Authors: Steve Hamilton
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Upper Peninsula (Mich.), #Mystery & Detective, #Michigan, #Private Investigators - Michigan - Upper Peninsula, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #McKnight; Alex (Fictitious Character), #Fiction, #Upper Peninsula
But that’s when Maven’s car pulled up and I suddenly had bigger things to think about than a pair of handcuffs.
“Chief,” I said. “Don’t go in the house.”
“What’s going on here?”
He came up the steps and I tried to block him.
“McKnight, get the hell out of my way.”
“Chief, don’t. He’s dead.”
He pushed past me and into the house. I stayed where I was. I didn’t follow him inside because I didn’t need to see it again, and there was nothing I’d be able to do to help him now. A few seconds passed. When he came back out, his face was white.
“What the hell happened?” He wasn’t facing anyone. He was staring out into the middle distance and it looked like he was trying hard to swallow.
“My God,” he said. “My God, what the hell—”
Then he stopped dead.
“Where’s my wife?” he said. “Has anybody seen my wife?”
There were three more city cops on the scene now. Another car was pulling up, with two state cars close behind. The whole street was fast becoming a riot of red and blue flashing lights.
“Where’s my wife, God damn it! Somebody find her right now!”
“Chief,” I said, grabbing him by the shoulders, “take it easy. You said she might be at the hospital. Remember?”
He pushed past me again and went into the house. I heard him running up the stairs.
“Call the hospital,” I said to the young cop, the same first cop who’d responded, and who was experiencing a hell of a first major crime scene. “I think she volunteers there or something.”
“Where is she?” Maven, careening back down the stairs. Halfway down he almost fell and broke his neck. “Somebody find her!”
He ran around the house into the backyard. Finally, the young cop heard back on the radio that they’d located his wife at the hospital. She’d been sitting next to an old woman’s bed, reading to her. The other cops had to practically tackle Maven to convince him that his wife was safe. When he finally sat down on the front steps, he was breathing hard and rubbing his hands up and down his thighs. He looked totally undone, something I’d never even imagine seeing from him.
“Tell me,” he said to me when he finally got his wind back. “Give me an explanation for why Raz is lying there in my kitchen like that? Huh? Can you tell me, please?”
I didn’t have an answer for him. I just sat there next to him on the cold steps while the madness went on all around us.
I had no idea this was just the beginning.
And we’re rolling …
… Establishing shot. Nice and wide. Here it is. This is where our story begins.
… See the normal-looking neighborhood? There are trees and a sidewalk and a blue mailbox on the corner.
… Here’s a house, here’s a house, here’s a house.
… HERE’S HELL!
… Here’s a house, here’s a house, here’s a house.
… Here’s that blue mailbox again.
… End of the street.
It was after nine o’clock at night when they finally interviewed me. I had no idea why I had to wait so long. I sat in that little interview room in the City-County Building, the very same interview room where Chief Maven himself had once tried to give me a good workout. Back when we first found out how much fun it was to have the other as a mortal enemy.
Now the circumstances were a little different. I mean, we weren’t going to be picking out china patterns together anytime soon, but at least we seemed to be on the same side for once. We were both trying to help out his old friend Raz, and now we both wanted to know why he ended up slaughtered in Maven’s kitchen.
But I didn’t see the chief anywhere. That was the first strange thing. Then there was the fact that they had been making me wait around for more than six hours. They were perfectly nice about it. They even brought me some dinner from Frank’s Place, one of the better restaurants in town. They apologized a hundred times for keeping me there, but nobody would give me a reason.
Finally, the door opened and a woman came in. She was wearing a dark blue business suit and I could tell in about two seconds she was a serious player. Not from around here, that was for sure. She had a cup of coffee in each hand. She nudged the door shut behind her with her foot, put both cups down on the table, and then reached out her right hand.
“I’m Agent Janet Long,” she said. “From the FBI. You must be Alex.”
“Please, have a seat. I’ll explain why I’m here.”
We sat down and she slid one of the coffees to me. She had brown hair, cut in a short, no-nonsense style. She had nice eyes, but again, everything about her was business first, second, and third. It was hard to imagine her doing anything else but wearing this suit and sitting on the other side of this table.
“I have to apologize, first of all, for making you wait so long. I know this was already a horrible day for you. The wait couldn’t have made it any easier.”
“It’s all right. I understand.”
“We had to drive all the way up here from Detroit. Almost six hours.”
A hell of a trip, I thought, one I’d made many times myself. But I could never remember looking this alert and ready to go when I got there.
“So let’s get right to it so we don’t have to take up any more of your time. If you’ll start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened—”
“Can I just ask you first why the FBI is involved in this case?”
“Because Charles Razniewski was a U.S. marshal. Any murder of a federal agent, from any law enforcement branch, is automatically under the jurisdiction of the FBI.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I think I knew that, once upon a time.”
“You were a police officer.” She didn’t have any notes in front of her, but I wasn’t surprised she knew that. She had obviously been brought up to full speed on me and I was sure she could tell me a lot more about myself. She probably even knew my career batting average.
“I was,” I said. “For eight years.”
“Do you mind me asking why you left?”
Okay, I thought, so she doesn’t know everything.
“I got shot,” I said. “Is this important information for this case?”
“I’m just curious. I apologize.”
“No apology necessary.”
