America's Favorite Crime Writer
America's favorite crime writer, Patricia Cornwell in The Front.
Win Garano sets two lattes on a picnic table in front of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. It’s a sunny afternoon, mid- May, and Harvard Square is crowded. He straddles a bench, overdressed and sweaty in a black Armani suit and black patent- leather Prada shoes, pretty sure the original owner of them is dead.
He got a feeling about it when the saleslady in the Hand- Me- Ups shop said he could have the“gently worn” outfit for ninety- nine dollars. Next she pulled out suits, shoes, belts, ties, even socks. DKNY, Hugo Boss, Gucci, Hermès, Ralph Lauren. All from the same celebrity whose name I can’t tell you, and it occurred to Win that not so long ago, a wide receiver for the Patriots got killed in a car wreck. One eighty, six feet tall, muscular but not a moose. In other words, about Win’s size.
He sits alone at the picnic table, more self-conscious by the moment. Students, faculty, the elite—most of them in jeans, shorts, carrying knapsacks—cluster at other tables, deep in conversations that include very few comments about the dull lecture District Attorney Monique Lamont just gave at the Forum. No Neighbor Left Behind. Win warned her it was a confusing title, not to mention a banal topic for such a prestigious political venue. She’s not going to appreciate that he was right. He doesn’t appreciate that she ordered him here on his day off so she could boss him around, belittle him. Make a note of this. Make a note of that. Call so and so. Get her a coffee. Starbucks. Latte with skim milk and Splenda. Wait for her outside in the heat while she hobnobs inside the air- conditioned Littauer Center.
He sullenly watches her emerge from the brick building, escorted by two plainclothes officers from the Massachusetts State Police, where Win is a homicide investigator currently assigned to the Middlesex County District Attorney’s detective unit. In other words, assigned to Lamont, who called him at home last night and said effective immediately, he’s on leave from his regular duties.
I’ll explain after my lecture at the Forum. See you at two. No further details.
She pauses to give an interview to the local ABC affiliate, then to NPR. She talks with reporters from The Boston Globe, the AP, and that Harvard student, Cal Tradd, who writes for the Crimson, thinks he’s from The Washington Post. The press loves Lamont. The press loves to hate her. No one is indifferent to the powerful, beautiful DA—today, conspicuous in a bright green suit. Escada. This year’s spring collection. Seems she’s been on quite the shopping spree of late, a new outfit practically every time Win sees her. She continues talking to Cal as she walks confidently across the brick plaza, past massive planters of azaleas, rhododendrons, and pink and white dogwoods. Blond, blue- eyed, pretty- boy Cal, so cool and collected, so sure of himself, never flustered, never frowns, always so damn pleasant. Says something while scribbling on his note pad, and Lamont nods, and he says something else, and she keeps nodding. Win wishes the guy would do something stupid, get himself kicked out of Harvard. Flunking out would be even better. What a friggin’ pest.
Lamont dismisses Cal, signals for her plainclothes protection to give her privacy, and sits across from Win, her eyes hidden by reflective gray- tinted glasses.
“I thought it went well.” She picks up her latte without thanking him for it.
“Not much of a turnout. But you seemed to make your point,” he says.
“Obviously, most people, including you, don’t grasp the enormity of the problem.” That flat tone she uses when her narcissism has been insulted. “The decline of neighborhoods is potentially as destructive as global warming. Citizens have no respect for law enforcement, no interest whatsoever in helping us or each other. This past weekend I was in New York, walking through Central Park, and noticed a backpack abandoned on a bench. Do you think a single person thought to call the police? Maybe consider there could be an explosive device inside it? No. Everyone just kept going, figuring if it blew up, it wasn’t their problem as long as they didn’t get hurt, I suppose.”
“The world’s going to hell, Monique.”
“People have slipped into complacency, and here’s what we’re going to do about it,” she says. “I’ve set the stage. Now we create the drama.”
Every day with Lamont is a drama.
She toys with her latte, looks around to see who’s looking at her. “How do we get attention? How do we take people who are jaded, desensitized, and make them care about crime? Care so much they decide to get involved at a grassroots level? Can’t be gangs, drugs, carjackings, robberies, burglaries. Why? Because people want a crime problem that’s, let’s be honest, front-page news but happens to others, not to them.”
