Authors: John Sandford
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
“You never saw any hint that he used cocaine?” Trane asked.
“Never. He made it clear, though, that I wasn’t welcome in his office,” Quill said. “It looks messy in there, but actually everything had its place and everything was put in its place. I had my own office, in a spare bedroom. I moved my effects here when I left him. I have no idea what the signs of cocaine abuse might be, other than having seen some actor inhale some white powder in some movie.”
Virgil asked, “Did he have any friends or associates that you saw who seemed, mmm, to strike a false note? Somebody who might have supplied him with the cocaine or might have been a connection to that world?”
“Barth didn’t have close male friends, people he would confide
in. He married three times, of course, so it seemed that he should like women, although I’m not sure he did. He needed us for sexual release, to be frank about it. I’m not sure he wanted us around for anything else.”
“A misogynist, then?” Trane asked.
“Oh, I wouldn’t use that word,” Quill said. “A misogynist is someone who thinks of women as inferior. He didn’t. He quite respected a number of women in his own field, for their work. He regularly corresponded with them. You have his home and office computers. I believe if you closely examine his emails, you’ll find their names.”
Trane said to Virgil, “We’ve done that. There were female academics among the people he wrote to, but I didn’t see anything there that struck me as personal rather than professional.”
Virgil to Quill: “To get back to my original question: what about false notes?”
“I’ve been thinking about that. Actually, there is someone. A lawyer, John Combes. Everybody calls him Jack. He and Barth had a regular weekly handball game over at the RecWell. Their relationship was . . . not exactly a friendship. They never socialized other than on the court and once a year at the Combeses’ Christmas party. Jack always struck me as a bit sleazy—a criminal law attorney and not wildly successful. He does come from a prominent family. Perhaps their relationship went back to childhood, to school, I don’t know. I do know that he’s an excellent handball player.”
That was all they got from Quill. If her husband had been using cocaine, she never saw any signs of euphoria or withdrawal. “Barth was incredibly even-tempered. With his job, I’m sure he must have felt stress, disappointment, anger, but he never showed it.”
As they were leaving, Virgil asked Quill, “Did your husband like cowboy music?”
“You know, cowboy music.”
“I doubt that he ever listened to a cowboy song in his entire life. He liked Bartók.”
“Jimmy Ray Bartók?”
“No, Béla . . . Oh, you were joking.” She looked disappointed in him.
In the elevators on the way back down, Trane said, “Jack Combes might be something. I know who he is, but he’s a small-timer in the legal world. Never handled a homicide, as far as I know. Or, if he did, not a big one. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he got a lot of work through court appointments for drug defendants. That would be about his speed.”
“You want to do him or do you want me to?”
She thought for a moment, then said, “Why don’t you take him? He sounds like a jock, and you’re obviously a jock. Maybe you’ll bond. I want to ride herd on our pubic hair. It could be critical.”
“You gonna do DNA on all three of them?” Virgil asked.
“Think we should?”
“Yeah. They’re probably all from the same person, but it would be very interesting if they weren’t. If you’ve got a guy who takes a personal interest in women only because he wants the sex, as Nancy Quill says he did, and if he has a logical mind, like most scientists, then . . . why not a hooker? Or two or three? Be a lot cheaper than two-year marriages followed by divorces.”
“As you would know as well as anybody,” Trane said.
“Right. Thanks for mentioning it. Another thing: hotels have eyes for hookers and that might be a reason he’d take one to the library. And where you find hookers, you’re gonna find drugs. And you might even find blackmail. You might find all kinds of things. Like motive.”
“Good point,” Trane said. “We’ll do the DNA on all the hair.”
“I’ll find this Combes guy tomorrow,” Virgil said. He looked down at his shoes for a moment, ruminating.
“‘Home on the Range.’ He has ‘Home on the Range’ on his stereo. It sorta convinced me that the guy was deranged.”
“That’s almost a pun.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Virgil said.
Outside, Trane looked at her watch. “I’m going home. You’ll find Combes tomorrow morning?”
“Yeah. I’d like to solve this by tomorrow night. You know, so I wouldn’t have to spend Sunday worrying about it.”
“I’m all for that,” Trane said. She offered him a tiny smile, the first he’d seen from her. “But it won’t happen. I have to say, though, that you did good stuff today, Virgil. I didn’t have anything to work on. Now I do.”
