Six-foot-tall, redheaded ex-cop and Boston-based private eye Carlotta Carlyle is “the genuine article: a straightforward, funny, thoroughly American mystery heroine” (New York Post).
Boston’s largest urban renewal undertaking in modern history draws Carlotta into an undercover gig at the site. It comes at the request of a disgruntled hardhat who suspects the multibillion-dollar project has set off a groundswell of graft, kickbacks, and fraud. The case hasn’t unearthed anything but dirt, so Carlotta is tempted into moonlighting on another: a Beacon Street socialite who’s deeply concerned about her vanishing tenant, a dog groomer named Veronica James.
Since there’s no possible way Veronica would run off without her beloved Norwegian wolfhound, Carlotta’s suspicions are definitely aroused. And when her big-dig informant falls to his death in a highly dubious accident, Carlotta’s torn between two disparate investigations: an unlikely kidnapping and a likely murder . . .
Until they begin to converge, “and watching Carlotta tease out their deep, disturbing connections is pure pleasure” (Kirkus Reviews).
The Big Dig is the 9th book in the Carlotta Carlyle Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I used to work with Happy Eddie Conklin when I was a cop. He had a gruff voice, a blunt, dogged manner, and while he was "freakin' old enough to be my father," as he reminded me often enough, he never treated me like a child. When he asked me to meet him at Ocean Wealth in Chinatown, I accepted for two reasons: they serve pungent, spicy squid to die for, and I knew he'd cover the lunch as a business expense.
After a minor heart attack, cushioned by eighty-percent disability, he'd moved on to join a national security firm. I'd bailed at the same time, sans pension, and driven a cab nights while I got the Carlyle Detective Agency off the ground. My name is Carlyle — Carlotta Carlyle — and I've been an independent operator for more years than I hung on as a cop. I run a solo shop, pilot a cab between cases, and don't stress my first name because it's seldom seen as a plus in the business.
Eddie, now head of Foundation Security's Boston office, was early, wearing a gray suit that did its best to make him look ten pounds lighter, seated at a table barely big enough to handle two plates and a teapot. He rose, clasping my hand in both of his, yanking me into an embrace.
"Business, I tell ya, fantastic. Boomin' don't come close. Lack of trust in this town, geez, it's amazin'. Due diligence alone, bodyguardin' alone — I could run my own freakin' police department, ya know? Ya like this place? Ya want something to start?"
He relayed my order of hot and sour soup to the hovering waiter and demanded "egg rolls, spring rolls, whatever ya call 'em," as well. "Bring that sweet sauce, ya know? The duck kind."
I poured steaming tea into small white cups.
Eddie looked prosperous, from his blue silk tie to his tasseled slip- ons. His gray hair was short, his jaw freshly shaven. He glanced around to discourage eaves-droppers at neighboring tables, lowered his voice half a notch. "So how's your boy, Mooney?"
Some rumors have a longer half-life than nuclear waste. Lieutenant Detective Joseph Mooney, head of Boston Homicide, is another former colleague. We're friends, no more, never so much as a misguided one- night stand, but the grapevine says otherwise. If Eddie was planning to use me to cozy up to Moon, all I'd get out of lunch would be calories.
"Think it's gonna snow later?" I asked.
Eddie gave me a look. "Ya got yourself shot up, I hear."
"Good. Glad to hear it."
He was studying my face like he'd never seen green eyes, a pointy chin, or flaming hair before. Made me wonder whether I looked drawn or pale. I widened my smile, hoped the extra wattage would substitute for blusher.
I wasn't fine, to tell the truth. I had raised red scars on my left thigh from a through-and-through bullet wound. I couldn't play my usual three-days-a-week game of killer volleyball, and the exercises the physical therapist demanded ranged from painful to torturous. Yesterday the jerk had mentioned that my leg might always ache in bad weather. Considering I live in one of the slush and muck capitals of the planet, his words hit like a death sentence.
The tea was too hot to taste, so I set my cup down on a paper placemat bordered by Chinese signs of the zodiac. "So, business is good," I said, aiming Eddie back to professional ground.
