Authors: Howard Shrier
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective
I let go and went around him, taking one last breath for the road; he stood stock still, hands over his abdomen, face pale as chalk.
If you’re going to get older, you might as well get wiser too.
olin MacAdam was already at the office when I arrived the next morning, behind a desk that had been raised a few inches to accommodate his wheelchair. I met Colin a year ago while working an undercover job at a Canadian tobacco plant. They were sending millions of cigarettes to the U.S., knowing they’d be smuggled back into Canada through a Native reserve, all in an effort to undermine a government tax increase that was cutting into their lung-blackening, cancer-causing profits. For my trouble, I got shot in the arm. MacAdam, then an Ontario Provincial Police officer, was also shot saving my life and ended up paralyzed from the waist down. Just after New Year’s he told me he was moving to Toronto, where programs, services and life in general were more accessible than in rural Trenton, and I hired him to help run our agency, World Repairs. With all my absences from the office, we needed someone to hold the fort. I also needed to help Colin in any way I could. Guilt attaches to Jews like barnacles and it had been my mistake that led to him being shot. But it was proving to be a good hire. He had been taking computer courses throughout his recovery and learned quickly how to search and maintain our databases. He had terrific contacts at the OPP and, through them, with officers in other forces,
which helped us track down witnesses and defendants in our cases.
“I’ve prepared your package,” Colin said. Seeing his upper body only, his wasted legs hidden by the desk, you’d think he was a gymnast or hockey player. His arms were big and well defined; his neck muscles formed a neat pyramid under his shirt.
“You have thirty laser copies of David Fine’s most recent picture,” he said.
“Ron Fine postered the area when he was down there,” I said. “No leads came from it.”
“You’ll have better luck. You also have a sheet with contact info for Detective Gianelli in Brookline, for Dr. Charles Stayner, David’s boss at the hospital, and his roommate, Sheldon Paull.”
“Email Sheldon and see if he can meet me at the apartment at lunchtime,” I said.
“Got it. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“A few days at least. Maybe a week. Where am I staying again?”
“Jenn recommended the Sam Adams House on Commonwealth Avenue. All its contact info is in an email I forwarded to you.”
“Great. Where is Jenn, anyway? I wanted to say goodbye.”
“She should be in by now. She’s being deposed on the stuntman this morning, nine-thirty to noon at the mediation centre, but she said she’d stop by here first.”
The stuntman was a beauty of a case we had just finished. Stefan Skrt, credited as Steve Skerritt, had been one of the best in the industry, but when he’d gotten too old to get insured anymore, he put his long-honed skills to work against the insurers. He found he could earn a handsome living getting hit by cars, which he did several times. Then he went for the prize,
the big daddy, a Toronto Transit Commission bus that sent him on one of the most terrific pratfalls ever witnessed by a vehicle full of stunned commuters. They gasped in horror as the poor man was catapulted into the air by the force of the turning bus and was saved only by the fact that he landed in a pile of garbage and recycling on the curb outside a small apartment complex. A number of green plastic trash bags, a mattress and some corrugated cardboard broke his fall. Here was a chance to earn a settlement to last him the rest of his life. Everyone hated the TTC. Everyone had been subjected to the surliness of its drivers, or had seen viral video of ticket takers asleep in their booths or drivers texting while barrelling down Eglinton. The driver of the bus that hit the stuntman had that day’s tabloid on his lap as he made his sweeping turn. Half the riders would probably testify he was reading as he drove. Skerritt would have gotten away with millions had it gone to civil court. But it went to criminal court instead when we proved he was a fraud. We tracked all his previous cases, the ones against individual drivers as he honed his new craft with less dramatic accidents, earning high-five- and low-six-figure settlements. Jenn, having the advantage of no recent concussions, found the detail that tripped him up. On each occasion, he had been saved by the happy fact that he landed in recycling and garbage. Jenn’s antennae perked up and she checked municipal schedules for the streets, and in two of the three accidents, it wasn’t the actual pickup date. He was bringing the trash there. He would scout a place to stage the accident where the vehicle was making a turn, therefore not travelling at its highest speed; then he’d lay out his landing pad and make sure he was hit so he’d be thrown onto it and not into the street. And he was getting hurt: every time he’d break or sprain something, and he had the X-rays to prove it. But he knew he wouldn’t die from any of it. A broken wrist, a sprained shoulder—none of them took more than six weeks to heal, so insurers were quick to pay him off. But we nailed him. It was a good win for
the agency, it earned us a tidy bonus, and I never had to hit anyone or get hit myself. I barely left the front seat of the car.
