Man down, p.14

Man Down, page 14


Man Down

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  “Jake? Ravan here.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “I’m going to make this short, because it’s not something I find pleasant.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “I’m pulling your credentials, Jake. You no longer have any official law enforcement function. That applies to your team, too.”

  “You agree with this, sir?”

  “My hands are tied, Jake. And you brought a lot of this on yourself.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Maybe, after all this blows over…”

  “So, Armstrong watched the news this morning.”

  “Jake, I have no way to protect you from this.”

  “I understand, sir.”

  “When you and I can talk in private, maybe you can explain why a smart man like you could do something so stupid.”

  “I’d like to try, Orlando.”

  “And I’d like to hear it. I’ll be in touch.”

  “Thank you, sir.” I hung up. That was it. My funding frozen by lawyers and my authority stripped away by politicians. My phone rang again.

  “Jake, it’s Katie. Are you all right?”

  “You saw the news.”

  “Yes, my God, how could you let that weasel ambush you like that?”

  “It happened.”

  “Trevor told me you called. I’m sorry I didn’t call back, but I was a little shaken.”

  “It’s okay.”

  Henry stopped the long limo at a roadblock. Men in uniform with no insignia, armed with H&K MP5s, peered into the car as Henry showed his identification.

  “And then Rob called,” Katie said, her voice almost a whisper.

  “Was this before or after the fight?”

  “I was so angry with you, Jake Donovan. You and Rob, grown men fighting like teenagers. If I was smart, I’d find myself a nice accountant, someone who doesn’t have huge amounts of testosterone sloshing around inside him.” She sighed and I pictured her pinching the bridge of her nose because it’s what she did when she was exasperated.

  “Katie, you need to come home.”

  “You know I can’t. You know that.”

  “I don’t mean it that way. I mean you need to come home. We’re no longer part of the investigation.” I explained what Director Ravan had done, and why.

  “You think this is for good? Or are we just suspended?”

  “It sounds permanent to me. Come home and we’ll see where we are, okay?”


  We said good-bye and I called Trevor and told him the news. I also told him about the man in the red shirt. “And, Trevor, I’m not sure how bad this will get before it gets better, but you should be with your family.”

  “You think this Holy Knight could come visit my house?”

  “Maybe. You might want to call Valerie. See if she and the kids can go someplace until you get home. If not, let me know and I’ll set them up at a safe house myself.”

  “Thanks, Jake. I’ll catch the next plane out.”

  By this time we were on I-95 heading south, away from the incoming flow of commuters, so the road was fairly clear, or as clear as the roads get around Washington at this time of morning. Henry and I talked a little about the traffic and the weather, and I asked about his job.

  “I drove a cab for a long time, then a friend got me this, driving celebrities. It’s easy and fun. Most famous people are pretty nice. In fact, the bigger they are, the nicer they usually are. The worst are the singers, the divas, you know? Liza Minnelli was nice. Had her last week. But that girl is some kind of homely.”

  My phone rang again. This time it was Toni.

  “What is going on, Jake? First you have the Toronto police track me down, and that is none of your business where I am or with whom, and now I try calling the house and no one is there. Where are you and where are the kids?”

  “They’re safe, they’re at my mother’s house. I’m in the city. I just had my ticket pulled.”


  “I no longer have a job. The director fired me about fifteen minutes ago.”

  “Oh, Jake.”

  I didn’t want to tell her about why the kids were at my mother’s place, not over the phone, but the threat of the night before wasn’t any less in daylight. “Toni, I need you to watch your back, okay? I need you to be extra careful. That’s what last night was about, and I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”

  Toni laughed. “You should have seen the guy I was with. He thought the marriage police were busting in on him.”

  “He’s married?”


  “Oh.” I didn’t know what to say to that so I said nothing.

  “So, what’s the danger this time? Some thug get paroled? You get another fan letter full of white powder?”

