Read The Lasko Tangent Online

Authors: Richard North Patterson

The Lasko Tangent (6 page)

Mary was wearing white slacks, a green blouse, and a real smile. “I’m taking a chance—seeing you. You’re nicer on the telephone.”

“I know. It’s terminal smart-ass. Someday I’ll probably die from it.”

She looked amused. “I wouldn’t doubt it. Anyhow, dinner’s a good enough apology. I was a little officious myself.”

“Then let’s call it even and start over.”

We got in the car and headed for the deck at the Washington again. The city had few outdoor bars, and the night was cooled by a pleasant breeze. We ordered the same two gin and tonics and looked out at the city.

Mary smiled. “Here we are again,” she said, picking up her drink. But she was leaning back easily in the wicker chair. Her body had declared amnesty. She looked across at me. “You’re rather quiet tonight. Is this what happens when you run out of smart things to say?”

I grinned. “I spend my life concealing that I’m duller than hell. You’re sharp to catch it so soon.”

She gave me a glancing smile. “The commission seems to be filled with people who don’t know anything more about you than what they see.”

Her voice had a dash of challenge. I seemed to spend a lot of time explaining to women why I didn’t talk about the things that they thought were important. I didn’t enjoy it. So I threw back the ball. “Have you been checking up on me?” I tried to register genteel shock at the notion.

“A little. Between college and law school you were a reporter for two years, supposedly a good one. Why did you quit?”

“It was just a holding action. Anyhow, I did crime stuff—started out with muggings and ended up with murders. Pretty soon everyone I met was a corpse. I began to feel like a pathologist, and I wasn’t doing anyone any good.”

“Is that why you’re such a cynic?”

“Look around you,” I shrugged. “So what else did you learn?”

“That a lot of people think you’re the best lawyer McGuire has. That you’ve put some people in jail, though not enough to suit you. And that you go your own way. Nobody seems to know a lot about you—personally, that is.”

I had been listening to her talk. Her voice had a buried Mediterranean intensity, as if she had once lived with people who talked with feeling and then had trained her voice into upper-class politeness. The thought was interesting. So was she.

“What was your husband like?” I asked.

“Frank?”

“Your husband’s name was Frank?”

She sipped again, nodding with her drink. She looked up to see my eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m sorry, Mary. I have this thing about names. I can’t see you married to someone named Frank.”

She gave a small smile. “It looks as if I couldn’t either.”

“What happened?”

She pulled the black hair from her face, then tossed it around her shoulders. “Don’t subjects like this just get us into trouble?”

I grinned. “We’ve been in trouble from the time you forgot my name.”

“You’re an arrogant bastard, aren’t you?” The flat voice was matter of fact, as if she were committed to finding out.

“A little. Sometimes a lot.” I tried to head her off. “But I’m not my own favorite subject.”

“Why not?”

How many reasons would you like, I thought. “Because self-analysis is a bore. Because most of what people tell you about themselves is bullshit, intentionally or otherwise. And because if someone really interests you, you’ll learn about them yourself.” I softened my voice. “So what was Frank like?”

Her forehead furrowed as if she were organizing a summary. “Frank was a good Catholic boy. We were classmates in law school. He was very smart and very serious. I thought we would do well together. But when we got married, he reverted to type. I was going to stay home and have children.” Her tone turned dry around the edges. “He told me that I could ‘use my education in the home.’ I guess he thought that I was going to sit around with beet stains on my blouse and pablum in my hair, lecturing infants on Constitutional law. I told him that idea had gone out with hula hoops. And that’s where it started.”

“I take it you never got around to mothering Frank, Jr.?”

She shook her head. “I never even got around to mothering Frank.”

“Where did it finish?”

“When we started to hassle, everything else seemed to go bad. I couldn’t talk to him about my career, so I stopped talking to him about a lot of things. I developed a very rich interior life,” her voice was ironic, “which didn’t include Frank. And every time he wanted me, I could hear imaginary children scampering under the bed.” She paused. “You know that you’re a sort of voyeur, only the listening kind. Is that why you like your job?”

“Who said I like my job?”

“You did. By hassling with me about it.”

We ordered a second round and looked out at the fading light. I turned back to Mary. “Let’s put it this way. I like some parts of my job.”

