Read Blown Online

Authors: Chuck Barrett

Blown (9 page)

17

H
is gut instinct was right
. Moss knew the home had to be near Arkansas 365 somewhere north of Little Rock. He and Hepler had already discussed possible escape routes for the motorcycle and determined the most logical route.

Moore plugged the address into her Android phone and provided him with directions to the house. A Faulkner County deputy manned the first roadblock at the entrance to The River Plantation subdivision on River Road. The deputy let them pass after making sure they had proper credentials to enter. Two ninety-degree turns later, River Road became Plantation Drive, which came to a dead end T-section with River Road Drive.

Before Moss reached the T-section Moore said, "Turn left."

He pointed in the direction of the mass of swirling lights. "I think I got it from here, Inspector Moore."

To the left and a few houses down on the right were several more cars; all but one was a Faulkner County Sheriff's vehicle. The other, Arkansas State Police.

Moss turned onto River Road Drive and pulled next to the law enforcement vehicles. He parked and the three deputies walked toward the house where once again a LEO stopped them. "Sorry, nobody allowed beyond this point."

They pulled out their badges and flashed them to the officer as Hepler stated, "U. S. Marshals." The officer stepped to the side letting them pass. Moss stopped at the end of the driveway with Moore and Hepler to survey the scene.

All the surrounding neighbors' houses were lit up. Nobody was sleeping tonight. This part of the subdivision was spared the destruction of the tornado that destroyed many of the homes just a few months ago. The street was lined with curious neighbors, most in pajamas or bathrobes. One man had a toddler on his shoulders. Moss saw silhouettes of people across the street looking out of their homes through parted curtains. At least they had enough sense to stay inside.

A young Faulkner County deputy assigned to crowd control tried without success to get the onlookers to return to the safety of their homes. The onlookers who had just survived an EF 4 tornado a few months earlier were not easily persuaded to return to their homes until they knew what was going on in their neighborhood. Moss didn't blame them.

The front of the two-story brick home did not reveal any obvious clues of a crime scene. The front door and windows were all intact. Several Faulkner County deputies were looking around inside with flashlights. Their beams swept through the interior of the dark home. Barricades connected yellow
Crime Scene
tape to cordon off the entire front yard and restrict access to the home.

Moore and Hepler followed Moss up the driveway. An overweight man with a badge and a gun strapped to his belt, put his hand out, turned and spat, then wiped his chin with the back of his hand. He blocked Moss halfway down the driveway.

"Stop right there," the man commanded. "This is a crime scene just what the hell do you think you're doing in
this
neighborhood?"

"In this neighborhood." Moss clenched his fists at the implication. It was clear by the tone in the lawman's voice. "You mean what is a black man doing in a white neighborhood, don't you?"

Moore quickly stepped in front of Moss. "This is Senior Inspector Moss and Deputy Hepler." She pointed at Moss and then Hepler. She held up her creds. "And I'm Inspector Moore, United States Marshals Service."

Moss knew what Moore was doing. Her beauty and authoritative style were hard to resist even for the redneck cop. Moss appreciated it and applauded her efforts because right now he was resisting the urge to break the man's neck.

The big cop lowered his massive arms as he looked at Moore and smiled. His height, short thick neck, and giant gut made him look like a sumo wrestler with a badge.

"And you are?" Moore asked.

"Doug Hollister, Sheriff of Faulkner County." He turned to walk away. "And I don't need none of you uppity Feds poking around in my investigation. I'm already busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest." He should have kept his mouth shut. Moss was done listening to this ignorant cop.

He stepped around Moore. "Listen up, Bubba."

The big man whipped around. Moss could see the anger in his bulging eyes. Hollister had his hand resting on his revolver and Moss expected to see steam shoot from his ears any second. Moss stepped forward until they were nearly eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose. Inches apart. Like two menacing bulls scraping the earth with their hooves right before they charged.

"I don't give a rat's ass who you want or don't want involved in this investigation," Moss said. "This incident is connected to a crime that occurred in Little Rock tonight, which makes it part of a federal investigation and that, Sheriff, leaves you out in the cold."

