Man down, p.2

Man Down, page 2


Man Down

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  We called ourselves the Broken Wings, after the Bureau term for agents who could no longer cut it in the field. In the two years we had been together, we had solved a number of high-profile cases including the murder of the former FBI director. As anyone in this town will tell you, success makes headlines and enemies, and we made plenty of both.

  No matter how good we were at solving crimes, our wings would have been permanently clipped had it not been for Mrs. De Vries and Orlando Ravan.

  The director was an unusual man in Washington. He knew how to play the game, but was immune to the intrigues and backstabbing that surround power like flies on roadkill. He used us when it seemed right and didn’t if he thought we were too high profile to conduct a quiet investigation. Because, no matter what the case, we attracted press wherever we went. Sometimes it worked to our advantage, and sometimes it got in the way.

  I expected Director Ravan would have his own ideas on where we would be most effective, but I also knew that Ravan listened to suggestions, and if he heard a good idea, he went with it. As someone once said, you can get a lot done in Washington if you don’t care who gets the credit, and Ravan honestly didn’t care.

  There isn’t a pad on top of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, so the Black Hawk set down on the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument. Dozens of men in dark suits and sunglasses, their Uzis drawn, created a perimeter around the helicopter as I disembarked. Joe Ripley, Neil Burke’s clerk, met me at the chopper door and shook my hand. “That was quick.” He tried to make it sound light, but gloom was in the air as thick as the smoke that spread over the Mall.

  The helicopter lifted off and the hot wind whipped us. “We’ll have to hoof it,” Joe said. “The whole city’s in gridlock.”

  We took off at a trot down Pennsylvania Avenue. “Aren’t we going to Neil’s office?”

  “The Hoover Building,” Joe said. “He’s with the director.”

  “Any news?” I said.

  “I’ll let the director fill you in. Who knows what’s happened in the past ten minutes.”

  It was a run of a little more than half a mile, but in the heat of the morning, in a jacket, I was sweating before we reached Fifteenth Street. Everywhere I looked I saw chaos. Every street was blocked by traffic, every intersection was manned by policemen in riot gear trying to keep drivers from abandoning their cars. Thousands of gawkers choked the streets, trying to get closer to the Mall, while other police tried to hold them back. Sirens split the air and emergency vehicles were forced up onto the sidewalks. As we approached the Hoover Building, we saw more and more armed security. So many policemen were in full riot gear, armed with automatic weapons, it reminded me more of a Central American capital than the capital of the Free World.

  Joe took me through the director’s entrance. Security checked our credentials three separate times, made two calls, had us clear our weapons and recite Hoover’s hat size before we were allowed in.

  Inside, the air-conditioning cooled the sweat on my face.

  “I see you still carry the Airweight,” Joe said, referring to the revolver tucked into my ankle holster.

  “Yeah. Katie’s always after me to carry something with more firepower, but I tell her that I’ll hold off the press if she’ll shoot the bad guys.” I gave it a beat. “Or was I supposed to shoot the press while she holds off the bad guys? I forget.”

  Joe smiled at my attempt to lighten the morning. He was polite that way.

  We got into the elevator and Joe pressed the button for the top floor. At seven, the elevator doors opened onto a hallway filled with running people. Phones rang and people barked. Harry Gillette, looking too busy and too important, ran toward us. Harry was Neil’s assistant, and even this early, in this pandemonium, Harry was impeccable from his capped teeth to his capped black oxfords, looking like a glossy magazine ad for fussy men whose priorities were hopelessly skewed. Harry didn’t like me, and he liked the idea of Broken Wings running investigations outside of his control even less. He pointed at me as if I were a mutt who’d strayed in from the street. “Turn around.”


  He waggled his finger at me. “Go home. We don’t need you, Donovan.”

  “The director sent for him,” Joe said.

  “And now he’s unsending him.” Gillette stood, his arms crossed, in the center of the hallway.

