Man down, p.12

Man Down, page 12


Man Down

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“No, why?”

  “I don’t know. Just something he said. We saw your car out there and he asked if you were Jake Donovan, the profiler, and I said you were. You’re about the only celebrity we have here, Jake.”

  “What did he say?”

  “Well, we got to talking about your career, and he knew so much, like about that Black Diamond case with all those children missing. He seemed like a real fan.”

  That made the hair on my neck stand up. “What else did he say?”

  Billy shrugged. “Gosh, not much. Oh, yeah, he asked about your family. He seemed to know all about Toni being in Toronto and all, and how she was a psychiatrist and your kids.”

  “He asked about my kids?”

  “Yeah, even knew their names.”

  “Thanks.” I ran from the shop, leaving Billy standing there, his scoop dripping vanilla onto his smock.

  “I hope I didn’t do the wrong thing,” he hollered after me.

  I called home. Eric’s voice answered, “Hi, no one can come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message…”

  I turned left and headed back toward the river. At the bridge I ran the yellow and pushed the speed limit by ten. On the way I phoned the FBI.

  “Special Agent Andrews.”

  “Vince, this is Jake Donovan. I need your help.”

  “Sure, what can I do for you, Jake?”

  “Vince, I need you to trace someone.”

  “I can do that. Name?”

  “I don’t have a name. But I think he’s done time in Leavenworth, at least that’s my guess.” I told him about the tattoo and gave Andrews the description. “Between thirty and thirty-five, blond and blue, six-two, two-ten, probably with some boxing experience.”


  “I don’t know. Maybe amateur. I don’t know.”

  “This might take some time, Jake.”

  “That’s okay.” I gave him my phone number. “Just let me know what you find out.”

  “Will do.”

  I found Ali on the deck, sunning herself on a chaise lounge.

  “Didn’t you hear the phone?”

  Ali looked up and shielded her eyes from the sun. “What happened to Gadget?”

  The little dog’s face was still covered in cream filling from his eyebrows to chin. It seemed to make him deliriously happy. “He got into the cannoli,” I said. “Why didn’t anyone answer the phone?”

  Ali picked up the cordless phone from the table, turned it on, and listened. “Eric’s on-line. I keep telling Mom we need a DSL, but she says it would just encourage us.”

  “Ali, I want you to get some things together. You and Eric are spending the night at your grandmother’s house.”

  “What?” She sat up in the chaise, but I didn’t stay for the argument I knew was coming. I carried the bag inside and put it on the counter before looking into the office. Eric was at the keyboard, so intent on the screen that he didn’t see me.

  “Downloading porn or music?”

  Eric jumped a foot off the chair. “Jeez, Dad, you scared the heck out of me.”

  I walked around the desk to see the screen. Eric was playing a shoot-the-terrorist game, complete with Glock recoil and blood spatters. “Nice. Has your mother seen this?”

  Eric looked up with a grin. “Are you kidding?”

  “I brought dinner home from Lubrano’s.”


  “Then I want you and your sister to pack a bag. You’re spending the night at Grandma’s.” That got his attention.

  “What?” Eric’s voice rose into a vintage whine. “Every time we stay at Grandma’s my clothes stink like cigarettes for a week.”

  “Come on, it’s not that bad.”

  “You know it is.”

  “Know what what is?” Ali leaned against the doorjamb, her arms crossed.

  “Dad’s making us go to Grandma’s.”

  “I know. I told you this would happen.” Ali turned and walked up the steps to her room.

  I caught up to Ali as she was pulling a duffel from her closet. “What did you mean by that?”

  “I told Eric you’d be shipping us to Grandma’s. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.” She threw the duffel on the bed. “It’s okay, I know we’ll never be as interesting as the Teds.” She referred to the men I’d spent years studying, Ted Bundy and Ted Kaczynski. “Maybe Eric and I should plant a few kids in the crawl space.”

  “That was Gacy.”

