Authors: Chuck Barrett
hen Kaplan regained consciousness
, his legs and arms were flex-cuffed to the chair behind the table, arms still behind his back but secured to the chair. The chair was bolted to the floor just like the table. He figured Scalini wanted it that way so his victims couldn't move during the torture sessions. His head wobbled as he tried to fight off the fog from the blow to the back of his head. Dazed, he looked up. The room was blurry. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Moss's face slowly came into focus.
"Welcome back," Moss said. "I tried to stop themâ¦ but they don't take kindly to having their own men beaten up."
Kaplan's head was throbbing. His throat was dry. He could smell smoke but no one seemed in a hurry to get out of the warehouse. "How long was I out?"
"Only a couple of minutes," said Moss. "Barely long enough for them to strap you down."
"Who was the son of a bitch who hit me?"
"One of my men," a strange voice said.
Kaplan turned. Next to the table was a man in a suit and tie with a badge clipped to his belt. He was tall and thin with a ruddy complexion and wire rim glasses. His hair was light brown with a hint of grey. He looked official. There was a man standing behind him with a rifle. "Who are you?"
"Harvey Sturdivant, Assistant Regional Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," he said. "And you, Mr. Kaplan, just sent two of my best agents to the hospital. Senior Inspector Moss explained the situation to me and, if you promise to stop killing or disabling my men, I'll have the cuffs removed."
"I haven't killed any of your men."
"Remember the two men who chased you from the restaurant in Little Rock? And then were involved in a car crash near Searcy?" Sturdivant asked. "Those were contract agents. We knew Scalini's men were coming to capture Tonyâ¦that's what we wanted to happen, but you interfered. No one knew who you were. They were just trying to stop you."
"Stop, as in shoot me? What am I, a mind reader? No lights, no sirens, no badges," Kaplan snapped back. "And they used sound suppressors."
"Perhaps they didn't handle the situation the way they should have or were trained. Gunfire draws a lot of attention. I authorized the suppressors and since I felt Tony's life was in danger, they were given permission to use deadly force against you if necessary."
"Tragic. Belonged to the contractor as well."
"Your contractors are idiots." Kaplan paused and then asked, "Then you planted the RFID tracking devices?"
"You compromised a witness without the U. S. Marshals Service knowledge?"
Sturdivant looked at Moss and then back at Kaplan. "Correct again."
Moss clenched his jaw and interrupted, "You're telling me you FBI assholes deliberately avoided cooperating with or even notifying the Marshals Service of your intentions? To get your prize you were willing to let civilians and a federal marshal be collateral damage? There is blood on the FBI's hands. I will personally make sure you go down for this and then I'm coming back and kicking your ass.”
Sturdivant's voice remained calm as he continued, "Our intel was that Scalini knew the location of your witness and his men were not authorized to shoot, just grab and go. Nobody was supposed to get hurt. We knew your witness," Sturdivant looked at Moss and said, "could lead us to Martin Scalini. That's why we didn't have men inside the restaurant. We didn't alert the Marshals Service because your director would never have agreed to it."
"You're damn right he wouldn't agree to it," said Moss.
"The FBI considered capturing Scalini a higher priority than your witness." Sturdivant turned and looked at Kaplan. "I think it was because of your involvement, Mr. Kaplan, that caused Scalini's men to change their strategy and open fire. When the shooting started, my men scrambled. By then it was too late, the damage had been done."
"Bullshit. I was there," Kaplan began to shout. "Scalini's men had no intention of a simple snatch and run. They came out shooting. If it weren't for Deputy Cox and myself, more people would have died."
Sturdivant was silent. His face had turned red. He motioned to one of his men. "Cut him looseâ¦and give them back their weapons."
The man pulled out a knife and cut the flex cuffs.
"Where is Tony now?" Kaplan rubbed his wrists where the cuffs had been clamped tight against his skin. "And how did you locate us here? Another RFID I didn't find?"
"Tony is downstairs with Bruno Ratti," Sturdivant said. "Both men are fine and in FBI custody. We found the warehouse because Angelo DeLuca called Scalini for backup in Lexington and we were monitoring DeLuca's phone. When we knew we had this chance to nab Scalini, we got authorization to tap and track his phoneâ¦that brought us here."
"You're wrong about one thing," Moss said. "Tony is not in FBI custody. His protection was breached and now I'm wondering if the FBI wanted Scalini so bad that it intentionally leaked the info to the mob. I don't know, and at this point, I don't care. Tony is
witness and I'm taking him with me."
The door burst open and one of Sturdivant's men entered. "Sir, the fire is spreading. We need to evacuate the building immediately."
