It was five minutes before ten in the evening and Harinder Patel was ringing up Mr. Gordon’s usual sale: a pack of Marlboro Lights and ten tickets for the lottery. How a man like Mr. Gordon could spend so much on the lottery was beyond Harinder. It was all a load of nonsense, in his opinion. A tax on the poor, on the dreamers of the world who wanted to be rich without working for it. But a sale was a sale and he wished Mr. Gordon luck with his numbers, as he always did. “This week is your week,” he always said, though clearly it never was. The man’s clothes were old and worn and the smell of cheap wine always drifted off him like sewer breath.
When the door shut behind Mr. Gordon, Harinder began to get ready for closing. Another fourteen-hour day behind him, and not enough to show for it. A few packs of cigarettes, a few cartons of milk, tickets for the blasted lottery. Not nearly enough. Maybe I should buy some tickets myself, he mused. But he knew he wouldn’t. He might have been poor but he was no dreamer. Anything he got in this life he would have to earn.
He had no regrets about having moved to Boston. It was an agreeable city by any standard, other than the weather, and with so many excellent universities, he’d had high hopes that his son Sanjay would enter one of the professions. Sadly, he had not. He was studying marketing communications, if you could believe it-Harinder had no idea where that would lead; neither, he supposed, did Sanjay. But it was an education, and maybe a diploma-not even a degree-would help Sanjay find a rewarding career. If nothing else, maybe he would come up with some brilliant marketing scheme to bring more customers into the store. Lord knows we could use the help, he thought. And soon.
He knew he had made a mistake in choosing the location: Somerville, of all places. And on Bow Street, which didn’t draw nearly enough traffic, neither on foot nor by car, and so little parking on the street. And would construction on Union Square ever be complete? Always something being torn up and fixed: street, sidewalks, street again for underground pipes.
It had seemed like such a deal at the time: house with ground-floor business for sale. But the house was old and drafty and in constant need of repair, and the business … he was so far behind in his payments that if things didn’t turn around soon, Harinder knew he would lose it all.
One minute to ten.
He was walking toward the front door to lock up when it banged open and two men came in, backed by a wintry blast of air. As soon as he saw them, he knew they were trouble. Hard-looking men, one of average size and one who was enormous, at least a head taller than his companion.
“Evening,” said the smaller of the two. He had long, dark-blond hair combed back from his forehead and was smiling, though not in a way that could be described as friendly. Harinder couldn’t help thinking that this was how a wolf would smile at its next meal.
No hat or gloves in this weather, Harinder noticed. Who went out like that? Maybe, he thought, the lack of gloves was a good thing.
“Good evening,” Harinder replied, his voice sounding high and thin to his own ears.
The man nodded at his larger friend, who turned the Open sign in the door to Closed, then turned the lock and leaned against it. Clearly the smaller man was in charge.
Harinder tried to keep the panic from rising in him. If they robbed him, so be it. There wasn’t much cash in the register; how could there be? But he did fear violence. He knew from reading the Herald that the city was full of drug-crazed criminals who would kill you for the change in your pockets.
Thank God Sanjay is not here, he thought. Like all young men he could be something of a hothead, more inclined to fight than back down from a threat.
“How’s it going, Harry?” the smaller man said. “Okay if I call you Harry? ’Cause I ain’t really sure how to pronounce your name.”
Harinder looked from one man to the other. He had never seen them before-how did they know his name? And why the talk? If they were here to rob him, why not get it over with? “Please.… ” he said.
“Please what? Am I making you nervous or something?”
“No, sir. Not at all.”
“You look nervous.” He turned to his friend at the door. “Don’t he look nervous to you?”
The big man said, “Yup.”
“I bet he thinks we’re holding him up. Is that what you think, Harry? You think this is a holdup?”
“No,” Harinder said quickly. “Of course not. It’s just that I was about to close for the evening.”
“Ah. Closing time, huh? Long day serving all your customers. Good day today? Lots of people in and out?”
“I can’t complain,” Harinder said.
The big man by the door snorted. “Maybe you should,” he said. The man at the counter looked over at him and the big man said nothing more.
Harinder looked at the clock over the door. Two minutes past ten. What if his wife came downstairs to help him close up, as she sometimes did. Would they panic and harm her? “What can I get for you?” he asked.
“Now that,” the man said, “is the fifty-thousand-dollar question.” He walked over to the counter, unzipped his coat and reached inside it.
Dear God, Harinder thought, here it comes. But instead of the pistol he was anticipating, the man took out an envelope and placed it on the counter next to the cash register.
Harinder looked at the envelope but didn’t move to touch it. It seemed thick, as if a letter had been folded over many times.
“Open it,” the man said.
The envelope wasn’t sealed. The flap at the back was just tucked in. Harinder opened it and saw a stack of hundred-dollar bills.
“That’s five thousand right there,” the man said. “You want to count it or take my word?”
“I don’t understand,” Harinder said.
“Are you going to take my word or not?”
“Of course. But what does this have to do with me?”
“You could use fifty thou, am I right? In cash, tax-free. I know your situation, Harry. Fifty grand would pretty much bail you out.”
Fifty thousand dollars? Was the man joking? It was the answer to his prayers. He’d be able to pay his mortgage arrears, the suppliers who were threatening to cut him off, Sanjay’s tuition costs for the next semester. It was as if he had won a lottery prize without even buying a ticket. But how did this man know so much about his finances?
Again he said, “I don’t understand.” Because he truly didn’t.
“Do we have a deal?” the man asked.
“But I don’t know what you want for this.”
The man said, “Does it matter?” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and took out something Harinder couldn’t see. He took Harinder’s wrist and pressed his thumb hard into the veins there and Harinder’s hand opened involuntarily. The man put something cold and hard into his hand and forced it shut. “That’s what you get if you turn me down.”
Then he turned and walked to the front door. The big man standing there opened it for him and the two of them walked out, leaving the door open as the cold wind blew in again, bringing with it a few flakes of snow. “We’ll be in touch,” the leader said. “Tell you where you need to be and when.”
Only when he had closed the door behind them did Harinder open his hand and stare at the brass bullet and the groove the man’s hard thumbnail had left in his skin.
Fuck. I woke up this morning with a headache. After two weeks without one. Not as brutal as the ones I’d had throughout the fall and into the new year, but bad enough. Like a jackhammer drilling into my left temple and radiating out from there. It kicked in harder when I got up to find my Tylenol so I sank back down and lay flat, eyes closed, trying to breathe through it. It didn’t help. It was ten to seven. I had to get to a meeting with a new client on the other side of town. And I had to pee.
I opened my eyes, took a few more breaths and sat up very slowly, trying to will the pain away from my head. I rose softly, not too steadily, and stood rocking gently back and forth until I found the place where I was centred, and kept breathing until I was sure I wouldn’t fall down. I breathed some more and decided it was worth risking one foot forward toward the bathroom. Then the other foot. I told myself there were lovely liquid gelcaps in there, plus a toilet, even a tap where I could wash my face and rinse my mouth and cool a cloth to put on the back of my neck. Step by step I did it. Out of my room, across the hall and into the bathroom. I exceeded the recommended dosage of Tylenol, but not by that much. Peed in the dark. Showered in the dark-lukewarm, to keep the blood from rushing to my head. Shaved in half-light. It all helped a bit, especially the cold cloth on my neck. Coffee helped too. Getting dressed was largely neutral. By seven-thirty the pain was receding and I felt ready to leave for my meeting. Functional and focused, which meant no one needed to know about this little setback. Not Jenn, or the agency’s insurance people, or anyone even distantly related to me. And definitely not Dr. Nancy Carter.
If her name is familiar, it’s probably from the sports pages. She’s the neurologist who treats all the hockey and football players with head injuries. I was lucky to get an appointment with her, her receptionist said. “She needs people like you for a new study she’s starting.”
People like me. The concussed. The severely concussed. I had sustained what Dr. Carter called a contrecoup, my brain banging against my skull when I was hit from the side but good with a barbell, resulting in a Grade 3 concussion.
She said a third of the players she saw developed post-concussion syndrome: “You might get headaches, bad ones, and experience dizziness or sensitivity to light. You might notice behavioural changes, such as depression, anxiety or irritability.”
“If I don’t notice,” I said, “my mother will.”
She was right about the headaches: more frequent and intense than any I’d ever had. The first month, there were days I wouldn’t get out of bed for fear I’d set one off. Or puke. That was always fun first thing in the morning. I sometimes got dizzy without warning. One time I came to on the floor with a nasty welt on my eyebrow and no memory of falling face first. My focus, whether at work or at home, was also Grade Three. I’d stare at my computer, unaware of what I was reading, or forgetting what I’d been searching for. Was I depressed, anxious and irritable? Tick all those boxes. Just ask Jenn, ask my family. Ask anyone who had the displeasure of my company back then, especially after we changed the clocks in the fall and light began to bleed from our northern skies.
Only after three full months did Dr. Carter clear me to start light training. Oh God, I wanted to shout, bring it on. Exercise and martial arts are how I normally keep myself sane. But those first workouts wouldn’t have tired out someone in a walker. I had zero endurance. Light pedalling on a stationary bike could bring on the whirlies. I had to do the simplest katas in slow motion to avoid falling on my ass. And even as I improved over the following month and began to believe I might one day actually get back to full strength, Dr. Carter forbade contact training. “Once you’ve had a concussion, others happen more easily unless it completely heals. Think Eric Lindros. He was done as an elite player at thirty. You don’t want that, Jonah. That means thirty days symptom-free, no cheating, before I let you off the leash.”
Which had meant no Krav Maga training with my teacher, Eidan Feingold. Eidan didn’t know the meaning of hold back; when we sparred it was all-out war.
Finally, a week ago, at my monthly exam, I told her I had reached the thirty-day mark, which was so close to true. There had been one headache the first week that I didn’t count because I’d had a few glasses of red wine the night before, and another around the twentieth day that came and went so fast I didn’t even take a third gelcap.
You call that cheating?
So Dr. Carter had cleared me to go back to fieldwork and resume light contact training-no blows to the head, even with headgear-and no isolated headache was worth reporting. Everyone gets one from time to time, whether from stress, alcohol, a bad night’s sleep or a broken heart.
Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to spar with Eidan or win a bar fight with a head butt, but I did feel I could brave the morning traffic from Riverdale, on the east side of the Don River Valley, to Bathurst and Lawrence in the northwest end. Compared to what I had been going through since the fall, that made it a pretty good morning.
Ron and Sheila Fine lived in a bungalow at the wrong end of Glengrove Avenue, west of the Allen Road. The lot was big but the house was old and tired. If any renovations had been made to it since it had been built, they were craftily hidden. On the better blocks of the street further east, old small houses on big lots like this had been torn down and replaced by monster homes. At this end, the gentrification was scattered at best; many of the houses were still occupied by their original owners: Italians, Jews, Caribbeans.
I met Ron there on a cold March morning, the sun high in a hard blue sky. He was an optometrist with a storefront in a strip mall on Marlee; Sheila was principal of a Jewish day school attached to a Conservative synagogue on Bathurst. She had left the house before I got there, to open the school for early daycare drop-offs. His shop was a five-minute drive away and he didn’t open Wednesdays till ten, so he was the one to fill me in on his son David’s disappearance in Boston. Two weeks now missing.
“He is not the kind of boy to simply vanish,” Ron told me.
“I know, I know. He’ll be thirty on his next birthday.” Ron was about fifty-five, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, a skullcap clipped to his greying hair, a face that seemed kind and open. The lines on it told you he had spent a lot of time both smiling and frowning. A thinker and a feeler.
“And he’s a surgical resident?”
“Past that already. He’s a transplant fellow at Sinai Hospital in Boston.”
Another Jewish overachiever, like a certain older brother I know. I was glad my mother wasn’t in the room. Her sigh of envy would have filled it.
“To be honest,” I said, “you’d have better luck with someone in Boston, someone with local contacts and a better grasp of the city.”
“And I’ll be honest with you, Jonah,” Ron said. “That’s what I thought when your brother told me about your agency. Initially I was only going to ask you for a reference. I didn’t want to pick someone out of a Boston phone book. I wanted a personal recommendation. I hoped there was someone you had worked with or knew of.”
Then he said something that went straight past surprising to stunning. “But your brother said some very nice things about you. Very good things.”
I tried, and likely failed miserably, to hide my surprise. “Like what?”
“That you don’t give up, Jonah. That you never have since you started out, not even once. No matter what happened to anyone. You break a few dishes, he said, but you keep at it. You don’t care who you piss off, pardon my language, but that’s what Daniel said. And he said you play above your weight. I’m not a big sports fan but I know what that means.”
“You’ll get my best.”
“You can’t understand the hell we’ve been through the last two weeks,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a long time, two weeks-some people suffer all their lives-but in seconds, half seconds, micro-seconds, it’s agonizing. Where is he, Jonah? Is he alive, is he dead? I have no idea how Sheila is hanging on. I have no idea how I’m hanging on. I can tell you’re not Orthodox, Jonah. But do you believe in Hashem?”
Some Jews are so devout they won’t even say the word God. They use Hashem, which means “the name” in Hebrew. The name too great to speak. “No. Not for a long time.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, with his first smile of the morning. “I do. And I think Hashem wants you to find David. That was my feeling when your brother spoke of you and that’s my feeling now. Hashem wants you to go to Boston and find David for us. Or-and this he should forbid, and forbid it with all his koyach, all his strength-if something has happened to David, you find out what it was. And if someone did something to him …” His voice caught and he had to stop.
“Tell me,” I said. “Everything you know so far.”
According to a security guard at Sinai Hospital in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, David Fine exited around a quarter to seven on the last day of February and walked north on Francis Street. It had been a mild night, by winter standards, but then again, David almost always walked home because it kept him in shape and saved money, according to Ron.
Home was Brookline, less than two miles northwest of the hospital. He should have arrived home by seven-fifteen, seven-thirty at the latest. “He wouldn’t have stopped to eat because he only ate kosher, and usually at home,” Ron said. “Also to save money.”
“But he never got home?”
“According to his roommate, no.”
“What’s his name?”
“Sheldon Paull. Also going to be a doctor.”
“You have his number and email?”
“Of course. Then David missed work Friday. Well, you know, he’s not a kid-he’s thirty, not married, you don’t want to crowd him too much. If he was falling in love, his mother and I would be thrilled. It’s time already. But then he didn’t call to wish us good Shabbos. That’s when I knew something was wrong. He always, always called Friday before sundown, when he knew we’d be home but not eating yet. Wouldn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, he’d call. His brother Micah, bless him, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a Shabbos call. I’m not sure he always knows what day it is, but David? He could be at the North Pole in a snowstorm, if it was Friday afternoon he’d find a phone. So Saturday night, as soon as Shabbos was over, we called him. No answer. That’s when I spoke to Sheldon. And when he didn’t come back Sunday and didn’t come in to work Monday, that’s when I called the police.”
“What did they say?”
“Well, first I called the Boston police but they said David lived in Brookline, so I had to report it there. I called Brookline and they said I should make the report in person, if possible. Not that I had to, they would do it over the phone. But it would be better if they could assess my report face to face. In plain English, to make sure I wasn’t just some hysterical parent. So I didn’t argue, I went, I flew there the next morning. I went to Brookline and reported him missing.”
“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.”
“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.
Micah 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 cafe 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 cafe 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 cafes 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 BREAK THE BLOCKADE above it in red block letters and below it the logo of BREAKOUT, a far-left group of gay Jewish activists against anything Israeli. Left or right, I don’t like the far fringes. And I found BREAKOUT 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.”
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.
Colin 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 amp;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 and or but. 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 Epoque 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.”
Jenn 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 cafe, 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.”
“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.”
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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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 word from him since?”
“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.
And exactly five thousand dollars in a thick stack of hundreds held together by an elastic band, doubled.
This from a guy who wasn’t allowed to moonlight.
Jenn was right. Harvard Street around Coolidge Corner was a lot like Eglinton West in Toronto. For five or six blocks, almost every shop catered to observant Jewish life. Kosher butcher, fish shop, Judaica stores. Restaurants from deli to Chinese. And we couldn’t have picked a busier time to canvass. Thursdays is when Jewish women shop for the Shabbos dinner: their chickens and briskets, challahs and fish, onions, celery and dill for soup, kosher wine sweet enough to serve on pancakes. They want it all done by Friday noon at the latest, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. If a shopping cart bangs your shins while an older woman swerves in to get a jar of chopped liver, who told you to stand there?
We each took one side of the street, stopping in at every store, sometimes having to wait and be jostled, showing the picture, asking the questions, asking if we could post a flyer in the window or on a bulletin board. Some of the buildings had murals depicting early Jewish life in the urban east. One showed a zaftig woman merrily making bread. Many of the women in the streets wore wigs; only their husbands should see their true beauty. Their clothing came down to the wrists, their skirts down past the knee.
On my side of the street, many merchants knew David’s face, if not his name. He was particularly well known at the deli, where he often took out prepared foods for his meals, and at Irving’s Judaica, a sprawling place on a corner that had one wing devoted to books, the other to household items from menorahs to mezuzahs to baseball caps with Red Sox written in Hebrew. The woman who ran the book section was about my age, dark-haired and petite and bristling with a feisty intelligence that sparkled in her brown eyes. The sparkle died a little when I told her David Fine was missing. They had talked on a number of occasions, she said. “Almost always about books, new arrivals, things I might recommend. He’s very eclectic in his reading.”
“So I noticed. Did he seem drawn to any books that would suggest depression?”
“David? Depressed? Never. Most people, in my humble opinion, are depressed because they’ve taken the wrong path in their life and they don’t have the courage to turn back. David is one of the surest people I’ve met. Quiet but very determined. He is going to save people’s lives through surgery. Period. Everything else will come.”
“Did he ever ask you out?”
“Why on earth would you ask me that?”
“The way you talked about him. And you’re probably the same age as him. A nice Jewish girl. I guess if I were him I think I would have asked you out.”
“If you were him.”
She let me put a poster in the entrance, as did most of the neighbouring stores. At the end of the first block, I flagged Jenn down and crossed to her side of the street and compared notes. “He isn’t known in any of the clothing or fashion stores, but he sometimes goes into the fish store for smoked whitefish, herring, and gefilte fish-did I pronounce that right?”
“There’s also a cafe where he sometimes comes and reads newspapers. The manager said he occasionally has coffee and cake with Rabbi Ed from Adath Israel.”
“Him again. That’s a good sign.”
“That he’s someone David might have talked to?”
“Do Jews confess to rabbis the way Catholics do to priests?”
“No, we prefer to wallow in our guilt. You can’t shut us up about it, but it doesn’t count as confession.”
We handed out laser photos and put posters up for another two blocks in each direction. In a few spots I found flyers Ron had put up the week before, covered over now by ads for tutoring, piano lessons and handyman services. When we were done, we sat in the car and used the GPS to locate the nearest FedEx so we could get David’s computer home. I dropped Jenn there and navigated my way over to the Brookline Police Department, a tall narrow old row house made awkwardly modern with a glass front and a glass-and-metal awning. On one side of it was Brookline’s municipal centre and an old dark-brick courthouse with three bland arches and a severe triangular roof that was plain as a Puritan’s hat. On the other side, what had probably been an early fire station, with doors wide and tall enough to admit a horse-drawn wagon.
The police station lobby had been made over with dark tile and pale wood. On the wall were plaques remembering the only two officers to have fallen in Brookline’s long line of policing, and a glass case with photos of sex offenders who had skipped bail or were otherwise known to be in the area.
I approached the desk, where a big blond man sat pecking at a keyboard with stiff blunt fingers. His hair was shaved close to the scalp everywhere but on top, where it grew thick as indoor-outdoor carpeting, and he looked like he spent more time training for mixed martial arts than in customer service seminars. He didn’t say anything or look up or otherwise acknowledge my presence, just stabbed at the keys. His name tag said W. Kennedy.
I said, “Good morning.”
He held up a finger to silence me and resumed tapping, using both index fingers and occasionally a thumb on the space bar. It was a good thing no crime spree erupted in the streets of Brookline. He kept pecking until he was good and finished. Then he looked up and said, “Help you?” like he almost meant it.
“I’d like to speak to Detective Mike Gianelli, please.”
He said, “Because?”
“Because he’s in charge of the David Fine investigation.”
“The David Fine investigation.”
“A missing persons case. I’m a private investigator. Hired by his parents-”
I got it out and slid it across the counter. I said, “His parents-”
He held up the same finger again while he took in the details of my Ontario licence. He didn’t seem to think any faster than he typed.
“Sir, are you armed?”
“No weapons on your person?”
“You have another piece of ID?”
I gave him my passport.
He took in its details at his usual speed and told me to have a seat at one of three chairs facing a large wall-mounted screen that was at present turned off. Kennedy picked up the phone and spoke into it at a level I couldn’t hear. Nodded. The man had a neck and shoulders you could break a log on. And wouldn’t it be fun to try?
He got off the phone and said, “Detective Gianelli will be down in a minute.”
Which turned out to be twelve.
A man in a suit was holding my licence and passport. He was about my height, six feet, but heavier where it counted, the chest and shoulders. He came over and offered his hand; his grip was strong but he didn’t try to show off with it. He had thick dark hair, parted in the centre and held back by gel.
“I’m Mike Gianelli,” he said. “You wanted to speak to me?”
“David Fine’s parents hired me.”
“Ron and Sheila, huh? Yeah, nice people. Good people. They’ve been very cooperative, very supportive of our efforts.” He handed back my documents, which I pocketed. “And you’re from up there?”
“Because this licence of yours, as far as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Town of Brookline are concerned, isn’t valid here, so right away we have a problem. We got no reciprocal agreements with Ontario-I checked. You carrying a weapon?”
“You have one where you’re staying?”
“Didn’t bring one?”
“Because we have very strict gun laws here.”
“So does Ontario. I don’t carry a gun there either. I never have.”
“Better be careful where you go then. Some parts of Boston, I wouldn’t go unarmed.”
“Thank you. As for my accreditation, I’m just here to help his parents,” I said.
“At some fancy rate, I’ll bet.”
“It’s not like that. They’re friends of the family.”
“Says you. Look, I happen to like his parents and I feel bad for them. I really do. Their son sounds like a decent kid. Better than decent. But we did what we could. We interviewed his roommate, his neighbours, we even got an audience with his boss at work. Three minutes with the great man.”
“The bottom line is, no crime scene,” Gianelli said. “Anywhere. No evidence of any kind that he’s met foul play. Not at his apartment or his place of work. No demands have ever been made to the family.”
“What about in between?”
“In between what?”
“The hospital and his apartment. He usually walks home.”
“That’s nearly two miles and only part of it is Brookline. There’s also a section that’s Boston.”
“I’m convinced he didn’t leave of his own accord,” I said.
“Based on what?”
“He is a very devout man,” I said.
“We found religious articles in his closet that he never would leave behind if he were leaving of his own accord. He’d need them every day.”
“So he has spares or bought new ones.”
“It’s not like that. His own would have special meaning to him.”
I wondered whether I should tell Gianelli about the money in David’s tallis bag. But he might want it as evidence, and if David was truly gone, I wanted it to go to his parents: you could almost bury a man for that much.
“You got much experience with missing persons?” Gianelli asked.
“I’ve found a few,” I said.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Mostly runaways.”
“That’s because most missing persons turn out to be runaways. Boston, Toronto, doesn’t matter. The statistics are always the same. Then you get the elderly who wander off. Kids caught up in custody fights. Guys who owe money or stole money or are about to be arraigned for something. You get the ones about to get married, usually guys, need to have one last kick at the can, they disappear for a week. David Fine doesn’t fit any of these. He has no criminal history of any kind. No budgetary control at the hospital. No money missing there that anyone knew about. See, we did ask. We checked everything. But we found nothing. There is no reason for him to be missing, but he is. And I am frustrated by that and I do worry about him. But there is one thing I want to make clear.”
He paused, trying to make me ask what that was. I liked him all right so I asked.
“Ron Fine-I bet he told you how unfortunate it is his son lives in Brookline, not Boston, that he got stuck with our Mickey Mouse force instead of the good old BPD. And what I want you to be clear on is that it’s utter bullshit. I was Boston PD for twelve years before I came here, and this force is better in every way when it comes to serving and protecting our public. Don’t be fooled by this building. We’re a good-sized force for a town this size and when we get a call, we move on it. Maybe we don’t get all the problems Boston gets, and we certainly don’t get the homicides, but we get our share of actual crime. We get scumbags drifting up here from Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. We get sexual assaults and gunpoint robberies and brawls and domestics and all-round bad behaviour, and we show up and close a better percentage of them than the BPD. So no moaning about we got stuck with the small-town force, okay?”
“Ron Fine is goddamn lucky his son lives here because we’ve tried hard to find him and we are still trying. There just isn’t any trace. So here is what I’m going to do,” he said. “You want to ask around as a private citizen? Interview his roommate, neighbours, his boss if you’re so lucky? Go ahead. I won’t stop you, mostly because his parents should feel they’ve done everything they can. But don’t step on anyone’s toes around here. I don’t want to get complaints about you. And if you find out anything I didn’t, you share it with me quick-that fair?”
“I also want the make, model and plate of your car. Case you plan on doing any surveillance within our boundaries.”
“It’s a Dodge Caliber.” I fished out the keys and read the plate number from a tag on the key ring.
As I was leaving he said, “You planning on introducing yourself to the BPD? Showing them your licence?”
“I guess I’ll have to,” I said. “Boston is where David works.”
“Wish I could be there when you do,” Gianelli said with a grin. “Having worked there those twelve years, I can tell you they’re not as accepting of private investigators as we are in Brookline. My advice to you, if your business takes you into Boston, contact the BPD before they need to contact you. And keep your head up when you do.”
A uniformed cop stood under the glass entrance to the Brookline Police Department, arms folded across his chest, eyes following Jenn’s behind as she walked up Washington Street to where I sat on the lawn of the local library. His just reward for a hard day policing these tree-lined streets.
“All done,” she said, sitting down beside me. “Colin will have David’s laptop no later than nine a.m. tomorrow and Karl will pick it up on his way to the shop.”
I told her about the effort the Brookline police had mustered to find David, and what Gianelli had said about the BPD.
“So we shouldn’t expect any help from them.”
“Not much. Bullshit and bullying, maybe, according to Gianelli.”
“Didn’t strike me that way.”
“Think he’s any good?”
“He seemed like a decent guy. I think David’s parents got to him too.”
“He’s not giving up?”
“He said he’s not. But unless a patrol officer bumps into David on the street, it’s up to us now. Let’s go back to his house around seven tonight.”
“It’s the time he went missing,” I said. “And people are creatures of habit.”
Back at our hotel, we dumped all of David’s paperwork onto one of the beds in my room and began combing through it. His bank statements seemed very straightforward: nothing to explain how five thousand in cash came his way. His modest pay was deposited directly into his account every other Thursday, and he withdrew a hundred dollars every Monday, never more or less. His allowance for the week. His credit card statements had only small balances, always paid in full every month.
“I wish he could show me how that’s done,” Jenn said.
“I’d rather he showed us where the five grand came from. The only thing I can think of is those poker books … they stuck out like three sore thumbs.”
“You think he’s into big games?”
“I don’t know. Sheldon didn’t mention it.”
“Would he know? It didn’t sound like they pay much attention to each other.”
She continued rifling through papers while I called Sheldon. His cell went straight to voice mail. I left a message asking him to call on his next break.
Jenn had David’s phone bills on her lap: they showed regular long-distance calls to his parents in Toronto. Nothing else jumped out.
I picked up the research papers we had taken. From between them a folded sheet of paper fell to the floor like an autumn leaf.
It was a missing person poster. It showed a middle-aged Indian man named Harinder Patel, and he had vanished the week before David Fine.
Because Jenn is so much better at extracting information from people over the phone, she got to lie in bed in her room and make calls, while I got my first taste of driving in Boston. I took out the GPS unit, nestled it on the dash in its weighted sack and plugged it into the lighter socket. Once it was on, I punched in the address I wanted in Somerville, which I could see on the screen was north of Cambridge. I followed the posh gal’s instructions to Mass Avenue and took the bridge there across into Cambridge, where low-hanging clouds seemed to be trailing veils of rain. It reminded me a lot of the Annex at home, the streets lined with bookstores, cafes and indie restaurants. Young people walking everywhere, lost in their earbuds, cellphones and the occasional conversation with an actual person. Older lefties and ex-hippies, holding out against age, prowling around the bookstores in jeans, moccasins and soft leather jackets, grey ponytails poking out the backs of their ball caps.
As I got into Somerville, construction narrowed the road to a single lane, and many horns blared as one as drivers tried to force their way right. When that finally cleared, the GPS told me to turn left onto a street that was closed off and dug down to the pipes. As I missed the turn, she said, in an icy tone, “Recalculating,” then gave me a new route.
Madras Grocery was situated in the ground floor of an old house on Bow Street, whose name derives from its semicircular shape. The street was hard to find, which may have contributed to the business’s rundown look. That and the apparent scarcity of people of South Asian origin who might be in the market for its goods.
A bell tinkled over the door as I went in past a billboard stuffed with notices for local movers, tutors, music teachers and dog walkers. And a copy of the same poster we had found asking for help finding Harinder Patel. As I walked to the counter, the smell of spice crowded in: cumin, turmeric, others I knew but couldn’t name, all in a pungent swirl around me. The woman at the front cash was wrapped in a yellow-and-orange sari with silvery trim. She smiled warmly without saying anything. I took out my copy of the poster and she looked at it through glasses whose panes were scratched and fogged.
“I’d like to speak to you about this man,” I said. “He might be connected to another missing person’s case.”
She turned to face the back of the store and called out, “Sanjay!”
A well-built young man in his twenties came up the aisle. He wore a long-sleeved grey sweatshirt and blue jeans, and had jet-black hair combed straight up in front but forward from the back, giving him a fearsome cresting pompadour. A beard no thicker than wire traced his jawline and chin.
“Help you, sir?” he asked. He looked to be in his early twenties. But already serious. Serious about something.
I flashed the poster. “You’re looking for this man?”
He started to look hopeful. “Yes, yes. He’s my father. Have you found him? Found something?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
The expression sagged back to neutral. “Oh. Then why are you here?”
I showed him a picture of David Fine. “Because this man is missing too, and he had your flyer among his effects.”
He knew David. From the first widening of the eyes to the slight opening of his carefully barbered jaw, I could tell he knew him.
“Come to the back,” he said.
He led me past an office too tiny and crammed for the two of us, and into a storeroom made narrow by sacks of rice, beans and other goods stacked against its walls. “Who are you, please?”
“Jonah Geller. I’m a licensed investigator from Toronto.” He didn’t need to know the vagaries of my standing in Massachusetts. “This man’s family hired me to find him.”
“You say he’s missing too? For how long?”
“My father went missing three weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sanjay.”
“Call me Sammy.” We shook hands.
“So you know this man,” I said.
“Yes. He came into the store one evening about two weeks ago. Dad had been gone at least a week by then.”
His eyes sparkled. “Oh, yes.”
“You remember the day of the week?”
“A Wednesday. Around eight-thirty. I was cleaning out the basement for our Thursday-morning delivery, which is our biggest. My mum doesn’t speak much English so she called me up. This guy said he had heard about my father and wanted to help the family, and he handed me an envelope.” Even though we were alone in the store, he lowered his voice. “It had five thousand bucks in it. Fifty hundred-dollar bills.”
“This man here,” I said, pointing at the photo. “David Fine.”
“If that’s his name, yes.”
“All in hundreds.”
It had to be right. David’s stash was in hundreds too, an equal five thousand. In a doubled elastic band. Seemed like David had started out with ten thousand dollars, when he shouldn’t have had a nickel, and he had chosen to split it with a stranger.
“Trust me,” Sammy said. “It never happened in my life before, and it will probably never happen again, a guy handing me that much cash. And then he was gone, like one of those rich guys on a reality show who go around handing out money. Only there was no one filming my reaction. Which is too bad, in a way, because I remember I was pretty floored. But a little scared, too.”
“Of him?” Sammy looked like he could pick David up and body-slam him without losing his place in the sports page.
“No. It just seemed like a sign my father is dead. I don’t know why but that’s how it struck me.”
“Did he say why he wanted to help? Did he know your father?”
“He certainly wasn’t a regular customer,” Sammy said. “I’d never seen him in the neighbourhood before and neither had Mum.”
“He lives in Brookline.”
“That’s pretty far to come for what we sell.”
“And he said nothing else?”
“Nope. Gave me the money and left without another word.”
“Sammy, does your father have any medical problems?”
“What do you mean?”
“David is a surgeon,” I said. “Or about to become one. Specializing in transplant medicine.”
“My father certainly has no condition like that. Nothing a better diet and a little exercise wouldn’t cure.”
“Has he been a patient at Sinai Hospital?”
“I think he had a thing on his neck removed there last summer. Was it there or Mass General? No, it was in the Longwood Area. I picked him up on Francis Street when it was done. But they just cut off a cyst, that’s all. No reason he would see a transplant surgeon.”
“Who’s investigating your father’s disappearance?”
“The Somerville cops,” he said, rolling his liquid brown eyes.
“Not much confidence in them?”
“It’s a very small force,” he said. “And Dad isn’t a runaway or Alzheimer’s patient, which is mostly what they deal with.”
“Same with Brookline. Did you tell them about David’s visit? About the money?”
“Hell, no! I figured the first thing they’d do was impound it,” he said, putting quote marks around impound.
“I didn’t tell Brookline that David had money either. Another five thousand. Which links the two cases in my mind, but won’t in theirs if we don’t tell them about it.”
Sanjay stared at a sack of lentils that wasn’t doing anything stare-worthy. “I can’t tell them about it,” he said softly. “It’s gone. We needed it so badly. You can see how bad. It was spent the next day, keeping us afloat for another few weeks. You won’t tell anyone, right?”
“All right. Thank you. And look …”
“I can’t pay you extra on top of whatever you’re earning. But while you’re investigating your own case, if there is any connection, anything you can find out about Dad, what happened to him … Because if we don’t …”
“Look around you. My father wasn’t the shrewdest operator. The store is poorly located and our margins are thin. We’ve been on a tightrope for months, barely holding on, to tell you the truth. And with Dad missing now, everything is frozen. We’re in limbo with the banks, the insurance, our suppliers. If we lose the store …” He sank back onto a stack of rice sacks and shook his head. “If I’m left alone here with Mum, my life is over. My sisters are older-they’re both married and starting families. If Dad stays missing, I’m going to have to take over here. This will be my life, this place Dad bought in fucking Somerville. You’ll call, right, if you find anything? You have the number?”
He wouldn’t let me leave without a business card with all his contact info, plus a few more copies of the flyer of his father, missing now for more than twenty days.
Sheldon Paull called me on the way back. I put him on speaker and asked if he knew anything about David playing poker.
“Funny you should ask,” he said. “I don’t think I was supposed to know about it. But one night, maybe a month ago, I got up to pee in the middle of the night and his door wasn’t all the way closed. The light was on. Nothing unusual, he often works through the night. I was walking past and I heard him go, “Yesss,” that way you do when you’ve done something great. I’m wondering, did he make a breakthrough or something? Something related to work or maybe Talmud? But no. Through the door I could see his arms in the air like he just scored a touchdown. And pocket aces on his screen.”
“How often does he play?”
“That was the only time I saw it.”
“He ever talk about it?”
“So you don’t know if he ever played in live tournaments.”
“Seems unlikely to me.”
“No sudden trips to Vegas or Atlantic City?”
“Nothing to suggest problem gambling?”
“Please,” Sheldon said. “What is all this, anyway?”
“We think David may have been making money playing poker.”
“If he was, he kept it from me.”
“You said he’s smart. Maybe he thought he could beat the odds. Get out of his financial hole. Maybe he got in over his head.”
“He was smart, is smart, and he could beat the odds if he wanted to. But he would have needed a stake.”
“He could have built one online.”
“But if he cashed any out, there’d be a record on his credit card statement.”
“Which there wasn’t,” I admitted.
“Anyway, it still doesn’t seem like David. He’s the opposite of the addictive personality. He gets his satisfaction from his work. That it for now?”
“Yes, thanks.” As soon as I hung up, the phone buzzed: it was Jenn, saying Dr. Stayner’s office had called to say he’d see me if I could be there in twenty minutes. I pulled over to the right, provoking only one middle finger and one hostile blast of a horn.
“That sounded warm and fuzzy,” she said.
“Can I get there in twenty from the Mass Avenue Bridge?” I said.
“Yes. Just stay on Commonwealth past the hotel till you get to Brookline and bear left. Park when you get to Francis.”
“Got it. Anything from the phone calls?”
“Drive now,” she said. “Talk later.”
Sean Daggett had four properties in the Boston area, not counting the one down the Cape.
There was the garage in Somerville, the one his father had owned, and his father before that, passed down the dark generations for certain kinds of business. There were cars in there and parts of cars, but none of them ever got worked on. People did sometimes; some bled or got bruised. Others passed through. Goods moved in and out. Hangers-on hung. Flesh got pressed. That kind of place. Then there was his newest acquisition, a defunct funeral home in Mattapan that was proving to be sweetly lucrative.
His family lived out of the city, of course, to keep the kids away from its fucking schools. Michael and Virginia went to St. Bridget’s in Framingham for a good parochial education free of Boston’s loony ideas and racial engineering. He and Bev had built a sprawling ranch house between Farm Pond and the Bracket Reservoir. The kids had one wing east of the grand centre hall, with their own bathroom and entertainment room and study. The west wing held the master bedroom and monster bath where you could soak, shower, massage and otherwise pamper yourself. They had their own big-screen den too, him and Bev. He slept at home almost every night.
The fourth place, the three-bedroom condo on the top floor of Williams Wharf, was his sanctuary, the place he came to do his white-collar work, where no one got bloodied. Here he received guests of a certain stature, representing the many snaking arms of Boston’s public services. Here he could think and plan in quiet, or as quiet as his head ever got.
The views of the harbour were breathtaking in almost every room. Ask anyone who had been there. His office, kitchen and bedroom all faced east. And out on the balcony, where he stood now, it was fucking panoramic. He had his leather jacket on and an Irish whiskey rocks in his hand, easing the spring night chill. Facing north, hip against the balcony wall, he could see the Bunker Hill Monument, the soaring stone rose-coloured in the footlights. He had grown up a few blocks from there on Russell Street, but hadn’t lived there in years. After his dad died, his mother had sold the place to a yuppie couple with one kid, early gentrifiers, and she hosed them but good on the price. Got three times what she would have got a couple of years before. Charlestown, once a tough old neighbourhood. There were more dry cleaners than bars now-what did that tell you about a place? The old crowd in Charlestown never needed dry cleaners. They had wives for that.
One of his bedrooms at Williams Wharf had been set up as a workout room, which he used often. Sean was past thirty-five but not yet forty, and kept himself hard and quick. Five-ten and 175: all he’d ever needed with his anger, his speed.
The third bedroom was a guest room made up if he ever needed to sleep downtown. But not with other women. Sean had been faithful to Bev since the day he fell for her at fifteen, felt lucky that she returned his love the way she did, loved the kids they were bringing up. They had survived their one bad crisis with Michael, had come through it strong, and he still found her so beautiful he would never even think of cheating, couldn’t imagine tasting another woman’s mouth or body. The Italians he did business with-the local concern being the remnants of the Patriarca family-Jesus, they ran around like crabs on a beach. Cunt hounds every one of them, sleazing from one lay or blow job to the next, all while the wives cooked and banged out kids and combed their hair on Sundays and took them to church.
Not Sean. He didn’t need all that drama. This place was a man’s place, one big den, in the very north end of Boston, smack among the Italians; how do you like that for balls?
Sean’s father had been a Charlestown classic, Michael James Daggett, a.k.a. Mad Mickey or the Mad Mick. One of Whitey’s boys: Whitey Bulger, who ran the Boston Irish Mob for close to thirty years while his brother Billy ran the State House just as long. All through his climb and his long time at the top, Whitey instilled in his men the one, the only, absolute rule of the trade: Never rat. Never tell a cop a thing. Never look a fed in the eye, other than to spit in it. Never say a word. Do your time like a man, we’ll look after the missus. Above all, never rat.
All while singing like a diva to the FBI. For years.
An epic Wagnerian song cycle, performed by Whitey and his partner Steve Flemmi. They informed on rivals and friends alike to keep their own trade humming, killing prodigiously all the while. Stevie especially. Even killing killers who killed for them. Killing girls. The details on some of the girls, when that all came out, were sickening, even to Sean. But even as the warrants were being issued, Whitey’s pals in the FBI warned him off and he stayed free another fifteen years.
