Man Down, page 26
“I know you’re tired,” Mrs. De Vries said, “but, Jake, I think I have a right to know just what it is my money bought this time.”
“Certainly, Mrs. De Vries.”
“Will this be a long report?”
“It’s fairly complicated. You may want to refill your glass, ma’am.”
Frederick did the honors and then hovered nearby, just in case.
I sank back into the leather library chair, almost afraid to get too comfortable for fear I’d fall asleep, and started at the most logical spot, the beginning. “William Rush developed a weapon that would change the way we fight wars. He goes to David Jason with it, and Jason introduces him to DARPA. In the meantime, smelling a lot of money, not to mention a big new defense contract in his district, Jason convinces Rush to put out an IPO, and through his brother-in-law, Jason buys up as much stock as he can persuade Rush to let go.”
“That’s where the SEC comes in,” Dominic said. “That’s illegal.”
“Yes, Mr. Sanchez, so I’ve heard,” Mrs. De Vries said.
“But,” Katie said, “when DARPA sees the weapon, they know that if we developed that technology in the public eye, the big loser in the long run would be us, the United States. So they decide to pursue this technology on a very small scale.”
“With very small profits,” Dom said.
“This makes Jason one unhappy representative,” Trevor said.
“In the meantime,” I said, “another company is working on the same technology.”
“Empire,” Dominic said. “I believe you’ve heard of them.”
“Yes, Mr. Sanchez. I am intimately familiar with the Empire conglomerate,” Mrs. De Vries said. “The bastards.”
“Empire doesn’t like competition, as you know from personal experience, and they’ve been prepared to remove, as in murder, the competition for a while,” I said. “That’s why they recruited Rob McManus. Then Empire sees an opportunity to do two things: keep news of the technology to themselves, and steal Rush’s work, thereby cutting out a lot of R and D. But to keep the technology a secret, they have to kill or compromise anyone who knows about this system. Jason is easy. He’s already compromised himself.
“But before they can eliminate Rush, he’s already briefed DARPA and the army chief of staff. General Buckholz wants to make a presentation to the president, and Empire knows that once it goes to the White House, well, even they’re not prepared to assassinate the president. So they decide to stop the briefing before it happens.
“Jason offers to fly the chief and his staff, along with the DARPA team, to Florida in his own private plane. The mechanic gives Jason a bomb and Jason gives the bomb to his wife.”
“Which is where he screws up,” Trevor said. “Because Jason’s wife has invited the First Lady to fly to Florida with her. But now there are too many people on the plane. So, when the First Lady graciously declines the invitation, Jason’s wife doesn’t feel right about going without her.”
“Which means that the bomb doesn’t make it onto the plane,” Katie picked up. “Now Jason is panicked. He has the mechanic hold up the departure with some fabricated technical problems. This gives Jason time to get to National and put the case on the plane himself. The timer was set to blow up somewhere over the Outer Banks, but because of the delay, it blows up right here.”
“And Jason’s plane crashes into the Mall,” Dom says.
“Which actually works to Jason’s advantage because now everyone thinks it was a terrorist attack on the First Lady. They don’t look at who was really the target.”
“The army chief of staff and the DARPA researchers,” Mrs. De Vries said.
“And it took you how long to figure this out?”
“Once Dominic had a line on the money, it all fell into place,” I said.
“I follow the financial markets,” Dom said, and gave Mrs. De Vries a courtly nod. Mrs. De Vries smiled back and her eyes sparkled in a way I’d never seen before.
Katie saw it, too, and smiled.
I tried to keep my head on the train of events. “So, Jason, at the request of Empire—”
“Who is working on this technology independently,” Dom said.
“—blows up his own airplane, killing everyone who knows about Rush’s work.”
“Except Rush,” Katie said, “who is afraid to fly.”
“And Janice,” Mrs. De Vries says.
Dominic rises and offers his handkerchief. She clutches his hand in appreciation. There is a brief moment of shared grief and consolation, made touchingly graceful by these two dignified people, and then Dominic returns to his chair.
“Your niece was dating one of the DARPA researchers, Ted Baker, who also stayed behind. That left three people who knew about this weapon system.”
“So they first target William Rush,” Katie said, “but he doesn’t have the computer files, your niece does. But she doesn’t have them in Alexandria. And why?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. De Vries said.
