Man down, p.18

Man Down, page 18


Man Down

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  Then I heard the driver say, “Spider? Spider? Are you all right?” and I saw the bleeding man on the pavement was Spider Urich, and for once he wasn’t talking. In fact, he wasn’t moving at all.


  Spider had the concussion; Larry, my lawyer, had the headache. He leaned against the wall and removed his glasses, sighed, and closed his eyes. He sighed again.

  “Larry? Are you okay? You look like you’re having a stroke.”

  “Yeah, Jake, I’m fine.” He took a moment, put his glasses on, and then spoke carefully, as if the words themselves would split his head open like a melon. “I’m earning my fee,” he said, more to himself than to me or the police officers, or the line of prisoners shackled to the benches.

  The officer behind the wire handed over the manila folder containing my laces, belt, wallet, and newly issued gold shield. “That’s good, Larry,” I said. “In these times of terror and uncertainty, it’s good to earn a living.”

  The property officer stopped me. “Agent Donovan?”


  “Would you sign this for my daughter? She just graduated from the Academy.” He held out a copy of my latest book.

  “I’d be happy to.”

  While I signed the book, Larry muttered to himself, “Harvard law school was a breeze. The sixteen years I spent as a federal prosecutor were just a warm-up.”

  The doors whirred open and we walked through two more checkpoints before we hit the parking lot. At each gate I had to stop and talk with the officer. In the parking lot, two policemen got out of their patrol cars, applauded, and gave me a thumbs-up.

  “I’m a pretty popular inmate,” I said.

  “Jake, you’re supposed to ask me, ‘A warm-up for what?’”


  “I said, ‘My sixteen years as a prosecutor were just a warm-up.’ You’re supposed to ask me, ‘A warm-up for what.’”

  I pushed my belt through the loops. “Okay, Larry, a warm-up for what?”

  “For this week.”

  We got into his Mercedes and Larry started the engine. “In less than one week, you break into a home—”

  “The door was unlocked.”

  “Youenter a home, uninvited—”

  “Tough for dead people to ask you in.”

  “—and discover two bodies. Then there’s a Wild West shoot-out in Crystal City, you pull a gun in a crowded fish market in the District—”

  “You forgot the guy blowing up my Aston Martin.”

  Larry negotiated the guard stop, showing ID and waiting for the gate to glide open. He looked both ways, then pulled into traffic. “I didn’t forget, Jake. But so far, you haven’t been charged with anything in Fredericksburg. But then, we still have the weekend.” At a red light, Larry rubbed his temples. “Now you assault a TV news crew. Jake, I had no idea how easy my life was until this week.”

  “Sarcasm is not a comforting trait in a lawyer, Larry.”

  Once we reached the interstate, Larry said, “Jake, you know, you could go on the speaking circuit, make good money with tales of homicidal nutcases and sexual deviants. Write more books and let Josh, your other lawyer, earnhis retainer for a change. What do you say?”

  “We don’t usually refer to them as ‘nutcases’ in the Bureau, Larry.” I sat back in the seat, folded my hands in my lap, and waited. If I was patient and didn’t taunt him, Larry might tell me if I had a future as a free man.

  After a long time, Larry said, “Urich doesn’t want to press charges.”

  “That’s good. Why do I sense a big but coming in this conversation?”

  “But his grip does. And is. Pressing charges, I mean.”

  I jerked upright. “I didn’t hurt the grip. I never even touched him.”

  “It’s assault if you brandish a weapon.”

  “I was pointing it.”

  “Aiming it. At the man’s head, Jake.”

  “His eye, really.”

  “That’s good, Jake, save that one for the judge.” Larry passed a slow-moving bus full of prisoners being transferred to the state prison.

  “I get the most interesting fan mail from prison.”

  “I have no doubt,” Larry said. “You know, you’re lucky that local law enforcement likes you so much.”

  “I know.”

  “And that I’m such a damn good lawyer.”