But in Boston I would have to.
“Jonah?” Colin said. “Jenn’s on line 2.”
I guessed that meant she wasn’t saying goodbye in person. I picked up the closest extension. “Good morning.”
“And to you. Listen, I’m going to have to go straight to the deposition from home. I still have a few things to review and it’s closer to my house than the office.”
“I know. So wish me luck in Boston.”
“I really do. Take care of yourself, all right? No banging your head against anything.”
“Once I’m done with the deposition, I’ll be free to help you with any research you need. We’ll touch base every day.”
It wasn’t really. I wished she were coming with me. Jenn is smart, easy to be with, generally optimistic. Same height as me, a six-foot blonde beauty, fresh-faced and athletic. People find her sunny, open and easy to talk to. It’s one of her greatest assets as an investigator. She fixes her blue eyes on people and nods as they speak, murmurs supportively, and their stories spill like rose petals. She’s also a lot tougher than she looks, with a strength true to her farm roots and a growing knowledge of Krav Maga, a very fast, practical self-defence system.
As senior partner, I could have told her to come; as a friend, I could have asked, but I had done neither. She had the deposition and other follow-up work to do. We had agreed that if the Fine case became more complex and needed both of us to work it, she’d fly down in a couple of days.
By the time I got to the airport, I felt my mood sinking. The temperature had gone up, but the sky had clouded over, like a wet grey army blanket being wrung out on the city, and the lowering barometric pressure was teasing out another headache.
What were my real prospects of finding David? In my town, I’d know where to start looking for a missing person. Their friends, their place of employment, their extended family would all be available. Their new girlfriends, their exes. Their pasts. I had one or two relationships in the police service that might help. I knew people who knew people. What did I know about Boston? It was supposed to be the cradle of U.S. civilization, the Athens of America, the shining city on a hill, as its founders called it. One of the world’s great academic centres, which meant if you were assailed there, it might be by someone who knew what assail means. But I knew no one there. I had been there precisely once, many years before, when the Blue Jays were still contenders—that tells you how long ago it was—and a bunch of us went down to watch them play the Sox at Fenway. They lost three straight to fall out of the race and we drowned our sorrows at a place in the shadow of the CITGO sign.
There were too many bad things David’s disappearance could mean. Everyone has to drop out sometimes. He might have fallen in love and been swept away to some romantic B&B overlooking the ocean on Cape Cod. Or cracked under the strain of being a post-doctoral fellow in the competitive medical hub of America. His genius might have morphed into madness. It happens. He could have looked at someone the wrong way, or walked down the wrong street at the wrong time. That happens too. But very few people simply vanish for two weeks without a word to their loved ones, unless they turn up in a refrigerated drawer.
Hence the mood as I entered the Porter Airlines terminal. They give you good coffee and plenty of space to spread out, use a computer, read complimentary newspapers and otherwise chill. My edge softened a bit as I sipped an espresso and picked up the arts section of the
Globe and Mail
. It had a fiendishly hard cryptic crossword I could try on the flight.
I heard the rumble of suitcase wheels on the floor, and a woman asked, “Is zis seat taken?” A husky voice with a faint accent, something middle European.
There were so many empty seats around that she didn’t really need to pick the one next to me, but she had, so I said, “No,” and shifted my knapsack to the floor.
She parked her suitcase next to her, remained standing and said, “Sank you, sir.”
I looked up at her. It was Jenn, holding a boarding pass and sporting one of her evil grins. Wearing jeans and a black sweater over a white T-shirt that showed off a figure burlap sacks couldn’t fail to flatter.
