Authors: Jon Loomis
Rudy grinned, climbed out of the car, stretched, and stood looking out at the dark Atlantic. “I'm like the shadows of the fucking night,” he said. “Nutbar'd better be scared of
ere's what I can't figure out,” shouted Tony over the whoop of the cruiser's siren. “Why would anybody still eat margarine? I mean, they did that study a few years ago that shows how margarine's just as bad for you as butterâworse, maybeâbut people still buy it. What the fuck is up with that? I mean, what
margarine, anyway? It's just like this yellow
Coffin blew cigarette smoke out the window; he was smoking one of Tony's Marlboros. His car had refused to start, so Tony was driving him to the Moors construction site, where a woman's body had been found by the framing crew when they arrived for work. “Tony,” he said, “not now, okay?”
“Hey, sure. Whatever.”
Tony roared into the compacted sand parking lot, just ahead of the Rescue Squad. Something hung from the skeletal frame of the first, most complete building.
“Holy shit,” Tony said.
It was a woman, dressed in black. She hung, arms outstretched, beside the building's main doorway.
Lola and Skillings were already there, wrapping the whole construction site in yellow crime scene tape.
Coffin got out of the squad car. “Jesus,” he said. His jaw felt tight, as if his teeth had been wired shut. “She's been crucified.”
Blood had streamed down her arms, spurted from her feet, run down the side of her face. It was pooled beneath her and had started to dry. There were a great many flies. Something, Coffin realized, had been stuffed into her mouth.
“Who is she?” Tony said, thumbs hooked into his belt.
“Serena Hench,” Lola said. “We found her ID in the car.” The black Porsche sat like a gleaming insect in the parking lot.
“Jesus Christ,” Coffin said. “I just had drinks with her.”
“How do we get her down from there?” Tony said. “With a crowbar?”
The construction crew had all gathered around the two police cruisers in a loose semicircle. One of them spoke up. “I'd break out the Sawzall,” he said. “Cut right through them studs.” The rest of the crew nodded.
“You guys got a ladder?” Coffin said.
One of them, a skinny blond Coffin thought he recognized, trotted off to his pickup and brought back a short aluminum ladder. Coffin carried it up the rough-framed steps to the building's front deck. Bloody footprints were everywhereâbut they stopped next to the stairs, where a pair of rubber Wellington boots stood discarded. A nail gun lay just inside the door, still attached to its long rubber air hose.
Coffin set up the ladder next to the suspended corpse and climbed to the third rung. His stomach lurched and his vision dimmed, and he thought for a moment that he might vomit or faint, or both. Four big sixteen-penny framing nails had been punched through each of Serena Hench's wrists, into the two-by-four studding of the building. Her knees were bent slightly, and
two nails pierced each of her feet. The hair on the side of her head was matted with blood. A nailhead glinted in the sun where it protruded from Serena Hench's left temple. A big piece of crumpled paper was crammed into her wide-stretched mouth.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. His vision narrowed, then blurred, and something in the back of his head began to buzz. It was familiar yet terrifying, like a recurring nightmare of drowning or being buried alive. His chest felt tight; he was short of breath. He thought he might be having a heart attack. He climbed down the ladder awkwardlyâhis legs were rubbery, and both of his hands tingled. He stumbled across the deck and down the stairs.
“Frank?” Lola said. “Are you okay?”
Coffin stared at her for a moment. Her face was weirdly distortedâall eyes and nose. “No,” he said. Then the ground hinged slowly up and hit him hard in the face.
Somebody was shaking him. Coffin opened his eyes and scowled, hoping it would make whoever it was stop. A small crowd of people had gathered. A big hand swam into view and tried to press an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. The hand belonged to Ed Voorhees, one of the volunteer EMTs. Coffin pushed it away.
“C'mon, Frank,” Voorhees said. “Just a little oxygen. Make ya feel better.”
“Get away from me, Ed,” Coffin said.
Lola was kneeling, peering down at him. She looked worried. “Frankâyou all right?”
Coffin sat up. “Well, I'm not dead. I guess that's a good sign.”
“You look like crap, Frankie.” It was Tony. He bent down and
squeezed Coffin's shoulder. “You should let the rescue boys check you out. Make sure you're not having a stroke or something.”
Coffin shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I'm okay. Just get out of my face.”
A sleek black Lexus pulled into the parking lot. Mancini got out, along with Pilchard, the big detective in the brown suit. Mancini's jeans were beautifully pressed. He wore artfully weathered loafers and a crisp green polo shirt with a little horse embroidered above the left breast.
“Detective Coffin,” he said. “You
look pale. Everything all right?”
“Never better,” Coffin said, struggling to his feet. “But I'm a little worried about Ms. Hench.” He nodded in Serena's direction.
“Hench?” Pilchard said, opening his notebook. “How d'ya spell that?”
“Never mind,” Mancini said. “We'll take it from here, Detective Coffin. You really don't look well. Maybe you should go lie down.”
Lola tugged at Coffin's elbow. “C'mon, Frank. Let's get out of here.”
“So what happened out there, Frank?” Lola said, swirling a double shot of scotch in her glass, watching the ice cubes whirl slowly around in the amber fluid.
“It's why I quit being a cop in Baltimore.”
They were sitting in Coffin's living room. The stuffed goat's head leered at Coffin. As usual, it seemed about to speak.
“What is it,” Lola said, “vertigo or something?”
“Panic attacks. I feel like I'm going to have a coronary or a brain embolism or something, and if it's really bad I pass out. It seems to be triggered by dead people.”
“Bummer,” Lola said. “And there's nothing you can do to fix it? No drugs?”
“I tried Xanax for a while. The problem with Xanax is, you're so freaking calm you don't give a rat's ass about anything. Your house could collapse with you in it, and you wouldn't care. It's kind of creepy after a while. Stepford Frank.”
