Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
When she got off the phone, she led him up a flight of steps to Quill’s carrel, which was on an outer wall, behind deep stacks of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The carrel had crime scene tape across the door. Virgil pulled the tape loose and unlocked the door with a key he’d gotten from Trane.
As he stepped inside, the library lady asked, “You’ve really been married and divorced three times already?”
“Yes, but I was only fourteen the first time, so nobody expected that one to last,” Virgil said.
The library lady said, “Oh,” and vanished, and Virgil smothered the impulse to run after her and tell her he was joking. So much for his awkward sense of humor.
The carrel was a small room, narrow, maybe ten feet long. There was indeed the shadow of a stain on the tile floor, no doubt Quill’s blood. Traces of black fingerprint powder were everywhere. He tried to avoid it as best he could. The stuff was like slime mold: it would stick to anything and spread like chicken pox.
The carrel had a built-in desk, with a shelf above it, and an expensive-looking leather office chair. A half dozen heavy-looking texts rested in the bookcase, all of which looked as though they’d been roughly handled by investigators. A rolled-up yoga mat sat behind the books on the shelf. The silver metal wastebasket was empty.
The place smelled like . . . nothing. Not smoke, not sweat, not even like the cleaner that would have been used to get rid of the blood. Not much to see, with plenty of room to swing a laptop—if a laptop, in fact, had been used to murder.
He was about to leave when he noticed the yoga mat again. He reached over the chair, pushed a couple of books aside, and took it down off the shelf. It was a thicker than normal mat made of a soft, nubby light blue plastic. Why would anyone be doing yoga in such a confined space and often enough to bring a mat?
He thought about that for a moment and flashed back to his junior year: a hasty relationship with a young woman named what? Jean? Under a library table on the third floor, just before closing. Was it Jean? His mind was going, he thought.
He unrolled the mat on the floor, got down on his knees. As he did, the library lady returned, opened the carrel door, gasped, and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you praying?”
“No. I’m looking at Dr. Quill’s yoga mat,” Virgil said. “If you could step back, you’re in my light.”
She stepped back, and he scanned the mat from one end to the other, flipped it over, did the same thing with the back. Halfway down, he stopped, squinted. The library lady was peering over his shoulder. Virgil stood up, stepped back, and said, pointing, “I want you to get down and look right there.” He took a pencil from his pocket, bent over, and laid it on the mat.
“Well . . .” She got down on her knees anyway, looked where the pencil tip pointed, and after a moment said, “Oh.”
“You think that’s an eyelash?” Virgil asked.
“I think it might be a . . . You know . . .”
“Dr. Quill was blond. Do you think his pubic hair would be that color? Dark brown, almost black?”
“Well, I don’t—”
“Neither do I,” Virgil said. He got on his phone to Trane. “There’s a yoga mat in Trane’s carrel.”
“Yes, I saw it,” she said.
“Did you unroll it?”
“Yes, just to make sure nothing was rolled up inside. Why?”
“I unrolled it and found what a pubic hair expert here at the library thinks just might be one. In her preliminary opinion, she doesn’t think it came from Dr. Quill since he’s a blond and this hair is not.”
“Shit! Shit! We missed it,” Trane said. “I knew you were gonna be trouble, Flowers. I’ll call the lab, see how closely they scanned the mat. If they really missed it, I’ll get somebody over there to collect it.”
“Okay. Tell the lab guys to bring new crime scene tape. I’ll wait until they get here.”
“Shit! Shit! Listen, I’m coming, too. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
When Virgil got off the phone, the library lady said, “I’m not a . . . hair . . . expert . . .”
“I must have misunderstood,” Virgil said.
Virgil left the yoga mat unrolled on the floor, stepped out of the carrel, and closed the door as the library lady hurried away, glancing back over her shoulder only once. As Virgil was picking up the clump of crime scene tape, two uniformed campus cops walked past the far end of the book stacks, hesitated when they saw Virgil at the carrel door with the tangle of tape. They walked over, and the older one asked, “What were you doing here, sir?”
Virgil said, “I’m with the BCA. I’m working with Margaret Trane on the murder of Dr. Quill.”
He slipped his ID out of his jacket pocket and handed it to the ranking cop, a sergeant. The cop glanced at it and handed it back. “Figure out anything?”
“Couple of things. Like, maybe I ought to be wearing a shirt and tie. Nobody seems to believe I’m a cop. Anyway, Margaret’s on her way over right now, to take another look at the carrel.”
