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Authors: Stephen White

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Clinical Psychology

By appointment only

 

I handed one to Sam, too. “Compare them,” I said. “The one you found near your vic’s body is my old card. From before I turned my practice into a professional corporation, a P.C. The one you have says Alan Gregory, Ph.D. Back then I was a sole proprietor. Now my practice is a professional corporation.”

He said, “Way too much information, Alan.”

The clerk said, “You’re a Ph.D.? Not an M.D.,” completely missing my point.

Sam smiled at his shoes. He pulled reading glasses from his breast pocket and stuffed them onto his face. The lenses were so filthy I had to fight an impulse to clean them. “How old is the old card?” he asked.

“Three and a half years. Four,” I said.

“Ah shit, that’s ancient.”

4

D
o I need to gown?” I asked Imogen.

Imogen said, “Yes, and gloves. The M.D.s all know that.”

Sam leaned in and whispered, “The one who was on before her said we didn’t.”

I took a thin gown from a tall pile and pulled it over my shoulders. I raised a mask by one of its straps and dangled it toward Imogen. I knew she had an eye on me.

Her peripheral vision was impressive. She said, “Nope. We got laminar flow.”

Sam whispered, “Whatever that is.” He pulled out his phone and started a Google search for “laminar flow.” The reflexive Web searching was a new compulsion.

Sam gowned and gloved, too. The grand pastiche—the big pale-yellow sheet of fabric, the odd-toned turquoise gloves, and Sam’s huge, slightly pink, fleshy head—left him looking like an artist’s impression of a diseased manatee.

We crossed the small vestibule and entered the room. The left side of the man’s face was uninjured. After checking to be certain Imogen wasn’t watching, Sam pulled the sheet down to the guy’s waist. John Doe’s abdomen was swollen, bruised, and bandaged. His right shoulder and arm were covered with padding and immobilized by a sling, but the left arm was free. He wore a ring on the swollen pinkie of his left hand.

I didn’t recognize the signet—nor did I see anything familiar about the left side of the man’s face or the unbandaged parts of his torso. Sam lifted the man’s left arm, exposing the tattoo, raising his eyebrows inquisitively. Sam had the kind of eyebrows that tested the nesting instincts of small birds.

“Sorry, Sam. I’m drawing a blank. Maybe a letter of some kind.”

“What language?”

“Hebrew maybe. Cyrillic?”

“You just acting smart?”

“Yeah. I’m guessing.”

“Figured. Give me your guess on age.”

“Without the edema . . . I would say early thirties. Maybe late twenties.”

Sam was holding his turquoise-gloved hands in front of him palms up, cupped one into the other, like a preacher who was standing outside his church greeting worshippers as they exited services during flu season.

“We done here?” I said. “Not that I’m not enjoying myself, but I could use some sleep.”

He shushed me. I sighed.

Imogen stepped away in the direction of the waiting room.

Sam popped his head out the door to talk to the uniformed officer. He raised his phone. “I’m not getting a signal. Will you step down the hall and call Detective Davenport and let her know that the ID we were waiting on was negative? Thanks. She’s waiting to hear.” The officer pulled a phone from her belt as she, too, stepped away.

Sam stuffed a loose pillow from the bed over the microphone of the nurse-call contraption on the bedrail. He taped a doubled-over washcloth onto the microphone on the communications panel behind the bed. He looked in all directions for stray ears. He said, “Need to ask you something . . . off topic.”

His voice had turned from businesslike to somber. I said, “Sure.”

“Did Lauren say anything to you?”

“She’s not catching tonight, Sam. I doubt she even knows about this guy.”

Lauren was my deputy DA wife, which made her a County of Boulder prosecutor. Sam was my City of Boulder detective friend. Their paths and their jurisdictions crossed regularly, but neither their jurisdictions nor their interests exactly coincided.

I was mostly what they had in common.

Sam dropped the volume. “I’m not talking about Sleepy Doe here, I’m talking about . . . developments with our old friend Fred.”

Sleepy Doe?
Cops are nickname masters. The monikers often have the perfect touch of irreverence. “Fred?” I said.

“Come on. A little concentration, please. I’m talking about
Frederick
?”

Oh God.
I gagged as though I’d just discovered a hair ball.

The isolation room in the ICU disappeared from my awareness and I found myself standing inside the lattice of an old aluminum phone booth that was missing not only its entire accordion door but also every pane of its glass.

