Read Fixer Online

Authors: Gene Doucette

Fixer (8 page)

The bed groaned and made a lip-smacking noise. He glanced over and took note of the tousled mane of copper-red hair sticking up out of one end of his comforter.
Maggie spent the night,
he remembered. Further evidentiary proof of this lay on the floor in the form of female-shaped undergarments and a pair of slacks that would definitely not have fit Corrigan. He smiled and briefly considered hopping back into bed for a while after all. But no, he had to get to work.

He headed out of the bedroom and into the study, which was just one door down the hall. It was meant to be a smaller second bedroom, but as it had only one window and was barely half the size of the main bedroom, Corrigan had never seriously considered it anything except a study. And he had no need for a second bedroom anyway.

He turned on his computer and an adjustable desk lamp that was directed at the wall. Taped there was a large map showing Boston and the suburbs, with dozens of red dots marked on it. These were the places he’d already been in the past six months.
Time for a new map again,
he thought.

The computer beeped for attention. He ignored it and stepped up to the map. It was time to go to work.

Standing an arm’s length away from the wall, he closed his eyes and took a few deep, calming breaths and then raised his right arm, opened his eyes, and moved his hand slowly across the map. To someone peeking in, he might have looked like a blind man trying to read Braille graffiti. That he was doing it naked might have taken more explaining, but the simple answer was that he just hadn’t seen the need to put anything on. You get used to a lot of things when you live alone.

The map was cool to the touch as he first ran his hand along the top of it and worked his way down with the practiced route of a Zamboni, finding no reason to pause after his first pass. For a second the thought crossed his mind that he might get a day off, which was great news for someone who had a girl in his bed. But on his second try, he hit upon something warm. He backtracked. Yes, definitely. Something was going to happen there. He circled the spot with his index finger, whirling tighter and tighter, until the finger stopped moving.

“Ready. Corner of Myrtle and Irving,” he announced slowly and clearly. The computer beeped emphatically and recorded the information for him. Resting his palm over the spot on the map, he closed his eyes again and concentrated on the intersection. And waited. Finally. “Ready. Three twenty-seven.” The computer beeped again. 

It took him a couple years to cobble together the programs he needed, but now it worked beautifully, taking the voice commands and turning them into map coordinates, then noting the spoken time, and when he was finished, putting it all together and creating an itinerary. Once that was set all he had to do was ask it to plot the trip for him and send it to the printer. Most days he didn’t have to touch the keyboard at all, which was good, as he’d never gotten past two-finger typing.

With the first appointment recorded, he stepped back into first position and began sweeping the map again. Ten more minutes of searching yielded two additional appointments, and then he swept the map for another five minutes before he was completely satisfied he hadn’t missed anybody. “Done,” he announced for the record. The computer chirped twice, the hard drive whirred appreciatively, and the printer woke up and started cleaning itself. Corrigan wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead, marked the new spots with his red marker, and headed for the bathroom.

The shower was already running.

“Good morning,” he said, letting himself in. The condo’s bathroom was much larger than one would have expected, given the overall square footage, at least large enough that someone on the toilet might not feel like they were intruding overmuch on someone in the tub.

“Morning,” Maggie said from in the shower. “I didn’t want to interrupt the divining session.”

“It’s not divination,” he said whilst peeing. And peeing. 

“Sure,” she said. “Call it what you want. Still freaks me out.”

“Me, too.”

“You ever wonder where it comes from?”

“All the time. But wondering about it doesn’t seem to change anything.”

“Still. If I were a religious person . . .”

“Yeah. I’ve heard that theory.”

She laughed. “I’m trying to picture you with a pair of wings.”

“That’s so hard?” he asked as he finished his duties at the toilet and flushed.

“After last night? Maybe a couple of horns and a tail would fit better.”

She shut off the shower. Corrigan elected not to watch her emerge from the bath and started instead to brush his teeth. He liked to think they were familiar enough with one another by now to share a bathroom without gawking. 