“Ah, we’ll get there,” Virgil said. “What’s up with you guys? Anything to do with Quill?”
“Nah. You know the Andersen Library, across the street?” the sergeant asked.
“They were building it when I was a student here. I was never inside.”
“Well, it’s where they keep the rare book collections and other valuable stuff. Most of it’s underground. Anyway, they’re missing maps. At least several. They’re doing an inventory now, but there are a hell of a lot of maps. We were looking at the cleaning staff because they’ve got keys to most things and could probably get keys to everything if they set their minds to it. One of the janitors told us he thought he saw a woman over there, well after hours, who actually works over here. She used to work over there. She denies it, said she never goes over there anymore except during the day. She does know the janitor by sight. She says she sees him over here, late in the day, out back. She says he’s toking up before he goes to work. So, you know, stoned, confused, familiar with her face . . .”
Virgil asked, “How much are the maps worth?”
“Several thousand dollars each, maybe more . . . The library hasn’t tried to market them, so they don’t know for sure. The thing is, the missing ones are all old European maps and would probably get the biggest bucks if they were sold in Germany or France. And if they’re sold there, through a private dealer, we’d never hear about it.”
“The woman here . . . What’s her name?”
“Genevieve O’Hara. First name is pronounced the French way:
“And what do you think?”
“Well, the janitor wasn’t sure that it was her he saw. If he was stoned . . . and knew her face . . . that’s a problem. Whoever took
the maps knew what they were doing—they’re valuable, but not the most valuable; they weren’t often referenced; and they’re not so uncommon that their sale would get special attention. So there’s all that.”
“Huh. Is this woman French?”
“No. Not Irish, either. Born right here in Minnesota.”
They were still talking about the map thefts and the Quill murder when Trane came up the stairs, looking harassed. She blew a stray hank of hair from her face, and said, “Okay, let’s see it.”
The two campus cops followed them to Quill’s carrel. Virgil unlocked the door, and said, “The pencil point is an inch away from it.”
“What is it?” the shorter of the two cops asked.
Trane didn’t answer. She got down on her knees, pushed her glasses back on her nose, looked, and said, “Okay.”
She stood up, and said, “Lock the door.”
Virgil did, and said, “We’ve got to go somewhere and talk about it.”
“There are a couple of study rooms here . . .”
The campus cops would have been happy to hear their conversation, but Virgil waved them off with a cheerful “See you later, guys” as he followed Trane to an empty room.
“Crime Scene ought to be here pretty quick, given what I told them and how their asses are now up around their ears,” Trane said. “If Quill was screwing somebody in there, it’d have to be after hours. And we know he was there after hours.”
“You had no hint that he was dating anybody?”
“Haven’t been able to find anyone,” she said. “There’ve been two weeks of publicity, and nobody’s come forward. Why would he be nailing somebody in the library? His house is a five-minute drive from here.”
“There’s something else,” Virgil said, and Trane’s eyebrows went up.
He told her about the campus cops investigating the maps theft and that a woman who worked in the library, apparently on the next floor up, had been questioned.
“A janitor, who may have been stoned at the time, thought he saw the woman over there late at night. In the map collection,” Virgil said. “She used to work there and might have had keys for both buildings. Suppose he spooked her and she wanted to get out of sight, so she came over here . . .”
“. . . and ran into Quill. But would she kill him? If she’s a librarian, wouldn’t she make an excuse and then ask him what the heck he was doing there?”
“That sounds reasonable, depending on how spooked she was. Whoever took the maps took at least thousands of dollars’ worth. From what those cops told me, they could be missing even more.”
“We need to dig into this,” Trane said.
“I’ll tell you what, Margaret, I think
need to dig into it. I’ve talked to two campus cops and a librarian here, and a secretary over at the Humphrey Center, and there have been all kinds of people walking around here since I reopened the carrel—so word could get out that some new guy is investigating. It’d be better for all of us if you were running this part of it.”
“You’re right,” Trane said, looking around. A student seemed to be watching them through the study room window. “I’ll take it. Thank you. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to give you the name of the woman the cops talked to . . .”
“I’ll check her hair color, too . . .” Trane said.
Virgil: “Yeah, do that, although—”
“I know. Would Quill be screwing a map thief? And why? That doesn’t sound right. But if that’s a pubic hair, it didn’t drift down from heaven.”
“We don’t know how long it’s been there,” Virgil said. “He might have been having an affair, bringing someone here, before he and his last wife broke up.”
