Man Down, page 24
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I was thinking.” Trevor pulled his pistol and racked the slide.
From above us we heard, “Trevor, throw that gun away.”
“You know this is crazy, right?” I watched for any movement on the cusp of the road and still couldn’t see him.
Trevor whispered, “We should run, Jake. He can’t hit us both.”
I whispered back, “You’re not the one sleeping with his ex-wife.”
“I thought of that.”
Rob said, “Don’t think I can’t hit you both if you run, because I was trained by the best, wasn’t I, Trevor?”
“Damn,” Trevor said.
“And you miss your boy, don’t you, Jake?”
“Eric!” I clambered up the hill on all fours, followed by Trevor. When I came up on the road, Rob let Eric run to me and I held my boy as he held me, tightly, not ever wanting to let go.
“You okay, champ? Are you hurt?”
“No, Dad. I’m okay. I’m scared, but okay.”
“I wouldn’t hurt the boy, Jake. You should know that.” Rob held an AR-15 at port arms. Rob didn’t smile. I had expected him to be wearing that Big Boy grin, and if he had, in that moment, I’m not sure I could have kept myself from trying to take that rifle and stick it into one of Rob’s more secure orifices. Fortunately for us both, Rob wasn’t amused by the situation.
“My car’s parked just down the road. Let’s go.”
“Don’t worry, Eric, we’ll get you out of this,” I said.
“You listen to me, and everyone gets out of this,” Rob said.
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Trevor muttered.
“Come on, let’s go.”
Trevor walked in front of us. Eric and I took the middle and Rob followed behind us.
“Things get a little hairy last night?”
“Shut up,” Rob said.
“Let me guess what happened,” I said. “Whoever is on top of this thing told Bower to kill you.”
“Told him to kill both of us, me and the boy.”
Eric squeezed my hand.
“I saved your son, Jake. He’s a good kid. I wouldn’t hurt him unless I had to. You know what I’m saying?”
“Then why don’t you let us go?”
“I would, Jake, honest, I would. But right now, I’m a trusted member of the FBI. I need things to stay that way for another eight to twelve hours. So, you see, I need you with me.”
“They’ll catch you, Rob.”
“You’re probably right, Jake, but I’m running out of options.”
We came to the car and Rob told us to get in. Trevor slipped behind the wheel and Eric sat in the middle, between us. Rob took the backseat. We took off down the mountain toward the valley.
“If you know you’ll be caught, why not give yourself up?”
Rob didn’t say anything for a long time. When he did speak, he sounded resigned to his fate, whichever way it went. “I don’t think I could stand the shame, Jake, and that’s the truth. At the very best I’d go to jail, and how long do you think I’d survive? These people have a very long reach, Jake.”
“Who are they, Rob? Who are we talking about?”
“I don’t know, and that’s the truth. It was while I was in Florida, you know.”
“With the girl from Records,” Trevor said, “thinking with your little head.”
“I was spending more money than I had coming in. A lot more.” Rob mumbled.
“I said I’d done some gambling. And my career was pretty shaky after what I’d done to Katie. You know, we like to think Hoover’s dead, but his ghost still carries a big stick when it comes to sexual indiscretions. So when this guy offered me a hundred thousand dollars to put him in touch with an explosives guy, I introduced him to Bower. That’s all. I just made the introduction.”
“How’d you know Bower?”
“I’d worked his case.”
“And now they own you,” I said. “For a hundred thousand dollars. Seems pretty cheap.”
“Yeah, Jake. That’s easy to say when you’re getting that much to techThe X-files.”
There wasn’t much sense in responding to that, so I asked, “What happened after you got the money? I mean, how’d you get here, to this place, running out of options?”
Rob settled into the rear seat, obviously as tired as I was, working on as little sleep. I could only imagine how fast he’d been running in the past week, and I hoped his fatigue would make him careless.
He sighed. “Things go fine, I get the money, and then I don’t hear from them for months. One day Bower shows up on my doorstep and tells me we’re partners. I tell him to take a hike, he’s got everything, Jake, my bank records, everything. I ask him what he needs from me and he says all we have to do is blackmail this research scientist. No spy stuff, he says, just business. So I set up William Rush with the hooker. I honestly thought it was a blackmail scheme, Jake. But then Bower killed Rush and I staged it to look like the husband did it.”
“No,” Rob said, his voice almost a whisper. “I did that. I was told to kill her and her boyfriend in Alexandria. By then I was in so far, I couldn’t see any other way out.”
We came to a macadam road and Rob told Trevor to turn left.
“Where are we going, Rob?”
“The airport in Winchester. It’s not far. Bower called his people yesterday and arranged for a charter to pick us up. Extracting the troops, right?”
We rode in silence for a while, all in our own thoughts, the sharp turns in the shaded two-lane bringing us closer to the end of the road.
Rob sat staring out the window at the trees. “I love this country.” He looked at me. “I brought Katie up here last month, Jake, when you thought she was at her mother’s. She and I didn’t get dressed for three days. God, but I’m going to miss her most of all. But, then, there’s other pussy in the world.”
“How long do you think it’ll be before the Bureau tracks you down?”
