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Authors: Steve Martini

The Rule of Nine

BOOK: The Rule of Nine
The Rule of Nine
Steve Martini

I dedicate this book to my loyal assistant, Marianne Dargitz,
without whose help my work would not be possible



Jimmie Snyder was twenty-three, tall and lanky. He had been…


It's tricky to know how good a job the government…


It takes several minutes for the stenographer and Olson to…


Josh Root was a man who could always make time…


Life has turned upside down in the eight months since…


Bart Snyder sat staring at the half-packed cardboard transfer box…


He had used so many names over the years that…


The United States Senate was without question the most exclusive…


My daily calendar sheet says her name is Joselyn Cole.


Dad, what is your problem? I'm just going out with…


The house had a dangling For Sale sign planted in…


It was nine o'clock. Thorn was packing his bags, getting…


It's not quite noon. I'm in a booth at the…


Zeb Thorpe stormed into the small conference room at FBI…




He's older, and he looks heavier in the photograph, but…


Josh Root sat at the committee rostrum, gavel at hand,…


It's like a nightmare. I want to wake up, but…


Snyder slept fitfully on the red-eye flight from L.A. back…


I have been chasing Zeb Thorpe at FBI headquarters in…


The old tarmac seemed to have more cracks than solid…


So then I take it we're all agreed?” The four…


Carrying the heavy pistol strapped to the hip pouch on…


The phone rang in his study and Bart Snyder picked…


I'm getting a little hungry. Would you mind if we…


I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's friend. I don't…


Nine o'clock at night and Liquida was angry. He had…


Mid-September, the clock was running, and for once everything seemed…


Liquida was smiling from ear to ear as he looked…


By the time he arrived home in Chicago, it was…


They were now in the home stretch, and like a…


It was one thing to wait until we had confirmation…


The second he got off the phone with Madriani, Thorpe…


The flight time from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico,…


Joselyn, Herman, and I checked into the Hotel Melia in…


After a short but silent ride, Herman dropped me back…


What they say about hell and good intentions is true.


The taxi driver finds the dirt road and a few…


There's a map in the glove compartment,” says Herman.


By the time the cops show up and we get…


The Belgica is one of those cozy boutique hotels you…


Liquida found himself bundled onto the last evening flight out…


It was five A.M. and Flannery and Son's cement contractors…


It is sometime Monday morning when I hear the familiar…


Zeb Thorpe had been in the command center at FBI…


Two hours after the fiery wreckage splashed into the Atlantic,…


My contact is Senator Joshua Root,” says Joselyn. “I am…


He sat in the small, dark room watching a tiny…


Ahmed was back in the rear of the 727, huddled…


The opening day of the Supreme Court's new session, the…


The minute Joselyn and I are able to slip away…


immie Snyder was twenty-three, tall and lanky. He had been in his current job less than two months and he was scared. He knew he had screwed up. He lay awake at nights worrying about it, as if under Chinese water torture, waiting for the next drip to hit him on the forehead. It was all about expectations, mostly his father's.

Snyder's dad was the managing partner in a large law firm in Chicago. Jimmie had graduated pre-law from Stanford a year earlier and his father wanted him to go to law school. But Jimmie wanted to go into film production. His father would have none of it. As far as the old man was concerned, Jimmie needed credentials to round out his law school application and beef up his less-than-stellar undergraduate grades and middling LSAT score.

Toward that end, his father pulled every string within reach to land the boy a job in Washington. The best he could do on short notice was a temporary position as a part-time guide. The job was a holding pattern until his dad could yank more levers and land something better.

It took him three months and a hefty contribution to a senator in
Alabama but he found a spot for Jimmie as a staff gofer with one of the many Senate subcommittees. This particular panel was charged with overseeing sensitive matters of intelligence. As it turned out, the nature of the assignment now made the situation even worse for his son.

It might take a while for the details to trickle back, to filter from one branch to the other, but Jimmie knew he would be called on the carpet sooner or later and asked to explain how he could have done something so stupid. How could he have allowed some middle-aged lawyer from California, wearing a polo shirt and shorts, to talk his way backstage, past all the locked doors and the phalanx of security into the private sanctum off-limits to all but the gods of government? What in an earlier decade might have been a minor transgression, in the age of terror had become grounds for job termination and possible criminal prosecution.

Jimmie had spent a week of sleepless nights trying to conjure up some plausible explanation for why he had done it. Call it bad judgment. Maybe it was because he was angry and bored. He hated the job and the fact that his father had manipulated him into taking it. It was that, but also the fact that the man he met that day was so easy to talk to. Unlike Snyder's father, the guy was affable, approachable, and interested. He listened to everything Jimmie had to say. When Jimmie told him he really didn't want to pursue a career in law, the lawyer, a perfect stranger, gave him absolution. He told Jimmie that the first rule of success in life was to follow your dreams. And then to find out that the guy was a Stanford law alum on vacation, how could Jimmie say no? All the man wanted was to see a few of the rooms off-limits to the public. Jimmie had already finished his tour of duty for the day. What was the harm? It wasn't as if they had done anything wrong. Other than take a few pictures, chat, and look around, you would never have known the man was there. Jimmie still had the guy's business card in his wallet—
—with an address in Santa Rosa, California.

