Detective Frank Coffin stood in the sun-streaked living room that had, until sometime the day before, belonged toKenji Sole. It was a very nice living room indeed: spacious and airy, furnished in an eclectic mix of antiques and Eames-era modern, with several excellent abstract paintings hung on the white walls. Coffin recognized a door-sized Rothko in violet and umber, and what might have been an early de Kooning in black and white. Tall windows ran along the living room’s south side overlooking Province-town Harbor, which sparked in the bright morning sunlight. A massive stone fireplace dominated the opposite wall. The floor, made of wide oak planks, was mostly covered by an enormous Persian rug, patterned in watery blues and greens, which would have been quite beautiful if Kenji Sole’s dead body had not been lying on it in the middle of a large and complicated bloodstain.
"Looks like a stabbing," said the policeman standing next to Coffin. His big belly strained against his uniform shirt. He was Coffin’s cousin Tony Santos.
Coffin looked at him, then back at the eight-inch chef’s knife protruding from Kenji Sole’s chest. "You think?" he said.
Sergeant Lola Winters tapped Tony on the shoulder. "Maybe you’d better go outside and keep a lid on traffic," she said.
"I don’t see any traffic," Tony said, looking out the north window at the steep, narrow road leading up to Mayflower Heights from Route 6A.
"Then it’ll be easy," Coffin said.
"Okay." Tony sighed. "Fine. I get it. I could use a smoke anyway."
Coffin held up a finger. "Crime scene. No cigarette butts."
"Right, no worries," Tony said, trotting down the open staircase.
Coffin rubbed his temples. He felt dizzy; a high-pitched whine sang faintly in his left ear. Kenji Sole had been a beautiful young woman. Asian or part Asian, she had almond-shaped eyes, an oval face, a strong nose that hinted at some European genetics. She had long, shag-cut hair dyed honey blond. It was hard to say how old she was: early thirties, maybe. Slender and small-breasted, she’d kept her pubic hair trimmed to a neat, dark strip. She was nude except for a sheer baby-doll nightgown and an ankle bracelet made of tiny shells, which glowed pale in the sunlight against her skin. Coffin looked away, feeling queasy, then looked again. She had been stabbed at least five times and was covered in drying blood.
"Frank?" Lola said. "You want to go outside? Get some air?"
"Yeah," Coffin said. "Just for a minute. Sorry."
Coffin sat on the back steps. He felt better; the buzzing sound in his head had subsided, and his peripheral vision seemed almost normal. Lola fanned him slowly with her uniform hat.
"I’m okay now," Coffin said. "You can stop with the fanning."
"You still don’t look so good, Frank."
A car passed below them on 6A, heading toward Provincetown. A pair of grackles waddled across the narrow lawn.
"I’m fine," Coffin said. "Let’s check out the rest of the house. Then we’ll go talk to the cleaning ladies."
The house was a big seventies modern, two stories, newly remodeled. There was a detached three-car garage with an upstairs carriage house.
The kitchen was well designed and almost pathologically neat. Sparkling crystal wine goblets hung, globes down, from an overhead rack; the six-burner Wolf range was spotless, as though it had never been used. There were gleaming black granite countertops and cherry cabinets so perfectly finished they seemed to glow from within. A sliding glass door opened onto a broad deck that faced southeast, toward Truro. The built-in stainless steel refrigerator was big enough to hang a body in. The thought gave Coffin a quick shiver. He resisted the urge to open the refrigerator door. There was an antique ship’s clock on the wall. Coffin glanced at his watch: The clock was nine minutes fast.
"Check it out, Frank."
Coffin turned. Lola was squinting at Kenji Sole’s collection of kitchen knives, stored in a slotted oak block.
"Shun," Lola said. "Japanese. The fancy set." She pointed to an empty slot in the block. "Our killer found his weapon here, instead of bringing his own."
"Indicating what?" Coffin said.
Lola cocked an eyebrow. "What is this, a quiz?"
"Sorry," Coffin said, smoothing his mustache. "Just thinking out loud."
"You could plan to kill someone and still improvise the weapon," Lola said. "You go to their house intending to strangle them and then decide you like the look of the chain saw out in the garage, or the fireplace poker."
The kitchen’s southeast wall was made almost entirely of glass. Coffin stood for a moment looking at the small waves slopping into the curve of lion-colored beach, out past the treetops and the North Truro tourist motels. "I wonder what’s upstairs," Coffin said.
"Holy crap," Lola said, standing next to Coffin in the master bedroom. "It’s like a bomb went off. I wonder what they were looking for." Clothes and jewelry lay scattered everywhere. Most of the books had been pulled from the floor-to-ceiling shelves. The closet had been turned inside out, the mattress slashed, the dresser drawers dumped on the floor. Two small paintings had been torn from the wall and flung across the room. One lay facedown; the other was a black-and-white abstract that might have been a portrait of a nude woman. One print still hung on the wall: a dune-and-sunset picture with an idealized lighthouse in the middle distance. It seemed oddly out of place among all the abstract-expressionist and color-field pieces—some of which, Coffin thought, were probably worth a lot of money.