  “Whatever.” She tossed balled-up socks from the dresser drawer toward the bag.

  “Ali, that’s not what’s going on here. I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

  “It’s okay, Dad. I understand.”

  Eric came up the steps, two at a time. “Why do we have to go to Grandma’s? She doesn’t even have a computer.”

  I sat down on the edge of Ali’s bed. “Look, guys, I’d just feel better if you were over at your grandmother’s.”

  Eric whined, “But why?”

  Ali knew exactly why. She stopped sorting through her clothes. “Something happened, didn’t it? You heard something. Someone’s coming here.”

  “Ali, please.” I didn’t want her spooking Eric.

  “So, what did you hear? Is it imminent and credible?”

  She even knew the code. I shook my head. “It’s not even close.”

  “Then what’s the rush? Why right now?”

  Eric knew we’d moved beyond the stink of Grandma’s cigarettes or her lack of video games. “What’s going on?”

  “It’s nothing. I’d just feel better, that’s all.”

  “What?” Eric insisted.

  “Dad thinks someone might come to the house.”


  “That’s why you had your gun on the table,” Ali said. “Isn’t it?”

  “Someone’s coming here?” Eric’s voice was a whisper, his eyes as big as moons.

  “No, no one’s coming here.”

  “Then why can’t we stay?” Ali said.

  “Listen, I’d just feel more comfortable with you guys in town, inside an apartment building with a doorman.”

  “The doorman is Billy Tips, Dad, he went to our school. He can barely open a car door.”

  “I’d still feel better…”

  “Think about it,” Ali said. “If someone wants to hurt us, where would we be safer, at Grandma’s with a dropout at the door or here with you?”

  “That’s not the question.”

  “That’s exactly the question.” Ali stood with her hands on her hips.

  “Show him the gun,” Eric said.

  “Shut up,” she snapped

  “No, show him.”

  I looked from Ali to Eric. “What gun?”

  Ali shook her head. “You have such a big mouth.”


  With a sigh, Ali stuck her arm under her mattress and pulled out a Colt .45. “It was Grandpa’s, from the war.”

  I could see the magazine in the pistol’s grip and I said, as calmly as I could, “Ali, please hand that to me. That’s very dangerous.”

  She released the magazine, locked back the slide, and handed it to me, grip first.

  “Who taught you how to do that?”

  Ali sighed and looked everywhere around the room but at me.

  “Who taught you how to clear this pistol?”

  “A boy from school. His father’s a weapons instructor up at Quantico.”

  I looked at the hollow-points in the magazine, then sniffed the chamber. All I smelled was gun oil. “Have you fired it?”

  “A few times.”

  “She’s really good, Dad.” Eric was proud of his sister’s ability.

  “You’ve seen her shoot?” I turned back to Ali. “You shot this pistol with your brother around?”

  “Just once,” she said, as if that made it all right.

  “Does your mother know you have this?”

  Ali rolled her eyes. “Oh, right. Like she wouldn’t go all apo

  I tucked the magazine into my back pocket. “She’d be right to. This is very dangerous, Ali. First, you haven’t had the training. And second, do you know how much more likely it is for a weapon to be used against one of the family? This isn’t a game, Ali. This is very dangerous.”

  Ali stuck out her chin, defying me. “You’ve said that like about a hundred times. I know, Dad. I’m being careful.”

  “And I’ll say it again until you get it.” Ali’s stance made me back away a bit, not wanting to lose the importance of my point in an argument both of us would lose. I told her to sit with me. When she did, I put my arm over her shoulder. “Think of how you’d feel if you accidentally shot someone with this, like your brother, or even Gadget.”

  “I said I’m being careful. And with you living up in the city, and Mom not wanting a gun in the house…”

  “For good reason.”

  “Someone had to protect us, in case, you know, one of your murderers came looking for you.”

  “That’s not going to happen.”

  “You don’t know that.” Ali was right. In a small town, when you have even the smallest amount of fame, everyone knows where you live.

