Authors: David Rich
Shaw went on. “They dropped everything and started searching for your father.”
I knew I was expected to say something. “Well, traditionally, Dan has been a lousy place to look for money. Still, I wish them luck. Sincerely.”
“He was in Arizona,” Gladden said.
“It’s very beautiful there, sir.”
He pounded on his desk and stood up. “You’re going to find your father and you’re going to find the money, whether you’re in on it or not. And if you don’t, if there’s any trouble from you…” He waited and breathed through his nose a few times, and for a second I thought he was going to start counting with his hoof. “You wrecked a jeep, then went AWOL with a bullshit story about someone trying to kill you. I don’t know how long I can lock you up for that, but if you don’t cooperate fully, I can guarantee that no matter what happens to the other charges, you’ll never see a combat zone again in your life.” I realized suddenly that Gladden knew me pretty well. Some people might have considered that a pretty mild threat, but not me. And now I knew Colonel Gladden, too. He was a guy who knew where to insert the needle.
haw drove. The SUV was rented because, he said, he thought the bad guys could trace a government vehicle. They had resources. I sat beside him. Pongo and Perdy filled the backseat, two huge chiseled slabs, silent and serious, bumping their heads against the ceiling. Shaw had argued, but Gladden had insisted the two MPs accompany us, or else I was going back to the brig. I’m six foot two, but I felt like a terrier next to them. Their real names were Patterson and Pruitt. We left through the western gate; the ocean sparkling ahead was all we could see.
I said, “Why haven’t developers stolen the base by now? Why isn’t it all condos and golf courses and ugly mansions with pillars? It wouldn’t cost much to bribe the Congress and a few bureaucrats. Certainly less than the cost of a couple of seaside lots. Every time I come out this way, I wonder how long it will be.”
Shaw said, “Are you asking me?”
“You could bribe the congressmen and bureaucrats for a rea-
sonable amount. The problem would be the developers who saw they were being left out. You’d have to buy them off or include them. The pie is big but the pieces would be small,” Shaw said, speaking as if he had been thinking about it, too.
“You think that’s it? Those zombies look ahead and say, ‘I won’t eat the body because I’m only going to get a little piece’?”
“What do you think?”
“I think the Marines are too tough, too scary for them to take on. Makes me proud to be a Marine.”
“Maybe you’re right.” He chuckled. He couldn’t tell if I was serious.
“Maybe I’ll give it a try with the money I find. How much is it?”
“Twenty-five million. We think.”
We turned east on I-10, making for Phoenix, where, Shaw said, Dan had lived and worked for the past three years.
“You’ve got the wrong Dan Waters,” I said. “The Dan I know never worked at anything for three years, and he certainly wouldn’t do it if he had stolen money to spend.”
“Maybe you don’t know him as well as you think,” Shaw said.
“I hardly know him at all.” I know Dan taught me to like this situation: they wanted me for what I knew; they thought they knew more than I did.
Shaw laid out the background, explaining that Dan Waters had been a civilian contractor working with the Third Infantry in Iraq at the same time the money was shipped home. It looked like he either was in on the plot from the start and betrayed the gang, or found out which grave would hold the money, dug it up, and replanted the casket. I saw no reason to favor either scenario. Each was equally plausible and my stomach tensed and my breathing
got short as I contemplated how perfectly this fit into what I knew of Dan. Shaw went through Dan’s criminal record, filled with charges I wasn’t aware of as well as the many I knew too well.
Shaw had details, but I didn’t need the official version. I could see the places to skim, the ways to cheat. I could hear the schemes. Shaw brought up Dan’s most recent job, the one he left a few days ago, and my skepticism about that. I didn’t reply. I was answering other questions. What did they want with me? Who did they want me to be? A patriot? A child ashamed of his past? An ambitious officer? A greedy chip off the old block? I would give them glimpses, enough to make them praise their own wisdom in demanding my help. I was undercover again, and I liked that.
“Maybe I don’t really know him.” Lie, lie, lie. “What do you plan to do with him when you catch him?”
“We’ll get him to cooperate. Help us catch the others.”
