A prominent lawyer is found dead, tied to his own dock by a fishing stringer through his jaw, and everyone wants private detective Nils Shapiro to protect them from suspicion: The unfaithful widow. Her artist boyfriend. The lawyer’s firm. A polarizing congressional candidate. A rudderless suburban police department. Even the FBI.
Nils and his investigative partners illuminate a sticky web of secrets and deceit that draws national attention. But finding the web doesn’t prevent Nils from getting caught in it. Just when his safety is most in peril, his personal life takes an unexpected twist, facing its own snarl of surprise and deception.
In The Shallows, Goldman delves into the threat of dark history repeating itself while delivering another page-turner with his signature pace, humor, and richly drawn characters.
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Police floodlights lit the backyard, insects flew crazy squiggles in the faux daylight, and I followed a lackluster cop down to Christmas Lake.
We stepped onto a dock of fiberglass planks. It jiggled underfoot. A red rowing shell lay at the end, overturned and chained to a galvanized post. It was 4:30 A.M. The eastern sky had lightened to gray with a breath of purple. I looked down. Todd Rabinowitz's body lay on the sandy lake bottom under a couple feet of water. It wore khaki pants and a white T-shirt. He looked like he'd lived to about fifty. Fish nibbled on dead Todd's face and fingertips.
I said, "You're leaving him in the water?"
Detective Mike Norton said, "There's a complication." Norton was midfifties, tall, white, and doughy. He had light brown hair and a forehead so big he could rent it out as a billboard. Dress pants and a dress shirt but without jacket and tie. A badge hung on his belt. He said, "When Mrs. Rabinowitz found her husband, she wasn't sure he was dead. She was using her phone as a flashlight. That's how she spotted him. So she ran into the water and tried to pull him up on shore. She moved him a couple of feet then the body stopped. It was hung up on something. She was freaking out, which hey, you can't blame her for. She wanted to see what he was caught on but didn't want to look too close. Most people don't spend a lot of time around dead bodies."
"I thought you said she didn't know if her husband was dead."
"Yeah, well. I'm just telling you what she told me. So, Mrs. Rabinowitz walks out closer to the body and sees there's a cord underwater that leads to the dock."
I looked at the dock. A red nylon cord was tied to a post.
Norton said, "Only it's not exactly a cord."
"Looks like a fish stringer."
"Yep. But instead of the spike running into a fish's mouth and out its gill, it runs it into the vic's mouth, under his tongue, and out his lower jaw. The killer then ran the spike through the ring-end and tied the cord to the dock."
"Like a caught fish."
"But Mrs. Rabinowitz didn't untie him?"
"Nope," said Norton. "She said she was too upset. And by then she was pretty sure her husband was dead. That's when she called nine-one-one."
I wiped the back of my hand across my face. The August air was so humid I couldn't tell if I was sweating or moisture had condensed on my skin like I was a hunk of cheese. I said, "Get him out of the lake."
"We're holding off, Mr. Shapiro. CSU is unloading now. We're waiting for them so it's done right. We don't want to mess up any evidence."
I watched the fish feeding on Todd Rabinowitz's body. Sunfish, crappies, perch, and pike. Might have been a few small trout in there. Then the body rolled faceup.
"Shit!" said Norton. He jumped back. "Sorry. Just surprised me."
"Like you said: most people don't spend a lot of time around dead bodies." I glanced without favor at the country club cop. Then I returned my attention to the water. Todd Rabinowitz stared at the starry sky. The fish had eaten away his eyelids.
* * *
My day started at 3:27 A.M. with Anders Ellegaard's phone call. He was my best friend and business partner, although "partner" is a misleading term. Ellegaard ran our private investigative firm. He assumed the important responsibilities like paying bills, bringing in new business, and purchasing our health insurance. I assumed other tasks like, during one of our slower weeks, making a catapult out of coffee stir sticks and a rubber band.
