CHASING SHADOWS PREVIEW
Michael and Jackson Crane seemed like regular guys to most people who knew them. Except most people were unaware the twin brothers were fixers for Jocko Scarpelli, one of Boston’s most ruthless crime bosses. Jocko had sent them to fix Jack Murphy.
Gwen Crane, the twins’ mother, was the only person alive who called them by their given names. She had been a devoted fan of the late King of Pop, and named her boys after him. To everyone else, Michael and Jackson were Mikey and Jax.
“I thought Murphy was supposed to be here,” Jax said checking his watch.
“Relax. He will be,” Mikey replied.
Jax hoped it was soon. The endless thump of bass from techno music, and a permanent haze of pot smoke, was giving him a headache. Coming to the Snake Pit night club was a hazard of their profession. Jocko Scarpelli conducted a lot of business at the Snake Pit, so it was necessary for Mikey and Jax to come and deal with those who were late with payments.
Jack Murphy, however, was not one of them. In Scarpelli’s book, Murphy’s sin was worse. He had been stealing from Scarpelli for months. Mikey and Jax were at the Snake Pit to make an example of him.
At 8:35 PM Jack Murphy entered the club. He looked like a bean counter. The accountant from Brockton was average height with a basketball-sized gut, receding hairline, and wire-rimmed glasses.
Murphy looked around the crowded club for Mikey and Jax. It didn’t take him long to spot the twins who each stood six feet and five inches tall and were built like Sherman tanks. Mikey and Jax parted the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.
Jax took Murphy by his arm and led him a private room near the back. Inside the room were several seating areas. Jax shoved Murphy into a booth. The twins sat down on either side.
“Look at this,” Murphy nervously croaked, “a rose between two thorns.”
“You trying to be cute?” Jax asked.
“Never mind,” Murphy said. “I don’t understand why Mr. Scarpelli wanted to meet here. I usually go to his office.”
“Mr. Scarpelli won’t be coming this evening,” Mikey replied.
Jack Murphy looked from one twin to the other. He knew he was in trouble, but there was no use in trying to get away.
“Whatever the issue is, I’m sure I can fix it,” Murphy said.
“We understand you have something belonging to Mr. Scarpelli in a safe deposit box,” Mikey said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Sure you do,” Jax said. “Don’t play dumb. It will go easier on you if you just give us the key.”
“I don’t have it. But I can get it for you.”
“So if we search you,” Mikey said, “we are not going to find the key?”
Murphy swallowed hard.
“Take him out back,” Mikey said to Jax.
“No. Wait,” Murphy pleaded. With a trembling hand he reached into his pocket and retrieved the key to a safe deposit box. He held it up. “Here it is.”
Mikey took the key from Murphy. “See, that wasn’t so hard.”
Murphy closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Now take him out back,” Mikey said to Jax.
Murphy’s eyes sprang open. “No!” he shouted. “I gave you the key. Just let me go. I’ll disappear.”
“You’re going to disappear, alright,” Mikey said.
Jax pulled Murphy out of the booth. The twins dragged Jack Murphy into the alley behind the Snake Pit. Mikey held Murphy while Jax unleased a violent round of blows.
Murphy looked like Rocky Balboa after fifteen rounds with Apollo Creed. Jax dropped Murphy like a stone, his arms bending in positions they shouldn’t. Mikey got down on his haunches directly in front of Murphy. He lifted Murphy’s head and said, “This is what happens when you steal from Mr. Scarpelli.”
Jack Murphy groaned.
“It is unfortunate you lied to us,” Mikey continued. “We could have avoided this unfortunate incident if you had only told us the truth.”
Murphy looked at the twins through his bruised and swollen eyes. He knew this was it. This was how he was going to die.
Mikey turned to his brother. “Finish him.”
“No loose ends,” Jax said to Mikey.
“Never leave loose ends,” Mikey replied.
Jax stepped forward, bent over, and picked Murphy up by his collar. He shoved Murphy into Mikey’s arms.
Jax had once been a good boxer. Both of the brothers had been. Jax, though, had a heightened killer instinct. But it had been hard to make a career in the ring, so Jax unleashed all his rage and strength in back-rooms and alleyways.
The beatings were criminal. And lethal. Just as it had been for their latest victim. Jack Murphy was silent and motionless when Jax finished with him.
Mikey and Jax placed Jack Murphy’s body in a dumpster, and Mikey closed the lid. The brothers exited the alley and made their way up the dark street toward their car.
The aroma of Arabica beans rose with the steam from my cup of Dunkin’ coffee. I was looking out my office onto Brattle Street in Cambridge as a warm morning breeze drifted in through the open window. The calendar said it was the end of September, but it felt like August.
A woman dressed in a stylish business suit paused near the entrance to my building. She glanced at the sign out front. I could see her scanning the list of occupants:
Henrick’s and Pew, Attorneys at Law
Brattle Street Publishing
George Saunders, CPA
Drew Patrick, Private Investigations
I figured she must have an appointment with one of the other tenants, as she seemed too classy to be a potential client for me.
The woman stepped toward the building’s front door and disappeared from my sight as she entered the building. In the time it took for most people to reach the second floor and walk down the hallway there was a knock at my door. Dash, my rescue dog, lifted his head from his morning nap and looked in the direction of the knock.
I crossed my office and opened the door. Dash’s ears perked up, and he tilted his head. Maybe whoever was at the door brought food. They rarely did, but he never lost hope.
The woman with the stylish business suit stood in front of me. Perhaps I’m moving up in the world of private detecting.
“Mr. Patrick,” she said. “My name is Bonnie Ross.”