“I don’t think so.” Trane shook her head. “He was an aristocratic kind of guy. If he was sleeping with someone, an equal, it would have been in a hotel. Someplace with a handy bathroom. It wouldn’t have been like this . . . in a library . . . on a yoga mat . . . after hours.”
“Margaret, there’s a pubic hair on the yoga mat and it ain’t his. There’s a bathroom fifty feet from here.”
“I’ll figure it out,” she said. She chewed on her lower lip, then said, “What if it was somebody young who he wouldn’t want to be seen in public with? A student?”
“Could be. But if he was the aristocratic sort, he might not care as long as she wasn’t thirteen or something.”
“Yeah . . . Okay . . . Now, what are you going to do?”
“I was going to meet you over at his house. That was next. Give me the key, come over when you’re done here. I’ll be a while.”
She nodded. “Be aware that his house has been lived in by several different women—his mother, for one, at least for a while
before she died, plus three wives, and probably a couple of girlfriends. It’s full of about eighty years’ worth of family junk, including a stuffed pelican and several stuffed fish. We went through it all. Maybe you’ll find something. But I won’t be holding my breath.”
One of the things that Virgil liked best about the farm was the way it smelled. They had no animals, other than the dog and a chicken that had apparently escaped from a neighboring henhouse, so they didn’t have a barnyard stench. They did have fresh-cut hay, one of the best odors in the world, and hot summer flowers, which smelled as good as the hay. In Virgil’s opinion, August and September on the rural back roads of Minnesota made one of the prettiest landscapes imaginable, the roadside weeds and grasses and flowers going gold with the approaching autumn . . .
Not so much in the city, though. He walked out to his truck through the smell of asphalt and motor exhaust and what always struck him as spoiled Juicy Fruit gum and rotting bananas.
That changed as he crossed the river again, giving him a shot of dead carp and river weeds. He followed his GPS downstream to Quill’s redbrick mansion on the bluff above the Mississippi. Quill had lived in one of the best spots in the Cities, he thought,
green with overhanging trees, and quiet, pleasant streets, with the river right there.
But it wasn’t the farm.
Quill’s house was two stories high, plus an attic, under a complicated roof, and a basement. A detached three-car garage had a storage room above the parking pad. Both house and garage were built of deep red brick pierced by white-framed windows. Trane had told Virgil to park by the garage. Both its access door and the house could be unlocked with the same high-security digital key; and inside each door was an alarm keypad, security code 388783873.
When Trane gave him the code, Virgil said he’d never seen a nine-digit one. He wondered if the repetition of 3, 8, and 7 had some meaning, but Trane said one of Quill’s wives told her that Quill used a random-number generator to create his codes. “Besides, how could the numbers have anything to do with our problem?”
“Maybe he had a security situation?” Virgil said.
Virgil parked, looked through the garage window, saw two cars inside, used the key, and punched the alarm deactivation code into the pad. As he did, a clutch of sparrows flew overhead, their wings whirring in the stolid interior air. They disappeared through a hatch to the loft above.
The closest of the cars was an unlocked black Mercedes-Benz SUV, and, on the other side of it, was a silver BMW Z8. The third
parking space was empty: the second BMW had been towed away to a police impound lot as possible evidence.
Virgil got vinyl gloves from his truck, went through both cars, and found nothing at all—it appeared that both had been cleaned out, probably by a Crime Scene crew. He climbed the ladder that led to the loft, stuck his head through the hatch, and saw a jumble of old furniture and worn carpets spotted with sparrow droppings. He couldn’t imagine that any of it could have any bearing on an attack at the university library, so he went back out and locked the garage.
The house was surrounded by a wrought-iron fence lined with annual flowers, which also edged the cracked concrete sidewalk between the garage and the back door of the house. Instead of going in the door, he walked around the house, looking it over. At the front door, he peered through its window, saw nothing in particular, turned the key, and stepped inside.
The door opened into a generous reception area, the dark oak floor mostly covered with a red-and-blue oriental carpet. A circular staircase wound around and up to a balcony overhead, looking down at the door. A central hallway separated a living room from a library/music room.
The living room was arranged for entertaining, with three couches around a center carpet, a sideboard for drinks and food; a mahogany grandfather clock stood in a corner, its hands stopped at four forty-four because its winder had been murdered. The library had a wall of books interspersed with a variety of keepsakes, including a collection of chipped Hummels that appeared to be very old and a shelf of aging stereo equipment, including a turntable, with speakers on shelves at opposite ends of the bookcase.
