Read High Crimes Online

Authors: Joseph Finder

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller

High Crimes (4 page)

BOOK: High Crimes
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CHAPTER FIVE

She woke
up, reached for Tom, and remembered.

A bit hungover from the booze, she made breakfast for Annie and herself, a four-egg omelet, nothing else in it or on it, but it came out okay, which was nearly a miracle. Tom was the family’s master chef, and eggs were pretty much the outer limit of her culinary ability. She flipped it onto Annie’s favorite plate, then cut it neatly in two, taking half for herself.

“I don’t want it,” Annie said when Claire set it in front of her. She was still in her pajamas, having refused to get dressed. “I don’t like eggs like this.”

“It’s an omelet, honey,” Claire said.

“I don’t care. I don’t like it. I like it the way Daddy makes it.”

Claire inhaled slowly. “Try it, honey.”

“I don’t want to try it. I don’t want it.”

“We’re going to share it, you and me.” Claire pointed to the omelet half on her own plate. “You see?”

“I hate it. I want it like Daddy makes it.”

Claire sat down in the chair next to Annie’s, stroked her incredibly soft cheek. Annie turned her head away sharply. “Babe, we don’t have any more eggs left, so I can’t make you scrambled eggs like Daddy does.”

“I want Daddy to make it.”

“Oh, sweetie, I told you, Daddy had to go away on business for a while.”

Annie’s face sagged. “What’s ‘a while’?”

“A couple of days, babe. Maybe longer. But it’s very, very important business, and Daddy wouldn’t leave you unless it was
very
important. You know that.”

“But why did he run away from me?”

So that was it. “He didn’t run away from
you
, sweetheart. He … well, he had to get away from some bad men.”

“Who?”

A good question. “I don’t know.”

“Why?”

“Why what? Why did he have to get away?”

Annie nodded, watching intently, hanging on her words.

“I don’t know yet.”

“Is he coming back?”

“Of course he is. In just a couple of days.”

“I want him to come back today.”

“So do I, baby. So do I. But he can’t, because he has some very important business meetings.”

Annie’s face was blank. For a moment it appeared as if the storm had passed, as if her concerns had been allayed.

But suddenly Annie thrust out both hands and shoved her plate off the table, onto the tiled floor. The plate shattered with a loud crash, sending shards everywhere. The yellow half-moon of omelet quivered on the floor, festooned with jagged slashes of crockery.


Annie!
” Claire gasped.

Annie stared back with defiance and triumph.

Claire sank slowly to the floor, burying her face in her hands. She could not move. She could no longer cope.

Her eyes pooling with tears, Claire looked up at her daughter. Annie stared in shocked silence.

In a small voice, Annie said, “Mommy?”

“It’s all right, baby.”

“Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s not that, baby—”

The front door opened. A jingling of keys, then a cough announced Rosa’s arrival.

“Is that Daddy?”

“It’s Rosa. I told you, your daddy’s going to be away for a while.”

“Mrs. Chapman!” exclaimed Rosa, rushing over to Claire and helping her slowly to her feet. “Are you a’right?”

“I’m okay, Rosa, thanks. I’m fine.”

Rosa gave a quick, worried glance at Claire, then kissed Annie on the cheek, which she sat still for. “
Querida.

Claire brushed back her hair, nervously adjusted her blouse. Knew she was a mess. “Rosa,” she said, “I’ve got to be at work. Can you make her breakfast and walk her to school?”

“Of course, Mrs. Chapman. You want French toast,
querida
?”

“Yes,” Annie said sullenly. She slid her eyes furtively toward her mother, then back to Rosa.

“We’re out of eggs, Rosa. I just used the last this morning. On that.” Claire gestured vaguely toward the mess on the floor.

“Then I want toaster waffles,” Annie said.

Rosa knelt on the floor, gingerly picking up shards of china and putting them into a paper Bread & Circus grocery bag. “Okay,” Rosa said. “We have waffles.”

“Give me a kiss, baby,” Claire said, leaning over to kiss Annie.

Annie sat still, then kissed her mother back.

On the way out of the house, Claire picked up the kitchen phone and listened for the broken dial tone that might indicate a new voice-mail message.

There was none.

CHAPTER SIX


It’s bad,
” moaned Connie Gamache, her longtime secretary. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing in two days. The voice-mail thingo is full, can’t take any more messages. People are getting
mean
. There’s a lady and several
gentlemen
here to see you.” She lowered her voice. “I use the term loosely.”

“Morning, Connie,” Claire said, turning to look. The waiting area, two hard couches and a couple of side chairs, normally empty, or maybe occupied by a lone student or two, bustled with reporters. Two of them she recognized: the
New York Times
Boston bureau chief, and a TV reporter from Channel 4 News that she liked. Claire raised her chin in a silent greeting to the two of them. The last thing she wanted was to talk about the Lambert case to a bunch of indignant journalists.


