Read Hard Fall Online

Authors: Ridley Pearson

Hard Fall (9 page)

“What exactly do we have?” Daggett asked.

Shoswitz handed him the green-and-white-striped computer paper.

LaMoia explained, “We searched the database for the addresses of Simulation employees first—based on my natural instincts. And there she was—bingo!—fifth one down. Lived right in the same block as
all
of Ward's citations. A thirty-one-year-old redhead; single; built to take a ride, or so I'm told.”

“Sarah?” the Simulation man said in registered shock.

“See?” LaMoia said, popping a fresh stick of gum into his mouth. “Everyone knows her.”

The conference room held a stainless steel and glass table with eight black leather chairs, a bulletin board, a projector screen, a phone, and a Mr. Coffee that had a fresh pot waiting. They each poured themselves a cup. Daggett noted the lack of a clock. No windows. A silk ficus with dust on its leaves. The only phone had a dozen incoming lines and a box attached to it that he assumed involved encryption. This is what the military would be like if it went private, he thought.

Sarah Pritchet was a little toothy. She was scared to death and it showed in her bright green eyes and her clammy palms, which Daggett felt as they shook hands. She wore a khaki suit with a pressed white T-shirt and black leather heels that stretched her calves tightly. Her hair was flame red, and she had so many freckles, it looked like she had been splattered with chestnut-brown paint, giving her face a kind of wounded look. Her brow was tight as she stood at the head of the table with her arms crossed tightly. The suit hid her body, but not from the imagination. LaMoia had made sure of that.

You hit people like Sarah Pritchet, he thought. You hit them hard and see if they try to hit back. Daggett jumped on the silence and said sternly, “Dr. Ward wasn't at the ball game Tuesday night,” while she was still standing. He didn't offer her a seat because he didn't want her comfortable. He explained that both LaMoia and Shoswitz were homicide cops. That helped turn up the heat. She knew Fleming. With both time and Ward's killer slipping away from him, Daggett felt the need for victory. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. It made him think of Backman; it was the same shirt he had been wearing that day, and the button he had sewn on didn't fit the hole well. “We thought perhaps Dr. Ward had been approached at the ball game by the man who killed him, but we know now that wasn't how it happened. He wasn't at the game, Miss Pritchet.”

Tearing into the mind of a woman already upset by the murder of her lover was not Daggett's idea of fun. Exposing the secrets of the dead was even less so. The two had had an affair. So what? If Ward had died in a traffic accident, no investigation would have occurred—he could have died with his secret intact. As it was, it had to come out, at least to some degree, and if it had to come out, then the best thing for the investigation was to use it to advantage. Shove it into a crack and lean on it with all your weight. Eventually the crack would widen, and things would spill out.

“We could take you downtown. We could turn you over to a policewoman and she could comb your hair. We could try for other, more personal, evidence. The lab could then tell us for certain whether or not you are the woman we're after. But we're also after a killer, Miss Pritchet. He has a head start on us. Quite frankly, we don't have the time for all that lab business. So, what we're hoping for is some cooperation.” We're hoping for a miracle, he thought, but didn't say it. “Without that cooperation, Miss Pritchet, the courts, the press, and Duhning Aerospace will all become
actively
involved.”

“No one wants that,” Fleming added. She looked as frightened of him as a young girl might be of a father.

“May I sit down?” she asked.

He had to maintain his control. He didn't answer her. He asked in an unforgiving voice, “Dr. Ward was, or was not, with you on the evening of his murder?”

Anger forced her eyes wider. Beautiful green eyes, as hot as the color of her hair. “
Was!
All right? Yes, he was with me,” she answered. “We were at my apartment. He left at the seventh-inning stretch.”

“Have a seat, Miss Pritchet.” Satisfaction pulsed through him. For the first time he felt the air-conditioning.

LaMoia removed a small tape recorder from his jacket, placed it on the table, spoke the date and time into it, named the people present, and then looked up at Daggett, who began the questioning.

Sarah Pritchet spent twenty minutes answering questions about her affair with Ward and the details of the night of Ward's murder. She was dismissed, and for the next hour and a half, Daggett, Shoswitz, and LaMoia reviewed the tape and established a more formal line of questioning for the upcoming lunch hour. Fleming checked in on them periodically and rejoined them for the second interrogation.

