Read an Excerpt
I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door. I was gaz¬ing out my second-floor office window down at Berkeley Street, eating a cinnamon donut and drinking coffee with a little milk and sugar. The girl looked lost among the businesspeople and tour¬ists hustling along the icy sidewalks. She wore a pink Boston Red Sox cap and an oversized down parka with a fur collar, and stared up at the numbers on the office buildings where Berkeley intersects Boylston.
When she stopped at my building, she folded up a piece of paper and crossed the street with a lot of purpose. I had an open box of donuts and an uncashed check on my desk from Cone, Oakes. I’d done a little work for Rita Fiore and had been paid handsomely.
The winter had been dark, bleak, and endless, but sometime in the last hour I had actually seen the sun. My computer was playing Helen Forrest singing with the Harry James Orchestra. Life was full of promise.
I had a bite of donut just as I heard the knock on the door.
I opened it.
“You Spenser?” asked the girl in the pink Red Sox cap.
“The one and only.”
“People say you’re tough,” she said.
“Did they mention handsome and witty?”
“That you aren’t afraid to use a gun.”
“Only when my feelings get hurt.”
Her accent was South Boston, maybe Dorchester. Henry Hig¬gins could have told me her exact address. I figured her for fifteen or sixteen. She stood about five- foot- five with straight reddish brown hair spilling from the Sox cap. Her eyes were green and very large, made slightly ridiculous with heavy eyeliner.
“You really a private investigator?” she asked.
“Says so on the door.”
“And you didn’t get your license from the Internet or anything?”
“Were you a cop or something?”
“Thrown off the force for drinking?”
“Then why aren’t you a cop now?”
“I don’t play well with others,” I said. “Would you like to come in?”
She peered around me into my office, checking out my desk, two file cabinets, and the couch where Pearl slept when it was take-your-dog-to-work day. I extended my hand toward my guest chair and sat behind my desk. She joined me.
The girl had a full face with ruddy cheeks, a couple of moles on the right side. A cute kid if she’d sit up straight. But she slouched into her chair and nervously toyed with a Saint Christopher medal.
“Who busted your nose?” she asked.
“Jersey Joe Walcott,” I said.
“Former heavyweight champ,” I said. “Before your time.”
I pushed the box of donuts toward her. She looked down at my carefully chosen assortment. Then she looked back at me, still playing with the medal, and shook her head. I let the silence hang there for a moment. I figured if I waited long enough, she might tell me why she was in need of my services. After a long pause, she did.
“Somebody killed my mom.”
I took a deep breath and leaned forward. “When?”
“Four years ago,” she said.
“I want to find the bastards.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “Why now?”
“Nobody listens to kids,” she said. “I’m older now. You do this kind of stuff , right?”
“I’m good at making people listen,” I said.
“How much do you charge?”
I told her the usual rate. She began to dig through her pockets, pulling out five crumpled twenties and a ten, flattening the cash on my desktop. “Will this get you started?”
I glanced down at the money and again nudged the box of donuts her way. This time she accepted, choosing a chocolate-frosted. I complimented her choice. Giving away a whole donut was a major philanthropic gesture. I hoped she appreciated it.
“What’s your name?”
“You take the Red Line into the city, Miss Sullivan?”
“How’d you know that?”
“I am a trained investigator.”
I drank some coffee. I pulled a yellow legal pad and a pen from my left desk drawer. Ever the professional. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”
“They left her up on The Point,” she said. “By U Mass, where they tore down all those old buildings. You know?”
“She was stabbed to death.”
I nodded some more. I took some notes.
“She’d been raped,” she said. “They think.”
Her face showed little emotion, telling the story as if she’d read it in the newspaper.
“I’m very sorry,” I said.
“That was a long time ago.”
“How old are you now?”
I turned my chair as I listened and could see the morning traffic on Berkeley. People continued to make their way down the side¬walk as an MBTA bus passed, churning dirty slush in its wake.
“What did the police say?”
“They arrested this guy the next day,” she said. “Mickey Green. He’s doing life at Cedar Junction.”
