Excerpt from The Kill Gene
Trees blurred green. The lake glittered, silver and iridescent in the sun.
Boston Police Lieutenant Jonas Brant rose in the saddle and pumped, furiously, passionately, as if his life depended on it.
In a sense it did. Or at least lives were at stake. Of that he could be certain.
Late summer. Afternoon. Leaves fluttering in a light breeze, semaphore flags flashing green and white. A sun-dappled road. Warm, luminous light. The air heavy with a thick smell of forest and mud.
He’d been pedaling for more than an hour and in that time his mood had dipped and twisted with the contours of the road. The idea had been simple. Maintain a discreet distance, keep pace, don’t be seen.
And for much of the time, the plan had worked. The man on the bike ahead had seemed to play along, oblivious to the exertions of his pursuer. If he had any notion he was being stalked, he guarded it well. Like cat and mouse, Jonas and his prey seemed to toy with each other, taking pleasure in the endless exchange of surge and counter-surge.
But with time, the game had become one-sided, the man ahead much more adept on the bike, much more at home on the asphalt, much stronger in all senses physical.
Brant tried to keep pace, but with diminishing returns. Sometimes he cursed himself, wishing he’d been stronger, hoping he could maintain the chase for just a few minutes longer. He was losing, tiring, fatiguing. The other man pulled ahead, the reflector on his rear seat post bobbing, taunting until it began to fade.
Brant’s borrowed bike was a Cannondale, a thing of beauty with an elegant black and white carbon fiber frame, a teardrop saddle, forward seat post and Shimano components. The wheels were from Campagnolo, the aerobar was a Scott. A ride made for speed.
Except not for Jonas. Brant was no cyclist.
He was a tall man with average build and close-cropped hair turning gray. His body was that of a runner’s — thick calves and thighs, gangly arms, a powerful torso. He looked like what he was. A middle-aged man, lean and powerful but with a hungry look. An acquired taste.
Still, he’d held pace for awhile at least. An admirable effort, even if ultimately futile. The failed pursuit seemed somewhat of a relief in a way. The last thing Brant needed was to be seen, to have his cover blown so early in the surveillance. And yet it hurt and he was angry.
Brant dismounted, planting his riding shoes firmly onto the gravel surface skirting the asphalt. Field birds warbled plaintively. The rustling of leaves was soothing, like water rushing over rock.
What to think of the day’s effort? He’d played it safe, too safe. He’d need to do better, had to do better. Another day. The afternoon’s shadows were growing longer. The light was fading, dying. Soon, he’d have to head back to the cabin and the lake.
These were the thoughts playing through his head as he stared at a patch of purple and yellow wildflowers. A break in the trees revealed whitecaps churned to froth. Beyond, the sun had slipped behind a broken line of cloud.
Brant inhaled, counted to three and exhaled. Gradually, with effort, his heart rate slowed, his pulse dropped to normal.
He felt it first. A buzz, a tingle at his back, then a chirp as he reached around to the mesh pocket in the borrowed cycling jersey.
``Where are you?’’ the man on the other end of the cell asked without pause.
``Not far away.’’
``But where? You just can’t walk away from an investigation.’’
``I didn’t walk away.’’
``Sure looks like it to me,’’ the other man said, his voice harsh, unfriendly.
His name was Gareth Oliver. He was foul-mouthed, arrogant, blatantly opportunistic and duplicitous. Brant questioned the man’s intelligence. A difficult relationship, especially since Oliver was Brant’s commanding officer in Boston.
While not unexpected, Oliver’s voice had been a violation, an intrusion.
``Are you still there Brant? I’m sending a team to get you. Tell me where you are.’’
``I can’t do that, sir.’’
``You can and you will. You’re running out of options.’’
``I’m not ready to come in yet,’’ Brant said, steadying his breathing. ``I’m following a lead.’’
``You’re off the case, Brant. I can’t make myself any more clear.’’
``Time ran out days ago. The Mayor’s office is breathing down my back.’’
``Two days,’’ Brant repeated, hoping to buy himself more time.
``None of us has two days, Brant,’’ Oliver said finally after a pause. ``I’m pulling Clatterback in. He’s going to crumble like a Chinese fortune cookie.’’
Oliver laughed at his joke and the racial overtones. Charming, Brant thought, adding xenophobia to the attributes he despised in the man.
``I didn’t walk out,’’ Brant said, repeating the assertion. ``I’m following a lead.’’
``What kind of lead is it if you can’t tell your captain?’’ Oliver asked.
What kind of lead? That was the question wasn’t it, Brant thought, removing a sheet of paper from the carrying pouch cradled between the bike’s aerobars.
The notes weren’t much. An email. Symbols on a piece of paper, indecipherable at first. He’d scratched his head when he’d found them, at a loss to their meaning.
An Internet search produced a best guess. Stock symbols. Companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Pharmaceuticals and drug makers. Procter & Gamble had had a bad run. The chart on Yahoo Finance was a downward slope, a blue line dropping like a rock.
Brant ran his finger down the column, scrutinizing the hieroglyphics for the hundredth time. He was no financial sophisticate, but that wasn’t the point, was it? A cop’s job was about asking questions and drawing links, seeing patterns where others saw randomness. The symbols were a pattern, he was sure of it. Which is what had brought him to the most unlikely of places. A stretch of road in a forest by a lake.
He remounted the bike.
``Are you still there?’’ Oliver asked. ``Why are you breathing so hard?’’
Brant looked at the screen as he broke the connection and pocketed the phone. He turned the bike around, swinging wide as he attacked the downward slope of an incline.
