Flesh And Blood – Excerpt 6
THE BRIGHT COPPER COINS shine through the freezer Baggie Benton carries. He sealed it with tape that he initialed and labeled.
“What the shit?” Marino’s words blow out in a cloud of smoke. “What are you giving this to me for?”
“Either take care of it or it ends up at the FBI labs in Quantico.” Benton hands him the Baggie and a Sharpie. “Which wouldn’t make any sense. No pun intended. I’ve emailed the photographs to you.”
“What? You auditioning to be a crime scene tech? Reading your crystal ball’s not enough anymore? Well I can check. But I’m pretty sure Cambridge isn’t hiring.”
“They’re not fake and they definitely were polished,” Benton says to me. “If you look at them under a lens, each has the same very subtle pitting. It may be that a tumbler was used. Gun enthusiasts who hand-load their own ammo often use tumblers to polish cartridge cases. The pennies need to go to the labs now.”
Marino holds up the Baggie. “I don’t get it.”
“They were left on top of our wall,” I explain. “It could have waited until we were sure nobody is around,” I say to Benton.
“Nobody is. That’s not how an offender like this works.”
“An offender like what?” Marino asks. “I feel like I missed the first half of the movie.”
“I’ve got to go.” Benton holds my gaze. He looks around and back at me before returning to the house where I have no doubt he’s been making plans he’s not sharing.
Marino initials the Baggie, scribbles the time and date, screwing shut one eye behind his Ray-Bans as smoke drifts into his face. Another drag on the cigarette and he bends down to wipe it against a brick, scraping it out, and he tucks the butt in a pocket. It’s an old habit that comes from working crime scenes where it’s poor form to add detritus that could be confused with evidence. I know the drill. I used to do it too. It was never pretty when I’d forget to empty my pockets before my pants or jacket ended up in the washing machine.
Marino climbs into the SUV and impatiently shoves the Baggie into the glove box.
“The pennies go to fingerprints first, then DNA and trace,” I tell him as we shut our doors. “Be gentle with them. I don’t want any additional artifact introduced such as scratches to the metal from you banging them around.”
“So I’m taking them seriously, really treating them like evidence? In what crime? You mind explaining what the hell’s going on?”
I tell him what I remember about the anonymous email I received last month.
“Did Lucy figure out who it is?” “No.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“It wasn’t possible.”
“She couldn’t hack her way into figuring it out?” Marino backs out of the driveway. “Lucy must be slipping.”
“It appears the person was clever enough to use a publicly accessed computer in a hotel business center,” I explain. “She can tell you which one. I recall she said it was in Morristown.”
“Morristown,” he repeats. “Holy shit. The same area where the two Jersey victims were shot.”
We back out onto the street and I’m struck by how peaceful it is, almost mid-June, close to noon, the sort of day when it’s difficult to imagine someone plotting evil. Most undergraduate students are gone for the summer, many people are at work and others are home tending to projects they put off during the regular academic year.
The economics professor across from our house is mowing his grass. He looks up at us and waves as if all is fine in the world. The wife of a banker two doors down is pruning a hedge, and one yard over from her a landscaping truck is parked on the side of the street, sonny’s lawn care. Not far from it is a skinny young man wearing dark glasses, oversized jeans, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap. He’s loud with a gas engine leaf blower, clearing the sidewalk, and he doesn’t look at us or do the polite thing and pause his work as we drive past. Grass clippings and grit blast the SUV in a swarm of sharp clicks.
“Asshole!” Marino flashes his emergency lights and yelps his siren. The young man pays no attention. He doesn’t even seem to notice. Marino slams on the brakes, shoves the SUV into park and boils out.
The blower is as loud as an airboat. Then abrupt silence as the young man stops what he’s doing. His dark glasses stare, his mouth expressionless. I try to place him. Maybe I’ve just seen him in the area doing yard work.
“You like it if I did that to your car?” Marino yells at him.
“I don’t have a car.”
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t have to tell you,” he says in the same indifferent tone, and I notice his hair is long and carrot red.
“Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.”
Marino stalks around the truck, inspecting it. He pulls out a notepad and makes a big production of writing down the truck’s plate number. Next he photographs it with his BlackBerry.
“I find anything I’ll write you up for damaging city property,” he threatens, the veins standing out in his neck.
A shrug. He isn’t scared. He doesn’t give a shit. He’s even smiling a little.
Marino gets back in and resumes driving. “Fucking asshole.”
“Well you made your point,” I reply dryly.
“What the hell’s wrong with kids these days? Nobody raises them right. If he was mine, I’d kick his damn ass.”
I don’t remind him that his only child, Rocco, who is dead, was a career criminal. Marino used to kick his ass and a lot of good it did. “You seem very agitated today,” I comment.
