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Authors: Howard Shrier

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

Boston Cream (5 page)

BOOK: Boston Cream
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CHAPTER 4

J
enn had booked two rooms on the sixth floor of the Sam Adams House, a boutique hotel in the 500 block of Commonwealth. “My other choice was the Liberty,” she said. “It was once the county jail, which I thought would appeal to you, but this is a better location. It’s a straight shot out to Brookline and we can walk from here to the hospital.”

We set up my room as the office because I wouldn’t mind the mess and she would. We got our laptops plugged in, arranged for wi-fi in both rooms, checked in with Colin and found out that David Fine’s roommate, Sheldon, could meet us at twenty past noon for precisely twenty minutes if we emailed a confirmation to his BlackBerry by eleven.

Which we did.

That gave us nearly an hour to lavish on ourselves, half of which we spent on a late breakfast in the hotel café, and half on trying to make an appointment with David’s mentor at the hospital, Dr. Stayner.

The receptionist said she could give me an appointment in six to eight months.

“I was thinking more today.”

“Today!” The way she sputtered it over the phone, I hoped she hadn’t had a mouthful of coffee at the time.

“Can you tell him I’m a detective investigating the disappearance of David Fine?”

“The same one that was here before? From Brookline, was it?”

“No. I’m here from Toronto on behalf of his family.”

“Oh. Poor David. Everyone has been quite upset about it. Especially Dr. Stayner.”

“Really?”

“Oh, everyone knows David is the best assistant he’s ever had.”

“Will you ask him please? Whatever time works for him. I’ll come in my pyjamas if I have to.”

“You might.”

By twelve we were turning off Commonwealth onto Beacon. Down its middle was a boulevard where grass grew over what looked like disused rails. They turned out to be very much in use as a trolley came rumbling up the grassy strip. The T, Jenn called it. The Green Line.

When we passed Harvard Street, Jenn said, “One thing you need to know about Boston—which the GPS would not have told you—is there are something like six or seven different Harvard streets, avenues and squares in the city. There are Harvards in Cambridge, Boston, Brookline, even Dorchester. And it’s the same thing with a lot of other names, so it’s easy to get lost. If you ask the GPS to find an address, be precise.”

“My gal won’t let me down.”

She pointed out my window and said, “Up that way is the Jewish part of Brookline. It’s like Eglinton West. Nice shops, everything kosher.”

“That’s where he would have shopped,” I said. “Let’s canvass there on our way back. Put up some of our flyers.”

“Right. Okay, Summit Avenue should be one of the next two or three.”

Summit, when she turned onto it two blocks later, was a steep hill lined on both sides by solid middle-class houses. Mostly two-storey, plus a few of what Jenn told me were classic Boston triple-deckers, houses with turrets or bay windows or both.

David’s house was near the crest of the hill on the right, a two-storey white frame house with a black door and black shutters flanking the windows. We found a parking spot right where the hill levelled off. There was a playground on the left side of the road; on the right, a small park where people sat on a stone bench taking in a view of the city.

We walked back and rang the bell at the house David never came home to that night.

Sheldon Paull was a beanpole, about six-three and 160 pounds, with a head of curly brown hair fit for nesting gulls. He wore a blue shirt with a thin pink stripe, tan pants and brown loafers—and didn’t seem thrilled to see us. He opened the door, turned without comment and led us up a flight of stairs marked by its own mezuzah.

“Thanks for taking this time,” I said.

“I told your assistant I have to be on my way no later than twenty to one. If I’m late for rounds, Dr. Figueroa will give me his death stare the rest of the day. As it is, I’m going to have to eat my lunch on the T.” He had a nasal voice that betrayed New York roots and bony hands that waved as he spoke, as though he were tapping invisible keys.

The upstairs door opened onto a living room/dining room combo, not unlike my own apartment. There was a small galley kitchen piled high with unwashed dishes and takeout containers. “Sorry about the mess,” he said. “With everything going on, who has time to clean?”

“You a surgeon too?” Jenn asked.

“I’m an anesthesiology resident. Final year.”

I asked how long they’d been roommates.

“Just since August. Before that he was with another guy closer to the medical school, but the roommate wanted to buy the place and David couldn’t.”

