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Hugh Dixon’s home sat on a hill in Weston and looked out over the low Massachusetts hills as if asphalt had not been invented yet. It was a big fieldstone house that looked like it ought to have vineyards, and the front entrance was porticoed. It didn’t look like the kind of place where they have much truck with private cops, but you can’t judge a house by its portico. I parked in the lower parking lot as befitted my social status and climbed the winding drive to the house. Birds sang. Somewhere out of sight on the grounds I could hear a hedge being clipped. The bell made the standard high-tone chime sound in the house when I pushed the button, and while I waited for a servant to let me in I checked my appearance reflected in the full-length windows on each side of the door. There was no way to tell, looking at me, that I only had $387 in the bank. Three-piece white linen suit, blue striped shirt, white silk tie and mahogany loafers with understated tassels that Gucci would have sold his soul for. Maybe Dixon could hire me to stand around and dress up the place. As long as I kept my coat buttoned you couldn’t see the gun.
The servant who answered was Asian and male. He wore a white coat and black trousers. I gave him my card and he let me stand in the foyer while he went and showed it to someone. The floor of the foyer was polished stone, and opened into a two-storied entry room with a balcony running around the second story and white plaster frieze around the ceiling. A grand piano sat in the middle of the room and an oil portrait of a stern person was on the wall over a sideboard.
The servant returned and I followed him through the house and out onto the terrace. A man with a huge torso was sitting in a wheel chair with a light gray blanket over his lap and legs. He had a big head and thick black hair with a lot of gray and no sideburns. His face was thick-featured with a big meaty nose and long earlobes. The servant said, “Mr. Dixon,” and gestured me toward him. Dixon didn’t move as I walked over to him. He stared out over the hills. There was no sign of a book or magazine. No indication of paperwork, portable radio, TV, just the hills to look at. In his lap was a yellow cat, asleep. There was nothing else on the terrace. No other furniture, not even a chair for me.
From this side of the house I couldn’t hear the clippers anymore.
I said, “Mr. Dixon?”
He turned, just his head, the rest of him motionless, and looked at me.
“I’m Spenser,” I said. “You wanted to talk to me about doing some work for you.”
Full front, his face was accurate enough. It looked the way a face should, but it was like a skillful and uninspired sculpture. There was no motion in the face. No sense that blood flowed beneath it and thoughts evolved behind it. It was all surface, exact, detailed and dead.
Except the eyes. The eyes snarled with life and purpose, or something like that. I didn’t know exactly what then. Now I do.
I stood. He looked. The cat slept. “How good are you, Spenser?”
“Depends on what you want me to be good at.”
“How good are you at doing what you’re told?”
“Mediocre,” I said. “That’s one reason I didn’t last with the cops.”
“How good are you at hanging in there when it’s tough?”
“On a scale of ten, ten.”
“If I hire you on for something will you quit in the middle?”
“Maybe. If, for instance, you bullshitted me when we started and I got in and found out I’d been bullshitted. I might pack it in on you.”
“What will you do for twenty thousand dollars?”
“What are we going to do, Mr. Dixon, play twenty questions until I guess what you want to hire me for?”
“How much you think I weigh?” Dixon said.
“Two forty-five, two fifty,” I said. “But I can’t see under the blanket.”
“I weigh one hundred eighty. My legs are like two strings on a balloon.”
I didn’t say anything.
He took an 8 × 10 matted photograph out from under the blanket and held it out to me. The cat awoke and jumped down, annoyed. I took the picture. It was a Bachrach photo of a handsome fortyish woman and two well-bred-looking girls in their late teens. Vassar maybe, or Smith. I started to hand it back to him. He shook his head, left once, right once. “No,” he said, “you keep it.”
“Used to be, they got blown into hamburg by a bomb in a restaurant in London a year ago. I remember my daughter’s left foot was on the floor next to me, not attached to the rest of her, just her foot, with her cork-soled shoe still on. I’d bought her the shoe that morning.”
