“Blair Sandburg, right?”
“Yeah.” Thank God for that. Ray took it as a sign for the better that he got Sandburg on the first try. “And you are?”
“Ray Vecchio. Detective, Chicago PD.”
“What can I do for you, Detective?”
Ray looked around the park to make sure no one — especially Kowalski — was around before he started talking. Of course, with Kowalski, there was no telling where he was. These days, he could be half a mile away and still listening in, the nosy bastard. “You’re the guy that knows about the senses deal. Sentinels, right?”
To anyone else, Sandburg’s quick, “No, man. I don’t know shit,” would have sounded immediate and true. To Ray, who’d spent a very ulcer-inducing year in Las Vegas, there was a tiny, barely-there hesitation before Sandburg spoke. It was enough to convince him he was right about the guy.
“Yeah, sure. Whatever,” Ray said. “Now about these sentinels —”
“I told you, Detective. I don’t know anything.” Sandburg’s voice was colder, more tense. Ordinarily, Vecchio would have cut another cop a break, but with his own sanity at stake, Sandburg would just have to suck it up and take it like a man.
“And you expect me to believe that because — why?”
“Take a look at the newspaper clippings.” Sandburg sounded a little more relaxed, like he was on familiar ground. “My research was fake. I’m a fraud.”
“Yu-huh.” Ray leaned back against the park bench. “See, here’s the thing. I’m a detective — a damn good one, if I do say so myself, and I do. So does my captain, though not willingly, because captains are like that. Still with me?”
“My singular skill as a detective is why, when I first got your name, I did a little more digging around. Would you like to know what my detecting
came up with?”
There was a long silence, long enough that Ray took a look at his cell phone to make sure he was still connected. Finally, Sandburg said, “This conversation is —”
“I found out about a guy who worked with Cascade PD’s Major Crimes unit as a consultant for three years — unpaid — and helped boost that unit’s success rate by a pretty decent amount.”
“Oddly, however, when this same guy confessed to everyone and God that he was a fraud, he stayed right where he was. He didn’t leave Cascade, and for that matter, he didn’t even move out of the place where he lived with the very cop who he apparently screwed over.”
“Alarms started ringing like crazy when I found out the captain of Major Crimes not only pulled every string he could find to get this so-called fraud into the police academy, but he also hired the fraud straight after graduation.”
Ray wasn’t obnoxious in victory — unless it was victory over Kowalski — so he continued from where he’d left off earlier. “My partner’s got that senses thing going on. He’s making me batshit insane, and if —”
“What do you mean by, ‘That senses thing going on’?”
“I mean exactly what I said. Before Aramintha Bolt kidnapped him and threw him underground, Kowalski was a normal, middle-aged pain in the ass who couldn’t see for shit without his glasses and was starting to go deaf because he didn’t know how to use the goddamn volume control on his stereo. These days? Not so much.”
“Start at the beginning,” Sandburg said, sounding interested for the first time. “What exactly happened?”
“Bolt — Kowalski — these names aren’t ringing bells for you? Jesus. CNN had twenty-four-hour coverage for a while there.” Ray spotted some old guy light up and wished like hell he smoked. If he did, he’d have something to fidget with.
“Sorry. I was in Mexico for the last month, and this is my first day back. When — hang on.” Sandburg must have put the receiver against his chest or something, because everything sounded muffled, but Ray distinctly heard, “Would you calm down, Jim?...Right, Chicago.” Sandburg said something about Kowalski, but Vecchio didn’t catch it. Instead, Sandburg came back to the phone and said, “Tell me what happened.”
“Okay, so there’s this wacko family, the Bolts — you maybe remember them from a train incident about ten, eleven years back?”
“Um...impromptu thermonuclear device on a train filled with Mounties?”
“Yeah. And then —”
“Wait, I think I’ve got this one — stolen nuclear sub in the Arctic, eight or nine years ago?”
“Yeah. Same family.” Ray took in a deep breath while Sandburg let loose with a low whistle. “Turns out the Bolts are worse than cockroaches, because just when you think they’re all safely in jail, another cousin comes out of the woodwork, which is what happened eight years ago.”
“Kowalski and a Mountie were the ones to arrest Bolt in the Arctic, right?”
“Bingo. Now, the Bolts, not being the forgiving sort, took their time then nabbed Kowalski almost a month ago.” Which was maybe three months after Fraser had disappeared to do a long-term undercover gig in Vancouver. Vecchio still wondered what prompted Benny to take off like that, but Kowalski wasn’t talking, and anyway, there was this other crap to worry about. “He was thrown into a cell with some food and water, but not much light or sound. Meanwhile, we started getting these obnoxious little notes from Aramintha Bolt about how Kowalski would spend the rest of his life locked up unless we let her uncle and cousin go. Goddamn freaks.”
“How long was he in isolation?”
“Ten days. And when we got him out of there —”
“All his senses were online.” Ray heard scratching and couldn’t tell if the connection was bad or if Sandburg was taking notes. “Do you know if he experienced anything like that in childhood?”
“What? Kidnapping? No.”
“Not that — hyperactive senses. Did he —”
“Hang on. I got another call.” Vecchio looked at his phone, muttered about the probability of one of Kowalski’s ancestors having mated with a jackass, and then answered, “What?”
“I heard that, Vecchio.”
“‘I heard that, Vecchio,’” Ray repeated as snidely as he could. “Don’t you know how to say anything else? For that matter, do you even remember what the hell privacy is?”
“Stop whining. And tell that Sandburg guy I did
get kidnapped. When I was ten.”
“I don’t remember seeing anything in your —”
“Yes, goddamn it, aliens. You don’t believe me, ask Frannie or Welsh. They were there the day Fraser hypnotized me and found out about it.”
“Jesus.” Ray took a deep breath. “Anything else I should know about?”
“Probably, but I’ll be there in a couple of minutes, so we can figure it out then.”
Ray looked around. There was no way in hell Kowalski tracked him. Not possible. He’d taken two cabs and had one of them circle around before dropping him at the park. “Where the hell are you?”
“West of you. Tell Sandburg, would you? No sense keeping him waiting.” Kowalski disconnected, and Ray peered off to the west. If he squinted, he could make out a figure that might
Ray lifted his phone. “Sandburg?”
“I’m telling you now, you have got
to tell me how to shut him down. That freak just tracked me over half of Chicago.” Yeah. It was Kowalski jogging toward him. His arm was raised, and Ray could see that Kowalski’s middle finger was also raised.
“Really?” Ray groaned when he heard Sandburg’s enthusiasm. “Did he use scent or sound?”
“Who the hell knows? By the way, that was him on the other call just now. He said he was kidnapped by aliens when he was ten.”
There was a long pause then Sandburg said, “Aliens?”
“I’m not doing this again,” Ray said. “Look, just tell me what we can do to get him back to normal.” He would have waxed rhapsodic about how much, how goddamn much
he wanted Kowalski to stop clinging to him, but the last time Ray mouthed off about it, Kowalski looked — well — hurt. Like Ray didn’t care. Which Ray didn’t, except in a cop-partner kind of way, and why Kowalski should expect more, Ray didn’t know.
Kowalski’s jogging turned into a flat out run, which worried Ray.
“There’s nothing you
can do, but there might —”
“Off the phone, Vecchio,” Kowalski shouted.
“Purse snatcher,” Kowalski said as he ran past.
Ray swore, then told Sandburg, “I have to call you back. My partner has delusions of being a Mountie.”