Ellegaard told me his wife, Molly, had just received a call from a friend named Robin Rabinowitz. Robin found her husband dead in their lake, and she requested I go out to see her. Not anyone from the firm. Me. Robin insisted it be me.
When Ellegaard called, I was sleeping next to my ex-wife. We had a bad habit of falling into bed together. For her, it seemed just that. Bed. But for me, Micaela was a spring trap — I'd have to chew my heart out to get away. I'd tried cutting off all contact. That lasted a year and did nothing to help me move on. So, for the past six months, I woke in her bed as often as my own. We had both just turned forty. I'd heard women hit their sexual peak in their forties. Based on our recent frequency, that appeared to be true. Happy birthday to us.
Everything you need to know about Micaela Stahl you could tell by looking at her side of the bed. It looked more sat-on than slept-in. No strewn sheets. No twisted duvet. No mangled pillows. Micaela slept rock-still, her dreams and worries never creating enough turmoil to toss or turn her. When she told me about a dream, even a bad one, even right after waking, she'd already analyzed it. It was as if she'd not experienced the dream but had seen it like a movie and had written the review before it ended.
Her low stress level helped Micaela succeed at whatever she set her mind to. Or maybe it was the other way around. The companies she ran. Her foundation providing apartments for homeless women and children. And she was a black belt in yoga, or whatever the hell they call a person who's really good at yoga.
Micaela's one failure was her marriage to me, but perhaps failure was my definition. To her the marriage was a house she never quite felt comfortable in or a pair of eyeglasses her eyes never adjusted to. It made perfect sense to move on. Except we didn't move on, not at night, anyway.
I put on my jeans, entered Micaela's master bathroom, brushed my teeth, and pushed my hair around. The face in the mirror did not care for what it saw. Forty Minnesota summers and winters had taken their toll. On my way back through the bedroom, I stopped to look at my ex-wife. She'd get up soon for an early flight to New York. Meetings with money people, she said. I did not kiss her good-bye. There was no point.
Christmas Lake sits across the road from St. Alban's Bay. One of dozens of bays that make up Lake Minnetonka. Unlike its gigantic neighbor, Christmas Lake is small and cold. Trout breathe in its oxygen-rich depths. Wealthy people live around it and commute half an hour to work. Or their money works for them, and they commute nowhere at all.
The Greater Lake Minnetonka Police Department protected and served a handful of municipalities near the lake. They had secured the area. Yellow police tape crossed the narrow street. A GLMPD uniform stood next to it with a clipboard.
I rolled down my window. "Nils Shapiro. I'm a private."
"Got you at the top of my list, Mr. Shapiro. Mrs. Rabinowitz and the detectives are expecting you."
No argument. No attitude. Just welcome aboard. Once in a lifetime it goes like that. She moved the yellow tape, and I drove the half mile to the Rabinowitz house. It was low, long, modern, and sided with white stucco. Big windows revealed an interior of wooden antiques and overstuffed white couches and artsy chandeliers, the kind with a lot of glass balls filled with vintage-style filament bulbs. It looked homey and happy, but if that were true, I wouldn't be there. A flashlight with an orange cone told me where to park. I did, and walked around back to the lake side of the house. That's where I met Detective Norton, who led me down to the dock and showed me the body.
* * *
Detective Norton and I left Todd Rabinowitz underwater. I followed him up from the lake and toward the house on a path of crushed limestone. The whiteblue LED floods revealed a lawn of deep green. Hydrangeas and lilies grew in planting beds topped with mulched cedar. It smelled fresh and good. The frogs and crickets couldn't stop singing about it.
Norton led me to a screened-in porch attached to the back of the house. Inside, a man and woman sat on big furniture made of more white cushions. A dozen single-filament bulbs hung from individual cords and illuminated the porch in a soft yellowish-gold. The people inside looked hazy through the screens, like in an old photograph.
Detective Norton opened the porch door and said, "Mrs. Rabinowitz, Nils Shapiro is here."
A woman's voice said, "Please send him in." A man stood. Another Greater Lake Minnetonka PD detective.
