office. He had a cell phone that had been nabbed out of a car by a homeless guy. He had blood results come back from the lab as a match for a break-in at a jewelry store, and a suppression hearing in superior court, and already on his desk was the first new complaint of the day -- a theft of wallets in which the credit cards had been used, leaving a trail for Patrick to trace.
Being a small-town detective required Patrick to be firing on all cylinders, all the time. Unlike cops he knew who worked for city departments, where they had twenty-four hours to solve a case before it was considered cold, Patrick's job was to take everything that came across his desk -- not to cherry-pick for the interesting ones. It was hard to get excited about a bad check case, or a theft that would net the perp a $200 fine when it cost the taxpayers five times that to have Patrick focus on it for a week. But every time he started thinking that his cases weren't particularly important, he'd find himself face-to-face with a victim: the hysterical mother whose wallet had been stolen; the mom-and-pop jewelry store owners who'd been robbed of their retirement income; the rattled professor who was a victim of identity theft. Hope, Patrick knew, was the exact measure of distance between himself and the person who'd come for help. If Patrick didn't get involved, if he didn't give a hundred percent, then that victim was going to be a victim forever -- which was why, since Patrick had joined the Sterling police, he had managed to solve every single case.
When Patrick was lying in his bed alone and letting his mind sew a seam across the hem of his life, he did not remember the proven successes -- only the potential failures. When he walked around the perimeter of a vandalized barn or found the stolen car stripped down and dumped in the woods or handed the tissue to the sobbing girl who'd been date-raped, Patrick couldn't help but feel that he was too late. He was a detective, but he didn't detect anything. It fell into his lap, already broken, every time.
It was the first warm day of March, the one where you started to believe that the snow would melt sooner rather than later, and that June was truly just around the corner. Josie sat on the hood of Matt's Saab in the student parking lot, thinking that it was closer to summer than it was to the start of this school year, that in a scant three months, she would officially be a member of the senior class.
Beside her, Matt leaned against the windshield, his face tipped up to the sun. "Let's ditch school," he said. "It's too nice out to be stuck inside all day."
"If you ditch, you'll be benched."
The state championship tournament in hockey began this afternoon, and Matt played right wing. Sterling had won last year, and they had every expectation of doing it again. "You're coming to the game," Matt said, and it wasn't a question, but a statement.
"Are you going to score?"
Matt smiled wickedly and tugged her on top of him. "Don't I always?" he said, but he wasn't talking about hockey anymore, and she felt a blush rise over the collar of her scarf.
Suddenly Josie felt a rain of hail on her back. They both sat up to find Brady Pryce, a football player, walking by hand-in-hand with Haley Weaver, the homecoming queen. Haley tossed a second shower of pennies -- Sterling High's way of wishing an athlete good luck. "Kick ass today, Royston," Brady called.
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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