DELANEY WAS IN A HALF-AWAKE STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS, about an hour or so before dawn. He dreamed he was walking through a grove of old cedar trees. As he walked his feet sank into the mossy earth. Everything was silent. Suddenly he realized that he had entered an ancient cemetery. Something, or someone, was watching him. He paused briefly to have a look around. He heard the noise first, and then he spotted it. Perched in the branches of a cedar tree was a pair of shining, amber eyes. An owl. It started hooting, as if sounding the alarm.
He woke to the sound of his cell phone, buzzing on vibrate. A text appeared when the call went unanswered.
"Damn," he said softly, reading it.
Sue Chasen lay beside him, breathing softly with her mouth slightly open. It looked like she was still asleep. Delaney got up, slid on his trousers and shirt, and started to quietly make his way out the door.
"Regrets?" Chasen said lazily, without moving.
"Nope. I just have a situation at work," he said.
"Okay. Talk later?"
"Oh, I'm sure we will," Delaney said, with a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
"Wait. What do you mean by that?" Chasen asked, sitting up quickly. "Let me see your phone."
Delaney shook his head, then slowly walked over and showed her the text.
"Another dead body in the Charles River. Meet at CRI in Watertown ASAP."
"Jesus. Another one? Let me get my stuff and I'll follow you over there."
"I'm not sure that's a great idea," Delaney said.
"Why? You don't think I can get ready that fast?"
She jumped out of bed and ran off toward the bathroom.
Delaney laughed. Most women he knew would have at least wrapped a sheet around themselves. Not Chasen. He noticed a butterfly tattoo between her shoulder blades before she ducked out of sight.
"Actually, I was thinking that it might look suspicious if you arrived so quickly on the scene, right after me."
He heard water running, and then the sound of someone working a toothbrush over their teeth with great ferocity.
Chasen said something unintelligible, then poked her head out the bathroom door. She gave him a puzzled look, with toothpaste frothing around the corners of her open mouth.
"Why? I mean, it's not like we're dating or anything."
"Okay, fine. I'll see you over there," Delaney said, laughing again at her blunt appraisal of their relationship.
Excellent, he thought to himself, closing the door behind him. So now I'm dating the chief coroner.
He found his car where he'd left it on Charles Street, then grabbed a coffee at the 24 hr convenience store across from the Red Line T station and MGH. It was barely potable.
"Hey buddy, this tastes like it was made yesterday," he said to the elderly clerk behind the counter, who was looking over the sports section of the Boston Herald.
"It probably was," the old guy said, unapologetic.
Delaney dug $2 out of his pocket and tossed the bills down on the counter. Then he jumped back in his car and did a quick u-turn. He took Charles to Beacon Street and took a sharp right onto Berkeley, finally merging onto Storrow Drive West.
Suddenly the owl dream popped back into his head. He knew enough about himself to realize that his subconscious was trying to direct him toward something he'd missed, but what? Cemeteries, cedar trees, and owls had nothing to do with anything obvious. He mulled it over for a minute, sipping on the rotgut coffee. Stymied, he starting thinking about Chasen again, and found himself smiling.
That was probably a mistake, he said to himself. Then he laughed out loud, nearly spilling his coffee, when he realized where this voice was coming from - his mother, who would have never approved of this sort of woman. Sue Chasen was headstrong, liberal, and unabashedly opinionated. Naturally, his mother had been exactly the same way.
Soon all of his attention was focused on the simple but demanding task of weaving his way around Boston drivers. Rush hour had already started at 7 am, and people were scrambling into the city from the suburbs, treating the four-lane road like a racetrack for SUVs. Thankfully, he had a reverse commute. The Charles River Basin appeared on his right, and the backside of Boston University lay opposite - a row of red brick buildings with metal fire escapes. The sky was slate gray, and the heavy cloud cover offered little promise of sunshine.
A red motorcycle blew past him, doing about 80. Normally, he would have given chase, but he couldn't be bothered right now. It was probably some kid heading off to work on a construction site somewhere, or to rehab a wealthy person's McMansion out in the suburbs - someone like Sheldon Sparks. Delaney still needed to pay him a visit in Newton, in order to search his son's room and locate his laptop.
In order to do that, though, he might have to go back to the D.A.'s office to get permission. He thought about how that might work for a few seconds, then got lost in the flow of traffic again. Boston was becoming too big, he thought, with too much development happening too quickly. The roads just couldn't handle the volume of new housing being created on the periphery, and everything downtown was becoming selectively gentrified. It was a double squeeze play for the working class.
He pulled into the Community Rowing parking lot, just below the public skating rink in Brighton. It was still only 8 am, but the place was already bustling with activity. Rowers of all ages were coming in and out of the modern-looking structure, unconcerned about the cold weather. Who were these crazy people, he wondered, still out rowing in November? To the left of the elegant boathouse, he spotted a Brighton Police cruiser with its flashing lights on, blocking entry to the public boat ramp.
As he got closer, he could see the patrol officer talking with a familiar woman in a jumpsuit. Another woman was idling in an aluminum launch, several feet offshore. She seemed to be assisting in some way, pushing at something with a long oar. Then he saw it, rolling over like a submerged log. With some difficulty, the Watertown cops pulled the body from the river and placed it on a gurney - a scruffy looking man wrapped in a long, tattered overcoat.
