Authors: William G. Tapply
Saundra Mendoza looked down at her lap and shook her head.
“Don't tell me,” I said.
She shrugged. She didn't have to tell me. Mendoza was a homicide detective.
“They called her Sunshine because she never smiled,” I said. “Because she was so gloomy all the time. Like calling a tall guy Shorty, you know?”
Mendoza looked up at me and nodded.
“Jesus,” I muttered.
She nodded again.
Sgt. Hunter nodded also. He looked at me with his eyebrows lifted, as if he were about to speak.
I waited. Hunter shrugged and said nothing, so I said, “What happened?”
“No,” said Mendoza. “I'm gonna ask the questions. Skeeter Cronin said Mrs. Quinlan talked to you a couple nights ago. Said you agreed to be her lawyer. Tell me what you talked about with her.”
I told her about meeting SunshineâMaureen Quinlanâat Skeeter's on Tuesday evening, how she'd told me her sad story, how I'd been making some phone calls for her. And I told her how Sunshine had agreed to ask around about the dead girl. “I had Julie make a bunch of three-by-five copies of that morgue shot you gave me,” I said. “I gave copies to some homeless people I know, hoping maybe they could help me figure out who she was.”
Saundra Mendoza had a little notebook opened on her knee. She was taking notes in it with a ballpoint pen. Sgt. Hunter just watched my face. I couldn't read his expression. Boredom, maybe.
Mendoza looked up at me. “You gave Mrs. Quinlan a photo?”
“I figured, if the girl was a runaway, maybeâ”
“I get it,” she said. “She didn't have any photo on her when we found her. Nor was there one in her stuff at the Shamrock.”
“Maybe she lost it,” I said. “Or just threw it away.”
“Maybe,” she said. “Still, seems like a coincidence.”
“Between Sunshine and the girl in my backyard? Between me asking her to see what she could find out, giving her that photo, andâ¦and what happened to her?”
“Maybe it is a coincidence,” said Mendoza. “Or maybe there's a connection.” She shrugged. “I don't really believe in coincidences. I believe in cause and effect. I always go on the assumption that for every effect, there's a logical cause.” She looked up at me and shook her head. “But sometimes there just isn't. Sometimes things justâ¦happen. Things without causes. Coincidences. They happen all the time. Especially to homeless people. Homeless people get killed all the time.”
“Murdered,” I said.
“All the time?”
“You know what I mean. Too much. Homeless people are instant victims.”
“You don't hear much about those cases,” I said.
“Sometimes we can't even identify the victims,” said Mendoza. “Even when we do, it's often a person without anybody who cares about them anymore. We take every single one of them seriously, believe me. Murder is murder. But when homeless people get murdered, it's generally they're killing each other, no particular motive, and nobody ever knows anything. The six o'clock news, they aren't much interested in stories about homeless, nameless people. We do our best, but we're not proud of our solve rate.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened to Sunshine?”
She nodded. “Last nightâthis morning, actually, around two a.m.âthey found herâher bodyâher dead bodyâin an alley behind a Chinese restaurant down off Beach Street, few blocks from the Shamrock, where she was staying. Old Chinese guy was closing up, emptying the night's trash, saw her lying there beside the Dumpster. Her throat had been ripped open. Not what you'd call sliced. Not neat and clean like you'd get with a nice sharp razor or knife. More like somebody had taken the neck of a broken bottle and rammed in into her throat, twisted it around.” She looked up at me.
I blew out a breath. “Okay,” I said. “You're trying to upset me.”
She shrugged. “It's upsetting. What do you want?”
“A broken bottle?” I said. “The kind of weapon some homeless person would use, you think?”
“A spur-of-the-moment weapon,” said Hunter. It was the first thing he'd said. His voice was deeper and raspier than I'd expected. “A weapon of opportunity.”
“Or maybe somebody trying to make it look like a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
He gave a little cynical shrug.
I looked at him. “You think this was an argument or something random like that?”
