BOUNDARIES

Part 3

"It was all in the credit card account, when we they let us look at it," Briscoe said to Lieutenant Van Buren, as they sat around Briscoe's desk with Green. "Eric Finesilver had taken out a second credit card to pay for his mistress, giving his office as his address. The classic cheating husband manoeuvre – make sure the wife never sees the tell-tale charges for the restaurants she knows she never visited and the flowers she knew she never got."

"Ain't that the truth," sighed Van Buren. "My ex didn't even respect me enough for that. He used his own card, but didn't do anything about the bill being delivered to our house every month. Told me he thought I'd never notice. "Goddamnit, Otis, I'm a trained detective!" I told him. I think after that, I'd have had to divorce him even if he'd been using the card to pay for a model railway set. So, do we have any idea who this woman was?"

"Yeah," said Green. "He was smart enough not to call her from his cell phone, but there were sure as hell some long-ass calls to one particular number from his office phone, and the number ties up with the address the flowers were being sent to."

"Well, as you're not there right now, I guess it's not in New York."

"No, Lieutenant," said Briscoe. "It's Miami again."

"OK, I'll make that call again…"

Frank Tripp was still not having a good day. The Pollo Locos had responded to their defeat in the recent gun battle by blowing up the Mala Noches' favourite mariachi band with a car bomb, an unparalleled act of disrespect in the world of Central American drug trafficking. Horatio was now back from…wherever the hell it was, but had taken to spending lengthy periods standing on the Crime Lab roof staring out over the city and muttering, "I am the night!" under his breath. Eventually, he had pulled himself together enough to order Delko and Wolfe to get down to the bomb site and investigate it, but then they started into one of their dick-measuring contests over who could find the trigger mechanism when they got there.

The last thing Tripp really wanted to do after sorting all that out was to interview another suspect at Lennie Briscoe's behest, but he noted with relief that at least this one lived in a nice part of town. Her home turned out to be an apartment in a converted pastel pink mansion that looked like it might have once belonged to a particularly successful bootlegger in the days of Prohibition. Palm trees lined the wide street outside, where Tripp parked his car.

He pressed the button on the intercom at the gate.

"Hello?" came a quizzical voice.

"This is Detective Sergeant Tripp of the MDPD, miss. I need to speak to you, please."

The woman let him in. He walked up the main path across a verdant green lawn on which sprinklers were chugging like mechanical grasshoppers, then buzzed himself in again at the front door, then finally knocked on the door of Apartment 10. It was opened by a slender, dark-haired girl with green eyes, who looked to be in her twenties. Tripp flashed his badge at her.

"Are you Erin Connelly?" he asked.

"Yeah. What's the problem, officer?"

"I'm investigating the murder of a man from New York called Eric Finesilver that you knew. In fact, you posted your videos on his website under the name of…" Tripp checked his notebook. "…the Undercover Critic."

"Oh, God, yeah, I heard about Eric from John MacNamara. The news has been all over the internet for days now anyway. Poor Sarah must be shattered."

"Look, Miss Connelly, we know all about the flowers Mr Finesilver sent you, and the meals you had together and all the hotel rooms you shared. It's all over his bills. So I suggest you knock off the phony sympathy for his wife and tell me the truth. Probably inside your apartment, unless you want the whole building to know you were sleeping with a married man."

Erin Connelly went white and speechlessly retreated back from her door to a living room chair, into which she collapsed. Tripp followed her in, shut the door behind him and stood opposite her. She sat with her head in her hands for some moments, and when she raised it, there were tears running down her cheeks.

"How much do you know?" she asked, finally.

"Well, we know you and Eric Finesilver were having an affair, and, to be honest, I don't much care why you were having one. What I do want to know is whether he wanted to end it or wouldn't leave his wife or something – because that looks like motive for murder, to me."

"No! It was nothing like that! I knew Eric would never leave his wife, and especially his little boy. He really loved them. But he loved me too, and I loved him, and I was prepared to put up with snatching a few hours in a hotel with him now and again if that was the best I could get."

"That must have been very convenient for him. What about those videos where you pretend to be in love with him? What was that all about, hiding in plain sight or something? Usually, people having affairs don't publicise them by putting fictional versions of them in a public place."

"That wasn't how it happened, Sergeant! Those videos were just a joke at first, but after a while, well, they started to turn into reality. I wish I could explain exactly how it worked to you, but I don't really understand it myself. I'd known Eric for years and I always thought of him as just being a friend, but somehow, at some point, we crossed a boundary and it became something else. But I didn't kill him! I loved him."

"OK, then, where were you last Tuesday night between midnight and 4 a.m.?"

"My Dad had a big party at his seafood restaurant. It's just re-opened after a refit. I was there until like 2 a.m. or so and then I stayed over with my parents. There are tons of witnesses to that."