“You know why? Because I think we’re dealing with some type of fucking terrorist who’s now in our backyard. That’s my gut and I wish to hell it wasn’t, and me and Machado are having a real beef about it.”
“And you started thinking this when exactly?”
“After the second case in Jersey. I got a real bad feeling Jamal Nari is the third one.”
“Terrorists generally claim responsibility,” I remind him. “They don’t remain anonymous.”
“What about enemies?”
I get back to the reason my vacation is being delayed and possibly ruined. More to the point, I need Marino to focus on what’s before us and not on connections he’s making to cases in New Jersey, to terrorism or to anything else.
“I would imagine that after the storm of publicity Jamal Nari must have gained a few detractors,” I add.
“Nothing to account for this that we know about so far.” Marino turns on Irving Street.
A light wind stirs hardwood trees and their shadows move on the sunny pavement. The traffic is intermittent, a couple of cars, a moped, and a boxy white construction truck that Marino tailgates and blares his horn at because it’s not going fast enough. The truck pulls over to let him pass and Marino guns the engine.
He’s in a mood all right and I doubt it’s solely related to his so-called beef with Machado. Something else is going on. Marino might be scared and going out of his way to act like he’s not.
“And the highly publicized problem with the FBI was about this time last year?” I’m asking him. “Why strike now? A lot of people have forgotten about it. Including me.”
“I don’t know how you forget after the way he treated you at the White House. Accusing you of selling body parts, saying autopsies are for profit and all that bullshit. Kind of an irony that the very thing he went after you about is now going to happen to him.”
“Did he live alone?” I ask.
“Second marriage. Joanna Cather. She was one of his students in high school and now works there as a psychologist.” Marino has gone from angry to subdued. “They started dating a couple years ago when he got divorced. Needless to say she’s much younger. She kept her name when they got married for obvious reasons.”
“What obvious reasons?”
“The name Nari. It’s Muslim.”
“Not necessarily. It could be Italian. Was he Muslim?”
“I guess the Feds thought he was which is why they went after him.” “They went after him because of a computer error, Marino.”
“What matters is the way it looks and assumptions they make. If people thought he was Muslim, maybe that has something to do with why he’s been murdered. Especially with Obama coming here and the fact that Nari met him at the White House last year. Since the marathon bombings there’s a lot of sensitivity around here about jihadists, about loser extremists. Maybe we’re dealing with a vigilante who’s taking out people he thinks should die.”
“Jamal Nari was a Muslim and now suddenly he was a jihadist or extremist Islamist upset about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?”
He clams up, his jaw muscles clenching.
“What’s going on with you, Marino?”
“I’m not objective about it, okay?” he erupts again. “The Nari thing is
pushing my wrong buttons and I can’t help it. Because of who and what he was and the fucking reward he got? A trip to the fucking White House? He gonna be on the cover of Rolling Stone next?”
“This isn’t about him, it’s about the bombings. It’s about the murder of an MIT police officer who was minding his own business, sitting in his patrol car on a night when you were on duty. It could have been you.”
“Asshole terrorists, and if the Bureau had bothered telling us they were in the Cambridge area . . . ? I mean a detail like that and no cop is going to be sitting in his car, a damn sitting duck. I’m not back in policing even six months and something like that goes down. People killed in cold blood and their legs blown off. That’s the world we live in now. I don’t see how you get past it.”
“We don’t. But I’m asking that you put it on hold right now. Let’s talk about where Jamal Nari lived.”
“A one-bedroom apartment.” Marino’s Ray-Bans stare rigidly ahead. “They moved in after they got married.”
“This part of Cambridge is expensive,” I reply.
“The rent’s three-K. Not a problem for them for some reason. Maybe because after he was suspended from teaching he sued the school for discrimination. Figures, right? I don’t know the settlement but we’ll find out. By all appearances so far he did a little better than your average high school teacher.”
“This is from Machado?”
“I get info from a lot of places.”
“And where was Joanna Cather this morning when her husband died?” “New Hampshire, heading to an outlet mall, according to her. She’s on her way here.” Sullen again, he refuses to look at me.
“Are you aware that by nine a.m. it was already on the Internet that a Cambridge man on Farrar Street possibly had been shot? It was retweeted before the alleged shooting had even occurred.”
“People are always screwing up the time they think something happened.”
“Regardless of how people screw up things,” I answer, “you should know exactly what time the nine-one-one call was made.”
“AT TEN-OH-TWO exactly,” he says. “The lady who noticed his body on the pavement said she’d seen him pull up and start getting groceries out of his car around nine-forty-five. Fifteen minutes later she noticed him down on the pavement at the rear of his car. She figured he had a heart attack.”
“How did anyone get the information before the police were even called?” I persist.
“Who told you?”
“Maybe he’s mixed up. It wouldn’t be a first.”
