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Authors: Jeremiah Healy

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BOOK: So Like Sleep
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One of the other kids on the stoop spoke. “Figured you here about Willie-boy.”

“William Daniels is the name I was given.”

“Ten bucks,” said the original negotiator.

“Ten?” I said.

“Fifteen,” said the negotiator.

I folded my arms. “You got something against young Daniels?”

“Yeah,” said the stooper. “We got something against him.”

“What?” I asked.

The third guy spoke for the first time. “You the Man?”

Negotiator said, “That wreck ain’t no cop car.”

“Could be his private wheels,” said the third, defensively.

I said, “Cops are better paid than that. I’m a private investigator, just trying to help.”

“What for?” said Negotiator.

“For a friend, like I said. Now, what do you have against Daniels?”

“He try to be white,” said Stooper.

“Try hard,” said Third.

“Suburban white pussy and all,” said Stooper.

“All the good it done him,” said Negotiator.

“Well,” I said, “I’m not doing him much good here.” I continued toward the Daniels house.

“Hey?” said Negotiator.

“Hey what?” I said over my shoulder.

“What about our bread?”

“Your bread?”

“Yeah,” said Third.

“Our ten,” said Stooper.

“Our fifteen,” corrected Negotiator.

“Fellas,” I said, climbing the Daniels steps, “it’s been great talking with you.” I tried the outer door. It opened. “But I’m not paying you a dime to watch my car.”

“The fuck you ain’t,” said Negotiator.

“You’re young yet,” I said. “You’ll get over it.”

I entered the building’s foyer.

The inner door cracked ajar after my second knock. Through three lock chains, a middle-aged black woman with a pretty face gave me an uncertain smile.

“Mr. Cuddy?”

“That’s right.”

“Please come in.”

Mrs. Daniels led me into a small living room. The exterior of the house didn’t do the interior justice. The wood furniture was old, solid, and polished. The upholstered furniture was bright and doilied. There was a marble mantel, with pink, cherub tile around the hearth. A tray with china cups and saucers, a matching teapot, and a glass Chemex coffee pitcher was centered on a l930s inlaid coffee table.

“Please sit down. Would you like tea or coffee?”

I don’t usually drink either, but given her trouble, I said, “Tea, please. Sugar, no milk.”

“Lemon?”

“No, thanks.”

We remained silent while she poured. Mrs. Daniels took coffee. Her hands trembled a little, but she didn’t spill any.

I tasted my tea, complimented her. She told me the name, but it was nearly unpronounceable and immediately forgotten.

I said, “Lieutenant Murphy asked me to speak with you.”

Mrs. Daniels sipped her coffee, put it down. “It … He’s good to ask you, but it … it’s just so hard to talk about it.”

“Maybe it’d be easier if you could tell me something about your son. Do you call him William?”

“Yes, William. His full name is William Everett Daniels—my father’s name was Everett. My husband left us when William was just four. He was already smart enough to be hurt by that, but at least I had a good job, secretary in an insurance agency. They went broke, but I got another job right away, insurance again. I’ve been with them, Craig and Bulley, for thirteen years now.”

I remembered the name from my time as an investigator at Empire Insurance. I looked around the room for effect. “You’ve done well.”

“Oh, this?” Mrs. Daniels fluttered her hands. “It’s all from my parents, really. This was their home. When my husband left us, my father and mother took William and me in. My brother—I had a brother, Thomas, but he was killed in Vietnam.”

I wondered which unit and where, but only said, “Go on.”

“Well, William really looked up to Thomas. He was a marine and brought William little souvenirs and things. There wasn’t a lot of anti-war stuff here in Rox’, too many folks had relatives in, you know, so William really got into the military stuff, said he was gonna be a marine, too. Then …”

“Then?”

Mrs. Daniels sighed. “Then Thomas got killed. His second tour, right near the end when everything over there just seemed so, I don’t know, hopeless.”

“That affected William, did it?”

“Like losing his father all over again. This time, though, William went street, started hanging out with bad kids.”

“I think I met a few of them on my way in.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. I had the impression they were in the insurance business, too.”

“Insurance?”

“Car insurance. Vandalism protection.”

“Oh,” she said, upset. “I’m sorry, I hope everything’s all right. I should have come to your office.

