About the Author
Jeremiah Healy (1948–2014) was the creator of the John Cuddy mystery series and the author of several legal thrillers. A graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, Healy taught at the New England School of Law before becoming a novelist. He published his first novel, Blunt Darts, in 1984, introducing John Francis Cuddy, the Boston private eye who would become Healy’s best-known character.
Read an Excerpt
By Jeremiah Healy
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Jeremiah Healy
All rights reserved.
The guy on the racing bike missed clocking me by about the width of the dentist's tool he had mounted on his helmet as a rearview mirror. He used fingerless leather gloves to shift through a couple of his eighteen gears, swerving around the abutment holding up its share of an on-ramp to Storrow Drive. Then he turned in his saddle enough to yell, "Fuck you, you fucking joggers."
Gritting my teeth, I mopped the sweat over my eyes with a forearm but didn't break stride. I'd learned that from the first two bicyclists, who pretty clearly thought that 4:00 P.M. on a hot Monday in June was wheel-time-only along the Charles River. Usually I run in the mornings, but I'd just spent two weeks undercover, playing employee for a high-tech company on the Route 128 beltway. The company thought it had a payrolled worm working his or her way through its trade secrets and siphoning them off to a competitor.
I generally don't like going undercover. For one thing, it cuts you off from most everything else a private investigator is supposed to do, like return phone calls and meet with people. For another, your basic mission is to get relatively nice people to like and trust you so that you can bag them or one of their friends. The company did cover my daily rate for seven days, even though they knew I'd be putting in only five, and the worm turned (sorry) out to be a snobby engineer, late of MIT, who decided industrial espionage would be a quicker route to her first Porsche. For me, though, the reverse commute from Boston thirteen miles west every morning didn't leave much time for running, so I'd been missing that endorphin high. And the schmoozing that goes with being undercover didn't leave me with much time for anything else. Including Nancy Meagher.
I'd finished with the high-tech assignment that morning, then spent most of the afternoon in my office opposite the Park Street subway station, catching up on the crapola paperwork that seems to breed in place when you aren't pushing it every day. Nancy was about to start a long conspiracy trial for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, but she promised me a home-cooked meal at her place in South Boston that night. I figured four miles along the river would vent some of the tension and pressure that had accumulated over the last few weeks. So, I laced up the shoes, pulled on the shorts, and tugged over my head the T-shirt Nancy had given me last Christmas and I'd worn running the Boston marathon two months before. Unfortunately, the bikes turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.
A Metropolitan District Commission crew was trying to clear a sewer line. They wore surgical masks, like earthquake relief workers excavating collapsed buildings. With both temperature and humidity well past eighty, the cloying stink stayed strong for another hundred yards.
Half a mile after the sewer line, a cluster of Boston University students sat near the river's edge, smashing wine bottles against the rocks. It looked like the collected empties of a four-year career, the kids drinking and cursing and laughing at their cleverness. You think about stopping the party, but there were enough of them that you'd have to hurt a few, and at least one would dimly recall a television bar scene where somebody came after somebody else with the neck of a broken bottle.
A mile farther on, another crew, this time road workers, had traffic backed up on Storrow while they jackhammered about an acre of macadam into rubble. The car horns nearly drowned out the jackhammers. Nearly.
But the worst, that was saved for the last quarter mile. A sour old man in a Kangol cap and hiking staff and cigar broader than the staff let his Doberman off the leash just as I was passing them by a respectful lateral margin. The Doberman's head flashed up, I tried to dodge him, and his jaws snapped shut on the tail of my T-shirt, wrenching it away from me.
I stopped and looked down at what was left of the shirt. The rending went diagonally through the BODY BY NAUTILUS, BRAIN BY MATTEL legend on it.
Then I looked over as his dog dropped the rest of the thing at his owner's feet.
The man snugged down the Kangol cap and brandished the hiking staff like a lance. Around the cigar, he said, "There's worse where that came from, too."
I shook my head and decided to walk the rest of the way home. Slowly.
I parked my old silver Prelude on the nonstreet that backs toward the Massachusetts Turnpike. The Winecellar of Silene is a terrific store next to the University Club on Stuart Street. They cater mainly to an upscale yuppie crowd, but they know a lot about the grapes and enough about me to recommend something for ten bucks that tastes twice as good as something costing three times as much in most restaurants.
Ruben the manager caught my eye as I came through the door. The features around his brown eyes tightened.
"John, you okay?"
I checked my clothes. I'd showered and put on a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants over old running shoes. The humidity made the shirt cling a little, but on the whole I thought I looked pretty presentable.
Ruben said, "You look kind of ... keyed up."
"It's been a tough day."
"We can deal with that. Red or white?"
Ruben nodded. "Just be sure to drink them on different nights, huh?"
I smiled and nodded back.