Now one of the other Senate staffers told Jimmie that inquiries were being made. Nothing formal as yet, but it was likely to cause waves because the incident could not be contained on the legislative side. Sooner or later Jimmie was likely to be visited by investigators.

Like a bad dream, all the little details tripped through his brain as he walked out the doors of the Hart Senate Office Building. Even now, a few minutes after six, with the sun sailing toward the horizon, the heat of midsummer was oppressive. Most of the members of Congress were gone, back to their districts for the recess, leaving staff to wither in the sultry heat of the national swamp. Beads of sweat ran down the back of his shirt collar as he thought about what could happen. He didn't dare tell his father.

Every little aspect of what had seemed an innocent adventure, a courtesy to a friendly tourist, now appeared much more ominous.

The man's camera was something that hadn't even occurred to Jimmie until later, when he realized he was in trouble. Cameras were prohibited except in the public areas. He wondered how the little point-and-shoot job had gotten through the metal detector without setting off the alarm.

Maybe the man had posted some of his pictures on the Internet. That would explain how they'd found out. He scoured his brain trying to remember whether he might have absently slipped into one or more of the shots. There was no way to be sure, but he didn't think so. All the man wanted was a few snapshots of some of the interiors. He seemed most interested in the walnut-paneled library, which was elegant, and the gymnasium upstairs. The gym was nothing special, just one of those conversational curiosities inside the Beltway.

Jimmie strode onto the sidewalk and headed for the Metro rail and home. It was a short ride. He lived alone in a small sublet apartment in Alexandria. Rent was high in the area but he was lucky. He had gotten a deal on the place for the summer. When the members of Congress returned, so would the tenant, a lobbyist for
the drug industry, and, Jimmie would have to find another place to live. If there was a silver lining to any of this, it was the fact that if they fired him, he would not have to find new digs come fall. He would be gone.

A few blocks on, Jimmie ventured onto the long, steep escalator and down into the immense cavern of the Metro rail. He slipped his card into the slot at the turnstile, slid through, and ran for the train. He caught it just before the doors closed.

The thought of escaping Washington, even at the cost of failure, left Jimmie to wonder if it would be enough for his father to finally give up on him. This and the deep sense of disappointment he would have to endure occupied Jimmie as he sat listening to the wheels skim over the steel rails.

Twelve minutes later he emerged from the King Street station in Alexandria. The setting sun had finally dipped behind the buildings by the time he reached the entrance to the three-story brick apartment house. There were only fourteen units. They ranged from studios to three-bedrooms, all of them equipped with updated fixtures and hardwood floors. There was no elevator or front desk, and no twenty-four-hour security. The lobbyist who held the lease to Jimmie's unit was looking for a summer tenant to watch the place. As long as Jimmie didn't throw parties and didn't smoke, the single-bedroom apartment was his for two hundred dollars a month until fall. It was a steal.

He climbed the five steps fishing in his pocket for his key to the front entrance. By the time he got there, he realized that the heavy oak door wasn't locked. Something was wrong with the door's overhead closing arm that caused it to stay open just a crack. He had noticed it a couple of days earlier.

He pushed the door and it opened. Once inside he waited for the door to close, then gave it a shove until he heard the lock snap into place. He made a mental note to tell the building manager.

He used his apartment key to check his mail in the locked boxes in the lobby. There was nothing but a few pieces of junk mail and
one business envelope from his father's law firm. Probably more suggestions for his law school résumé. He headed for the stairs.

Using his apartment key as a letter opener, he tore a jagged opening in the envelope. He was looking down at the single folded page inside when his peripheral vision caught some dark image in front of him on the stairs. Jimmie glanced up.

There, sprawled across the steps from the banister to the wall, was the hunched-up body of an indigent. Some beggar had wandered into the building. Unshaven, he was wearing a soiled dark trench coat and scuffed-up black shoes with no socks. The guy looked like a dropped sack of potatoes. For a moment Jimmie wondered if he was dead. But as he studied the motionless figure in front of him, he detected the subtle rise of respiration under the wrinkled, dirty coat.

“Excuse me.”

The guy didn't move.

“Mister.” Jimmie nudged him with his foot.

The body didn't budge.

“If you don't get out of here, I'm going to have to call the cops.”

Still there was no movement. A faint odor of alcohol lingered over the slumped form. He had wandered into the building, probably looking for a cool place to sleep, and had passed out on the stairs.

Jimmie nudged him again but the guy still didn't move. He couldn't get around him, so he lifted one long leg, took a giant stride, and tried to navigate three steps while going over the top of the guy. As he straddled the man, suddenly a gloved hand reached out from the trench coat and grabbed Jimmie's ankle.

