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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by John Verdon

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Verdon, John. Shut your eyes tight / by John Verdon.—1st ed. p.


1. Detectives—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. PS3622.E736S57 2011

I. Title.



ISBN 978-0-307-71789-4 eISBN 978-0-307-71791-7

Printed in the United States of America

Book design by Lynne Amft Jacket design by Superfantastic

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

the United States of America Book design by Lynne Amft Jacket design by Superfantastic 10 9


The perfect solution

He stood in front of the mirror and smiled with deep satisfaction at his own smiling reflection. He could not at that moment have been more pleased with himself, with his life, with his intelligence—no, it was more than that, more than mere intelligence. His mental status could more accurately be described as a profound understanding of every- thing. That was precisely what it was—a profound understanding of everything, an understanding that went far beyond the normal range of human wisdom. He watched the smile on his face in the mirror stretching wider at the aptness of the phrase, which he had italicized in his mind as he thought it. Internally he could feel—literally feel— the power of his insight into all things human. Externally, the course of events was proof of it. First of all, to put it in the simplest terms, he had not been caught. Almost twenty-four hours had passed, almost to the minute now, and in that nearly complete revolution of the earth he had only grown safer. But that was predictable; he had taken care to ensure that there would be no trail to follow, no logic that could lead anyone to him. And in fact no one had come. No one had found him out. Therefore it was reasonable to conclude that his elimination of the presumptuous bitch had been a success in every way. Everything had gone according to plan, smoothly, conclusively— yes, conclusively was an excellent word for it. Everything occurred as

anticipated, no stumbles, no surprises

except for that sound. Carti-

it would create such a lasting sensory impression. But perhaps the strength, the durability except for




of the impression was simply the natural product of his preternatural sensitivity. Acuteness had its price. Surely that snickety little crunch would one day be as faint in his memory as the image of all that blood, which was already beginning to fade. It was important to keep things in perspective, to remember that all things pass. Every ripple in the pond eventually subsides.

important to keep things in perspective, to remember that all things pass. Every ripple in the

Part One

The Gardener Mexican

Part One The Gardener Mexican

Chapter 1

Life in the country

T here was a stillness in the September-morning air that was like the stillness in the heart of a gliding submarine, en- gines extinguished to elude the enemy’s listening devices.

The whole landscape was held motionless in the invisible grip of a vast calm, the calm before a storm, a calm as deep and unpredictable as the ocean. It had been a strangely subdued summer, the semi-drought slowly draining the life out of the grass and trees. Now the leaves were fading from green to tan and had already begun to drop si- lently from the branches of the maples and beeches, offering little prospect of a colorful autumn. Dave Gurney stood just inside the French doors of his farm-style kitchen, looking out over the garden and the mowed lawn that sepa- rated the big house from the overgrown pasture that sloped down to the pond and the old red barn. He was vaguely uncomfortable and unfocused, his attention drifting between the asparagus patch at the end of the garden and the small yellow bulldozer beside the barn. He sipped sourly at his morning coffee, which was losing its warmth in the dry air. To manure or not to manure—that was the asparagus question. Or at least it was the first question. If the answer turned out to be yes, that would raise a second question: bulk or bagged? Fertilizer, he had been informed by various websites to which he’d been directed by Madeleine, was the key to success with asparagus, but whether he needed to supplement last spring’s application with a fresh load now was not entirely clear.

asparagus, but whether he needed to supplement last spring’s application with a fresh load now was