She shot me an amused look. “You and McGuire seem to have a nice relationship.”

“Yes, it’s very warm. He thinks of me as the son he never had.” I saw my chance. “Which reminds me. I was talking to Joe this afternoon about sending out a subpoena for Lasko Devices’ financial records. I thought it should be cleared by Chairman Woods first.” More like revived. I didn’t bother to mention that McGuire would sooner have me keelhauled than send the subpoena.

“Why don’t you talk with him about it tomorrow?”

It was a subject I’d hoped to avoid. “I can’t. I’ll be in Boston tomorrow.”

“On this case?”

I tried to throw my brain into overdrive. “Yes, I’m meeting a lawyer there tomorrow who says he has information about the case. A man named Gubner.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Her voice suddenly cooled.

“I just did. Gubner only called today. I don’t know what he knows, but I’ll tell you when I do.” Maybe.

“Where are you going to meet him?”

“Our Boston office seems like the logical place.” I decided to keep the conversation moving. “I’m really a little mystified by the whole thing.”

“Why do you want to subpoena Lasko’s books?”

“It’s a hunch, really. I think we should clear up all these areas at once and move on, if there’s nothing there.”

She nodded. “I’ll talk to Jack Woods in the morning.”

We finished the drinks and left for dinner. On the way to the car, I felt a light touch on my elbow—Mary’s fingertips. She turned to me as we got into the car.

“You’ve asked me about Frank. Were you ever married?”

“No.” It was true, as far as it went.

“Ever close?”

“I suppose everyone’s been close.”

“Do you conceal your height and weight, too?”

I smiled. “I should just send you my resume. Actually, the Army told me that I’m about six feet, one-seventy.” I pulled the car out onto Pennsylvania.

“You were in the Army?” She sounded surprised.

“Yeah. I was an infantry lieutenant. I had a low lottery number and had to hop into ROTC in law school to beat the draft. Fortunately, when I got out I was a trained killer with no one to kill. So they kept me at Fort Benning three months and let me go.”

“What was it like?”

“I’ve repressed most of it. My only clear memory is of one poor bastard dying of heatstroke in the chow line at noon, waiting for some stew that looked like strained dog-shit. I always wanted to see the letter they sent his parents.”

“Are you serious?”

“About the heatstroke? Absolutely.”

“I’ve never been able to cope with death.” Her voice had an odd, cold tenor, as if she coped by not thinking about it.

“I imagine everyone has trouble.” What I was having trouble with was integrating her personality. The self-control had eased into ironic candor. The cutting edge of perception was the only constant.

We stopped at a carry-out on Connecticut and grabbed an eight-pack of beer, which I said was to impress her. Then we drove to the restaurant. The Bangkok Room was stark and brightly lit, with a few booths and a couple of formica tables in the corners. The food ranged from good to great. And it was spicy and cheap. I explained that to Mary while I ceremoniously yanked the flip-tops off two beer cans, adding that the Bangkok Room didn’t have a liquor license. She took the can and tilted it to her lips.

“You’re laughing,” she said.

“If you must know, I’m laughing because very few girls could look so stylish drinking out of a beer can. You know, you never told me what you were doing before you worked for Woods.” Which was true; Robinson had told me. “Were you living in wedded bliss with Frank, ironing his shirts?”

She gave me a mildly hostile look. “You know, you find Frank a little funnier than I do. I was on the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee, mostly drafting legislation.” And collecting scalps, I remembered. “That was my first job. I came straight from there.”

“Did you go to school in town?” I didn’t really like this part. I told myself that I was a secret agent for the Civil Service Commission, checking the accuracy of their records.

“No. Chicago.”

“How did you get here?”

She hunched her shoulders. “I was interested in politics. Why did you come here?”

I considered what level of truth to give her and selected medium. “I thought I could do some good. Fight white collar crime and all that.”

“Were you ever interested in politics?”

“I was. I stopped.”

“When?” It was her eyes which told me that the question was important; they were back on the job, probing.

“About 1968. Do you still think it’s important?”

“Do I think what’s important?”

“Politics.”

“Yes, very.”

“Why?”

