Saul’s the one who first called it in on the Tuesday morning. I’m at the diner, my usual eggs on toast, and coffee, black coffee. I need it; last night I finally caught up with him, the scum I’d been chasing across three State lines. He put up a fight, but he wasn’t the one who kept me up until 4am, it was the paperwork.
(Put a bullet in a guy’s knee and the forms really pile up.)
“Saul,” I say through a mouthful of bread, “you gotta let me have a break here.”
He’s having none of that, the big jerk. “You’re a damn troublemaker, Mantle. Finish your coffee and come into the station. This one you’re gonna want to see.”
I take a deliberate slow gulp. “Doubt it.”
I can almost hear Saul’s shit-stirring smirk through the receiver. “It’s in Riverdale. Some guy named Andrews. Archie Andrews.”
By Wednesday afternoon I’m in Riverdale, driving the best car that the department can afford me rent, an old Buick that makes noise everywhere except the horn.
“Deja vu,” I mutter to myself, rolling down the window as I pass Lodge mansion. It looks like nothing changed, but I know better, I know that everything and everyone were different now.
I slow the car and toss my spent cigarette onto the sidewalk. Someone’ll clean it up.
The sergeant on duty at Riverdale station isn’t someone I recognise. Hardly surprising, I haven’t been to this town in years. There’s been nothing here for me, until now.
“It’s a head-scratcher,” he shrug as he hands me the files, nonchalantly, like he doesn’t care about it one way or the other, like the affairs of the people of this town don’t concern him. I don’t care for his attitude.
I flip through the folder and turn out of the station without a word. The sergeant follows me, grabbing his coat from the rack and clips on his badge and gun carefully. I raise an eyebrow. “Expecting to do something with that?”
He just shrugs again. I don’t care for his attitude at all.
The crime scene’s well-preserved, but there’s not much to see here. The sergeant hangs back while I poke around; he doesn’t expect me to find anything not already in the report, and has told me as much.
“Humour me,” I say, humouring him.
I hate to admit that he’s right, but I find nothing. Everything has been documented meticulously by – I finally note the officer’s name, with some surprise.
This is not the kind of place I expect to find Moose at, but I feel right at home. The bartender eyes me as she serves up my drink in a glass that looks like it may have been cleaned once, a long time ago.
“You’re Reggie Mantle,” she says suddenly, putting down the bottle she’s pouring out, to the protests of the guy sitting on my left.
“Do I know you?” I ask. Maybe I do and maybe I don’t. It gets hard to keep track.
“Nah, but everyone knows you. People talk.”
I can only imagine what they’re saying.
She continues, picking the bottle of liquor back up. “If I were you, I never would’ve left. That Veronica Lodge...”
“Veronica is-” I stop. I shake my head. No need to explain myself to anyone, much less a total stranger. Let people talk. Sticks and stones. I won’t be around much longer.
She shrugs. “Your date’s here.”
I swivel on my seat and see Moose standing at the entrance, all six feet six of him, the top of his hair just brushing the door frame. He’s scanning the bar, searching for me. I gesture, and take my drink with me to a more private booth.
“Never thought I’d see you again.” He says it like a greeting.
“Yeah, well.” I thrust a hand into my pocket and my fingers brush the packet of cigarettes there. I fight the urge to light one up. Riverdale hasn’t felt real to me up to this moment. I push my glass towards Moose. “Drink?”
He slides it back across the table. “Not any more.”
I want to ask him why meet at a bar, why this bar he supposedly frequents, if he doesn’t drink. I look at him, best I can under the dingy lights. He looks the same as ever, like a man that never grew out of his teenage face, but I can tell he has a story. I’m not sure I want to hear it, so I press on. I ask him about the crime scene, about everything that is in the report, and everything that isn’t, and by the end of it I know all the things that he knows, and I also know who I will be calling next.
Before I leave, I ask, a courtesy, a passing remark, “How are Midge and the kids?”
