Other Half (PsyCop #12) by Jordan Castillo Price

1


WEDDINGS ARE JOYOUS occasions. At least, they’re supposed to be. But ever since we discovered Jacob’s initials in the notebook of the late and unlamented Dr. Kamal, Jacob had been anything but happy. I don’t suppose I’d ever thought planning a wedding would be a walk in the park…but this one felt more like a sprint through a minefield.

Jacob needed answers—specifically, how his family tree ended up in that book and what it actually meant. Yes, it made sense to do some digging and find out more about his family’s involvement with Kamal. And yes, our wedding would be a perfect excuse to visit…and, incidentally, poke around. But I’d be lying if I said the thought of what we might find didn’t make me want to drop the whole thing and elope.

In fact, it was tempting to suggest we forget the fanfare and do the deed at City Hall post haste. Unfortunately, once Jacob’s sister Barbara texted us about some extracurricular Clayton activity in hopes that we could attend, there was no way to weasel out of heading up to Wisconsin to announce our “good” news.

If you’re ever hoping for someone to mother you, just show up in a clunky plaster cast. Not your other half, of course. They soon forget all about the big, heroic sacrifice you made slamming your hand in a car door, and get inured to the sight of you hauling around an awkward and painful burden. Plus, they tend to get sick of it smacking them in the ribs every time you roll over.

But if Jacob’s mom pampered me before, she positively spoiled me now.

While Jacob was doing our dirty work, I kept his mom out of his hair. Shirley hovered beside the couch and watched me as I sipped the mug of coffee she’d just put in front of me. “Is it strong enough for you, Vic? Do you need more cream?”

“I’m good. It’s great. Listen, why don’t you come sit down? Jacob and I wanted to talk to you guys before we go to Clayton’s…thing.”

School play? Soccer match? Science fair? I’d been told at some point, no doubt, but had forgotten the details on our way up to Wisconsin. Who could keep up with whatever it was we were supposed to endure on behalf of Jacob’s nephew? The kid was so entrenched in various character-building activities, it was a wonder he was even allowed to sleep.

Shirley paused, and a look of alarm flashed across her face. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I said hastily. I’m not quite sure she believed me, so I tried for a reassuring smile as I patted the cushion beside me clumsily with my crushed hand. It was mostly healed—these days, it itched a hell of a lot more than it hurt. “No bad news. Really, I’m sure you’ll all be pleasantly surprised.”

I’ve never been good at doing comfort. I’m told my reassurance-face looks like I’ve eaten something dubious from the back of the fridge and am currently regretting that decision.

Off in another part of the house, the sound of conversation rose and fell. Uncle Leon and Jerry were engaged in a rambling debate about walleye fishing spots as the three of them made their way to the living room with a few boxes of mementos (and Jacob) in tow. The basement was crammed floor-to-ceiling with all the stuff from three dead grandparents, plus a heap of things that didn’t fit in his grandmother’s assisted living apartment—dozens upon dozens of boxes no one had figured out how to deal with, so they were thrilled that Jacob wanted to take some of it off their hands. An old wrestling trophy protruded from the uppermost box. Jacob set everything down, flapped the trophy halfheartedly in my direction and said, “It’s a lot smaller than I remembered.”

Jerry took the thing from Jacob and buffed some cobwebs off the little figure in a wrestling singlet. “Yeah, but you really creamed that other kid—and he was an obnoxious, rich-kid, private-school brat. So that’s what’s important.”

Money is relative. Jacob had always struck me as having come from a higher social strata. College educated. Expensive taste in furniture. Better table manners. But getting to know his family had shown me that while we’d grown up in radically different cities, he and I were both raised in unassuming, working-class households. His parents had both held unremarkable jobs, Jerry in a paper mill and Shirley in an office. And while I frittered away my high school summers dicking around by the railroad tracks and replaying the same four punk rock albums, Jacob had been bussing tables and mowing lawns to save up for his first car. And if it weren’t for a scholarship, the college of his choice would have been well out of reach.