What was Brock O'Day doing there? How did he know where to find me? Did he have a warrant for my arrest?
I looked at Susan, still naked and still on her knees where she had been when Michelle had walked in on us. I shook my head and thought, "Talk about getting caught with my pants down." I was hopping about and cursing as I struggled to get into my slacks.
"Ben, don't go. Don't leave me like this," she pleaded looking up at me through her teary puppy-dog eyes. The poor thing was very frustrated and I didn't blame her. I was of the same mindset.
"I have to, Susan. I have to see what he wants," I stated. I stooped down by her and trying to calm her I added, "I'll try to get rid of him." She threw an arm around my neck and pressed her lips against mine. It was with reluctance that I stood up and announced, "If you think for one minute that I'd rather talk to O'Day than to let you make that ... acquaintance, you Susan, are crazy!"
I closed the door behind me to Susan's parting shot, "Don't make me start without you!"
Michelle was pacing back and forth in front of the small bar. Her anguish was obvious as she drained the contents of a drink. She saw me approaching and implored of me, "How could I turn him away, Ben?" She placed the glass on the bar and motioned toward the door, "He's outside the door now."
She pressed the button beneath the counter of the bar that activated the door release and the hulking figure of Brock O'Day entered the apartment. He was out of uniform, wearing Jeans and a heavy leather jacket. He gave "Michael" a cursory nod and offered his hand to me, "Thanks for seeing me, Ben." When I didn't offer my own hand he lowered his arm and said, "Relax Ben, I'm not here to arrest you. I'm off duty."
I lowered my eyebrows and responded in a terse but wary manner, "I'm sure you're not here to talk about the good old days, Break."
He winced at my use of the less than flattering nickname I'd christened him years ago. "Ben," he said with a sigh of sarcasm, "Ben, I know you don't like me. I don't especially like you either. Now that we have reaffirmed our mutual respect for each other, I need to talk to you."
I nodded and asserted, "This talk, it would be unofficial and off the record?"
"Yes, Ben. Off the record," he responded. "Mr. Black, thank you for allowing me to come here," he said to the nervous man who had moved to the other side of the bar. "I wanted to talk to you, also." Seeing his nervous state he added, "Off the record."
"It's a little awkward just standing here eyeballing one another," I said. "Why don't we sit down at the table?" I glanced at Michael and suggested, "Perhaps the officer would like a cup of coffee, or maybe something a little stronger?"
O'Day shrugged, "Sure. I could go for a cup of coffee." He glared at me and said, "...And none of those cops and doughnut shop jokes, thank you."
I spread my hands and said, "No problem. You know I have nothing but the highest respect for Boston's finest."
"Let's cut to the chase, Ben. Our differences aside, I know you well enough to know you are not capable of ... murder. " He grew silent and looked around the apartment as if measuring what to say next. Never known as one to show open compassion, I could detect it in his demeanor when he finally spoke again, "I want the sons-a-bitches who killed Jimmy Coleman. You know how much Jimmy meant to me."
"Yes," I answered sharing his pain for the loss of our mutual friend. "He was a good man ... a man who never bothered anyone." I reached into my pants pocket and held up a set of keys, "I didn't want anyone going into his apartment or messing with his equipment ..." I cleared my throat, "...except for me and you."
"Good man. I was hoping it was you who took the keys," he said. He began rocking back forth in the chair suggesting discomfort in what he was about to say next. "Look, with the entire force looking for you, it's not wise that you and I should be seen in the company of the other." He flashed a grin before continuing, "How's this for irony, I'm thinking we should consider an alliance of sorts."
"I scratch your back and you scratch mine?" I asked and answered at the same time.
"I was thinking that if you need to see me ... or if I need to see you, what better place for some private exchange of information could we find than Jimmy's place?"
"...And who gets to sweet talk Rosie into acting as our go-between?"
He laughed heartily, "I've already got her on the clock! It's good to see we're on the same page."
"Besides, affirming our mutual desire to avenge Jimmy, I'm sure that's not the only reason you risked being seen coming here. If not to arrest me, then you must be ready for us to start imparting information?"
I wasn't certain if he was holding back anything, but I found myself compelled to agree with him. Working both sides of the fence we each had our own unique connections, as well as our own ways of skirting that fence. The police and the Press are not always, if ever, willing to work together, and I could detect a bit of hesitation on his part.
"The way I see it, those reports are trumped up charges," he paused to study my face. Detecting no physical reaction to his statement he leaned forward on his elbows, "Why are you being set up, Ben? Whose feathers did you ruffle anyway?"
