Honestly, I’m tired of running around. I do need to know what Nick knows.
But if I’m ill-prepared, it helps no one. Since yesterday I feel like I’m living two lives, one as a detective, one as a pinball bouncing around a pinball machine.
“All right. Let’s talk about victim profile. Why Noah? Why would anyone kill him?”
“To get rid of an heir?”
“Which would mean one of the brothers. Why else?”
“Because he, maybe, got Jamie pregnant?”
“Who would be upset about that? His parents? Her parents? Another man?”
“Yes, that includes almost everyone else on our list, except for Briggston.”
“Then, why Jamie?”
“Because she’s pregnant?”
“We’ve already considered the double suicide. What about Jamie’s mother?” Louise says.
I add Ruthie Lewis to the Person of Interest list, but it doesn’t feel right.
“Okay. Scene of the crime. The last known witness to Noah and Jamie before they died was Reuben Garcia.” I read them his testimony, aligning it to the doorbell not being heard. “Does he have a reason to lie?”
Nobody doubts his testimony.
“So were they fighting about the pregnancy?”
“Could be. The journal didn’t mention it, so it must have been a new discovery for Noah. But whatever they were fighting over, the fight ended abruptly. He says like ‘when a girl gets what she wants.’ What do you think that means?”
“She could have been startled in the middle of a fight.”
“But he says he thinks they left the room.”
“Except he did not see it. He heard nothing until they called him to the library after the murder.”
We’re quiet for a while, considering the puzzle.
“So what are the motives?” I skip the alibis and place my pen over the column.
The team determines, if any it would be: crime of passion or accidental homicide.
“What about the journal?” We debate the reliability of Noah’s paranoia, given his diagnosis.
Susan produces a psychiatrist’s report confirming his sickness. Most likely the paranoia was imaginary.
I still write down: Noah suspicious.
“Brooke Black?” I copy the same: Noah suspicious. The team is silent.
Susan shrugs then says what we’re all thinking, “She was the most bereaved.”
“And the thought of it being murder startled her. She assumed suicide,” I add. “She is a churchwoman.” To me that means something, but we know from experience that even Christians can kill in a fit of rage or out of fear. We leave her on the board, but are pretty unanimous about her having no motive. “You know, she said something had kept Noah from church. I think it might have been severe schizophrenic episodes. We can ask her.”
“We cannot bring them back in without charging them, Reynolds. I had a rude face-off with their lawyer this morning.”
Sarge is telling me, in his way, that this incident is coming to bite me, and soon. Unless I solve this case.
If he only knew—
What? That some strange visitor dropped off a package that said to take them into custody and then run to my house to open a present? What that would do is send me to a psychiatrist. No. Until I know more, no one is hearing about that guy. I avoid eye-contact with the sergeant and continue to the next name.
Now we are animated. Briggston’s attitude marked him from the start as hostile and aggressive, non-compliant, evasive. I write: Money? Susan suggests revenge, somehow against Black, and I add that, though we wonder how that could be true when Black did not seem afraid of Briggston.
“It depends on the syringes you keep talking about, Tim,” Sergeant Boice says. “If an experiment went bad, it might be an accident.”
“William Black hinted at some inheritance squabbles.” I flip open to the notes I’d taken. “But that was with the brother Benjamin.”
I write: Inheritance? Then ask, “Has anyone located Benjamin Black yet?”
Under his name, I write Inheritance.
“He was on a flight to Singapore when Noah died,” Manuel says. “They briefed us this morning.” Under alibi, I write: Flight to Singapore. “What time did the flight leave?”
I add that next to his alibi. The timing seems suspicious. “Have we informed him? If so, what was his response?”
“We contacted him the minute he arrived, and he’s on his way back.”
“The journal and William Black both point at his antagonism. Of anyone, he has the strongest motive.”
“What are the financial situations of the brothers?”
Susan opens her notes. “Nick and Benjamin have the same mother, who died when they were young. Brooke married William a year before Nick was born.” She mumbles for a moment. “And the family was not doing well financially until about three years ago, when they are backed by Ivan Briggston for the purchase of their property. Both boys got scholarships. Nick into veterinary school and Benjamin studied business. Benjamin works now for an aeronautical company. So their father’s recent wealth would be of interest to all three.”
