Today's Reading

A week later, Mort came to my office to discuss business. I assured him the office was a safe place to talk. He wanted me to get rid of his partner. Not that I asked, but he gave a reason that almost held up: his partner was embezzling profits from the company, had been doing so for decades.

You'd be surprised how often I get asked to kill people, to do "hits." I have to explain that it's not in my list of client services. But something about Herb Martz didn't smell right.

So I agreed to take on the job.

Right away I got in touch with my friend Major Liz Rodriguez from the state police's Special Investigations Unit, and she liked my idea of setting up a sting.

My instincts proved correct. It turned out that both Mort and Herb had been illegally diverting cash from Neptune Seafood for years, cheating the government out of tens of millions of dollars in taxes. And both of them were under investigation by the IRS.

Herb was afraid Mort would weaken and rat them out to the IRS, turn state's evidence, expose their long-running scam. Mort was a man who was constantly honored for his philanthropy, and he simply couldn't cope with the disgrace of going to prison. He would try to make a deal.

The two men deserved each other.

Right about now the two of them were probably in separate interview rooms at state police headquarters in Framingham. I was guessing that each of them was trying hard to make a deal.

Neither one of them would escape prison now.

The only downside in this? I wasn't going to get paid.

* * *

I didn't get to the office until early afternoon. I waved hello to the scowling Mr. Derderian, who was in the doorway of his high-end oriental carpet shop next door. The sign on my second-floor office door reads HELLER ASSOCIATES—ACTUARIAL CONSULTING SERVICES, which cuts down on foot traffic. I keep a very low profile. In my line of work, the less my face and name are known, the better.

My receptionist and office manager, Jillian Alperin, was eating a late lunch at her desk. Jillian, covered with tattoos and piercings, had turned out to be quite bright. She was still a little intimidated by me, though, which was fine.

"A couple of messages for you already, Nick," she said after taking a large swallow of her—what was it again?—tempeh.

"Thanks. Dorothy?"

"In the break room, I think."

Dorothy Duval, my forensic data tech and researcher, was making a fresh pot of coffee, even though that was really Jillian's job. She just liked doing things for herself because she liked them done right.

Dorothy had a style all her own. Her head was close-shaven, and she normally wore very large earrings. But today she was dressed more conservatively than usual, in a black pencil skirt and blue blazer over a white blouse, and normal-size earrings.

She noticed me checking her out and said, "I had a meeting." Her coffee mug was at the ready. It read Jesus Saves, I spend. She was a devoted churchgoer with a sense of humor about the Lord.

"Business meeting?"

"Personal." Then she took a breath. "Well, I'm not going to hide it from you, because I need your help. I was just interviewed this morning by the chairman of the co-op board of a building I want to buy into."

"Co-op board? Isn't that a very New York thing?"

"We've got a few in Boston," she said impatiently. "This one's called the Kenway Tower on Comm. Ave. In Kenmore Square."

"What kind of questions did he ask?"

"That's the thing, Nick. On the phone he was as friendly as can be. Really talkative, about how great the building is, and the neighborhood. He wanted to ask me about the NSA, and I think he really dug all the secrecy, the stuff I couldn't talk about."

Dorothy used to work at the National Security Agency but apparently hadn't been a good personality fit. So she got a job at a private intelligence firm in DC, Stoddard Associates, where I also used to work before I went off on my own. Later I asked her to join me at Heller Associates. My first and most important hire.

She went on. "So I was expecting the third degree when I came in this morning, and instead they could barely get me out of there fast enough. I mean, the dude's face fell when he saw me."

"Uh-oh." The board of a co-op association has the power to determine who gets to buy into the building.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking too, uh-oh. They didn't know I was black until they met me. Then it was like, 'Later, dude.'"

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