When I got out to the car, the orange cardboard under my windshield wiper reminded me that I'd forgotten to feed the meter.
I inched through bumper-to-bumper traffic toward Nancy's neighborhood. Just before the Central Artery, a derelict black man with a paper bag crimped around a bottle of something sat spraddle-legged against the wall of a warehouse. He glanced up as a statuesque black in a bright red dress, high heels, and a shoulder bag strutted past him. The derelict said, "Norman, boy. Is that you?," and cackled as the tall person picked up his or her pace and never looked back.
On the South Boston side of the Artery, Broadway was choked with people double-parked and just leaning into driver's sides, talking, while cars tried to slalom around them. I'd grown up in Southie and understood the community exchange function of basically blue-collar folks who'd been at work when most white-collars are just getting out of bed, but it was the perfect close to a frustrating day.
I finally got to Nancy's block off L Street and left the Prelude four doors down from her building. It's a three-decker owned by a Boston Police family, Nancy renting the top floor. They're pleased to see a neighborhood girl doing well as an assistant DA, and she's pleased to have the incremental security the Lynches represent.
The humidity was making me sweat from just carrying the bag Ruben had filled with a Rafanelli zinfandel and a chilled Waterbrook chardonnay. A drop fell off my chin and into the bag as I pressed Nancy's bell. A minute later the door opened, and my thoughts caught for just a beat, the way they always do when I first see her.
I could show you a photograph of Ms. Meagher, and you'd start by saying, "Smart. Professional woman, right?" Then you'd probably notice some specifics: the nicely spaced eyes, the black hair, the wide mouth. If the camera was good enough, you might pick up the blue in her eyes that owed nothing to contact lenses and the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Eventually, you'd appreciate how the eyes kept your attention, and the hair framed the face, and the teeth seemed so even if an inviting smile happened to spread the mouth even wider.
"Sorry, just daydreaming a little."
She pushed up the sleeves of an old flannel shirt and peeked over the edge of the Winecellar bag. "Two bottles on a work night?"
"We can pick one, save the other for another time."
Nancy heard something in my voice and pushed on her sleeves some more. "Sure. Come on up."
She took the bag from me. I followed her rump as it swayed fetchingly under tennis shorts with the hem turned up once. At the second-floor landing, Drew Lynch opened his door and nodded to me. Just making sure Nancy's company was expected.
The third-floor door was open, and Nancy's cat, Renfield, scuttled out to greet us. The little gray tiger had needed an operation on both back legs, which, nearly a month later, were still crooked and healing. However, he didn't seem to be in any pain, just unable to launch himself from a crouch into a jump.
Renfield rubbed against my legs and purred, then butted his head into my shin until I bent down and picked him up. He sensed something and struggled until I set him down gently, front legs first, then rear ones when he seemed steady.
Nancy put the wine on the kitchen table. "Even the cat can tell."
"Tell what?" I said, a little too sharply.
Renfield ran sideways out of the kitchen, his clawless front paws digging hard at the linoleum, his rear legs trying to come alongside like a skidding car on a patch of ice.
I took a breath. "Didn't mean to scare the cat."
"And if you're scaring me?"
Something from the sea was crackling on the stove behind her. I lowered my voice. "Let's open the wine. The white's a chardonnay."
Nancy turned down the gas under a covered pan. "So long as we talk over it."
I popped the cork and poured into a pair of tulip-shaped glasses. We moved to the front of the apartment, taking floor cushions in Nancy's living room. The television was on, the sound off. The screen showed a much-used clip of the troops coming back from Desert Storm being welcomed by a big crowd at an airport. The civilians were cheering and beaming, the soldiers looking as bewildered as the Vietnam vets from my era felt betrayed.
Nancy clicked off the set, then sat cross-legged, elbow on the glass-topped coffee table. I leaned against the wooden half-moon seat built into her small bay window. The undercover job had been outside Nancy's jurisdiction, so I'd been able to tell her some of it and now was able to fill in most of the rest. Then I got to the part I didn't like.
The glass of wine stopped halfway to her lips. "They're not going to prosecute this woman?"
"No. The general counsel said it would be 'too difficult.'"
"Meaning too much bad PR."
"Probably. The head of security out there is going to take early retirement as it is."
"And the company doesn't want the fumes from this to waft back to its customer base."
"That's right," I said.
"So, the engineer can go on to her next job and play Mata Hari again."
"The company had a sit-down with her and her lawyer and me. Very fruitful. The general counsel said he wouldn't pursue any formal remedies, and she gave the company the kind of letter, signed by her and witnessed by her lawyer, that will be trotted out if she ever uses the company as a reference in the future."
Nancy took a sip of wine. "That means she just doesn't use this company as a reference."
"It's her first job out of school. Tough to leave it off the resume."
"She says to the next employer, 'Oh, but with the economy and all, I've just been twiddling my thumbs these last months.'"
