Authors: Chuck Barrett
hat are you talking about
?" Tony asked.
"Dammit, Tony." Kaplan raised his voice. "How did they know where we were? Are you wearing a tracker or something?"
"No. Nothing. I swear." Tony's voice sounded rattled.
Kaplan pointed at Tony's pants. "Empty your pockets. Put everything right here." He tapped the top of the coffee table in front of the leather couch with his finger.
Tony fished around in his front pockets and pulled out 73Â¢ in change and a money clip full of bills. The money clip was tarnished sterling silver with a turquoise stone mounted on top. Kind of a Southwestern look. Not what he would have expected of the Italian, but it looked expensive, and considering what he was learning about Tony, it probably was.
Tony pulled a lizard skin wallet from his back pocket and placed it on the table.
"Pull off your belt," Kaplan said. "I want to look at it too."
Tony raised his shirt to unclasp his belt and that's when Kaplan saw the phone. It was the latest model iPhone from Apple. Cell phones were easy to track, iPhones especially, with their built-in GPS that can't easily be powered down or turned off by non-geeks. "How long have you had this phone?" Kaplan asked.
"Got it today," Tony replied. "I don't even know how to use it. I got it the same time I got my new credit cards, passport, and driver's license. Cox had all my documentation ready when he picked me up this morning at the Memphis airport."
Kaplan picked up Tony's belt from the table, inspected it, and then handed it back. "You can put this back on." He pulled out the bills, several hundreds, fifties, twenties, a ten, a five, and two ones totaling $1437. All looked clean. He held up the money clip, flipped it over a few times, and then dropped it on top of the pile of bills. He pushed the pile toward Tony. "You can have this back too."
"What are you doing?" Jeff asked. "Checking for bugs?"
"Bugs are generally considered listening devices. What I'm looking for are any tracking devices Tony might be carrying."
"How do you know what you're doing?" Jeff asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, all you have ever told me was you worked for the governmentâ¦but this is a lot like that spy stuff I see on TV or read in thrillers. What is it you do for a livingâ¦truthfully?"
Kaplan stopped what he was doing and looked at Jeff. He had known Jeff longer than anyone else left alive. They grew up next door to each other and spent most of their childhood together. In high school Kaplan moved to another part of town, but they kept in touch. Until college. Then the communication between the two came to an abrupt end. He went one way and Jeff went another. Jeff met Kam, they married, and he got a job while she was a stay at home mom with their two sons. Their lives were busy doing all the things families do. Church. Little league. School activities.
Kaplan's life took a different path. He dropped out of college when his parents died in a car wreck, enlisted in the military where, after two and a half years, he was selected for the Army Special Forces. Even though he was told his most powerful weapon was his mind, he was trained to kill. He had stayed on the United States government payroll ever since he retired from Special Forces.
After being in his friend's home, he realized Jeff had all those things Kaplan had longed for in life. He came close twice, but the important women in his life had a way of dying or disappearing.
His first relationship ended tragically when his girlfriend of many years betrayed him. Not infidelityâworse. Her troubles were seeded much deeper than that. She had gotten mixed up with the wrong people and tried to kill a man from her past. In the end, the life that was lost was hers.
The demise of his second relationship still remained a mystery to him. He was involved with a fellow CIA operative, his partner, when she, for reasons he never understood, left and was never heard from again. Not by him, anyway. The Director of Central Intelligence initially refused to divulge her whereabouts or the reason she left the agency until she disappeared. Then it seemed the DCI took a renewed interest in covertly locating her. Kaplan had been searching for her ever since with no luck until he finally got a lead on a man who might know her whereabouts, a man who lived in El Paso, Texas. The man Kaplan was going to see when this ordeal with Tony began.
Jobs and relationships always had dangerous consequences.
What Jeff hadâa wife, good job, and childrenâwere as far out of reach for him as the North Pole. Hell, what was he thinking? He might eventually get to the North Pole but he would never have the life Jeff had.
Thirty years had passed before he and Jeff reconnected through Facebook. They enjoyed a brief visit once before when Kaplan was traveling through. They talked about the days as kids when they rode their bicycles to the ballpark, high school girls they dated, and adolescent mischief they found themselves in on more than one occasion. More about their childhood than what happened during the thirty years they had not seen each other. They needed more time to catch up but tonight wasn't going to be that night.