Her answer was impatient. “Because government matters, more and more. And who controls the government determines how people are going to live their lives. You need the right people directing it. And a lot of other people pushing to make sure they get there and stay there.”

Her eyes snapped; the careful voice was low and intense. I decided to skip finding out what the “right people” were going to determine about my life. The talk needed leavening. “I apologize for joking about Frank. He should have been named Lance or Errol, something like that. Anyhow, I should just feel lucky I don’t have an ex-wife.”

The topic of politics had flushed out the stern Aztec look. It lingered there, then abruptly vanished. She replaced it with a bright, distracted smile, which looked as if it had been thrown on. The voice was better, light and ironic. “You’re right. You’ve probably been spoiled by the women you’ve known.”

Dinner arrived. “Watch it, Mary. It’s hot.” I handed her another beer.

“Have you?” she insisted.

“I don’t know. ‘Spoiled’ is a relative term. Anyhow, it strikes me as a little archaic, like ‘helpmate’ or ‘the little woman’—words like that.”

She smiled. “Or like ‘using your education in the home’?” She plunged into dinner with unconcealed zest. Then she rushed the beer to her lips and took a hasty sip. “You’re right. Wow. But it’s good.” She closed her eyes and moved her head from side to side. “You know, you’re great at not answering any questions,” she said when she had recovered.

“I guess you’re right. It’s my profession taking over. Ask a lot of questions and don’t give away any information.”

She shook her head. “On you it goes deeper than that,” she started, then dropped it abruptly. “How did you find this place?”

So I told her how. About my crazy friend from college who used to get stoned and come here to plot the liberation of Thailand. And a few other stories, while we finished dinner and killed the eight-pack of beer. Which got her to laughing, a good strong laugh that lit her eyes. So she broke down and told me some funny things about Frank. We solemnly agreed that they were better off divorced, and laughed about it all the way to the car. We drove back to Georgetown in a quiet mellow mood. Mary slouched in the other seat, her long legs stretched out. We chatted easily all the way.

I parked the car and walked her to her door. She opened it, then turned around and looked at me. “I’d ask you in, but it’s very late.”

I hung there in adolescent confusion. “Some other time.” I tried to think of a graceful exit line.

“Call me from Boston about that subpoena to Lasko.”

I nodded, feeling as if I had lost the mood. Then with a quick movement she slid her hand behind my neck and pulled my face down to hers. Her mouth felt strong, almost angry; her fingers played with the hair which touched my collar. Then they slid away and she backed up against the door, wearing the amused half-smile. “Good night, Christopher Kenyon,” she said, and softly shut the door behind her.

I drove home and packed for Boston.

Eight

 

 

I was in Boston the day he was murdered.

I landed at Logan Airport about a quarter to twelve, which left me almost three hours. I got off the plane and jammed some change in the phone, hoping to beat the noon hour. Mary was in her office. Yes, she said, Woods had okayed my Lasko subpoena. Could she reach me later at our Boston office if necessary. I didn’t know, I hedged. OK, she would see me when I got back. Not much inflection; no mention of the night before. All very professional. I told myself I had what I wanted, and hung up.

I called our Boston office. They would pick up the subpoena and serve it on the company this afternoon. I went toward the baggage claim, got my bag, and hailed a taxi.

Boston was unseasonably cool, grey and gloomy. It had been grey when I’d left Boston, after losing something I had wanted to keep. Since then, I’d liked myself a little less. I felt the same way about Boston.

It was only 12:15. So I checked into the Ritz-Carlton, dropped off the subpoena at the desk, and went to the men’s grill at Locke-Ober for a solitary lunch. I ate it over some solitary thoughts. They lasted me until 2:15. Then I caught another taxi, manned by a bearded Harvard dropout who earned extra cash appearing on daytime quiz shows. No, I really couldn’t blame him, I agreed. He dropped me on Arlington Avenue across from the hotel and in front of the Common.

The rolling green of the Common was surrounded by the same black iron fence. I walked through the iron gates and into the Public Garden. The asphalt path snaked aimlessly under oak trees and through grass and flower beds. I looked ahead for Gubner. But there was no one between me and the swanboats which sat on the distant pond. The swans looked as still as a painting with no heart in it. The Garden seemed lifeless, a stillborn fantasy. I turned away.

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