Mad Mickey had been dumb enough or strong enough to believe in the Charlestown code and went to prison rather than deal with the feds. The feds got pissed enough to send him to Milan, Michigan, a rathole if ever there was one, a snake pit like Bedlam, only Bedlam wasn’t eighty per cent black. Mickey kept his mouth shut from the time he was swept up, never said a word in any interrogation room, courtroom or pretrial cell. Kept his idea of honour and did his time like an all-star, wouldn’t back down from a Panzer division, until he got into a fight where he brought fists and the brother had a knife, stabbed him deep through his ribs into the lungs, and the life whistled out of the slick bubbling hole in minutes. His father had stuck to the Town code and it got rubbed in his face like road rash. So excuse Sean if he didn’t feel sentimental about Charlestown. He got a kick out of seeing it from his balcony and never having to live there again. Once a square mile of mayhem and thievery and now a pocket of real estate deals.
Whitey’s treachery, his hypocrisy, his shattering of so many hearts had decimated the Irish Mob. It had never quite recovered. When Sean came out of prison last year, a lot of people thought he might make a move-he had the genes and savage temper for it-but he had stayed quiet. Not because he lacked anything for balls. His were big as Mickey’s and no less brass. It was because he was going to bust in the back door when he was good and ready.
Sean had a secret. One that meant he could stay clear of his old ways, anything that could take him back to Cedar Junction. His four-year bit there had cured him of any desire to get strip-searched and hosed down again. To miss his family and the other things that mattered. Now clear of probation, he was building something so new, so far under anyone’s radar, that not one of the many agencies that had pursued him over the years had a clue he was back in business. All because of Michael. A gift brought to his doorstep by his own beloved boy. His opening was coming. Out of the ashes of Whitey’s great deception, he was rebuilding. Gathering steam fast, with loads of cash coming in, untraceable. Soon he’d have enough to make his mark on the town. To carry a big enough stick that he could speak softly as a prayer.
If there was anywhere in America you had to fall sick, you would want it to be on Francis Street. Every building fronting on either side was a hospital, specialist centre or office building housing doctors. So was every other building for eight blocks. This was the place to be if your heart seized up, your legs gave out, an organ failed or a stroke left you needing a bedpan and a bib for meals. Or a woman with a barbell gave your head a whack.
I walked past a group of smokers all facing south so the wind was at their backs, pursing their cheeks as they sucked the last gasp of smoke they were going to have until their appointments or visits were over. I ducked between idling taxis waiting for people to ease out of wheelchairs and into back seats. Once I was inside Sinai Hospital, the first smell that hit me was not the usual mix of disinfectant, body fluids and anesthetics, the anxious odours and stale breath of the sick-it was coffee. Fresh coffee. Sold out of a cafeteria in a bright two-floor atrium. I lined up for a cup of dark roast and took it with me as I went in search of the east-wing elevators. I went down a hallway where both walls were lined with portraits of prominent Bostonians who had contributed to medicine through science, medical practice, philanthropy and other means. Near the end on the left was a beatific shot of the very man I was going to see, E. Charles Stayner, fingers steepled under his backlit chin as he gazed out at something only a man of his vision and talent could see.
On the sixth floor, I passed through a set of glass doors and found the Transplant Clinic on the left. Gave my name to the receptionist inside. “Right,” she said, “I spoke to your assistant. You’re here about poor David.”
My assistant. I hoped she hadn’t called Jenn that on the phone. We’d have to add phone repair to our hotel bill.
“Dr. Stayner had to take a call but it shouldn’t be too long. Just have a seat and I’ll call you.”
There were eight other people in the waiting room. Two were clearly on their own and neither looked healthy. Their skin was the colour of lard, their eyes a waxy yellow. The other six were in pairs: a sick one accompanied by a well one. Two older couples and a woman with what had to be her grown daughter. Some stared at a flat-screen monitor that had CNN with the sound off, which is the best way to watch CNN. Others read newspapers or did Sudoku or crosswords. Everyone spoke quietly if they spoke at all, leaning in close to murmur to each other.
There were three padded chairs in a nook by a window. I sat on the far left, where there was a table stacked with the hospital newsletter. I sipped my coffee and scanned stories about Sinai’s recent accomplishments and initiatives, and there were plenty, of course. New research findings, breakthroughs in clinical practice, expansions of service, acquisitions of clinics and smaller hospitals.
A burly man in his sixties filled the doorway, a Lee J. Cobb type who must have been powerful in his day. He paused there, panting a little, one hand on the jamb, then boomed out, “What is this, a waiting room or a morgue? Good morning, everybody.”
He stood there looking around until everyone muttered, “Good morning, Al,” or some variation back at him. He took in the three-seater I was in, ambled over and sank into the cushion on my right with a great exhalation. He looked at me, nodded, then looked over the magazines on the table in front of us and picked up a Sports Illustrated with last year’s basketball playoffs on the cover. He read; I read. Then he stood up and took off his coat and hung it on a hook on the wall and sat down again. His arms were furred with white hair and he had a thick gold watch on his left wrist. Between his right elbow and wrist were four large red lumps rising out of the skin like volcanoes in a diorama.
“They don’t hurt,” he said in a deep voice that sounded like it had rumbled through a lot of late, smoky nights.
He had caught me staring. “Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. They look painful but the doctors actually grow them on purpose, to make dialysis easier. Everything flows a little faster and you don’t get so many infections. They’re called fistulas.”
“You here with one of your parents?”
“No. Just visiting Dr. Stayner.”
“But not for yourself. You’re way too healthy to be one of us. Trust me, by the time you see Stayner, you look like shit. Like me.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just smiled at him.
“I don’t suppose you’re a donor,” he said. His grin showed he kept his teeth nicely whitened.
“You can live on one kidney, you know. Why we have two is a mystery, I’m told. And a healthy donor bounces back in two, three weeks. Everything’s done laparoscopically. You can wear a bathing suit in a month. You swim?”
“Too bad. You know I’m just pulling your leg here. Mostly. But the average wait for a donor in this state is five years. Now ask me how long the average patient lasts on dialysis.”
“Four years. Ba dum-bum. And I’ve been on two years plus already, so my meter’s running. However you do the math, it’s depressing. Now if you have money, then you have options.”
He leaned in close, like we were co-conspirators, and muttered, “China. They execute a lot of prisoners there, and every single organ is harvested. I even heard they execute people in that sect, what are they called-”
“Yeah. But it’s a few hundred grand I don’t have. I don’t suppose you’re rich. If you won’t give me a kidney, maybe you’ll lend me three hundred Gs? You make that kind of money?”
“Every five years,” I said.
There were fifteen diplomas on the wall of Dr. E. Charles Stayner’s office, none of them from matchbooks. Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Harvard again. According to his online biography, he was head of transplant medicine, a distinguished professor at Harvard Medical School and chair of Sinai’s bioethics committee. His CV ran fifty-four pages, or fifty-three and a half longer than mine.
Stayner himself was about five-ten, with a lean runner’s body. He looked to be in his early fifties, which meant he probably had time to earn another degree or two if he applied himself. His eyes were grey-blue, not unlike the sky outside his windows, and he wore stylish rimless glasses.
He came around from behind his desk to shake hands. The desktop was neat and dust-free. There was a framed photo of him with a teenaged boy who looked a lot like him with a mop of blond curls, and a nice-looking woman with dark hair down to her shoulders.
“Chuck Stayner,” he said. His grip was strong, of course. And quick. One grasp and on to business. “I’m running behind,” he said, leaning back against the desk, “so please tell me how I can help you.”
“I’ll try to keep it short. How long have you known David?”
“Since he began his fellowship, which was a year ago July. Call it a year and a half.”
“Would you say you know him well?”
“I know his work well. I know the part of himself that he applies to the work. The professional self, as it were. And I have to say, this disappearing act of his is unlike anything else he’s ever done. I’m not trying to seem self-absorbed here, but his absence has created significant problems for me.”
“He assists in most of my transplants, supervises much of the research, takes on any task he can find that no one else is doing. You don’t just replace a talent like David, any more than you replace a star athlete who gets hurt. It’s left me scrambling at times.”
That did seem self-absorbed, despite his efforts.
“Did he seem different in any way prior to his disappearance? Worried, preoccupied?”
“Not to me. David is very even-keeled as a rule. Which is part of his talent. He has the mind, the hands and the temperament to be a world-class surgeon. He needs rounding out in a few areas, like immunology, but that will come in time. I didn’t do my post-doc work in immunology until I was thirty-four.”
The slouch. “He never confided anything in you?”
“No. And I told all this to the police, by the way. Should I assume they have no leads?”
“None. Was he ever depressed?”
“Are you asking me whether I think he could have taken his own life? No. In addition to everything else, I believe his religious beliefs proscribe that rather severely.” He glanced at a slim silver watch around his wrist, reminding me my audience was limited.
“Who is he closest to?”
“In the department? Me, I suppose.”
“No other close friends?”
“We work very long hours here, Mr. Geller. Very long. To be frank, I don’t know what my residents or fellows do outside these walls. I couldn’t tell you which of them is married or has kids. If that’s a failing, I can live with it comfortably. Look, there is a roomful of patients waiting to see me.”
“Can you think of anywhere David might go if he were in trouble?”
“Home to Canada?”
“No. His passport is still here and no one at home has heard from him.”
“Then there’s nowhere else I can think of.”
“Last thing. He wasn’t allowed to moonlight or anything, right?”
“No, his visa doesn’t allow it. Which is too bad, of course. What we pay residents and fellows is practically criminal.”
“We found five thousand dollars in cash in his room. Any idea where that could have come from?”
For a moment, Stayner looked as sallow as one of his patients. He gulped as though he’d taken a large drink. “Five thousand? David?”
“Hidden in his closet. And we think he gave another five to the family of another man who is also missing.”
He crossed his arms and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’m-I’m frankly stunned.”
“I can see that.”
He looked more than stunned. He looked afraid. “Where would David get that kind of money?” Stayner asked, more interested in the money than in the other missing man. If he wasn’t going to bring it up, neither was I. Yet.
“Did he ever say anything to you about poker?”
“Not that I recall. I didn’t know he played.”
“He did online. Could that account for the money?”
“That seems kind of fantastic to me but who knows? It might be as reasonable as any other explanation.”
Still ignoring any mention of the other man. “You’re chair of the ethics committee, aren’t you?”
“Bioethics, yes. What does that have to do with it?”
“Could David have done something unethical to get that money?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“One of your patients was just telling me how hard it is to get a kidney. Could David have taken money to move someone up the list?”
“First of all, he wouldn’t have a say in that. And he wouldn’t do anything unethical, it’s not in him.”
“Would I what?” he snapped. “Do something unethical?”
“No. Have a say in who gets on the list.”
“Of course not. No doctor does, and I resent the question. The New England Organ Bank handles all procurement and notifies patients based on strict criteria.”
“I’m not going to do your research for you. Look it up on your own time.” His demeanour had slipped a couple of notches, from cool and self-absorbed to snappy. “Now good luck, Mr. Geller. Please let me know if you find out anything.” He walked back behind his desk. Got behind his chair too.
“And you’ll do the same?” I laid a business card on his desktop. He moved it to one side with his fingertips. Then he phoned out to his receptionist and asked her to send in his next patient.
“One last thing,” I said. I took a folded flyer out of my jacket pocket and handed it to him. “Do I have your permission to put this up by the elevator?”
He unfolded it and was saying, “Yes, yes,” when he actually looked at it. I watched his reaction as he saw Harinder Patel’s face and walked out thinking it was a good thing he didn’t play poker.
Jenn and I had a late lunch at the hotel coffee shop. I told her about my visit to Stayner and the question of whether David could have taken money to get someone onto, or higher up on, a donor waiting list.
“But Stayner says he couldn’t have,” she said.
“Right. Even he can’t, he says.”
“Are we going to take his word for it?”
“Not a chance.”
“You think he knew more than he was letting on.”
“Something about the money,” I said. “That’s when he flinched, and this is not a man who lets go easily.”
She agreed to stay behind at the hotel and work the phones, to try to get confirmation from the New England Organ Bank about its protocols and track down more people David Fine had spoken to in the days before he went missing. I drove back to Summit Avenue without getting lost and parked near the house he shared with Sheldon. There were a lot of other houses to canvass-too many for one night-so I walked to the plateau of the hill where a dozen or so people stood or sat in the park known as the Corey Hill Outlook. With the trees bare of foliage, there was a striking view of some of downtown’s taller buildings, lit up against the dark spring sky. Three people sat on a curved stone bench, watching the first evening stars come out. A young boy stood on a large stone sundial laid into the grass, while his father explained how it would work if the sun was out.
I started with the people on the bench, showing them David’s picture, asking if they remembered seeing him in the area two weeks ago, or at any time. They held the photo closer to the lights that shined down from tall iron stands, but eventually shook their heads and said sorry. I went over to the sundial; standing next to it, I could see a small stone laid in the grass above the twelve like a grave marker, telling how to find the time in different seasons. The twelve had once been gold. Now the one was completely stripped down to grey and the two had only splotches of gilt left. The father told me he didn’t recognize David, either. “Who was that?” the boy asked as I walked away. “It doesn’t matter,” the father said.
A young couple holding hands, leaning into each other at the edge of the grass, thought David looked vaguely familiar but couldn’t place him at any specific time or place.
I tried a cyclist stretching his calves out against a tree, his bike lying on its side beside him. He took one look at the photo and scowled. “The rabbit,” he said.
“You recognize him?”
“Damn right I do.”
He was in his early twenties, tall and lean, dressed in Lycra pants and a long-sleeved shirt that was stained with sweat. Despite the low light of dusk I could see deep shadowed bruises under both eyes and a healing cut on the bridge of his nose.
“Why’d you call him a rabbit?” I asked.
“Because he ran like one.”
My heart started to race a little, the way it does when I know I’ve found something. “From what?”
He pointed to the bruises on his face. Pulled up his sleeves to show angry scrapes on both elbows. “I ride this hill every day, unless it snows,” he said. “Up one side and down the other, then back again. I’m trying out for Boston College track next fall.”
“When did you see him?”
“Couple of weeks ago.”
“Could it have been a Thursday?”
“Probably was. That Wednesday it snowed, I think, and Friday a bunch of us went to New Hampshire for the weekend.”
“So what happened?”
“I’m coming up the hill, right? The steepest part back there. Killing my lungs, man. I can barely breathe. Then the road starts to straighten out and I reach back for a little extra, get the legs pumping. I hit the plateau and I pick up a little speed. I love to fly down the other side. You feel the wind in your face, drying the sweat-it’s nirvana, man. So here I come, picking up speed, and just as I’m getting ready to roll this asshole throws the door of his van open without looking.”
“Him?” I asked, pointing to David’s picture.
“No, another asshole. I slam into the door, I go ass over handlebars and do a face plant in the street.”
“Where was this man?”
“On the sidewalk. Him and another guy who came out the passenger side. The sliding door.”
“Wait. My guy here, David, he was walking along and these guys both opened their doors? Driver’s side and rear passenger.”
“Like they were waiting for him?”
“Could be. It didn’t strike me at the time. I was lying in the road, trying to figure out how bad I was hurt. There was blood gushing out of my nose and mouth and my arms were scraped to the bone.”
“The passenger, he kind of grabs your guy, whatever, they start arguing about something.”
“Well, voices raised. Some physical contact. The driver, he’s totally ignoring me, he’s going to help his buddy. I start yelling at the top of my lungs, calling him an asshole, hoping the people in the park will hear me. Your guy twists away somehow, gets free and takes off like a scared rabbit. My only witness. I fucking needed him if I wanted to press charges against the driver but he just split on me.”
“Down the path.”
“Summit Path.” He pointed to a sign that was partly hidden behind the branches of a tree.
“Where does that go?”
“All the way down to Beacon Street. Only he wasn’t walking, he was flying.”
“What about the guys in the van, what did they do?”
“Got back in and took off.”
“Did you get a licence plate on the van?”
“I wish. I mean, I tried but it was covered with mud.”
“What kind of van was it, do you remember?”
“Old. Kind of grey. American, not Japanese, like a Safari or something.”
“Did you call the police?”
“What for? They were gone, my witness was gone. And no one gives a shit about cyclists in this town. Especially the BPD.”
“Isn’t this Brookline?”
“Huh? Oh, I guess. I don’t live here, I just ride the hill.”
“Get a good look at either guy?”
“Not the passenger, except to say he was white. The driver too. Tall, a little older than me, maybe thirty. Blond hair. Black leather jacket. That’s really all I took in at the time. I wanted to follow the van but what was I going to do if I caught it? Against two guys? I was fucked up enough already. I just got myself to the hospital, got my nose set. Got my arms cleaned up. Luckily my bike was okay. I don’t have the coin to get that fixed.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Freddy Macklin. Yours?”
“Jonah Geller. Listen, thanks, Freddy.”
“I think you might have saved David’s life.”
Summit Path might have been a path at one time but it was a staircase now, wide stone steps heading down with black wrought-iron railings on either side. I walked down the first flight to a gravel laneway and looked right and left. There didn’t seem to be anywhere there to run to or hide. Beyond them was the open space of the park opposite the lookout, not where a man on the run would want to be.
I kept going down another flight, which ran alongside an apartment building. Could he have run down into the parking lot, maybe to a doorway, hoping someone would buzz him in? I tried to put myself in his shoes. He’d been on his way home from work. Minding his own business. Two guys get out of a van, one of whom tries to grab him. Despite the fact that a cyclist is lying hurt in the street, he takes off. Why? Because he knows these guys are after him. He knows what they want. To abduct him or kill him. He gets free but he can’t be sure he’s not being followed. His heart is pounding, his feet flying. He’s not an athlete. He’s not used to this. No, I thought. He wouldn’t stop here. He could wind up trapped, pounding on doors, pushing buzzers, getting only silence in reply. I was sure he’d have kept going. I would have.
The third flight was narrower and ended at a street where cars rushed past going west. I swivelled around, taking in a 180-degree view, trying to see it as David would have. Beyond the street was one more shallow flight to Beacon Street. More options for him there. Maybe a cab, a cop car, pedestrians who might help out. And halfway across the boulevard a trolley stop where a green-and-white car sat as passengers got on at both the front and rear exits. Think, Jonah. What would you do? If there’s a cab, I flag it, whether I have the fare or not. I could always get the cabbie to drive past a bank machine. If there’s a cop car-big if-I throw myself at it, unless there are things I don’t want to tell the cops. If I’m David I know the area, probably better than the guys in the van do. I know how long it might take them to drive down from the top of Summit Avenue.
I probably know this trolley route too. Maybe I’ve taken it to work before, or to class when I was still in school. Maybe I run for it and jump on, blending in with the other passengers, hoping to attain some kind of invisibility. The rear doors had been tantalizingly close.
I ducked between cars and crossed to the trolley platform. It was seven-thirty. Roughly the same time he might have come two weeks ago. Nothing to lose by asking. I lined up behind other commuters and waited for the next car to come rolling along.
The driver was a man of about fifty, a solid gut resting on his thighs, rheumy blue eyes and a few busted veins in his nose.
I paid the two-dollar cash fare, took out one of my photos of David Fine and asked the driver if he had seen him board the car on a Thursday evening two weeks ago.
“You kiddin’ me?” he said. “You know how many people get on and off this route? I don’t even look at faces half the time. I’m checkin’ they’re payin’ their fare.”
“Just have a look at it, please.”
The driver sighed. “What time was this?”
“Probably would have been the car before this one.”
“Any way to find out who that was?”
“Yeah,” the driver said. “Stay on until we get to the end of the run at Cleveland Circle. If you’re lucky, you might catch him before he heads back east.”
I elbowed my way to the doorway so I could be first off, then sprinted to the bay where the eastbound car was boarding. I waited until everyone had paid their fare and found seats before approaching the driver, a black man with a touch of grey at his temples and in his goatee. I showed him David’s photo and asked if he remembered him boarding two Thursdays ago. “He would have boarded at Summit Path,” I said. “And he might have been out of breath like he’d been running.”
“A lot of people run to catch the train,” he said. “Else they have to wait for the next one.”
“He was wearing a skullcap.”
“Muslim or Hebrew?”
“Hebrew. Clipped to his hair.”
A light came into his eyes when I said that. “You know what? Two Thursdays ago-yeah, a young guy, not too big, maybe thirty? I remember him now and you know why? He came in the rear door, just as I was about to pull out. Huffing and puffing like you said. Which ain’t so unusual, I told you. So he gets on all out of breath, walks up to the front and pays his fare and-why I remember it-he gets off at the very next stop. See, we got a problem with fare jumpers on this line. It’s the only one you can get on at the rear and we’re supposed to keep an eye on them, make sure they pay. So I eyeballed him in the mirror when he got on back there, made sure he paid, which he did, but only rode one stop. This is an honest guy. He could have hung around the back door and just stepped off. Plus I wondered, why run like that to catch a train when you’re getting off one stop later.”
“You sure it was him?”
“Pretty sure. He had a briefcase too, I remember that now. Clutching it to his chest.”
“He say anything?”
“Nope. Just paid his two bucks, stood there till we got to Washington Street and got off.”
“You see which way he went?”
“Man, you want your money’s worth.”
“He’s been missing since that night. I’m trying to find out what happened to him.”
“Missing, huh? From here? No shit. I mean, I’m only surprised ’cause Brookline’s not a bad area, compared to some. Where I’m from, Mattapan? You could fill a whole lot of milk cartons with everyone goes missing from there.”
“You were gone a while,” Jenn said. “I was getting a little antsy.”
“You could have called me.”
“I did. Your phone was off.”
“You need to stay in touch.”
“Don’t worry so much. I have a mother for that.”
“Consider me her stand-in. So what happened? Find anyone who saw him?”
I filled her in on my talks with the cyclist and the trolley driver. When she had taken in all the details, she said, “So, someone really tried to grab David that night.”
“But he got away.”
“For the moment,” I said. “They could have tried again and succeeded.”
“Or he found a good hiding place and doesn’t want to come out.”
“Not even to call his parents? He’d know they’d be worried sick.”
“I know. I’ve got a couple of things on my end,” she said. “I called the New England Organ Bank and spoke to a woman named Wendy Carroll who confirms what Stayner told you. There’s no way a doctor can manipulate the waiting list for a transplant. When an organ becomes available, the bank evaluates the candidates on the list as far as their health, their readiness for surgery, the severity of their illness, etcetera, and they contact the hospital. It doesn’t work the other way around.”
“So David didn’t get that money for influence peddling.”
“No. Have you signed your donor card, by the way?”
“Good. Me too. ’Cause I’ll tell you, the numbers are scary. There’s over five thousand people in Massachusetts alone waiting for organs, mostly kidneys, and maybe one in five will get one. Cadavers are hard to come by.”
“Not in Mattapan, I hear.”
“Next,” she said. “Carol-Ann Meacham.”
“The one who called David all those times.”
“And vice versa. But when I asked her about it, she couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. And I don’t think it was just a matter of being busy. These are all busy people. I just mentioned David’s name and boom, she shut down. Said she couldn’t help me. Pretty much hung up on me.”
“You get the feeling they were dating?”
“I’d like to ask, if we can get some face time with her.”
“What does she do again?”
“According to the hospital website, she coordinates a gene study there.” She called up the web page on her laptop, then swivelled it so I could see the screen.
It was a year-old news release announcing that Sinai Hospital would be asking all patients seeking treatment to provide a blood sample for genetic testing, with the results to be used to build a massive genome database.
According to the release, the research team hoped to collect samples from a hundred thousand patients, even those seeking routine care, and follow them over time to see how their genetic makeup, lifestyle and environment affected their health.
At the bottom was a contact number for media relations. I called it, got voice mail and left a message saying I wanted to interview Carol-Ann Meacham about the gene study as soon as possible. Then Jenn and I went over other options for the next day.
“With luck,” I said, “Karl will get David’s computer open and we can find out more from his email and browser. I also want to talk to Gianelli again, tell him about the attempted grab.”
“The alleged grab, he’ll say.”
“The problem is all the different police forces at work here. The fact that Mr. Patel is missing too, that would normally stir some interest, but one’s in Brookline, the other’s in Somerville. Can you imagine Toronto working this way?”
“I’m just trying to imagine Toronto working,” she said.
Gerard van Vliet, of the Sinai Hospital media relations squad, called just after nine the next morning. I told him I was writing a feature on genome studies at leading American hospitals, which I hoped to sell to the Globe and Mail.
“Oh, yes,” he said brightly. “Well, I’m glad you picked Sinai Hospital. We are certainly at the forefront of this type of research. If you like, I can set up an interview with the lead researcher, Dr. Tim Sellers, who’s a cancer specialist here.”
“I thought I’d start with the coordinator,” I said. “Dr. Carol-Ann Meacham?”
“Ms. Meacham isn’t a physician,” he said. “She can’t really speak to the medical aims of the project. But she could give you an overview of the structure and process.”
“Great,” I said. “Once that’s done, I’ll be able to speak to Dr. Sellers from a more informed point of view.”
“Good plan. Where can she reach you? At the number I just called?”
“Let me call her office then. Our policy is that she’ll return your call within one business day.”
“The earlier the better,” I said.
“I know, I know. Deadlines. I used to be a reporter myself. Let me see what I can do.”
While we waited, I called Mike Gianelli and told him what I had found out the night before.
“This cyclist,” he said. “Why didn’t he call us?”
“Because the guys took off and he didn’t think it would be taken seriously.”
“Or he wasn’t sure what he saw. It’s tainted either way.”
“I’m just telling you what he told me. It looked like these guys were waiting for David and jumped out of their van as he was coming up the sidewalk.”
“Looked like. They could have been getting out for any number of reasons.”
“One of them grabbed David.”
“Maybe he just wanted his briefcase. And the cyclist, he didn’t get a licence plate?”
“Says it was covered with mud.”
“It’s more than you had before.”
“There’s something else,” I said. “Another missing person.”
“No. Somerville. But they’re connected.”
“David had a copy of a flyer about this man in his apartment. An Indian man who owns a grocery store. I went there and spoke to his son. The father went missing a week before David.”
“That’s not exactly-”
“David went there the day before he disappeared.”
“To the store?”
“Yes. And it wasn’t to shop because nothing they have is kosher.”
“I still don’t see-”
“You think you could talk to your counterpart in Somerville about this other man? See if they have any leads? I know he’ll tell you more than he would me.” I wished I could tell him about the money that linked the men so surely in my mind, but that’s where that had to stay for now.
He sighed. “All right. I know one of the detectives there pretty well. We were on the Boston beat together. I’ll see what he’s got. But don’t get your hopes up, Geller. Even if some connection pans out somehow, they’ve both been gone too long.”
“For there to be any good news.”
Carol-Ann Meacham was around thirty, dangerously thin with dull brown hair and a pinched mouth with turned-down corners that she stretched into a smile cold as tundra. A face we’d call mieskeit in Yiddish. It generally means plain, veering into ugly. She was easily that and, by the look of her, not a woman who approved of much.
Her office was in a warren of small offices in the north end of the hospital. Grey metal cabinets lined both walls, and cardboard boxes of files were piled on top of them. More loose files were piled on top of those. One match in that room would have sent up a fireball.
We settled into chairs opposite her desk. Jenn got out our digital camera and took a couple of test shots to see if there was enough light in the office to get away without using a flash. There wasn’t.
“My colleague will take some candids while we’re talking,” I said. “And then maybe we’ll pose a couple.”
“You said this is for the Globe and Mail?”
“I looked it up this morning to prep for this. You don’t have any bylines with them.”
“I’m freelance,” I said quickly. “I’m hoping this will get my foot in the door.”
“Let’s start with the research parameters,” I said. Parameters. I am such a quick study. “Your goal is to collect a hundred thousand samples?”
“And how many would you say you have so far?”
“At the end of the first full year, we had a little over twelve thousand.”
“That seems low.”
“It’s bound to grow as it becomes better known.”
“Not everyone likes getting stuck with a needle.”
“Of course not. And there’s a consent form, of course, and not everyone is comfortable with that. There are literacy issues with a large segment of our population. But we are confident the compliance rate will improve over time. And a new initiative we launched last month extends the study to visitors as well.”
“Really? You think people coming to visit will give blood samples?”
“Not without compensation, of course. Anyone who volunteers gets their name entered in a draw with some great prizes. A trip for two to the Bahamas, a new car, golf clubs, Red Sox tickets. All donated by hospital supporters. In fact, it would be great if you’d mention some of their names in your article. You could even give a sample yourself. Your colleague could take a photo of that.”
She looked at Jenn and gave her a colicky smile. Jenn quickly flashed her and she flinched. She was off-balance. Time for a low block to shake up her legs.
I asked her, “Was a man named Harinder Patel one of your participants?”
Loved her reaction: eyes widening, tendons in her throat sticking out like harp strings.
“I–I can’t comment on any individuals,” she sputtered. “That’s confidential. And why would you-”
“Because he and David Fine are both missing.”
“Who are you? You’re not a reporter.” Then she looked at Jenn. “You. Are you the woman who called me yesterday?”
Jenn didn’t say a word. She just pointed the camera and flashed Carol-Ann again.
“Stop that! No more pictures. And no comment. Get out of my office, both of you.”
“You called David repeatedly before he disappeared,” I said. “And he called you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you weren’t lovers.”
“Lovers! Are you mad? Get out, before I call security.”
“How about the Brookline police? Want to call them too?”
“What are you talking about?”
“They’re investigating David’s disappearance,” I said. “And they know about Mr. Patel too.”
“Know what? What is there to know?”
“Come on.” I said. “He was a patient here. His son told me so.”
“So what? We have hundreds of thousands of patients here.”
“How many go missing?”
“You really need to leave now.”
“No. You really need to tell us what you know about David.”
“Nothing! Okay? I don’t know anything about him. He just left one day.”
“We’re pretty sure he was abducted.”
Her face went as grey as the cabinets behind her. “What do you mean? Who would abduct David Fine?”
“Why don’t you tell me? That night, he told his roommate he was stopping at a lab on his way home. Around six. You might have been the last person he spoke to. Was he here?”
“You have no basis for this-this interrogation.”
“You think this is an interrogation? Wait until the cops bring you in.”
Her complexion, like the song, was a whiter shade of pale. “I don’t know what happened to him! I–I wish I did. But I swear, he never said a word to me, not a word, not about leaving or anything.”
“But he was here.”
“Just to look at sample results. Morbidity and mortality statistics.”
“Why all the phone calls between you two?” Jenn asked.
“They’re recorded in his phone, Carol-Ann.”
Her face grew tighter, as if strings were being pulled inside. “All right,” she said. “He did ask me out. I liked him and we talked a few times on the phone, okay?”
“Why didn’t you tell us that before?”
“Because it’s none of your business. But I can see that you’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you the truth, so I’m telling it. We were making plans to go out on a date and that’s all there is to it.”
“What did you decide?” I asked.
She hesitated before coming up with, “Dinner and a movie.”
“Near David’s apartment.”
“Which restaurant, Carol-Ann?”
“Sichuan Garden, okay? Right on the corner.”
“All right,” I said. “Thanks for clearing that up.” I turned to Jenn. “I think we have everything we need, don’t you?”
Being the devil she is, she set off the flash again, right in Carol-Ann Meacham’s lying face.
“Now we do,” Jenn said.
“Sichuan Garden my lobster-loving ass,” I said as we walked back to the car. “What was he going to order there? The shrimp, the pork or both?”
“You’d order both,” Jenn said.
“I’m not Orthodox. But David is the real thing. You saw his room. He eats out of his closet so he can keep kosher.”
We retrieved our car from a parking lot and headed back toward the hotel. We still had paperwork of David’s to go through, and more calls to make, moves to plan.
Jenn turned on the camera and scrolled through the photos she had taken of Carol-Ann Meacham. “Too bad lies don’t show up on camera,” she said. “Look at that face. Totally defensive. Her body language too.”
“Like he would have asked her out. Yech.”
“Which brings us back to the phone calls. Why else were they calling each other at home?”
“Let her stew a bit. Maybe she’ll be more inclined to tell the truth next time we ask.”
Jenn leaned forward to peer out at the next street sign and said, “Shit. I think you should have made that right on Newbury.”
“The GPS would have told you that if you’d let me use it.”
“Just make the next left and double back on Commonwealth.”
I followed her instructions, then turned left on Newbury to get to the laneway behind the hotel, where the parking entrance was. A grey van behind us made all the same moves. Two men in the front seats. Both white. The driver had blond hair. The licence plate was covered over with mud.
“Ready for our next interview?” I asked.
“The clowns who are following us.”
A white grocery truck sprayed with dozens of tags had its back doors open at a loading dock ahead on our right. That left room for one car only to pass. I stopped with my nose parallel to his, blocking the van behind us, and told Jenn what I was going to do. She unfolded our map and got out, moving toward the parked truck as though looking for someone to ask about directions. As soon as she was clear I put the gearshift in reverse and hit the gas. Slammed hard into the van behind us, rocking it backwards. Then I grabbed the GPS off the dashboard and rolled out of the car.
The driver had been stunned for a moment by the impact, but now he was getting out of the car and reaching for a chrome gun butt in his waistband. I threw the GPS at his head. It didn’t hit him but he had to duck and that gave me the time I needed to rush him and drive my left fist into the bridge of his nose. His head snapped back, blood streaming from his nostrils. His eyes looked half closed but his hand was still on his gun. I pulled my right wrist in close to my chest and drove my elbow forward into his cheek. It opened a nasty gash, as elbow strikes should, and knocked him flat on his back, out cold.
I looked over to check on Jenn. As soon as the passenger opened his door and swung a leg out, she threw her shoulder against it. He yelped in pain as the door slammed against his shin. When he tried to push it open, she braced her feet against the curb and kept the pressure on until he howled.
I thumbed the magazine out of the driver’s gun and put it in my coat pocket. I ejected the shell and put it there too. The empty gun went under the driver’s seat. Then I reached in and turned the engine off, grabbed the keys and scrambled around the back to Jenn’s side.
Her guy had his hands on the edges of the door, trying to keep Jenn from closing it on his leg. I slammed the heel of my hand onto his fingers and he let go with a yell. I opened the door and grabbed him by the lapels with one hand, and patted him down with my other. No gun. His wallet was in an inside pocket of his leather jacket: Kevin Walsh, a Boston address, somehow made it to twenty-six dumb years of age.
“Your partner’s out, Kevin, so you’re going to have to do all the talking.”
“About what? We were just taking a shortcut here and you attacked us, man, you’re crazy.”
“You were following us. And you and your friend tried to grab a man named David Fine two weeks ago. On Summit Avenue with this van. You hit a cyclist and he got away.”
“Where is David Fine?”
“How should I know!”
I added my weight to Jenn’s on the car door and he cried, “Ow. Christ. Okay. you’re right, you’re right.”
“We tried to grab him. Please.”
“Let go my leg!”
“Aargh! He got away, like you said.”
“Just tell me where.”
“Down those steps. Down that path. I don’t know what the fuck it’s called. He ran down them and we couldn’t find him with the van.”
I nodded at Jenn and we took just enough weight off the door to keep his leg pinned without pressure.
“Who hired you?”
“He did,” Walsh panted, pointing to his driver’s seat. “He said we had a job to do, didn’t say who hired him. Didn’t say why.”
I looked at Jenn. “Do you believe him?” He saw the look in my eyes and tried to pull his leg inside the car but Jenn was too fast. She threw herself against it again and he screamed as it trapped his leg, lower this time, closer to the ankle.
“Who wanted him? Who wanted David!”
“No fucking way,” he said. “Break my leg, go ahead. I ain’t saying fuck all.”
I could tell he was too scared to talk, whether I broke his leg or not, and one of these shitheads had to drive the other one out of that alley. I picked up the GPS and went back to our car, got the digital camera and took shots of both pretty boys. I also took close-ups of both drivers’ licences and the van. I banged the mud off the front plate and shot that as well. Then I helped Walsh swing his limp partner into the back seat so he could drive them both to a hospital, if they so chose. I figured they would head for Sinai. If they’d been following us for any amount of time, they knew where it was.
We had a message from Colin MacAdam when we got up to my room. Karl Thompson had cracked David’s password and had sent us a link to a ghost drive where we could look at his email and Internet history. Jenn started on that while I booted up my laptop, uploaded the pictures I had taken of our assailants and called Mike Gianelli in Brookline.
“How would you like to see a photo of the guys who tried to abduct David Fine?”
“Give me an email address, you’ll have them in a second.”
“All right, Geller,” he said, and gave it to me. “I’ll circulate them here and with some of my old guys in Boston. We come up with something, I’ll call you. Jesus Christ,” he said, “maybe turning you loose wasn’t such a bad idea.”
When I called Adath Israel and asked to speak to the rabbi, the woman who answered said they didn’t have one. “We will, shortly,” she said. “Certainly for the High Holidays. Our search committee is almost done. Are you thinking of joining?”
“No, I’m from out of town,” I said. “I was hoping to ask the rabbi about a member named David Fine. I was told they’re close.”
“Oh, you want Rabbi Ed,” she said. “Ed Lerner. Yes, he and David were close, I’d say. But he’s not with our congregation anymore. He stepped down last month.”
“Can I ask why?”
There was a pause and then she said, “Personal reasons. That’s all I can say.”
“Could you put me in touch with him?”
“His number is unlisted,” she said. “So, no.”
“It’s very important,” I said. “David is missing and his family has hired me to find him.”
“More than two weeks.”
“But he’s such a lovely young man,” she said, as if that were some kind of shield against trouble. “No wonder he hasn’t been at services lately. All right, you leave your number with me,” she said. “I’ll get Rabbi Ed to call you. And you didn’t hear it from me, but his daughter might be in the book under S for Sandra.”
“She’d be listed?”
“She’s single, I heard. She’d be crazy not to.”
“David is here on a very limited visa, right?” Jenn asked.
“Yeah, a J1.”
“Can’t work anywhere, can’t moonlight.”
“So he probably can’t vote, right?”
“No. No way.”
“So why did he spend so much time checking the website of Marc McConnell, congressman from the Eighth District?”
“Which is where?”
“Let me check. There’s a map on McConnell’s site. Hmmm. Mostly downtown Boston, Cambridge, parts of Brookline-but not where David lived. Curves right around it.”
“The same city line that kept the Boston PD out.”
“So someone who can’t vote and can’t even ask for a favour because he’d be asking the wrong guy … how much time was he on the site?”
“In hours or minutes, I don’t know, but he visited it more than once. Bookmarked a number of pages. And searched McConnell on Google.”
“We should do the same.”
“Wait. He also emailed him a few times.”
“Slow down there, hombre. Let me get this open. Okay, he wrote February 23, asking for a meeting with McConnell.”
“Did he say why?”
“No. But he does say it’s urgent.”
I crowded in over her shoulder and read along with her.
She checked and found a formulaic response from someone named Tim Fitzpatrick, an adviser to McConnell, who thanked David for his interest in the congressman’s work and asked if he wanted to be on his mailing list. “Okay, then two days later, David emails again, saying-”
“ ‘I really need to meet with Mr. McConnell,’ ” I read. “ ‘It is in both our interests that we meet immediately.’ ”
“Dated February 26.”
“And two days after that he’s gone. Is this hotel in his district, by any chance?”
“This block of Commonwealth?” She glanced at the screen. “Smack in the middle,” she said.
“Then we’re constituents,” I said. “Let’s get ourselves an audience.”
Sean Daggett and Kieran Clarke were having drinks in leather chairs facing each other across a glass coffee table. Something Kieran had found, a smooth Irish whiskey called Redbreast they were having over ice, one cube each.
“Tell me about McCudden and Walsh,” Sean said. “Are they total fuck-ups or can they not catch a break? First they lose the Jew they’re supposed to grab, now they get beaten up by Canadians. One of them a girl. That makes them 0 for 2.”
Kieran was Sean’s oldest friend from Russell Street, and his best friend left. He had the size Sean lacked, a little over six-two and 20 pounds heavier than when he’d played football-call it 240 now, but still all brick, no mortar. “Walsh says they got suckered. Says the guy rammed them in an alley.”
“What does McCudden say?”
“He ain’t talking yet. Still doped up. Took two pretty good shots.”
“From a Canadian.”
“Jesus,” Sean said, shaking his head. “What have I been saying since I started this, Kieran? What’s the one thing I repeated over and fucking over?”
“We need the right guys …”
“Thank you. The right guys. Not a lot of guys. I don’t need an army. Just pros. That’s all I need to get on top of this thing and stay there is solid pros. No showboats. Strong silent types. Last names don’t count, where you came from don’t count. Look at the Italians, they’re all softies coasting on family names. Classic third-generation business failures. But we Irish, Kieran, we’ve got the same fierce genes we always had, we’re still bred for the street in our little packs. We’re still fucking desperate. I know the right guys are out there.”
