Authors: Gene Doucette
“Yeah, I finally sprung for a dining set. Kept getting Chinese food on the carpet.”
“Perfect,” she said, putting her bag down on the table he’d bought off a departing tenant a couple of years earlier. It was a nice set, or so he was told, when he forked over two grand for it, used. Walnut or something. He wasn’t a big expert on the subject of wood.
“Beer?” he asked.
The largest room in the condo was the living/dining room combination, which took up nearly half the square footage. The kitchen, just off the dining portion, was much smaller, apparently designed by someone who understood that most of the residents would not be devotees of self-cooked meals. It had all the standard accoutrements of a pricey modern kitchen but an egregious lack of counter space and only a nominal representation of cupboard room. It was almost as if the condo association’s admonishment of “no loud parties” was being enforced via cabinetry, as it was doubtful any resident would be able to accommodate more than six guests with real plates and cups.
By the time Corrigan returned to the dining room with the beer, his tabletop was half-covered with the contents of an accordion-style case folder that had emerged magically from Maggie’s small messenger bag. Corrigan handed over her beer and then sat at the empty end of the table, conveniently distant enough to make it difficult to see the images captured in what appeared to be, at first blush, crime scene photos.
She was preoccupied with her presentation for another few minutes, absently taking sips of her beer like it had always been in her hand and she only just remembered it was there. Corrigan waited patiently and watched, which was what one found oneself doing in Maggie’s company, provided one was a heterosexual male. She really was a lovely woman and a charter member of the “easy to fall in love with, difficult to date” club. Corrigan was probably the only man who’d ever been intimate with her and still remained her friend. They were a matching pair of emotional unavailabilities.
“Okay,” she said finally. “You ready?”
“Sure,” he said magnanimously. “What am I . . . oh. Seriously?”
“The FBI would like to hire you as a consultant.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Hey! Stay in the present, would you please?” she snapped. Corrigan usually did a good job of pretending he didn’t know what everyone was about to say before they said it, but beer and a familiar companion had him dropping social niceties.
“It’s okay. Just say yes. I had to pull a few yards of string to get Hicks to agree to this in the first place.”
Corrigan smiled. Randall Hicks had been the assistant deputy of the Boston office for nearly five years now, which annoyed Maggie to no end.
“You know I’m not any good with crime scenes, right?” he said. “Or with Hicks.”
“I think you have some insights that would be useful here,” Maggie said. “You’ll understand in a minute. Are you in?”
“Can you show those to me without my agreeing first? Because I don’t know if I have a lot of free time.”
Maggie sighed. “All right. But these are supposed to be confidential. Just keep that in mind.” She grabbed the first pile—first in the sense that she picked it up first, not first in any physical order that Corrigan could see—and handed it to him.
At the top of the pile was a dramatic photo showing a young man resting—eternally—on a metal spike atop a decorative wrought-iron fence. Corrigan was immediately glad Maggie had decided to bring the black-and-white photos instead of the color ones. “Looks painful,” he said. He sipped his beer, which suddenly tasted very bitter, and flipped ahead.
The name of the dead kid was Sajjan Patel. Sajjan fell out a window at a college party and ended up regretting it twelve stories later. Corrigan read through the whole file, but there wasn’t much more to it than an apparent tragic accident: black ice on the window ledge. It happened more than a year ago.
Why is she showing this to me?
“It wasn’t so bad,” Maggie said. “He basically died immediately. Take a look at this one.” She handed over the second file, which was short a gruesome pictorial thanks mainly to the absence of identifiable body parts. The sole photo was of a smudge on the front of a Red Line train. Corrigan read further and discovered the smudge had once been someone named Dina Krauthupt.
“Pushed?” he asked.
“Fell. The platforms on most of the T stations have wide-angle video coverage. Nobody was standing near her. She just tripped at exactly the worst possible time to trip.”
“O-kay . . .” He still didn’t quite understand what was going on. Accidents were accidents, and sometimes they were impossible to prevent, even for him.