  “Unsending? Is that a word?” I tried to get past him but Gillette moved to block me. We stood nose to nose, so close I could smell his Old Spice.

  “Go out of my space, Donovan.”

  I pushed in closer, making him step back.

  People in the hallway stopped and watched, hoping I’d knock Gillette onto his well-upholstered ass. Harry was the kind of man who inspires applause when he slips on the ice.

  Joe Ripley’s cell phone rang. “Ripley,” he answered. He listened. “Yes, sir. He’s right here, sir.” Ripley looked at me as if searching for the answer to some question on my face. “Yes, sir. I understand. Yes, sir.” Joe closed up his phone. “You have to go home, Jake.”

  “What?” We were standing at the elevator doors. People eased past us, coming and going, trying not to make eye contact. “What do you mean, I have to go home?”

  “That was Neil. He said to send you home.”

  “But why?”

  Joe shook his head. “I don’t know, Jake. I really don’t know.”

  Gillette smiled. “Why don’t you and your team go find a TV camera to stand in front of.”

  “Hey, Harry, when you make cases, the newspeople come to you. But you wouldn’t know that, would you?”

  The elevator doors opened. I turned to Joe and said, “How am I supposed to get home?”

  Harry laughed and Joe turned red.

  “Take the Metro, Donovan,” Harry said. “Maybe you’ll get to sign a few autographs for the tourists.”

  I gave Harry a look that, if there had been any justice in the Justice Department, would have set his hair on fire. I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Uh, Joe?” I half turned, not wanting Gillette to hear me ask, “This is so embarrassing. I mean, I got dressed so quickly. Could you lend me a couple bucks for the Metro?”

  Joe handed me a five and said, “Get a cup of coffee, Jake. On me.”

  I could hear Gillette laughing even after the elevator doors closed.

  The Metro platform was so crowded people were in danger of falling onto the rails. I tried to be inconspicuous but at six-four with a face that’s been on a dozen crime shows, there’s little I can do if someone recognizes me. It took an hour to get home and I must have been asked a thousand times who I thought did it.

  When I finally made it into my apartment, Katie was standing in front of the TV drying her hair with a towel. She was dressed in her usual uniform: jeans, sneakers, and a plain white T-shirt. She made dressing down look damn good. In fact, she was a bright spot in what had been a pretty bad morning.

  “The First Lady’s alive,” she said without turning away from the screen. “She was supposed to be on that plane, joining her husband, when it happened. They were on their way to Florida.”

  “I heard,” I said. “The Metro’s full of rumors. It was the Iraqis, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Russians, the Afghanis. One guy swore it was Ted Kennedy avenging his brothers. And everyone wanted to know what I thought. Of course, no one believed that I knew even less than they did.”

  Katie sat on the ottoman in front of the TV and rewound a videotape. “Look at this, Jake.”

  I sat on the edge of the sofa and rested my elbows on my knees. On-screen a young boy waved at the camera. I recognized the MIA stands. This was shot across the street from the Lincoln Memorial, looking toward the Washington Monument. The sky and the closed MIA stands told me this was shot early in the day.

  The cameraman panned left and the Washington Monument came into frame. The camera panned right and high over the Potomac; leaving Reagan National, a small private jet, what we now knew was a Hawker 700A, wa
s just a speck against the gray sky. The cameraman zoomed in. His voice said, “Jimmy, look at that. I bet someone powerful’s in there, heading off to do important things. Could even be the president.”

  A child’s voice, brimming with scorn for a hopeless parent, said, “The president flies in Air Force One.”

  “Maybe the vice president then,” the dad said, clueless.

  The airplane banked right toward Virginia, and as it leveled off, the tail exploded. The cameraman bobbled the camera and the screen was filled with sky, then grass, then treetops. When the picture settled, the plane had done a one-eighty and was spinning toward the Mall, trailing smoke. It crashed just beyond the Washington Monument and the cameraman whispered, “My God, oh, my God. Jimmy, Jimmy, oh my God.”