No use pursuing the other rider, he calculated, making a rough estimate of the distance between them. The other man bobbed one final time before disappearing over the crest of a hill. Another day, Brant said to himself as he prepared for the return trip to the cabin where he was staying.
Patterns out of randomness. Yes, that was it, he thought, barely registering the black vehicle as it pulled out from a hidden dirt road. The driver must have been equally surprised.
The car was a blur, heading for the centerline of the empty road. Or had the driver been aiming for him? The thought flashed through his mind as the bike’s front wheel jerked and shuddered, sending him sailing through the air.
Two weeks earlier. He’d been sitting in the squad room sucking on an iced coffee and chewing the remains of a scone.
August, which meant the doldrums. Like the trees out on the plaza wilting under the power of the sun, a lifeless pall had descended on the city. Streets were empty, parking lots vacant. Most tourists had headed for cooler climates — maybe north to Canada, or out to San Francisco where the temperature never seemed to rise above 75. Even the thugs and petty criminals had headed for the hills or to the beach.
At least that’s what it felt like to Brant. He’d have been at the beach himself with Benji in tow if he’d had the funds. A cop’s salary didn’t go far in Boston, especially since Maggie’s death had made him a single dad. The insurance money had been a relief but it would run out soon enough. He’d put some into Ben’s college fund, paid down the mortgage on the townhouse in Back Bay and invested the remainder in a term deposit. Three percent interest for two years. You couldn’t go wrong with that.
But screw the money. Nothing was bringing Maggie back. The car accident that killed her had torn a hole in his heart bigger than the Big Dig.
Brant placed forefinger against thumb and flicked at a wad of paper, sending the projectile across the room. The paper bullet bounced off the rim of the garbage can and fell to the floor.
Lucky for him he was a better shot with the .40 caliber Beretta in the holster nestled snuggly against his ribcage. Out of habit, he brushed the leather shell with the tips of his fingers and ran his hand along the casing of the Beretta’s barrel.
``You are one crappy shot.’’
The comment was from Dennis Tate.
``I got it where it counts.’’
Tate’s face broke into a broad smile. ``And where’s that Brant?’’
``Screw you,’’ he said, lightheartedly waving the other man away.
Tate was a homicide detective like Brant. They’d shared an office in B-2 on Washington Street in Roxbury. Tate had his rough edges, but he was fair and level-headed. Most important, he was honest, which was a lot more than Brant could say for some of the detectives in homicide.
``You see the press conference?’’ Tate asked.
He’d meant the news conference the Mayor had held earlier that morning to announce the latest round of impending job cuts. Homicide would likely be spared the worst. The Crime Laboratory Unit was said to be in the firing line. The cuts would be deep. To the marrow.
Maggie had had a friend in CLU. Cassie Chalmers. Brant wondered whether she’d get the axe. Better her than me, he thought, instantly admonishing himself for being so cold.
``Politics. Makes me sick,’’ Brant said.
``So run for office. I can see it now. His Honor Jonas Brant. Or is it the Right Honorable Jonas Brant? Suits you. Gets your nose out of those things.’’
Tate pointed at the leather-bound books on Brant’s desk.
``Someone’s gotta educate the rest of you Luddites.’’
Tate shot him a quizzical look.
``Someone opposed to change, especially if it involves technology.’’
``Gee, thanks professor. I’ll have to remember that.’’
Leaning against Brant’s desk, Tate picked up one of the books, studied the title and made a face. Why Nations Fail.
``You actually read this crap?’’
``Careful,’’ Brant said, playfully admonishing the other detective.
Brant retrieved the book. Luddites indeed, he thought.
A cop shop could be many things. At its best, it crackled with energy. It could be an exhilarating, important place to work. The kind of job and life that made a difference, could change lives. But it was no bastion of intellectual rigor.
Not a popular thought, at least not among Brant’s fellow officers in homicide or elsewhere. But an opinion he couldn’t keep to himself, regardless of how hard he tried. And it was yet another reason he’d been cast as the `other’ in a department where anything short of uniformity was itself a crime.
He knew it didn’t make him popular. But life was more than being liked, right? It was about doing what mattered, about doing what made the most sense. He had a moral compass and had always prided himself on doing the right thing. That was what mattered most after all, wasn’t it?
Danny Kim looked up from his computer. Kim was a sergeant on loan from the division serving Jamaica Plain.
``What are you complaining about, Tate?’’
``I was just telling the lieutenant here he should run for office,’’ Tate said in response.
``You a wonk, Brant?’’
``Forget it, Tate,’’ Kim said. ``I know big words give you a headache.’’
Kim winked in Brant’s direction as he returned to his computer.
``What are you working on, Danny boy?’’ Tate asked in response, his face suddenly flush from Kim’s rebuke.
``Assault complaint at the House of Blues last night.’’
``Better call forensics, Danny me son.’’
Now it was Tate’s turn to wink.
``A formal complaint was filed by the woman who called it in. Says the officer on the scene was more interested in flirting with a drunk sorority girl than taking her seriously. You wouldn’t know anything about that kind of behavior, would you Tate?’’
``Go fuck yourself, Danny boy.’’
Brant finished the last of his scone, rolled up the paper bag it had come in and sent it sailing for the garbage can. This time he hit. A rim shot tipped in his favor.
``You’re still a terrible shot.’’
``Again, and I say this with meaning Tate, screw you.’’
At that moment, an alert flashed on Brant’s computer monitor. The sender’s name blinked red. He’d set the color the previous year at the height of the Casson investigation.
Tate puffed his cheeks when he saw the notification in the screen’s corner.