IT’S THURSDAY, JUNE 12, my birthday, and I refuse to preoccupy myself with my age or how time flees faster with each passing year. There is much to be in a good mood about and grateful for. Life is the best it’s ever been.
We’re off to Miami for a week of reading, eating and drinking what- ever we want, maybe tennis and a few scuba dives, and long walks on the beach. I’d like to go to the movies and share a bucket of popcorn, and not get up in the morning until we feel like it. I intend for us to rest, play, to say the hell with everything. Benton’s present to me is a condo he rented on the ocean.
We’ve reached a point in life where we should enjoy a little time off. But he’s been saying that for as long as I can remember. We both have. As of this morning we’re officially on leave, at least in theory. In fact there really isn’t such a thing. Benton is an intelligence analyst, what people still call a profiler. He’s never off his FBI leash, and the cliché that death never takes a holiday is true. I’m never off my leash, either.
The pennies are lit up in the morning glare, fiery and too perfect and I don’t touch them. I don’t recall seeing them earlier lined up precisely straight on the wall, all oriented exactly the same way. But the backyard was mostly in shadows the first time I ventured out, and I was distracted by my pouty dog’s unwillingness to potty and by my landscaping check- list. The roses need fertilizing and spraying. The lawn needs weeding and should be mown before a storm ushers in a heat wave as predicted for tonight.
I have instructions written out for Bryce. He’s to make sure that all is taken care of not only at the CFC but also on the home front. Lucy and Janet are dog nannies while we’re gone, and we have our usual trick that isn’t flawless but better than the alternative of leaving Sock alone in an empty house for even ten minutes.
My niece will arrive and I’ll walk him out the door as if I’m taking him with me. Then I’ll coax him into whatever she’s driving, hopefully not one of her monster machines with no backseat. I asked her pointedly to use her SUV, not that it’s a normal vehicle, either. Nothing my former law enforce- ment computer genius power-addicted niece owns is for the hoi polloi—not her matte black stealth bomber of an armored SUV, not her aggressive 599 GTO that sounds like the space shuttle. Sock hates supercars and doesn’t like Lucy’s helicopter. He startles easily. He gets scared.
“Come on,” I encourage my silent four-legged friend from his snooze in the grass with eyes wide, what I call playing possum. “You need to potty.” He doesn’t budge, his brown stare fixed on me. “Come on. I’m asking nicely. Please, Sock. Up!”
He’s been out of sorts all morning, sniffing around, acting skittish, then lying down, his tail curled under, tucking his long narrow nose beneath his front paws, looking completely dejected and anxious. Sock knows when we’re leaving him and gets depressed, and I always feel rotten about it as if I’m a terrible mother. I lean over and stroke his short brindle fur, feeling his ribs, then gentle with his ears, misshapen and scarred from former abuses at the racetrack. He gets up, pressing against my legs like a listing ship.
“Everything’s fine,” I reassure him. “You’re going to run around on acres of land and play with Jet Ranger. You know how much you love that.”
“He doesn’t.” Benton reseats himself on the bench and picks up the paper beneath spreading branches of dark green leaves loaded with waxy white blossoms the size of pie pans. “It’s fitting you have a pet that doesn’t listen and completely manipulates you.”
“Come on.” I lead him over to his favorite privacy area of shaded boxwoods and evergreens in thick beds of pine-scented mulch. He’s not interested. “Seriously? He’s acting odd.”
I look around, searching for anything else that might indicate some- thing is off and my attention wanders back to the pennies. A chill touches the back of my neck. I don’t see anyone. I hear nothing but the breeze whispering through the trees and the distant sound of a gas-powered leaf blower. It slowly comes to me, what I didn’t recognize at first. I see it. The tweet with the link that I got some weeks ago. The attachment was an odd note to me and a poem, I recall.