She said, “You can close your jaw now.”
“What are you doing here? The deposition. The phone call.”
“The deposition was postponed till next month.”
“And you played me?”
“Yes. You who considers himself the office player.”
“And Colin went along.”
“Don’t blame him.”
“He can’t lie to me. I’m his boss.”
“Shows you who he’s more afraid of. Which you can delve into further on your own time. Now are you going to stand up and hug me or what?”
I jumped out of my chair and we had a long, warm hug. My friend, my partner, my backup was with me. We stood there melded to each other and I whispered, “You don’t know how glad I am to see you.”
She rubbed my head and said, “I didn’t want you going alone. Get your head knocked around.”
“Did my mother put you up to this? She doesn’t want me going to the store by myself.”
“Can I not care about you on my own?”
“Knock yourself out.”
They called our flight and we got our knapsacks on, lined our suitcases up behind us and settled into stride together, our team of two.
Jenn knew Boston better than I did. When she was in her early twenties, a woman she was dating was accepted at the Berklee College of Music and she spent a semester in Boston studying drama and improv, which was then her thing. We spent most of the flight browsing city maps on Jenn’s laptop, noting where our hotel was in relation to David’s home and workplace. We read background material on the hospital where David worked, its transplant program and its department head, Dr. E. Charles Stayner. We looked at research papers David had co-authored. I understood a few words, like
. The rest was incomprehensible.
When we landed at Logan, we argued briefly over whether to pay an extra ten bucks a day for a GPS. Jenn didn’t think we needed one. I did. Or at least I would if we split up, which we often did during cases to cover more ground, and I had to drive myself around. Plus the guy at the car-rental counter sold me when he switched the demo’s flat American accent to that of a posh British gal. I wanted to use it right away but Jenn said, “I’m telling you I know the way to the hotel from here.”
“Not in that accent.”
“You can use it when I’m not in the car. For now, get out the map that’s in the rental package. If I need it, I’ll let you know.”
I stored the GPS in a backpack, as advised by our rental guy, to minimize the likelihood of getting our window smashed. A grand ambassador for his city, he was. Then Jenn navigated her way out of the airport complex and onto the 1A without
help. We took the Sumner Tunnel under Boston Harbor and came out near what Jenn told me was the Government Center. It was empty of people other than those hurrying through it. Nowhere to sit. No trees. Just trash riding the March wind. It could have been built by Kim Jong-Il.
“You told me the architecture here was beautiful.”
“It is. Just not this.”
“It’s like they wanted to keep people away.”
“It’s the Government Center, so they probably did. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to see. And once we get to Commonwealth Avenue, you’ll think we’re in Paris.”
She was right, of course. Commonwealth was a magnificent boulevard, as grand as any in any great city. A couple of hundred feet across at least. Both sides of the streets were lined with three-storey townhouses made of reddish stone, most of them restored to noble Belle Époque grandeur. “Beautiful,” I said.
“The GPS wouldn’t have taken you this way. It would have taken you on Storrow Drive, where you’d still be stuck in traffic with six idiots behind you blowing their horns.”
I lowered my window and breathed in the air. It was a brinier smell than home. Toronto is on a freshwater lake: whatever smell its waterfront has comes from the boats and their loads, from garbage and dead fish bobbing on the surface. This was ocean air. If the wind died down, it would be a fine enough March afternoon.
“Did you ever go missing?” I asked Jenn.
“You mean run away?”
“I took off a few times in my teens. Growing up gay in farm country, there weren’t too many people like me. Or to put it another way, there were too many people with an opinion about me. So I came to Toronto a few times to see what gays who were out looked like. One time a friend and I went to New
York, drove there on the spur of the moment. But I never exactly went missing. I usually left a note or a voice mail saying when I’d be back. What about you?”
I had spent most of my teens and twenties running from something. From myself. Working construction in western resort towns, working on a kibbutz in the north of Israel, a life-changing stint in the army there, in an IDF infantry troop. “I was never really missing,” I told her. “But I was always gone.”