  “The police keep a close watch on all of you when I’m not here,” I said.

  “Then why do we have to go to Grandma’s?” Ali was always the smart one, always the one to exploit an opening.

  “Because I’d feel better.”

  “Areyou coming?” Eric asked.

  “No, I’m staying here. In case someone does come to the house, I want to make sure he’s caught.”

  “So it is imminent and credible,” Ali said.

  “It’s probably just an ex-con trying to rattle my cage.” I told them about the man in the red shirt, but not how he gave me that black-hole feeling of fear in my gut, or about the missing glass from their kitchen that had turned up at a murder scene two hundred miles south.

  “Look, I’m taking the train into the city tomorrow morning for an interview. I’d feel better if you were at your grandmother’s. Do this for me, okay, guys?”

  Ali and Eric nodded and let me hug them both. “And as for this pistol, I don’t want to see either of you handling a gun again, not unless I’m with you, okay?”

  Eric brightened. “Does this mean you’ll teach me how to shoot?”

  “No. Not until your mother thinks it’s all right.”

  Eric sagged. “Which is never.” He was probably right, too.


  I let Ali drive my car to her grandmother’s and I called Toronto. Toni wasn’t in her room, but it was dinnertime and I pictured her schmoozing with the other shrinks over cocktails. I told the desk clerk I’d try later and said, “No, no message.”

  Gadget and I ate a bit of the Italian takeout and then stuffed the remaining cartons into the refrigerator. I couldn’t shake the nauseating fear I’d felt when Ali had pulled that semiautomatic from under her mattress. I knew how things could go so wrong, so quickly, when you throw a loaded gun into your average day. I decided to take a walk and check on things while the sun was still up. I dropped my revolver into my pants pocket and went into the yard with Gadget. By the time we’d walked around the yard and up the long driveway, the sun was setting behind the trees. Back in the house, I tried Toni’s number again and again got no answer.

  The house seemed too big for just a man and a dog, so I tried Katie’s cell phone and got her voice mail. I hung up without leaving a message.

  I tried Trevor’s number and found him at the Beaufort police station.

  “Nothing new here, Jake. They’re all covering their backsides with one hand and pointing fingers with the other. Reminds me of our days at the Bureau.”

  “But you and Katie are all right.”

  “Yeah. Katie’s still a little shaken, but okay. What about you? How’s the family?”

  “I sent the kids to their grandmother’s for the night. It’s just me and Gadget.”

  Katie would never have let this pass unquestioned. She would have wanted to know why, and for how long, and when I told her about the man in the red shirt, she would have demanded I call the police. But Trevor wasn’t wired that way. He said, “Mm-hmm,” and let it go. I would probably have done the same.

  “Ali surprised me,” I said.

  “Yeah? What happened? She graduate from law school over the summer?”

  I laughed. Trevor had always been impressed with Ali and credited her intelligence to her mother’s side of the family. “No, man, she had my father’s .45 tucked under her mattress. And it looks like she’s learned how to use it.”

  “When I was sixteen, I hadPlayboy s under mine.”

  “I don’t know which would disturb me more.”

  Trevor laughed. “Listen, you want me to take her to the range when I get back?”

  “Toni wouldn’t have it.”

  “Yeah. Well, think about it. If the kid’s interested, she needs to know how to do it right.”

  “I’ll let you try to convince her mother.”

  “That reminds me. I promised Valerie I’d call before the kids went to bed. I’ll talk to you later, Jake.”


  “Everything’s okay up there, right?”

  “Everything’s fine.”

  I called Dom and got his voice mail. I told him to call if there was anything new on his end of the investigation.

  I called Jerry, and he answered after the third ring and in whispers explained that he was at a movie with Dr. Plessy, and everyone, including Dr. Plessy, was glaring at him and he had to go.

  I tried Toni again, but still no answer.