The perfect answer because it gave me the opportunity to practice keeping a straight face. Inside I was laughing and trying to remember the last time I thought of Dan as someone who might help or cooperate. “The guys who are after him, who are they?”
“A retired colonel named Frank McColl. He runs a small company providing security to companies doing business overseas. Mainly in the Middle East.”
“I knew a guy in basic training named Shane Ayala. He had the prettiest girlfriend, stunning, and sweet, too, but he never went to bed with her. No sex. He would screw around with plenty of other girls, but no more than a deep kiss with Lucy. This went on for six months, longer than that. She asked me about it and I wasn’t the
only one. One night Shane was drinking and decided the time had come to claim his prize and he showed up unannounced at Lucy’s place and found another guy there. They were on the couch. Shane went nuts on the guy, but the guy was tough and he clubbed Shane with a baseball bat. I went to visit him in the hospital. He was a mess. But I asked him why he kept Lucy waiting so long.”
“What did he say?”
“He told me to go to hell. But I’m thinking if we can get hold of Frank McColl, we might ask him. He left that money in the ground a long time. Years. At least he intended to.”
Shaw changed the subject, asked me to make a list of towns Dan had lived in, addresses if I could remember them, friends, bosses, girlfriends. I told him a few short half-true stories about moving from place to place with Dan, between stints in foster homes or temporary parking with friends or business associates. I mentioned Lita, along with her address, because I knew she wasn’t there anymore and I knew she didn’t leave any forwarding information. I did not mention the smell of beer and cigarettes when she came home late and found me in her bed and how she let me stay there for the night. Or how, in the morning, I would wake up snuggled close to her and I would lie there, still as could be so I wouldn’t wake her. Sometimes she would sleep until noon and I pretended I slept, too, and that’s why I missed the school bus. That lasted four months. Then she brought home a man who kicked me out of the bed and I kicked him back. Lita called Dan, who showed up two miserable weeks later. There was a big fight. Dan took me with him to Nevada and pretty soon after that I was in another foster home.
Shaw decided we would start with Dan’s most recent employer, even though he assumed McColl and his bunch would have beaten
us there. “Maybe something we find there will connect to your list or spark some memory.”
“Yeah, maybe. Good idea.” I closed my eyes and I pretended to sleep. Pongo and Perdy stayed silent as statues in the back. Maybe they pretended to sleep, too. I did not check. I wondered for a little while about ways to escape, but I, too, wanted to see what Dan left behind. The best choice was to go along until I was certain where to find Dan. I relaxed and the mirage slowly formed behind my eyes. A porch swing, shutters, those twisting mesquite trees. Movement in the house? I could not be certain. Maybe a fluttering curtain.
he office was on the first floor in a brick two-story building near Glendale. The sign on the door said “Western Construction.” Dan’s boss, Alvarez, was caught off guard by our visit. He was a short, trim man, with his belt pulled tight. He looked like the type who watched his diet because of the cost of food. Someone had already been there, he said. He thought they were FBI. Shaw showed his ID. “They had something just like that,” the boss said.
“Did they take his computer?”
“No, but they spent enough time in there.”
Shaw went into Dan’s office. Pongo and Perdy started to follow but stopped when they saw me lingering. I settled my gaze on Alvarez. He met my eyes with a kind of defiance, as if challenging me to accuse him of something. I said, “What did Dan do here?”
“Well, lately it’s been collections, which is about all we’re doing. At first he sold jobs. We do paving. Did a lot of new developments. That was then.”
“Good at it?”
“He could sell.”
“I’m his son. Dan’s son. Rollie.”
Instead of Alvarez being surprised, he surprised me. “Oh, yeah, he mentioned you a few times. But he didn’t say anything about you being with the government. He said you were a financial guy in New York.”
I was consoled that there was at least one lie involved. I went into Dan’s office, followed by the MPs. The computer had nothing personal on it. The drawers were barren, too. There was no appointment book. No checkbooks. Nothing with easily obtainable account numbers or passwords.
There were no photos on the desk or the walls. Shaw looked at me, expecting me to draw a conclusion from this. Dan would have knickknacks around his office, but only things that meant nothing to him. He’d have stuff scattered around to show he was like everyone else. Dan valued the appearance of normalcy very highly.