For one second his eyes burn, his jaw clenches and his fingers tremble. For one second I am back in high school, facing the most insecure jock whose girl I just flirted with. For one second I am scared of Moose.
The moment passes as he exhales. His forced smile doesn’t reach his eyes, and now I know his story. “Midge left me.”
“I don’t talk to Ronnie any more.”
“And Archie? Did you talk to him?”
Betty is not hard to track down, and she is cooperative, but I push. I don’t want to let this go.
She seems frustrated my the question. Laying her fork down on the table, she pushes aside her unfinished lunch and looks me in the eye. I meet her straight on.
“Why are you asking me these things? Moose never said I was a suspect. Am I?”
I start to shrug, but stop myself. It's a nasty habit. Contagious. “Only if I find you suspicious.”
Betty throws up her hands. “Ronnie and Archie are my best friends!” She catches herself, and carries on, “they were my best friends. You remember how that feels, don’t you? Having friends?”
I almost flinch. That stings.
She clamps a hand over her mouth, as if she doesn’t mean what she just said, but I know better. “I’m sorry, Reggie. I just- it’s been hard. I don’t talk to them any more, but I still love them, you know?”
I do know, and the certainty of that knowledge is startling to me.
“Nothing’s changed,” Betty continues, unmindful of my mood. “Nothing’s changed, and everything has. Sometimes I’m jealous of you, Reggie. Sometimes I think I should just leave this town.”
I don’t disagree with her.
I’m back at the station, looking at the files. There must be something, something, something I missed.
The sergeant from the day before sits across from me, watching me like he has nothing better to do. I am occupied, but he doesn’t care.
“I wonder what sicko took the body,” he starts to talk. I ignore him. He doesn’t stop. “You know she was there, right? Betty Cooper. Said she was on her way home from work. Creative story.”
He snorts, and the sound makes me want to crack his head with something heavy.
“If it’s not her, then it’s probably the wife. You two had a thing, didn’t you? Talk of the town. Well, there’s gonna be more now. Drove one guy outta town, drove the other to his death. It’s bad luck, and it’s all Veronica, I reckon. The Black Widow.”
I lunge across the desk, papers flying. He’s off-guard, tries to pull back, but I catch him by the collar of his shirt and twist. He chokes as I bring him eye level to me.
“Don’t you dare,” my voice is low, steady. “Don’t you dare.”
By the time two officers come to pull us apart, I’ve let go of him. His eyes are wide and he’s breathing heavily, but he doesn’t say a word as I leave.
This is both where I need to be and where I dread to be, but this case needs to be solved. More than that, I need closure. The living room is bare, the walls showing faint outlines where furniture used to be. The couch is comfortable, although it feels like I’m sitting on pins and needles.
Smithers brings me coffee. His hair is greying and he looks tired; I don’t know from what’s been happening, or if he’s just like this now. I pass over the cream and sugar, and the ground tastes just the way I remember it.
I hear her shoes clicking on the floor before she comes in. She stops so close behind me that I can smell her perfume, all smoke and woods and burnt caramel, like she is the very fire that scorches. I stand up and turn to face her before she has a chance to talk.
“Ms Lodge,” I nod. The look on her face makes me regret my formality, but I can’t think of a more appropriate way to have greeted her.
Her smile freezes on her face and her mouth slackens, until she is frowning at me. “Mrs Lodge-Andrews, Reggie. You can call me Mrs Andrews.”
The way she says my name... there is a bitter taste in my mouth, and I’m not sure it’s from the coffee.
“Mrs Andrews,” I correct myself. “I need to talk to you about your husband.”
“Of course.” She moves to pour herself a cup of coffee, and settles with it in her lap. Her face is smooth, but I can see her hand is trembling. “But there’s nothing I haven’t already told Moose.”
She has a look on her face, like she can’t quite believe where Moose has end up. I know the feeling. “I’d still like to hear it for myself.”
