“According to the Record of Site Condition that Martin Glenn filed,” Jenn said, “the southern end of the site was squeaky clean.”
“But according to the samples Will took, it’s anything but.”
“Which provides somebody with an excellent motive for killing him.”
“And Glenn. And Maya.”
“You honestly think her father killed her?”
“Why not? I read somewhere that the vast majority of children who meet a violent end are killed by their own parents.”
“How could he live with himself?”
“Let’s ask him,” I said.
“Where would we find him this time of day?”
“His office or the work site.”
“The site is out of the question,” I said. “Full of guys who could throw us out with one hand and eat their lunch with the other. The office has a receptionist or two to get past, but I think we could handle them.”
Jenn thought about that then broke into a smile that would charm anyone who didn’t know her like I did. The smile of a fox who’d just discovered an unguarded henhouse.
“Want to mess with his head?” she asked. “I’d rather thump it a few times.” “Want to mess with it first?” Half an hour later, she dialled Cantor’s office and asked, in a voice dripping both milk and honey, if Rob was in. “No? Well, can you get an urgent message to him? Tell him I need to see him right away. At my apartment. My name? Look at your caller ID,” she said, and hung up.
We were calling from Maya’s apartment. Jenn had played Maya’s outgoing message a few times and practised pitching her voice in a similar range. Not as spot-on as her Scary Mary impression, but it got better with each try.
It took Rob all of three minutes to call back.
Jenn picked up the phone and whispered, “Hello?”
I heard his voice blustering over the other end, asking what the hell this, who the hell that.
“Please come, Daddy,” she whispered, and hung up.
“You’re creepier than you let on,” I said.
“Who isn’t?” Jenn grinned. Jenn and I stood on Maya Cantor’s balcony, watching a long V-shaped formation of geese fly south toward the lake. The wall around the balcony came up to my waist. I was a few inches taller than Maya. It felt safe to me. Probably had to her too, until someone hoisted her over.
How many seconds to fall from twelve floors up, I wondered. Probably three or four at the most. What did she feel in those last moments of her life? Did she see scenes of her brief life flashing by? Or was she just gripped with the terror of falling, the ground rushing up at her, unyielding black pavement ready to claim her broken body?
No. It would be the horror of knowing it was her own father who wanted her dead. Whether he had done it himself, or hired it out, she had to have known in the last cold seconds of her life that he was the one behind it.
My own father had died when I was fourteen, felled by a massive heart attack no one had foreseen. Unlike many of my friends, I never had the chance to see my dad grow old and weak. I had been spared the feelings a young man endures as his father is transformed from a giant, a hero, into an ordinary man-sometimes less than ordinary-flawed, fallible, unsure of himself. Buddy Geller would always be forty-four to me, with a full head of black hair, seemingly strong and robust. He would always be warm and loving.
He would never be my murderer.
I went back inside, leaving the sliding glass doors open, and stood facing the balcony. How had they done it? Grabbed her collar and waistband and heaved her over? Stood her up on the balcony wall and given her a strong shove?
I went back outside. “Let’s try an experiment,” I said to Jenn.
“What kind, doc?”
“Face the wall.”
“Perfect.” I took hold of her belt and jacket collar and felt her whole body tense up.
“Relax,” I said.
“Maya was, what, five-seven? A hundred and thirty pounds?”
“Something like that.”
“And you’re six feet.”
“Ask me my weight and you’re a dead man.”
“I don’t have to ask. I can feel it.”
“Was that a shot?”
“A statement. Now Rob Cantor is my size… a little taller than me.”
“He works out.” I bent my knees and hefted Jenn a few inches off the ground.
“Jonah!” she said.
“I’m not going to throw you off.”
“I know that,” she said. “I just wanted to ask what kind of car Rob drives.”
I remembered a silver Mercedes parked at the job site: the only luxury sedan amidst a bunch of muddy pickups and SUVs. “Grey or silver Mercedes, I think.”
“Then let go of me, doc. I think that’s him down there.” A few minutes later, a key slid into the lock on Maya’s front door. The door opened and Rob Cantor stepped inside. He stood in the doorway listening, looking around, then closed it behind him. He wore glasses with transitional lenses, darkened by the outside light, but slowly lightening to reveal the eyes behind them.
Roger Daltrey sings a Who song about a bad man behind blue eyes: how no one knows what it’s like to be him. Could Cantor be that hated man, fated to telling only lies?
I stepped out of the kitchen, where I’d been crouched behind a counter.
“You,” he said. “I should have figured you were behind this. I thought maybe your brother straightened you out, but I can see he didn’t. Well, this is one sick fucking joke, calling me from here, pretending… How did you get in here anyway? No, don’t tell me. Marilyn, right? She’s in on this too. Was that her on the phone? I mean, if it was, she’s even sicker than you are. You’re doing it for the money, I can almost understand that, but what the fuck is wrong with her?”
“Not Marilyn,” Jenn said. She’d been in the doorway of Maya’s bedroom. “Just me, Daddy,” she whispered.
