Authors: Robert B. Parker
“Oh boy,” I said.
“You’ve had some college,” Tripp said. He was maybe fifty, a tall angular man with a red face. He held a typewritten sheet of paper in his hand, reading it through half glasses.
“No harm to it,” I said. “I thought I was going to do something else.”
“I went to Harvard. You played football in college.”
I nodded. He didn’t care if I nodded or not. But I liked to.
“You were a prizefighter.”
“You fought in Korea. Were you an officer?”
“Too bad. After that you were a policeman.” Nod.
“This presents a small problem; you were dismissed. Could you comment, please, on that.”
“I am trustworthy, loyal, and helpful. But I struggle with obedient.”
Tripp smiled faintly, “I’m not looking for a boy scout,” he said.
“Next best thing,” I said.
“Well,” Tripp said, “Lieutenant Quirk said you could be annoying, but you were not undependable.”
“He’s always admired me,” I said.
“Obviously you are independent,” Tripp said. “I understand that. I’ve had my moments. `He who would be a man must be a nonconformist.”‘
I nodded encouragingly.
“Do you know who said that?” Tripp asked. I nodded again.
Tripp waited a moment. Finally he said, “Well, who?”
“Very good,” Tripp said.
“Will this be on the final?” I said.
Tripp leaned his head toward me in a gesture of apology.
“Sorry, I guess that seemed pretentious. It’s just that I am trying to get a sense of you.”
“They had no way of judging a man,” I said, “except as he handled an axe.”
Tripp frowned for a moment. And twitched his shoulders as if to get rid of a horsefly. “So,” he paused. “I guess you’ll do.”
I tried to look pleased.
He stared past me out the window for a moment, and took in a slow breath and let it out.
“Are you familiar,” he said, “with Olivia Nelson?”
“The woman who was murdered a couple of months back,” I said. “Right in Louisburg Square.”
“She used her birth name,” he said. “She was my wife.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
We were quiet for a moment while we considered the sullen fact.
“The police have exhausted all of their options,” Tripp said. “They have concluded it was probably an act of random violence, and the killer, having left no clues, will very likely not be caught until, or if, he strikes again.”
“You disagree?” I said.
“I want him hunted down,” Tripp said stiffly, “and punished.”
“And you want me to do that?”
“Yes… Lieutenant Quirk suggested you, when I expressed concern about the official lack of progress.”
“So you and I are clear,” I said, “I will hunt him down for you. But punishment is not what I do.”
“I believe in the system,” Tripp said. “If you can find him, I am sure the courts will punish him.”
I said, “Un huh.”
“You are skeptical of the courts?” Tripp said.
“I’m skeptical of most things,” I said. “Is there anyone assigned to the case, now?”
“Yes, a young detective.”
“What’s his name?”
“Farrell. Detective Farrell. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with him.”
“Well, he’s young. I was hoping for a more senior man.”
I nodded. There was more, I could tell.
“And there’s something, a little, I don’t know. He doesn’t seem like a typical police detective.”
I waited. Tripp didn’t elaborate. Since I figured I’d meet Farrell anyway, I didn’t press. I could decide for myself how typical he was.
“Do you have any theories on the murder?” I said.
“None. I can’t imagine who would wish to kill Olivia. Perhaps it is a madman.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll talk to the cops, first. So at least I’ll know what they know.”
“You’ll take the case, then?”
“Sure,” I said.
We talked a little about my fee, and the prospects of a retainer. He had no objections to a retainer. Me either.
“The only thing you need to understand,” I said, “is that once I start I go where it takes me. Which may mean I ask you lots of questions. And your friends and relatives lots of questions. People sometimes get restive about me invading their privacy. You have to understand at the start that invading your privacy, and the privacy of people you know, is what you’re hiring me to do.”
“I understand,” Tripp said. “If you go too far, I’ll let you know.”
“You can let me know,” I said. “But it won’t change anything. I do what I do. And I keep doing it until I’m finished.”
“You will be working for me, Mr. Spenser.”
“Yes, and you can pay me, and you can expect that I’ll work on your problem and that I won’t cheat you and that I won’t lie to you. But you can’t tell me what to do, and if you’re not willing to accept that, we can’t do business.”
Tripp didn’t like it. But he got out his checkbook and put it on the edge of my desk and dug a real fountain pen out of his inside coat pocket.
“When I need surgery,” he said, “I don’t, I guess, tell the surgeon how to operate.”
“Nice analogy,” I said.
