Even though it was almost nine o'clock at night, Sal's Diner was filled with the aroma of a greasy griddle, and I knew my nice wool coat was going to carry the scent of frying bacon right out the door with me and into next week.
Dan was hunched forward with his fingers woven around his cup, staring into his coffee. "Why'd you'd come?" he asked.
"Because of our close personal relationship."
He dipped his head even more, almost hiding the brief flush of embarrassment that colored his face. "I know, I know. I haven't been much help-"
"You've been a complete asshole."
He accepted the rebuke without comment. It felt so good, I threw in another one for good measure. "I understand that you lost a friend, and I can even understand why you might resent me, but you never even gave me a chance."
"What was I supposed to think? Here you are this big-time fast-track superstar hand-picked by Scanlon to come in here and handle things for the company. I figured it was your job to shut me down or report back on what I was doing."
"You thought I was brought in here by no less than the chairman of the company to keep an eye on you?" I wasn't mad at him anymore because he'd called me a superstar. "You must be pretty important. Either that, or I'm not."
"That's not… I didn't mean…" When he finally raised his eyes, I smiled to let him know I was teasing him. He sat back, exhaled deeply, and seemed to relax for the first time all evening. He draped his arm across the back of the booth and pulled one leg up next to him on the bench seat. The waitress took the move as a cue to come over, top off his coffee, and leave the check. When he reached over and pulled it to his side of the table, I figured we'd turned a corner.
"Why don't you just tell me what's going on with you, Dan?"
"I know what everyone thinks," he said. "I know what the police are saying, and I know you believe them. But there is no way Ellen Shepard killed herself. No fucking way. She was murdered."
His tone was even, he held steady eye contact, and he was completely calm for the first time since I'd met him. There was no question in my mind that he believed what he was saying. "Who do you think killed her?"
"Little Pete Dwyer."
"The missing crew chief from Sunday night?"
He shrugged vaguely and stared up at the ceiling. "I hear things."
"You're going to have to do better than that, Dan. Don't treat me like a fool."
He knocked back the rest of his coffee, and the knee started going again as he regarded me. I waited.
"Okay," he said finally. "I've got nothing hard. Just a lot of suspicious stuff, people talking, things Ellen was doing lately that I didn't get."
"In the last few weeks before she died, she was doing a heavy-duty research job on Little Pete Dwyer. She was asking a bunch of questions, reading his personnel file, looking at all his performance reviews."
"She could have been looking for a way to deal with the guy. I've done that, especially with a hard case, trying to figure out why they are the way they are."
"You don't need to do research to know why this guy's a shithead. It's because of the old man, Shithead Sr. They're two of a kind. And anyway, it doesn't explain why she had me staking him out."
"Staking him out? You mean, sitting in a car in the shadows, drinking bad coffee, and waiting for him to show up so you can, what… tail him?"
I looked for the ironic smile, a sign that he was kidding, exaggerating at least. He was perfectly serious. "You guys were in your own B-movie. What did you find out?"
"We found out Angelo DiBiasi's got balls bigger than his brains. Poor bastard. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sitting in the truck down by the freight house waiting for Little Pete to show up, and Angie rolls by a in a tug dragging a TV set on a dolly. I caught up with him just as he was loading it into his car."
"What happened with Little Pete?"
"Busting Angie basically blew my cover."
"And you never found out why Ellen was after him?"
He shook his head. "I assumed she got a tip from her snitch."
"She had a snitch down on the ramp, a guy who used to tip her off."
Of course she did. "Why don't you just ask the snitch what it was about?"
"I don't know who the guy is. She kept it a secret to protect him." He must have noticed a hint of skepticism in my expression. "I know this doesn't make much sense," he said, "but it will. Ellen always made sense. I just don't have all the pieces yet."
"What reason would Little Pete have to kill Ellen?"
"I think it must have been for the package."
I stared at him.
"Oh, yeah. I didn't tell you this. One night I was at the airport later than usual, and Ellen comes into her office. She picks up the phone and starts talking to someone about something that's in this package. Then my phone rings, I answer it, and that's it. She knows I'm there. She gets up and closes the door, so that's all I got."
