Chapter 22, Luna Park
Saturday, June 14, 7 p.m.
Both held pints of Manny’s and drank in silence. On Luna Park’s rainbow-lit Wurlitzer Falconer had Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee” playing for the second time.
The song changed to “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Harms looked up from the tabletop where he’d been staring at rings of condensation from the glasses. “I never understood this song. What’s supposed to be going on? It’s like this goddamn case. I can give it a nice gloss but there’s something underneath I don’t get.”
“Like who the killer is?”
“Don’t be a prick, Eric. It pisses me off.”
“Sorry. Just trying to make up for my recently exposed limits as a writer with cut-to-the-chase questions.”
“Despite the crap, I will continue.”
“OK, I’ll hold my questions until the end.”
“Thinking out loud here, Falconer. Off the record.”
“Bobby, you know there is no off-the-record. How many years have we known each other? I write the story, unfortunately as I have just learned, without any colorful descriptive language, but I am not here to do gotchas on cops and you know that.”
“‘Past results are no guarantee of future performance,’ or something like that, as it says on all those investment fund brochures I get in the mail.”
“OK, you’re uptight. Some killer has really got the department’s attention by knocking off the brother-in-law of a deputy chief. I feel for you. This can’t be any fun but shooting the shit with a journalist isn’t part of the problem, so don’t take it out on me.”
“Sorry. I even admit that every now and then you have a helpful idea. How’s that for an apology?”
“Williams was with Sally Barclay all afternoon. Bander, Williams and I were over there for an hour just now. We’re all convinced the poor woman doesn’t know shit, had no idea what the twin boat thing was about, had nothing to go on but Barclay’s claims he knew nothing, that the second boat was some kind of scam but nothing he was involved in, which she believed. They’ve been married for 27 years. In her world he’s always been a wonderful and truthful and trustworthy guy. No one she knows or has ever heard of would want to kill him and she says she’s known all the clients over the years since she’s kept the company books and still does. She may be a little naïve, which is kinda surprising given who she’s been married to, but that’s the worst of it. That’s how it appears to SPD at the moment.”
“You guys ask her about current clients?”
“Yeah, of course. We’re not dummies. After I left, Williams went over to their offices with her. He’s got a list and he’ll have people out interviewing everybody on it first thing in the morning. Mrs. Barclay, who’s crying her eyes out most of the hour I’m there, says she’s never seen any income that looked odd to her but tomorrow we’re sending the financial guys over to have a look. We have a consultant on call for that kind of thing, would you believe it?”
Harms cell rang, sounding like an old-fashioned rotary-dial phone, just what you’d expect in the Luna Park time warp. He pulled it out of a belt holster, answered. “Just a sec, I’m with somebody. Hold on.”
“What happened to the siren?” asked Falconer.
“Not cool around citizens.” Harms headed out the door, passed the street-side tables and stood in the parking lot. Falconer waived at the waitress, pointed at their emptying pints.
“A new lead?” Falconer asked when Harms returned.
The detective avoided yes or no. “That’s what’s so frustrating. Like I said, I can give this case a nice gloss but there’s something we’re missing. I mean, Barclay shouldn’t even be involved, upstanding, well-off citizen that he is, assuming for the moment that political hacks fit in that category. But he’s been paid or bribed or blackmailed to provide cover for some kind of smuggling operation, probably drugs, from Canada to the U.S. Be coals to Newcastle going the other way, so it isn’t that. Then for some reason, maybe Barclay knows this or he doesn’t, turf fight or something, two of these guys end up murdered on the drug boat, which sinks after a collision. Hey, did I tell you? The state lab figured out what they hit. Paint found at the point of impact is a chemical match for the yellow the Coast Guard uses on its mid-channel buoys up and down the sound, part of their system for controlling the container ship traffic.”
“Thanks. There’s another detail I can use to add color to my writing.”