“Who the hell are you?” he said.
“My partner,” I said.
“It figures.” He took out his cellphone and flipped it open. “Well, you’re both fucking with the wrong guy. I know a lot of people in this town, Geller. Big people. And all of them are behind this project, including your brother. They want to see it happen. And when I get through with you, you’ll be unlicensed and fucking well unemployable.”
“Are you through?”
“I’m not the one who’s through, you thick-headed-hey!”
I clamped his wrist and dug my thumb into the ligaments there. His hand opened and the phone fell into my hand. I flipped it to Jenn, who caught it and snapped the lid off.
“Normally, she rips phone books,” I said. “But sometimes a phone will do.”
“Are you out of your mind?” he said. “You just assaulted me.”
I stepped forward and slapped him hard across the face. It felt even better than slapping Perry had. “Now I assaulted you,” I said. Then I shoved him hard in the chest. He staggered backward, arms flailing, and landed on a brown corduroy couch.
“Three people are dead because of you,” I said.
“Shut up and listen,” I said. “I am this close to beating the living shit out of you.”
“I think he can,” Jenn said. “Hell, I could and I’m the minority owner.”
His mouth opened. I raised my hand. He shut his mouth. He looked at Jenn, then back at me. He looked at his broken phone, as if willing it to ring so he could take a call and end this nightmare.
“Martin Glenn was murdered,” I said, “because he didn’t want to fake a Record of Site Condition. It wasn’t a random act of violence, a mugging gone wrong, a gay-bashing or a lovers’ quarrel. He was murdered because of what he was doing for you. Last night,” I went on, “Will Sterling was shot to death-rather professionally, from the looks of it-because he took soil samples from your work site and they have enough PCBs in them to give liver cancer to kids who aren’t even born yet.”
“Will Sterling is dead?”
“That’s right. Two people murdered in two days to keep this precious building of yours going.”
“And you think I killed them?”
“I don’t know that you’d have the guts to do it yourself, but you’re awfully good at picking up that phone of yours when problems crop up. Yesterday, for instance, two goons showed up at our office and threatened bodily harm against my partner and me.”
“Grievous bodily harm,” Jenn said.
“I didn’t send anyone to hurt you,” he said weakly. “I wouldn’t know who to send.”
“But Mike Izzo would. Maybe you called Mike, who called his son-in-law Lenny, who called the two morons who stuck a gun in my face and held a knife to my partner’s throat.”
Rob stared at Jenn as if picturing the blade itself; a latter-day Macbeth envisioning the dagger before him.
“They threatened to cut off my breast,” Jenn said.
“But you’re okay.”
“I’m terrific,” she said. “Thanks a bunch.”
“Look,” he said. “You’ve got all of this wrong. I was upset with Martin because we had agreed on something and he wanted to go back on it. But I didn’t kill him or ask anyone else to kill him. And this Sterling kid, I spoke to him once on the phone. Maybe twice. I don’t even know what he looks like. I honestly have no idea what happened to him. I swear on my life.”
“Like that’s worth a lot right now,” Jenn said.
“I’m telling you I haven’t done one thing wrong!”
I leaned in close to him and grabbed his tie and pulled his face so close he felt the spray when I hissed: “Three deaths, Rob.”
“That’s what you said before. But you never even said who the third person is.”
“Like I have to, you worthless sonofabitch.”
I pulled him up by the tie and grabbed hold of him, just like I had done to Jenn moments before. She came around and took his other arm and together we frog-marched him through the doors and out onto the balcony. “Look down!” I said.
I held the back of his neck so he had no choice. “See the pavement?” I said. “Imagine it rushing up to meet you, Rob. Knowing that when you hit, it’s all over.”
“You going to kill me?” he said. “It won’t change anything. I didn’t kill Martin. I didn’t kill Will. I didn’t do it and I didn’t ask anyone else to do it.”
“But you killed her, didn’t you?”
I hoisted him up off the ground, bending the upper half of his body over the balcony wall. His glasses fell off and sailed down to the parking lot where they landed with barely a sound.
“Your own daughter, you bastard.”
“No!” he yelled. “No. Please. I didn’t. Don’t let me go. Please don’t let me go.”
“Was it like this?” Jenn whispered. “Huh, Daddy? Is this how you had her before she went?”
“I loved Maya, you sick bastards. Loved her. I cried all night when she died. Ask Nina. I cried like a baby, like an animal.”
I looked over at Jenn behind Rob’s back. She shrugged.
“Pull me up,” he pleaded. “I’ll tell you everything. I will, I swear. I’ll tell you about Martin. About Sterling.”
“I never touched her. She killed herself.”
I leaned in close and said, “Rob, your daughter did not kill herself. She was murdered. She was thrown from this balcony. And if you didn’t do it, you better help us find out who did.”
Tears ran down his smooth cheeks, and fell like rain toward the pavement. “Please pull me up,” he said softly. “I think I’m going to be sick.”