“And who lives downstairs?”

“A family named Weinstein. Neil and Heather and their daughter, Hannah. I don’t think they know David at all, and they were in Orlando when he went missing.”

“Are you close?”

“With David? I certainly like him. In some way, he’s the ideal roommate. He’s cleaner than me, quieter than me, probably more considerate than me and watches zero TV, which leaves it open to me. He doesn’t really care what I do, as long as I leave his food and dishes alone. He never has people over, never does any damage, never gets drunk or stupid or does much of anything. My way of dealing with work is usually to come home and veg in front of a ball game. His is to come home and do more work. He’s still at his desk when I crash most nights.”

“He ever talk about problems he’s having?” Jenn asked.

“Like what?”

“Work, girls, money.”

“I just told you, work isn’t a problem for him,” Sheldon said. “He loves what he does and he is good at it. Better than good. Everyone who gets through Harvard Medical is smart, but David is
smart
.”

“What about money problems?” I asked.

“We both have those, for sure. Whether you’re a resident or a fellow, the salary isn’t just low, it’s an insult. A maintenance man at the hospital makes more than us. Way more. Plus they get paid for overtime, which we don’t.”

“How low is the salary?”

“High thirties, low forties. And Boston, as you may know, is sickeningly expensive. So David has been feeling the pressure. More than me because I’m American.”

“What difference does that make?”

“I can moonlight in clinics or cover other people’s shifts.”

“And David can’t?”

“Not on a visa. The only work he can do legally is at the hospital, nothing else. So I know he worries a lot. One of the few things he does talk about is how badly he wants to pay his parents back. But that wouldn’t drive him to disappear. Because with his talent and his area of expertise, there’s going to be no shortage of money once he’s in practice.”

“That leaves girls,” Jenn said. “He ever talk about any?”

“None that I can think of,” Sheldon said.

“He didn’t date at all?”

Sheldon shrugged. “Don’t sound so surprised. Few of us have the time to get around much. I don’t know what he does all the time. I don’t share my love life with him, largely because I have none at the moment and don’t expect to until I’m done my residency.”

“He ever bring anyone home?”

“No.”

“Never flirted with anyone at work?” Jenn asked.

“No. That would require looking up from his notes.”

“Anyone else he might talk to or confide in?”

“About a girl?”

“About anything.”

“Depends what it was about. If it’s medical, Dr. Stayner. I think they have a pretty good relationship. He also likes the rabbi at Adath Israel, Ed something. Maybe Warner? Ed Warner? They can tell you. They’re around the corner on Harvard.”

“What about the night he disappeared?” I asked. “What do you remember?”

“What I told the detective from Brookline. It was a Thursday evening. Last day of February. I went by David’s office to see if he wanted to walk home but he said he had to go to the lab first.”

“You know what lab?”

“Probably serology or immunology. I might be able to find out for you.”

“Please do. And he never got back that night.”

“No.”

“No word from him since?”

“None.”

“You know his bank account hasn’t been used or his credit cards. Anything else he could have done to get money? Anything missing around the house, like a cash float?”

“Cash float! Good one. Look, are we done? As it is, Dr. Figueroa is probably fitting me for a new asshole.”

“We need to look at his room,” I said.

Sheldon sighed. He went into the kitchen and fished around in one of the drawers. “All right,” he said, coming back with a single brass key. “When you’re done, lock up and slip this through the mail slot. Make sure the deadbolt downstairs catches because it sticks a little sometimes.”

“Where can we reach you if we have other questions?” Jenn asked.

“At work,” he said. “Where else?”

David Fine’s room was large enough to hold a bed, a dresser and two bedside tables, as well as a computer hutch between two sagging bookcases—and small enough to feel crowded with all that in it. The dresser and tables didn’t tell us much, other than that he kept his clothes neat and precisely folded. There was nothing under the mattress or stuffed in it. The bookcase on the left of the computer held medical texts and research papers piled in stacks. I leafed through the first few abstracts: the best blood-type crossmatches for transplant candidates; barriers to cadaveric transplants among Boston’s main ethnic groups; and the financial and health outcomes for people in India who had sold organs through middlemen who kept most of the proceeds.

