Read an Excerpt
Sheridan Street in Jamaica Plain goes uphill from Center Street for about two hundred yards, crests, and heads down toward Chestnut Avenue. It’s a narrow street, lined with two- and three-family clapboard houses. Many of the houses had been broken up into apartments and a lot of the apartments were occupied by students and recent graduates. The rest by people who worked without a tie.
On a bright, cold day in early March the last shame of winter lingered in the hard compounded mounds of snow and sand, blackened by exhaust and soot.
Frank Belson jammed his car up onto the ice-cluttered sidewalk and parked, the way cops like to, at an angle, with the rear end of the car sticking halfway out into the street. There were two squad cars already parked the same way.
The house in front of us had a small front porch and two front doors. It had been painted a weak green some time ago. The coroner’s wagon was in the narrow driveway and yellow scene-of-the-crime tape was strung across the sidewalk on either side of the house. Some neighbors, mostly women with small children, stood around across the street. It was a neighborhood where men worked and women stayed home.
Belson had his badge clipped to his overcoat lapel. The uniformed cop at the door looked at it and nodded and looked at my lapel.
Belson said, “He’s okay.”
And the cop said, “Sure, Sarge,” and we walked past him into the house. There was a front hall with stairs leading to a second-floor apartment, and a door to the left, open into the living room of the first-floor apartment. Inside there were several city employees taking pictures and looking around the room. In the middle of the room, with his coat still on and his arms folded across his chest, was Martin Quirk. He was staring down at a corpse.
Belson said, “Here’s Spenser, Lieutenant.”
Quirk nodded without looking at me. He continued to stare down at the corpse. I looked too.
We were staring at a black woman, maybe forty to forty-five. She was naked, her hands and feet had been bound with what looked like clothesline, her mouth had been taped shut, and her opaque brown eyes were blank and still. There was blood between her thighs and the hooked rug beneath her was dark with blood. Between her breasts there was a single red rose.
“Another one,” I said.
Quirk nodded, still without speaking, staring down at the dead woman. There was no sign of emotion. Belson went and leaned against the doorjamb and peeled the wrapper from a small cheap cigar and put the wrapper in his pocket. He slid the cigar in and out of his mouth, once to moisten it, and then lit it with a kitchen match that he struck with his thumbnail. When he had the cigar glowing he blew out the match and put that in his pocket too. The rest of the cops did what they’d come there to do. No one asked what I was doing there. No one asked Quirk what he was looking at. The room was thick with silence.
Quirk jerked his head at me, said “Frank,” and walked out of the room. I followed, and Belson swung off the doorjamb and in behind me as we went out of the house and down the steps to Belson’s car. Quirk and I got in the back seat.
“Go down the Jamaicaway, Frank,” Quirk said. “Drive around the pond.”
Belson eased down the narrow street, took a couple of lefts, and drove onto the Jamaicaway. Quirk leaned back in the seat beside me, clasped his thick hands behind his head, and looked out the window. He had on a poplin raincoat, unbuttoned, a brown Harris tweed jacket, a blue oxford shirt with a button-down collar, a yellow knit tie. I couldn’t see his jacket pocket but I knew that the display handkerchief would match the tie.
“The papers are already calling him the Red Rose killer,” Quirk said.
“Or her,” I said.
“Him,” Quirk said. “There’ve been semen traces at each murder scene.”
“At the scene?” I said.
“Yeah. Never in the woman. This time on the rug, once on her thigh, once on a couch.”
“He masturbated,” I said.
“Probably,” Quirk said.
“Before or after?”
“Don’t know,” Quirk said.
Belson drove inbound on the Jamaicaway, with Jamaica Pond on our left. Opposite the pond, on our right, the big, stately houses were touched by the pale spring sun. The houses were less stately than they used to be, and many of them had been taken over by various institutions: private schools, religious orders, elderly housing; some had been condoed.
“It might be a cop,” Quirk said.
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
Quirk turned his head from the window and looked at me. And nodded.
