Thursday, December 8
Esther Wallace took the final sip of her cup of tea. It was an Earl Grey, strong, white, with one and a half sugars.
It was getting late.
She had straightened the magazines and discarded any dated more than two months ago. She had changed the hand towels in the bathroom. She had plumped up the sofa cushions and adjusted the heating and turned down the muzak so that Vivaldi’s Four Seasons now sat soft and mellow like a satisfying afterthought at the end of a very long day.
She sat at her desk. The computer had settled on the screen saver – nothing personal, just one of those photographs somebody at Microsoft had decided was neutral enough to please its customer base of millions.
She considered the paraphernalia essential to her work practices: paper clips, adhesive tape dispenser, pencil cup and tissue box – square, with a floral print and lined up perfectly with the side edge of her one-year-old PC.
She placed her smooth, age-spotted hand on her mouse.The screensaver disappeared. The picture was replaced by columns – colour headers with black and white rows – tomorrow morning’s ‘client’ list now appearing all-knowing before her. She opened her Outlook and zipped the client list through the wall to her boss’s office and waited until the (1) next to the word ‘Outbox’ disappeared.
She straightened her cardigan and looked at her watch before taking in the waiting room around her and deciding all was well and it was fine for her to retire for the night.
Esther got to her feet and took her tea cup and saucer into the kitchenette. She rinsed and dried them and put them back in the cupboard, handle facing outwards, before shutting the cupboard and moving back into the reception room proper.
She picked up her handbag, a no-nonsense, stiff leather rectangle the colour of the Earl Grey minus the milk.She turned to the wall and retrieved her coat and matching scarf which were hanging off a hook mounted five and a half feet above the floor. Then she moved to the door and turned off the light and stepped backwards into the corridor and shut the door behind her, turning the knob slightly before feeling a resistance that told her the surgery was locked.
She knew exactly how the rest of her day would play out, just as had every day of late – at least those that did not start with the letter ‘S’. She would set out on the six block uphill walk toward her two bedroom, ground floor Beacon Hill apartment. She would stop briefly at the Charles Street Dry Cleaners where a man named Nicholas would shroud one of her four tweed suits in that fine, glossy plastic you never seemed to be able to purchase anywhere else, and then she would continue on her journey home, unlock her door, discard her coat, move to the kitchen, steam herself some vegetables and grill herself some fish and settle in for an evening of sub-standard television before checking her alarm clock was set to 6 am and finally climbing into bed.
She would sleep tonight. Not because she was particularly tired and not because life required it. She would sleep because she knew she would need her energy and her sixty-five-year-old wits about her for the recently anticipated change in tomorrow’s routine – when she did not turn up at the surgery, when she left, and ran for her life.
Two months later
‘Geez, Bishop, what’s your problem?’ asked David Cavanaugh as he reached over to place his hand around the wrist of his old Boston
College Law School buddy. Tony Bishop had been dinging his fine crystal wine glass with the sterling silver butter knife on and off for the past three minutes, and it was starting to wear.
Tony smiled, that million dollar smile that wowed clients and women alike. ‘They say you can tell the quality of the crystal by the note it produces when struck with silver,’ said Tony, leaning into his friend. ‘The clearer the pitch, the finer the crystal.’
‘And this interests you because . . .?’ smiled David in return, unable to help himself.
‘You know I appreciate the finer things in life, DC – like quality crystal, expensive wine –’he took a sip of the 1987 French Chardonnay,‘– and …’ he scanned the room at the scores of beautiful women now moving around the Taj Boston’s impressively decorated Grand Ballroom before pointing toward David’s wife, fellow criminal defence attorney Sara Davis, as she approached them from the middle of the room.
‘That one’s taken, Bishop,’ laughed David at his high-powered commercial lawyer friend as Sara re-took her seat next to David.
‘What’s taken?’ smiled Sara, her mocha skin glowing.
‘Not what, who,’ said David as he took her hand and squeezed it.
‘Now I feel like a seat at Fenway,’ she smiled.
‘Not just any seat, Sara, a box seat for sure,’ said Tony, downing his wine and scanning the room once again.
Despite the black tie brouhaha, David had to admit he was enjoying himself. He had never been one for donning a penguin suit and mixing it with the more ambitious elements of Boston’s high-powered legal fraternity, but it was rare that he and Sara got to have a night out like this, given their daughter, Lauren, was only eighteen months old. More to the point, this dinner was for a good cause, a fundraiser for the city’s highly respected Massachusetts General Hospital. And considering David’s sister, Lisa, was a nurse in Mass Gen’s busy ER unit, and David had been a grateful recipient of the cash-strapped institution’s hospitality more than once, he and his co-workers at the small but respected firm of Wright and Associates had been one of the first to buy a $1000 table.
