The Compassion Trap
By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ezra had left his cell phone next to the bed. It rang at around 6.30, and perhaps for the first time in his life he welcomed being wakened by the sound.
“I am not quite sure who else you might expect to answer my phone at this hour. Are our friends… somewhat restored?”
“I’d say well on the way to okay. You want to come back and bring some breakfast?”
Ezra found that he had somehow got up and headed for the shower, even while he was talking. “Certainly. Doughnuts? Bagels? Perhaps croissants?”
“Anything with sugar on I should think. No. Wait a minute. Ellison says that’ll do for him, but Sandburg likes healthy.”
“I will be with you shortly.”
The girl who served him seemed slightly surprised at the quantity of food he was purchasing. “You must have a lot of people in your office,” she said chattily. “Or are you celebrating a birthday?”
“Something like that,” Ezra murmured. He felt reasonably celebratory at least. The outlet he had found was a pleasant one, too. In addition to a variety of doughnuts and pastries, he had been able to purchase croissants worthy of a French patisserie, and some organic wholemeal bagels and muffins healthily speckled with fruits and seeds. Much closer to his destination he stopped to add fresh coffee to the provender.
A small girl, evidently an early riser, was watched him intently from some neighbouring steps as he approached the store, but otherwise the street was very quiet. In spite of Chris’s words, he still felt oddly apprehensive. Maude had been proved right of course, Vin was a survivor, but last night survival had looked like a painful process.
Physically, Vin didn’t look all that much better this morning, still too pale and with deep bruising shadows under the eyes, but nevertheless, Ezra’s heart lightened absurdly at the sight of him. However weary he looked, this was, at last, unmistakably Vin. Ezra handed him the strongest, well-sugared coffee and the box of doughnuts. “Breakfast is served,” he said.
“Smells beautiful,” Vin said, trying to drink his coffee and at the same time fend off Jim and Chris from the doughnuts. “Here. Wait y’ turn. These look good, Ez. What’s th’ dog chew for?”
Ezra couldn’t stop a completely unsophisticated grin breaking out. “That, I assure you, is an extremely healthy organic, wholemeal, sesame seed bagel,” he said solemnly, offering it to Sandburg, who actually seemed to welcome it.
He had not often eaten croissants while sitting on the floor surrounded by people who evidently hadn’t seen washing facilities recently, but he could hardly remember enjoying a breakfast more. The table—or perhaps floor—manners were about on a par with the hygiene, but it was impossible to object to people speaking with their mouths full of sugar as he wanted to hear what they had to say. His own news was less informative. No sighting of Josephs; no hint of cooperation from Miller beyond his most limited legal duty.
“I rang Simon after Chris had called you,” Ellison said. “He hadn’t got back into the PD then, but he said he’d call if anything had turned up later last night, so it doesn’t look as if it did. They do think Josephs is still in Cascade though.”
“He’ll won’t leave,” Vin said. “Got that sort of ego that can’t take anyone putting one over on him. Hell, he’d kept his hate for us fifteen years. More’n that, he wanted to send us back. That was th’ point of a lot of what he did to us—make us as close as he could to those kids he hadn’t beaten, so he could wipe out th’ fact he lost. And now he’s lost again, ‘less he finds us. He won’t leave Cascade.”
“Which means that the way Vin and I thought of is the best way to catch him,” Blair said.
Ezra didn’t know what Vin and Blair had had in mind, but that was a formidably definite negative from Jim and Chris simultaneously.
“It’s a non starter,” Jim went on firmly. “You can’t just wander the streets and try to lure him out. What sort of plan is that?”
“Hey, come on man, give us credit for a bit more subtlety than that. We just had some details to work out.”
“If we want him, on our terms, it’s the only way,” Vin said. “Even if the PD get lucky, Miller would know about any operation before it got properly started. Our way, the CIA needn’t know what was happening. We get the information out to Josephs somehow that we’ll be a certain place, at a certain time, he’ll bite.”
“There do seem to be quite a number of details remaining in need of working out,” Ezra said doubtfully, understanding that negative response from Jim and Chris now. “In the first place, feeding misinformation is not so simple, especially when…”
He broke off, startled, as a sharp, though juvenile, feminine voice spoke disapprovingly from behind him. “You’re making an awful mess. You better clear up good.”
It was the little girl from the steps. No one else seemed particularly surprised at her arrival, he noticed, or at her frown of disapprobation.
“What’d I tell you about stayin’ away from strangers,” Vin said reprovingly.
“You’re not allowed to tell me what to do,” she retorted. “Mr Peters is my friend. I come in his store. And you’re my friend aren’t you?” She sidled up to Chris and smiled at him sweetly. “You got my baby back from Davey.”
“Does your mom know you’re here, sweetheart?” Chris asked. “She might be worried.”
She evaded the question neatly. “You’re not a bum, are you, you’re just ‘tending. I knew yesterday you was really someone ‘portant, ‘cos I saw your phone. Are you a undercover cop?”
“Something like that,” Chris said, weakening in the face of this blatant flattery.
“On the TV the cops have doughnuts for breakfast.” She sat down firmly next to Chris and made a rude face at Vin. “I thought you might ‘rrest him,” she said to Chris. “Me ‘n Davey watched you out our bedroom window last night. It was boring. You just stood there. Davey went to bed, but I didn’t. I thought you might have a fight, but you gave him a cuddle in the end.”
It always interested Ezra to hear these things that no one else informed him of. He handed the little girl the croissant box in the hope she’d keep talking.
She took one. “Did you run away from home?” she asked Vin. “That’s a really silly thing to do.”
“He’s coming home now,” Chris said.
“Does he live with you? He’s lucky. You going to have a party when he’s home?”
“That’s a really good idea,” Chris said, apparently charmed. Ezra had never noticed this lamentable susceptibility to unscrupulous females before.
“I know,” she said, through a mouthful. “I heard a story. About a prog… prod… a boy who had to eat the pigs’ dinner. They had a party when he went home. His brother was really mad.”
“The prodigal son?” Blair said. “That’s an interesting story because…”
“Miss Duncan told it us,” she said, cutting off this attempt to enter the conversation. “They had a really big party even though he was a bad boy—like you,” she added to Vin.
“You know Miss Duncan?” Chris asked.
She favoured him with her sweet smile again. “Everybody knows Miss Duncan. She runs Sunday School. She runs lots of things. People do what she says,” she added wistfully. Ezra could see this was one of her ambitions in life. “I want…”
“Jodie! Jodie? Come home right now! Jodie! Where have you gone? Come back now!”
She looked up at this shrill and angry summons from somewhere out in the street, but didn’t hurry herself as the voice went on calling. Finishing her croissant, she put her hand on Chris’s arm, with a pleading look so nicely calculated Ezra felt a reluctant respect. “Will you come with me? Mom won’t be mean if you come and tell her I been helping you.”
Chris uncoiled to his feet, and let her slip her hand in his. Ezra shook his head sadly as they went. “How fortunate we are not often faced with the juvenile criminal element. I would never have suspected Chris of being so easily manipulated.”
“Seems a nice enough little girl,” Jim said, finishing off the last doughnut.
Blair met Ezra’s eyes and made a resigned face. “Very perceptive, Jim. And I suppose Miss Duncan is a sweet old lady?”
Vin was paying no attention to any of them. “Everybody knows Miss Duncan,” he repeated aloud. “That’s what we need. That’s how we could set up a way to draw Josephs out. We can use the local people, homeless too, she’ll know who can be trusted or who ought t’ be the channel for what Ez calls misinformation. We’d hardly need the PD if we did it right, just those on Ellison’s team. Anyone got her number? Or we c’n walk along to the office. I reckon Miss Duncan will help us out.
Miller and Haines were having no more success than the Cascade PD in tracing Josephs. They were even beginning to consider seriously a suggestion >from Henshaw, who had not yet been released from Cascade General.
“Mind you, I’m not sure how reliable Henshaw is at the moment,” Miller said. “His record is excellent of course, but I wonder if he’s becoming slightly obsessive about Larabee and Ellison. There seems to have been no foundation at all in his claims that they have some kind of infallible lie detector, and we have found a plausible chain of circumstances that explains their arrival at Redlands. They picked up Whiting with a straightforward undercover job.”
“It’s pretty certain it was Larabee and Ellison who found the warehouse,” Haines said slowly. “I’ve managed to talk to one or two people in the PD who Ellison’s rubbed up the wrong way, and although Banks implied to us it was routine which had thrown it up, they say it was Ellison and the ATF agents.”
Miller nodded. “I’ve had a look at their records. Their success rate is very high. All the same, it’s a very long shot to take our men off what they’re doing and set them to watching Larabee and Ellison instead.”
“If we don’t, and they get to Josephs first, we could find we’ve got real problems. They’re not known for being cooperative. I don’t know how they set up that bust at Redlands, and there’s been nothing we could get them on, but it seems clear they were behind our men spending the night in the lock up. They’d not be easy to pressurise, either—no family, too many friends who could make trouble for us in turn.”