“Because airport security in Raleigh-Durham won’t let her board the plane with a laptop. They think it could be a bomb.”
“And they say irony is dead,” Trevor said.
“So she gives the computer to her ex-husband, who has driven her to the airport.”
“But I stick my nose into all this by asking you to investigate.”
“Right. They had been counting on two police departments, in different jurisdictions, to be hindered by distance and the usual turf battles.”
“But, thanks to you, Millicent,” Dom said, “the Broken Wings can fly anywhere, and voilà, instead of several different crime scenes, it all becomes one large crime scene.”
“Once Empire knows that,” Katie said, “they know it won’t be long before we make the connection between the DARPA researchers on the plane and the one in Alexandria. That’s when Fletcher files his lawsuit in an effort to ground us.”
“Then they get Rob and Bower to distract me with attacks on my family, and it works for a while. But because of this team here—”
“And Jerry,” Trevor said.
“—and Jerry, we’re able to come out on the bright end of an otherwise dark week.”
“Once Empire knew that the game was over, they cut Jason loose.”
“His wife received pictures in the mail, along with information about the bomb.”
“Oh my God, that’s right. He tried to kill her,” Mrs. De Vries said, her hand to her mouth in shock.
“He thought it was a bonus,” Trevor said. “He has a girlfriend in Georgetown.”
“And the girlfriend was in the pictures. A double whammy,” Trevor said.
Mrs. De Vries looked down into her soda and lime. “Money, sex, and power.”
“The big three,” I said. “Without them, there wouldn’t be any murder.”
“And without them, we’d all be out of work,” Trevor said.
Mrs. De Vries had more questions, but I begged her to let me go home and go to sleep.
“Perhaps Mr. Sanchez wouldn’t mind staying,” Katie said.
Dominic bowed again. “It would be my pleasure.”
Mrs. De Vries thanked us all, Katie most warmly, and we walked out into the summer night to our cars. Trevor waved good-night and backed out into the quiet streets of Cleveland Park.
“I came here with Dom,” Katie said. “Can you give me a ride?”
“Sure.” I handed her my keys. “But maybe you should drive.”
We got into the Land Rover and turned on the radio. The arrest of the congressman was all over the news, and the attorney general sounded good for a change.
“Empire still gets away,” Katie said.
“But not with the weapon. That’s something.”
Katie adjusted the mirrors and checked all the controls.
“It’s not a plane, Katie.”
“Just being careful, Jake.”
“Not funny, Jake, not funny at all.”
Katie, satisfied that all systems were go, backed into the street. “Jake, I’ve been wondering?”
“Do you think J. P. Napoleon really exists or is he just a fiction for Fletcher De Vries?”
“I don’t know, Katie. And I’m too tired to even think about it.”
Katie reached over and found a station playing Billie Holiday. It felt right.
This was our first time alone in a long time, and we were both comfortable to let Billie fill the silence with her sad song. When the song ended, Ella came on and Katie turned the radio down.
“You don’t like Ella?”
“Jake, when Ella sings about her man being gone, I get the feeling that he’s just gone down the street for some milk and will be right back. But Billie…”
“When she says her man is gone, he’s gone for good.”
Katie sighed. “I’m sorry for all I’ve put you through lately.”
“I’m sorry, too, about Rob. He made his choice, you know. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. But it still hurts like hell.”
I leaned over and kissed her cheek. It was wet.
“So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Are we partners or lovers, Jake? And is it possible to be both? Because I do love you, you know that.”
“I know. And I love you, too, Katie. But this is hard.”
“It’s too hard. Maybe I should start looking for another job.” She laughed and wiped away a tear. “It’s a hell of a lot easier than finding another man, that’s for sure.”
We stopped at a red light. There were no other cars for blocks. The D.C. streets were lit up and empty, all of the bad guys holed up and sleeping. I leaned over again and kissed Katie again. This time she turned her head and kissed me back.
“Let’s take this one day at a time,” I said.
Katie kissed me again, parted, and whispered, “Maybe we should start with the nights.”
The light turned green and a lone D.C. cab came up behind us and hit his horn.
“We should go,” I said.
“Screw him,” Katie said, and kissed me again.
John Douglas, Man Down