From TRIPLE CROSS
THURSDAY MORNING, JOHN SAMPSON and I entered an Au Bon Pain on Tenth Street, not far from Metro PD headquarters.
Thomas Tull shot to his feet and waved to us from beside a small booth near the rear of the establishment.
Tull had craggy good looks and a solidly muscled body. A sliver under six feet, he was dressed casually in denim, and he’d let his sandy-brown hair go a little grayer than it was in his recent publicity photos, giving him a middle-aged Robert Redford quality. The writer’s steel-blue eyes danced over me as he smiled and stuck out a big hand.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Dr. Cross,” Tull said, fully engaging my eyes before turning to John. “And you too, Detective Sampson. A real honor.”
I have an expert nose for someone blowing smoke at me. But I didn’t smell anything coming off Tull except goodwill and curiosity.
Sampson felt it as well and he smiled back. “You’re the big-time writer, Mr. Tull.”
“Thomas, please,” he said and gestured to the booth, where a carafe of coffee, clean cups, and a plate of breakfast rolls awaited. He slid in, still smiling, looking at each of us in turn as if trying to burn our images into his mind. Then he knocked his knuckles against the tabletop twice and put his right hand over his heart.
“Dr. Cross, your lectures at the FBI Academy were a revelation to me. I first heard them when I was working for NCIS in San Diego,” Tull said. “And Detective Sampson, several of your investigations should be taught in every police academy in the country.”
“Nice of you to say so,” I said.
Sampson nodded. “How can we help?”
Tull flashed a thousand-watt smile at us, then grew serious, putting the palms of both hands on the table.
“Let me explain how I work,” he said. “First off, I am not
here to second-guess you and I will never, ever reveal anything you might tell me about the Family Man murders without your explicit approval. Ever. I know how delicate an investigation like this is, and you don’t need some clueless writer accidentally letting something critical slip.”
“Comforting,” I said. “You’re saying that you’ll say nothing about the case until your book is written?”
“And vetted by each of you before it’s published,” Tull said. “You may not like what I’ve written, but I will hide nothing from you.”
For the next ten minutes, the writer described how he’d worked with investigators in the research of his previous three books. In each one, he had signed an agreement stating that he would not disclose anything about the probe until it was complete. In return, he asked to be a fly on the wall as the case unfolded.
“You mean, like, constantly?” Sampson asked. “That’s not going to happen.”
“No, of course not,” Tull said. “Only in those instances where you think I need to be there in order to understand some new twist or breakthrough in the case.”
“I need to ask you a couple of questions first,” I said.
The writer sat up straighter and steepled his fingers. “Any- thing.”
I asked him about the threat he’d made to Suzanne Liu. “She taped it,” I said.
“So did I,” Tull said. “She’s been making false accusations against me and I wanted to let her know there would be financial repercussions if she continued.”
“You deny you had relationships with the detectives running the investigations in your various books?”
“The detectives running them?” he said. “No. I had relationships with consenting adults who were part of those investigations. To my knowledge, no one ever complained about them.”
“You don’t mention the relationships in your books,” I said.
“Because they’re no one’s business but mine and three wonderful women,” Tull said, not batting an eye. “Do you have one of them on the record being critical of me?”
“I’ve only spoken to Heidi Parks,” I said. “And no.”
“There you go. Heidi and I parted on great terms,” the writer said. “I’m sure you’ll hear the same from Jane Hale in Boston and Ava Firsching in Berlin.”
“Detective Hale is on her honeymoon.”
“In Australia,” he said. “I know because I attended her wed- ding. And I one hundred percent guarantee you that Ava will also speak well of me.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” I said. “You gave them the credit for making substantive breakthroughs in the investigations when you, in fact, made those logical leaps.”
Tull’s face screwed up. “Name one.”
“You, not Jane Hale, first theorized that the electrocutions in the greater Boston area were connected.”
“That’s false,” Tull said. “Jane came up with that theory the night of the retirement of her old partner. Jane got quite drunk on whiskey and told me she was going to look into other electro- cutions in and around Boston. I just reminded her the next day.”
“Why not just write that, then?” Sampson asked.
“Because Jane is ordinarily a teetotaler and would have been embarrassed if I’d described how plastered she was.”
I said, “You told Ava Firsching to return the focus of her investigation to the Berlin Zoo, didn’t you?”
“I may have suggested it,” he said. “But isn’t that a tried-and-true investigative method? Going back and looking again?”
There was no disputing that, so I said, “What about Doctor’s Orders? I talked to Heidi Parks yesterday and she said it was your idea to look into malpractice suits.”
The writer shrugged. “I don’t remember it that way, but so what? Isn’t it logical to look into the dark underbellies of the victims? Isn’t that what you preached in one of your lectures at Quantico, Dr. Cross?”
That was true and it caused me to sit back. “Still doesn’t explain why you kept yourself out of the narratives in three of the biggest breaks in the cases.”
Tull sighed and for several moments watched me with no guile that I could see.
“I find it odd that you’re, in a sense, criticizing me for being humble, for letting the spotlight shine where it should—on the detectives who drove the cases,” he said at last. “But I’ll tell you what, Dr. Cross. If you’ll let me observe the investigation and I come up with an angle that you two had not considered and it turns out to be big, I’ll take the credit. One hundred percent. Does that work for you?”