Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
I knew he wouldn’t be among the first to show. Public figures prefer to arrive after most others so they can stop and shake a few hands, pat a few backs, wink, point and grin their way in. Shana and I got there at ten-thirty, then began strolling around and taking pictures of each other, never in the same spot but never very far from the corner where cars were pulling up and letting people out before going off to park. Most were well dressed, white, late forties to early sixties. Clothing affluent but not showy. Everything from shoes to hats and handbags seemed sturdy, sensible, meant to last.
“Are you sure he’s coming here?” Shana asked.
“It’s more hope than certainty.”
“I don’t know how long I can keep this up. I feel like my legs are going to give out.”
I took her arm and leaned in close enough to give some support, not so close that she’d pull away.
“Whatever you think of me,” I said, “don’t quit now. Help me get my friend back.”
“Tell me about the church.”
“You know all about Boston’s buildings. Tell me something about it. Get your mind off David.”
“All right. It was built just over a hundred and fifty years ago,” Shana said. “The first public building in the Back Bay. The Tiffany windows inside are amazing, no matter what religion you are.”
“I—I can’t think of anything.”
“What will you do after you finish your master’s?”
“I don’t know. Apply to some of the ABCs, I guess.”
“Agencies, boards and commissions. There are a lot of places, public and private sector, where I can help make sure great buildings in Boston are maintained. And treasured.”
“You know, I’ve driven a ton since I got here,” I said. “To Brookline and back too many times. Somerville twice. Roxbury, the art institute, Wellington Hill. I can picture the roads and intersections and a few buildings. I normally get the hang of new cities quickly and when I first got here, I was paying attention, looking at the map and the GPS screen, working out where things are in relation to each other. But since Jenn’s been gone, I haven’t been seeing things the same way. It’s all a landscape to me now, scrolling by on a screen outside the car window. All I can think of is her, what shape she’s in.”
“You really love her, don’t you?”
“Are you an item?”
“No,” I said. “She’s gay and I’m Jewish.”
Shana actually cracked a smile at that. I felt some of the tension
go out of her body, which was perfect timing because seconds later McConnell’s Secret Service car pulled up to the curb.
We had to get close to him without spooking him, his wife or the two bruisers in suits, shades and earpieces who got out of the car first and opened one rear door each. I got out the camera. We had our story ready.
We weren’t the only ones who wanted to get close to Marc and Lesley. Other churchgoers greeted them with waves, smiles and handshakes. It took them a good two minutes to get from the curb to where we stood.
“Congressman,” I said.
He looked at me like a quarterback checking off his down-field reads: Did he know me? Should he? Had I given funds or other support?
“My wife is too shy to ask,” I said, “but could I take a picture of you with her? She worked on your first campaign when she was a student.”
“Did you?” he said, smiling broadly at Shana. He was a good-looking man, easily six-two, narrow-waisted but with broad shoulders. His face was likeable too, with a solid jaw line and that thick tamed hair the people loved. “Thanks for your support. Who did you work under?”
We had looked it up before leaving the hotel. “Arnie Sussman,” Shana said.
“It was a great campaign,” he said, “wasn’t it?”
“A turning point for me, sir.”
I said, “Let’s not waste his time, honey, get in there.”
Mrs. McConnell had moved off to talk to friends, shake a few hands and buss some cheeks, carefully so as not to leave traces of the heavy makeup she wore. My guess was her natural complexion would be the same waxy shade I’d seen on patients in Stayner’s waiting room.
When Shana stood next to McConnell, he stooped a little to minimize the difference in height. I took a shot, then
examined the swing-out viewer and frowned. “Sir, you might have been blinking—here, what do you think? Should we take one more?”
I thumbed the review screen one frame back and came to stand next to him with the camera. He raised himself back to his full height and took in the picture of David Fine’s bloodied head and neck. To his credit, or not, the studied, serious face never changed. He didn’t even blink. He leaned in closer to me and said, “What is this?”