He’d been trying, at least halfheartedly, for their two years in the Catskills to immerse himself in these house-and-garden is- sues that Madeleine had taken up with instant enthusiasm, but al- ways nibbling at his efforts were the disturbing termites of buyer’s remorse—remorse not so much at the purchase of that specific house on its fifty scenic acres, which he continued to view as a good investment, but at the underlying life-changing decision to leave the NYPD and take his pension at the age of forty-six. The nagging question was, had he traded in his first-class detective’s shield for the horticultural duties of a would-be country squire too soon? Certain ominous events suggested that he had. Since relocating to their pastoral paradise, he had developed a transient tic in his left eyelid. To his chagrin and Madeleine’s distress, he had started smoking again sporadically after fifteen years of abstinence. And, of course, there was the elephant in the room—his decision to involve himself the previous autumn, a year into his supposed retirement, in the horrific Mellery murder case. He’d barely survived that experience, had even endangered Madeleine in the process, and in the moment of clarity that a close encounter with death often provides, he had for a while felt moti- vated to devote himself fully to the simple pleasures of their new rural life. But there’s a funny thing about a crystal-clear image of the way you ought to live. If you don’t actively hang on to it every day, the vision rapidly fades. A moment of grace is only a moment of grace. Unembraced, it soon becomes a kind of ghost, a pale reti- nal image receding out of reach like the memory of a dream, reced- ing until it becomes eventually no more than a discordant note in the undertone of your life. Understanding this process, Gurney discovered, does not pro- vide a magic key to reversing it—with the result that a kind of halfheartedness was the best attitude toward the bucolic life that he could muster. It was an attitude that put him out of sync with his wife. It also made him wonder whether anyone could ever really change or, more to the point, whether he could ever change. In his darker moments, he was disheartened by the arthritic rigidity of his own way of thinking, his own way of being.

his d arker moments, he was disheartened by the arthritic rigidity of his o wn way






The bulldozer situation was a good example. He’d bought a small, old, used one six months earlier, describing it to Madeleine as a practical tool appropriate to their proprietorship of fifty acres of woods and meadows and a quarter-mile-long dirt driveway. He saw it as a means of making necessary landscaping repairs and positive improvements—a good and useful thing. She seemed to see it from the beginning, however, not as a vehicle promising his greater involvement in their new life but as a noisy, diesel-stinking symbol of his discontent—his dissatisfaction with their environ- ment, his unhappiness with their move from the city to the moun- tains, his control freak’s mania for bulldozing an unacceptable new world into the shape of his own brain. She’d articulated her objec- tion only once, and briefly at that: “Why can’t you just accept all this around us as a gift, an incredibly beautiful gift, and stop trying to fix it?” As he stood at the glass doors, uncomfortably recalling her com- ment, hearing its gently exasperated tone in his mind’s ear, her ac- tual voice intruded from somewhere behind him. “Any chance you’ll get to my bike brakes before tomorrow?” “I said I would.” He took another sip of his coffee and winced. It was unpleasantly cold. He glanced at the old regulator clock over the pine sideboard. He had nearly an hour free before he had to leave to deliver one of his occasional guest lectures at the state police academy in Albany. “You should come with me one of these days,” she said, as though the idea had just occurred to her. “I will,” he said—his usual reply to her periodic suggestions that he join her on one of her bike rides through the rolling farm- land and forest that constituted most of the western Catskills. He turned toward her. She was standing in the doorway of the dining area in worn tights, a baggy sweatshirt, and a paint-stained baseball hat. Suddenly he couldn’t help smiling. “What?” she said, cocking her head. “Nothing.” Sometimes her presence was so instantly charming that it emptied his mind of every tangled, negative thought. She was that rare creature: a very beautiful woman who seemed to care

his mind of every tangled, negative thought. She w as that rare creature: a very beautiful




very little about how she looked. She came over and stood next to him, surveying the outdoors. “The deer have been at the birdseed,” she said, sounding more amused than annoyed. Across the lawn three shepherd’s-crook finch feeders had been tugged far out of plumb. Gazing at them, he realized that he shared, at least to some extent, Madeleine’s benign feelings toward the deer and whatever minor damage they caused—which seemed peculiar, since his feelings were entirely different from hers concerning the depredations of the squirrels who even now were consuming the seed the deer had been unable to extract from the bottoms of the feed- ers. Twitchy, quick, aggressive in their movements, they seemed mo- tivated by an obsessive rodent hunger, an avariciously concentrated desire to consume every available speck of food. His smile evaporating, Gurney watched them with a low-level edginess that in his more objective moments he suspected was be- coming his reflexive reaction to too many things—an edginess that arose from and highlighted the fault lines in his marriage. Mad- eleine would describe the squirrels as fascinating, clever, resource- ful, awe-inspiring in their energy and determination. She seemed to love them as she loved most things in life. He, on the other hand, wanted to shoot them. Well, not shoot them, exactly, not actually kill or maim them, but maybe thwack them with an air pistol hard enough to knock them off the finch feeders and send them fleeing into the woods where they belonged. Killing was not a solution that ever appealed to him. In all his years in the NYPD, in all his years as a homicide detective, in twenty-five years of dealing with violent men in a vio- lent city, he had never drawn his gun, had hardly touched it outside a firing range, and he had no desire to start now. Whatever it was that had drawn him to police work, that had wed him to the job for so many years, it surely wasn’t the appeal of a gun or the deceptively simple solution it offers. He became aware that Madeleine was watching him with that curious, appraising look of hers—probably guessing from the tight- ness in his jaw his thoughts about the squirrels. In response to her apparent clairvoyance, he wanted to say something that would

