“My blouse is evidence. How was your day?”
“Better than that.” Rafe sounded wry and unruffled. As usual. “You got my text?” The one I sent almost four hours ago—
Nd 2 tlk ASAP.
“Yeah…spent almost the whole day with Theo. Just picked it up. Sorry.”
“It doesn’t really matter, I guess. I couldn’t have taken your call while I was talking with cops anyway, and for most of the drive back into the District I’ve been on the phone with Tony.” M. Anthony York is my lawyer. Goes by Tony when Democrats hold the White House.
“We should talk, but not over cell phones. How soon will you be home?”
“Twenty minutes.” I checked my watch. “Maybe fifteen.” “I’ll have your martini ready.”
# # #
Rafe was right, of course. So not cool to jabber over the air about Jerzy Schroeder being dead before I heard the shot that killed him. Blood and brain tissue spattered my DKNY blouse, and only a split-second later had I heard the ka-pow! and pivoted back-left to watch in nauseated shock as Jerzy’s body jerked forward and fell. The muzzle velocity of a hunting rifle versus the speed of sound, four-hundred-fifty yards, do the math.
I hadn’t knelt to check for signs of life or cradle what was left of his head. I’d hauled ass. Flight or fight, flight wins.
I’d called nine-one-one from behind an elegantly curved marble bench ten yards away, near Jerzy’s fish pond—by then his heirs’ fish pond. After I’d reported gunfire and a corpse chez Schroeder, twenty miles west of Annapolis, the dispatcher had asked if I was okay.
“Scared and shocked but not physically injured.” “Please stay on the line until police arrive.”
No way, Cinderella. She’d gotten my name—Josie Kendall— and should consider herself lucky she’d gotten that.
“You’re breaking up.”
I punched off. Called my boss. Never let anyone beat you to the man with bad news. Told him prospects for a Schroeder buy-in had just dropped to zero. Then I’d called Rafe. Then I’d texted Rafe. Then cops were there.
Cop-chat is not bad as pains-in-the-butt go except that, what with digging up a replacement blouse and the bathroom sponge- off they’d grudgingly allowed, it had taken over two hours. The questions were roughly what you’d expect, starting with why I’d happened to be four feet from Jerzy when he’d bought it.
“We were talking about a nonprofit I work for called Majority Values Coalition. I’m in development.”
“Fund-raising, in other words.” “That’s part of it.”
“What’s the rest of it?” “Ideas.”
“First time you’d ever seen the decedent out here?”
“No. I’d come out here to see Jerzy—Mr. Schroeder—at least twice a week for the last month or so.”
“He must have had some really interesting ideas.”
No, he had some really interesting money.
“He was a very thoughtful man. He’ll be missed.” Oops. Less than an hour earlier he definitely had not been missed.
“Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to kill him?” “No.”
I could count at least three. But I didn’t want Jerzy’s enemies on my tail—especially whichever one had just taken him out. So track down the bad guy yourself, Kojak. I’ll be right over here, staying alive.
# # #
I told Rafe the story while I sipped the vodka martini he had ready for me. He served it to me with his customary aplomb, not a single hair in his perfect white mane ruffled, every syllable off of his silver tongue appropriately concerned but untinged with panic. At fifty-one Rafe is twenty-four years older than I am, but the D.C. consensus is that I was damn lucky to get him— not vice versa. Together five years now, married four of them. I’m pretty sure he’s never cheated on me—not even a weekend romp—so the consensus is probably right. I raised my glass to the ten-foot-two-inch stuffed polar bear gracing our foyer.
“Here’s to you, Strom.” Rafe had named the bear postmortem after Senator Strom Thurmond—post the bear’s mortem, not Thurmond’s.
“So who did it?” Rafe’s question.
“Best guess is his ex-partner, Danny Klimchock. He and Jerzy had a thing going with some kleptocrats in Russia a few years ago. Klimchock spent some unpleasant time as Putin’s guest after the deal cratered. When he finally got back here Jerzy gave him his one-million-dollar share of what he’d salvaged from their venture. Klimchock said that was about ten million light. They haven’t exchanged holiday cards since.”
“Any other candidates?”
“A mobbed-up judge in Massachusetts who blamed Jerzy for getting his kid crosswise of an Assistant United States Attorney. Junior got off with community service and a good talking-to, but his Honor might have reverted to his Celtic roots anyway. And then of course there’s Sanford Dierdorf, whose federal subsidy for solar power development would go away if the finesse with the Energy Department that Jerzy was talking to me about had come off.”
Rafe puffed contemplatively on a cigar. He gazed through the window. Didn’t say a word. I wiggled my fingers at him and he offered me a hit on the stogie. I loved it. That’s the problem with giving up cigarettes: you start cultivating bad habits. He spoke up.
“There are only three times you smoke cigars: New Year’s Eve, when you’re with your mom, and when you’re stalling. It’s mid- July and mom is two thousand miles away, so what’s the deal?” I blushed. “Tony thinks the cops will suspect you. He says they’ll assume Jerzy and I were having an affair and that you found out and got all old-school about it.”
