Death Never Lies
The newspapers later said that they were high on meth or crack or some other drug with a name that sounded like a line from a movie. But none of that mattered. When Franco Herrera and Ricky Bazzel took over Sam’s Speedy Mart they were just two crazed gunmen waving assault rifles and screaming orders.
“Give me the money!”
“Don’t look at me!”
“Open the safe!”
Franco thought that the woman in the red sweater was moving around too much so he sent a burst of fire into the shelf of dish soap a few inches above her head. Green, orange and purple goo splattered like greasy rain. Franco smiled and fired off an extra couple of shots just to see more stuff blow up.
Barely a hundred yards from the store, Detectives Greg Kane and Ralph Amoroso were on their way back to Robbery-Homicide when the All-Units call came in. Ralph glanced left just as the Speedy Mart’s front window exploded under another burst from Franco’s AR-15. Theoretically, the guns should have been restricted to single-shots but Ricky had paid an extra hundred each to convert them to fully automatic. The fifty shot clips had cost another hundred on top of that but as he watched the glass fly across the parking lot Ricky figured that it was all worth it. He loved the AR-15. It made exactly the right statement: Nobody better fuck with me.
Amoroso mashed on the brakes and the detectives’ Crown Vic screamed as it went into a sideways slide. Both men jumped out and turned toward the building before the car had stopped bouncing on its shocks. The store’s front door shattered to another burst and a second later Franco jumped through the empty frame. He paused for an instant at the edge of the parking lot and, wild-eyed, stared at the two cops in cheap suits who were aiming pistols at him in apparent slow motion.
“Fuck!” Franco screamed and pulled the trigger before he had even raised the muzzle. A stream of slugs skipped off the asphalt like stones across a pond. At the same instant Kane and Amoroso opened fire. With a bewildered look Franco suddenly paused then tumbled backward, emptying the rest of his clip into the sky.
“Ralphie, are you hurt?” Kane shouted.
A trickle of blood ran down Amoroso’s cheek. The detective ran his hand across his face and stared at his palm.
“No, it’s just a scratch,” Ralph said then looked up into the face of death.
As if by magic Ricky Bazzel had materialized on the sidewalk, rifle raised. He held the trigger down and a line of slugs marched across Ralph Amoroso’s chest then crunched through the Crown Vic’s windshield toward Kane. From the corner of his eye, living in some odd universe where time had slowed down, Kane saw Amoroso fall and the bullets walk their way toward him — THUMP – THUMP – THUMP . . . .
In an instant Kane stopped thinking about ducking or running or curling into a ball underneath the car. Rage flared inside him like a spark hitting a mist of gasoline. Kane raised his gun straight out in front of him and ran toward his partner’s murderer, firing as fast as he could pull the trigger. As if buffeted by a sudden wind Bazzel staggered back, half turned, and fired one more round before collapsing. The last bullet hit the top of a cement parking-stop, skipped upward at a shallow angle and smashed into the side of Greg Kane’s head.
Kane stared at Bazzel’s body and the growing red-black pool creeping away from it then everything started spinning. While he was still trying to figure out what had gone wrong Greg Kane fell over and, with sirens screaming from someplace far away, he watched the world go black.
Two Years Later
A year ago Travis Sawyer had been the general manager of his father’s Chevy dealership but a promise to “Clean Up Washington,” a bland but clean-cut appearance, and a half-million dollar campaign contribution from his grandfather had turned him into “Congressman Sawyer.” Normally Frederick Immerson wouldn’t have wasted his time on a freshman congressman but the Chairman had asked him to give Sawyer the dog-and-pony-show and since the Department of Homeland Security was looking for a seven percent increase in their next appropriation Immerson was willing to oblige.
Immerson and Sawyer reached the squad room where the GS-13 Investigators were based and Immerson paused at the entrance to give his standard speech about the important work performed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Special Investigations. As instructed, everyone was at their desks busily flipping through files or pounding their keyboards. Everyone except Gregory Kane who was notably absent. Immerson forced his gaze away from Kane’s vacant desk and pasted on his most sincere smile.
“We call this ‘the bull pen,’ Congressman. Each of these agents—”
“What I don’t understand,” Sawyer broke in, “is why we need all these people in the first place. Shouldn’t the FBI be handling whatever it is you do here?”
“The FBI is a fine organization but—”
“I mean, all these people pushing papers at taxpayer expense just to do the same sort of thing that the FBI is already doing. It all seems like bureaucracy run amok to me.”
Immerson made a conscious effort not to let his irritation show.
“You’re completely wrong,” Gregory Kane interjected, appearing from Immerson’s blind side. Sawyer turned toward Kane and looked as if he had just noticed a bad smell.
“Congressman Sawyer, this is Agent Gregory Kane.” Neither man offered to shake hands. “Kane the Congressman is—”
“Confused,” Kane said. “The FBI is organized into various bureaus and departments whose funding and manpower go up and down like Paris skirt lengths depending on the crime du jour. Right now that’s terrorism and human trafficking. Next week it might be industrial espionage and bribes to members of Congress.” Kane gave Sawyer a hard stare. “What never gets much attention or funding are threats against non-elected federal employees.”