“He wrote me a letter,” Quirk said. He took an envelope out of his inside coat pocket and held it toward me. It was a plain white envelope, the kind they sell in every drugstore. In typescript, it was addressed to Martin Quirk at Quirk’s home. There was no return address. I opened it. The paper inside was as nondescript as the envelope. In the same typescript the letter said:
I killed that hooker and the waitress. You better catch me. I may do it again and I’m a cop.
I looked at the envelope again. It was postmarked in Boston three days ago.
“He knows your home address,” I said.
“It’s in the book,” Quirk said.
“Still, he went to the trouble,” I said. “He wants you to know he knows your home address.”
“When did you get the letter?” I said.
“After the second killing.”
Belson ran a red light at Brookline Avenue and crossed onto the Riverway.
“Could be any cop,” I said.
“Could be one of the forensic guys back there now.”
“Could be a civilian that wants to confuse the issue.”
“Makes it so you can’t trust anyone,” I said.
“Hardly anyone,” Quirk said.
“Except maybe Belson,” I said.
Quirk nodded. I smiled at him. Just a big friendly puppy. Quirk looked at me without saying anything. Belson’s cigar smelled like someone was cooking a rat.
I said, “Lieutenant, I owe you some things.”
Quirk still looked at me without speaking.
“So I figure I’ll help you out on this one.”
Quirk nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “If you want to.”
Belson came to Brookline Avenue again and turned right.
“You get full access,” Quirk said. “Anything you find out you tell only me or Belson.”
“What do you know so far?” I said.
“Three women, all black, all killed the same way, just like you saw. No evidence of sexual assault. Semen traces in the area each time. Same kind of cord used to tie them, same kind of gray duct tape used to gag them. We don’t have the bullet yet on this one, but the first two were both shot with a thirty-eight.”
“They have anything in common besides black and female?”
“Maybe,” Quirk said. “One was a hooker, one was a cocktail waitress at a joint in the Zone.”
“How about this one?”
“Don’t know yet. Mailman saw her through the front window and called in. Her name was Dolores Taylor.”
“Still is,” I said.
“I guess so,” Quirk said.
“How official am I?” I said.
“You’re doing me a favor,” Quirk said. “Anyone doesn’t cooperate, let me know.”
“How about the press?” I said.
“Can’t keep it secret,” Quirk said. “They’ll spot you. They’re on this like a dog at a trash can.”
“The slime sheets showed up yet? You’re not big time unless you get coverage from the national litterbox.”
Quirk smiled with no hint of humor. “They’re here. Try to stay upwind of them.”
“Anyone on this but you and me and Belson?”
“Official investigation proceeds, maybe we’ll break it that way. But I got no way to know if the killer’s involved on our side. I want somebody outside the department, that I know didn’t do it.”
“That’s the kindest thing you’ve ever said to me,” I said.
Belson stopped for a light near Children’s Hospital. The light changed, and we went past Children’s Hospital and turned onto the Jamaicaway.
Quirk said, “Besides what I’ve told you we don’t have anything. No other physical evidence. We’ll have a lab analysis on the semen, but it won’t tell us much. You can’t work backwards from it. We got no fingerprints on the first two, and we won’t have any when they get through with this one either. Each woman was killed in her home. The first one, the hooker, in the Faneuil Projects over in Brighton, the second one on Ruggles Street near the hospitals.”
“Picked them up, went home with them, and did it,” I said.
“Or followed them home,” Quirk said, “and pulled a gun and forced them inside, and did it.”
“You figure he didn’t break in at random because the odds are too long that he’d randomly get three black women,” I said.
“Ruggles Street you expect to, but the odds aren’t so good in Brighton, and they’re less good here,” Quirk said.
“And he’s probably white,” I said.
Quirk said, “Yeah, we figured that. He wants black women but he doesn’t go to black neighborhoods to find them. Even Ruggles Street at that end is on the white/black fringe. Figure he’s either scared to go into the black neighborhoods at night, or that he figures he’s too noticeable.”
Belson turned onto Perkins Street.