Mr. Wilbraham did not seem terribly fond of me, but I took comfort in knowing he didn’t seem terribly fond of anyone. As soon as he buzzed me in that morning, he raised a small pink phone memo from his immaculate desktop.
“Mr. Dent requests your presence in his office as soon as you’ve arrived.”
“Duly noted.” Mr. Wilbraham opened his fingers. The pink sheet of paper dropped from his hand and floated into the wastebasket.
He buzzed me through the next set of doors and I went down a hallway with a dove-gray carpet. Halfway down, there was an office used by subcontractors like me when we had to log office hours on behalf of the company. It was empty this morning, which meant I had squatter’s rights. I entered and allowed myself the brief fantasy that it would be mine, permanently, by day’s end. I cleared the thought from my head and dropped my bags on the desk. The gym bag held my camera and most of my surveillance equipment from the Trescott job. The laptop bag held a laptop and a photo of my daughter. I unholstered my gun and placed it in my desk drawer. It would stay there until day’s end, because I like carrying a gun about as much as I like eating kale.
I left the glass box and walked the dove-gray hallway up to Jeremy Dent’s office. Dent was vice president of labor relations and the man who’d first subbed work out to me two years ago. Before that, I’d worked independently. I’d had a rent-free office stuffed in the belfry of St. Bartholomew’s Church. It was a thoroughly illegal arrangement between me and Father Drummond, the pastor. When the Archdiocese of Boston had to start paying the piper for decades of covering up child rape by sick priests, they sent an appraiser to St. Bart’s. Whereupon my rent-free office vanished as completely as the bell that had once resided in the belfry but hadn’t been seen since the Carter presidency.
Dent came from a long line of Virginia gentlemen soldiers and had graduated third in his class at West Point. Vietnam, War College, and a quick climb up the armed forces career ladder had ensued. He drew command duty in Lebanon in the mid-eighties, came back home, and pulled the plug. Walked away from the whole deal at thirty-six and the rank of lieutenant colonel, for reasons never fully understood. He crossed paths with old family friends in Boston, the kind whose ancestors had carved their names in the galley planks of the Mayflower, and they mentioned an opening in a firm that few in their circle ever mentioned until things got dire.
Twenty-five years later, Dent was a full partner. He had the white colonial in Dover and the summer place in Vineyard Haven. He had the beautiful wife as well as the firm-jawed son, two willowy daughters, and four grandkids who looked like they spent after-school time posing for Abercrombie ads. And yet he carried whatever had chased him out of the service like a nail in the back of his neck. Charming as he was, you never felt fully comfortable with the guy, because he never seemed fully comfortable with himself.
“Come on in, Patrick,” he said after his secretary deposited me at his door.
I entered and shook his hand. The Custom House peeked over his right shoulder while a Logan runway jutted out from under his left elbow.
“Have a seat, have a seat.”
I did, and Jeremy Dent sat back in his, looked out at the city for a minute from his corner office chair. “Layton and Susan Trescott called me last night. They said you took care of the Brandon thing. Got him to show his hand and all that.”
I nodded. “Wasn’t hard.”
He raised a glass of water to that, took a sip. “They said they were thinking of sending him to Europe.”
“That’d go over well with his probation officer.”
He raised his eyebrows to his own reflection. “That’s what I said. And his mother a judge, too. She seemed genuinely surprised. Parenting, Jesus—a million ways to fuck it up, about three ways to do it right. And that’s for the mothers. As a father, I always felt the best I could hope for was to rise to the level of the eunuch with the biggest sac.” He finished his water, and his feet came off the edge of his desk. “Want a juice or something? I can’t drink coffee anymore.”
He went to the bar beneath a flat-screen TV and pulled out a bottle of cranberry juice, went fishing for some ice. He brought the glasses over, clinked his off mine, and we both drank cranberry juice from heavy Waterford crystal. He returned his ass to his chair, his heels to the desk, and his gaze to the city.
“So you’re probably wondering about your status around here.”
I gave him a soft raise of the eyebrows. I hoped it conveyed I was interested but not pushy.
“You’ve done great work for us, and I did say we’d revisit the idea of bringing you on full-time after you wrapped up the Trescott case.”
“I do recall that, yeah.”
He smiled, took another drink. “How do you think that went?”
“With Brandon Trescott?”
“About as good as we could hope. I mean, we got the kid to tip his hand to us before he could tip it to some tabloid journalist posing as a stripper. I’m sure the Trescotts have already begun re-hiding the assets.”
He chuckled. “They started around five o’clock last night.”
“So, okay, then. I’d say the whole thing went pretty well.”
He nodded. “It did. You saved them a ton of dough and made us look good.”
I waited for the “but.”
“But,” he said, “Brandon Trescott also told his parents you threatened him in his kitchen and cursed him.”
“I called him a moron, if I remember right.”
He lifted a piece of paper off his desk, consulted it. “And a dumbass. And a dumb shit. And joked about his giving people brain damage.”
“He put that girl in a wheelchair,” I said. “For life.”
He shrugged. “We’re not paid to care about her or her family. We’re paid to keep them from taking our clients to the cleaners. The victim? Not our concern.”
“I never said she was.”
“You just said, I quote, ‘He put that girl in a wheelchair.’ ”
“For which I harbor him no ill will. Like you said, it’s a job. And I did it.”
“But you insulted him, Patrick.”
I tried each word out. “I. Insulted. Him.”
“Yeah. And his parents help keep the lights on around here.”
I placed my drink on his desk. “I confirmed for them what we all know—that their son is, functionally speaking, a sub-idiot. I left them all the information they need to go about protecting him from himself so he can keep the parents of a paraplegic from getting their greedy hands on his two-hundred-thousand-dollar car.”