She leans back into the couch, on the farthest end from me, and fixes with me an expectant gaze. It takes me seconds to realise I am staring.
I shift in my seat, feeling self-conscious. Damn it.
“Are you moving?” I ask, trying to mask the silence. I don’t think it works, but her answer gives me time to collect myself.
“Yes, but I don’t know where.” She is matter-of-fact. “I can’t live here any more.”
You’ve always wanted to live in Paris, I almost say. Instead I ask, “because of Archie?”
“Because of everyone. Riverdale’s too small for us now.” She drinks from her cup, then puts it down and adds more sugar. “No one ever leaves.”
She looks at me then. No one, except me.
Wednesday is my last day in Riverdale. I’ve been here a week, and it has been like a history lesson in myself. After Veronica, I met with each of Archie’s friends, each of my friends, and sometimes I find myself forgetting why I am here in the first place. The case is still open, and I certainly have gotten no closure.
The sergeant is working again today. He is pretending nothing happened, but he still flinches when I hand him back the files, almost unchanged from when I first received it. I make no recommendations, but I think he will close the case. I overhear that he is planning to transfer out of Riverdale.
I really do not care for him.
When I pass the Lodge mansion on my way home, I see her step into a limousine. There is a realtor sign on the gate. I think I am glad for her.
Eventually I'm back at the diner, back to where I started. I am in the middle of my morning coffee – no sugar, dash of cream – when Saul calls me. He asks me about the case, and tells me to take a few days off.
I don’t argue. I put down the phone, but call him back almost immediately.
“Saul, I want to transfer to Riverdale.”
I spend my life trying to get away from Riverdale. Now I'm back. There’s irony in this. My apartment is smaller, just like everything in this town is. It takes some getting used to, but I will.
There’s no housewarming, but Pop still shows up with a gift and some ice cream. He updates me on familiar names, on Mr Weatherbee’s retirement, on Dilton's new theory, on Cheryl’s big break into the movies. I learn from him that not long before I moved in, Betty resigned, and skipped town two days later.
“That girl’s been through so much. They all have,” Pop sighs as I search for spoons in unopened boxes.
“They?” I ask, and something niggles at the back of my mind.
Pop nods emphatically. “Betty and Veronica. This whole business really did a number on them. Poor Archie.”
The case is still open, but it’s gone cold. When local press attention dies down, so does interest. For a small place, Riverdale has such a short memory. My transfer is a demotion, so I get to work the beat. It occupies me, and it doesn’t leave me time to think. I’m glad for that; too many thoughts can be dangerous.
Today Saul calls me. “You always call when I’m eating,” I accuse, putting down my egg sandwich.
“Sounds like Riverdale agrees with you,” Saul’s laughing, because he knows he’s right. “Listen, I have a tip, but I need to know if you’re still on the Andrews case.”
It takes me off guard. I pause for so long Saul thinks I’ve hung up on him. “Mantle?”
“I am,” I decide on the spot. “I’m still on it.”
“Well, there’s a trail.”
When Saul is done I can no longer sit still. I throw away the rest of my lunch, I take my keys, my badge, my gun. I tell Moose I’m taking my weekend early.
Moose is quizzical. “Reg?”
I shrug on my coat. “Just tying up some loose ends.”
It’s not Paris, but then, it was never going to be.
I’m disguised, but there’s no need. Betty and Veronica do not pay any attention, except to each other. No longer hiding, they share a bottle of champagne on the balcony of their hotel. Veronica beckons to someone in the room, and for a moment I wonder if they have ordered room service, when Archie emerges with his glass.
And suddenly, I realise this is the only thing that makes sense.
I am no longer comfortable intruding on their private moment, and I turn away just as Archie gathers both of them in his arms.
I catch the red eye back to Riverdale, and I seal the case as soon as I get to the station.
“You happy with this?” Moose asks as he files it away.
“Yes,” I answer, more than anyone will ever know.