He sniffed his tea suspiciously, searched the table for a nonexistent sugar bowl. "I got regular jobs up the wazzoo and a lot of special shit, too. The presidential debate at UMass? I handled that, the local stuff. They had G-men for the vice president, FBI, Justice. A few more red- carpet deals like that, I could retire rich."
I tried my tea again. "You got the ex-presidents when they speak at Faneuil Hall?"
"Damn, that's comin' up, right?"
"Patriots' Day." April nineteenth is Patriots' Day in Boston, always has been, always will be. They've tried to turn it into another one of those Monday holidays, but it rankles. Nobody celebrates the Fourth of July on the closest Monday.
"I don't think so." Eddie nodded gravely like I'd just offered him the job. "I got my plate too full, which is why I'm here. I'm interested in spreading a little largesse your way."
Largesse. You can go years without hearing anyone say that word. It plinked against my eardrums like a rattle of gold coins.
"The Dig." He mouthed the word rather than speaking it, very hush- hush.
When you say "the Dig" around here, you don't need to elaborate. The Dig is the Big Dig, formally known as the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project. It's the biggest urban construction project in the history of the modern world, no less, a mega-dollar boondoggle to some, a brilliant and farsighted plan for Boston's transportation future to others. Read it either way in the newspapers, hear it praised and damned daily on talk radio.
The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project is all about running 161 lane miles of highway through a 7.5-mile-long corridor. Easy enough, except that instead of racing through some featureless desert, the corridor slices straight through the heart of one of the nation's oldest, most congested cities. Add the news that half those highway miles are located in tunnels and include four major highway interchanges. Plus there's a landmark bridge over the Charles River and an under-Boston-Harbor tunnel for good luck.
To weary natives, it seems like it's been going on forever, but really, here in the year of our lord, 2000, the Dig is just hitting its stride, moving into the heaviest period of construction, with four thousand construction workers planting three million dollars a day deep into the ground.
"There's stuff going on." Eddie kept the whisper low. "Graft. Fraud."
"No shit." I widened my eyes. "Gambling in the backroom?"
A guy Conklin's age, especially an ex-detective, ought to know his vintage Bogie movies better. I bit the inside of my cheek. Really, the very idea that a project okayed by the federal government in 1987 at a price tag of two point six billion, and currently playing at fourteen billion bucks and counting, might have graft and fraud associated with its execution ... I was shocked, simply shocked.
Eddie leaned his head close. Foundation Security had been hired by the Inspector General of the Commonwealth after a series of scathing reports lambasting the IG's failure at ferreting out Dig fraud. As Eddie told it, the IG wasn't sure which of his guys were on the take, so he'd opted to bring in fresh blood. Eddie and his ops had already uncovered a few irregularities. Nothing major, but the TV broadcasters had eaten them up — and the IG's office had finally grabbed some positive headlines.
Would I be interested in joining his team, on a temporary basis that might lead to something more than temporary?
Before my lunch with Happy Eddie, I'd been juggling medical bills, grocery bills, property tax payments — deciding whether, and then when, to loot my little sister's college fund. I'd been nursing a bum leg, dunning deadbeat clients, paying full rates for physical therapy. In short, I was more than ready to consider the delights of a regular paycheck plus health benefits. I gulped tea and wondered whether I could deal with the concept of having a boss again, or whether I'd lost the knack of working well with others.
Happy Eddie Conklin's safe, secure, and possibly long-term job looked pretty damned good to me. Geshmak iz der fish oyfyemens tish. That's the Yiddish for what my mother's mother might have said about the situation: "Tasty is the fish on someone else's dish."
And so, eight weeks ago, after polishing off Kung Pao prawns and pungent, spicy squid, I'd signed on the dotted line. Foundation Security, for their part, provided two weeks basic training. There had been initial skepticism among Eddie's colleagues as to whether a six-foot-one redheaded woman could move from site to site undercover. Before my final training session I'd invested in a box of Lady Clairol, Ash Brown, worn my newly mousy hair in an upswept do, and added a pair of clear spectacles. When the instructor gazed at me blankly as I entered the room, and politely inquired whether he could help, I passed with flying colors.