“How’s your schedule?” she asked as she toweled herself off.

“Not bad,” he said through the toothpaste. “Three appointments, pretty spread out. Shouldn’t be a hassle.”

“You made any decisions yet? About the case?”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I’m going to need an answer pretty soon. I
am
out on a limb for you here.”

His answer was to spit into the sink. Hers was to discard the towel and walk out of the bathroom. “I’m late,” she said as she went, while Corrigan watched her ass. Apparently he was not quite beyond gawking just yet. He rinsed and followed the ass back into the bedroom.

“My first appointment isn’t for another four hours,” he said, walking past her as she assembled her clothing on the bed.

“Yeah?” she said. “Nice job you got there. I have to get home for something clean and then make it to work by seven thirty. Have you seen my bra?”

“Under the lamp,” he said, lying back on the bed. “What you wore yesterday looks fine.”

She shot him a look that spoke entire paragraphs. The short version said, “No fucking way am I showing up in the same clothes and especially not after I told my boss whom I was going to be meeting.” The longer version had more swears in it and possibly a few remarks about Corrigan’s upbringing, but he got the idea. She fetched her bra from the nightstand and slipped it on with clinical efficiency.

“Can I ask you something without pissing you off?” Maggie asked. “Again, I mean. I know we’ve been through it before . . .”

“Maggie . . .”

“No, I’m not . . . I don’t want to push you. This is just me being curious here. No baggage. I swear.”

“Why don’t I quit,” he said.

“People have accidents every
day
, Corrigan. You said it yourself, you can’t save all of them. Not that it isn’t a noble cause. You’re just not . . .”

“A noble person?”

“Not what I meant. You don’t have to, is what I mean. The world will keep on spinning and all that.”

He lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Honestly, I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like something I can do right now. Eventually.”

“Eventually,” she repeated. “Sure.”

“Look, you said . . .”

“I know what I said. It’s my fault; I shouldn’t have asked.” She was now fully dressed except for the blouse and jacket, both of which were still in the living room. “None of my business. Sorry. Get back to me on the case, okay? I know what you think of Calvin, but you’d be working with me, not him. And I think it’d be good for you.”

“How so?”

“You look like you could use a change of pace.”

“I thought last night was a change of pace.”

“No, honey. Last night was business as usual for Corrigan Bain. Not that I’m complaining.
Ciao
.”

And with that she strolled out of the bedroom. It must have taken her only a few seconds to locate her remaining articles of clothing because a moment later he heard his front door slam.

He lay in bed for a while, wondering when he’d get around to really explaining his problem to Maggie. The truth was, a long time ago he made a promise to someone. That someone had been dead at the time the pact was transacted, but as far as he was concerned that didn’t change the nature of said pact. It just made it more difficult to get out of. And, of course, there were the nightmares.

“She wouldn’t understand,” he insisted to himself.

*  *  *

Maggie rode the elevator down to the garage and the car she’d left in the guest parking, and tried not to get angry enough to swear out loud, or failing that, to at least wait until she’d gotten into the car.

Doing anything with Corrigan Bain was complicated—business or otherwise—and she’d already just doubled down on the complexity by hopping into his bed on the night she was supposed to be hiring him professionally as a consultant. And on top of that, she had to bring up The Topic. Again. 

She chirped the car alarm off, slid into the driver’s seat, slammed the door, and sat in the car and screamed for a few seconds, and when that didn’t help, she started the car and decided to take out her anger on the road instead.

Spending the night was never part of the plan. The plan was supposed to include a statement like, “I know we have this past and all, but I need to hire you as a consultant, so let’s shake hands and go to our respective homes.” She’d even practiced versions of it. 

And if it
had
been a part of the plan, she would have had a change of clothing in the car.

She maneuvered the sedan up the narrow exit ramp and into the bright early-morning sun and squinted as her eyes adjusted. For some reason that was the part that always made her feel like she’d done something wrong, that flare of sunlight she had to cope with when coming out of Corrigan’s garage. It was as though she was being interrogated by the entire world. 