He opened the door to the bathroom. The walls and floor were green marble. The shower and the Jacuzzi were enormous and outfitted with gold fixtures. "Jesus," Coffin said, his voice echoing softly off the marble walls. "You could throw a party in here. It’s bigger than my living room."
There were three smaller bedrooms and two additional baths. All were as neat as the kitchen, thoroughly dusted, tucked, and straightened—tasteful and impersonal.
The study had been tossed as thoroughly as the master bedroom. The drawers of the carved antique desk had been yanked out and dumped onto the floor. Pens, pencils, legal pads, CDs, paper clips, and Post-it Notes were everywhere. The Aeron chair lay on its side. There was a printer on a wooden stand, and a computer keyboard had been flung into the corner.
"Keyboard, printer," Coffin said, pointing.
"No computer," Lola said.
"I hope this isn’t going to be about technology," Coffin said. "I hate technology."
"I’m guessing it’s about sex," Lola said. She scratched her belly. She had a long scar that ran from below her right breast to her left hipbone; sometimes it itched. "They only searched her personal space. Not the guest rooms, not the kitchen or the living room. Weird."
"Like they knew where to look," Coffin said. "Or got scared off. Or found whatever it was and left."
The bedrooms all opened onto a wraparound deck, suspended over a steep bluff that dropped sixty feet straight down to the edge of the old highway. The trees below had been trimmed so that the view of the harbor and Cape Cod Bay were unobstructed. Coffin stood on the deck for a long moment and watched a red sailboat noodling around on the water. The sun glinted; the sailboat fluoresced. Coffin wanted a cigarette, but his girlfriend, Jamie, had thrown away his last pack and ordered him to quit again.
"I wonder what’s keeping Mancini and the boys?" Lola said, standing in the sliding glass door. Mancini was the Cape and Islands district attorney; he and his team of state police detectives were on their way from Barnstable, driving up Route 6 in Mancini’s big Lexus.
Coffin looked at his watch. It was almost 8:45. "They’ll be here any minute," he said. "We’d better have a talk with the cleaning ladies."
In the past few years there had been an enormous influx of Eastern Europeans—mostly girls in their late teens and early twenties— into Provincetown’s summer labor force. They came with student visas and worked mostly illegally, waiting tables or cleaning toilets or running cash registers at the A&P. No job was too menial, no living conditions too squalid. Coffin had ridden along on more than one nuisance call to the older North Truro motels that now served as cheap living spaces for seasonal workers and found as many as twelve Eastern Europeans living in a room, sleeping in shifts, three to a bed. They came from poor countries, mostly: Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia. They needed money to pay for school, and the rest they sent back home to their families, at least until they got caught up in the American consumer frenzy and decided to keep it for themselves. Some of them, unsurprisingly, fell into drug use or prostitution, though there wasn’t much demand for female prostitutes in Provincetown.
Kenji Sole’s cleaning ladies were young Eastern European women who worked for a service called Maid to Order. Their car, a ten-year-old Honda Civic with a trunk full of vacuums and cleaning supplies, was parked in the drive between the house and the garage. Both girls were very pretty: a tanned, big-breasted blonde named Minka and a slim brunette named Zelenka. They were sitting on the steps to the carriage house and smoking. Coffin didn’t bother checking their IDs.
"So you got here at what time?" Coffin asked them.
"A little after eight," Minka said, her hand shaking as she took a drag from her cigarette. "We went in kitchen door and right away start to work. Zelenka saw her first."
"The door was unlocked?" Lola said.
Minka shrugged. "Is P’town," she said. "Who locks their door?"
"Was that normal?" Coffin asked. "You’d just show up at 8:00 a.m., let yourselves in, and get to work?"
The brunette, Zelenka, nodded. "It was normal," she said. Her eyes were bright blue and almond-shaped, her hair cut short. "She always leaves money on the counter—cash, two hundred dollars. Sometimes she comes downstairs for coffee, but mostly we don’t see her."
Coffin nodded. Their accents made his heart leap in his chest. "If you didn’t see her, where would she be? Out?"
Minka shrugged. "I don’t know. Out, sure. Not in the house, or we would see her."
"Two hundred dollars?" Lola said. "Isn’t that kind of a lot?"
"Is big house," Minka said. "We clean everything."
"So," Coffin said. "Zelenka, you saw her first?"
"Yes." Zelenka’s hair bobbed a little when she nodded her head. "I am going into living room to vacuum, and she is there. So much blood! I feel very frightened when I see her."
"Did you touch her? Or touch anything in the living room?"
Zelenka shook her head vigorously. "No. I don’t touch nothing."
"She screams very loud," Minka said. " ‘What is going on?’ I say. She runs outside, screaming, screaming. So I am afraid. I go outside, too. She says Miss Kenji is dead."
"You knew she was dead?" Coffin asked.
"Yes," Zelenka said, taking a last hit from her cigarette, then lighting a new one from the butt. "I see dead people before, in my country. Many times. She is dead."