Being an ace investigator, I deduced her tone of voice and body language suggested she was troubled. She held out her right hand. I took it and we shook.
“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Ross. How may I help you?”
“Please, call me Bonnie. I’m worried about my daughter, and I’m hoping you can help.”
“Come in,” I said. I stepped aside to allow Bonnie Ross to enter my office.
Her eyes darted around the room. My décor was an eclectic mix of art, sports memorabilia, and my diplomas from Northeastern University and the FBI Academy. A corner of my desk contained a collection of Red Sox bobbleheads. Bonnie Ross didn’t seem to pay them any mind.
Dash hopped down from his spot on the couch and walked over with his tail wagging. He momentarily seemed to ease Bonnie’s troubles. Dogs can be great that way. Especially Dash.
“What kind of dog is he?” Bonnie asked.
“Beagle-mix,” I said.
“He’s very handsome.” She petted Dash on top of his head and scratched his big floppy ears. Bonnie had made a friend for life. “What’s his name?”
“Dash. But be careful about complimenting his looks, he already takes full advantage of his cuteness.”
The corners of Bonnie’s mouth attempted to form a smile. She would have a warm, easy-going, smile if not for the concern gripping her face. But I was familiar with people trying to offer pleasantries while consumed with what troubled them. People didn’t usually hire a private investigator unless they were troubled about something.
“Have a seat,” I said as I motioned to one of the client chairs in front of my desk. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No. Thank you. Although it smells heavenly.”
The smell of coffee a reminder of normalcy.
“America runs on Dunkin’,” I said as I held up my coffee cup.
Bonnie sat in a client chair and rested her hands on her lap. Dash realized he was done getting attention and got back on the couch. He curled up, let out a sigh, and put his head down between his front paws. He whimpered.
“Ignore him,” I said to Bonnie. “He has separation anxiety.”
“But you’re right here,” Bonnie said.
“A work in progress.”
I sat behind my desk. “Now, what can you tell me about the concern you have with your daughter?…” I left space at the end of my question.
“Tina,” she said.
“What is your concern with Tina?”
“She is eighteen and was a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. She just dropped out of school and moved in with some boy.” She emphasized the phrase ‘some boy.’
“The boy have a name?” I said.
“That is part of the problem. I don’t know anything about him.” Bonnie paused a moment. “You must think I’m a terrible mother.” Another short pause. “Perhaps I am.”
“You’re here,” I said. “That tells me you care.”
“How can a mother not be aware of anything about the boy her daughter is dating?”
Her question seemed rhetorical so I didn’t respond.
Bonnie continued, “she had always been a good student and had a nice group of friends. Never any trouble.”
“And when did that change? I said. My instincts as a sleuth told me it was when Tina started dating our unknown boy.
“This past spring,” Bonnie replied. “Tina stopped spending time with her old friends. Her grades began to slip, she was staying out later, and she would not tell me where she was going.”
Bonnie took a beat. I realized she wasn’t finished, so I waited for her to offer more information.
“I had no idea what I should do,” she continued. “I mean, she’s eighteen. I technically couldn’t tell her what to do any longer.”
“And, boy, she was quick to point that out whenever I pressed her about her grades, where she was going, and who she was seeing.”
“But you suspect it was our, as of now, unknown boy?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Tina admitted she was seeing the young man, but she has refused to tell me his name or where he lives. Not even if he is in school or works. Nothing.”
“Do you think it is because Tina thinks you wouldn’t approve of who she is dating?” I said.
“I may not know who this boy is, but I feel certain he is bad news.” Bonnie took in a deep breath and let out an exasperated breath. Then she continued, “Tina nearly flunked out the end of last school year. Three weeks into this school year, she announced she was quitting school.”
“And moving in with the boyfriend?” I added.
Bonnie sheepishly nodded her head and wiped a tear from her eye. She took another deep breath and exhaled.
“I understand legally she’s an adult, but she is still my little girl,” Bonnie said.
I nodded, not sure what to say.
Bonnie stood and paced the floor. Dash raised his head. Hope springs eternal for a pat on the head or scratch behind the ear. When Bonnie didn’t pay him any attention, Dash dropped his head back down and looked at me disappointed with his big brown eyes.
“Mr. Patrick,” Bonnie said.
“Drew,” I said.
Bonnie nodded and continued. “The Tina I have witnessed the last few months is not the daughter I know.” She shook her head. “I can’t say exactly why, call it a mother’s intuition, but I knew when she started dating this guy that it was trouble. I had a sense he was a bad egg from the start.”
“Well,” I said, “as you mentioned, Tina is legally an adult –”
“But she is ruining her life,” Bonnie interjected.
I allowed for some silence in the room. Bonnie was a concerned mother. What decent mother wouldn’t be concerned?
“I’m sorry,” Bonnie said. She sat back down in one of the client chairs in front of my desk.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks. I handed her a box of tissues. She wiped her tears.
Bonnie Ross seemed like a good mom dealing with a rebellious teen. Hopefully nothing too serious with Tina’s rebellion. Raising kids can be hard.
“And before you ask,” she said, “there is no Mr. Ross in the picture. He took off when Tina was two. I haven’t heard from him since.”
I felt for Bonnie. I wanted to help. I just wasn’t sure if there was much I could do, other than find out who Tina is dating and where they are living. Perhaps I could try to convince Tina she was making a big mistake. I was good at gathering information, but convincing Tina she was making bad life choices was out of my area of expertise.
I was honest with Bonnie about this.
“I need you to try,” she said, a hint of desperation in her voice.
“Private Investigator is printed on my business cards,” I said. “Let me at least find out who the mystery boyfriend is and where he and Tina are living.”
