Read Cam - 03 - The Moonpool Online

Authors: P. T. Deutermann

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BOOK: Cam - 03 - The Moonpool
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“I think just two philandering lawyers, actually,” I said. I saw Special Agent Myers discreetly opening her notebook. “I’ve gathered up the details of Allie’s investigation for you right here,” I continued, and handed a written summary to Myers so she wouldn’t have to take so many notes. She looked at it warily and then handed it to Caswell, who fished out some Silas Marner glasses and scanned it for a moment.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Richter,” he said, folding the two fax pages lengthwise and sliding them into his suit jacket pocket. “It is ‘mister’ these days, am I correct?”

“Absolutely,” I said, knowing full well that Caswell was telling me I’d been vetted before they came to see me. I had some history with the Raleigh Field Office, not all of it pleasant. “I haven’t been in law enforcement since I declined to testify in the cat dancers case.”

“Yes-s-s.” Caswell nodded, a bit startled that I would bring that up. “I do remember that case, but not
why
, exactly, you declined to testify.”

“Because I couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad guys anymore,” I said. “And I had a civilian to protect as well. So: Where’d the hot stuff come from?”

Myers rolled superior eyes and looked away. Caswell gave me a patient if somewhat disappointed smile. “You know how this works, Mr. Richter.
We
ask the questions. You do your civic duty and help your Bureau. Or perhaps not, I suppose, in your case.”

It was my turn to smile. “It’s not my Bureau, Special Agent,” I said. “But nothing’s ever forgotten, is it.”

“Almost never, Mr. Richter. You’re quite right there. Quite right. Now, back to Ms. Gardner: Did she report anything at all which might have a bearing on how she died?”

I decided to quit sparring. “Nothing at all. As I told Detective Price, the case was entirely routine, to the point where Allie said she was coming back early. She had the goods, and that was it.”

“May we have access to ‘the goods,’ as you put it?”

“If our client is willing, we certainly won’t get in your way. But I should warn you, the client’s a Georgia redhead, and she’s really pissed off. In Georgia, that’s usually a legitimate pretext for gunfire.”

“Thank you for the advice, Mr. Richter,” Creeps said, peering at me over those antique specs. “As you may remember, we’re always extremely grateful for advice. And even if the client is not willing, may we please have her name and address?”

“Sure,” I said. I knew perfectly well that they could get that information, one way or another.

Caswell turned formally to his partner. “Special Agent Myers?”

“Do you have any idea why Ms. Gardner was at that particular gas station?” Mary asked.

“Getting gas?” I said. Her eyes narrowed. “Or do you mean her being over in the university district?”

“The latter, Mr. Richter,” she said patiently, pen and notebook poised.

I’d wondered about that, too. “Two possibilities, I think. She was just out for a drive, saw that she’d need to get gas before coming back the next morning, and hit the first station she came to. Or.”

“Or?”

“Or, all of the above and then whatever she drank got to her before she could get back to the hotel. She felt ill and found the nearest bathroom. I never did hear a time of death.”

“Where would you have heard a time of death?” Myers asked.

“At the county morgue?” I said.

“You were at the morgue?”

“I was. I was asked to make the ID for Detective Price. Talked to an assistant ME. Or rather, listened to one.”

Myers looked at Caswell. It was obvious she thought my talking to the assistant ME represented a grave breach of some federal procedure or another. Caswell nodded, rubbed his hands, and changed the subject.

“Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to harm Ms. Gardner?” he asked. Myers, back in her box, subsided and resumed taking notes.

“Her ex would be a long shot,” I said. “He left her for another woman, but that was eight, maybe nine years ago. She divorced him and then whacked him financially, at least as she tells it. Told it. But Allie was a pretty tough lady, so that’s not really likely after all this time.”

“And at work? At your, um, company? Everything okay there?”