Kaplan reached down and pulled his knife from his boot. With the flick of his thumb the blade snapped open.
"Guess it's one of those jobs you can't talk about, huh?" Jeff said.
"It is," Kaplan said. He laid Tony's documents side by side on the table. He picked one up and held it in front of a light.
"Gregg?" Kam asked from behind the island that separated the kitchen from the family room. "Are your job and what happened in Little Rock connected?"
He shook his head. "Not at all, this is about Tony. I was just a bystander who was too stupid to mind his own business. It's a coincidence I was even there." He looked at Jeff, "By the way, you recommended the restaurant."
"Sorry I did," Jeff said. "You should have called ahead and Kam could have fixed her famous risotto with spicy sausage. Sounds to me like you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I was planning on calling after I ate something and checked into a hotel. Neither of which, obviously, I was able to do." Kaplan smiled. "But hey, I did call, just under different circumstances than I had planned."
"Since you have involved us, Gregg, you need to let us know who you work for. I'm guessing CIA. Am I right?" Kam asked. "That's how you know all this stuff?"
Kaplan smiled. "That's what I like about you, Kam. Always straight to the point."
"I found the direct approach saves time," she said. "Especially when dealing with men. Subtlety is an art form not yet evolved in most males."
Kaplan stopped what he was doing, looked over his shoulder at Kam, and smiled. He turned back to the table and sliced a section from the spine of the passport. "Yes, Kam, I work for the CIA. My director won't be very happy that I got involved in another federal agency's business either. In fact, there is nothing about this the agency
Tony laughed. "You're a spook," he bellowed. "I knew it had to be something like that. All the guns. The way you handled those two punks in the quarry. You're a machine, a cold hearted killing machine."
"In case you have forgotten, that
as you call him
just saved your hide," Jeff said to Tony. "He can't be too cold hearted or he would have left you out there to die."
"No, Tony's right," Kaplan paused. "I'm not the kid you knew growing up. I have changed. The job has a way of sucking out your soul and leaving only a shell that takes orders. The training teaches you skillsâ¦but there is a price to pay." He turned to Jeff. "If I could do it over, I would have found a woman like you did and settled down, but I'm afraid those days are gone forever."
He held the passport closer. "Kam, do you have any tweezers? And perhaps a razor knife?"
She walked to the bathroom and then returned to the kitchen with tweezers in her hand. He could hear her pushing small objects from side to side. It seemed everyone had a drawer in the kitchen where everything ended up
A catchall storage drawer. He heard the drawer close.
She walked around the island. "Here you go." She placed the razor knife and tweezers on the table in front of him.
"Thanks." He picked up the tweezers and slipped them inside the slit he'd made in the passport. He gave a gentle tug and pulled out a thin, flat object the length of a grain of rice.
"What is it?" Tony asked.
"RFID chip," Jeff said. "I've used them to track inventory, but nothing like that one."
"He's right," Kaplan wedged the thin razor knife blade beneath the magnetic strip on the back of Tony's driver's license and pried it from the card. Behind the strip was a miniaturized secret compartment containing another RFID chip. This one was larger. "All passports have an RFID chip embedded in them, just like your credit cards, ID cards," he held up the driver's license, "and these."
Kaplan placed the RFID chips on the table. "This one," he pointed to the one he removed from the passport, "is not very powerful. Range is not much more than a few feet, depending on the surrounding conditions. This one," he held up the driver's license, "is much different. It has a signal range of up to 200 miles, accurate up to 150. And it is always active. It's a top-secret product of the Department of Defense. Only a limited number of people in the intelligence industry even know this one exists. It was in your driver's license because someone figured you'd carry it with you at all times. That way they can always track you."
"What about the phone?" Jeff asked.
"I guarantee someone is tracking it right now."
"Who would be tracking me?" Tony asked.
"Not regular cops or they'd already be here. Perhaps the Marshals Service but I doubt itâ¦too risky. Maybe another Federal agency. My money is on some sort of private intelligence firm, one with plenty of resources and connections with the Feds. This is why they were on to you so fast. You were supposed to be a quick takedown."
Jeff interrupted, "Or lead them to somethingâ¦or someone."
"When you say
," Tony said. "Do you mean FBI or CIA or NSA? Or someone else?"