Don’t we all read stuff like this?

The bookcase on the right was virtually all Judaica. The
Five Books of Moses
. A daily prayer book. Books on traditional Jewish practice, on Halacha, the laws that govern daily living. Books on Kabbalah, the Jewish mysticism embraced by many and truly understood by a few. Books with a more modern take on what it means to be a Jew in the twenty-first century. About a third of the books were in Hebrew, and they must have been handed down to David because they seemed older than he was, their spines cracked, the lettering faded to near invisibility. Books by rabbis and thinkers I had heard of and many I hadn’t. Not one work of fiction, secular non-fiction or poetry. Not a single Western, thriller, mystery or horror novel. There were, however, three books on poker. Texas Hold ’Em, specifically.

There was nothing tucked in among his clothes, in his drawers, under his mattress or among his books, except for his Canadian passport, which he had slid between Maimonides’s
Guide for the Perplexed
and Herman Wouk’s
This Is My God
.

If he hadn’t taken his passport, he certainly hadn’t planned on going home.

He also hadn’t taken his laptop, which was sitting on his desk. Jenn got to work on it while I stuffed all of David’s phone, credit card and bank statements into my knapsack, along with any other paper on his desk that might have bearing on his whereabouts. I also took three flash drives in a bowl on top of a bookshelf. Then I checked his telephone handset and wrote down the last twenty numbers that had called him, and the last twenty he had called. Most of the incoming calls were from the hospital, but they showed a general switchboard number, no extensions. Useless. A few said Blocked Call or Private Number. No way to get those, unless we sent the SIM card to Toronto. One number, though, had called several times and it showed up in the registry as Carol-Ann Meacham.

I dialled it. After four rings, it switched over to voice mail.
A woman’s voice answered: “This is Carol-Ann. I can’t take your call right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

I left my name and cell number, as well as our number at the hotel, and asked her to get in touch as soon as possible regarding an urgent matter. When I hung up, I asked Jenn about David’s laptop.

“Very well protected,” she said. “I can’t get past his log-in.”

“Let’s ship it home,” I said. “Tell Colin to get Karl on it.” Karl Thompson was our company’s computer supplier and hacking enthusiast.

David’s closet was divided into sections that held his clothes, all neatly folded and hung, towels and linens, and cans of soup, tinned fish and other dry goods. We found nothing among his plain shirts, grey and black slacks, muted sweaters or sturdy shoes. Nothing between any sheets or towels. Nothing behind the egg noodles or tinned soups.

We opened the fridge door and were forced back by a harsh stink. I held my breath and peered in at tired-looking herring in a cloudy jar, milk that smelled sour from a foot away and hardened cheese.

On one of the shelves above the canned goods were silver candlesticks, blackened around their tops, and a box of seventy-two plain white candles for Shabbos, almost full. And—oh, damn—two blue velvet bags: one for his tallis and a smaller one for his tefillin.

If he was going somewhere of his own volition, he would never have left these behind. A devout Jew like him would wear his tallis, or prayer shawl, while saying his daily prayers. And every morning except Saturday he’d put on tefillin: two long black leather straps attached to boxes that contain parchment scrolls inscribed with prayers. He’d wrap one around his head, the other around his left bicep, forearm and fingers, the box pressed close to the heart. It’s one of the most important rituals
in Judaism—which is your first clue that I don’t do it—a reminder of the binding contract between God and his people, and the need to unite your head and heart in whatever quest you are on. That part I can get behind; it’s the contract I avoid. But David would have put tefillin on every day while reciting the Shema, the proclamation that there is only one God. He would never have left them behind.

I told Jenn what it meant.

“So he’s really missing,” she said. “Not off on a spree somewhere.”

“No. Either he’s on the run from something or he was abducted.” The thought of which sickened me. Because anyone taken two weeks ago would be dead by now if no ransom had been demanded.

I opened the smaller bag and looked at the leather straps of his tefillin, worn bone white in places from endless wrapping. The large bag held his tallis and a beautiful silk yarmulke laced with gold thread in the shape of a Star of David.

BOOK: Boston Cream
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