  “No, it’s bigger than that.” I told her about the Holy Knight and the car, and how he knew she was in Toronto.

  “That explains it,” she said.


  “I’ve had a police escort everywhere I went this morning. They try to blend in, but once you’re married to a cop, you can spot them. It’s the shoes.”

  “If one of them is twenty pounds overweight and has a face like a Latvian bulldog, that’s Haiki. Say hi.”

  “That’s okay. I’m catching the next flight home. The seminar’s a bore and the city isn’t the same. Besides, you scared the hell out of my boyfriend.”

  “It wasn’t intentional.”

  “I know. I was angry last night. I mean really angry, but I’m over it.”

  I was enjoying Toni’s voice and the memory of our last time in Toronto. “Toni, let me know when your flight comes in and I’ll pick you up.”

  “I have my car at the airport. Really, Jake, I’ll be fine. I’ll call when I land.”

  “Okay. But be careful.”

  “I will.”

  I stretched out in the rear of the limo and closed my eyes. I tried not to think about the consequences of this morning’s interview. Although it was Spider Urich who had let the AG’s secrets out for a national audience, I was the one who would get fried. As independent as the Broken Wings are, we still come under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department and serve only under the authority granted to us by the attorney general. I knew that authority had the same longevity as Gadget’s attention span, and after Armstrong was finished with us, I’d be lucky to land a job as security guard at the local Bag’n’Go.

  Somewhere in the snarl of construction on I-95, I drifted off. A few minutes out of Fredericksburg, my cell phone woke me up.

  “Jake, this is Vince Andrews. I got a name on that guy in the red shirt.”


  “He’s William Bower. Current address is in Illinois, but he hasn’t reported to his parole officer in months. He’s a Desert Storm veteran with a Tim McVeigh profile. Heavy training in demolitions. And you were right about Leavenworth. Bower was convicted of transporting explosives in ’98, served two years of an eight-year sentence. He’s supposed to be an expert at wiring cars and is suspected in the bombing of a minister’s car in North Carolina last year. Apparently, that’s what he does. He blows up cars.”

  It took a second to penetrate.

  “You haven’t tried to start your car this morning, have you, Jake?”

  “No, I took the train. I mean I’m in a limo. No, I’m not in my car.” My mind was sorting this out, faster than my mouth could keep up.

  “Good. I wouldn’t try to start her before we’ve had the bomb squad take a look, understand?”

  “My daughter has my car.”

  There was a long silence on Andrews’s end. Then he said, “Call her now, Jake. I’ll call the police.”

  “She’s in Fredericksburg.” I gave him the address.

  “Got it.” He hung up.

  I leaned forward and said to Henry, “I need you to go as fast as you’re comfortable driving, Henry. Can you do that?”

  Henry smiled in the rearview. “All I needed wa
s the word.” The limo nearly lifted off.

  I put on my seat belt and tried my mother’s number. The phone was busy. I hit redial and got another busy signal. I told Henry where to exit and he flew down the ramp and took a hard left. The traffic was light and Henry threaded the limo through spaces so narrow I wouldn’t have tried it in the Aston Martin.

  The Aston Martin. Bower knew my car. That’s what he was doing the day before, checking it out, and thanks to my starter he had had a good long look inside the engine compartment. And now Ali had the car.

  I prayed I wasn’t too late. I prayed that Ali had slept in as she did almost every morning she wasn’t in school. I prayed that the sirens I heard in the distance weren’t meant for her.

  We crested Marye’s Heights, which overlook the town. Henry was doing sixty, barreling through intersections, weaving between SUVs as if they were slow-footed cattle. I craned to see over the rooftops, to the apartment building where my mother lived. We cleared the trees, and there, beyond the cemetery, past the battlefield, and over the town’s low skyline, I saw black smoke rise up and flatten against the cloudless sky. The sirens grew louder, and their wail told me how I had underestimated the enemy, and how naked I had left my family in a dangerous world.