"So then what did you do?"
"Minka calls our boss on her cell phone. Boss calls police." She pointed to the carriage house. "Also, the man who lives there comes outside to help us. He is nice man, I think."
"He helped you? How?"
"He checks in house, to make sure is safe."
"He makes sure whoever stabs Miss Kenji is gone," Zelenka said. "He is very brave."
"How long was he in there?" Coffin said.
Minka shrugged. "I don’t know. It seems like long time. Ten minutes maybe? Long time. I start to worry something happens to him. Then he comes out."
The carriage house apartment was a large studio, well appointed but messy. It had a fireplace, a small kitchen, and high, wide windows overlooking Route 6A and the harbor. Coffin wondered what it rented for.
"What time did you hear Zelenka scream?" Lola said, pen poised above her notebook.
"Right around eight o’clock. I was in bed, and when I heard her screaming I threw some clothes on and went outside." Bobby Cavalo was a tall, muscular man in his early thirties, remarkably handsome, with square white teeth and a mass of dark, curly hair that made Coffin think poodle.
"Like what, a minute after you heard her scream? Less?"
"A little more, I think. I sleep naked, and I’d been out late. It took a minute or two to get my bearings, find clothes, put them on."
"So you got your bearings, got dressed, went downstairs," Coffin said. "Then what?"
"One of the girls was on her cell, calling her boss. The other one was standing there with her hands over her mouth, pale as a ghost. They told me what had happened. I said they could come upstairs if they wanted, but they wouldn’t."
"Maybe they were scared."
"Scared?" Coffin said. "Of you?"
Cavalo shrugged. "They don’t know me," he said. "I guess it makes sense, given what happened to Kenji." "So then you went inside the house?" Coffin said. "What for?" "I thought that if Kenji was still alive, I might be able to help
her," Cavalo said. "You know, mouth-to-mouth or something." Lola met Coffin’s eyes, then looked down at her notebook. Coffin rubbed his chin. "That’s not what Minka said. She said
you went in to make sure whoever killed her was gone." "She must have misunderstood," Cavalo said. "The language thing, I guess." "Weren’t you worried that they might still be in there?" Lola said. "I would be." "Sure, I thought about it. That’s why I came back up and got
my gun." Coffin’s eyebrows went up. "You have a gun?" he said. "Sure," Cavalo said. "It’s just a little .22. I keep it for protection.
Want to see it?" "Protection from what?" Coffin said. Cavalo looked out the window and nodded toward Kenji Sole’s
house. "From what happened to Kenji," he said. "Among other
things." "Among other things like what?" Cavalo lowered his voice a little. "Let’s just say some people I
don’t want to see may decide to come looking for me," he said.
"Old grudges, that kind of thing. That’s all I can say about it." "Fair enough," Coffin said. "So you went in." "I went in and she was definitely dead; nothing I could do. I
looked around a little just to make sure no one else was in there. I had my gun, but I was still pretty spooked. I didn’t stay very long." "How long would you say?"
"Three, four minutes, tops. Probably less. The hair on my neck was standing up the whole time."
"You didn’t see anyone? Hear anything?"
"Did you touch anything?"
"I don’t think so, but my fingerprints are probably all over the house already, if that’s what you’re thinking."
"I’m more interested in whether you moved anything or took anything."
"No. I didn’t."
"So your fingerprints are all over?" Lola said. "You hung out there a lot, is what you’re saying?"
"Not a lot, no. We had drinks together sometimes. You know, cocktails. She invited me over for dinner every now and then. She’s a great cook. Was."
"Was that it?" Lola said. "The whole relationship? Drinks and the occasional dinner?"
"You mean, did we sleep together?" Cavalo asked, tossing his dark curls.
"Right," Lola said.
"Sure," Cavalo said. "Once in a while. Kenji liked sex a lot."
"If she liked it so much," Coffin said, "why just once in a while?"
"She was pretty busy," Cavalo said. "With other men, I mean. She kind of slept around, I guess you could say."
"Did that bother you?" Coffin said.
"Nah. I liked Kenji and all, but I’m really more into guys."
"When was the last time you saw Ms. Sole alive?" Coffin said.
"Day before yesterday, I think," Cavalo said. "I stopped by on my way into town. I had a DVD I wanted to give her."
"She liked movies?" Lola said.
Cavalo laughed. "She loved movies. She collected them. She wrote about film, you know, for a living."
"What," Coffin said, "like a critic?"
"Academic," Cavalo said. "She’s written a couple of books on film theory, and she taught at BU, part-time."
"What kind of films?" Lola said.
Cavalo bit his lip. "Mostly adult."
"Adult?" Lola said. "As in porn?"
"Right. She was interested in porn from a cultural studies perspective. She wrote her dissertation on it."
"Cultural studies," Coffin said.
"You made porn, she studied it," Lola said, tapping her pen on her notebook. "Funny how that worked out."
"We had that connection, yeah," Cavalo said.
Coffin scratched his earlobe. "Hundreds of DVDs? I didn’t see any DVDs in there."