jaw his thoughts about the squirrels. In response to her app arent clairvoyance, he wanted to






justify his hostility to the fluffy-tailed rats, but the ringing of the phone intervened—in fact, the ringing of two phones intervened simultaneously, the wired phone in the den and his own cell phone on the kitchen sideboard. Madeleine headed for the den. Gurney picked up the cell.

phone in the den and his own cell phone on the kitchen sideboard. Madeleine headed for

Chapter 2

The butchered bride

J ack Hardwick was a nasty, abrasive, watery-eyed cynic who drank too much and viewed just about everything in life as a sour joke. He had few enthusiastic admirers and did not

readily inspire trust. Gurney was convinced that if all of Hard- wick’s questionable motives were removed, he wouldn’t have any motives left. But Gurney also considered him one of the smartest, most in- sightful detectives he’d ever worked with. So when he put the phone to his ear and heard that unmistakable sandpaper voice, it generated some mixed feelings. “Davey boy!” Gurney winced. He was not a Davey-boyish kind of guy, never would be, which he assumed was the precise reason Hardwick had chosen that particular sobriquet. “What can I do for you, Jack?” The man’s braying laugh was as annoying and irrelevant as ever. “When we were working on the Mellery case, you used to brag about getting up with the chickens. Just thought I’d call and see if it was true.” There was a certain amount of banter one always had to endure before Hardwick would deign to get to the issue at hand. “What do you want, Jack?” “You got any actual live chickens on that farm of yours, running around clucking and shitting, or is that ‘up with the chickens’ just some kind of folksy saying?” “What do you want, Jack?”

g, or is that ‘u p with the chickens’ j ust so me kind of folksy






“Why the hell would I want anything? Can’t one old buddy just call another old buddy for old times’ sake?”

“Shove the ‘old buddy’ crap, Jack, and tell me why you’re calling.” Again the braying laugh. “That’s so cold, Gurney, so cold.” “Look. I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet. You don’t get

to the point in the next five seconds, I hang up. Five


“Debutante bride got whacked at her own wedding. Thought you might be interested.”

“Why would I be interested in that?” “Shit, how could an ace homicide detective not be interested? Did I say she got ‘whacked’? Should’ve said ‘hacked.’ Murder weapon was a machete.” “The ace is retired.” There was a loud, prolonged bray. “No joke, Jack. I’m really retired.” “Like you were when you leaped in to solve the Mellery case?” “That was a temporary detour.” “Is that a fact?”





“Look, Jack

.” Gurney was losing patience.

“Okay. You’re retired. I got it. Now give me two minutes to ex- plain the opportunity here.” “Jack, for the love of Christ

“Two lousy minutes. Two. You’re so fucking busy massaging your retirement golf balls you can’t spare your old partner two minutes?” The image triggered the tiny tic in Gurney’s eyelid. “We were never partners.” “How the hell can you say that?” “We worked on a couple of cases together. We weren’t partners.” If he were to be completely honest about it, Gurney would have to admit that he and Hardwick did have, in at least one respect, a unique relationship. Ten years earlier, working in jurisdictions a hundred miles apart on different aspects of the same murder case, they had individually discovered separate halves of the victim’s sev- ered body. That sort of serendipity in detection can forge a strong, if bizarre, bond.