“I’ll call you after I talk to Combes.”
“And talk to Davenport about leaking to the TV people.”
On his way back to the hotel, Virgil called Davenport, who agreed to leak a progress report. And Davenport also knew Combes. “Combes is smart enough, but lazy. He
a jock—golf, tennis, basketball. Handball doesn’t surprise me. I’ve played some
basketball with him and he can shoot. But, you know, he comes from one of those old, rich mill families, and I don’t think he ever needed to work,” Davenport said. “Loafed his way through law school, managed to pass the bar exam, worked for the public defender for a couple of years, does some pro bono now. And, yeah, I think he could probably hook you up with a dealer.”
At the hotel, Virgil got a steak, then wandered over to the beer joint for a brew. The place was busy, but he grabbed the last stool at the bar, next to an older, white-haired, red-faced man in a blue linen sport coat and white shirt; he smelled like a cheeseburger, but not offensively so.
The Latina-looking barmaid came along, and Virgil asked if they had Bud Light. She winced, said, “Um, no.”
“Then give me whatever is most like Bud Light,” Virgil said.
The white-haired man laughed, and said, “The boy’s determined to drink cow piss, Alice. I wouldn’t stand in his way. He could be armed and dangerous.”
He turned and looked at Virgil, checked the shirt, and said, “You’re in a band?”
“No . . . But I like band shirts.”
“So do I, but they look stupid on you when you’re as old and fat as I am. You got the hair and stomach for it.”
The barmaid came back with a glass of beer, pushed it across the bar to Virgil, and said, “Best we could do.” She was a pretty woman, round-faced, brown-skinned, dark-eyed, with a flashing smile.
Virgil took a sip, and said, “Okay. PBR? Miller Lite?”
“Got it in two,” she said. “Miller.”
“Well, you got what you wanted, what was most like that other shit,” the white-haired man said. And, “My name’s Harry.”
“Let me guess . . .” He gave Virgil a look, with Alice, the barmaid, getting interested, her arms on the bar, looking back and forth between them, and then Harry said, “You’re reppin’ for somebody. Something technical, a computer company maybe . . .” He stopped, examined Virgil even more closely, and then said, “No. Bless my soul, you’re a cop. Some kind of cop.”
Virgil laughed, shook his head.
Alice asked, “Is he right? Are you a cop?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Virgil said. “No, actually, I’m sure I am.”
“Who you coppin’ for?” Harry asked.
“Minnesota BCA. Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.”
“That’s pretty amazing,” Alice said to Harry. And again to Harry: “Another one?”
“Might as well,” Harry said, pushing his empty glass across the bar to her. To Virgil: “You workin’ on a case?”
“Yeah, I’m taking a look at the professor who got killed over at the university.”
“Hey, I read about that,” Harry said. “You gettin’ anywhere?”
“We’re early in the game,” Virgil said.
“Bullshit. I read about it two weeks ago. If you don’t have the killer by now, you’re in big trouble.”
“Nah, we’re breaking it down,” Virgil said.
“You don’t mind talking about it?”
“Oh . . . no . . . I guess not.” Virgil didn’t mind talking. His attitude was, the killer knew everything about the case; and the
cops knew some of it. Not talking about it didn’t keep information from anyone but the taxpaying citizens. He gave Harry a one-minute summary, and Harry took it all in.
Alice the barmaid came back with Harry’s beer, said, “On the house because of the cop guess,” and Harry said, “Virgil’s investigating a murder.”
“What murder?” she asked.
“Professor over at the university,” Harry said.
She shook a finger at Virgil. “I heard about that. The one at the library. You catch the killer?”
“We’re working on it,” Virgil said.
“Let me tell you something,” Harry said. “I own three McDonalds, but I don’t know the first thing about murder investigations except what I’ve seen on
. You know that show?”
“Sure. Gibbs and those guys. I’ve gotten a few tips there,” Virgil lied.
“Mark Harmon, hell of a football player. You’re not nearly old enough to appreciate this, but Harmon was a quarterback at UCLA, and they kicked Nebraska’s ass back sometime in the seventies. Huge deal. Nebraska was the defending national champ at the time.”