Detective Dale Irving said, "Thank you for driving out, Mr. Shapiro." Midthirties, dressed like his partner, and had orange hair. Why do they call it red hair? It's orange. Get the big box of Crayola crayons and find the one that matches. It'll have the word "orange" on it. Not red. Red is for punk rockers and baristas and kids who are pissed at their parents. "Please let us know what we can do to help. Anything at all."
Weird. The cops acted like they were working for me.
I turned my attention toward the woman, who had remained seated. Norton the Forehead said, "Nils, this is Robin Rabinowitz."
Robin Rabinowitz looked up at me and said, "Hello, Nils. Thanks for coming out here so quickly." Her brown eyes met mine then looked away. She said nothing more, as if it had taken great effort just to greet me. She swallowed, and I wondered if she was in shock.
I said, "It wasn't any trouble. I understand you're a friend of Molly Ellegaard."
She brought a hand to her cheek and felt it, as if she'd just been to the dentist and her face was still numb. "Yes," she said. "I know Molly. I called her to ask for you." Robin turned toward me again then stood. Thin and tan with short hair and long, lithe fingers.
Ellegaard would have brought a contract and insisted on receiving a retainer before getting further involved. I didn't have his business skills. I said, "How and when did you find him?"
She looked at me again. High cheekbones seemed to push up the bottoms of her eyes, elongating them into something Asian. But she wasn't Asian. Just a dark-haired Jewish woman who'd received a perfect complement of Semitic genes. If anything, she looked like a model who was supposed to pass for Native American while wearing something made of calfskin and fringe by Ralph Lauren.
"Todd was home last night," said Robin. "We ate dinner, then he worked in his study for a couple hours. I went into the bedroom to read. I fell asleep early, but I woke when he came in."
"Do you know what time that was?"
"A little after ten thirty. Then I woke up again around two, and Todd was gone. I didn't think anything of it. But I heard a motorboat on the lake, which is unusual after midnight. Then I heard a bang, like a gunshot. I told myself the motor just backfired, but something felt wrong. So I left the bedroom to look for Todd. He wasn't anywhere in the house."
Robin walked over to the screen, and looked out on the lake. She wore old jeans and a white gauze top. "Sometimes when Todd can't sleep, he takes out his rowing shell ..." She paused. " ... took out his rowing shell." She walked back toward me. Her neck looked longer than her head. She didn't wear a necklace. A necklace would have wrecked everything. She said, "Todd liked to row when the water was glass. So I walked down to the dock to see if his shell was there." Robin spoke evenly and in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's when I found him." She shook her head as if discovering her husband dead was more of an inconvenience than a tragedy.
I said, "What were you wearing when you tried to get your husband out of the water?"
"Excuse me?" said Robin.
"Detective Norton said you told him you tried to drag your husband out of the water but were stopped by the stringer. What were you wearing when that happened?"
"Oh," said Robin. "Just a T-shirt. That's what I sleep in."
"Where is it?"
"It's in the laundry room sink. Why?"
"Irving, have CSU check it for blood and pay attention to whether it's a smear or a splatter or nothing. If there's no blood, I want to know if just the bottom of the shirt is wet or if it's all wet. You know, like she washed it."
Robin said, "What?"
"Why didn't you untie the stringer from the dock, then pull your husband up on shore? Oh, and, Mrs. Rabinowitz, I'm going to need a five-thousand-dollar retainer if you want me to work for you." I guess Ellegaard had rubbed off on me more than I realized.
Robin Rabinowitz sat down and said, "Did you just imply that I killed my husband then ask me for five thousand dollars?"
"I didn't imply anything. I'm trying to clear you as a suspect. Not that you couldn't have hired someone to kill your husband, but I assume you asked Molly Ellegaard to send me here because you want this solved sooner than later."
Robin squeezed her knees together with her hands then took a deep breath. I'd made her uncomfortable so I continued. "You could want the case closed because you have a keen sense of justice or you loved your husband or you want suicide ruled out ASAP so you can collect the life insurance. Or it could be because you know you'll be a suspect."