The initial search of Sarah Pritchet's apartment, conducted by both LaMoia and Daggett with a uniformed officer at the door, provided little of interest. Daggett looked over both her telephone bills and her canceled checks. LaMoia searched her personal belongings and toiletries. If Pritchet was lying about the extent of her involvement, it would require a team of experts to prove it. Nothing they found contradicted her story.

They moved their search outside to the Pay-and-Park she claimed Ward used whenever possible, and had most likely used on the night of his murder. Daggett thought of himself as Dr. Roger Ward as he rode the apartment building's elevator down to ground level and walked to the front gate. A pair of silver-windowed office buildings on the other side of I-5 blocked any view of the Sound. A group of sea gulls split the blue of the sky. Beyond, a commercial jet flew silently over Puget Sound. Sight of the plane reminded Daggett of his purpose. However faint, he couldn't rule out the possibility that Bernard's detonator might be intended for a Duhning 959-600. Or was this merely coincidence? With Bernard dead and few leads, any day now he might be pulled from the investigation. He could keep it alive only by connecting this murder to Bernard's detonators. The plane he watched grew smaller and smaller. He felt his hopes of taking the Pritchet connection one step farther diminish just as quickly.

Daggett wandered the lot, studying the oil stains, the cars, the drain, the bushes. If you're the killer, where do you hide? He turned and studied the apartment building. He studied the layout of the Pay-and-Park and its relation to the building's front entrance. Slowly, like working with a grid system, he backed up, keeping both the windows of the apartment and the front door in view. He found his way to the far corner, where a battered trailer provided decent cover. He searched the area carefully.

“What are we looking for?” LaMoia asked, joining him.

“Who knows? Gum? Pocket change? Anything the killer might have left behind.”

LaMoia prowled the scrubby bushes.

Daggett found a crushed beer can—but it was clearly weathered. He found an empty bottle of motor oil, and a dead sparrow that appeared the victim of a cat kill. The loose feathers had collected in a pile behind one of the trailer's deflated tires. A pair of charcoal marks on the lip of the trailer's fender caught his eye. He touched one. The charcoal smudged his fingertip.

“When did you get your last rain?” Daggett shouted out to LaMoia, who had disappeared in the bushes.

“I'll have to check, but I got a hunch it was Monday night. Might-a-been Sunday.”

Daggett dropped to one knee, eyes sweeping the blacktop like searchlights. He used his ballpoint pen as a probe, exploring the gray-brown feathers piled behind the trailer's wheel. He found two cigarette butts. One in the feathers, the other lodged between the rubber and the blacktop. Not very old, by the look of them. Dropped by a man impatiently awaiting Roger Ward? The cigarette paper was black, the filter gold—expensive, by the look of them. Unusual. European? Excitement built inside him.

A few feathers at a time, he continued his excavation. Past the cigarette butts, behind a good deal of plumage, he discovered a small, crumpled package still wearing half of its coat of torn cellophane. More evidence? If they had had rain on Sunday, as LaMoia had said, then this box had been discarded recently. As recently as Tuesday night? Was he on to the person who had killed Ward, or some innocent bystander who had killed nothing more than a few spare minutes in a parking lot? You go with the evidence, he reminded himself. You go with what they give you, and you make sense of it later.

He rolled the crushed box with his pen and read the print:
Anbesol—for temporary relief of toothache
. The picture showed a tooth with lightning bolts coming out of it.

“Maybe our boy has a bum tooth,” he called out to LaMoia.

LaMoia answered, “Tooth-dirty,” trying to make it sound like
two-thirty
. “Time to call Chinese dentist.”

“Time to call every dentist in town.”

“You think?”

“He gives us something like this, right or wrong, we've got to follow it up, don't we? Could be he fucked up. This may be hard evidence.”

“May be nothing.”

“Agreed.”

“Lieutenant's not going to like it. Too speculative. I think this is something more for you and your people.”

LaMoia carried both paper and plastic bags with him, as Daggett was certain he would. Homicide cops carried this stuff around at all times. Together they bagged and labeled Daggett's discoveries. Then they widened their search area.