  “I know.”

  “Or you’d be spending the night with a cell mate who wants more than your autograph. Someone who hasn’t read all of your books.”

  “Or worse, someone who has.”

  Larry laughed for the first time that evening.

  “How is Urich?”

  “He’ll live. The door cracked his skull, but he’ll be up and muckraking again in no time. It might even improve his ratings. Look what a chair in the face did for Geraldo.”

  “Maybe he’ll thank me.”

  “Jake, this is a pretty serious charge.”

  I sank down into the car seat. “I know, Larry. I know. Did they return my gun?”


  “That’s the second one.”

  “You’ll get them back when you stop being a public menace.”

  As he drove, Larry filled me in on the arraignment dates, pleas, and how we’d handle each of the several charges filed against me. By the time Larry dropped me off at Trevor’s house, I knew we’d be spending a great deal of time together, plus I’d be spending a great deal of money. It was a good thing I liked Larry.

  At the curb, Larry looked skeptically at the tidy suburban house, the white-faced lawn jockey, and said, “So, this is where the Legion of Justice meets?”

  “Yeah, for now. We’ve had our wings clipped.”

  Larry put his hand on my shoulder. The sarcasm was gone, as was the professional voice, leaving the encouraging words of a friend. “You’ll come out of this just fine.”

  “Thanks to you.”

  “As your lawyer, I’d advise you to get drunk and get laid.”

  I laughed. “Not much chance of the latter.”

  “Things must be tough in the superhero business. Keep your chin up, Jake. Tomorrow’s another day.”

  I thanked him and watched as he drove off. Before ringing the bell, I rubbed the lawn jockey’s cap for luck. Tomorrow was another day; I just wasn’t sure what fresh hell it would bring.


  Valerie opened the door and let the sounds of Coltrane mixed with the aroma of clam chowder drift onto the porch. She gave me a short hug and a peck on the cheek. “Doesn’t look like your time in the pen’s hardened you any,” she said.

  “You know, for years I’ve wondered how someone as humor-impaired as your husband could put that lawn jockey out there.”

  She smiled. “And now?”

  “And now I know it was your idea.”

  “Took you all this time to figure that out. You’re getting slow, Mr. Donovan, very slow.”

  “That’s the second time today I’ve been told that.”

  I followed her into the kitchen, where she offered me a bowl of clam chowder and a beer.

  “I’ll take the beer first. I see Jerry’s been here.”

  “Brought a whole bushel of clams with him. We’ve got enough chowder to feed the state of Maine.”

  “Where’s Trevor?”

  “Back in the den.” She handed me the cold beer. “Rob McManus is in there, too, Jake.”

  I let the cold beer wash away the taste of incarceration. “It’s okay, Valerie. I’m getting used to the idea of dying alone.” I hesitated, then thought what the hell and said, “I just wish Katie had left me for a better guy.”

  Valerie put a comforting hand on my forearm. “Jake, he’s not so bad. He helped Trevor move Toni and the children today.”

  “Trevor take them up to the place in Mt. Airy?”

  Valerie nodded. “He thought they’d be better off. You know, after what happened.”

  “I tried calling her cell phone earlier. She didn’t answer.

  “Toni just needs some time. She’ll be all right.”

  “Pretty mad, was she?”

  Valerie shook her head. “Not mad. She’s just scared, Jake. You understand.”

  “Yeah. I do.”

  I walked back to the den. One wall was covered in awards, plaques, pictures, and official recognition from various law enforcement agencies. A bookcase held shooting trophies.

  Within easy reach of the remote and a revolver, Trevor held the line in a recliner. Jerry and Rob sat on opposite ends of the couch. “There’s our notorious leader, drawing down on reporters everywhere,” Trevor said. “Did they let you watch CNN in stir?”

  “No, why? What’s happening?”

