Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
“Carol-Ann Meacham? From—how?”
“I think Daggett murdered her. Or paid someone else to do it.”
“There’s more. Yesterday, Daggett took my partner hostage and threatened to kill her if I didn’t find you.”
“I see,” he said. His eyes shared the colour of the sea behind him. He stooped and picked up the blanket, shook it free of sand and wrapped it around him. Like he would have done with his tallis had he not been forced to leave it behind. “And now you have.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not planning to swap you. But he gave me a deadline of Monday. Why?”
David looked out across the dunes. “It was his next scheduled procedure.”
“On Mrs. McConnell.”
“You’re very well informed.”
“And Daggett wanted you to assist again?”
“Yes. Dr. Reimer’s wrist hadn’t healed yet and Daggett told Stayner not to bring another party in. The fewer people who knew about his enterprise, he said, the better.”
“Why did he send those goons after you? What happened?”
He looked down at the sand and swept a pattern back and forth with the toe of his shoe. “Mr. Patel’s death was so unnecessary. Malignant hyperthermia. A standard exam would have discovered his allergy. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The others had been doing this a while—maybe they were more
inured to the possibility something could go wrong. At first I thought I could keep quiet. Dr. Stayner begged me to because Daggett had threatened his son. Then he called me in and told me I had to do it again, and I refused. And I guess I made some comments about going to the police.”
“How long between your talk with Stayner and the night they tried to grab you?”
“He sold you out.”
“I know. But don’t think badly of him,” David said.
Shana said, “What? How can you say that?”
“Because I can imagine doing the same in his position.”
I said, “David, if you can come back down among us mortals a minute, I need you to help me find Jenn.”
“If you want mortal, I can tell you how afraid I am personally of Sean Daggett. Even if he needs me to perform that surgery Monday, he’ll kill me after.”
“I won’t let him.”
“You think you can protect me from him?”
“I can do a better job than you can. And I have help.”
“What do you need from me?”
“Tell me what you know about Halladay’s Funeral Home.”
“You think he’s holding your friend there?”
“He threatened to harvest her organs if I didn’t come through.”
“Then that’s where he’d have her. Or have to bring her by Monday evening. Okay. Let’s go back in the house and I’ll fill you in.”
As I was turning to go back across the sand, a flash of movement caught my eye: I whirled back to see David lunge at Shana and shove her roughly to the ground. Then he turned
toward me and the top of his head came off in a bloody burst. The crack of a shot came a split second later. As he staggered clumsily back his throat blew open and the second shot and Shana’s scream together split the roar of the ocean’s rage. He fell back on the sand and didn’t stir.
I dove on top of Shana and pinned her beneath me as she screamed again. A bullet whined past us and I pressed harder against her, trying to shield every part of her. I reached out and grabbed David’s belt and pulled his body closer to us and turned him onto one side. He was dead, nothing more could hurt him. Another round smacked the meat of his body and Shana cried, “No!” I reached across my waist to the stiff new holster on my hip, unsnapped it and drew the Beretta. Thumbed off the safety.
The gunman had been firing single rounds at us so far. As soon as the next one came, passing over us, hitting nothing, I jumped up and ran forward screaming, firing at where the shots had come from. I kept my finger on the trigger and the rounds kept blasting out. As I ran, my eyes scanned everything in front of me and I finally saw him standing with a long gun with a scope on it, caught deciding whether to run or shoulder the weapon for another shot at me. He saw me spot him and ran for it, the gun at port arms. I fired a few more rounds but I wasn’t a good enough shot to hit a moving target while running. I stopped and dropped to the ground and fired three more as he disappeared around the side of the house. I lay there, panting, waiting, in case he was planning a sneaky buttonhook move. No one came. A minute later I heard an engine rev, and a car bolted down the road beyond the Coopers’ gate.
He was gone. Him and David both.
Shana was still face down when I got back, sobbing into her arms. I knelt beside her and put my hand on her shoulders, felt the knot of tension at the base of her neck. When she sat up, tears mixed with sand in dark muddy lines down her cheeks. “You used him as a shield, you bastard. You used him to protect us.”