I
need to hire an assistant,” Connie went on without pause. “All of a sudden you’re Miss Popular.”

“I’ve got a faculty meeting in half an hour or so,” Claire said, unlocking her office door—C
LAIRE
M. H
ELLER
engraved on a brass plaque, her professional name—and removing her coat at the same time.

Connie followed her into her office, switched on the overhead light. She was broad-shouldered, large-bottomed, white-haired; decades ago, she’d been beautiful. She looked much older than her fifty years. “You’ve got a lot of reporters who want interviews,” she warned. “Want me to send them all away, or what?”

Claire began unpacking her briefcase into neat piles on the long cherrywood desk. She exhaled a long sigh of frustration. “Ask what’s-her-name from Channel Four—Novak, Nowicki, whatever it is—how long she needs. Ask the
Times
guy if he can come back later on, maybe this afternoon.”

Connie shook her head in grave disapproval. She was good at handling the media but considered them all leeches to be plucked off the instant they’d affixed themselves. Claire was grateful, actually, for her secretary’s concern, since she was usually right—reporters tended to sensationalize, exaggerate, and fuck you over if they possibly could. And usually they got their stories wrong. In a minute Connie returned. “Now I’ve got them mad. Carol Novak says she just needs five or ten minutes.”

“Okay,” Claire said. Carol Novak, that was her name, had been good to her—smart, reasonably accurate, with less of the animus toward Harvard than the other local reporters tended to exhibit. “Give me a couple of minutes to check my e-mail, then send Carol Novak in.”

*   *   *

Carol Novak of Channel 4 entered with a cameraman who quickly set up lights, rearranged a desk lamp, moved a couple of chairs, and positioned himself facing Claire’s desk. Meanwhile, the reporter, a small, pert redhead—very pretty, but overly made up, as TV reporters tend to be on the job—made small talk. Her lips were lined perfectly, Claire noticed, and her eyebrows were plucked into perfect slim arches. She asked about Annie; both of them had six-year-olds. She gossiped a bit about another, far more famous member of the Law School faculty. They shared a joke. Carol dispensed some praise and put her hand on Claire’s, woman friend to woman friend. She didn’t seem to know anything about the incident at the mall. The cameraman asked if Claire could move her chair away from the window and against the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Then, when the cameraman was ready, Carol sat at a chair next to Claire’s, in the same frame, and hunched forward with an expression of deep concern.

“You’ve been criticized a lot recently for taking on the Gary Lambert case,” the reporter said. Her voice had suddenly become deeper yet breathy, ripe with solicitude.

“For winning it, you mean,” Claire said.

Carol Novak smiled, a killer’s smile. “Well, for allowing a convicted rapist to go free on a technicality.”

Claire matched smile for smile. “I don’t think the Fourth Amendment is a ‘technicality.’ The fact is, his civil liberties were violated in the search of his apartment. My job was to defend his rights.”

“Even if it meant a
convicted rapist
is free to rape again?”

Claire shook her head. “Lambert was convicted, but the trial was flawed. Our successful appeal proved that.”

“Are you saying he
didn’t
do it?”

“I’m saying the process was flawed. If we allow flawed trials to take place, then we’re all at risk.” How often she’d said this; did she always sound as hollow, as unpersuasive as she felt right now?

Carol Novak sat back in her chair. She stared into Claire’s eyes with a fierceness that was startling. “As a woman, how do you feel about getting a rapist off?”

Claire responded quickly, unwilling to allow a pause that might be mistaken for misgivings. “As I said, that isn’t the issue—”

“Claire,” Carol Novak said with the deeply felt sorrow, the stricken intensity, the appalled concern of a daytime talk-show host interviewing a trailer-park denizen who was sleeping with the child he’d fathered by his own daughter, “do you ever feel, sometimes—
right here
”—she tapped her chest—“that what you’re doing is wrong?”

“If I ever felt that,” Claire said with great certainty and a dramatic pause, “I wouldn’t do it,” and she gave a smile that said,
We’re all done now
, a smile with which, she knew, Channel 4 would end the interview.

*   *   *

Ray Devereaux stood in her office doorway. The private investigator was almost as big as the door, a good three hundred and fifty pounds, but he didn’t appear fat. He was, instead, massive. His head seemed small, out of proportion to the immense trunk below, although that may have been an optical illusion, given his height.

Devereaux had a gift for the dramatic gesture. He didn’t enter a room, he made an entrance. Now he had positioned himself at the threshold, arms folded atop his girth, and waited for her cue.

“Thanks for coming, Ray,” Claire said.