She proffered a third file. This one showed an older man in what looked to be a study or a private office. His face was easy enough to see, but the rest of his body was obscured by what looked to be an extremely heavy bookcase that had unfortunately fallen upon him.
“Dr. Michael Offey,” Corrigan read.
“Yeah, that’s one of the more interesting ones. Take a look at the side of the bookcase.”
Corrigan tilted the picture to try and get a better look, which was difficult because he’d set the lights in his living/dining room to dim in the interest of adopting the proper seductive mood. Said mood was suddenly a very distant thing.
“I see it,” he said after a moment. “Brackets.”
“Uh-huh. It was supposed to be anchored to the wall. You can’t see them in that shot, but there were matching holes in the plasterboard. It looks like somebody spent more than a couple of minutes working the screws loose.”
“So he was murdered.”
“Yeah. Except he couldn’t have been. This was in his office in the back of the MIT library, which was closed at the time. The only way in or out was via key card.”
“And the key card access was recorded?”
“Yup. No entries except for him.”
“So whoever did this came in with him,” Corrigan suggested.
“External cameras showed only him entering the building, which he did after the library had been closed for two hours and swept by the security staff. It’s possible somebody avoided security, waited until he turned up, went with him into his office, and then made him sit around for five minutes while the bookcase was worked free from the wall, but that seems unlikely.”
“Maybe they got into his office ahead of time and rigged the bookshelf.”
Maggie sighed. “Corrigan, this happened seven months ago and it’s been in our lap for the last five, before which local homicide had it, and everybody was extremely thorough. I assure you, we’ve worked every single angle. We’re pretty sure he was alone.”
He tossed the file on the table. “And why is it in your lap, exactly? What does this have to do with the FBI?”
She handed him the rest of the files. “Keep reading.”
The fourth case involved a twenty-seven-year-old named James Ho Chan. The picture—color this time—showed him lying facedown on his desk while the better part of what was supposed to be inside his skull was instead scattered all over the desk top.
“Suicide,” Corrigan pointed out. “And yuck,” he added.
“Six months ago.”
Case number five was a snowplow death. Kelsey Fitzhugh slid from a snow bank in front of a plow four months ago. Then came Eleanor Stoyevich, who evidently took a header off the Mass Ave Bridge into the Charles two months ago.
“And finally,” Maggie said as he opened the last file, “this one was only last week.”
The photo of Jamie Silverman floating face down in his own tub was just about all Corrigan could take. He tossed it onto the table without reading further.
“He slipped in the shower while the water was running,” Maggie said, even though Corrigan clearly wasn’t all that interested in knowing the details. “Somehow the plug ended up in the drain. It was past his face before he could regain consciousness. The downstairs neighbor found him a couple of hours later when he noticed the water dripping through his ceiling.”
Corrigan took a deep drink of his beer, which sat in his stomach unpleasantly and threatened to come right back up again. “What do you want from me?” he asked. “An explanation? Why couldn’t I have saved these people?”
Maggie looked surprised for a second and then started laughing. “Christ, no. I know you can’t help everyone. You do what you can. Besides, you don’t handle murders. You told me so yourself.”
“That’s what we’re thinking.”
“I see one
murder, three suicides, and three accidental deaths. Where do you get murder?”
Maggie smiled and took a sip of her own beer. “How about all seven of these people worked in the MIT Applied Sciences lab?”
“That’s still pretty thin,” he said. “But not bad.”
“It’s why the FBI got involved. I’m friendly with the detective who was called in to investigate Dr. Offey’s death. He made the connection to the two prior cases and then asked us—me—to take a look, see if it lined up with anything we’d seen before. It didn’t, but when Jimmy Chan blew his brains out, we got a little more interested. We’re still interested.”
“Seems to me, if they all worked in the same place, somebody there knows more about it.”
“It’s a big department, but yes, we’re trying that,” she said. “Problem is, most of them are away for the summer. And if you’re thinking we could narrow it down to one particular project, we can’t. All seven of the victims were involved on one level or another with more than a half-dozen projects, along with literally hundreds of non-dead people who may or may not be next. It becomes an exponential problem.”