  Henry ran a red light and picked up a police cruiser. He glanced at me in the rearview. “You want me to stop?”


  “I didn’t think so.” Henry pulled the wheel left and the limo rolled around the intersection, the police car close behind, its lights flashing, its siren joining the others on the far side of town.

  I pressed my ID against the back window, but didn’t expect it to give us any official cover. We were doing sixty-five in a thirty-five and scattering people like birds.

  Two blocks from the apartment house, we could smell the heavy stench of burning rubber and gasoline. There was no doubt it was a car fire. Flashing yellow and blue lights chased the shadows from the oaks along the street and sirens filled my ears. A block from the fire, a policeman held up his hand and Henry stopped. I jumped out of the car, flashing my ID as I ran, and sprinted toward the fire trucks, EMT van, and police cars blocking the entrance to the apartment building’s parking lot.

  I still had hope that this was a simple car fire, but that hope turned to horror when I saw the Aston Martin. The chassis sat on flattened, smoking tires. The hood, torn free, had been tossed twenty feet. The roof was twisted back and the interior gutted. The windows, and the windows of all the cars around it, were gone. In front of the car, all alone, covered by a stained sheet, lay a body.

  The windows on the parking-lot side of the apartment building were blown out and paramedics were intent, administering oxygen and kind attention to the mostly elderly residents.

  A cop I knew only as Tom put his hand on my chest. “Jake, stop. Stay here.”

  I blew past him and ran to the body lying still on the pavement. I knelt, held my breath, and drew the sheet back. There was a man whose face had been blown away. The flesh was missing and all that was left were bits of bone, teeth, and shredded flaps of torn muscle. His jaw was gone and one eye seemed to look back at me, surprised at such a hard interruption in such a beautiful morning. Smoke curled from his overalls.

  “Jake, she’s okay. Your daughter is okay.”

  Tom had his hand on my shoulder. I heard Ali’s voice calling me, “Daddy!” She was running toward me, followed closely by two city police and a paramedic.

  I stood and caught her and held her as tightly as I could, for as long as I could, afraid to let go, afraid to look at her. “Oh, sweetheart, are you okay? God, I am so glad you’re all right.”

  “Oh, Daddy.” She cried hard against my neck.

  “I got here as quickly as I could.” I stroked her hair. “I’m so sorry.”

  “It was so horrible. That poor man.”

  “Who is he?”

  “He’s a mechanic. I called them when the car wouldn’t start.”

  My skin tingled, frozen. “You tried to start the car?”

  “Yes, to take Eric to his baseball practice.”

  “You and Eric were in the car?”

  “Yes.” She wiped her face, smudging it with soot. “When it wouldn’t start, we went inside and called the garage.”

  The thought of how close I had come to losing both of my children made my knees weak. The police and a paramedic stepped closer, and one of the cops said, “The bomb was wired to the hood. That’s what we think.”

  I held Ali’s shoulders. “You didn’t raise the hood?”

  She shook her head and started to cry again. “I didn’t want to get my hands dirty.”

  I hugged her to me again. “Oh, honey, I don’t want you to do anything to a car, ever again. I don’t want you to even pump your own gas, you hear me?”

  Eric ran from my mother’s building and hugged me around the waist. The three of us stood there, holding each other for a long time.

  I took Ali and Eric into my mother’s apartment and sat them on the couch. Both were in the walking trance you see in young soldiers after their first firefight. Both were too young to have their sense of immortality stripped away so suddenly, and so violently.

  Even my mother, a tough old girl who had spent a lifetime married to a former marine and union organizer, was knocked sideways. As she lit another cigarette in her chain of three packs a day, her hands shook. “Jake, I’m so sorry.”

  “There was nothing you could do, Mom.”

  “If your father had been here…”

  “He would have lifted the hood, Mom. Don’t blame yourself for this. This is my fault. I should have moved everyone to a safe house yesterday.”

