Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(16)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(16)
Author: Lisa Shearin

A flash drive.

“And maybe more than we bargained for,” he murmured.

8

FOR the first time this week I was grateful for the ice and snow—as a pack for the left side of my face.

I made yet another snowball and held it to my head. My hand was numb from holding snowballs, even through gloves that were supposed to be waterproof.

Yasha handed me the confiscated brass knuckles, saying “Hair of dog. Is that the phrase?”

“Close enough.” I slipped them on the hand not holding the snowball. Nice fit. I put my glove back on over them. At least I had a trophy for my trouble.

Calvin, who—conveniently for me—had been an army field medic in Iraq, deemed my brain to be non-concussed.

“Though if she’d been fifty or sixty years younger, I would have advised a trip to the ER,” he said with a completely straight face. “The guys were taking bets on the winner. Half were betting on the old woman.”

Yasha nodded in agreement. “The babushka is a biter.”

“Though nice style points there with the hat,” Calvin added. “We’ve never considered using hats as weapons. Maybe we should add it to our training.”

“I’d break every bone in my hand if I punched you,” I said. “You realize that’s the only thing saving you, right?”

The SPI commando with no neck gave me only one upward twitch of his lips. The man was a master of self-control.

I was in the SUV with Yasha and Calvin. Ian was outside on the phone. After relaying what had happened, he was doing very little talking and a whole lot of listening.

We had an awkward situation. If you could call having a dead body literally on ice and the knife-wielding granny who’d done the deed in nonpolice custody awkward. Which, legally speaking, was leaps and bounds beyond awkward. Right now we were probably breaking laws I’d never even heard of. Our guys had removed the tractor from the car. If you didn’t get too close to either one (say within twenty yards or so) both looked perfectly fine, as far as average vehicle condition went in New York.

“This is the second murder scene I’ve walked in on in less than twenty-four hours,” I said. “Is that a company record?”

“Is not even close,” Yasha told me.

“Good.”

“Though I think is record for newbie.”

“Great. Glad to know I’m making a difference.”

“And I know is first time SPI agent use tractor to catch killer.”

Calvin coughed, though it sounded more like he choked on a laugh.

I ignored him with as much dignity as I could muster, considering I had the imprint of the Queen of England’s brass knuckles on the side of my head. I looked out the window at my path of demolition and sighed.

While the destruction was still there, our team in their Green-Wood maintenance coveralls were not. Only two remained. They were flanking the assassin who was seated on the bench Ian had used to go through her purse. Her hat was back on her head, and while dented, was more or less in one piece. Her blue coat was draped around her shoulders and doing a nice job of hiding the handcuffs from any curious passersby. Fortunately for us, there weren’t any.

Ian got off the phone and came over to my open window. While I had been icing my head, Ian had made a quick trip back up to the body.

“Was it him?” I asked.

“License and credit cards confirm that he’s James Tarbert from Tribeca.”

“I wonder how Ollie knew him?”

“Right now, we can’t ask either one of them. The name matches the one on the key, so I’d say he was using the family mausoleum for more than dearly departed relatives.”

“Once the police locate his next of kin, he’ll be joining them.”

Ian nodded. “As soon as we’re out of here, the Seventy-second Precinct will get an anonymous call about a body in Green-Wood—one that’s not in a coffin. Captain Norwood will get the flash drive back to headquarters. Kenji will let us know what’s on it.”

I inclined my head toward Tarbert’s killer. “What about her?”

“The team will take our geriatric Golden Gloves winner in for questioning and find out who hired her. Hopefully she’ll know. A lot of the time contract kills are arranged without a face-to-face meeting. Maybe we’ll get lucky and she’ll at least have a name.”

I hesitated. “What if she’s not in the mood for a chat?”

“She’ll talk, and afterward she won’t remember a thing.”

“Uh . . . do I want to know how they’re going to do that?”

“Probably not. But it sounds worse than it is. We have people who are very good at what they do—getting information with no pain or injury to the suspect.”

“Kind of like a Vulcan mind meld?”