“So, if my mailman gets mugged you spring into action? Is that it?” Sawyer snapped.
“No, we usually leave that to the Postal Inspector and the local police. We’re more concerned with something like an attempt to blackmail the chairman of an FDA review panel into approving a multi-billion dollar drug or bribing a testing lab to pass defective medical equipment destined for a V.A. Hospital or the theft of the access codes to the copy machines installed in the executive offices of the Department of Energy. If you think the FBI is going to give top priority to anything like that you’re . . . .” Kane finally noticed Immerson’s wild eyes and sweating brow. “. . . mistaken.”
Sawyer’s lips were pinched into a tight line. None of his employees ever spoke to him like that. Nobody, not waiters, not store clerks, not even bank managers spoke to him that way. He was a millionaire and a Congressman and, according to his deacon, one of God’s chosen for Christ’s sake, and this bureaucrat thought he could call him out? Sawyer very much wanted to do something about it but the investigator’s broad shoulders and big hands and most of all his hard eyes made Sawyer pause and think again.
“Kane, aren’t you supposed to be finishing the report on the Jeffers case?”
Kane turned to Immerson as if surprised to see him still there, then nodded contritely.
“Yes sir, I’ll get right on that. Congressman, a pleasure meeting you.” A polite nod in Sawyer’s direction and Kane was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
“I’m sorry, Congressman,” Immerson said in almost a whisper. “Kane is a great investigator but, well, you have to understand his history. He was a senior detective on the Baltimore PD when he and his partner ran into two gunmen high on drugs. The thugs killed his partner and tried to kill him but he charged into their fire and shot them both. He saved a store full of people but,” Immerson sighed, “he was shot in the head.” Immerson’s hand described a path along the left side of his skull from front to back just above his ear. “He recovered, he has a mind like a steel trap actually, and he’s a terrific investigator. Sometimes it’s almost like having our own little Sherlock Holmes, but, aaaahh, he’s a bit short tempered and he has a tendency to say things out loud that he would be better off keeping to himself. The doctors assure us that it’s temporary. In the meantime, well, he was a hero and we make allowances. And he closes cases. I’m sure you understand.”
“A hero you say?
“Charged right into automatic weapons’ fire to take out the criminals. They gave him a medal.”
“Well, wounded in the line of duty, I suppose you have to cut him a little slack,” Sawyer allowed.
“I’ll tell you what — why don’t you let me take you to lunch? I can fill you in on some of our more interesting cases. It’s pretty exciting stuff and it never makes the papers. All ‘need to know’ you understand.”
“Sure, I wouldn’t mind getting something to eat,” Sawyer said, giving Immerson a weak smile.
“Through that door,” Immerson told him, pointing, then he gave Kane a quick, nervous glance before heading for the exit.
Greg Kane tried to focus on his work but his brain continued spitting out data points — Sawyer’s watch was a $3,000 Tag Heuer but the $60 shirt and off-the rack suit and shoes screamed Macy’s. That meant that the watch was likely a present which meant that there was money in the family someplace but it wasn’t his. Either the parents or the wife, Kane decided, which likely made Sawyer a man who craved a lot more than he had. Based on him shooting off his mouth about something that he should have known he didn’t know anything about, it was pretty clear that Sawyer’s ego surpassed his intelligence. Kane absently categorized the Congressman as someone who had been born on second base and felt that he’d been robbed of a triple. That bulge in his tummy and the little veins around his nose told Kane that Sawyer was drinking too much and exercising too little.
The way he cinched in his belt and sported a red-silk tie signaled that he was concerned with his appearance. And Kane didn’t miss Sawyer’s sideways glance at Marjorie either. The Congressman was on the hunt for some action, Kane figured, while the wife and kids were back home planning church suppers and organizing prayer breakfasts. Useless sack of shit! Kane decided then sighed and tried to control his anger. Focus on the file, he ordered himself. Focus.
Everything had been so much easier before COV, Clarity Of Vision, had descended on him. His old life had been soft and fuzzy and half a blur and then Ricky Bazzel skipped a bullet across the surface of his brain and everything changed. When he came back to his senses he found that the world had suddenly become bright and sharp and hard-edged. He felt like a man who had lived a lifetime with poor eyesight and then had been given his first pair of glasses. And there were the dreams. He used to dream like everybody else, confusing, jerky little scenes in misty places where people appeared and disappeared without reason or warning. Now his dreams were detailed, crisp and clear, with all his senses intact and the most crystalline of them all were the recurring dreams involving his dead brother, Tommy.
Had people been this stupid, vain, petty and clueless his whole life and he had just never noticed before? Kane was reminded every day that the world was heavily populated by idiots and that most of the ones who weren’t morons were psychopaths, egomaniacs, bastards or crooks which was even worse. If he were in charge — No, stop it! he ordered himself. Stop bitching, stop complaining, stop imagining how much better the world would be if only people were smarter and better. You drove away your wife and ruined your job. Wasn’t that enough? Kane scolded himself. He closed his eyes and took three slow, deep breaths.
