"SO WHAT DOES A COXSWAIN REALLY DO, ANYWAY?" Delaney asked. It was almost Christmas Eve, and he was back at Sue Chasen's condo in Back Bay.
"You mean other than steer a huge boat with a tiny rudder?" she laughed, flicking on a blender filled with holiday eggnog. Delaney started rifling through her kitchen cabinets for mugs.
"Hey, do you mind?" she said. "We're not roommates yet."
"What's the problem?" Delaney said. "Am I going to find a dead body in here or something?"
"You never know," Sue joked. "Maybe one of my exes. Or maybe I don't want you to find out that I'm not that tidy." She found two clean glasses and filled them up, sprinkling cinnamon on top. "Here, try this," she said.
Delaney took a sip, then winced. "Wow, what did you put in here?" he asked.
"Just a bit of Captain Morgan's. Is that a problem, Sergeant?"
Delaney just smiled and shook his head, letting the sweet sensation of rum spread out into his cheeks and over his tongue. He'd been trying to reduce his alcohol consumption lately, but his timing was off with the holidays in full swing. It didn't help matters that he'd just met a woman who could drink him under the table.
As the inside of his mouth slowly grew numb, he wandered over to the living room and sat down on her sofa. Finally, it was time to relax. Back in the kitchen, Sue Chasen fiddled with her iPhone, trying to find on some jazz on Spotify. She finally settled on "Kind of Blue."
Delaney's mind began to wander freely, inspired by the modals of Miles Davis and the alcohol, mixing together in a strange jumble.
"Okay," Sue said, plopping down on the sofa beside him. "I know you're thinking about the case, so just spill the beans. What's the latest?"
"Well, the two rower teammates, Stillman and Higgins, have just confessed to witnessing Finley Sparks fall off the Eliot Bridge, but they claim they weren't responsible for his death."
"What? How did that happen?"
"They claim that he was planning to jump off the bridge freely, as part of a dare. They even Livestreamed it on YouTube."
"Wow. What kind of idiots would do that?" Chasen asked.
"It's a Harvard graduation thing, I gather. Most of the time they use the Weeks Footbridge, which is closer to campus."
"The final plunge?"
Delaney nodded pensively, then took another sip of his eggnog. "Anyway, Stillman and Higgins claim they tried to rescue Finley when he didn't surface, but they couldn't find him."
"We thought so, too. We locked them up. I imagine they'll be released on bail soon enough."
"So what's bothering you?"
"I'm not sure," Delaney said. "There are some loose connections I can't figure out."
"Well, first of all, Finley went off the bridge backwards, which is weird. And second, you found Fentanyl in his blood, remember? So where did he get that?
"Stillman and Higgins?"
Delaney shook his head. "I doubt it. If it was taken in powder form, we would have found traces of it in the Harvard launch they used. And they are both serious athletes, anyway. I can't see them doing anything worse than drinking beer."
"It sounds like there's a missing piece somewhere."
Delaney nodded. "I don't like it. I also don't like the fact that Sheldon Sparks somehow found out about the arrest, probably from the chief, and now he's going around telling people that the case is closed."
"That guy is a real prize-winner."
"He's totally out of control," Delaney agreed. "According to the chief, he's also going around bragging that his young wife is pregnant."
"Seriously? How old is he?"
"At least twice her age."
"Well, it's been done many times before. Richard Gere fathered a child at age 70, and so did Tony Randall. Some women are attracted to wealth, and they don't mind the age difference."
"Yeah, but that's Hollywood. Have you ever known someone who got pregnant with a much older guy, just because he had money?" Delaney asked.
"Seriously? Almost any girlfriend of mine over 35 would love to have a sugar daddy," she laughed.
"Absolutely. Money matters, especially if you want to have a baby."
"So what are you doing with me?" Delaney joked.
"Oh, you're just my boy toy. You're not old enough or rich enough to be my sugar daddy. I'll have my fun with you and then toss you on the scrapheap just like all the others.
"That isn't a reassuring thought, given your line of work," Delaney said.
Sue Chasen smiled. It was a good smile, Delaney thought. It spread across her face with total abandon and brought all of her different features together. He still couldn't believe that he was dating the Chief Coroner, but they did mesh rather perfectly together, and her glib sense of humor matched his own.
"What really gets me is that, according to the chief, Sheldon Sparks doesn't seem so broken up about the death of his son anymore," Delaney told her.
"Billionaires are different that way," Chasen said. "People can be more like commodities to them. Lose one, gain another."
