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
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
Still nothing from Maven.
“Raz brought down some pretty heavy hitters,” the agent said.
Maven finally raised his eyes at that.
“I hope you don’t mind me calling him Raz,” he said. “I know that was his nickname. We didn’t work together, but I’d certainly heard all about him. I mean, even before today.”
Maven kept looking at him, but stayed silent.
“In the past six months especially,” Agent Long said, “Mr. Razniewski was personally involved in a major case that we feel might be connected to this murder.”
“So it had nothing to do with his son’s suicide,” I said. It was starting to make more sense now—why Agent Long had been so focused on anything that anybody might have noticed here in town, and not so much on my trip to Houghton at all. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“I can’t imagine any direct connection, no. I mean, how could it?”
“It just seems strange that it would happen three months later.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Agent Fleury said. “There might not be a direct connection, but it did perhaps create an opportunity for somebody to get to him.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“As a marshal working on these kinds of cases, it was natural that he’d need to stay in pretty safe company. As long as he was in Detroit, at least.”
“Apparently,” Agent Long said, “ever since his divorce and his son moving away to college, he’d been sharing his house with two other marshals. Young guys, just out of school. They needed a place and he had the room.”
“So between that and the secure workplace,” Agent Fleury said, “we figure he must have been a tough target.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you saying—”
“Somebody may have been watching him, yes. If they happened to follow him all the way up here…”
He put his hands up, like that’s all that needed to be said on the matter. I sneaked a quick look at Maven, wondering when he’d finally blow. I was surprised it hadn’t happened already.
“We mean no disrespect,” Agent Fleury went on. Needlessly. Apparently, he didn’t have the skill of knowing when to stop talking. “But you have to admit, if you were looking to take somebody out and you knew they were up here in Sault Ste. Marie…”
“We’ll be talking to some of your neighbors,” Agent Long said. “Just in case somebody saw something. I’m afraid this is going to be a tough one. If they sent a pro to track him down, well, I’m not sure what we’re going to be able to find up here.”
“If it was a pro,” I said, “why the bloodbath? Why not a simple shot to the head?”
Agent Fleury looked over at his partner. I was trying not to read too much into any of this, I swear. I didn’t want to believe they were treating us like dumb hick yoopers.
“With a suppressor?” he said. “Make him take his shoes off and get down on his knees?”
“I wasn’t going for the whole cliché, no. I’m just saying—”
“There are other players in the game these days, Mr. McKnight. People with very different ideas about how you should kill your enemies. In this case, well, there was obviously a lot of blood involved. It was a lot more dramatic.”
Maven kept looking at the agent, but the chief was still doing his best imitation of a granite statue. He hadn’t even blinked yet.
“I’m assuming you want it straight, Chief. And I’m sure you realize, it’s probably a very good thing that your wife wasn’t home today. If this was somebody who tracked him from downstate, I’m sure he wouldn’t have hesitated to kill two people instead of one.”
“We have other agents working on this from the Detroit end,” Agent Long said. She was starting to look a little apprehensive, at least. Unlike her partner. “Maybe they’ll find someone who’ll be willing to point us in the right direction. That’s what we all want, right?”
“In the meantime,” Agent Fleury said, “we’ll try to stay out of your way as much as possible. You do realize that anything directly relating to this case needs to come through us. We’re clear on that?”
On top of everything else, I thought, Chief Maven just got pushed down one more notch on the totem pole. He’s so low now it’s a wonder he can still see above the dirt.
Without even realizing what I was doing, I started to edge my chair back away from the impending blast zone.
Then he spoke.
“I’ll do whatever I can to cooperate with your investigation.” Maven’s voice was devoid of any anger, any sincerity, anything living at all.
“Very good,” Agent Fleury said. He seemed only slightly put off by the robot who’d apparently taken over Chief Maven’s body. Agent Long looked at me for some kind of reassurance, but I was even more confused than she was.
“Chief, are you okay?” she said.
“His wife,” he said. “Has she been notified?”
“His ex-wife,” Agent Fleury said. “Yes, she’s been notified.”
“Who told her?”
“Another marshal, I believe.”
“Okay,” Maven said. “Then I think we’re done here. Go do your jobs and find out who did this.”
“You can rest assured we’ll do exactly that,” Agent Fleury said. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your cooperation today.”
“We’ll be staying at the Ojibway if you need us,” Agent Long said. “I’m sure we’ll be here in town for a couple of days, at the very least. Of course, we’ll be in touch as soon as we know anything.”
She gave Chief Maven one more look of vague bewilderment, then a quick smile for me. Then they were both out the door.
The chief made no move to get up. I kept sitting there next to him for a long while, waiting for him to say something to me.
“If you send me the bill for your services,” he finally said, “I’ll make sure you get paid.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You made that trip to Houghton on Raz’s behalf. He’s obviously not here to pay you, so I will.”
“I don’t want any money.”
He didn’t answer that. The room was silent again. He kept staring at the door. After another minute passed, he leaned forward, put both hands on the table, and pushed himself to his feet, as slowly as a ninety-year-old man.
“Chief,” I said, as I got to my feet. “I’m sorry.”
He took two steps and stopped. He didn’t look at me.
“It’s time for you to go home,” he said. “I have work to do.”
“What are you planning on doing now?”