I grinned at him. “It’s a real company, Special Agent. Licensed, bonded, the whole nine yards. We can even carry guns if we want to. And, yes, indeed, Allie was fine at work. Lots of boys and girls having trouble keeping their pants on, apparently.”

Myers sniffed, as if the notion of people without their pants on disagreed with her. I got the impression that lots of things probably disagreed with Special Agent Mary Myers, and that she
always
kept her pants on. I wondered if she even knew what her unofficial handle was.

“Was she personally involved with anyone that you know of?” Caswell asked.

I shook my head and had a sip of beer. I hadn’t bothered to offer the agents a drink. Bureau people are always on duty. Always. It’s one of the things that makes them formidable. “I think the both of them—Allie and Mel Lindsay, her partner in the firm—were tired of men and their bullshit.”

Myers blinked. Actually, she almost smiled at that. The lounge was starting to fill up.

“A relationship there?” Caswell asked.

“No, just work. They often traveled together. They were lethally thorough and enjoyed their specialty. Mel was seeing some guy for a while, but then discovered that he was married, so that ended abruptly. But, no, they were not a pair in that sense.”

Caswell almost looked disappointed. Creeps indeed, I thought. He looked at Myers and raised his eyebrows. She closed her notebook. We were done. I exchanged cards with Caswell. He asked me to call or e-mail him if I thought of anything else, and reminded me he needed Allie’s client’s name and address. He started to push back his chair and then stopped.

“You’re an investigator by trade, Mr. Richter,” he said. “Please tell me you are going to stay out of this one, correct?”

I looked at him. That was a question and a warning. “Sure, Special Agent,” I said, perhaps sounding more casual than I felt. “With you guys on the case, who needs me, right?”

“Precisely the right answer, Mr. Richter,” he said with a charming if patronizing smile. “Don’t disappoint your Bureau. We’ll be in touch.”

I signaled the college-student waiter for another beer. He brought it and asked me who the weird-looking dude was. I told him that the weird-looking dude was from the Darkside, and he nodded knowingly. Awesome, he said. Totally, I replied. We had communicated, and life was, like, good. So was the beer.

I put Allie’s death out of my mind for a few minutes and just enjoyed my drink and the sight of the sun going down on the battleship’s dimpled gray hull. The setting sun turned the river into a sheet of bronze, which made everything out there pretty much invisible. My inner self was still somewhat aglow from the previous evening with Mary Ellen. We had come so close to physical intimacy in our previous acquaintance that I’d half-expected to be disappointed. Instead, she had been almost intimidating in her need. Naturally, I felt
used. Used, abused, and hoping like hell she’d want to do it all again.

Then I remembered something. Allie had said she’d be back the next day after taking care of some personal business. What might that have been? I should have said something to the special agents, but then again, maybe I could tease out a few more facts before I closed that loop.

“Mr. Cameron Richter?” a deep baritone voice inquired over my left shoulder. I looked up. A stocky black man stood next to my table. He was immaculately dressed in a stylish suit, and he was holding a leather-covered notebook across his middle.

“Yes?” I said. I would have stood, but I couldn’t get up without running into him, and he didn’t look like he’d move a whole lot.

“Forgive the intrusion,” he said. “I’m Aristotle Quartermain. May I have a word, please? This concerns the recent misfortune of Ms. Allison Gardner.”

He proffered his hand, and I automatically shook it. He was in his late fifties, and his skin was not just black but
blue
-black. He had a glistening, oversized bald head and intense owl-like eyes. He was built like a fire hydrant under that six-hundred-dollar suit, not tall as much as broad, and his hand felt like a silk-covered vise. He sat down carefully opposite me and put his notebook on the table.

“You have the advantage of me, Mr. Quartermain,” I said. “A drink?”

“That would be very nice, Mr. Richter. I believe I have one coming.”

“That sure of yourself?”

“It’s a fault, Mr. Richter. I’m the chief of technical security at the Helios nuclear power station. I’m afraid it’s gone to my head.”