I thought I knew the Dig when I started, but what I knew was myth and legend. I knew that depressing the Central Artery was the notion of a young MIT-trained engineer, Fred Salvucci, who later became Governor Dukakis's transportation secretary; that it was his dream, and some said his revenge for his grandmother's Brighton home, bulldozed almost forty years ago because it lay in the path of Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman William Callahan's ill-planned Turnpike extension. I knew that Salvucci's idea had been initially derided, that then-state rep Barney Frank had reputedly said it would be cheaper to elevate the entire city than sink the artery. I knew driving through and around the Dig. I knew confusing signs and miles of blue-and-yellow barriers. I knew endless delays and complex detours. I knew the sound of travelers, cabbing into the city from Logan Airport, catching their breath at the mouth of the Ted Williams Tunnel, gasping at the forest of giant cranes that loomed over the South Bay.
I didn't know the icy bite of wind on construction sites, or the stubborn grit that stayed under my nails, or the sticky blue clay that clung to my boots. I didn't know union rules and OSHA standards and how a hard-hat limits vision and when to wear earplugs to prevent hearing loss.
I didn't know shit, and I still didn't, not after a mere six weeks on two sites. But I had a better idea of what I didn't know, and I was developing a fine disdain for clueless civilians who didn't even know that the blue-and-yellow barriers went by the name "kit-of-parts."
I hadn't mined gold on either of my previous sites. The rumored drugs at the pit where I'd toiled as a laborer traced to a single user, not an established ring. A brief truck-driving gig hadn't revealed the promised gas-siphoning scam. Oh, I could have made a case against a couple of petty scroungers, but really, was it worth it? Seemed to me the big guys, the heavy-duty grafters, were walking tall while I kept an eye out for twopenny-nail theft.
Maybe my third site would be different. The job was.CHAPTER 2
Keyboarding, filing, and answering the damn phone.
They were easier on my sore leg than hauling pipe, gentler on my tailbone than driving a 'dozer, but they came with their own set of problems. Secretarial chores meant dressing neatly, obeying orders, and smiling till my cheeks ached.
"This ain't no South Bay, ya know, no effin' wonder of the world." Harv O'Day, the site super, tried and failed to sound modest. A wiry little guy in his thirties, what he didn't know about the Dig you could probably stick in the corner of one of his cool gray eyes. "At the Bay, they have to freeze the goddam dirt, it's so soft, and tunneljack the highway under the railroad tracks. At South Station, the sandhogs go down a hundred and twenty feet, and they have to worry about the subway overhead, and the trains. Nothin' like that around here."
It was warm and stuffy in the double-wide trailer that housed the field office of Horgan Construction. The Horgans, Gerry and Liz, husband and wife, ran a local company with major political pull. They camped in the private office behind the thin wooden door to the right. I shared the central section with two desks, four filing cabinets, a chatty coworker named Marian, a Dell computer, and a ton of filed and to-be-filed paperwork. To the left, O'Day ruled an area no larger than a phone booth, watching workers punch timecards, studying specs and schedules, filling out requisition forms.
On a counter along the back wall, a microwave oven sat next to a sink. The tiny bathroom looked good compared to the outdoor Portolets.
Marian, twenty-four, cute, and curvy, had already informed me that Gerry Horgan was her dream boss, referred to his wife as "the big cheese," and hinted that the Horgans' only child, a "total darling," was neglected by her workaholic mom. She'd termed O'Day a confirmed bachelor with a sniff that said she might have taken a run in that direction. She said my keyboarding skills needed improvement.
The trailer crouched in the shadow of the doomed elevated interstate, AKA the Central Artery, close to where it met Commercial Avenue. The adjacent site, Site A1520, was — according to O'Day — a relative piece of cake, a top-down job that included rerouting utilities, constructing slurry walls, cutting away the steel and concrete columns supporting the elevated highway, and replacing them with temporary supports built on top of the slurry walls. Then came tunneling between the walls, removing the dirt through openings in the roof deck called glory holes, and the actual construction of roadway and interchanges. All this underneath a major highway that had to remain open to 190,000 or so cars a day. One Dig boss compared it to performing open-heart surgery while the patient played tournament tennis.
