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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The phone finally rang-at 5:14 a.m. At some point during the night, very late, I'd leaned against the headboard, put my head back to rest, and fallen into a dreamless sleep. When I opened my eyes, the lights were still on, the contents of Ellen's box were spread across my bed, and Anna Bache Shepard's death certificate was still in my hand.

"You weren't sleeping, were you, Shanahan?" Dan used his louder-than-normal car phone voice, and the line crackled.

"Are you on your way home?" I swung my feet to the floor and stood up to stretch, my spine popping in three places. My left arm was asleep, dead weight hanging from my shoulder. It began to tingle as I shook it.

"I'm just pulling into the parking lot of your hotel. I'll meet you downstairs in two minutes."


We made a good pair, the two of us, waiting in the lobby for the coffee shop to open. Dan sat forward on a low couch, knees bumping the faux-marble table that held his notes. His soft, faded jeans somehow stayed up without the benefit of a belt. His white cotton dress shirt was open at the collar and filled with those tiny wrinkles you get from wearing your clothes around the clock. He had the same wrinkles under his eyes.

"Like I told you last night," he said, "it was Little Pete Dwyer and Terry McTavish beating the crap out of each other. Both of them got hurt, and neither one will say what happened." He glanced up and caught me stifling a yawn. "Shanahan, if I'm the one who was up all night, how come you look like shit?"

"I was with you in spirit," I said, remembering the puffy-eyed, slack-haired visage in my bathroom mirror this morning. I'd been tempted to wear my sweatshirt with the hood up, drawstring pulled tight. Instead, I'd put my hair in a ponytail, washed my face, and declared myself presentable. "How bad were the injuries?"

"Terry's got a big bruise on the side of his head and a broken hand. From what I hear, Little Pete's got stitches over one eye, but I never saw him. My dumbfuck shift supervisor took his statement, drove him to the hospital, and let him go home from there. Lazy bastard. He didn't even do a substance test."

"Fighting isn't necessarily enough for probable cause."

"He could have used aggression for probable cause. That's what I did for Terry. I had him pee in the bottle when I took him to the hospital to get his hand set. I can tell you right now, though, it's going to come back clean. Terry McTavish is a Boy Scout."

"What do their statements say?"

"Little Pete claims self-defense all the way." He leafed through his file, found the page he wanted, and pulled it out. "Says he was walking across the ramp when Terry jumped him from behind and threw him to the ground. That's it. Except for the fact that he's a lying sack of shit."

"What's Terry's story?"

"He doesn't have a story. I spent all night trying to crack him. All I could get him to say was he had a good reason to do what he did, and he shouldn't lose his job over it."

"No witnesses?"

"None that are talking."

"Do you think-" I stopped and glanced around the lobby. The desk clerk was in the back, and the lone bellman was across the floor out of earshot. Still, I lowered my voice. "Maybe this has something to do with your drug-smuggling theory. Terry could have stumbled into something, and now he's afraid to say what."

"I don't think so. I've been asking around, some of my off-the-record sources. The ones who will say anything swear there's nothing like that going on at Logan at the moment. I don't know if that's the truth, or if it's because Little Pete is involved, but I'm getting nothing on drugs. Dead battery."

"What does your gut tell you about last night?" I was learning that Dan was always in close communication with his gut.

"I think Little Pete was drunk last night, and whatever happened came out of that."

"Drunk during his shift?"

"It wouldn't be the first time."

"Little Pete's a drunk?"

"I thought you knew," he said.

"How would I know that?"

"It's common knowledge."

"Not to someone who's been here two weeks."

He shrugged. "Sorry, boss."

I had a bad feeling, the shaking, rolling, want-to-throw-up seasick feeling I always got when I heard about airport employees drinking on the job. I could just see Little Pete Dwyer careening around the ramp devoid of motor skills, around airplanes, in a forklift or a loader. God forbid he should smack into an engine or punch through a fuselage. God help us all if he did it and never told anyone. "How big is his problem?"

"More like everyone else has a problem, because when Little Pete's drunk, he's mean as hell. He hit a guy in the head with a hand-held radio once because the guy changed the channel on the TV."

"Why is he still working here?"

"That particular time, Lenny made a deal and brought him back. The guy he hit went on permanent disability."

"Why would Lenny bring him back? If he's as truly self-serving as everyone says, I wouldn't expect him to take that kind of a risk."

"I told you about the deals, and Lenny's made a lot of 'em to protect this kid. Every time he gets into trouble, they send him to rehab. He's been twice." Dan was drumming his pencil, eraser end, on the table, making a noise that seemed loud in the quiet lobby. "I can't see Terry jumping anyone," he said, "but I can see it the other way around, with Terry the one who was defending himself."

"I don't suppose there's a chance in hell he'll tell us what happened."