“Sure, like that,” Hunter said. “We seen it before. Homeless people, you know?”
“The people we talked to,” said Mendoza, “said everybody knew that Mrs. Quinlan had a job and was saving her money. There wasn't any money on her when they found her body this morning. That's what we've got for a motive, such as it is. They took her money. Emptied her pockets, probably.”
“They killed her for a few bucks?”
She shrugged. “They kill each other for less.”
“They took the photo, too,” I said.
She shrugged “Whatever. It's the usual violent bullshit that goes on among marginal people, and we're trying to get a handle on it. Who her allies and enemies and sexual partners were. Who was jealous of her, whose feelings she'd hurt, who wanted something she had. Homeless people are always on the edge of disaster. Just about all of them have serious psychological problems. They have diseases, but they don't have the medication they need. AIDS is rampant. So is hepatitis. You name it. They're extremely possessive and jealous and territorial. Paranoia is the norm. And violence. Homeless people tend to get murdered, Mr. Coyne. They'll kill each other over a pair of boots or a crust of yesterday's pizza or the last swallow in a wine jug, and they sincerely believe they're justified.” Saundra Mendoza blew out a breath. “I apologize. I get wound up. Everybody would just as soon homeless people disappeared. Nobody wants to think about them, think about who's responsible for them. It's a terrible thing, a social tragedy, and I hate it.”
“You don't need to apologize,” I said.
She smiled without warmth. “It wasn't a sincere apology.” She shrugged. “So anyway, what we've got here is most likely one of those random, senseless murders. Just some homeless person, murdered by some other homeless person.”
“Except,” I said, “I gave her that photo.”
She nodded. “Maybe whoever killed her was reacting to the photo. Grabbed it from her. Killed her for it. It's a possibility.”
Hunter nodded, too.
“Maybe not the photo per se,” I said.
“Okay,” said Mendoza. “Maybe the dead girl herself. What happened to her. We'll have to go back now, start all over again, see if Maureen Quinlan was showing the photograph around.” She looked up at me. “When was it you gave it to her?”
“Um, three days ago. Tuesday. The same day I found the girl. That evening. I had supper at Skeeter's. Sunshine worked there. Skeeter introduced me to her.”
“You were doing some work for her, Skeeter said.”
I nodded. “I made some phone calls, got the ball rolling. DSS, the AG's office. You know how that goes.”
She smiled. “Bureaucracy. Hate it.”
“So you don't have any suspects, huh?”
“Besides you, you mean?” said Hunter.
I gave him a quick smile, then looked at Mendoza.
“Nobody,” she said, “will admit to having seen or heard anything.” She shut her notebook, slid it into her briefcase, stood up, and reached her hand across my desk. “Thanks for your time.”
I stood up and shook her hand, then shook Hunter's, too. “I'd appreciate it ifâ”
“If we need you,” she said, “you'll hear from us. That's all I can promise.”
“I'm feeling kind of responsible,” I said. “First the girl, now Sunshineâ¦.”
“You should,” said Hunter.
Mendoza narrowed her eyes at him, then shrugged and turned to me. “Don't you worry about it,” she said. “They're just homeless people. Not your problem.”
“That's not how I think about it,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Me, neither. But most people do.”
“I can't help feeling that what happened to Sunshine was connected to the girl in my backyard.”
“The photo,” she said.
“So you are going to worry about it.”
I shrugged. “Don't see how I can help it.”
“You're thinking it
I nodded. “I guess I am.”
“Blaming yourself,” she said.
Saundra Mendoza peered at me for a minute. Then she reached into her pocket and took out a business card. She handed it to me. “I'd rather you just kept your nose out of it,” she said. “But I don't expect you're going to do that. If you learn anything or come up with any brilliant ideas, your obligation is to let me know immediately, me being the cop and you just being some lawyer. My cell phone number's there. I'm not inviting you to call me for idle conversation, you understand.”
Sgt. Hunter, standing beside her, touched her elbow, as if he was in a hurry to get going.