Rob laughed. “If it’s Harry Gillette, I’ll die an old man before he finds me. The guy couldn’t capture his dick with both hands.”
Eric tried not to look at me, embarrassed by a grown man using words likedick andpussy in front of his father.
“What do you think will happen when Bower doesn’t show up?”
“I don’t know, Jake. I may have to kill everyone but my pilot here.” Rob poked the back of Trevor’s head with the muzzle of the rifle.
“Eric,” Rob said, “when I was a boy about your age, my father would come out here and rent a plane for the afternoon. We didn’t have a lot of money, but Dad was a flying fanatic. He’d hock Grandma’s silver to spend a few hours in the air.” Rob stared into his days as a boy, before everything had gone so horribly wrong. “My father wanted me to learn how to fly, but I was too afraid to go up. So I stayed on the ground and watched him fly circles above us. He seemed like Superman, only better because he was my dad. I wish now I’d flown with him.”
“Don’t say it,” Trevor said.
“How things might have been different if you’d been closer to your old man. I hate when criminals say that.”
Rob stared at the back of Trevor’s head as if trying to see through to the man for the first time. “Yeah. Right. I guess it is a cliché among the criminal set. How was your father?”
“Dead,” said Trevor. “My father was dead.”
Rob turned back to the window. “That would explain the hostility.”
Trevor didn’t say what he was thinking, but only because Rob held the gun.
Rob didn’t talk again until we reached the airfield, a busy little airstrip with several hangars and a terminal building. On the far side of the field a man was refueling a Cessna Citation.
“There,” Rob said. “That’s our ride
“Pretty nice plane,” Trevor said. “It’s got a range of what, two thousand miles?”
Rob poked the back of Trevor’s head again. “You’ll find out where we’re going when we get there. Maybe they’ll even let you fly a little, Malone. Katie told me you could fly just about anything, even that big fat piece of shit you callThe Broken Wing. You know, of all the things I’m going to miss about Katie, her conversation certainly won’t be one of them. All she talked about was ‘the team’ and the cases you’d worked on and how much happier she was with you guys than she was with the Bureau, blah blah blah blah blah. It was enough to make me gag. You’d have thought she’d joined a fucking cult.”
As Rob rambled on, his monologue fueled by nervousness and fatigue, I caught Trevor’s eye and nodded toward the terminal. Trevor looked in time to see a sharpshooter settle in on the roof. Once we knew they were there, we saw them everywhere: the man getting his bags from the trunk of his car, the two pilots talking to each other by the hangars, the woman with the carry-on standing by the terminal door, and the young man in blue pants and white shirt walking toward us. He carried a clipboard, had a nametag pinned to his shirt, and was smiling.
I heard Rob remove the magazine from his pistol and heard jacketed rounds rasp against steel. When I looked, he was tucking the .45 into his belt.
Trevor parked in the small charter lot. Rob said, “You and Malone get out. Eric, you get out with me, okay?”
Eric looked up at me and I nodded. “You do as he says, Eric, and everything will be all right.”
“That’s right, Jake. I could have killed you all in the woods. So let’s just get through this and then you can go home. And you even think the wrong thoughts, the first one to die will be the boy. I’m not bullshitting here, Donovan. I wouldn’t want to hurt the kid. I kinda like him, actually.”
I nodded. “We won’t do anything, will we?”
“It’s your show, man.”
Trevor and I got out and waited. From the corner of my eye I watched two men in full assault gear move slowly through the rows behind us, their rifles trained on the rear window of the car.
Rob got out of the backseat as Eric slid across the front. Holding Eric close to him, Rob urged us all forward.
The man in the white shirt stopped. He looked up at the rifleman on top of the terminal. Rob followed his glance and saw the man, too. The four of us stopped.
“You see ’em?” Trevor said.
“Yeah. I see ’em.” Rob pulled his pistol.
For a moment, no one moved. The four of us stood in the parking lot. The man in the white shirt stood thirty feet in front of us. The sharpshooters stationed all around us waited, listening in their headsets for the green light. The two men behind us waited, their weapons aimed at Rob. From a car parked on our right, the driver’s side door opened and a woman got out. She was dressed in a green blouse and black cotton pants, and the summer sunlight captured highlights in her hair. In her hands was a Smith & Wesson .45.
“Rob, let them go.”
“Hi, Katie,” Rob said. “I’m really glad they sent you to do this.”
“They didn’t want me to, Rob, but I convinced them that you’d listen to me.”
“Nobody has to get hurt. This doesn’t have to be a bad end. Just throw the pistol away and get down on the ground.”
Rob sighed. His left hand held Eric’s shoulder; his right hand pointed his pistol at Eric’s temple.
Eric stood as still as time.
Rob’s hand tightened on the pistol. I watched the hammer of his .45 come slowly back as he squeezed the trigger.
“Don’t do this, Rob.”
“Rob,” Katie said, “please don’t do this. Please.”
Rob stopped and took his left hand from Eric’s shoulder. “Get away, boy.”
Eric looked at me and I said, “Go.” Eric walked toward Katie, his steps careful and slow, like walking across ice.
