SHELDON SPARKS HAD THE LOOK OF A MAN who had feasted on all the pleasures of life and was now suffering from a bad case of indigestion.
In the thirty years since he'd graduated from the Harvard Business School, he'd accumulated a multimillion-dollar fortune composed of various speculative investments, mostly in real estate and the high-tech industry. He'd also been married three times, had eight children, and added about eighty extra pounds to his formerly athletic frame. The extra heft was distributed about his midsection like the ballast on a hot air balloon, but he didn't seem embarrassed by it. Instead, as he strode down the main corridor of 1 Bullfinch Place, he bestowed a patriarchal nod or a smile to anyone who noticed his plus-sized presence, elegantly clad in a Brooks Brothers suit.
Making a beeline toward assistant DA Tim Prendergast's office, he wheeled to his left and then to his right, pivoting his entire upper body like the turret of a tank as he shamelessly peered into other people's offices. When he wasn't smiling a fake smile, his large, fleshy face had the pugnacious expression of a bulldog, and his eyes bore the wrinkles and dark rings of a career insomniac.
"Well, have you caught the bastard who killed my son yet?" he blurted out, stepping into the ADA's room. Despite the overall depravity of his character, his energy and intellect were both quite intact, and they came out in rapid-fire bursts.
"Sheldon, please, have a seat. I think you've already met Inspector Delaney?"
"Yeah, we met in the coroner's office," he said. "So what've you got?"
Delaney hesitated for a second, glancing over at Tim Prendergast. The ADA gave him a curt nod.
"Well, we are questioning a few people, including the former Harvard crew coach who found your son's body." Delaney had just left the Edward Masterson interview in the hands of his second-in-command when he'd gotten the urgent call from the ADA, and he wasn't happy about it.
"Yeah. That's the guy. He did it."
"Now Sheldon…" the ADA said.
"I want you to lock him up and throw away the key," Sparks continued. He leaned over and whispered coarsely to Delaney: "Stick a fork in him, if you know what I mean."
Delaney nodded and then opened his mouth to speak.
"Do whatever you need to do. Money is no object here," Sparks interrupted.
"Sheldon, please," Prendergast interjected. "It doesn't work that way."
"Sure it does. Everything does." He looked back and forth between Prendergast and Delaney like an innocent child who'd just eaten a big slice of chocolate pie before dinner, and couldn't understand what was wrong.
"I should tell you that we have a new DA who is, well, a woman. She's the first female DA we've ever had in Boston, and she is very much opposed to unnecessary incarceration."
"Her name is Rhonda Rodriguez."
"Sounds like an exotic dancer I used to date," Sparks said, in a raspy baritone. "What is she, some sort of minority hire?" He glanced over at Delaney to gauge his reaction to the remark.
Tim Prendergast shook his head, while Delaney remained silent. Some of the guys back at the State Police barracks still talked like this, but less and less so as the composition and age of the force changed with the times, along with a growing awareness about sexual harassment.
"She's actually smart as a whip and well respected," Prendergast said. "And she doesn't like spending resources on anything but the most serious cases."
"What the hell does that mean, Tim? You think this isn't serious? Christ, my son just got killed and dumped into the Charles River!"
"Sir, with all due respect," Delaney said, "we don't know exactly what happened yet." Sparks glared at him and then turned back toward the ADA.
"Who is this guy, your second string?"
"Sheldon, please. Inspector Delaney is a very capable officer."
"I don't want capable, I want a pit bull. Whatever happened to Bob Devereaux?"
"He's the chief of police at Harvard now," Prendergast said.
"Smart man. How about we bring him in as a consultant?"
Prendergast shook his head.
"What's the big deal?" Sparks said. "Let him team up with greenhorn here. After all, two heads are better than one."
"I work alone," Delaney said.
"Nobody works alone. You get nowhere alone. Trust me, kid, I've tried it."
Prendergast tried to wipe the stress off his face with his hands, then leaned back in his chair and glanced over at his colleague. The young inspector appeared to be calm and confident. In reality, Delaney was desperately trying to resist the urge to reach over and slap the arrogant millionaire in the face, just to see what he would do. People reacted differently to the death of a family member, but he'd never seen this sort of outrageous behavior before. Who cared if he had deep contacts in city government and local real estate?
Just then, Delaney felt his cell phone buzz in his pocket.
"Toxicology just texted. I should go check it out," he said quietly.
"Saved by the bell," Sheldon Sparks quipped.
"Sorry for your loss, Mr. Sparks. I'll be in touch."
"Yeah, sure. Just find out how he died. If there was any foul play, I'll take care of it myself."
Leaving the ADA's office, Delaney wondered if Sheldon Sparks would make good on such a threat. He doubted it. Still, he made sure that he was well clear of hearing range before ringing up the coroner's office.
"And I thought you'd never call," Sue Chasen teased.
"Trust me, I been being dying to get back to you," Delaney replied.
"C'mon now, is that the best you can do?" Chasen said. He had to admit, it was nice to hear her light-hearted and intelligent tone of voice, after listening to ravings of a self-important millionaire.
"Okay, St. Paul's. What've you got?" he said.
"Well, you may not like this, but we found traces of Fentanyl in Finley's blood samples."
"Fentanyl, as in the street drug variety?"
"Well, that changes things a bit."
"I'd say so."
"So, if it was a drug overdose, that might explain the likelihood of death prior to drowning?"
"It might," Chasen said, noncommittal with her tone of voice. "We also found something else that was a little curious - oil samples on the clothes."
"What kind of oil?"
"We're working on that now, but it looks like two stroke motor oil."
"Like the kind you put into an outboard engine?"
"Or a lawnmower," Chasen baited him.
"Yeah, but how many people are mowing their lawns in November?"
"Oh, very good, detective. You get a gold star!"
"And a beer after work?" he ventured.
"Absolutely not," she said. "Just looking at beer makes my stomach queasy."
"Oh, sorry to hear that," he apologized.
"Yes, I'm afraid you'll have to drink whiskey, if you're drinking with me. I'll text you an address and a time later."
Chasen abruptly hung up, as Delaney hopped into his squad car to head back to barracks. He felt like he could use that whiskey now, after dealing with Sheldon Sparks, but the rest of the day still lay ahead of him, including the equally difficult task of cross-examining Edward Masterson. But at least this time, he'd be asking the hard questions.