  “Spec Ops raided a terrorist camp in Syria,” Trevor said. “On the home front, the attorney general’s gone underground. No one knows exactly where he is.”

  “Amazing. Have there been threats?”

  “So they say. I think he and the vice president are bunking together.”

  “In the meantime,” Rob said, “the president greets Girl Scouts in the Oval Office.”

  “I wonder if he gets free cookies,” Jerry said.

  “Perks of the job,” I said.

  I grabbed a straight-back chair from the small desk in the corner of the room and sat next to Trevor. “Has anyone heard from Katie or Dominic?”

  Rob jumped in first. “Katie called from Gainesville. Nothing new. Still tracking Bower’s known associates.”

  “Anything from Dom?”

  Jerry said, “Dom called. There were marks on the wrists of the victims in Alexandria.”

  “What kind of marks? Ligature marks? You mean they were tied up?”

  “Handcuffed,” Jerry said.

  “They were cuffed, and then killed? But why?”

  “Maybe it was some kind of kinky sex game,” Rob said. “The husband catches them, just think how you’d feel.”

  A wise man told me, never attribute to malice what can be written off as stupidity, so I attributed Rob’s personal remark to his being a jerk instead of its being an intentional goad and followed the investigative thread through. “But why would he remove the cuffs after he killed them?”

  “There’s more,” Jerry said. You could see him pick out the information from among the atomic weights, bits of movie dialogue, long-ago phone numbers, pet names, and TV jingles that drifted about his cranium. “They were fully clothed, shot, and then stripped.”

  “So they weren’t in bed.”

  “They were when they were killed. In the bed. But clothed,” Jerry said. “That’s what made the crime scene look right when they first examined it. And, oh, yes, there were signs of torture.”


  “Apparently, the UNSUB used a clothes iron, plugged in. The woman, Janice Callahan, had burns on the bottoms of her feet, her thighs, and her”—Jerry looked down at his fingers twisted together—“you know, her vulva.”

  “Jesus,” Trevor said. “What kind of sick bastard…”

  “Sounds like S and M,” Rob said. “You know, with the bondage.”

  “Or maybe someone wanted information,” I said.

  “But that doesn’t make sense,” Rob argued. “Look. The husband follows his wife here, catches her in bed with this government guy.”

  “He worked for DARPA,” Jerry said.

  Rob shot him an angry look, and unmasked, stripped of civility, I saw a man I would never like no matter how much I tried.

  “As I was saying, Callahan catches them in some twisted S- and-M bondage thing, shoots them, strips them like, you know, stripping them of their dignity, and leaves them like that.”

  I shook my head. “No. If it was a murder of pure passion, he would have mutilated them, or, if he still loved her, he would have covered her or at least he would have covered her face. And there’s one more thing.”

  “What’s that?”

  “I met the guy. He’s not a killer.”

  “But doesn’t he have his wife’s computer? See, that proves right there that he was in Alexandria. How could he get his wife’s computer if he wasn’t there?”

  Trevor nodded. “Good question.”

  “Then why would he give it to me?”

  “To throw us off the trail. To make us think he’s innocent. Otherwise, why doesn’t he turn himself in?”

  “Because he doesn’t trust the government. Rightly or wrongly, he doesn’t think he’ll get a fair shake.”

  Rob chewed on his thumb, a habit he had had when he was one of my students, and a habit I found even more annoying now. “If only you could have gotten Janice Callahan’s computer before you were interrupted by those fake cops. Maybe that would tell us something.”

  I looked at Jerry and his eyes widened as he caught the message I was sending. “Yeah,” he said, “that sure would help.”

  “Oh,” Trevor said, “those two cops were sprung.”

  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What? By who?”

  Trevor shrugged. “I don’t know. I just got a call from my friend on the force. He thought I’d want to know.”

  Valerie came in and said she was going to bed. “Jake, I’ve made up the guest room. I want you to stay the night.”