I held up a palm. “The car is old, and my office stinks of wet paint. Everything will be fine. Please go on.”

“Well, the kids got William into a lot of trouble, police trouble, but nothing big. Shoplifting, loitering, some fights. He never hurt anybody bad, but it got to my father; he died of a heart attack. My mother, too, but because of Dad, not William, you know?”

“I understand.”

“Well, William’s stuff was small-time, but I was still scared for him, only there’s just so much a woman can do alone.”

“It’s a big jump from street gangs to Calem.”

“Oh, yes. When William was in high school, he scored very high on the standard tests. So high his friends got mad, and he got embarrassed, so he started to intentionally miss things, questions, I mean, to level himself off a little, not stand out so much. Well, one of his teachers noticed this, and she was real good with him and got him to try going to U Mass out at Columbia Point. He went and saw a psychologist there for free a lot and straightened out. It was like a salvation.”

“What was this psychologist’s name?”

“Dr. Lopez. Mariah Lopez.”

“M-a-r-i-a-h?”

“I think so.”

“And the teacher?”

“You mean, like to talk to her?”

“Yes.”

“Her name was Sheridan. Emily Sheridan. But she retired, oh, two years back and moved to Arizona somewhere.”

“Did William like U Mass?”

“Yes. He went there for two years and did real well. All his teachers just raved about him. In fact, that was kind of the problem.”

“I don’t get you.”

“Well,” she said, reaching down for the coffee cup, but then hesitating, “the teachers thought that he could do better than U Mass, and a couple of them, along with Dr. Lopez, they pushed and pulled and got him into Goreham College for his junior year.”

“Fine school.”

“Yes, and so expensive. But there was plenty of scholarship money, it seems.”

“Did he live there?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Did he stay at Goreham? In a dormitory?”

“Oh, yes. At least, at first. Then something happened—he never would tell me what—and he moved home halfway through.”

“Halfway through?”

“Through his first semester there.”

“How was he doing gradewise?”

Mrs. Daniels unnecessarily stirred her coffee. “Not so good. Maybe too much change. Maybe too much …”

“Too much …?”

She looked up. “He took up with the white girl. Or maybe better to say she took up with him. I never did know which.”

“The girl he’s accused of killing?”

“Yes, but he didn’t. He didn’t kill her or anybody else.” Mrs. Daniels said it evenly, like a much-quoted religious tenet she knew by heart and believed was true beyond reasonable doubt.

“The girl was shot. Your son produced the gun that killed her.”

She focused on the cup and spoon again.

“Was it William’s gun, Mrs. Daniels?”

“He needed it. He said ’cause of the other kids on the block here.” She mimicked them: “ ‘White school, white girl, white Willll-yum.’ ” She moved her mouth as if she’d bit a sour grape.

“He carried a gun because of the other kids’ taunting him?”

Mrs. Daniels fixed me with a “c’mon” stare. “You been outside here, you seen ’em.”

She was probably right. They looked more like “sticks and stones will break my bones” than “words will never hurt me.”

“Had William had a fight with the girl?”

Mrs. Daniels became more agitated, waving her hands in an abbreviated version of an umpire’s “safe” sign. “I don’t know. I just don’t. He never would talk with me about her. Or about college. Goreham, I mean. Or even the new doctor he was seeing.”

“What doctor was that?”

“The one who did the hypnotizing. The one where … where …” She reached for a napkin and mumbled she was sorry, exactly as I was saying it was all right.

Mrs. Daniels sniffled for a moment or two. I waited.

“Can I tell you anything else?” she asked.

“Not now. I have to read some reports first, talk with William’s lawyer. I’ll need you to call the lawyer, tell him I’m working for your son.”

She nodded vigorously, reached for a handbag sitting on a nearby chair. “I have money. I took more out of the bank when Rob … Lieutenant Murphy told me you’d be coming. He said—”

“Mrs. Daniels. No money, please.”

She looked up with the “c’mon” expression again. “ ’Cause I didn’t used to earn enough when William was younger, he qualified for the Mass Defenders. That’s how he got to know Mr. Rothenberg, the lawyer he’s got now for this. But I gave Mr. Rothenberg a retainer, and I want to pay you, too. I never did like taking charity, and I won’t take any more of it.”