“He was already dead.”
“How could you be sure?”
“There was nothing left after the first shot, never mind the second.”
“That is so fucking cold.”
“It’s what had to be done.”
“I still don’t—I can’t …”
“You don’t like it? Fine. At least you’re still here to not like it and I’m still here to deal with that.”
“Did that man follow us here?”
“He must have. I kept a pretty close watch this morning as we left town, and didn’t spot anyone. But they could have used multiple cars phoning back and forth, falling away and replacing each other.”
“I feel sick.”
“Do what you have to do and let’s get out of here.”
“Aren’t you going to call the police?”
“But we have to.”
“If we do, I’ll spend the next twelve hours at some police station, trying to explain this to a county sheriff or state trooper. Now that David is—gone, I have to think of another way to get Jenn. I need to stay out and moving.”
“We can’t just leave him here.”
“We have to.”
Her eyes filled with tears and the muddy streaks grew darker. “It’s his body, Jonah. It has to be prepared the proper way.”
“We’ll call from the road, okay? First pay phone we see.”
“I have my cell.”
“They can trace that. We’ll call from the road and the authorities will find him and contact his parents. He will have a proper burial, the Orthodox way. They’ll wash him and wrap him and they’ll sit over him until his father gets here. Now you
have to stand up and walk with me to the car. Drive back to Boston and help me with one more thing.”
“What help have I been so far? Other than leading that man right to David?”
“I need to get close to Marc McConnell.”
“The congressman? Why?”
“To show him a picture.”
I didn’t say. She’d only hate me more. I walked her back through the house and into the car and then hurried back to the dunes with my camera.
hatever hope I had felt on the drive up was gone, replaced by crashing waves of shock and anxiety as powerful as those that had hammered the ocean shore. David Fine was dead. My one lifeline to Jenn had been cut. Shana looked like she was going into shock, huddled in her seat as we sped back across the causeway that connected the island to the mainland.
His father had hired me to find David. To bring him back safely if I could. Instead, it seemed, I had led a killer right to him. And the head that had housed his beautiful mind, his stirring ambition, had been blown apart in front of me.
I called Ryan as soon as we were back on the turnpike going south. He was in the same café we’d been in the day before, watching the entrance to Williams Wharf. On his fourth coffee and about to take his third piss, he was saying, when I cut him off and told him about David’s murder.
“Christ, are you okay?”
“I’m hanging in. Barely. He was my best hope for finding Jenn.”
“We’ll find her, Geller. You and me.”
“Did you hear from your guy about reinforcements?”
“He’s working on it.”
“This isn’t a guy I can push around. He has status. And he has to be careful he doesn’t piss off all the Irish and start a war over this.”
“Tell him no war. Just one guy.”
“Let me see what he says when he calls back. And first chance you get, check under your car. Maybe it was more than a tail that found you.”
I hung up. Shana was turned away from me, her head against her window with her hands beneath her cheek. I don’t know if she was trying to fall asleep or just didn’t want me to see her grieving. Or didn’t want to see me at all.
The first gas station we came to had a full-size market attached. I parked at the far end of its lot and checked the bottom of the car. Within arm’s length past the left rear wheel was a transponder the size of a cassette, held to the chassis by a firm magnet. Ryan had told me if I found one, to note the make and model before ditching it. I did. Then I used a pay phone on the wall outside to call 911 and report possible gunfire on Plum Island. I refused to give my name, just said I was a resident who didn’t want trouble with his neighbours. “Might just have been backfire, or out-of-season hunting, but I thought you should check out around the Cooper house. Damned if it didn’t sound like it was coming from the beach.”
I hung up, keeping my back to the security cameras over the door, and went back to the car. The silence between Shana and me hung there like a makeshift curtain. I pulled up to the pumps and topped up our gas, scanning the pavement around the pumps for large oil stains. “Hey, buddy,” I said to a guy filling a minivan with New Hampshire plates. He had on neat slacks and a blazer, looked like he was going to church or a family dinner. “Looks like you might be leaking oil.”
