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Authors: Howard Shrier

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

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BOOK: Boston Cream
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“They assigned a detective named Gianelli. Mike Gianelli, I have his card somewhere. He seemed like a decent man. He said David’s picture would circulate to all the detectives and patrol cars. They’d interview Sheldon and people at work. With our permission, because we had co-signed his loans, they’d check his bank and credit card statements. And he’d report back to me as soon as he could.”

“Did he?”

“Yes. Three days later. And again a week after that. There had been no sightings of David anywhere in the Brookline area. No transactions at his bank or with his credit cards. No phone calls. And no …”


His voice got tighter. “No human remains unaccounted for.” He swallowed hard and I waited for him to get back under control. “I’m sure Gianelli is doing his best, but this Brookline department, what expertise do they have? What resources? He admitted most of their cases are Amber Alerts and people with dementia wandering off. He said David was a consenting adult with no mental or physical disability. He said there was no crime scene, no evidence of violence or that David was in immediate
danger or in the company of a known felon. Like he was reading from a list. Then he said maybe David was just blowing off steam somewhere. Taking a break from his responsibilities.”

“Is that possible?”

“Would you do that, Jonah? Would you take off without a word, let down your friends and the people you work with? Make your family sick with worry?”


“Then you have your answer about David.” He took a deep breath, his eyes mournful like an abandoned hound’s. “By a freak of geography, by two city blocks, David’s house is in Brookline. If he lived just two blocks north, we’d at least have the Boston police involved. The Brookline station—there are bigger houses on my street. They can’t make it a priority.” His voice sounded as if it were going to break again. “So you’ll go. And it will be your only priority until you come up with something, some trace.”


“Can you leave tomorrow?”


I was almost at the office when the headache came back and with it a feeling of nausea. Maybe it was the glare of the sun on my windshield, maybe the stress of taking on a new case. Maybe the charleyhorse on my brain just hadn’t healed. As I had done so many times in recent weeks, I turned around and went home and lay down to rest. A portrait of the detective as a useless appendage. Unable to sleep, I took out the photo of David Fine his father had given me and looked at it. A nice-looking young man with warm brown eyes, dark curly hair cut short, glasses of course. The good Jewish boy who made his parents proud.

Ron Fine didn’t need me to find his son, I thought. After two weeks, the odds were he needed a cadaver dog.


icah Fine was two years younger than David, Ron had told me. David was the scholar, the brilliant student, at the top of his class from first grade to Harvard Medical School. Micah was the sensitive one, musical, edgy, still struggling to find his way. Running a café on Yonge Street, no interest in the professions.

“He thinks David is my favourite,” Ron had said. “And when I think of what David can accomplish in this world, the lives he can save, my heart almost bursts with pride. But David was a very serious boy from a young age—always a little remote. In some ways I’ve always felt closer to Micah. He may not be on a path I admire but he’s a very open boy. Always was. A hugger, a kisser, a musician, a comic. Secular, like you. Did a brilliant bar mitzvah, sang like a cantor, had everyone in stitches with his dvar Torah. But if he’s been in a synagogue in the past ten years, it’s been for a bar mitzvah or wedding. Can’t even get him to come for the High Holidays.”

When he told me Micah ran a café on Yonge, he had neglected to specify what kind. There’s a block between Bloor and Wellesley known as Yongesterdam, whose main attractions don’t show up in any official city guides. It’s where you go to partake in the city’s cannabis culture. You can buy pipes, bongs,
papers, seeds and vaporizers, popular among those who want to feed their heads but spare their lungs. With the exception of one compassion club for medical users, it’s not necessarily a place to buy pot, but there are a couple of cafés where you can openly enjoy its vapours. You can’t smoke a joint or pipe—or even a cigarette—but the vapour lounges have somehow found a way to tiptoe along the legal wire.

Head Space was on the top floor of a three-storey building, above an upscale tattoo and piercing parlour and a museum dedicated to the history of hemp and its many uses, both commercial and recreational. It looked like a hundred other coffee shops or restaurants: a long bar on the left side where you came in, tables and chairs filling the rest of the space. Only instead of bottles behind the bar, there were a few dozen vaporizers for sale or rent. The prices ranged from two hundred dollars for a small machine to over a thousand for a bells-and-whistles type. There was also an impressive selection of bongs and pipes, from little chrome one-hitters to elaborate ceramic and glass affairs big enough to hold long-stem roses.