"How could you fail to mention that little detail?"
"Because so much stuff has been happening around here that I sometimes can't keep it all straight. And you're the first person I've been able to talk to about it. I figure he killed her for the package."
"You don't know that." We were jumping to some very large conclusions here with very few facts, something that was against my religion. "What could have been in this package?"
"I don't know. Could be she found out about one of Little Pete's scams, or the old man's. She could have had enough to fire their asses."
"He would have killed her to keep his job?" I tried not to sound as alarmed as I felt, but between this discussion and the one with Kevin, I felt my management prerogatives becoming more and more limited.
"She may have uncovered something that would put them both in jail. That would be enough to send Little Pete over the edge. He's not exactly the most stable guy to begin with."
"Is that where you've been disappearing to at night? To stake out Little Pete?"
"I've been trying to keep an eye on him, but it's impossible with just me. Near as I can figure, he's been AWOL four times since she died."
"Four times in nine days. When does he work?"
"He doesn't. That's what you saw on Sunday night. But his pop always covers for him, and none of his union brothers are going to rat him out." Dan was concentrating hard on one of the sugar packets left over from his coffee. He was folding it smaller and smaller until it was the size of a toothpick. "Where do you think he goes when he disappears like that?"
"To a bar," I guessed, "or home to sleep. Maybe to a girlfriend's house."
"He comes up here to Marblehead."
"Do you know that for sure?"
"One night I followed him halfway up here, but he must have spotted me because he turned around and went to a bar in Chelsea. Then tonight I find out the old guy, the landlord, he's been complaining to the police about someone coming in and out of Ellen's house in the middle of the night."
"That would be you, wouldn't it?"
"No. The cops assumed it was me but it wasn't, because if I could walk in the front door, why would I be climbing through the friggin' window?"
I had to think about that. Dan used a logic that was uniquely his own. "That would say that Little Pete has the security code and a key to the house. Why would that be?"
"The guy who killed her had the code-the code and the key. You heard what Pohan said. No forced entry."
I was beginning to understand his logic. It was circular. "Dan, that's not the only thing he said. What about the anti-depressants and the alcohol? Did you know about any of that?"
"Yeah. No. I mean, anti-depressants keep you from being depressed, right? Anti-depressants. So if she was taking them, she wasn't depressed. And she wasn't a boozer. A drink of wine every now and then, but I never saw her drunk." He knew he was stretching, and he knew I knew. But he was so certain and he was trying so hard to convince me-it didn't hurt to listen and besides, I had no place else to be but my hotel room by myself.
"If he killed her," I said, "I wouldn't expect him to come back to the house, the proverbial scene of the crime."
"He's looking for the package. That's why I've been trying to get in the house, to find it."
"So your theory is that he killed her for this package, but he's still looking for it."
"Right. She probably hid it somewhere."
I thought about the splintered desk in my office. "Are you sure it's in the house?"
"Without a doubt. She never left anything important at the airport."
Thinking of the desk reminded me of Ellen's frequent flier card. "Do you know why Ellen would be flying full-fare on United?"
He shook his head. "Ellen never traveled anywhere. And even if she did, there's no way she'd pay for a ticket. Nobody in the business does that."
The card was stiff in the pocket of my skirt. I could feel it. And I could feel myself getting sucked right off that slick, vinyl banquette and into the Ellen Shepard affair. I knew if I showed that card to Dan, that was exactly what would happen. But I couldn't very well sit on it when he was struggling so hard to make sense of her death. Besides, I had to admit to at least a little curiosity. I dug it out and laid it on the table in front of him.
"What is this?" He had a hard time picking the flat card off the table. Finally, he slipped it off the edge and into the palm of his hand.
"Ellen had a frequent-flier account at United."
"That doesn't make any sense." He looked up at me. "You know what I think this is?" He put the card back on the table and then picked it right up again. "She was probably earning miles with her credit card or phone calls or some shit like that. I even saw on TV the other day where you can earn miles for buying hair plugs."