The Twitter name was Copperhead and I remember only snippets of what the poem said. Something about the light coming and a hangman that struck me as the ramblings of a deranged individual. Delusional mes- sages and voice mails aren’t uncommon. My Cambridge Forensic Center email address and phone number are public information. Lucy always traces unsolicited electronic communications and lets me know if there is anything I should worry about. I vaguely recall her telling me the tweet was sent from a hotel business center in Morristown, New Jersey.
I need to ask her about it. In fact I’ll do it now. Her cockpit is wireless, her flight helmet Bluetooth enabled. For that matter she’s probably already landed, and I slide my phone out of a pocket of my jacket. But before I get the chance someone is calling me first. The ringtone sounds like an old telephone. Detective Pete Marino, and I recognize his mobile number in the display, not his personal phone but the one he uses on the job.
If he were calling to say happy birthday or have a nice trip he wouldn’t be on his Cambridge police BlackBerry. He’s careful about using his de- partmental equipment, vehicles, email or any form of communication for anything remotely personal. It’s one of life’s many ironies and contradic- tions when it comes to him. He certainly wasn’t like that all the years he worked for me.
“Oh God,” I mutter. “This had better not be what I think it is.”
“Sorry to do this to you, Doc,” Marino’s big voice sounds in my ear- piece. “I know you got a plane to catch. But you need to be aware of what’s going on. You’re my first call.”
“What is it?” I begin slowly pacing the yard.
“We got one on Farrar Street,” he says. “In broad daylight, plenty of people around and nobody heard or saw a thing. Just like the other ones. And the victim selection bothers the shit out of me, especially the timing with Obama coming here today.”
“What other ones?”
“Where are you right now?” he asks.
“Benton and I are in the backyard.”
I feel my husband’s eyes on me.
“Maybe you should go inside and not be out in the open. That’s the
way it happens,” Marino says. “People out in the open going about their business . . .”
“What other ones? What people?” I look around as I pace.
Sock is sitting, his ears folded back. Benton gets up from the bench, watching me. It continues to be a beautiful peaceful morning but it’s a mirage. Everything has just turned ugly.
“New Jersey right after Christmas and then again in April. The same M.O.,” Marino says and I interrupt him again.
“Hold on. Back up. What’s happened, exactly? And let’s not compare the M.O. to other cases before we know the facts.”
“A homicide not even five minutes from you. We got the call about an hour ago . . .”
“And you’re just notifying my office now? Or more specifically, noti- fying me?”
He knows damn well that the more quickly the body can be exam- ined in situ and transported to my office, the better. We should have been called instantly.
“Machado wanted to secure the scene.”
Sil Machado is a Cambridge PD investigator. He and Marino are also good friends.
“He wanted to make sure there’s not an active shooter still there wait- ing to pick off someone else. That’s what he said.” Marino’s tone is odd.
I detect hostility.
“The information we’ve got so far is the victim felt someone was after him. He’d been jumpy of late, and that’s true in the two Jersey cases,” Marino says. “The victims felt they were being watched and screwed with and then out of the blue they’re dead. It’s a lot to explain and right now we don’t have time. The shooter may still be in the area even as we speak. You should stay inside until I get there. I’m maybe ten minutes out.”
“Give me the exact address and I’ll get myself there.”
“No way. Not happening. And wear a vest.”
I watch Benton fold the paper and pick up his coffee, his happy de-
meanor eclipsed by what he senses. Life is about to change on us. I already know it. I look at him, my expression somber as I stop pacing and pour my espresso into the mulch. I did it without even thinking. A reflex. A relaxing cheerful day has ended as abruptly as a plane slamming into a mountain socked in by fog.
“You don’t think this is a case that Luke or one of the other docs can handle?” I ask Marino but I already know the answer.
He’s not interested in dealing with my deputy chief, Luke Zenner. Marino isn’t going to settle for any of my other medical examiners.
“Or we can send in one of our investigators if that would suffice. Jen Garate certainly could handle it and Luke can do the post immediately.” I try anyway. “He’s probably in the autopsy room. We have five cases this morning.”
“Well now you got six. Jamal Nari,” Marino says as if I should know who he’s talking about.