Man Down, page 8
I dialed Mrs. De Vries’s number in Cleveland Park. Frederick answered. Mrs. De Vries was out, he told me, but she urgently needed to see me, right away. It was an emergency.
Trevor’s phone rang. It was the airline. Janice Callahan and her boss, William Rush, had flown up to Washington on Tuesday morning. Rush had taken the train back on Tuesday.
“That means Janice Callahan is still in Washington,” Katie said. “I can start checking hotels.”
I paced the room again. “I have to go up to see Mrs. De Vries. I can check on Ted Baker while I’m there, see if he knows where Janice Callahan might be.”
“You want us to come with you?”
I rubbed my face, suddenly tired. “No, you two stay and help Jerry and Dom. I’ll fly commercial into National and call if I need any help.”
“You sure?” Trevor had his “good to go” face on, hard and sharp.
My gut really wanted Katie to fly up with me, but it hurt just being in the same room with her, something I’d have to get past and soon, but I wasn’t going to get past it today. “Okay, Trevor, come with me.”
Katie pressed her lips together in a thin, hard line, knowing she’d been excluded for all the wrong reasons.
“You stay and help Dom and Jerry. Maybe our husband will turn up.”
“Okay, Jake.” Katie turned away, so angry that heat waves seemed to radiate from her.
My cell phone rang. “Donovan.”
“Jake, this is Jerry. I’m back at the lab.”
“We ran those prints from the motel and got a match.”
“Not so great,” Jerry said. “They’re your prints, Jake. On both the glass and on the bed.”
As we drove to the airport, Weller said, “I’m going to put it in the report as carelessness at the crime scene.”
“You watched me put on gloves,” I said.
“Don’t tell me that or I might have to turn around.”
“I’ll be back.”
“Good, because my partner wanted to lock you up just for the publicity.”
“I appreciate this.”
“Hey, it’s my turn. Next case, Snead gets to be the good cop.”
Security at the airport was tight. Armed National Guardsmen patrolled the terminals as bomb-sniffing dogs snuffled every piece of luggage.
At the counter I booked two seats, first-class, into National.
“They’ve closed National,” the ticket agent said. “I can get you into Dulles. That flight leaves here in three hours, would get you there by eleven-fifteen.”
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
He typed away at his terminal. “I’m afraid all we have left are in coach.”
“It just gets better and better,” Trevor said.
I handed over my credit card. A few minutes later the clerk handed it back, saying, “I’m afraid this card has been refused, sir.”
“Try it again,” I said. This was the Broken Wings card, backed by Mrs. De Vries’s millions; it couldn’t be rejected.
“I ran it twice, sir.” The ticket agent gave me that dead beat stare.
Trevor handed him his card. “Use this.” Trevor chuckled. “Don’t worry, Jake, I’ll buy the drinks on the plane, too.”
“Gee, thanks, Dad.”
We landed at Dulles and caught a cab to Reagan National, where we were stopped by a military roadblock. A young lieutenant took our identification, along with our story, and was gone a long time. After checking us out, he waved us through.
Trevor went into his locker at the hangar and returned with two pistols. He handed one to me.
“Trevor, I don’t think we’ll need this.”
“Tuck it into your belt there, cowboy. I like to know you’re strapped when you’re on my six.”
We climbed into the Aston Martin and I turned the key. Not a single sound disturbed the quiet airport. Trevor handed me the nightstick. I got out, raised the hood, and whacked the starter.
As we pulled out of the hangar, Trevor said, “Why don’t you get that thing fixed?”
It’s a short drive from National into Alexandria, particularly on a Saturday night after a terrorist attack. Downtown, the trendy restaurants were open for business, but the wait staffs loitered on the sidewalks, smoking, looking up and down the streets for brave customers.
Old Town Alexandria is as old as the republic and had made the journey from respectable to derelict back to respectable several times over the centuries. The neighborhood close to the Potomac was deep into its respectable phase, and the town homes sported fresh paint in colors approved by the historic restoration board, and golden lights glittered behind ancient panes of glass.
Trevor tried Baker’s number on our way and got the answering machine.
We found the address a few blocks from the yacht club and marina, on a street paved with ballast stones and shadowed by oaks as old as our flag. Gas streetlamps gave off lots of nostalgia, but little light. The house was narrow brick, with a small courtyard protected by a wrought-iron gate. A black box was mounted to the wall. I pushed the button and waited. When no one answered, I said, “What now?”
Trevor shrugged. “You want in? I can get us in.”
I nodded, happy to see Trevor was thinking along the same lines as I was. “Maybe Ted Baker’s sick,” I said, “and needs our help.”
“That could be. The man could have fallen down the steps and be lying there, waiting for two upstanding citizens to rescue him. And here we stand.”
“We could call the police.”
“We could,” said Trevor. “But who knows how long it will take?”
I nodded, both of us silently agreeing to commit a major felony.
Trevor looked up and down the street and said, “You first, old man.”