Rob smiled and in a flash of blued gunmetal, raised the pistol, and aimed straight at my face. I saw his finger tighten and the trigger break. The hammer fell as Rob was ripped apart by eight shots, all fired from different angles. Rob jumped as if struck by lightning, and he was dead before his body hit the pavement.
After we’d given our statements, Katie, Trevor, Eric, and I were allowed to wait inside the terminal in a small conference room, away from the press.
“Ravan’s sendingThe Broken Wing,” Katie said, “to fly us home.” She was still swimming through waves of shock and disbelief. For the rest of her life she would replay the instant she shot a man she’d trusted and swore to love until death.
“How did you find us?”
Katie said, “I found out that Rob was Bower’s Florida connection.” She raised her head and she began to cry, without a sound. I put my arm around her and she let me hold her until the moment passed, then she wiped her face with the back of her hand. Eric found a box of tissues and gave her one and was rewarded with a smile.
“Thank you, Eric. You’re such a gentleman. I thought you were amazingly brave out there.”
“I did, too,” I said. “I’m very proud of you, son.”
“Me, too,” Trevor said. “You can watch my six any day.”
Eric sat on the other side of Katie and held her hand. He hadn’t spoken since the shooting, except to tell me he wasn’t hurt. It would be several days before he said anything at all, and then he would talk nonstop for hours, but only to his mother. The one time I asked if he wanted to talk about it, he said, “No, Dad. I really don’t.”
Katie said, “When I found out it was Rob, I called the director. He pulled Rob’s phone records and there were a number of calls to that girl in Records.”
Katie would never mention her name. She was always “that girl in Records.”
“When Ravan confronted her, she admitted that she was the one who’d taken the Black Diamond cards from the evidence room. Early this morning, Rob called her and told her to meet him in three days on St. Thomas.” Katie tore her tissue into tiny bits. “Apparently it was ‘their place.’ That meant a plane. Ravan pulled a dozen agents in and we called every charter on the East Coast, every one that had a plane capable of flying to the islands. About the time you guys were digging Bower up at the Holy Knights’ camp, we found the flight.”
The picture of all those agents finding and calling all those phone numbers reminded me that it was this kind of dogged police work that solved crimes. The Broken Wings, with all of our flashy independence and photogenic investigations, were saved by slow, methodical, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other grunt work.
Vince poked his head into the conference room. “Jake, can I see you for a minute?”
The press was held back fifty yards by a cordon of local cops. When the reporters saw me, they aimed their cameras and shouted questions about how I felt. Rob had been taken away in an EMT van, and all that was left was the dark stain of his blood on concrete. That would be gone, too, with the next rain. I kept my head down and followed Vince across the lot to the rental car. All four doors stood open and Vince took me to the rear door, where Rob had been sitting.
“What is it?”
“This.” He pointed at the floor. A hard shaft of yellow sun fell onto nine .45-caliber bullets, the brass gleaming, new in the light.
“I thought it was a misfire.”
“No, Jake,” Vince said. “His gun was unloaded. He saw us and unloaded here, before he got out of the car.”
The first sight of it was a spark of reflected sunlight in the sky. Then, minutes later, the big old girl barreled onto the landing strip, flying as naturally as a bumblebee. An airport shuttle took us to the plane as she slowed to a stop by the charter hangar.
Scott opened the door and helped us in. This was Eric’s first trip insideThe Broken Wing, and of all the amenities—the bunks, the head, the forensics lab, the flying morgue—the one item that held
Jerry and Dominic were on board, and after Scott and Trish had put us back in the air, we sat at the conference table and quickly traded information, catching up. This was the first time the entire team had been together since North Carolina, and we had a lot to talk about.
I turned to Jerry first. “What did you find out about the computer?”
“Oh, right. The computer. At first, my guy at Langley wouldn’t even admit he had it. So, I was like, ‘Hey, man, I gave that to you,’ and he was like, ‘Hey, man, it’s national security.’” Jerry could hardly stop his hands from flying off his wrists. “But after I promised to share my database on natural poisons with him, he told me two things.”
“What did he say, Jerry?”
Jerry jumped up, unable to keep his limbs still. “This thing is, like, more secret than the vice president’s war record.”
“I take it we don’t get Janice Callahan’s computer back.”
Jerry laughed and it sounded like someone rattling a stick in a bucket. “You’re kidding, right? And it wasn’t Janice Callahan’s laptop. It was William Rush’s laptop.”
“So, Langley is keeping it?”
“Oh, man, they almost kept me. Do you have any idea what was on that thing?”
“No, Jerry, but you were about to tell us.”
“Oh, right, but there’s a lot I don’t know.”
Trevor muttered, “The master of understatement.”
Jerry paced, pausing every now and then to open his mouth and stretch his jaw as he tried to equalize the pressure in his ears. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Start anywhere,” Dom said, and yawned. “And stop that thing you’re doing.”
“With your mouth,” Dom said.
“You’re making us all yawn,” Katie said.
Trevor was recovering from his own yawn. “And you look like a damn grouper.”
“Okay, okay.” Jerry held his nose and swallowed. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down.
“Are you finished?”