Harms let that bit of wit slide. “So we have two dead guys and a wrecked boat identical to Barclay’s and we look into everything the guy’s done for a year or more and we can’t make a connection. He’s a political or public affairs consultant, whatever you want to call him, who goes about his business, never meets up with any bad guys as far as we can tell, takes the boat up to his vacation cabin every month or six weeks like he has pretty regularly for almost ten years, this particular boat for the last five or six years. His wife says it was a getaway they both treasured, let them ‘lay back and recharge their batteries,’ in her words. Maybe the bad guys figured this out from afar. Maybe somebody who knows Barclay well enough to know his habits, an employee or former employee – we checked them all out – or boatyard guys or marina guys clever enough to figure out this decoy thing to cover running a sister ship up there and back at the same time. I don’t believe that, never did. Barclay knew. He played some kind of role. And the fact that he slipped our surveillance twice pretty much proves my point.”
“Not to mention that last night somebody killed him.”
“Yeah, not to mention that.”
Both men picked up their menus. The waitress arrived with their beers. “Two bacon cheeseburgers, one fries, one onion rings,” said Falconer.
“How do you know I want a bacon-cheeseburger?”
“Because we always order the same thing. We come here for the bacon cheeseburgers. And, notice my keen powers of observation here, you’ve already set your menu down and you didn’t really look at it.”
“I was reaching for my beer.”
“You’ve got two hands.”
“Waitress, I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger,” said Harms, flashing his bright white smile.
“Does that make a total of three?” She smiled slightly behind two lip rings, amused with herself.
“Just two, thanks,” said Harms laughing. “And now back to murder,” he said when she had gone. “Safest presumption right now is that Barclay was killed because he knew something, could expose someone and that person is the killer or hired the killer.”
“And now that we’ve stated the obvious. . . ?”
“Lay off, Eric. You risk pissing me off again. And at this point in this case, I am doing you a big favor talking about it at all.”
“OK, peace offering. Anyway, motive we’ve got. We just don’t have any suspects. No scoop for you there, though. Bander made that statement officially in front of the cameras this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I saw it while I was back at the office updating our ‘Death Boat’ story with Barclay’s murder.”
A kid got onto the mechanical Batmobile that was part of Luna Park’s mid-century décor and his mother fed it quarters. Falconer and Harms leaned closer to hear each other over the grinding of gears that bounced and swayed the car, vibrating squeals out of the boy.
“Bobby, my feeling all along has been that Barclay’s partner or partners, whatever you want to call them, are white collar associates of his. Somebody in the world he frequents as a consultant, somebody maybe even known to us in politics or business. And since you guys haven’t found any ‘underworld characters’” – Falconer made quotes in the air – “in his life or any unusual behavior, I’d say that’s the kind of guy, or I suppose, gal, you should be looking for.”
“That would make sense if you could explain why that kind of person would be a drug smuggler or get involved with bringing illegals into the country.”
“I have no idea. Just that it’s not out of the question. We can worry about motive later.”
The cheeseburgers arrived. Harms squeezed a pool of ketchup onto his plate. “Best when they’re hot.” He dipped a fry shiny with oil into the sauce.
“A more immediate problem,” Falconer went on, “and I imagine you guys have some interest in this, is how your killer got out of a deserted industrial area after running the boat aground. In fact, first thing he’d have had to do is climb the fence. Sign said the viewpoint is locked up at 11 p.m. After that, what’d he do? Hitchhike? Picked up by an accomplice?”
“I hate to disappoint you by relating anything that would demonstrate SPD’s competence at police work, but we do know that. And thanks to the miracle of modern cell phone technology, I learned this myself a few minutes ago. A guy over at Duwamish Marina across the river found a small inflatable tied next to his boat when he came down to do some work this afternoon. Sally Barclay says it sounds like the one from their boat. Our killer apparently rowed across the river. Maybe got ride from there or had a car waiting in the parking lot.”
“And so, now what?”
“You know the routine, Eric. We interview people to see if anybody at the marina saw anybody. We wait for the autopsy report so we can sound smart about the cause of death. We try to reconstruct Barclay’s movements up to the time he got on the boat, see if he met anybody.”
“Shouldn’t be hard. You had a team following him.”
