Authors: Carl Douglass
PO Box 221974 Anchorage, Alaska 99522-1974
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2015952491
Copyright 2015 Carl Douglass
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in any form, or by any mechanical or electronic means including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, in whole or in part in any form, and in any case not without the written permission of the author and publisher.
Manufactured in the United States of America.
To the people of the wild, Wild West and a nod to the effete Easterners.
ll of the six novellas in the McGee Series are works of fiction and should not be construed as representing real persons, places, or events. Some names of real persons and places appear but only for the purpose of creating a setting in the real world or as a mention of historical circumstances. None of the real people or the real places were actually involved in the fictional portrayals found in these short books. All of the events described were created from the author’s imagination.
Table of Contents
y name is Joseph Patrick Aloysius Michael John McGee. Really. That moniker was a gift from my sainted mother—rest her soul—who was more Irish than the Fenians and more Catholic than the pope. She was very young when I came along, and as she could not make up her mind what to call her firstborn, she used all the names from some Irish ditty. Sometimes she even called me all of them when she was mad at me, but mostly she called me Joseph Patrick. Having such a peculiar name guaranteed that I would grow up tough—something in the order of being named “Sue” like the Johnny Cash song. I learned to fight in the first grade and earned my crooked nose and the right to be known only as McGee to everyone but my mother thereafter.
I am a private investigator who came by the profession in an unlikely way. Most PIs were former cops who either became unfit for further NYPD service or retired with a nice letter, a nice plaque, and a meager pension, and chose being a PI over being a security guard. I, on the other hand, knew what I wanted to be from my midteens. I got a degree in criminology at CUNY, graduating with honors after three years, and a law degree from Columbia. My first job was as a CSI for NYPD. That lasted three years; I quit because the pay was too low and the promotions too slow. I then worked as a criminalist for the FBI, specializing in ballistics and then banking fraud for a total of five years. I quit because I could no longer stomach the bureaucracy. PI work is not all that lucrative for most people, probably because they are just not suited for high-end work. My firm—McGee & Associates—does its share of nasty divorce dirt-digging and embezzlement work, but our real money comes from surveillance in corporate espionage cases, forensic accountancy, and in-depth investigations for the defense in high-profile criminal cases—usually murders.
The office of McGee & Associates Investigations is in midtown Manhattan, is clean and presentable with chrome and glass fixtures, and has no hand-painted signs by the proprietor—another set of differences between me and the lower class of PIs whom the real cops refer to as “bottom feeders.” We don’t advertise on TV or on billboards. My clients are largely rich, have serious issues with opponents; or, in criminal cases, they have vices to hide and important secrets to keep. Our policy is to provide the truth, and the clients who pay the bills are informed up front that we will not lie for them in or out of court, and we will give them all of what we discover and let them be the judge of how to use the information. We don’t take bribes; anyone who does such a thing will be kicking rocks down the road half a minute after I learn that he or she does. Sometimes our clients balk at such pristine morality, but it has paid off over the two decades we have been in business.
I have two partners: Caitlin O’Brian, who has been with me for six months. Her former occupation was as one of New York’s finest, a homicide detective in the Central Investigation and Resource Division, Homicide Analysis Unit, before she ran afoul of her precinct captain. It seems there was a disagreement about who had the right to do what with which and to whom, and she decked him. To avoid unpleasantness of separation with its attendant negative publicity, Caitlin accepted a full pension and a nice letter of recommendation. She is a tough black Irish girl from the Bronx who had four brothers—a condition that lent itself to an early education in fighting. After finishing the academy and doing her rookie year, she obtained an associate degree in criminology specializing in bank fraud and handwriting analysis. That proved to be boring, so the feisty colleen moved to the homicide division of midtown Manhattan where I first met her.
My other partner is Ivory White, an unlikely name for the blackest man I ever met. He has something of a murky past about which I know everything, and no one else knows anything. He is—in the vernacular—the muscle of the organization. He is tall, athletic, bald, arrogant, and mean if needs be—and that is often the case in his line of work, perhaps best known by its euphemism—”special investigations.” He does all of our personal security for high profile clients. For all of his martial arts and other physical skill sets, Ivory is extremely intelligent. He is a remarkable linguist who speaks six of the most useful languages of the 800 used by the citizens of the most densely populated city in the country if not the world.
