denying she was ever here in the first place. He’s pretending this isn’t that kind of an establishment.”

“Your department had business here before?”

“Time to time,” he said. “It is that kind of an establishment, believe me.”

Control the situation, Garber had said.

“Heart attack, right?” I said. “Nothing more.”

“Probably,” Stockton said. “But we’ll need an autopsy to know for sure.”

The room was quiet. I could hear nothing except radio traffic from the cop cars outside, and music from the bar across the street. I turned back to the bed. Looked at the dead guy’s face. I didn’t know him. I looked at his hands. He had a West Point ring on his right and a wedding band on his left, wide, old, probably nine carat. His dog tags were hidden under his right arm, where he had reached across to grab his left bicep. I lifted the arm with difficulty and pulled the tags out. He had rubber silencers on them. I raised them until the chain went tight against his neck. His name was Kramer and he was a Catholic and his blood group was O.

“We could do the autopsy for you,” I said. “Up at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

“Out of state?”

“He’s a general.”

“You want to hush it up.”

I nodded. “Sure I do. Wouldn’t you?”

“Probably,” he said.

I let go of the dog tags and moved away from the bed and checked the nightstands and the built-in counter. Nothing there. There was no phone in the room. A place like this, I figured there would be a pay phone in the office. I moved past Stockton and checked the bathroom. There was a privately purchased black leather Dopp kit next to the sink, zipped closed. It had the initials KRK embossed on it. I opened it up and found a toothbrush and a razor and travel-sized tubes of toothpaste and shaving soap. Nothing else. No medications. No heart prescription. No pack of condoms.

I checked the closet. There was a Class A uniform in there, neatly squared away on three separate hangers, with the pants folded on the bar of the first and the coat next to it on the second and the shirt on a third. The tie was still inside the shirt collar. Centered above the hangers on the shelf was a field grade officer’s service cap. Gold braid all over it. On one side of the cap was a folded white undershirt and on the other side was a pair of folded white boxers.

There were two shoes side by side on the closet floor next to a faded green canvas suit carrier which was propped neatly against the back wall. The shoes were gleaming black and had socks rolled tight inside them. The suit carrier was a privately purchased item and had battered leather reinforcements at the stress points. It wasn’t very full.

“You’d get the results,” I said. “Our pathologist would give you a copy of the report with nothing added and nothing deleted. You see anything you’re not happy about, we could put the ball right back in your court, no questions asked.”

Stockton said nothing, but I wasn’t feeling any hostility coming off him. Some town cops are OK. A big base like Bird puts a lot of ripples into the surrounding civilian world. Therefore MPs spend a lot of time with their civilian counterparts, and sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, and sometimes it isn’t. I had a feeling Stockton wasn’t going to be a huge problem. He was relaxed. Bottom line, he seemed a little lazy to me, and lazy people are always happy to pass their burdens on to someone else.

“How much?” I said.

“How much what?”

“How much would a whore cost here?”

“Twenty bucks would do it,” he said. “There’s nothing very exotic available in this neck of the woods.”

“And the room?”

“Fifteen, probably.”

I rolled the corpse back onto its front. Wasn’t easy. It weighed two hundred pounds, at least.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“About what?”

“About Walter Reed doing the autopsy.”

There was silence for a moment. Stockton looked at the wall.

“That might be acceptable,” he said.

There was a knock at the open door. One of the cops from the cars.

“Medical examiner just called in,” he said. “He can’t get here for another two hours at least. It’s New Year’s Eve.”

I smiled. Acceptable was about to change to highly desirable. Two hours from now Stockton would need to be somewhere else. A whole bunch of parties would be breaking up and the roads would be mayhem. Two hours from now he would be begging me to haul the old guy away. I said nothing and the cop went back to wait in his car and Stockton moved all the way into the room and stood facing the draped window with his back to the corpse. I took the hanger with the uniform coat on it and lifted it out of the closet and hung it on the bathroom door frame where the hallway light fell on it.

Looking at a Class A coat is like reading a book or sitting next to a guy in a bar and hearing his whole life story. This one was the right size for the body on the bed and it had Kramer on the nameplate, which matched the dog tags. It had a Purple Heart ribbon with two bronze oak leaf clusters to denote a second and third award of the medal, which matched the scars. It had two silver stars on the epaulettes, which confirmed he was a major general. The branch insignia on the lapels denoted Armor and the shoulder patch was from XII Corps. Apart from that there were a bunch of unit awards and a whole salad bowl of medal ribbons dating way back through Vietnam and Korea, some of which he had probably earned the hard way, and some of which he probably hadn’t. Some of them were foreign awards, whose display was authorized but not compulsory. It was a very full coat, relatively old, well cared for, standard-issue, not privately tailored. Taken as a whole it told me he was professionally vain, but not personally vain.

I went through the pockets. They were all empty, except for a key to the rental car. It was attached to a keyring in the shape of a figure 1, which was made out of clear plastic and contained a slip of paper with Hertz printed in yellow at the top and a license-plate number written by hand in black ballpoint underneath.

There was no wallet. No loose change.

I put the coat back in the closet and checked the pants. Nothing in the pockets. I checked the shoes. Nothing in them except the socks. I checked the hat. Nothing hidden underneath it. I lifted the suit carrier out and opened it on the floor. It contained a battledress uniform and an M43 field cap. A change of socks and underwear and a pair of shined combat boots, plain black leather. There was an empty compartment that I figured was for the Dopp kit. Nothing else. Nothing at all. I closed it up and put it back. Squatted down and looked under the bed. Saw nothing.

“Anything we should worry about?” Stockton asked.

I stood up. Shook my head.

“No,” I lied.

“Then you can have him,” he said. “But I get a copy of the report.”

“Agreed,” I said.

“Happy New Year,” he said.

He walked out to his car and I headed for my Humvee. I called in a 10-5 ambulance requested and told my sergeant to have it accompanied by a squad of two who could list and pack all Kramer’s personal property and bring it back to my office. Then I sat there in the driver’s seat and waited until Stockton ’s guys were all gone. I watched them accelerate away into the fog and then I went back inside the room and took the rental key from Kramer’s jacket. Came back out and used it to unlock the Ford.

There was nothing in it except the stink of upholstery cleaner and carbonless copies of the rental agreement. Kramer had picked the car up at one thirty-two that afternoon at Dulles Airport near Washington D.C. He had used a private American Express card and received a discount rate. The start-of-rental mileage was 13,215. Now the odometer was showing 13,513, which according to my arithmetic meant he had driven 298 miles, which was about right for a straight-line trip between there and here.

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