Greg opened them again and looked guiltily around the bull pen. No one seemed to have noticed anything. Kane forced himself to concentrate and paged through the Marilyn Jeffers file. Two minutes into the first interview he had known that she was up to something. It hadn’t taken him long to find out what. She’d started out by leaking the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s inspection schedule to the Tip Top Coal Company and then had branched out to supplying half a dozen other mines with not only advance notices of safety inspections but also the personnel files of the inspectors. She’d created a dummy LLC in Virginia to receive the payoffs but had foolishly listed her brother as the LLC’s Manager on the form she filed with the bank when she opened the account. Stupid, stupid, stupid! But stupid crooks were a good thing. If they weren’t morons it would be a lot harder to catch them, he reminded himself.
“You find something good, Agent?” Danny Rosewood asked, noticing Kane’s smile.
“The suspect put her brother’s name on the bank account where the payoffs were being deposited.”
“Score!” Danny said and raised five fingers up high. Greg hesitated then awkwardly raised his own arm as well. “Get you a cup of coffee, Agent?”
“No, Danny, thanks. I’m good.” Rosewood nodded and Kane watched him wander toward the break room. Officially Danny Rosewood was a GS 10 support tech but his actual job was doing whatever the investigators wanted that they didn’t have the time or energy to do for themselves, everything from subpoenaing bank and telephone records to reviewing surveillance footage to making coffee and ordering another box of file folders. Danny was a glorified gofer, but a gofer with a dream. Rosewood wanted to be an Agent. He wanted to carry a badge, which wasn’t unusual but, unlike most wannabees, Danny had a plan.
Rosewood constantly scanned the Internet for classes on police sciences. If some college was offering a night-school seminar on interrogation techniques, Danny was there. When the Government Printing Office issued a new manual on investigative procedures or forensic protocols, Danny was their first customer. He made a pest of himself to the investigators like Greg Kane, always asking questions, always wanting to know how they did what they did. Half the Agents avoided him and the other half competed to see how ridiculous a war story they could con Danny into believing. But not Greg Kane. Danny Rosewood was the only person in the office, except for maybe Fred Immerson, whom Kane actually respected.
Danny wasn’t especially smart or creative. He certainly didn’t have a charismatic personality and he wasn’t a deep thinker. But Danny Rosewood had one quality that Greg Kane admired — Danny worked harder to make the most of whatever talents he had than anyone Kane had ever known. Kane was sick of nonentities like Travis Sawyer who were mediocrity personified and were too arrogant to even know it. At the other end of the spectrum were gifted people who wasted their talents or drifted along, doing just enough to get by when they were capable of so much more. Danny, on the other hand, knew he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room and that he never would be, but every day he made a hundred and ten percent effort to be the best person that he could possibly be and that determination earned him something beyond price — Greg Kane’s respect.
Kane turned back to his computer and started typing the Jeffers report which Immerson would forward to the U.S. Attorney. Just as he was about to hit “Send” Kane’s cell buzzed. The caller was one of his oldest friends, Professor Martin Fouchet. Marty’s wife was sick and Greg could tell from the way Marty’s eyes darted away when he talked about Caroline that she wasn’t doing well. Kane said a little prayer that Marty wasn’t calling to tell him that Caroline had died and tapped the “accept” icon.
“Marty, what’s up?”
“Greg, I think I need your help. I think something’s wrong.”
“I was supposed to have a meeting today with the Senior Deputy Director of the Department for the Control of Dangerous Biological Agents and Toxins and he wasn’t there, hadn’t been there since the middle of last week.”
“Hadn’t been where since last week?”
“The Department of Health and Human Services. He’s disappeared. Gone. No one’s seen him or heard from him since last Wednesday. No calls. Nothing. He’s not answering his phone, not responding to emails. A man with his responsibilities doesn’t just wander off. I think something may have happened to him.”
Half a dozen questions raced through Greg’s head.
“You said biological agents and toxins? What are we talking about?”
“Chemicals, drugs, things that could be used to make poisons or illegal substances, precursors. I filed a request for an exemption for . . . well, the name wouldn’t mean anything to you, the short version is ACX. It’s on the prohibited list. I have to have a supply of it for my research. He was going to approve my request for an exemption, Greg! He told me that last week. Today was just supposed to be a formality, one last interview and he was going to sign off on it so I could get the ACX past customs. But now he’s disappeared and nobody wants to do anything.”
“OK, Marty, I understand—”
“Greg, you’ve got to find him. As long as he’s just missing I’m stuck in limbo here. I’ve got to get permission to import the ACX in order to complete my research.”
“I understand. Give me the missing guy’s name and contact info.”
“Albert Brownstein, Senior Deputy for the Health & Human Services Department for the Control of Dangerous Biological Agents and Toxins. His office is on Independence Avenue.”
“OK, Marty, I’ll go over there and see what I can find out. In the meantime, email me Brownstein’s contact information and anything else you think might be helpful.”
“You’ll let me know what you find?”
“I’ll call you this afternoon.”
Kane hung up and looked around for Immerson but his boss was still at lunch with Congressman Asshole. Shit! Greg sent Immerson an email on where he was going and retrieved his gun from his bottom desk drawer.