“The right question is who, sir, and it is Dr. David Fine, who worked under Dr. Charles Stayner. He was going to assist in your wife’s surgery tomorrow night at Halladay’s.”
“Who the hell are you?” he whispered.
“David’s parents. They hired me to find him and I did. And ten minutes later someone killed him. Note the time code here, sir.”
“Oh my God, that’s this morning.”
“Yes. Sean Daggett had him killed. As with JFK, sir, you’ll note most of his head and neck are gone. The crime scene is probably just wrapping up. The investigation’s only now kicking into gear. So my question for you is, How do you want to be included?”
“Included?” He looked around and saw his wife, who was breaking off from her receiving line and beckoning him to join her. He gave her the one-minute sign.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Daggett has my partner and he’s going to kill her if I don’t find her first.”
“What time is the surgery supposed to happen?”
His wife called again and he turned to her. He pasted on a smile and said, “One sec, hon,” then turned back to me and
took out a leather case from his inside pocket. He slid out a card and a small pen and scrawled something on the back of the card and handed it to me. It had his home address in Louisburg Square. “Present that to the driver of my car, Mr. Steinauer, outside the house at twelve-thirty,” he said.
“While you’re in church, pray for my partner,” I said. “And that you can find a way to help get her back.”
ccording to media reports, the McConnell home—or more rightly the Austin-Smith home, since Lesley had paid for it—was worth around seven million. The room I was in must have accounted for a good chunk of it. It was a parlour, I suppose, on the ground floor with a generous bay window into which cushioned seats had been built to face the morning sun. The furniture was comfortable, despite being expensive, in muted burgundy colours with spindly wooden legs. The art was pastoral, also muted.
I was alone with the congressman. Once he’d gone into the church, Shana had hailed a cab and said a curt goodbye without a look back.
“I usually have a whiskey after church,” McConnell said. “Lesley needs to rest afterward, and all that public pressing and greeting is harder on me than you think.”
“Was that an offer to join you?”
“I’m sorry, yes it was. I have some single malts, some Irish.”
“Just enough to cover one ice cube, please.”
He made my drink, using tongs to take the ice out of a bucket. His own was a single malt neat. He threw one back in
one shot, then poured a second, which he sipped slowly as he arranged his long frame into a leather recliner the colour of a dark forest undisturbed.
“I have a deal to propose,” he said.
I knew he would. It was what he did for a living.
“My wife is scheduled to get a new kidney tomorrow night, as you know. If I help you, even if things don’t turn out your way, you let the operation go through. It’s a willing donor who needs the money.”
“David was murdered. The woman who found your donor through the genetic testing program has been murdered.”
“That can’t be true.”
“Check the news. Carol-Ann Meacham. Daggett was paying her to find superior donor matches for people on his list. But things have gone bad since David threatened to expose it and now Daggett is killing people who know too much.”
“He’s not killing Lesley. He’s saving her life.”
“At the cost of how many others? Work that into your deal.”
McConnell set his drink down and walked over to his desk. There was a framed photo there with its back to me. He picked it up and brought it over.
Two teenagers, both tall and gangly, their arms around each other, both wearing T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops, leaning against a split-rail fence. Marc and Lesley, summer camp sweethearts. Only Lesley had an oxygen tank trailing her on wheels, and tubes in her cute little nose.
“I’ve loved her since we were fifteen,” he said. “I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. It didn’t matter how sick she was. And she got even sicker while she waited for her lung transplant. She watched her sister die. She went down to eighty-six pounds herself, and they wouldn’t operate until she got back to ninety. She gorged herself on shakes and preparations to put on weight to keep her spot on the list. But she
made it through, Mr. Geller. She made it through. Got her transplant, followed by years of reasonably good health. She’d develop more infections than most people, outbreaks of thrush and things like that. No kids, but hey. It doesn’t happen for everyone. And then watching her get sick again … you can’t begin to understand how that felt.”