“Very well, then. So can you tell me what happened? I understand you were out in Houghton, interviewing people about his son’s suicide?”
“Not really interviewing. Nothing that official. He just asked me to find out what I could.”
“And what did you learn out there?”
I hesitated. “According to Charlie’s friends, he and his father got into an argument about Charlie switching his major from criminal justice to forestry. Nothing his father had said to me made me believe it was such a big problem between them—nothing more than ordinary father-son stuff—but apparently it was. But I wasn’t going to come back and tell him that.”
“Why not? Isn’t that what he asked you to find out?”
“I don’t think it would have done anybody any good. Not that it makes any difference now.”
“You didn’t get the chance to speak to him before you found him today? You didn’t call him?”
“I tried to, but he wasn’t answering his cell phone.”
“I noticed the cell service isn’t very good up here.”
“Some days it works better than others, depending on where you are. I did get through to his voice mail.”
“Okay,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “That’s all in line with what I’ve heard so far. Apparently, you called him just after noon today. You were in Marquette.”
“How do you know that?”
“The signal from your cell phone went through the tower there. You called him again around two o’clock, just outside Sault Ste. Marie.”
“You guys work fast,” I said. “So I’m sure you know the approximate time of death, too.”
“Right around noon. So obviously you’re eliminated as a suspect.”
“That’s not why I was asking. I just want to know when it happened.”
“Once a cop, always a cop,” she said. “So yes, the murder occurred right around the first time you called him. It’s possible the killer was still in the room when Mr. Razniewski’s cell phone rang.”
I thought about that one for a moment. I imagined Raz on the floor, already bleeding, his phone ringing and being unable to answer it. One of the last things he heard before he died.
“So if you’ll just go through the entire thing one more time…” She pulled out a small black recording device of some kind, no bigger than a matchbook. She spoke into it, said her name and the time. Then as she looked around the room she said she was at the police station in Sault Ste. Marie with Mr. Alex McKnight of Paradise, Michigan. She gave me a quick smile and a nod of her head and then it was my turn to speak. I went over the last forty-eight hours, beginning with Chief Maven’s visit to the Glasgow Inn. His request for my help. Meeting Charles Razniewski Sr. and learning more about his son’s suicide. Driving out to Houghton, the detour to Misery Bay, my conversation with the undersheriff, then Charlie’s friends. Coming back the next day. Finding Raz dead on Chief Maven’s floor.
She listened without interrupting. She didn’t ask any questions until I was done.
“So just focus for a minute on what actually happened here in Sault Ste. Marie, before and after your trip.”
“How do you mean? I only met him briefly before I went out there, and then when I got back, obviously it was only—”
“I understand, but was there anything else that might have happened here that might look out of place now? Something you might not have even noticed at the time?”
I tried to follow her thought, but I wasn’t coming up with anything at all.
“Any suspicious strangers hanging around town?” she said. “Or did Mr. Razniewski mention anything, perhaps? Was he uneasy? Did he feel like he was being watched? Anything like that?”
“No. I mean, he was preoccupied with his son when I talked to him. It was just that one conversation.”
“One more time, if you can. Please go back over that whole time frame. I know that your trip is the thing that stands out in your mind, but just focus on what might have been going on here in this immediate area. Anything that might have seemed unusual or out of place here. No matter how small. Please think about it carefully.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything else.”
“Okay,” she said, turning her little machine off. “I appreciate you taking so much time here, Mr. McKnight. You realize, I hope, that we had to follow a certain protocol. We had to keep you separated before the interview, even with you being an ex-cop and Chief Maven, of course, still being on the job up here. I hope we didn’t inconvenience you too much.”
“It’s okay. Really.”
“I think we’ve probably kept you and your friend apart for long enough, wouldn’t you say? Shall we bring him in here?”
“My friend? Are you referring to—”
“Chief Maven, yes. My partner was talking to him in his office. If they’re done, I think we can wrap this up together.”
She excused herself and went down the hall. About a minute later, she came back, followed by Chief Maven and a man in a dark blue suit much like hers. It might have even been the exact same fabric, cut from the same bolt. He was young and slick-looking, with a narrow face and sharp eyes. As he entered the room he seemed to be distracted by his cell phone.
“Any day now,” he said to the phone. “Is there
service up here?”
“This is my partner,” Agent Long said to me. “Agent Fleury.”
He put down his phone just long enough to shake my hand.
“Mr. McKnight,” he said. “Sorry this wasn’t a more pleasant occasion.”
Chief Maven sat down next to me. He hadn’t said a word yet and it didn’t look like he was planning on speaking anytime soon. He looked even worse than before—at least twenty years older now, his face drained of color. He kept staring down at the table with half-closed eyes.
“We’ve been letting you guys do all the talking,” Agent Fleury said, “so I figure maybe it’s our turn.”
He looked over at his partner until she nodded back to him. Then he continued.
“As you know, Mr. Razniewski was a U.S. marshal. I assume you know what that job entails?”
“In general,” I said. “I believe so.”
Maven didn’t look up from the table.
“Mr. Razniewski probably didn’t get into specifics, but I can tell you that in the past two years he was involved in some very high-profile cases. He wasn’t just transporting detainees. He was closely involved in the actual capture of fugitives. Were you aware that U.S. marshals actually arrest more fugitives than all the other federal branches combined?”