Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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USA: Chapter Three

By nine-thirty the following morning I had contacted Ben and the property owner's agent and their attorney, and agreed on a new settlement date. The agent and his lawyer both bitched about the eleventh-hour postponement, but when I explained what had happened they reluctantly went along. It also didn't hurt that we threatened to walk away from the deal if they refused. I knew they needed our cash much more than we needed their land.

I then called Ronko. He told me the autopsy hadn't produced any surprises; the cause of death was the gunshot wounds. But David had been tortured before he died. Aside from the burns, Ronko had mentioned yesterday, David's lower abdomen and groin areas had been pierced numerous times with something sharp, maybe an ice pick. Ronko said the wounds weren't deep, but had occurred before he died. There was a lot of blood. God, David must have gone through hell!

Look, Lieutenant, David was big and strong, and in good shape. There is no way one person could have done this without a helluva fight, and you said there was no sign of that in the room. It just doesn't add up - something's wrong. The only way it could have happened is if there was more than one attacker. Even then they would have had a fight on their hands. Maybe they drugged him.

Ronko mumbled something I couldn't understand, then responded in a voice so low I could hardly hear him, We know he had a few drinks, but drug results were inconclusive. The lab boys still have some more tests to run. And we haven't ruled out the possibility that more than one person was involved.

There was a long pause. I was about to say something when he continued, again almost whispering, Mr. McQuaid, I'm sorry, but I've said too much already. I'm not even supposed to be talking to you. I' ll tell you part of it, but only because I think you should know that something screwy is going on with our investigation. Maybe you know something I don't. First thing this morning Captain Murphy called me into his office and chewed my ass - but good. Murphy's my boss. He said he doesn't like the way I' ve handled Nesbitt's homicide; supposedly sloppy procedure on my part, too many loose ends. So he ordered me not to discuss the case with anybody, including you. It's goddamn ridiculous, the case isn't two days old and everything's been done by the book. Murphy's had nothing to do with the investigation until now - he was off yesterday and hasn't even read my reports - so I told him it looked like somebody was squeezing him to muzzle me, but I sure as hell can't figure out why. He denied it; said I was overreacting. Truth is, other than the casino people you're the only outsider I' ve talked to, and the killing has gotten hardly any media coverage. After my session with Murphy, I had my men do a quick check through the department. As far as we can tell there have been no calls about Nesbitt, other than yours, and no sign of anybody snooping around. I don't know who or why but somebody got to Murphy; he knows who you are, and knows you were here yesterday, and that we talked. I told him I didn't discuss the investigation with you, that in fact you could be considered a suspect, and I only answered some of your questions because of you i.d.'d the body. That's when he said no, you're a civilian, and could compromise our investigation; you'd just have to keep your nose out of police business. His words exactly. It's bullshit, you never stuck your nose in our business - I think he's the one overreacting. Just understand that Nesbitt's homicide still has top priority with my squad, and I'm not the one stonewalling you - I'm only following orders. Oh, one more question before we end this; you said Nesbitt was a London banker, do you know anything more about his background that might explain Murphy's action - was he some kind of big shot?

David was just a banker and a hell of a nice guy. He was one of the top two or three executives in his bank, but certainly no big shot'. I' 've already told you all I know about him. I have no idea why anybody would pressure your boss or interfere with your investigation, certainly nobody I know of. And I have no intention of meddling in your case; all I want is for you to catch the bastards who killed him. I talked with David's boss last night, and believe me, he feels as I do about this, and he expects results. I can promise you that he has the resources to back up his demands and, if you don't come up with something in the next few days, you' re going to have his private investigators all over your case like ants at a picnic - whether your boss likes it or not. That's the way David's boss wants it, and I can assure you that's the way it's going to be. Understood?

I knew I was going well beyond what Trimble and I had discussed last night, but since I didn't have a clue about where this guy Murphy was coming from, I felt it was a bluff worth running.