“They are. McCudden and Walsh are exceptions.”
“No,” Sean said, “they’re examples. Bad luck, trouble, they brought it all. Take care of it, man.”
“And I want them found.”
“Any particular message?”
“They didn’t talk, so leave their tongues alone.”
“What says fuck-up best?” Sean asked.
“Two in the head?”
“A classic,” Sean said. “Nice call. Now about these Canadians, what do we know?”
“I’m told they’re PIs from Toronto.”
“And they take out two guys from Southie? Christ. We got names?”
“Jonah Geller and Jenn Raudsepp.”
“What kind of names are those?”
“Raudsepp, who knows. Swedish? She’s tall and blonde, Walsh said.”
“And Jonah Geller?”
“Sounds Jewish to me.”
“Another Jew? What am I, surrounded all of a sudden? Is it National Hebe Week?”
“My mother used to say one of them’s a cheat, two makes a con.”
“Where they’re staying?”
“The Sam Adams.”
“Who have they talked to?”
“The Brookline cops.”
“Who know dick. Who else?”
“They been to the hospital a couple of times. And Geller went out to Somerville.”
“Somerville? Fuck. I’ll show them Somerville. Show them my fucking garage.”
“You serious? You want me to pick them up?”
Sean thought for a moment, swirling around the ice in his drink, and said, “Not yet. We still have our wandering Jew out there. If these PIs are so good they can take out two of our guys, no sweat, maybe they’ll find him for us.”
“We got eyes on them.”
“Good. One last thing now, then I’m out of here. I want to sleep at home with my wife tonight. I spoke to the congressman in the Eighth District, McConnell. He’s all set.”
“He met your price?”
“They all meet my price.”
“Jesus, half a mil. And you don’t leave the house.”
“That’s the beauty of it. The other guy, the Greek. Is he confirmed?”
“He can’t not show.”
“He’ll show. He’s eager. He’s a degenerate fucking gambler, needs money like we need air.”
“I told you this thing was going to pan out.”
“We’ll clear over five million the first year. We got no competition, controllable expenses. Very little risk across the board.”
“You did it, pal.”
“I’m not fishing for compliments. I’m saying no more fuck-ups. I want Walsh and McCudden gone. And as soon as these PIs find their fellow Jew, I want them gone. No one left standing.”
“And if they don’t find him?”
“Any message there?”
“No. Just make them disappear.”
“Same way as the others?”
“Sure,” Sean said. “Go with what you know.”
Americans like two things in their politicians: height and hair. Marc McConnell had both. In the photos posted on his website, he generally looked two or three inches taller than the other men around him. His hair was thick and smartly combed, grey at the temples, the rest dark brown with strands of grey threaded through like filigree.
According to his biography, he was forty-two, born and raised in Boston. A triple eagle, having gone to Boston College High School, Boston College itself and then BC law school in Newton.
“What kind of lawyer?” I asked Jenn.
“Human rights and international justice.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need him. What else does it say?”
“Married his high school sweetheart, the former Lesley Austin-Smith, fifteen years ago.”
“Just once, I’d like to read about a politician who married a slut he picked up in a bar.”
“Oh, and look, she’s an heiress too. Lucky girl, her father was-honest to God, they use this phrase-a shipping magnate. They still have magnates?”
“I think George Steinbrenner was one.”
“Wait,” Jenn said. “Maybe not so lucky.”
“I just Googled her separately and this one old article … one sec. Oh God.”
“Cystic fibrosis. It runs in her family. Two out of three kids got it, she and her sister. The brother didn’t for some reason. The sister died at twenty. But Lesley was four years younger and as she was getting critical, medicine had advanced to the point where she could get a double-lung transplant. She was nineteen years old.”
“So if they were high school sweethearts, he was with her through all that.”
“Yes. She was only the third to survive the procedure in Massachusetts, it says.”
“You live in Boston, you have the money, you’re bound to get the best care. How long ago was this?”
“She’s forty now, so twenty-one years, which is amazing. It defies a lot of the stats I read. Not that many are still alive fifteen years after transplant.”
“The new organs give out?”
“No, the organs are fine. They get cancer from all the drugs they have to take.”
“Do the McConnells have any kids?”
“Which means no, because politicians always flaunt their kids. They’re photo ops from birth.”
“Maybe the drugs affect fertility too.”
“If they do, I’m sure you’ll find out. You’ve been doing amazing research.”
“I’ve had plenty of time while you’ve been out.”
“Was there a pout behind that?”
“Not at all. You should get to see Boston.”
“See if McConnell has any events coming up. We can both get out.”
She moved her wireless mouse and clicked. “Aha. The congressman and the missus are both planning to attend Slow Art Day at the Institute of Contemporary Art between eleven and two tomorrow.”
“Slow Art Day?”
She moved and clicked again. “It is, and I quote, a global grassroots movement that encourages people to look at art in a new way, by spending a few minutes looking at each piece, really taking it in and making a connection with it, instead of rushing through. It says here the average person spends eight seconds looking at each object or exhibit when they’re not regular museum-goers. They wind up taking in too much info and they get tired and grumpy.”
“It says that? Tired and grumpy?”
“It does. And not inclined to visit again. They want people to take their time, just see one part of the museum instead of the whole thing, and see the rest another time.”
“In other words, it’s not a global grassroots movement, it’s a membership drive. Does it give the name of McConnell’s PR person?”
“It lists the museum’s and-yes, here’s the congressman’s too. Tim Fitzpatrick, communications adviser. You want to try the Globe and Mail bit again?”
“Not on a political operative. He’d check it before he returned the call. Let’s just go. Come up and shake the congressman’s hand. Ask why David wanted to meet him. See the look on his face.”
“And check out what an heiress wears on Sunday,” Jenn said.
Rubin’s Kosher Deli was on Harvard Street in Brookline, in the middle of the stretch of Jewish shops we had canvassed. A plain place with red vinyl booths and tabletops sticky with rings from soda glasses and coffee cups.
I walked in and looked for a burly bearded man in his fifties, which is how Rabbi Ed Lerner had described himself on the phone when he’d returned my call. “Look for me in a window seat,” he had said, but there was no one fitting his description at any of the booths at the front. I took a seat at one, assured the waitress that I was meeting someone and ordered coffee to start with. It had just arrived when a heavy man with a salt-and-pepper beard came in the door, breathing heavily. He looked around, saw me and raised his eyebrows.
“Jonah Geller?” he said.
I got up and extended my hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “I ran into someone outside who absolutely, positively needed to know why I left Adath Israel. It’s no one’s business but in this community, it’s everyone’s.”
He was about five-eight and easily 200 pounds, maybe 220. Early fifties, a mop of curly hair under a skullcap that looked more African than Jewish, brightly coloured and raised up on a circular brim. His eyes were a shade between green and blue.
“You going to eat,” he said, “or just have coffee?”
“I could eat.”
“And I, as you probably guessed, can always eat. I should stay out of places like this but what can I say? There is no better food in the world than deli. A soup, a sandwich, a pickle on the side. This is how man was meant to eat. This man, anyway. And everything’s kosher, by the way, in case you observe.”
He waved the waitress over and she greeted him with a big smile. “Hello, Rabbi. I thought maybe you weren’t coming in today.”
“Did the world end and I missed it? I was just held up outside.”
“You need a menu?”
“Nope. I’m going to start with a matzo ball soup,” he said. Then he looked at me: “You like a good matzo ball soup? Yes? No insult to any of your family members but you won’t find better than here. And if you promise not to tell my daughter,” he said to the waitress, “I’ll have a pastrami on rye and an order of latkes.”
“What size sandwich?”
“And you, sir?” she asked me.
“Have a sandwich,” the rabbi said. “Don’t make me look bad.”
I told the waitress I’d have the same thing as Rabbi Ed and she said she’d be back in a few minutes.
“If my daughter had her way, I’d be eating poached salmon on mixed greens,” he said. “Granted, I could lose a few pounds, but we all have our vices. Pastrami is mine.”
“There are worse.”
“I know. I heard them all in my years as a rabbi.”
I could see why people would confide in him. He seemed warm, hearty, down to earth. A sizable man with a rumbling baritone.
“So,” he said. “This is terrible news about David Fine. For him to drop out of sight is totally out of character.”
“You hadn’t heard about it till now?”
“Being away from the shul, I’ve been a little out of touch. And that was my main connection to him.”
“When did he join?”
“He started coming maybe four years ago. He would have been in grad school, I guess. Shabbos services at first, and then a few other things, like our communal Friday-night dinners.”
“How well did you know him?”
He looked toward the kitchen, nostrils flaring as if trying to scent out our lunch. The waitress wasn’t in sight. “Adath Israel was a big congregation. Too big in the end, over a thousand families from the two dozen we started with. It’s one of the reasons I left. But we don’t have to get into that. You want to know how often we spoke.”
“Not much at first. I could see right away he knew his stuff, and enjoyed doing it too. Especially the Torah service. He sang out, which not everyone does. Put his heart into it. You’re smiling. Why are you smiling?”
“Because everyone describes him as shy, introverted. I’m having a hard time picturing him singing.”
“Then picture it this way. A bright young man, very gifted, with tremendous responsibilities. Entirely self-imposed, you understand, but still very real. And once a week he can come and envelop himself in his tallis and close his eyes and sing melodies he has known since childhood.”
“You’re making me want to come.”
“So you’ll come to my new shul.”
“Where is that?”
“At this point, it’s more a question of when. I’m hoping to start something new, a little different, a little more intimate. There’s a place I have my eye on. But some things still have to come together. Another story for another time.”
“Did he ever come to you for guidance?”
“If he did, could I tell you? If David is in trouble, I would want to do everything I could to help him. But there is also the matter of confidentiality.”
“Trust me, Rabbi, he is in trouble.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“Is that the same as knowing?”
“It is for me.”
“Are you by any chance a student of Kabbalah?” he asked.
“Okay. Are you familiar with Donald Rumsfeld?”
“The former secretary of defence?”
“Yes. I’m not sure how closely you Canadians followed the Iraqi war but he gave a rather famous speech in which he distinguished the things we know from the things we don’t know … you remember that?”
“Yes. The known unknowns, the unknown unknowns.”
“Exactly. Like Mr. Rumsfeld-and I am sure this is where the similarities end-Kabbalah teaches that there are many layers of understanding. Many layers of knowing. You may know in your heart that something has happened to David, but in my heart, I have to ask myself: What if I told you something that David wanted me to keep confidential, and then he turned up suddenly. Would I not have done him a tremendous disservice?”
“Can you at least tell me if there was something he confided?”
“Over the years, certainly.”
“What about more recently? Did you see him in the days or weeks before he disappeared?”
“When was that exactly?”
“Last day of February.”
“Let me think about that. I’m not always so good with dates. Ah, here comes the soup. Don’t tell your mother you liked this better.” He added salt and pepper to his without tasting it, filled his spoon, blew on it hard enough to send some of it back into the bowl and slurped it loudly. Beads of it glistened on his beard. When he spooned in half a matzo ball, I decided to wait until he had finished the soup before I asked any more questions.
The waitress came and cleared our soup bowls and said she’d be right back with our sandwiches.
“So,” he said. “Did I lie?”
“About the soup? No,” I said. “So can you think of the last time you spoke to David?”
He looked up at a ceiling tile. “The last time … at least a month ago.”
“After you left Adath Israel.”
“Now that you mention it.”
“Was it at your home?”
“It must have been. Yes, at home. In my study.”
“It must have been important then.”
“For him to come to your house.”
“A lot of people come to my house, Jonah. They come for dinner, to play guitar and sing, to welcome Shabbos, to say goodbye to Shabbos, to be with me and my daughter-who isn’t married, by the way. In fact, I thought for a time maybe she and David … but I guess there wasn’t a spark there. Maybe he just wasn’t ready.”
Was he long-winded or avoiding answering the simplest of questions?
“Did he seem different? Upset about something?”
“We’re veering back into ethical problems.”
“Please, Rabbi. His parents are going through such hell.” Might as well throw a little guilt on the fire. Always works on me.
“As his rabbi, I-”
“But you’re not his rabbi anymore. And you weren’t when you last saw him.”
“I may not have been the head of his congregation, but I was still his rabbi.”
“You won’t help me?”
He sighed. “I’ll tell you what. Come to dinner tonight. We always make room at our table, especially Friday night. In the meantime, I’ll think it over. See if I can help you without doing David any disservice. You know Bartlett Crescent?”
“Is it in Brookline?”
“Yes. Not far from here.”
“I’ll find it.”
“Good. And if you want to have a glass of wine or two, leave your car and come on the T. We’re just up from the Washington Square stop.”
“Sounds like a fix-up to me,” Jenn said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You and the rabbi’s daughter. Didn’t he mention she was single?”
“Just dropped it into the conversation.”
“In the context of David Fine. He wanted to fix David up, not me.”
“Oh, Jonah,” she sighed. “How naive can you be?”
“Why would he fix his daughter up with a guy who’s only in town on a job?”
“Because you’re so darn eligible?”
“I don’t think I’m rabbi’s daughter material.”
“Pshaw. That’s not Yiddish, I suppose? Pshaw? It could be. It’s one of those spitting sounds you make when you explain the food.”
I had come back to the hotel stuffed to the gills. The sandwiches at Rubin’s were huge. “They come in two sizes,” Rabbi Lerner had told me with a wink. “Large and larger.” Luckily I had only ordered the large. After the soup, I had barely finished half and brought the mountainous remains back for Jenn, who was eating it as I filled her in on the rabbi.
“So you think David went to his house the night he disappeared,” she said.
“We know he got off the trolley at Washington Square. The rabbi lives just up the street from there.”
“And he wouldn’t tell you anything more?”
“He didn’t even tell me that.”
“What makes you think it’ll be any different tonight?”
“He said he’d think it over. Maybe some text or other will convince him it’s the right thing to do.”
“Man, that was good,” she said, as she balled up the wrapper of her sandwich. “And he ate a whole one?”
“And quickly. Plus soup and a side of latkes.”
“A man of appetite.”
“So you’ll eat well tonight.”
“While I languish here in the hotel.”
“You don’t have to. You could come with me.”
“And crowd your style? I think not. Anyway, I’m still waiting for a callback from Tim Fitzpatrick. Maybe the congressman and his sweetheart wife will invite me to dinner.”
My cellphone showed an incoming call from Hard Driver. I put it on speaker so Jenn could hear.
“Karl,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Aw, dude, can you believe it?” he rasped. His voice is low and gravelly from years of shouting over the roar of engines; his great passion other than hacking is restoring and racing vintage motorcycles. “I broke my damn foot, man. I’m stuck behind my desk.”
“So you’re working on our stuff.”
“Fuck you, man. I’m in pain. And if Rosa finds out how I did it, I will be in such shit. Just because she’s pregnant.”
“How did you do it?” Jenn asked.
“Racing up at Mosport. My bike rolled over on me. And we’d had a pretty good relationship up to that point.”
“You okay otherwise?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah. They make you wear a helmet at these things.”
“Make you?” Jenn said. “You’d race without one?”
“Do you wear a helmet every time you get on your bicycle?”
“Even to the video store?”
“Okay, no, but-”
“See? It’s all about degree. Personal risk and personal choice. To me, cyberspace is fast, that’s where I live most of the time, but ground speed, man-when that is fast, it is something else entirely.”
“You’re going to be a father!” Jenn said.
“Not for three more months.”
“Jenn,” I said, “let Karl grow up on his own time. He probably phoned about something important, like David’s computer?”
“Right. The poker. Now that took a while, dude-the site he played on had major security. Major.”
“But you got past it.”
“That hurts,” he said. “That hint of doubt in your voice. Yes, I got past it, this is me here. I found his ID, I’ve seen all his transactions and I know his current balance. I’m just saying it took some time. For which you’re going to have to compensate me in full at the usual rate.”
“Doesn’t have to be the eighteen-year-old,” he said. “I don’t want to break you guys. The twelve will do.”
The Macallan that cost a hundred instead of two-fifty. “You’re a gentleman.”
“C’est moi. Okay, you saw the man’s credit card charges. Three fifty-dollar charges to allinpoker, all one word, dot com, fifty being the minimum buy-in. The first was last September, the next a week later, the third and final one a month after that. Conclusion?”
“He was a quick study.”
“Correct, sir. Each fifty-dollar payment lasted longer than the previous and he hasn’t had to re-buy since the third, so either he stopped playing or he figured out what he was doing. And the answer is, the latter. His account shows activity until a couple of days before he vanished.”
“When did he have time to play poker?” Jenn said.
“The early morning hours,” Karl said. “Usually between one and three.”
“Didn’t he need sleep?”
“Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t. I can’t half the time. Anyway, he started off playing five-dollar tournaments and got bounced pretty fast in most of them so he scaled back to one- and two-dollar entries and did better. Started winning the odd one. When he earned house points, he used them to play in free rolls. Learning his game. Eventually he started moving back up to the five-dollar games. Winning those too. And then, finally, starting maybe a month ago, ten-dollar games. That’s as high as he ever went. But the payoffs are good: ninety if you win, forty-five for second, twenty-seven for third.”
“He’d love that,” I said. “Ninety is five times eighteen, which spells life in Hebrew. What kind of player was he, can you tell?”
“I couldn’t see what he played in any particular game-you know, what he went all in with, what he folded-but I can tell from his player stats, the percentage of flops he saw, that he was a cautious type. The kind of player you never hear from until he has a hand for real, then he knocks you out with kings or aces. What we enthusiasts call TAG, for tight-aggressive.”
“Fits everything else about him,” Jenn said.
“What’s his current balance?” I asked.
“Eight hundred and fifty?”
“I know,” Jenn said. “It’s nothing.”
“I wasn’t being sarcastic. I mean wow. That’s almost twenty times his original stake. That can’t be easy to do.”
“Trust me,” Karl said.
“But he never charged back any winnings to his credit card. So as impressed as I am by his learning curve, there’s still no evidence he played for or won large amounts. Imagine if he’d had an actual stake.”
“Maybe he did,” Jenn said. “We’ve been thinking that money in his closet might be winnings from poker. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a stake he was planning to use and never got to.”
“Someone would have to have given it to him. Someone who knew he was good and wanted to use him to win. And where do you go to play big games?”
“There any casinos there?” Karl asked.
“There must be,” Jenn said. “We’ll check.”
“Is it just me or does this all sound really far-fetched?” I said. “Isn’t it possible that he was just what he was, an overworked, overtired physician in training who needed to do something at night when he couldn’t sleep? It’s too big a leap from what he was doing, this five- and ten-dollar stuff, to gambling for thousands of dollars.”
“I know,” Jenn said. “It’s a stretch.”
“You want a stretch?” Karl said. “You should hear what I told Rosa about my foot.”
Next time the phone rang, it was Mike Gianelli. “That picture you sent me,” he said. “Of the guy you think tried to grab David? I got something for you.”
“Not over the phone,” he said. “Come in and see me.”
“Man, I just got back from Brookline.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I only got the call now.”
So back I went to Brookline, whence I had come. Considering I had never heard of it three days ago, I seemed to be wearing a rut in its direction.
The same big side of beef, W. Kennedy, was on the desk. He looked at me like he’d never seen me before when I said I was there to see Gianelli. At least he didn’t hold up his finger to shush me. Just gave me a flat blue look, then picked up the phone, punched in four digits, waited, said, “He’s here. Okay,” then said to me without looking up, “He’ll be down.” And that was all the energy he had to expend on me that day.
Gianelli came down more quickly this time and led me through a secure door behind Kennedy’s counter to an interrogation room. There were four chairs around a round table. He pointed to the one facing the door. “Sorry we can’t use my office right now, but we’re lucky this one’s free. You want a coffee?”
“Bottle of water?”
“Okay. While I’m going, can I see that licence of yours again?”
I took it out of my wallet and handed it to him.
“Won’t be a minute.”
And he wasn’t. He was more like four or five, during which time I wondered if there was anyone behind the mirror in the wall to my left. There was a video recorder on a tripod in the far right corner, but no red light showed.
When Gianelli came back, he had my water but not my licence.
“Remember what I said about the Boston PD? They’re ready for you now.”
There were two of them, each one uglier than the other. And one was a woman, built like one of those brick houses they put around high-voltage substations. She was about thirty-five, black with a shaved head and round rimless glasses, dressed in a baggy dark purple suit over a black shirt buttoned to the top. She was no more than five-five and probably outweighed me-and I’m carrying 190 now. Her partner was over forty and definitely outweighed me. Be hard not to, given he was a good six-three and not built small. Between them, they could more than handle me. They could stop a bullet train.
“Jonah Geller, these are Detectives Betts and Simenko from the Boston police,” Gianelli said; Betts was the woman. “They’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the photos you emailed me.”
“Why are the Boston police interested?”
“We’ll sort out the jurisdictional issues later.”
“There are no jurisdictional issues,” Betts said. Being short, she maintained an outward thrust of her chin that was probably supposed to intimidate people but just made her look defensive.
Gianelli didn’t seem intimidated. “Like I said, we’ll sort that out later. Geller, you sent me this picture by email, right?” He placed a printout of the Kevin Walsh photo on the table.
There was no point in denying it. The cyberlink was there. “Yes.”
“And this one?”
It was McCudden’s battered face, with blood coming out of his mouth and cheek.
“Handsome devil,” Simenko said.
“You said it was your belief that these men attempted to abduct David Fine on Summit Avenue in Brookline on the evening of February 28?”
“This is starting to take on the rhythm of an interrogation,” I said.
“It’s a conversation,” Gianelli said.
“For now,” Simenko said. He took my licence out of the side pocket of his grey suit coat, examined it and dropped it back in, like that was supposed to make the score fifteen-love.
“You further stated,” Gianelli said, “that they-”
“You told me you caught them following you yesterday and there was an altercation?”
“That was why McCudden was sleeping,” Simenko said. “You talked him unconscious.”
“Is that the last time you saw him?” Betts said.
“Him or Walsh.”
“Yes, that’s the last I saw of either.”
“No further altercations, verbal or otherwise?”
“There’s that rhythm again.”
“Do you have a firearm here in Boston?” Simenko asked.
“No. I already told Gianelli that.”
“You have a licence to carry one?”
“No. No gun, therefore no licence.”
Betts said, “You’ll submit to GSR testing?”
“I should have asked for the coffee, Gianelli. A bottle of water isn’t worth this.”
“McCudden and Walsh were shot and killed late last night,” she said. “Dumped in the harbour. Which,” she said to Gianelli more than me, “definitely means no jurisdictional issues.”
Jesus, the two of them dead. For screwing up with us yesterday. Whoever they were working for didn’t have a long fuse.
“Can you account for your whereabouts?” Simenko said.
“I was sound asleep.”
“At the Sam Adams.”
“Not with your partner?”
“She has her own room.”
Betts reached into her inside pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Unfolded, it was an enlarged copy of a photo from Jenn’s investigator’s licence.
“I don’t know,” Simenko said. “If it was me, I’d be sharing one room.”
“Me too,” Betts said.
Hilarious, both of them. At least they’d still be ugly in the morning.
“You say Walsh admitted his part in this supposed abduction?” she asked.
“Apart from the two shots that took the back of his head off,” she said, “he had abrasions and bruising on one leg. That have anything to do with him admitting it?”
“He was entirely cooperative. Plus I found a witness who’d identify at least one of them,” I said.
“The cyclist,” Gianelli said. “We’re trying to get in contact with him.”
“This cyclist didn’t seem to think there was an abduction until Geller told him so,” Simenko said. “Otherwise he would have called it in at the time, right?”
“He’ll say they were there,” I said.
“On the sidewalk with Mr. Fine, if that was Mr. Fine. Maybe arguing. They could have bumped into each other. It could have been a simple grab for his wallet or briefcase.”
“Yeah, there’s a big market for papers on kidney disease.”
“They wouldn’t know what was in it.”
“He hasn’t been seen since and they were following us because we’re looking for him.”
“You don’t know that for a fact.”
“I know they’re dead. So who did they work for?” I asked.
“Right,” said Simenko. “You’re not from around here. Don’t know your locals.”
“But you do, so you know who killed them. For fucking up the abduction and getting taken by us.”
“By you and your feisty partner,” said Betts. “How long you going to be here?”
“Until we find out what happened to David.”
“You renting by the month?”
“Very funny. Do you know who they worked for or not?”
“That’s a conversation for the grown-ups,” Simenko said. “Gianelli, copy us on the file on this MisPer. We’ll be in touch if there’s anything else.”
They were on their way out the door when I said, “Hey. My licence.”
Simenko shrugged and tossed it on the table. “Ain’t worth shit here anyway.”
“You throw a nice ambush,” I said after they’d gone.
“I warned you,” Gianelli said. “I told you to introduce yourself.”
“You didn’t have to lure me down here with a phone call. You could have told me what it was about, I’d have come.”
“Hey, I did you a favour. They wanted you down at their place and that wouldn’t have been as much fun. They got security at the front door like an airport. Now, you want a coffee or not?”
He took me up to his second-floor office, fortuitously free now, and went and got us each a mug of coffee.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“The man the two dead guys worked for.”
“You’re a civilian, Geller. There’s a limit on what I can tell you.”
“Then you must think I have something to tell you.”
“This cup of what you call coffee. If the conversation was over, you’d have sent me on my way. You didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t. Because I do think you know more than you’ve said.”
“I told you I’d share whatever I found and I did.” At least my legs were crossed when I said it. “So who is he?”
“The Irish are a lot less structured than the Italians,” Gianelli said. “You got more gangs than families. But my connections in organized crime tell me McCudden and Walsh used to work for a guy named Sean Daggett.”
“He got sent up on a state weapons charge, just came out not that long ago. Well, maybe a year. And seems to be keeping straight. Hasn’t done dick since he got out.”
“What was he into before?”
“The usual. Extortion, gambling, hijacking, armed robbery.”
“What kind of gambling?”
“Christ, I don’t know-numbers mostly.”
“Cash games, you mean? I suppose. Why?”
“Just a wild swing,” I said. “David played on his computer so we thought maybe he’d ventured into a live game.”
“With what? We looked at his bank statements, the man had nothing.”
Unless I told him about David’s money, the story had all the credence of a federal budget. And if Sammy Patel wasn’t telling about his half, I was staying quiet about David’s. “Never mind. Like I said, a wild swing. So what does an Irish gangster want with a nice Jewish doctor?” I asked. “Those two thugs didn’t just happen to accost him for his wallet. Can we at least agree on that?”
“Of course we can. And don’t think Betts and Simenko wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t in front of you.”
“A kidnap with zero possibility of ransom. His parents have nothing except their house and I’ve seen it: it’s the kind of place the next owner will knock down. I asked his boss if he could influence donor lists and the answer was no. The only other thing he had in the world was his skill.”
“Maybe someone needed an operation done outside the box. The kind only he could do.”
“You know how impossible it is to get a kidney here?” His voice took on a different colour as he said it. A personal note.
“You know someone on a waiting list?” I asked.
“I did,” he said. “My brother-in-law. My wife’s younger brother. Great kid. He died waiting for a transplant, must be eight years ago now. He was thirty-eight when he passed. Anyway, all I’m saying is it’s not easy watching someone getting sicker and sicker when a transplant would help.”
“You think someone procured an organ on their own and demanded he implant it?”
“It sounds dumb, I know, but you said yourself, apart from his skills, what did he have? A simple mugging gone wrong, we’d have found his body by now.”
“But you’d need more than one guy to perform that kind of operation.”
“How many more?”
“I don’t know, but it’s got to be a few. I’ll ask Dr. Stayner. So what are you going to do about Daggett?”
“Me? Nothing. What’s Daggett got to do with me? He doesn’t live in Brookline and as far as I know he has no place of business here.”
“You have reason to believe a crime took place.”
“Maybe. But even if I believe it, there’s nothing I can act on. The best I can do is work behind the scenes a bit, see what else I can find. Just don’t expect me to bail you out of anything. You’re on your own here.”
Didn’t I know it.
I called Jenn as soon as I was out of the Brookline station and filled her in on my lovely chat with the Boston PD. I was pissed at Gianelli, pissed at the mugs from Boston. My heels were pounding bits of mica out of the sidewalk as I stalked toward my car.
“What do you think of Gianelli’s theory?” I asked.
“That David was kidnapped and made to operate on a gangster? That had to have been a Bogart movie.”
“Who plays the surgeon? Fredric March?”
“Or Leslie Howard. And are they supposed to have kidnapped an entire team? What did they do, show up with a bus?”
“Unless they already had a team in place and just needed one more. Look, I know it sounds too film noir,” I said, “but Gianelli and I agreed on this much: the fact that McCudden and Walsh were involved tells us this was no random mugging, it was a legitimate kidnap attempt. I think the poker angle is bullshit.”
“So do I.”
“And two different people have told us David couldn’t have manipulated the organ donor waiting list. We know ransom was out and there was nothing for him to embezzle. So what else did David Fine have in the world worth taking him for, if not this very special expertise of his, this world-class talent?”
“Maybe he witnessed something.”
“What, like a Mob hit?”
“It’s no less wacky than the Bogart script.”
“Still doesn’t explain the ten thousand he had. All right. Maybe I’ll find out something at dinner tonight. David might have gone to Rabbi Ed for help that night and he might know where he is.”
“That’s two mights in one theory, Holmes. And where he went that night is not necessarily where he is now.”
“No. Listen, I’m going to drive back to the hotel and drop off the car. I want to take the T to dinner.”
“The T-aren’t you a local boy!”
“I want to take the same ride David took, if he took it, get off where he did and walk to Rabbi Ed’s from there. I doubt there’s any sign of anything after two weeks but I’ll walk it. Try to see it through his eyes.”
“Plus you need the car.”
“To do what?”
“See what Carol-Ann Meacham does on a Friday night.”
Stayner himself didn’t call-he had left for the weekend-but one of his residents, Tania Hutchison, phoned me as I was walking into the hotel lobby. “According to Dr. Stayner,” she said, “the minimum team required to perform a simple transplant such as a kidney would be five. You’d need a lead surgeon, an assistant surgeon, an anesthesiologist, a scrub nurse and an OR nurse.”
“Ideally, you’d have one more nurse, but he said you could get by with five if the organ is coming from a cadaver.”
“And if not?”
“With a live donor, we always have two teams. The organ is taken out by one team, carried next door, where a second team one implants it while it’s fresh. Meanwhile, the first team tends to the donor. Prepares him or her for post-op care.”
“Can it all be done by one team?”
“Yes … but it would take a lot longer. They not only have to do it all, they’d have to rescrub in between.”
“What about space? How big a theatre would you need?”
There was a moment of silence while Tania considered it. “Not that big. You really just need a table with good light, and room for the team and their instruments. You could do it in the type of room where simple day surgeries are done. Cosmetic surgery, arthroscopy, that type of thing.”
“Okay. So how well do you know David?”
“We’ve spent a lot of time together,” she said. “A lot of time. We were residents together before being awarded our fellowships. And we were the only two who won them. I know his mind pretty well, what kind of problems he enjoys solving, how he approaches challenges, which is always the same. Study it closely, really closely, know everything about it and how it works, let it simmer a bit and then move decisively. And brilliantly. I don’t know if he plays chess, for example, but he’d be unbeatable if he does.”
“Apparently he prefers poker.”
“No! David? Really? Huh. I don’t associate him with that. But I can see that he’d be good at it. His temperament is actually pretty moderate for a surgeon. Some want to grow up to be Napoleon, I swear. I’m way more uptight than David, I can tell you that much. Although the last few weeks there …”
“He never talks about anything personal. I don’t know to this day if he’s straight or gay. My gut feeling is he’s straight but I know he’d never go out with someone not Jewish so I never tested the waters. Maybe when he-”
“Tania? Did he seem upset?”
“Right. Sorry. Yeah, he did to me. It’s hard to describe changes in someone who keeps to himself as much as he does, but it’s like his screws got a little tighter. He’s always been pretty serious but the last few weeks he looked more grim. Not just soaking up information, which is like oxygen to him. Stewing about something. Did you ask Dr. Stayner?”
“Yes. He said he hadn’t noticed a change.”
“I doubt David would show any weakness around him. Stayner’s his idol. He’d never disappoint him. Or never did until he dropped out of sight.” Then she hesitated and said, “What feels the worst is I’ve really benefited from his disappearance. I’ve assisted on all of Stayner’s surgeries since then and if David doesn’t come back, I’ll be first in line for a fulltime position. It’s everything I’ve wanted since I started Harvard and I can’t enjoy it. I can’t tell you how badly I want him to come back.”
I thought of Ron Fine’s deeply lined face and the catch in his voice when he spoke about his missing son. I said, “You don’t have to.”
The southern sky was dark indigo when I got off the trolley but there were still lighter shades of blue to be seen in the northwest as I walked up Washington Street. The air was cool and damp, the street lights blurred by ragged mist. I looked down at the sidewalk and curb as I walked, like you do when you’ve lost a ring or wallet and you’re retracing your route, as if I might actually see something. Look! There! A vital clue that explains it all. Suddenly we know why one of the most stable people on earth suddenly had to run for his life. Footprints materialize that show the way he went. Snippets and fragments are discovered. There! On that branch! The snagged bit of cloth our forensic team will analyze to ferret out his location.
Oh, wait. We have no forensic team. Which was fine because there was no cloth snagged on the bare branches that hung over the street. There were no vital clues. No footprints or fragments, no clouds of his breath still steaming in the night air. No rings or wallets in the gutter. Nothing but an oily swirl of water running next to the curb.
Someone was playing blues guitar on Rabbi Ed’s street, and not badly. I could tell it wasn’t a recording: at one point as I neared his house, the player stumbled once and had to start his riff again. It sounded like an early 1960s Chicago style: no fuzz or pedal effects, just a nice clear tone that emphasized the actual notes, and he could play them, bend them, make them sing pretty well. I had a vision of a teenaged boy in one of the neighbouring houses, learning at the feet of the masters. Then I got to Rabbi Ed Lerner’s house and realized it was coming from the bay window on the ground level. When I knocked on the door, the music stopped, and I heard a searing screech of feedback before the amp shut off.
The house was a cottage with vinyl siding painted a deep green and white shutters framing the leaded windows. The garden in front had low shrubs along the walkway still wrapped in burlap coverings.
Rabbi Ed was perspiring when he opened the door. He wore the same white shirt and blue jeans he’d had on at the restaurant. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his brow with a sleeve. “I always shvitz a little when I play. Must be my soul coming out.”
“You sounded great.”
The hall was wide, with dark wood wainscotting, archways and door jambs. He led me into the study at the right of the entrance. A turquoise Stratocaster rested in the cradle of a guitar stand next to an old Fender Twin amp. They looked like they could blow a high school dance apart.
“Long before I became a rabbi,” he said, “when I was in theatre school, if you can believe it, I played in a band with some of the kids. We called ourselves the Castoffs and I was the lead guitarist.”
“I’m still digesting the theatre part.”
“Scratch a rabbi, find an actor. Or, God forbid, a comedian. Anyway, that was my undergrad experience. It didn’t take me long to realize I’d never make it as an actor and I didn’t want to be a hanger-on. I made a total break.”
“But you still have your guitar chops.”
“That I can always practise on my own,” he said. “You can’t really act in your living room. And if ever I fall on hard times, that’s a 1961 Stratocaster. I could retire on it. Listen, I have to change for dinner, I’m not wearing this sweaty thing for Shabbos. You want a drink or anything? Glass of wine? I have some Scotch, nothing fancy, but I think there’s Chivas.”
“Chivas on ice would be great.”
“Let me get you that and I’ll tell Shana you’re here. I did tell you my daughter would be joining us?”
“I thought her name was Sandra.”
“To everyone else, yes. Sandra or Sandy, depending if it’s work or friends. But to me, it’s Shana.”
He went off to get my drink and I looked around his study. There was a large wooden desk against the wall in one corner, with a closed laptop barely visible under sheaves of paper. He had bookshelves along one entire wall, with a collection of Judaica and philosophy like David Fine’s, only three times the size. The other wall was dominated by an aquarium in which four or five turtles swam lazily, bumping up against driftwood that stood like a tree in the middle. On the wall above it were photos of Ed Lerner in a variety of settings: breaking ground at a construction site along with three other men, all in hardhats; cutting a ribbon in front of the Holocaust Memorial; decorating a sukkah; accepting an oversized cheque from a man in front of a building called the Vilna Shul.
I leaned in closer. The man presenting the cheque was the congressman from the Eighth District, Marc McConnell. Couldn’t miss that hair and height.
I heard footsteps behind me and ice clinking in a glass. I took a breath to compose myself before turning to face the rabbi. If there was anything to ask about the photo, I wasn’t sure what it was yet.
It wasn’t him standing there with my drink. It was his daughter and she had two drinks. She looked nothing like him, wasn’t cut from the same ursine cloth at all. She was in her mid-twenties, about five-five, with deep grey-green eyes and chestnut curls that spilled past her shoulders. There was the finest mist of freckles across a face that met every qualification for lovely. Shana was the right nickname for her. It means pretty or sweet in Yiddish. One of the nicest compliments you can give a woman is to say she has a shana punim, a sweet face. Which she had.
She passed one drink to my left hand and offered her right. “I’m Sandy Lerner.”
“The detective,” she said, smiling. Her teeth were straight and white like she’d never had a coffee in her life.
“I shouldn’t joke about it. It’s terrible about David being missing. Dad is pretty distraught about it. But I’ve never met a detective, police or private.”
“You’re lucky then. No one hires us for fun.”
“Any luck so far?”
“Not much,” I said. “We have theories but no real clues to support them or tell us where David is now.”
She wore a white blouse with a maroon brocade vest over it and a green peasant skirt cinched tight at the waist with a lighter green scarf knotted at one side. “How is his family doing?”
I shook my head. “If I can’t find him, they’ll be crushed.”
“I feel awful for them.”
“So what’s your experience of David?”
“A great person,” she said. “I know my dad was hoping I’d go for him, and I thought he was very sweet, and cute in a boyish kind of way, but there wasn’t any chemistry. But I really admire what he’s doing. Some guys my age are so directionless, they can barely find their way to class.”
“Where do you study?”
“Tufts. I’m doing a master’s in urban planning and heritage conservation.”
“Great city for it.”
“Yes. The thing about David,” Sandy said, “is he needs a little more balance in life. His idea of a perfect evening would be a few hours of studying followed by a few more hours of it.”
“Could be anything. A ball game, as long as it’s not freezing. A concert, a play, a walk. Brunch in the north end. The beach in the summer. It’s not that I don’t read or study-I do, but even the Talmud says there’s a time for study and a time for action.”
“The rabbi’s daughter heard from.”
“I only quote that because it’s one of Dad’s favourites. When he wanted me to play outside as a kid, that’s the one he’d throw at me.”
“There’s my drink!” Rabbi Ed called from the doorway.
“Sorry, Dad, it was just sitting there.”
“I thought maybe I was starting to forget things. So? We set? Let’s have Shabbos dinner.”
It began, as it must, with candles. Sandy put simple white ones in two polished silver candlesticks, then covered her head with a white lace cloth. Rabbi Ed handed me a yarmulke from some long ago bar mitzvah, the inscription inside too faded to read. Sandy lit a match and held it until its flame became regular. She took each candle out, melted its bottom and replaced it, secured by wax. She shook that match out, lit another and looked at her father. He lowered the lights. She lit each candle, shook the match out, then covered her eyes with her other hand, leaving the fingers slightly apart so she could see the candlelight through the gaps. I held my palm out and watched my fingertips glow red in the flame.
She sang the blessing in a reverent alto, letting it resonate in her chest and ring in her head. We followed in lower tones. Rabbi Ed lifted a pewter kiddush cup and sang the brief blessing over wine. Then Sandy handed me a bread knife. There was a braided challah on a wooden cutting board on the table. I took the knife and surprised them with a reasonably melodious Hamotzi over the bread.
“The boy has upbringing,” Rabbi Ed said.
Sandy said “Good Shabbos” to her father and kissed him on the cheek. He wrapped his arms around her and gathered her close and planted a warm wet one on the top of her head.
He reached across to take my hand. Then Sandy and I shook hands for the second time. She leaned in and gave me the lightest kiss on the cheek. I breathed in her scent as I returned the kiss.
We were in a small dining room off the kitchen with a harvest table and unyielding wooden chairs with slotted backs. There was a hutch filled with gold-rimmed china and another crammed with Seder plates, menorahs, more candlesticks and kiddush cups. Rabbi Ed saw me looking at it and said, “You spend enough years as a rabbi, you could open a gift shop. Everyone who goes to Israel brings me back something, as if I don’t have enough already.”
