The Mermaid Murders
An excerpt from the novel by Josh Lanyon
From out their grottos at evenings beam,
the mermaids swim with locks agleam.
Walter de la Mare, "Mermaid"
Summer heat shimmered off the blacktop.
In that shivery, humid light, the big, blond man casually leaning against the silver government-issue sedan--and checking his watch--looked a little like a mirage. No such luck. Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy was not a trick of the light.
Kennedy looked up, spotted Jason, and grimaced. Maybe it was supposed to be a smile. Probably not, given Kennedy's reputation.
"Special Agent West," Kennedy said. His voice was deep, and he spoke with a suggestion of a drawl. "I thought maybe you stopped off to see if you could solve the Gardner Museum heist on your way over here."
Funny guy, Kennedy. Special Agent in Charge Carl Manning had already warned Jason that Kennedy was not thrilled to be partnered again, let alone partnered with an agent seconded from the Art Crime Team. That's what happened when you screwed up your last high-profile investigation to such an extent the governor of Wisconsin denounced you on the nightly news. An agent with less seniority would have been "on the beach" for the foreseeable future, but Kennedy was a legend in the Bureau. One of the great "manhunters." His career would survive, but he was under a cloud, no question. His kind of success earned enemies--and not just from the usual suspects. A successful career wasn't just about closing cases--and Kennedy didn't strike Jason as the tactful type.
"Nice to meet you too," Jason said, reaching the car. Kennedy did not offer his hand, so Jason shoved his own in his pocket. "Just to be clear, I'm supposed to be on vacation. In fact, I busted my ass to get here. I was in Boston about to catch a flight home to L.A."
"Duly noted." Kennedy turned away, going around to the driver's side of the gleaming sedan. "You can throw your bag in the trunk." He reached in and popped the trunk hood.
Jason opened the trunk and slung his brown leather carryall next to Kennedy's black Tumi. That was some serious luggage. The luggage of someone who lived out of his suitcase. Primetime TV notwithstanding, it was rare for agents in the Behavioral Analysis Units to leave Quantico and travel around the country, but Kennedy was the exception that proved the rule.
"We need to hit the road. That girl's been missing over eight hours already." Kennedy threw that comment over his shoulder, before sliding in behind the wheel.
Jason started to answer but restrained himself. SAC Manning had clued him in to a few facts about his new--temporary--partner. And, ostensibly, this urgency to get to the crime scene out in rural Kingsfield was all part of what made Kennedy so good at his job--not to mention the reason they were meeting in a diner parking lot instead of the division office at One Center Plaza.
He slammed shut the trunk, walked around to the passenger side, and climbed in. The car was still cool with air-conditioning, so Kennedy hadn't been waiting long.
Kennedy turned the key in the ignition. More cold air blasted out along with news radio. "So you know the area? Your family used to have a vacation home in Kingsfield?"
"How nice." Kennedy's tone was more like Why am I not surprised? He wore too much aftershave. The fragrance as aggressive as everything else about him. Top note sandalwood, bottom note obnoxious.
"I guess so."
Kennedy threw him a sardonic look as they exited the parking lot. Or at least the twist of his mouth was sardonic. The dark Oakleys he wore concealed his eyes. He looked to be in his mid-forties. Not handsome, but he had the kind of face you didn't forget easily. Although Jason was going to try his best the minute this case was over.
Jason said, "Clarify something for me. The Kingsfield Police Chief asked specifically for you because he thinks he might have a copycat killer on his hands?"
"It's too soon to say, but yeah. That's the concern, of course. No girl is going to go missing in Worcester County ever again that people aren't going to fear it's some kind of copycat crime." Kennedy began to bring Jason up to date on the case.
It was a swift and concise summation, but then the facts were few. Rebecca Madigan, the teenage daughter of wealthy local residents, had disappeared Friday night while hosting a party for friends. Rebecca's parents were out of town. The housekeeper had reported the girl missing. A search had been organized, but so far there was no sign of Rebecca.
"There could be a lot of reasons a teenage girl disappears," Jason pointed out.