“Not charity. A favor. For”—I stretched it a bit—“a friend, Lieutenant Detective Murphy. It’s his favor, but you and William will be my clients. I’ll talk to the lieutenant only if I need information or help.”

Mrs. Daniels chewed on it for a minute. “Can you help William?” she said quietly.

“I hope so.” I meant it, and I also hoped she could tell.

She gave me Rothenberg’s address and phone number. I wrote down an authorizing message to leave in case he was out when she called him. I also gave her one of my new cards, writing my home number on the back.

Willa Daniels let me out through the chains. I had forgotten about my car. So, apparently, had the three freelancers. It was where I had left it and in one piece. I got in and drove home.

I walked in. Nothing on the tape machine. I remembered I hadn’t checked the mailbox, so I went back downstairs to the foyer. Nothing again. Not many of my friends could write, and I was too recently moved in to be receiving the “You Already May Have Won” crap.

I came back upstairs, stripped, and showered. I finished the
Times
and decided to turn in. I looked at the telephone a couple of times, thinking of Nancy, then dropped off.

Three

I
WOKE UP AT
7:00 A.M., with the alarm. I pulled on running shoes, shorts, and a T-shirt from an army surplus store on Boylston Street. The shirt had a small USA on the left breast. It had been on the rack next to one with a skull wearing a green beret and the legend KILL THEM ALL—LET GOD SORT THEM OUT. I bought the USA.

I limbered up for ten minutes, then jogged across the Fairfield Street bridge to the Charles River. Turning left, I ran leisurely upriver toward the Boston University bridge. I passed a cormorant floating low in the water, its black-beaked head and long neck above the surface like an organic periscope. At the bridge, I reversed direction, picking up the pace maybe thirty seconds to the mile. A sixty-year-old woman blew by me as if I were standing still. Her T-shirt read GRANDMOTHERS HAVE DONE IT LONGER.

I reached Community Boating, in the shadow of the Charles Street bridge. When I got back from the service, I had learned to sail there, a six-month, good-any-time membership costing about fifty dollars. They supplied and maintained the boats, and more-experienced members taught you rigging. It was a good deal. I fell away from it after Beth got sick; the only sailboats I noticed now were the ones plying the harbor below her grave-site.

I reversed direction again and maximized my stride, taking two short breaths and one long one for every eight steps. I stopped at the Dartmouth Street bridge, making it a four-mile run. On Newbury Street, I bought some fresh muffins and orange juice for breakfast.

Back at the condo, I warmed down, showered, and ate. The kitchen clock said eight-thirty. I called the number for William’s attorney and drew a brusque female voice that said the offices didn’t open till nine. She did confirm that Rothenberg was due in that morning before court in Cambridge. After dressing reasonably well, I walked the eight blocks down Boylston to Rothenberg’s office, which was only two doors up from the old Mass Defenders building.

The door on Rothenberg’s floor said simply LAW OFFICES, with a dozen full names on separate, mismatched wooden plaques underneath. Likely that meant that he shared space and expenses—but not fees—with the eleven other attorneys. I entered a waiting room containing a grab-bag of clients. The public defenders, now the Office for Public Counsel Services, typically got the good poor and the bad poor. Anyone on a higher economic rung had to scratch for private counsel. Therefore, lawyers like Rothenberg usually got the good not-so-poor and the bad not-so-poor.

I gave the receptionist my name, profession, and mission. Ten minutes later, she answered her phone, called out my name, and pointed me down a hallway, all as she tried to persuade an animated woman speaking machine-gun Spanish to slow down.

I was halfway down the hall when a balding head bobbed out of a doorway. He said, “John Cuddy?”

“That’s right.” He beckoned me in.

His office was cluttered and shabby but apparently all his own. We shook hands.

“Steve Rothenberg.” He gestured to a chair with his free hand. He slumped into a cracked leather desk chair and put his feet up on the pullout from the old metal desk.

“What can I do for you?” he said. Rothenberg’s beard, flecked with gray, also bobbed up and down, riding the Adam’s apple beneath. He wore a white buttoned-down shirt and a rep tie, but the collar was undone, the tie loosened, and the sleeves rolled up.

“I’m working for Willa Daniels. I understand you represent her son, William.”

“And?”

“And I’d like to talk with you about his case.”

BOOK: So Like Sleep
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