I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door. I was gazing out my second- floor office window down at Berkeley Street, eating a cinnamon donut and drinking coffee with a little milk and sugar. The girl looked lost among the businesspeople and tourists hustling along the icy sidewalks. She wore a pink Boston Red Sox cap and an oversized down parka with a fur collar, and stared up at the numbers on the office buildings where Berkeley intersects Boylston.
When she stopped at my building, she folded up a piece of paper and crossed the street with a lot of purpose. I had an open box of donuts and an uncashed check on my desk from Cone, Oakes. I’d done a little work for Rita Fiore and had been paid handsomely.
The winter had been dark, bleak, and endless, but sometime in the last hour I had actually seen the sun. My computer was playing Helen Forrest singing with the Harry James Orchestra. Life was full of promise.
I had a bite of donut just as I heard the knock on the door.
I opened it.
“You Spenser?” asked the girl in the pink Red Sox cap.
“The one and only.”
“People say you’re tough,” she said.
“Did they mention handsome and witty?”
“That you aren’t afraid to use a gun.”
“Only when my feelings get hurt.”
Her accent was South Boston, maybe Dorchester. Henry Higgins could have told me her exact address. I figured her for fifteen or sixteen. She stood about five-foot-five with straight reddish brown hair spilling from the Sox cap. Her eyes were green and very large, made slightly ridiculous with heavy eyeliner. “You really a private investigator?” she asked.
“Says so on the door.”
“And you didn’t get your license from the Internet or any - thing?”
“Were you a cop or something?”
“Thrown off the force for drinking?”
“Then why aren’t you a cop now?”
“I don’t play well with others,” I said. “Would you like to come in?”
She peered around me into my office, checking out my desk, two file cabinets, and the couch where Pearl slept when it was take- your- dog-to-work day. I extended my hand toward my guest chair and sat behind my desk. She joined me.
The girl had a full face with ruddy cheeks, a couple of moles on the right side. A cute kid if she’d sit up straight. But she slouched into her chair and nervously toyed with a Saint Christopher medal.
“Who busted your nose?” she asked.
“Jersey Joe Walcott,” I said.
“Former heavyweight champ,” I said. “Before your time.”
I pushed the box of donuts toward her. She looked down at my carefully chosen assortment. Then she looked back at me, still playing with the medal, and shook her head. I let the silence hang there for a moment. I figured if I waited long enough, she might tell me why she was in need of my services. After a long pause, she did.
“Somebody killed my mom.”
I took a deep breath and leaned forward. “When?”
“Four years ago,” she said.
“I want to find the bastards.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “Why now?”
“Nobody listens to kids,” she said. “I’m older now. You do this kind of stuff , right?”
“I’m good at making people listen,” I said.
“How much do you charge?”
I told her the usual rate. She began to dig through her pockets, pulling out five crumpled twenties and a ten, f attening the cash on my desktop. “Will this get you started?”
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