Bonnie smiled through her tears. I was right. She had a warm and easy-going smile.
“That would be wonderful. At least I will have some information about that part of Tina’s life she is keeping from me.”
“Knowledge is power,” I said.
“I want Tina to come back home, go back to school, and realize all of her potential,” Bonnie said. “But most of all, I want her to be safe and happy. I don’t believe she is either safe or truly happy in her current situation.”
“Mother’s intuition?” I said.
“Yes,” Bonnie said.
I was pretty certain mother’s intuition was even more powerful than detective’s intuition, so I had to trust Bonnie was right about Tina. She was a concerned single mother. I had no experience as a parent, but I had dealt with many cases where a kid gets in trouble and things spiral out of control.
I thought about Ernest Hemingway writing in the Sun Also Rises where Mike went bankrupt “Gradually and then Suddenly.” It could be like that for lots of things. Gradually kids start going down the wrong path, and then suddenly they are in a world of trouble.
Rain pounded the windshield and the wipers worked overtime as Mercado drove the Hummer H2 along U.S. Route 201 in Maine. The Hummer was spacious, which made riding in it more comfortable for his long legs, broad shoulders, and meaty thighs. The SUV had power and size, just like it’s driver. Mercado would have to consider getting one of his own.
The seventeen inch Goodyear all season tires gripped the road well for such wet conditions. Mercado had the road to himself on the rainy night. But he wouldn’t for long. He was quickly closing in on his target.
Mercado had already laid out his plan for when he spotted the young woman’s car. For the time being he thought about the beaches, swimming holes, camping, and boating so popular in Kennebec and Moose River Valley. Mercado once kayaked in the area.
When he was a boy his parents took him leaf peeping along the Old Canada Road, as Route 201 is also known. He was innocent then. Mercado had not been innocent for a long time.
As he traveled south he followed the old river trading routes along the Kennebec River. Mercado once killed a man who lived near the river’s source of Moosehead Lake. He then thought of another body he had dumped where the river empties in the Gulf of Maine. His current hit wouldn’t even require him to get out of the Hummer.
Mercado considered the young woman as she drove not far up ahead. The picture he had been given was of an attractive young woman in her twenties. She had soft features and vibrant eyes. Soon those eyes would be empty.
He wondered, do the eyes of the dead look empty because the soul has departed? Mercado didn’t like to think about the soul. If he had one, he didn’t think anything good would come of it when he was dead.
Mercado had done many bad things in his life. He was about to do another in completing the job he had been hired to do.
Mercado could not have asked for more ideal conditions for his assignment. He played out the news report in his head: Boston woman loses control of car on stormy night and plunges to her death. It would be ruled as nothing more than a tragic accident. It was what his client wanted.
Tail lights blurred by rain appeared ahead. Mercado pressed on the accelerator to get closer. The car was a small sporty model. A BMW Roadster. The car model was a match. So too were the letters and numbers on the Massachusetts license plate he had committed to memory.
Mercado pressed the gas pedal to the floorboard and felt the power of three hundred and ninety-three horses as the Hummer’s V8 engine roared. The front grill of the massive SUV quickly closed in on the bright tail lights of the young woman’s car. Mercado felt the bump as all 6,614 pounds of his ride slammed into the rear of the Roadster.
The BMW swerved before its driver regained control. Mercado sped forward once again. The Hummer slammed harder into the back of the car and it fishtailed on the slippery road. Mercado pressed the Hummer forward and made contact with the Roadster as it spun out of control.
With that final push the car slid off the road and hurdled over the edge. Mercado continued driving as he heard the crash and explosion. He glanced into the rear-view mirror as a fireball lit the night sky. Drops of rain captured the orange glow.
The Hummer’s wipers swept away the hard rain as Mercado continued along U.S. Route 201 toward I-295. He once again had the road to himself. Mercado thought about the job that awaited him in Boston.
“Are you a serious detective Mr. Patrick?” Cynthia Holland asked as she considered my office. She paid no attention to my Beagle-mix, Dash, as he slept in his corner of the couch. Surprisingly, Dash showed no interest greeting her when she entered the office. He had looked at her and then went back to sleep. His reaction told me a lot.
Cynthia Holland’s eyes rested on the Red Sox bobble-heads on my desk.
“Give-away nights at Fenway Park,” I said. I tapped the bill of the hat on the Mookie Betts doll and its head bobbled. “Arriving early can have its perks.”
“Yes,” she said, “I suppose it can.” She tried to force a smile. Or maybe it was gas. Hard to tell.
Cynthia Holland looked like she needed reassuring, and I needed a case, so I answered her as seriously as I could muster, “I’m a former special agent with the FBI.” I tilted my head toward my diploma from the FBI Academy, which hung next to my Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University. Perhaps those pieces of parchment would offset the bobble-heads.
Cynthia Holland shifted her dark eyes toward my office wall as she looked at the framed diplomas. Her eyes scanned like an x-ray machine. I wondered if she thought they might be fakes. She then looked at me without blinking.
“I know full well you were with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and now you own this detective agency,” she said.
“I even have my name on the door,” I said. “And business cards printed on heavy stock.”
She frowned, and I wondered if I blew being serious. I waited a moment and then she sat down in one of the client chairs opposite my desk. My keen powers of observation told me she was staying. A regular Sherlock Holmes.
“Can I get you anything to drink? Water, coffee, or tea?” I said.
“No, thank you,” she replied.
I sat behind my desk and gave her my best GQ smile. She did not smile back. Maybe it had been gas earlier.
