TAPE IS WRAPPED AROUND big oak trees and iron lampposts, bright yellow with police line do not cross in black. It encircles the property, threaded through railings, barring the front entrance covered by a peaked roof.
I note the red Honda’s temporary tags, the open tailgate, the car- tons of milk and juice, the apples, grapes, bananas, and boxes and bags of cereal, crackers and potato chips scattered on the pavement. Cans of tuna have rolled to the curb, resting not far from my feet, and honeydew melons are cracked and oozing sweet juice that I can smell. A jar of salsa is shattered, and I detect its spicy tomato odor too. Flies have gotten interested, alighting on spilled food warming in the sun.
What once was the front yard is now a paved parking area with space for several cars. A motor scooter is chained to a lamppost. Two bicycles are secured by locked heavy cables hugging columns on a wraparound front porch centered by a bay window. Probably students living here, I decide, and a fifty-three-year-old high school music teacher married to a second wife named Joanna who supposedly was shopping at a New Hampshire outlet mall when the police gave her the shocking news.
I continue to ponder that fact as I move in, ducking under the tape. If Nari and his wife were heading to Vermont for a long weekend, why was she off to an outlet mall a two-hour round-trip away? Did she need to shop this morning because of their impending trip? Or was she careful not to be home or even in Massachusetts at nine-forty-five a.m.? I reach the privacy screens. Velcro makes a ripping sound as I open the panel closest to the back of the red SUV. I make sure that the slowing cars and gathering spectators on sidewalks and in their yards can’t see what is none of their business.
I don’t enter the black boxy barricade yet as I think about what Marino said Joanna told Machado. She has no idea why anyone would have killed her husband. But she mentioned a high school student she was trying to help. She also offered the possibility of a random robbery gone as wrong as one could, and that’s not what this is.
I set down my scene case just outside the privacy screens, the sun almost directly overhead now, illuminating what’s inside. I smell the iron pungency of blood breaking down. Blowflies drone, honing in on wounds and orifices to lay their eggs.
HIS BODY IS FACEUP on the pavement, his legs straight out, the left one only very slightly bent. His arms are loosely by his sides. He didn’t stumble. He didn’t try to catch himself when he fell or move after he did. He couldn’t.
Blood is separating from its serum at the edges, in the very early stages of coagulation, consistent with his being shot within the past two hours. Postmortem changes will have begun but not escalated because the temperature is in the upper sixties, the air dry with a cool breeze and he’s fully clothed. I estimate his body temperature will be around ninety-four degrees and he’s begun getting stiff. Then my attention is pulled back to the blood.
It flowed from the wound in his neck. Following the gentle slope of the tarmac it soaked the upper back of his white shirt, terminating some three feet from his body. The wound to his eye doesn’t appear to have bled much at all, just a trickle down the side of his face, staining his collar. A small amount flowed from the back of his head. It wasn’t much bleeding for such profound injuries to vascular areas. His heart stopped beating quickly. It may have stopped instantly.
I note the car key nearby, the two brown paper bags from Whole Foods, their contents spilled. He had the key and two bags in hand when he went down like an imploded building. Eight additional bags are still inside the SUV’s open tailgate, the interior light on, and already I’m perplexed by the extensive shopping he did for a three-day trip.
I catch glimpses of paper towels, toilet paper, boxes of aluminum foil and trash bags, and a Smirnoff vodka box with bottles of wine and liquor inside the dividers. If there are additional bags inside the apartment then Nari must have left home quite early to do this much shopping at more than one location. Whole Foods doesn’t carry liquor.
He looks familiar but he probably would even if we hadn’t briefly met. I would have seen him on the news. It’s possible I’ve seen him in passing in the neighborhood, although I have no recollection of it. I look closely at his body before touching it, getting an overview and immediate impressions. I will myself not to think about our unpleasant encounter in Washington, D.C., and the president’s raised eyebrows, his bemused smile when Nari lit into me.
He has short gray hair that’s receding, and a rugged face with a strong prominent jaw hinting at an underbite. Clean-shaven, he’s of average height and slender with little body fat but he has a swollen belly that I find curi- ous. Possibly he’s a heavy beer drinker. I put him at about five-foot-eight, 160 pounds, someone youthful for his age.
“Anything I can help you with, Chief?” The voice with the Spanish accent belongs to CFC Investigator Jen Garate, long dark hair, blue eyes, olive skin, mid-thirties, pretty in an exotic overblown way.
She likes tight clothes that accentuate her voluptuous build, and I watch Machado watching her. He’s still talking to the young woman in sweats. She seems agitated and excited and he looks at me. He excuses himself and comes over.
“I’m all set here,” I tell Jen.
“You picked a good day to head out on vacation,” she says ironically. “I would have gotten here sooner but the little girl who drowned?”
I don’t know who she means and I’m not going to ask, not now.
“Stupid ass kids, right?” she tells me anyway. “The water was freezing and she decides it’s a good idea to jump on the pool cover. Good thing we keep dry suits in the back of the trucks. But the collar gasket leaked and I had to clean myself up.”
