Flesh And Blood – Excerpt 5
IT WAS A COMPUTER error, a terrible blunder. Jamal Nari was mis- taken for someone with terrorist ties and suddenly found himself on a No Fly List and under surveillance. His assets were frozen. The FBI appeared at his home with a search warrant. He resisted, ended up in handcuffs and next was suspended from teaching. This was maybe a year ago. It was all over the news and went viral on the Internet. The public was incensed and he was invited to the White House, which only offended people further. I’d completely forgotten his name. It’s possible I’d blocked it. He was rude to me, a pompous ass. It happened in the White House basement where there are small rooms collectively calledthe Mess, elegant with fine linen and china, fresh flowers and rich wooden paneling hung with maritime paintings. I was meeting with the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the NIST, discussing the lack of consistency in forensic disciplines, the inadequate resources and the need for national support. Happy hour and the president appeared to buy a beer for Jamal Nari, who made a point of insulting me. Another call and Marino lets me know he’s in my driveway. “Give me fifteen minutes to get my things,” I tell him.
Sock nudges the back of my legs as I follow the paneled hallway hung with Victorian etchings of London and Dublin scenes, then into my kitchen of commercial grade stainless steel appliances and antique alabas- ter chandeliers. Benton is standing by a counter using one of many Mac- Books stationed about, skimming through security camera video footage. “Any word from your people?” I’m wondering if the FBI’s Boston Field Division has contacted him yet about Jamal Nari. “It wouldn’t be ours at this stage unless Cambridge invites us. And Marino won’t, and at the moment there’s no need.” “You’re saying the FBI has no reason to think the shooting is related to Obama coming here today.” “At this time we don’t but security will be intensified. It could be someone making an anti-Islamist statement because of the timing. The president’s press conference tomorrow in Boston,” Benton reminds me. “He plans to address the hatred, the threats ramping up as we get closer to the Boston Marathon bombing case going to trial.” “Jamal Nari wasn’t a terrorist. I don’t recall that he was Muslim, either.” “Perception,” Benton says. “And Marino’s perception has nothing to do with anything political or religious. He believes this case is connected to ones in New Jersey. If that’s true,” I reiterate, “the FBI certainly has more than a passing interest.” “We don’t know what we’re dealing with, Kay. The shooting could be self-inflicted. It could be accidental. It could be anything. It might not even be a shooting. I don’t trust what anyone says until you actually see the body yourself.” “You don’t want to come?” I cover the panzanella with plastic wrap. “It’s not appropriate for me to show up.” The way he says it makes me suspicious. I know when Benton is telling me what I should hear and not necessarily what is true. “Anything?” I ask him about the video recording. “Not so far, which isn’t making me happy. For sure someone was at our wall. If it was completely missed by our cameras then the person knew exactly how to come and go without being seen or recorded.”
“Unless this really is nothing and whoever did it just happened to miss cameras he didn’t even know about,” I remark.
“A coincidence?” He doesn’t believe it and I don’t either.
The Tuscan salad goes into the refrigerator where the swordfish and pitcher of my spicy Bloody Mary mix will stay. Maybe tonight we can have a nice dinner that was supposed to be brunch. But I doubt it. I know how days like this go. Sleepless, relentless, take-out pizza if we’re lucky.
“Our agents gave Nari a rough time. Doesn’t matter who started it.” Benton gets back to that.
“I’m not surprised. He certainly didn’t strike me as easy or nice.”
“If we rush in uninvited it won’t look good. The media will make something of it. There are protests in Boston and Cambridge tomorrow and a march scheduled on Boylston Street. Not to mention anti-FBI and antigovernment protestors, and even local cops who are bitter about how we handled the bombing.”
“Because you didn’t share information that might have prevented MIT Officer Collier from being murdered.” It’s not a question. It’s a re- minder. I’m judgmental about it.
“I can try to get us on the seven p.m. flight into Fort Lauderdale.”
“I need you to do something for me.” I open a cabinet near the sink where I keep Sock’s food, medications, and a box of examination gloves because I hand-feed him. I pull out a pair and give them to Benton. Then I give him a freezer bag. From a drawer I retrieve a Sharpie and a measuring tape.
“The pennies,” I explain. “I’d like them photographed to scale and collected. Maybe they really are nothing but I want them preserved prop- erly just to be on the safe side.”
He opens a drawer and retrieves his Glock .40 cal.
“If Jamal Nari was murdered then his killer wasn’t far from here this morning, not even half a mile away,” I explain. “I also don’t like the fact that you noticed something glinting from the trees, and added to that I got a strange communication last month from someone who mentioned pennies. There was something in it about keeping the change.”