Kaplan looked at Tony while he pondered the man's query. "Yes." He paused. "In reality though, we can rule out CIA immediately because this is domestic and the CIA technically has no jurisdiction. Besides, this isn't the kind of thing the CIA would concern itself with. Nor the NSA for that matter either. The FBI, on the other handâ"
"You need to disable them, Gregg," Kam's tone sounded urgent. "Before they track him here."
Kaplan checked his internal clock. It had been too long since he and Tony had pulled into Jeff's driveway. He looked at Jeff and then at Kam. "I'm sorry, Kam. It's too late."
nspector Moore was right
, Moss couldn't keep her out of the investigation if the U.S. Marshals Service had ordered her in. And raising a stink about it up the food chain wouldn't exactly be his best move, especially in the middle of the night and in what he considered the twilight of his mediocre career. Furthermore, he understood her attitude; he'd experienced much the same thing. It didn't matter whether you were black or female; it was always an uphill battle for a minority in a white man's world.
Moss gazed into Moore's eyes, "Inspector Moore, I don't have a problem with you personally on my investigation. This isn't about you. It's about how your assignment was handled. That's where my problem lies. I was taken off guard, that's all. What I'm saying is the lack of proper WitSec protocol is not only irregular, it's a blatant violation of Marshals Service protocol."
"I understand," she said. "Like you, I just go where I'm ordered whether I like it or not. And I was fully briefed on WC 7922 before I left Atlanta."
“I've never heard of a case where the Inspector in charge wasn't given advanced authorization pertaining to the arrival of an outside Inspector. And you should have an authorization as well,” Moss added.
“I do have one,” Moore stated emphatically. She reached into her back pocket, pulled out a folded letter, and handed it to Moss. “I'm sorry, I should have given this to you first. But, you can't hold me at fault that you didn't get notified.”
He unfolded the letter and read it. It looked official. And it was signed Michael Johnson, Regional Chief Inspector in Atlanta, Georgia.
Moore's voice held some sort of compassion when she spoke. Almost as if she knew he didn't want to be here either. Maybe the same thing had happened to her. Maybe she had plans that were shattered when she was given last minute orders to report to Little Rock.
"No, I don't suppose I can. Des Moines, huh? How'd you like it there?"
"Hated it. Nothing to see, nothing to do. I like mountains."
"Where'd you grow up?"
"Salt Lake City."
"They have nice mountains," Moss said. "And a big lake."
"A smelly lake most of the time," she added.
"It's a beautiful area. I've handled a couple of relos there."
"So, you're a Mormon?" Hepler asked.
"LDS," she corrected. "And yes."
"LDS?" asked Hepler.
"Latter Day Saints. PC for Mormon."
"Oh for crying out loud," Hepler ranted. "Why does everything these days have to always be politically correct? What the hell is wrong with the word Mormon?"
Moss looked at Hepler and shook his head. Then he looked at Moore. "Forgive my partner. Sometimes he engages his mouth before he engages his brain." He turned back to Hepler. "Can we do the walk through now, JP, or do you have something else stupid you want to say?"
LRPD had cordoned off the restaurant and only allowed them to enter after they, once again, showed their creds. To the right lay three bodies on a raised section of the floor. One in front of the bar draped over a wooden railing and two behind the bar. Blood from the man on the railing had cascaded from the elevated floor to the main floor and dried into dark, carmine colored puddles. Another man lay on the floor to the left. He was dressed in a coat and tie. A halo of dried blood surrounded his head.
Inspector Michael Cox.
Beyond Cox was another body covered by a sheet. A courtesy extended for the only bystander casualty. The wounded had been rushed to the nearest hospital. Lab techs were using gel lifter to collect fingerprints from dried blood that could be used to help identify people at the scene during the shootout. Investigators had already taken statements from the staff and patrons. The blood soaked floor, littered with broken glass, splintered wood, broken chairs, and demolished tabletops, revealed a grisly scene. Plastic yellow tents marked dozens of shell casings. The room still held the lingering smell of gunfire mixed with spicy Cajun cooking even though it had been hours since the shooting. It also reeked of death.
"Why are these bodies still here?" Moss demanded.
"HQ wanted you to see the scene intact," said Hepler. "Told me to keep the M.E. on hold until you released the bodies."
"Why the hell would they do that? It isn't even my call. Release them now."
"Don't look now," Hepler interrupted. "But here comes a hundred and fifty pound hemorrhoid."