“You’re welcome,” he said grimly, as if he had performed for her a great Herculean feat. “Where the hell do you park around here?”

“I park in the faculty garage. But there should have been plenty of spaces on Mass. Ave.”

He scowled. “I had to park at a hydrant. Left my blank ticket book on the dash.” He hadn’t been on the police force for some twelve years already, but he still used all the tricks and appurtenances, the perks of being on the job. His blank book of parking tickets was no doubt more than a decade old by now, but the meter maids would still observe the shibboleth and spare him a fifty-dollar ticket. “Congratulations, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, what the hell you think? For Lambert.”

“Thanks.”

“You realize you’re total an-thee-ma to your fellow women now.” He meant “anathema.” “They’re never going to let you into NOW.”

“I never thought much about joining. Come in, make yourself at home. Have a seat.”

He entered her office tentatively, ill-at-ease. Devereaux never liked meeting with her at her office, her turf. He preferred to meet at his lair, a fake-wood-paneled office suite in South Boston adorned with framed diplomas and certificates, where he was czar. He stopped before one of the visitor chairs and glowered down at it, as if unsure what it was. The chair suddenly looked dainty next to him. He pointed straight down at it and grinned. When he smiled, he was a ten-year-old boy, not a forty-seven-year-old private investigator.

“You got something I won’t break?”

“Take mine.” Claire got up from her high-backed leather desk chair and switched places with Devereaux. He took her seat without objection, now comfortably enthroned behind her desk. A fillip of authority symbolism, she figured, would put him at ease.

“So, you rang,” Devereaux said. He leaned way back in her chair and folded his arms across his belly. The chair creaked ominously.

“I called you, but I didn’t leave a message,” she said, confused.

“Caller ID. Recognized your number on the box. So what’s this about, Lambert again? I thought you were done with that sleazeball.”

“It’s something else, Ray. I need your help.” She told him about last night: the mall, the agents pursuing Tom, his disappearance, the search of their house.

Slowly Ray leaned forward until both of his feet were on the ground. “You’re shittin’ me,” he said.

She shook her head.

He pursed his lips, jutted them out like a blowfish. He closed his eyes. A long, dramatic pause. He was said to be excellent at interrogations. “I know a guy,” he said at last. “Knew him from my FBI days. Probably looking to get out. Maybe I’ll offer him a job with me.”

“You’re going to hire someone?”

“I said
offer
.”

“Well, be discreet. Fly below the radar, you know? Don’t let them know why you’re interested.”

Devereaux scowled. “Now you’re going to tell me how to do my job? I don’t tell you about torts—or whatever the hell it is you teach.”

“Point taken. Sorry. But could this whole thing be a mistake, a misunderstanding?”

Devereaux stared at the ceiling for a long moment, for maximum dramatic effect. “It’s unlikely,” he said. “Count on the fact they’ve got your phones bugged. And a trap-and-trace on Tom’s office, your home—”

“My office here, too?”

“Why not, sure.”

“I want you to sweep my phones.”

Devereaux gave a sardonic smile. “‘Sweep’ your phones? If they’re doing this outta the central office, which I’m sure they are, I’m not going to find anything. I’ll sweep if you want, but don’t expect anything. Anyway, even if I did find something, I can’t remove it if it’s legal.”

“Does that mean, if he calls me to check in, they can trace the call and find out where he is?”

“I’m sure that’s what they want. But it’s gotten a lot harder these days. You just buy one of those prepaid phone cards, and in effect the service is making the call for you, so it’s impossible to trace.”

“He left me a voice-mail message.”

“Where? Here or at home?”

“Home.”

“They can access that, no problem. Don’t need any secret code. If they’ve got a warrant, NYNEX is going to let them listen to any voice-mail messages left there.”

“So they heard the message Tom left?”

“Count on it. But he probably counted on that, too.”

“And they’re probably going to get all phone records, at home and at Tom’s office, right? So they can see who he might have tried to reach.”

“You got it.”

“But only long-distance, right?”

“Wrong. The phone company keeps a log of every single local phone call that’s made—phone number dialed, duration of call, all that. That’s how they do billing for people who don’t have unlimited calling plans.” Claire nodded. “But they don’t preserve the records beyond one billing cycle, which means roughly a month.”

“So is there any way Tom can contact me without them knowing?”

Devereaux was silent for a moment. He cupped a hand over his mouth. “Probably.”

“How?”

“I’d have to think on that. ’Course, Tom’s probably already thought about that. Also, we have to assume that they’ve bugged this office, too.”

“You gotta find out what’s going on, Ray.”

“I’ll see what I can dig up.” He grasped the arms of the chair and fixed her with a stagy glare. “Will that be all, Professor?”

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