“I’m sorry” didn’t have the right ring for a moment like that so I didn’t try. I said, “That how you ended up in the chair?”
He nodded once down, once up. “I was in the hospital for nearly a year.”
His voice was like his face, flat and accurate and unhuman. There was a stillness in him that only his eyes denied.
“And I got something to do with this.”
He nodded again. Once up, once down. “I want them found.”
“You know who they are?”
“No. The London police say it’s probably a group called Liberty.”
“Why would they blow you up?”
“Because we were where they threw the bomb. They did not know us, or care about us. They had other things to think about and they blew my entire family into garbage. I want them found.”
“And that’s all you know?”
“I know what they look like. I was awake through it all, and I lay there and looked at each of them and memorized their faces. I’d know every one of them the minute I saw them. That’s all I could do. I was paralyzed and I couldn’t move and I looked at them as they stood in the rubble and looked at what they’d done, and I memorized everything about them.”
He took a manila folder out from under the blanket and gave it to me. “A Scotland Yard detective and an artist came with one of those drawing packs while I was in the hospital and we made these pictures and I gave them the descriptions.”
“In the folder were nine Identikit sketches of young people, eight men and a woman, and ten pages of typewritten descriptions.
“I had copies made,” he said. “The pictures are pretty good. All of them.”
“Do I keep these too?” I said.
“You want me to find these people?”
“Yes. I’ll give you twenty-five hundred dollars a head, twenty-five thousand for the lot. And expenses.”
“Dead or alive?”
“I don’t do assassinations.”
“I’m not asking you to do assassinations. But if you have to kill one or all of them, you still get paid. Either way. I just want them caught.”
“And whatever you do with murderers. Brought to justice, punished. Jailed. Executed. That’s not your problem. I want them found.”
“Where do I start looking?”
“I don’t know. I know what I’ve told you. I suppose you should start in London. That’s where they killed us.”
I don’t think the pronoun was a mistake. He was mostly dead too.
“Okay. I’ll need some money.”
From his shirt pocket he took a card and held it out to me. I took it and read it. It said, “Jason Carroll, Attorney at Law.” Classy. No address, just the name and title.
“He’s at One Hundred Federal Street,” Dixon said. “Go there and tell him how much you need.”
“If I’m going to London I’ll need a lot.”
“Doesn’t matter. You say. When can you go?”
“Fortunately I’m between cases,” I said. “I can leave tomorrow.”
He said, “I had you checked out. You’re between cases a lot. Twenty thousand dollars is the biggest money you’ve ever seen. You’ve been minor league all your life.”
“Why waste all that bread on a minor leaguer then?”
“Because you’re the best I could get. You’re tough, you won’t cheat me, you’ll stick. I heard that from my people. I also heard that sometimes you think you’re Captain Midnight. Mostly that’s why you stayed in the minors, I heard. For me that’s good. A hungry Captain Midnight is just what I need.”
“Sometimes I think I’m Hop Harrigan,” I said.
“No matter. If I could do this myself I would. But I can’t. So I’ve got to hire you.”
“And sometimes you think you’re Daddy Warbucks. Just so it’s all straight between us. I’ll find these people for you. I’m not only the best you can get. I’m the best there is. But the things I won’t do for money are one hell of a lot more numerous than the things I will do.”
“Good. A little ego doesn’t hurt. I don’t care what you do or what your philosophy of life is or whether you’re good or bad or if you wet the bed at night. All I care about is these nine people. I want them. Twenty-five hundred a head. Dead or alive. The ones you get alive I want to see. The ones you get dead, I want proof.”
“Okay,” I said. He didn’t offer to shake hands. I didn’t offer to salute. He was staring out at the hills again. The cat jumped back up in his lap. “And you want me to keep the picture of your family?” I said.
He didn’t look at me. “Yes. Look at it every morning when you get up and remember that the people you’re after blew them into mincemeat.”
I nodded. He didn’t see me. I don’t think he saw anything. He looked at the hills. The cat was already asleep again in his lap. I found my way out.