“I know. I agree we must get Josephs—one way or another—before they do, it’s just a question of how we use our resources. How easy would it be to put a couple of men on them?”
“Not easy at all. They seem to have disappeared, although Banks is obviously in touch with them. No one in Major Crimes is talking to us, it’s been other departments who’ve been helpful. I did put a man to watch the loft this morning, but they haven’t been back there.”
“What about Standish?”
“That’s another slightly worrying thing. He left his hotel not long after six this morning, according to reception, and hasn’t been back. From his file, that’s well out of character. I’m beginning to wonder if they’re already on to something we don’t know about.”
Miller made a decision. “All right. Leave a man watching the loft, put another one on the hotel—someone good, I believe Standish is slippery. You work on the PD connection. From what I saw of Ellison there must be more than one or two people he’s upset. Our men on the streets can keep their eyes open for Larabee, Ellison and Standish, and step up their hunt for Tanner and Sandburg—from what we’ve got out of Whiting, Josephs was barely sane on the subject of those two. And for good measure, see what you can do about the Denver end. Larabee may be keeping his team informed.”
He paused as someone knocked urgently at the door, and looked blankly at the piece of paper he was handed. “What is this? Why do I need to know an Edgar Benedek has been to see Henshaw?”
“Mr Henshaw was very disturbed, sir. He wanted you to be informed that Mr Benedek was a reporter for the National Register some years ago. He said you would understand.”
“Benedek…” Haines said as the door closed. “Wasn’t he the ghost man—you know the sort of headlines in the Register—Poltergeist Peeping Tom; Genghis Khan’s Ghost Ate My Hamster. Supernatural tosh. Why would he worry Henshaw?”
“Why would he be interviewing Henshaw?” Miller pointed out. “And the reference to some years ago…”
He’d picked up his phone while he was speaking, to call Henshaw’s private room. “Nigel? What’s all this about Benedek?”
Haines watched him become first concerned, then grim as he listened.
“What is it?” he asked when Miller had finished the call.
“Edgar Benedek covered the Denver case for the Register fifteen years ago. He told Henshaw he’d been called in by that old fox Kerner because some truck driver called the Register: said he’d picked up a couple of kids the other day, barefoot, acting weird, who told him they’d run away from a man who had been Denver’s Dr Death. Says it was pure chance he found Henshaw—he’d gone to Cascade General to find out if the kids had ended up there, noticed his name on some post and followed his damned tabloid nose ’til he found him. He knew Henshaw unfortunately; Henshaw was one of the people who dealt with identifying Levine’s supposed body.”
Haines frowned. “It does sound plausible.”
“Of course it sounds plausible. It’ll all be a pack of lies, but it’s well worked out. Someone’s tipped him off, but if there’s one thing the National Register is good at when it covers a ‘real’ story, it’s protecting its sources.”
“But he doesn’t actually know anything. Not something he could print.”
“Not yet. But Henshaw says he’s cleverer than he looks, and persistent. He thought it was a set up fifteen years ago, and now Henshaw suspects he’s out to prove it. We need to find Josephs fast, and we need to make it very clear what will happen to the careers of anyone in the PD or ATF who talks to Benedek.”
“But what about Tanner and Sandburg. From what we’ve got out of Whiting, they could be so confused they’d talk to anyone.”
“Make it a priority to see that they don’t talk either,” Miller said flatly. “This country can’t survive if confidence in its security forces is undermined, and you can imagine the effect of the headlines Kerner would like on his front page. If Tanner and Sandburg can be brought in safely, fine, but our men are authorised to use what force they need if there’s any imminent danger of this story getting out. The same goes for Josephs. His usefulness is doubtful now anyway.”
“He can’t make a story out of nothing. Put a man on him, see he doesn’t talk to anyone who knows anything. It’s no good putting pressure on Kerner, the next thing we know even the respectable papers would be screaming that we don’t want a free press. We don’t of course; I have dreams of working in one of those countries where people like Kerner could be removed in the early hours by men with dogs, but we have to live with it. They say years ago someone put a hit out on Kerner you know.”
“Not a very successful one.”
“They bought the hitman’s life story. Lots of sob stuff about his parents’ cruelty and the sexy babysitter who set his feet on the downward path. I gather it funded the damages they had to pay in their next law suit.”
Haines sighed. “Democracy is very limiting sometimes. So—we’re officially okay whatever action we take over Josephs. What about the rest?”
“We’d have to come out of it clean.”
Blair was a consensus person. He liked to believe that you could get to a point where all sides believed their opinions had been heard and ‘yes’ could be achieved amicably. He had been trying for what felt like far too long to show his present recalcitrant group that this would not work if two people just said ‘no’ and kept on saying it with a flat refusal to compromise and the third didn’t appear to notice that they’d spoken.
Actually Jim and Chris had varied ‘no’ a little. They’d added ‘too risky,’ ‘no way,’ ‘you’re not doing it,’ and ‘that’s an order Tanner’.
Vin had ignored all of these and continued to elaborate how his plan would work. Ezra, who had been Blair’s best hope for getting to ‘yes’ had answered a call on his cell phone about five minutes into the argument and disappeared into the front room to talk at length in peace. Blair felt beleaguered. Bush warriors had a better idea of compromise than these three.
“Look, Vin,” Larabee said, with every indication of having lost what little patience he possessed. “I’ll have you in handcuffs and…”
He broke off as Ezra returned, raising his eyebrows pointedly at this last remark.
“Far be it from me to question what you do in your private life Mr Larabee, but I thought this discussion was about the way we would ensnare the malevolent Dr Josephs.”
“Right,” said Vin, apparently sensing support. “And my way is the only plan on the table.”
“Your way is a damn, stupid, reckless, unacceptable…”
“Whoa,” Blair said, waving a hand to stop Larabee descending into abuse—not that either Vin or Ezra seemed to take it as more than mild dissent. “Now come on guys. Jim, I’m sure there are elements of this plan you can work with.”
It was the last straw. Blair bounced to his feet. “Damn it, Jim, will you just listen to yourself! No. No. No. It’s like the playground. In fact it’s worse than the playground. Have you got no idea how to listen to anyone else’s opinion at all? I’ve met toddlers with more ability to cooperate!”
At least he got their attention. He realised it might be an idea to stop jumping and waving his arms around now they were listening, especially as everyone but Ezra looked surprised—and everyone including Ezra seemed to be amused.
“Cool it, Chief,” Jim said, as if he was the reasonable one. “We’re just discussing all sides of this.”
“No good going into it without thinking things through,” Chris agreed.
“They haven’t heard it all yet,” Vin added. “Chris is coming round to the idea.”
Luckily this outrageous version of the ‘discussion’ they had been failing to have left Blair speechless for long enough for Ezra to step in.
“I may have missed vital elements of this,” he said smoothly, “but do I gather your key objection is your fear of Vin and Blair—the bait for Josephs, so to speak—being snapped up in some way before the forces of law and order have an opportunity to react?”
“Might be a few details to work out.”
Blair flopped down on the couch and thought how attractive living among the Kalahari seemed.
“In that case. I have a suggestion to make,” Ezra said. “I think it would be plausible—even to Josephs—that if Vin and Blair should choose to give themselves up, it might well be to the two of you. In fact, it appears that Josephs devoted some portion of his ‘treatment’ to attempting to block any such scenario. The rest of Vin’s plan seems to me admirable…” He bowed politely to Vin who smirked and waved a hand graciously. “If we add this to it, there will be no moment when he and Blair need be unprotected. I am sure Miss Duncan can mobilise an adequate number of reliable people—or at least people whom she terrifies enough to ensure reliability in this instance. We will use them to disseminate the rumour that you, Chris, and Detective Ellison will be at a particular place at a particular time, because some young homeless people on the run have made contact with the desire to give themselves up. After yesterday morning’s incident, your presence in the area will have become a matter of local interest anyway. Miss Duncan mentioned to me over tea that you had an enthralled audience while you pounded those three ruffians into the pavement. I am sure the relief of discovering that you are about to arrest two strangers and leave the local ‘bad element’ in peace will ensure a rapid spread of the news along the grapevine.”
He paused, perhaps for breath or maybe to gauge their reaction.
“Great,” Blair said hopefully. “Suits me all right.”
“Works for me,” Vin agreed. “Other way would’ve worked, but since Chris has gone all big brother on us…”
“We’ll have to work out how we set up the fake meeting, but it shouldn’t be a problem,” Jim said. “So long as we do it so Vin and Blair aren’t on their own at all.”
Larabee thought about it. “Plan’s okay, but if these two are going to be involved in any kind of action tonight—we are talking about tonight?—then they’d better spend the rest of the day getting some rest.”
“We’re okay,” Blair said hastily.
“Fine,” Vin agreed.
Ezra leaned over and murmured something to Chris Larabee that made them both smile. Vin looked at them suspiciously, but Ezra just said, “In that case I suggest we proceed to the mission on foot, which will be less conspicuous. Miss Duncan will be expecting us, and I have another acquaintance who needs to know where to find me.”