"Yep. But like I said, the folks of Worcester County have long memories."
Yes. With good cause. Jason stared out the window at the slideshow of skyscrapers and historic buildings. Parks, playgrounds... ponds. The dazzle of bright sunlight on green water. The echo of a young girl's laughter... He removed his sunglasses, passed a hand across his eyes, and replaced the shades.
Worcester was an old city with a modern attitude. It was only about twenty-four miles from Kingsfield, not much more than a forty-five-minute drive, but it could have been a different planet.
He said, "I remember the original case. You were behind the capture and conviction of Martin Pink."
"I played a role." Kennedy was displaying unexpected--and undue--modesty. There was no question the Kingsfield Killings had stopped thanks to Kennedy's efforts, which was no doubt why the police chief had been so quick to call him in this time. It was a little surprising the Bureau hadn't waited to see how things developed in the Madigan case, but maybe this was as much about putting Kennedy on ice as finding a missing girl. That was certainly the way it had sounded to Jason when SAC Manning had asked him to cancel his vacation.
"What kind of a party was it?" Jason asked.
"What do you mean?"
"It's June. Was it a graduation party? Birthday party? Sweet sixteen? Secret baby shower?"
Kennedy's laugh was without humor. "It was the kind of party you throw when your parents are out of town for the weekend."
"Was everybody invited, or was it private?"
"We don't have the details yet. You know everything I know."
Yeah, probably not. Kennedy was old school, one of these lone-wolf types who no doubt preferred to "play his own hand" or whatever bullshit macho phrase his generation used to excuse not being a team player. It made for good TV, but in real-life law enforcement, not being a team player was how people got hurt.
Sometimes you got hurt even when everyone on the team had their eye on the ball. Jason's shoulder twinged, and he rubbed it absently.
There was a large heart-shaped sign by the side of the road on the outskirts of town. The sign read: IN OUR HEARTS FOREVER Honey Corrigan.
The sign had not been there the last time Jason had driven this road. It was probably familiar to Kennedy. He must have passed it a hundred times that long ago summer.
Neither of them spoke, and a couple of minutes later they were out of the dense green woodland and into the shady streets of the picturesque and rustic village of Kingsfield. It was classic New England. Pretty and quaint. White clapboard houses surrounded by wide lawns or gardens of old roses, renovated nineteenth century commercial buildings of red and yellow brick, war memorials--that would be the Revolutionary War--white churches with tall steeples, all artfully positioned around the large and lush village green. Nothing like California, that was for sure. But then that had been the point of spending summers here.
It was a quiet little place, but even so it seemed deserted for a Saturday afternoon.
"Just like you remember?" Kennedy's voice jarred Jason out of his thoughts.
"Doesn't seem to have changed much."
And that was the truth. It was almost eerie how untouched by time the village seemed. Talk about back to the future. They passed Beaky's Tavern. Bow windows and a hanging, hand-painted sign featuring a bewigged gentleman with a hooked nose like a hood ornament.
"When was the last time you visited?"
"Years." His parents had sold their vacation home right after Honey had disappeared, and Jason had not been back since. He was not going to share that information with Kennedy--even if Kennedy had been listening.
Which he wasn't. His attention was on the information his GPS provided in crisp, mechanical tones. His large hands moved with easy assurance on the steering wheel, his gaze raked the pretty little shops and cafes.
The police station was located in the center of the village, housed in the former Town Hall building. It was a two-story structure of faded brick, complete with a clock tower. Gray columns supported the front portico. The arched windows had a nice view of the Quaboag River, a blue shadow in the distance.
They parked in the rear beneath a row of maple trees, green leaves so shiny they appeared to be sweating in the heat.
"I'd expect to see a lot more cars here," Jason said, studying the nearly empty lot.
"Everybody is out searching," Kennedy replied.
His tone was neutral, but yes. Of course. Of course the entire town--or at least every able-bodied and available resident--would be out combing the extensive surrounding wilderness areas for the missing girl. This child was one of their own. The fact that hadn't immediately occurred to Jason simply underlined how long it had been since he'd worked a violent crime.