I sign on for the Decklin Marcus case after his father—the investment banker, Howard Everhart Marcus—solicits my help. Decklin—the scion of the wealthy and influential family—was found dead in his uptown Manhattan apartment. Marcus senior does not accept that his son simply died from no cause. His death was untimely and unexpected. There was no suicide note, evidence of forced entry into his apartment, or indication of how he died. Toxicology was negative, and there were no signs of foul play. The young man was lying in what appeared to be peaceful repose on his living room couch. The ME ruled the death to have been due to unknown causes. An NYPD medical consultant concluded that the cause was likely to have been due to a sudden cardiac arrhythmia, even though there was no history of heart problems of any kind.
I was given a heads up about the case by a friend of mine in the detective division, Mary Margaret MacLeese, whose name is as Irish as mine—and she is in all ways more Irish than me. She does not agree with the benign cause of death opinion any more than does Decklin’s father, but the department could not expend any more resources on an investigation that was going nowhere. Our association began when a New York detective named Martin Redworth was accused by IA of theft of drugs from an evidence box. My firm and I cleared Redworth—at the time a significant-other of Mary Margaret—and did it pro bono. From time to time, Mary Margaret and Martin repay me with useful tips, some help with information only obtainable from NYPD locked computer files, and by referring potential clients who might benefit from a more relaxed set of investigative rules and regulations than those imposed on the NYPD.
I put down the phone after getting everything I could from Howard Marcus, and signal Caitlin.
“Hey, Caitlin,” I say as I move quickly toward the door, “want to take a break from your never-ending boredom?”
“Sure, boss, where to?”
“We have a new client. I’ll fill you in as we go.”
Going to Decklin Marcus’s is by the corporation limousine—the only civilized way to get around in New York. Ed Rainer, our driver, was formerly one of our clients who had been accused of using excessive force with a pair of rowdies in the performance of his duty as a bouncer in a house of ill repute in the South Bronx, a streetcar suburb not quite close enough to Manhattan to be chic or safe. Two men were killed in that case: one died during the mini-riot that broke out when Ed succeeded in ejecting the drunken patron who was supported by his Irish hockey team pals, and the regulars in the place who respected and decided to assist Ed. Ed did not do the killing, but nobody with Irish blood believed that. Ivory killed the second man in the line of his duty as a security guard for Ed Rainer. Both men were cleared of any wrongdoing after Caitlin and her staff produced cellphone videos of both encounters. Ed was never actually charged with anything, but he credited our firm for having protected his freedom and saving his life. He is so loyal to the three of us partners that it is sometimes embarrassing. He is an excellent driver and an equally excellent addition to Ivory’s crew of personal security providers.
I take Caitlin with me to the crime scene, if it is correct to call it that. I want to get her involved for her analytic skills and good common sense. We choose to look around the beautifully restored old brownstone apartment building in uptown Manhattan just off East 65
Street in the 100–130 blocks before going to interview the young man’s parents. It is Caitlin’s idea. She thinks it would be best for us to get some up-close-and-personal background before having to meet the parents cold to talk. The plastic yellow crime scene tape is still up at the four-bedroom condo when we arrive, even though the police are pretty much done with their search of the apartment—and of the case for that matter.
There are two minor hitches in our plan. First, it is illegal to cross crime scene tape unless you are police, from the district attorney’s office, or from the medical examiners. Caitlin and I are none of those. We have not been to the Marcus’s house in exclusive Gramercy Park yet, so we do not have a key to the door of Decklin’s apartment. I am a strictly law-abiding citizen most of the time. The firm’s brochure says so. However, I cannot say as much for my newest partner, Caitlin O’Brian, formerly an NYPD detective who was sworn to uphold the law. Without hesitation or any evidence that she was entering into an ethical and moral grey area, let alone the legal issues—Caitlin produces a lock pick set and has us in the door in a minute. I make a mental note to chastise her when an appropriate moment manifests itself, if I can remember my responsibility.
“Nice work, Caitlin,” I say.
“Tweren’t nuthin, boss. I wasn’t one of New York’s best-trained detectives for nothing. Let’s get going on the detecting.”
I am good at “detecting” in rooms where the police and CSIs have already had their turn. Still, I do not find anything of note. My young partner—in a neat little demonstration of one-upmanship—finds a clue.
’m clear in here,” I say to Caitlin after two hours of work in the kitchen and bathroom.
I have been painstaking in the extreme and came up with nothing. There are plenty of fingerprints, all of which had already been checked out by NYPD. I know that because I call Det. Mary Margaret MacLeese and insist that she owes me a favor. She insists that she and I are even, but she will check the fingerprints evidence from the apartment for me anyway.