"You must have missed the screening room," Cavalo said. "It’s downstairs, off the living room. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d think it was a broom closet. It’s got the big-screen HDTV, surround sound and everything."
Coffin looked at Lola. "Surround sound and everything," he said.
"Some house," Lola said. "For an academic."
Cavalo lowered his voice. "Trust fund," he said. "From her grandfather. He was, like, stinkin’ rich. Left her millions. If she wanted it, she could buy it." He pointed at the floor, the garage below it. "Range Rover for winter, Porsche convertible for summer. She also owns a boat, but I think it’s being repaired. And an apartment in the West Village. And a place in Key West."
"Any other family that you know of?" Coffin asked. "Parents still alive? Siblings?"
Cavalo frowned. "No siblings. Mother’s dead, but her father’s still very much alive."
"You say that like it’s a bad thing," Coffin said.
"Her father is J. Hedrick Sole—he’s about eighty and maybe a little bit senile. Senior partner at a big Boston law firm, Scrooby, Sammitch, and Sole. Semiretired now. Very rich and very ... difficult. He and Kenji had a complicated relationship."
Lola wrote in her notebook. "How so?" she said.
"J. Hedrick has a girlfriend. She’s young enough to be his granddaughter—twenty-five, maybe. She’s costing him a fortune. Fancy condo, fancy car, jewelry, clothes, use of a private jet, the whole enchilada. Kenji hired a private eye to have her checked out."
"Let me guess," Coffin said. "She’s a hooker."
"Nah," Cavalo said, grinning. "It’s better than that. She’s a performance artist."
Cavalo’s teeth were perfectly white and perfectly straight. Dentures? Coffin wondered. Then he thought, Veneers, maybe. Every-body’s got veneers these days.
"Uh-oh," Lola said.
Cavalo nodded. "She’s all about shock on a grand scale: lots of very public nudity, even public sex. Her last performance was in the middle of Vatican Square, if you can believe that, with a bunch of guys dressed up like nuns. She almost started a riot. She has a full camera crew to document her performances, and a fancy lawyer on call for when she gets arrested."
"And Kenji didn’t think she was a suitable companion for good old Dad," Coffin said. He squinted out at the harbor, which was just visible through the screen of trees.
"Kenji hated her—thought she was a gold digger and a fraud. She was very upset."
"Daddy was squandering the inheritance," Coffin said.
"Exactly. Last time we talked about it she was looking into having him declared incompetent. She wanted power of attorney."
"What were you doing last night?" Lola said. "After six, say?"
"I was out. Went to the A-House until closing, then to an afterhours party until around 5:00 a.m. Then I came home and went straight to bed."
"You didn’t see or hear anything unusual before you went out, or when you came home?"
"No. Except that a lot of Kenji’s lights were still on."
"Was that unusual?"
"Enough that I noticed it, I guess."
"Any idea who might have killed her?"
"Any idea why they might have searched the place?"
Coffin smoothed his mustache. "What was the DVD?"
Cavalo looked confused.
"The one you gave her the day before yesterday," Coffin said. "What was it?"
"It was a porn thing," Cavalo said, blushing a little. "One of mine."
"One of yours?" Lola asked. "You mean, one from your collection?"
"No," Cavalo said. "I mean one I’m in. That’s what I do for a living. I’m a porn actor." He stood up, crossed the room, and took a DVD from a small wooden rack next to the TV. "Here. This is the one. Hot off the presses." He handed it to Coffin.
The DVD was called Daddy Knows Best, and Cavalo’s picture was on the cover. He was wearing nothing but motorcycle boots, a leather cap, and a pair of black leather chaps.
Coffin frowned. "You’re worried about people coming after you and you’re a porn actor?" he said. "You think that’s a good idea?"
"I’m doing gay stuff now," Cavalo said. "Two different worlds. Plus, I had some work done. I don’t look the same."
"What kind of work?" Coffin said.
"Eyes, chin, nose, teeth, tattoo removal, the works," Cavalo said. "I even had my cock enlarged. Not that it needed it."
Coffin looked at Lola. "Not that it needed it," he said.
"What makes a guy get a penis enlargement?" Lola said, looking at the cover of the DVD Cavalo had given them. They were standing at the bottom of the carriage house stairs. "Insecurity? Is that it?"
"Vanity," Coffin said. "Ego. At least in Bobby’s case."
"Still," Lola said, peering a bit more closely at the picture, "it is impressive. In a freakish kind of way. Bobby may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but I can see why Kenji might have been interested."
"Interesting piercing," Coffin said.
"Wouldn’t that hurt?" Lola said. "Like, a lot?"
"Colt Masters," Coffin said, flipping the box over, reading the back cover. "That’s his porn name."
"It’s got a nice ring to it," Lola said.
Coffin looked at her. "Ouch," he said.
Tony was leaning against his cruiser, eating something. Coffin waved him over.
"We have to go back inside for a minute or two," Coffin said. "If Mancini shows up, try to stall him."
"Will do," Tony said, taking a bite from a large, dripping sandwich. "How?"