“Directed at you?”
“You’re just telling me this now?”
“I get whacky communications. It’s nothing new, and this one didn’t seem all that different from other ones—not at the time. But we should be careful. Before you go back into the yard I think it would be a very good idea to get the state police chopper to do a flyover, check the woods, the Academy, make sure there’s no one on the roof or in a tree or lurking around.”
“Lucy already checked.”
“Let’s do it again. I can ask Marino to send some uniforms over there too.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“You might want to book our flight for tomorrow,” I decide. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere today.”
I head upstairs. Sunlight streams through the French stained glass over the landings, illuminating wildlife scenes like jewels. The vivid reds and blues don’t inspire happiness at the moment. They remind me of emergency lights.
INSIDE OUR MASTER SUITE on the second floor I take off my jacket and drop it on the bed, which I’ve not gotten around to making. I was hopeful we hadn’t finished with it yet.
Through windows facing the front of the house I can see Marino lean- ing against his unmarked dark blue Ford Explorer. His shaved head is shiny in the bright sunlight as if he polishes his big round dome, and he has on wire-rimmed Ray-Bans that are as old-fashioned as his worldview. He doesn’t seem particularly worried about an active shooter at large as he lingers in the middle of our driveway.
I can tell he was off duty when he got the call. His voluminous gray sweatpants and black leather high-tops are what he usually wears for heavy bag training at his boxing club, and I suspect there’s a vest under his zipped-up Harley-Davidson windbreaker. I don’t see Quincy, his rescued German shepherd that Marino has deluded himself into believing is a ser- vice dog. He shows up at most crime scenes these days, snuffles around and typically pees on something disgusting or rolls in it.
Inside the bathroom I wash my face and brush my teeth. Stripping off my drawstring pants and pullover I’m confronted by myself in the full- length mirror on the back of the door. Handsome, attractive in a strong way according to journalists, and it’s my belief they’re actually thinking about my personality when they make such comments. I’m small, formi- dable, generously built, petite, medium height, too thin, sturdy, depend- ing on who you ask. But the fact is that most journalists have no idea what I really look like and rarely get my age right or understand anything about me at all.
I examine the faintly etched laugh and smile lines, the hint of a furrow from frowning, which I try not to do because it makes nothing better. Mussing my short blond hair with gel and adding a touch of lipstick are an improvement. I brush a mineral sunblock over my face and the backs of my hands.
Then I pull on a T-shirt and over that a soft armor tactical vest, level IIIA, coyote tan, mesh lined. In a drawer I find cargo pants and a long- sleeved button-up shirt, navy blue with the CFC crest, my winter uniform when I respond to deaths or related scenes. I haven’t bothered swapping out for lightweight khaki yet. I was going to do it after Florida.
Back downstairs I retrieve my rugged black plastic scene case out of the closet near the front door. I sit on the rug to pull on ankle-high boots that I decontaminated with detergent after I wore them last. I think of when that was, the end of April, a Sunday. The nights were still dipping into the low forties when a Tufts Medical School professor walking a trail in Estabrook Woods got lost and wasn’t found until the next day. I re- member his name, Dr. Johnny Angiers. His widow is owed life insurance benefits thanks to me. I can’t undo death but I can make it less unfair.
Grabbing my case, I head down the brick front steps. In and out of sunlight I pass beneath flowering dogwoods and serviceberry with white clusters on the tips of twigs. Beneath them are wild ginger and cinnamon fern, then the old dark red brick pavers of our narrow driveway which is completely blocked by Marino’s SUV.
“Where’s Quincy?” I look at the empty dog crate in the backseat.
“I was at the gym when I got the call,” Marino says. “Raced home on my motorcycle and grabbed my car but didn’t have time to change or deal with him.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t happy.” I think of my own unhappy dog.
Marino taps a cigarette out of the pack.
“Nothing like it after a workout,” I say pointedly at the spurt of the lighter, the toasty tobacco smell.
He takes a big drag, leaning against the SUV. “No nagging about smoking. Be nice to me today.”
“This minute I might just light one up.” I sit inside the SUV and talk to him through the open door.
“Be my guest.” He sucks on the cigarette and the tip glows brighter like a fanned hot coal.
He shakes another one loose, the brown filter popping up. Greeting me like a lost friend. Like the old days. I’m tempted. I fasten my shoulder harness and suddenly Benton is on the driveway striding toward us with purpose.