"I doubt she was doing that."
"What I'm saying is this by itself doesn't mean she was buying airline tickets."
"If you know Ellen's home zip code, we can figure that out right now." I reached over the table and turned the card in his hand so he was looking at the back. "There's a customer service phone number."
"I don't know what it is up here. Oh-two-something… wait." He dropped the card and pulled something that looked like tissue paper from his breast pocket. "Have you got a cell phone?"
I pulled my phone from the pocket of my bacon-scented coat.
"The cops wrote me a ticket for being at the house. It's got the address and the zip. Ready?"
He read me the number and I dialed in again. When I got to the request for the zip code, I punched in the number he gave me, and I was in. Dan watched closely as I went through the menu. The first option gave me her total miles. Eighteen thousand. She had definitely used this account. I punched the selection for the last five segments traveled and signaled Dan for a pen, which he produced immediately. As the computer reeled off the destinations, I jotted the city codes down on my napkin. Dan's eyes grew wider with each one-DEN, SFO, ORD, IAD, and MIA. Next to each city code I wrote the date of travel.
As I punched off and tucked the cell phone away, he grabbed the napkin. "We have service to San Francisco and Chicago and Washington Dulles. We fly nonstop to Miami and, for God's sake, the company's headquartered in Denver. What the hell was she thinking paying for travel?"
"Given that you never even knew she was gone, I'd say she was doing it to hide her trips. If she'd flown on Majestic, people at the station could have tracked her through the system, right? They'd have known where she was going."
"Hell, they'd know what seat she was sitting in and what drink she ordered. People in this station are worse than the CIA that way." He picked up the card again and tapped it on his index finger. "Can I keep this? I want to call my buddy over at United. He can get me all the activity on the account. Maybe we can figure out what she was doing."
The waitress came around for the third time, and for the third time we told her we didn't need anything else. This time she loitered long enough that Dan pulled out a few bills and paid the check. I noticed he'd left her a generous tip. We in the service business appreciate each other.
Dan sat in the passenger seat as we cruised down mainstreet Marblehead in my rented Camry. Every once in a while he'd let out a big sigh and shift around, as if the seatbelt was just too constraining. We were on our way to Ellen's house, where he could pick up his car.
I tapped the steering wheel with my two gloved index fingers, trying to find the best way to ask the question. "Dan, why do you think Ellen was being so secretive?"
"What do you mean?"
What I meant and didn't know how to ask was why she didn't clue him in if they were such great friends. Why the secret travel? Why not include him on the snitch, or whatever was going on with Little Pete? "Don't take this the wrong way, but you seem so determined, obsessed even with finding out what happened to her. You're obviously very loyal to her, to her memory." I was trying to watch the road and check his reaction at the same time, but he was staring out the window and I couldn't see his face. "If she was involved in something that pertained to the station and its employees, why didn't she include you more than she did?"
He continued to stare out the window, leaving me to wonder if I'd overstepped the bounds of our tenuous new friendship. I rolled up to a stop sign and sat with my foot on the brake.
The bright neon tubing in the window of a corner yogurt shop cast an eerie pink glow into the car, illuminating his profile when he turned to look straight ahead. "Did you ever hear of a guy named Ron Zanetakis?"
"Ramp supervisor at Kennedy?"
"Newark. I worked for him when I was a ramper down there. When I was getting ready to leave to come up here for my first management job, he gave me this little speech, like he was my old man or something. He told me how to be a good manager."
A honk from behind reminded me that I was still standing at the stop sign. I moved ahead. "Which is how?"
"Never walk past the closed door."
"What does that mean?"
"Manager's walking through the operation and comes across a door that's supposed to be open, but it's closed. He puts his ear to the door and hears something going on in there. Nobody knows he's at the door, and the easiest thing in the world would be to walk away. But the good ones, they will always go through the door. If it's locked, they'll bust it down. They're not afraid to know what's going on. Ellen never walked past. She was never afraid here, which is why I can't believe she'd kill herself over a few threatening phone calls. And she always backed me. Maybe she didn't always tell me what she was doing, but one thing I knew is when I went through the door, she'd be right behind me. Turn here," he said, almost after it was too late, "go five streets and hang a left. Her house is down at the end on the right."