I tucked Saundra Mendoza's card into the corner of the blotter on my desk. “If I call you,” I said, “I promise it'll be because I have something to say.”
I actually tried to do what Detective Mendoza recommended. I tried not to worry about it.
I believed that I shared a collective cultural guilt for the plight of the homeless in America. But what happened specifically to the girl and to Sunshine, I told myself, weren't my problems.
It didn't work. I couldn't stop thinking about them. Even aside from the fact that she was my newest client, if Sunshine was murdered because she was showing the dead girl's picture aroundâbecause I'd asked her toâit was definitely my problem.
It all came down to the girl. Who was she? Why did she have directions to my house? Why did she pick my backyard to die in? Why did she have to die in the first place?
Andâan equally interesting questionâwhy would somebody kill a homeless woman who had this girl's photo?
Finally at three o'clock I said the hell with it. I looked up Ethan Duffy's cell-phone number on the file on my computer and dialed it. When his voice mail came on, I said, “Ethan, it's Brady Coyne, calling around three on Friday afternoon. I'd like to buy you dinner tonight. It would be good to see you, but I admit, I do have an agenda. I need to ask you a couple questions. If you get this message and can do it, meet me at Skeeter's around six. No need to call me back. I'll be there anyway. Hope to see you.”
Ethan Duffy had lived in our townhouse on Mt. Vernon Street before Evie and me. We bought it from Ethan when Walter, his father, was killed two-and-a-half years ago. Henry, our dog, came with the place.
I was thinking the dead girl might have known Ethan and Walter and come into my backyard thinking the Duffys still lived there. Worth a try.
Ethan was a junior drama major at Emerson College, doing okay, as far as I could tell, despite the murder of his father. The last I heard he was living in an apartment on Marlborough Street. When Evie and I first moved into our townhouse, Ethan used to come around now and then, mostly to visit with Henry, though we always made a point of cooking a big dinner for him. We hadn't seen him in about a year.
I was staring out my office window at the grimy January cityscape feeling gloomy and guilty when my phone buzzed.
I picked it up. It was Julie. “It's Mr. Finch,” she said. “He sounds none too happy.”
“That's tough,” I said. I hit the blinking button on the console. “Howard,” I said.
“You said you'd get right back to me.”
“So I did.”
“Well, you didn't.”
“Believe it or not, Howard, I've got other clients.”
“I don't care about them. I care about me. I care about my boat.”
“Give Anna half a million in stocks or something. It's got to be equal or the judge won't buy it. Massachusetts is a community-property state. I've explained that to you.”
“I'm not going to buy my boat from her. I already bought the boat from a guy named Mel. It's my fucking boat. Anna wouldn't even go out on it.”
I sighed. “Give her the Winnipesaukee cottage and the dogs, then. I think her lawyer would go for that, and I think the judge would buy it.”
Howard was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
He blew out a breath. “I worked my ass off all those years,” he said, “making money. And I made a shitload of money. And Anna, all those years, what she did was, she spent my money. I love that Winnipesaukee cottage, and I love my boat, and I love my money, and I'm getting screwed here, and you're the one who's screwing me.”
“Me,” I said. “Screwing you.”
“Damn right. My own fucking lawyer.”
“That's how you see it, huh?”
“I do,” he said.
I didn't say anything for a moment. Then I said, “I know how to solve all your problems.”
“Well, good,” said Howard. “That's more like it. What've you got in mind?”
“Get yourself another lawyer.”
“What? No. No fucking way. You're my lawyer. Do your job.”
“My job is to advise you. I'm advising you to fire me.”
He laughed quickly. “Jesus. You're being ridiculous.”
“I'm not doing a good job for you,” I said.
“So do a better job, for Christ sake.”
“I can't. I'm doing my best.”
“Okay,” I said. “Never mind. I quit.”
“You won't fire me,” I said, “so I'm firing you.”
He hesitated. “You can't do that.”
“I just did.”
“I'll fucking sue your ass.”