“Sadly, cut back a little. Manpower. Tight budgets. You know. Shortly after he had lunch with you, he picked up his car from the garage between Sixth and Seventh on Olive and drove less than five minutes via Fifth Avenue to the Columbia Center garage and we never saw him come out. The damn building has something like 10 entrances from the street. Not to mention the place is connected by a tunnel to two other office buildings, the Seattle Municipal Tower and Bank of America’s 800 Fifth Avenue center, both of which have garages and probably ten more exits.”
Falconer spoke through a mouthful of burger. “Yeah, but we’re talking about a building that’s a block from police headquarters. Call in the reinforcements.”
“Doesn’t work like that, nothing but brass and clerical staff in there. All the real cops are at the West Precinct a mile away. And, anyway, this isn’t a deal you do with sirens and lights. In fact, though – I’m embarrassed to tell you this – we had Bander and several others watching the entrances on the south and east sides from their office windows. No luck. His car’s still in there, so we think he was driven out of Columbia Center or one of the other garages. We’ve got people looking at surveillance tapes and interviewing the parking attendants, but, hell, he could have been hidden in the back of a van or just the backseat of some BMW with tinted windows, who knows?”
“Or he could have put on a hat and a raincoat – wouldn’t have looked that odd around here even in summer – and walked out unnoticed and unidentifiable in the videotapes or digital files or whatever it is you’re looking at.”
“Probably true. And it’s probably a useless exercise unless by some stroke of luck we identify him and he’s with somebody and that somebody turns out to be the perp. You see, it’s worth a look, no matter how time consuming since we don’t, I admit, have any other leads except to assume he was killed by the same person who killed the two guys on the boat.”
“Were you still watching Barclay’s boat?”
“Yes, of course.” Harms hesitated, then added, “But not us.”
“And that means what, exactly?”
“Port of Everett was keeping an eye on it.” Harms looked a little guilty, like a kid caught breaking mom’s rules. “They called us, I think it was about 7 p.m., and said he’d gone out, that someone took the boat out. They didn’t know who. Supposed to be going over their surveillance files today, see if they can identify anyone going through the gate. Worse, though, once it cleared the breakwater, no one knew which way they went.”
“Kind of an oversight.” Criticism softened with understatement.
Falconer left it alone. Their sparring was reserved for deflating the harmless hubris of guys, real screw-ups were off limits; that’s when you were supposed to be supportive.
Harms changed the subject. “By the way, we found where they moored the sister ship. Actually, I admit to luck, we didn’t find it. Guy called us. Has a marina – if you can call it that – just some pilings and floats alongside a dike in the Snohomish delta. Not a boathouse or anything, which is what we were looking for. You’d think they’d want to keep it hidden, right? Irony is, they hid it right in plain sight. Westbound on U.S. 2 if you’d looked north at just the right moment, you’d’ve seen it there in one of those side channels, along with three or four other not bad boats. I mean, you know, up there in the delta it’s just muck and cheap moorage and from the highway you’re mostly likely to see the skeleton of some wooden boat half disappeared into the mud. Anyway, this guy read about the “death boat” in the Everett Herald and calls. Funny, he says, thought it a little odd anyone would moor such a pimped out piece of merchandise with him ‘but, hey,’ he says, ‘you buy these big toys, spend too much money, maybe you gotta save on the moorage.’”
“What’d he say about the guys who took it out?”
“One guy, lean, blonde, blue-eyed, had an accent, maybe German, like that. Ames, the marina guy, says he was the one in charge. Usually just one guy came with him, also some kind of foreigner, according to Ames. This time, the last time he saw any of them, there were two other guys, one of them he said was a ‘really huge sonofabitch’ and the other one maybe about the size of the blonde guy but he didn’t get a close look at them. Doesn’t want the tenants to think that he’s ‘snoopin’’ so he says he usually stays on his porch unless it’s a haulout and he needs to run the crane or they ask for help.”
“So there’s your suspect: a blonde, blue-eyed guy who’s killed a couple guys and needs to tie up the loose ends, namely whoever knows he did it, including Carl Barclay.”
“Possible, Eric, but that doesn’t even square with your own theory that Barclay was just a tool in some bigger operation.”
“I suppose. And if that’s the case, there’s something going on here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Lt. Harms? – to paraphrase a well-known song.”