halves of the victim’s sev- ered body. That sort of serendipity in detection can forge a




Hardwick lowered his voice into the sincere-pathetic register. “Do I get two minutes or don’t I?” Gurney gave up. “Go ahead.” Hardwick jumped back into his characteristic carnival-barker- with-throat-cancer oratorical style. “You’re obviously a busy guy, so let me get right to it. I want to do you a giant favor.” He paused. “You still there?” “Talk faster.” “Ungrateful bastard! All right, here’s what I got for you. Sensa- tional murder committed four months ago. Spoiled little rich girl marries hotshot celebrity psychiatrist. An hour later at the wedding reception on the psychiatrist’s fancy estate, his demented gardener decapitates her with a machete and escapes.” Gurney had a slight recollection of seeing a couple of tabloid headlines at that time that were probably related to the affair:

bliss to bloodbath and new bride butchered. He waited for Hardwick to go on. Instead the man coughed so disgustingly that Gurney had to hold the phone away from his ear. Eventually Hardwick asked again, “You still there?” “Yep.” “Quiet as a corpse. You ought to make little beeping sounds every ten seconds, let people know you’re still alive.” “Jack, why the hell are you calling me?” “I’m handing you the case of a lifetime.” “I’m not a cop anymore. You’re not making any sense.” “Maybe your hearing is failing in your old age. What are you, forty-eight or eighty-eight? Listen up. Here’s the meat of the story. The daughter of one of the richest neurosurgeons in the world marries a controversial hotshot psychiatrist, a psychiatrist who’s ap- peared on Oprah, for Godsake. An hour later, in the midst of two hundred guests, she steps into the gardener’s cottage. She’s had a few drinks, wants the gardener to join in the wedding toast. When she doesn’t come out, her new husband sends someone to get her, but the cottage door is locked and she doesn’t answer. Then the hus- band, the renowned Dr. Scott Ashton, goes and bangs on the door and calls to her. No response. He gets a key, opens the door, and nds her sitting there in her wedding dress with her head chopped

No response. He gets a key, opens the door, and fi nds her sitting there in






off—back window of the cottage open, no gardener in sight. Pretty soon every cop in the county is at the scene. In case you didn’t get the message yet, these are very important people. Case ends up in our lap at BCI, specifically in my lap. Starts out simple—find the crazy gardener. Then it starts getting complicated. This was not your average gardener. The renowned Dr. Ashton had sort of taken him under his wing. Hector Flores—that’s the gardener—was an undocumented Mexican laborer. Ashton hires him, soon realizes that the man is smart, very smart, so he starts testing him, pushing him, educating him. Over a period of two to three years, Hector becomes more like the doctor’s protégé than his leaf raker. Almost a member of the family. Seems that with his new status, he even had an affair with the wife of one of Ashton’s neighbors. Interesting character, Señor Flores. After the murder he disappears off the face of the earth, along with the neighbor’s wife. Last concrete trace of Hector is the bloody machete he left a hundred and fifty yards away in the woods.” “So where did all this end up?” “Nowhere.” “What do you mean?” “My brilliant captain had a certain view of the case—you might recall Rod Rodriguez?” Gurney recalled him with a shudder. Ten months earlier—six months before the murder Hardwick was describing—Gurney had been involved semiofficially in an investigation controlled by a unit of the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation that the rigid, ambitious Rodriguez commanded. “His view was that we should bring in for questioning every Mexican within twenty miles of the crime and threaten them with all kinds of crap until one of them led us to Hector Flores, and if that didn’t work, we should extend the radius to fifty miles. That’s where he wanted all the resources—one hundred percent.” “You didn’t agree with that?” “There were other avenues worth exploring. It’s possible Hector was not what he appeared to be. The whole thing had a funny feel to it.” “So what happened?”