“Didn’t know that,” Virgil said.
Harry leaned closer, breathing beer breath on Virgil. “That’s because you’re not old enough. I’m seventy and I remember it like it was yesterday. I wish it was yesterday. I remember when Joe Namath and the Jets upset the Colts.”
“I know about that, though I wasn’t born yet,” Virgil said. “My dad was a jock; he told me about it maybe, mmm, two hundred times.”
“You a jock?” Harry asked.
“I guess. Baseball, mostly. Here at the U. Couldn’t see a college fastball that well.”
“Played golf myself, at Michigan,” Harry said. “I once shot a 66 against the Badgers over in Madison. Best I ever did.”
They talked about sports for a few more minutes, and Virgil had a second beer, and then Harry said, “Let me tell you something about your case.”
“A young person did it,” Harry said. “I don’t know if it was a male or a female, but it was a young person.”
“Why is that?”
Harry held up a heavy index finger. “I started running my first McDonald’s when I was twenty-seven years old. I’ve got three now. Most of my life is hiring young people to work in them, though we’ve got a few senior citizens. I’ve hired hundreds of young people. And fired quite a few, too. Here’s the thing about young people now: a lot of them are no goddamn good. Mean little fuckin’ wolverines.”
“I don’t want to say that’s bigoted . . .” Virgil said.
“Not bigoted,” Harry said. “I know bigoted. I was playing in an NCAA regional when I was in college, and we had this black kid on the team. The country club—this was down in Kansas City—got all out of joint because they didn’t know there was a black man in the field. Didn’t allow black guys on the course unless they had a rake in their hands. Seen a lot of that shit over the years; half my McDonald’s kids are black and they tell me about it.”
“But young people—they seem to me like anybody else, sort of all over the place,” Virgil said.
Harry nodded. “Some of them are. Maybe most of them, I
don’t know. But I get three types at my McDonalds. I got kids who want to make money for a whole lot of reasons, and they’re serious about it. They want to buy a car or go to college, or whatever. They hang in there, and they’re determined and they’ll work hard until they get what they want. Or a better job. Good kids. Hate to see them go, but they always do. Then I got the kids who don’t have any choice. Maybe they’ve got to work to eat, maybe they’re bright enough to work at McDonald’s but don’t have a lot more going for themselves. I like those kids because I’ve had some of them stay with me for twenty years. But the third type: they’re no goddamn good.”
“How’s that different than it’s always been?” Virgil asked.
“It is, believe me. There have always been kids who were no damn good, but now it’s everywhere.
It’s kids who know they’re not going to be millionaires or billionaires or movie stars or famous singers or in the NBA, and it’s all they want. They can’t see past that. It’s like they’re not alive if they’re not on TV. They don’t want to be doctors or dentists or lawyers or businessmen, they want to be rich and famous right now. They don’t want to work. All they want is to be a celebrity. Then at some point they realize it ain’t gonna happen. They’re not talented enough or smart enough, and they sure as shit don’t want to work at getting to be famous. When they figure that out, that it ain’t gonna happen, they turn mean.”
“Mean?” Virgil said.
“That’s right, mean,” Harry said. “You get kids who’ll kill you for no reason. To feel important. What’s more important than killing somebody? You say, you’ll go to prison. They don’t care. They don’t even care if they die. They’ll tell you that. ‘Go ahead and kill me, I got no life.’”
“You believe that?”
Harry drank half his beer down. “Virgil, I once got all pissed off at one of these school shootings, one of these massacres. I told one of my girls, one of my employees, that when they convict the guy, they ought to haul his ass out of the courthouse, make him kneel down on the steps, and then shoot him in the back of the head. You know what she said?”
“That you’re nuts?”
Harry laughed. “No. What she said was, ‘If you did that, the guy would be on TV. He’d be happy. He’d be famous. He was on TV.’ Being on fuckin’ TV. Being on the internet. She’s right. I know some of those kids.”
Virgil finished his beer, said, “On that cheerful note, I’m going to bed.”
“I’m here most every night,” Harry said. “Let me know how you’re doing. And Virgil—it’s a young person.”
Virgil spent the rest of the evening watching a ball game from the West Coast and went to bed at ten o’clock, like a farmer. At ten minutes after ten, his cell phone rang.