“Unfortunately, these days you have to worry about students,” I say as we slow at a four-way intersection. “If you’re a teacher or work in a school you could be targeted by a teenager, by someone even younger. The more it happens the more it will.”
“This is different from that. I already know it,” he says.
A jogger goes by in the crosswalk and starts to turn onto Farrar Street but apparently notices the emergency vehicles, the news trucks. He looks up at several helicopters hovering at about a thousand feet. Heading to Scott Street instead he nervously glances back and around as he picks up his pace.
“Obviously, we need to consider his students and any his wife had contact with,” I add. “Have you talked to her yourself?”
“Not yet. I only know what Machado’s been saying. According to him she sounded shocked and upset.” Marino finally looks at me. “Lost her shit in other words and it came across as genuine. She mentioned a kid she’s been helping, said she has no reason to think he’d hurt anyone but he has a thing for her. Or maybe Nari was shot during an attempted robbery. That was her other suggestion.”
“She said he was shot?”
“I think she got that from Machado. I didn’t get the impression that she already knew it.”
“We should make sure.”
“Thanks for helping me do my job. Obviously I couldn’t connect the dots without you.”
“Are you angry with me or just angry in general about terrorists? Why are you and Machado not getting along?”
He doesn’t say anything. I let it go for now.
“So Jamal Nari went grocery shopping.” I unlock my iPhone and execute a search on the Internet. “Was that a typical routine on a Thursday morning during the summer?”
“Joanna says no,” Marino replies. “He was stocking up because they were going to Stowe, Vermont, for a long weekend supposedly.”
Jamal Nari is on Wikipedia. There are scores of news accounts about his run-in with the FBI and trip to the White House. Fifty-three years old, born in Massachusetts, his father’s family originally from Egypt, his mother from Chicago. A gifted guitarist, he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and performed in musical theater and bands until he decided to settle down and teach. His high school chorus is consistently one of the top three in New England.
“Well this is a mess already,” I decide as we roll up on the scene.
I recognize the two helicopters directly overhead, Channel 12 and Channel 5. There must be at least a dozen cars, marked and unmarked, plus several news trucks in addition to other vehicles that might belong to reporters. The media has wasted no time, and that’s the way it is these days. Information is instantaneous. It’s not unusual for journalists to arrive at a scene before I do.
We park behind a CFC windowless white van rumbling on the shoulder of the road. The caduceus and scales of justice in blue on the doors are tasteful and subtle but nothing can disguise the ominous arrival of one of my scene vehicles. It’s not what anyone would ever wish to see. It can mean only one thing.
“Suddenly he gets a brand-new red Honda SUV.” Marino points out what’s parked in front of the house. “That would have set him back a few.” “And you presume he changed cars because he thought someone was after him?” That doesn’t seem logical to me. “If someone was stalking him I wouldn’t think changing cars would make a difference. The person would figure it out soon enough.”
“Maybe it doesn’t matter what I think. Maybe the Portuguese Man of War is in charge of this investigation. At least for five minutes.”
“You two need to get along. I thought you were good friends.”
“Yeah well think again.”
We climb out as my transport team, Rusty and Harold, open the back of the van. They begin pulling out a stretcher and stacks of disposable sheets.
“We got the barrier screens up,” Harold says to me.
“I can see that,” I reply. “Good job.”
The four large black nylon panels are fastened by Velcro straps to PVC
frames and form an ominous boxy shelter roomy enough for me to work in while shielding the body from prying eyes. But like similar screens used roadside in motor vehicle fatalities to prevent rubbernecking, the temporary shelters also signal carnage and they won’t stop helicopters from filming. Despite our best efforts we won’t be able to keep Jamal Nari’s dead body out of the news.
“And we’ve got sandbags on the rails just to make sure somebody doesn’t accidentally knock one over,” says Harold, a former undertaker who might just sleep in a suit and tie.
“Or in case we get a chopper gets too damn close.” Rusty is clad as usual in a sweatshirt and jeans, his long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Let’s hold here,” I say to them.
They need to stay put until I give them the signal. I don’t have to explain further. They know the routine. I need time to work and think. I count six uniformed cops sitting in their cruisers and posted at the perimeter. They’re making sure no one unauthorized enters the scene while they keep a lookout for the possible killer. I recognize two Cambridge crime scene techs who can’t do much until I’m done, and I find Sil Machado’s SUV, a dark blue Ford Explorer the same as Marino’s only not as shellacked with wax and Armor All.
Machado—the good-looking dark-haired Portuguese Man of War— is talking to a heavyset young woman, brunette, in sweats. The two of them are alone in the shade of a maple tree in front of the slate tower- roofed Victorian, a splendid three-story house turned into condominiums. Marino tells me Nari’s unit is on the first floor in back.
I lift out my scene case but hold my position at the rear of Marino’s SUV. I stand perfectly still. I get the lay of the land.