We had soup and roast chicken and polenta grilled with a bruschetta topping. Fortunately, Sandy and I were able to subsist on a quarter chicken each, as Rabbi Ed helped himself to a half. It was probably what he ate when it was just him and his daughter. The food was good and the wine, unlike the more syrupy kosher concoctions, was a fine Cabernet from Napa.
We talked about the similarities between Boston and Toronto, big liberal cities that were medical and academic hubs. We noted the significant rivalries in three sports-not that the Leafs or Jays had done anything recently to rival the success of the Red Sox and Bruins, never mind the Patriots and Celtics. We talked about Israel, as Jews inevitably do, and about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in France, Sweden and other countries with unassimilated, assertive Muslim populations. We talked about how Sandy did a degree in literature-“after which I was offered my pick of jobs, Barnes or Noble”-then got into urban planning, which she thought would satisfy both her academic ambitions and her activist nature. “There’s so much history in Boston to preserve,” she said. “Is there a lot in Toronto?”
“No. We had too many fires for that.”
We talked about everything but the night David vanished.
When the coffee came and the honey cake had been cut, I told the Lerners they had a lovely home and thanked them for welcoming me into it.
They both murmured that it had been their pleasure.
“How long have you lived here?”
“My late wife, Hannah, and I bought this house thirty years ago. Shana was born here. I’ve actually lived in Brookline since I was a boy,” the rabbi said. “My parents were part of the great Jewish flight of the sixties.”
“Back then, if you were Jewish and you weren’t in the suburbs, you were in Dorchester and Mattapan, along Blue Hill Avenue. That’s where my parents grew up.”
“What happened to it?”
“Social engineering. One of those great projects that have a noble objective and disastrous outcome.”
“What was the objective?”
“To help the African-American community gain more opportunities in education and home ownership. Certain areas of Upper Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, especially the ones that had been working-class Jewish for decades, were red-lined, as the saying went, by twenty-two Boston banks, and loans for houses there were made available to African-Africans. Twenty-five hundred moved in. Whatever the state’s intentions, it didn’t unfold the way they hoped. It was more like the recent credit crisis, where people had homes but not enough income to run them. The neighbourhoods declined, the Jews who could afford to move moved, and Brookline is now the centre of Jewish life instead of Blue Hill Avenue. A three-mile stretch that had been Jewish since 1910 declined from vibrancy and prosperity to-I don’t even have the words for it.”
“Those pictures in your study-the ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings, cheques-are those all from Brookline?”
“The groundbreaking was: that was for the new wing of the synagogue, where the school and seniors’ centre are now. The ribbon cutting, I think, was the Holocaust Centre. That’s downtown.”
“And the cheque presentation?”
“You know about the Vilna Shul?”
“At one time-”
“I know this one,” Shana said. “I’ll get the dishes started.” Even though she had introduced herself to me as Sandy, I couldn’t help thinking of her as Shana now. She stacked our plates and carried them out to the kitchen. I heard water begin to run.
The rabbi said, “At one time, there were fifty little shtiebels in Beacon Hill. You know what shtiebels are?”
“Yes. Little synagogues. Learning centres.”
“Exactly. How many are left? None. Not a single one. The Vilna Shul was the last and it closed more than twenty-five years ago-as a functioning synagogue. But it was restored and reopened as a Jewish cultural centre. I was chair of the fundraising committee so they stuck me in the picture.”
“And the guy giving you the cheque?”
“He’s the congressman for that district. Marc McConnell. He’s very passionate about urban renewal, so the centre was right up his alley.”
“I see.” An idea started to tingle near the edge of my instinct. It came with a slight shiver. “So what is this project you mentioned at lunch? The thing you’re doing next. What is that?”
“As I was saying, there is no longer a functioning synagogue in that area that can serve people who work around the state capitol. I want to start one. Something small, of course. A little shtiebel like there used to be dotting every street. A place where people, men and women, can come and pray in the morning, put on tefillin, start the day right. It doesn’t have to be big. I don’t want big. I got so tired of running a congregation the size of Adath Israel. The politics and the gripes and the collections and the events, none of it related to teaching, learning, the actual discussion and revelation of Torah as it relates to us today. I didn’t want it anymore. I’m sure there’s every type of rumour out there-he resigned because of this or that-but the simple truth is I gave twenty-five years of my life to Adath Israel. I figure I have at least twenty more to give and I want to give them downtown. I’m thinking of calling it Shul on the Hill.”
Shana, coming in to get more dishes, groaned at the pun.
“How can you go wrong with Beatles humour?” he protested, winking at me. “It’s the right generation for it. No, I’m kidding,” he said. “The proposed name is Beth Aaron, after Aaron Lopez, not the first Jew in Boston, but the first allowed to live openly without renouncing his religion.”
“Mr. McConnell helping out again?”
“From your mouth to God’s ear. There are always funds to be raised, and zoning issues to be sorted out.”
“Does he know David Fine?”
“The congressman? I couldn’t see how. David isn’t part of that fundraising committee or anything. He isn’t a joiner. Although I believe he’ll join the new shul. When he comes back.”
“David was trying to contact him before he vanished.”
“The congressman? Why?”
“I have no idea. I’m going to ask him tomorrow.”
“Marc is seeing you?”
“He’s appearing at some museum event, where Jenn and I will happen to be. Rabbi, have you thought about what I asked you at lunch?”
“About breaking confidentiality? I thought about it a great deal. Tell you what, let’s take our wine to the study.”
There was a dark green leather couch against the wall opposite his work area. He pointed me there and settled into the black chair behind the desk. “Tell me a little about your work, Jonah. What you do and how you do it.”
“People come to us with problems they haven’t been able to solve by traditional means. The justice system has failed them. The police have reached a dead end.”
“Give me an example.”
“Is this a test?”
“I don’t need to test you, Jonah, I think I already know the kind of man you are. But Jews love specifics, we love to delve. So humour me.”
“All right. Last fall, a woman lost her daughter to suicide and didn’t know why. The police and coroner had closed the case. We reopened it and found out she had been murdered.”
“As well as who did it?”
“And the girl’s mother found peace in that?”
“More than she’d had before.”
“I see. Is your work ever violent?”
“It can be.”
“Can be or has been?”
“You feel justified in whatever part you played.”
“Said without hesitation. Can I ask something that might be deeply personal, Jonah?”
“Yes.” I knew what it was going to be; I just waited for it.
“Have you ever taken a life?”
“I have, Rabbi. Three times.”
His bushy eyebrows lowered over his eyes, whose warm twinkle seemed to dim. “Three is more than I imagined. Are you willing to provide details?”
I regretted all three deaths but I wasn’t ashamed of any of them. “The first one, I was in my twenties. I was in the Israeli army and my sergeant was attacked in an alley. A man was stabbing him and I shot him.”
“With intent to kill or disarm?”
“I had an M-16 and I fired three-round bursts into him until he dropped. So I’d say I had intent to kill.”
“And the sergeant?”
“He died anyway.”
“I’m sorry. For both your sergeant and the man who attacked him. What about the other two?”
“One was straight self-defence. The other … if there is such a thing as pre-emptive self-defence, then that’s what that was.”
“A man tried to kill me and failed and ended up critically injured. I knew he’d have me killed if he survived so I made sure he didn’t.”
“If you hadn’t, would he have died anyway?”
“I don’t know. Probably. But I couldn’t take that chance.”
“This one bothers you more than the other two.”
It did. I even dreamed about it sometimes, always in weird watery settings totally unlike the shallow, rocky part of the Don River where Stefano di Pietra died. I’d be diving in great reefs teeming with fish and he’d swim past in his fine grey suit, or I’d be canoeing through a calm Muskoka lake and my paddle would hit his head. He’d turn up in a restaurant aquarium, next to lobsters whose claws were pegged shut.
“Do you know the story of Abner?” Rabbi Ed asked. “From the Book of Samuel?”
“When King Saul died, David was anointed King of Judea in Hebron. But a second faction formed under Abner, whose father was Saul’s general. Abner installed one of Saul’s sons in Gilead and called him king of a separate territory called Israel.”
“Two Jews, two factions,” I said. “Go figure.”
“Hey, it could have been three. So a skirmish broke out between Judeans, led by Joab, and Israelites, led by Abner. Abner’s men were routed and fled. Joab’s brother Asahel followed him and wouldn’t give up the pursuit, even though Abner kept stopping to turn and warn him off. But Asahel was single-minded. Samuel says he would look neither left nor right, veer neither left nor right, he’d only keep straight after Abner. Fast. When Abner saw that Asahel wouldn’t give up, they fought and Abner slew him. What follows is actually a pivotal point in our history, Jonah. Because now Joab and his men chase after Abner but when they catch him, Abner convinces Joab to spare his life. He explains-get this-that Asahel left him no choice by refusing to break off his pursuit. The first known case of justifiable homicide. A crucial legal precedent. But there’s more: Despite his anger over Asahel’s death, Joab not only spared Abner but declared peace with Israel. In your mind, Jonah, would this man in the river have continued to pursue you like Asahel, veering neither left nor right?”
“Yes. He’d had at least six people killed by the time he died, including his own brothers and two innocent civilians.”
“A very evil man then. So some homicides, we know, are justifiable, Jonah. Which means?”
He smiled and said, “It means enough about you. We can talk about David now.”
If his questions had been a test, had I passed?
“Some things that he and I talked about can be shared.”
“He came to me last year, while I was still at Adath Israel, to enlist my support on a project. As you know, there is a great shortage of organs for transplant in the United States. I don’t know how it is in Canada, but very few people here sign their donor cards.”
“I don’t think it’s much better at home.”
“It’s even more true among the Jewish community, sadly, especially the Orthodox. There is great doubt and debate among them as to whether it falls within Halacha, the Jewish way, because we believe we are not supposed to change in any way the body Hashem gave us. It’s why the Orthodox oppose autopsies, and why their women wear clip-ons instead of piercing their ears. It’s why we don’t get tattoos. So if you won’t pierce an ear, or get a little tattoo on your tuchus, how can you cut open a body and take out its organs? How can you take the corneas? What if sight is needed in the afterlife? And on it goes. David saw first-hand how acute the shortage was and it bothered him. He wanted to drum up rabbinical support for donation. He knew how connected I am in that community so he came to me for help.”
“We held a series of discussions with all the Orthodox rabbis in New England, one of them on Skype, if you want a laugh. We decided that to save a life was, if you’re old enough to remember the first Star Trek, the prime directive. It came above all other considerations and was therefore within Halacha.”
“That’s great. Has it helped?”
“It’s early days. Too early to tell if we’re having any statistical impact. But we had these made up and we’re giving them out at our shuls. In my case, my former shul. And I’ll promote it from my future pulpit.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet thick with currency, receipts, credit cards and more. He slid from one pocket a laminated blue card that said, “Halachic Orthodox Organ Donors.” Under that was his signature and a paragraph saying he was donating any and all organs needed and that it was within the Jewish tradition and endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of New England.
“Hood,” Ed said. “That was David’s idea. He had no standing on the rabbinic side, but he gave a lot to get this going and came up with the idea of the donor card. He looks shy and bookish but he is tougher than people think when he thinks he is right. Which he generally is.”
“Is he tough enough for what he’s into now?”
“We don’t know what he’s into.”
“Are you sure?”
The Rabbi sipped the last of his wine and stood. “I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can tell you, Jonah. Anything else he might have told me as his rabbi, I think will have to remain confidential. If getting more information was the only reason you came to dinner, you may have to go home disappointed.”
“It wasn’t and I won’t. May I propose a compromise?”
“How does one compromise confidentiality?”
“Anything he told you while you were his rabbi is between you and him,” I said.
“Then where is the wiggle room?”
“Because you were no longer his rabbi the night he vanished. You had already resigned from the shul by then.”
He started to say one thing, stopped himself, started again and came up with, “What do you mean?” It was enough to tell me there was more.
“We’ve interviewed new witnesses,” I said, “and we’ve pieced together what happened to David.”
“That’s great!” There was a reason the rabbi had left theatre school. He wasn’t a good enough actor to sell that one.
“On his way home that night, two men tried to abduct him.”
“They worked for an Irish gangster named Sean Daggett.”
“Have the police arrested him? Or these other men?”
“The other two are dead, Rabbi. They were shot to death last night.”
Now his face fell for real, no acting involved. “What!”
“I just found out. By accident, maybe by the hand of God, David was able to get away from them that night. He ran down Summit Path all the way to Beacon and was lucky to catch a trolley that was just pulling out. The driver confirmed it. Once David was safely away, he could have gone anywhere, but he got off at the very next stop. Washington Square. Right where you told me to get off. Now that was kind of risky for him to do. Those hoods were cruising around looking for him. So he had to have had somewhere in mind. Someone close by who would let him in.”
Shana came in from the kitchen then. “Dad, are you okay? I thought I heard something.”
“It’s about David,” I said. “I know he was here the night he disappeared.”
She looked away from me to her father, then at the floor. I liked the fact that she didn’t try to tell any lies.
“About seven-thirty,” I said, “maybe a few minutes after, he showed up at your door, out of breath, frightened. Now if you don’t want to tell me what he said, fine. I’ll find out anyway. I figured out this part fast enough. But at least confirm he got away. That he was unharmed. You couldn’t give his parents a greater gift than that.”
Rabbi Ed looked at his daughter and they made eye contact. Then he looked back at me and said, “Yes. For his parents, I can do that. He came here like you said. We were just cleaning up from dinner. I had never seen him like that. If I didn’t know him better, I would have thought he was having some kind of psychotic episode.”
“He didn’t tell us.”
“He wouldn’t,” Shana said.
“Right. He said it was for our own protection. All he wanted was a place to stay the night. But he made us swear not to say anything about seeing him, not even to his parents. He said that was for their protection too.”
“He didn’t say where he was going?”
“No,” Rabbi Ed said. “When I woke up in the morning he was gone.”
I looked at Sandy.
She said, “I woke up later.” It didn’t have the ring of truth.
“Did he have money?”
“About forty dollars,” Ed said. “I had a bit of cash that I gave him, about a hundred and twenty.”
“I gave him another eighty,” Shana said. “I had just gone to the bank machine.”
“So he had two hundred and forty dollars, no car, no clothes.”
“I gave him a coat when he left.”
“I thought you were asleep.”
“The night before, I meant. He told us he was going to leave early in the morning, so I made sure he had it before he went to bed.”
Okay, now she was bust-out lying.
“So what do you think?” Jenn asked. “Is he alive?”
We were back in my room. Jenn was reclining on one bed, which I was facing in a club chair. The second queen bed was barely visible under the papers we’d been searching through. I had just told her everything about the dinner and David’s flight to the Lerners’ house the night he disappeared.
“I think he is,” I said. “At any rate, it’s the assumption we should work on. David is alive and in hiding, trying to work out whatever mess he’s in. And all we know is it will take a while.”
“What mess doesn’t? So what do we do with this news? Do we share it with his parents? With Gianelli?”
“If you were his parents, what would you make of it? Someone tried to abduct your son but he evaded it and went on the run. Does that help you or hurt you? Let’s wait until we know a little more before we call them.”
“Let’s wait on him too. So what happened with Carol-Ann Meacham last night? Did she go straight home after work or was she mobbed by suitors?”
The smile left Jenn’s face and she suddenly looked sheepish. She reached behind her to straighten the pillows behind her back. Fluffed them a bit and put them back the way they’d been. A sure sign she was blaming herself for something going wrong.
“It all went fine at first. I matched her home number to an address in the phone book.”
“Really? Gianelli made it sound like a war zone.”
“I wouldn’t go for long romantic walks after dark, but she lives in a real-estate pocket. The houses are big and in decent shape and apparently very affordable. Mostly because so many were foreclosures. They have signs up for a city program where you can get a fo-clo, as they are called, dirt cheap. Which Carol-Ann did, about six months ago.”
“What did you do, read her mail?”
“I did better. I found a neighbour across the street whose house is for sale. She was outside cleaning her garden and I chatted her up. Pretended I was interested in her house. Asked about the neighbours, the street. So Carol-Ann bought hers, did a little cosmetic renovation, and rents out the upstairs to help pay the mortgage.”
“Six months ago, you said.”
“So she had a sudden influx of capital.”
“Yes. Anyway, I set up on a corner where I could see the house. She got there around quarter to eight, carrying her dinner. She was out of sight for about half an hour-the kitchen is at the back of the house-and then around eight-thirty she came to the front of the house and watched TV until a little after nine, when the TV light stopped flickering and she stood up. I think the phone rang and she paused what she was watching. I could see her shadow moving around, pacing, as if she were talking to someone on the phone. Two minutes later, she came out of the house and got in her car.”
“White Camry. A few years old. So I followed her, and everything was fine at first but …”
“I realized I don’t know Boston as well as I thought I did. The Big Dig changed that whole part of the city. Plus she’s an unbelievably shitty driver. Never signalled, changed lanes at the last minute. Did unpredictable things. It was hard for me to stay on her and at this one light, she braked when it turned amber, then bombed through on the red. I had to stop and I never caught up.”
“You think she knew you were following?”
“No, I think that’s how she always drives.”
“Which direction was she heading?”
“North on Dorchester Avenue. Maybe to the Pike, maybe not. I wish we were at home,” she said. “I could call our contact at the phone company and find out who called her.”
“I know. It’s frustrating. You never realize how much of our work depends on contacts until you have none. Anyway, don’t be hard on yourself. We know where she lives. And she could have been going anywhere. There’s nothing to suggest it’s related to our case.”
“But you agree she knows more than she’s telling.”
“Absolutely. Let’s turn up the heat on her tomorrow. Drop in on her unannounced.”
“We’ve got also the congressman’s thing to crash at noon.”
“So much mischief to get into.”
“I’m sorry I blew it,” Jenn said.
“Forget it. As long as we keep moving forward, we’ll find something. And that something will lead to something else.”
She yawned and stretched, and I told her if she fell asleep there was no way I was carrying her next door. “I’m not falling asleep,” she said. “I’m just finding the inside of my eyelids extremely fascinating.”
“Give me your room key, then. If you fall asleep, I can crash there.”
“In a minute …”
And she was gone. Out. Her eyelids stopped fluttering and her breath started whistling through her nose. I sighed and started to sort out the papers on the other bed. I went through all the bank statements, credit card bills and phone bills again, stacking them in piles. Finding nothing but the beginning of a headache. I went into the bathroom and rinsed my face in cold water and laid a wet cloth on the back of my neck. Then I started flipping through David’s research papers. One explored the social and economic barriers that seemed to be keeping some groups, especially African Americans, from following through on the application process to get onto a waiting list. Another examined a group of live donors in India who had sold organs through brokers, to see how well they fared afterwards. In a city called Chennai, people sold kidneys primarily to pay off crippling debts or provide elaborate dowries. The organs would sell for ten or fifteen thousand dollars but the broker kept most of that. The donors received about a thousand U.S. dollars on average, which would help them in the short term but do nothing for their long-term prospects. Very few ever used the money to start a business or pursue an education. Many actually wound up worse off than before, because they didn’t get proper follow-up care and developed infections or other problems. The researchers had gone to Chennai and found living conditions unsanitary and access to medical care sporadic. But the thing that really jumped out at me was that Chennai used to be known as Madras.
I jumped off the bed and woke Jenn, waving the paper at her and telling her what I thought it meant. Once she was fully awake and with me, we decided that before we tried to trip up Carol-Ann or blindsided the congressman at the party, we would drive to Somerville, to the Madras Grocery, and see if any of what was going through my head could be real.
A Red Sox scout comes to my hotel room to try me out. He says they’re thinking about me for second base. He’s a wiry old guy, a Johnny Pesky type. He likes my arm as I zip the ball across the room into his glove. Then he says we need more space to really see what I can do, and like that we’re in Fenway. The night lights are blinding in their towering banks. I’m in the dirt near second, firing balls to him at first. My arm is fine, really live, but I can’t catch the return throws. My right thumb and index finger are completely numb inside the glove and it won’t close on the ball. All the years I played such great defence, with such hunger and instinct for the ball, and now I drop every throw, the ball banging off the glove and into the ground. The old scout says, “Too bad, kid, you were looking good there for a minute, but you ain’t ready for the majors.” I ask for one more chance, one more throw, and he says, “Okay, but not from me. From him.” Standing at first, in shadows cast by the big light, is a glowering Boston reliever, their feared closer who throws ninety-five-mile-an-hour fastballs. He winds up and throws one at me with all his might and I freeze, my glove hanging uselessly at my side, as it burns through the air toward the bridge of my nose.
After breakfast the next morning, I told Jenn there was no point in both of us going to Somerville. “Sammy knows me already, and I think he trusts me. I can be there and back inside two hours. You stay here and see what you can find on organ rings in the U.S. Get Colin working on it too.”
“Is it all just because the man comes from Madras?”
“You read the article. Before the Indian government banned it, there was a culture there of selling kidneys to pay off debts. Why not do it here? According to Sammy, they were on the verge of losing the store.”
“For a thousand bucks?”
“That’s what they got in India. I’m sure it would be more here. A lot more.”
“I did look a few things up last night, after we talked,” Jenn said. “And there have been a couple of instances of people selling organs here, both investigated by the FBI.”
“Here in Boston?”
“No, the U.S. One was in New Jersey, which I hate to tell you involved a rabbi.”
“Bringing in people from Israel and Turkey who posed as relatives of patients.”
“And the second case?”
“Virginia. Also bringing in people posing as relatives, this time from Moldova.”
“Very distant relatives. And the hospitals turned a blind eye?”
“The money is huge, Jonah. A hospital bill is a minimum of two hundred and fifty thousand for a kidney transplant-which costs the least of any organ. And that’s not including any of the medications: that’s just the procurement of the organ and the actual surgery. The more complex organs like the heart or lungs are well over a million. So yeah, they seem to turn a blind eye. This one article I read said there were four documented cases of large donations or endowments made to hospitals by people who had transplants involving these foreign relatives.”
“All right. If a kidney is worth a quarter of a million dollars to a hospital,” I said, “think what it would be worth on the black market.”
“If one exists.”
“It exists. Otherwise, McCudden and Walsh would be alive and David would be here.”
“Then it has to be two, three times as much. Black markets never settle for less.”
“Okay,” I said. “We know Patel had a growth removed from his neck eight months ago at Sinai. If he consented, his blood would have been sent to the gene study. Suppose Carol-Ann has a list of people who need organs and he comes up as a match. Someone contacts him and asks if he wants to part with a kidney. Maybe he agrees, but something goes wrong, or he doesn’t agree and they kill him for it.”
“And you see David taking part?”
“No. Never. Not without a gun to his head.”
“But how else do we explain him suddenly acquiring ten thousand, half of which he gives to the Patel family?”
“I’m hoping Sammy knows something. Maybe he’ll remember someone coming around, or something his father said or did that will help.”
“You sure you don’t want me to come?” Jenn asked.
“I’ve been there once, I know the way.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“We beat the two goons Daggett sent after us. If he tries again, he’ll send someone better.”
“It’s eight o’clock in the morning. I’ll be there and back by ten. Then we surprise Carol-Ann.”
“How long from here to her place?” I asked.
“We get on the Pike, about fifteen minutes.”
“What about the art institute, where is that in relation to her place?”
“Near the harbour, basically across from the airport. Also about fifteen minutes.”
“All right,” I said. “We’re rocking. You feel it? We’re lining them up and they’re all going to fall. By the end of the day, we’re going to know a lot more about what David was doing. We might even have something worth calling his parents about.”
Sammy Patel led me straight to the crowded storeroom at the back of Madras Grocery. It wasn’t as if we had to elbow any customers aside. His mother was at the front, alone, taking inventory with a small notebook and a pencil no longer than my pinky.
“Please tell me you’ve found something,” he said.
“Nothing concrete. But I have an idea I want to run by you.”
“You said your father had a cyst removed at Sinai Hospital.”
“Yes. Just before Labour Day.”
“Do you remember if he consented to participating in a gene study?”
“Absolutely. I had to translate part of it for him. His English is good but not that good.”
“Okay. Do you remember any unusual visitors or phone calls he might have received after that procedure? Anything that upset him or changed his behaviour?”
“In what way?”
How to explain it to this young man, so desperate to hear news about his father. If my scenario was correct, there was no way he was still alive.
“You said the store’s finances are in rough shape.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
“Did he ever hint that there might be money coming in?”
Sammy thought about it a moment, then nodded. “About two months ago. Early in the new year, at any rate. His mood over Christmas had been miserable, rock bottom. Either snapping at my mother or brooding down here at night.”
“You live upstairs?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Anyway, sometime in January, he seemed to feel better. There was one day it was just the two of us in the store-Mum had a doctor’s appointment-and we were in between customers, as is usually the case, and he said better times were coming. That his business acumen was greater than we gave him credit for. Why do you ask?”
“Sammy, this is going to sound …”
“Weird. Maybe totally out of left field.”
“Please. If there’s anything at all, just say it. Anything is better than this limbo we’re in.”
“Do you think your father would have sold a kidney to pay off some of your debt?”
He looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and anger. “What kind of question is that? Is this some Indian stereotype of yours?”
“I told you that David Fine was a transplant surgeon. Our investigation is leading in that direction.”
“What direction exactly?”
“Doing surgery off the books. Getting organs to people who don’t like their odds on a waiting list. We think someone at Sinai Hospital might have been using the gene study records to find matches for these recipients. And I happened to read an article about people in Madras who would donate organs to pay off debts.”
“But that’s over there. This is America.”
“Suppose someone approached him. Told him he was a match for a recipient. Was your father desperate enough to do it, you think?”
“What kind of money are we talking about?”
“I’m not sure. Say ten or twenty thousand. Maybe more. Would that have made a difference to your situation?”
“Ten wouldn’t have done much. Twenty would have helped. More than that, I might sell one. But the whole notion sounds incredible. Impossible. Do you have any proof, anything you can take to the police?”
“We’re working on it. In fact, we’re going to see someone this morning who might confirm it. So what do you think? Would he have done it?”
“Is it a risky procedure? He’s not the bravest of souls.”
“Apparently not,” I said. “The donor is left with a few small incisions, a stitch or two each, and recovery time is minimal. Two days in a clinic and back to normal strength within a month or two.”
Sammy leaned against a wall and rubbed the back of his neck. “This store meant everything to him, and to my mum. I told you last time, it wasn’t the best investment. The location and all. He worked so hard to keep it going. And the harder he worked, it seems, the harder we all worked, the closer we got to the brink. Maybe he would have done it if someone offered. He was already giving his blood, sweat and tears. Why not a kidney too?”
I screwed up on the way to the Monsignor O’Brien Highway. Canadian drivers are used to kilometres; the GPS spoke in miles. It told me to turn right in 0.3 miles. It didn’t sound like much, so a minute later, when a right turn came up, I took it-too late to see the sign that said No Exit.
“Recalculating,” the GPS said.
I started up the road, looking for a place to turn around. There were no driveways. The whole block on the right side was the back of a manufacturing plant, lined with tall cyclone fencing topped with coils of razor wire. The other side was a wrecking yard where dozens of crushed and mangled cars sat atop each other, also fenced off. I started a three-point turn. I was backing away from the left-hand curb when I heard another engine and saw a black muscle car turn up the street. An old Monte Carlo, polished and pinstriped. The driver didn’t hesitate, as I had when I’d realized I was going into a dead end. He came full throttle toward me. I had nowhere to go but out the passenger side and into the street.
Two men got out of the car. The driver was around forty, lean and hard-looking, with dirty blond hair hanging down to his collar, all in black like a roadie or guitar player. But instead of an instrument he carried a sawed-off pool cue.
The passenger was bigger, way bigger, and carried a baseball bat.
Jesus Christ, my head. I was going to have to deck one of them fast and hope the other one didn’t get a clean shot at me. I was too far from Francis Street and its hospitals to let that happen. And so fucking rusty. But my mouth wasn’t. I said, “Which one of you is Sean?”
The smaller one cocked his head and grinned. “Who?”
He smiled and tapped the pool cue against his empty palm as he moved up on my right. “My friend here prefers a baseball bat. It suits his build and he has a sweet swing, as you’ll see. But me, I carry this cue-you know why? ’Cause a pool cue’s the first thing I ever swung at another man with real intent. Sixteen years old and I cracked his fucking skull. Made him bleed out his ears. Left him about fifty per cent dumber than he was before. And over the years I’ve always found it’s not only good for cracking heads, it also works pretty good on wrists and knees, arms and ribs. Pretty much anything. Can even shove it up a man’s ass if I want to make him cry.”
I was trying to visualize a kick I could deliver hard enough to put him down before he could swing at me.
“So someone hired you to find the runaway doctor?”
“You anywhere close to finding him?”
“Not very. But I know a lot about you, Sean, and so do the cops.”
“The organ ring you’re running. The one David was involved in.”
“The cops know fuck all and you know less. You’re not talking your way out of this, boy. Unless you know where the doc is.”
“Then this is going to hurt like hell.”
They were each about a yard away from me and moving in, brandishing their weapons, when an engine roared and a car burned up the street. It was another Dodge Caliber, gold instead of white, and Jenn was at the wheel. And she wasn’t stopping. We all backed off. She steered right at the bigger man, the one with the bat, and hit him hard enough to drive him windmilling into the air. He slammed into a parked car and crumpled onto his back, his left leg bent at a ninety-degree angle. I took two quick strides and snatched up his baseball bat. Jenn got out of the car with a tire iron in her hand and we moved in together toward Daggett two on one, the odds suddenly reversed.
“All gratitude aside,” I said to Jenn, “what the hell are you doing here?”
“I followed you.”
“In case something like this happened.”
“All right,” I said. “We will talk about it later.”
“Much later,” Daggett said. He was pointing an automatic pistol at me. “Jesus, you didn’t think I’d come to a fight with just a cue. My father raised me better than that.” He slipped the shortened cue into an inside pocket of his jacket and said, “Lay them down. Both of you. Now.”
I dropped the bat. Jenn let the tire iron fall. He moved quickly to Jenn and said, “Keys?”
“In the car.”
He turned to me, the gun at Jenn’s head, and said, “Go get the keys out of your car. Fast. You try anything, I’ll kill your girl.”
If the gun had been pointing at me, I could have taken it from him. Krav Maga teaches that well. But it was aimed at Jenn’s head, not mine, so there was nothing worth trying. I went and got the keys and flipped them to Daggett, who slipped them in his pocket.
“Now go get her keys,” he said. “Same way.”
When he had both sets of keys, he bunched his fist in the hair at Jenn’s nape and started backing the two of them up toward the Monte Carlo. Her face was stretched in pain as she stumbled to match his stride while going backwards.
When he got to the car, he said, “Here’s the deal. I need that Jew doctor. I need him to come in from wherever he is and fast. Six p.m. Monday latest. That gives you two days to find him and bring him to me.”
“I swear I don’t know where he is.”
“Then find him. Because your girlfriend is sitting on a gold mine, and I’m not talking about her pussy, sweet as it probably is. You say you know what I’m doing, then you know what Blondie here is worth. Two young healthy kidneys? These sweet blue corneas? Find him by Monday, boy, or the next time you look in her eyes, they’ll be in someone else’s face.”
He bunched her hair again. I could tell by her look he wasn’t hurting her badly, just keeping tight control, the gun pressed into her neck where any shot would kill her. He backed up to the trunk of his car and told her to use one hand to unlatch it and raise the door. She did as she was told. He made her get in and shut the trunk and leaned back against it, the gun in his hand pointing idly at the ground.
“You’re at the Sam Adams, yeah?”
“I’m calling there Monday morning. Sometime after nine, in case I sleep in.”
I wanted to hurl myself at him and tear out his throat with my teeth. I said, “Why Monday?”
“Just have my Jew for me. And don’t call no cops. Not in Brookline or the BPD. You’re on your own, boy. Prove you’re good enough.”
He took my keys out of his pocket and threw them twenty yards up the road where they landed in low brush along the fence. The second set landed about ten feet farther.
He said, “You want to make any speeches about not harming a hair on her head, chasing me to the ends of the earth if I do, etcetera, now would be the time.”
“Fuck you,” I said.
“You call that a speech?” he said with a laugh. Then he opened the rear door and tucked the gun in his belt and pulled his buddy to his feet, surprisingly strong for someone his size. The man was groaning, a long string of glassy snot hanging from his nose like a third-grader’s. As Daggett angled the big man into the back seat of the Monte Carlo, I took a step forward but he whipped the gun out and fired it in one motion, the round spitting up dirt a few feet to my left. He grinned as I froze in place. Then he finished loading the man in, closed the door and got in on the driver’s side. I just stood there as he backed up, then wheeled around past me, spitting gravel as he headed out toward the highway.
My partner, my best friend in the world, taken by a gangster counting useful body parts. No way of knowing where he was taking her.
It couldn’t be good, wherever it was.
I ran to where he had thrown my keys. When I saw them glittering in a clump of weeds, I knelt to pick them up. My head started to spin and I had to stay down on my knees, useless once again, until I felt strong enough to stand.
I tell myself I am not a violent man. Yes, I have committed acts of violence in my life. I have killed three people but I don’t think of myself as a killer. I have hurt other people but I don’t think of myself as a thug or a bully. But the thoughts racing through my head as I got into the car were the darkest, bloodiest kind. I wasn’t seeing red-it was solid black. If Sean Daggett killed Jenn, I would kill him. I would do it with my hands and feet, a blunt instrument, a knife or a gun-whatever I could find. I would shatter his skull, choke him on his own teeth. Crush his throat. Explode his heart. Set him on fire and watch him burn and not even piss on him until he was a smouldering ruin. Even if he didn’t kill her: if he caused her any pain at all, just a bump or bruise, he would die. If he killed or hurt David Fine, he would die. I would do it on my own if I had to. But I didn’t.
When my hands stopped shaking, I took out my phone and tried to remember the number of a certain Italian restaurant in Toronto. I used to know it by heart. But since the concussion, my memory has been a little less sharp. I knew the area code and that it started with the same exchange as my brother’s downtown office. It was the last four numbers I wasn’t sure of. I punched in the first six, then added my best guess for the final four. I heard it engage, waited while it rang three times and sighed with relief when a woman said, “Giulio’s.”
“Hi, Monica,” I said. She was the daytime manager and nighttime hostess. “It’s Jonah.”
“Hi, hon,” she said. “I hope you don’t want to come in tonight, we got problems.”
“What happened? Is Dante there?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And up to his knees in water. A dishwasher hose broke last night and leaked through to the basement, which is presently flooded.”
“Tell him I need him.”
“All right. But his mood is trending shitty. It’s looking like the story of Jonah down there anyway. Hey, maybe that’ll get him to crack a smile. It would be the first of the day.”
My friendship with Dante Ryan is by far the weirdest in my life. Impossible to explain to anyone else because when I met him the year before, he was still killing people for a living and was considered by several police agencies and his peers to be one of the best around. A future Hall of Famer in his trade. Our paths crossed when he was given a contract he couldn’t bring himself to fulfill because it included killing a boy the same age as his son, Carlo, then turning five. He sought out my help and we saved a few lives, lost a few, took away a few between us. But we did it all together and it forged a strong, mostly unspoken bond between us.
He doesn’t mingle with any of my other friends, except Jenn. I have been to his house to meet his wife and son just once, and most of our meetings take place at Giulio’s, his restaurant on John Street in Toronto’s Entertainment District, still named after its corpulent former owner. The food is authentic southern Italian, and I drink and eat there free because Ryan says he would have none of it if not for me. It’s true so I take it.
“Hey,” he said into the phone. “You’re lucky you’re not the dead man who closed up and left last night before the dishwasher stopped. I was about to jump through the phone line and throttle you. Listen, can I call you back in a bit?”
“No, you can’t,” I said. “I need you.”
“Jonah, if you could see-”
“It’s Jenn,” I said. “She’s in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“She’s been abducted.”
“What! Where are you? My car’s right out back. I’ll be-”
“Ryan, we’re in Boston.”
“What!” Ryan and Jenn got to know each other pretty well during our trip to Chicago, and while he may not be up on all the latest nuances of dealing with a lesbian he finds attractive, his affection for her is clear.
“Boston. That’s where I am-where she was taken.”
“You know who by?”
“An Irish thug named Sean Daggett.”
“How long ago?”
“A few minutes.”
“Okay. Now think about this before you answer. Should I grab a cab to the island airport, which is like ten minutes away, and be there in under four hours? Or do you want me to drive, which gets me there more like midnight.”
If he drove, he meant, he could bring guns across the border in his metal photographer’s case, lined with foam cutouts for each pistol and its matching suppressor. His gear would never make it through any level of airport security.
“If you flew,” I said, “could you pick up that equipment here?”
“Of course,” he said. “It’s readily available in most big cities, for a price. I’d just have to contact my local supplier for a name there.”
“Then fly,” I said. “I’ll pay whatever it costs. Call me when you land. I’ll be out near the airport anyway.”
The Institute of Contemporary Art was stunning. Most of the great buildings we had seen driving around Boston the last two days were brick or stone. This was a great expanse of glass and steel thrusting out over the harbour, almost like a giant private box in a stadium grandstand.
The lobby was a large glassed-in atrium filled with people attending Slow Art Day. Volunteers stood near the entrance handing out pamphlets and museum maps. I saw no sign that Congressman McConnell was in the room.
An elderly woman with tightly curled hair approached me. “Are you familiar with Slow Art Day?” she asked.
She offered me a pamphlet and a map of the museum, which I declined. I wanted to keep my hands free in case I had to throttle the congressman. “We encourage you to take your time as you go through,” she said. “Really enjoy every wonderful piece you see.”
“And don’t forget there’s a picnic lunch at one o’clock where everyone is free to eat and talk about the work they saw. It comes with your admission.”
“Great. Do you know, by any chance, when Congressman McConnell will arrive?”
“No, I don’t. Maybe someone at the service desk would. But I’m looking forward to seeing him too,” she said. “I’m a bit of a fan. I don’t even live in his district, but there’s something about him. I would have compared him to a Kennedy at one time, but nowadays it’s not such a compliment.”
Yes, there was something about him. And I’d get it out of him if I had to pull it out of his sternum. I thanked the volunteer and went to the service desk. No one there knew exactly when McConnell would arrive either, only that it would be after eleven-thirty, when the public viewing began. I stopped at the first work of art past admissions that gave me a good view of the front entrance. It was a giant metal spider that could have crawled out of an early science fiction movie about a Martian invasion. The metal looked flimsy and crimped, scraped here and there, unsteady. More of an invader in retreat. I walked around it slowly, taking in its every detail, its meaning, weighing it in the context of everything I knew. Or pretending to while eyeballing the entrance. I’d been circling it for twenty minutes when the noise level rose and a large group of people surged into the lobby, including a few media folk who started setting up video cameras near a podium that had been positioned against a wall.
Congressman Marc McConnell of the historic Eighth District was in the building. He stopped inside the entrance to shake hands with well-dressed men and women who looked like they represented the museum. Someone’s aide grouped them together for a photo. McConnell wore a navy blazer and tan slacks, as opposed to the dark suit in his website photo. I guess a day at the museum, especially a contemporary art museum, called for something less formal.
His wife was a dark-haired woman, about five-foot-five and slim, with a pretty face that had more makeup than a woman of forty needed, wearing a trench coat over a dark pantsuit and white top cut just low enough for a string of pearls to sit against her skin. Very toned down and classic. Jenn would have been disappointed.
On McConnell’s other side was a young man carrying a BlackBerry in one hand and a black leather briefcase in the other. This, I guessed, was Tim Fitzpatrick, McConnell’s advisor. He wore a light grey suit, shirt and tie, perhaps having failed to get the memo about the casual dress code. The little bit of hair he had was shaved down to stubble; the top of his head gleamed in the overhead lights. He consulted the BlackBerry, thumbed out some text, then slipped it into his pocket and opened the briefcase. He passed McConnell a sheet of typing-an agenda or speaking notes-which the congressman scanned, then folded and slipped into his breast pocket.
If I approached McConnell after his remarks, he could brush me off more easily than if I could get to him now, when he couldn’t just walk out on his public. I started making my way across the lobby. Fitzpatrick was introducing McConnell to one of the journalists, who began asking questions, holding up a mini-recorder. I held back while he spoke. He seemed at ease, as if he were talking to a good friend in a place he visited often. When she was done, she switched off the recorder and took a photo of him and his wife, his arm around her waist. When she slipped her arm around him, the sleeve of her trench coat rose and I saw two lumps like golf balls under the skin of her forearm.
Fistulas, they were called.