A walnut-cased Steinway baby grand sat in one corner, a stack of sheet music on it. He looked at the music for a moment. Half classical, in the full piano forms—somebody was a good pianist—and half romantic stuff from the swing era pre–World War II—Cole Porter, George Gershwin, like that. Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” was open on the music stand.
Farther back down the hall was a formal dining room with a rectangular walnut table and ten matching bentwood chairs, and, on the other side of the hall, a breakfast room with a table and two chairs and a door leading to the kitchen. A powder room was built in near the kitchen.
The house was silent as a coffin.
Virgil took the stairs, found Quill’s bedroom, plus a home office with more books, three more bedrooms, and a door leading up to the attic. The bathroom was expansive and modern.
A rich guy for sure. Everything was notably tidy except the home office, which had the look of a working space, with papers and books and journals and pens and transparent highlighters spread around all the flat surfaces. Everything else in the house had the feel of professional maintenance: a maid, at least, and possibly a gardener.
Virgil worked his way slowly through the entire house with the exception of the cellar and the attic, which he checked briefly and then dismissed. Again, he couldn’t imagine how either might factor in a murder that had taken place a mile away. He was looking for words—in letters, texts, or printouts—or personal possessions that weren’t Quill’s. Something that would suggest or reveal an inimical relationship.
The bed was neatly made, king-sized and covered with a huge old shoofly quilt. He carefully peeled it back until the bottom sheet was exposed, then went over the quilt looking for more dark pubic hairs. And found none.
He saved the office for last. The centerpiece was an ancient oak desk, fully eight feet long and four feet across, the old wood polished to a high sheen, with ranks of drawers on both sides of the kneehole. The desk had been carefully updated with a keyboard where there’d once been a center drawer, with a rank of electric sockets installed along the back edge of the desktop. There was an empty spot there where a computer had been, its Canon printer still sitting to one side, its computer hookup cable curled next to it. Trane had taken the computer to research emails.
A bookshelf was stacked with academic journals, several medical books, and more academic detritus, all of it printed, none of it annotated, nothing that would help with a murder. There was another stereo, with two bookshelf speakers. Virgil noticed an LED light on a CD player, opened it, and found an unmarked disc sitting in the tray. He took it out: no markings whatever. He put it back, pressed the play button, and a minute later an unfamiliar singer pushed the uncomplicated lyrics of “Home on the Range” through his nose through the speakers.
He turned the CD player off with an involuntary shudder. He sorta lived on the range, but that didn’t mean the song didn’t suck.
The bookshelves also contained a collection of antique wooden boxes, and inside them he found important but routine papers—a checkbook, check stubs from his university paycheck, investment reports from U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, tax records, insurance policies, titles to automobiles, a stack of last year’s Christmas cards. He
spent a half hour going through the papers and journals on the desk and on two side filing cabinets, looking for anything handwritten, anything out of place. He found nothing that looked important.
Virgil was lying under the desk, in the kneehole, when Trane asked, unexpectedly, “What are you doing?”
Virgil, startled, jerked half upright and banged his head against the bottom of the keyboard drawer. He dropped back on his elbows and saw Trane’s shoes and cuffs of her pants. “Ouch. Jesus Christ, give me a little warning, will you?”
“Sorry. What are you doing?” She stooped and peered under the desk.
“My grandpa had a desk like this. Smaller, but old like this one, with a million drawers,” Virgil said. He was digging around in a narrow space behind the drawers. “Pull the top left drawer out, would you?”
She pulled the drawer out, and Virgil asked, “Anything interesting?”
“Not that we haven’t looked at . . .”
“Can you pull the drawer all the way out? So it comes loose?” Virgil asked.
She tried. “No. It’s not made to come out. I can feel it hit some stops.”
Virgil said, “Hmm.” And, “Get anything good at the library?”
“Everybody agrees it’s a pubic hair. Actually, three pubic hairs; you missed some. I was at the autopsy and I can tell you they’re not Quill’s. He was a real blond.”
“Three pubic hairs . . . Unless the owner was shedding, they might have used it more than once.”
Virgil crawled out of the kneehole and stood up.
“What are you looking for?” Trane asked.
“The case housing the drawer is about eight or ten inches deeper than the drawer itself. No good reason for it, but it’s entirely enclosed,” he said.
“Maybe if we pushed the desk away from the wall, we could look in from the back?”
“No. If there’s a space there, you’d want to be able to access it without taking the room apart. My grandpa’s . . .”
Virgil pushed down on the left edge of the top: nothing.
