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Unflinching, he scanned the interior of the container. With the exception of a bloated body crumpled against the wall to the right, it was empty.
“Shut the door,” Quinn said.
“But Mr. Albina wanted you to see what was—”
“I’ve seen it. Shut the door.”
The man—he’d said his name was Stafford—swung the door shut, locking the handle into place.
“Why is this still here?” Quinn asked.
Stafford took a few steps toward Quinn, then stopped. “Look, I got a dock to run, okay? I got a ship out there that’s only half unloaded.” He sucked in a tense, nervous breath. “I got customs people all over the place, you know? It’s like they knew something like this was coming in today.”
Quinn raised an eyebrow. “Did you know it was coming in today?”
“Hell, no,” Stafford said, voice rising. “Do you think I’d be here if I did? I’d’ve called in sick. Mr. Albina’s got people who should take care of this kind of crap.”
Quinn glanced at the man, then turned his attention back to the container. He began walking around it, scanning it up and down, taking it all in. After a slight hesitation, Stafford followed a few paces behind.
Quinn had seen thousands of shipping containers over the years: on boats, on trains, being pulled behind big rigs. They were large, bulky rectangular boxes that moved goods between countries and continents. They came in black and red and green and gray.
This one, with the exception of where the paint had chipped away and rust had started to take hold, was a faded dark blue. On each of the long sides, tall white letters spelled out baron & baron ltd. Quinn didn’t recognize the name, but that wasn’t surprising. At times it seemed as if there were nearly as many shipping companies scattered around the globe as there were containers.
When Quinn reached the point where he had begun his inspection, he stopped, his eyes still on the box.
“You’re going to get rid of this, right?” Stafford asked. “I mean... that’s what Mr. Albina told me. He said he was sending someone to get rid of it. That’s you, right?”
“Manifest?” Quinn asked.
The man took a second to react, then nodded and picked up the clipboard he’d put on the ground when he’d opened the container’s doors.
“What’s supposed to be inside?” Quinn asked. With the trade imbalance the way it was, nothing came into the States empty anymore. Any container that did would be suspicious.
Stafford flipped through several pages, then stopped. “Tennis shoes,” he said, looking up.
Quinn glanced over at the man. “One pair?”
“That’s really funny,” the man said, not laughing.
“Who found it?” Quinn asked.
Stafford seemed unsure what to say. When he did speak, his words didn’t match the evasiveness in his eyes. “One of the dockhands. Said he smelled something when the crane set it down on the pier.”
“From that ship out there?” Quinn asked, motioning toward the door that led outside. “The
“I run everything by Mr. Albina. He said to wait for you.” When Quinn didn’t reply right away, Stafford added, “That’s the way it happened, okay?”
Quinn continued to stare at the man for a moment, then he turned and started walking toward the exit.
“Hey! Where are you going?” Stafford asked.
“Home,” Quinn said without stopping.
“Wait. What am I supposed to do?”
Quinn paused a few feet from the door and looked back. Stafford was still standing near the container.
“Where did the crate come from? Who found it? And why did they let you know?” Quinn asked.
“I already told you that.” This time there was even less conviction in Stafford’s words.
Quinn smiled, then shook his head. There was no reason to blame the man. It was obvious he was only saying what he’d been told to say. Still, Quinn didn’t like being jerked around.
“Good luck with your problem.”
He pushed open the door and left.
“That was quick,” Nate said.
Quinn climbed into the passenger seat of his BMW M3. Nate, his apprentice, was sitting behind the wheel, a copy of
While his boss had been inside, he’d also rolled down the windows to let the cool ocean breeze pass through the interior while he waited. His iPod was plugged into the stereo playing KT Tunstall low in the background—a live cover of the old Jackson 5 hit
“There was a body. I just decided it might be better if they take care of it themselves.”
Nate let out a short laugh. “Right. Better for who? Them or us?”
Quinn allowed a smile to touch his lips. “Let’s go.”
Nate looked at Quinn for a moment longer, seeming to be expecting more. When that didn’t happen, he tossed his book in the back and started the engine. “Where to?”
Quinn glanced at his watch. It was 11 a.m. The drive back from Long Beach to his house in the Hollywood Hills would take them over an hour. “Home. But I’m hungry. Let’s stop someplace first.”
“How about Pink’s?”
Quinn smiled. “That’ll work.”
They drove in silence for several minutes as Nate maneuvered the car through the city and onto the freeway.
Once they were up to cruising speed, Nate said, “So what exactly happened?”
Quinn gazed out the window at nothing in particular. “They didn’t tell me all I needed to know.”
“So you just walked?”
“I had to,” Quinn said. He turned to his apprentice. “We don’t need to know everything. That’s not our job. But to do it right, sometimes there are things we have to know.”
He started to tell Nate about his meeting with Stafford. When he reached the point where he questioned the man about the discovery of the body, his cell phone rang. He pulled it out, looked at the display, then frowned. He knew the call would come, but it didn’t make him happy.
“This is Quinn.”
“I understand you’re not interested in helping us out.” The high pitch of his voice was unmistakable. Jorge Albina.
Based out of San Francisco, Albina was an expert at getting things in and out of the country. Money, people, guns, and apparently now bodies, too. His services didn’t come cheap, but his success rate was one of the best in the business.
“We can pretend that’s the reason if it helps,” Quinn said. “It doesn’t help if it’s not the truth.” “That’s exactly where you and I agree.” There was silence. “Stafford told me you just left. No reason,” Albina said. “He was mistaken.” “That’s not an answer.” Quinn took a deep breath. “Jorge, what’s the most important part
of my job?” There was a hesitation. “Whatever I say is going to be the wrong answer.” “Not if you really thought about it,” Quinn said. “But I’ll tell you. Trust.” “Trust,” Albina said as if he was trying out the word for the first time.
“Yes. See, you’re trusting me with the knowledge of what happened, aren’t you? You’re trusting me to get rid of a problem so that it won’t surface later, right? And you’re trusting me that I’ll never use what I’ve learned against you. Seems pretty important to me.”
“A little dramatic, don’t you think?” Albina said, irritation creeping into his voice. “You’re a cleaner. Your job is simple. Just get rid of the body.”
The muscles around Quinn’s mouth tensed. “You know, you’re right. It’s the simplest job in the world. So I’m sure you can find someone else to help you from now on.”