"And if I refuse to yield jurisdiction?"

"For starters, I'll have your fat redneck ass arrested for interfering with a federal officer in the performance of his duties. And by the time the prosecutors finish with you, there will be a couple of dozen other federal charges tacked on as well."

Moss could see the man puffing out his chest.

"Is that right, mister big shot?" Hollister said. "On whose authority?"

"Mine," a voice said from behind Moss. The man walked in short rapid strides up to the sheriff.

"And just who the hell are you, little man?" Hollister emphasized
little
with his southern drawl.

"Special Agent Richard Small, Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Of all the people to come to Moss's defense, it had to be this little prick. Moss had to admit, though, Small's timing was impeccable.

"Now Sheriff," Moss said. "How about you remove your hand from your weapon and then take the time to give us a full briefing."

Hollister rubbed his chin. He looked at Moss and then back to Small. "Reckon I don't have much choice in the matter, now do I?" He looked directly at Small. "I'll tell
you
what I know so far."

Before the sheriff could speak, a flatbed truck filled with portable construction lights pulled up. "Where do you want these, Sheriff?" A deputy called out above the noise.

"Set a couple of ‘em up in the front yard and put the rest round back."

The man replied. "Yes suh, Sheriff."

"What's with the lights?" Moss asked.

"Power to the house was disabled somehow," Hollister replied. "Don't know if it was a short circuit or what, but until we get an electrician out here, we won't have power."

"What happened, Sheriff?" Small asked. He opened his notepad and pulled his gold pen from his pocket.

"The neighbors heard the alarm and called 9-1-1," the sheriff explained. "Almost everyone we talked to said the alarm lasted about fifteen minutes and then stopped. The alarm company called when they weren't able to reach the owners, by then we had already sent a unit to investigate."

Hollister continued, "Looks like the owners weren't home. We're trying to locate them now. No cars in the garage. Forced entry through the back door. My deputies found a room upstairs with a concealed entrance. Inside were a cell phone, driver's license, credit cards, and several RFIDs sitting on a table."

"Sheriff," a deputy interrupted. "You really need to see what we found."

"What now?" Said the Sheriff.

Hollister, Moss, Moore, Hepler, and Small followed the deputy around to the back yard. He walked down a sloping terrace toward the river and pointed to the open doors of a bunker built into the ground beneath the house. "In there," he said.

Moss walked in with the rest of the group. Several flashlights illuminated the small space. It looked like any storage shed filled with lawn equipment and unwanted items stored and forgotten. Except the storage shed was actually a bunker built in the ground and there was one item that stood out. A black Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

"Looks like the motorcycle we been looking for." Hollister seemed happy his men made the discovery.

The deputy knelt down next to the Harley and put his hand on the engine. "Still warm." Then he ran his finger over a dent on the fender. "Looks like someone took a shot at him too."

Moss knew this was his first break. The pieces were about to fall together. He looked down and noted the Virginia tag on the back of the Harley. Just like the eyewitness report. "JP, run the plates."

Hepler walked outside the bunker with phone in hand. Less than two minutes later, he returned. "Good news and bad news, Pete."

"Pete Moss?" The sheriff guffawed. "Is that seriously your name?"

Moss ignored the man, "Always the good news first."

"Plate is registered to a Gregg Kaplan of Tysons Corner, Virginia."

"Good. What do you have on Mr. Gregg Kaplan?"

"That's the bad news," Hepler said. "We're locked out. I called it in to HQ and there is a codeword access, top-tier SCI clearance on Mr. Kaplan. Above Marshals and the FBI."

18

K
aplan positioned
the Jeep with its headlights shining on the mangled hulk of the car. It was definitely a Crown Vic and had all the visual traits of a G-car, although it wasn't. The plates weren't government plates; they were Tennessee plates. Perhaps the car came from Memphis or Nashville. Maybe Knoxville.