"I'll make sure I check on that," said Tripp. "So you're the daughter of Jim Connelly? From Ricky's Rock Lobster?" The high-end restaurant was pretty much an institution in Miami. Erin nodded. Well, at least that explained how she could afford this place whilst screwing around on the internet for no salary. "Well…there's men's clothing on that clothes horse over there. Do you have a boyfriend other than Eric? What was he up to that evening?"

"I…I don't know what Jeff was doing that day. He said he had to visit an old friend."

There was a scrabbling noise at the lock and the door swung open, allowing a broad-shouldered, athletic looking blond young man in a polo shirt to stride in.

"Erin? Who's this?"

"MDPD, sir," announced Tripp. He barely had time to produce his badge before the guy had swung around, run out of the door and slammed it behind him.

"Jeff!" screamed Erin. But by the time the words were out of her mouth, Tripp had shouted "Police! Stop!" and was running too, pulling the door open and thundering down the dimly-lit hallway after Jeff, who had reached the front door of the building and was just pulling that open. Tripp pulled out his radio as he was running, and shouted into it:

"All units, this is Sergeant Frank Tripp, assistance required for 2-40 of homicide suspect at 1135 Palm Tree Way!" He stopped, opened the front door, and continued running down the front path. "Suspect is white male, 25, with red polo shirt. Continuing pursuit!"

Jeff crashed out of the gate and took off down the street. He must be heading for a car, thought Tripp, who was tiring rapidly running in a suit in the muggy heat. The younger man had the advantage over him here. With an effort, Tripp drew on every reserve of energy in his strained and aching muscles and put on a last burst of speed, gaining on Jeff, who now made the mistake of looking over his shoulder and noticing this.

He panicked, and instead of running towards his car, crossed the road, heedless of the horn blasts of swerving vehicles, in the hope of cutting up one of the side streets and losing Tripp there. Because Tripp had to avoid the traffic as he crossed the street, he actually fell back again, but with the horns and the cars and his free-flowing adrenalin, Jeff had completely stopped thinking straight. He ran up a cul-de-sac, realised his mistake too late, then realised he couldn't get into any of the adjoining gardens. As Tripp pounded around the corner, Jeff came to a halt, turned and raised his hands.

"Don't…don't shoot!" he called.

A panting Tripp jogged up, pinned Jeff's arms, and then forced him to the wall before patting him down and putting on the cuffs.

"You're not armed, you idiot – why would I shoot you?"

Jeff didn't reply.

"OK, sport, let's try this question – how come when you see law enforcement, you think the appropriate response is doing an impersonation of Usain Bolt?"

"I get a lot of hassle from cops." Tripp looked at the lily-white Jeff sceptically.

"Funny, I hear that from a lot of guys and 99% of them are much blacker than you, so excuse me for not believing that. Can you tell me what you were doing last Tuesday between midnight and 4 a.m., while your girlfriend's other boyfriend was having his head knocked in?"

Jeff was silent. "Yeah, I thought not. We'd better continue this downtown."

Some days later, Jeff Armstrong was sitting, with his lawyer, in an interview room in New York in front of Briscoe and Green.

"OK, Mr Armstrong," said Briscoe. You've already been through the extradition procedure from Florida, so you'll know that about the same time we found you we found the baseball bat that killed Mr Finesilver on the roof of the Chinese restaurant, and that it had your fingerprints and DNA on it. Not a bad idea, throwing it on a low roof instead of into a dumpster or something, but unfortunately not one that's never been tried before."

"Look, kid," said Green, "we have you on this one. We have physical evidence, we have motive, we can prove from your credit card you flew to New York the day before the murder and flew back afterwards. This is your chance to tell us why and make your life easier."

"Like I told the police in Miami, detectives," said Jeff. "I went to New York to tell Eric Finesilver to back the hell off my girlfriend. I confronted him in the parking lot behind his office, things got heated, he threw punches and I had to defend myself."

"With a baseball bat that you just happened to bring to New York?" said Briscoe, incredulously. "And that you brought with you to confront Mr Finesilver in a parking lot? Whose body you then dumped in the nearest alley? Do you seriously think a jury's going to buy all that?"

"Well," shrugged Jeff, "he was a violent man. You know he was once investigated for rape, right? I was just defending myself, it got out of hand, and afterwards, well, I just panicked."

"Well, I believe the last part of that sentence," said Green. "But not the rest of it."

"OK, that's enough," Jeff's lawyer said. "You've heard my client's story. We'll see whether the DA will offer a deal on manslaughter."

"Well, maybe," said Briscoe. "But on the other hand, Counsellor, I know Jack McCoy is prosecuting this case. I really wouldn't start counting your chickens…"