“What about the car?” Blair asked as they left. “Are you going to leave it here? Its not exactly the sort of neighbourhood where you can rely on coming back and finding it untouched.”
Ezra thought about it, and smiled. “Jodie!” he called.
She appeared looking cross. “Didn’t tell you my name.”
Ezra ignored this. “I would like to make a business arrangement with you,” he said briskly. “I will contribute generously to your candy fund, if I come back and find this vehicle in pristine condition.”
She scowled. “You ought to talk proper. You don’t want the boys messing with your car?”
“Exactly. I will pay you according to its condition.”
She looked at him with suspicion. “My grandda says don’t trust fancy men.”
Ezra dealt with this with aplomb. “Ah but your friend here will assure you of my honesty,” he said, gesturing at Chris Larabee.
“You’ll beat him up if he don’t pay?” she said to Chris.
“I’ll fillet him and hang him out to dry as a warning.”
She smiled happily, and ran down the steps to hug him round the waist. “I love you,” she said fervently. “I wish you’d come and live in Mr Peters shop for ever. Where are you going now?”
“To see Miss Duncan.”
“Should’ve washed your hands and faces then.”
With that word of warning she ran back up the steps to sit where she could see the car. Blair looked at his hands doubtfully. The small sink had only been adequate to get the sugar off; the grime remained. He caught Jim grinning. “All right for you, man,” he said defensively. “She didn’t take to me.”
He rubbed them surreptitiously down his jeans all the way to the mission.
Dr Josephs was not happy with the man known only to him as Marcos, who was currently negotiating for part of his stock of methylamphetamine. “I told you before. The money is secondary. What I want is information. You know these streets. How hard can it be to find two confused young men.”
“You did not warn us the couple of Rambo’s would be looking for them as well,” Marcos said. “Yesterday three men were arrested, Happily they were not my men, but they could have been. Those were not ordinary police. They were dangerous. People say if they had not had witnesses there, maybe they’d have killed them, not arrested them. No one will go near the mission now to look for your men.”
Josephs had already heard this from him twice. “They should have been more careful,” he said. “Those two officers can’t be everywhere at once. Find the young men when they are on their own. They will not want to go near Larabee and Ellison any more than your men do. Bring them to me, or if you are afraid to do that, just bring me the information where I can find them myself.”
“When can I take the drugs? You will not get a better price.”
“When you bring me some news.”
He watched Marcos leave. It infuriated him he could not be out there himself, no doubt doing a much better job of looking for Tanner and Sandburg, but too many people were looking for him to make it worth the risk. At night, or when he had a definite lead, that would be the time to take the chance of going outside. More worrying was the remarkable persistence—and success rate—of Larabee and Ellison. If he had underestimated the closeness of their ties to the younger men, would his conditioning hold? The fading voice of sanity suggested it might be as well to cut his losses and get out of Cascade, but his hatred of Tanner and Sandburg had was far too strong for him to hear it.
Vin sat in the rather dim and dusty cool of St James’ church hall and refused to give in to the weariness that was like an ache in his bones. They had been met on the way to the mission by Ed, who had brought them here instead, and since then he had sat slumped in an old chair, trying to straighten up and look fine if Chris came his way. It was a strange, slow morning, as different people dropped in once they had received the message that Miss Duncan would like a word with them. Some she gave the briefest of instructions to, others a much more detailed indication of how they could help; a few got the whole story, coming over to talk to him or Blair. They ranged from the homeless to store owners, labourers to clergy. It made him feel better, like a whole community was on his side.
Ezra came from the doorway and dropped elegantly into the chair next to him.
“Y’ friend coming?”
“He should be here shortly. He had to pursue a somewhat roundabout route in order to lose a persistent watcher.”
“Almost certainly. However, he is quite reliable. He will not arrive here unless he is quite sure he is not bringing any unwelcome follower.”
“Who is he? Ex-FBI?”
“Not at all. Ex-close acquaintance of my dear mother. They knew one another intermittently throughout my childhood, but when I was about fifteen he resided with us for some months.”
Vin looked him over, read the body language more easily than he ever read print, and knew Ez was looking forward to seeing the man. “Good t’ you, was he?”
“Yes.” The monosyllable was so utterly uncharacteristic, that Vin waited silently for an explanation. Ezra looked at his hands. “I am sure I had a far less arduous or painful adolescence than many young people, but nevertheless, there were times when life did not seem… particularly endurable. The man who had been my mother’s partner previously, was a bully and a brute. Not of course, to Maude. Even with me, he kept within what was perhaps acceptable to a certain social grouping—certain types of chastisement, threats of military school, a relentless removal of anything which gave me pleasure. There was nothing so overt that Maude felt it should stand between us and profit. Then Benny came along after a gap of several years.”
“He sort Maude out?”
“I am sure neither of them would use that expression, but yes. Our current con was terminated, with a minor loss of revenue, and Benny, temporarily, moved in. I entertained hopes at that age that Maude would see his excellent potential as a matrimonial partner.”
“He was rich?”
“Well, no, which of course was a major disqualification. He was, however, exactly what I needed at the time. He put the same level of subtlety into his kindness to me as many people would put into subterfuge, and consequently, even at that age, I found it acceptable. And he helped me to distance the previous experience, even to laugh at it. We had a sort of regular joke between us: he would adopt that exact tone, ‘come here boy, the belt will improve your manners’ and knowing that I was entirely safe with him, I began to see how limited the other man had been, and how in future perhaps a character like that could be manipulated.”
“Sounds a good man.”
“I’m sure a lot of people would take exception to the description, but yes, I think that is exactly what he is.”
He stood up to look out again, and Vin stretched and followed in time to see him greet a man who clasped Ezra’s arms briefly, looked him over with affection, and then stepped back and said with the mock severity Ezra had just been describing, “You haven’t improved, boy. It’s time you had a boss who could knock some obedience into you. Take the skin off your back and teach you some respect for…”
Someone moved with lethal swiftness past Vin, and pinned Ezra’s friend up against the wall before any of them could protest.
Vin grinned. “Hey Larabee, quit the rottweiler impression. Ezra—think you’d better tell Chris about that regular joke you got running afore your friend turns any bluer.”
Ezra, already spluttering a protest, realised what the misunderstanding was. “Chris—he was not one of… I assure you, this was a merely a moment of humour. Please let Mr Benedek go.”
Vin rather enjoyed the look on Chris’s face when he was embarrassed but determined not to show it. Chris released the startled Benedek, who said—with some generosity in the circumstances—”I’ve been told my sense of humour could get me into trouble. You are…?”
Ezra hadn’t recovered his cool. Vin, more entertained than he’d been all morning, heard him actually stammer, “Chris… that is Mr Larabee. Chris—this is Edgar Benedek, the friend I told you about—friend being a word I am sure you assimilated. Benny—this is Chris Larabee, my team leader. I had not realised he was in this immediate vicinity.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Chris muttered, elbowing Vin to stop him grinning. “Gather you’re Ezra’s ace-in-the-hole, though I’m not sure he’s explained how.”
“Well, perhaps if you have entirely finished assaulting my guest we could take this inside and I will make it clear,” Ezra said, leading Benedek into the hall.
Chris glared at Vin. “Thanks a lot, Tanner. You could have said something.”
“Didn’t see you ’til you tried to put him though the wall,” Vin said truthfully. “Nice t’ see Ez’s face though. I s’pose you don’t get what you did?”
“Oh I get it clear enough. I just half throttled his secret weapon.”
“Well, besides that.”
Chris looked blank.
“Hell, Chris, you just showed him what you’d do t’ anyone who really had treated him like that. He needs reminding ‘times that we ain’t the sorta family Maude was. Needs to know that’s how you feel when y’ hear of people treating him like shit.”
“If Charlotte hears you you’ll have to wash your mouth out,” Chris said, hastily changing the subject.
“Got eyes in th’ back of my head. No one here to hear me but you, and you ain’t got delicate sens’bilities. Come on. Let’s find out what Ez is cooking up.”
Agents Rigby and Botting would have made a professional sweep of the streets they were covering in any circumstances, but like the rest of Miller’s team, they were motivated today by the sort of urgency from above that spoke of impending disaster. Besides, they hadn’t appreciated the night they had spent being arrested then interrogated by Ellison and Larabee, or the fact that since then their own lack of progress had been shown up by a detective and a Fed. So they were thorough; and that thoroughness eventually brought a reward. The new hire car they found in a side street, amazingly untouched, fitted the description of the one belonging to Ezra Standish. Botting called it in, checking that the number was indeed a match. Rigby peered into it and saw nothing of interest. He looked around at his surroundings. The street was almost empty. A child was just disappearing through the door of the nearest house. There was no sign at all of any of the people they were looking for. But he gathered from Botting’s answers that it was the right car.
“Orders for now are to stay here, out of sight and keep an eye on it,” Botting said. “Miller’s going to call us back—may come out here himself.”
“Where are we supposed to be out of sight?”