Loosely threaded trance music drifted through the air. Along most walls were framed concert posters of the Grateful Dead, Phish and the Dave Matthews Band.

Metallica need not apply.

A man with dark hair past his shoulders and a braided beard down to his sternum was leaning on the bar, testing a vaporizer the size of a cappuccino maker. It had a large clear bag fixed to a nozzle. He took a deep drag on a straw. The bag collapsed just a little. When he exhaled, there was no smoke, just a faintly visible cloud, as if Tinkerbell had just taken flight.

Half the tables were empty. At the others were groups of men and women, mostly in their twenties and thirties—if not somewhere back in the sixties—talking, nodding, staring, inhaling, exhaling. The strangest thing about it was the lack of
smoke. The air should have been blue with it, but the dust in the air was more prominent.

“Are you a member?” the girl behind the bar asked me. Her hair was short, dyed platinum blonde, and she had piercings in both eyebrows, one nostril, her lower lip and her tongue.


“Five dollars, please.”

“I’m just here to see Micah Fine,” I said. “I won’t be vaporizing.”

“It’s still five dollars. You have to be a member just to come in. Something to do with the law. Micah can explain it. After you pay.”

I gave her a five and she walked over to a table where four young men sat drinking coffee. The ones facing me had eyes that looked glassy and red. If your commanding officer told you not to fire until you saw the whites of their eyes, they’d be all over you. The girl spoke to one of them and pointed at me. He stood, gave the guy closest to him a pat on the shoulder and came to the bar with his coffee in hand.

Micah was about as different from my image of David as could be while still coming from the same parents. Tall and lanky with dark brown hair down to his shoulders. A few days’ worth of stubble. A leather band around one wrist, two cotton bracelets around the other. His T-shirt had a light pink screened image of the young Che Guevara against a blood red star. I guess all his tie-dyed shirts were in the wash.

“You need to speak to me?” he asked.

“I’m the investigator your parents hired to find David.”

A smile crossed his face. Amused, but just barely, at what his parents had done. “You want me to set you up?”

“I’ll just inhale what everyone’s breathing out.”

“You want a coffee?”

“Wouldn’t say no.”

He asked the blonde girl for an Americano for himself. I said I’d have one too. We took a table near the back. On the rear wall were posters from the last few Toronto International Film Festivals, along with a series denouncing recent G8 and G20 gatherings around the globe. Another showed a flotilla of boats in the open sea, with
above it in red block letters and below it the logo of
, a far-left group of gay Jewish activists against anything Israeli. Left or right, I don’t like the far fringes. And I found
stunningly hypocritical, given that Israel was the only country in the region where gays could live openly.

“I knew my parents were fucked up about David,” Micah said, “but hiring a private detective, that’s kind of far-fetched even for them.” His eyes weren’t heavy-lidded or red like those of the other patrons. He didn’t appear to be using the product, just providing the facilities.

“You and David close?”

He shrugged. “Growing up with him was pretty hard. Everything he did made Mom and Dad proud and everything I did drove them crazy.”

I thought of my own brother, Daniel—the rich, successful lawyer with the wife, the house, the kids, the thriving practice—and how I always felt his shadow over me, big enough, dark enough to blot out any sun. I thought about how Ron had skirted around what Micah did for a living; my own mother has been known to do that too. I ran into a friend of hers recently who thought I was in advertising because my mother had said I owned an agency, without ever saying what kind.

We were the second sons, Micah and I, and always would be.

“What about now?” I asked.

“He’s my brother, man, my only sibling. I love him. He’s a good guy and I respect what he does. We lead pretty different lifestyles, as you can see. The whole Jewish thing never really
worked for me. I just don’t get religion. But he takes that shit way serious. There isn’t much we agree on politically either.”

“I’m guessing he doesn’t have a Breakout poster on his wall.”

“I’m guessing you don’t either.”


“Big Israel supporter?”