He pulled up: nothing. Looked under the edge, couldn’t see anything except a scratch.
“There’s a scratch . . .” he said, going down to his knees.
“Well, it’d be a hard place to scratch,” Virgil said. “There’s, ah, a hole here . . . by the scratch . . . That’ll be it.”
“For a secret door? You gotta be joking,” Trane said.
“Everybody knew about my grandpa’s hidey-hole, including me,” Virgil said. “Wasn’t a secret. A lot of these old desks had them. They weren’t safes. You might put confidential stuff in there, maybe tax stuff and so on, but not money. Like I said, the drawers weren’t all that secret at the time.”
He stood up again, opened the top right drawer. A plastic tray held pencils, ballpoint pens, paper clips, fingernail clippers, scissors . . . and a single, right-angled Allen wrench. He took it out, carried it around to the side of the desk, fit it in the hole, and pushed.
A side panel clicked loose and out, then folded down. Inside was a vertical stack of small drawers, almost like trays.
“Agatha Fuckin’ Christie,” Trane said, amazed. “Open the drawers.”
Virgil did. They were all empty. He crawled around to the other side of the desk, found an identical hole, popped the side panel, revealing another stack of drawers. He pulled open the top drawer, and they both peered inside.
Trane said, “Oh, no. Nope. Nope. Nope. Shut the drawer, I don’t want to see that.”
“Could be laundry detergent,” Virgil said. “You know, like Tide? I could snort a little to see if it is.”
“How much you think?”
“I never worked dope,” Virgil said. “But I’ve seen cocaine, and that’s cocaine. Not much, but we don’t know what he started with.”
“Our murdered boy’s got cocaine stashed in a secret cubbyhole? That’s the cherry on the cake, you know? That’s just fuckin’ perfect. I hope the television people find out about it so they can go berserk.”
“Could be Tide . . .”
They called the narcs and continued to probe the office, although Trane had already done that. She took each of the antique boxes down, looking for false bottoms or secret drawers. They didn’t have any. A Narcotics cop named Bill Offers showed up, said that the baggie had contained a standard eight ball, an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. “Good stuff, not been stepped on much . . . Originally, he probably paid a couple hundred bucks for it, depending on his connection.”
“Then he could have gotten it from anybody outside the back door of a bar,” Trane said.
“Yeah, like that. Might want to talk to his wife about it,” Offers said.
“I will,” Trane said. “Tonight.”
“I was planning to call her,” Virgil said. “Mind if I tag along?”
“Suit yourself,” Trane said.
Not exactly a heartwarming welcome from Trane, but maybe a little progress, Virgil thought. Offers had a scale in his car. They weighed the coke, with the baggie, and Virgil and Trane signed it over to Narcotics for safekeeping.
“You said you were at the Graduate Hotel?” Trane asked Virgil, as they finished the paperwork.
“Yeah. All checked in.”
“Nancy Quill doesn’t live far from there, she’s over by the Witch Hat,” Trane said. “You could follow me over.”
The Witch Hat referred to the Prospect Park neighborhood that had an old water tower perched on the second-highest piece of land in Minneapolis. Visible for miles, the tower was topped with what looked like a green witch’s hat. Quill didn’t live in Prospect Park itself but in an adjacent neighborhood, in a neat, yellow-brick condo. Trane called ahead, and Quill buzzed them through the door to the elevators.
On the way up, Trane asked, “Do you know anybody in the media? Here in the Cities?”
“Couple people,” Virgil said. “Why?”
“It would be nice if word leaked out that we’re actually making progress without it coming from me or anyone in Homicide. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” Trane said.
“Davenport is tight with a lot of TV people. He even has a daughter with one of them, at Channel Three. She’s an executive now, used to be a reporter. I could ask him to leak it. He’d do it.
And if somebody smart tried to backtrack it, it’d come to me. And I don’t care if it does.”
“If you could make the call, it might take some of the heat off,” Trane said.
“Soon as we leave here,” Virgil said.
Nancy Quill was a tall, severe-looking blonde who spoke in short, precise sentences that were delivered in paragraphs.
“I never saw Barth use any drug. Not even aspirin. He didn’t care for wine, although he took a glass from time to time. That was his effort to be social. He didn’t use hard alcohol, with one exception. He did spend some money on tequila. He’d sip a glass of it at night, before bed, by himself. Cocaine seems unlikely. But, if he were to have a drug of choice, and I were asked to guess what it was, I would guess cocaine or one of the amphetamines. He would look for a drug that would intensify focus, not blur it.”