CHAPTER 63

LaMoia was not above circumventing existing law to get what he needed, but he did so only by working with detectives willing to forgo overtime pay and to keep silent about their actions. Chief among these was Bobbie Gaynes, so fiercely loyal to Boldt that she had no problem with the assignment to place a federal agent under round-theclock surveillance despite the fact that any such surveillance required special notification. It was nothing new for LaMoia-coming up through the ranks his nickname had been Stretch, for how he dealt with the law. Everyone wanted what LaMoia could get for them- snitches, bank accounts, tax records-but not one of them wanted to know the details. It was okay with him; it helped perpetuate the myth, and the myth was now what defined him. The Myth. It controlled him as well, dictating his actions, and he knew that couldn’t last forever. He moved through women like a drunk through booze-in part to maintain that image. He drove fast and lived that way, too. But the wax, melting from both ends, shrank ever smaller, and John LaMoia identified with it more clearly every day.

LaMoia had no physical evidence against Brian Coughlie, only a deep-rooted suspicion prompted by a number of unexplained coincidences. Without evidence, he had no case to build. But as a point of law, it was not explicitly illegal for any person to follow or watch any other person, so long as the person being watched did not feel threatened or have his or her expectation of privacy violated. Washington State did have a tough stalker law in place, but it required certain criteria to be met that Gaynes and LaMoia avoided without any effort whatsoever.

Gaynes called from a pay phone in order to avoid the open airwaves of cellular telephones and the lurid intentions of police radio-band scanners. LaMoia and Gaynes maintained a relationship of respect-at-a-distance, his womanizing so legendary that she skillfully avoided him; her investigative abilities and position in Boldt’s inner circle crucial to his squad’s all-important high clearance rate. They rarely played politics with each other and never socialized.

‘‘Go ahead,’’ LaMoia acknowledged, having moved into the passenger seat of the surveillance van still parked with a view of the naval yard. Despite the media blitz earlier in the day, as far as LaMoia and others could determine, the press had yet to cotton on to the actual physical location of the naval yard surveillance.

‘‘I think I lost him.’’

‘‘Lost him?’’

‘‘That’s what I said,’’ she fired back angrily. ‘‘He parked it and went into City Hall,’’ she reported.

‘‘City Hall?’’

‘‘That’s what I said,’’ she repeated. ‘‘It’s been half an hour. I’m thinking he burned me. Must have gone out a different door. Left his car.’’

‘‘You tell Sarge?’’

‘‘You’re lead,’’ she reminded.

LaMoia didn’t feel like the lead detective. He wasn’t sure he ever would. And he didn’t know if that was because of Boldt, or his own personality. He had followed in the man’s footsteps for too long to give it up. Only that past year when Boldt had worked Intelligence had LaMoia felt like his own man. But now, the two reunited at Crimes Against Persons, title or not, rank or not, the Sarge ran the show and no one was complaining, least of all LaMoia. Never heavy-handed about it, Boldt simply had an instinct to lead, a nose for the next avenue to pursue. The man owned an eighty-eight-a ten-year clearance rate that seemed likely to stand for all time. LaMoia was a sixty-four, and proud of it; there were guys down in the mid-forties. Gaynes was a seventy, though she didn’t flaunt it. As the one and only woman wearing a gold badge on the fifth floor, she was smart enough not to flaunt any of her assets. She dressed to hide her body, had a tongue on her that could keep up with anyone, and could drink as much beer as the next dick. LaMoia liked her, though he hoped it didn’t show. When it came to investigations he didn’t always feel like the lead, but in terms of his squad, he was the sergeant, the one in charge, in command. In this regard, he was unflinching.

Thinking aloud, he said, ‘‘Half an hour in City Hall is nothing. Those drones? He could easily still be in there.’’

‘‘Could be. Could also be that he took this morning’s news to mean we might have him under surveillance. Could be guilt working him, making him take precautions. You want me to look around?’’

‘‘Nah, don’t move. Keep an eye on his wheels. I’ll be there in a few. We’ll double. I’ll check inside. What’s your location?’’

She told him.

LaMoia sneaked out of the surveillance van and was on his way back into town.