  My mother hugged me and held me as tightly as I’d held Ali and Eric. Scared parents and frightened children. An innocent man blown out of his shoes. The dead stretched from the coast of North Carolina to Old Town. Whatever J. P. Napoleon was after, I hoped it was worth it.

  Knowing that my mother would be better off if she was busy, I told her to get her stuff together and to make a list of all the things she’d need to be away for a few days.

  While my mother was getting ready to move, I went down to help Henry with the police. I knew most of the cops on the local force, and those I didn’t know knew me. After threatening Henry with numerous felonies and more misdemeanors than I could count, the supervisor let him go with his promise that if he was ever in Fredericksburg again, it would be on public transportation. Several of the street cops expressed admiration for the way Henry had piloted the long black limo through the city streets. “Not that we can approve of such reckless behavior,” one cop said through a smile, half-hidden by a styrofoam cup of coffee, “but we have bets that in a previous life you piloted an F-18.”

  I checked with the primary, Detective James Burdick. Burdick and I had known each other for years. He had taken several classes with me at Quantico, and we’d occasionally had a beer together at a local cop bar and swapped war stories.

  Behind us, the criminalists were doing their sketches, logging smoking fragments of evidence from the bomb, and arson investigators were already comparing notes.

  “It’ll take some time to test what’s here,” Burdick said, “but we think it’s a military type of explosive, detonated by lifting the hood. Like I said, that’s preliminary. We’ll know more in twelve hours or so.” Jim took off his hat and scratched his head. “What can you tell me, Jake, I mean about enemies, anyone who might want to see you dead?”

  “That’s a pretty long list.”

  “Let’s start with the past forty-eight hours.”

  I told him about Bower and gave him a description, plus Andrews’s number in Washington. “He can send the files,” I said.

  “Good. Fine.” Burdick looked off toward a TV news van that was pulling up at the barricades. “And what are you going to do?”

  “Take my family to a safe house.”

  “Then what?”

  “Get something to eat.

  “After lunch.”

  “Maybe take a nap.”

  “Come on, Jake, you know what I’m saying.”

  “Jim, you’ll understand if I take this rather personally.”

  “And you’ll understand if I ask you to stay away from my investigation.”

  “Sure, I understand. Ask away.”

  Burdick looked at me, fixing me with the same stare he used to pin suspects. “This tied into a case you’re working?”

  “Yeah. I think so.” I laid out the North Carolina case, as much as I could in a few moments, gave him Weller’s number in Durham and the primary’s in the Alexandria murders.

  “Body count is adding up,” he said.

  “I don’t think we’re finished, Jim. Not by a long shot.”

  “Any idea yet who’s behind it?”

  Yeah, I thought, I know who’s behind it. He’s a phantom with a cartoon name that most cops think is no more of a threat than the monster under the bed. “No, Jim, nothing yet,” I said.

  Henry dropped us off at the house on the river. I gave him all the money I had in my pocket, $63, and apologized for putting his life and his job in jeopardy.

  “It’s nothing.” He wouldn’t take the money.

  “You told me you were married.”

  “Twelve years in December.”

  “And what will your wife say when you tell her you refused a sixty-dollar tip?”

  Henry’s face split into a wide smile. “Whatever she’d say, I’d be hearing it for the next twenty years.” He took the bills.

  “You have any trouble at work over this, you let me know.”

  Henry nodded. “I will. You take care of those children now.”

  I promised I would.

  “You need a ride again, give me a call. You’re a lot more fun than Liza Minnelli.”

  I told him I could sing, too. Laughing, Henry drove up the long drive toward the highway, the radio’s bass vibrating the neighborhood.

  We loaded the bags and Gadget into the Land Rover and drove into northern Virginia. A town house in Fairfax belonged to a friend of a friend. If the investigation didn’t turn up suspects in custody in the next two days, I would move the family again, this time to a place in Montana. That is, if Toni would go along with it.

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