ON HIS WAY OUT OF THE BARRACKS, Delaney poked his head inside Joe Martinoli's office, who was sitting down at his desk, finishing up a phone call. He motioned the inspector to come in and have a seat, while he spit out the final pieces of a conversation that he clearly didn't want to be having.
"Yes. No. Of course. Got it. Understood. You too. Bye."
Even a few years past his retirement age, Martinoli was still a devoted workaholic who showed no signs of slowing down, despite a recent and messy divorce, a triple bypass surgery, and a fierce nicotine habit that he was unsuccessfully trying to control with an arm patch.
"Okay, I don't know how you swung it, Seamus, but I just got off the phone with the D.A.'s office, and your investigation is now officially a 'go.'"
Delaney smiled. He liked the chief, despite the fact that he was rough around the edges and openly abusive to everyone, including himself.
"Damn this patch," he said, tearing it off his arm. "Doesn't work for shit. Where the hell is my nicotine gum?" He rifled through his desk drawer, until he located his stash, then popped a piece into his mouth and started chewing furiously.
"So what have you got? Tell me some good news," Martinoli said.
"One witness, with not much to share; an angry parent of the deceased, wanting revenge; and some new information from the coroner, who just found Fentanyl in the victim's blood. I'm going to see her now."
Martinoli chewed and nodded, folding his hands together on top of his desk. "So what's your game plan?"
"I'd like to have a couple of patrol officers canvass the boathouses along the Charles River to try to find out if anyone else saw something last weekend."
"During the Head of the Charles?" Martinoli scoffed. "That's a needle in a haystack. Don't more people attend that event than the Boston marathon?"
"Maybe," Delaney admitted. "But it takes place in a more contained area. And I'd like to know exactly where that body went in the water."
"Okay, fine. What about tech?"
"The victim's cell phone was submerged for quite awhile, but we should be able to pull some data from it. We've yet to search his room, which could be tricky until the father calms down a bit."
"The kid lived at home?"
Martinoli shook his head. "Typical millennial. Meanwhile, my kids won't even come and visit me anymore. They always run to their mother."
Delaney said nothing, just smiled politely when his boss looked at him.
"Well, get on it. Trace every call and email you can find."
"And be careful with that coroner, Sue Chasen. Rumor has it that she eats boys for breakfast."
Delaney laughed. "Thanks, chief. I think I can take care of myself."
"That's what they all say," Martinoli jeered. "Then you find yourself working past retirement age, sitting behind a desk and chewing nicotine gum."
"Duly noted, boss. I'll be careful out there."
The Sevens Ale House was one of those classic Irish bars that somehow still existed on Charles Street, tucked inconspicuously between high-end antique shops and gourmet food stores. It was the perfect hideaway for someone who wanted to sit quietly and sip a decent beer, or catch a Celtics game on the big screen TV without getting molested by a nosy tourist.
Sue Chasen was already waiting for Delaney, seated at the bar in a ladder-backed chair nursing a vodka martini. Out of her scrubs, wearing a cashmere sweater and designer jeans, she looked classy and attractive. For a second he just stopped and stared, adjusting the prior image he had stored in his brain of her.
"Well, what took you so long? Did you get lost?" she teased, finishing up a text. Then she looked up and smiled, showing off her perfect white teeth.
"Yeah, I think I took a wrong turn and ended up at Alibi."
"You mean that fancy bar at the Liberty Hotel?"
"Yeah. That's the one."
"Well I guess we could've gone there," Chasen said. "I just figured it was a little too close to home for you, being an old prison and all."
"Ah yes, I remember it well," he said, smiling. "Some of my acquaintances from high school ended up there."
"I said 'acquaintances,' not friends," he corrected.
"You did, indeed," Chasen said. "And just out of curiosity which am I?"
"That depends," he said. "What've you got for me?"
"Straight to business. I like your style."
Delaney shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a cop."
"Another vodka martini for me," Chasen said to the bartender, "And for my acquaintance, here - "
"Club soda," Delaney said.
"Sorry, but I'm officially still on duty for another ten minutes. You look nice, by the way."
Chasen reached down and pulled a folder out of her backpack, shaking her head at Delaney's clumsy attempt at flattery. Her brown hair briefly spilled around her shoulders, reminding him of girl he had dated in high school.
"Here's the toxicology report," she said. "He had enough Fentanyl in his system to take down an elephant. Make that two elephants."
"So the question is why? I mean, was Finley Sparks actually a user, or did he just go to a party and get in over his head?"