Yeah, I do. He started to say something else but stopped. Again there was a long pause before he continued. I really can't talk any more now, but I' ll tell Murphy what you said about Nesbitt's boss. In fact, it' ll give me great pleasure. One other thing before I hang up - Nesbitt's body can be picked-up anytime this afternoon or tomorrow morning. We' re finished with it. Are you handling the arrangements?

Yes, in fact, that's the main reason I called. I' ll call the funeral director now and see if I can have the body picked up this afternoon. I'm going to fly to England with the body, and I probably won't be back before next Tuesday or Wednesday. So, if anything important develops, tell your boss to call Nancy Todd, my secretary. She can get in touch with me if she thinks it's necessary. I hope my sarcasm was obvious. And before you hang up, I have one question for you: what the hell do you mean by saying I could be considered a suspect'? How the hell can that be?

Come on, Mr. McQuaid, he said with no humor in his voice, unless we find evidence to the contrary, anybody who had contact with Nesbitt is a suspect. I resented it, but he was right.

After I hung up, I called an old college buddy who manages a local funeral home. I explained what had to be done, and he agreed to have everything ready for a Thursday evening flight; all he needed was the airline and flight number. I turned that chore over to Nancy and made my promised call to London just before eleven - four o' clock their time.

When Trimble came on the line he said he and his wife had spent most of the night with Anne Nesbitt. She had taken the news of David's death very hard. At first, she insisted on immediately flying here to be with him. Trimble had talked her out of it but was relieved to hear that I would be arriving Friday morning with the body. He asked if I had checked other airlines for an earlier flight; I said no, I'd be coming to British Air. I do a fair amount of flying, but unfortunately not as much as I'd like to Britain. Some of our domestic lines are O.K. but when I fly to England or Scotland I use British Air. I'm just impressed with the way they run their airline: smooth takeoff, drinks, close the shades, drinks, dinner, drinks, nap, breakfast, open the shades, smooth landing. Very orderly, good drinks, decent airline food, very professional.

There's only one British Air flight each day from Philadelphia, I said. It arrives at Heathrow about seven-thirty in the morning, your time. You mentioned that the funeral service probably won't be until Monday. I'd like to attend. You and I could meet any time before Monday that's convenient for you.

That's fine. I'll take care of arrangements here for the body, and I'll have a car pick you up at the terminal. The funeral service has been tentatively scheduled for eleven Monday morning, pending your call. I'll firm that up now. Services will be held at the family church just outside London, with burial in the church cemetery. If you'd like, we can meet in my office late Friday afternoon - that will give you time to check into your hotel and freshen up. We can conduct our business and then I'd like you to be my guest for dinner Friday evening. Can we arrange hotel accommodations for you?

No thanks, Mr. Trimble, that's not necessary. I've been to London a few times and know a number of good hotels. I'll have my secretary find out what's available and make a reservation. As far as our meeting is concerned, Friday afternoon sounds fine.

I no sooner finished talking with Trimble when Suzy walked into my office. A good nights sleep had done her a world of good; she looked great and had the familiar sparkle back in her eyes. Cole, she said, If you have no serious objections, I'd like to go to London with you. I feel I owe it to David and his widow; I've never met her, but given the circumstances, it must be doubly difficult for her. Besides, I've never been to England and I haven't had a vacation in three years. With all that's happened I think it would do me good to get away for a few days.

I agree... it's kind of a somber occasion for a vacation, but I certainly have no objections. In fact, I'll enjoy your company - I hate traveling alone. But what about Julia, you can't leave her home alone.

I wouldn't, I'm still concerned about her. I hadn't thought about going with you until Becky Seifert called before breakfast this morning. Becky invited Julia to spend the next ten days with her and her family at their cabin in the Poconos. The Seiferts' live just down the street, they're really lovely people. Becky and Julia are classmates. At first, Julia said she couldn't go; she told Becky she had to stay home to take care of me, can you imagine? I knew it would do her good to get away too, so I lied. I told her you had asked me to go to England with you, but I couldn't leave her home alone. Within a minute she had called Becky back and agreed to go. They'll be leaving this evening right after dinner. If you had said no I'd be in deep trouble.