I stepped into his hands and hoisted myself over the top of the gate and into the courtyard. Trevor scrambled up and over. We waited, watching for lights in neighboring homes.
“You take the back,” I said.
Trevor evaporated into the darkness. I went up the steps to the front door. The screen was closed, but the door itself was open. No lights were on inside the house. I called out, “Mr. Baker? Mr. Baker? Federal agents, Mr. Baker, just checking in to see if you’re all right.” There was no answer. Then I smelled it, lightly at first, just a bad omen on a stale breeze.
I eased into the hallway. The streetlamp threw a dim glow into the living room. Trevor shimmered into view. “The back door was open,” he whispered. “There’s a car in the garage.”
“You smell it?”
Trevor sniffed the air. “Uh-huh. What do you think we should do?”
“Take a look.”
“I knew you were going to say that.”
Trevor and I took the stairs slowly, each creak sounding as if the floor were falling in. We stopped at the top of the steps. Trevor pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his mouth and nose. He pointed with his pistol toward the front of the house.
The smell here was thick, and the closer we got to the closed door at the far end of the hall, the thicker it got. It clung to our hair and clothes, and filled our mouths and throats. Sweet, but nauseating, with a heavy undertone of human waste and the dusty copper tang of old blood.
I slipped on a pair of latex gloves and carefully opened the door to what was the master bedroom. There were two people, half in shadow on the bed. Both were far beyond our help. From the threshold I whispered to Trevor, “Now we call the police.”
I spent the rest of the night and on into Sunday morning in an interrogation room. Out of professional courtesy, they brought me lots of bad coffee. They asked me a lot of questions. A young officer asked for my autograph.
By the time they released us, Trevor and I had our own aroma, much like an old ram I’d known back home in Mon
I called Mrs. De Vries’s number again and Frederick answered. This time she was in.
“Jake, I’m so glad you called.”
“I need to see you, Mrs. De Vries.”
“Yes, and I you. If you’d like to escort me to church, Jake, I would appreciate the company.”
I looked at my watch. “I just got home. Give me time to make myself presentable.”
By ten-fifty I was scrubbed, shaven, and suited up in the third pew of the National Cathedral and praying between Mrs. De Vries and the secretary of health and human services. I prayed for peace and wise guidance along with the president, the First Lady, several clerics of different faiths, and an army of Secret Service men whispering into their sleeves, praying, most likely, for an uneventful day.
I am not a churchgoing man, but I have my faith, hardened by the demons I’ve studied and the wickedness I’ve seen. I have spent much of my life in places where God has been conspicuously absent, and I’ve wondered where He could have been that was more important than by a suffering child’s side. But I do believe in something. Just don’t ask me to explain it too deeply because mine is not a religion of sweet lambs and fluttering doves.
After the service, I waited as Mrs. De Vries talked with dozens of people, one by one or in pairs, all offering kindness and encouragement. Even the First Lady, home from Camp David, stopped and whispered briefly to Mrs. De Vries while Secret Service men scanned the hedges and rooftops.
Mrs. De Vries suggested we walk back to her house. It was hot, but the air was clean, and to me the whisper of leaves in the wind was much more soothing than the prayers of the powerful.
We walked between a hedge and a line of limousines. Mrs. De Vries rested her hand on my arm. “You’ve come to give me bad news, haven’t you, Jake.”
“Yes, ma’am, I have.”
“It’s about Janice.” Her hand on my forearm tightened.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” As many times as I’ve done this, it never gets easy. But I’ve learned to tell the truth, without preamble. “Your niece is gone, Mrs. De Vries.”
She paused in her step, just for a blink, then continued, watching the sidewalk before us. “How, Jake?”
“She was murdered, sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The Alexandria police will be contacting you today to make an identification. I’ll go with you if you’d like.”
“She was here, in Alexandria?”
“I wonder why she didn’t call me.” It was a passing curiosity, not a reproach, made while her mind was wrapping itself around the awful news.
“Does she have any family besides you?”
“No. No, we’re all alone, Janice and I.” She stopped and opened her purse. “I can’t seem to find a tissue, Jake.” I handed her my handkerchief. She lifted her face and I could see the tears breaking and I hugged her to me and she cried softly against my lapel, as the long line of limousines crept slowly by, a dark harbinger of more funerals and heartbreak to come.
She gathered her strength, touched her face with the handkerchief, and said, “You’ll catch the son of a bitch.”
“Yes, ma’am, I promise.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. Frederick met us at the door. His face told me that he knew, as Frederick always knew, and he gently guided us into the library and brought us coffee.
Mrs. De Vries took a seat by the window. The light, filtered by the green of the garden beyond, made her look younger, an effect I’m sure she had employed many times in this room, but today it was just a comfortable place in a familiar spot. The walk had restored some of her steel and she sat upright, her hands in her lap, still holding my handkerchief. “Jake, I’m afraid I have more bad news.”
“My husband, the man who widowed me so long ago that I’ve forgotten what it is to be married…”
I nodded. “We’ve always suspected as much.”