"I'm forced to thank you for giving me the benefit of a doubt, Brock. I know you well enough to know that you exercise your job with due diligence." He turned his head and scratched at the top of his head. Brock O'Day was not one who relished platitudes about his work ethics. "Having said that, I trust you have realized or at least have suspected that there are higher forces in play."
He confirmed my trust by nodding and snorted, "Yeah, this whole thing reeks of the Feds. The chief, even the Mayor for Christ sake, have been bypassing standard operating procedures." He seemed mesmerized by the swirl of cream set in motion by his spoon as he lifted it from the cup. He held the spoon in his hand, its business end pointed in my direction and continued, "When the D.A. holds a press conference and throws out information and evidence that we street-pounders haven't yet uncovered, I have to ask myself, "Who's the birdie?"
"Birdie?" Michael asked.
O'Day eyed Michael for a moment, "It's what some of the detectives call an informant. You know, like a little birdie told me. Some of them sing in exchange for a break, and others, well they seem to have ulterior motives." He took a sip of the coffee, his eyes still trained on Michael across the rim of the cup.
I piped up, "Brock, it's obvious that you've had a high profile birdie, namely a general, who went to an awful lot of trouble to finger our Mr. Black here. Then you got that call to drop the charges and to let him go. If you ask me, that sure smells of an ulterior motive."
"That's the way I figured it. As for the ulterior motive," O'Day responded, "my guess would be that a message was being sent." He glanced at his watch and peered at me for a few moments and said, "I think that message was for anyone recognizing it for what it is - a warning."
"Brock," I said with a solemn undertone, "I assume that you are the only one on the force not out to make a name for themselves by arresting me and the girl." Though I had expected a nod of affirmation, I was nonetheless dismayed. "Of course," I continued, "you do have your own ulterior motive, don't you?"
"Right again, Sherlock," he replied. "In five years I'm up for retirement and a nice cushy pension. I don't want my record sullied. I don't like what's going down on my watch. I don't like it one bit, but my hands are tied. You on the other hand, are free to snoop around."
"Free to snoop around am I? In case you've forgotten, Sergeant, I happen to be a wanted man," I snapped at him.
"Don't you find it odd," he offered, "that the Feds haven't bagged you yet? If I was able to find you so easily, surely they could have. That smacks of an ulterior motive, don't you think? I'm thinking they want you free to move about. They want something or are looking for something or someone. Could it be that they are hoping you lead them to it?"
Brock's supposition was probably true. That thought had already occurred to me. "Could be," I answered. "That leaves me another question, just how long of a leash are they giving me?"
He steepled his fingers in front of his chin and answered, "I don't know. I do know that having the entire Boston police force after you is a handicap, but I respect your nose for the news, as they say in your profession. I feel that your skill and experience as an investigative reporter is an ace up my sleeve."
"Of course, you would disavow any knowledge of my actions. We wouldn't want you to be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive, now would we?"
He didn't respond verbally but his smug smile confirmed my remark. He glanced again at his watch and reached into his jacket pocket. He produced a folded piece of ledger paper and handed it to me. "This is a list of addresses we have been instructed to avoid in our investigations. The Feds have them under surveillance and they want no interference from us that might hinder their own investigations. They were even kind enough to indicate how many men and what kinds of equipment they would be using at each site."
I let go a low whistle, "Nice. If I happen to be seen or caught at any of these venues, it would be naturally attributed to my investigate skills, eh?"
"Of course," he retorted and then shrugged his shoulders, "How else could you have possibly known about any one of those places?" He stood up and straightened his jacket and said, "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be late for supper. My wife doesn't like it when I'm late."
"No she doesn't," I stated in a knowing manner. "Don't forget to hang up your jacket either."
One hand on the door handle he raised the other with an extended middle finger, thus bidding me adieu. Michelle pressed the button to release the lock. I shook my head as he disappeared in the hall as the door was closing. "There goes one of Boston's finest," I uttered in welcome relief of his departure.
Michelle who had been quiet during most of my exchange with O'Day finally spoke, "That went rather well, didn't it?" She noticed the big shit-eating grin on my face and noted, "I take it that the two of you don't share the same sentiments of your ex-wife, Ben."
"Quite the contrary, Michelle. It's just taking him longer to realize it. There's just no pleasing that woman."
"Ben," she said tapping me on the shoulder, "What about you? "Shouldn't you be thinking about pleasing a woman?"
"Oh shit!" I exclaimed in alarm. "Susan!"
(To be continued in part 20, Monday 2/2, with How Do You Spell Relief?)