We were near the end of the digging phase, getting ready for massive infusions of concrete — enough, O'Day said, to build a sidewalk three feet wide, four inches thick, all the way to San Francisco and back three times. The paperwork to prove it was stacked helter-skelter on my desk.
The trailer door banged and I thought, here we go again, another laborer to inspect the new talent. My first day on the job I'd worn a short skirt, provoking gazes so intent I'd been worried someone would spot my bullet-wound right through my tights. I'm not saying the traffic in and out of the trailer was all about me. By no means. First of all, everybody tramped in and out, engineers, supervisors, consultants for this, consultants for that. Second, it was damned cold outside, and third, Miss Marian Farrell, my co-gofer, dressed like a men's mag covergirl. She also kept a box of chocolate-covered cherries nestled next to a pile of condoms in the lower left-hand drawer of her desk, and glanced in my direction more often than I liked ever since she'd found me "looking for a paper clip" in her blameless top drawer.
I'd been searching for computer passwords. A lot of people write them down, in case they forget.
O'Day headed back to his desk as the door slammed behind a man whose watery blue eyes didn't go with his tough-guy face. He cradled his hard hat in the crook of his arm, marched over to Marian's desk, and announced, "I wanna see Mrs. Horgan," without so much as a glance in my direction.
"You have an appointment, Kevin? I didn't notice you on the schedule —"
"Oh, she'll see me, okay."
Marian shot him a glance, and he dropped one eyelid into a wink, a good-looking guy who knew it, strolling into the trailer like he owned it. Some of the workers seemed shy indoors, scraping their boots before entering, ducking their heads like they felt too tall for the ceiling. Kevin's boots were caked with mud.
The office door opened and Liz Horgan stepped out, smoothing a slim navy suit. The man's eyes lit up.
She couldn't have been much older than me, midthirties tops. Her oval face was the kind that looks different from different angles, her silky blonde hair long enough to yank back in a ponytail. A nitpicker might have said her lips were too full. Too many expressions played over her features too quickly for me to read them. At first I thought she was pleased to see the man named Kevin, then displeased.
All she said was, "Oh." The sound stretched and hung in the air.
"Why don't we —" Kevin began.
"I'm just leaving," she said at the same time.
Theo full. Too many expressions played over her features too quickly for me to read them. At first I thought she was pleased to see the man named Kevin, then displeased.
All she said was, "Oh." The sound stretched and hung in the air.
"Why don't we —" Kevin began.
"I'm just leaving," she said at the same time.
The inner door reopened and Gerry Horgan emerged, head down as usual, a short bull of a man, with heavy shoulders and a barrel chest. He halted at the sight of his wife and Kevin, and it suddenly seemed as if too many people were crowded into our little trailer.
Horgan was third-generation construction. Old man Horgan, builder of City Hall, was dead and his son, Leonard, builder of hospitals and office towers, was tucked away on corporate boards, confident the business was in good hands. And why not? Gerry was a double eagle, meaning he'd graduated from Boston College High and Boston College, like a lot of area movers and shakers. Liz was an architect and an engineer as well as a looker, and a full partner in Horgan Construction. The gossip mill said she owed her partnership to the feds; on a big project like this they held plum contracts open for minority and woman-owned businesses.
"Meeting's gonna start without you, Liz." Horgan's voice boomed in the small space.
"I'm going, Gerry. On my way." She patted her skirt nervously and flashed a distracted smile in my direction before hurrying out the door. It could have been aimed at Kevin, but it warmed like sunshine and I had the feeling that of all the trailer's inmates, she was most likely to remember my name. For this job it was Carla. Carla Evans.
"Help you with something?" Horgan's voice hadn't lost its edge. It held Fournier in place.
"Why did you want to see Liz?"
Fournier shifted his hard hat. "Look, I heard they're going to twenty- four/seven next door."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Big Dig"
Copyright © 2002 Linda Appelblatt Barnes.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.