While lacking in warmth, she was not an unattractive woman. I guessed she was in her early 50s. Cynthia Holland was thin, of average height, and had a perfect complexion and expensively styled shoulder-length brown hair. She was exquisitely dressed in a knee-length skirt and matching blouse from a designer boutique.
She placed a Gucci purse on her lap and rested her hands on top. She probably needed to rest her left hand throughout the day given the size of the diamond ring on her finger. Cynthia Holland looked me directly in the eyes and let out a deep sigh.
“My husband should be here any moment,” she said. “We’ll wait until he arrives to begin.”
“Sure thing,” I said. I flashed another of my winning smiles. No reaction.
My mother always told me I had a nice smile. Maybe it wasn’t true. I made a mental note to ask her later.
Being a private investigator I’m accustomed to long stretches of silence. But those usually occur when I’m alone on a stake out, not sitting in my office with a potential client. We were past the normal lull in conversation and well into an awkward silence.
It didn’t seem to bother Cynthia Holland. She sat expressionless. Maybe she was meditating. Or maybe it was relief from the possible earlier gas having passed.
I doubted another smile would help. I thought about whistling a nice tune, but I wasn’t confident we had the same taste in music. Given her reaction to the bobble-heads, I didn’t think talking about the Red Sox winning the world series was a topic we had in common.
“Hello,” a man’s voice said from just outside my open office door.
I looked up and Cynthia Holland turned around. Dash hopped down from his spot on the couch, stretched, and trotted over wagging his tail. Cynthia pressed herself deeper into the chair as Dash walked past her.
The man was two or three inches shorter than me at around five eleven or six feet. He was lanky with a perfectly tailored blue pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit, crisply pressed white shirt, with French cuffs, and a light blue domino patterned designer tie. He had neatly trimmed short brown hair, parted on the side.
I spotted a gold Rolex watch on his wrist as he reached down and scratched behind one of Dash’s floppy ears. My investigative prowess told me this guy was the source of Cynthia Holland’s diamond ring.
“You’re late, Jeffrey,” she said.
Bingo! Drew Patrick, detective extraordinaire.
“Sorry,” he said, “I wasn’t sure where on Brattle Street the office was located.”
Cynthia Holland rolled her eyes. If Jeffrey noticed, he gave no indication.
I stood and offered my hand. “Drew Patrick.”
“Jeffrey Holland,” he said taking my hand and shaking it. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” I said. “Please, have a seat,” I said as I indicated the empty client chair next to the one occupied by his wife.
Jeffrey Holland leaned over and offered her an awkward peck on the cheek. Then he sat in the chair. Dash resumed his position on the couch and went back to sleep.
“How about the Sox?” Jeffrey said as he eyed the bobble-heads.
“Alex Cora had a masterful first season as Manager,” I said. “Perfect complement to a team of talented players.”
Jeffrey Holland nodded in agreement. Cynthia Holland rolled her eyes again.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” I said.
Jeffrey shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“Now we can begin,” Cynthia Holland announced.
I placed a notepad in front of me and grabbed a pen, ready to take notes like a seasoned journalist. Or at least a half-decent private investigator.
“Mr. Patrick, we would like to hire you to find our daughter,” said Cynthia Holland.
There was nothing in her tone which suggested the seriousness of a missing daughter. None of her behavior since entering my office would suggest I would hear anything like what she had just said.
Jeffrey Holland leaned forward in his chair. “This has happened before,” he said. “Ashley will go off for a few days and not tell us. She won’t respond to texts or phone calls and then show up again.”
“Last month she jetted off to Paris for a long weekend,” said Cynthia Holland. “Was incommunicado for three days. Came back with shopping bags from Hermes.”
“She bought me this tie,” said Jeffrey Holland as he lifted up the end of his tie. He looked at a moment, lost in thought.
“If your daughter is prone to flights of fancy,” I said, “why the concern now?”
“She has been gone five days,” said Jeffrey Holland. I detected concern in his voice. “Ashley has never been gone more than four days before with no form of contact.”
I nodded my head.
“Have you gone to the police?” I said.
“No,” Cynthia Holland said. “We don’t want this in the media. Imagine the embarrassment when she turns up after a trip to Europe or the Caribbean.”
“I can take your case, but the goal is to find your daughter. The police can help.”
“We’ll take that into consideration,” Jeffrey Holland said.
“Do you know where she may have gone?” I said.
“Not a clue,” Cynthia Holland said.
“Actually,” Jeffrey said, “she mentioned something about a lake house up north.”
Cynthia Holland whipped her head in her husband’s direction. “Why on earth would Ashley tell you and not me?”
Jeffrey Holland shrugged. He probably knew, or had a strong opinion on the matter, but I didn’t blame him for wanting to avoid a confrontation with his wife.
“Do you know where up north?” I said. “New Hampshire? Vermont? Maine? Canada, even?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Jeffrey Holland said. “Ashley didn’t say where.”
“What about her friends? Have you spoken to them?”
“The ones we could reach knew nothing more than we do,” Jeffrey Holland said.
I asked more questions to establish the best profile on Ashley I could. I also had the Hollands text me Ashley’s picture and give me her detailed description, information on the car she drove, and contacts for known friends and associates.
We went over my daily rate, plus estimated expenses, and Jeffrey Holland wrote me a check to cover my first day. I’m sure he spent more on monogrammed hankies.
The Hollands didn’t strike me as the most loving parents, but they came to me to find their daughter. And even less than stellar parents can know when something is not right with their kids. The fact the Hollands hired a private investigator meant we were in that territory.
I would do my best to find Ashley. I’ve done this enough times to have confidence in finding her. I only hoped she would be okay when I did.
