William Lynn Fleisher was the glue that held the three together -- the one, friends said, "with a sail attached to the mast." The sartorial big man was the number two in charge of United States Customs law enforcement in three states, a world-class polygraph examiner and interrogator, a former FBI special agent, and an ex–Philadelphia beat cop. Fleisher was obsessed with the truth, had made himself a scholar of the history of truth-finding and an expert at distinguishing the truth from a lie. He used the polygraph to try to peer into the hearts of men to judge them, but really what he wanted to do was redeem them -- both the criminals whose psychophysiological signs spiked with guilt, and their tragic victims whose suffering society forgot. The big man, it was said by his special agents, had gained a hundred pounds to make room for his heart.
Bender and Walter were the most astonishing investigative team Fleisher had ever seen, equal parts reason and revelation, when they turned their combustible gifts on a killer and not on each other, like a man trying to extinguish his own shadow. The stout federal agent was the administrator who allowed them to take shape and function in the world.
They had met that morning in Bender's hall of bones, where a legendary and especially terrifying mob hit man had been the force that first brought them together, bonded in their fierce and awkward way, to create a private club of forensic avengers. Fleisher was sipping coffee with Bender at the kitchen table when the thin man entered the warehouse studio, nose wrinkled in disapproval "at the cat smells and whatever else."
"Richard!" Bender shouted, pumping Walter's hand enthusiastically, yet careful not to give a manly hug. "Let me show you my new painting!"
It was an enormous, brightly colored oil portrait of one of his many girlfriends, rendered in paint as thick as cake frosting. It was an eight-foot frontal nude; from the left nipple dangled a real brass ring.
"Chrissie has the cutest little butt," Bender said quietly, smiling as if visited by a wonderful memory.
Walter stood with his nose upturned, which pushed his mouth into a frown, studying the painting for a long moment.
"It's smut, Frank," he declared, turning away. "Simple smut."
Bender howled with delight, as if there was no greater compliment. Walter glared at him. "Frank, Jesus Christ, you're almost sixty years old, and you're behaving like a fifteen-year-old Bolivian sex slave houseboy! You're using sex as an antidote to depression. As I have tried to explain, at our age it is not healthy for one to live as if one is poised before a mirror ringed with stage lights. One day the lights will go out and you will look in the mirror and see nothing at all.
"Now I'll take some coffee, black, if it's not too much trouble," Walter added. "I'm not fussy, so long as it wasn't boiled with a head."