Nevertheless, it meant the shooters were in Little Rock before he arrived, and likely before Tony. There could have even been a tail on Cox and Tony as soon as they left the Memphis airport. Another indication of a leak in the U. S. Marshals Service. The gunmen were already there waiting. Waiting for a chance to take Tony down. Kaplan was positive he was looking at the same car that chased after them from the restaurant in Little Rock.

Kaplan could see no movement in the car. He checked the chamber of his Beretta and ensured there was a round in it before he got out of the Jeep. "Stay down," he ordered through the shot out car window. "Don't be stupid and give them a chance to finish what they started."

"Okay," Tony said.

"And if you try to run this time, I'll shoot you myself." Kaplan's furrowed brow deepened.

Tony nervously bobbed his head up and down.

Kaplan knew he didn't have long. On this lonely stretch of highway, it could be thirty minutes before another car came along or it could be five. There was no way of knowing and he wanted to be long gone before another vehicle showed up and called 9-1-1. Because at this hour of the morning, Jeff's Jeep at the scene would make an impression in someone's mind.

An eyewitness.

With a description.

He ran in serpentine fashion toward the overturned car, the barrel of his gun leading the way. The radiator was cracked, steam hissed from behind the grill. The roof was partially crushed, more on the passenger's side than the driver's, leaving very little headroom for occupants. The driver was suspended upside down, arms dangling beside his head, held in place only by his fastened seatbelt. The airbag had deployed and fully deflated by the time Kaplan arrived. The door was caved inward, trapping the man's left leg between the door and the seat. Both feet were turned sideways and both legs were broken below the knee. His left shoulder was separated and his left arm snapped halfway between the shoulder and elbow. He had cuts and gashes. Both his face and the deflated airbag were smeared with blood. His eyes were open and he gasped for air. Kaplan stuck his head inside the collapsed window frame; the man's neck was broken. He would die before help arrived.

Kaplan looked across the cabin; the passenger side was empty. He checked the back seat, nothing. But he had anticipated that. When the car flipped, he had seen the faint image of the man thrown from his perch on the door. He stepped away from the car and looked around on the median. In the grass near the opposite lanes of traffic was the shadow of a body. The shooter ejected from the car after impact was laying in the median.

Kaplan stood over the man's body. He pointed his gun at the man and then lowered it. The shooter was obviously dead. His arms and legs twisted around his body like a contortionist. Being ejected from a car and hitting the ground at eighty miles per hour had a tendency to do that.

Kaplan checked his internal clock; he had been here two and half minutes. It wasn't safe to remain any longer. He reached down and checked the man's pockets. No ID. He returned to the dying man still hanging upside down in the car. No more gasping sounds. He checked the man's pulse, already dead. Kaplan checked his pockets. No ID either. He spent a few seconds searching the area for the men's weapons but found nothing. There was no telling how far or which direction the guns landed.

Time to go
.

He ran back to the car, put it in gear, and pulled away from the crash. Five minutes later he passed a car going the opposite direction and knew responders would soon be dispatched to the accident. It was a head start, but not a comfortable one. And his lead was getting shorter.

He drove in silence for several minutes. Finally he turned to Tony and asked, "Who the hell is trying to kill you?"

"The list is long," Tony confessed.

"Who are they?"

"There are a lot of them, Mr. Kaplan. Can we just leave it at that."

"No, we can't. Those guys from the car," Kaplan said. "They aren't like the men from the restaurant. Those men were Italian, like you. The men in that car were Caucasian. American. And they looked a lot like feds…or former military."

"Sicilian."

"What?"

"I am Sicilian. The men in the restaurant were Italian. My family comes from a small island off the northern coast of Sicily called Lipari. Therefore I am Sicilian, not Italian. There's a big difference."

"Not to me there isn't. And not to most people, either. It's one and the same."

"Well, most people are wrong."

"Is this a mafia thing?"

Tony laughed. "You have watched too many
Godfather
movies. It is not like that at all. Maybe it once was, but not any more. It's a lot more sophisticated now. Not as many turf wars. Mostly it is an enterprise. Big business."

"So you
were
in organized crime?"

Tony paused and then said, "I am a broker."

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