WHEN SEAMUS DELANEY HAD TOLD SHELDON SPARKS that he worked alone, he wasn't telling the literal truth. The Massachusetts State Police employed the same basic protocol and hierarchy as any police or military force did, which meant that Delaney had a sergeant and a lieutenant above him, overseeing his work, and at least a few patrol officers below, assisting in different ways. By now, everyone had at least heard something about the Charles River drowning. And while Delaney had been designated as the primary investigator on the Sparks case, he also been teamed up with a second officer named Marshall McDonald, affectionately known around the barracks as "Marsh."
Having a second officer came in handy, especially when you were pulled in two different directions at the same time, or needed to multi-task as they had this morning, when Delaney had been called downtown to the DA's office. Marsh was super-reliable and had a great memory for details, but he was young and lacked focus. He also lacked the ability to put himself inside a criminal's mind or even read social cues while interviewing a witness. Either because of this, or as a way to compensate, he relied heavily on modern technology. He was constantly fiddling with his cell phone, and spouting useless facts that he'd garnered from Google.
"Hey Delaney, do you know that a cow has FOUR stomachs?" Marsh said, as the inspector entered the barracks and found his partner idling in front of the interview room.
"Marsh, what's going on here?" Delaney said, ignoring the remark. "How come the door to the interview room is shut? This is supposed to be a friendly interview, correct?"
Marsh barely diverted his eyes from his phone and then blinked, revealing a mild case of nearsightedness. He forced an appeasing smile across his face, but it didn't quite fit his overall demeanor.
"Relax, partner. There's no problem here. I got Mr. Masterson a cup of coffee and showed him around the barracks. We even had a nice little chat while we were waiting for you. It's so cool that he's a rowing coach, don't you think?"
Delaney shook his head and bit his tongue. "Sure, Marsh. Did you find out anything else important?"
"Well, I did dig up a few interesting bits and pieces online, like a lawsuit by the victim's family against Masterson when he was a Harvard coach a few years ago... something about frostbite. I just sent you the link to the Boston Globe article."
Delaney pulled out his phone and quickly glanced at the article, then entered the interview room, leaving the door wide open. Marsh followed him in.
Certain protocols had to be observed if a witness wasn't there to be interrogated. Primarily, they had to feel like they could come and go as they pleased, and provide information freely without the fear that it might be used against them. It was all a matter of tone. If the questions got too pointed, a witness might clam up on you, but then again, some people were naturally shy and needed to be prodded. Once they started talking, however, things could change. Occasionally, during an interview, someone might inadvertently say something incriminating, or simply false, and then you had to put them under caution and read them their rights. That's when they went from being a witness to a suspect.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Delaney said to Ed Masterson, and shook his hand. "I hope my colleague here has treated you well?"
"Well enough," Masterson said, glancing over at Marsh.
"So, I was just speaking with the father of the deceased," Delaney said.
Masterson shook his head. "Don't believe anything that guy tells you."
The inspector chuckled good-naturedly.
"So how would you describe your relationship to his son when you were his coach?"
Masterson shifted in his seat. "Mostly normal."
"What about the frostbite incident?" Marsh blurted out. Delaney shot him a quick sideways glance.
Masterson shook his head. ""Like I told the Harvard cop, Finley forgot to wear gloves. It was a cold day. I don't know what more there is to say."
"Bob Devereaux?" Delaney asked. "When did you speak to him?"
"We had coffee the day I reported the drowning."
Delaney tried to suppress a frown.
"Okay, but from now on, please don't discuss the case with anyone, okay?"
Masterson shrugged. "Fine."
"So it sounds like you and Finley's father didn't get along?" he said, trying to steer the conversation back onto easier ground.
Masterson laughed. "Oh we got along all right. He even invited my fiancée and me over to his house for a barbeque, along with the rest of the Harvard coaching staff and a few former Olympians."
"When was that?" He looked over at Marsh, who was now busy taking notes like he was supposed to.
"A few years ago, when I was still coaching at Harvard."
"So what changed? The guy doesn't seem to like you very much now," Delaney joked.
"Where should I begin?" Masterson scoffed. "First of all, at the barbeque, he took me out to his 'auto barn' and showed me his sports car collection, which included a Ferrari, a Maserati, a Jaguar E type, and Aston Martin DB5."
"The James Bond Car," Marsh pointed out, matter-of-factly. Delaney gave him another quick look of mild annoyance, but Masterson simply nodded.
"'This is the car that 007 drove in 'Dr. No,'" he told me. 'I'll sell it to you for 3 million. Or you can just let me sleep with your fiancée.' Then he laughed, one of those big laughs that tries to make everyone else in the room feel small."
"And what did you say?"
Masterson gave the inspector a sour look.
"I told him I liked my pickup truck just fine."
Delaney chuckled again.
"Then he asked me to buy a bunch of boats for the program from a company he'd just joined as a board member. I said 'no' to that request too, but the head coach overruled me."