The original plan had been for Jenn and me to go to the museum together, mingle, ask his assistant for a word after, question him about David and gauge his response. But seeing his wife up close, realizing what the fistulas and the heavy makeup meant, sent me reeling like a top bouncing off baseboards. I needed to think it through before I confronted him. I left the museum and made the short drive to the airport talking it out to myself, like there was someone else in the car or at the other end of a line. McConnell’s wife was in need of an organ, presumably a kidney. Yes, the fistulas were related to dialysis. Long-term use of anti-rejection drugs could cause cancer, and possibly infertility. Why not kidney failure?
Christ, I wished Jenn were with me. She’d probably have looked this up already.
One thing we knew about Lesley, she had the money to jump the line. Half a million for a kidney? She could probably find that much under the pillows of Daddy’s couch.
Then another thought came to me: Marc McConnell knows Rabbi Ed Lerner. The rabbi knows David. McConnell’s wife needs an organ. Did Lerner try to help David out of this? Or did he help rope him into it in the first place?
I dialled the rabbi’s home number. It went to voice mail. Of course it would: he wouldn’t answer it on the Sabbath. I left a message explaining what had happened and that if there was anything, anything at all either of them knew that they hadn’t told before, now was the time to call, day or night. I stressed the life-or-death nature of it and I didn’t need to embellish it in any way. It came from the deepest part of me that feared for Jenn’s life.
Not long after I hung up, I heard Dante Ryan say, “Hey,” and turned around. He let his suitcase fall and grabbed me and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get her back. And we’ll sort out the guy who took her.”
A passenger making his way around Ryan’s luggage glared at him and paled at the response he got. He turned away and hustled off, banging his rolling case against his heels. Ryan hadn’t even said anything to the man, just let his killer’s face out.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. ‘Your hotel far?”
“Maybe twenty minutes.”
“Then let me grab a smoke before we get in the car.”
We stood outside, the sun overhead and the day growing warmer. Pleasant on the outside.
“I made some calls before takeoff,” he said after he’d lit up and had his first two hits of nicotine. “I have a supplier here lined up can fix me up with equipment.”
“Fix me up too,” I said.
Ryan almost dropped his cigarette. “For real?”
He took a few more deep draws, then ground the butt under his heel and said, “Okay. Hotel first. Drop off this shit. Maybe grab a quick bite and a drink. Then we go pick up what we need. Meanwhile you fill me in on everything that’s happened so far. From what got you down here to when Jenn got grabbed.”
By the time we got to the hotel, parked, installed Ryan in Jenn’s room and had lunch, he was pretty caught up on the David Fine case, from my visit to Ron Fine’s house Wednesday morning to Sean Daggett’s cruel exit with Jenn’s hair wrapped roughly around his hand.
“This dickhead hurts her,” he said, “he’s a dead man.”
I didn’t argue with that. “Your supplier ready to receive us?”
“Yeah. Listen, I had some U.S. hundreds stashed away at home, in case you need any.”
“That’s great. I can only get five hundred a day out of the machine.”
“So I got to say something about this organ thing: do you honestly think there’s anything to it? ’Cause it sounds like one of these urban myths, you know, the bum or the business traveller who wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a scar he can’t explain. Christ, Law amp; Order did it back when Lennie was on.”
“These aren’t bums or businessmen,” I said. “They’re people who gave blood samples at Sinai Hospital and were specifically recruited because they matched people on a list. The better the match, the fewer drugs the person has to take after. The better the outcome. Jenn looked all of this up before she-fuck.”
“It’s all right. I mean, it’s not all right now, but it will be. Soon. We’ll get her back unharmed, I promise that, okay? So what’s our next move?”
“We go see a thin mousy chick who looks like a lab rat. Jenn and I interviewed her once already and she was jumping at her own shadow.”
“If she was scared of you,” Ryan said, “she’s going to love me.”
Back on the road to meet his gun dealer, Ryan said, “How’s your head these days?”
“Why? Did I miss an exit? You said South Boston, right?”
“No, no, you’re good. I meant in general, because …”
“Last time I spoke to you-before today, I mean, you remember the last time we spoke?”
I said, “Yes,” mainly to buy time while I fired up the memory and searched backwards to think of when that might have been. It hadn’t been in the last two months. It was back in the foggy time around Christmas, when I was at my worst. Had we wished each other well for the holidays?
“You don’t remember.”
“It was December 31, late afternoon,” Ryan said. “I know it ain’t your people’s new year but I was in the restaurant getting ready for the big night, Cara and Carlo were home alone, and I was feeling a little blue so I called to wish you a happy one and you didn’t exactly sound razor sharp.”
“That’s nice you thought of calling me.”
“But you don’t remember it?”
“It was two months ago, Ryan, I’m better now. My doctor cleared me and everything.”
“I can watch my own back. And yours.”
“That wasn’t convincing.”
“Neither were you.”
“Daggett only got Jenn because he was armed and I wasn’t.”
“We’ll fix that.”
“Otherwise I would have kicked the shit out of him.”
“I know you would.”
The gun guy’s name was John Lugo. He lived in a walk-up apartment near Chinatown, where the streets smelled of sour milk and fish water. He was around Ryan’s age, late thirties, heavy enough to stretch out a black Adidas track suit to its max. His thinning black hair was wet from a shower and pulled back in a ponytail. The air was stale with cigarette smoke and fried food. Lugo had the unhealthy pallor of someone who spent too much time under artificial light.
He said, “You guys need anything? There’s coffee ain’t too old, there’s beer if it ain’t too early.”
“We’re good,” Ryan said.
“All right. So Angelo explained the deal to you, right? All sales are final, cash, and every piece comes with a box of shells. And no obscene state taxes, of course. I start around five bills for a basic nine and I can go as high as you can.”
“You have suppressors?”
“Not for every model, but I can cover most of the mainstream stuff.”
He led us into a spare bedroom that had a pine armoire against one wall. There was also a gym mat and weights in one corner. The mat had a fine layer of dust on it. Lugo unlocked the armoire and swung both doors open wide. Handguns hung on pegs on the insides of the doors. He slid out a shelf where a TV might rest and there were more guns lying flat on that.
“That’s the basic collection there. Once you choose your weapons, I’ll match up the suppressors. If you want machine guns, rifles or shotguns, I have to take a trip to a storage unit I got out of state. Fucking Massachusetts gun laws.”
“We’ll see what’s here first,” Ryan said. “We’re hoping we can get by without heavy artillery.”
“A couple of cocky optimists,” Lugo said. “I like that.”
Ryan said, “Show me a Beretta for my friend. The 92 army model.”
“No problem. I got the ten-round version or the seventeen. Takes nine-mil rounds or the Smith and Wesson.40-calibres, which I happen to prefer. Blows a hole just that much bigger in your target. I can do these for seven apiece, six-fifty if you buy two, and no haggling please. It gets me upset.”
“And the suppressors?”
“Four apiece, which is a break, ’cause I could ask four-fifty, five each. But you’re a friend of Angelo’s so …”
“Show him the seventeen-shot model,” Ryan said. “The less he has to reload, the better.”
“I’m in the room,” I said.
“And he will take.40-calibre rounds.”
Lugo slipped a pistol off its peg and handed it to me. It weighed about the same as the model I’d carried in the Israeli army.
“You can dry-fire it,” Lugo said. “It ain’t loaded.”
I adopted a shooting stance and squeezed the trigger until the hammer snapped down. I looked at Ryan and shrugged. “This is fine.”
“And for me …,” he said. He looked up one side of each cupboard door and down the other. He ran his hand over every gun in the sliding shelf until he stopped at one with a flat black polymer body. “Is this the new Glock 17?”
“That’s it,” Lugo said. “The fourth-generation G17. I was at the SHOT show in Vegas when Glock unveiled it. Great piece. I also have the G22, very similar gun but takes the.40-calibres. Only downside is it carries fifteen rounds, not seventeen. I also got the compact versions of both, the G19 and G23.”
“Thanks. You a lefty?”
“ ’Cause the magazine release catches on both models are reversible.”
“I’m left-handed,” I said.
“Yeah? You want one of these instead of the Beretta? Only that’s gonna run you a grand, not including the suppressor.”
“Don’t confuse him,” Ryan said. “He should have something with a safety.”
“So one Beretta and one G17?” Lugo asked.
“Make mine the one that blows bigger holes,” Ryan said.
“One Beretta and one G22.”
“I also need an ankle gun. Does that Baby Eagle there take the same.40 ammo?”
“But of course.”
“All right,” Ryan said. “Add it up.”
“Boys going off to play,” Lugo said. “Warms my heart. Can I interest you in holsters?”
“Three. A shoulder and an ankle for me. You?” Ryan asked me. “Shoulder or hip?”
I imagined drawing a gun, wondering which would be quicker. I opted for hip, since that was how I’d carried my Beretta in the army.
“You can throw in the ankle holster,” Ryan said, counting out hundreds from a half-inch stack. “And I don’t like haggling either.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Lugo said.
It wasn’t far to Upham’s Corner, the neighbourhood where Carol-Ann lived. The GPS map showed a straight route along Dorchester out of South Boston and into Roxbury. But not too deep into it: just a few lights past the I-93 overpass.
Jenn had been gone about five hours now. The outside world became a blur as rain began to fall and my fear for Jenn clouded my mind. Sean Daggett was a predator, not above harming her if it profited him or filled some coarse dark appetite.
Traffic slowed, then stopped as orange construction cones closed off the right lane. After a moment of silence, Ryan said, “Cara was not strictly pleased I came down here.”
“I can imagine. You picked up and left pretty fast.”
“It wasn’t that,” he said. “It’s what coming here meant.”
I looked over at him, saw the strong set of his jaw. There’s a scar that creeps along the other side that gets darker when he’s angry. I couldn’t see it now but I’d bet it was livid. “That you might have to kill someone.”
“I tried to leave it behind last summer, you know I did.”
“Then I went to Chicago in the fall to help you and Jenn out. I was ready to kill if I had to but it never came up. That cop pulled the trigger first. Now I’m here again, I’m armed, I’m gonna do what I have to do to get Jenn back and deal with the fucker who took her. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to her and I didn’t do everything to stop it. But for Cara, it’s like I’m a drunk who keeps walking into a bar. Will he or won’t he slip? Is this thing she hates so much coming back into our lives? What if I kill someone here and it leads to some kind of retribution against Carlo? That’s what it always comes down to. That’s why she left me last year.”
“I remember.” He’d been living in an airport hotel when I met him, thrown out by Cara as the Calabrian Mob family he worked for descended into a murderous fight for spoils as their patriarch lay dying.
“But she threw me another question today, one of her nasty curves in the dirt. Something I know she’s always wondered about but never asked out loud: Did I actually like killing or had it always been just business. We never talked about this shit before, never discussed my work once since we took our vows. But now she’s hammering me over the phone, this is while I’m in the cab on the way to the airport, she’s asking me if I’m looking forward to getting back in action. Was there a thrill to the hunt or something like that in it for me?”
“What’d you say?”
“I said I can’t discuss it right now, I’m in a taxi with a driver has ears like a spaniel. We’ll have to talk about it when I got back. So all the way down here, I really thought about it. About every life I took. I didn’t count things I did in self-defence, or defence of you, for that matter, just the contract hits. And it wasn’t easy. As you can imagine, I’ve never exactly been given to reflection.”
“What do you think now?”
“That I did enjoy the hunt. When I was given a contract, I spent a lot of time following the target around, learning his routine. And it was always a him, right? Never killed a woman. Following another man allowed me to become someone else. As I walked behind him, I’d find myself falling into his walk, and the more I assumed it, the more I knew about him. Did he slouch or stand tall, stride or shuffle? Was he heading somewhere or wandering? Driven or aimless? I could sense his mood, how he felt about himself. How his shoes struck the street, which way his heels would shave down over time. I was on the road a lot, on my own, answering to no one, free of all other responsibility other than to prepare, for however long I needed.”
“Exactly. But the actual killing? Ending someone else’s life? No. I had nothing personal against any of these people. All I knew was they had fucked up beyond repair. It was over for them, no matter what. I was always grateful when I could use a gun. But there were times when I couldn’t and I had to use a knife or a wire or my hands. And it disgusted me. Whatever a serial killer is, getting a weird kick out of it and doing all these rituals and collecting shit, I’m the opposite. I hated getting close to them, smelling their breath or their BO. Sometimes their piss or their shit if they freaked. A couple of times I used my hands and had to look in their eyes the whole time. Saw them bulge, and then saw the lights go out. I wanted it over as fast as I could and got out of there. The only person I wanted to be close to physically was Cara, and then Carlo when he came along. My mother when I see her. Not these other people. Not these losers.”
“So you have your answer.”
“Except the minute I got it, bam, I fell into an immediate contradiction.”
“If I have to kill someone to get Jenn back, I won’t hesitate. And if I get a chance to kill the cunt that took her, this Daggett fucker, I’ll enjoy it.”
“Talk like that around Carol-Ann,” I said. “She’ll sing like a bird.”
Upham’s Corner was a pocket in east Roxbury, a decent neighbourhood a few streets wide bordering a larger territory that was hostile and predatory. Gianelli had told me that every other kid fourteen and up in parts of Roxbury was armed. “Boston has a miserable record of juvenile deaths by gunshot,” he said, “and an even worse solution rate. It’s one of the reasons their homicide cops get touchy. All they get is grief over the unsolveds. Some kid gets killed, everyone’s out there laying down wreaths and teddy bears and lighting candles and screaming, ‘Where were the cops?’ But not one of them picks up the phone and calls ’cause that’d be snitching.”
You’d never know any of this on Carol-Ann’s street. It was just off Dorchester, two blocks in length. She lived on the second block in a tidy two-storey house with a small garden fenced off with black wrought iron. The rest of the front had been given over to two parking spots, one for Carol-Ann, I assumed, and one for her upstairs tenant. All the neighbouring houses looked well-kept, free of litter, with gardens being prepped for spring planting.
There was only one car in the parking area, a small blue hatchback. Carol-Ann’s car was a white Camry, Jenn had told me.
“Not home,” I said.
“What do you want to do?” Ryan asked.
“We could sit awhile, see if she comes back.”
“Or break in. Be there when she walks in. Watch her wet herself.”
“That does sound better than sitting around.”
We drove down to the end of the block and left the car there. Ryan walked down a narrow concrete path between Carol-Ann’s house and her neighbour’s to see about a way in the back. I walked up to the front door and knocked. There was a decal on the front door saying the house was alarmed and monitored by SecuriGuard. It figured a single woman living in a pocket on the edge of despair would have an alarm. Suddenly sitting and waiting seemed like the better scenario. We weren’t smash-and-grab artists willing to take the risk that we would get in and out with a laptop before the police arrived. At the least, I wanted to search the house; at best, wait for Carol-Ann to get home. Now it seemed neither was a good idea. I followed the concrete path to the rear to warn Ryan off busting his way in. Turned out I didn’t have to. There was a decal on the back door too. He was peering in through the glass, hands cupped on either side of his face.
“See anything?” I asked.
“I was just wondering if the alarm was for real. Some people are too cheap to install one. They just get the decal and paste it on.”
“She’s got the system. I can see contacts on the door frame and window.”
“All right, back to the car. We wait her out.”
We were heading back toward the street when a steel-grey Ford pulled up to the curb and two men got out, both in suits and overcoats and short haircuts. One lit a cigarette. Neither looked happy.
“Fuck,” Ryan said.
“Gotta be. And by the cut of those suits, I’d say Homicide. They’re usually the snappiest dressers in a squad.” We turned and ran down the path into the backyard. There was a chin-high wire fence all around. Neither of us even stopped. We clambered up the fence, scrambling for toeholds, and vaulted over into the yard that bordered Carol-Ann’s at the rear. Ryan landed clear on the grass. My right foot hit a muddy patch and my legs went out from under me. I landed hard on my back, winded. I was trying to catch my breath when a glass door at the back of the house slid open and an unshaven man in a bathrobe stuck his head out and said, “What the fuck you doin’ in my yard!” My yad.
“You seen a grey tabby cat?” Ryan asked. “It got out of the house and jumped the fence.”
“Bullshit,” the guy snarled. “I seen the woman who lives back there. I never seen a cat there and I sure as hell never seen you.”
“Stay cool,” Ryan said. “We’re just trying to find the cat.”
The guy reached behind him and stepped out brandishing a red aluminum baseball bat.
Another beefcake with a bat. I’d fucking had it with all of them. I got to my feet and pulled the Beretta from my holster and said, “Get back in your house, asshole.”
He put up his hands so fast the bat fell at his feet. Then he backed up into his house and slid the glass door shut. As we moved toward the side of his house I saw him drop a security bar down and turn the blinds closed.
It didn’t take long to get the details on an all-news radio station. An unidentified Roxbury woman had been found beaten to death in Franklin Park, which the news anchor called a “troubled area.” Her name was being withheld until next of kin were notified, but witnesses who saw the body before it was bagged described the victim as a white woman in her thirties. The police refused to comment on whether it was a sex slaying but a spokesman said they were following several leads. I wished I could just phone them and say, “Daggett did it,” and hang up and have it mean something.
“What now?” Ryan asked.
“We bypass her and go straight to Stayner,” I said. “He knows more than he told me.”
“You know where he’d be on a Saturday?”
I opened my cell and scrolled through my recent calls, and selected Tania Hutchison. She answered on the second ring.
“Tania, it’s Jonah Geller, the investigator.”
“Hi,” she said. “What’s up?”
“If I needed to speak to Dr. Stayner today, where would I find him?”
“On a Saturday? I have no idea. It’s not golf season yet or beach weather.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“Yes, he had us all out there for a barbecue last year. But I can’t tell you that, it’s-”
“Tania, please. I wouldn’t have called if it weren’t urgent. This isn’t just about David anymore. My partner’s been abducted.”
“Oh my God. That’s-I–I don’t know what-”
“Dr. Stayner can help me find her. She’s a woman your age, and she was taken by a man who will kill her if I don’t find her first.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do, Tania. You want to find out what happened to David too, don’t you? You told me that. You need to know how you got your new position. Just tell me where Stayner lives. He’ll never know it came from you.”
I heard her take a deep breath in and blow it out. “Do you know Concord at all?”
Dusk was falling as we drove into Concord. It was quaint, historic, a fine slice of period Americana. A month from now they’d be re-enacting the skirmish between the Minutemen and the British regulars that essentially marked the beginning of the revolution. Who gave a shit? I was dialled in on Stayner and how best to approach him. Reason with him? Push him around? Leave him alone in the room with Ryan? There was no guarantee he’d be home. He might have had plans for the weekend, might be gone up or down the Cape or the shore, whatever they called it here. A man of his means might have season tickets to the theatre, opera, a Celtics game. The road was dark-no street lights, banners or bunting out here, just a ditch and a line of hedges or walls in front of houses that were fairly traditional in design but big, the lots at least a hundred feet wide, with long driveways running up to columned entrances.
As the numbers rolled up to Stayner’s, there was nowhere to pull up, get a sense of how many people might be home, if any. There was no curb, barely a shoulder. We either had to go past his driveway for some further recon, or up it.
When in doubt, go up.
His was a large Tudor cottage with a substantial two-storey extension on one side that almost doubled the size of the original house, matched closely but not exactly with timber and stucco. Lights showed on both floors. A black Mercedes SUV was parked on a crushed-shell drive. I parked directly behind it so it couldn’t move. We walked up a flagstone path to a door that had a wrought-iron knocker in the centre, a plain oval that I banged three times hard against oak.
A tall, graceful woman in her fifties answered. She looked at me pleasantly, then at Ryan and something shifted subtly in her, like a doe picking up a feral scent in the woods.
“I’m sorry to bother you at home, but I need a moment with Dr. Stayner.”
“Is he expecting you?”
“No. But it’s an emergency.”
“But he’s not on call.”
“It’s not a medical emergency. Please-is it Mrs. Stayner?”
“Yes. I’m Mrs. Stayner.”
“Please tell your husband Jonah Geller is here and that I have to speak to him.”
“Will it take long? We have to leave in an hour to pick up friends and then we’re going out for the evening.”
“The sooner you call him, the sooner we’ll be out of here.”
“All right, just a minute. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t invite you in.” Whether I minded or not, she closed the door and locked it. About forty seconds later, Charles Stayner opened it. He was wearing a casual gentleman’s weekend outfit: tan corduroy pants, a navy V-neck sweater and a white turtle-neck under it. Polished loafers, even in the house.
“Mr. Geller,” he said, extending his hand. “And you are?”
Ryan said, “Giulio.”
“I think my wife mentioned we don’t have much time-”
“Neither do I, Doctor. My partner’s been kidnapped.”
“That’s awful. Terrible. But why come to me?”
“Because it was Sean Daggett who took her.”
His face went taut fast, but not fast enough to conceal the flash of fear he felt at that name.
“I know everything,” I said. “The organ ring. The secret operations. That’s what David was running from, isn’t it?”
“Please, keep your voice down.”
“Tell you something else, Chuck. Carol-Ann Meacham is dead. She was murdered last night.”
“Are you serious?”
“Beaten to death and dumped in a park. The police haven’t released her name yet but my partner was watching her house. Someone lured her out with a phone call and killed her to keep her quiet. First David, now her. How safe do you feel, Chuck? Geez, I hope no one followed me here.”
His eyes darted up the driveway to the road, as if to scope it for more cars.
“Invite us in. Now. You tell us what we need to know, we leave, and you go on your double date.”
“The other option,” Ryan said, “is you cancel on medical grounds.”
“Are you threatening me?” Stayner hissed, his face growing red. “Geller, I can’t believe you brought this thug to my-”
His voice cut off as Ryan bunched his sweater and turtle-neck collar tight in one first. “This thug happens to love that girl too, Doc, so cut the shit and ask us in.”
He had Johnnie Walker Black in his study. He poured himself a drink and diluted it slightly from a jug of water in a beer fridge. He didn’t offer one to Ryan or me, which meant one less thing to throw in his face.
“This isn’t what you think,” he said.
“What do I think?”
“That I’m in this for money. I’ve never made a penny, not one. Everything he pays me I give to the hospital.”
“Guess what?” I said. “I don’t care. All I need from you is a way to find my partner.”
“Are you sure it was him?”
“I saw it with my own eyes. And if he hurts her, Doctor, you’re going to pay with everything you have. Now start with David. Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t contacted me since he disappeared.”
“Not even once.”
“That means he didn’t trust you. If you were really his friend and beloved mentor, he would have. It gets me thinking. Maybe you were the one who sold him out, told those thugs where to find him.”
“What happened to Mr. Patel?” I asked. “What went wrong?”
He looked stricken and sank down onto a couch that faced a wall unit lined with books on medicine and science and ethics, the scheming hypocrite.
“Two things,” he whispered.
“Are you recording this?”
“No, you asshole, just speak up.”
“Two things went wrong. The first was that David was there at all. You don’t imagine for a minute that I would have asked him to join this-this team I was forced to put together.”
“Forced?” I snorted. “That’s your story?”
“You never take money?”
“I take it,” he said. “But if you check the records at our foundation, you’ll see twenty-five-thousand-dollar donations made anonymously after every surgery.”
“Anonymously,” I said to Ryan. “What bullshit.” I actually believed Stayner but didn’t want him to know it. A man doesn’t become a world-class surgeon without being a control freak. I wanted him worked up. That’s when things slip out.
“It’s true. Daggett has a son, Michael, who has chronic kidney disease. Nephritis, to be precise. Michael needed a transplant and nothing was materializing. Daggett came to me about a year and a half ago, when Michael was twelve, and told me he wasn’t going to watch his son die waiting for the organ bank to call. He had found a willing donor who was a good match and he wanted me to do a private transplant. I told him, of course, that I couldn’t help him, that he was out of line to even approach me. Then he showed me these.”
He went behind a walnut desk and opened the centre drawer. He took out an envelope and slid out half a dozen photos of the same boy whose photo was on his desk at work: in shorts and a T-shirt chasing a Frisbee in a schoolyard; in a school uniform getting into a car; entering the very house we were in.
“That’s my son Devin,” he said. “He’s sixteen. He has his first driving lesson Monday.”
“I get it,” I said.
“No, you don’t.” He took out a second envelope and tossed it to me. I opened it to find half a dozen grisly crime-scene photos of bodies hacked and shot to death, digitally altered to include his son’s face on each body.
“I threw my guts up when I saw these, Geller. My son is every bit as precious to me as Daggett’s is to him. What could I do? He made me assemble a team of people I thought would go along with it. They’d get ten thousand cash apiece for a few hours work. I’d get twenty-five. He’d cover all the costs.”
“How did you find this team?”
“I’ve been in Boston since medical school,” Stayner said. “I know everyone in medicine here. And I know who has a hard time making ends meet. Boston is an expensive place to live. The taxes are high. Certain practitioners have alimony payments, kids in private school. I knew who could use an extra ten grand in cash. For obvious reasons I did not include David. No matter how desperate he was for money, I knew this was beyond his principles.”
“And you and this team performed the surgery on Michael Daggett.”
“Yes. The week of Christmas before last. The hospital had acquired a clinic in Framingham that had a wing under construction. It was deserted. We set up a sterile unit there one night and extracted the kidney from the donor and transferred it into Michael. We were gone before anyone arrived the next day.”
“Did you know anything about the donor?”
Stayner looked into his glass. It was empty. He looked at the Johnnie Walker, then set his glass down and looked for something else to do with his hands. “I didn’t want to know. And I didn’t want him to see me, so I insisted he be sedated before I arrived.”
“Do you know if he is alive and well today?”
“There’s no reason to assume otherwise,” he said. “A couple of days of post-operative care and he was discharged.”
“So how did it get from helping Daggett’s kid to an ongoing thing?”
“How do you think? He’s a natural predator. Not schooled in any way but clever as a wolf. It didn’t take him long to see the profits in this could be immense. Just consider the demographics. There are thousands of people in or close to Boston who need transplants, eighty per cent of them kidneys. If you’ve done the research I suggested, you know the supply is desperately short. And some of those thousands, as in any sample that size, are very wealthy people. Important people. More so here than in most cities.”
“And Daggett’s helping them jump the line.”
“Milking them for a fortune is what he’s doing. Funny thing is, I know half of them. They’re lying there under sedation and I see people I know from one of the clubs, boards, conferences, charity things I do. Politicians, bankers, new money, old. Daggett is finding them and using me as his cash cow.”
“Are they still done out in Framingham?”
“No. He set up a clinic in a defunct mortuary he bought in Mattapan.”
“It works. There are ambulance bays if his donors are being brought in anesthetized. Prep rooms that serve perfectly well as operating theatres. You don’t need much for laparoscopic surgery. We use one room for extraction, one for transplant.”
“I want the address.”
“I’ll write it down.”
“You say David wasn’t involved in any of this.”
“The night of Mr. Patel’s donation, the assistant surgeon I’d been using got into an accident on the way to our facility and broke his wrist. The surgery couldn’t wait, so I drafted David in for just that one night. He was the only one I could find on the spot with the skill to take it on.”
“How did you get him to agree?”
“I know a few things about Judaism, even though I’m not Jewish. You can’t help but pick it up in this field. I knew that saving a life is considered a sacred duty. So I didn’t tell him the true circumstances until he arrived at the facility. Then I pressed him on the life-saving part until he agreed to do it. I made him take the money and keep it until he decided what to do with it. I thought everything would be okay, he’d throw the money his parents’ way …”
“But Mr. Patel died.”
Stayner nodded. “Normally, a living donor goes through extensive pre-transplant protocols. A thorough examination, medical history, genetic counselling, blood work, everything. We knew Mr. Patel was the right blood and tissue match for our recipient.”
“Courtesy of Carol-Ann.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, he was allergic to the anesthetic we used and he suffered an episode of malignant hyperpyrexia-or hyperthermia if that’s more familiar to you.”
“Well, it’s something we normally would have flagged in genetic testing, but Daggett forces us to cut those corners.” He decided to refill his glass now, drank half down and said, “Please understand I fought against organ racketeering in India for years. I railed against it at conferences until the government there banned it. I’ve tried to prevent it all my career and this bastard gangster has made a complete joke out of it. Stuck me right in the middle. I love my son too. I never would have gotten involved in it if it weren’t for him.”
“Save it, Doctor. Where does he live?”
“Daggett? I couldn’t tell you. Somewhere outside the city. But I know he has an office in town. He told me once if I didn’t keep doing what he wanted, he would take my son up there and throw him off the top.”
“The top of what?”
We drove past the USS Constitution into the crowded North End and came to a driveway that served three six-storey condo buildings that faced the harbour. They were red brick with large art deco windows. Daggett worked up top of the middle one, Williams Wharf. We entered the private drive and came to a dead end where short concrete pillars linked by chains were set to block off a plunge into the water, accidental or otherwise. The back end of the building extended right to the pilings at the water’s edge. The views from any floor would be totally unobstructed.
As soon as we got out of the car, a uniformed security man exited the building and asked if he could help us. I got my digital camera off the floor of the car and said we were going to take a few pictures. He said okay but stayed there, arms crossed across his chest, as I struck a few touristy poses against the harbour backdrop, looking around the complex as Ryan snapped away with a flash that was nowhere near up to the job, but I doubted the guard would know that. On the right the driveway circled around to the lobby entrance; on the left it sloped deeply toward a door to an underground garage.
We traded places and I took four pictures of Ryan, letting him look around. Then we waved to the security guard and got back in the car. He unleashed one arm to wave back, then refolded it and continued to watch us until we had turned around and headed back out to the street.
“No way he has Jenn in there,” I said. “Not with that security.”
“He could have direct entry from the garage.”
“Still. It’s too public a place. Other tenants below. Cameras over the lobby and garage entrance.”
“Which also means it’s impossible for us to get in. We’re not going to fool anyone pretending to deliver flowers or pizza.”
“I used to hang around the North End with the locals when I did business here,” Ryan said. “There’s a couple of places up the corner we can watch from. We’ll see if he comes in or out.”
“If he does,” I said, “then what? This isn’t much of a place for a gunfight.”
“Few places are. But they still happen.”
We found an Italian cafe called Troppo that promised more of everything, including endless coffee refills. We took a window table and spent an hour eating dishes Ryan ordered, though I barely took note of what I ate. We watched fine vehicles enter and exit the driveway into the Wharves. We kept a running track of European, Asian and American luxury sedans, hybrids, crossovers and SUVs. We debated the plural of Lexus.
We didn’t see Sean Daggett come or go.
“These Irishmen,” Ryan said, “they’re crazy fuckers, you know that. In New York, back in the day, half of them weren’t even five-foot-seven, a hundred and fifty pounds, they still gave the families a run for their money. Pound for pound the most fearless guys out there, they’d go in anywhere blasting. The Gambinos, among others, used them for certain hits and muscle jobs because it was better to have them with you than against you.”
The waiter came and asked if there’d be anything else. A line was forming past the door and the table was in demand. We couldn’t drink any more coffee or water so we paid up and walked back to the car in darkness.
Halladay’s Funeral Home was in a Mattapan neighbourhood called Wellington Hill. It sounded Colonial or British but was all twenty-first-century urban blight. Half the stores were boarded up and the bus shelters advertised great deals on new foreclosures. The elderly clutched their purses and belongings tightly and put what little threat they could into the thrust of their canes. Single men gathered in tight-moving knots under canopies as a light rain drifted through.
The mortuary was surrounded by white hoarding with a gated entrance. The front half was two storeys and covered with light stucco. The back half was a long one-storey brick extension. Through the fence I could see two cars near the front door, none in the expansive lot on the west side. Signs on the hoarding said an application to turn the facility into a night club was before the zoning board. Graffiti was scrawled here and there denouncing the proposed club. As we cruised down the street we saw posters calling for a residents’ meeting to stop the zoning application.
“He’s smart,” I said. “He buys a place that suits his purposes, applies for a usage the residents don’t want, and it can sit tied up for years while he makes a fortune off it.”
“Think Jenn is in there?”
“Even if she is,” I said, “we’re not ready to storm it.”
“We’re all we got.”
“Do you know anyone in Boston?”
“No one I’ve seen in years. Back in the day, mind you, I came a few times. My old crew back home was hooked up with the Patriarcas. I mingled with them a few times.”
“Anyone you could ask for help?”
“There’s one guy here I got out of a jam. He might be a chip I can cash.”
“Think he’d accept an invitation to a gunfight?”
“Him personally, no. But he might know some guys who would. When do we need them?”
“Soon as you can.”
“Anything we can do in the meantime?”
“Go see our congressman.”
Back in my hotel room, I showed Ryan a page I had found and bookmarked during an earlier search. The architect who redesigned McConnell’s house had posted photos and a video tour of the outside on his website. “It’s on Louisburg Square,” I said. “Steps from the historic State House in the heart of Beacon Hill. The one with the black shutters and the Stars and Stripes fluttering bravely in the wind.”
Ryan took a look at the four storeys of solid red brick, the black shutters and trim. “Must have cost a fortune, that location.”
“It did,” I said. “Fortunately his wife has one, because it was way beyond his means. He took a few hits in the House when they bought it, got razzed about living off the avails of his wife while pretending to understand the common man, yada yada. I want to be there by nine, nine-thirty, approach him as he’s leaving for church.”
“How do you know he goes to church?”
“An Irish politician in Boston? I’ll bet you breakfast I can find an image of him toting a Bible in under one second.”
It took 0.63 seconds to come up with photos of the congressman and the heiress entering a historic church downtown, not far from where Rabbi Ed Lerner was striving to open his shul.
“What time do Catholics attend church on Sunday?” I asked Ryan.
“Ask someone who goes. Hey, zoom in on this corner,” he said, pointing to the lower left.
“The front of the car parked there. Yeah, that’s a Crown Vic parked there. Preferred car of the Secret Service. Might make approaching him tricky.”
“But not impossible.”
“Not for us.” He looked at his watch and said, “I’m going to go down to the lobby, use a pay phone to call my friend.”
“Give it everything you’ve got.”
“You know me,” he said. “Mr. Persuasive.”
After he left, I kept looking at different angles of the McConnell house, zooming in on details like the coal chute and the wrought-iron fixture servants would have used to scrape manure off their shoes before entering the side door.
When the phone rang, I assumed it was Ryan calling from the lobby but it wasn’t.
“Hi,” she said. “It’s Sandy Lerner.”
“We just got your message. I wish I’d listened to it sooner but we never do until Shabbos ends.”
“I figured as much.”
“Dad and I are both so sorry about your partner.”
“Sorry enough to tell me the truth?”
The knock on my door came half an hour later. Ryan had already come back up from the lobby, saying the man who owed him a favour was going to see what he could do on our behalf. I told him Sandy was coming over to talk about David, and that I was sure she knew where he was. He retired to Jenn’s room to give me the space I needed to get it out of her.
When I opened the door, Sandy was standing in the halo of light from the hall lamp, holding a bottle of wine and a corkscrew.
“I think I might need a glass of this,” she said.
I slipped the paper wraps off two water glasses I found in the bathroom, and poured us each a measure. I tasted mine and said, “Just right for the occasion. Now tell me what the occasion is.”
“It’s helping you find your friend, of course. As long as we protect David too.”
She was sitting on the club chair, slim in jeans and a black sweater, feet up under her. I said, “The man who kidnapped my friend is a gangster named Sean Daggett, and he’s going to kill Jenn tomorrow unless I find David first.”
“I won’t let you turn David over to him, even to save her. If that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I just need to speak to him, face to face. Between us we’ll find a way out.”
“From a gangster? I don’t think David’s much of a fighter.”
“I know. My father told me a few things about you after you left Friday night.”
“That you were a martial artist and you’d been in the IDF. And …”
“You can say it.”
“That you’ve killed three people.”
“Did he tell you how?”
“They were all in defence of yourself or others.”
“That was nice of him.”
She sipped her wine. “I heard you discussing Abner, so I take it there was some grey area?”
“In one of them.”
“But you live with it.”
“For the most part.”
“You’ve been injured a lot.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The way you carry yourself.”
“It hasn’t been a great year in that way,” I admitted. “As my grandmother would have said, there was too much excitement.”
“Did you get injured helping people?”
She took a longer drink than before, a longer pause, before saying, “You’ll protect David? You won’t use him as bait?”
“Just a diversion. And I’m not alone. I brought someone down from Toronto who’s a fighter too. A frighteningly good one.”
“Okay,” she said. “Here’s what happened.”
On the Friday morning after David’s flight from Summit Path, Sandy had woken at dawn and driven him to a place called Plum Island, accessible only via a causeway near Newburyport, an hour north of the city. Much of it was a nature reserve, she told me, with home ownership restricted to certain areas. A wealthy developer named Stephen Cooper, who attended Adath Israel and adored her father, had a retreat that he allowed Rabbi Ed to use from time to time, knowing his finances would never allow him a decent weekend out of the city. Sandy had always been invited too. “Normally,” she said, “a weekend with my dad after spending all week with him at home? No thanks. But Plum Island is magical. You see plants there you don’t see anywhere else around. Birds too. It’s a huge nature preserve, with all kinds of tidal flats and salt marshes. You see different water, and bluer skies. So I went a couple of times. Took a lot of long walks, tons of photos.”
“This is where David’s been the last two weeks?”
“As far as I know. Our agreement with David was we wouldn’t contact him. He threw away his cellphone. If he needed anything he would call from a pay phone in town. The house has no phone service in the off-season, no Internet, so we’ve had no way of reaching him, and he hasn’t called here. There’s also no electricity, water or heat. But I set him up with candles, blankets, a lot of canned food, bottled water. A camp stove he could use to warm up soups and meals, make coffee. I thought he would call after a few days, a week, for more supplies or cash.”
“But he hasn’t.”
“You’ll take me there in the morning?”
“We’ll need to leave early,” I said. “First light.”
She got up off the club chair and sat down next to me on the bed. Her hair smelled like green apple and the smell went straight to a sweet spot inside me, a welter of emotion and feelings that had been aboil far too long. I hadn’t held a woman with feeling in many, many months. I hadn’t had sex in the year since Camilla Lauder and I had split. And I hadn’t had anything remotely resembling good sex with the lovely Camilla for a year before that. I might have hooked up with Katherine Hollinger, a Homicide sergeant in Toronto, but my friendship with Ryan had cost me that one.
Now here was someone I found very attractive, close to me now-too close. As much as I wanted to take her clothes off and swarm her, my heart was with Jenn, wherever she was. My head was troubled by the danger she was in. I needed to stay focused on what was ahead of us. Like a fighter before a championship fight, the last thing I needed was wobbly legs.
“Go home, Shana,” I said. “I’ll pick you up around six.”
She leaned in closer. “Are you sure?”
“No,” I said. “Which is why you should go.”
Later, I went next door and told Ryan where David was.
“I should go with you,” he said.
“You don’t worry it’s a trap?”
“The rabbi’s daughter?”
“She could be the pope’s mistress, I don’t give a fuck. It could still be a set-up.”
“Said Caesar to his wife. And what am I supposed to do while you’re out getting your throat slit?”
“We have two places to watch now. The mortuary and Williams Wharf.”
“I’ll take the Wharf, where us lean Italian guys blend in, hang there until I hear from you.”
“Maybe your guy will have news.”
“Maybe. Just watch your back on this island.”
“And if David won’t help?”
“He will. He has to. I’m not going to ask him to walk into Daggett’s arms, but there has to be a way we can use him.”
“My advice is drag him back here by the hair if it saves Jenn’s life. But I know you won’t do that.”
“Take your gun.”
“And an extra clip.”
“All right. Thirty-four shots ought to get you through the morning.”
That’s the kind of send-off you get when you hang around Dante Ryan.
I woke up at five-thirty, my head reasonably clear and free of pain. I had a light breakfast as soon as the hotel coffee shop opened and by six-thirty was on my way back to Brookline with my Beretta snug in its holster on my right hip. I was feeling a sense of excitement that bordered on hope. If David was still at the house on Plum Island, and if he agreed to help, I’d be one step closer to finding Jenn before Daggett could carry out his sick plan.
Shana was standing outside her house in a dark wool coat. She got in and directed me to the I-95; I realized I much preferred her voice to that of the GPS. I felt a twinge of regret that we hadn’t spent the night together. I certainly could have used the release. But it was the right decision and I shook my mind clear of it. “How far is this island?”
“About forty-five minutes to the causeway,” she said. “And another twenty or so from there.”
She fell into silence, looking out the window, twisting a strand of her hair around her fingers. I asked if she was okay.
“I’m just worried about what we’ll find,” she said. “Without heat, power and everything, it will have been hard on him these last two weeks. He’s not the hardiest of men.”
“You said he had plenty of supplies.”
“Still, it’s been cold at night. Colder up there, I imagine. But I suppose he’s also an ascetic kind of character. If anyone can get by on the bare minimum, it’s him.”
“From what I’ve heard of him, he’ll have written a new research paper on toilet paper by candlelight.”