“Just the usual suspects,” she says, “three friends from work and half a dozen from school—all of which have good alibis. No terrorists, no serial killers, no bookies, no fallen women. Maybe the only thing of interest is that there were no prints for a girlfriend. We checked around, and there is no girlfriend. Incidentally, there is no evidence that he likes boys better.”
“Well, thanks, Maggie … I guess,” I say.
“Sorry. I guess it’s kind of ‘Thanks for nothing,’” she says. “Don’t feel bad, Maggie, that just adds to the mystery.’”
“The mystery that got you—the great Shylock Holmes—hired on to show up the simpletons at robbery-homicide.”
“That one, yeah. Anyway, thanks, my friend. I owe you one.” “I’ll remember,” she says.
I pack up my crime-scene kit and go look for Caitlin. She is in the second floor bedroom.
“I guess we’re beat here. Cops didn’t find anything and, for once, I can’t find anything they missed. We might as well get on back to the office,” I say.
“Not quite so fast, boss. I have something.”
Caitlin looks animated. I have a sneaking hunch that she has one-upped me.
“What?” I ask her as she hunches over her laptop, waiting for something to pop up on a screen that is rolling facial images faster than anyone’s eyes or brain can follow.
She gives me the wait-a-minute sign. A final message comes up: “NO MATCH.”
“That doesn’t look like ‘something’ very much,” I comment. That does not dampen her enthusiasm.
something. I found a thumbprint on the window latch. I ran it through IAFIS, NCJRS, the Violence and Abuse Abstracts, and Interpol. Same answer every time, “NO MATCH.” I even sent a little scraping to CODIS [Combined DNA Index System—FBI].”
It takes me a moment to recognize how much of a ‘something’ she has. There are very, very few individuals who have not been fingerprinted for something or other in their entire lives, and not just in the United States. Caitlin has covered most of the world in her electronic search.
“Who doesn’t have a fingerprint record?” I muse out loud. “Maybe a hayseed from Nebraska who never got into the military, never had any kind of a run-in with the cops, and never applied for a government, law enforcement, or school job—any school job at any educational level,” Caitlin says.
“Maybe a spy with the deepest of the deepest cover.”
“Even then, the CIA and the other unified intelligence organizations have been pretty willing to share the fingerprints of their employees when we ask nicely.”
“I see where you’re going,” I say. “Somebody has to be flying way under the radar to have avoided being identified. IAFIS alone has seventy-one million criminal fingerprints, thirty million civil fingerprints, and almost seventy-five million terrorist subjects. Add to that the separate files from the cooperating—and that is almost everyone, everywhere—state and local governments, the military, mental hospital, and prison databases. The NCJRS [National Criminal Justice Reference Service] abstracts database has its own files on a couple of hundred thousand prints from the criminal and juvenile justice systems, drug control agencies, and the Violence and Abuse Abstracts database fingerprint records. It hardly seems possible that we could have someone that obscure opening a window in Decklin Marcus’s bedroom.”
“And not just any bedroom, McGee. This one opens out on to the fire escape.”
“Hmm, hmmh,” I hum wisely, having nothing better to add. “Any rabbits in your hat, boss? We need one.”
I have a bit of a serendipity moment.
“I know a guy,” I say. “Well—kind of a guy. If my guy can’t find this stealth B&E perp, then he or she is not going to be found by any easy electronic route.”
“Who’s your guy?” Caitlin asks.
“I don’t want to seem either overly secretive or grandiose, but I really can’t tell you that. It is literally a top secret.”
Caitlin shrugs, “Okay, McGee. I hope your guy can find something for us. Otherwise we are up the proverbial creek for the time being.”
“In the worst sort of way. This means that we are going to have to do what I hate most—knock doors; go to bars, restaurants, clubs; talk to people; and get real tired.”
She sighs. “I guess we start in the neighborhood first.”
“We’ll have to get the whole team from McGee and Associates over here to Gramercy Park and start doing cop work,” I say. “While they’re assembling, I will give my guy a call.”
Calling the director of the CIA is more than a bold move; it borders on criminal. I once worked on a very serious problem with Sybil Norcroft—the current director—when she was a special agent—a very special one. As the one who was called Gideon, she was in charge of an ultra-top secret task force assigned to find a mole. McGee and Associates participated in the vetting of suspects and in the field mission that resulted in the removal of double-agents who were selling state secrets to al-Qaeda. The problem was that only a very few people could persuade the Langley operator to put them through to the DCIA—people like the president, the DNI, the NSA, and the like.