“I wasn’t aware people actually want a crime problem.”
He notices a skinny young woman with kinky red hair loitering near a Japanese maple not far from them. Dressed like Raggedy Ann, right down to her striped stockings and clunky shoes. Saw her the other week, in downtown Cambridge, loitering around the courthouse, probably waiting to go before a judge. Probably some petty crime like shoplifting.
“An unsolved sexual homicide,” Lamont is saying. “April fourth, 1962, Watertown.”
“I see. Not a cold case this time but a frozen one,” he says, keeping his eye on Raggedy Ann. “I’m surprised you even know where Watertown is.”
In Middlesex County, her jurisdiction—along with some sixty other modest municipalities she doesn’t give a damn about.
“Four square miles, population thirty-five thousand, very diverse ethnic base,” she says. “The perfect crime that just so happens to have been committed in the perfect microcosm for my initiative. The chief will partner you up with his lead detective.... You know, the one who drives that monstrous crime scene truck. Oh, what is it they call her?”
“That’s right. Because she’s short and fat.”
“She has a prosthesis, a below- the- knee amputation,” he says.
“Cops can be so insensitive. I believe the two of you know each other, from the little grocery store around the corner where she works a second job. So that’s a good start. Helps to be friends with someone you’re going to spend a lot of time with.”
“It’s an upscale gourmet shop, and isn’t just a second job, and we’re not friends.”
“You sound defensive. The two of you go out, maybe not get along? Because that could be a problem.”
“Nothing personal between us, never even worked a case with her,” Win says. “But I would think you have, since Watertown has plenty of crime and she’s been around as long as you have.”
“Why? Has she talked about me?”
“Usually we talk about cheese.”
Lamont glances at her watch. “Let’s get to the facts of the case. Janie Brolin.”
“Never heard of her.”
“British. She was blind, decided to spend a year in the States, chose Watertown, most likely because of Perkins, probably the most famous school for the blind in the world. Where Helen Keller went.”
“Perkins wasn’t located in Watertown back in the Helen Keller days. It was in Boston.”
“And why would you know trivia like that?”
“Because I’m a trivial person. And obviously you’ve been planning this drama. for a while. So why did you wait until the last minute to tell me about it?”
“This is very sensitive and must be handled very discreetly. Imagine being blind and realizing there’s an intruder inside your apartment. That horror factor and something far more important. I think you’re going to discover she very well may have been the Boston Strangler’s first victim.”
“You said early April 1962?” Win frowns. “His alleged first murder wasn’t until two months later, in June.”
“Doesn’t mean he hadn’t killed before, just that earlier cases weren’t linked to him.”
“How do you propose we prove the Janie Brolin murder—or the Strangler’s other thirteen alleged murders, for that matter—was committed by him when we still don’t really know who he was?”
“We have Albert DeSalvo’s DNA.”
“No one’s ever proved he was the Strangler, and more to the point, do we have DNA from the Janie Brolin case for comparison?”
“That’s for you to find out.”
He can tell by her demeanor there’s no DNA and she damn well knows it. Why would there be, some forty-five years later? Back then, there was no such thing as forensic DNA or even a thought that there might be someday. So forget proving or disproving anything, as far as he’s concerned.
“It’s never too late for justice,” Lamont pontificates—or Lamonticates, as he calls it. “It’s time to unite citizens and police in fighting crime. To take back our neighborhoods, not just here but worldwide.” Same thing she just said in her uninspiring lecture. “We’re going to create a model that will be studied everywhere.”
Raggedy Ann is sending text messages on her cell phone. What a whack job. Harvard Square’s full of them. The other day, Win saw some guy licking the sidewalk in front of the Coop.
“Obviously, nothing about this to the press until the case is solved. Then, of course, it comes from me. It’s too hot for May,” she complains, getting up from the picnic table. “Watertown tomorrow morning, ten sharp, the chief’s office.”
She leaves her barely touched latte for him to dutifully toss in the trash.