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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?”
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