Brody waited for his target like a hunter in a blind. Despite his six foot frame, he was a master at blending in. He could have been any tourist crowding America’s capital city. As Brody stood on the busy sidewalk he wiped perspiration from his brow. It was a futile effort in the swampy air that was Washington, DC in July.
The temperature had reached ninety degrees Fahrenheit and humidity draped the city like a hot, moist blanket. When he had exited the air-conditioned hotel it was like stepping into a sauna. His shirt was drenched in sweat before he reached the Metro station less than a block away. How do people live like this? he thought to himself.
But Brody didn’t dwell on the thought for long. He wasn’t philosophical about how people lived. His job was to think about how people would die. More to the point, how he would kill them. He preferred a single tap to the back of the head. For this job there would be no weapon, other than his hands. They were the size of catcher’s mitts and could be quite lethal wrapped around a person’s neck. It’s what the client wanted. And his client was paying a handsome sum of money.
Brody took a final drag on a cigarette and flicked it onto the ground. He was a pack a day smoker. Camels. The unfiltered strength of the tobacco was more satisfying. He knew smoking was destroying his lungs, but guys in his profession tended not to have long lifespans. Brody figured he would die in a shootout with police, the mob, or gangbangers long before lung cancer got him.
He looked at his watch. The target should be along soon. Brody glanced at the image on his phone. Phillip Swanson was a tall, pencil-necked guy. He worked as a paralegal at the Washington law offices of Barlow, Hughes, and Waterford. Why he had a contract out on him was a mystery to Brody. Not that it mattered. He was paid to kill people. So that is what he did. The why didn’t matter. Only the who, when, and how were pertinent to Brody.
Shit it is hot, he thought. Wasn’t the nation’s capital built on filled-in swamp land? Brody was certain that didn’t help. A double-whammy of it’s latitude and sitting atop old swamp land. Brody again wiped sweat from his brow.
People exited the office building where Barlow, Hughes, and Waterford leased space on the tenth floor. Brody scanned the faces of the men in the crowd. He spotted Swanson coming through the revolving door, cell phone stuck to his ear. Swanson waited at the light with others. He crossed with the herd at the walk signal. People splintered off in different directions once across.
Swanson turned right and headed toward Dupont Circle, the cell phone still glued to his ear. The poor sap wouldn’t even hear Brody come up behind him. Brody started down the street about twenty yards behind Swanson. Patience was required in his line of work. Brody needed to wait until the right moment to strike.
Dupont Circle was teeming with people in every direction. Brody would wait until they reached Swanson’s apartment building. It was just before Embassy Row. Brody had mapped it out earlier. He knew exactly how many steps it would take to close the distance. He knew how many seconds it would take to grab Swanson, choke the life out of him, and walk away.
The crowds thinned as they neared Swanson’s block. When he turned toward his apartment building, it was just Swanson and Brody on the quiet little side street. Brody took quick and large strides. Five seconds to close the distance. Swanson held his phone in his left hand as he reached into his pocket with his right. His hand emerged with apartment keys. Swanson opened the door and stepped inside.
The hit man was on the Swanson’s heels and in the apartment’s small entry before the target realized he was not alone. As Swanson turned to close the door, Brody saw the flash of fear in the young man’s eyes. The hit man’s long arms extended and he grabbed at Swanson’s throat. His hands were vice grips around Swanson’s thin neck.
The young man kicked and twisted trying to escape the hit man’s grip. He didn’t resist long. Brody let Swanson’s lifeless body slump onto the floor. He glanced around the tiny studio apartment. For effect, he tipped a couple of lamps over and rifled through some drawers. Then he lifted the wallet from Swanson’s pocket and removed the cash. He dropped the wallet on the floor and left.
Brody pocketed the cash and walked back through Dupont Circle. He got on the Metro and rode in the cool subway car to Metro Center. There he met the representative for his client. He was fat with a bulbous nose which had been broken several times.
“Is it done?” the fat man said.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t,” Brody said.
The man handed Brody an envelope. “Here’s the other half,” he said.
Brody put the envelope in his pocket.
“Aren’t you going to count it?”
“You wouldn’t be stupid enough to short me,” Brody said.
The fat man nodded. Then he said, “You are to go to Boston and await further instructions.”
Brody liked Boston. Maybe he would have time to take in the Freedom Trail.
The air conditioning in my office hummed as Boston was in the middle of a heatwave which stretched from D.C. to Maine. I was on the couch reading Dan Shaughnessy’s column in The Boston Globe. My beagle-mix Dash was curled up on the opposite end of the couch with his head resting on my lower legs. His snoring had a rhythmic quality which nearly lulled me to sleep. Ah, the self-employed life of being an ace private detective.
I resisted a nap to finish the article. Dan’s take was that the defending World Series Champion Red Sox wouldn’t even make the playoffs this season. Regrettably, I agreed. The New York Yankees had a double-digit lead in the American League East and the Sox were in third place for a Wild Card spot. Mildly depressed that there seemed little point to baseball so soon after the All-Star break, started me thinking about the opening of Patriots training camp. I glanced at an article on Tom Brady’s contract extension, which discussed how it wasn’t really a contract extension. It was too much to take in for the day.
I folded the Globe and placed it on my lap. I tipped back my head and allowed Dash’s snoring to take over. The room soon grew dark as my eyelids drifted shut.
“Hello. Mr. Patrick.”
A female voice echoed in the distance. There were no visions of my love Jessica Casey, so I realized I wasn’t dreaming. I opened my eyes and sat up.
An elegantly dressed woman in her late fifties or early sixties stood at my office door. She was no Jessica Casey, but none could compare.
“Drew Patrick,” I said.
