His eyes widened for a sec. “That’s what that thing cost? The Aston Martin?”

I nodded.

“Two hundred thousand.” He whistled. “For a British car.”

We sat in silence for a bit. I left my drink where it was and eventually said, “So, no permanent job offer, I take it.”

“No.” He shook his head slowly. “You’re not comprehending the culture here yet, Patrick. You’re a great investigator. But this chip you’ve got on your shoulder—”

“What chip?”

“What . . . ?” He chuckled and gave that a small toast of his glass. “You think you’re wearing that nice suit, but all I see you wearing is class rage. It’s draped over you. And our clients see it, too. Why do you think you’ve never met Big D?”

Big D was the companywide nickname for Morgan Duhamel, the seventy-year-old CEO. He was the last of the Duhamels—he had four daughters, all married to men whose names they’d taken—but he’d outlasted the Standifords. The last one of them hadn’t been seen since the mid-fifties. Morgan Duhamel’s office remained, along with those of several of the older partners, in the original headquarters of Duhamel-Standiford, a discreet chocolate bowfront tucked away on Acorn Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. The old-money clients were directed there to discuss cases; their offspring and the nouveaux riches came to International Place.

“I always assumed Big D didn’t take much interest in the subcontractors.”

Dent shook his head. “He’s got encyclopedic knowledge of this place. All its employees, all their spouses and relatives. And all the subcontractors. It was Duhamel who told me about your association with a weapons dealer.” He raised his eyebrows at me. “The old man doesn’t miss shit.”

“So he knows about me.”

“Mmm-hmm. And he likes what he sees. He’d love to hire you full-time. So would I. Put you on a partner track. But if, and only if, you lose the attitude. You think clients like sitting in a room with a guy they feel is judging them?”

“I don’t—”

“Remember last year? The CEO of Branch Federated came up here from headquarters in Houston, specifically to thank you. He’s never flown in to thank a partner and he flew in to thank a sub. You remember that?”

Not an easy one to forget. The bonus on that case paid for my family’s health insurance last year. Branch Federated owned a few hundred companies, and one of the most profitable was Downeast Lumber Incorporated. DLI operated out of Bangor and Sebago Lake, Maine, and was the country’s largest producer of TSCs, or temporary support columns, which construction crews used to stand in for support beams that were being restructured or built off-site. I’d been inserted into the Sebago Lake offices of Downeast Lumber. My job had been to get close to a woman with the wonderfully alliterative name of Peri Pyper. Branch Federated suspected her of selling trade secrets to competitors. Or so we’d been told. After I had worked with Peri Pyper for a month, it became apparent to me that she was gathering evidence to prove that Branch Federated was tampering with its mills’ pollution-monitoring equipment. By the time I got close to her, Peri Pyper had gathered clear evidence that Downeast Lumber and Branch Federated had knowingly violated both the Clean Air Act and the False Statement Act. She could prove Branch Federated had ordered its managers to miscalibrate pollution monitors in eight states, had lied to the department of health in four states, and had fabricated the results of its own quality-assurance testing in every single plant, bar none.

Peri Pyper knew she was being watched, so she couldn’t remove anything from the building or transfer it to her home computer. But Patrick Kendall, her drinking buddy and a lowly marketing accounts manager—he could. After two months, she finally asked for my help at a Chili’s in South Portland. I agreed. We toasted our pact with margaritas and ordered another Triple Dipper platter. The next night, I helped her right into the waiting arms of Branch Federated security.

She was sued for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary responsibility, and breach of her confidentiality agreement. She was prosecuted for grand theft and convicted. She lost her house. She also lost her husband, who bailed while she was under house arrest. Her daughter was bounced from private school. Her son was forced to drop out of college. Last I heard, Peri Pyper worked days answering phones at a used-car dealership in Lewiston, worked nights cleaning floors at a BJ’s Wholesale in nearby Auburn.

She’d thought I was her drinking buddy, her harmless flirtation, her political soul mate. As they’d placed the cuffs on her, she’d looked into my face and seen my duplicity. Her eyes widened. Her lips formed a perfect O.

“Wow, Patrick,” she said, just before they led her away, “you seemed so real.”

I’m pretty sure it’s the worst compliment I’ve ever received.

So when her boss, a doughy dickhead with a 7 handicap and an American flag painted on the tail fin of his Gulfstream, came to Boston to thank me personally, I shook his hand firmly enough to make his man boobs shake. I answered his questions and even had a drink with him. I had done all that was asked of me. Branch Federated and Downeast Lumber could continue shipping its TSCs to construction sites all over North America, Mexico, and Canada. And the groundwater and top soil in the communities in which its mills operated could continue to poison the dinner tables of everyone within a twenty-mile radius. When the meeting was over, I went back home and chased a Zantac 150 with liquid Maalox.

“I was perfectly polite to that guy,” I said.

“Polite the way I’m polite to my wife’s sister with the fucking herpes sore under her right nostril.”

“You swear a lot for a blue blood,” I said.

“You’re fucking right I do.” He held up a finger. “But only behind closed doors, Patrick. That’s the difference. I modulate my personality for the room I’m in. You do not.” He paced a circle around his desk. “Sure, we snuffed out a whistle-blower in DLC, and Branch Federated compensated us regally. But what about next time? Who’s going to get their business next time? Because it isn’t going to be us.”

I didn’t say anything. The view was nice. A sky caught between gray and blue. A thin film of cold mist turning the air pearl. Far off beyond the center of the city, I could see trees that were black and bare.

Jeremy Dent came around the desk and leaned against it, his ankles crossed.

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