He nodded, and wrote me out a check in a stately, flowing Palmer-method hand. It was a fine big check. A check you could deposit proudly, which, after Tripp left, I did.
Quirk was wearing a gray silk tweed jacket with a faint lavender chalk line, a blue Oxford button-down shirt, and a lavender knit tie. There was a dark blue display handkerchief in his jacket pocket. As he talked, he straightened the stuff on his desk, making sure everything was square and properly spaced. There wasn’t much: a phone, a legal-sized lined yellow pad, a translucent Bic pen with a black top, and a big plastic cube with pictures of his wife, his children, and a golden retriever. He was careful to have the cube exactly centered along the back rim of his desk. He wasn’t thinking about what he was doing. It was what he did while he thought about something else. “He left it at the crime scene.”
“Or she,” I said.
Quirk realigned his pictures an eighth of an inch. His hands were big and thick, the nails manicured. They looked like the hands of a tough surgeon.
“Ah, yes,” Quirk said. “Liberation. It could have been a woman. But if it was, it was a strong one. He, or she, must have held the hammer down at the end and taken a full swing, like you would drive a nail. Most of the bones in her head were broken.”
“Only the head?”
“Yeah,” Quirk said. “That bothered me too. If some fruitcake runs amok with a framing hammer and assaults a random victim, why was his aim so good? Head only. Except where he seems to have missed once and badly bruised her left shoulder.”
“Seems more like premeditation,” I said. “If you’re going to murder somebody with a hammer, you don’t waste time hitting them in the body.”
“I know,” Quirk said. His hands were perfectly still now, one resting on top of the other. “It bothered us too. But things always do in a homicide. You know that. There’s always stuff you can’t account for, stuff that doesn’t fit exactly. Homicide cases aren’t neat, even the neat ones.”
“You think this is a neat one?”
“In one sense,” Quirk said. He looked at the pictures on the plastic cube while he talked. He was not so much weary as calm. He’d seen too much, and it had left him with that cop calm that some of them get-not without feeling, really, but without excitement.
“We have an explanation for it that works. It’s not laying around loose-except that we don’t have the perpetrator.”
“Perpetrator,” I said admiringly.
“I been watching a lot of those reality cop shows,” Quirk said.
“Her husband wants the guy caught,” I said.
“Sure he does,” Quirk said. “Me too.”
“You can’t find a motive,” I said.
Quirk shook his head.
“This broad is Mary Poppins, for crissake. Mother of the year, wife of the decade, loyal friend, good citizen, great human being, dedicated teacher, accomplished cook, and probably great in the sack.”
“Never is heard a discouraging word,” I said.
“None,” Quirk said. “Nobody had a reason to kill her.”
“Almost nobody,” I said.
“The crazed-killer thing still works,” Quirk said. “It happens.”
“Husband checks out?”
Quirk looked at me as if I’d asked him his sign.
“How long you think I been doing this? Who do we think of first when a wife is killed?”
“Cher chez la hubby,” I said.
“Thank you,” Quirk said.
“No problems between them?”
“None that he’d mention.”
“He doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“Says he doesn’t.”
“She doesn’t have a boyfriend?”
“Says she didn’t.”
“You able to confirm that, as they say in the papers, independently?”
“Cops aren’t independent,” Quirk said. “Hot dogs like yourself are independent.”
“But you looked into it.”
“Far as we could.”
“How far is that?”
“These are powerful people,” Quirk said. “They have powerful friends. Everybody I ask says she was a candidate for sainthood. And he is a candidate for sainthood, and the kids are a couple of saintlettes. You push people like this only so far.”
“Before the commissioner calls you.”
“And tells you to desist?”
“And tells me that unless I have hard evidence, I should not assume these people are lying.”
“And you don’t have hard evidence.”
“You think there’s something there?”
“That’s why you sent Tripp to me,” I said.
“This wasn’t a Jamaican whore got smoked in some vacant lot, twenty miles from the Harvard Club,” Quirk said. “This is an upper-crust WASP broad got bludgeoned to death at one corner of Louisburg fucking Square for crissake. We got a U.S. Senator calling to follow up on our progress. I got a call from the Boston Archdiocese. Everybody says solve it, or leave it alone.”
“Which isn’t the way to solve it,” I said.
Again Quirk was silent.
“The way to solve it is to muddle around in it and disrupt everybody’s lives and doubt everything everybody says and make a general pain in the ass of yourself.”
“You can see why I thought of you,” he said.
“So if Tripp doesn’t want this solved, why did he hire me?”