“And he’s back.”
“Back? You mean here in the States?”
“No, unfortunately not, or you might be able to arrest him.”
Fletcher De Vries, the former dead husband of Mrs. De Vries, was suspected of being near the top of Empire International, J. P. Napoleon’s syndicate, and was wanted for questioning by an alphabet of law enforcement agencies including, but not limited to, the ATF, DEA, FBI, CIA, and FCC.
“So if he’s not here, where is he?”
“We believe he’s in Uganda.”
“Yes. I don’t know for sure, Jake. But I know where his lawyers are and they’ve filed a lawsuit for control of all my assets.”
“But Empire has already stolen your pharmaceutical company.”
Mrs. De Vries lifted her hands from her lap, her palms up. “He wants all of this, Jake. Everything I own.”
“But he can’t.”
“He claims he’s had amnesia these past thirty years and only now regained any memory of his former life, and his former wealth, which he wants back.”
“He can do that?”
She smiled a thin, helpless smile. “My lawyers don’t think he can win, Jake, but in the meantime, all of my assets are frozen.” She smiled, but it was low wattage. “If it wasn’t for Frederick, well, I couldn’t afford this cup of coffee.”
“I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do? If you need money…”
“Jake, dear, you don’t understand. As usual, you think of others first. It’s quite admirable, and quite rare, especially in this city.”
I blinked, trying to see beyond the news itself, to the implications. Then it hit me. “The Foundation.”
“Yes, Jake. Everything is frozen, including the Foundation.”
“But how can he do that?”
“I don’t know.” In that moment Mrs. De Vries looked lost, unable to see into the next moment, the next day, the next week.
“I’ll talk to the director. We won’t stop investigating your niece’s murder.”
She tried to laugh, but it stuck in her throat. “It’s odd. He lets me believe he’s dead all these years, and then, when I’m used to being a widow, he not only rises from the grave, but he manages to ground my Broken Wings as well.” She looked up at me. “The bastard.”
Katie called about seven Sunday evening, interrupting my dinner of crackers, cold cuts, and a lone beer I’d found in the back of the refrigerator.
“I have news.”
“Me, too.” I told her about finding Janice Callahan and Ted Baker.
“I know. Trevor called me.”
“Did he tell you about the Foundation?”
“He didn’t have to. I had my credit card rejected at lunch this afternoon.”
“I’m sorry. I had the same thing happen at the airport yesterday. I should have figured it out then. Do Jerry and Dominic know?”
“Yeah. They know.”
It was a testament to the strength of our team that no one had called to complain or even ask about expenses. Even grounded, the Broken Wings could fly. “Tell them to keep track of their receipts and I’ll make it up.”
“No one’s worried, Jake.”
“Are you still at the hotel?”
“I am, but Dom’s staying with his friend, the professor at Central. Jerry”—Katie laughed—“is staying at Dr. Plessy’s. God, Jake, he is so infatuated, I think he’s floating three feet off the ground.”
A less than admirable part of me didn’t want to hear about how much Jerry was in love, not after I’d had my heart drop-kicked into the end zone. “I’m happy for him,” I said. “He deserves somebody he can discuss random hairs and semen samples with.”
“Over a candlelit dinner, how romantic.” Katie laughed again and it sounded so good.
“I talked to Weller this evening and the Coast Guard found Callahan’s boat sunk off of Okracoke this morning.”
“They find Callahan?”
“No, no trace of anyone. And yesterday the crime scene people picked up a few more prints they couldn’t place.”
“You mean besides mine.”
“Yeah. Besides yours. Why didn’t you tell me you were leading this double life?”
“Someone’s playing with my head, Katie. I can guess who, but I don’t know why.”
“I don’t know. Jerry looked at the prints and thought the thumb had been planted. There were paper fibers in the print itself.”
“That means someone had access to my fingerprint card.”
“Not necessarily. Remember when you did that book signing a few years ago? Instead of a signature you placed a thumbprint inside each one? Couldn’t they have used one of those?”
“I don’t know. What does Jerry think?”
“He thinks it’s possible. But the glass is something else. They’re your prints, Jake, no question, and Jerry can’t find any fibers in those.”
“Any more good news?”
“Weller got a call from the local authorities on the coast. A prostitute was murdered and the locals think it might be connected. Jerry and Dominic are going with Weller and Snead tomorrow morning to check it out.”
“Why do they think the prostitute has something to do with this case?”
“She’s a bleached blonde, Jake, upstairs and down. And she was killed with a .357 to the heart, sitting in the bathtub.”
On Monday I packed a bag, threw it into the Aston Martin, whacked the starter with the nightstick, and drove down to Toni’s house on the river. On the way I listened to the news. Terrorist cells in Germany were being investigated for connections to the attack on the congressman’s plane. The explosive was indeed Hungarian and the dead mechanic was, too, evidenced by his dental work. If this was true, I knew the dental identification was the work of Dr. Stacy Coen, one of the best pathologists in the business and one hell of a racquetball player.