Marc’s snug log house was built to the latest environmental standards on an ideal lot with lake frontage and a sixteen foot cabin cruiser tied up at the dock. He was busy running down leads from the county’s Forensic Team, and now on Wednesday, his day off, and only twenty-four hours after the body had been discovered he put in a call:
"Doctor, I realize that you couldn’t have had a lot of time—"
"You’re correct about that," she cut in. He was prepared to be chewed out. "You’re unaware that I got a call this morning from the F.B.I.? They’ve taken over the case. I’m not supposed to divulge another word about it—not even to you." The doctor anticipated his "deep interest" and had decided to set aside strict procedure; she had a secret crush on him. "Indeed, Dr. Litel was murdered. Cause of death: injection of an overdose of the anesthetic…"
He ranged through his contacts, official ones from the military, business, and personal.
He wouldn’t tip off Hildstrom at Fleet. Marc had moved on to the ordinary and repetitious police work of small town America that dealt with the usual: domestic disputes, busting a meth lab every year or two, run-of-the-mill burglaries, and identity theft. It was just the job for him after their break-up three years ago. He couldn’t have been more unprepared for Sarah being ‘found on his own doorstep’. His messy desk with files and papers strewn about mocked and irritated him. He couldn’t have saved her and now he sat staring in vacant wonder at his inadequacy. Then he slammed a hand down on the desk at his slow-wittedness. It dawned on him that he had a contact at the F.B.I.’s Boston Bureau.
"Moses Sweethill speaking. How can I help you, Detective? And where do you know me from?" He had a sonorous baritone voice with a dignified, albeit, stiff manner.
"I met you last year at Moose Head Lake Boys Camp. You were there on Parents Day and Waterbury likes to support the event by having its town officials present."
"Of course, my son Frederick attends. Detective—"
"Halvers. We’ve had a murder here, the body of a Doctor Sarah Litel was found during the baseball game on Tuesday. I understand that the case is now under your office’s jurisdiction."
"Please hold for a second." He was kept waiting, timing it at two minutes, fifteen seconds. Keeping a precise record of events was important; he had retained the formality of military preciseness. "Coincidently, I’ve been instructed to meet you today at your office, Detective Hal-vers," spoken as if he was reading the name. "I’m a bit pressed to collect the case evidence, including all files…"
He mulled over the short conversation with Agent Sweethill. Did F.I.S.T. and the F.B.I. know about her work on that Top Secret project? Should he admit to their time together? His visit to Cal Winters should be easy to trace, even though he had visited a ‘Mister Donne’. Poor Mrs. Winters believed Cal had been killed by a bomb. She had received an urn of cremains, probably not even Cal’s.
Arriving at the Police Department, he saw the black sedan with U. S. government plates sitting at the curb in front of the building, no occupants in the car. Billy Lambert waited for him to step out of the open-gated relic called an elevator.
"They’re here, Lieutenant and lookin’ pretty grim to me. I put ’em in your office."
He entered: "Gentlemen, I’m sorry to keep you—"
"Nothing to apologize for," said the big, suited man. He was taller than Marc and held himself in that upright and prominent stance of the Marine he had once been. "F.I.S.T. has authorized the F.B.I. to investigate. I’m Agent Sweethill and my partner here is Agent Honeywell. I believe that they put us together just to confuse everyone." He grinned pleasantly, didn’t seem grim at all. Introductions done, Sweethill launched into their official business. He had fine features, with skin the color of light cocoa and a low-key quality that masked a winsome cunning. Marc sat behind his steel-case desk and the two agents were seated opposite him in old-style wooden armchairs on wheels, all of a vintage that belonged in a museum. Marc offered coffee which the agents politely declined.
"You were at a location with a project involving the military—a General Simpson confirmed that," said Agent Sweethill.
"That is correct." Marc looked right into his eyes.
"There you were assigned to Dr. Sarah Litel whose body was found in the Boys Camp—right here in your hometown."
"A bizarre happenstance that she was found here," Marc replied, confident that he had anticipated the questions he would be asked and the answers he would give. "I’m also very saddened and angry about her murder."