Sturdivant nodded and then looked at Moss. "Do whatever you want with Tony." Sturdivant motioned toward the door at the back of the room. "Let's get out of here, we can resume this discussion outside."
Halfway down the stairs Kaplan looked back at Sturdivant. He raised his voice over the increasing background noise of the fire. "This isn't over between you and me," he promised. "Whoever screwed the pooch on this one is going down."
"That's right," Moss chimed in. "Someone will be held accountable."
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the front door of the warehouse was already engulfed in flames, leaving the rear exit the only safe passage out of the burning building.
Kaplan made a mental note earlier that the warehouse with all the chemicals stored inside was a virtual powder keg waiting to blow. Now he was seeing its volatility first hand. Flames were licking at Scalini's limousine and the heat radiating from the inferno caused a shimmer from the vehicles roof, trunk, and hood. Kaplan figured when the flames reached the north end of the building, the chemicals and solvents stored in the drums beneath the offices would ignite.
A solvent drum next to Scalini's limo caught fire and exploded. Flames swallowed the limo and jumped to the Buick parked next to it. Every man instinctively ducked. Flames from the fire rolled across the warehouse floor devouring everything in its path. The building filled with black hot smoke making it impossible to breathe.
"Move it," Sturdivant coughed twice and yelled as he pointed toward the door. "Now."
Tony and Bruno were ushered through the metal door by two of Sturdivant's men. All four men were wheezing and coughing from smoke inhalation.
Kaplan followed Moss through the door while Sturdivant pulled up the flank. The seven men ran from the raging fire consuming the warehouse. Another explosion rocked the warehouse and blew out all the upper level windows. Flying shards of glass pelted the men on the ground.
The group of men ran out of the burning building into the night. The lights of the city still visible but haloed from the excess moisture in the air. A touch of fog had settled across the Hudson River and Upper New York Bay.
They stopped about a hundred feet from the warehouse. Every man was rubbing his eyes, coughing, and short of breath. Tony fell to his knees, leaned over, and vomited on the ground. Bruno stood next to him. The two men who escorted them out of the warehouse stood watch.
Kaplan stopped beside Tony and put his hands on the old man's shoulder. "Have you noticed that excitement seems to follow you?" Kaplan said to Tony between coughs.
The old man nodded and vomited again.
Sturdivant stopped behind Kaplan and said, "This is far enough."
Moss walked over to Kaplan. "Hell of a forty-eight hours, huh?"
Kaplan nodded and leaned over to cough, cupping his hands over his knees for support. He looked up at Moss. In the corner of his vision, he detected a flash of light.
Behind him, Sturdivant grunted and fell to the ground.
And then the warehouse exploded.
oss instinctively dove
to the ground as a fireball plumed skyward forming a fiery mushroom cloud over the shipping terminal complex. He'd witnessed Sturdivant go down the same moment the warehouse exploded. His mind barely registered what his eyes had just witnessed. If Kaplan hadn't leaned over to cough, the shot would have struck him in the head. Instead the bullet went over Kaplan's head and struck the man standing behind him.
Sturdivant's men were caught off guard; their gaping mouths an obvious indication of disbelief. Their boss lay dead in an ever-expanding pool of blood. Both men raised their weapons and took up a defensive posture.
The glow from the massive fireball shooting into the sky glistened and sparkled off the crimson liquid.
Moss looked at Kaplan who had turned his head to see Sturdivant lying motionless.
"Take cover," Moss yelled to Sturdivant's men as he stood.
One of them yelled back, "Where?" The two men were back to back, turning and scanning in every direction for the threat that killed their boss.
Moss looked around; there was no cover around them. They were out in the open and easy targets.
"In the water," Kaplan said as he pointed toward the river.
Moss grabbed Kaplan's hand and pulled him to his feet. "We gotta move it."
Sturdivant's two men ran toward the bulkhead next to the water. The ground around them exploded from gunfire. Bruno was already standing on the bulkhead but refused to jump in.
As Moss and Kaplan neared the four men standing on the bulkhead, one of Sturdivant's men took a shot to the head. He crumpled to the ground. Seeing this, the other man pushed Tony off the bulkhead and jumped into the water after him.
Bruno took off running.
Both Moss and Kaplan had their weapons drawn.
Kaplan said, "I saw the flash. The shots came from that crane." He pointed. "That's gotta be a thousand yards. The mob doesn't take shots like that. It's our assassin. The long shot is her specialty."
"Any more good news?" Moss said.
"Yeah, I'm going after her." Kaplan turned and ran toward the shooter.