“I think he wants it solved, but with his assumptions and on his terms,” Quirk said. “He thinks he can control you.”
“Somebody ought to,” I said. “Any money to inherit?”
“A small life insurance policy, probably covered the funeral.”
“No mental illness?”
“Son, Loudon, Junior, twenty-two, senior at Williams College. Daughter, Meredith, eighteen, freshman at Williams.”
“They seem clean?”
“American dream,” Quirk said. “Dean’s list for both of them. Son’s on the wrestling team, and the debating team. Daughter’s president of the drama club and a member of the student council, or whatever the fuck they call it at Williams.”
“Any history on the kids that doesn’t jibe?”
“Son had a few routine teenage scrapes. Nothing that matters. I’ll give you the file,” Quirk said.
“You still got a guy on it?” I said.
“Yeah, Lee Farrell,” Quirk said.
“He’s new,” I said.
“Yeah, and he’s gay.”
“Young and gay,” I said.
“I got no problem with it, long as he doesn’t kiss me. But command staff don’t like it much.”
“So he gets the low-maintenance stuff.”
“He any good?”
Quirk leaned back in his swivel chair and clasped his hands behind his back. The muscles in his upper arm swelled against the fabric of his jacket.
“He might be,” Quirk said. “Hasn’t had a hell of a chance to prove it.”
“Doesn’t get the choice assignments?”
Quirk smiled without meaning anything by it.
“They had to hire him, and they had to promote him. But they don’t have to use him.”
“I’ll want to talk with Farrell.”
“Sure,” Quirk said. “You and he will hit it right off.”
“Lieutenant said you would be free-lancing the Olivia Nelson case,” he said.
He was a medium-sized young guy, with a moustache, a nice tan, and the tight build of a gymnast. He was nearly bald. What hair he had was close-cropped and the moustache was neatly trimmed. He was wearing white Reeboks, and chinos, and a blue chambray shirt under a tan corduroy jacket. As he turned to sit down, the butt of his gun made an angular snag in his jacket. He shrugged his shoulders automatically to get rid of it.
“Yes,” I said.
“Lieutenant said I should cooperate.”
“How do you feel about that?” I said.
“Figured I could probably get by without you,” Farrell said.
“It’s alarming how many people think that,” I said.
“No good for business,” he said.
“I’ve read the file,” I said.
“Lieutenant doesn’t usually hand those out,” Farrell said.
“Good to know,” I said. “You got anything not in the file?”
“If I had it, it would be in there,” Farrell said.
“It wouldn’t have to be,” I said. “It could be unsubstantiated opinion, guesswork, intuition, stuff like that.”
“I deal with facts,” Farrell said. It made me smile.
“You think that’s funny?” he said.
“Yeah, kind of. Are you familiar with Dragnet?”
“No. I don’t like people laughing at me.”
“Nobody does,” I said. “Think of it as a warm smile of appreciation.”
“Hey, asshole,” Farrell said. “You think you can fuck with me?”
He stood up, his hands loosely in front of him, one above the other. He probably had some color belt, in some kind of Asian handfighting.
“Does this mean you’re not feeling cooperative?” I said.
“It means I don’t take smart shit from anybody. You think maybe I’m not tough enough? You can step up now and try me.”
“Good plan,” I said. “We beat the hell out of each other, and when the murderer dashes in to break it up, we collar him.”
“Ah, hell,” Farrell said. He stood for another moment, shifting a little on his feet, then he shrugged and sat down.
“I don’t like being stuck on a no-brainer,” he said. “They think it’s a dead-file case, but they can’t ignore it, so they put the junior man on it.”
“The case stinks,” he said.
I nodded again. Penetratingly.
“Everything’s too perfect. No one had a bad word. Everyone liked her. No one could think of a single reason to kill her. No enemies. No lovers. Nothing. We talked with everybody in the family. Everybody at work. Everybody in her address book. Every return address on her mail. We made a list of every person we’d talked with and asked her husband and children if there was anyone they could think of not on it. We did the same at work. We got a few more names and talked with them. We do not have a single suspect out of any of them. We talked with her gyno, her physical trainer…” He spread his hands.
“Do you think there’s something wrong,” I said, “because you’re stuck on a no-brainer and don’t want to accept it, or is there something wrong?”
“I’m stuck on five no-brainers,” Farrell said. “I’ve got a full caseload of cases that go nowhere.”
“My question stands,” I said.
Farrell rubbed his hands slowly together, and opened them and studied the palms for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve thought of that too and I don’t know.”