"You knew Dr. Litel—in the biblical sense—is that not true?" Sweethill was serious, moralistic, and not about to paper over a potentially embarrassing truth with ‘the old soft shoe’. "It’s my job to entertain sensitive topics."
"We were involved during our time on the project. We saw each other when we returned to the States after I went back to work for Fleet. We stopped seeing each other three years ago. My records indicate a last exchange of e-mails a year ago."
"Did she try to contact you during the period just before her death?"
"I only wish she had. I would’ve given my life to prevent her death."
Agent Sweethill, his big fingers opposed steeple-like, said: "Do you know Adam Pershing?"
"I know that Mr. Pershing was with Anders Research during the period that Sarah Litel had a position there too."
"Are you personally acquainted with him?"
"I saw Mr. Pershing on Parents Day at the Camp last year when I met you. That was the first and only time I saw him."
"As an aside, I know Mr. Pershing in a slight social context. We happen to live in the same neighborhood and our sons are friends," he stated plainly, which meant that no one need worry about being compromised, given preferential treatment, or treated unfairly.
"Did you know about the nature of the scientific project at that Asian location, Detective Halvers?" Agent Honeywell asked. "What was Dr. Litel’s task?"
"No to both of your questions." Marc replied, and wondered why the agent emphasized Sarah’s position as a ‘task’. "Scientifically, I’m limited to how water affects performance as a Navy SEAL. I learned about the bends and some science connected to my service."
"Did she divulge the intended goal of this project?" Agent Honeywell pressed him.
"I wasn’t privy to anything about her field of inquiry. We received the report from F.I.S.T. The file indicated she had a doctorate in chemistry from MIT."
"Do you have a present association with Fleet? Are you receiving any remuneration for supplying recent intel to them?" Sweethill asked with a blank expression. Marc looked steadily at the agent without a hint of annoyance, taking a matter-of-fact stance, he answered truthfully:
"Agent Sweethill, I cut my ties with Fleet more than three years ago and have had no contact with them since then. I value my peace of mind, aside from the fact that a hefty six-figure salary won’t do me any good buried in a cemetery.
"Detective—Halvers, local law enforcement has been released from this investigation. Should you unearth anything new, you’re obligated to contact me immediately," he said and handed him his card. The interview was concluded…
Later, at home that evening, there was a hard knock on the front door. He jumped up, startled, and took hold of his holstered pistol as he went to answer.
"Ah, Billy, come in, you must be plumb tuckered out as they used to say in the Old Westerns," He swung the door open, indicated the couch for the deputy, and took the stuffed chair opposite for himself, his square, thick body in massive relief as though carved from granite compared to Billy’s lanky one. The deputy began to speak: "Lieu—". Marc reminded him that they were off duty.
"Relax, Billy, just a wrap up of the day over dinner. I’m making a gourmet treat for us, your usual four kosher franks and baked beans. Unless you’d like a fifth frank. Frankly, you must burn calories like coal in an old steam engine." Marc got up and busied himself in the kitchen, which was part of the big open space, separated only by the work island.
“Four’s fine. I had a meatball club on the way back. I’ll tell ya, Marc, that Butterfield wasn’t forthcoming. I was lucky to get that Ex-Plex info outta him.”
“You make it sound like a laxative. It’s pronounced zee,” Marc corrected, preparing their dinner. “As in ‘Zee-Plex’. The way you say it isn’t important. The reasons Sarah worked there are.”
Billy Lambert was in Marc’s unit in the SEALS. They had been on missions, in very tricky situations where one false step would’ve meant disaster. Cal Winters had been part of the team too. They were ‘brothers’ who wouldn’t have hesitated to lay down their lives for one another and for the survival of the unit. Marc felt that he was responsible for the loss of Cal. He had been the Commander—never to be taken lightly. Tradition demanded that, and heartfelt knowledge reinforced that belief. He was the guardian of many, many volumes in a huge, imaginary library crammed with secret writings that he could not speak of…