  At the moment, the drive into Crystal City, the empty apartment, and Bower still out there thinking of me every time he tried to sit down made Valerie’s invitation sound pretty good. “Thanks, Val. I appreciate it.”

  Trevor grumbled, “You tell me how much you appreciate it when the kids wake you up at oh-dark-thirty screaming for their uncle Jake.”

  As Valerie made her good-nights, Jerry stood up and stretched. “I better get going, too. It’s been a long day.” As Trevor walked him to the door, Jerry said, “Did Jake tell you I’ve identified forty-seven different brands of perfume?”

  “Fascinating,” Trevor said. “I’m so excited I’ll never get to sleep.”

  When we were alone, Rob stood up and said, “This is the first chance I’ve had to tell you this, but I appreciate you letting me work this investigation with you guys.”

  “How are things at the Bureau? Busy, I bet.”

  Rob laughed. “Oh, yeah, Director Ravan’s got us running.”

  “Glad you can make time to help us out,” I said.

  “No problem.”

  We shook hands and I walked him to the door.

  With Rob gone and Valerie in bed, Trevor and I settled back in the den. “So, what was that between you and Jerry?”

  “You caught that, huh?”

  “Only because I know you both. I don’t think Rob saw it.”

  “Good. I want to keep this in the team for now.” I pointed to the TV and Trevor turned up the sound. In whispers, I told Trevor about the clams, the computer, and Jerry’s friend at Langley.

  “Why didn’t he tell me?”

  “Because you weren’t alone.”

  “It was just Rob, and you really think my house is bugged?” Trevor looked around the room as if the walls might fall in.

  I said I didn’t know. “But for now, let’s keep things in the family, okay?”

  Trevor nodded. “Okay. I got it.” He turned down the TV and we watched ESPN for another half hour. After the week I’d had, there was no way I could concentrate on the baseball standings, so I said good-night and went upstairs to the guest room.

  For the first time in what seemed like years, I slept a dreamless sleep, surrounded by the Malones’ hospitality and protected by the Broken Wings extended family. Even now the team was working, investigating murders that had happened on our watch. They worked without pay, authority, or the political cover we needed to protect us in a town where thunderstorms of skunk shit rained down upon the just and unjust alike.

  I don’t know if I was awake or asleep when I heard the phone ring from far off in the house. I opened my eyes. The gray dawn lightened the window shade and I could feel the vibrations of Trevor’s sleepy morning voice answering the phone. Then something in his voice c
hanged and a cold dread settled over my chest. I raised my watch to my eyes. It was nearly six. I had slept like a rock since midnight, but now I was wide-awake, my heart beating loudly in my chest.

  Trevor knocked on the door. “Jake?”

  “I’m awake.”

  He opened the door but did not enter. He stood there, holding the phone.

  “I’m awake.” I sat up on the edge of the bed. “What is it?”

  I saw Valerie behind him, looking in. She was clutching her robe and tears glistened in her eyes.

  “It’s Eric, Jake.”

  The light closed in. All around me was a long, dark tunnel with Trevor at the very end, talking to me.

  “That was Joe, from the director’s office. Eric’s been kidnapped.”


  The director was sending a helicopter to take us up to Mt. Airy, a small town on Route 40, in the rolling green hills of western Maryland. As Trevor drove to the LZ for pickup, Orlando Ravan told me what he knew, which was not much. “I’ve sent Andrews up as primary. He’s had a lot of experience with abductions, and I know you two respect one another.”

  “I appreciate that, sir.”

  “Jake, I can’t say how sorry I am. You know you have the full Bureau behind you.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “I’m not just saying that, Jake. When news of the kidnapping got out, every agent in this building volunteered to help, even those who’ve been working eighteen-hour shifts. Hell, Jake, even Harry Gillette asked to express his support and concern.”

  “I know we’ve had our differences. You and I, I mean.”

  “No, Jake. You’ve always been stand-up. What’s happened recently is just politics, nothing more.”

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