A man hurried toward them with short strides and rapid steps. Having dealt with the man in the past, Moss knew what was coming next. The man was a victim of Napoleonic complex. A man with an ax to grind with everyone it seemed. He was five-five on a good day, with a slim build and a head that seemed too large for his diminutive stature. He had the typical G-Man look right down to his black slacks, white dress shirt, dark tie, and a satin black jacket with the letters FBI stamped on the back.
His thick brown hair was longer than a typical flattop and held in place by gel or mousse or maybe even glue. Who knew for sure? His haircut rose over two inches above his scalp. A lame attempt to look taller. He had a reporter's notepad in one hand and an old gold pen in the other.
"Senior Inspector Pete Moss," the man said.
"Special Agent Richard Small," Moss replied.
Moss looked at Moore and asked, "Have you met the country's shortest G-Man?"
"As a matter of fact, Special Agent Small and I have met."
"The U. S. Marshals Service is out of this investigation. Your witness has escaped and is considered a fugitive. He's a wanted man. You stay out of the FBI's way and what's left of your career won't get derailed." His condescending tone was not lost on Moss.
Moss stepped close to the man and stared down at him. "Don't be a dick, Dick.” Moss paused for effect. “This witness is still in the program, it isn't your jurisdiction, and you're out of line mentioning it. And even if he was considered a fugitive, it's still Marshals Service jurisdiction, not FBI. Did you even bother to read the eyewitness reports?"
The man waited a few moments and then replied, "First of all, it's Special Agent Richard Small, not Dick. And yes, I did. If he wasn't trying to escape, then why didn't he stick around and wait until the cops got here?"
"Would you?" Moss paused until Small was about to respond then cut off the Special Agent's response. "Somehow his identity was breached and someone tried to kill him. If anything, the FBI should consider my witness a potential hostage and give this case top priority and cooperate with other agencies to ensure he is found safe. Let me make myself clearâ¦Special Agent Small, it is WitSec's job to figure out how this happened and to find my witness. Not yours."
"The death of a United States Marshal
"Then do your job." Moss pointed to the three dead men still lying on the elevated floor. "And while you are solving the murder of our Deputy U. S. Marshal, find out why those goons tried to assassinate my witness."
Small's face turned red. Either from anger or embarrassment. Or a combination of both. Moss didn't care. The man was intolerable to work with and over the years had amassed volumes of complaints against him from other agents, agencies, and civilians. But he always seemed to weasel his way out of the mess. Scuttlebutt was he had dirt on someone at the top, just enough to keep him out of trouble but not enough to get him assigned to a major field office like Chicago or Atlanta.
Small looked down and, as he turned to walk away, gave Moss a sideways glance with his close-set beady eyes and furrowed brow. Special Agent Small could be a problem.
Hepler walked Moss and Moore through the action timeline of the bloody scene as pieced together from eyewitnesses while the medical examiner's team removed the bodies. There were the usual discrepancies between reports; no two untrained eyewitnesses saw the same scenario exactly the same way. The biggest question left unanswered was the mystery man. The man in the jeans, boots, and a long sleeve black t-shirt. According to eyewitnesses, he jumped in and helped the deputy fend off and kill the assailants. Then, he and the old man in the khaki slacks and blue tropical print shirt disappeared out the front door. Most of the eyewitnesses only heard the motorcycle's engine roaring as it sped off, but two patrons had followed them out the front exit and witnessed the motorcycle being chased by the dark sedan. At the sound of gunfire, though, both men ducked back inside the restaurant.
"Any chance one of them got the plates?" Moss said.
"Both of the guys gave some numbers they
were the right ones for the motorcycle," Hepler said. "But when LRPD ran them it came up a dead end. The only thing the two of them agreed on was that it was a Virginia tag."
After gathering all the pertinent information, Moss told Moore to leave her vehicle in the parking lot while Hepler drove them to the site of the helicopter crash. Once there, they had to show their creds and have them scrutinized by the cops on the scene, this time by NLRPD, North Little Rock Police Department. The Arkansas River separated the two cities, and their jurisdictions.
They were directed to an area designated by NLRPD for investigative parking separating them from the traffic pattern of emergency response vehicles attending to the crash site itself.
As they climbed out of the car Moore said, "I think I recognize your friend standing over there talking to some witnesses."
"How the hell did Special Agent Small beat us here?" Moss said.