He looked at the dark stain under his car and said, “Darn it.” He hiked his slacks above the ankles and started to get
down on one knee to check and I said, “You know what? Let me. My jeans are already wrecked.”
He looked at the wet marks on my knees from when I’d searched my own car.
“You sure?” he said. “Thanks.”
“You want to grab me one of those paper towels?” I asked.
He turned to the pump, where a roll of paper towels hung in a dispenser above a bucket of grimy windshield-washer fluid. As soon as his back was to me I slipped the transponder in roughly the same spot on his chassis as it had been on mine. When he came back with the towel, I stood up, brushed myself off and used the towel to wipe my hands.
“Don’t see anything,” I said. “Probably from some guy before you.”
Back on the highway, I wondered how long it would take for David’s death to become official. Once his identity was confirmed, the news would quickly make its way to Gianelli. Same with Betts and Simenko in Boston. It being Sunday, they’d be off duty, but as soon as they heard of his murder, they’d contact whatever local enforcement, state or county, was in charge of the investigation. And they’d start looking for me. I had no desire to spend time in Brookline right now. The worst part for me was that Gianelli would have to be the one to break the news to David’s parents. I felt I ought to do it, but I couldn’t without admitting I’d been there. Someday I’d tell them, but not now. Not while I needed to stay free looking for Jenn.
We got back to the Sam Adams around nine-thirty. Shana went into the bathroom to wash her face. I scanned the TV news channels for first reports on David’s shooting. But there was nothing about the roar of guns disturbing quiet Plum Island.
Someone was going to pay for killing David. And for using me to find him. Maybe I couldn’t have stopped it. But I also could have been more careful. Daggett had fooled me but
good. I had been so sure he still wanted David alive, at least until Monday, to assist in another surgery. I hadn’t expected anything to happen today. The Beretta was all that had saved us.
Was my head still clouded from the concussion? Had I been too distracted to consider all the possibilities?
I called Gianelli from the hotel phone, knowing it would go to his voice mail on a Sunday morning. After the beep, I said, “Hi, it’s Geller calling, just wanted to update you on a couple of things and I got my days mixed up, thought it was Monday. I’ll call back tomorrow.”
There. It was on the record that I was in Boston at this early hour, all in a cooperative tone. Because time of death is imprecise, it would make a decent alibi if I needed one.
Shana came out of the bathroom, her eyes glassy with tears. They had been so clear Friday night, the whites as bright as moonlit snow. Now red trails of blood shot through them. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she said.
“You have to.”
“I don’t want to be around you anymore.”
“It won’t take long. It’s just a man and woman have a better chance of getting close to a public figure than a lone male. Once we’re done, I’ll take you home.”
“I’ll take a cab.”
“I wish I had other clothes,” she said. “Even though there’s no blood I can see, I know there must be some. I smell it on myself.”
“You’re going to be okay.”
She glared at me. “I know you’re used to this, Jonah, but I’m not. I’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.”
“I never said I was used to it. Seeing other men die didn’t prepare me any better for what happened this morning.”
“But you stayed so calm.”
“It doesn’t mean I didn’t want to throw my guts up.”
“We thought you would protect David, my father and I,” she said. “The tough ex-soldier. The martial artist. The killer. All you did was lead them to him and use his body as a shield to save your life.”
“Yes,” she said. “And mine.”
Marc McConnell and his wife worshipped every Sunday at the Arlington Street Church, at the corner of Boylston, a five-minute drive east of the hotel. It was built from what looked like sandstone and the architect had held nothing back. Above the tall columned portico in front, a tower rose in layers like an Italian cake to a bell tower, atop which was a tall pointed spire. Services began at eleven and ran about an hour, according to the church website. As with the aborted museum trip the day before, I wanted to get McConnell on the way in, not the way out. Give him less time to think, put on more pressure to talk.