“Vaguely. She won’t remember a thing after stabbing the guy and before turning up on the Seventy-second’s doorstep, carrying her black purse full of evidence. As soon as she’s dropped off, another anonymous tip will be called in.”

“To tell the cops to go look out their front door?”

“Basically.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“Many times.”

“And it always goes as planned.”

“Without fail.”

“I’ve never been involved before.”

“I’m very much aware of that. I’m trying to think positive.”

I looked out at the tractor and Buick. “What about the mess?”

“The boss is a patron of Green-Wood,” Ian said. “She’ll make a donation that will more than repair the damage caused by”—he leveled a stare at me—“an unknown teenager who took a joyride on a tractor. Or if you’re feeling really guilty, I’m sure she’d be willing to take it out of your pay.”

I winced. “I’d be as old as the queen over there by the time it’s paid off.”

“Which is why the boss will take care of it.”

“Is she going to be mad?”

“Probably. But she’s an ends-justifies-the-means kind of woman.”

Yasha nodded knowingly. “Dragons, they are like that.”

I took one last look at the squashed Buick. “Good to know. I think.”

The white Suburban pulled up on the road closest to the bench, and the two agents escorted the little old lady to it. When the SUV pulled away, Ian opened my door and I scooted over so he could get in. Calvin was already in the passenger’s seat.

“We gonna go get ourselves a monster head?” I asked Ian.

He shut the door and buckled in. “Affirmative. Grab it and get out. The tip about the body won’t be called in until we’re clear, but with all the noise you made—”

“Catching the killer,” I reminded him.

“Yes, but the Seventy-second is only a few blocks from here, and it wouldn’t take much—”

Calvin half turned, his index finger on the comms unit in his ear. “The captain says two Green-Wood security cars are heading this way.”

“—to get the police involved,” Ian finished with an I-told-you-so look. “Looks like they’ll be getting that call sooner than we’d like.”

Yasha needed no further encouragement and got us moving. He glanced in the rearview at Ian. “Would be helpful to know where we are going.”

“Sorry, buddy. Keep going straight. Calvin, hand me that map in the door.”

Calvin tossed it back, and Ian found where we were now, used his index finger to trace a path to where we were going, and directed Yasha to our destination. It was conveniently close to the maintenance entrance and exit from the cemetery, away from Green-Wood security, and far away from the newly dead Tarbert and the newly destroyed tractor and Buick.

“Can I see the key?” I asked Ian.

He handed it to me and I turned it over in my hand. It had been bronze before age had given it a verdigris patina. It had the name “Tarbert” in raised lettering on the rounded end. The other two keys were definitely modern, but they had also darkened with age.

“It’s got a family name on it and looks old, but how did you know it was a key to a Green-Wood mausoleum?”

“Seen them before.”

“Another knowledge perk of our chosen profession?”

“You got it.”

“And where the mausoleum is?”

He held up his phone. “As close as a quick search on Green-Wood’s website. There’s only one listing for Tarbert, and it’s a mausoleum. Section sixty-one, Hill Side Path, off Valley Avenue.” He looked closely at the side of my head. “You all right?”

“Sure. I get chocked in the head with brass knuckles all the time.” I was starting to lisp either from swollen or frozen lips; I must have gotten hit there, too.

“When we get there, I want you to—”

“Let me guess. Stay right where I am.”

Ian almost smiled. Almost. “I was going to say that if you’re up to it, you can come with me.”

I almost dropped my snowball.

“You’ve earned it,” he said.

A reward was usually a good thing. What kind of reward was going into a mausoleum to look for a mummified monster head?

• • •

Ian and I made our way through the snow to the Tarbert family mausoleum. As the path name indicated, it was set into the side of a hill. The branches of a massive evergreen sheltered most of the mausoleum, so the snow wasn’t piled up against the door. Equally lucky for us, the area around Valley Avenue was deserted. No maintenance workers, no guests, no homicidal old ladies—but best of all, no security or police, at least not yet. Yasha and Calvin were keeping watch, and the only sound was the crunch of our boots in the snow.

I took a deep breath and blew it out in a blissful sigh. “Nothing but dead people.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m glad that there’s nothing but dead people around. They’re perfectly behaved.”

   
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