Jack Fairweather's new book argues the war could turn out to be the defining tragedy of the 21st century.
We tour Parker’s Cambridge, Mass., home with his widow Joan Parker, who was the inspiration for the Susan Silverman character in the Spenser novels.
IT WAS SPRING. The vernal equinox had done whatever it was it did, and the late March air drifting in through the open window in my offi ce was soft even though it wasn’t really warm yet. Spring training was under way in full tiresomeness, and opening day was two weeks off. I was drinking coffee and studying a new comic strip called Frazz to see if there were any existential implications that I might be missing, when Quirk came in and went to the coffeepot, poured himself a cup, added sugar and condensed milk, and took a seat opposite my desk.
“Care for coffee?” I said.
“Got some,” Quirk said. “Nice of you to ask.”
“You ever read Frazz?” I said.
“What the fuck is Frazz,” Quirk said.
He was as big as I was, which is biggish, and always dressed well. Today he had on a chestnut-colored Harris tweed jacket. His hands were thick, and there was in his eyes a look of implacable resolution that made most people careful with him.
“A comic strip in the Globe,” I said. “It’s new.”
“I’m a grown man,” Quirk said.
“And a police captain,” I said.
“Exactly,” Quirk said. “I don’t read comic strips.”
“I withdraw the question,” I said.
“I need something,” he said.
“Everyone says so.”
He ignored me. Quirk ignored a lot. He wasn’t being impolite. He was merely focused, and I had known for years that he cared very little what other people thought.
“You know about Jumbo Nelson?”
“The actor,” I said.
“Here shooting a movie,” I said.
“You guys think he murdered a young woman,” I said.
“He’s a person of interest,” Quirk said.
I looked at him. I’d known him a long time.
“And?” I said.
“Lemme fi ll you in,” Quirk said.
I got up and poured myself more coffee, and warmed Quirk’s up. Then I put the pot on the burner, sat down in my chair, and leaned back with my feet up.
“Do,” I said.
“Real name’s Jeremy Franklin Nelson,” Quirk said. “Ever seen him?”
“Seen his photograph,” I said. “Never seen a movie.”
“Photo’s enough,” Quirk said. “You can see where the nickname came from.”
“I can,” I said.
“He’s in town,” Quirk said, “shooting a movie. Which you know.”
“As yet untitled,” I said.
“Frazz tell you that?” Quirk said.
“I’m adventurous,” I said. “Sometimes I read other stuff.”
“Fucking media’s treating this like it was the Lindbergh kidnapping.”
“Lotta media to fill,” I said.
“Too much,” Quirk said. “Always was. Anyway, Jumbo is in town, travels with a bodyguard, an Indian.”
“A Native American?”
“Like I said.”
“Could be an India Indian,” I said.
“This guy’s American Indian,” Quirk said. “Wait’ll you get a load of him.”
“Dangerous?” I said.
“I dunno,” Quirk said. “Looks good.”
“Bodyguard involved?” I said.
“In the crime? Not that I know of,” Quirk said.
“Press tells me that Jumbo raped and murdered a young woman and should be beheaded at once.”
“Yeah,” Quirk said. “That’s what they tell me, too. What everybody tells me.”
“You have doubts?”
“Here’s what I know,” he said. “Girl’s name is Dawn Lopata, twenty years old, graduated last year from Bunker Hill Community College, was not employed.”
Quirk sipped some coffee.
“More sugar,” he said.
He went to the coffeemaker on the fi le cabinet and got some, and stirred it in, and sat back down. He took another sip and nodded.
“She’s watching them shoot a scene outdoors on the Common, near Park Street Station, and Jumbo spots her. He sends a production assistant over to invite her to have lunch with him in the commissary. She’s thrilled.”
“As I would be,” I said.
“Yeah,” Quirk said. “Me too. So she has lunch with all the stars and the movie crew, and Jumbo gets her phone number and says maybe they can get together later, and she says oh-wow-yes.”
“Do you know she said that?”
“The oh-wow-yes?” Quirk said. “No. So he calls her that night and she goes over to his hotel. They drink some champagne. They do some lines. They have sex. When they get through, they get dressed. Jumbo excuses himself for a moment while he goes to the bathroom. And while he’s gone she lies back down on the bed and dies.”
“I was having sex with Jumbo Nelson,” I said, “I might consider it myself.”
“It was after,” Quirk said.
“Maybe she died of shame,” I said.
“There was considerable bruising around the vaginal area,”
“Suggesting an, ah, accessory object?”
“ME isn’t sure,” Quirk said. “Maybe Jumbo really is jumbo.”
“Cause of death?” I said.
“ME thinks it’s asphyxiation,” Quirk said. “They found some ligature marks on her neck. But they don’t seem entirely comfortable with how they got there.”
“They’re not sure?” I said.
“Aren’t they supposed to be sure?” I said.
“For crissake,” Quirk said. “One case I had, they lost the fucking body.”
“That would be disheartening,” I said.
“Was,” Quirk said. “Also, when they’re not sure, it gives a lot of space for rumors.”
“I heard one report that the accessory object was the neck of a champagne bottle and it broke inside her and she bled to death.”
Quirk shook his head.
“I know,” Quirk said. “No evidence of it.”
“I don’t think the Internet requires evidence.”
“Or knows how to get it,” Quirk said.
“How ’bout Jumbo?” I said.
“Says he doesn’t know what happened. Admits he was whacked on coke and booze. He says he left her alone and when he came back in the bedroom, he notices she’s not responsive. Tries to wake her up. Can’t. And calls nine-one-one.”
“He’d been on top of her?” I said.
“Apparently,” Quirk said. “At some point.”
“Jesus,” I said.
“I know, and we’ve thought about that.”
“How much does he weigh?” I said.
“Don’t know,” Quirk said. “I’d say three-fi fty to four hundred.
He claims he doesn’t know, either.”
“What kind of guy is he?” I said.
“Awful,” Quirk said. “Food, booze, dope, sex. Never saw a girl too young. Or a guy.”
“Long as it’s alive?” I said.
“I don’t know if he requires that,” Quirk said.
“But a nice guy aside from his hobbies,” I said.
“Loud, arrogant, stupid, foulmouthed,” Quirk said.
“You think he’s foulmouthed?”
“Fucking A,” Quirk said.
Copyright (c) 2010 by the Estate of Robert B. Parker.
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