Despite the cold water, the decomposing body smelled strongly, and everyone quickly took a few steps back.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," Sue Chasen said, covering the smug expression on her face with a white medical mask.
"Okay, so how did you get here before me?" Delaney said.
"Motorcycle," she said, pointing toward the parking lot. He looked over and saw the shiny red Ducati.
"So you're the one who just blew by me doing 80," he said. "I should give you a speeding ticket."
"Don't you have to catch me first?," she teased.
"I believe I already did," Delaney shot back.
"Not even close. By the way, I just met your partner."
Suddenly, Delaney heard an all too familiar voice behind him.
"Hi, boss. Did you get my text?" Marsh said.
"Obviously," Delaney replied.
"So Seamus, is this your lady friend?"
"No, Marsh this is Sue Chasen, the chief coroner. She's here to look at the body."
Delaney caught himself speaking slowly and clearly, as if he was talking to a 10-year-old.
"Oh, okay." Marsh said, looking down at the corpse. "I thought maybe she was your lady friend."
"Please remove that idea from your brain, Marsh. And by the way, no one says 'lady friend' anymore," Delaney said, getting a little annoyed. The last thing he needed was for his partner to start circulating a rumor around the barracks about his budding romance.
"Well, I suppose we are friends," Chasen teased. "And I am a lady."
Marsh grinned with approval.
"All right, can we get to work here?" Delaney said. "What's going on with the stiff?" he said, nodding toward the body.
"Well, he's clearly been in the soup for a while, based on how badly decomposed the body is," Chasen said, kneeling down. "I see no obvious marks to indicate foul play, but I'll have to get a better look back at the lab."
"Looks like a homeless person," Delaney said. "Who found him?"
"The lady in the boat, over there," Marsh said, pointing. The young coach waved from the launch. She looked scared and shaken up.
"Okay, take her statement and let's wrap it up before the news trucks arrive."
The media was going to have a heyday with this second fatality, and Delaney was already calculating how he could spin it. He'd already decided in his mind that this death, which must have occurred weeks ago, probably didn't connect with the other one. He didn't know why, but his gut told him so. He started to walk back to his car, then spun back around:
"Let me know if you find any tattoos on the body," he barked.
"Aye, aye, Captain," Chasen said. Marsh smiled again. Then, suddenly, it started to rain.
"Have a nice ride back on your bike," Delaney added, holding out his hand to indicate the precipitation.
"Will do. I'll make sure I stay under the speed limit," Chasen said.
Delaney shook his head. Knowing Chasen, her jumpsuit was probably fully waterproof.
He jumped into his car and dialed the main number of the barracks. Then he asked the dispatcher for IT.
"Favio here," the voice said.
"Hey Anthony," he said. "It's Delaney. Any luck with that cell phone data recovery?"
"Nothing yet. It's pretty badly damaged, I'm afraid."
"Okay, keep me posted. Meanwhile, dig up anything you can on owls."
"Owls?" Favio said. "Like what?"
"Not sure. Focus on the owl tattoo that Finley Sparks had on his arm. I want to know where it came from, or if there's anything particular about that design."
"Okay, but that's pretty random, Seamus."
"Life is random, Anthony. Murder generally isn't."
"Are we feeling a little philosophical today, or just in a bad mood?" Favio said.
"Maybe just a little desperate for a lead," Delaney admitted, ending the call to take another.
"Hey, why did you run off so fast?" the woman's voice said. He spotted Sue Chasen, standing under a tree along the Charles, looking back at him.
"Sorry. I'm working on a lead," he said. "And Marsh drives me nuts."
"Something to do with tattoos?"
"Just a hunch. I had a dream about owls and cemeteries last night."
Chasen laughed. "It's good to know that I inspire such beatific visions."
"I think the owl tattoo might be significant," he said. "I just don't know why."
"Okay..." Chasen said, waiting for more.
"Sorry. I don't want to talk about it too much right now, while my brain is trying to process different bits of information."
"Okay," she repeated, with a less inviting tone.
"I have a small brain, you see, so it's easily overtaxed," he added.
"Thanks for sharing," Chasen laughed. "I guess that makes everything better."
"Which part? My small brain, or my need for quiet?"
"Both. I mean, the last thing I need is some smart ass guy hanging around who talks too much."
Delaney laughed. "Okay. You have a nice day, chief coroner."
"You too, inspector."
Delaney started his engine and drove off into the rain, flicking on his wipers as he exited from the public parking lot. The wipers badly needed replacing, and the rain streaked across his windshield in a sloppy mess, making visibility poor.
He carefully re-entered the flow of morning traffic, and then thought about the second body, dragged out of the Charles like a dead fish. It might be just a homeless guy, having nothing to do with the case. Then again, he couldn't just dismiss him. This was a man, after all, who'd had a life too, and somehow ended up in the same body of water as Finley Sparks.
One thing was certain. Water was everywhere, getting into everything.
Delaney found a spot on the windshield where he could see forward clearly, by leaning slightly over to his right. That bothered his back a little, though, an old football injury. It was going to be that sort of a day.