"You’ll think of something," Coffin said. "What are you eating?"
"Hoagie," Tony said, mouth full. He held the sandwich under Coffin’s nose. "Want a bite?"
Coffin turned and walked toward the house. His left ear started buzzing again. His legs felt several inches too long. "What I want," he said, "is to get through the day without fainting or throwing up."
"I dated a performance artist a few times," Lola said.
The screening room was down a short flight of stairs from the kitchen, tucked in next to the storage/furnace room in Kenji Sole’s basement. Coffin pushed the door open.
"She was developing this piece where she’d take off all her clothes, smear herself with shit—except it was really chocolate syrup—and recite the Pledge of Allegiance backwards. Then she’d invite members of the audience to come onstage and lick the chocolate syrup off."
"Genius," Coffin said.
Lola ducked her head, embarrassed. "It was supposed to be a statement about how society silences women by brainwashing them with jingoistic slogans. I forget how the chocolate syrup fit in."
There were no windows in the screening room; it felt airless and claustrophobic compared to the light and space of the rest of the house, and was barely big enough for its wet bar, L-shaped leather sofa, huge, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and built-in floor-to-ceiling media shelving. Hundreds—maybe thousands—of DVDs had been stuffed into every available inch of shelf space.
"Wow," Lola said, pulling on a latex glove. "Cavalo wasn’t kidding." She slid a DVD from one of the shelves. "Moulin Splooge."
Coffin looked over her shoulder. "May the Foreskin Be with You," he said. "Look, here’s a clever one—Anal-ize This! "
Lola curled her lip. "Ew," she said.
"There’s some gay stuff here, too," Coffin said. "Sailor Studs; Bad Boy Bikers."
Lola squinted at Coffin. "Are you thinking what I’m thinking?"
"That maybe Ms. Sole had a more than purely academic interest in the subject matter?"
"You have to wonder when people say they’re studying porn..."
"Why not Tolstoy? Or the lives of the razor clams?"
"It’s kind of the Pete Townshend excuse," Lola said, "but what do I know?" Coffin shrugged. "Exactly," he said. "We’re just a couple of bourgeois ignoramuses. Not PhDs." "Or psychiatrists," Lola said. It was unnerving, Coffin thought, standing in that room, sur
rounded by all those DVDs with their stored memories of ritualized passion, or the banal stuff that passed for it in the porn industry, all those hundreds of men and women or men and men or women and women (or, or, or), variously coupled and conjoined, penetrating or being penetrated in all the standard ways—and others not so standard—scene after scene stored on plastic forever, the actors and actresses eternally young, eternally entwined. It was, Coffin thought, a strange electronic hell to end up in.
"Voyeurism," Coffin said. "On a grand scale."
Lola nodded. "It doesn’t get any grander," she said.
"Unusual in a woman, isn’t it?"
Lola thought for a second. "I guess so," she said. "I mean, most porn is made for guys, right? Gay or straight, still guys." "What about romance novels?" Coffin said. "Bodice-rippers, or
whatever they’re called. Aren’t they porn for women?" "It’s not the same," Lola said. "Why is it different?" Coffin said. "Porn is porn, right?" "Verbal versus visual," Lola said. "You guys are all eyes and no imagination."
Coffin sat on the sofa and rubbed his chin. He’d missed a spot shaving; the whiskers were spiky and thick. "So what’s the scenario? Rape, murder, robbery?"
"Sure," Lola said. "Makes sense, right?"
"I don’t know—it feels wrong." Coffin shook his head. "I don’t see it as a rape thing."
"The nightgown," Lola said. "You don’t wear a white lace baby-doll unless you’re with someone. It’s a nightie of consent."
"He could have forced her to wear it," Coffin said.
"I guess so," Lola said. "Seems like a bit of a stretch, though, you’re right."
"So if it’s not rape, then what?"
"Well," Lola said, frowning. "Maybe they’re going to have sex, get into a fight instead, then he kills her and robs the place."
"Maybe," said Coffin. "Maybe she has something he wants, he sleeps with her thinking maybe he can get it out of her, she won’t give it up, he kills her and takes whatever it is."
Lola sat next to Coffin, her knee briefly touching his. "Maybe it’s not the same person," she said. "Maybe person one has sex with her, kills her, and runs off. Person two knocks on the door, nobody answers, she’s lying dead on the Persian rug, they step over the body and start looking for cash and jewelry."
"And computers," Coffin said. "So she’s dead before they rob the place?"
Lola nodded. "Had to be before."
"Unless she came home, caught them in the act—"
"Took off all her clothes and put on a see-through nightie while threatening to call the cops—"
"Maybe she and the killer are having sex," Coffin said. "They have a fight—he trashes the place, she tries to stop him, and he stabs her."
"Maybe she trashes the place, strips, puts on the nightie and stabs herself. Five or six times. With an eight-inch chef’s knife."
Coffin laughed, a short, sharp bark. They sat silently for another minute, looking at the floor-to-ceiling shelves full of porn.