‘How much do you think they’re making tonight?’ asked Tony, his fascination with the dollar unfailing.
‘Not enough,’ responded Arthur Wright, David and Sara’s boss, mentor and friend who had approached them from behind before collapsing into the seat next to Bishop.
‘Oh stop complaining, Arthur,’ said Nora Kelly, their sharp-witted, sixty-something office assistant who took the next seat along. ‘Anyone would think you spent the better part of last year recovering from a double knee replacement.’ Which Arthur had. ‘My goodness, it was just a dance – and we raised an extra two hundred dollars by simply taking the floor.’ She tucked a wisp of auburn-grey hair behind her ear.
‘How does that work?’ asked Tony.
‘I believe one of the corporate hot shots in attendance told the Director of the hospital that his firm would contribute a further hundred dollars for every man and woman brave enough to hit the dance floor,’ she explained.
This piqued Tony’s interest.‘Let me guess,’he said.‘It was Daniel Hunt.’
‘Who’s Daniel Hunt?’ asked yet another voice from behind, a dark-haired man wearing an ill-fitting tux and a look of pure discomfort on his Italian–American face.
‘Hey, Joe,’ said David as his good friend and Boston PD Homicide Unit Chief, Deputy Superintendent Joe Mannix, took one more of the vacant seats at their perfectly dressed circular table. ‘We were about to send out a search party. You went to the bar over a half-hour ago.’
‘You’re lucky I didn’t keep walking through those fancy double glass doors.’ Joe gestured toward the back of the room. ‘Besides,’ he continued, turning his attention back to Tony, ‘I wasn’t talking to you, Cavanaugh, I was talking to Bishop. He was about to tell me about Mr Dime-A-Dance whose name is . . .?’
‘Daniel Hunt,’repeated Tony,‘as in the Director of Hunt and Associates.’
David knew exactly who Tony was referring to. Daniel Hunt was fast becoming a big name in Boston’s legal and financial fraternity. David had never met the man but he had heard the story about his taking over an established investment banking firm named Capital Consolidated that went under after the GFC. Hunt revamped the business and named it after himself, rebuilding it into one of the most successful and upmarket firms in the city. He’d also heard the gossip, that Hunt was rich, Ivy League educated, cool, controlled, aloof, but still incredibly socially savvy – everything the New Jersey-born, Catholic-school educated, non-networking David Cavanaugh was not.
‘Look, over there,’ added Tony, pointing toward a group of men at the front of the room. ‘That’s Hunt and his posse of corporate clones right there. Watch how they network – they’re like a pack of gazelles making their way across the savannah, leaping over the wannabes to land at the VIPs’ feet.’
David turned to see Hunt and his similarly good-looking colleagues weaving strategically in and out of the various ‘heavy duty’ tables up front. Tony was right. They would stop, chat, move, intersect, stop, chat and move on again.
‘Is Hunt the one shaking hands with the head of the hospital?’ he asked.
Tony shifted to see around the skirt of a dressed-to-the-nines society matriarch.
‘There, the one with the coat over his arm,’ added David as he gestured toward a fair-haired, broad-shouldered man now shaking hands with Mass General’s CEO.
‘No,’ replied Tony. ‘That’s Hunt’s doctor friend – Davenport, I think his name is. Hunt is the one currently leaning into the AG,’ he said, as David’s eyes drifted right to see a tall, handsome man almost whispering in the Attorney General’s ear.
‘Now look,’ Tony continued, obviously fascinated by Hunt and Co.’s strategy. ‘Do you see who’s approaching stage left?’
And David did. It was his old nemesis, the morally depraved ass otherwise known as Suffolk County District Attorney Roger ‘the Kat’ Katz.
‘The Kat’s lining up to talk to him,’ said David as Roger Katz, lacking the subtlety of Hunt and his friends, bobbed and zigzagged his way to Daniel Hunt’s side. ‘Shouldn’t that be the other way around?’
‘Not necessarily,’replied Tony.‘Roger has always had a nose for powerful up-and-comers. Maybe he sees Hunt and his firm as campaign contributors?’ he added as Katz pumped Hunt’s palm.
David could not help but smile. ‘That Kat can barely contain himself.’
‘Maybe someone should suggest they hit the dance floor,’ said Joe.
‘Or get a room,’ grinned Tony.
‘Mr Bishop!’ chastised Nora.
‘Sorry, Nora,’ laughed Tony, before, ‘Look out, Hunt’s headed this way. I saw the Governor at the next table, hundred bucks says he is next on the predator’s list.’
But it turned out to be the fastest hundred Tony had ever lost.
