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Murder at the B-School
By Jeffrey Cruikshank
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Jeffrey L. Cruikshank
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSOMETHING LIKE A BUZZING FLY GRADUALLY COMING INTO HIS consciousness: It took Patrolman Mattola a few minutes to pin down exactly what was irritating him about the death scene.
It was the noise of the shower. Or actually, just a piece of that noise. Some trick of the water rushing out, and air rushing in to replace it, creating a high-pitched whine like a liquid drill, boring into those little delicate ear bones he remembered only in a hazy kind of way from the anatomy course he had taken a few years back, when he was working toward a master's degree on the Quinn Bill-the great, sacred gravy train for Massachusetts police officers-and, of course, the raise that came with the advanced degree. Tympany bones, or some such.
Plus, it was wasteful. Mattola was a frugal man. The thought of the Quabbin Reservoir, out in the drowned hinterlands of western Massachusetts, slowly being drained by this unplugged hole rubbed his nerves raw. He was tempted, very tempted, to reach behind the half-closed shower curtain and snap the water off.
But Mattola knew better. If the prints showed that someone other than the dead kid had turned it on, the dusting crew would have earned their keep on this particular assignment. Finding some Boston Police prints on the knob couldn't help.
And as corpse-sitting details went, this wasn't such a bad one.
Indoors; no gawkers. No flies. No smells, other than the thick industrial perfume of chlorine in the wet air. In fact, if you had to be called in too early on a Monday morning to babysit a stiff, this was the duty you'd pick. The kid was floating facedown in the whirlpool, naked, suspended at forty-five degrees in a limp, looming bird-of-prey pose. The whirlpool's circle of underwater seats had caught his toes. That, and maybe some foul bubble trapped inside the corpse, prevented the body from sinking any farther.
As far as Mattola could see-and no one had invited him to get up close-there was very little damage on the kid. Some black-and-blue marks just below the bottom of his hair, where his neck met his shoulders. No blood in or around the pool. No debris. Just a forlorn bottle of Maker's Mark on the tiled edge of the pool, with that signature cork sitting next to the bottle, red plastic melted down its sides in a pretty good approximation of wax, extending a last mute invitation. Mattola remembered peeling the plastic off one such cork and nibbling on it-perhaps actually eating it, come to think of it-back in his drinking days.
He sighed, just audibly: Now, there was a bottle of good juice bound for a bad end.
"Thank you, Sergeant. Nothing's been touched?"
"No, ma'am. Just as they found him."
Mattola, a shy man, not normally an ogler of women, allowed himself a few furtive once-overs of Captain Barbara Brouillard, known throughout the Boston Police Department as "Ms. Biz"-not necessarily a flattering nickname. First female to make detective. Credited with several high-profile busts, ranging from low-life shenanigans over in East Boston to some genuinely slick white- collar stings. Rumored to make up her own rules from time to time.
To Mattola's jaded eyes, she was nothing special. A pile of tangled brown curls, stacked carelessly on top of and behind her head. A blunt, businesslike nose and deep-set eyes, wrinkled at the corners, which looked as if they had seen through way too many people. Probably on the skinny side, although it was hard to tell with all the layers of clothes she was wearing to fend off the Boston winter. A local, Mattola reflected, and we locals naturally look like lumps of dough six or seven months a year, squirreling away whatever heat we come across. Brouillard hadn't even taken off her heavy trench coat, despite the warm and damp atmosphere.
This room was designed to be naked in. Idly Mattola imagined everyone in the increasingly cramped whirlpool room-the dusters, the photographers, Brouillard, himself-nude, going about their business, sweating slightly in the damp air. He didn't get much mileage out of it.
"All right," Captain Brouillard said crisply, breaking into Mattola's low-voltage reveries. "We have our water shots. Let's get our friend out for some close-ups. And, gentlemen, I want him coming out of the water hole nice and clean-no bruises, please."
Mattola caught the eye of his partner, Joe Linehan. Linehan looked heavenward almost imperceptibly and then bent down to untie his shoes. Mattola, grumbling sourly, did the same. There were only two ways to get the meat out of the marsh: the sloppy way and the careful way. The careful way meant you had to get into the marsh with the meat.
Together, shoes and socks off, pant legs and shirtsleeves rolled up, the two uniformed policemen, who were well into the out-of-shape phase of life, eased themselves down the steps, knee-deep into the surprisingly hot water. A good detail gone bad, sighed Mattola. This was the sort of thing that led to strained lower backs and, sooner or later, to self-righteous stories in the newspapers about deadbeat cops abusing the city's generous disability policies. They rolled the body over, hand over hand-just another log in the water, although nicely warmed by the water. Nice face, peach-fuzz body hair, modest endowments. Mattola reached under the corpse's armpits and maneuvered the dead weight slowly around so that its feet docked in Linehan's hands. Silently, with purposeful nods and jerks of the head left and right, the two policemen alley-ooped their way up the Jacuzzi's too-tall and slippery steps: one, pause, two. Water first streamed and then trickled off the body. Its face stared up, vacant and openmouthed, as if it had lost its train of thought in midsentence.
Gently, gently. But then, as they were easing it down onto the tiled floor, Mattola lost his grip under the right armpit, and the last four inches to the floor closed up instantly. The corpse's head bumped once, silently, and expelled a small gush of water from its mouth as it settled down for its last photographs, ever.
Mattola looked up into Brouillard's weary-looking eyes at precisely that moment. She glided her head left-right, left-right, just perceptibly, as if it rode on ball bearings. It registered every bit of her disapproval of the world's clumsiness.
Or more specifically, of his clumsiness.
Excerpted from Murder at the B-School by Jeffrey Cruikshank Copyright © 2004 by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank.
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