The same waiter brought Quartermain his drink and gave me a conspiratorial look over my guest’s shoulder. The Darkside was everywhere tonight. Then I realized what Quartermain had just announced.

“Ah,” I said.

“Yes,” Quartermain replied, sampling his Scotch. He unzipped the fine-grained leather binder, extracted a neck chain containing his credentials, and slid it across the table. I examined the three plastic badges, each with his picture and the logo of the power company, PrimEnergy, which apparently owned and operated the Helios atomic power station.

“I’m technical security. Another gentleman is physical security. I’m in charge of keeping the nuclear process safe. The other guy is watching for bad guys coming over the moat. Technically, he works for me.”

“Why?”

“Because if our side of the security equation goes south, physical security becomes moot. Nobody will be trying to get
in
to the power plant under those circumstances, if you get my drift.”

“Got it,” I said. I studied the badges and handed them back. “Those look good, for the moment, anyway.”

“I’ve been at the bar,” he said, retrieving the badges. His fingers were large and impeccably manicured. “I did not want to intrude until the FBI people left. Special Agent Caswell is a sight to behold, is he not.”

“True enough,” I said. I’d decided to let him lead. He knew who I was and why I was in Wilmington, and he knew the Bureau people by name. The pleasant, isn’t-this-a-nice-evening expression melted off his face, and suddenly I was looking at a no-shit security officer. The transformation was dramatic.

“Your associate,” he said, lowering his voice, “was killed by ingesting about a pint of highly radioactive water.”

“How high is high?” I asked.

“High enough to permanently expose twenty-seven plates of X-ray film.” He paused, looking around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “Twenty-seven plates that were stored fifty feet away from the main analysis room in that lab. She might as well have crawled into an industrial-sized microwave oven, set it on high, and spent the night in there.”

“All this from one bottle of water?”

He leaned back in his chair and it creaked. “We don’t know that, of course. What the container was, I mean. We’re assuming that she drank it thinking it was just water, since there were no indications of coercion. Right now the situation up at the state forensic lab is somewhat—chaotic.”

“I can just imagine,” I said. “And they
know
this stuff came from the power plant?”

“No, no, they don’t know that. The NRC—that’s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—is involved, as is, of course, the Bureau. Needless to say, they’re both looking hard at Helios as a possible source.”

“And let me guess, the plant and the company are circling the wagons at warp speed just now.”

He smiled and shook his head. “The company understands their concerns, of course, but the NRC technical people, at least, know that there’s no way radioactive water can come out of that plant and into the community absent a major, and I mean major, accident. Even then, it would appear in the form of water vapor. Not something you could drink. No. Technically, this isn’t possible.”

“And yet . . .”

“Yes. And yet. The isotopic fingerprints would normally tell the tale, except for the fact that any credible analysis of residual isotopes is going to be obscured by their having gone through human tissue.”

I just looked at him. Isotopic fingerprints? He saw my confusion. “When I was in nuke school,” he said, “the professor would sometimes say something in Greek and we’d all get blank expressions on our faces. Every classroom had a whiteboard or six. In the corner of one of the whiteboards there was always a rectangle with a circle drawn inside it. Inside the circle were the words ‘I believe.’ That was the I-believe button. If the instructor realized that he’d just baffled the entire class, he’d invite us to press the I-believe button and then he’d proceed with the rest of the lecture. Sometimes the problem cleared up, sometimes it didn’t. So: Say, ‘I believe.’ ”

I did. He grinned.

“What’s funny?”

“I was thinking about Special Agent Caswell’s reaction to isotopic fingerprinting. He tried to pretend he knew what it was. So I asked if the Bureau’s laboratory could do some for us. Special Agent Myers made a note to call them. That will be an amusing, if short, discussion.”

“Back to the problem at hand, Mr. Quartermain,” I said. “My associate, as you called her, is in an autopsy drawer. The technical impossibilities aside, I want to know how this happened and why.”

BOOK: Cam - 03 - The Moonpool
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