Botting shrugged. A little further down was a concrete carport entrance to the back of one of the stores on the main street. It was rather dirty, and smelt of garbage, but they could be unseen there. reluctantly they withdrew into it to wait.
Jim Ellison sat and second guessed himself. Should they have chosen a different place to set up the supposed meeting? If Josephs believed Vin and Blair had broken his conditioning enough to give themselves up, would he resort to some sort of attempt on their lives? Would he show at all? He ran the plan and their predictions over and over, and reluctantly decided that if they were going to do it at all, they’d probably arrived at the best way of going ahead.
They’d given different parts of the story they’d devised to the different people Miss Duncan had called in to the church hall. Josephs was no fool; he would be suspicious of anything he hadn’t had to piece together from fragments. What he should get, if all went well, was the rumour that some young men had got word to the PD, via St James’ mission, that they wanted to negotiate handing themselves in. Larabee and Ellison, who they’d asked for, would be there to talk to them if they turned up. Other details had been added to this, though it wasn’t so important that Josephs picked all of them up: it was the young men who’d been to the mission earlier in the week; they’d said they wouldn’t show unless Larabee and Ellison were alone; they wanted certain guarantees. Jim had been impressed so far by the local people involved; he thought that by the evening, the bait for Josephs would have been laid as well as they could have hoped.
Whether it would be good enough to draw him there himself was another matter. They were satisfied it should at least be enough to draw someone who knew where to find him. Then of course they needed the manpower there to move quickly after Josephs while still dealing with anyone else on the scene whom he might have used. Simon Banks was handling the PD end. After days of being irritated by Haines sniffing about and chatting to personnel, he’d decided only to use officers from Major Crimes, with the option of calling in uniformed police. Chris Larabee was currently trying to arrange the presence of the rest of his team from Denver; Jim looked up from his brooding as Chris walked over to join him.
“That’s all sorted. My boys will be in Cascade late this afternoon. Banks is going to have someone pick them up and take them direct to the mission—he’ll see they go in unobtrusively, like the rest.”
The advantage of the mission had been that strangers drifted into it all day. Joel and Megan were already there, others would join them at suitable intervals.
Larabee leaned up on the wall next to Jim, and looked across at Vin—talking to Ezra and Benedek—and Blair, deep in conversation with one of Miss Duncan’s ‘reliables’. “They’ll have to wear vests,” he said.
“Simon’s seeing to that. Shooting doesn’t seem the most probable threat, though. Going by what happened the other morning, Josephs is more likely to hire some local muscle. I imagine he’ll hope to intercept Vin and Blair on the way, but of course we’ve made that impossible. Which means they’ll have to go for us—and they’ll probably enjoy that, since we just put three of their buddies away—and then take Tanner and Sandburg. I think they’ll have been told to keep them relatively unharmed. From what we saw of Joseph’s methods, he’ll want to keep them for himself.”
“Who’s going in the back of the van with them?”
To avoid any problems of Vin and Blair being attacked on the way to the meeting place, they had decided to take them there in the back of a nondescript van, parking it a short way down the street well before the time of the meeting. In the dark, they should be able to slip out of it unseen and walk along the last stretch.
“Standish?” Jim suggested. “We want someone who’s cool enough to read the situation, and who’s got some sort of knowledge of the two of them. Blair’s liable to be just a bit too quick, and Vin…”
“Vin wants Josephs too badly,” Chris said quietly. “His judgement’s maybe not back to normal, either—and they both look as if they’re running on empty.”
Jim was well aware of that. Blair was talking animatedly, but every line of his body was exhausted, and if Jim focused in he could see the tiredness of his eyes, and the lack of colour in his face. Vin was as pale, and the shadows under his eyes were deep as bruises.
“Ezra’s okay for the van. Vin might actually listen to him,” Chris said. “What about a driver?”
“Could use Henri, and maybe have Rafe in the back with the others. The three of them can cover that end of the street.”
“Good. You and I’ll be slightly to the far side of the mission; your men and mine in there and in the store next door.”
“And in the building opposite. Ed knows the owner of the front ground floor apartment. I wonder if we should have someone higher up though.” He broke off, seeing Miss Duncan waving imperiously to them to join her at the telephone.
It turned out to be Chris she wanted. She looked for once slightly taken aback. “Do you know little Jodie Reilly? She insists it’s very important that she speaks to you.”
Chris took the phone, nodding to Jim to listen in. “Jodie?” he asked.
“There’s men in suits been poking round fancy man’s car,” Jodie said quickly. “One of ’em made a call, and now they think they’re hiding. They’re no good at it. The car’s all right, but they’re waiting.”
“Good girl,” Chris said. “You did just right to call me. Stay inside now.”
“I c’n see ’em from my window. Want me to go out and scream ‘n scream so they get into trouble?”
“Don’t do anything just now,” Chris said. “Stay inside, sweetheart. We’ll send someone round.”
He waited to ring off until Jodie had promised to stay indoors.
“Sounds like the CIA,” he said to Jim.
“You know, Jodie’s idea wasn’t such a bad one,” Jim said thoughtfully. “I think we could do something with that… I’ll have to call in a favour or two.”
He made the calls, while Chris arranged for Ed, who knew Jodie’s family, and Benedek, who wanted to see this, to go around there and set things in motion.
Rigby and Botting were bored and rather tired of the smell of the garbage they were standing near. There seemed to be no sign of Standish or anyone else coming into the street. They pulled back into the shadows a little as a police car pulled up outside the dilapidated store further down the road. The uniformed policemen seemed to have no interest in Standish’s car though. They went into the store.
“I thought Miller was supposed to be coming along to look at this,” Rigby grumbled.
“Perhaps he’s on his way. It’s a pity there’s no indication of how long it’s been here. I don’t want to go knocking on doors—too much interest might get the locals standing around watching.”
Rigby peered out into the street. Two boys were playing at the far end. A big black man had just gone into one of the buildings. A small girl was pushing her doll towards them in a very battered buggy. “She was around earlier,” he said. “Children often notice things. We could ask her if she saw the man who left the car.”
Botting shrugged. “She doesn’t look very old. I suppose it’s worth a try, though.”
He stepped out to speak to the little girl. She promptly began to scream—extremely loudly. He stepped back in alarm.
“You scared her,” Rigby said unnecessarily, as the noise level rose to a volume it seemed impossible one small girl could produce. “Oh, damn…”
The uniformed police were coming out of the store at a run, and two men also came hastily down the steps from the apartments, followed by several women. Rigby and Botting found themselves the reluctant centre of a hostile crowd. The child continued to scream, though evading her mother’s attempts to pick her up. To Botting’s startled indignation, she was now wailing that he had wanted to do ‘bad things’ to her.
“I only tried to speak to her,” he said coldly to the police. “This is ridiculous.”
“He was hiding!” the child screamed. “He was waiting for me in there!”
Rigby realised with horror that they were in danger of being arrested—again. He hated Cascade.
Botting drew out his ID. One of the men in the group lifted a small but very expensive camera and got a nice series of shots, one of which Rigby was sure zoomed in on the ID.
“Edgar Benedek, for the National Register,” he identified himself pleasantly. Botting’s abortive move to get at him was thwarted by the burliest of the officers, who took his arm reprovingly.
The crowd, led by the African American man were demanding that no one should be allowed to hide behind an ID where a child’s safety was concerned. The child burst into harrowing sobs, burying her face in her doll.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” the senior of the police officers said, not looking sorry at all. “For your own safety, I think we’d better sort this out down at headquarters.”
“You can’t do this!” Botting said furiously.
Unfortunately, it seemed that they could. “We’ll get onto Miller straight away,” Rigby said, trying to calm his partner down as they were escorted into the police car. “It won’t take long to get this sorted out.”
“Long enough,” Botting said, choking on his anger. “It’s a set up. Look at that brat.”
The small girl had removed her face from the doll, and was sticking her tongue out at them as they went. Edgar Benedek, smiling benignly, was producing a bag of candy from his jacket—which was a sedate grey, nothing like the bright orange they’d been warned to look out for.
“You won’t mind if I call my superior,” Rigby said to the officer next to him, and pulled out his cell phone.
Miller, however, was already on the scene. He and Haines had pulled up just in time to see their men being taken away, and the small crowd watching. He jumped from the car. “Stay there,” he said tersely to Haines, then to the people there, “What the hell is going on here. Why have those men been arrested?”
First no one answered, then everyone answered at once; the voices ranged >from bass to shrill, but none of them were informative. He waved them to silence, but before he could begin again, his phone rang. He pulled it irritably out of his pocket. “Rigby? What are you fools playing at. You… what… Benedek?” he swung round, without ending the call to address the crowd. “Which of you is Edgar Benedek?”
No one answered. He saw one of the men was already leaving the street, and turned hastily to run after him. The small girl who had been the centre of attention had moved without him noticing. He bumped her, she swung round as he side-stepped, and the head of her doll hit him with quite surprising force in a most delicate place. In spite of his desire to get after Benedek, he was momentarily forced to double over, and gasp. Haines got out of the car, uncertain what had happened. The big black man picked the child and her doll up and said sympathetically, “Now, we’d better make sure your baby’s okay, hadn’t we sweetheart.” Rigby’s voice came plaintively down the phone, wanting someone to stop the car before it took him to the PD.