  “The guy’s already been offered six figures for this,” Katie said.

  “I’m not surprised.” I looked at Katie. “Where did you get it?”

  She turned her head and paused for just a beat. “I’d rather not say, Jake. You know the rule.”

  I nodded. “Never tell where you get your information if you want to keep getting information.”

  “When you have a need to know, Jake.”

  “Okay. Any word on why the First Lady was supposed to be aboard?”

  “She was hitching a ride with a congressman’s wife. It was his plane. Jason from North Carolina. They think he was on board, too.”

  “Anyone else?”

  “The army chief of staff, some aides, others not yet identified. All heading to Florida for a briefing with the president.”

  I watched Katie fidget with her hair. Something wasn’t quite right with her, but I knew better than to ask. Katie gets into these distant moods at times and it’s best just to let her find her own way back. “You were at the gym all morning?” I tried to make it sound conversational instead of an interrogation.

  Katie’s eyes darted left. “Yes, I did a longer run than usual.”

  “You hear the news there?”

  “Am I under arrest, Officer?”

  “Yeah, let me go get the cuffs.” She laughed and I let it go. Katie was lying, and as an investigator herself, she knew I knew. When people tell the truth, they look right, where memory lives. When they tell a lie, they look left, toward fabrication. It has to do with the map of the brain and how we retrieve memory. It’s a good thing to know if you’re interrogating a murder suspect, playing poker, or buying a used car.

  Katie and I had been together as a couple for almost two years. Before that she had been one of my students at Quantico and then my colleague in the Bureau. She was thirty-one, which meant I had ten years on her in the field and fifteen everywhere else. Like all the Broken Wings, Katie was profoundly independent. While we spent most nights together, she also kept her own apartment in Alexandria. She had been married once before, to another agent, but he had left her for a piece of fluff from Records, and no one who knew Katie could figure out why. She was beautiful, intelligent, and dangerous—an irresistible combination.

  But Katie wasn’t easy to live with. She could slip into a depression that lasted for weeks. When you spend your days investigating child homicides or, as we’d just done in Virginia, a string of murder rapes that ended with the elderly victims being nailed to chairs and set on fire, the nights can be plenty dark. All of us who do this kind of work live on the edge of a large, black hole, but Katie’s seemed darker and deeper than most.

  Katie walked into the kitchen and came back with a cup of coffee. “So, tell me about your morning.”

  I told her about the chopper ride across the river and what had to be the shortest time on an investigation on record. When I got to the humiliation in the hallway, when I had to beg money for the ticket home, Katie laughed out loud. “It made Harry Gillette’s whole week,” I said, appreciating the humor for the first time that day.

  “Yeah,” Katie said. “But it wasn’t up to Harry to cut you loose.”

  “I know. But why would Ravan send the Black Hawk for me and then change his mind?”

  “You know why.”

  “He was overruled.” I sat back against the sofa cushions and let out a long breath. “Armstrong. It had to be Armstrong.”

  “Give the man a cigar. He’s taking charge of the investigation. It was just announced.” Katie nodded at the TV.

  Phillip Armstrong was the newly appointed attorney general, head of the Justice Department, and therefore, in charge of the FBI. If he wanted to take over an investigation, he could. If he wanted to close an investigation, he could. If he wanted to assign Scully and Mulder to an investigation, well, he could probably do that, too. There was no question that if he wanted to cut an old adversary out of the biggest case of the century, he had the juice to do it. Armstrong and I had history, and it was ugly.

  I was still in the Bureau and had been helping the local police with a triple homicide in Armstrong’s jurisdiction. The investigation had turned up evidence in a capital murder case that had cleared a man Armstrong had sent to death row the year before. What was worse, Armstrong had known the man was innocent and had suppressed the evidence.