LaMoia started with Vital Statistics, thinking death certificates offered the most direct route to forge a new identity and that perhaps Coughlie was hoping to reinvent himself and get the hell out of Dodge.

The description of the man failed to register with the Asian woman behind the desk, and only then, upon hearing her thickly laced accent, did it occur to him that any one of these minimum wagers could be in cahoots with an INS agent.

He tried state property tax records next, only because it was the next door down the hall. One door to another: the workers behind the counters Asian, Hispanic, Black; not many whites. LaMoia had no problem with the melting pot, so long as everyone working City Hall spoke English, drove fifty-five, and paid their taxes same as him. He didn’t support the concept of welfare and frowned at food stamps-too much corruption for anything like that to work. You took your shovel or your pen and you went to work, same as the next Joe. That was the America he wore his badge for. A trip down the halls of city government could shake a person up.

Coughlie was nowhere to be seen.

The next floor held five more doors-all the same thing. Too much paperwork, too many stamps of approval, too many hands under the table grabbing for the same cash. It depressed him.

Another flight up the polished marble stairs. Who the hell could afford marble anyway?

Permits. The idea did not jump out at him; he heard no trumpets or voices guiding him.

The door to Permits was blocked only by a rubber wedge. A matronly black woman who knitted her own sweaters and chose not to color her vaguely gray hair stood behind the long counter. She had the cheerful air of a first grade teacher or public librarian.

‘‘Police,’’ he introduced himself, displaying his badge. He began his description of Brian Coughlie only to be interrupted.

‘‘The INS agent who was just here,’’ she said.

‘‘Yes.’’ Coughlie had made his INS identity known to the woman. LaMoia took this as a bad sign, for it supported the man’s innocence. He wanted Coughlie defined-on or off his list of suspects-he didn’t want to keep guessing.

‘‘His interest here?’’ LaMoia asked.

‘‘Building permits,’’ she said. ‘‘Must have spent a half hour going over them.’’

‘‘Current? Past?’’

‘‘Current. Said that construction sites often employed illegals- illegal immigrants, you know? — for the manual labor, the ‘grunt jobs,’ I think he called them. Said construction permits were a great resource for the INS.’’

This made sense. LaMoia sank a little lower, his suspicions dashed. ‘‘Then you’d seen him before?’’ he inquired, thinking to ask.

‘‘Me? Oh, no. Never once. Not ever.’’

‘‘You’re new to this department?’’

‘‘Aren’t you the one for compliments!’’ she said. ‘‘Eighteen years I’ve worked here behind this counter.’’

‘‘Other INS agents?’’

‘‘Here? Never. Not so as they identified themselves, anyway.’’

LaMoia considered all this carefully as he asked to be shown the same material Coughlie had viewed.

LaMoia spent twenty minutes reviewing the exact same construction permits as had Brian Coughlie but failed to connect any importance to his case. He considered every angle: location of the sites; any possible connection to Mama Lu. He found nothing.

He asked a dozen questions, including if Coughlie had focused on any particular permit, if he had asked for any specific qualification. The woman couldn’t help him.

He could feel the connection staring back at him but could not see it. He decided to let it go, hoping it might make sense to him later, the way that sometimes happened.

‘‘Where to from here?’’ Gaynes asked.

‘‘I gotta get back to the surveillance,’’ LaMoia replied from the passenger seat of her Chevy. He didn’t see the point in wheels like this. No style. Nothing to offer.

He’d brought her a cup of mocha coffee, and she had seemed touched that he knew the way she took it.

‘‘Me?’’ she asked.

‘‘Try his crib. Try his office. Make up some bullshit if you have to. Try to find him. Keep me up to speed. If you strike out, when you get back to PS check with the lab. The Doc said he passed the Jill Doe evidence on to Lofgrin. Where’s it at? How come we don’t have it?’’

‘‘The Sarge?’’

‘‘He’s doing the dance with Mama Lu. He may have something- providing we ever see him again.’’

‘‘Don’t joke around like that,’’ she chastised him. ‘‘That shit bothers me.’’

‘‘Who’s joking?’’ LaMoia replied, taking one last noisy sip from the cup’s plastic lid before venturing back outside.

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