“I lived there for a time.” I didn’t mention that I had served in the army there. That I had lost my first love and killed my first man. “When’s the last time you spoke to David?”

Micah gave it a few seconds’ thought. “A couple of weeks before he took off.”

“Took off. Is that your impression—that he left of his own accord?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure no one would kidnap him for ransom. My parents couldn’t pay a hundred bucks. All their money went to his education.”

You didn’t need a psych degree to parse that. “Nothing left for you?” I asked.

“Dude, I don’t need anything from anyone. I make a living running this place and I play gigs around town.”

“You’re a musician?”

“I suppose my dad didn’t mention that?”

“He said you were musical.”

“Ouch. Hope he didn’t knock himself out. Yeah, I’m a musician. Singer-songwriter guitar player sort of thing. I play at Graffiti’s a lot, Holy Joe’s, a few other places around Kensington Market. Right now I mostly open for other people but I’m headlining a show at the Tranzac next month. And I’m on the bill at Hugh’s Room in June.”

“Would David confide in you if he were in trouble?”

“But enough about me,” he said dryly. “First of all, my brother isn’t prone to trouble. I know he’s never toked in his life, and he doesn’t really drink. Everything is about the work. I’d ask
him if he ever goes to clubs in Boston, ever catches any of the music scene there, and he’d say no, he’s too busy. The work. As to whether he’d confide in me, all I can say is he never has.”

“What about depression? Did he ever seem down to you?”

“What do you mean—you think he killed himself? Are you nuts? No way my brother would do that.”

“How can you be so sure? You said yourself you’re not very close.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, his voice rising with his temper. “He would never do that. Killing himself would be like killing my parents too. You know what they have given up for him? You know why they still live in that shitty house when everyone else moved or renovated? Because Harvard cost forty-five thousand U.S. dollars a year and he went a lot of years to become this great surgeon. They’ve mortgaged themselves to the hilt. I probably have more saved up than they do. He would not leave them holding the bag, not when he’s so close to paying them back. That’s not the kind of guy he is. He doesn’t create problems, he solves them. He’s the guy who’s going to save the world. I’m the fuck-up in the family, I told you that. That’s why I’m worried about him too, because this is totally not him. I’m supposed to be the undependable one.”

A guy at the table Micah had vacated called over to ask if he was all right.

“Fine, bro, everything’s fine. Just family business.” Then he asked me if we were done. “Because you see that guy at the bar? I think I can sell him that CloudBurst 300, which is so overpriced, even an old deadhead should know better.”

“Sure,” I said. “Thanks for the coffee.”

I left him to work his customer at the bar. On my way out, one of the men at the table where Micah had been sitting got up and blocked my way. He was in his late twenties with thick dark hair and stubble that was all the same length, about a week’s worth.

“What was that about Breakout?” he asked. “You support the Zionist blockade?”

“That was a private conversation,” I said. “Excuse me.”

I moved to my right and he moved with me. He said, “Is anything private anymore?”

I moved left. He moved too, shifting his weight to his outside leg. Then he centred himself with his knees slightly bent. His arms were loose at his sides. Involuntarily, instinctively, I felt my breathing change. Felt it slow. A reservoir of tingling ions burst through my blood. I was so ready. I could picture what I’d do if he raised a hand to me. Or even if he didn’t. The guy was two inches shorter but stocky, about my weight. He wore a faded leather jacket that hid his build, so I couldn’t tell if his bulk was muscle or fat. Didn’t matter. All the stored-up energy in my body, all the frustrations of the past few months, were ready to explode out of me, fists first. I wanted to smack him for being mouthy, nosy, butting in on a private conversation, standing in my way.

Fortunately, the unbruised part of my brain kicked in. Fighting this guy might feel good for a moment, restore some confidence, but in service of what? He wasn’t part of my case. I moved back to my right and this time when he came with me, I leaned in close and stuck two hard fingers up under his sternum. A fast way to cut off his breath and ambition, make him docile. He gasped loudly and I said, “You’re a pothead in a pothead bar and you should act like one, instead of wanting to bust up your friend’s place. Now let me by and we’ll both have a better day.”

BOOK: Boston Cream
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