The anachronistic booth was adjacent to an equally decrepit abandoned filling station on a rarely traveled road on a hillside outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico, not far from the home of a woman who bred adorable Havanese puppies.

Sam was on the other end of the call delivering, most reluctantly, a detail-deprived story about what he had just done inside a rented house outside the once-small Weld County town of Frederick, Colorado. His telling of the tale was obtuse enough that I’d had difficulty making sense of the narrative. That I didn’t get all the progressions didn’t faze Sam. His sole goal was that his audience—that was me, though he made it clear he would have preferred no audience at all—knew how the story ended.

On the walk back to the breeder’s home, I constructed a few alternative scenarios about how Sam had ultimately coerced a woman named Justine Winter Brown—he knew her as Currie, and he knew her biblically—from point
a,
living, to point
b,
dead, and how he had managed to leave the body and the scene so that it would appear to any future law enforcement investigator that the death was the result of Currie’s suicide.

• • •

Sam repeated his earlier question. “Has Lauren said anything?”

I had to be sure. I said, “You’re talking about—”

“Yeah,” he said. He didn’t want me to finish my sentence.

Some weeks after Jonas and I returned from New Mexico with his new Havanese puppy—Callie then, Fiji later—Sam had dropped by the house with a public-record copy of Justine Brown’s postmortem. The document included the Weld County medical examiner’s conclusion about the cause and manner of her death. The manner was suicide. When I was done reading, Sam took the paper from my hands, shredded it into pieces, doused the scraps with lighter fluid in my grill, and set the scraps ablaze.

I tried to swallow down the acid in my throat, but I was parched from the imaginary hair ball. Sam and I hadn’t talked about Frederick in years.
Have we ever talked about Frederick?
In the way that we talk about the Avs’ defensive woes or the Nuggets’ chronic problem with bigs? We had not. The sedate burg of Frederick, on a forlorn patch of dirt on the edge of the Great Plains, didn’t invade too many of my day-to-day conversations.

I stammered. “No, Sam, she hasn’t said—What would she—I mean . . .”

“What about you? You’ve never? Not once?” he asked. “I have to ask, Alan. To anyone? Not to your therapist? Or your priest?”

“Not once. I have never said a word.”

“Lauren doesn’t know?”

“Not from me.” I wanted to tell Sam that it still broke my heart that I hadn’t told her.

Sam joined me on the left side of the bed. He faced the nursing station with his hands still cupped in the I-may-be-a-man-of- the-cloth-but-I-want-nothing-to-do-with-your-germs pose. He was eager to know the moment either the uniform or Imogen returned.

Sam lowered his voice even further. “There’s talk of reopening things.”

Shit.
“Why?”

He turned his head. Our eyes met. “New evidence of some kind. I’m thinking I shouldn’t have used Tyvek.”

“What?”

“I can’t be spotted poking around out there. All I know is that something’s up and there’s a Boulder connection. Your wife is the deputy DA whose name is attached.”

“She hasn’t given me the slightest hint about it. What kind of activity?”

“Frederick is Weld County. That means I’m in the dark. The death took place just outside the city limits, so this could be in the hands of either a sheriff’s investigator or an investigator from the DA. Weld DA is chronically short-staffed—they’ve been shanghaiing Greeley detectives for help with cases. I know a couple of those guys. If they’re on this, I might be able to learn more. But now? I don’t have shit. Thus, this conversation.”

“I thought this was over. It’s been years. Since . . . Adrienne died.”

My dear friend and neighbor Adrienne had died in a terrorist explosion in Israel just before Currie’s death in Frederick. The events were in lockstep in my memory.

Sam added to the night’s heap of sighs. “Want to know the second rule of homicide?”

I said, “Sure.” For the longest time Sam had referred to his peculiar tenets as “first rules.” Since his return from a trip to Florida to attend his ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s engagement party—a relationship obli-cation that had unsettled him in profound ways I did not comprehend—I had noticed changes: The sheer number of precepts was exploding. And they had lost their primacy. They had become second rules. Not first.

Many were cop rules. Most of the rest were about sports, with a strong bias toward hockey. Some of the most memorable had to do with parenting, or women. The final few, save a stray or two, involved fishing in lakes, frozen and not.

I was also confident that, as often as not, he made the rules up on the spot.

Sam said, “The second rule of homicide is the body never stays buried.”