"What was his reaction?"
"Not many people say 'no' to Sheldon Sparks."
"Yeah, I got that same impression," Delaney muttered, looking over his case notes. Out of his peripheral vision he noticed that Marsh was back on his cell phone, multi-tasking while taking notes.
"So, do you think your relationship with Finley's father might have influenced the way you treated Finley?" Delaney ventured.
"I don't think so. But I also wasn't granting him any special attention, just because he was a legacy."
"And did he have any enemies that you knew of?"
Masterson shrugged. "Well I'm pretty sure most of his teammates hated him."
"Why do you say that? Did the team do poorly?"
"Quite the reverse. The final year I coached them, they went undefeated."
"So how come the lack of brotherly love?"
"Finley was a nasty little guy, sarcastic as hell. Often he'd try to get the guys to row harder by taunting them with personal insults."
"I can't remember specifics, but it was some pretty bad stuff. He'd ferret out who had failed a class, or had just broken up with a girlfriend, and he'd then broadcast that information over the speaker system of the boat, often during the middle of a race."
"But wouldn't that sort of thing create dissent? "
"In the long run, maybe. In the short run, well, they were National Champions."
Delaney nodded, thinking back to a drill sergeant he had at the academy who had pushed the recruits beyond their limits, but everyone understood that the occasional rough behavior was only meant to toughen them up.
Somehow, what Finley did seemed different, even vindictive.
"And I thought rowing was all about teamwork," Marsh joked, re-emerging from his Internet fugue. This time both Masterson and Delaney looked at him, frowning.
"You have to understand," Masterson continued. "Almost every Harvard kid is an overachiever. If you tell them terrible things about themselves, they often try harder to overcompensate. Finley understood this, and wielded verbal abuse as a motivational tool."
"Or perhaps more like a weapon," Delaney said. "But why did they tolerate it? By the sound of it, he seemed like a real jerk."
"Good coxswains are hard to find, and Finley had excellent basic skills, like steering. Plus, his boat won races. In the end, that's all that matters to serious athletes."
"I get that," Delaney nodded, then cocked his head to one side, looking at his notes. "But are you sure there wasn't anything else involved?"
"Well, I often sensed that some of the guys of the team were a little afraid of Finley, or of what he might find out and use against them. Rumor had it that he got most of his personal information by hacking into the student files from the Harvard intranet. Apparently he was a computer prodigy, which is unsurprising given his father's position at Oracle."
"Kind of a chip off the old block?" Delaney said.
"So when was the last time you saw him?"
"Last weekend, I saw him coxing a crew, out on the river, training for an alumni race. I hollered to the boat, but Finley didn't wave back. Clearly, he never forgave me for the frostbite."
"So you have no idea who might want to hurt him?"
"Hurt him, yes. Kill him, no."
"Anyone in that boat. Seriously. The only time they could ever get back at him was when they got to throw him into the river after they'd won a race. Are you familiar with the tradition?"
Delaney shook his head, admitting his ignorance about rowing.
"It's a post-race victory thing, where the oarsmen of the winning crew grab their coxswain and toss him into the water. Usually, it's pretty benign, but these guys would often throw Finley extra high, hoping he'd land painfully or belly flop."
"Well, it looks like he got thrown into the river for the last time," Marsh said, with a blank-faced expression.
Masterson and Delaney both looked at him, and then exchanged a look.
"Okay, I think we've troubled you quite enough for one day," Delaney said. "One last thing, though. Do you still have a list of Finley's former teammates?"
"Sure, I can write it down for you," Masterson said. "Some of the guys may have graduated by now, but I imagine that you can get their contact information from the alumni office."
"So when can I get my boat back?" Masterson asked.
"Probably soon," Delaney said. "They should be done testing it for evidence. In the meanwhile, I'll have one of the patrol officers give you a lift back to the river."
"Thanks," Masterson said, glumly, and started to make his way out to the front exit.
Delaney turned toward Marsh and shook his head, trying to find the right words to say to his young colleague about his performance during the interview.
"Well, I don't think he had anything to do with it," Marsh said, interjecting before Delaney could express his disapproval.
"And why do you say that?" Delaney played along, pinching his lower lip.
"Well, if he was lying, he would have laughed at my jokes. I mean, nobody who is innocent ever laughs at my jokes."
Delaney felt his anger suddenly give way to surprise, and then unexpected levity.
"Marsh, that's a completely random, and yet somehow valid observation," he laughed. "Still, you're going to have to get better at this interview game."
Marsh nodded, eager for approval in his own odd way. "I'll go make sure that Masterson has a ride," he said, and quickly left the room.
Delaney shook his head and then checked his phone. A text had come through from Sue Chasen at the coroner's office. "The Seven's Bar, Beacon Hill 8 pm."
And now he was really looking forward to that whiskey. He could taste it on his lips.