  It was dark outside so I turned off all the lights except those in my office and set the alarm. Gadget curled up under the desk. I placed my father’s pistol on the desktop. He’d carried it onto Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. It was the pistol he’d been cleaning when he’d heard about the Japanese surrender.

  The December I was twelve, I’d found it in the back of his closet while looking for Christmas presents. It was in a shoebox with his medals, dog tags, and marine insignia. I remember holding it, feeling its weight, trying to pull the slide back against the recoil spring and failing. I put it back and didn’t mention it until that summer when I asked my father to teach me how to shoot a pistol. He said he didn’t own one, which was the first and only lie my father ever told me.

  Later, after I was in the service myself, eager to go overseas and earn my own medals, I asked him why he’d kept it hidden. He told me about having it broken down in front of him, the parts spread across the pages of aStars and Stripes, when the news came over the radio that the war was over.

  “Seemed wrong to reload it,” he said. “Like maybe if I had, the war would start up all over again.” I didn’t understand him then, but I understand him now.

  I hefted the pistol, feeling the checked grips under my palm, its balanced weight in my hand. The Colt semiautomatic—official nomenclature, the M1911A1—weighs close to two pounds and feels like three compared to my fifteen-ounce Airweight.

  Without really thinking about it, I removed the front bushing and eased the spring assembly out from under the barrel. I continued to break the gun down, letting my mind dig around in the facts of the North Carolina murder while my hands worked the smooth, cool steel of Mr. Browning’s timeless design.

  We knew that William Rush, the key man with the weapons system, thought he had something that would interest the government, specifically DARPA, the whiz-bang, bureaucracy-leaping techno boys who could green-light funds for promising new ways of killing people and breaking things. So Rush and his secretary, Janice Callahan, had traveled to Washington to meet with a DARPA man. Dr. Rush returned to North Carolina, alone.

  That night, Janice Callahan and the DARPA man were murdered in Alexandria. The casings found at the scene pointed to Callahan’s ex-husband, pushed off the deep end by jealousy when he discovered his ex and the government man in bed together. At least, t
hat’s how it was meant to look.

  That left me with these questions: If Mrs. De Vries’s niece was sexually involved with the guy from DARPA, was the sex business or pleasure? And was the sex real or was it staged? And if the sex was staged, what was the real motive the staging was meant to hide?

  The next night Dr. Rush was shot in a motel bathtub, and his body was moved to the jogging trail near his office. The files relating to the weapons system are gone, along with his laptop computer. Again, the secretary’s ex is the most likely suspect based on shell casings, witnesses who saw his car, a suspect footprint, and tire tracks.

  But why did Rush go to the motel? Whom was he meeting and who was the woman who rented the room that night? Why did someone switch the security video to make it look as if the secretary had rented the room the night of the murder, the night she was lying dead in a bedroom in Alexandria? And who switched it?

  Why had the ex-husband disappeared, and why had he surfaced long enough to engage a literary agent? Was the agent’s death an accidental shooting or was it a hit on the wrong man?

  Back to the motel: There was a woman there, based on the motel tape, hair samples, and epithileals. But who was she? Could she be the prostitute found murdered in a motel bathtub on the coast? We’d find that out soon enough, once the prints from the two motel rooms were compared.

  And speaking of prints, the question digging at me was, who planted that glass at the murder scene? And why? Why add this irrelevant item to an otherwise carefully staged crime scene?

  It could only be a message, a pointed warning to me personally, letting me know how easily murderers could reach out and touch my family.

  I had reassembled the Colt and was casually working the slide, cocking the trigger and then lowering the hammer and working the slide again. I had put a name to the mind behind these murders. A name he didn’t care if I knew. But knowing Napoleon was behind the killings and finding out why, and what agents he had on the ground actually pulling the trigger, was a whole other matter.

  By the time I had worked through the case, probing for more answers and coming up with only more questions, it was a little after twelve. I placed one last call to Toni’s room, to tell her where the kids were, and to hear a voice besides my own, one that was familiar and knew how to ease me down from this agitated self-investigation.

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