It took him a very brief time to sort out the mess, but by then Benedek had disappeared and it was very clear that the CIA were neither unnoticed, nor very welcome in this part of Cascade. He did pick up one useful bit of information though. The elderly African American who was holding the child his men had so foolishly frightened, told him that he thought it was unlikely the car owner would be coming back in the near future.
“He went off with some friends,” he said. “I hear they had some recent interest in the docks area. A warehouse there. They could have gone there. I think Mr Benedek is hoping to join them.”
Miller interpreted his slight unease as being from talking to the police. It did not occur to him that the man was wrestling with a sensitive conscience because although each individual statement he made was strictly true, the overall impression they were designed to give certainly wasn’t.
“Could be they’ve got some tip Josephs is still in that area,” Haines said to him in an undertone. “Do you want me to see if I can get any corroboration of that?”
Miller got slightly stiffly into the car. It was remarkable how hard the doll’s head had been. “Yes. Go down to the PD; get those idiots Rigby and Botting sorted out, and see if you can get anything else on any operation in that warehouse area. If it seems to be going ahead, pull some of our men out of this area, and get them on the spot. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen nothing of Ellison or Larabee. You can drop me off at headquarters.”
“What about Standish’s car?”
“I’m quite sure that if he doesn’t know now we were interested in it, he very soon will do. Leave it.”
He looked in the rearview mirror as Haines pulled out. The crowd was already dispersing. The small child, not apparently too traumatised, was sitting on the steps with a bag of candy.
“I think the situation seems neutralised,” he said to Haines.
“I gather Benedek took photos, sir.” Haines said pointedly. “And as several mothers seemed to be under the impression that Rigby and Botting had been lurking with perverted intentions, I can imagine the headlines now.”
Miller’s mood nosedived, but at least they had some sort of lead on where Larabee and Ellison might be. Perhaps this business could be finished soon.
Chris wished he could have arranged for his team to come to the hall rather than the mission, but the time frame had been against him. He’d heard >from them since they landed. They’d been briefed by Simon Banks, and Buck and JD were already on their way to the mission. Nathan had gone to the clinic, and would drop in with the doctor from there, who made a regular call during the afternoon. Josiah was to go in at the end of the afternoon, wearing his most ‘clergy’ looking garb. The meeting time they’d put about was not for another few hours, but with the uncertainty about which rumours would reach Josephs at which times, they were alert to the possibility of the site being watched from early on.
The hall was nearly empty now, and much quieter. Ed returned from a brief absence, with pizzas for everyone still there.
“After this you’d better come with me,” he said to Benedek, who had gone off to Rainier on their advice to talk to Jack Kelso. He’d returned not long before, looking pleased with life.
“I was going to suggest it,” Benedek agreed with his mouth full. “I now have a whole range of contacts on this story who are nothing to do with law enforcement. Nobody’s going to be sent to the principal’s office when this one breaks.”
“I told you about my friend’s apartment,” Ed said. “You’ll be able to see everything from there.”
After they had gone, Miss Duncan dismissed the last few helpers, and left for the mission. They had tried to suggest tactfully that she might rather not be involved in what might be a violent end to their plans but she had rejected this suggestion emphatically.
Chris and the others were left on their own to wait for the arrival of Henri, Rafe and the van. Ellison looked at his watch. “You’ll be in place plenty early enough. Chris and I will walk along about an hour before the time Josephs should have heard mentioned. Makes sense for us to be there early, waiting. And it’ll give us a chance to check out the area.”
“Try not to frighten anyone away,” Blair said. He’d eaten a few mouthfuls of pizza, then given up, but he accepted gratefully now as Ezra handed him a mug of herbal tea. “Chamomile? Thanks, man.”
“It was the only alternative offered in the kitchen cupboard,” Ezra admitted, handing coffee to the others and the sugar bowl to Vin.
Vin gulped the coffee down, but the single piece of pizza Chris had handed him was still virtually untouched, and his thoughts seemed to be preoccupying him.
“If Josephs don’t show once we been there a while,” he said abruptly, “then we’d best walk off, run off maybe liked you spooked us. Reckon if he’s somewhere around, he’d go for us then, even if he won’t go for the main set up.”
“No,” Chris said flatly. “If he doesn’t show, that’s it.”
“Can’t change the plans now,” Jim agreed. “There are too many people already in place, with their orders clear on what to do. It’ll throw everything if we make some other move.”
“I think he will show, anyway,” Blair said. “If you think about it, he must be feeling he’s running out of time. This will seem too good an opportunity to miss.”
Vin shifted restlessly. “We have t’ get Josephs.”
“Best way to do it is to stick to the plan,” Chris said; he didn’t mean it to come out more like he was talking to JD, but maybe it did.
Vin flushed slightly. “Man’s not sane,” he persisted. “Got to get him off th’ streets, whatever it takes.”
“We’re planning to do that,” Ellison said quietly. “Are you going to be able to handle it if he shows up in person? We’re arresting him, remember, for trial. We’ll be doing it by the book.”
Vin met his eyes. “S’ long as you don’t look like losing him by th’ book. If y’ do, I’ll take him down any way there is.”
That wasn’t Vin the professional ATF agent, Chris thought, not pleased by the defiant tone of it. That was the self reliant loner Vin had once been. He saw Ezra’s concern, and the glance exchanged between Blair and Jim, and was grateful Jim left it to him to deal with.
“Excuse us a minute,” Chris said quickly. “Tanner—in the kitchen. Think we need a private word about this.”
Vin came, not particularly happy about it. “Hell, Chris, I’m back to normal. Y’ called me out here like I’m some kid.”
“You’re behaving like a kid,” Chris said sharply. “That wasn’t normal Vin, and you know it. We all understand you want Josephs but…”
“Don’t think you do understand,” Vin cut him off. “Don’t think y’understand at all. Aint what he done t’ me; it’s what he done before. Y’only read about it. We saw it. Man’s gotta be stopped. Don’t matter how.”
Chris looked at him intently. The more exhausted he got, the more Vin seemed to revert to what he had been the previous night. His memories were more or less okay, and Chris had seen more than a few glimpses of the ‘real’ Vin during the day, but this… this was not his cool reliable partner. And he wasn’t sure of the best way to bring him back.
“This is basically an operation of the Cascade PD,” he said in the end, going for the formal, team leader tone. “We’re involved, but as far as I’m concerned, Banks and Ellison are calling the shots. I happen to respect both of them. I don’t want their judgement, or their orders, questioned.”
What he said, or maybe the way he said it, seemed to shock Vin into the realisation that he’d been out of line on this one. He nodded quickly. “I c’n see Ellison’s a good man,” he said to the floor.
“He’s also our best chance for spotting Josephs,” Chris said. He wasn’t sure how much chance anyone had had to make clear to Vin what it meant when they talked about sentinels or Ellison’s senses, other than that it wasn’t for public discussion. He dropped a hand on Vin’s shoulder now, turning him gently back towards the room. “We need to go and talk about that, now we’ve got a chance. Ellison may be able to pick up Josephs when no one else could, but he needs something to go on.”
It took a certain amount of explaining before Vin understood just what they all meant by heightened senses. Jim ruthlessly cut off Blair’s history of the sentinel from the iron age to the present day, and went to the point. “Was there any sound that could be associated with the man? Like he clicked his fingers, or sniffed, or, I don’t know, carried something electronic?”
“Or smell might work,” Blair said. “Though the lab smell will have faded. Can you think of anything Vin? I was never awake to notice him.”
“Pen clicked when he was writing in his notebook,” Vin said, thinking. “Don’t reckon he’d be doing that outside though. Saw him clean his glasses two or three times, and maybe that made a sound. Oh—better’n that, though. I could tell when it was him coming towards me rather than Turner because he had proper shoes, and one of them creaked a bit. Weren’t much of a noise, just enough for me t’ hear across a few feet. Could you hear something like that at a distance?”
“Hey, that’s peanuts,” Blair said. “If he really focuses he ought to be able to pick out the different footsteps of everyone on the scene. Every pair of shoes would make a slightly different sound, and people have different manners of walking, different weights and heights. That’s the best one to go for, Jim.”
“Unless he’s sitting in a car,” Ellison pointed out.
They had to leave the discussion there as Henri and Rafe arrived, bringing Kevlar vests for Vin and Blair and a message for Ezra that the PD had safely returned his car to the hire firm. They’d managed to pick up a suitable old van, with its body work much repaired and back doors that could easily be left very slightly ajar ’til Vin and Blair needed to slip out.
“Don’t move from it ’til you get the word from Simon Banks,” Jim told Blair, checking him for a quite unnecessary third time to make sure he was as well protected as possible. “Just walk straight to us okay?”
“Jim, I really think we can manage what, a hundred yards, without disaster.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself,” Jim said, tightening a buckle a little, and then giving him a hasty pat on the shoulder as he scrambled into the van.