“What can you tell me about William Black’s financials?”
“That’s what’s interesting. They live in a mansion, seemingly on no income. He paid cash for their three cars. The bank pays his employees’ salaries.”
“What can you tell me about Briggston’s accounts?”
“What you’d expect for a banker, though he himself upgraded two years back. All at once bought several sports cars, and the limo he drives now. Upped his house help numbers as well. And the bank pays their salaries.”
“Where does he get the money?”
“He’s a banker.”
Sarge puts Manuel into looking into his financials.
The question burrs into my subconscious. “When I was in Black’s laboratory, there was a vault in there. Probably related to the… whatever… he does in there. Maybe radiation protection or something, I don’t know. But he refused to open the vault. We had no probable cause, and it wasn’t on the warrant, but I let it go. What do you all think?”
“Until Diego finds a connection to the murder, we have no probable cause,” Sergeant Boice confirms.
I look at the list and fill in the known alibis.
“Nick said he was in the library and ducked out when the crime team came.” I underline his name. “No one can vouch for where he was at the time of Noah’s or Jamie’s death. And when pulled me over, he had a gun.”
I write the word Syringe under his name.
Susan and Louise give a break down on DNA found at the scene. Nothing unexpected. His family in his house, her family in her house.
“What about on the pile of clothes in William’s bathroom?”
Susan looks in her notes. “They’re logged in, but we didn’t know why. So they’re not evaluated yet.”
“Would you make a note to check those. They had a sulfur scent when I first observed them.” What if William Black had some sort of sickness? He had come out of the bathroom with that smell on him, too. I don’t write it, feeling it’s a random shot in the dark, but file it away in my head.
Finally, I take a deep breath and study our group. We are all confused by this case and are wondering one thing. “What kind of person are we looking for?”
The question relaxes people. We are on the profiling stage, which always contributes to answers.
Manuel starts us off. “Someone with access to medical equipment. Someone who knows the house, who can make a quick get-away.”
“Which would be only Nick and William Black.”
“Someone clever enough to hide a weapon and hide himself. And someone who has a poker face,” Susan adds.
“Nick turned the tables when he jumped in your car, looking over his shoulder. That could require a spur of the moment brilliance to shake off suspicion. Nick has no alibi, has been accused of attacking with a syringe, and has a lab at his apartment.” Sergeant Boice crosses his arms. “It’s looking more and more like he’s the one.”
Louise raises a finger. “Except Maura wrote nothing about syringe marks on the body. Something powerful enough to melt bones would have clearly left its entry.”
I put the pen down. “When are we going to hear about the lab in his condo?”
“It will be faster for you to ask him yourself,” Sergeant Boice says. “Take someone with you.”
I scan the room.
Detective Manuel Diego is an expert on logistics and making connections, but he’s supposed to look deeper into the Blacks and Briggston’s financials.
Detective Susan Johnson was focused on Noah’s crime scene, and she’s fluent at reading body language.
Officer Louise Banner knows everything about Jamie’s crime scene, and she’s good at sweet-talking truth out of people.
Whom shall I choose?
I flick my head for Susan to join me, glad to not be alone.
Hopefully no one accosts me now that I’ve got a partner. We take my car to the hospital and check in as guests. Smith joins us and in a few minutes we’re in Nick’s room.
He has the obligatory air tube at his nose and cables coming out of a needle in his arm. His head is wrapped around with gauze.
I pull a chair up next to his bed. “How you feeling, Nick?”
“I’ve been better,” he says.
Susan leans up against the wall behind me. “This is my partner, Detective Johnson.”
Nick greets her with a nod.
“Sorry about hitting your head on the window, Nick. I was trying to get away. Next thing I know, you’re passed out there.”
“That’s alright. At least I’m alive.”
“They shot out my cars front and back windows.”
A nurse comes in and checks his cables and numbers. His face pales and he leans deeper into the pillow behind his back. Susan pats me on the back and follows the nurse out. Her way of saying she’s following up on something.
There’s no use beating around the bush. “So what did you want to tell me yesterday about your brother’s death?”
I blink twice at him. I wish Susan were here to give him the lie detection evaluation she could do with her senses alone.
“You were there, Nick. You said so yourself.”
“I don’t remember.”