Following the rules of boyish insult, Harms said “Fuck you, Falconer,” again. Both drank from their nearly empty second pints. After a while Falconer said, “I’m going to interview Sally. She’s the part of the story I still need.”
“It’s a free country. Go ahead. We’ve already talked to her, and you guys have a lot of experience asking people how it feels to lose a loved one. Fucking ghouls.”
“Funny. I never met a reporter who actually liked doing that.”
“It’s trite, too, Falconer. Ever notice that? They always say ‘I can’t believe he’s gone. I don’t know how I’ll live without him’ – or her. He or she was such a wonderful human being, a generous and loving father, mother, son or daughter, you name it.’ It’s just so much bullshit. Who really wants to read that?”
“Yeah, obits are the same. Everyone is loving, generous, kind, gave back to the community, et cetera, et cetera. Apparently no bad people have ever died so I guess that means they’re all still among us.”
“Lots of days it feels like that to me,” said Harms.
Chapter 23, Sally
Saturday, June 14, 9 p.m.
Sally’s eyes were red, puffy and dark circled. She led Falconer into the study, pointed him to a captain’s chair by Barclay’s desk and curled into a red leather armchair, legs tucked under, cocooning herself inside a beige exercise outfit with brown piping along the sleeves and leg seams. Head down, she stared at the floor, fixed like a doper on the organic sworls of the Persian carpet, images keeping reality at bay. She accepted Falconer’s condolences with a slight nod, never looking up, voice barely above a whisper.
Falconer commandeered the liquor cabinet and made Sally a martini, a technique for interviews not available to Harms and Williams or even Bander on official business. Falconer handed her the drink and walked to the window, which offered a Cinemascope view to the west, the day’s ceiling of white cloud, now just tinged pink, raised far enough to reveal the Olympics. Falconer paused and took a couple draughts on a beer he’d found scrounging the refrigerator for olives for the martini, then plunged in. “I can imagine Carl standing here looking out at the bay and the mountains.”
Sally raised her head. “It’s why we bought the place. He loved the water, the container ships coming and going, and the planes coming into Boeing Field.” The condo was on a floor near the top of Crystalla, a blue-glazed tower at Second and Lenora.
“Did you have boats before . . .?” Behind him, Sally sobbed. Too fast, Falconer, he thought. You’ll lose her before you even start.
“This . . . it was our third, his perfect boat, what he’d always wanted. It was so special to him!” Her voice regained some of its timbre. She sipped from the martini, leaving a crescent of lipstick on the glass.
“I know he loved fishing,” Falconer said as neutrally as possible but still probing about the boat.
Sally went on with her thought: “He had all kinds of gadgets, guy stuff, you know, radios, GPS electronic navigation, sonar to find fish, even radar. Well, I guess you need radar, especially offshore, and we always ran into fog in the straits in August. You should have seen him when we had people on board, explaining everything to the landlubbers, what it was, how it worked. They were bored out of their gourds but, hey, they were drinking our booze. This is a good martini, by the way.”
“Thanks. I was once a bartender. Long ago.” Falconer moved over to the dented and scarred captain’s chair, wondering if it was a real antique – or fake – either way a companion to the leather furniture intended to mark the study a man’s room. To the west, cracks of orange marked the clouds over the Olympics as the long hazy day came to an end. They sat in the twilight, for a while meditatively nursing their drinks.
“Mrs. Barclay . . .”
A whimper. She pressed a ball of tissue against her eyes. “I guess it’s just Sally, Sally by herself now.”
“I’m sorry.” Nothing else to say. Falconer retrieved her empty glass, and poured again from the shaker. “Are you up to talking about the business?”
“I guess so. Why?”
“Unlike the police, or, anyway, more than them, I think whoever got your husband into this, whatever was going on, is likely one of his business associates. And that’s probably where we’ll find whoever killed him.”
At those words Sally gasped and released a long, keening sob. Falconer waited until she raised her head again and handed her the new drink, a little heavy on the vermouth compared to his usual martini and watered down. He’d let it sit in the ice.
