Man down, p.19

Man Down, page 19


Man Down

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  “I appreciate that, sir.”

  “You call me when you get acclimated. You know I can’t have you take any official role in the investigation, but as a parent you can be an invaluable resource.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Just keep your head about you.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  The Bureau’s Black Hawk set down on the soccer field of the local elementary school. Trevor and I got in. The crew chief offered his condolences and said, “We’ll get him back, Donovan. And we’ll get the fuck who took him.”

  It was a short ride from Alexandria to Mt. Airy. I tried not to think of anything at all, but I kept seeing all of the child murders I’d ever investigated running through my head. The pictures kept coming until I thought I’d jump out of my skin I was so crazy with grief, disbelief, fear, and anger. Once again, I had brought this on my family. I had brought this evil home from the field, and now it had devoured my only son, my boy, my baby.

  The Black Hawk set down on a field in back of the house. The entire yard was roped off in crime scene tape. There were two perimeters. One was set fifty yards from the house, and that kept the press and the public from trampling the scene. The second, closer to the house, was for visiting politicians who were quick to express concern and get their faces in the paper.

  I was whisked through the first tape. The press had not appeared, but it wouldn’t be long. The helicopter coming and going was enough to alert even the sleepiest reporter to the possibility of a story. Soon, every TV and print reporter on the crime beat would be outside this tape shouting questions.

  A local cop stopped me at the inside perimeter. “I’m sorry, Agent Donovan. You’re supposed to wait for Special Agent Andrews.”

  A small group of state troopers stood to the side and drank coffee. They wouldn’t look at me, and I understood. I had been there. It was a strange cop superstition, that making eye contact would bring the contagion to your family.

  I watched Andrews cross the yard, stripping off latex gloves as he came. In all of our dealings before, Andrews had been the subordinate, but today he was the primary, called in to investigate a high-profile kidnapping. And I was no longer a senior agent; I was one of the victims.

  “Jake, Jake, I am so sorry.” He grasped my hand.

  “What’s happening, Vince? Where’s my wife?”

  “Mrs. Donovan is at a local hotel, sir. I’ll be happy to have one of the agents take you there right away.”

  “I’ll take you, sir.” A trooper touched the brim of his hat.

  “Thanks, but I’d like to…”

  Trevor stepped in to help. “We want to see the…,” he almost said “crime scene,” hesitated, and said, “boy’s bedroom.”

  “Of course.” Andrews put his hand on my arm and guided me gently across the lawn, as if I had suddenly grown old and fragile. I had done the same for so many numbed parents, so many times before. Each time was hard, and each time the grief and fear were different; just as every crime and every criminal is unique, so are the victims and their reactions. The only thing constant was that this never got easier, no matter how many times you did it.

  Before we entered, I put on surgical boots and latex gloves so I wouldn’t contaminate the crime scene any more than necessary.

  Trevor said he would wait outside. “You need me, you holler.”

  I nodded and followed Andrews inside. The house was a small cottage, one floor with three bedrooms. The first room was the living room, simply furnished with a couch, a chair, and a small coffee table. No TV, and I thought of how Eric must have complained.

  The kitchen was next. The refrigerator was old and rattled when it cranked up. The kitchen was so small, there was just room for the fridge and a Formica dinette set. No dishwasher, and I thought of how Toni must have cursed me when she saw that.

  As we passed through each room, the crime techs stopped, out of respect, and I wanted someone to reassure me that my son was not dead and this was not a funeral but a crime scene. Again, people’s averting their eyes made me feel even more isolated in my grief and fear.

  A short hall led to the back bedroom. It was barely ten feet square with a single bed tucked into the corner. One tech was still taking pictures, and the supervisor asked us not to enter the room itself.

  I stood in the doorway. The covers of the bed were turned back, as if Eric had just gotten up to go to the bathroom and would come out, rubbing sleep from his eyes and asking what was going on.