It’s possible Hector was not what he appeared to be. The whole thing had a funny




“I told Rodriguez he was full of shit.” “Really?” Gurney smiled for the first time. “Yeah, really. So I was taken off the case. And it was given to Blatt.” “Blatt!?” The name tasted like a mouthful of food gone bad. He remembered Investigator Arlo Blatt as the only BCI detective more irritating than Rodriguez. Blatt embodied an attitude Gurney’s fa- vorite college professor long ago had described as “ignorance armed and ready for battle.” Hardwick went on. “So Blatt did exactly what Rodriguez told him to do, and he got nowhere. Four months have passed, and we know less today than when we started. But I can tell you’re wonder- ing, what’s all this got to do with Dave Gurney?” “The question did cross my mind.” “The mother of the bride is not satisfied. She suspects that the investigation’s been botched. She has no confidence in Rodriguez, she thinks Blatt’s an idiot. But she thinks you’re a genius.” “She thinks what?” “She came to me last week—four months to the day after the murder, wondering if I could get back on the case or, if I couldn’t do that, could I work on it without anybody knowing. I told her that wouldn’t be a practical approach, my hands were tied, I was already on pretty thin ice with the bureau—however, I did happen to have personal access to the most highly decorated detective in the history of the NYPD, recently retired, still full of vim and vigor, a man who would be more than happy to provide her with an alternative to the Rodriguez-Blatt approach. To put the icing on the cake, I just happened to have a copy of that adoring little piece that New York magazine did on you after you cracked the Satanic Santa case. What was it they called you—Supercop? She was impressed.” Gurney grimaced. Several possible responses collided in his head, all canceling each other out. Hardwick seemed encouraged by his silence. “She’d love to meet you. Oh, did I mention? She’s drop-dead gorgeous, early forties but looks about thirty-two. And she made it clear that money wasn’t an issue. You could pretty much name your price. Seriously—two

thirty-two. And she made it clear that money wasn’t an i ssue. You could pretty much






hundred dollars an hour would not be a problem. Not that you’d be motivated by anything as common as money.” “Speaking of motives, what’s in it for you?” Hardwick’s effort to sound innocent instead sounded comical. “Seeing justice done? Helping out a family that’s been through hell? I mean, losing a child’s got to be the worst thing in the world, right?” Gurney froze. The mention of losing a child still had the power to send a tremor through his heart. It was more than fifteen years since Danny, barely four at the time, had stepped into the street when Gurney wasn’t looking, but grief, he’d discovered, was not an experience you went through once and then “moved on” (as the idi- otic popular phrase would have it). The truth was that it came over you in successive waves—waves separated by periods of numbness, periods of forgetfulness, periods of ordinary living. “You still there?” Gurney grunted. Hardwick went on. “I want to do what I can for these people. Besides—” “Besides,” Gurney broke in, speaking fast, forcing his debilitat- ing emotion aside, “if I did get involved, which I have no inten- tion of doing, it would drive Rodriguez batshit, wouldn’t it? And if I managed to come up with something, something new, something significant, it would make him and Blatt look really bad, wouldn’t it? Might that be one of your perfectly good reasons?” Hardwick cleared his throat again. “That’s a fucked-up way of looking at it. Fact is, we got a tragically bereaved mother here who isn’t satisfied with the progress of the police investigation—which I can understand, since the incompetent Arlo Blatt and his crew have rousted every Mexican in the county and haven’t come up with so much as a taco fart. She’s desperate for a real detective. So I’m laying this golden egg in your lap.” “That’s great, Jack, but I’m not in the PI business.” “For the love of God, Davey, just talk to her. That’s all I’m asking you to do. Just talk to her. She’s lonely, vulnerable, beautiful, with big bucks to burn. And deep down inside, Davey boy, deep down

her. She’s lonel y, vulnerable , beautiful , with big bucks to burn. And deep down




inside there’s something wild in that woman. I guarantee it. Cross my heart and hope to die!” “Jack, the last thing I need right now—” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re happily married, in love with your wife, yadda, yadda, yadda. All right. Fine. And maybe you don’t care about a chance to reveal Rod Rodriguez finally and absolutely as the total asshole he really is. Okay. But this case is complex.” He gave the word a depth of meaning, made it sound like the most precious of all characteristics. “It’s got layers to it, Davey. It’s a fucking onion.” “So?” “You’re a natural-born onion peeler—the best that ever was.”

to it, Davey. It’s a fucking onion.” “So?” “You’re a natural-born onion peeler—the best that ever

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