The kid smiled. “Excuse me!” The man's grip was amazingly powerful for a semiconscious drunk.

“What are you doing?” Jimmie reached down to grab the hand that was on his ankle. As he did this, he felt a sharp sting on the back of his hand, as if a snake had bitten him.

He tried to jerk his hand back, but just as quickly it was held fast by the gloved hand that had left his ankle.

“What the hell!” A burning sensation spread like fire through the vein on the back of his left hand, between the first two fingers. “What are you doing?”

The ripped envelope fluttered down the stairs like a fallen leaf. It was followed by the jangle of keys onto the stairs. Before the envelope settled at the foot of the steps, Jimmie's vision began to blur. An amazing feeling of euphoria swept through his body, carried by the heat that flushed his veins. He stood there weaving in a broad circle as if floating on a cloud. Sprawl-legged over the man lying on the stairs, a sensation of uncaring bliss flooded his body.

As if in a dream, Jimmie watched as the bum left the syringe still buried deep in Jimmie's left hand. The leather glove reached up and grabbed him by the shoulder. In a rapture, Jimmie settled on the stairs, his delirious gaze focused at the fuzzy edge of the carpeted runner where his cheek landed. His vision clouded. He blinked twice. There was a fleeting sensation of drool as it ran from the corner of his paralyzed mouth, and then nothing as the filament of existence dissolved.

The bum shifted his body and pulled himself out from beneath his fallen victim. He was slight of build, the kind of spindly character who could cross a crowded street and never garner more than a fleeting glance from those who passed him. He had a pockmarked face from an adolescence of acne. But even this did not distinguish him, unless you happened to engage his eyes. If the iris was the window into the soul, Muerte Liquida's glassy stare offered a view of hell. To a growing list of victims it was the last thing they ever saw.

He glanced quickly at the plunger on the syringe to make sure it was all the way in. He didn't remove it but instead grabbed a roll of surgical tape from the pocket of his trench coat. He wrapped three rounds of the tape around the syringe and the dead man's hand to hold the hypodermic in place.

Then, as if in a single motion, he grabbed the keys and slipped down the stairs to retrieve the envelope. Like a jack-in-the-box, he
came back up and lifted the body from under the arms and around the chest. For someone so slim he was deceptively strong. Liquida carried the body up the few steps to the second floor. Down the corridor a short distance he found apartment 204.

He leaned the body against the wall and held it there with his shoulder as he opened the door with the key. Within seconds he and the lifeless body were inside with the door closed. He tossed the keys and the envelope on the chair next to the door.

Now he moved with lightning speed. Liquida lifted the kid in his arms so as not to leave drag marks, and carried him into the bedroom. He laid him on the bed and then removed the dead man's coat, tie, and shoes; opened his shirt collar; and rolled up his sleeves.

Liquida then reached into the oversize pockets inside his trench coat and started pulling out the paraphernalia. This included a short length of elastic surgical tubing; a box of fresh syringes; a tablespoon properly burned and scoured with the residue of heroin; and a small jar with a charred wick, an alcohol burner. To this he added several cotton balls, all of which had been soaked in a solution of heroin and left to dry.

After impressing a thumb and fingerprint from the victim's right hand onto the working end of the spoon and the burner, Liquida lit the burner and allowed some of the residue from the hot spoon to permeate up to the lampshade on the nightstand next to the bed. He put the hot spoon on the wooden surface on the nightstand, where it left a burn mark. He arranged everything on the nightstand next to the bed, except for the tubing. That he stretched out under the kid's left forearm a few inches above the taped syringe that was still embedded in the large vein at the back of the victim's hand. He removed the surgical tape and carefully impressed a single right thumbprint from the victim on the plunger of the hypodermic. Then he ran a few carefully smudged prints with his dead fingers down the barrel of the syringe.

Finally Liquida retrieved six small packets of silvery alumi
num foil from the pocket of his trench coat. Four of these contained two small chips, each of black-tar heroin heavily cut and stepped on, any one of which would be unlikely to cause an overdose. The fifth sealed packet contained two deadly doses of pure heroin. He placed these in the top drawer of the nightstand. Then he unfolded the foil on the sixth packet and left it on the nightstand next to the spoon. It contained one small chip of black tar, almost five hundred milligrams of pure heroin. The second chip from the packet Liquida had processed by using the spoon and burner before loading it into the syringe.

When the crime unit processed the scene, they would find an inexperienced recreational user who had gotten a mixed bag of product and overshot his tolerance by not realizing the potency of his purchase.

The job was nearly done. There was only one more item. Liquida grabbed the kid's suit coat from the floor, reached inside, and found Jimmie Snyder's wallet. He opened it and started looking. Sure enough, behind one of the credit cards he found it, just like the man had said. He plucked the business card from the wallet and put it in his pocket.

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