"No. The Dwyers and the McTavishes hate each other. But still, Terry's not going to rat out a union brother and get him fired."

"Would he give up his own job to protect a drunk? Because if I have to get rid of them both to get Little Pete off the ramp, I will."

"With what I've got now, you'd have a hard time busting Little Pete. With no test and no witnesses, I can't prove he was under the influence, and without a statement from Terry, I never will."

"How about this? We keep them both out of service while we conduct our investigation and do some interviews. If we can prove Little Pete was drinking on the job, we get rid of him for good. At a minimum, we can force him back into rehab. In the meantime, maybe Terry reconsiders his story."

"If he doesn't?"

"Then screw him. I don't care about the union and the brotherhood and all that crap. If he's comfortable letting a drunk work next to him on the ramp, he deserves to be gone, too."

"If it comes down to him losing his job, we might see one or two of the decent guys come forward. The McTavishes have a lot of support around here, which we're going to need. I have to tell you, if you terminate Little Pete, you're going to start a war."

"Are you suggesting we leave him out there?"

"I'm just telling you the facts, boss. That's my job."

I sat back in the cushy, crushed velvet love seat and considered my limited options. That seemed to be the drill here-separate the bad options from the worse options and pick one. "Can you handle a backlash on the ramp if we end up terminating?"

"Like I said, the guys like Terry and his brother's got some influence. I think we can ride it out. But it won't be much fun."

"I'll bring Angelo back. That might take some of the pressure off. It'll certainly get Lenny off my back. What do you think?"

"It's about goddamned time. You've been talking about doing it since you got here."

We both turned as we heard the sound of the doors sliding open. The coffee shop was open for business. I reached for the file I'd brought down from my room, stood up, and stretched again. I couldn't seem to get all the kinks out. "Come on," I said. "I'll buy you breakfast. I've got something else I need to talk to you about."


Dan was staring out the window. If it had been summer, he would have been gazing at a lush, terraced courtyard, a carpet of flowering plants, and a swimming pool. But it was darkest January, the floodlights were on, and instead of a shimmering, turquoise blue surface, he was staring at a heavy brown tarp covered with winter's debris. In his hand was the death certificate for Ellen's mother. When he finally spoke, his voice was as blank as his face. "She never said anything about this to me."

"I don't think she told anyone," I said. "Not anyone at work, anyway. You'd have to think if someone knew about it, they would have spoken up. It wasn't in her personnel file." I scanned the obituary again. "Ellen was fourteen when this happened. It had to be painful for her to talk about."

When he didn't respond, I didn't know what else to say, so I drank my orange juice. It was canned, but tart enough to wash away the taste of going to bed too late and getting up too early. The only other patron in the coffee shop, a blonde woman, sharply professional in a sleek suit and sleeker haircut, sat across the floor at a table by herself. We both looked at her when she sneezed.

"Someone knew," he said, turning back to the conversation, his eyes bright with the energy of a new theory.

"Someone knew what?"

"Whoever killed her knew about the mother's suicide. That's why he hung her, to make it look like she killed herself, too. Don't you see that?"

I was about to answer when the waiter arrived. As he served us, I sat back and marveled at Dan. He was either so deep in denial he couldn't see straight, or the most resilient man I'd ever met. Maybe both. The other possibility was that Lenny had been telling the truth, that this unnatural obsession of his was driven by the deepest guilt. "Dan, you have the ability to take any set of facts and form them to support your own theory. Don't you see that? I don't understand why you're being so obstinate about this."

"I told you-"

"I know," I said, "she was a good boss and your friend and you're loyal, but this is getting a little absurd. Look at that death certificate and think about what it means."

He picked up his fork and poked at his four runny eggs, a side of pancakes, three strips of soggy bacon, and a stack of toast. The spread looked like something he'd usually enjoy, but not today. He put the fork down. "Okay, what's your theory?"

"Dan, I didn't know Ellen, so all I can do is draw my conclusions from the facts. She came to Boston from staff with a sterling reputation and lots of enthusiasm. She took on a job here for which she wasn't qualified. After thirteen months of trying as hard as she could to turn the station around, she wasn't any further along than the day she arrived. She might have even lost ground. And she was being harassed in the most contemptible way for trying."

He was staring at his eggs.

"It seems to me that something went really wrong for her, Dan. The police have no evidence of murder. Ellen was being treated for chronic depression. She didn't have much in her life besides her job. She was used to being successful, and when it looked as if she might fail in Boston, maybe she felt that her whole life was a failure. It can feel that way sometimes, believe me. And now we find out that her mother killed herself."

I picked at my breakfast, too. The oatmeal with brown sugar had sounded better than it tasted, and I was getting depressed just watching the way Dan was hurting and thinking about Ellen's situation. I abandoned the gummy substance in my bowl and went to the all-liquid breakfast of orange juice and milk. I waited a few uncomfortable moments for a response. When nothing was forthcoming, I went right to the bottom line. "Lenny called me yesterday and asked us to back off this thing, Dan. Maybe it's time."