“Are you telling me you couldn’t grease the system, with everything you and your wife have?”
“Trust this to be the one institution that still works in America. The organ bank people couldn’t be persuaded. I don’t mean individual bribes, of course, but I offered to sponsor a major education campaign if they could just move her up the list. They refused every overture.”
“What about China?”
“Don’t think I didn’t look into it. As bad as that sounds for someone like me. I interviewed a physician who had toured their top transplant centre and he said the conditions were awful. Completely unsterile. Lesley never would have survived an ordeal like that. She needed top-quality care close to home.”
“Then you heard about Daggett.”
“From Rabbi Ed Lerner?”
McConnell’s eyes widened. “You continue to surprise me, Mr. Geller.”
“When did he call you?” I asked. “Two weeks ago?”
“On the Friday.”
“He told you Dr. Stayner had been performing illegal operations and you could approach him about Lesley. What did he want in return?”
“A clear zoning path for his Beacon Hill synagogue. He also wanted a contribution to the capital campaign.”
“Two hundred and fifty thousand.”
“What does Daggett get?”
“Half a million.”
“And the donor?”
McConnell stood up and made himself a third drink. “I never asked.”
“Nobody does, I bet. You should hope he survives the procedure. Not all of them do.”
“What does that mean?”
“One recent donor died on the table. An allergy problem they overlooked because they were rushed.”
“That won’t happen tomorrow. Lesley’s doctor has checked this donor out thoroughly and we’ve been assured he is in excellent health.”
“How great for him. The dead man’s name was Patel, thanks for asking.”
“I didn’t mean to sound uncaring. I’m very sorry for his family. Now will you take the deal?”
“You haven’t given me anything yet. What time are you supposed to arrive tomorrow night?”
“Nine o’clock sharp. They’ll prep the donor and Lesley at the same time. They told us they’ll probably start around ten-thirty and be done by one a.m.”
“Did they show you where it would be done?”
“Yes. We went out one night to view the facility, make sure it looked clean and professional.”
“Yes. And Dr. Stayner came with us, which helped. Gave it all the credibility we needed. He also assured us he’d handle Lesley’s aftercare. She’ll still have a long road ahead of her once she gets the kidney. More anti-rejection drugs, ironically. The very thing that put her in this position.”
“What entrance are you supposed to go in tomorrow?”
“We were told to go around the back to the receiving area.”
“What vehicle are they expecting?”
“The Town Car.”
“With the two guards?”
“No. Just me and Lesley.”
If Daggett was serious about taking Jenn’s organs, it would likely be when the surgical team was done with Lesley and her donor. Sometime around one in the morning. Not the best time for an assault but far from the worst—if Ryan could get us more men. I told McConnell to give me a number where he could be reached day or night. He added it to the back of the card that had gained me entry. I gave him my cell number, which he memorized.
“Do we have a deal?” he asked.
“I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get Jenn out of there. Unharmed. If allowing your wife’s procedure to take place helps, then I’ll allow it. If it hurts, all bets are off.”
“That’s not much of an assurance.”
“And I’m not reporting you to the FBI or sixteen House committees.”
Posturing aside, we ended up with if not a deal, then an understanding of sorts. I can’t say exactly what his understanding was but mine was clear: If the best time to get Jenn out was before his wife’s surgery, I’d disrupt it. And try to kill Daggett on the way out.
I left Louisburg Square and walked the short distance from Beacon Hill to Copps Hill in the North End where Dante Ryan had been conducting his morning-long surveillance in a café called Daberto.
“Unless something better presents itself between now and then,” I said, “we have two options for tomorrow night. Hit the place right before or right after they operate on Lesley McConnell. Any update from your friend?”
“He’s sending two guys out to meet us.”
“Their names are Frank and Victor.”
“What do you know about them?”
“They’re in one of his crews, was all he said. Soldiers.”