"Curious about her film theory books?" Lola asked.
"Gack," Coffin said. "Not so much. Ever read any theory?"
"A little, in college. Everything’s a text. You’re a text, I’m a text, your car’s a text. Beyond that I couldn’t make heads nor tales of it."
"Nobody can," Coffin said. "That’s the whole point."
Outside, Tony had wrapped most of the driveway in yellow crime scene tape, entirely closing off the entrance. Mancini and the two state police detectives were standing next to a big Lexus sedan as it idled in the street.
"Coffin!" Mancini waved Coffin over. "Tell your idiot cousin to clear this tape away, before I cut it down myself."
Coffin tapped his watch. "What kept you guys? Stop off for a clam roll in Eastham?" He looked at Tony, who had a long strip of crime scene tape stuck to his shoe. "Are you done?" he said.
"Not really," Tony said, "but I ran out of tape."
Coffin took a cigarette out of the pack in Tony’s shirt pocket and stuck it into his mouth. "Maybe you should cut some of this down so Mr. Mancini and his friends can pull into the driveway."
"Thought you quit," Tony said, lighting Coffin’s cigarette with a match.
Coffin blew smoke out of his nose. "I did," he said.
"Where’s Chief Boyle?" Mancini asked, after he’d gone through the house. The two state police detectives were standing on the downstairs deck, waiting for the Crime Scene Services team to drive up from New Bedford in their shiny white van.
"He’s an administrator," Coffin said. "He doesn’t do actual crime."
"Lucky him," Mancini said.
He was wearing his Provincetown outfit, Coffin thought: perfectly pressed jeans, a black polo shirt buttoned all the way up, and sunglasses with blue oval lenses. His hair was gelled into a self-conscious rumple.
"Oh, come on," Coffin said. "You love a good, high-profile murder. Admit it. Nothing keeps your office in the public eye like a celebrity homicide."
The left side of Mancini’s mouth turned upward a quarter of an inch. "No comment," he said. "What about you? How are the panic attacks? Any twinges in there?"
"One or two," Coffin said. "Thanks for asking."
"Well, I’m not just being nice," Mancini said.
"Ah," Coffin said.
Mancini looked at Coffin through his blue lenses. "What I’m trying to say is, are you up to assisting in this investigation? Officially?"
"Well," said Coffin. "This is unexpected. It’s like the captain of the football team asking little old me to the prom."
Mancini shrugged. "Be a smart-ass, Coffin, if it makes you feel better. You don’t like me, I don’t like you, but you know the lay of the land up here, and that’s useful to me. I owe it to the people of the Commonwealth of—"
"If I’m on the investigation officially," Coffin said, "you’ve covered your ass three hundred and sixty degrees. Case solved, you get credit for being smart enough to bring us in. Not solved, you blame the incompetent locals. That about right?"
Mancini lowered his voice. "I made a mistake last time, okay? What do you want from me—a written apology?"
"Last time," Coffin said, "we all made our share of mistakes. Except Sergeant Winters."
Lola was standing nearby, talking to one of Kenji Sole’s neighbors—a very tall woman with thick legs and a big yellow hat.
Mancini pursed his lips. "Ah yes. The lovely and talented Sergeant Winters. Too bad she doesn’t like boys."
"Too bad for who?" Coffin said.
"Come on, Coffin," Mancini said. "Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like a piece of that."
Lola’s hair was dark blond, pulled back in a short ponytail that swung below the band of her uniform hat. She stood five feet ten inches tall and looked slimmer than her 155 pounds. Coffin liked her a great deal. It had been less than two years since she had saved his life.
"Don’t worry," Coffin said. "I don’t think you’re gay."
"If I’m in," Coffin said, "Lola’s in, too."
"What," Mancini said, "afraid you’ll end up in the drink again?"
"You never know," Coffin said.
"I’ll talk to Boyle," Mancini said.
In the carriage house apartment, Bobby Cavalo stood by the window, watching the Crime Scene Services team unload equipment from their white van. He held a small black cell phone to his ear. The signal was terrible.
"I told you," he said. "It’s gone. Whoever killed her must have taken it. All the DVDs, too."
A blast of static came from the cell phone. Cavalo could barely hear the voice on the other end.
"It. The computer," he said. "What else?"
There was another rush of static, a voice buried inside it.
"TV star?" Cavalo said. "What do you mean, did I find the TV star?"
"Not ‘TV star,’ you idiot," the voice said. "DVR. Did you find the fucking DVR?"
"DVR? You mean like a TiVo? I didn’t see anything like that."
"You didn’t fucking look, you fucking moron," the voice said through the static.
"There wasn’t much time," Cavalo said. "I wasn’t thinking. She was lying there dead, for God’s sake, and the place was a mess. Maybe whoever killed her beat me to it."
"Well," the voice said, the connection suddenly clear, "if they did, they’d better lock their doors at night. That thing’s worth a fortune."
"More than the computer?"
"You got pretty much everything that was on the computer, right? A half-dozen clips."
"Right. That’s all I could find, anyway."