  On the nightstand, a Harry Potter book was turned over. A glass of water sat undisturbed next to it. On the pillow was the small hollow made by Eric’s head.

  Andrews whispered, “Talk to me, Jake, tell me what you see.” He was forcing me to think like a cop, making me look through the eyes of a man who had investigated dozens of kidnappings instead of through the eyes of a father who had just lost a son.

  “The bed shows no sign of struggle,” I said, swallowing hard, forcing myself to catalog the details. The crime tech stopped taking pictures and stood quietly, listening. She made herself nearly invisible. “The window is open. The screen is in place.” I mentioned Eric’s clothing, casually tossed to the floor. There were no shoes. I wondered if he was even wearing shoes, or if he’d brought the flip-flops I’d seen him wearing before. I asked someone to make a note of it and heard the scratch of a pen on paper behind me.

  I looked for anything unusual, anything out of place. But this was not Eric’s room. This was a strange room and what was Eric’s would be lightly laid on, a few things carried in from the car. Traveling light.

  Eric’s backpack was at the foot of the bed. “Have you checked inside?” The tech shook her head no. “You won’t find anything. He doesn’t leave anything. He only takes things,” I said. “He only takes things.”

  The room was hushed, the air tense with the focused concentration of three disciplined people.

  “Have you lifted the pillow?”

  “No.” The tech looked over my shoulder at Andrews. “Should I?”

  “Carefully,” Andrews said.

  With her thumb and her forefinger she slowly lifted the corner of the pillow. There, tucked between the case and the sheet, was the card.

  “I knew it was him,” I said.

  “Who?” I could feel the gust of Andrews’s breath on my neck.

  “The Black Diamond Killer. He was here. He took my son.”


  Immediately, a thousand questions piled one on top of the other inside my head. I turned on Andrews. “We need the Black Diamond files.”

  “You’ve seen them, Jake. Think about the original crime scenes. Do you think this was staged?” Andrews held a mini-disc recorder near his chest, and for the first time, I saw he had been recording our morning. I wasn’t a participant in the investigation. I was a victim, a witness, and if Andrews was a professional, I was also a suspect.

  I closed my eyes and tried to see the bedrooms of all the boys. All I could see was Eric’s room. I tried to see the other boys. All I could conjure up was Eric’s face. “I don’t know, Vince. I can’t think about anything other than how to proceed.”

  Andrews said, “That’s okay, Jake. Walk through the procedure. Maybe something will reveal itself. We’ll get the files. What next?”

  “See if any one of those initial suspects have been released from prison recently or returned from overseas.” I ran through all of the contingencies I could think of. “Or recovered from an extended illness.”

  “What else?”

  “Check any of their children. Maybe the son has picked up where the father left off.” I looked up at Andrews. “It’s a long shot, I know.”

  He put his hand on my arm and led me from the doorway.

  “See if anyone’s requested a deck of those cards, those Black Diamonds. Could be a museum, or a collector, maybe someone claiming to write a book. The manufacturer is in Cincinnati. His number’s in the file.”

  We stood in the living room, but we could hav
e been anywhere, so blind was I to anything real and solid around me.

  “Call the primary on the case. His name’s Oskovich. If the Black Diamond Killer is really back, the chances are he didn’t start with Eric. See if Oskovich knows of any missing children or runaways recently that might have been abductions.” A horrifying thought burst open like a malignant pod. “Jesus, Vince, this guy may have been operating for years, without his calling card, and we just didn’t know it. There could be hundreds of new victims.”

  “We’ll follow up, Jake.”

  “All because I stopped looking. I stopped looking, Vince, because I thought he had stopped. But he hasn’t, has he? He’s here, Vince, and he has my boy.”

  I was holding on to Vince’s arms, squeezing, and I realized how crazy I sounded. I tried to control my skittering consciousness and slow my heart rate. Each time I’d begin to level out, a new picture of Eric would leap into my head and I’d be gone again, one fear chasing another down a deep hole.