  The more I pulled on that thread, the more Armstrong’s integrity had unraveled. I soon learned of several other cases where evidence was lost or witnesses had changed their stories after spending an afternoon with the prosecutor.

  One afternoon, I told him in confidence what I had found and warned him that if I could do this, so could a smart reporter, and maybe he should conduct his business with an eye more to the law than to his political career.

  As it turned out, however, a friend and former student of mine was preparing to run against him for state attorney general. Armstrong threatened to prosecute me on blackmail charges.

  Eventually, Armstrong ran, and when an investigative reporter came across the same evidence I had, he lost. Of course, Armstrong blamed me for feeding the evidence to the press. He even claimed I’d done it in exchange for an appearance on a morning talk show.

  Fortunately for Armstrong he had friends in high places, and when the former attorney general had a heart attack, Armstrong received the appointment. Some liberal senators raised questions about his past, but he was in the end approved and the nation’s attention moved on to the next fresh scandal.

  I had become a Broken Wing by the time Armstrong was appointed attorney general, and thanks to Ravan and Mrs. De Vries, I was protected from any direct retribution from him. But I knew I was high on Armstrong’s enemies list, and the way this guy juggled the law, I considered it a source of pride. A man’s strength is not measured by his friends, but by his enemies. I think I read that on a place mat at Denny’s.

  “So, what do we do now?” Katie asked.

  “We wait. Something’s bound to come up.”

  “You mean we hope for a homicide? Maybe we should paint a vulture on the nose of the Broken Wing.”

  I rubbed my hand over my unshaven jaw. “Always looking at the bright side, huh, Katie?”

  So, as Katie and I contemplated sitting out what could be the biggest case not only of our careers but our lifetime, the phone rang. Our dark prayer had been answered. Someone had been murdered.


  Katie and I climbed into the Aston Martin and I turned the key. Silence. Katie knew the drill. She reached behind the seat, pulled out an ancient beat cop’s nightstick, and handed it to me as I got out of the car.

  I opened the hood, leaned close to the fire wall, and gave the starter a hard whack. I climbed back behind the wheel and twisted the key. The Aston Martin started with a roar.

  Tucking the nightstick back in its place, Katie asked, “What’s wrong with the starter?”

  “Bad spot on the armature, I think.”

  “Why don’t you get it fixed?”

  “It starts.”

  “But you have to get out and open the hood anytime you want to go anywhere.”

  “I like to think of it as an antitheft device.” I threw the little car into gear and headed in
to the crowded streets.

  It took us nearly three hours to drive what should have been twenty minutes up to Cleveland Park, passing through several checkpoints on our way. At Wisconsin and M Street, a cop recognized me and filled us in on the latest rumors. “Ragheads, they think. Lucky for us their intelligence sucks, huh?”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Lucky for the First Lady.”

  “Not so lucky for General Buckholz, though.”

  “No,” I said. “Or the others.”

  The radio reported that the authorities had determined this to be a terrorist act. Ten people were dead including Army Chief of Staff General Sam Buckholz, four other army officers, and three civilian defense workers. Several people on the ground were injured in the explosion, but their current status was unknown. The White House had released a statement saying that the First Lady had been scheduled to be on that flight, but had given up her seat for the general and his people. The press secretary was quoted as saying, “Concern for the security of the United States is always the First Lady’s priority. Her heart goes out to the families of the men lost in service to their country.”

  The president had issued a statement promising to hunt down and bring to justice the people responsible for this attack on his family and the nation, but he had neglected to say who those people might be.

  Public radio ran the attorney general’s first press conference. Armstrong outlined the investigation so far. There were FBI raids across the nation, hauling in known operatives in fringe movements, from Middle East revolutionaries to homegrown terrorist militia members. The same thing was happening abroad, only with a little less attention paid to civil rights. “Every resource is being called upon to find those who perpetrated this heinous act of cowardice,” Armstrong said.

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