The woman considered my hand a moment. Then she took it and we shook. Her hand felt like a wet noodle.
“Elizabeth Barlow,” she said like it should impress me. Perhaps I should have been and didn’t know any better.
“How might I help you, Mrs. Barlow?” I said, optimistic she was bringing a big case my way.
“I am seeking the services of a private detective. Despite your not appearing particularly busy, you came highly recommended.”
I never knew what to do with an insult followed by a compliment.
“The bad guys don’t like the heat,” I said.
Mrs. Barlow frowned. Perhaps she was reconsidering the value of those recommendations.
“You seem like a charming man, in your own way.”
“I only know one way to be charming.”
I gave Elizabeth Barlow a full wattage smile. She neither swooned nor fanned herself. She sat down in one of the chairs I had in front of my desk for clients. I walked around my desk and sat down in what the office furniture website called the Deluxe Executive Chair. I was ready to impress Elizabeth Barlow as the CEO, President, and all-star detective of Drew Patrick, Private Investigations.
“You certainly have stellar credentials,” Elizabeth Barlow said as she stared at me from across my desk. “I just need to know that I can trust you with a very delicate matter.”
“I give you my word,” I replied sincerely.
“Very well, then. I want you to bring me evidence that my husband is having an affair.”
“What can you tell me about your husband?”
“Besides the fact that he is cheating on me?”
“Are you positive that he is cheating on you, or is that something I need to establish?”
Elizabeth Barlow sighed, then said, “Mr. Patrick are you married?”
“Well, let me just say that if you ever do get married, I would hope that you will be a much better husband than my husband has been to me.”
After pausing a moment, she continued, “Yes, I am positive that he is cheating on me. Since the day we married there have been a string of mistresses. I suspect he was unfaithful to me even before our wedding.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. Do you have any idea who the other woman is?”
“No,” she replied.
“Can you provide me some basic information about your husband? His name, where he works, places he goes, the kind of car he drives?”
She answered, “My husband’s name is Nevin Barlow.” Then she looked down at her well-manicured hands. I waited. Elizabeth Barlow let out a sigh.
“Mr. Patrick, I am a very private person. Understand that it is extremely difficult just coming to you. I will share what I must, but I prefer to keep as much of my life, and his, as private as possible.” She then looked back up and there was determination and anger in her eyes.
“I have worked long and hard to get the life that I have,” she said. “I will not allow that man to humiliate me. Discretion in this investigation is very important.”
“I understand, Mrs. Barlow, but it would be helpful to have more than just your husband’s name.”
I waited for her to decide what she was going to share. I learned a long time ago that you need a lot of patience when you are a detective. It can take time to gather information. Normally it isn’t this hard to get information from my own clients; assuming she actually hired me.
After a few moments she said, “He is a partner at Barlow, Hughes, and Waterford. We are members at the Oak Country Club. Nevin plays a round of golf there nearly every morning. He is driven in a black Mercedes.”
“I wrote down the information on a legal pad in front of me.”
Elizabeth Barlow must have been impressed. She asked me my daily rate. I told her. She didn’t protest. Frankly, it was probably pocket money to her. “Plus expenses,” I added.
“Certainly,” she replied without hesitation as she reached into her French boutique purse. She withdrew a checkbook, wrote a check, and handed it to me. “This will cover your first day. You may invoice me for expenses and any additional days required.”
She gathered her purse and stood. I stood and walked around my desk.
“Now, I have answered all that you requested of me. You should have sufficient information to begin your investigation,” she stated rather emphatically.
“Yes, I suppose that is enough for me to get started.”
“Very well, then.”
She removed a piece of note paper and handed it to me.
“Here is my address and phone number,” she said. “I expect you to report back to me as soon as possible.”
“Yes. Thank you. I will be in touch as soon as I know something,” I said, taking the note paper. I could feel that it was a fine parchment. Elizabeth Barlow had the finest of everything. Except, it seemed, in a husband.
“I trust that you will get to work on my case right away.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said. “I have moved you to the front of the line.”
END OF THE LINE PREVIEW
Crime scene tape surrounded the area in the train yard where Dennis Pierce’s body had been found. State Police detectives Captain Robert Burke and Lieutenant Isabella Sanchez arrived an hour after receiving the call. Burke pulled his state-issued Ford Fusion between a black and white Eastborough Police cruiser and a two-tone blue State Police SUV.
The two detectives got out of the car and ducked under the yellow tape. Eastborough Police Chief Jeb Miller approached with another Eastborough police officer. According to his nameplate, the officer’s last name was Davidson.
Chief Miller was a stocky man, of average height, in his late sixties. Officer Davidson looked to be in his early to mid-thirties with an athletic build, and about an inch on Burke’s six feet. Miller appeared relieved to see the State Police detectives. Davidson seemed irritated at their arrival.
“Detectives Burke and Sanchez? I’m Jeb Miller, Eastborough Chief of Police. This is Officer Bobby Davidson.”
Skipping any pleasantries, Burke asked, “What have we got?”
“The vic’s driver’s license says his name is Dennis Pierce,” Chief Miller replied. “He lived in Boston. We also found a stack of business cards inside his suit jacket pocket. He was a partner in some political consulting firm. Pierce and Wilcher on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.”
Miller was trying to be helpful, but Burke figured this was his first murder. Probably his first major crime of any type. Eastborough was a small town fifty miles northeast of Boston near the New Hampshire border.
“Poor guy took a single gunshot to the back of the head,” Miller stated as they approached Dennis Pierce’s body. The victim was lying face down in the snow. While the Medical Examiner would rule on the official cause of death, the blood splatter and wound in the back of his head left little doubt how Pierce died.