I shook my head. "I guess so."
Nancy set down her glass. "But that's not all that's bothering you, is it?"
"So, let's have it."
I told her how tiresome the high-tech job had been, how badly the run had gone, how aggravating the traffic had been.
Nancy said, "You just need a change of scenery."
She said it lightly, just the trace of a smile at the corners of her lips, as though she were trying to start the evening all over again at her front door.
"What do you mean, Nance?"
"You're just a little burned out, John Francis Cuddy. You don't usually feel that way, because of how your job works. Generally, you get to do different things every day, variety keeping the boredom at bay. The problem is that you're just a little sick of your surroundings. You need to get away."
I tried for the trace of a smile, too. "With you?"
A frown. "No chance. With this conspiracy trial coming up, I've got to work, even the weekend."
"I'm not really up for a solo vacation."
She reached into a pocket of her shorts, producing a pink telephone message slip. "I got a call from a classmate of mine today."
"From New England?"
"Right. After law school, he went up to Maine."
"Why was he calling you?"
"He's got a heavy case, and he needs some investigation work done."
"Uh-unh. This client is heeled and facing life in the slam. He'll be happy to double your daily rate for the inconvenience of visiting the hinterlands."
"Nance, I'm not licensed in 'the hinterlands.'"
"Gil said he could take care of that."
"My classmate. His last name's spelled L-A-C-O-U-T-U-R-E, but he pronounces it 'Luh-coo-ter.'"
"Your classmate's a criminal defense lawyer who can get me waived in by whatever board regulates private investigators in Maine?"
"That's what he said. He really needs somebody who's licensed down here more."
I stopped for a minute. "Who's his client?"
The trace smile again. "Steven Shea."
About all I'd had time to do during the undercover assignment was watch broadcast news, and Shea had been on every channel the prior week. "The defendant in The Foursome case."
"It would be a good one for you. Take a few days up on—it's spelled M-A-R-S-E-I-L-L-E-S, but they pronounce it 'Marcel's'—Pond, then spend most of your time down here looking into the two couples, where Gil really needs the help."
"They were neighbors out by Calem, right?"
"Easily accessible via Route 128."
"Not a selling point right now."
Nancy took a little more wine. "John, you could use the change of pace. It'd be like a paid vacation."
I looked at her, message slip in her free hand, the soft sell of the brass ring. Generally, Nancy couldn't help me much with my business without conflicting her own job, which would mean trouble with both her boss and the Board of Bar Overseers that regulates all attorneys in the state. I knew she'd like the fact that she could give me this one. Also, with her on the conspiracy case, we wouldn't be seeing much of each other for a while. And Nancy was probably right about the change of pace. The clean air and easy life of Maine started looking better and better.
I said, "That's only part of the solution."
"I realized today that not being able to run has left me depleted of endorphins."
"Endorphins. You mean like from exercise?"
Nancy finished her wine and knee-walked over to me, having to lean down just a little to touch my forehead with her lips. "Does that mean you want to have dinner before or after we make love?"
I kissed her neck. "How about in between?"
Nancy used the nails of three fingers to tilt my chin up toward her. "Ever the optimist," she said softly.
There are more graveyards in Boston than even the popular tourist trolleys can cover in a month. The most famous is Old Granary, across and down from my office building on Tremont Street. Old Granary, begun in the seventeenth century on the part of the Boston Common used for keeping grain, was originally supposed to be the overflow field for King's Chapel, where they still have black iron fencing around the well used to dispose of newborns when infant mortality was a given condition instead of a debated statistic. Now Old Granary is better known, the final resting place of Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and many others. But the most important graveyard in Boston sits on a slope of land in Southie, overlooking the harbor. It's green for five months a year, brown for four, and more or less white for the remaining three. It has mothers smothered by dead-end jobs and fathers drowned by alcohol. It has daughters beaten by abusive husbands in squalid tenements and sons dropped by enemy bullets in foreign wars. And it has one wife. Elizabeth Mary Devlin Cuddy.
I laid the roses that morning at an angle to her stone, the blooms toward the head.
Roses. What's the occasion?
"I'm heading north for a while, Beth."
"A case Nancy's gotten for me. A guy accused of killing his wife and another couple at a summer place in Maine."
A pause. And you'll be representing the guy?
"Not exactly. If I take the case, I'll be working for his lawyer."
Why do they think he did it?
"I've only seen the TV coverage, but apparently The Foursome did everything together."
Another pause. Everything?
I couldn't stop the smile. "You know how slow I am about that sort of thing, Beth."
And here I always thought you were a child of the sixties, John.
"I was a college student in the sixties. That makes me a child of the fifties. Hell, it was 1983 before I realized that Eleanor Rigby was waiting for Father McKenzie."
Excerpted from Foursome by Jeremiah Healy. Copyright © 1994 Jeremiah Healy. 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.
Table of Contents