"Well, he didn't have needle marks on his body, just that stupid tattoo, so I suspect it was the latter scenario. He must have ingested it in powder form, snorted like cocaine. Sadly, most people who play around with opioids don't know what they are getting themselves into, though, especially if it's purchased on the street."
"Fentanyl is often mixed together with other things, like benzodiazepines and crushed opioid pills, and then the unstable mixture is sold as heroin."
"Is that what they call 'scramble' heroin?'" Delaney asked.
Chasen nodded. "It's scrambles your brain, alright. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine."
"That's probably why they are starting to require us to use certain precautions when approaching anyone who might have been in contact with the drug, like wearing face masks and gloves. Apparently even a slight amount of the powder form can knock a guy flat."
"Well, we certainly wouldn't want that," Chasen smiled, sipping her vodka. "I guess you're damn lucky that this kid was found in water, rather than on dry land."
"I'll drink to that," Delaney said, raising his glass of club soda.
Chasen frowned, keeping her glass on the bar. "Are ten minutes up yet? Can you have a beer and relax a bit?"
"No, but I'll have a shot of Jameson's."
"Wow. Hard core. I like that."
"Well, I have to catch up to your two Vodka martinis."
Overhearing the last bit of their conversation, the elderly bartender poured out the whiskey and set it down on the countertop in front of Delaney. The two men acknowledged one another, and then Delaney glanced up at the TV above the bar, where the six o'clock news was playing something that caught his eye. A female reporter was standing by the banks of the Charles, underdressed in a fancy trench coat.
"No leads have yet been disclosed about the mysterious drowning of an ex-Harvard student, Finley Sparks, who was found washed up near the Boston University Bridge only three days ago," she announced. Photos of Finley Sparks flashed across the screen, no doubt gathered from the Internet, and then the reporter played a pre-recorded interview with his "illustrious" father, Sheldon Sparks, who was described as a "stalwart in the business community."
"I hope they get on this right away and bring the responsible parties to justice," Sparks said, in a gravelly voice, staring directly into the camera.
"Damn," Delaney said. "He should know better than to talk to the press like that. Now they'll be crawling all over me."
"He looks like a loose cannon," Chasen said.
"Totally. He's getting on my nerves."
"Have another shot of whiskey?"
"I'm good," Delaney said. "I wouldn't mind getting some fresh air, if you don't mind."
"Sure thing. Maybe you can walk me back to my place, just up the Hill."
"You mean Beacon Hill?" he said, grinning. "How does a city coroner manage to rub shoulders with the Brahmins, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Maybe because I was married to one of them," she said, bluntly.
"Wow, you are full of surprises," he said.
"But not full of money," she quipped. "So you can pay the bill to make up for your impertinence."
Delaney laughed and started to pull some cash out of his wallet. The elderly bartender waved his money aside.
"Interesting. Is that one of your acquaintances, too?" Sue Chasen asked.
"Sure," he said. "That's my old high school math teacher, Mr. O'Reilly."
"Very funny. You're joking, right?"
"What do you think?" Delaney said, smiling.
"I think you're a bit more complex than I thought."
It had been awhile since Delaney had navigated his way through the warren of narrow streets that constituted Beacon Hill, a hummock of land on top of which sat the golden domed State House. The social demographic there was a bit out of his league, and he didn't care to gawk at the elegant Federal Style brick row houses, many of which looked like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. Out of their doors emerged the Boston elite; bankers, politicians, and lawyers, men and women who dressed in full length, camel hair coats and suits tailored at Brooks Brothers. Men like Sheldon Sparks.
"I still can't believe that idiot went to the news media," Delaney lamented.
"Maybe they came to him," Chasen said. "And you know a guy like that can't keep his mouth shut."
"You're probably right."
"Forget about it," Chasen said, taking him by the arm. "Look, the Christmas decorations are already up. Pretty magical, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I suppose," he admitted.
"What a romantic," she teased, as they slowed down to a full stop in front of her apartment building.
"Well?" she said, looking at her watch.
"Well, what?" Delaney replied.
"Is it time to make out now?" Sue Chasen asked, smiling brightly.
"Excuse me?" Delaney said, choking down a laugh.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I have to wake up early tomorrow, so if you're going to put the moves on me, let's fast forward this a bit."
"What a romantic," he said.
"Well, what can I say?" Chasen smiled. "I'm a coroner. The way I see it, life is short."
"Amen to that," he said, following her inside.