“And you don’t think he did it?”
“I know he didn’t.”
“Mickey is a screwup, but he’s a good guy, you know?”
“Not much to go on,” I said.
“I saw her with a couple men that night,” she said. “I saw them snatch her up and push her into the back of a car. She wasn’t with Mickey. Mickey wasn’t with her that whole night.”
“Who were they?”
“You gonna do this?” she asked.
“These are real mean guys.”
“And young, too.”
“ ‘O Youth! For years so many and sweet.’ ”
“You’re an older guy. I’m just sayin’.”
I tried not to take offense. I was fourteen once.
“I don’t know their full names,” she said. “They just go by Pepper and Moon. Coupla shitbag drug dealers in the neighborhood.”
“I’ve lived in the Mary Ellen McCormack my whole freakin’ life.”
The McCormack was down at the bottom of South Boston, close to Dorchester, a tough old brick housing project that head¬lined a lot of shooting stories in the Globe.
“The last time I saw Pepper was six months ago. I don’t know about Moon.”
“Why not go back to the cops?”
“I did. A bunch of times.”
“What’d they say?”
“That Mickey Green is a true douchebag and got what he deserved. One time they gave me a pat on the head and a card about some shrink so I could ‘talk about my trauma.’ After a couple of years, they just stopped calling me back.”
“You can vouch for Mickey’s character?”
“He was friends with my mother,” she said. “They used to drink together at Four Green Fields. He helped her when our pipes would bust or if she needed groceries.”
“Tell me what you saw that night.”
“I saw her come into my room,” she said. “I’d put my baby sisters down to sleep after dinner, and my mom came in and went through my drawers for money. She didn’t know I saw her, but I was pissed.
I followed her outside and was gonna yell at her, but before I could, I seen Pepper and Moon grab her and drag her to their car. They threw her in the backseat. They were yelling back and forth, but I couldn’t hear what they were sayin’. Or what she was sayin’. One of the guys hit her. It was a real mess.”
“I’m sorry.” There wasn’t much else to say.
Mattie dropped her head and nodded. She rubbed her hands together. Her nails, which were painted with black polish, had been bitten to stubs. She didn’t look like she’d smiled since elemen¬tary school. Her parka had seen a lot of winters; her wrists peeked out from the blackened sleeves, buttons barely hanging on. The knees of her jeans had been patched.
“Where are your sisters now?”
“We all live with my grandmother.”
“Your mother’s mom?”
Mattie rolled her eyes.
“So four years later, you just decide to set this straight?”
“Me and Mickey been talking about it.”
“You visit him in jail?” I asked. I leaned forward and made some notes.
“He started writing me letters and sending me birthday cards and crap,” she said. Mattie ran her finger under her reddened nose. “He kept on saying how sorry he was and all, and that he would’ve never hurt my ma. And so I wrote him back and said, I know. I told him about Pepper and Moon. I said I tried to tell but no one was listening. Jesus, I was only ten.”
She studied my face as I thought about what she’d said. I figured she was seeing the chiseled features of a man she could respect. She finally rolled her eyes and went for the money. “You’re not the only tough guy in Boston,” she said.
“There’s another,” I said. “But we work as a team.”
She left the money and looked at me with those sad, tough eyes. Her shoulders slouched some more, and she dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her old parka. The pink hat looked shabby. She reminded me a lot of Paul Giacomin when I’d first met him. Nobody in his corner.
“Anyone else see your mom taken by these guys?”
“I don’t know,” Mattie said. “Nobody wants to talk about it. And nobody wants to help.”
She blinked hard, and rubbed her eyes with her tiny, balled-up fists. She sighed. “This was a stupid idea.”
“Wait a second.”
She stood up, eyes lingering on me. I pushed the money back across my desk.
“You’re in luck, Mattie Sullivan,” I said. “I’m running a special this week.”
“What’s the special?”
“Investigative services in exchange for more of these,” I said, holding up a donut.
“Are you shitting me?” she asked.
“I shit you not.”