  Calmly, the way you speak to a person in panic, Vince said, “Concentrate on the investigation, Jake. Let things unfold naturally. If you raise questions, those answers might get us closer to the truth.”

  “What questions, Vince? My head is full of questions. Why now? Why here? Why my son?” I backed away. The crime techs had been staring at me and quickly found other things to look at.

  “Jake, let’s go outside.” Vince’s voice was soft, and patient, and I knew that I must have looked like a madman.

  “No. Something’s not right, Vince. We’re missing something. The whole scene just doesn’t”—I struggled to find the right word to describe what was so wrong—“smellright. Does it to you?”

  Vince held my arm and walked me into the middle of the yard.

  News crews were beginning to assemble at the outer perimeter. When they saw me, they hollered my name and aimed long microphones in our direction. Vince turned his back to them and hunched his shoulders as if lighting a cigarette in the wind. “Jake, I want you to go to the hotel and stay with your wife and daughter. They need you, Jake.”

  “But there’s so much work to do.”

  “And we have the best people in the Bureau on it. Director Ravan is making sure of that.”

  Trevor had been hanging back, giving Andrews and me some privacy. On his own, or perhaps cued by a signal from Andrews that I missed, Trevor came up and put his hand on my shoulder.

  Andrews handed him a set of keys. “Take my car, Malone.” He gave Trevor directions to the hotel and said to me, “You stay with your family. If you have any ideas or think of something we might have overlooked, call me.”

  “I will.”

  “You have my number.”

  “I do.”

  “Malone, take good care of him.”

  Trevor nodded. “Let’s go see Toni, Jake. Come on. Ali needs you, too.”

  “Ali. My God, she must be so scared.”

  Trevor put me in the car as if I were made of china. He went around the front, got behind the wheel, and slowly drove through the crowd of reporters. “Vultures,” he said. “Feeding on misery.”

  “They’re doing their job. Just like us.”

  “Maybe. But everywhere we go, someone wants a piece of you. Doesn’t it get old? Don’t you ever want to just punch somebody?”

  “Trevor, man, I chose this life. I’m the one who decided to write those books. It was me who agreed to coach actors and help crime writers get it right. I like it, Trevor, and I can’t have that without the other.”

  “Maybe,” he said again. “But I’m glad it’s you and not me. It was me, there’d be a lot more Spider Urichs in the hospital.”

  I smiled, and it felt foreign on my face. “I have to admit, slamming Urich’s head in that van door may have been the high point of my week.”

  “Maybe you knocked some goddamn sense into him.”

  “I’m not counting on it.” I slumped in the seat, a knuckle pressed against my lips, and watched the Maryland countryside glide by. “We only have forty-eight hours. That’s all he ever lets them live.”

  Trevor didn’t say anything, but I could see his grip on the wheel tighten.

  My cell phone went off and I answered it. “Jake, it’s Joe again. Please hold for the director.”

  I waited and then Orlando Ravan came on the line. “Jake, I just talked to Andrews. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that your work for the Bureau has somehow compromised your family’s security. I want to assure you that we’ll find your son, if it takes all of our resources.”

  “What about my team?”

  Ravan paused, putting his words together. “You will have a direct line into the case. Of course.”

  “But we won’t be allowed to work it.”

  “Jake, no one has more respect for the Broken Wings’ abilities than I do. That’s the truth. But all of you are far too close to this, and there are things you can’t know that would hinder your ability to freely investigate the case.”

  “You mean the attorney general.”

  “You have no authority, Jake. You’re a civilian.”

  “According to this shield in my pocket, I’m a detective in the D.C. Police.”

  “Jake. You’re a civilian. That could change in the future, and will if I have anything to say about it, but for now you and that pirate crew you call a team are to turn over any leads to Special Agent Andrews. Do you understand me, Jake? Anything else could seriously jeopardize your future and could hinder the successful conclusion of this investigation.”