“Tony isn’t the savviest shyster Yale Law ever sent down I-95, but he’s probably right. Cops are like editors—they’re paid to have dirty minds.” Rafe waited three beats for me to confirm or deny infidelity; when I did neither, he continued. “That probably explains the unmarked car with a Maryland government license plate that’s driven past our house three times and just pulled up at the curb. Two cheap suits with ‘cop’ written all over them. Salt and pepper.”
From eighty feet away, looking at guys still in their car, Rafe had hit the bull’s-eye. Ebony from D.C. and ivory from Maryland. Out of the car and almost thirty yards later, on our porch, they told Rafe about Jerzy’s murder and said they had some questions. Neither of them mentioned a warrant. They noticed Strom right away. The white one asked who’d nailed him. “I did,” Rafe said, “over fifteen years ago. Winchester bolt action three-oh-eight.” “You still have the rifle?”
“Nope. Sold it a few years ago. I don’t care what the Supreme Court says, it’s too much hassle possessing a firearm in D.C. Besides, I haven’t gone big game hunting for ten years, maybe more. Peepers are way south of what you need for that. So the rifle was just a relic of youth, and what’s the point? Might be able to dig up the paperwork, if it would help.”
“It would help.”
“This may take a while. You can come along if you like.”
Rafe headed upstairs. The black detective went with him. The white one turned toward me as soon as we couldn’t hear Rafe’s steps on the stairs.
“What does Mr. Kendall do for a living?”
“He’s a literary agent and a consultant.” A bit telegraphic. Rafe sells other people’s books to publishers and he consults with people willing to pay for his conversation, but his real métier is navigator. Out of the thousands of J.D.s and B.S. (Economics) and A.B./M.A. (Political Science) types who come to Washington every year, he spots a few who, down the road a bit, might be ready to make a power move, sail through the dark and stormy seas of politics from Congressional staffer or underpaid blog content provider to regular panelist on a cable news show or cabinet-level senior aide or campaign consultant. In D.C., this is called “monetizing your resumé.” Rafe does this for two reasons. First, folks who bring the move off big-time write books that generate huge advances, even though they’re read mostly by people who look in the indexes for their own names. Second, Rafe gets his calls returned when he wants those upwardly mobile types to arrange a meeting for someone with their bosses or sometimes even themselves. Various someones pay Rafe money to do this. In answering the detective, though, I stuck with the short version. Instead of drilling down he moved on.
“How are you and Mr. Kendall getting along in your marriage?” Just like that, with all the finesse of a corporal telling his favorite whore about the clap test.
“Pure bliss.” I hope that came across as Fuck you, ’cause that’s what I was going for. Pretty much true, though. Rafe is a long way from blue pill territory, and he could charm the socks off a process-server. The thrills aren’t the same after five years, but that’s life. At that point I viewed my little tumble with Jerzy as just a thing. Jerzy was basically a gangster—a rich gangster who knows wine vintages and can read music is still a gangster. A girl likes a little frisson of bad-boy excitement now and then. Danger as aphrodisiac.
After a good twenty minutes Rafe and the black detective came back down. The latter held a piece of stiff paper still showing tri- fold creases. Rafe looked almost childishly pleased with himself. “I can’t believe I found that thing! Here, let’s make a copy on the printer. You’ll want to keep the original, right?” “Right.”
With a sheepish, technophobe grin Rafe accepted the document from the detective and handed it to me. I used the printer/FAX/copier next to Rafe’s computer in the study to duplicate it. Interesting. Hand-printed. Dated three years and two months before. Winchester 308 b/a—bolt-action? must be—hunting rifle. Serial number lotsofdigits. Sold to Alphaeus Bittenwald of Mason-Dixon Heritage Firearms for one-hundred- twenty dollars cash at a gun show in Norfolk, Virginia. The black detective had come along to keep me company, so I just handed the original back to him. By the time we returned, the white detective had started rolling out what had to be the money question for Rafe.
“Just out of curiosity, how’d you spend your time today?” “With Theo McAbbott in McLean, Virginia.”
“You say that name like you think I should know it.”
“If I were doing my job right, you would.” Rafe flashed his world-class self-deprecating grin. “Used to be an FBI agent, now he writes thrillers. Ducks in a Row about five years ago, big debut hit, and then Knuckle Rap oh, when was that? Year before last, I guess. Pretty good yarns. I spent all morning and half the afternoon with him, helping him polish some rough edges off his next entry.” If the cop knew much about literary agents this might have come across as a little labor-intensive for a member of the guild. Made sense to me, though. Ducks in a Row had indeed done pretty well. Knuckle Rap, however, hadn’t exactly kept George Pelacanos awake at night. So I could see where a little extra effort might be in order for the upcoming title, lest McAbbott’s third be his last. “With any luck,” the detective said, “we can verify that location from your cell phone.”
“Right here?” Rafe shook his head at the wonders of technology as he unholstered his iPhone 6 and handed it over.
“Should take five or ten minutes.”
It took seven. USB cord in a portable PC, beeps and clicks, exit cops with thank-yous and handshakes. Rafe watched their car pull away, then turned to me.
“We’d better get to work.” “Yep.”