“How's this for bizarre?” LaMoia called out, emerging from the overgrown weeds holding the partially carved potato in his gloved hand. “Looks like a goddamned dildo, you ask me.” It did, Daggett agreed. A phallus two inches in diameter and several inches long, emerging from the uncarved butt like a penis from a scrotum. “She likes 'em wide, but not too deep,” LaMoia said, imitating a blues singer. He spun it around. “Idaho number one russet, maybe.” He studied it. “I don't know, maybe it's some kind of gay blade. How would you like that up the old wazoo?” He made a motion with it that couldn't be mistaken. He tossed it to Daggett, who caught it.

Daggett spun it in his hand. The heart of the potato had blackened with air contact. “Someone spent some time on this,” he said, puzzled by it.

“It ain't the meat, it's the motion.”

He was about to toss it when he noticed that some of the black had come off on his hand. It wasn't just air-rot after all. He rubbed his fingers together and brought them to his nose. Inhaling, he experienced another sudden explosion of excitement in his chest, and he found himself wanting to believe that indeed this was hard evidence involving Ward's murderer. He said, “You ever heard that shit about when you lose your hearing, you can smell more?”

“No,” LaMoia said. “I stay away from all that touchy-feely stuff.”

“This is science, I'm talking about. Medical science.”

“I never did well in science. Except anatomy,” he added quickly. “But that was mostly extracurricular.”

“Do you ever stop?” Daggett asked him.

“Only when she asks me to,” LaMoia fired back. “And only then if I know she means it.”

“Smell this,” Daggett said, coming toward the man with pinched fingers.

LaMoia shied away.

“Smell it,” Daggett insisted. He shoved his fingers under the man's nose. LaMoia's moustache twitched. Puzzlement creased his face.

“Exhaust?”

“Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with my hearing,” Daggett replied.

He spent a good part of the late afternoon, early evening, on the phone with the Washington office and trying to reach Carrie. He drove up to Green Lake and went for a run. He had dinner at Ray's Boat House with the Bureau friend who had “invited” him out here to Seattle. They talked over old times and drank too much beer. They discussed Bernard and the German bust of
Der Grund
.

“You think this murder out at Duhning was Kort's doing?” his friend asked. “You think there's a chance he's over here?” It was the first time anyone had actually come out and said it, although both Backman and Pullman had inferred as much. Daggett wasn't sure how to answer. The man added, “I mean it seemed a pretty obvious possibility to me. That's why I invited you out here. Bernard is
Der Grund
, Kort is
Der Grund
. Bernard builds a detonator. Kort can't be found anywhere. I mean somebody's got to put the damn thing onto a plane or what's the use? And that's Kort's job, right?”

“We
think
it's Kort's job.” In fact, the way things added up, he
knew
it was the work of Anthony Kort. Who else? But as the investigating officer, he couldn't vocalize such beliefs until he had the evidence to support them.

“That's all I'm saying.”

“Part of me hopes it is; part of me hopes it isn't.”

“I can understand that.”

No one can completely understand that, Daggett thought. But why argue with a friend? Why argue at all, except for the beer and the fatigue? He wanted to argue. He wanted to lose some steam.

“You want to drive a bucket of balls?” his friend asked.

“I'd rather find a pitching machine and try a few line drives.”

“I don't know of any pitching machines. But I know a driving range open till midnight.”

“Sounds okay to me.”

“They sell beer.”

“Sounding better all the time.”

“You playing the links much?”

“No. Haven't for a long time. Too expensive. I was playing first base on the WMFO fast-pitch team for a while. Same time I was coaching my son's Little League team. Hell of a good time.” Something fell between them like a steel plate. Daggett felt completely alone. Memories flickered in the yellow and the bubbles of the beer.

“Right,” his friend finally said. “What do you say we get going?”

It was a little after noon the next day when Shoswitz interrupted Daggett, who was in the middle of writing a report. LaMoia and five other sergeants had been calling dentists for the better part of three hours. Daggett was just giving up hope of connecting the Anbesol to a man with tooth trouble. That was the way it often worked: you had to give up completely before your luck would turn. Expectation was your worst enemy. Shoswitz had a restless energy about him. He had the nervous habit of massaging his elbow, and his eyes found it difficult to stay fixed on any one spot. “You may be right about the Anbesol,” he told Daggett. “Four different dentists' offices all received calls on Tuesday from an out-of-towner who wanted some emergency attention.”

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