“Last time you mentioned that one, it was a first rule,” I said.

“I was cocky for a while,” he said. “I had an experience that humbled me.”

“The trip to Florida, right? That woman I met on the Mall? She’s why you got humble?”

He shook his head. “Off-limits. I no longer assume that I know all the rules. I’m leaving room for important shit I might not know.”

I wanted to know what had humbled him. My money remained on Florida and the woman who had surprised him in Boulder after his return. Her name was Deirdre. I gave some thought to whether or not Sam was in an introspective mood. I decided he was not.

“Anyway, I share the second rule of homicide with perps to try to help them deal with how discombobulated they are to be wearing my handcuffs while listening to my Grammy-winning rendition of Miranda. I tell them that the body never stays buried.”

“The body in question that didn’t stay buried? Currie’s?”

“I’m talking metaphorical bodies right now.”

I considered taking another shot, but my self-protective instincts were kicking in.

Sam said, “Did his eyes move? Do people in comas have REM sleep?”

The man’s eyes looked still. “I don’t think anyone’s home, Sam.”

He winced. “I thought using the Tyvek was genius. That night? I was worried about getting caught
that night
. The Tyvek was to keep my DNA out of that cottage and to keep her trace evidence off of me. Nothing works better for that than Tyvek. I didn’t think enough about the long-term consequences. That the stuff never dies.”

“Tyvek is the white stuff they use to make those indestructible envelopes?”

“Yeah. And to weatherseal the outside of new buildings. Can’t tear it, can’t burn it. Repels water, mold. Probably stops nuclear attack and locusts. When interplanetary archaeologists find the residue of this planet, they’ll find all this shit we called Tyvek. It’ll be a big deal a thousand years from now. Trust me.”

I could foresee a second rule of interplanetary archaeology, but I kept it to myself.

“I borrowed the Tyvek jumpsuit I wore from a stash at a chaotic crime scene a long time ago. It was a someday-maybe thing. Even had a hood. Now? I’m sure it’s the only possible evidence that could have survived this long.”

“You think Weld County has it?”

“I’m thinking I’m not as smart as I thought.”

“Are you going back for it?”

He didn’t answer. “You’re sure Lauren hasn’t said anything? Not even a hint?”

“No. Lauren’s in a good place. Her health has been stable. She’s making plans for her daughter—Sofie, the one in Holland I’ve never met—to make an extended visit to Boulder. She’s excited about maybe moving to town. I swear she drives by the
Camera
building every day either before work or after. She’s been optimistic. A good change.”

Sam changed the subject. “I don’t know shit about real estate, Alan. But that big redevelopment? In this economy? Don’t hold your breath. You guys are not moving to town for a long, long time. Maybe not ever, to that project.”

I knew there was truth to what Sam was saying. Though I didn’t want to admit it, the redevelopment of the prime land in downtown Boulder was a speculative play. Lauren, unfortunately, had grown completely cathected to the idea of living at Eleventh and Pearl. I did not want to be the one holding the pin when her balloon burst.

Sam said, “The good Lord knows I shouldn’t be giving financial advice.”

The good Lord did know that. Given that He probably didn’t share Sam’s recent humility epiphany, the good Lord might even consider it a first rule. Excluding the Commandments’ prohibition about worshipping false idols, of course, the Lord had shown little use for second rules. I said, “But?”

“Unless you guys have a pot of gold you’ve never told me about, you’ll be in way over your heads in that building. When it gets built. If it gets built.”

“We’re counting on Spanish Hills selling for a good profit.”

“If Spanish Hills goes up in value, the place downtown does, too. You make more in one, you’ll spend more in the other.”

“You’ve given this a lot of thought, Sam.”

“Not this. Chasing. I’ve given chasing a lot of thought. It’s part of my humility thing. You’re chasing, Alan. You’re swinging at breaking balls out of the strike zone.”

I made a noise that I intended to be an acknowledgment.

Sam wasn’t done. “Your friend Raoul? It’s his project, right?” I nodded. “Raoul’s a golden boy. The goldenest boy in town. He’s pretty, smart, charming, rich, successful. He’s all tens. If I could think of more adjectives, he’d probably end up a ten-by-ten. That building where you want to live is being built for people like him and his ten-tens friends. And for a few suckers who think they’re all tens, too, but aren’t.

“Don’t be one of them.”

BOOK: Line of Fire
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