When I made the first turn, I stole a glance. Dan was staring straight ahead through the windshield, but didn't appear to be looking at anything. He didn't even seem to be in the car with me. "That meant a lot to you, Ellen backing you up?"
"It may not sound like much, but in a place like Logan, it's important. To me, anyway." His voice drifted off and he went back to whatever place he'd been in.
I began to count streets. Ellen's street was a blacktop road. The only sound in the car was the wheels popping as we rolled over random bits of gravel, and I wondered if it had sounded this way the morning he had come to find her.
A low-slung black coupe parked under a single street lamp was the only car on the dead-end street. I assumed it was Dan's and pulled in behind. The clock on the dashboard showed eleven minutes after ten. The house was up on a slope and I was too low down to see it, so I stared straight ahead, just as Dan did. But I was looking at a thick stand of great old trees, winter bare in the intermittent moonlight.
"I was thinking, Dan, if you wanted to get into the house, why wouldn't we get permission and use the front door?"
"Can't. Lenny got himself put in charge by the aunt in California, and he's keeping the place locked up tight. No one gets in unless he says so."
It was hard to tell if he was exaggerating. Dan had his own way of presenting the facts. If it was true, it seemed pretty odd to me. "He's probably trying to be nice and help her out. Maybe this aunt is old. Maybe she doesn't travel. Have you asked him? You could even offer to help."
"I'm not one of Lenny's favorite people. In fact, I'm on his permanent shit list."
I looked at him and I knew, just knew, that every question was going to raise ten more.
"It's a long story," he said, reading my mind. Then he turned in his seat to face me, and I could have sworn I saw a lightbulb over his head. "But I bet he'd let you in."
"You could offer to help get things organized up here. He'd probably tell the landlord it's okay and-"
"I'm not sure how involved in this I want to get. I'm already enough of an outsider around here, and the job itself is going to be as much as I can handle. And if Lenny finds out what happened tonight, I won't be one of his favorite people either."
He slumped back in his seat, the lightbulb clearly extinguished. "What you're saying is it would be a bad career move to find out that someone in the company murdered Ellen."
"That's not what I said, and it's not fair." Although he did make a good point. Not that I had to protect my career at all costs. But I also didn't want to throw it away trying to prove that a woman was murdered by an employee of Majestic Airlines if she really did kill herself.
"You're right." He popped open the car door. "That was a cheap shot. But maybe you could just think about it." He stepped out, then leaned over and poked his head back in. "Thanks for coming up tonight. I really didn't think you'd do it."
"Call me impulsive."
"Impulsive, my ass," he laughed. "You may have surprised me, but I don't get the feeling you surprise yourself much."
I smiled because he had me and we both knew it. "I don't know why I came up. I don't know why I'm interested in this whole thing. I'm still working that out. But the thing with Lenny, I will think about it."
"See you tomorrow, boss."
After he'd turned his car around and was moving down the street toward the highway, I did a U-turn, intending to follow. But with the car facing the opposite direction, I had a full view of Ellen's house. It was built on a rise, gray clapboard with black shutters bracketing its many windows. I wondered if Ellen's walls inside were bare. As I thought about it, I started to understand why the ones in her office might have been. Photos, posters, and paintings. Prizes, awards, and certificates. Each would have revealed a piece of her-where she'd been, who she'd loved, what she'd accomplished. Even what she'd dreamed about. I was beginning to understand what Kevin meant when he'd said there were no secrets at Logan. In such a place, it was no longer a mystery to me why Ellen Shepard would want to keep some part of herself to herself.
I took one last look, leaning into the dashboard so I could follow the line of the pitched roof all the way up to the point. My stomach did a little shimmy when I saw what was up there and realized why I recognized it. It was the rooster wind vane, the same one that was on the mystery drawing. Whoever had drawn that sickening picture had been to Ellen's house.