Sirens grew louder as a line of emergency vehicles turned into the shipping terminal complex. He couldn't let Kaplan go after the assassin alone. He had grievances with her and wanted her alive. She had impersonated a federal law enforcement officer and used him to locate her prey. He didn't like being played by anyone. If Kaplan was going after the red headed woman, so was he.
Moss reached the bulkhead, pulled out his weapon, and yelled down to Sturdivant's remaining man, "Where's Bruno?"
"Took off running, sir." The man pointed.
In the distance Moss could see Bruno running toward the shipping complex entrance. If the cops didn't round him up, then he would go after him later.
Moss looked back at Sturdivant's man. "Stay here until I get back." He pointed toward Tony. "Don't let him get away, understood?"
He didn't wait around for an answer. He was never a fast runner, but he was strong, and ran long distances in high school and college. Of course, those days were long gone, and even though Moss kept up a strict workout regimen, running wasn't part of it.
Initially it was easy to keep Kaplan in sight with the glow from the fire, but the farther he got from the burning warehouse, the darker it became along the waterfront and the harder it was to keep a visual on the operative. Kaplan wasn't running in a straight line either, but a serpentine path toward the shooter's position and keeping himself in a low crouch. And then suddenly Kaplan was gone. Out of sight and Moss had no idea which direction he went.
He came upon a track-hoe and ducked behind it while he scanned the area. His eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness and he thought he saw movement to his right. He pointed his weapon and strained to see. A hand tapped his arm. He spun around, his weapon leading the way, but the man was faster and deflected it.
"Easy, big guy," Kaplan raised his index finger to his lips. "We're on the same side."
"Son of a bitch. You almost gave me a heart attack."
Kaplan pulled out his phone and dialed.
"Who the hell are you calling?" Moss asked.
the numbers in his phone, a direct line to his handler at Langley. "You probably shouldn't be here," he said to Moss without looking at the Senior Inspector. "This is a sanctioned hitâ¦not something you want to witness."
"I'm a big boy, Kaplan, I can handle it. I spent a lot of hours alone with that bitch. I know how she operates."
"No you don't," said Kaplan. "She was impersonating a WitSec inspector. Acting. Playing a role. I'll bet she even sweet-talked you. Played you till she got what she wanted." Kaplan paused to let his accusation sink in. "I'm the one who knows how she operates. I've been after her for a year. She's killed twenty-six targets around the globe. Tony was about to be number twenty-seven."
"I got a newsflash for you, pal. She wasn't shooting at Tony. He was puking his guts out at the time and an easy target. That shot was meant for you."
"Bullshit. It was meant for Sturdivant or she just missed hitting Tony. That
one hell of a long shot."
"You don't really believe that do you? If you hadn't leaned down when you did, that bullet would have ripped your head off.
were the target, my friend. Not Sturdivant. Not Tony. And one more thing." Moss leaned into Kaplan's face and with gritted teeth said, "I want her alive, you hear me?"
Kaplan processed that revelation and concluded the deputy was likely correct. Perhaps Valkyrie
shooting at him. "Even if she was, it doesn't change anything. She is still sanctioned, whether you like it or not. She is still my target, so if the two of us are trying to kill each other, then she should be easy enough to find."
"Provided she doesn't kill you first."
"My plan doesn't include dying," Kaplan said as his call went through to Langley.
"No one's ever does."
"Gregg. What the hell is going on?" His handler interrupted.
He turned and looked up at the shooter's position and said, "Valkyrie is here."
sight of her target as he ran in her direction. He bent down at the same time she fired and her bullet struck a man standing behind him. Then the warehouse turned into a fireball. She randomly fired three more shots before being forced to turn off the night vision feature on her scope due to the blinding effect of the explosion. By the time she spotted the men who ran from the building, two were in the water, one was running away, and two were running in her direction, one several yards behind the other. Her target was in the lead.
Her cover was blown and he was coming after her.
Good. Let the hunted come to the hunter.
The farther he ran from the burning warehouse the harder it was to see him in the darkness without night vision.
Then he was gone.
Both men were gone.
She reactivated the night vision on her scope to scan the area where the men disappeared but was unable to locate either man.
The shipping terminal complex had already turned into a beehive of activity as first responders arrived at the scene to battle the warehouse fire. No telling how many more emergency units had been dispatched to control the blaze.
She used her scope to scan all the exits. Police had already barricaded the roads and all vehicular traffic on the complex was stopped. Two police helicopters equipped with spotlights scanned the warehouse. In the distance, two more helicopters approached yet still maintained a safe distance. Probably newscasters, she thought, trying to be the first to capture the breaking story. Eventually she knew the searchlights would scan the crane where she hid and with all exits blocked, her escape would have to be the river.
But not until her target was dead.