He had been regretting making her acquaintance for the past two years. In that time Isaac Bloom hadn’t seen Lucy at all, but he’d had his fill of her, and never wanted to see her again. Unfortunately fate had other ideas in mind.
She came to New York for the same reasons that had brought him there, because of the job, and now she was not only his ex-lover but once again his competition, and unlike the last time he wasn’t glad to have it. “You’re looking well,” she said, and he took it as an insult.
“The story doesn’t change,” Isaac said. “The man’s guilty no matter how you choose to interpret it.”
His hands were shaking. Lucy seemed not to notice. She examined the paperwork and took a quick pass at the photographs. She’d always had that maddening memory, the one that never forgot anything, except the important things, like mercy.
“It was childhood trauma,” she said.
“It always is,” Isaac said. He’d been happy, happy enough before he’d met her, and what made it worse was that Lucy had once made him happier than he’d ever thought possible, and all it took was one conversation and he was ruined forever. Somewhere in one of his pockets was an old-fashioned flask. He’d become a cliché.
“We should start with what we don’t know, gather all our best instincts,” Lucy said. She brushed her hand against his sleeve, like the old days, only now Isaac was sickened by the thought. He could feel the emotions stirring again, and he could never control them around her.
“The holistic approach, as always,” he said.
“Precisely,” she agreed.
“It never works,” he muttered, mostly to himself.
“Beg your pardon?”
“I was saying, shouldn’t we at least talk it through? That was always your favorite part.”
Lucy looked at him for a moment. She was analyzing him again. Two years ago he would have enjoyed it, felt the thrill of recognition, someone who understood him standing so close, ready to do anything he wanted, make a commitment. Before Lucy, he hadn’t known what that meant.
“You’re still thinking of my profile,” she said.
“You don’t do that to someone you love,” Isaac said. “You don’t throw their life to pieces, just because you’re right.”
“I thought it was something you wanted,” she said. “I thought we’d agreed. No secrets. Isn’t that what lovers want? Perfect intimacy?”
Two years lost. Almost from the moment she had finished speaking, Isaac had begun interpreting his entire life differently. One moment he could remember only the good and the next all that had gone wrong, and the narrative of his existence had changed forever. It put him on a new path, a destructive one, away from her, away from the woman he had loved, toward the drinking, the pills.
“The subject spent a prolonged period living at home,” he said. “Far longer than was necessary. He was a brilliant student, excelled even when he was bored, and he was never challenged. As if in answer, he started making his own. That’s what I would say about it. That’s what led him on.”
“Schooling had nothing to do with it,” Lucy said. He noticed that she had done something different with her hair. In all the time he’d known her, she’d never changed her hair.
“How can you be so certain?”
“The same way I can guess where he’ll turn up next,” she said. “His decisions have always been based on the classic unresolved issues of his youth, as I said before. He blames his mother. He blames his father. With this one, you don’t just look at one life, you have to consider three, the past and the present and the future all merging together in one unfortunate jumble. He was never able to reconcile his fears. He thought he’d end up just like them.”
“That’s a bold leap,” Isaac said. “You’re assuming a lot.”
“That’s what we’re here to do, isn’t it? Educated guesses. You can see it in his eyes.”
He took another look at the pictures. There was no mugshot. Until recently the man had never been in trouble with the law. He’d been a model citizen. Isaac hated her. Despite all his recent troubles he was still considered among the most brilliant profilers of his generation, someone sought after even though he never advertised. It was a matter of reputation. When he’d first met Lucy, it had been the same. Only by association with him did she become significant.
“The thing I don’t understand is how you could be so cruel about it,” he said. “If you knew with such certainty that my life would unravel, why weren’t you kinder about it?”
“We loved each other. It was implied.”
“You don’t do something like that to someone you love.”
The attraction had been immediate, kismet. He was sitting in a coffee shop looking over files very much like this one, when Lucy asked him for a napkin. She was seated several feet away, and admitted later that she only asked because he’d been crumpling one absently, and it made her think of needing one. When he obliged, she walked over and happened to look at the files.
“You won’t believe this, but that’s exactly the line of work I’m in as well.”
“You’re right, I don’t believe it. The odds are astronomical. I’m sure I would have noticed you before.”
“I’m just starting out, really. It’s hard to develop the trust this business needs.”
“You’ll find that once you have it you’ll be hard-pressed to lose it.”
She sat down and brushed her hand against his sleeve, whether on purpose or by accident, and that was the start of it. They collaborated on a case, and found that their methods meshed exceedingly well. They took work home with them. It never occurred to him that it was a recipe for disaster.
“We need to put this aside for the moment,” Lucy said. “Our problems are our own. I was called in, so here I am and there’s no getting around that, no matter how uncomfortable it is for both of us.”
“That’s just it,” he said. “It’s difficult because despite everything…”
He couldn’t finish the thought. Its conclusion was implied, and he found himself flushing from embarrassment, something he hadn’t experienced since he was a boy. He had once been confident. Now he could no longer control himself. He was lost on account of her, and he was just beginning to suspect that it wasn’t because of anything she’d said.
“This is awkward,” she said.
“I really do wish you hadn’t come,” Isaac said.
“If it helps, I apologize. I was wrong. I see that now. I was jealous. I saw an instinct. I didn’t see the future. I exploited your weakness. I don’t know why I did it.”
“It was a raw nerve,” he said. “Anyway, we shouldn’t be talking about this now. Whatever issues we have, that’s not why we’re here now.”
They spent long nights together, and unlike other people they didn’t talk. There was enough of that during the day. The only words they needed belonged to work. It was only the one case they shared, but it seemed to last forever. Both of them knew that when it was over, it would all be over. Isaac spent most of his time thinking not about the case but his desperation to keep Lucy close to him. He was afraid of making a mistake.
“There was no stability in his home,” Lucy said. “I suppose we’re both right. He forced his own stability, and the strain of it eventually got the better of him. The rest is elementary.”
“Listen…” Isaac said. He paused, once again at a loss of words, or will.
“You will never be able to forgive me. I know. You don’t have to.”
His phone buzzed, and he listened for a few minutes as someone gave him an update. “He’s struck again. They’d like to have us report in. I suppose now there’s something to tell them. I was stuck, before you showed up. I just thought you’d like to know. This doesn’t normally happen. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather.”
“You don’t need to make excuses,” she said. “No one’s perfect.”