She drank and stared toward the window where the sunset now banded the sky just above the mountains with the colors of a dying fire. The glow colored the room as though the air was tinted. “I don’t believe that. Carl wasn’t involved with anything criminal. It wasn’t in him.”
“I knew him a bit, Mrs. Barclay, and I agree. But humor me on this, OK?
“OK, Mr. Falconer. It can’t hurt and you’re good enough company. Better than staring at the walls, isn’t it? I don’t think my sister’s plane gets in until 11. She was in Mexico with a bunch of her girlfriends. Then she’s coming over. I told my brother-in-law to leave with the rest of the cops, though. I can’t stand Deputy Chief Ricky Bander.” Sally put a sneer in her voice, making the title sound phony and undeserved. “And look, the son of a bitch and all the rest of the cops couldn’t protect Carl. Didn’t bother, the bastards. They thought Carl was guilty of something so they didn’t care. And now my sweet brother-in-law offers his shoulder to cry on. Asshole!” She took another big swallow of the martini, adding to the coating of lipstick on the rim. Falconer thought she’d be drunk pretty soon.
“Tell me about the accounts Carl was working on.”
“Oh, shit. Where to start? Wallingford Evergreen took most of his time. Too much, I thought. It’s grown enormously over the past three or four years. For Carl, next it was Third Planet Biofuels and that’s just another part of Wallingford Evergreen over in the Tri-Cities, the only environmentally good thing Victor’s invested in. It wasn’t even his own idea. I found it through another client and Carl talked Wallingford into buying the company to polish his image. Our other account execs are covering two more Wallingford Evergreen divisions. So Carl’s time was, like, 80 percent Wallingford Evergreen and, taking all their divisions together, Wallingford Evergreen is 60, maybe as much as 70 percent sometimes, of our whole business. I thought it was unhealthy, you know, like selling to Wal-Mart and pretty soon they own you, and I said so. But, hey, I’m only the wife and chief financial officer. He doesn’t have to listen.” Sally laughed, a sound filled with regret.
“He spent a lot of his time with Victor Wallingford and I thought it was changing him. Told him that, too. What bothered me was he had less and less interest in the environmental clients, the non-profits and progressive companies that got us started. Victor Wallingford doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for those people.”
Falconer wondered again why at lunch Friday Barclay had denied much of a relationship with Wallingford.
Sally went on. “Thing was, Carl didn’t want to work forever. He wanted to retire before he was 65, and he worried about his heart. He was overweight. I guess you know that. And he had high blood pressure. He’d get into dark moods and obsess about dying of a heart attack. He’d be convinced it was going to happen soon but then instead of doing anything about it he’d just drink more to drive away those thoughts. I couldn’t help him.” Tears welled up again and Sally pulled another tissue from a box on the heavy teak table next to the chair.
After a few moments, she continued in a husky back-to-business voice. “Wallingford Evergreen was our ticket, Mr. Falconer. They paid very, very well. Carl’s personal rate with them went up from $175 an hour to $425 in less than three years. That’s lawyer money! That was our retirement fund and we saved every penny we could, re-wrote the company retirement plan to max out pre-tax dollars, invested aggressively. Our target was $3 million not including the condo and we figured only two more years and we’d be there.”
“What did Carl do for Wallingford Evergreen?” Falconer kept his voice flat, wanting the question to seem ordinary, hardly of any but conversational importance.
“Lobbying, polishing the public image, what else? That’s what we do. And with all those different companies, Victor Wallingford’s got to fight battles on a hundred fronts, wherever there’s a government he thinks is messing with him, which is nearly everywhere all the time. Some of his operations don’t have a good environmental record and that’s an understatement. Carl was trying to bring Victor the Hun into the 21st Century. It wasn’t easy, but it paid and it looked like a paying deal for as long as we wanted.”
“Were they close personally?” Again asked in a neutral voice.
“No. Carl always complained he had to spend too much time with Victor. The sonofabitch is full of himself. Arrogant and boring, Carl said. They thought themselves too good for us, too. In the whole four years they’ve been clients, we were never invited for dinner and I never met Mrs. Wallingford. But Carl and Victor, they did stuff together, the stuff you do with clients, play golf, take legislators fishing, that kind of thing. Carl billed for every minute of it, I can guarantee you that.