We went past the exits to Lowell, Lawrence and Ipswich and got off on Scotland Road, which bent toward the sea and Newbury. The road went south and east around the wide mouth of the Merrimack River, then took us north on the Plum Island Turnpike, the river basin on our left, the ocean on our right. As the road became narrower. I cracked open my window and smelled salt and brine, only slightly tainted by diesel fumes.
“You should see it here in the spring,” she said. “Between the wildlife refuge and the tidal flats, more than three hundred bird species have been recorded. The spring migration here is one of the biggest in the world. Zillions of hawks, shorebirds, warblers. If you’re into that sort of thing.”
I wasn’t, not now. Not unless one of those birds could tell me where Jenn was, and that she was okay.
I guess Shana picked up on what I was thinking about, because she asked, “How long have you and Jenn been partners?”
“Just a few months. But we’ve known each other much longer-she’s my best friend too, like a sister.”
“You have any?”
“Sisters? No. Just an older brother.”
“That didn’t sound warm and fuzzy.”
“Our relationship has a lot of grit in it. Bit of a sandstorm sometimes.”
“What’s the age difference?”
“He’s three years older chronologically. And twenty more mature.”
“One of those,” she said.
We drove in silence until she said, “You see the house there on the right?”
It was an A-frame made of dark stained wood, with a lot of pine trees around it. “That’s not such a bad campsite. I don’t think I’d call it ascetic.”
“That’s not the Coopers’ house. That’s where their summer help lives.”
The road to the main house was gravel but had been graded so the ruts weren’t deep. The Coopers probably had an Escalade or Navigator anyway, in case a twig fell off a tree and blocked their path. At one point the road narrowed so the branches of laurels leaned in close as if they wanted to pull on our sleeves, whisper something useful, but they just scraped against the side of the car as we eased past at low speed.
“Okay, about a hundred yards ahead-do they use yards in Canada?”
“I watch football. I know what a hundred yards looks like.”
“It’s just past that big spruce. You’ll have to stop at the gate.”
Past the spruce, a towering blue one, I turned into a flagstone drive blocked by an iron gate set into stone posts on either side. Shana got out and used a key to unlock the gate and swung it open. After I passed through, she closed it behind us, locked it and got back in.
“I’m so nervous,” she said.
“About what we’ll find?”
“We’ll know in a minute.”
The road rose steeply enough that I had to ease the little Dodge into second gear. Then it plateaued in front of a magnificent house with a stone foundation and wood-and-glass front. The wood was richly stained cedar. The windows promised expansive views of the ocean at the rear.
We parked in front of the house. Complete quiet except for the rush of the water. The surrounding homes weren’t close and all seemed unoccupied. I’d seen no cars in the driveways we’d passed. No wood smoke from chimneys, no mail or newspapers outside the houses.
No sounds at all from the Cooper house.
Shana let us in with another key. The foyer was so brightly flooded with natural light, I forgot for a moment that there was no electricity and found myself listening for music, a television or other sign of occupation. We walked over a flagstone floor into a great room that included a kitchen with an island that had four stools lined up, a dining area that looked out at the sea and a living room that faced a large stone fireplace. In front of it was a small mattress and a pillow and three grey wool blankets, neatly folded at one end. There were several candles in glass dishes. A daily prayer book and a coffee-table book on the castles of the Loire. I guess it was the one thing he’d found to challenge his mind in some way. Take him away from the frightening bleakness of the last two weeks.
We padded quietly over hardwood floors as if neither of us wanted to be the first to disturb his monastic silence.
On the kitchen island was a loaf of bread, with a few crumbs scattered near it. In the sink was a plate and one knife smeared with peanut butter, and another with jelly. I also saw some over-the-counter cold medication beside the sink and some crumpled tissues in the trash bin beneath it.
“David?” Shana called. “It’s me, Sandy. Are you here?”
I looked out the glass doors that opened onto a stone path that led out toward a wood-and-wire fence and beyond that the dunes and the water. Near some grassy scrub a white tissue shivered in the breeze.
“Out there,” I said.
Out there was a grey sea under a cloudy sky. The wind whipped the water into brisk whitecaps where gulls dove and smacked against the crests, cawing and slashing the water with their beaks. The roar of the surf was as loud as racketing trains, as the waves pounded in. In both directions the sand dunes sprawled, empty except for fences to keep people away from fragile growths of piney scrub.
I almost didn’t see him because the blanket around his shoulders was the same colour as the sky. He was facing the water, where the sea and sky met in similar shades of iron. I thought the first voice he heard should be Shana’s, to keep him from bolting, so I waited for her to catch up and gave her a hand signal to take over.
“David,” she called. “It’s Sandy.”
He didn’t stir. He kept staring out at the horizon.
“He can’t hear you,” I said, pointing at the waves.
She took five or six more steps and called his name again, and he turned and his face broke into a huge smile when he saw her. Since the case started, I’d pictured him as sober, serious, studious, when I wasn’t thinking of him as dead, dying, hurt or pleading for his life. I realized I’d never pictured him happy, grinning and filling with light from the inside.
Then he saw me. The smile went away. His brows lowered and met in the middle. He stood up, letting the blanket fall to the sand. He held a tissue in his hand and the area around and under his nostrils looked raw and red. He was wearing jeans that were too long and rolled up at the cuffs and a red sweatshirt also meant for a bigger man.
Shana ran across the sand and hugged him. He wasn’t sure what to do at first, just kept looking at me, but finally he balled up the tissue and held her tightly, and it didn’t take more than a few seconds before his shoulders started to shake and he wept. Shana patted his back and murmured things and they rocked together for half a minute longer.
When he pulled away, he came toward me, his hand extended. “Sandy says you’ve been looking for me.”
“Yes. Jonah Geller.” We shook.
“Hired by my parents.”
“For how long?”
“We got here Thursday.”
“You’re very good then. I commend you.”
He was on the small side, about five-eight and 145 pounds, and his eyes looked red and rheumy. But when he smiled, like he was doing now, he really did seem lit from within. Not an athlete’s glow, and not a saint’s either. Here was a man who had known what he wanted to do from a very young age and had pursued it ardently with every ounce of his considerable gifts. There was a contentment about him I knew I could never achieve, no matter what I did in the future, because of what I’d done in the past. That he had commended my work mattered because I so admired his.
“Have you been sick the whole time?” Shana asked.
“No, just the last few days,” he said. “It gets damp in the house at night. I can’t seem to find enough blankets. I didn’t want any wood smoke so I never lit the fire. I just used the camp stove, like you said.”
“You poor thing,” she said.
He looked at me and said, “So. My parents hired a private investigator.”
“They needed to know what happened.”
“I feel terrible that I haven’t called them. I just couldn’t. I was afraid it would put them in danger. If they didn’t know where I was, Daggett would have no reason to hurt them. I take it you know about Daggett?”
“After the first few days here, I kind of lost track of time a little. It became easier not to do anything at all, other than subsist and think. There were a few interesting books I could read during daylight hours. Thoughts I jotted down about HOOD and other matters. I mostly tried to sleep and stay warm and ration my supplies.”
“David, there’s more to the case now than you know. Carol-Ann is dead.”
“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.
Whatever 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 cafe 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.
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.”
According 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 cafe 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.”
“Can four of us take Halladay’s?”
“Not so fast. What he agreed to was they’ll meet us. We’ll sit and discuss the plan and they’ll decide how deeply they want to be involved, was how he put it.”
“I told you, Jonah, this guy has what your people would call schlep. He has pull.”
“A made man?”
“I won’t acknowledge that verbally but watch me nod. Now, as long as there’s nothing too wacky, I think they’re in.”
“They provide their own guns?”
“Sidearms, sure. More than that, we might have to outfit them.”
“Then let’s hope Lugo works Sundays.”
Lugo was indeed home and working. Ryan told him what we were looking for, listened and said, “For that price, John, you should be coming with us. No, I’m not haggling. I’m just saying … all right, but you’re going to miss out on all the fun.”
When he hung up, I called the Stayner home and got his wife. She said he couldn’t come to the phone right now.
“Tell him it’s an emergency.”
“Aren’t you the man who was here yesterday?”
“And you had an emergency then?”
“This one’s worse.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Geller, it’s Sunday. Charles needs his downtime.”
“Ma’am, please pass the phone to your husband. Let him decide if he wants to take it or not.”
Ryan said, “Tell her if she doesn’t, I’m gonna shove it up her ass.”
“If you don’t put him on,” I said to Mrs. Stayner, “he’ll have to talk to the police instead.”
“You can ask him when we’re done.”
“Oh, just a minute.”
She put the receiver down none too gently on a hard surface and I heard steps recede into the distance. A minute later, different steps approached.
“What the hell are you trying to do!” Stayner said. “Implying to my wife I have something to hide from the police? She doesn’t know anything about what’s going on.”
“If you don’t want her to, shut up and listen.”
“David is dead,” I said.
“He was murdered this morning.”
“Oh, God. Poor David.” His voice sounded choked with genuine emotion. For whom, I wondered.
He said, “Do the police know who did it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s call from your house and ask.”
“You’re coming here?”
“But there’s nothing else I can do.”
“Oh yes, there is.”
“I’ll tell you when I get there.”
“You’re not bringing your goon?”
“Watch it,” I said. “David was shot to death this morning in front of my eyes. The goon could easily be me.”
Jesus Christ, Sean thought, the big blonde bitch had broken Kieran’s leg with her car. He’d needed a plate to stabilize the shin bone, she’d busted it so bad. He had a deep gash in the back of his head too, from where his head had banged off the headlight of a parked car, all kinds of glass and paint and chips they had to pick out of there. They’d had to shave the whole back of his head, but left the long floppy front until he woke up so they could ask him if he wanted that buzzed off too. But when he came around, he was so pissed off at what had happened, at what she’d done to his leg, he told them the first person to touch him with a buzzer or anything else was gonna die. Sean was glad they were keeping Kieran in the bed with his leg up, all those tubes in his arm. Otherwise, he’d be hopping bare-assed down the hallway in his hospital gown, looking for his car to go run down the bitch.
But she was already down, way down, which left one to go: the PI from Toronto who had led them to the good Dr. Fine. And wasn’t that poetic, using one Hebe to track down another, when they were always so protective of each other-like some secret little society you couldn’t get into if you didn’t have the nose and the big mouth and all their other shit. He wants to rescue his girl? Let him try. Him and the buddy he had with him now, an Italian in dark clothes; nothing much physically, his watchers said. They had shown his picture to a few North End friends with bent noses but no one gave up his name. So what? One guy, two guys. Didn’t matter to Sean. His boys would just dig the grave deeper.
Freddie Hogan hadn’t been near a girl this good-looking in a long time. Maybe at a party for like two minutes before she spotted a better prospect and moved off. This one was better looking than any of them. Tall, Christ, a good three inches taller than him, with that rare combination: a great big body, fit but lots of curves, and a great face too, even with her eyes closed and a tube down her throat. He’d seen her alive and kicking when Sean had brought her in and thrown her down onto the bed, put the gun on her and told her if she moved he’d blow a hole in her and gut her right there. Freddie had seen her eyes then: beautiful blue eyes, scared, angry, scornful. He’d seen her mouth with even white teeth and full lips telling Sean he was an asshole and worse. Didn’t get to Sean. He’d just smiled and held his pistol while she took off her clothes with her back to them-Jesus, what an ass, full and creamy, two good handfuls-and put on the thin hospital gown that barely hid anything. It was chilly in the prep room and it took no time for them rosebuds to appear beneath the front of her gown, especially as her boobs moved against the cloth as she squirmed while he strapped down her arms and wrists. She stopped once the drip took hold. Then she just lay there while he intubated her and put in the catheter, not using any of the antiseptic the kit provided, and watched her as she settled into the long dark sleep that was going to follow. Sean watched too, over Freddie’s shoulder, until she was gone, then told him that no one was to so much as touch her until Monday. Watch her, Sean had told him. Call if there were complications.
There wouldn’t be any, Freddie said, and Sean left to go about his business. Now there she lay naked under a gown thinner than a hostel bedsheet. Talk about pulling prize duty, all because he knew how to keep someone on ice like this. Leave it to Sean to think of it. Normally, you abduct someone and you want to keep them alive a few days, you need to find someplace secluded, feed them, watch them go to the bathroom, take their shit, listen to them plead. Sean said, “Fuck that shit-knock ’em out for a few bucks’ worth of P.”
And he was right. Propofol, run through someone properly at a good level dose, was a nice clean drug. It kept Sean’s people quiet as mice. He didn’t have to do shit but run a few tubes in them, keep an eye on them, make sure they didn’t barf and then choke on it.
The place itself, this prep room at Halladay’s Funeral Home, gave Freddie the creeps, though. Big time. How could it not? All the dead bodies that had been worked on in the room, embalmed, made up and what have you. Stuffed into their best suits, their lips sewn shut and their ties knotted just right. But Sean paid well and all Freddie had to do was keep people on the drip until they were needed. This girl, though. Look at her. Look at the titties rise and fall with her breath.
The way her lips parted around the tube, you could tell she’d give good head. Pretty features on her, nice straight nose. Good skin. Shiny blonde hair and not a dye job. Ten to one she was blonde down there too. And there was something about blonde pussy that seemed sweeter, cleaner, pinker than any other kind.
The other guy on duty, John Callahan, had to keep watch out by the door that led to the parking bay. There was a buzzer that controlled the garage door itself. No one got in without stopping and looking into the security camera so Callahan could check them in, log them in his book. But there’d be no action tonight: Monday was the night. That’s what Sean had told them.
So who would know if he took a peek? Nothing wrong with that, not in this situation. She wasn’t sick or dead, just on a drip. He’d never been with anyone like her. Not even close.
It made him think of all the ones who had walked away from him in bars or at parties. Whose eyes had kept roaming, hunting, as he’d tried to get their attention, whose relief he could feel when they spotted someone they knew and could say excuse me. Sometimes not even that.
His hands moved quietly to her breasts and hovered over the gown, as close he could to the cloth without touching it. This was no ordinary pair. Too bad Sean wasn’t doing titty transplants, these would be worth a fortune. His hands whispered over her nipples lightly, as if he were a true lover of hers, and he felt their perfect size and shape, wishing she could be awake but still strapped in.
He was so hard just from touching her, he knew he would ache like hell if he didn’t resolve this. And there was a way this could still be good. Conscious, unconscious, she could still lie there and take it.
He went out in the hall and called, “John?”
“Yeah?” Good. His voice coming from his post out by the door.
“You hungry for dinner yet?”
“No way, man. Lunch was only three hours ago.”
“Okay, guess you’re right. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Beautiful. John was where he should be. Sean was on his way somewhere. No one else was expected. It was just him and the girl, down in whatever depths the drug had taken her to.
They would spend two weeks every summer south of the Pinery on Lake Huron, the Raudsepps up from the farm, the McKenzie side over from Stratford, where they had their restaurant and souvenir shop. The families rented adjacent cabins and the cousins ran up and down the beach the entire time, in the water or up through the scrub and trees at the top, never getting tired, it seemed. They’d play Frisbee in the water, or monkey in the middle or Marco Polo, it didn’t matter. It was being with family that counted.
She loved the water best of all. More than the volleyball games, hacky sack, castle building; more than bonfires, marshmallows or the breathtaking sunsets that streaked the sky with purple, orange and pink; more than the corny songs on guitar or the board games in the musty front room of the cottage. Always the first one into the water, our Jenn, always the last one out, lips blue and gooseflesh raised. Their farm was hot in the summer and always buzzing with flies. In the water, she was free of heat and flies, of the heavy smell of manure. Sometimes she’d just float like a starfish with her head pointing at the horizon and she could see the sunset like that, upside down.
Something bumping against her, almost like an eel inside her thigh. Probably one of her cousins-Eric, was her bet-reaching in there with that big foam noodle he needed to hold onto when the water got deep.
She wanted him to stop so she could get back to floating and watching the sunset, weightless, careless-how many more days was it until they had to go home?
In the past few days, it seemed, I’d spent all my time in the studies of men who were supposed to be doing good in this world. A rabbi, a doctor, a congressman. Learned, righteous men in their studies, getting people killed. Now I was in Stayner’s again while Ryan went to Lugo’s to fill out his deadly list.
“You have to understand,” Stayner said, “nothing like this was supposed to happen to David. Daggett told me all along he wanted David to assist in the surgery Monday. If David got in touch, I was supposed to reassure him of that.”
“You sure he never did?”
“Never. Not a word after our last conversation.”
“But why would Daggett kill David if Dr. Reimer hasn’t healed yet?”
“But he has.”
“What do you mean?”
“We met Thursday. I’m not saying he’d be ready to lead such a procedure, but as far as assisting, his injuries had sufficiently healed.”
“Did you tell Daggett that?”
Stayner hesitated, losing some of his assertiveness. “He asked. I answered. That’s how it works with Sean Daggett.”
“Didn’t you realize what that meant? You made David expendable.”
“How was I to know you’d lead them to him? Don’t project your guilt onto me, Geller. It’s your fault he got killed. And it was up to you to keep your partner from being grabbed, not me!”
He was leaning against his desk, legs crossed at the ankles. I came at him fast from his right. He pushed off and moved instinctively toward the wall where his family photos hung in black frames. I squared up with him, crowded him against the wall and drove my left fist through the drywall next to his ear. Two family photos slid down and crashed against the floor, the glass shattering loudly. Plaster dust fell like snowflakes into his finely combed hair.
“That’s me projecting,” I said.
“Jesus Christ, you’re crazy!”
“If I hit your chest that hard,” I said, “I could stop your heart.”
I heard footsteps outside the door and his wife’s voice calling, “Honey? Is everything okay?”
“Tell her,” I said.
Stayner was shaking; whether in fear or anger was his business.
“Everything’s fine,” he called. “Just me being clumsy.”
“Are you sure?” she said.
“Please, Gwen, leave me alone. Everything’s under control.”
“Don’t you wish,” I said in his ear.
“It was the media that did me in,” Stayner said, once his wife had left the house on an errand he encouraged her to run.
“It’s true. When our transplant program marked its fiftieth anniversary a couple of years ago, we made all the local papers. The Herald ran a feature on me and my role in shaping the program. Sean Daggett got it into his head that I was the only man to help his boy.”
“How did you get Carol-Ann involved?” I asked.
“Rather easily. She’s one of those women who hit forty and realize they’re as likely to get blown up by a terrorist as they are to get married. So she wanted the one other thing that would provide security, and that was a house. She’d bent everyone’s ears about it around the department. She wanted a foreclosure she could fix up, with tenants to help pay off the mortgage. She jumped at the chance to make some cash.”
“How did it work?”
“We ran Michael Daggett’s blood and tissue samples against all the ones she’d collected to date. Matches don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “But the better they are, the fewer anti-rejection drugs the patient has to take, which means a lighter toll on the body. We isolated eight matches in the Greater Boston Area that were more than acceptable. Three were discarded immediately because of age or health concerns. Of the remaining five, I’m told, Daggett found one who responded to whatever offer he made.”
“You sure it wasn’t at gunpoint? Was the donor even conscious when he was brought in?”
“I told you before, I don’t know. I only entered once he had been prepped.”
“For all you know he could have been disposed of after the surgery.”
“That wasn’t my understanding,” he said. “I was told he was a willing donor.”
“How long before Daggett approached you again?”
“About three months. He told me he had found someone else who needed a kidney and didn’t trust the system to provide one in time. Of course, this person also happened to have the money to obtain one illegally. Daggett found out what these surgeries cost in hospitals and charged him double. Half a million. And then he told me we were in business. Anyone who left the team would be killed. If I tipped anyone off, my son would be killed. He would pay us the same amount as before-ten thousand per team member, twenty-five for me.”
“How many have you done?”
“We’ve averaged one surgery a month, so about fifteen so far.”
“That’s more than enough to know the place inside out. So here’s what you’re going to do: sit down with a pad and sketch every inch of Halladay’s, every door, window and chimney. Write down who’s usually there the night of a transplant by way of security. Who packs a gun.” I moved in closer, advancing slowly, never taking my eyes off Stayner’s, backing him up until he was angled over the harvest table, his palms on the table to support him. “You’re going to show us how you get in, how the others get in. Are you usually patted down when you get there? Does anyone check your equipment? What does Reimer look like? Would they recognize him with a mask on? Come on, get writing. You’re such a Harvard genius, write it down.”
His arms were shaking from the strain. His elbows quivered and the table shook. An apple fell out of a basket of fruit and rolled along the table to the far end, where it dropped onto the floor.
“Quit crowding me and I’ll do it.”
“This isn’t crowding. Crowding will be if anything happens to Jenn because you left something out.”
I let him up. He stood up straight and brushed at his shirt. Smoothed back his hair, his hands still trembling. He got scrap paper and pencils out of a kitchen drawer and set them on the table. “If it’s any consolation,” he said, “there’s a very good chance your friend is still alive.”
“The fresher tissue is when you transplant it, the better. And as in your supermarket, fresh is always better than frozen. I can’t assemble the team twice in two days, so if Daggett is sick enough to do this to her, it will be tomorrow night, either before or after Mrs. McConnell’s surgery.”
“Insist it be done after.”
“You don’t insist with Daggett.”
“This time you do. Tell him you’re not feeling well, you have to do the McConnell transplant first. Tell him it doesn’t matter if the woman dies, so you’d rather do her after, when you’re tired.”
“He’s greedy enough to buy that,” Stayner said. “Okay, I’ll try it. The least I can do is buy you that time for her.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that Stayner could draw; he was a meticulous man and good with his hands. But his renderings of Halladay’s Funeral Home from a range of perspectives were excellent. He started with a street view, placing the mortuary on Wellington Hill Street with two other properties on each side. Then filled in the front and rear entrances with all doors and windows.
He talked me through the procedure in five-minute blocks of time from the team’s arrival, through the set-up, scrubbing and surgery itself: the swift laparoscopic removal of the organ; the stapling and suturing of the donor while the organ sat on ice; the insertion of the organ and the stapling and suturing of the recipient. The diseased kidney was not removed but left in to wither and die. Done sequentially, it took four to six hours, assuming no bleeding, misfired staples or other complications.
Stayner told me security during a transplant was usually limited to four men. The day shift and night shift would simply overlap for the duration.
“What about Daggett? Does he usually come?”
“He attended Michael’s, of course, and the first half-dozen or so. Then he seemed to lose interest. It’s more sporadic now.”
“When he does come, is he alone?”
“Never. He always has that hulking friend of his. Kieran.”
“Kieran’s out,” I said. “Jenn took him out before Daggett grabbed her.”
“Then he’ll have someone else,” Stayner said. “Daggett is never alone.”
He made a list of all his team members and the equipment they typically brought in with them for each procedure. “We don’t leave much at Halladay’s. Even with their security, you don’t want to leave anything of value in that neighbourhood.”
“Which means we can hide a gun in your stuff. I don’t suppose you’re handy with a pistol.”
“Not even if it were filled with water.”
“Any of your team?”
“Please, we’re surgeons.”
“Don’t get huffy,” I said. “You did plenty of damage by agreeing to Mrs. McConnell’s surgery.”
“Daggett forced me to-”
“Save it. Lerner could only bring the deal as far as you. You took it to Daggett. He didn’t know about it until you volunteered, knowing McConnell would pay ten times what you’d been throwing back. And that extra step helped get David killed.”
“You’re determined to blame that on me.”
“It’s that or punch more holes in your walls.”
Rabbi Ed let me into the house, wearing a cabled grey cardigan over a white Oxford shirt and black jeans. As he turned to shut the door, I went straight to the dining room table. I wanted no more of closed, quiet rooms filled with the leathery smell of old books full of high ideals. I wanted to be in the open with him, and with Shana if she chose to be part of this. And wasn’t that going to be fun?
The rabbi used a dimmer to fill the afternoon light in the dining room with a soft yellow glow. Shana was across the butcher-block island in the kitchen, dressed in jeans with a white blouse and a man’s suit vest over it. I smiled at her but could tell how forced it felt; she did too, I guess, because she didn’t smile back. But she did offer coffee. I said yes and she started putting a pot together, measuring out dark grounds from a Starbucks bag she took from the freezer.
“It’s terrible news about David,” Rabbi Ed said. “I’m simply heartbroken for his parents. They sound like wonderful people. I was so hopeful this was going to turn out right.”
“It hasn’t turned out so bad,” I said.
“What? How can you say that? David is dead. Your partner is being held hostage.”
“For you, I meant.”
He drew back as Shana looked at me with anger. She said, “That was totally inappropriate.”
“You got everything you wanted out of the deal,” I said to him. “McConnell would make sure you got federal funding. Urban renewal, that’s his thing. Zoning problems would go away. His wife would make a personal contribution to the capital campaign once she got the new kidney you lined up for her.”
“I know this has been an upsetting day for you,” he said in a soothing voice, the one he probably used to counsel his flock.
“You spent your life telling the truth, Rabbi,” I said. “So you’re not a very good liar. You said David never told you anything about the organ trade the night he was here.”
“But Mrs. McConnell’s operation was lined up the next day.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“You’re the only link between all the players. You put the congressman and Stayner together. David had already told you about this, hadn’t he? During one of your confessional tete-a-tetes.”
“I told you I wasn’t prepared to discuss that.”
“He told you about the illegal operation he’d been dragged into and the death of one of the donors.”
“Jonah,” Shana said, “unless you can prove all of this I think you should just stop the wild accusations. This is our house you’re in.”
“Such a nice house,” I said. “Such a warm house. Built by such a warm-hearted man. A builder and a ribbon cutter, a pillar of Brookline. They ought to paint a mural of him on Harvard Street.”
“I said stop.”
“Let him stop me,” I said. “Tell me which part isn’t true, Ed. David is dead, there are no more confidences to keep.” I looked at Shana; she glared at me, her fists clenched tightly at her sides.
He took a deep breath, as if a man of his girth needed to fill himself with more air than most. “What are you, thirty-three, thirty-four years old?”
“What do you know about building a shul like Adath Israel? Yes, I cut the ribbons and broke the ground. From a small shul to an expanded one to a second building. I founded the day school, the men’s choir, the adult education program, the youth basketball club. For twenty-five years, there was virtually nothing in that building I did not initiate or bring to life.”
“So why quit?”
“I didn’t plan to. I thought I’d stay there until I retired. But it was time to build a new complex. We had outgrown the old one. It had always been a patchwork affair-one building here, one there, with a walkway connecting them, which could, by the way, fall apart any day. Through a developer I know, up came an opportunity to acquire land in a good location nearby and build the kind of synagogue Brookline should have: a new sanctuary and admin wing, a bigger school, more gym and childcare space. There were naming opportunities galore. Fantastic plans another friend of mine drew up for nothing. And the board of directors turned it down. They said it was the wrong time to build, what with the economy bouncing around like a basketball. I argued the opposite. Workmen were out of work. Materials were cheap. The land was there at a buyer’s price. They said no, no, no. It was too expensive. The timing was bad, it sent the wrong message, the naming opportunities might not be there-every excuse. And after twenty-five years, all the battles, Jonah, the joy, of course, the opportunity to do a lot of good, but the grief too, to have endured all that and be turned down by these pishers? That was it. I took a leave of absence, during which I looked at other opportunities, and came up with the idea of the Shul on the Hill. That’s why I left.”
“When did David tell you about Mr. Patel?”
“A few days after he died. David came by for tea after dinner. You were out that night,” he said to Shana.
“He confided in you,” I said.
“Did he ask your advice?”
He lowered his head. Shana said, “Dad?”
“Rabbi, did he ask your advice?”
“Yes. He thought maybe he should go to the authorities.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That he had indeed saved a life, as Dr. Stayner had suggested. He had not done it for material gain; the money was more or less forced on him. He said he was going to send half to his parents and give the other half to the Patels.”
“I told him it was best to keep silent.”
“Because it was best,” he insisted. “This Daggett character had them all in thrall. He would hurt Dr. Stayner’s son if he refused to take part. The others faced threats of violence or exposure. I said I thought it best if he just forgot it. Put it behind him.”
“And then you called McConnell.”
“I did not,” he said. “It’s not like I brokered this thing.”
“What did you do?”
“As it happened, I ran into the McConnells at a function the day after I saw David. And Lesley looked frightful, despite all the makeup. I’ve known them both for some time and the decline in her appearance was shocking. So I said, on compassionate grounds, maybe I could help them. He expressed his interest.”
“I bet he did. So you went to Stayner and asked if he could help.”
“Yes. And when he heard what McConnell would pay him, he jumped.”
“He swears he gives all his payments to the hospital.”
“Not one this size. I don’t know what he ever got before, but I believe Marc offered him a quarter-million. That’s what he offered me for the capital campaign. I didn’t ask him for anything, you understand. I didn’t extort him, despite what you believe. When I told him what I knew, without naming names of course, he told me straight out that I’d never have a zoning issue in Beacon Hill and that federal funds would flow to their maximum. All without a word from me.”
A religion of loopholes is ours, and he’d had a lifetime to master them. “How discreet of you. And just like that, your Shul on the Hill comes closer to reality.”
“I told you the night you came here I’m a man of action, Jonah, as you are in your way. I need a challenge. Something to build. When Adath Israel stalemated me, left me with nothing left to put my shoulder to, that’s when I knew I had to leave. And the new shul, back in Beacon Hill where fifty had dwindled to none, is where it is going to be.”
“Even if it cost David his life.”
“That’s quite a leap.”
“No, Dad,” Shana said. “Not really.”
“You’re taking his side?”
“This isn’t about sides. You knew David was troubled by what had happened. You made him go out and do it again.”
“How was I to know the next surgery would happen so fast? I figured by the time it all happened, this other doctor would be back in his place. I didn’t know David would be part of it.”
“Lesley McConnell, heiress to the Austin-Smith fortune, is dying,” I said. “As soon as Daggett heard her name, he smelled big money, his best score yet. He could have found half a dozen good matches through the testing program within hours, like he did with his son. And you know what happens after. He identifies the one with the worst money problems and makes them an offer. They either take it or they go missing, because not all of them volunteer, Rabbi. If they don’t take the offer, he kills them.”
“Do you really know that for a fact?”
“You want facts? He’s going to take my partner’s organs too.”
“They’re worth a fortune to him. He’ll take every last thing worth harvesting out of her.”
“Stop,” Shana cried, sobbing full out again. You wouldn’t think someone could cry all the tears she had cried that day and still have more inside.
I didn’t stop. “You helped keep this mad thug in business. You chose to overlook the depraved fucking nature of it so you could build your synagogue.”
“You make it sound like I did it for myself.”
“Only so I can help others.”
“And build a monument to your name. You’re done with Brookline, now you can take Beacon Hill.”
“Get out!” Shana said. “Leave him alone and get out.”
“He helped get David killed,” I said.
All she said was, “So did you.”
Ryan had had a good time shopping at Lugo’s. On the bed in his room were two shotguns, which he said were Mossbergs, and an Uzi, which I recognized right away. “And this is for you,” he said, lifting an assault rifle with a pistol grip and long banana clip. “That cut-down M-16 you told me about, the one you carried in Israel?”
“This was the closest thing he had to it. A Colt M4. Thirty inches long, a little shorter with the stock retracted, and weighs five and a half pounds empty. Muzzle velocity is over twenty-six hundred feet per second. A few bursts out of this will cut a guy in half.”
“He provide ammunition for all of these?”
“Gave me everything but a duck decoy.”
Frank was the bigger of the two men who came to meet us at a cafe near the hotel. Solidly built, near fifty, with some old acne scars and a receding hairline. Victor was younger by a decade or more, with brown hair he wore long enough to tuck behind his ears. A lot thinner too, with a nervous energy that burned around him like he was a hot filament. Ryan introduced us all, first names only, and he and I took some mild shit over the uselessness of Toronto’s sports teams compared with Boston’s while the waiter brought water and bread. We scanned the menus and ordered various combinations of appetizers and a bottle of red wine, three glasses. I stuck with water.
“So,” Frank said. “I’ll speak for me and Victor to keep it short on our end. The man we work for, he says he owes you. He’d like to pay that debt. On the other hand, he tells us this is strictly voluntary. We’re here to listen to your situation and your proposed solution, and only go ahead if we like it. So. Are we going to like it?”
I said, “We need to free a hostage.”
“No. An Irish guy named Sean Daggett.”
“In Wellington Hill? Christ, some days this town makes no sense. Who’s the hostage?”
“How many guys would we go up against?”
“Not sure. Around six.”
He thought about that a moment as though weighing odds, then asked, “How heavily armed?”
We’d asked Stayner about that, but he had never seen the guards holding shotguns or rifles of any kind, and if they wore pistols it was with discretion. “Also not sure.”
“Who does your intel,” Victor asked, “Helen Keller?”
Frank ignored him. “Are they expecting us?”
Victor said, “Let me guess. Not sure.”
“Do I have to send you out of the room?” Frank said. Then to Ryan: “What are you guys packing?”
“Three pistols between us,” Ryan said.
“Someone lose one?” Victor asked.
Ryan ignored him. “We also have some party guns you might like. A Mossberg and an Uzi.”
“No Tec-9s?” Victor asked.
Ryan said, “Christ.”
“And what exactly would we be attacking in Wellington Hill?” Frank asked.
“A mortuary,” I said.
“A mortuary. Packed with a bunch of Irish dicks who might outnumber us, might outgun us, all to save your partner.”
“And pay off a debt,” Ryan said. “Put you in the good graces of the man who makes your world go round.”
“That too. So what do you know about this place?” he asked.
“We have sketches, front and back,” I said.
“Sketches?” Victor said. “That’s it?”
“We can go look at it now.”
“What are you driving?” Frank asked.
“A Dodge Caliber.”
“Not big enough for me. I like a little leg room.”
“Can we take your car?”
“You fucked in the head? It’s a brand new Lexus. I ain’t driving it anywhere near Wellington Hill. Fucking animals down there would strip it before I put it in park.” He wiped his hands and face with a napkin and said, “Victor, do me a favour, go steal us something nice while the boys here settle the bill.”
The moon gleamed coldly off the white hoarding around Halladay’s and the fence that closed off the main entrance. We saw a security camera over the front door and had to assume there were more around the building. There was only one car parked in front, a silver Buick Century. We were in a new Ford Explorer that Victor had boosted. Big enough to seat about a dozen, each of whom could watch their own movie.
“You think she’s in there now?” Frank asked.
“Either that or she’ll be brought here tomorrow night.”
“Only one car parked there. So how many could they have in there now, two, three guys?”
“There’s four of us here right now, plenty of guns between us. We could storm the shit out of the place. Bust in, get the girl, bust out. Try not to kill too many Irishmen.”
“We go in there blind, we’ll probably get her killed,” I said.
“You have a plan?”
“It’s in development.”
On the right side of Halladay’s was a place that rented tools and construction vehicles: Bobcats, backhoes and other machines sitting silently on their treads. On the left side was a store whose windows were papered over. The last business there had apparently been a souvenir shop. I wondered what souvenir was right for Wellington Hill: a bullet from a drive-by or a bouquet of flowers left at a sidewalk vigil.
“They’ve got hoarding, fencing, cameras and guns,” I said. “They control the only way in. We have to come up with a way to surprise them.”
“Why don’t you ring the bell and run away,” Victor said.
Frank punched his shoulder and said, “Don’t make me push you out in the street and let the locals take care of you. Jesus Christ,” he said, “kid brothers.”
“You two are related?” I asked.
“Half-brothers,” Frank said. “That’s all I’m admitting is half.”
Another kid brother shown up by the older son. Did any of us escape the shadow they cast?
“They must order food in during the day,” Ryan said. “One of us could take the delivery guy’s place, get in, take a look around.”
“No one would believe a white delivery guy around here,” Frank said.
“Just tell me if you guys are in,” I said. “If you are, we’ll come up with a plan that works.”
Frank and Victor looked at each other and then Frank said, “What the hell. It’s got guns. It’s got a girl. It’s got a deserted house of death. I’d say all we’re missing is 3D.”
As soon as we got back to the hotel, we started packing everything we had, including Jenn’s clothes and all of David Fine’s papers. I wanted to be out and in a different hotel first thing the next morning in case Gianelli or the Boston PD came looking for me.
“So what do you think?” I asked Ryan.
“Frank and Victor. They strike you as any good?”
“Victor I could take in my sleep. Plus he has lousy taste in guns. You believe he wanted us to get him a Tec-9? They’re bigger and heavier than Uzis, poorly made and very picky about ammo. Plus law enforcement loves to make examples of people who carry them.”
“What about Frank?”
“Frank’s okay,” he said. “Solid. I could get along with him. Do a job with him. See how he wanted the Mossberg? That’s solid too. Two of him, I’d feel a little better, but this is what we got.”
After Ryan went to bed I got on the Internet and found an inexpensive hotel across the street from the Christian Science Plaza reflecting pool on Huntingdon. I phoned and reserved a room for the following night, wishing I needed another one for Jenn, and asked for an early check-in.
I’d been on the run all day, running after Jenn, running from the images of David’s murder, from the exhaustion of failure, of guilt. Now, at rest, it caught up to me. I was trailing ruined lives behind me like cans tied to a newlyweds’ car. Since I had come to Boston to find David, at least four people had been murdered-McCudden, Walsh, Carol-Ann and David himself. The rabbi and his lovely daughter were probably cursing the moment we’d met. Lesley McConnell might well die if her transplant didn’t go through.
For those of you at home keeping score, how the fuck was I doing?
I thought so. Nice job, Geller. The kid brother does it again.
I woke up the next morning with a dull headache creeping through my skull. And I hadn’t even had any wine. I’d dreamed that Jenn was being chased down a dark urban street by a pack of feral dogs slashing at her legs, trying to bring her down, while people stood by and did nothing to help.
Even if she were still alive, as Stayner thought, there was nothing to say Daggett wasn’t mistreating her.
I phoned next door and got Ryan up, and we met outside a few minutes later and stowed all our gear in the Caliber.
“You look like shit,” Ryan said.
“I’ve seen albinos with better colour.”
“You going to hold up your end?”
“I want more than Frank and Victor watching my back.”
“All I need is coffee,” I said.
Early Monday morning, it took just a few minutes to get to the new hotel. We checked in using a credit card Ryan had under the name Robert Bernardi. The clerk gave us a tag for each piece of luggage and stowed it in a room behind the desk. We tipped him ten bucks and said we’d be back later. Probably a lot later. He gave us directions to the nearest Starbucks, where we picked up the largest containers of the darkest coffee they had, and headed out to the airport. It was time to switch cars too: Daggett would know the Dodge Caliber on sight, plus it was undersized and hamster-powered.
The man at the rental place looked at the damaged rear end in dismay. I told him it was the result of a hit and run. “You should have reported this to the police right away.”
“It must have happened in the dark,” I said. “I didn’t see it until this morning. And it’s insured to the hilt, right?”
“You’re still going to have to fill out a police report.”
“That would be inconvenient,” Ryan said.
“For you, I meant.”
Twenty minutes later, we left in a midnight-blue Dodge Charger. “It’s hard to believe these two cars are made by the same company,” Ryan said.
“Do you love it?” I asked.
“Yes, I love it. Why wouldn’t I love it, it’s gorgeous. A throwback to the Charger of the sixties. Just a shame it didn’t come with the hemi.”
“No car-rental place is going to have a hemi-V8. We’re lucky it has a radio.”
We took the Mass Pike back into the city, back to Blue Hill Avenue, along a strip of liquor stores, hair treatment places, smoke shops and fast-food places. More trash blowing down the street than people. We turned down Wellington Hill toward Halladay’s, where more shops were boarded up, as if a great storm were coming. In their case, it had come and gone and they had missed whatever hobo train they were supposed to have jumped to ride off bound for glory.
“If we could get into one of those neighbouring buildings,” I said, “get up on their roof. We could get a better look past the hoarding. Get the full picture.”
“White prowlers in Wellington. How many seconds you give us?”
“What we need is a friend in the African-American community.”
“You know where to find one?”
“You ever see Marathon Man?”
There was fuck all going on today for DeMaurice Simms. He and his boys had taken off a load of Blu-Ray players and iPods the day before, but the stores were selling that shit so cheap now there wasn’t enough profit to be made. Fifty here, fifty there, and you’re back out the next day on the stoop outside your mom’s, trying to think up something new. The hustle was getting tired, man, getting old fast. DeMaurice was not even twenty yet and feeling the drag, the toll of having to provide for himself and Tanika and their boy DeMarco. Some thieving, some dealing, the thieving part not so bad, but the dealing a tough go, with everybody so hard up for cash these days, doing thieving of their own to come up with the hundred a day they needed for their pipe.