“And they didn’t have anything else in common?”
“Other than being dead? Not that we can tell, no. Now, the next time someone from the MIT Applied Sciences Department up and dies, we may be able to narrow it down more, but you can understand if we’re not all that keen on waiting for that to happen.”
“Not if this is really murder, no. Have you considered that maybe people from MIT are just unusually clumsy and suicidal?”
She smiled. “Believe it or not, yes. Statistically, it’s possible to have a cluster of deaths of this magnitude over a sixteen-month time frame. But those same statistics indicate that the odds of all of those deaths clustered in the same area
centered on a common workplace are prohibitively large. Even accounting for suicides.”
Corrigan rubbed his eyes, and when this didn’t do the trick he decided to start pacing. Pacing soon became fetching another beer. Maggie sat where she was and waited for the obvious question. He returned from the kitchen with it.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” he asked.
“Consultant,” she reiterated. “I told you that already.”
“I’m really much better with the future tense,” he remarked, walking past his carefully defined dining area to his much more loosely described living room. It had an overstuffed couch—which offered no support of any kind whatsoever and would undoubtedly smother anyone foolish enough to attempt to sleep on it—next to a matching chair. Both ran along parallel sides of a coffee table that had been severely beaten over the years by heavy boots at rest. Hung on the wall to the side of the couch was an elegant flat screen television that Corrigan only barely understood how to turn on, so he hardly ever did.
“What you’re good at,” Maggie said from the table, “is accidents.”
Corrigan sat down on the couch, mainly because the last time he sat in the chair it took him ten minutes to get up again. He was secretly afraid of being stuck there during a fire. “I’m good at anticipating potential accidents and preventing them before they become actual accidents. So when you think about it, I don’t see many actual accidents. If I’m there, they don’t tend to happen.” He leaned back and put his feet up on the coffee table. The table grunted angrily.
“Stubborn,” she said. She got to her feet and sashayed over to the living room. “Bet if I put you at one of these scenes you’d be able to tell me if it was accidental or deliberate. You have an eye for that sort of thing.”
“Hunh,” he responded. She sat down on the chair and nearly disappeared entirely. “You know what? That’s pretty weak.”
She laughed. “Cheers,” she declared, holding up her beer.
“Cheers. Now what’s the real reason?”
“Time,” she said.
“I wasn’t kidding about all of them working on more than a dozen projects, but we have the working titles of all those projects, and time was an overriding theme. And you, lover, can see into the future. Who better to bring in?”
Corrigan got an uneasy feeling as the words
wandered around in his belly. The word
echoed through his head, but he did his best to ignore it, figuring it was tossed in to remind him of the implied sex-for-assistance bargain that Maggie was, however unconsciously, dangling. Or perhaps it was said just to distract him from the obvious.
“This wasn’t your idea, was it?”
For the merest of seconds she looked uncertain, and that was plenty long enough for a guy who sees everything at least twice to notice. “Of course it was,” she said. “Who else would have thought of it? Hicks? He hates the idea that I’m even asking.”
“Not Hicks. Calvin.”
She deflated visibly, nodding.
“Okay, all right, he told me to try and bring you in,” she said with a sigh, “But not to mention his involvement. There’s a reason for that, isn’t there?”
“Because I might view this as just another excuse on his part to use me like a lab experiment? Yeah, there’s a good reason right there.”
“So I take it your answer is no?”
Maggie pulled herself rather gracelessly from the chair and sat down on the edge of the coffee table a few inches from Corrigan. Parts of him stood at attention immediately. “Look,” she said, “I don’t know what your history is with this man, and I don’t really want to. But while I have no hope of understanding what most of these projects were at MIT, he does understand them, and if he thinks your talents can help, then so do I.”
She leaned in and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back and gripped his beer with both hands to keep said hands from wandering directly up her chest. After a good long while, she broke away. “So, will you at least think about it?”