“What do you mean, you don’t remember?”
“The doctor says I have amnesia.”
Now my face pales. Nick is the key to this entire investigation, and he has amnesia? I press my fingers against my temples. This case keeps going in circles.
“What about your job? Can you tell me where you work?”
“Yes. I work as a vet at a… pet-shop.”
“You work for Mr. Grigory?”
His eyebrows pinch in the middle, but he nods, yes.
“How long have you worked for him?”
“About a year.” He wags his head, disappointed.
“He fired me for some reason.”
“Personal differences, I guess.”
I cross my arms. I know why he was fired. I know what he was doing there. But should I say it? Without Susan in the room, I’m free. No one in the department will point fingers at Grigory.
Leaning in, I whisper, “Grigory told me he saw you with a syringe.”
“He saw me?” Nick stops breathing, his eyes widening.
I whisper softer, “Whatever killed your brother and Jamie killed those animals. You understand your situation?”
I pull back. His knuckles are white from clenching the sheet. He does not have amnesia. He knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Susan leans in, “Hey, Tim. We’d better go. Nick needs some rest to get over his amnesia. The doctors hope it will come back if he avoids stressful situations.”
Hearing what she is saying between the lines, I pat Nick on his shoulder. “Sorry again for your accident, and glad to have you back with us.”
A weak smile stretches across his face.
“Come on, Tim. We gotta go.”
Susan tells Officer Smith to keep security alert, and hurries me out. When we get into the car, she stops me from driving off.
“Something big is happening there. Did you notice the look between Nick and the nurse? Well, I followed her into the bathroom and confronted her. She told me that some Russians came earlier and distracted the police by making a ruckus in the waiting room. Nick was asleep, so his police detail left the room to aid hospital security get the men out of there. But that nurse noticed a man leave Nick’s room. She wasn’t sure who it was, but Nick was awake. She was able to get this from him.”
Susan holds out a note, scribbled on a napkin.
“Please tell the doctor that I have amnesia. They’re gonna kill me.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“I think the guy threatened him, and Nick feigned amnesia. She said she’s been talking to him in the room as if he has amnesia and he’s been talking to the room as if he believes it’s bugged.”
“Good night! What’s going on with this case? Everything is a dead end.”
“Not everything, Tim. We can rule Nick out.”
“Because he knows something that will expose the killer.”
“Or he’s a psychopath. Imagining people after him, making up stories about sicknesses. This is schizophrenia 101.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Right. But either they’re after him or they’re not.”
“My only question is she said they were Russians. That doesn’t fit with anything we’ve seen so far.”
I chuckle. “Russian mafia? Why not? It just makes our case even more random.”
“Or it doesn’t. Hold on a second.”
She flips through her paperwork and then taps on a note. “I think Briggston’s our Russian connection.”
Susan is already on her phone with someone at the station. She listens to their answers, writes it down, then fills me in. “Ivan Dmitrovich Braginsky immigrated to this country twenty years ago with his brother Grigory. Ivan changed his last name from Braginsky to Briggston, Grigory did not.”
Grigory and Ivan.
Of course. Why didn’t I make the connection? Well, for one, Grigory embraced his Russian roots and Ivan had Americanized it. That long name Grigory had given… he’d told me he was Briggston’s brother right then, but I failed to listen. What else have I failed to hear?
“Do we have any reason to interview him? His last known address is in town. We can find out if he was involved in this threat on Nick. He might be working with Briggston—you said Nick was worried about Briggston just before they shot at you.”
Susan wants to interview Grigory.
That painting was fantastic. And it’s mine if I keep eyes off Grigory.
It’s 1:00. Lunch time. I’m starved and can use that as a chance to lose Susan. By myself, off the record, Grigory might tell me Briggston’s relationship with the Blacks. That could be paramount to motive. Now Russians have been connected to the case, eyes will look his direction. Keeping him out is only possible if I play it close to the chest.
Or Susan and I can go to Grigory’s together. If I take her, I lose the painting, and more than that, I get on the bad side of an illegal enterprise of Russians-with-guns. Not my favorite thing to face. Last time I got out with my life. If I bring someone else in, we may not.
Then again, Susan might be willing to trade information for silence, as I did. She might also see something I missed.
I’m not sure.