Cherise took her time getting to the home of Max’s widow. She didn’t take side streets, or anything, she just went at the speed limit, rather than slightly above, and stopped a little earlier than she usually would at the sight of orange lights. She wasn’t a huge fan of paperwork, and bureaucracy drove her crazy, but of all the aspects of her job she filed under the “that’s why they call it work” file in her head, this one, having to speak to the families of the deceased, this was definitely at the top of the list of things she was not suited to doing.
It wasn’t that Cherise did not understand the theory of loss. She’d grown up with parents she’d miss deeply if anything were to happen to them prematurely, and a brother who was her closest friend in the world. She even had a couple of college and grad school friends who were staples of her life, even if she often could not let them in on what was going on with her.
But she had never been married, never even contemplated children. There had been a couple of women over the years, steady partners. The job was good at mutilating romantic relationships, though, especially with her level of ambition. She had turned down the opportunities she’d gotten to sleep her way through a few hoops, gone the more conventional route of having to be that much better than everyone, so what was often a 25 hour job in a 24 hour day for a man had regularly been a 36 hour job in a 24 hour day for her.
She had never regretted it, never thought she would trade what she’d gotten for what she’d given up, but it made presenting herself as compassionate and yet appropriately professional complicated, when she had no idea what she would need from an agent if she were in the widow or widowers’ place.
In time, she arrived at what had been Max’s house. It was a cookie cutter villa amongst a row of them, a neighborhood of them: nondescript and normal. Cherise had looked for something all too similar when she’d finally settled on a townhome, something millions of metaphorical miles away from the office. She bit back a sigh and got out of her car. As these things went, she was delivering good news today.
Max’s widow, Lana, smiled tiredly upon opening the door and said, “Come in, Agent Pearce. Mind if I change? I just got home from work.”
“Take your time,” Cherise said.
When Lana returned, the power suit she’d donned was missing. In its place, well-worn jeans and a t-shirt Cherise would have put money on having been Max’s. It had a male cut to it, and hung loosely on Lana. Lana asked, “Coffee? Water?”
The first time Cherise had come, to tell this woman her husband was dead, she had noticed Lana’s need for movement, to be doing something. Cherise said, “Coffee, please.”
Lana took the filters out of a cabinet and said, “So? I take it there’s progress.”
Cherise appreciated the other woman’s directness. She confirmed, “We caught your husband’s murderer.”
Lana’s back was still to her when she said, “I suppose I should say thank you.”
Cherise resisted the urge to pinch her nose. There was a headache brewing behind her eyes. “It does not bring him back.”
“No.” Lana shook her head, the muscles in her back tight. “No, it doesn’t.”
Cherise wished Westen were here, having to do the dirty work. His words came back to her. “We-- The agent who found Max, he said Max’s last thoughts were of you, his last words.”
Lana turned, the coffee steadily dripping behind her. She pursed her lips and didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, she said, “Thanks. For that.”
“I know it’s not—“ Cherise stopped. “I’m sorry.”
Lara was crying, silent and dignified. Cherise made herself not look away. Lara spoke softly, “Stay for the coffee. Tell me something about what he was like, at work. Anything you can say.”
There wasn’t much. Cherise would find something.