Chris didn’t know what to say to Vin. None of the words seemed to fit. In the end, he simply held out his hand. Their arms met in a clasp that was affirmation enough for both of them, and then, reluctantly, he let Vin go.
Haines breezed into Miller’s office looking pleased with himself. Miller greeted him without enthusiasm. “Got something?”
“It looks as if it’s definitely around that warehouse or the neighbouring lots that the PD expect something to go down tonight.”
“How reliable was your source.”
“Bank’s own secretary. Rhonda something. Nice legs. I’ve been working on her for a while, and I thought she was weakening. She told me it worried her, failing to cooperate with us.”
“It’s a pity more of them don’t feel like that,” Miller said. He doodled an airborne missile on his blotting pad. It sounded as if at last things might be going their way, but he could not feel much confidence in it.
Haines on the other hand was the picture of a positive and confident agent. “I’ll start moving our men out that way straight away, shall I, so that we can be in position early?” he asked briskly. “We don’t want to be too obvious about it.”
“You can begin,” Miller agreed. “See if we can get some corroboration on the ground before you leave other areas uncovered.”
Haines looked unhappy with this lacklustre response. “How much more corroboration do we need, sir?”
“I’d be happier if we knew where Larabee and Ellison are; or why Standish’s car was where it was. Or, come to that, how that infernal reporter managed to be on the spot when Rigby and Botting made fools of themselves.”
“Maybe he’d been following Standish. Anyway, he’s moved on; he was over at Rainier this afternoon, talking to Kelso.”
“That figures. Kelso couldn’t have known anything about the old Denver op though, could he?”
“It wasn’t in his book. Would have made it a bestseller if it had been. Not that it did badly, anyway.”
Miller made a noise of disgust. He didn’t like whistleblowers, and he thought having a conscience was a symptom of degeneration; making money out of it just compounded the crime. But Haines point was good. Kelso couldn’t have known anything provable. Of course, the National Register had rather a different approach to proof…
“Who’s on Benedek now?” he asked.
Haines lost some of his shine. “I put Mitter on. He’s usually reliable.”
“He lost him?”
“He thinks Kelso helped him get clear.”
Miller doodled a small atomic explosion over Mt Rainier. There were too many missing people. “And no one has sighted Larabee or Ellison in over twenty four hours. I suppose your secretary didn’t know what they were doing?”
“I got the impression from her that they’re pretty insubordinate, don’t report in much.”
Well, that Miller could believe. “What about the rest of Larabee’s team?”
“They went straight to the PD, and from there to join the operation in the warehouse district.”
“We followed them there?”
Haines shrugged. “Brask followed them until he was spotted, then pulled back—I told him not to give away our interest in their operation.”
Miller knew it all fitted together well, but he couldn’t shake his own negativity. “It doesn’t make sense that Josephs would go anywhere near that area.”
“But Tanner and Sandburg might,” Miller said. “By all accounts, they ought to be pretty thoroughly confused. They might well head back to the place.”
“You don’t think this whole operation might just be to retrieve Tanner and Sandburg?”
“Even if it is, it’s worth our knowing what’s going on. It would be useful if we were the ones to debrief them. But there seems a general consensus among Henshaw’s men that Josephs was obsessed with Tanner and Sandburg and would make it a priority to go after them.”
Miller nodded. “All right. Carry on, Haines. By the way, did you sort out those idiots Botting and Rigby.”
“They hadn’t actually been arrested, sir. Just removed for their own safety. Botting says it was a set up.”
“By the little girl?” Miller asked incredulously. “Does he imagine it’s some kind of excuse if our agents can be set up by children still in kindergarten? Send Rigby and Botting to me.”
Blair wished he’d thought of borrowing a watch. He’d asked Rafe about the time twice, and Ezra once, and he wasn’t sure how long ago the last occasion had been, except probably not long enough. He felt strange—both wiped out and energised. He knew he was exhausted, and yet he seemed unable to keep still. Any minute now Jim would probably be setting off… if only Blair knew what minute they’d actually got to. He tossed up mentally between Ezra and Rafe. Maybe he could persuade them to mention it each time, say, half an hour had passed.
He turned to Ezra, but before he could ask anything, Ezra said, “Perhaps it would be most practical if I put my watch where we can all check the time as necessary.”
He said it as if it was the most natural thing in the world for Blair to ask them the time every ten minutes, and Blair appreciated that. He just somehow missed the ‘oh for pity’s sake’ he’d have got from Simon or Jim.
“Thanks,” he said to Ezra, then looked at the watch. Even less time had passed than he thought. He fiddled with the buckles on his vest, then guiltily left them alone. The seconds went past. He wished they had some idea if anything was going on out in the street. Ezra and Rafe discussed some sort of expensive designer label clothes importer, almost inaudibly. In the front of the van, Henri drank coffee and read a magazine, as if he was waiting to pick something up from one of the stores. Vin fidgeted with his left sleeve.
It wasn’t like Vin to fidget.
Blair looked again, doubtfully. Vin was sitting coiled and still now, apparently unconcerned about the time or his surroundings, but Blair had realised what the movement reminded him of. He was sure that at some point earlier he had seen Vin’s knife on the desk at the store, presumably put there the previous night. Could Vin have retrieved it since, and strapped it to his arm as Blair had seen him do before? He was fairly sure that if he had, neither Jim nor Chris Larabee knew about it. He tried to catch Vin’s eye. Vin seemed completely unaware of him, and uninterested in communicating with anybody.
He wondered whether it would be a good idea or a terrible one to whisper a ‘heads up’ on this one for sentinel ears, once his sentinel was in position. That couldn’t be so long now. He looked at Ezra’s watch again.
Josephs slipped quietly out of his hotel and into the car Marcos had obtained for him. Marcos was proving useful. He seemed to have connections everywhere, among the homeless and among the locals, and he was conveniently covetous of the drugs Josephs could supply. His contacts were finally coming up with some sort of useful information, and barely in time. One report that seemed well confirmed, was that the CIA were very active in the area. Josephs was prepared to risk the PD; he was more wary of his old employers.
Still, if things went smoothly tonight, he could stop worrying about keeping out of sight. Unfinished business with Tanner and Sandburg was the only thing keeping him in Cascade; if Marcos delivered on his promises, Josephs would hand over the rest of his marketable drugs, take Tanner and Sandburg, and find somewhere remote and quiet where he could finish with them.
After that? Europe, he thought. Eastern Europe. His bilingual childhood had left him fluent enough to cope anywhere they understood German, and he thought there would be a market for his talents somewhere in the area.
He drove to meet up with Marcos, and reiterate that Tanner and Sandburg were not to be harmed more than was necessary to subdue them.
“It’s Larabee and Ellison my men have a grudge against,” Marcos said. “But of course, they may have back up nearby, so I will have plenty of men there, ready to finish things quickly. You will wait in your car?”
“I’ll pull in where you told me along the street. You’re sure the owner of the carport understands? And you’ve made it clear to your men that they must bring them to me as swiftly as possible?”
“I’ve got half a dozen who know it’s their job. If Tanner and Sandburg show, they’ll be on them immediately. You’ll understand if I wait with you, just to make sure we finish our deal before you take off?”
“And how exactly do you plan to have quantities of men on the spot without alerting Ellison and Larabee?”
“Four doors down from the mission, on the other side of the road, is a store whose owner owes me more money than he can pay. He has a back access to the store. I have two or three men on the street already. The rest will go to the store nearer the time. Do not worry—it is all planned. All you have to do is be sure you pay.”
“When I have Tanner and Sandburg, not before.”
Jim Ellison put his cell phone away. “That was Banks,” he said. “It’s looking promising. Apparently there’s a local would-be godfather whose men have been taking an interest in any information they can get.”
“A go-between for Josephs.”
“It would make sense. The man deals as well as being involved in most of the petty crime in the area. One of the men we took in yesterday has been suspected of carrying out some punishment beatings for him—store owners who wouldn’t pay up, you know the sort of thing.”
“So the bait’s being taken. Just have to see if we get the big one. What about Miller’s lot?”
“Rhonda seems to have done a nice job. They’ve pulled a lot of their men over to the warehouse district. They’ll find just enough police activity going on over there to keep them occupied until we’ve finished tonight’s work I hope. Oh, and Simon says the van’s in place. Nothing noticeable about it. They’ll have a long wait, but that was unavoidable.”
Ezra, although he was not showing it, was feeling something of the weight of responsibility. Quite apart from his own concern for Vin, he felt rather like a babysitter who had been entrusted with the cubs of two particularly short-tempered grizzlies. He had some sympathy with Blair’s constant glances at the watch; the time seemed to be passing with impossible tardiness. Thankfully, Rafe was good company, even though their conversation had to be pursued in an undertone, and he seemed to have an eye on Blair with the same level of apprehension that Ezra felt for Vin. It would be a good thing when this evening was over. Neither Vin nor Blair really looked remotely as if they should be involved in anything more demanding than a substantial meal followed by twelve hours sleep. He did not know Blair well enough to make any accurate assessment, but to Ezra he seemed to have long passed the point of exhaustion to that odd sort of restlessness that sometimes made it impossible to rest after an overlong assignment. Vin he did know, and Vin bothered him.