He turned and looked me in the eye for the first time since we’d come back to the station. Hell, for the first time since I’d found Raz on his kitchen floor.
“Do you have to ask?”
“You heard what they said, Chief. This isn’t your case.”
“You’re probably right. But let me ask you a question. If it was your old friend, would you let anybody stop you?”
“Chief, come on.”
“Answer the question.”
I looked at him for a long time. I didn’t say yes. I didn’t say no. I didn’t have to say anything at all, because we both knew the answer.
And we’re rolling …
… Here’s my neighbor, Mrs. P. Hello, Mrs. P. How are your roses growing?
… Close-up on her face. She’s looking at the camera, looking at the camera, that’s it.
… And then boom, she looks at something behind me.
… Her face changes. Yes, that’s it. Nice job. You’re selling this. It’s all in the face.
… Meanwhile. Uh-oh. This can’t be good, right?
… Easy there, don’t overdo it, Mrs. P. Your eyes are as big as saucers.
… The Monster is standing behind us. Let’s not even look. We’re too scared to even turn around!
I drove home in the dark. The wind kicked up and covered the road with white sheets of snow for yards at a time, rocking my truck back and forth. When I finally got back to Paradise, the yellow light was flashing in the middle of town and the Glasgow Inn was still glowing in the darkness. Beyond that the whole town seemed deserted. Usually there’d be snowmobiles zipping all over the place, but when people downstate get the idea in their heads that we’re not getting enough snow, they just don’t come. A cruel irony as I put the plow down and pushed six inches of new snow off Jackie’s empty parking lot.
When I was done, I sat there with the truck idling and asked myself if I really needed to go inside. I didn’t feel like talking about what had happened, but I felt even less like going back to any empty cabin. So I turned off the ignition. Jackie was cleaning up the place and barely looked up when I came in.
“Where have you been?” he said. He poked at the fire with a long iron stick.
“To hell and back,” I said. “Although I’m not sure about the ‘back’ part.” I went behind the bar and grabbed a Molson from the bottom row in the cooler. Then I sat down in my usual chair by the fire.
There was a roar inside my head, louder than a jet engine. Louder than the wind howling away outside in the cold night. I closed my eyes and tried to quiet it but it only got louder until I couldn’t even imagine hearing anything else.
* * *
Three days went by. I could still see the blood on the floor every night when I closed my eyes, but the colors were fading and the scene was shifting and turning into something else entirely. A different floor, with different blood. Then another, until they all blended together. If there was anything like true justice in the universe, I’d be exempt from bloody floors for the rest of my life.
I called Agent Long on the second day and she said they were still chasing leads, which might have meant they were getting absolutely nowhere. There was no way to tell. I called her back the next day and this time she asked me point blank to explain why Chief Maven was such a psychotic jackass. Her exact words for him. I was an unlikely person to defend him, but I asked her to remember what had happened to a man who had once been his partner.
“I hear what you’re saying,” she said, “but he’s driving us absolutely crazy over here.”
“How so?” As if I had to ask.
“I thought he understood this was our case, but he’s been up and down the street, personally talking to every neighbor. Plus he’s got his men rounding up every surveillance camera in town.”
“Didn’t you guys think of that?”
There was a silence then, as she processed my little dig.
“We’ve done this a few times before,” she finally said. “I think we’ve got it all covered, thank you very much.”
“Do you have anything new since the last time I talked to you?”
“It’s still ongoing,” she said. Making me wonder, once again, if they had anything at all.
I thanked her all the same, and wished her the best of luck with Chief Maven. Then I called the Soo police station. I asked for the chief and the woman at the desk told me she’d leave a message for him. He didn’t call back.
I shrugged it off for the time being and went back to working on the last cabin with Vinnie. It had finally started snowing hard again, like Beboong, the Ojibwa winter spirit, was making up for lost time. I plowed my road. In the evenings I’d buy Vinnie dinner down at the Glasgow. Jackie was still in a bad mood, chasing away customers. Three days since the day I found Raz on Maven’s kitchen floor, and now everything was almost back to normal.
So why couldn’t I shake the feeling that I was missing something important?
* * *
It was a Friday morning. As soon as I woke up, I knew there was only one way to get to the bottom of this thing. Only one person who could help me see things in a different way. I took a hot shower and got dressed and headed out. The wind had died down and the sun was trying to come out. It was almost a nice day, but I knew not to fall for it. You think spring is on the way up here and end up with a broken heart. I grabbed some breakfast at the Glasgow, got back in the truck, and then headed east.
When I hit the Soo I drove over to the Custom Motor Shop on Three Mile Road. It was the last place Leon Prudell had worked and I was hoping he’d still be there. But the man at the desk told me Leon was no longer an employee. Judging by the empty parking lot, I could see why. It’s hard to keep a full staff in the winter when you’re not moving snowmobiles.
I drove down to his house by the airport in Rosedale. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to, but I didn’t see much choice. The house looked quiet when I got there. The kids were off at school, no doubt, and maybe his wife was out shopping or something. That was my hope. I parked my truck and went to the front door. The old tire swing was still hanging from the tree in the front yard. Now it was covered with as much snow as could balance on its rounded surface. I looked at the rope tied to the thick branch above the tire swing and I couldn’t help picturing a young man hanging there. Something that would probably always come to me now, whenever I saw a rope and a tree.