  The successful conclusion of this investigation. When Ravan starts speaking like a bureaucrat, you know the conversation’s over. “Yes, sir. I understand.”

  “I have to go, Jake. Please give my sympathy to Toni and call me anytime you need something. I mean that as a friend, Jake, as well as a colleague.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  We hung up and I told Trevor what Ravan had said.

  “He gave us Andrews, Jake. The kid’s a real bulldog. Just think, we could have drawn Harry Gillette. That man couldn’t find his feet if the directions were written on the floor.”

  I appreciated the effort, but Trevor’s jokes weren’t working. Now that I had dug myself into this deep black hole, I wanted to look around for a while, see how dark things could get. “I hope Andrews is better at catching this guy than I was.”

  “Jake, no one is better than you.”

  “Once, maybe, but this wouldn’t have happened had I been on top of things.”

  “You have done everything a man could do to protect his family, Jake.”

  “And it wasn’t enough.”

  Trevor heaved a sigh, looked out the side window and then straight ahead. “Okay, Jake, I’ve run out of encouraging words. You want someone who’ll listen to you beat yourself up, you need a shrink or a priest or something, but you don’t need me.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “You better be more than sorry. You better be thinking of a way we can find your boy.”

  I nodded.

  “And you think for one minute the team is going to sit around while someone else works this case? Ain’t going to happen, Jake. I don’t care how many people tell us to stay away. Even you.”

  “It wouldn’t hurt to follow up on a few things the Bureau can’t,” I said.

  “That’s what I want to hear.”

  “I could call Tommy Wight.”

  “The private detective?”

  “Sure, we could work under his license,” I said. “We wouldn’t be licensed ourselves, but we would be working under his legal authority.”

  “Think of it as doing our civic duty. Think of all the agents the Bureau has wrapped up in the terrorist case.”

  “Absolutely,” I said. “And we wouldn’t be interfering with anything by asking a few questions.”

  “Amen, brother.”

  “We could, you know, start by asking around the local hardware stores and see if anyone’s bought plywood, pipe, and a shovel lately.

  “Sounds like a plan.”

  I felt a little better. I hadn’t completely crawled out of that pit, but at least I was looking up instead of down.

  The motel was a travelers’ rest on U.S. 40, not near enough to Washington or Baltimore to be a destination in itself, and not far enough away to be a welcome stop between there and wherever you were going. This made business an iffy proposition, and the motel looked a season away from Chapter 11.

  I knocked on Room 12.

  A woman’s voice asked, “Who is it?”

  I identified myself to the darkened peephole.

  Toni threw open the door and I held her as though she would spin off the planet if I didn’t. Ali joined us. We three hung together in the doorway until Trevor gently nudged us inside.

  “A news van just pulled up,” he said.

  I looked into the parking lot and a TV news crew was pulling its equipment out and setting up for the vigil, hoping to catch us in time for the evening news.

  Toni said, “Jake, I called the police right away. I didn’t touch anything.”

  “I know, Toni.”

  “I did everything I could think of to do. I called him and called him, and when I knew he was gone, as soon as I knew, I took Ali outside so we wouldn’t disturb anything.”

  “It’s okay.”

  “I should have checked on him earlier.”

  “You did everything right.” I sat Toni on the edge of the bed. With her hands in her lap she seemed to fold in on herself, the pain was so great.

  I shook hands with the plainclothes officer, a woman who looked as if she could bench-press Trevor.

  “Agent Donovan, I’m Detective Tennyson. Mt. Airy police.

  “I’m Mr. Donovan now, Detective.”

  “I’m here to protect your wife and daughter, sir, but if there is anything else I can do, I am at your service.”

  “I appreciate that, Detective, and will keep it in mind.”

  Tennyson knew when to back off, and she did, allowing me to sit with my wife and daughter alone. “I’ll be right outside, sir, if you need me.”

  Toni began to cry again and I held her. Ali hugged my shoulders and we sat like that for a long time, holding on to each other, afraid to let go, afraid of what would come next.

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