I try twice to go the usual route. I ask to speak to the director and am firmly shunted elsewhere. To my chagrin, I remember that the operators only put calls through to specifically named individuals. I suck it up and then ask to speak to Sybil Norcroft. That all but set off police sirens and the sound of jack boots. It takes me several minutes to mollify the security officer who comes on the line instead of Dr. Norcroft. Then I do my most brazen thing: I ask for Gideon, S7A3N0D75#Marburg per PDD-3071—the director’s most secret code from that counter-espionage mission.
“This is a secure line,” comes Director Norcroft’s soft but authoritative voice, “where did you get that code?”
Her voice is not so soft then.
“I’m sorry, Director. This is McGee,” I say. “I know I shouldn’t have used the code, but it is the only way to get through. I don’t know anybody else, and I hope you might remember our association in the NCIS case.”
My reference is to the NCIS officer and his superior, Vice Admiral Duncan Lloyd Jennings, DCNO [Deputy Chief of Naval Operations] who was also a heroin smuggler and long-term spy for al-Qaeda. I helped in his capture.
“You know that it is highly irregular for you to presume on our former association by using my very secret code. This must be an extremely important problem, McGee. Out with it.”
She is obviously not in the mood for a little reminiscing chat; so, I waste no time in telling Dr. Norcroft the details.
Sybil Norcroft, MD, PhD, FACS, is no stranger to the real work of a field agent well beyond the comforts of her large office. She listens with a seasoned ear to everything I know about the Decklin Marcus case.
“What can I do for you, McGee?” she asks.
“I think I have a fingerprint that belongs to a deep-cover agent of some foreign power at the crime scene, Sybil, if I might presume to call you by your first name.”
“I think we are beyond worrying about such trivialities as first names, McGee. I agree with you. Although evidence is lacking, it seems likely that this young man you have been investigating was murdered, and that he may well have been killed for some reason related to a foreign national’s involvement. It is thin, but I have seen national security cases hang on thinner threads. I believe there are two things I can do for you. First, we can get over to the NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] and look at their database for fingerprints, et cetera. Then, we can work together to see if the owner of the thumbprint is anybody on the No-Fly list or other listing of personas non grata in the US and unfriendly to the things and people we value. Second, the Company has forensic and toxicology resources that even the NYPD and FBI don’t have, especially when we are talking about real exotics.
“I’m talking about things like the Georgi Markov case. Do you remember that one?”
“Seems to ring a bell,” I say, “but, no, I can’t bring it to mind.” “Markov was a Bulgarian dissident in the communist era—late 70s—and was unforgivably loud about it. He got sick and complained to his doctors about having developed his illness after a man with an umbrella walked past him while he was crossing the Thames on Waterloo Bridge, and it seemed to Markov that he was hit in the leg with something. He was very precise about the day—September 7, 1978. I remember it because it was all over the news at the time of his death. At first, he ignored it as some sort of a sting or bite from a bug. Later, as he was dying, he told his doctors that he was sure that he had been poisoned. He had good reason to believe that because the
[Bulgarian secret police] had made two previous verified assassination attempts on him.
“After he died, British authorities ordered an autopsy. The medical examiners found a tiny puncture wound on the back of Markov’s right thigh; and, when they probed, they extracted a tiny—pinhead-sized—microengineered spherical metal ricin pellet.”
“Boy, that is ingenious!” I say, meaning every word of the flattery. “I am going to have to study more history. You know, Sybil, you may be onto something.”
“Ah, shucks,” she says, “it’s just my night-school education.” I had to laugh at the thought of the ultra-sophisticate Sybil Norcroft—consummate physician, renowned neurosurgeon, former surgeon general of the United States, international lecturer, and head of the most prestigious spy agency in the world—rubbing shoulders with the
at night school.
She gives me a self-deprecating smile before continuing.
“Is the boy … Decklin Marcus … is that right?”
“That’s right. Good memory.”
“Anyway, is his body still in the morgue?”
“He’s in the city morgue—the one in the 400 block of 1
Avenue between 26
Aves, but they won’t be holding him much longer.”
“I can’t appear to be involved, McGee. You’ll have to get your NYPD detective friends to ask the OCME [Office of the Medical Examiner] to put a hold on it for a few more days. It will take a while to get the studies done.”
“Does it matter that he’s been dead for three days already?” “I really don’t know, but I doubt it. We can give it a try, at least.”
“Thanks a million, Sybil. I definitely owe you a favor. Don’t hesitate.”
“I won’t, McGee. I keep a little black book for such things. I’ll call you tomorrow, and we’ll go over to the NCTC and take a look in their private fingerprint files. I’m owed a few favors over there, and I know a guy—as we say—who can get a handle on a weird and wonderful poison if anyone can.”