"A good DVR can store hundreds of hours of video," the voice said. "It’s the freaking mother lode."
"You think he’s on it?"
"If he was in her bedroom, he’s on it."
"Maybe I can go back in," Cavalo said, "when all these cops pack up their shit and go home."
"Lotsa luck," said the voice. "They’ll bring in a locksmith and rekey all the doors. They’ll probably wire the place with an alarm system, too, if it doesn’t already have one. You had your shot, unless you’re planning to climb down the chimney like freaking Santa Claus."
"Fuck," Cavalo said. "I’d bet a million dollars it’s still in there somewhere. It’s like it’s calling out to me. I can feel it."
Coffin sat in the new leather wing chair opposite Boyle’s desk, watching the spot of glare on Boyle’s scalp shift from side to side as the police chief shook his head.
"Absolutely not, Coffin," Boyle said. "Your goddamn panic attacks almost got you and Winters killed last time. No more homicide investigations for you."
"Fine with me," Coffin said. "What did you tell Mancini?"
Boyle steepled his fingers. "That he’ll have to find his way around P’town without you, because you’re not up to it."
"Fine," Coffin said. He started to get up.
"Wait a second, Coffin," Boyle said, holding up a hand. "Am I getting the impression that you want to participate in this investigation?"
"I hope not," Coffin said.
"You’re trying to prove something, is that it? That you’ve still got the old mojo?"
"Well, I’m not going to put other officers at risk just so you can repair your ego." Boyle’s phone buzzed. He punched the intercom button. "What is it, Arlene?"
"The attorney general," Arlene said through the phone’s plastic speaker. "On line one."
"The attorney general?" Boyle said. "Of Massachusetts?"
"Yes, sir. Attorney General Poblano," Arlene said. "On line one."
Boyle pushed the blinking button. "Yes, sir," he said. "This is Chief Boyle. Yes, sir. That’s right, sir."
A gull floated past Boyle’s window, staring in at Coffin with one hard yellow eye.
"Both of them, yes, sir. No, sir—it’s no inconvenience to me," Boyle said into the phone. "Absolutely. Happy to do it, sir. I’m sorry, what? Of course. Yes, he’s right here." He held the phone out to Coffin. "It’s the attorney general," Boyle said.
"Of Massachusetts?" Coffin asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Nobody likes a smart-ass, Coffin," Boyle said. "He wants to talk to you."
"Fine." Coffin stood up and took the receiver. "Coffin," he said.
"Detective Coffin? It’s Art Poblano. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve requested your help in this investigation."
As attorney general, Poblano was the chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth. He was also a rising star in Massachusetts state politics; it was generally assumed that he would run for governor in the next election cycle or two.
"Happy to do what I can, sir," Coffin said. "On one condition." "I’ve asked Chief Boyle if he can free up Sergeant Winters, too,"
Poblano said. "You read my mind, sir." "There’s just one thing," Poblano said. "A favor I need to ask." Coffin frowned a bit. "Shoot," he said. Boyle glared at Coffin and tapped his watch crystal. Coffin
turned away, letting the phone cord drape over his shoulder.
Poblano cleared his throat softly. "I need your discretion, Detective." He paused. "Kenji Sole and I were friends. It’s possible that people in Provincetown may have seen us together. Now, our relationship was never intimate, but you know how people talk. Am I right, Detective?"
"Absolutely, sir," Coffin said.
"I feel a bit awkward asking this," Poblano said.
There was another pause; Coffin said nothing.
"I thought you’d hung up for a second."
"I feel a bit awkward asking this, but I’d appreciate it very much if you’d let me know if my name comes up in the course of the investigation. Just a heads-up, is all I’m asking." Coffin thought for a moment. "I don’t see why not," he said.
"We’ll do what we can." "That’s all I ask." "All right, then," Coffin said. "If I can ever return the favor, Detective," Poblano said.
"You never know, sir," Coffin said.
"That’s right," Poblano said. "You never know, do you?" Poblano paused, cleared his throat again. "Excellent work on that situation you all had out there a couple of years ago, by the way. Excellent work."
"Thank you, sir. Sergeant Winters deserves all the credit."
"Of course you’d say that. And how’s your lovely wife?"
Coffin could hear Poblano leafing through what was probably his dossier. "Jamie, sir," he said. "We’re not married."
"Excellent plan, Detective. I shouldn’t have married mine, either." Poblano laughed at his own joke. "Don’t forget now," he said, after a last moment of silence. "Keep me posted."
"Will do," Coffin said.
"What the hell was that all about?" Boyle said when Coffin had hung up.
"He wanted to know if I was sure I was up to the job," Coffin said.
"Well, are you?"
"We’ll see," Coffin said.
"I’m not happy about this, Coffin," Boyle said, leaning forward in his chair and scowling. "Not one goddamn bit."
Coffin shrugged. "Me neither. What can I do?"
"One fuckup and you’re done," said Boyle. "You faint, pass out, throw up, or so much as feel woozy and I’ll yank you off this case so fast it’ll make your head spin. Is that understood, Coffin?"