Burke looked down at the body. “What was a political consultant from Boston doing in Eastborough?” he asked to no one in particular.
“We don’t know,” Officer Davidson offered. “But he was murdered here. This should be our crime scene. We should handle the investigation.”
“Pipe down, Bobby,” Chief Miller said. “Our department is not equipped to handle this type of investigation. It belongs to the State Police.”
Officer Davidson shook his head in disgust and walked away.
“Don’t mind him,” Chief Miller said. “Bobby is a good cop, but a bit headstrong.”
“We get it,” Sanchez said. “It’s tough to turn over an investigation for a crime committed in your town. Was Officer Davidson the first to arrive at the scene?”
“No. I was closest when the call came in, so I got here first.”
“Who called it in?” Burke asked.
“Worker here at the train yard. He showed up for work about five this morning and discovered the body.”
“We’ll need to speak with the worker,” Sanchez stated.
“We’ve got him with one of your State Troopers. Poor guy was in a bit of shock from finding a dead body on the train tracks as he did.”
“Any sign of the gun used to kill Mr. Pierce?” Burke asked Miller.
“We haven’t found anything yet,” Miller responded. “But there are only three of us on the entire Eastborough police force. Officer Davidson, Officer Stewart, and myself. Not to mention it is a big train yard.”
Burke nodded. He didn’t expect to find the murder weapon anywhere near the actual crime scene, if at all, but he was thorough. The State Police Crime Scene Services were already at work searching the area and processing evidence, including footprints left in the snow.
“Do you have any idea why Mr. Pierce was in Eastborough?” Sanchez asked Miller.
“Not a clue. We don’t get many visitors in town.”
“Can you think of anyone in town who might have a connection to the victim?” Burke asked.
“No,” Miller said. “But we can ask around town. The problem might be sorting out fact from fiction. News of this will travel fast, so there is likely to be at least a dozen different stories as to what happened by the end of breakfast at the diner.”
“We’ll know what we have to work with when CSS finishes processing the scene,” Burke commented. “If you hear anything, let us know.”
“Eastborough isn’t exactly a hotbed of criminal activity,” Chief Miller responded. “We mostly write parking tickets and deal with bored teens drinking out by the old quarry.” He looked down at Dennis Pierce’s body. “Never in a million years could I imagine being at a murder scene.” He drew in a breath and sighed. “Poor fellow,” he said shaking his head. Then Miller looked up and back over to Burke and Sanchez. “I sure hope you catch whoever did this.”
Detective Captain Robert Burke of the Massachusetts State Police entered my office just before noon on a Wednesday. Dash, my beagle-mix, jumped down from his spot on the couch and greeted him with a wagging tail and an expectant look in his big brown eyes. Burke promptly handed him a dog treat from the bowl on the credenza next to the office door. Dash looked for a second treat. When one did not materialize, he went back to his nap on the couch.
“Here to take me to lunch?” I said to Burke.
He removed his overcoat and hung it on my coat rack. I took that as a ‘no’ for lunch. Burke blew into his chapped and reddened hands to warm them as Old Man Winter was bearing down on the Bay State. I had never seen Burke wear a hat or gloves. I think it had something to do with being a tough Irish guy from South Boston.
The digital thermometer on my desk displayed a bitter twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside. In the top left corner of the digital display was an image of clouds and snowflakes. The view out my window confirmed it was both cloudy and snowing. Nice to know the technology worked.
Burke walked over to my coffee maker, grabbed a Red Sox mug off the mug tree, and poured himself a cup of coffee. “What’s the flavor today?”
“Organic French Roast,” I said. “From Peet’s Coffee on Mount Auburn Street.”
I liked a variety of coffees and spread my business around to keep a healthy dose of competition between purveyors of fine coffee. Burke added what seemed a pound of sugar and stirred. He then selected a glazed donut from the Dunkin’ box next to the coffee maker.
“It’s a wonder you don’t have Diabetes,” I commented.
“Good genes,” he said with a shrug. “I had two jelly donuts for breakfast.”
“You wouldn’t be much of a cop if you didn’t like donuts.”
Burke gave me the finger as he sat in one of the client chairs in front of my desk. He stretched out his long legs, which contributed significantly to his six-foot frame. And despite Burke’s penchant for sugary sweets, he was only slightly overweight. Overall, he was in good shape compared to most men in their late fifties.
He wore a charcoal wool suit, white dress shirt, and a deep green tie. He kept his tie in place with a Boston Celtics tie clip. A small smudge near the bottom of the tie looked like Burke had wiped away jelly donut filling from breakfast.
I was in my interpretation of business casual wearing one of my favorite pair of Levi’s jeans and a Cotton Fisherman Sweater from LL Bean. The sweater had been a Christmas gift from my love, Jessica Casey. She said the sweater complimented my dark hair and steel-blue eyes.
“So, what brings you over from Leverett Circle?” I asked Burke in reference to the location of his office at the State Police barracks in Boston.
“I’d like to hire you for a case.”
“Hire? As in paying me money for my investigative services?”
“I’m shaking loose some cash from our consultants’ fund.”
“Interesting you have never used said fund to pay for my help in the past.”
“What can I say? I’m desperate.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
Burke dunked the donut in his coffee, took a bite, then said, “I need you to look into the murder of a guy named Dennis Pierce.”
“Political consultant they found in the train yard up in Eastborough?”
Burke nodded as he drank more coffee to wash down the donut.
Eastborough was a small, unremarkable town tucked in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. It was only fifty miles from Boston, but it might as well have been on the moon. And a strange place for a high-powered Boston political consultant to turn up dead.