Vin sat, legs crossed, watching his hands as if they held the secret of the universe. He was in the van with them, but that was as far as any connection went. He had withdrawn to somewhere remote, where the only person he relied on was himself. Given some hours and some privacy, Ezra might have reached him, but he hadn’t got either. Perhaps Chris would do it. He had been wishing for some time that he had the means of communicating with Chris, and the thought occurred to him now that there was just one possibility. Jim Ellison would be listening to the whole area, he guessed, mapping people into locations. If Ezra was an accurate judge of character, he would be listening to Blair. Maybe a murmured message for Chris would not be out of the question then.
Miller glared at Rigby and Botting. Rigby, rather red in the face after Miller’s frank comments on their intelligence, ability and probable futures, looked stonily into the distance. Botting glared back.
“It was set up,” he maintained hotly. “The police there, Benedek there, just at the right time. If you believe that was a coincidence you’re still putting your teeth out for the tooth fairy. Standish set us up if you ask me.”
Miller decided to let the insubordinate tone go. “Why would Standish bother?”
“Perhaps they don’t want us in that area,” Rigby offered, sensing some hope of getting out of this without a reprimand. “We were covering those streets. Is anyone doing it now?”
Miller stared at his desk for a while. His blotter resembled a scenario for WWIII.
“Go and find out what you can about why the PD were there, and whether it could have been a genuine coincidence. What did you say they were doing?”
“They seemed to be checking out a store—maybe the premises had been broken into, but there was no sign of it.”
“Well follow it up. I’ll postpone putting this report in until you’ve done it. And make it a matter of urgency—if we’re really not wanted there, then that’s exactly where I want to be.”
He frowned after them as they went. Haines had just called to say the PD were definitely active in the warehouse district, but somehow Rigby and Botting’s words had resonated with Miller’s own unease.
Could they have been set up? Twice?
Chris was more than ready when Banks gave them the go ahead to take up their positions. He wanted this evening over, wanted it so badly it was like a physical ache.
He and Jim were vested up like Vin and Blair. Banks wasn’t taking any chances of it ending in a drive by shooting. He’d even arranged for a couple of crates—ostensibly containing donated clothes—to be on the sidewalk outside the mission to provide them with some ready cover. Chris appreciated the attention to detail, but he still didn’t think automatic fire or even a sniper was high on the probability list; knives, spiked gloves, chains, maybe handguns were more likely. Though Marcos men were hard, they weren’t so desperate they’d want to be involved in a high profile cop killing.
“Let’s go,” Ellison said, locking the hall behind them. It was as dark now as a city generally got. Chris wondered what Ellison saw—whether it could be as light as the daytime for him if he chose. The thought of Ellison giving them the edge, and of his own team there somewhere near his back, was about all that convinced him to go through with this.
“Tanner was right,” Ellison said, guessing at his thoughts. “It was the only plan on the table.”
“Vin’s not thinking straight yet. I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with the plan—we all had our say on that—but he’s not got his balance back where Josephs is concerned.”
“Worried about what he’ll do when the action starts?”
“I’d like to keep him with me. I haven’t seen that much of Blair, but it seems to me that if you’re using your senses he wouldn’t move far from your side. Vin, he knows the rest of the team are there tonight to watch my back, and he wants to take Josephs down so badly he can’t see much beyond it.”
“It’s like he said. It’s personal for him.” Ellison paused, as if he was thinking it through. “We didn’t see it. Even Blair, though he was there, was a stranger in the area. It was Vin’s place, it was among people he knew.”
“Yeah.” Chris wasn’t much of a territorial person, or maybe he’d lost it when he lost Sarah and Adam, but he knew Ellison was right. Even now in Purgatorio Vin had that sense of a community he felt responsible for.
Only, knowing it made sense didn’t solve the problem of what he did if Vin went off on some kind of personal vendetta after Josephs.
Ellison handed him something metal. Handcuffs, he realised, taken aback. “I got Henri to bring two sets,” Ellison said. “I have a problem convincing Blair to stay where it’s safe. You don’t want Tanner going berserk after Josephs. Seemed to me, if the worst came to the worst, we could cuff them and throw them into the mission. Easier to keep them protected like that.”
Chris took the handcuffs. Could he do that to Vin? Yep, in the blink of an eye. He’d rather live with the repercussions than with Vin hurt or suspended.
There were people around on the streets they moved through, just the normal evening life of the scruffier parts of any city; but once they approached the block where the mission was, it was suddenly almost deserted. He could guess there were people watching from inside the apartments, but word had evidently got about that there was going to be some sort of trouble, and if it had needed any confirmation, a few of Marcos’ men hanging about would have provided it.
They strolled past the van, so close he felt he could almost sense Vin the way Ellison could, then up to the mission to lean casually against the entrance. They had around three quarters of an hour before Ezra would send Vin and Blair along.
“Okay,” he said to Ellison quietly. “Do your stuff.”
Vin wanted to stop seeing the haunting faces. They seemed more real than the metal of the van, or the faces of Blair and Ezra. He knew what was real well enough now, but the present seemed misty, barely tangible, compared to the past, and his hold on it had grown thinner and more tenuous since he’d been away from Chris.
He stared at his hands, but in his mind he saw the lab and Josephs victims. Aaron, hurting without understanding it; Sadie’s baby, not ever knowing a mama. He hadn’t known the names of the others, but their faces were there too, frozen in a moment of suffering. His fingers slid again to the knife he’d made. If Josephs was arrested, the CIA would never let him come to trial; he’d disappear again, and the haunting wouldn’t stop. It had been different before. Then he’d believed the man had burned, and it was all over. It needed to be truly over now. Somewhere in the ethereal present, he knew blood justice wasn’t accepted, but it felt right. Shedding Josephs’ blood would stop the faces.
He felt the van move a little, Ezra come to squat silently beside him. He shuddered slightly, because that seemed more real but not real enough. Ezra’s hand set lightly on his arm, and he heard him say softly, “Everyone is in place. You have forty minutes now before you go.”
He nodded. No need to speak, and that was good, because he didn’t want his voice to tell Ez he was getting lost somewhere fifteen years ago. Ez’s hand tightened on his arm, and he was glad of it. It provided enough of an anchor that he wasn’t swept away completely. But not enough to make him trust anyone but himself to finish this. By the book meant nothing to the faces who were appealing to him. Chris was so far away he couldn’t feel him any more, and Ezra’s hand was a thread. When that broke, he’d be on his own.
Josephs sat in the carport and waited, and the anticipation was thick in his throat. He was parked facing the street, partly to be ready to leave in a hurry, but mainly so that he could see what was going on. Marcos hadn’t joined him yet—he would come as soon as his men were ready in the store—but Josephs knew already the information was good. Two men who had to be Ellison and Larabee were leaning on the wall just below the sign that said St James’ Mission. He watched them intently, but could see nothing about them that made them any different from the hard men who had been part of his life for the last fifteen years. Certainly nothing that explained the hold they seemed to have on Tanner and Sandburg, which appeared to have been strong enough to undermine his conditioning. He was glad, now, though, that it had been. He wanted Tanner and Sandburg to come. They reminded him of when his experiments had had more than an academic satisfaction. He could almost taste their bewilderment and pain.
Jim Ellison ‘did his stuff’. Perhaps the knowledge that Blair was nearby made it easier; perhaps it was the focus he felt on finishing this. Whatever the reason, his senses seemed sharp and controlled tonight. He pulled out his cell phone—they’d decided that would look natural enough in the set up—and let Simon hear his assessment.
There were no passersby on foot at all now, and the traffic was sparse. One of the men who’d already been identified as part of Marcos’ network was leaning on the wall across the street, smoking a cigarette. Two others were standing not far off, talking. Their presence was probably helping to keep pedestrians away. Jim started to add to this knowledge, partly using hearing, partly sight. “Okay, Simon. One on the basement steps, four doors to the left. Two just inside the door of the store opposite. I can see a knife. No guns visible. The proprietor—I think it’s him, it’s someone very scared—is just opening the back of the store. I’ll come back to there in a minute. There’s a man in a parked car in the carport, well down the street. Not moving at all, no radio, no cigarette or anything. I’d say he’s part of this. I can’t get anything out of the ordinary in any of the apartments. I’d say there’s definitely no threat of a hit from the higher ones opposite; the people sound normal, a bit apprehensive of what might be about to happen down here, that’s all.”
He paused for a minute, because his scan had reached the van, and he wanted to hear Blair. He picked up some of what he’d expected, overfast breathing, a heart rate that was more like that of someone running. Then to his surprise, he heard the soft murmur of words addressed directly to him. it sounded as though Blair might have been repeating them at intervals. “Jim, man, don’t know if you’ll be able to hear this; I can’t speak any louder. I’m pretty sure Vin’s got the knife he had last night. I’m not sure if Simon will be okay with that. I think he’s maybe brought it for Josephs.”