‘Mr Cavanaugh,’ said a voice from behind David.
David rose from his seat.
‘Daniel Hunt, Hunt and Associates,’ said Hunt.
David had to admit the man was even more impressive up close. Hunt reminded David of some slick-looking TV actor – the one in that show about Manhattan ad execs from the 1960s.
‘I thought I might take this opportunity to introduce myself. I’m an admirer of your work, Mr Cavanaugh.’ Hunt extended his hand. ‘The Martin trial, Montgomery, Matheson, Logan. You ever decide to diversify I’d love to have you as part of my team.’
David tried not to make eye contact with Tony as Hunt gave him a short but firm handshake. ‘It’s David and thanks,’ he replied, not knowing what else to say. ‘What exactly does your firm do, Mr Hunt?’
Hunt released David’s palm. ‘We specialise in corporate development – in accessing commodities short on supply and high in demand. We put people together, we negotiate the complexities of tax and corporate law. We take calculated risks where others might not have the foresight or the funds to do so.’
Now David was desperate to avoid Bishop’s stare.
‘That sounds very . . . productive,’ was all David could think of to say.
Hunt managed the slightest of smiles before an awkward silence followed.
‘You’re a supporter of the hospital,’ said David.
‘As are you,’ said Hunt, his teeth as white as the crisp dinner shirt that sat perfectly on his broad-shouldered frame.
‘My sister works in the ER.’
‘Your sister’s a trauma specialist?’
‘My sister’s a nurse,’ said David.
‘I’m sorry. It’s a noble profession,’ returned Hunt.
‘There’s no need to apologise,’ countered David.
There was another awkward pause before Hunt recovered. ‘I am being rude,’ he said as he turned his attention to the others at David’s table. ‘Please, introduce me to your friends.’
David nodded. ‘This is my wife and associate Sara Davis, my boss Arthur Wright, our office manager Nora Kelly, my friend Tony Bishop and Boston Police Department’s Deputy Superintendent Joe Mannix.’ Everyone stood and moved around the table to shake Hunt’s hand, except for Joe, who merely stood in his seat and nodded.
‘It’s good of you to be here, Deputy Superintendent,’ said Hunt, returning the nod.‘I know the Boston PD have a long list of financial burdens of their own, and these tables are not inexpensive.’
‘I saved up,’ said Joe.
‘I’m sure your efforts are appreciated,’ returned Hunt, as David stole the slightest glance at Tony and the table fell into silence once again.
‘Mr Hunt,’ chimed in Sara, obviously keen to fill the void. ‘I believe your firm has offered to increase the hospital’s tally tonight by donating a fee for those brave enough to dance – that was a very generous gesture.’
Hunt turned toward her, before unexpectedly extending his hand. ‘Would you do me the honour?’ he asked, before pivoting back to David. ‘That’s if you have no objection?’ he added.
‘None at all,’ replied David.
Sara flicked a look at her husband before taking Hunt’s hand and moving toward the dance floor.And then everyone at the table sat down again.
Tony let out the laugh he’d been holding in for moments. ‘Serves Sara right for trying to be cordial,’ he said.
‘What a confident young man,’ said Nora.
‘What a wanker,’ said Joe.
They all turned to watch as Hunt led Sara smoothly across the ballroom floor. And the table fell silent – probably because of the way Hunt held her, his broad hand strong across the small of her back – until Joe’s BlackBerry began to buzz.
‘You did that on purpose, Mannix,’ said Tony, perhaps taking the opportunity to move their attention away from the floor. ‘You got some uniform lackey to buzz you so that you could leave early and avoid a slow waltz with your new pal Daniel Hunt.’
Joe met Tony’s eye. ‘The page is legit, Bishop, but if you’re suggesting I prefer dealing with corpses than dancing with corporate assholes, then . . .’ Joe frowned, the message obviously disturbing him.
‘Everything okay?’ asked David.
‘Won’t know ’til I get there,’ replied Joe before rising from his seat and straightening his ill-fitting jacket. ‘Thanks for the invite,’ he added as he pulled his car keys from his inside jacket pocket and raised his hand in goodbye.
‘Don’t worry, Joe. It won’t happen again,’ replied David, as Joe turned to leave. Tony refilled his glass and David’s attention shifted instinctively once again, toward Sara, and the man who held her firmly in his grip.
Twenty minutes later
‘Jesus, McKay,’ said Joe Mannix as he slammed the door of his police-issue sedan and met an overcoated Detective Frank McKay, who stood shivering on the Back Bay sidewalk before him. ‘You look like a freaking Eskimo.’ ‘It’s one below, Chief, and that’s without factoring in the wind chill.’ They were doing it again, Joe knew, falling into the familiar banter that seemed to help dissociate them from the scenes they were forced to view.