“Well, we won’t find twenty-five million here,” I said.
“I can send you back with the MPs on the next flight, Lieutenant. McColl has a big head start and who knows what he took out of here. Where would you go next?”
I turned and walked out of the office. Pongo and Perdy flanked me. Alvarez’s door was closed. I knocked and walked in. Alvarez had a phone in his hand and pretended to be interrupted. “All done?”
“They take a lot out of here?” I tried to sound friendly.
“Few things. A book, a photo, but I thought that was something he just bought somewhere.” Alvarez was a lousy liar.
“Nah, some mountains, desert, something like that.”
Shaw and the MPs stood behind me now, in the doorway. Alvarez squirmed a bit as if he felt the walls closing in on him. I asked, “How much did he owe you?”
Alvarez shook his head and tried to look disappointed. “Eight thousand bucks, plus.”
“Eight thousand? Eight thousand U.S. dollars? You consider yourself a stupid man, Mr. Alvarez? You let all your employees get into you for so much?”
“Looks like I made a mistake.”
“And now you want the Treasury Department to believe that you stole the knickknacks and photo frames from his office to recover the money? Plan on getting about fifty bucks altogether on eBay? He owed you about, what, five hundred? Tell the truth, I might pay you off.”
Alvarez was living in a world of take what you can get. I could see him making the calculation. “I fronted him about one thousand. But I don’t know yet how much he stole,” Alvarez answered.
I wasn’t insulted. “He stole, but not from you. You don’t have enough to make it worth his while.”
Shaw and I went through Dan’s stuff that Alvarez had stashed away. All junk. A piece of the Petrified Forest. A small cactus, which I suggested Pongo and Perdy should pull from its soil to search for clues. A life preserver with white letters: SS
. If that was Dan’s way of leaving me a clue, I didn’t need it. I seized on the photo of a pretty woman sitting in a comfy chair, her hair down and a bottle of beer in her hand. Shaw watched as I studied it. “Know her?”
“It’s at least ten years since I saw her. If this is her. Janie. I don’t think I ever knew her last name.”
“I don’t think I can help put Dan in jail.”
“If he cooperates, I’m sure he can stay out of prison.”
I paused as long as I dared. Long enough for Shaw to think he saw me struggling over whether to betray Dan. Shaw was the kind of guy who wanted to believe no man could flat-out hate his own father. And he was the kind of guy who had to believe he was herding me every second. Dan always preached “Give them what they want—or what they think they want.” He was a performer at heart, though he didn’t leave ’em laughing. No, deep down Dan was a tragedian, dashing hopes everywhere he went and falling, always falling, due to his own well-honed flaws. I hated Dan, but I would never willingly put him in the control of the police. I hated him, but I wouldn’t be part of ending his descent because I wasn’t done with my hatred; it was just on hold. I needed Dan to be free and horrible as ever so this hatred could run wherever it needed to go. When they pulled me out of that cell, they startled that hatred back to life and I realized how much I had missed it. I said, “She lived outside Flagstaff. Janie…Janie Boots he used to call her.”
“Wellington.” In fact, Janie Wellington was a foster mother who couldn’t have looked more different from the woman in the photo. She was a horrible hag even then, fifteen or so years ago. But the search for her would take me in the right direction and give me the chance to escape. I didn’t mind the thought of Shaw and the boys tearing her place apart.
We drove north toward Flagstaff. Pongo drove, or Perdy: I could never decide which was which. I sat in the back with the other one. In the distance, the colors shifted gradually toward red. At
first the dull speckle and the striations seemed like spillage, a mistake, and though I’d made this drive a thousand times, the red kept drawing my eyes. Soon, though, the spillage became part of a pattern, the complex, indecipherable, essential pattern of the surroundings, and my eyes began searching for new anomalies.
Suddenly Pongo spoke up. “Sir…we don’t know what happened in Afghanistan, but we have friends who served with you. They said you’re a good Marine. They’re behind you.”
This was not a welcome compliment. They didn’t know what I had done in Afghanistan and they had no idea what I was about to do to them in Arizona. Becoming friendly with them wouldn’t make it any harder to do what I had to do, but it would make them angrier afterward and make them work that much harder to find me.