“Thanks for your help.” My tone doesn’t invite her chatty conversation.
“I wonder if Lucy’s still up.” She stares off at a distant helicopter, twin engine but with skids, and her observation is peculiar.
Why would she know that Lucy was flying today? They aren’t friends, not even cordial. I recognize the fuselage shape of a Eurocopter, possibly MedFlight.
“I’m just curious,” she says. “Obama’s coming here today so how does she manage permission to fly in a prohibited airspace? I guess your DOD connections don’t hurt, not to mention your husband.”
“Permission depends on who’s been vetted by the TSA and has ad- vance clearance.” I’ve stopped what I’m doing and am meeting her gaze. “I have no influence with the FAA and I’m not sure what you’re implying.”
“I just think it’s cool to be a pilot, that’s all.”
“I’ll see you back at the office.” It’s my way of dismissing her.
She hesitates in her cargo pants and long-sleeved T-shirt that look painted on, then she smiles at Machado as his eyes wander over what she never fails to flaunt.
Male or female, Jen doesn’t care who stares. My new chief of investigations is a shallow narcissist it’s just my luck, and I hired her because I had to hire someone after Marino left. Skilled and New York trained she’s smart and competent but a mistake I’ve found out. I can’t fire her because she’s inappropriate and certain people don’t like her. I can’t tell her how to act or dress because that for sure would get me sued, and I watch her head back toward the street, swaying her hips, her round but- tocks pumping.
“Doc?” Machado greets me, his eyes masked by Oakleys, a style called Half Jacket that’s popular with the cops and the military.
He is typically neat in crisp khaki slacks, a white shirt and blue striped tie, and a navy blue windbreaker with cambridge police in yellow on the back. The windbreaker is oversized, snapped up to conceal a tactical vest. He obviously was on duty when the call came in and it doesn’t escape my notice that Marino crosses his arms, his face hard, his jaw muscles clenching again.
“I hear we ruined your day,” Machado says to me.
“My day’s not as ruined as his.”
“Sorry about your vacation.”
“Right now it doesn’t seem very important, considering.” I open the
sturdy plastic clasps of my scene case and retrieve white Tyvek coveralls packaged in cellophane.
“What’s been done?”
“We’ve got photographs and I’ve checked out his apartment, just a quick go-through to make sure nobody was inside who shouldn’t be. The door was unlocked and ajar. It appears he’d already carried in three bags and was getting more out of the car when somebody nailed him.”
Machado flips through a notepad as I work the coveralls over my clothes. At the bottom of my scene case I find boot covers and pull them on, standing on one foot at a time. Suiting up is an art. I’ve witnessed sea- soned investigators put things on backward or lose their balance.
“That lady?” Machado glances at the one he was just talking to. “She lives in the unit on the top floor, Harvard grad student, said she was work- ing at her desk when she saw Nari drive up. Next thing she noticed him where he is now.”
“Did she hear gunshots or anything that might have been gunshots?” I pull on gloves.
“She says she didn’t, and there were no reports of shots fired in the area. We’re already questioning the neighbors. So far coming up zero. But the grad student?” He glances back at the woman, standing rather dazed on the sidewalk now. “Angelina Brown, twenty-four, getting her doctorate in education.” Marino is jotting down the information, his mouth set as if he just ate something that didn’t agree with him.
“She did make one interesting comment,” Machado continues, “and for sure we’ll follow up on it. Apparently her desk is in front of the window facing the street and she has a bird’s-eye view of who’s out front or entering or leaving the house. She says she’s seen a kid in the area. He rides his bike back and forth up and down the street. Not so long ago Joanna Cather was outside talking to him and then they went around back, maybe head- ing into her apartment. Angelina says she’s pretty sure Nari’s car wasn’t here at the time. It struck her as weird that Joanna was possibly inviting a male into the apartment when her husband wasn’t home.”
“We know the kid’s name or have a description?” Marino continues to write down the information.
“Short, thin, always has a cap on.”
“That could only be a couple of people,” Marino says snidely and Machado ignores it.
“She says the kid looks maybe sixteen,” Machado continues. “Could be a little older or a little younger, you know with pants half mast, the usual baggy bad-boy clothes.”
“Huh. Let me guess. The kid Joanna claims she’s been trying to help,” Marino says. “Yeah, well maybe she’s been giving him more than advice.” “If your witness is right and the person she’s seen riding his bike is this same student Joanna supposedly is helping, it appears he doesn’t live too far from here,” I reply, and Tyvek makes a papery sound as I crouch on the back of my heels just inside the opening of the barrier. “Otherwise he
wouldn’t be on a bike, my guess is.”
“I’m gonna talk to her,” Marino says brusquely, and I glance back at his NBA-huge black high-tops behind us.
“Help yourself,” Machado replies.
“Don’t worry, I will.” Marino walks off as I check the dead music teacher’s hands.