‘I know that, Frank,’ said Joe, pricking up his ears to a new sound that seemed to follow them as they walked toward the commotion at the other end of the street.
Joe stopped short. ‘What’s that noise?’ He looked at McKay’s feet.
‘What the hell are you wearing, Frank?’ ‘Golf shoes.’ ‘Golf shoes?’ Joe shook his head before picking up the pace again. ‘Did
the call from HQ interrupt your midnight putting session? Why are they
clicking like that?’ ‘Because of the studs.’ ‘What studs?’
‘The studs on the soles.They help you grip when you swing.Last winter I slipped on the ice on a late night job just like this one and did my back in. I had to wear one of those tight-fitting corsets for close to six weeks.’
‘And there I was thinking you’d just lost weight,’ said Joe, unable to think of a better response to his partner’s ramblings.
‘If only,’ replied Frank as they finally reached the house that was the focus of all the attention.
Joe showed his badge to the rookie who lifted the yellow police tape for them to pass through.
It looked as though the narrow brownstone was configured in the usual manner – a right-hand side corridor which, if you chose not to take the too-steep staircase to the second floor bedrooms and bathrooms up above, led you on a course to the sitting room and living area and courtyard-facing kitchen located way down back. This place was pricey, especially given its location, Boston’s Back Bay being second only to Beacon Hill when it came to the number of zeros hanging off the dollar sign. Its decor suggested it belonged to a younger couple who had made their way ‘in’ but did not yet have the capital to accessorise ‘up’. It said, ‘starting out’ not ‘done and dusted’, which, when Joe thought about it, made matters all the worse.
‘Nice tux,’ said a voice at the bottom of the stairs.
‘O’Donnell,’ said Joe to the middle-aged cop he’d known for close to two decades. ‘Congrats on making Captain.’ Joe shook O’Donnell’s outstretched hand.
‘Thanks, Deputy Superintendent.’
O’Donnell had always been a stickler for protocol, his off-duty hours being the only ones during which he would call Joe by his first name.
O’Donnell gestured for them to follow him up the stairs, all three keeping to the right as a barrage of fingerprint experts and various other crime scene specialists moved down beside them on their left.
‘The vic is a two-month-old baby girl, name of Eliza Walker,’ said O’Donnell as they reached the narrow landing. ‘Mom is Sienna Walker, twenty-nine, homemaker.’ ‘And the father?’ asked Frank.
‘Deceased – James Walker, thirty-two, died in a car accident just before the kid was born.’
Frank shook his head. ‘The Walkers are having a good year then,’ he said.
‘Looks like,’ replied O’Donnell, as Frank shook his head once again.
‘The husband’s accident on our watch?’ asked Joe, not meaning to dismiss the obvious depth of the Walkers’ tragedy but knowing it was his job to keep on top of all the details. Joe did not recall a fatal collision involving any James Walker, which was unusual given Homicide was usually called to all losses of life as a matter of protocol – even those deemed accidental.
‘No. Walker’s Beemer head-butted an eighteen wheeler on Highway 1, just north of Baltimore. The truck driver says Walker drifted over to his side of the road. Coroner found Walker must have fallen asleep at the wheel.’
Joe nodded,gesturing toward the bedroom door.‘That the kid’s room?’
‘Yep,’ replied O’Donnell, squeezing his back against the wall as a lighting technician moved past with another transportable.
‘Someone blew the wire for the electricity supply at the top back end of the house before they took the kid. We have an electrician working on it now.’
Joe’s dark brown eyes met O’Donnell’s. ‘This was an abduction?’ he asked, glancing left to Frank who also shrugged in confusion. ‘The brief from HQ suggested it was a homicide.’
‘It was both.’
‘You don’t have a body?’
O’Donnell shook his head.
‘So how do you know the kid was . . .?’
But O’Donnell gestured for Joe and Frank to follow him.
‘I feel bad,’ said O’Donnell to Joe, ‘dragging you away from the party you must have been enjoying to attend a call like this.’
And Joe had two mental responses to O’Donnell’s comment, the first one of self-admonishment given he knew he had no right to feel relieved by an alert from HQ no matter how many peacocks were rubbing him the wrong way at the fancy black tie event, and the second being that there was no need for O’Donnell’s apology given Joe, in his twenty-five years on the force, had effectively seen it all.
But then he and Frank rounded the doorway into the kid’s now well-lit bedroom, and Joe understood, that at least on the second count, he was wrong.
Excerpted from The 3rd Victim by Sydney Bauer. Copyright © 2011 by Sydney Bauer.
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