"I felt a little woozy this morning," Coffin said, "but it passed."
Boyle took a sip from the coffee mug on his desk, made a face, then took another sip. "I want daily progress reports. Understand? Daily."
"Yes, sir, chief," said Coffin. "Since it’s a matter of interest to Attorney General Poblano, I assume you’ll be letting us drive one of the unmarked Crown Vics."
Boyle pursed his lips and nodded. The spot of glare on his forehead bobbed up and down. "Why not?" he said. "Maybe the freaking attorney general would like to come out here and take a crap on my desk while he’s at it." Boyle dug in his desk drawer and tossed a set of keys at Coffin, who caught them in his cupped hands.
"Anything else you need, Coffin? A SWAT team, maybe? How about the K-9 unit?"
"We don’t have a K-9 unit, sir," Coffin said. "Or a SWAT team."
"I expect a report from you in exactly eight hours, Coffin," Boyle said. "Now get the fuck out of my office."
Downstairs, in his basement office, Coffin doodled on a new legal pad.
"How are we supposed to coordinate with Mancini?" Lola said, propping her hip on Coffin’s desk. "Boyle give you any direction?"
"Nope," Coffin said, drawing a cartoonish picture of a boat sinking in a calm sea. "It’ll take Mancini a day or two to figure out what to do with us. Mostly we’re just window dressing."
"To make it look like he’s doing everything in his power—"
"To catch the ruthless killer of Kenji Sole." Coffin drew a survivor, swimming away from the wreck, and the dorsal fins of two sharks circling nearby. "I think we go back and talk to Cavalo again," he said.
"As a suspect?" Lola said, taking a sip from a can of Diet Coke.
Coffin thought for a moment. "No. I don’t think so—but he is lying about something."
"How long he was in the house."
"Which means he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing in there," Lola said.
"Right," Coffin said. "Otherwise, why lie?"
Lola scratched her head with the end of her pen. "The house is full of expensive stuff. Maybe he was looking for a souvenir."
"Some little keepsake," Coffin said.
"A nice Rolex," Lola said. "A diamond ring or two. To remember Kenji by."
"Such a sentimental boy." The fat sewer pipe that ran the width of Coffin’s ceiling rumbled and swooshed; somebody had flushed a toilet upstairs. "There’s a lot more going on with that guy than he’s letting on," he said. "Either that or he’s a pathological liar."
"Why not both?"
Coffin tapped Lola’s soda can with his pen. "I don’t know how you can drink that stuff. It tastes like formaldehyde."
"Soft drink of the pharaohs," Lola said. "It may kill you, but your body will be perfectly preserved for thousands of years." She stood up and picked a speck of lint from her uniform pants. "Think he’ll give up the names of Kenji’s other boyfriends?"
"In a heartbeat," Coffin said.
"Should we call Mancini or anything? Just to let him know we’re going out to interview a witness?"
Coffin looked at her.
Lola smiled and punched Coffin in the shoulder. "Ha! Had you going for a second, right?"
Coffin rubbed his arm, which tingled. "Ow," he said.
The phone rang. It was a big putty-colored phone with a rotary dial. Coffin reached for the receiver and punched line one. "Coffin," he said.
"Mr. Coffin? It’s Dr. Branstool from Valley View Nursing Home. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news about your mother."
Coffin’s heart flopped in his chest like a mackerel. He took a deep breath. "Is she dead?"
"No, sir—nothing like that. It’s not a medical emergency at all."
"What, did she bite Mr. Hastings again?" Coffin said.
"No, there haven’t been any more biting incidents, thank goodness." Dr. Branstool paused. Coffin heard him taking a deep breath.
"I’m afraid, Mr. Coffin, that your mother is missing."
"She wasn’t in her room this morning when Natalie went to deliver her breakfast tray. We’ve just completed a thorough search of the facility, and she appears not to be on the premises."
"You lost my mother?"
"I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Coffin. Nothing like this has ever happened here at Valley View—certainly not since I’ve been director. I don’t blame you at all for being upset."
"Good for her," Coffin said.
"I’m sorry?" said Dr. Branstool.
"I’ll ask my colleagues to keep an eye out for her," Coffin said. "I doubt she’s gone far." He pictured his mother climbing onto the Plymouth & Brockton bus to Hyannis, or thumbing a ride on the shoulder of Route 6.
"I certainly hope not, Mr. Coffin. She’s quite a remarkable woman, your mother. Even in her condition."
Coffin held the phone at arm’s length for a moment, then placed it back in the cradle.
"Problem?" Lola said.
"Mom’s staged a jailbreak," Coffin said.
"Really? She busted out, huh?"
"Your buddy Kotowski still visit her over at Valley View?" Lola said as they climbed the basement stairs.
"You think maybe she had some help?" Coffin said.
Lola pushed open the big front door. "You never know, right?"
"Right," said Coffin, squinting in the sunlight. "You never know."
Excerpted from Mating Season by Jon Loomis.
Copyright © 2009 by Jon Loomis.
Published in May 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.