"Sleazy bastard," he muttered.

"He didn't seem sleazy about it. He seemed to be covering the company's ass and maybe his own. What is it between the two of you?"

"Why? What did he say?"

"He said… he said that you were the one who pushed Ellen into taking a hard line with the union and that the reason you're so adamant about how she died was because you feel guilty. You can't accept the fact that she might have killed herself."

Dan's face started to flush. "And you believed him?"

"I don't know what to believe. I know that there's something going on between you and Lenny that you won't talk about. And I feel that there has to be more to your relationship with Ellen that you're not telling me about. Did you two have a thing, because if you did, it doesn't make any difference to me-"

"Don't ever say that, Shanahan. Don't ever say that again. Everything I told you was the truth."

"But are there things you haven't told me?"

We stared at each other, and it became clear that he wasn't going to dignify my question with a response. He countered with his own question. "Did Lenny offer you a promotion if you could make me stop asking questions?"

"What?"

"A promotion. That's what you care about, right? Your career?"

I slipped back in my seat and took a deep breath. I tried to keep in mind that he'd been up all night dealing with recalcitrant employees. But I wasn't one of them. "You're right," I said evenly. "I do care about my career, and I don't want to be made to feel that the things I want are any less important, or in some way less noble, than what you want. I don't believe the issues are that simple."

He sat back, clasped his hands across his stomach, and stared up at the ceiling. His eyes were red and tired, and when he looked back at me, something in them had changed. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "It's easy for me to say I don't care about my career because I don't have one. And it's been that way for so long, I forget sometimes what it might feel like if I did have something to lose. You're right. This is not your fight."

He had an amazing ability to make me feel validated and guilty at the same time. "This isn't my fight, but I do have a stake in how things turn out. If we can find a way to get rid of the Dwyers, I'd be most pleased. And you do have something to lose-at least Lenny thinks so."

"What else did he say?"

"He said that if I wanted, he'd bust you down to ramp supervisor and move you out of Boston to a station as far away from New Jersey as he can find."

Dan's face turned ashen, then, almost immediately, heart-attack red. "He said that?"

"That's exactly what he said."

"Son of a bitch." He flung his napkin onto his plate. "Motherfucker." When he shot out of his chair, he nearly tipped it backward, bumped the table with his thigh, and rattled all the silverware.

The sleek one glanced up, but only long enough to turn the page of her newspaper.

Dan paced an intense loop around a row of empty tables, came back to ours, then made the loop again. All I could do was hope he stayed in the coffee shop long enough to tell me what I'd said.

"He couldn't even say it to me directly," he mumbled, making another loop. "Yellow ratfuck scumbag."

"Do you want to sit down and tell me what's going on?"

I could see a vein pulsing in the side of his throat as he settled back in and shoved the remains of his breakfast out of the way. "My kid lives in New Jersey. He's threatening to send me away from my kid. That's what's going on."

I wasn't sure I'd heard right. "Did you just say you have a child?"

"She-lives with her mother and grandparents down in Newark. I can't fucking believe he would even say that." He banged the table with the heel of his hand and got jelly on his cuff. I gave him my napkin and he wiped it off, carelessly at first, then more deliberately. Even after it was clear the spot wasn't going away, with his mouth set in a grim line and his eyes losing focus, he kept working it.

I reached across the table and took the napkin away. "What's her name?"

"What?"

"Your daughter, what's her name?"

"Michelle. Michelle Marie. She's six."

"She lives in Newark, you said?"

"Belleville. Just outside." He checked his watch.

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm gonna call him. As soon as he drags his ass to work, I'm gonna tell him-"

"I don't think that's a good idea. Tell me what is going on between you."

He sat unusually still, avoiding eye contact. No fingers drumming, no knees bouncing up and down. "I need the key to the house."

"You need to go home and get some sleep."

"Just give me the goddamned key."

This time he got the sleek woman's attention. And the waiter's. And mine. I stared at him, more confused than angry and hoping to chalk the outburst up to too much frustration and too little sleep.

He let out a long, deflating sigh and appeared to regroup. "All I want is to put an end to this. I can't take much more. I'm too tired and I'm afraid of what I'm going to do if Lenny threatens me like that again. If there's a package in that house, I'm going to find it. So can I please have the key?"


The waiter brought the check for me to sign. While Dan waited in the lobby, I went upstairs for the key to Ellen's house. As I watched him walk out the front door with it, I couldn't help but think that he'd never answered my question. Were there things he wasn't telling me?


CHAPTER FOURTEEN | Hard Landing | CHAPTER SIXTEEN