"I suppose," Delaney said. "But even your own kid? I mean, that's cold."
"Never underestimate the power of a young woman."
"Meaning, it's time to refill our drinks," she laughed.
As he listened to the sound of the blender, whipping up another round of eggnogs, Delaney began to replay the final night of Finley's life in his mind again, searching for something he'd overlooked.
"Hey, speaking of women, remember that tattoo you found on Finley's body during the autopsy?" he called out.
"You mean the little owl on his arm? What about it?"
"Well, as it turns out, it wasn't a fraternity insignia after all, but something that might be connected to a mysterious girlfriend."
"Ooh, tell me more." Sue handed him a fresh glass of spiked eggnog, then sat back onto the sofa and slung her legs onto Delaney's lap. "Was her name Athena?"
"Athena, like the Greek goddess of wisdom. Her symbol was the owl."
"Sure, I knew that," Delaney said.
"Of course, an owl can also represent imminent death."
Chasen just shook her head and smiled, sipping her eggnog.
"Okay how do you know all of this stuff?" Delaney asked. "You don't seem like one of those women who is into all of that astrology stuff."
"Maybe I'm multi-faceted, like a diamond," she teased.
"Hmm," Delaney said. "I think we may be getting a little off track here."
"On the contrary, detective," she said. "You need to get in the romantic mood of the victim, who was perhaps madly in love with this mysterious woman."
"Okay, so now we're role playing?"
"Sure. Let's pretend that you're secretly in love with me, but for some reason you can't tell anyone about our relationship or reveal my name. All you can do is get a tattoo to express your undying devotion to me."
"Okay," Delaney said, smiling at the obvious parallels to their own relationship.
"So who am I?" she asked.
"Hmm, I'm not sure. But just so we're clear, I'm not getting a tattoo."
Chasen rolled her eyes. "Concentrate, detective! What sort of woman am I?"
Delaney shrugged. "Well, you're obviously someone that Stillman and Higgins knew, but Finley couldn't tell them about."
"Yes, but why?"
"Well, either you're are embarrassingly ugly…"
Chasen frowned and kicked him in the leg. "Or?"
Delaney put down his drink, then stared at her with an excited look. "You're married."
"Bingo!" she exclaimed, kicking him lightly again, this time in the shoulder. Stunned by the revelation and the force of her kick, Delaney fell lazily backwards onto the sofa cushions. He lay there for a second, thinking.
"Oops, sorry," she laughed, giving him a hand up.
"No, that's brilliant!" he said, with a look of excitement on his face. "I think you might be onto something."
"Yes!" Delaney said, giving her a short and sudden kiss.
"Oh, I like this detective game!" she said. "Let's play more."
"Okay, listen to this. Marsh and I found a strand of hair on Finley's pillow, belonging to Maya Sparks. So what if—"
"—she was the mysterious girlfriend?"
"Exactly," Delaney said. "But if you were the wife of Sheldon Sparks, what would you be thinking, getting pregnant with him while you are sleeping with his son behind his back?"
"Well, either the son is a hotty, or he's got something else I want."
"You've seen Finley on a slab. I think we can rule out the first motive."
Chasen nodded, grabbing some more rum from the table and pouring it into their drinks.
"So that leaves money…" Delaney said.
"Money is part of the equation," she agreed. She stirred her eggnog with her finger, then held it to her lips, tasting to see if the drink was strong enough. "But there may be more to this than meets the eye," she added.
"Like what?" Delaney asked.
"What if Maya Sparks wanted to have a child of her own, but the old goat wasn't up for the job?"
"So she slept with Finley to get pregnant? That's crazy. Why would she then stick around with Sheldon?"
"Maybe there's some sort of prenup involved."
"I don't know," he said, mulling it over. "It does fit her profile, I suppose. According Ed Masterson, Maya was a free spirit when it came to relationships. Still, you'd think Sheldon Sparks would be on the lookout for that sort of thing, especially right under his roof."
"Then again, the last person he'd suspect would be his own son."
"True," Delaney said. "But it still doesn't make complete sense. After all, when the baby was born, the genes would reveal all, including her guilt. Right?"
"But why would anyone check? And even if they did, they might not give him away."
"How so?" Delaney said.
"A son inherits the Y chromosome from his father's DNA, so Finley's child might still appear to be Sheldon's."
"So Maya Sparks would be off the hook."
"Not only that, she and her baby would stand to inherit Sheldon's fortune when he dies."
"And with Finley dead now, she might get it all."
"Lucky lady," Chasen smiled.
"Unless it's more than just luck," Delaney replied.