But just a second. One fucking second. Drifting down the street toward him like it was coming out of a mirage: was that a brand new Charger? A dark navy blue but gleaming in the early light. Easing along at no great speed. Too nice to be a cop car. Maybe God was heeding his call, sending him some white boy in his daddy’s car looking to buy weed for him and his buddies. The car slowing now, the window sliding down. DeMaurice scratched his abdomen lazily, grinning, thinking what a brand new Charger was worth. Now that’s what he needed. That was a score he could bring home to Tanika, tell her to go out and buy whatever she and DeMarco needed.
As the window came down, he saw that yes indeed, the driver was white. No boy, though. In his late thirties, say. Dark curly hair like an Italian or Jew.
DeMaurice’s piece was a Beretta clone called a Taurus in the pouch of his Patriots hoodie. He put both hands in there as he sauntered over to the car, the right slipping around the gun butt.
“Before you get too frisky with your hands,” the driver said, “let us introduce ourselves.” DeMaurice could see a Beretta in the man’s right hand, a couple of models up from his own. The passenger was also white, maybe forty. Definitely Italian, with a shotgun in his lap.
“I’m Mr. Franklin,” the driver said, showing a folded hundred-dollar bill in his left hand, up near the open window, almost close enough to snatch. “And my friend is Mr. Mossberg. Who do you want to do business with?”
DeMaurice left his hands where they were and asked what business.
“It’s actually more of a mission,” the driver said. “Reconnaissance.”
“Breaking and entering.”
The man pointed at a digital camera on the console and said, “I need the best pictures you can get of Halladay’s Funeral Home.”
“Ain’t that place closed? What you going to steal out of a closed-down fucked-up funeral home?”
“I need both sides and the rear. All doors, windows, security cameras, close-up of wires of any kind.”
“The rooftops of whatever buildings you break into.”
“How do you know I won’t just take the camera?”
“Mr. Mossberg won’t like it,” the passenger said.
“Say I got a friend named Mossberg too.”
“We’ll pay you three hundred,” the driver said. “Which is more than that camera is worth.”
“Make it four.”
“I knew you’d prefer dealing with Mr. Franklin,” the man said.
“See?” I said to Ryan. “I make friends wherever I go.”
We had found a diner that had its own parking lot and two police cruisers parked in it and had breakfast and coffee refills while we waited for Simms to call back and tell us he was done.
“Sure,” he said. “With your personality and my money. So that’s how Hoffman does it in the movie?”
“Not exactly. He already knows the guys on his street, they’re his neighbours and they razz him because he’s a runner and a misfit. And he doesn’t pay them cash, he tells them they can burgle his apartment and take his stereo. All he wants is his clothes and his gun.”
“Well, we’re paying this guy cash, so he better deliver some decent pictures. Probably wind up with thirty shots of his thumb.”
“I showed him how to use it.”
“He strike you as a fast learner?”
“If he doesn’t get the pictures, we won’t pay.”
“Got that right. Turn things over to Mossberg.”
“He’ll come through.” My phone rang then; too soon for it to be Simms. The display said it was the Brookline police calling. I let it go to voice mail, gave it a minute, then listened.
“Geller, this is Mike Gianelli calling, nine-fifteen Monday morning. I didn’t want to tell you this in a message but I called a couple times earlier and your phone was off. I also tried your hotel and they told me you checked out, so I don’t know what’s going on with you, if you’re leaving Boston or what. Anyway, I-look, David Fine is dead. He was shot to death yesterday morning on a beach about an hour north of town. I really need to talk to you, Geller. I want to know as much as I can before I notify his parents. Call me the minute you get this, all right?”
I didn’t call him back. We waited another hour, drinking coffee neither of us really wanted, until Simms called. Then we drove back down Wellington Hill.
When we got to his door, the stoop was deserted. I stopped the Charger and left the engine running, the transmission in drive, my foot light on the brake. Ryan kept the shotgun close to his body. I could tell he didn’t like it and I didn’t either. If anyone opened fire, we were sitting ducks in the car. Simms and some friends might have figured they could ambush us here in the street and take everything we had: the car, the cash, our weapons, even the damn camera.
Some movement in the rearview caught my eye. Simms was coming alone up the sidewalk toward the car, his hands hidden in his pouch. I elbowed Ryan, who lay the shotgun down and pulled his Glock out of its shoulder holster. “If his hand comes out with anything but your camera,” he said, “roll out your door.”
He unlatched his door, turned sideways and kicked it open just as Simms reached the car. Simms had to jump back to avoid the arc of the door, and his hands instinctively came out of the pouch, with neither his gun nor my camera in sight.
“Fuck y’all doin’?” he yelled. “Playin’ some Starsky and Hutch thing, pointing a gun at me on my own block? I’ll fuckin’ Starsky your ass, man.”
“Cool down,” Ryan said. “You came up a little fast for my taste.”
“I am fast,” he said. “Always moving like the wind. Showing up where people don’t expect me to be.”
“That’s not the key to a long life, kid.”
“Like I got one anyway. Know what this neighbourhood is surrounded by? Huh? Cemeteries, man, like five of them. Calvary, New Calvary, St. Mary’s, Forest Hills, and one more I always forget. Not another hills but a mountain … Mount Hope, that’s it. Five cemeteries round this neighbourhood, man, all doin’ good business, so don’t talk to me about no long life.”
The pictures he had taken were better than fine. A quick scan confirmed the images were sharp and showed what we’d asked: all sides of the building, all doors and windows, in longer, middle and close-up perspectives.
We drove back toward midtown with Ryan reviewing the images one by one. “He did good,” he said. “He actually paid attention.”
“Not all is lost with the youth of America.”
“The north side has a door that opens from the inside only. No handle on the outside.”
“Probably an emergency exit with a crash bar.”
“Yeah. The windows are all too high off the ground to be of any use to us. Okay, coming around to the rear, there’s the bay where a hearse can back in. The doors are closed in the shot. There’s an entrance next to it, which is where everyone will go in tonight. More cameras there.”
“What about the south side?”
“Getting to it. He shot a lot of frames. Okay, same deal. One door, only this one does have a handle. It’s an alternate entrance, maybe for the employees.”
“Or the families of the deceased.”
“Hey,” Ryan said, “here’s one I like.”
As soon as I stopped at the next red light, he handed me the camera. The screen showed the side of the building where the alternate entrance was. The door was partway open in one frame, all the way open the next, and a heavy guy in his thirties was leaning out and lighting a cigarette.
“A guard who goes out for smoke breaks,” Ryan said. “That could prove harmful to his health.”
When Sean got back from dropping the kids at school, Bev was still in the shower, so he made their breakfast: an omelette with ham, cheese, mushrooms and onion, multigrain toast and fresh coffee. The two of them ate at stools around the kitchen island, the sports pages of the Herald for him and the front section of the Globe for Bev, who gave more of a shit about the outside world than he did.
He started with the baseball coverage. With spring training underway, reserves of hope were already building among the Red Sox Nation, and the baseball writers were getting poetic about the thrill of the grass, the sweet sound of round bats driving round balls toward the aching blue Florida skies, all kinds of shit along those lines.
He heard a car pull into their driveway. He wasn’t expecting company this morning and was still in a T-shirt and sweatpants, his lazy morning cooking clothes, the closest gun upstairs.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Bev said. She had gone to the front entrance and was looking out of the slim glass panel next to the door, with a grin that was more wry than amused. Then there was some kind of clumping on the walk outside. Bev turned the key in the deadlock and opened the door.
Jesus Murphy, it was Kieran Clarke himself, standing there in his long coat, aluminum crutches under his arms and the wild glaze of some mood-altering drug in his eyes. Sean asked Bev to finish the paper in their den and helped Kieran to a stool at the island, poured them both a cup of coffee.
“Fucking hell, man, they put a plate in your leg. You’re supposed to be in traction.”
“Did you get the bitch who did this to me?” Kieran asked. “I’m sure I remember you grabbing her by the hair and sticking a gun in her ear, but then I think maybe I dreamed it.”
“You didn’t dream it. I have her.”
Kieran’s smile almost split his face in half. “Where?”
“You had any fun with her?”
“Jesus, no. I’ve been keeping her on the drip like the others.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“Make a small fortune.”
“Not until I pay her back for what she did to me. Take me down there, man. Take her off the drip. Let me play with her till you need her.”
“Can’t right now,” Sean said. “I got things to arrange. I’ve had a guy in Framingham pleading for a kidney for months. He has multi-fucking-millions he’s not going to live long enough to spend. And Blondie, it turns out, is a good enough match. Not out-of-the-park good but good. Plus she’s healthy as a racehorse. I’m going to squeeze him for a million, Kieran. Of which I have to spend nothing, because the surgical team will be there anyway. Between that and what McConnell is paying, it’s gonna be my best night ever.”
He poured them more coffee, leaving room for a splash of Jameson from a bottle in a sideboard locked with a key placed too high for Michael to reach. “This is why I’m out of drugs and why I’ll never go back. Leave it to the fucking crazies down in their jungle. You see any crazies involved in this operation? Anyone I have to battle block by block for the right to live and work? No.”
“What about the bitch’s partner?”
“Yeah. He’s a wild card. Still out there.”
“Not for long.”
“He coming tonight?”
“He thinks he is.”
“Gonna rescue the golden girl, huh? Him and his friend?”
“No. I’m gonna get him first.”
“Put me in a car with a shotgun in my lap,” Kieran said. “I owe that guy, too, for my leg. And I can see if I close one eye like this.” He tilted his head down toward his left shoulder and squinted.
Like Sean was going to let him anywhere near a gun. Playing with the girl was one thing, he’d earned that. But give him a gun, he’d shoot the back off someone’s head while fumbling for a crutch. “We got it covered,” he said.
“When can I see the girl then?”
“Can I borrow a knife?” He looked at the wooden knife holder, the one with the stone inside that sharpened each blade as it was pushed in and pulled out.
“What’d I just tell you? Those kidneys are worth a ton. You want to slap her around, fine. You want to fuck her, that’s fine too. But no knives.”
“I meant later, when you’re ready.”
“Much later,” Sean said. “ ’Cause I got to tell you, you look ripped out of your mind right now.”
“Can I ask what exactly you’re on?”
“I don’t know, man, I just grabbed some pills from the nightstand where I found the crutches. They’re good, too. Feel like Tylenol fucking Twelves.”
“Why don’t you lie down awhile in the guest room there. Take the weight off your leg. Let me make the calls I have to make. You need ice or anything?”
“Fuck the ice. When will you take me to Halladay’s?”
“When I’m done my business. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time with her. It’s a long operation.”
“Freddie handling her drip?”
“Fucking little creep. Promise you’ll call him when we’re leaving,” Kieran said. “Tell him to take her off. I want her ready and waiting when we get there.”
“Don’t worry,” Sean said. “Propofol is a tidy drug, Freddie says. Once you cut the supply, they wake up pretty fast. Clear-headed too.”
“A few minutes with me,” Kieran said, “she’ll be wishing she was back asleep.”
We had arranged to meet Frank and Victor in the lobby of a hotel called the Dorchester in South Boston. They had a coffee shop there Frank liked. We were a few blocks away when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I had missed a call that had gone to voice mail. It was David’s father.
His first word was, “Jonah,” and that was as far as he got before he had to clear his throat. “This is Ron Fine calling on Monday. Jonah, Mike Gianelli just called. He said David was found yesterday on a beach somewhere outside the city. Somebody shot him. Killed him. Gianelli said he can’t get in touch with you. That you had checked out of your hotel. Please tell me you’re still working on this. Call Gianelli. Maybe he’d tell you things as a fellow professional he didn’t want to tell me.”
Oh, yeah. I was a real professional. Leading David’s killer right to him. Hiding behind his corpse as more bullets tore into it.
“I’m getting on the first flight down there,” he said. “To see about claiming the body. Gianelli said there might have to be an autopsy, but you know for an Orthodox family, that’s not acceptable.” He paused to clear his throat again and said, “I’ll try you again when I know my flight. Maybe you’ll pick me up at Logan? To be honest, I don’t know if I’m up to driving around. I was hoping Micah might come with me but I can’t find him either … Please call me as soon as you can. Tell me what you’re doing. Where you’re staying. Whether they’ll catch the people who … who did this …”
And then his voice trailed off and he hung up.
I closed the phone just as we got to the hotel.
“Jonah,” Ryan said.
“Before we meet Frank and Victor, you might want to wipe your eyes.”
We settled in a corner where two small sofas faced each other across a round glass coffee table. We passed the camera to them, allowing them to scroll through the images without comment from us. When Frank got to one frame, he elbowed Victor, who looked in closer and grinned.
“The smoker?” I asked.
“Yeah. Too bad we didn’t get a sniper’s gun too,” Frank said. “Could drop that guy with no more sound than a twig snapping.”
“A silenced pistol up close will do it,” Ryan said.
“If we can get close. Do you know how the team arrives?” Frank asked. “How many different cars? How many different times the gate will open?”
“That’s in Stayner’s notes.” I flipped through the sheets he had filled out. “Right here. The anesthesiologist will arrive first, around eight-thirty, because his set-up takes the longest. Then the operating nurse and scrub nurse usually arrive together in one car, about nine. The assistant surgeon comes in his own car because he lives in Newton, also around nine-thirty. Dr. Stayner himself, not much before ten. He likes the patient out when he arrives so there’s no danger of him being recognized by someone in his social circle.”
“Four possible opportunities to slip in,” Ryan said. “One man each time they open the gate out front.”
“Five,” I said. “The McConnells are coming too.”
“So we jog in behind the cars?” Victor said. “Get done up in blackface and blend into the night?”
“We might be able to slip through the hoarding somewhere,” Ryan said. “Pick our spots based on the camera placements we’ve seen.”
“The other possibility,” I said, “is we get a man into the trunk of Stayner’s car. He can slip out first chance he gets.”
“Why Stayner’s?” Frank asked.
“Because he’ll be the last one in. Everyone else will be impatient to go.”
“Here’s what I’ve been thinking. One of us dresses up like one of the surgical team. The gown, the mask, all of it. Then we pull a switch and our guy gets in with a gun. Leads the attack from the inside.”
“Pull a switch how?”
“I’m still working on that.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “Five opportunities to get in. And hopefully one to get out.”
“Six,” Ryan said.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“We didn’t count the donor. The guy they can’t start the party without.”
“His name is George Riklitis,” Stayner said over the phone. “Aged forty-seven, five-foot-nine, one hundred and eighty pounds. A day labourer, according to his file, something to do with patios. Excellent health except for chronic back pain, which is immaterial to his suitability as a donor but explains the need for money. I’m told he has brought more children into the world than he can presently afford and jumped at Daggett’s offer.”
“Who’s met him so far?”
“Carol-Ann made the initial contact. I’m not sure who presented the actual offer. Once he accepted it, he reported to one of the hospital affiliates outside the city for further testing.”
“But Daggett would have seen him face to face.”
“When is Riklitis supposed to arrive?”
“Around a quarter to nine. Before the McConnells, at any rate. We don’t want them meeting at that point. It could overwhelm one of the parties emotionally. He’ll settle in, the nurses will prep him and put him under just as I arrive,” Stayner said.
“Would he have an overnight bag?”
“Yes. They go straight from Halladay’s to the recovery facility so we tell them to bring a few days’ worth of things.”
“Do Daggett’s men ever search these bags or frisk a donor?”
“Because Mr. Riklitis will be bringing a gun in.”
“He what? Has he agreed to this?”
“No,” I said. “But neither have you and you’re bringing one too.”
Stayner sputtered, spat and swore at the idea of bringing a gun in with his gear, but I told him there was no point in arguing. No one was asking him to fire it. He just had to bring it in and stash it in a location to be determined. I kept at him until he acquiesced.
Then it was time to go to work on Frank.
“Admit it,” I said. “You look more like a Riklitis than any of us do.”
“You’re still fucking nuts.”
“You’re the closest to his age and size.”
“I don’t care if I’m his identical twin, go fuck yourself. I’m not doing it.”
“Don’t make me say this,” Victor said.
“I’ll kill you if you agree with him,” Frank said. “Flat out kill you.”
“Okay what? You agree?”
“I agree having a guy inside from the start gives us an edge.”
“And it might be easier for you to go in that way than, you know, slipping through the hoarding or running in behind a car.”
“What are you saying, Victor? You saying I put on weight?”
“You don’t exactly slip anymore, Frank. It’s more like you barge.”
“All right, now I’m back to killing you.”
“Just give it some thought,” I said. “If you could get in there with a gun, find Jenn and give us the word, it could all be over in a minute.”
“Yeah, it won’t be you they’re shaving.”
“Stayner would tell the team members at the right time. If necessary, they can stall. Fake an anesthesiology breakdown. We’d make sure you never went under. And Stayner will have a second gun in his gear as backup, in case you have to ditch the one you have.”
“Daggett knows Riklitis. He’ll know I’m not the guy.”
“That’s if he shows up,” I said. I knew in my heart he’d be there for Jenn’s surgery but getting Frank to buy into this was hard enough as it was.
“He’ll be there,” Frank said. “And didn’t Stayner say the donor goes under before he gets there? That throws off the whole trunk scenario.”
“We’ll get him to come in early. Time everything to go off around nine-thirty. I can get Stayner to tell the others to come early too.” My own excitement was starting to build as I began thinking this might actually work.
“Didn’t you tell the congressman you’d wait until after the surgery?” Frank asked me. His protests were getting weaker; I had him.
“I said we might, if it gave us the advantage. But we can’t wait. This is our shot and we have to take it. What do you say, Frank?”
“Can I bring the pump gun in?”
“Only if you can fit it under a gown,” Victor said.
We took the Charger to a nearby mall and split up in search of what we needed: plain black track suits, balaclavas, thin gloves, gym bags, black shoe polish, a crowbar. Prepaid cellphones from Circuit City. When we were back in the car, we divvied up the goods so each of us had what he needed for the night.
Ryan and I headed back to our new hotel to check in. I needed some time with him to go over the finer points of the plan. Sometimes two voices were easier to bring into harmony than four.
Frank and Victor left to visit the East Boston home of George Riklitis and impress upon him that if he showed up tonight, it would be as a cadaver donor, not a live one. And to borrow his car, which was the make and model the guards would be expecting.
We were coming up Massachusetts Avenue, just crossing Columbus, when I heard an engine kick into a higher gear behind us and saw a van swinging out to pass me on the left. Its side door was open and a gun barrel was sticking out. As soon as the front end came level with our rear, I swung the wheel hard and clipped his bumper. The van lurched to the left, almost hitting a southbound car, then veered back into its lane and kept coming. I floored it, wishing now we had the hemi-V8 engine Ryan had wanted.
Ryan levered his seat back so he could scramble into the rear. He kept his head down and Glock up as he lowered the rear window, leaned his arm out and fired out of it. The van braked and went into my blind spot momentarily. Then I could see it again in the rear.
“Hang on,” I yelled, and spun the wheel right, sending us sliding through the intersection. Half a dozen horns blared in concert as I corrected the skid and took off eastbound.
“They make the turn?” I yelled.
I had the bigger engine but it wasn’t like we were on a highway; it gave us no real advantage. There were cars in front of me doing moderate speeds-maybe ten miles over the limit. We were screaming along twice as fast with the van on our heels. Ryan leaned out the window and fired again, then ducked back in.
“You hitting anything?”
“Old ladies in crosswalks.”
“Use the shotgun.”
“We’ll go fucking deaf in here.”
“I don’t care,” I yelled. “Get them off our tail.”
He racked the shotgun and was bringing it to bear out the window when I saw brake lights going on in front of me in the lineup for a red light. I hit my own brakes and Ryan flew forward between the headrests. His head slammed into the back of mine, sending pain shooting straight through to my eyes. I kept my foot down hard, looking for a turn I could make. There was none. The van was coming up closer behind us.
“He’s going to hit us,” Ryan said.
“The fuck he is!” I waited as he grew closer in my mirror, shifted my eyes to the opposing traffic, then hit the gas as I spun the wheel to the left. As I cut sharply across the westbound lanes, the van crashed into the rear of the car that had been in front of me. I saw the driver’s door start to open so I braked and threw it into reverse and slammed the Charger’s rear end into the driver’s side, staving in his door. Then I put it back in drive and leapt ahead of the oncoming cars into a fierce, fuck-all-of-you kind of U-turn. I got a full brass section of horns in reply, plus a clutch of Boston middle fingers, ignored them and wrenched the wheel and floored it the other way, watching in my rearview as a man yanked away at the door of the van, having no luck opening it.
“You okay?” I asked Ryan.
“I’m the one should be asking you. You bleeding?”
I touched the back of my head. The pain was immediate but there was no broken skin or blood. “No. An icepack and two gelcaps and I’ll be fine.”
“Usually not my own fucking head I crack.”
I turned south off Albany onto Southampton Street and parked. We got out of the car and checked the damage. Another rental car, another crumpled rear end. I knelt down and checked the underside for a transponder.
“Anything?” Ryan said.
“At least there are no bullet holes in the car.”
“When that’s the best thing you can say, you know you’re pretty well fucked.”
We got back in and took a circuitous route back to the hotel.
“Man, Daggett played me,” I said. “He had me so focused on tonight, I didn’t think he’d try to hit us today.”
“Let’s see who plays who in the end.”
“Think we should change hotels again? In case they know where we’re going.”
“Fuck that,” Ryan said. “I’m tired and I’m armed and I’m in a mood like I got PMS. If I was them, I’d leave me alone right now.”
The Bay State Hotel was a find Jenn would have been proud of, right across from the great reflecting pool of the Christian Science complex. As her face came into mind, I felt a hot surge of rage through my body. Helpless at not being able to get her right now, this minute, to see her unharmed and throw my arms around her and carry her to safety like a damsel. Instead my visions were of her tied up, twisting to get free of her bonds, maybe being questioned by Daggett, being slapped or punched if he didn’t like her answers. I got out of the car clenching and unclenching my own fists, trying to breathe the coiled tension out of my body. Some of it went. Most stayed.
The hotel was a two-storey ell set back in a parking lot, with a small pool and a few shaded tables in a fenced-off area. Our room was in the wing that faced the great dome of the Mother Church. It was a small, very basic space that hadn’t been designed with two grown men with big guns in mind. We put most of the gear in the closet and sat across from each other across a small marble-topped table, where I uploaded all the photos DeMaurice Simms had taken to my laptop so we could zoom in on every entrance, window and alarm junction. We pored over the landscape, noting the best places to try to get in, whether through the hoarding, over it or via the trunk of a car.
I called Stayner to get a description of his assistant, James Reimer: a tall man, mid-forties, wore wire-framed glasses, balding but trying to hide it with plugs.
“Beard? Facial hair?” I asked.
“No, he’s clean shaven.”
“When you say tall …”
“About six-one, I guess. A good few inches taller than me, at any rate, and I’m five-nine.”
“Okay, I’m six feet. If I had glasses on, and a cap and mask, could I fool someone?”
“Maybe for a minute, if they didn’t look too close. He doesn’t carry himself like you do. He’s not athletic at all. He stoops a bit.”
I asked Stayner if his key fob would work from inside the trunk.
“How on earth would I know that?”
“You expect me to get inside?”
“You have a second set of keys?”
“Then have your wife stand by to let you out if it doesn’t work.”
“If I do this, any of this, you have to promise you’ll get Daggett.”
“I already have promised,” I said.
“It’s early yet,” Ryan said. “Not even dark. We could mount up right now and hit him at home.”
“Someone has to know where he lives. The four of us could crash his house.”
“He has a wife and kids.”
“Makes him all the more vulnerable. Bust in and put guns on anything that moves. Make him give up Jenn.”
“We haven’t scouted it,” I said. “We don’t know what security he’s got.”
“You don’t like the idea?”
I loved Jenn so much. There was no one closer to me now. But to train shotguns and automatics on a woman and children who had nothing to do with Daggett’s depraved business … I could see Victor squeezing the trigger of his Uzi too tightly and ripping fire across one of the kids.
“We can’t,” I said. “Kids have no place in this.”
“Even though it’s Jenn?”
“All right. I had to ask.”
“Would you do it?”
“You didn’t call,” he said. “You don’t get to see my hand.”
We went back to planning: reviewing the sketches and notes from Stayner. The make of each car that was due to arrive. We put all the photos on slideshow and played a game, seeing who could identify the view first as each photo came up.
“Coal chute door!”
We crammed like students before a big exam, quizzing each other, no notes, challenging each other to come up with something new, just one more thing we hadn’t thought of yet.
The plan we finally drafted went like this. Frank would arrive a little earlier than expected, around eight-thirty, posing as the donor, George Riklitis, saying things were crazy at his house, he needed to relax before the procedure, get his head around it. He’d stash his gun in the operating room and, if possible, do a walk-through and see if he could find Jenn. If anyone recognized him, he’d have to shoot his way out. This, we hoped, was a light percentage.
The anesthesiologist would arrive first. He also drove the biggest car, a Navigator. When the gate was opened for him, Victor would slip in behind his car and hit the ground along the hoarding, work his way along it toward the rear.
That left Ryan and me. The nurses were coming in a Mazda 3, too small to get in behind, so we decided Ryan would pry back the hoarding in the southwest corner, farthest from any camera, and slip through there. I would get in the trunk of Stayner’s car. Ryan had made me get into the trunk of a car once before, so technically it was his turn, but he insisted, as only he can, that there was no point breaking in someone new.
Once we were all inside the compound, we’d wait for Frank to advise the surgical team of what was happening. Stayner would send Jim Reimer out on a phantom errand, say to pick up some crucial piece of equipment that had been left behind. No surgeon would ever do that because they’d no longer be sterile but we doubted anyone inside would know that. I’d be waiting in the trunk, in a surgical outfit identical to Reimer’s. Reimer and I would switch places. I’d let Ryan and Victor into the loading area. Inside, in the improvised operating room, Frank would be reaching for his gun.
We would take down anyone in our path, find Jenn and bust out in Reimer’s SUV.
That was the plan; that was my promise to Jenn, sure and silent in my heart.
Jews say that when man plans, God laughs. Even though I’m an atheist, I kept an ear cocked for the sound of faraway laughter.
Kieran was driving Sean crazy. He had slept all day, drugged to the tits, but now he was awake and restless and up Sean’s ass. He couldn’t pace because of his leg, so he sat on a stool at the kitchen island, swivelling it this way and that to keep Sean in his field of vision as Sean moved back and forth trying to get dinner together for the kids. Bev was upstairs getting ready for a night of cosmetic sales with a dozen fortysomething women, something she did to make her own spending money, or at the very least get all this high-end facial shit for free. Unbelievably expensive little tubes and jars full of Dead Sea mud.
Sean was putting salmon fillets in the oven, rinsing lettuce for their salad, setting out juice and cut-up celery and carrots. He didn’t want his kids eating junk and getting fat like some of their friends, barely into their teens and already out of shape, out of breath, with the same prison pallor as guys at Cedar Junction. He wanted them strong and straight. No one, especially Michael, would ever go near his business. They’d go to school and find their own lives and careers.
“Can’t these kids feed themselves?” Kieran said. “Christ, when we were their age, we were getting drunk and stealing cars.”
“I told you when we’re leaving, okay? Be patient. You’ll have plenty of time-four, five hours till they’re ready for her. Jesus, how much do you think she can take?”
“We’ll find out.”
“We who? This is your thing, pal, not mine.”
“Like you’ve never taken anyone out to the garage, tuned them up until they would talk or deal.”
“Not for fun, I didn’t. And never a woman.”
“She destroyed my fucking leg. If it was a guy who done it, believe me, he’d have the same shit coming. Worse. Except I wouldn’t plan to fuck him. She looked real nice, what I saw.”
“She’s even better up close. A real honey.”
“Now that’s unfair, man. You’re teasing me.”
Daggett sighed. “Okay, we can go in fifteen minutes.”
“How long to get there?”
“Half an hour.”
“And how long till she’s clear-headed?”
“Also half an hour.”
“Then call Freddie now, tell him to take her off the drip. I want her up before we get there. Wanna call her on the phone and tell her what she’s in for.”
Damn it. Sean had called Freddie from the road and told him they were on their way. Take her off the drip, Sean had said, even though the girl wasn’t scheduled to go under the knife for another few hours. Freddie knew why. Kieran was pissed about his leg and wanted to take it out on her. Freddie could understand that, sympathize with it, but it still pissed him off. The girl’s body was fucking magnificent. Playboy material. And now he had to put the catheter back in so Sean wouldn’t know he’d been into the goods. Wipe her up. Work the gown back over her limbs.
What a waste, he thought. A first-class piece of ass she was, even asleep and unresponsive. But when Kieran got through with her, pieces was all she would be. He took one more long look at her, wishing he had a better camera than the one in his phone. He took a few more snaps.
Look at her.
If he stopped the drip right now, she’d still stay out for at least fifteen minutes or more. And Sean and Kieran would take at least that long to get there from Framingham. He decided he had enough time to play one more game, nothing long and drawn out, just a quick little sketch that was forming in his mind.
Freddie and the Maiden, part three.
A light rain began to fall as we drove along Huntington Avenue past Northeastern University. Keep it coming, I thought. Rain would obscure vision, make guards hurry in and out of doorways that much faster. Make them hunch, maybe jam on a ball cap, make it harder for them to see.
“Feel it?” Ryan asked.
“You guess? Your left foot is pumping like a heavy-metal drummer.”
“Okay, I feel it.”
“Don’t fight it, use it.”
“You need to go over the guns again before we meet Frank and Victor?”
“I’m good. Your in-room seminar was excellent.”
We met Frank and Victor at a Chinese restaurant on Brookline Avenue. Easy for us out-of-towners to find; plenty of on-street parking. Ryan made sure my gun was in my back waistband before we went in. But no one pulled on us when we walked in. We were shown to a table where the boys were waiting. They didn’t pull either. No one poisoned the spring rolls or the hot-and-sour soup; all it did was make my nose run.
Everything had gone smoothly with Riklitis, Frank said. “I mean, he was disappointed and everything that he wasn’t going to be collecting the rest of his payment, but when I told him it was that or get a bullet up his ass, he calmed down.”
“How much were they paying him?”
“Fifty large. When Victor heard that, he was ready to sign up himself.”
“Why the fuck not,” Victor said. “One kidney is all you need. It was right there in the pamphlet.”
“I can’t even tell if he’s kidding,” Frank said.
We drank tea and Cokes as we went over the details again, then Frank left in Riklitis’s car. Victor guided us south out of Brookline and along the Jamaicaway.
“See that dark spot on the right?” Victor said. “That’s Jamaica Pond. Me and Frank go fishing there sometimes.”
“For what?” Ryan asked.
“Pickerel, bass, hornpout, perch. Those are all natural to the place. Plus they stock it with salmon and trout.”
“Can you eat any of it?” I asked.
“Hell, yeah, that’s clean water. Cleanest around here, anyway. Spring-fed, Frank told me. You guys come down in the summer, we’ll grab a rod and some six-packs.”
“Can’t wait,” Ryan said.
Stayner had told us to meet him in the administration parking lot at Forest Hills Cemetery; from there, we’d all go in his car, from a cemetery above Mattapan to the mortuary down below. There were no other cars when we got there so I pulled in and shut off the engine. Darkness shrouded us; a steady rain was visible in the glare of tungsten lights. While we waited, Victor and Ryan applied shoe polish to whatever skin wasn’t covered by their balaclavas. I sat with my eyes closed, breathing in the smell of the polish; I realized we were just on the other side of Franklin Park, where Carol-Ann Meacham’s battered body had been found. A cemetery, a mortuary, a dumping ground for the murdered. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Jonah Geller’s Boston. Maps and guidebooks sold here. Don’t mind the bloodstains, folks. A little soda water will lift those right up.
Headlights swept across my field of vision as Chuck Stayner drove a champagne-coloured Cadillac CTS sedan into the lot and pulled up beside us. We transferred a gym bag containing our guns and other supplies to his trunk, then locked up the Charger. The worst that could happen to it here was it would be towed away. Better that than having it stripped and stolen in Mattapan and having to file a police report-or have Ryan make another rental-car clerk wet his pants.
I sat in the front, Victor and Ryan in the back. I didn’t introduce Victor. I figured both he and Stayner would feel better that way.
“You ready?” I asked Stayner.
“I will be,” he said. “Right now, you might say I’m shitting a brick of considerable dimensions, but I am also known to have a high degree of self-control.”
“What do you usually bring in with you from the car?”
“Most of the equipment will already have been laid out by the nurses and Jim Reimer. But I do bring a medical bag in with me that has a few favourite instruments.”
“The gun will go in there then. On top.”
“Do I have to-”
“Yes, you do. Take it out first chance you get and hide it under the table the donor will lie on. Got that? The table is draped, right?”
“Set the bag down at your feet. Relax. Undo your tie. Loosen your collar. Drop something, kneel down to tie your shoe, whatever, and put the gun under that table. That way we’ll all know where it is if we need it.”
“We have a man inside posing as the donor. He’ll choose the moment to send out Reimer.”
“When do you think that will that be?”
“When everyone is in place and there’s the least security around.”
An overgrown laneway ran behind Halladay’s and its neighbouring storefronts. DeMaurice Simms had taken photos of it, had shown us how to access it through one of the abandoned storefronts. “None of them’s alarmed,” he had said, “and none have locks worth shit.” Stayner went past the entrance to Halladay’s and pulled up to the curb when I told him to. We each took two sets of latex gloves from a box Stayner had on the console between the seats and put them on, one over the other in case they tore. Ryan and Victor headed out into the darkness, Ryan melting into the storefront that would take him to the rear laneway where he’d begin work on the hoarding at the rear. Victor crouched in another lane to wait for the anesthesiologist’s big Lincoln to arrive. I slipped green hospital scrubs over my track suit, then put on a cap and mask and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses like the ones Reimer wore, bought at a drugstore in the mall. I threaded the suppressor onto the barrel of my Beretta and placed the Colt M4 in a small gym bag with a shoulder strap.
I closed the trunk in on myself and Stayner pulled away, circled the block, made one more turn and braked and honked.
He was at the gate of Halladay’s.
It took a moment for the sound of footsteps to reach me in the trunk. They got louder as a man approached the gate. I leaned my head into the deepest part, behind the upholstery of the rear seat. I heard Stayner’s window buzz down. A man said, “Okay, Doc, go around and park in the back.”
Say it, I thought. Say it.
“Tell them I want to park inside the bay,” Stayner finally said.
“No one parks-”
“I am the one doing this goddamn surgery, and I’m not feeling well and don’t wish to develop a chill that would affect my ability to work tonight, which would cost your boss a million dollars and you your miserable life. Tell whoever is on the other end to open the goddamn door. Now!”
This was the E. Charles Stayner who ruled the operating theatre. What had his assistant said? Some of them grow up to be Napoleon.
The guard stepped away and spoke into a radio, listened, then told Stayner to go ahead, the door around back would be open. The window went up and Stayner took his foot off the brake and we rolled slowly ahead, grinding over the wet pavement. Then he made a wide turn and went forward until the sound of the rain hitting the trunk stopped suddenly. We were inside the bay. The engine stopped, the transmission went into park and his door opened. He got out and slammed it shut. Locked it with the fob. His footsteps went forward along the front of the car, then turned right for about ten steps. He climbed what sounded like three metal stairs. Then a door opened and his footsteps faded away as it shut. A motor kicked in above me and the garage door wound down and clanged shut against the asphalt.
I lay there with my head throbbing where Ryan and I had clocked melons. I knew it was superficial, just a bump like half a walnut, but it reminded me of how vulnerable I still was. I pushed that thought away and replaced it with a vision of me levelling the Colt at Sean Daggett.
So close now to Jenn. If she wasn’t here already, she’d arrive sometime tonight. So hard to wait. I kept going over the plan, all the ifs and assumptions-would Reimer carry off the switch with me, would Ryan and Victor make it in? I went over the Colt’s switch from short burst to full auto, where the safety was on the Beretta. What I’d do if shooting started.
If the ball comes to me, where will I throw?
Waiting. Breathing. Envisioning. More waiting. Throbbing in head. Going to see Jenn. Going to see Jenn. Any minute now. Going to get her …
“I told you we should have left earlier,” Kieran said.
They had gotten completely swamped by traffic on the road into Boston. They had heard on the radio that the southbound I-95 was bumper to bumper, so Sean had tried Route 3 south toward Arlington, which would take them into the city via East Cambridge. It wasn’t moving any faster, and seemed to be slowing as they went. Kieran was hyper and restless as a terrier, and about as amusing to have in the front seat of the car. If it wasn’t for the poor fucker’s bad leg, Sean would have backhanded him by now.
“Think she’s awake yet?” Kieran asked.
“She wasn’t five minutes ago.”
“Come on, it has to be twenty minutes since we called.”
“It was five.”
“Then switch lanes. The right is moving faster.”
“Shut up, man. I need you to understand something,” Sean said. “And I don’t know if you can right now, with whatever the fuck you’re on, but you have to start thinking less street and more, I don’t know, avenue. You know what I mean? You know the difference between a street and an avenue?”
“No, I’m asking you. What’s the association, what’s the first thing you think when you think street and avenue?”
“I don’t know.”
“I guess an avenue is kind of fancier than a street.”
“There you go. Even in your fucked-up condition, you get it. An avenue is fancier. This new racket of mine, it’s fancier than anything I ever done before. I’m dealing with suits now, and I don’t mean track suits. I’m dealing with top dogs. Rubbing shoulders with the best. I know Bev is gonna love it, running in a different pack. I think I might too. Now we have to maintain our street side if anyone tries to butt in on us, crowd us, but in general, I need you to start thinking a little more like a businessman and less like Jack Nicholson busting through a door with an axe.”
“You don’t think the bitch deserves payback?”
“Of course she does. But there’s professional and personal.”
“Yeah? You’d do the pro thing, I suppose.”
“And what would that be?”
Sean pursed his lips, thought a minute and said, “She broke your leg? I’d break her leg. Let her feel how it feels. Then I’d break the other leg too and let that sink in. And then I’d shoot her in the head and cut her kidneys out and cremate her like we did the Indian.”
“That’s it? Two broken legs and a bullet?”
“She didn’t torture you, Kieran. She hit you with a car.”
“It fucking hurts!”
“You should have stayed in the hospital.”
“Well, I’m out and you promised me my fun. You’re not taking that away.”
“Never said I was,” Sean said. “As long as you don’t freak out the congressman and his wife. They are exactly the kind of company I’m talking about. The creme de la creme, you know what that means?”
“I can barely keep up in English.”
Sean had to smile at his old friend, the big dumb bastard. “It means the best of the best,” he said. “The cream of society. The rich and the very rich. And since I have what they need, what’s that going to make me?”
“Very, very rich.”
“I get it.”
“Now can I call her?”
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs, slow and measured, growing louder as someone approached Stayner’s car. A fob chirped and the trunk catch released. The darkness gave way to dim light, which brightened suddenly, almost painfully, as someone wearing scrubs opened it all the way. I looked up and saw a man in full surgical dress, mask included, wire-framed glasses over worried eyes.
“What do I do now?” he whispered.
“Get in as soon as I’m out.”
I eased my cramped body out of the trunk and he folded himself in.
“Stay there until someone lets you out,” I said. “It’s going to be the safest place for you.”
“What about the others?”
“They’ll be fine.”
I straightened up and looked around the loading bay. It was much as I’d pictured while in the trunk. The stairway was against the right wall, three steps up to the next level.
“How many men did you see?” I whispered, as I fished around in the trunk for the benefit of anyone watching.
“Five,” he said. “No, six.”
“There’s one by the front entrance and one just inside the door here.”
“And the others?”
“One has been in the room next to us the whole time. The other prep room. The other three walk around.”
“What about Sean Daggett? Do you know him?”
“Yes. We met him when we operated on his son.”
“He in there now?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Did the guy at the back see you come out here?”
“He say anything?”
“He asked where I was going. I said we’d left some gear here.”
“All right,” I said. “Sit tight.” Like he had a choice. I closed the trunk. I didn’t know if I was on camera or not. I took out my gym bag and slung it over my right shoulder. It wasn’t zipped closed. I could get my hand in and get the Beretta out fast or fire the Colt right through the canvas bottom if I had to. I turned toward the rear door to open it for whoever might be waiting.
Before I got two steps, the garage door engaged and started rolling up. Headlights flared in my eyes.
“You find what you needed?” a voice called behind me.
I turned to see a man on the loading dock, his hand near the switch that controlled the garage door.
I held up the gym bag without speaking.
“Come on then,” he said. “Move it.”
The car was a pinstriped Monte Carlo-fucking Daggett’s car, idling as the door rolled up, flexing its considerable muscle. I turned my back and walked toward the stairs, zipping the bag halfway closed.
On my own now with no way to let Ryan or Victor in. No one at my back.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” the man on the dock said to me.
