CHAPTER 36

Boldt waited ten minutes outside the offices of Boeing’s vice president of human resources, alone with his battered briefcase, his ten-year-old suit and a stomach churning with raw nerves. He was always in the role of the one doing the questioning, never the object of it. The idea of some corporate executive, with a title so long that it couldn’t possibly fit on a business card, quizzing him about his life, his family, his dreams, struck him as deeply disturbing. How did he explain that he didn’t want the job, only that he needed the added income? How did he explain that if Sheila Hill confined him to a desk, he’d just as soon the desk be across town for twice the pay? That sitting at that desk while others were at the game was a cruel form of torture? How did he tell another human being that in a way not morbid at all, he lived for the fieldwork, the dead bodies, if only because they kept his mind alive, his imagination active, and his raison d’etre intact?

The thick glass of the coffee table was littered with aviation and golf magazines. Across the fairly antiseptic reception room, a matronly secretary stayed busy at her phone and computer, though she didn’t appear too absorbed by the work, finding enough time to repeatedly sneak glimpses of Boldt and his nervous demeanor. He brushed the shoulders of the dark suit clean, inspected the hang of his tie. His hand darted into his crotch quickly to ensure his fly was up; the secretary caught that movement and taking it for a signal, lifted her head slightly, peered above a set of half glasses and said, ‘‘Shouldn’t be much longer.’’

Melissa Chow hadn’t been seen in ten days. This was the only clock running in his head.

‘‘No, it shouldn’t,’’ Boldt agreed, forcing a moment of paralysis onto her otherwise expressionless face.

He checked his watch. Instead of seeing the minute or hour hand again, he saw the date. Ten days. The rule book would say she was dead. Boldt had the video-he believed otherwise. With the sweatshop now a matter of record, he had evidence to follow. He glanced at the aviation magazines, his head reeling.

LaMoia, who continued to keep McNeal under surveillance despite the risks, would keep Gaynes on researching polarfleece imports and manufacture; others would canvas discount houses, retail outlets, and street vendors, supplying Lofgrin and the lab with samples of every blue polarfleece garment available in King County. They needed a list of every vacant structure in the county, from canneries to former schools to airplane hangars. They needed that sweatshop. The work seemed endless. Suddenly the idea of babysitting a Fortune 500 corporation and spying on its employees lost its shine. Even sitting there waiting for the vice president of human resources to get off the phone seemed a futile act.

He glanced up at a black-and-white photo on the wall and saw three grave mounds, only to realize it was in fact the gray curving roofs of airplane hangars, not freshly dug graves. But the image served to remind him of the digital tape and Melissa’s mention of ‘‘the graveyard.’’ Were there other women buried at Hilltop Cemetery? Had they missed that?

He grabbed the phone and dialed his own pager number. Ten seconds after he hung up, the pager sounded loudly. Glancing at it, he stood and took hold of his old ratty briefcase. ‘‘Something’s come up,’’ he informed the secretary. ‘‘I’ve got to get back to the office.’’

‘‘He’ll be done with the call any minute,’’ she pleaded. Boldt sensed it was her job to hold him, her problem to fix.

‘‘It’s urgent.’’

The woman nodded, seemingly relieved. Official police business would let her off the hook. ‘‘May I reschedule?’’

‘‘I’ll call.’’

‘‘We can do it now. I’ve got his Day-Timer right here.’’ She flipped some pages.

‘‘Mine’s back at the office,’’ he said.

‘‘He’ll be terribly disappointed to have missed you.’’ She glanced toward the phone, clearly hoping to see the phone’s line light extinguished. She resolved to stall him. No one would walk out on conversation. ‘‘There’s a good buzz about you.’’

‘‘A buzz?’’ he said. ‘‘I’m glad.’’ He cringed. He didn’t want to be the topic of buzzing.

Her index finger with its half-inch plastic nail roamed the man’s schedule. ‘‘How’s your golf game?’’

Boldt returned a puzzled look and glanced down at the coffee table magazines. He had tried the game in another life, back when Liz had been whole and the kids only an idea discussed at the end of lovemaking.

‘‘They need a fourth on Friday,’’ she said. Keeping her voice low she informed him, ‘‘All the big deals are done out there. I imagine you’ll be seeing quite a bit of the golf course.’’

‘‘A bit rusty,’’ he said. The closest he had come in recent years was mini-golf with Miles.

‘‘I can pencil you in.’’

‘‘I don’t think so, no. I really had better check my schedule.’’ He broke with etiquette and headed for the doors.

‘‘You’ll call?’’ she fired off somewhat desperately.

He winced. He wouldn’t call. Not for some time. First he would run things by Liz in order to include her in the decision. She planned to return to full-time work by Thanksgiving. She would interpret this job change of his as a stubborn refusal to see her as healed, as his way of financially protecting his future.

His days of running the family alone, running things without her, were over. They had been over for several months, though he was loath to accept it. In a strange way he had become dependent on her illness, had adjusted his life to meet it head on, had focused on nothing but that for the last sixteen months, had learned well the role of single father, orphaned husband and head of household, had become dependent on her dependence on him. Her return to the family was difficult to take; his decisions were challenged again; his monarchy once more a democracy.

At the elevators, he caught a glimpse of himself in a wall mirror. Mama Lu’s offer of a better suit teased him. More than a bad fit, its mood was wrong. LaMoia was right: He only wore a suit at funerals and award dinners.

If he returned for the job interview he was wearing khakis and a blazer. But he wasn’t coming back, not any time soon. He knew Liz’s vote before ever hearing it. He wondered if he could get used to that kind of participation again, and if not, what he was supposed to do about it.

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