She stared at me without expression. Detective Irving fidgeted with his watch. Voices carried from the dock to the house the way voices do around lakes before daybreak. CSU officers pulled Todd Rabinowitz out of the water, barking instructions to be careful with each other's end as if they were moving a couch.
Robin said, "Huh. Molly said you were nice."
"I am nice. But I'm a private detective, not your lawyer. If I were your lawyer I would have told you the police will look hard at you and not to lie about anything because you've left a trail whether you realize it or not. Lawyers give good advice like that, so if you have one, you may want to give him or her a call. You know, after you settle down and aren't crying so hard about your dead husband."
Officer Irving scratched the back of his orange-haired head and looked at Robin Rabinowitz with expectation. He'd become my toady and had that yeah what he said look. I was a bit hard on the new widow — the bizarre crime scene stirred up something in me. The only reason to tie a dead man to his dock by a fishing stringer through his jaw is you have something to say. I guess I was trying to ferret out if Robin had something to say.
She stood, stared something cold at me, and walked into the house.CHAPTER 2
"So Irving," I said, "why's your chief not here? This is a bigger deal than a boat going on the wrong side of a channel buoy or whatever usually gets you out of the station."
"He ran off with his girlfriend. She worked in the D.A.'s office. The GLMPD governing committee is mad as hell. I'm surprised you haven't heard. Everyone in town is talking about it."
"I haven't been a very good listener lately. When did he run off?"
"About ten days ago."
"Anyone know where he is?"
"Nicaragua. Guess he bought a place down there but didn't tell anyone. Even his wife. Boy is she pissed."
Robin returned, iPhone in hand. She said, "PayPal or Venmo?" "PayPal."
She asked for my email. A few seconds later my phone dinged to announce Robin Rabinowitz had just sent Stone Arch Investigations five thousand dollars. I accepted the payment and deposited it in the company checking account. And all before the sun rose. I deserved to take the rest of the day off.
Robin said, "And my lawyer will be here in five minutes. She lives two houses down."
I said, "You know how to follow directions. That's good."
"Don't be glib. Someone just murdered my husband, put a stringer through his jaw, and tied him to our dock. For all I know, I'm next." She stared at me in pursuit of sympathy. I didn't give it to her. She placed a hand on Detective Irving's shoulder. "Do you mind leaving us for a few minutes?"
"No," he said. "I need to have CSU check out your shirt anyway. And you'll need to come down to the station soon."
Detective Irving nodded then stood and walked out of the screened-in porch and down to the lake. Robin waited for him to get all the way down to the dock, where the Hennepin County medical examiner had erected a white tent.
She said, "I have nothing to hide. I'll tell everything to you and the police. But I want to tell you first."
I said, "Okay ..."
"Todd and I were months or even weeks away from separating."
"Then why would you spend a considerable amount of money to help find his killer?"
She lifted her left foot and rested it on her right knee. She wore neither shoes nor socks. That's the way wealthy lake people live. It's nothing but clean white docks, soft green lawns, and maid-cleaned floors. Robin's feet and toes were brown on top, with red-painted nails. A fine gold chain circumnavigated her left ankle. She touched it then said, "I loved Todd. But I wasn't in love with him. We just grew apart."
"How long were you married?"
"Ten years. Second marriage for both of us. Todd has kids from his first. I don't. Never wanted them. He's — he was nine years older than me. And when we met —"
"Are you from here?"
She shook her head. "Montreal. We met at a wedding in Toronto about a year after I got divorced. We had a weekend fling and I figured that was the end of it. But then we found excuses to rendezvous in New York or Boston on weekends. Then I started coming here. We went to Vegas once. Don't need to do that again. Then we spent a week at Ventana in Big Sur. Have you been there?"
"No. Never been to California."
"Northern California is the most beautiful place on the continent. You should go sometime."
"I'll add it to my list."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shallows"
Copyright © 2019 Matt Goldman.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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