Don’t be in such a hurry, I thought. You could be the first to die.
I walked up the steps, not wanting to make eye contact with the man, focusing instead on the pistol in his belt. Wondering if he’d want to look in the bag. Before he could, the driver of the Monte Carlo opened his door and called out, “Denny! What’s that guy doing out here?”
I knew the voice. Daggett himself.
“He needed something from his car,” Denny said.
“Like what?” Daggett asked.
I didn’t want him to hear my voice, so I mumbled something low beneath my surgical mask.
“Didn’t catch that,” Daggett said.
“I’m talking to you,” he said. “What’s in the fucking bag?”
“Let’s see it,” Denny said.
I let my shoulders fall in a big sigh, trying to play the exasperated, arrogant surgeon. I unzipped the bag and held it open. As Denny leaned in to see what was in it, I lashed out with a front kick that caught him under the chin and sent him flying backwards, unconscious before he hit the ground. I snatched the Beretta out of the bag and whirled around. Daggett was standing by the driver’s-side door, no gun in sight. A big man was pulling himself out of the passenger seat, one hand on the door frame, the other holding a pair of aluminum crutches. It was the guy Jenn had hit with her car.
I jumped down from the loading dock, keeping the gun on him, and pulled the mask away from my face.
“Fuck me,” Daggett said. “If it isn’t the Lone Canadian.”
“Put your hands on your head.”
“Or what? You know how many guys I got inside?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “As long as I have you. Now put your hands on your head. And you,” I said to the big man, “drop the crutches. Do it.”
“How’m I supposed to walk without them?”
“You’re not.” I pointed the barrel of the gun at his thigh and squeezed the trigger. With the suppressor on, all I heard was the dry snap of the hammer striking the cartridge. And the big man’s cry as he crumpled.
“You fucking crazy?” Daggett yelled. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“I am a little crazy,” I said.
The big man rolled back and forth, clutching his thigh as blood oozed through his fingers. “Take off your coat,” I told Daggett.
“Fuck that, man, it’s cold in here.”
I pointed the gun at his leg and he shrugged and took off his coat. I saw a chrome gun butt in his waistband. “Take it out with two fingers,” I said. “Drop it and kick it over here. Now!”
He did as he was told. I picked it up and tucked it in my bag.
“Turn around. Lift your shirt.”
Again he obeyed. I saw no other weapons.
I kept the gun on him as I moved to the back door and pushed it open and felt a flood of relief when I saw Dante Ryan and Victor waiting there, guns at the ready.
“Started without us?” Ryan said.
“This the cunt that took Jenn?”
Ryan walked over casually and circled Daggett as if all he wanted to do was survey him up close. When he came around the front, he slammed the butt of his shotgun into Daggett’s gut. He collapsed with both hands around his middle. I came up behind him and put the Beretta into the soft spot where his head and spine joined. I grabbed his hair with my other hand and pulled him to his feet.
“How does that feel?” I asked.
“Is it supposed to hurt?”
I stepped away from him then shifted my weight right back in a side kick that caved his right knee in. He yelled as the ligaments tore and the leg buckled under him.
“Bastard,” he hissed, rocking on his side and clutching his leg.
“You’re lucky you’re not worth the cost of a bullet. Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
I drew my leg back.
“Inside,” he said.
“Prep Room B.”
“If she’s been hurt in any way, you’re dead.”
“Relax, Hymie,” he panted, “she’s been asleep the whole time. On an IV drip.”
I could only hope it was true.
I told Victor to check the big man for guns. He found a Glock under his left arm and dropped it in his coat pocket.
“Put him in the trunk,” I said.
Victor and Ryan put their guns down, took hold of the man’s arms and legs. He howled in pain as they lifted him.
“Shut your hole,” Victor said.
The man told him to go fuck himself.
They got him into the trunk. Ryan was about to slam the lid when Victor said, “One sec,” drew his fist back and threw a punch. I didn’t see it land but I heard the cold hard smack. Heard the man tell Victor to go fuck himself again. Ryan said, “We got no time for this shit,” and closed the trunk before Victor could hit him again.
I told Daggett to get up.
“I can’t walk,” he said.
“You can limp. Get up, now, before I make it worse.”
We made him go first, my gun dug into his neck, my fist gripping a tight knot of his hair, the same way he’d handled Jenn. We went up the stairs, Victor behind me, Ryan behind him. I made Daggett open the door and we started down a long hallway that was carpeted and panelled in a dark wood. Soft light from wall sconces made it gleam.
“You killed Carol-Ann Meacham,” I said.
“Wasn’t she found in Franklin Park? I’d have to say it was muggers. Probably your African-American types.”
“The cops will find something to connect you,” I said.
“What about Harinder Patel?” I asked.
Daggett said, “Who?”
“The Indian man who died on your table. Where’s the body?”
“On the advice of my lawyer, I-”
I pushed the gun barrel harder into his neck. “Cut the shit. You’re this close to dying.”
“We’re all close,” he said.
“Where is he?”
“Ashes to ashes, man.”
“What does that mean?”
“This place did cremations, that’s what it means. And the equipment still works.”
Shit. Poor Sammy. If Daggett was telling the truth, no body would ever be found. Sammy and his mother might have to wait years to have him declared officially dead and collect any insurance. But Jenn had to be my focus now. Only Jenn.
I had the layout pictured in my mind. This hallway led to the main foyer. From there we would turn left past the chapel to another hall where the two prep rooms were. One for extraction, one for transplantation. I listened for voices, footsteps, creaks in the floorboards as we moved as silently as we could over the carpet.
“You want your girl back, you’re going to have to let me go,” Daggett said.
“I don’t think so.”
“Just shoot him,” Victor said. “Kneecap him for real. Isn’t that what you Irish fuckers do?”
“Only as needed,” Daggett said.
“Where are the guards?” I asked.
“You’ll see soon enough.”
We came to the main foyer. It was just as Stayner had sketched it. The hall to the prep rooms on the left, through a wooden arch; across from us the hall that led to the employee offices; on our right the front entrance. Past Daggett’s head, near the entrance, I saw a man sitting in a chair tipped back against the wall, a shotgun across his lap. I pulled Daggett’s hair to bring him to a halt.
“Tell him to lay the gun down on the floor,” I hissed.
Daggett remained silent. I took the gun away from his neck and stuck the barrel behind his right knee. “Do it,” I said.
“Jimmy,” Daggett called.
Jimmy looked up, saw Daggett and brought the chair legs down with a thump and started to stand up. Ryan levelled his shotgun and told Jimmy to stop. Jimmy looked at Daggett, waiting to be told what to do.
“Put it down,” Daggett said.
“The man has a gun on me, Jimmy. Put it down.”
Jimmy set his shotgun down on the floor. Victor picked it up and brought the butt down heavily on the side of Jimmy’s head. He slumped to the floor and lay there, not moving. Victor opened the breech, ejected the shells and pocketed them. Then he stood the shotgun against the wall, stepped back and broke it with a kick above the trigger guard.
“How many more men?” I asked Daggett.
“Too many for you.”
I kicked the back of his heel, one of the most painful spots in the body, and he yelped. “You’re not getting the feel of this,” I said. “How many?”
“I fucking hope so.”
“I don’t know.”
I kicked his other heel, harder than I’d done the first.
“Fucking quit that, man, I don’t know. For real. They’re supposed to walk around, make sure no one gets in.”
“Who’s with Jenn?”
“Which heel this time?”
“Okay, one guy.”
“The other three-call them. Tell them to come out here. Tell them to lay down their guns, just like Jimmy did.”
“If they see me in this situation, they might panic. Open fire.”
“You’ll be the first to die.”
“First, last, what’s the difference?”
“You sure you’re ready to find out?”
Daggett sighed somewhat theatrically and called out to his men: “Boys? Boys, this is Sean. Come on out here a minute.”
Silence. I could hear Victor breathing through his nose. Nothing else.
“Again,” I said. “Louder.”
He raised his voice and repeated the call. Seconds later, I heard footsteps coming from the corridor ahead. A big man who looked like he’d been sculpted from a block of granite came into the foyer, a shoulder holster over a black long-sleeved shirt and a mug of coffee in his drawing hand. Soon as he saw us, he dropped the mug and reached for his gun but Victor’s Uzi chattered first and the big man staggered back and fell.
“There goes your element of surprise,” Daggett said. He was listing to one side, keeping his weight off the ruined knee, breathing hard and looking pale.
“Call the others out.”
“After that racket? They don’t love me that much.”
“Tell them it was you shooting.”
“At what? A rat? Jesus, Geller, you’re fucking hopeless.”
Sweat dripped off Daggett’s forehead and spattered on the hardwood floor. He shrugged. “Hey, Bren?” he called. “Joey? Where are you guys?”
“What was that shooting?” a man asked. We heard his voice down the corridor to our left but couldn’t see him. I jabbed my gun into Daggett’s spine.
“Me,” he said. “Shooting at a rat. You wouldn’t believe the fucking size of it, Bren. Thought it was Whitey Bulger himself.”
“Good one,” Bren said. The hall he was coming down wasn’t carpeted, and we heard his steps grow louder over hardwood. Ryan made eye contact with Victor and pointed to himself and his shotgun, and pointed him to the hallway across from us. Bren’s steps were measured as they approached the foyer. “You want a coffee, Sean?”
The words had just tailed off when he broke into a run and came charging in firing an automatic weapon of his own. Victor’s chest exploded in a shower of blood. Another gun boomed from the corridor Victor had been watching and blew out a piece of the wall just behind Ryan’s head. I pushed Daggett aside and returned fire there, five shots hitting nothing but wood and plaster. Ryan pounded two shotgun rounds into Bren, who dropped to his back, his gun clattering across the parquet floor. Daggett went for it-or made me think he was going for it. As I lunged to grab the back of his collar, he planted his good leg and whirled backwards, elbow first, and caught me with a vicious shot to the side of the head. I felt a wave of nausea surge up my throat, burning the tissue, as I reeled back. His act had fooled me; I thought he’d been too badly hurt to try anything.
“Jonah!” Ryan yelled.
“I’m okay. You get Joey. Daggett’s mine.”
Daggett staggered back down the corridor that led to the garage. I tried to fix him in my gunsight but my eyes were out of focus and the bullet only bit into the wooden arch. I took three steps to my left and fired again. A sconce on the wall shattered in a burst of glass. He kept running, hopping, zigzagging across the wide corridor, and then banged out the door that led to the loading dock.
Damn it. I hadn’t taken the gun off the guard there, Denny. If Daggett made it back there before I could stop him, he’d be armed again.
I dropped the Beretta in the bag and took out the Colt M4 and moved down the hall on unsteady feet. When I reached the door that led out to the dock, I knelt down and blinked, trying to get my eyes to focus properly. I reached up and shook the handle. Two rounds tore through the wood of the bottom half. A third shattered the glass, raining shards down on my arm and neck. I stood up, stuck the M4 barrel through the broken glass and blindly fired three bursts. There was no cry of pain, no body dropping dead on the cement. Just uneven footsteps running out into the night. I opened the door wide enough to roll out onto the dock. Denny was still lying flat on his back. No gun in his belt. I swept my gun barrel left to right, making sure Daggett wasn’t hiding behind his car or Stayner’s Caddy. But he was gone. I went out after him, feeling the temperature drop as I exited the garage. I kept my back to the wall of the building, wondering which way he had gone. Left or right. Then I remembered the north-side door, the one with the crash bar, could be opened only from the inside. He could only have gone south.
As I eased around the corner, a shot rang out and bits of brick blew into my face, breaking skin and drawing beads of blood. I dropped down and elbow-crawled forward until I could reach around the corner with the M4 and fire off another burst. As the sound died away I heard a door close. He had gone back into the building. If I followed him, I’d be on his turf and on his terms. I’d seen drawings of the building but he knew it cold. He could ambush me a dozen different ways. I turned and went back into the garage instead, vaulted up onto the dock. Denny was lying on his back, breathing. I turned him onto his side, found some strapping and bound his hands behind him. Back inside, moving down the hallway toward the foyer, I stayed close to one wall, my finger on the trigger of the Colt. When I came to the open space, only silence greeted me. Victor, the big man and Brendan were dead. The one Victor had clubbed, Kelly, was dead too, his neck unnaturally loose when I felt for a pulse. There was no sign of Ryan or Joey.
That left me nowhere to go but the prep rooms. I started down the hall that led to the extension where they were housed, where undertakers had worked their magic over the years to prepare bodies for viewing. Though the funeral home had long been out of business, the air smelled different in this wing. There was a chemical taint to it, a hint of preservatives. Maybe if I breathed it in I’d live longer.
I listened for the sound of steps, of breathing, anything that might tell me if someone was lying in wait. There was no room for hesitation or error. If Daggett or one of his men crossed my field of vision I would blast away, and keep blasting until they were dead.
Even though I’m not a violent man.
Wait. A floorboard creaked ahead of me. Ahead and on the right. I stopped moving and crouched into the smallest possible target. The hall ended in a T. To the right was a storage room where supplies were kept, to the left the two prep rooms. On the right side, something came into view at eye level. The barrel of a shotgun. My breathing was loud and ragged in my ear. A few more inches of the barrel showed. I knew Daggett only had a pistol. So did Frank. Ryan or Joey? Both had shotguns. I tasted salt on my lip from the sweat that was beading there. I put a little pressure on the trigger and kept it there until I saw the stock of the shotgun.
I ran my tongue over my lips and hissed, “Ryan!”
The barrel stopped moving. I heard him whisper, “Jonah?”
I stood up slowly, heard a crack in my knee as a tendon stretched. “All clear,” I whispered back.
He came around the corner, raising the gun barrel toward the ceiling, and waved me over.
“Where’s Daggett?” he asked.
I shook my head. “He got away. And he’s got a gun.”
“The guy I laid out on the dock.”
“I fucked up. Forgot to frisk him.”
“Never mind that. It was all happening fast. We’ll get him.”
“I had to chase him into an office and shoot him in the back. First time I ever did that. All my years in the game, I never had to.”
“You okay?” I asked.
“Hey,” he said. “This is me, Geller. Not some rent-a-fuck you hire off the street. I won’t lose a minute’s sleep over any of them.”
“What about you? You took another shot to the head.”
“I’m good,” I lied. The truth was I felt unsteady, weak, more than a little nauseous. “Any sign of Jenn?”
“Not yet. I was about to check these rooms.”
“Daggett said she was in Prep Room B.”
“You believe him?”
“He had a gun on him when he said it.”
We moved together down the hall, Ryan going forward, me walking backwards, covering us against any action from the rear. When we got to Prep Room B, he whispered, “How do you want to do this?”
“Kick the door in and shoot anyone who isn’t Jenn.”
“You’re the karate kid,” he said. “As soon as you kick it, drop to the floor so you’re not in my line of fire.”
“Use your pistol,” I said. “It’s too close quarters for a shotgun.”
He set the shotgun down carefully, stock down, and took out his Glock and nodded. I lined myself up in front of the door handle. There was no additional lock on the door. I focused on the area where the strike plate would be, took a deep breath and launched a front kick. The door flew open and I hurled myself forward and saw Jenn down on the bed, her wrists and arms strapped to the frame, a gag in her mouth, her body twisting back and forth, her eyes wide with fear. A man with hair like a scrub brush was standing next to the bed, dropping a cellphone and going for a gun under his arm. Ryan shot him twice in the chest. He fell backwards on top of Jenn; I leapt forward and grabbed his bloody shirt front, yanked him off her and threw his body to the ground.
She was alive. Thank fucking God she was alive. I sat down on the narrow bed and undid the gag first and she cried out my name. I leaned down and put my arms around her and felt hot tears on my neck.
“We got you,” I said.
She tried to say something but her sobs became hiccups and I just held her, feeling her chest heaving and shaking. I felt tears well up in my eyes too.
“I knew you would,” she finally said.
“Ahem,” Ryan said.
She turned her head and saw him and broke out in a grin. “And you,” she said. “I hoped you’d mix in.”
“When don’t I?”
I got her wrists free while Ryan went back to the door and retrieved his shotgun, covering the hallway. “Did they hurt you?”
She sat up, her cheeks shiny with tears. She wiped them with one sleeve. “I don’t think so. Not much, anyway. Daggett slapped me a couple of times because of what I did to his friend. But then he said he wanted me healthy so he could use me. You heard what for. He brought me in here and this guy put a needle in my arm. That’s all I remember except for-”
“Weird dreams. Really weird. I mean, I … What time is it anyway? Is it still Saturday?”
“Monday,” I said. “Monday night.”
“When did you wake up?”
“I don’t know, maybe twenty minutes ago. Daggett’s friend, the one I hit with the car, he called a few minutes ago. He was on the way here.”
“Don’t worry about him.” I stood and held out my hand. “Can you stand up?”
She took my hand out and I pulled her up gently. I pulled the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around her and held her tight again.
“My clothes are on the chair,” she said.
I kept my arm around her shoulder. She took a few steps and grimaced and then tears started to stream down her face again.
“What?” I said. “Honey, what?”
“It hurts,” she said. “My-down there-it hurts. Oh, God. Oh God, what did he do? Did he-what, the whole time I was here?”
She looked down at the man on the floor and kicked him hard in the head, the sheet coming off her and falling to the floor, just as David Fine’s grey blanket had fallen to the sand on Plum Island. She threw her arms around me and I held her tight.
“Listen,” I said. “Daggett is in the building. On the loose. We have to go find him.”
“Wait,” she said.
We held each other another half minute. When I felt the panic subside, I let go of her and picked up the dead man’s gun-I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Ryan and I turned our backs while she got dressed. Then I handed the gun to Jenn and said, “Stay here until we find Daggett.”
“It’ll only be a few minutes.”
“I said no, Jonah. I’m not spending another second in this room.”
“You’ll be safer here.”
“I’m coming with you. Like it or not.”
Ryan put out his hand and said, “Let me see.”
She paused, then handed the gun to him. From its flat black surface, I guessed it was another Glock. He racked the slide and handed it back to her. “There’s no safety on this,” he said, “so keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot. And if you do fire it, keep pressure on the trigger and it’ll keep firing. You have enough rounds in there to do plenty of damage.”
Ryan went out first and knocked softly on the door to Prep Room A. “Frank?”
There was a moment of silence, then we heard steps and the doorknob turned. The door swung open and Frank stood there, his pistol levelled at us. His eyes took in the three of us. He said, “Where’s Victor?”
“He didn’t make it,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Frank’s lips drew tight together and he looked down at the floor and shook his head. “Daggett get him?”
“No. One of his men.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ryan said. “He’s dead too.”
Over his wide shoulders I saw Stayner and three other people in surgical masks, and Marc and Lesley McConnell. She was in a hospital gown whose sleeves came down to the elbows; below them I saw the angry fistulas bulging beneath her pale skin.
“It’s off, then,” McConnell said. “Lesley’s not getting her transplant tonight.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Bullshit. This guy’s not even the real donor”-pointing to Frank-“so you knew all along it wouldn’t happen.”
“I can’t argue this now. We have to find Daggett.”
“He’s here?” Frank said.
“Somewhere in the building. We’ll find him.”
“I’m coming with you,” Frank said.
“We need someone to stand guard here,” I said. “If he’s still inside, this is probably where he’ll come.”
“I’ll do it,” Jenn said. “As long as I’m not alone in that other room with that creep, I’ll be fine.”
“I was in the service before law school,” Marc McConnell said. “I can handle a gun.”
I knelt down and pulled aside the sheet draped over the operating table. The gun we’d given to Stayner was there.
“Put on gloves before you touch it,” I said. “You too, Jenn.”
The surgical nurse handed them each a pair. When they were on, I gave the gun to McConnell, who looked it over, hefted it and thumbed the safety off. Jenn also put on gloves, then used a cloth to wipe down the gun she’d been holding.
“Anyone but us comes in that door,” Ryan said, “don’t even wait for him to clear it. Squeeze the trigger and hold it till he stops dancing. Both of you.”
“You be careful,” Jenn said. “All of you.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t spend all this time looking for you to get myself killed.”
“Does Daggett know that?” she asked.
We came to the main foyer where all the bodies were. Frank knelt beside Victor and touched his cheek; placed two fingers against the side of his neck, feeling for the pulse he knew would not be there. Then he stuck his pistol in his waist and picked up Victor’s Uzi. “Fucking Victor,” he said.
Ryan put his hand on Frank’s shoulder. He shrugged it off. “He was the late mistake, born fifteen years after me, when my parents didn’t think they could still have kids. I was the oldest of six, so I practically raised him. I never should have brought him along. I don’t mean tonight, I mean the life, but it’s all he ever wanted. All he could do. He was useless at anything else. And not even so good at this.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was. But we had Jenn back; the gravity of other losses couldn’t hold me back.
“You have any burning need to take Daggett alive?” he said.
Ryan and I looked at each other. I said, “No.”
“Good. Let’s get him.”
“I’ll go out where he went out,” I said. “Come back in the side door. If he’s inside, that’s where he entered.”
“You actually see him go back in?” Frank said. “He could have made a run for the street.”
“And do what?” Ryan asked. “Hail a cab?”
“I don’t know, hijack a car?”
“Wouldn’t try that around here.”
“His knee is wrecked,” I said. “He was hobbling pretty badly. I don’t think he could have made it to the street.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “I don’t want to leave Victor. See if you can flush Daggett out. I’ll be here if he comes down either hallway.”
“I’ll check the offices,” Ryan said. “He could have made it into one of them.”
“Go in shotgun first.”
“Never mind me,” he said. “Don’t you try any humanitarian shit. No trying to wing him. Aim for the centre mass.”
I looked at both men. Frank’s face was grim and clouded over, his eyes black as wet stones. Ryan looked bright and alert, the hunter in him unleashed. We nodded at each other and went our separate ways.
I went out the garage door and made my way around the building to the side door. Now that I knew Jenn was safe, my head felt better than before. It hurt where Daggett had elbowed me, but I felt no nausea and my vision was clear. I had survived contact. I could do this. I opened the door slowly, sweeping the Colt barrel side to side, and went down the carpeted hall. I saw wet footprints ahead, but they faded after a few steps and told me no more. Portraits of company founders lined the walls: the first two generations that had built it up and the third that had run it into its present bankrupt state. A men’s room on my left, women’s on my right. I put an ear to each door and listened. Nothing. I eased the door to the men’s open and looked in the mirror over a pair of sinks. Nothing. Knelt down and looked into the stalls. Pushed open each door in case he was perched on a toilet. No one there. Same routine in the women’s. No one there either.
Back down the hall. No sound except my own feet rubbing against the grain of the carpet, my breath whistling through my nostrils, my heart beating a dull tattoo. The hallway took me back to the foyer; I knew I was getting close when I could smell gunpowder and coppery blood. I pressed myself against the wall as I got closer to the open space. I could see the man Victor had clubbed, lying beside his tipped chair. Then Victor himself, Frank standing over the body. His Uzi on the ground and behind him Sean Daggett, a gun pressed to the back of Frank’s head, his face twisted in an ugly sneer.
“That’s right,” he snarled. “I got your man. I know this place like none of you. He was looking the wrong way when I come up behind him. So what you gonna do, pal? Watch me blow his head off or lay down your gun?”
Just beyond him I saw Dante Ryan coming down the hall across the foyer. Daggett caught sight of him too, stepping back and pulling Frank with him so neither of us had a clear shot.
“You too, dago,” he said. “Lay it down.”
If we did, we were dead, all of us. And with our more powerful weapons, Daggett could storm Prep Room A and take out Jenn, Marc McConnell and everyone else. It would be a bloodbath, wholesale slaughter, and we all knew it.
“Don’t do it,” Frank said. “Shoot the fucker.”
Daggett said, “Shut up.”
Frank said, “Go to hell,” and bucked his hips back hard enough to force Daggett back, twist out of his grasp and throw himself forward. Daggett fired and blood sprayed up from Frank’s head and into the air as he fell face first. That was all Ryan and I needed. His shotgun bucked and blasted Daggett’s right shoulder and spun him toward me. Two three-round bursts from my Colt ripped his chest from lower right abdomen to left collarbone.
There was no need for more. His gun fell to the floor a second before he did. Ryan kept his shotgun levelled as he stalked over to him. I ran to Frank. Blood was streaming from his scalp and running down his neck. I dug my fingers into his carotid artery and felt a faint pulse like a faraway drum.
I said. “Grab his legs.”
“One sec.” Ryan put his shotgun down and knelt at Daggett’s side.
“Forget him,” I said. “He’s dead.”
Ryan took his Glock out of the shoulder holster and screwed on the suppressor. After the torrent of gunfire we had just unleashed, what could be the point of that?
He stood, backed up a step and fired two shots into the centre of Daggett’s forehead, just missing getting hit by the spray. “Done.”
We got Frank to the surgeons in half a minute. Ryan ran to free Dr. Reimer from the trunk of Stayner’s car while the rest of the team started prepping Frank. Stayner told us to clear out, that the sterility of the room had already been compromised a thousand times over, but that he would do what he could, no guarantees. We retreated to the chapel. After the roar of shotguns and automatic fire, it was incredibly peaceful.
“Won’t someone call the police about all the shooting?” Marc McConnell asked.
“Maybe in your neighbourhood,” I said. “I believe the motto around here is, Don’t snitch. But if you’re worried about being found here, take off.”
“Honey,” Lesley said, “maybe we should. If the police do come, how would we explain this?”
“Soon,” he said.
We sat along the front pew facing the dais where ministers and family members would have delivered eulogies for the dead over the decades Halladay’s had been in business. With all the men who had died tonight, it seemed someone should have been up there speaking. But we just sat in the dim light, all of us wearing latex gloves as if we feared catching something from the very air. I had my arm around Jenn, holding her tightly. Ryan was on my other side. At one point he leaned in and whispered, “I can’t believe of the two of us, you got the centre mass.”
“Only because you hit his shoulder first. You made him a good target.”
“The shotgun jumped,” he said. “A Mossberg. I’m a little upset about that.”
He could dismiss it so easily. Not me. Brooding is a skill Jews learn early and perfect all their lives. I sat there soaking in the fact that I had killed again. And with a gun, again, the first time I had fired one at a man since that ambush in Hebron when I had shot the man stabbing my friend Roni. But I would change nothing of what had happened to Daggett. He was a murderer many times over. In the last few days alone he had ordered the killings of David, Carol-Ann, his own two thugs. Had caused the death of Victor and so nearly of Frank. Had tried to kill Ryan and me. Would have killed my best friend and partner in the most callous and gruesome way possible.
So why were my hands shaking? Why was my mouth so dry? Why was my head aching again, and from more than just Daggett’s elbow? I wished I had gelcaps. I tried stroking Jenn’s hair but with gloved hands there was too much static for it to be reassuring. For either of us. I went back to holding her shoulder.
We all turned to see Jim Reimer in the chapel entrance, his mask lowered, an unperturbed look on his face.
“He’ll be all right,” Reimer said. “The bullet tore a furrow up the back of his scalp but caused no grievous damage.”
“A doctor who speaks English,” Ryan said.
“They teach that in Boston,” Reimer said. “We stitched the wound closed and gave him something for the pain and some antibiotics he needs to take until they’re gone. You may need to repeat that to him when he’s a little less groggy.”
We trooped out of the chapel and back to the makeshift surgery. Frank was lying on the table, his head bandaged, staring dully at the ceiling.
“You saved us,” I said to him.
He turned his eyes to me, struggling to bring me into focus. “Wasn’t trying to,” he said. “I just wanted one of you to get him.”
“Then I’m thanking you.”
“We all do,” Stayner said. “He put us through a nightmare. It went against everything we believe in.”
“So does your fee,” I said.
“I don’t know what you mean. I told you I give every cent of his money away.”
“I’m talking about the congressman’s money. The rabbi was getting a quarter-million,” I said. “I can’t believe you’d take less.”
His face coloured a moment, then he put his shoulders back and assumed the posture of the great surgeon who must never be questioned or second-guessed. “This is not the time for this. Everyone,” he said to his people, “start packing up.”
“No,” Marc McConnell said. He was behind me, the last one to have come into the room. And he was pointing his gun at Stayner.
“What are you doing, Marc?” Stayner asked.
“Be quiet. I want all of you behind the table. Now!”
There was no point in any of us drawing on him. In the crowded room, a crossfire would be deadly. Slowly we moved to the far side of the table where Frank lay.
“Get him off the table,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“We came here tonight to save my wife. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
“Marc,” Lesley said. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about her,” McConnell said, pointing the gun at Jenn. “Daggett was going to kill her, wasn’t he? He was going to take all her organs and sell them. Right?” He kept the gun trained on Jenn and looked at me. “Right?”
“I don’t want to kill her,” he said. “And I don’t want all her organs. Just the one. One kidney. She can live with one. Without it, Lesley is going to die.”
“You can’t do this,” Lesley said.
“Yes I can.” He swung the gun back at me and said, “Get him off the table or I’ll shoot your friend, I swear.”
“You do that, you’re dead,” Ryan said. “Before you get a second shot off.”
“I don’t care. If Lesley dies, I might as well too.”
“Marc, please,” his wife said. “This isn’t the way.”
“What is? To keep waiting for a phone call that never comes? To watch you get thinner and paler and weaker? Tired all the time, thirsty all the time. You’re still young, Les, you don’t deserve this.”
“No one does,” she said. “But what does that change?”
“Look at her,” he said, pointing at Jenn. “She’s probably never been sick a day in her life. From the time I first saw you, Les, first fell in love with you, you were battling. You were under ninety pounds before your lung transplant, remember?”
“Of course I do.”
“Lugging around that oxygen tank wherever we went. And then you got healthy again and you were the most beautiful woman in the world, and you still are, but look at you, honey, you’re dying again. Day by day, inch by inch, you’re slipping away from me and I can’t watch it happen again.”
“Put the gun down,” she said. “Before you hurt someone.”
“I can’t …”
“Put it down. We’ll find another way.”
“Marc!” Her voice got harsher. “Put it down now.” Her hand reached out and snatched a scalpel from a tray covered in green cloth. She put its tip to the vein in her wrist and said, “I’ll cut myself open if you don’t.”
His eyes, already tearing, widened in disbelief. “No.”
“I’ll do it, Marc. I’d rather die right now than go slowly without you. With you locked up in jail for this.”
She pressed the scalpel harder. The skin around the tip went white as pearl. “Oh, God,” McConnell said, and his gun hand came down. Ryan stepped forward and took it from him.
I looked at Jenn, expecting to see relief, but she was looking at Lesley McConnell, her own eyes flooded. She said, “I’ll do it.”
At least three people in the room, me included, said, “What!”
“I want to do it,” she said.
I said, “Jenn, you can’t.”
“He’s right,” she said. “I’m a big strong farm girl from southern Ontario. Never been sick a day in my life. I’ve always taken it for granted and now I don’t.”
“You can’t decide this on the spot.”
“I was as good as dead an hour ago.”
“Ms.-God, I don’t even know your name,” Lesley said.
“Well, Ms. Raudsepp. Jenn. It’s an incredible thing for you to say, especially after what you’ve been through. But you can’t make a decision like this on the spur of the moment.”
“You’ve had no time to think-”
“If I do I might change my mind.”
“Which is why you should.”
“If I may interrupt this noble gesture for a moment,” Stayner said. “What you’re contemplating is impossible anyway. We don’t know a thing about tissue or antigen matches. And this room is beyond non-sterile now. We’d be risking both of your lives.”
“Then I’ll come back to Boston,” Jenn said.
“You shouldn’t have to,” he said. “George Riklitis has already been found to be a perfect match for Mrs. McConnell, and has already agreed to be her donor. Only now we’ll arrange for it to be done at the hospital, Marc, totally above board, within the week. Your wife will get her kidney, I promise you. And the very best of aftercare. Beyond that, my advice as her doctor is to allow us all to pack up and get the fuck out of here.”
The McConnells left first; they had the most to lose if the place was raided. The congressman wouldn’t look at me or shake my hand, wouldn’t even look at Jenn, but Lesley threw her thin arms around Jenn and held her and whispered her thanks more than once before going off to change her clothes. I told McConnell to wipe down everything he and his wife might have touched.
Stayner left next, leaving his team to clean up without him. The rest of them got to work packing up their equipment. Ryan and I used alcohol wipes on all the surfaces of the locker room where Frank and the team members had changed.
When we were done, Ryan asked Jenn to stay with Frank and motioned me out into the hall. “How many are still alive?”
“Two,” I said. “The guy on the loading dock, Denny-”
“Don’t tell me his name.”
“And the one in the trunk.”
“We can’t leave them to talk to the cops.”
“They don’t strike me as big talkers.”
“With all these bodies, they’ll talk. The one with the leg, he knows your name, where you’re from. And I got a problem with that, since it could lead back to me. And I am not going to put my family at risk so two of Daggett’s fuckheads can come after them.”
“The guy on the dock only saw me with a mask on. And he never saw you.”
“Bet he still knows your name. Look, I did everything you asked, Jonah. I dropped everything and came down to help you. I stood with you. I fought with you to get Jenn back. I killed again. And again.” He pushed past me and went out toward the loading dock. I wouldn’t hear the silenced weapon from where I stood. But I knew the spitting sound would echo in my mind long after it died out.
Two nurses trudged out into the hall weighed down by large cases, followed by James Reimer and the anesthesiologist, similarly encumbered. I had to flatten against the wall to let them all pass. Then I saw Frank tottering out of the room, Jenn beside him with a hand at his back. He didn’t look steady but he was walking under his own steam, keeping one hand against the wall for support.
“What do we do with Victor?” he asked.
“He has to stay here.”
“No. No way.”
“Anywhere you take him, any hospital, any funeral home, you’d have to explain the gunshots.”
He gave me a long look, nothing moving in his face, before saying, “He’s my brother. I’m not leaving him here with the people who killed him.”
“Where would we take him?”
“Just get him in the car. I have a place.”
When Ryan came back in, his gun tucked away, he wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I told him Frank’s plan. He shrugged and said, “Fine.” We went back to the foyer and lifted Victor’s body by the wrists and ankles onto a spare bedsheet we’d found in the surgical suite. We carried him out and laid him gently into Riklitis’s trunk and eased it closed. Then I drove Frank and Jenn around to the front and parked well away from the building on the grass near the gate while Ryan went back inside Halladay’s once last time to carry out the final act of a grievous night.
He was gone about three minutes. Then he came jogging out, got into the passenger side and said, “All the chemicals in that place, we have about half a minute before it goes up.”
Go up it did, not much more than thirty seconds later, a fireball that topped about four storeys and ensured that firefighters, not police, would be the first responders. Fingerprints and forensic traces would be hard to collect, thanks to Ryan’s conjuring. No bodies would be identified until we were well out of the country. They would all be ashes, just like Harinder Patel and whoever else had run afoul of Sean Daggett.
To our surprise, the Charger was still in the lot of the cemetery where we had left it, neither ticketed nor towed. Jenn and I got in the front; Ryan took the wheel of Riklitis’s car and led the way back to Jamaica Pond, where we would help Frank slip Victor’s body into the cold black water stocked with all the fish he had named.
Frank insisted he was okay to drive Riklitis’s car home from Jamaica Pond.
“You got shot in the head,” I said.
“This is Boston. Who the fuck’s gonna notice?”
Off he went with a short blast of his horn. Ryan drove Jenn and me back to our hotel and went off to see if Lugo would buy the guns back at a discount. “We can’t take them home,” he said, “and I could use some of that cash back. Plus I hate to waste good weapons.”
Jenn didn’t want me to rent another room for her. “I can’t be alone,” she said. The reality of what had happened to her, and all around her, was sinking in. She started to shake and cry again as soon as we were by ourselves. She knew bad things had happened to her. “What if the fucker didn’t use a condom?” she cried. I ran a hot bath for her, waited until she got in, ran down the hall to get ice, and poured two bottles of vodka out of the mini-bar over some cubes in a water glass. While she soaked and drank and cried over the phone to her partner, Sierra, I sat just outside the bathroom with my phone, listening to a tirade that Mike Gianelli had left on my voice mail.
“You useless bastard,” he said. “You cowardly piece of shit. I told you David Fine was dead and did you even have the decency to call me back? I’ve had his father in my office the last two hours, crying his fucking eyes out, wondering where the hell you are and what the hell you’ve been doing all this time he’s been paying you. Not only that, one of David’s co-workers also turned up dead, a lab tech at Sinai. Beaten to death and dumped in a park. The Boston PD is handling that one, but there’s all kinds of things I’d like to ask you if you have the nerve to call. Only I don’t think you do. Man, I had you wrong. I thought you were better than this. I thought you were stand-up. Ron Fine sure didn’t get his money’s worth when he hired you.”
Who said he had?
The next message was from Ron himself, asking me to call him at the Marriott at Copley Place. “The police got me a room here,” he said. “They have a corporate rate for-for families of victims of crime.”
When Jenn got out of the bath, I got her to lie down in the bed farthest from the door and she was soon asleep. When her breathing had settled into a constant rhythm, I went online and booked three seats on the first Toronto flight I could find for the next morning. Once the bloodbath at Halladay’s was discovered, and Daggett’s body in particular identified, the cops would want another word with me. Jenn too. She and I needed to get back on Canadian soil; once we were there, they couldn’t make us come back to Massachusetts without a lot of delays and paperwork. We’d have time to rest and heal ourselves. To align stories and prepare affidavits. To try to forget the horrors we’d seen and committed. Who knew how that would go? We’d regret the work David Fine would never do and the lifelong pain his family was in for, but if we were smart, we’d also make ourselves remember the lives we had saved. Who knows who else Daggett would have killed along the way if he’d kept at his grisly business?
After I booked the flights, I waited for Ryan to get back. I didn’t want Jenn to find herself alone if she woke up. We didn’t say anything to each other when he came in. I just took the car keys from the counter where he’d put them down and left the room. I still had one thing to do tonight. Maybe the hardest of all.
Ron Fine’s room at the Marriott overlooked Copley Square, where far below crowds of people made their way in and out of bars and restaurants. He was wearing a white dress shirt, no tie and dark grey slacks. The fringes of his tzitzis hung down below his belt.
“They’re saying he’s been dead more than thirty-six hours, but they won’t release the body yet,” he said. “By our custom he should be in the ground already. But the state police are in charge, because it appeared to be a killing for hire, and they say it’ll be at least another day or two, maybe more. And if they mention an autopsy again, I swear I’ll blow my stack. I mean, whoever killed David blew his head off. What is there to autopsy?”
Looking at this broken, grieving man, I felt ever deeper shame and guilt over David’s death and how I’d used his body. All I said was, “Nothing.”
“Nothing. Not a thing. Which, by the way, seems to sum up your contribution. According to Gianelli, you were nowhere to be seen the last two days. You ignored messages. Changed hotels. Left it to him to call us. Maybe I put too heavy a burden on you, Jonah, telling you Hashem wanted you to find my son, but you accepted it, didn’t you? You accepted my money. Was there anything you did to earn it?”
His fists were bunched and his jaw muscles clamped together; his eyes hard and flat.
“There were things …” I said.
“That I couldn’t tell Gianelli.”
He stepped closer, looking like he was considering taking a swing at me. “What are you saying? You’re not cooperating fully with the investigation?”
“There are things he cannot know.”
“How can you hold anything back? My son is dead.”
I closed the space between us and put my hand on his arm. It was tensed as though he were gripping a racket.
“So is the man who killed him.”
“You remember what my brother told you about me? That I don’t let go? I didn’t, Ron. Neither did Jenn. We saw it through to the end.”
He gripped my arms, both of them, and stared deeply into my eyes. “What exactly are you saying?”
“Is there anything to drink in your room?”
“That’s what you want, a drink?”
“Please, Ron. Pour us both one.”
He found an airline-size bottle of Scotch in his mini-bar and handed it to me. He took nothing for himself.
“There’s a lot I can’t tell you yet,” I began. “And even more that I can’t tell Gianelli.”
“Crimes were committed. By me. And a man whose help I enlisted.”
“And as a result the man who killed David is dead,” Ron said.
“Yes. His name was Sean Daggett. He’ll be all over the news tomorrow.”
“He killed David himself?”
“No. He hired whoever did.”
“And you know why.”
“Yes. He was selling organs on the black market.”
“And David was involved in this?”
“Very briefly. And completely against his will. He wanted to report Daggett to the police, but Daggett struck first, tried to abduct him. Made him run.”
“And you won’t tell the police any of this?”
“I can’t without incriminating myself. Just know that Daggett and his men are dead.”
“Did you kill him, Jonah?”
My neck muscles tightened as if a giant hand were bunching them together. “A sequence of events that he himself set in motion ran its natural course.”
“And that’s all you have to say?”
“How can you expect me to leave it at that? What do I tell Sheila?”