“That it? Just Xanax?”
“I tried Paxil, too. It made me sleepy, itchy, and impotent.”
“That's not good.”
Coffin finished his scotch and refilled his glass. “No,” he said. “Not good at all. The best solution seems to be to avoid the company of dead people. It was working fine till two weeks ago.”
“Rough little life you've been having, all of a sudden.”
“The truck thing. Yeah, that kind of sucked.”
“A couple of scrapes. Scared the hell out of me. Otherwise fine.”
“Any idea who tried to flatten you?”
“Nope. The BMV's working up a list of blue Chevy pickups for me. Maybe we'll get lucky.”
“Tony drives a blue pickup.”
“So does Kotowski.”
Lola's eyebrows went up. “Kotowski does seem kind ofâunstable.”
“Absolutely. Crazy as a bedbug. Which is to say, no crazier than anybody else that's lived here for thirty years.”
“Know what I'd do if I was you?” Lola said, propping her feet on the coffee table.
Her eyes were a bit glassy, Coffin thought. She was getting drunk. Maybe the stress was getting to her a little, too.
“What's that?” Coffin lit a cigarette and offered one to Lola. She waved it away.
“I'd quit my crappy job and make babies with Jamie.”
“Yeah. I mean, I don't know her very well, but she seems smart.”
“She is. Extremely.”
“And she's very attractive.”
“And she obviously thinks the world of you, Frank. So I don't understand what the problem is.”
“I'm not sure there's a
” Coffin said. “I'm just not a hundred percent ready, and it would be dishonest to go forward if I wasn't.”
“Because of your history, you mean? Your divorce and everything?”
“It's not that so much. Just the idea of having kids. It's terrifying. What if they hate you? What if you're a lousy parent? What if something happens to them? Wouldn't that scare
“No. Not with the right person.”
“I'm too old to have kids now. By the time they're in high school, I'll be sixty. Sixty! That's if Jamie gets pregnant
“So? Older guys make great dads. They're more patient, not so self-absorbed.”
self-absorbed. You wouldn't believe it.”
“Know what I think?”
“Here we go.”
“I think you're a great big chicken. If you don't do this, you'll kick yourself for the rest of your life.”
Coffin took a deep drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke out through his nose. “Can we talk about
personal life now?”
Lola laughed. “Four.”
Coffin frowned. “Four?”
“The hostess at Al Dante'sâMorgan? That's how many other places she was pierced.”
” Coffin pondered for a moment. “I'm stuck at three.”
Coffin let out a low whistle. “How'd I miss that?”
“Sometimes you've got to do a little old-fashioned, down and dirty detective work.”
Lola shrugged. “I don't know. We had fun, I guess.”
The girl is twenty-one, gorgeous, multiply piercedâand you
you had fun?”
“Twenty-three,” Lola said. “We just didn't have that much in common. She's
. Her parents live on Park Avenue. She writes experimental poetry.”
“Good God. I see what you mean. What you need is a
one. Girl-next-door type.”
“I think I scare the nice ones,” Lola said. “All they see is Super Butch, the lesbo-cop. So I get the not-so-nice ones. The needy neurotics and the
oh my, are you going to arrest me
“Sounds a little fishy, if you ask me,” Coffin said.
“I'm not sure I
ask you,” Lola said.
“I'm just saying, maybe it's a two-way street. Maybe part of you likes the not-so-nice ones.”
“Past tense, maybe. When they're all twisted up and ironic, it just feels like too much work for what you get back.”
“Jamie's ironic. But not twisted up.”
“The not wanting to marry you thing is kind of inside out.”
“I don't know,” Coffin said, dropping his cigarette into the quarter inch of scotch in the bottom of his glass. It sizzled and went out. “I'm neurotic and cranky and I drink too much. I've got hair growing out of my ears, for God's sake. I don't think I'd want to marry me, either.”
erena Hench's house was a newly built, six-bedroom, octagonal trophy model that dominated the bluff overlooking the breakwater and Long Point. Inside, Coffin found himself thinking like a real estate ad:
The cathedral-like spaces of the living area afford panoramic water views.
In fact, the banks of floor-to-ceiling windows afforded an almost 360-degree view of the outer Cape: Long Point, the harbor, North Truro and Corn Hillâwhere Edward Hopper's house still stood above the long sweep of beach curving off toward WellfleetâProvincetown's tight grid of cedar-shake saltboxes, the phallic jut of the Pilgrim Monument. The enormous living room was done in blond leather sofas, track lighting, and a self-consciously eclectic mix of antiques and art: a few ebony African masks, a couple of small Motherwell prints, and several dune-and-sunset paintings of the sort that would have sent Kotowski off on a twenty-minute rant about money not equaling taste.
Serena Hench's personal assistant was a blonde in her early twenties named Devon. She looked exhaustedâher hair hung
limp, there were dark half circles below her eyes. Still, she was pretty in the slightly equine way of moneyed New England girls.
“Serena was not an easy person,” Devon said. “She was very
in a way that women aren't supposed to be, and I think sometimes people resented her for it. But I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to
herâit's just so crazy.”
Her accent was subtle, something she'd worked to get rid of, but still there if you knew what it wasâthat slight swallowing of the vowel-following
: South Shore working class, belying the long-limbed tweed-and field-hockey appearance of patrician breeding.
Fall River, maybe.
“Why did Serena go to the Moors last night?”
“I don't know. Sometimes she visited her construction sites, just to make sure things were moving along.”
“Was she here last night?”
“No. She was out with a client.”
Coffin took out his notebook. “Got a name?”
“Henderson, I think. Brian Henderson.”
“I'd like to see her appointment books, e-mail, phone logsâ” Coffin said.