Good, I said, trying to keep a straight face. I just changed my mind - you can't go. It'll be worth going alone just to see how you wiggle off the hook with Julia.

That's not fair. Besides, I can invoke executive privilege. After all, we are equal partners - I have as much right to go as you - so there! Problem was, she couldn't keep a straight face, so we both had a good laugh, our first in some time.

O.K., I said, We both go. We'll be leaving tomorrow evening; I'll have Nancy make the arrangements. Trimble wants to meet with me Friday afternoon, and have dinner Friday evening. I don't recommend that you attend my meeting with him; my gut feeling is that we'll be rehashing everything that's happened, but maybe you could join us for dinner.

I think you're right, but I'd also rather not attend dinner either. It'll give you an opportunity to get all of the talk over with. I'll do some shopping, or maybe just relax at the hotel.

One other thing, Suzy, Trimble said they will pay all of my trip expenses. I have no intention of letting him do that, but I don't want to offend him. Having you along will make it easier to decline; we're there to pay our respects to David's family, but we're also taking a little vacation. After lunch I had Nancy make the travel arrangements. In deference to Suzy's desire to shop, I told Nancy to try for two rooms at Dukes Hotel, just off St. James Place. It's in a great part of London, but is relatively small and quiet. It's also within walking distance of some of London's best stores, and is only a short taxi ride from Trimble's bank on Queen Victoria Street.

When Nancy buzzed me a short time later she said everything was confirmed. She reminded me to pick up traveler's checks and to dig out my passport. She said she had also reminded Suzy about her passport. Suzy had gotten a passport about a month before Walter was killed - he was going to take her to Paris - but she never got to use it.

I spent most of the afternoon closeted with Joe Mancuso, our estimator, going over the final figures for tomorrow's school bid. Joe had squeezed a number of our subs for better prices and was still waiting to hear from two. Other than that our bid was ready and the numbers looked good, but you never know in this crazy business. You spend countless hours putting together what you think is a tight bid and then somebody hungrier, or dumber than you decides to literally buy the job. He's in, you're out.

Even though I had a lot of unfinished work on my desk, I left the office at five. I had some errands to do on the way home, and there wouldn't be any time tomorrow. I also wanted to get home early, fix myself some dinner and hit the sack. I wanted to get to the office by six tomorrow morning to get a jump on things, and I knew I wouldn't be getting any real sleep on the plane tomorrow night.

I was pulling out of the dry cleaner's parking lot, my third stop on the way home, when something caught my eye in the rearview mirror. It was a dark blue Ford, with two men in the front seat, and I realized this was the third time I had noticed them since leaving the office. Oh, shit, with what's happened during the last two days it's damn spooky to think somebody is following me. Or is my imagination playing games? On the other hand, it's ridiculous. Why would anybody be tailing me? To put my mind at ease I decided to find out. I pulled out of line, hit the gas and passed a few cars. At the next side road, I ducked back in line, braked hard and made a fast right turn, with horns honking behind me. Two blocks later I looked in the mirror and there they were. They stayed about a block behind me all the way home. At least I answered my question, but with all my bobbing and weaving of a few minutes ago, they have to realize that I know. When I pulled into my driveway they drove past without slowing and continued out of sight. It dawned on me that these guys were either rank amateurs or they don't really care that I know I'm being followed. If they know who I am they sure didn't have to follow me to find out where I live - my number's in the book. Then I thought about what Ronko said, and my concern was replaced with curiosity; they did nothing but follow me. Maybe they're cops.

Originally published: Tuesday, March 20, 2007; most-recently modified: Monday, June 03, 2019