“Next Friday . . .” Sally choked and paused, seeing the future, a moment of reality still there on the calendar, but now without her husband. “Next Friday, they were supposed to take a bunch of Victor’s cronies up to Vancouver on his boat for the weekend.”
Sally broke down sobbing heavily. Falconer walked over and looked out at the bay. He wasn’t good at hugging and consoling and that didn’t seem like what he was there for, anyway. He watched the last of the Saturday cruise ships, glowing with rows of lights and as big as office towers laid on their sides, swing wide around Magnolia Bluff and head northward, silhouetted against the last orange strips of sunset.
“I’m all right now, Mr. Falconer.”
“How much did the company” – the company, not Carl – “take in from Wallingford Evergreen?” Falconer tried to make the question sound innocent like, “Wow, $425 an hour! Impress me with the total.”
“You’re asking that because you still think Carl was involved in something wrong but I’ll tell you anyway. It was close to $1.2 million last year.”
Falconer whistled softly to let her know he was impressed. Then he said, “That’s not really it, Sally. It’s not so much suspicion that Carl might have been involved in something, but that someone, somehow, in some business relationship, may have been using him, like the two-boats deal, even without his knowledge. I think that’s worth considering.”
“I would know that. I’m the CFO for God’s sake.” Sally was agitated. Falconer thought gin sometimes did that before it put you to sleep.
“I think you would but we’re looking for a killer.” Falconer chanced the word again and saw Sally close her eyes to fight back tears. “The connection won’t be obvious but it would help if you let me look at the client list. I know things about our local industrialists and financiers – and even politicians – that you and Carl might have missed.”
“You’ll have to swear confidentiality.” She relented.
“Done. I won’t report any names off the list that haven’t already been made public or aren’t made public by the police.”
“Carl respected your political reporting before you went into crime.” She tittered, exposing the gin’s other face. “That didn’t sound right, did it? I’m sorry.”
“No problem. The boat . . . was named for you?” On the wall behind Sally was a framed enlargement of Carl’s Scabbard 34. In black trimmed gold leaf letters almost as high as the transom, the name was Sally IV. “Maybe I’m just not observant, but I don’t remember seeing the name on her now.”
“It’s not, Mr. Falconer. A couple years after we had it trucked from Florida, Carl had the shiny top coat of the fiberglass redone because it was pitted in places. He never had the name repainted, just shrugged it off when I mentioned it.”
The way she said it, Falconer thought having the boat named after her was important. Carl’s unresponsiveness about getting it repainted clearly bothered her. But in Falconer’s analysis, not having foot-high gold-leaf letters on the transom kept both boats just a little less memorable and that was probably important to Carl and his partners.
“About the list, do you think you’ll go into the office tomorrow?” Falconer wanted a chance to look at Barclay’s files before the police.
“No, not tomorrow. Not Sunday. I need a day to myself and my sister will be here to answer the phone. It’ll ring off the hook when they see tomorrow’s paper. It’ll be front page, won’t it, Mr. Falconer?”
“Yes. It’s been on TV for several hours already.”
She sobbed and then composed herself. “I know. A couple of TV anchors Carl knew well called right after my brother-in-law and his cops left. They were nice but I was crying and just hung up. I’m letting everything go to the answering machine now. I’ll go Monday, though. I have to talk to the staff. Some have already called. Monday. . .” She paused and drew a breath, hit again by the new emptiness of the days ahead. “Monday. Monday, I have to put on a good face and keep the company running. And the police are coming at ten to look at our files. “Chief Ricky” – Falconer could hear the sneer in her voice – “says they’ll have a subpoena. Why don’t you come then?”
“How about if I come earlier, eight or nine? I don’t want to get in their way.” He smiled at this own transparent B.S.
“Eight’s fine. I start early unless I get to spend the night drinking martinis.” The remark was almost coquettish and Falconer chose to ignore the veiled plea for another drink. He rose and crossed to the door. The sunset was dying into night, darkening the room. “Don’t turn on the light,” said Sally.