Read A Fine Line Online

Authors: William G. Tapply

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

A Fine Line




Also by William G. Tapply


Past Tense
Scar Tissue
Muscle Memory
Cutter’s Run
Close to the Bone
The Seventh Enemy
The Snake Eater
Tight Lines
The Spotted Cats
Client Privilege
Dead Winter
A Void in Hearts
The Vulgar Boatman
Dead Meat
The Marine Corpse
Follow the Sharks
The Dutch Blue Error
Death at Charity’s Point


Pocket Water
Upland Days
Bass Bug Fishing
A Fly-Fishing Life
The Elements of Mystery Fiction
Sportsman’s Legacy
Home Water
Opening Day and Other Neuroses
Those Hours Spent Outdoors


Thicker Than Water
(with Linda Barlow)
First Light
(with Philip R. Craig)




William G. Tapply

St. Martin’s Minotaur
New York






Copyright © 2002 by William G. Tapply. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Tapply, William G.

A fine line: a Brady Coyne novel / William G. Tapply.—1st ed.

   p. cm.

ISBN 0-312-30352-1   ISBN 978-0-312-30352-5

1. Coyne, Brady (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Missing persons—Fiction. 3. Boston (Mass.)—Fiction. 4. Ecoterrorism—Fiction. 5. Teenage boys—Fiction. 6. Naturalists—Fiction. I. Title

    PS3570.A568 F56    2002


10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2

For Mum


Writing a novel is a solitary—even lonely—occupation. But whipping the thing into shape cannot be done alone. I am lucky to have so many supporters and consultants and critics who want my books to succeed and know how to help:

My wife, Vicki Stiefel, who manages to give me tough editorial criticism and loving support all at the same time;

My father, H. G. “Tap” Tapply, who nurtured my love of words by reading Winnie the Pooh stories to me when I was too young to read them for myself, whose interest and pride in my work sustained me while he was alive, and whose editorial voice (“short is good,” “mind your verbs”) will forever echo in my head;

My mother, Muriel Tapply, who promotes me wherever she goes and urges her friends to buy my books rather than borrow them from the library;

My kids—Mike, Melissa, and Sarah—who think it’s pretty cool that their old man writes novels and who keep me going when the going gets difficult;

My agent, Jed Mattes, who has steered and nurtured my writing career for lo these many years;

My lawyer, Ken Quat, who makes sure I don’t mess up the legal stuff;

And my editor, Keith Kahla, who is simply the best.




The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.


About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.


What was the best thing before sliced bread?



pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds—a male and a female—were darting and hovering and dipping their beaks into the pink hollyhocks that grew against the brick wall. Up there inside Walt Duffy’s patio garden on Mt. Vernon Street at the crown of Beacon Hill, the June sun had sunk behind the walls and the late-afternoon city noises were far away and muffled, and I could actually hear the soft buzz of the hummingbirds’ wings.

Walt was sitting on his chaise with his useless legs sprawled in front of him, watching the birds through the long telephoto lens of his Nikon. He snapped a couple of pictures, then put the camera on the patio table and picked up his gin-and-tonic. “Beautiful, aren’t they?” he said.

I nodded. “They are beautiful.”

“Old habit,” he said, “taking their pictures. I like to frame them, bring them close, catch that iridescence when the sun hits their breasts.” He took a sip, held it in his mouth for a moment, then swallowed. Then he laughed. “Pretending I’m
still the great globe-trotting bird photographer. Hummingbirds in my garden. Jesus.”

It had been a little more than a year since the drizzly May morning when Walt Duffy climbed a granite outcropping near the Quabbin Reservoir to photograph a nesting pair of bald eagles. He’d somehow slipped and crashed onto the rocks thirty feet below. It took him half a day to crawl out of the woods to the cell phone he’d left in his car, dragging his lifeless legs behind him.

And that, abruptly and irreversibly, ended Walt Duffy’s career as the country’s—maybe the world’s—best-known photographer of wild birds.

I’d handled his divorce nine years before his fall. I’d helped him organize his various business ventures. I’d vetted his publishing contracts, counseled him on tax law, and helped arrange syndication in forty-two city newspapers nationwide for his weekly “The Urban Birder” columns, which combined natural history, practical advice for city-dwelling bird lovers, and environmental polemic.

After his accident I helped him negotiate the medical insurance maze and did all the other things a jack-of-all-trades lawyer does for a client—including drop in for gin-and-tonics with him most Tuesdays on my way home from the office.

He, in turn, paid me a pretty nice retainer.

Walt Duffy, who had photographed birds on every continent on the globe and in every state in the Union, who had climbed mountains and traversed deserts and floated jungle rivers, was now stuck in his Mt. Vernon Street townhouse, and as far as I knew, aside from weekly visits from me and biweekly sessions with his physical therapist, his only companions were his son, Ethan, a freshman at Emerson College
who’d come to live with Walt when he got out of the hospital, and Henry, his fat Brittany spaniel.

Well, he did have his birds. When Walt bought the townhouse after his divorce, the first thing he did was build what he called his “bird garden” in the little twenty-by-thirty-foot walled-in patio area that backed up to the alley. “If you build it, they will come,” he liked to say. He cleaned out the junk, dug the whole place up, trucked in yards of topsoil, laid the bricks, planted the bird-attracting flowers and vines and berry bushes, installed the water fountain and bird-bath pool, and hung the feeders. When he wasn’t on the road, he liked to sit quietly among his birds, photographing them and admiring them and writing about them on his laptop computer.

When it came to birds, Walt Duffy was a democrat. He liked the English sparrows and blue jays that came to his Beacon Hill backyard as much as the rare and exotic species he’d tracked down in Belize and Madagascar and Hudson Bay before his accident.

Now a robin was splashing in the pool and a downy woodpecker was jackhammering the suet. Three goldfinches pecked thistle seed from the feeder. The hummingbirds continued to buzz among the hollyhocks, and squadrons of chickadees and titmice were swiping sunflower seeds.

Walt drained his gin-and-tonic, put his glass on the table, then lay back on his chaise and closed his eyes. He was, I happened to know, forty-eight years old, just a few years older than me. He had once been a tall sinewy man with a ruddy sun-creased face, a quick smile, and boundless energy and enthusiasm. But in the year or so since his accident, his hair had grown thin and gray, his belly had thickened, and the skin on his face and neck had begun to sag.

Suddenly, the door in the back wall to the alley pushed
open. All the birds whirred away, and Henry, the pudgy spaniel, came bounding into the patio. He headed straight for Walt and leaped onto his chest.

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