Or at least since he'd worked a crime where there was an expectation of violence. People were always unpredictable. Especially when they felt cornered.
He walked beside Kennedy around the building, feet pounding the pavement in dusty rhythm. The air was hot and humid, scented of warm stone and daylilies. Kennedy didn't say a word from the parking lot to the front portico. It would have been helpful to have some kind of briefing on what they were walking into, but Kennedy was not a chatty guy.
They pushed through the old wood-frame glass doors, passed a long row of bulletin boards papered mostly with flyers and notices for community events, though there were a couple of wanted posters too. A matronly-looking officer was busy answering the phones. She barely glanced at their IDs, indicating with a nod that they should proceed down the dark-paneled hallway and then calmly answering the caller on the other end of the line.
They located the incident room on the main floor. Folding chairs had been set up in neat rows to face the cluster of photographs of a very pretty girl--white, mid-teens, blue eyes, and blonde hair--plastering the front wall. The room was abandoned but for one lone uniformed officer who was erasing something on the large, portable dry-erase whiteboard. Jason's heart sank as he recognized Boyd Boxner.
Hell. Of all the gin joints--or police stations--in all the world...
It had been a long time, but Boxner hadn't changed all that much. Square shoulders, square jaw, square head. Well, maybe his head wasn't square, but his towheaded crew cut gave that impression.
"Kennedy, FBI." Kennedy offered his ID again. "This is Special Agent West."
"We've been expecting you," Boxner said. He glanced at Jason without recognition--nothing like a badge and shades for camouflage--and that was fine with Jason. "Chief Gervase is directing the hunt for Rebecca. He asked me to escort you to the search site."
"Let's get moving," Kennedy said.
Jason threw him a quick, startled look.
"Or," Jason said, "maybe we should set up base here and start reading through the witness statements. There are going to be a lot of eyewitness accounts to sort through, and it's possible there's some overlooked indicator as to why she might walk away voluntarily. Though I'd also like to swing by the girl's house. Take another look around."
A crime scene was a unique and fragile thing. You really only got one chance at it because with each subsequent visit by law enforcement, the scene--and your perception of it--changed, altered.
Kennedy looked as though he'd forgotten Jason was present. He'd removed his sunglasses. His eyes were blue. Arctic blue. A hard and unforgiving color. He turned back to Boxner. "We'll liaise with Chief Gervase."
Clear enough. Kennedy was the senior on this investigation. This was not Jason's field of expertise. By the same token, he wasn't only there to fill a second suit. He wasn't trying to challenge Kennedy's authority, but Kennedy was assuming the local police had already done the groundwork investigation. Jason didn't like to assume anything.
He also didn't like getting smacked down in public.
He said, matching Kennedy's blank face and tone, "Why? Are they short of volunteers? Isn't the point of our being here to look at the case from an objective and impartial viewpoint?"
Kennedy stared at him for a long, silent moment. It was not a friendly look. Nor the look of someone considering another viewpoint.
"You want me to leave you two to work it out?" Boxner was examining Jason more closely now.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to have a word with my colleague," Kennedy said with ominous calm.
"Right. I'll bring the car around." Boxner was clearly in no doubt as to who would win this round. The old floorboards squeaked as he departed with the air of someone tiptoeing away from a bomb site.
Kennedy didn't say a word until Boxner had vanished down the hall. He turned to Jason.
"Okay, pretty boy. Let's get something straight." His tone was cold and clipped. "We both know your role here is to run interference between me and everybody else. All you need to do is stay out of my way and smooth the feathers when needed. And in return you'll be the guy who gets to pose in front of the cameras with Chief Gervase. Fair enough?"
"The hell," Jason said. "I've been asked to try and make sure you don't step in it again, sure, but I'm not here to hold your cape, Batman. I'm your partner on this case whether either of us likes it or not. And, for the record, I don't like it--any more than you do."
"Then make it easy on both of us," Kennedy said. "You stay out of my murder investigation, and I'll let you know if I hear about any paintings getting stolen."
He didn't wait for Jason's answer. He turned and followed Boxner down the hallway.
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.