Left onto Mem, onto Storrow and Soldier’s Field, and you’re good,
she reminded herself. It was the shortest path between him and her Newton apartment, the path that ran against inbound traffic. She would still be late, but not so late she couldn’t blame it on fieldwork.

Her hand fell on the shoulder bag in the passenger seat, and her mind landed on the file in the bag she didn’t show Corrigan.
Calvin,
she thought.
I could go see him on my way, write it up as a follow-up interview, and still walk in late.

It was a decent plan . . . except she had no new questions for Archie Calvin. 

“You could ask him about Kilroy,” she said to herself. “Maybe he knows who the hell that is.”

*  *  *

Four Months Past

The sheet in Maggie’s hand was copied from the guest list at the wake for Professor Michael Offey. The list was huge. He was popular, and seemingly half the university had been at the service. Tracking down all the names and figuring out who needed to be talked to had taken much longer than it should have, but since she hadn’t been at the service, it was the only way to approach the matter.

She hadn’t been at the service because the FBI wasn’t involved, yet, when Mike Offey was buried. And that involvement was turning out to be a disaster. Hicks was already suggesting she backlog the case, and it had only been a few weeks, but she couldn’t blame him. The university was proving far more truculent than one might expect of an institution whose best and brightest were dying so regularly, and nobody could prove anything that had happened was more than an accident.

It would have been easier with some help, but nobody in the office was interested in doing that either, and Hicks wasn’t in any kind of mood to volunteer somebody. 

The door to the small office was opened by the MIT administrator whose desk Maggie had co-opted for the day. The administrator was a sour-looking woman whose desk was so clean it was fair to wonder whether she actually used the room.

Beside her was a short man, slightly pudgy and balding, dressed in formal clothing that looked like it last fit him comfortably a decade ago.

“Archibald Calvin?” Maggie asked, standing.

“Yes,” he said, shuffling into the room. The administrator—Maggie thought her name might be Lacey, but she couldn’t be positive—shut the door behind him. 

Professor Calvin extended his hand to shake Maggie’s over the desk, and as they shook he looked at her for apparently the first time. He looked confused.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Agent Trent, is it?”

“That’s right.”

“Have we met before?”

Maggie took her hand back with a slight smile at what in a younger man would have definitely been a line, but in this older scholar sounded more like genuine befuddlement. “I don’t think we have, Professor. I’m sure I would have remembered.”

“You weren’t at Michael’s service.”

“I wasn’t, no.”

“Oh yes; it wasn’t a question. I mean to say you weren’t there, period. Or I would have remembered you.”

Maggie smiled in spite of herself. Maybe the old man
was
hitting on her. “I just had a few questions about Dr. Offey and the work he was doing here. How well did you know him?”

“Oh, very well. For many years.”

“And do you know what he was working on most recently?”

Calvin smiled. “Agent . . . do I call you Agent? Or ma’am?”

“Agent is fine.”

“Agent, Michael was an experimental physicist of the highest caliber. He worked with the brightest minds in the world, and those minds are fertile and highly distinctive. It would be fair to say that Michael never worked on only one thing in his entire life. Now, if you’re asking whether any of those things could have gotten him killed, of course not. That’s absurd.”

Maggie sighed. She’d heard a version of the same speech a dozen times. “Maybe you can tell me if
you
were working on anything in particular with him?” she asked.

“I actually don’t think I can.”

“Why not?” she snapped. “State secrets? I’ve been hearing this all day.”

He smiled gently. “It’s not like that, Agent. You are facing two obstacles. One, everyone here believes they’re racing to prove something before someone else does, and so there is an active fear that an idea will be stolen and employed elsewhere. Two, these ideas are so ephemeral and specialized that unless you are personally schooled in advanced physics you would neither understand nor appreciate their significance. And to reiterate, these are not ideas that get people killed. May I ask you a question?”

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