“I thought that was all wrapped up. The news said Boris Grigorev is the alleged killer.”
Boris Grigorev was a Russian mobster suspected of trafficking drugs, guns, and human sex workers. A bad guy to be sure. Shooting a person in the head was not out of the question for Grigorev.
“Every news outlet, State Police Colonel, ME, Governor–you name it,” Burke said. “Pretty much everybody likes Grigorev for this.”
“Okay. So what do you need me for?”
“I’m not convinced Grigorev is our guy.”
“But you’re feeling the heat to close the case?”
“From the Governor on down. Pierce had a long list of prominent clients. Including the Governor. Not to mention a half-dozen U.S. Senators, state legislators, and judges.”
“And they want to follow up the very public perp walk with a swift conviction,” I added.
“I’m not saying there isn’t convincing evidence,” Burke stated. “Heck, if I were looking at this case from the outside, I’d be ready to convict Grigorev along with the rest of the commonwealth.”
“Walk me through it,” I said. I got up to fill my mug with some of Peet’s Organic French Roast. While at the coffee pot I grabbed a chocolate donut so Burke didn’t have to snack alone. I returned to my desk and sat down.
Burke finished his donut, so I would need to catch up. I began doing so as he settled in to give me the details of his investigation up to that point.
“Pierce was grabbed sometime after ten on Monday night and driven to a train yard in Eastborough. He got a tap to the back of the head and his body was left at the spot. A worker discovered the body around five the next morning. Eastborough Police Chief turned it over to us right away.”
I nodded as Burke told me. It wasn’t unusual for small-town cops to turn major investigations over to the State Police. Small towns neither had the manpower nor the experience to handle crimes like a murder investigation.
“Sounds like a mob execution,” I said. “Or made to appear like one.”
Burke got up from the chair. Dash lifted his head to see if Burke was headed toward the dog treat bowl. When Burke walked to the coffee maker, Dash sighed and dropped his head back down. Burke filled his mug, dumped a mound of sugar into the coffee, mixed it in, and returned to his seat.
“Here’s the interesting part,” Burke commented. “Slug matches an MP-443 Grach Yarygin pistol.”
“A Russian made handgun?”
“It’s a standard sidearm of Russian military forces,” Burke noted. “We also know it is the favorite weapon of Boris Grigorev.”
“Last time I checked, Grigorev’s territory included an area near Eastborough, Massachusetts.”
Of course, the last time I checked into Russian mob activity was ten years prior when I was still a special agent with the FBI. Things can change when you are not paying attention.
“It is more of disputed territory these days,” Burke said. “The Ukrainian mob has been gaining a foothold in that part of the state. But, yeah, Grigorev is still active up that way. He even lives the next town over from Eastborough.”
“Okay,” I said, “so the same make of gun we know Grigorev carries was used to kill Pierce. The murder also occurred in Grigorev’s backyard, so to speak. Certainly suspicious. But circumstantial.”
“It was enough to get a friendly judge, particularly tough on organized crime, to issue a warrant. It also didn’t hurt that so many politicians were eager to find Pierce’s killer. At any rate, we found Grigorev’s gun in a trash can in his backyard.”
“Convenient,” I said.
Burke nodded and continued. “When we checked ballistics, there is no doubt the gun was the murder weapon.”
I whistled. Then I said, “I can see why the case is running hard against Grigorev.”
“There’s more,” Burke said. “Grigorev has no alibi for Monday night. He told us he was drinking hard with some buddies earlier that evening and was home alone sleeping it off.”
I whistled again.
“Grigorev would have means and opportunity,” I said. “What about motive?”
“No clear motive,” Burke replied. “The higher-ups figure it is mob-related.”
“And that is good enough given the politics of this,” I stated.
“I have little doubt the DA will make this case. It’s not hard to convince a jury that a mobster is guilty of an execution when you literally have the smoking gun.”
“It’s almost too perfect of a case,” Burke said. “Grigorev is much smarter than to use his own gun and then throw it in the trash can behind his house.”
“Sure,” I said. “He has eluded federal, state, and local authorities for years. But, just playing devil’s advocate here, maybe he slipped up this time. That is often how bad guys get caught.”
“Certainly possible,” Burke said. “But I don’t think so. Everything about this has been too easy for us. It doesn’t smell right to me.”
“So you want me to poke around and see if there is more to the story?”
Burke nodded and said, “I need you to look into this because I can’t make any move which doesn’t end with Grigorev on trial for Dennis Pierce’s murder.”
“Unless I can prove he didn’t do it.”
“And maybe he pulled the trigger,” Burke said. “If that is the case, so be it. We both know Grigorev is a reprehensible human being. I have no doubt he is guilty of many crimes. Including murder.”
“But not this murder?” I said.
“I don’t think so. Not that I would lose much sleep over Grigorev going away for it. I suppose it would be justice for crimes we can’t nail him on. But that would also mean someone else would get away with this murder.”
I knew Burke well enough to know he would lose sleep over that. He didn’t like having an unsolved case. And not solving the case meant someone got away with murder. That would haunt Burke for the rest of his life. I understood where he was coming from.
“It’s always the cases we can’t solve that stay with us most,” I said.
Burke nodded and sipped at his coffee. Then he said, “I am reassured in knowing the feds are close to bringing down the hammer on Grigorev in another case. He’ll be fitted for an orange jumpsuit soon enough.”
“I’m sure the politicians will find a way to claim victory for that,” I said.
Burke shrugged his broad shoulders. He tried to stay away from the politics of cases. His concern was locking up bad guys and finding some measure of justice in the world. I could relate to that as well.
“So you’ll take the case?”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
– END OF PREVIEW –