He switched off his phone. Larabee had better know that rather than anyone else.
“He could well have,” Chris said, concerned. “It was on the desk. I never looked at it again.”
“Would he try to take Josephs, supposing he shows up.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know quite who he is right now, and I don’t think he does either. If he was here as an ATF agent, I’d trust him utterly. But the fact he’s brought the knife at all… did you see it? It was a street weapon all right; he’d made it from an ordinary one, sharpened both sides, the handle strengthened. It’s not the sort of weapon you carry when you’re a professional, or part of a team. Is Sandburg saying anything else? Can you hear any of the others?”
Jim listened, stretching his hearing, finding them in the van. “I can hear Standish,” he said after a while. “No more than a breath—I think he’s right next to Vin—I doubt if he can even hear himself. He’s doing what Blair did I think—repeating a message from time to time in the hope that I’ll be listening in. He says to tell you, when Vin gets to you, hold on to him.”
Chris rubbed his hand across his head. “Fuck. From Ez that’s pretty much a red alert. He can usually get through to Vin. Well, we’ve got two choices. We abort, or I try to do just that.”
Jim drew back his hearing hastily, as a car passed rather close. “We ought to be able to keep him out of trouble between us. Seems a hell of a waste to call it off now. It’s not like he’s carrying a machine pistol or something.”
“I’d rather carry on,” Chris admitted. “I don’t think Josephs is a problem we can postpone. It’s what, five minutes until they leave the van?”
“Simon can make emergency radio contact with Henri to stop them if he has to, but I think we should go ahead.”
He saw the anxiety in Chris, but no lack of decision. “My call, too,” Chris said. “You’d better get back on to Banks.”
Simon wasn’t happy at having been cut off. “Damn it, Jim, I was just about to come out there and see what was going on. Have you got any hint of Josephs yet?”
“It’s not that easy, sir. No one’s walking around, or talking much. I’ve checked cars that have gone past; nothing there.”
“What about the man in the carport?”
“He’s out of sight, completely still at the moment. Could be anyone. I agree that it’s a possible, from the position, but I’ve nothing to go on.”
“Well keep an ear on him—can you do that?”
“Yes. I was going to get back to the store, too.” He focused his attention once more in the direction where he had picked up movement. It took him a minute to analyse what he was hearing, then he spoke in some alarm. “Simon? I think I’m getting a whole lot more people there; multiple heartbeats, people talking—someone giving orders. I think we’re talking about maybe a dozen men, in addition to the others I already told you about. They’re going for this in force. Wait a minute. I think someone else is in the carport now, too.”
He paused to listen. Simon said urgently, “Jim, we’ve run out of time. We’ll have to go with what you’ve got.”
He looked along the road, and saw Vin and Blair were already on the sidewalk. He tuned in for one last moment to the carport, even as people seemed to begin to move on all sides. Sharp and distinct, he at last picked up what he had been waiting for. A man’s voice, saying, “You told them to bring Tanner and Sandburg to me unharmed?”
“Definite on the carport,” he shouted into the phone, hoping that Banks was still listening. There was no time for more. Men from both sides were pouring onto the street, and he’d started running with Chris towards Vin and Blair while he was still speaking. Marcos’ men had reacted with more speed than he’d expected, and must have begun to move the moment Vin and Blair could be seen. He hit one man hard enough to knock him into another, heard someone shout behind him, and the street was plunged into a chaotic violence that seemed on the scale of a small war.
Miller drove at reckless speed. Botting and Rigby had finally returned—with the news that though they couldn’t find anything in the police records of the incident that proved they were right, they’d traced the owner of the store. Mr Peters was surprised there had been a problem there, because only that morning a Captain Banks had been in touch with him to request his cooperation in an ongoing police investigation. It was enough for Miller. They were heading back to the streets he’d just pulled most of his agents from. He’d called Haines urgently, but he had decided it might be quicker to go himself. Botting and Rigby he’d sent back to the scene of their humiliation, he was calling the handful of agents he still had left in the area for reports of anything unusual at all. And he’d just hit gold. He ran a red light, heading for the scene where one of his men had just witnessed the beginning of a free-for-all that he was sure included Simon Banks. On the seat beside him, a silenced sniper rifle slid as the car swerved. Miller didn’t want any witnesses tonight, not even from his own organisation.
Chris Larabee hit a man so hard he flew through the store window to lie sprawled in the goods he’d knocked over. Instinct made him duck as someone else swung a baseball bat at his head, then he heard a familiar laugh, another man fell through the broken glass, and Buck Wilmington said, “Always enjoy a weekend away with you, pard.”
“I’ve got to get to Vin,” Chris said shortly.
If Vin had wanted to be reached, they’d have been together by now. He and Ellison had cleared the sidewalk with a savagery that seemed to have wrongfooted their opponents, and Blair was now somewhere between Jim and the wall of the mission. Vin was fighting with an energy that seemed to have come from nowhere, and because he was easily recognisable as one of the men they were supposed to be delivering unharmed, Marcos’ men were having a great deal of trouble handling him.
And Chris was sure now Vin knew where he was heading. That last yell of Ellison’s about a definite on the carport had been audible enough, and Vin had obviously picked up its meaning. He was well on the way there by now, and Marcos’ men must have realised he was heading in the direction they wanted him to go—while Chris was trapped in the free for all blocking the road.
“Go get him,” Buck said. “I’ve got your back.”
Chris knew that. Problem was, he was having as much trouble with the front. He could only imagine what this must look like to anyone watching. He hadn’t been in a fight like it since he was in the navy. Someone ahead of him was in an open enough space to level a gun at someone Chris recognised as being from Major Crimes. He’d drawn and shot the man through the hand before his brain had even caught up with the thought.
“Stop that car!” he heard Banks voice, bellowing easily above the rest of the noise. The car with Josephs in, Chris realised. It was revving out of the carport, then someone else fired and its tyre went, sending it spinning into the concrete wall.
Two struggling men blocked his view for a minute, he kicked someone in the back of the leg and chopped down on him as he fell, and suddenly he was nearer to being in the open.
Nowhere near enough.
He could see a man who must be Marcos, already out of the damaged car and calling orders to his men, and it had to be Josephs struggling out behind him. And Vin, knife visible in his hand, was heading that way too far ahead for Chris to have a hope of catching him.
Desperate, he fired next to Vin’s feet. Vin swerved and stumbled slightly. He lost only a moment of speed, but someone else hurtled up that side of the street and flung himself at Vin in a diving tackle that must have hurt both of them. Ezra had come to the rescue, and Chris couldn’t remember when he’d ever been more pleased to see anyone.
He was there himself now, before either of them could pick themselves up. He kicked the knife away into the gutter, forced Vin back down as he scrambled to his feet, and saw that it had definitely hurt Ezra more than Vin. “You put your shoulder out again?” he asked quickly, half-kneeling on Vin to keep him there, and motioning threateningly with his gun at one of Marcos’ men who shrugged and ran.
“No—it was just not quite ready for a robust encounter with a hard surface,” Ezra said, rubbing it rather ruefully. “Behind you, Chris!”
Chris spun and ducked, something like a machete sliced over his head, he hit its owner very hard in the stomach and brought his knee up to finish him off—by which time Vin was almost up and away.
“Damn it Vin,” Chris snarled. “We’ve got the man. He’s not getting away.”
“Aint enough,” Vin managed, trying to wrench free.
“It’ll have to be,” Chris said. Then he remembered Ellison’s gift. “Sorry, Ez, but you’re about out of this fight anyway, and I can’t hang on to Vin and watch out for the three of us at the same time.”
Hastily he handcuffed Ezra’s good wrist to Vin’s, and the click of the cuff closing seemed to jerk Vin to some realisation of what he was doing. He stopped struggling, but his eyes were still fixed on Josephs, who must have tried to run and made the mistake of going in a direction blocked by Joel Taggart and Josiah.
Chris crouched ready to cover Ezra and Vin, but Marcos’ men were all running now, those who weren’t down or under arrest. Nathan was on his knees next to Henri, who seemed to have taken a bullet or knife in the arm. Simon Banks was giving orders. Surprisingly few people seemed to be much hurt, though someone was calling for ambulances for the walking wounded.
He put his hand under Ezra’s good arm, and brought him and Vin to their feet. He didn’t like the dazed expression on Vin’s face, and Ezra looked as if he’d just woken every nerve ending in his shoulder, but at least it was over. Josephs was being pushed forward now. He saw Ellison, a cut over his eye dripping blood down his face, walk towards him with Sandburg, who was probably just about to identify him officially.
Then as they stopped, something happened with no warning at all. Chris didn’t hear a shot, but he knew the way a man went down when he was hit, and Sandburg, arms suddenly flinging out, went falling face down, to an inarticulate shout of alarm and anger from Ellison. Before anyone had even had a chance to react to that, still without the sound of a shot, Josephs throat exploded in a bloody mess, and the men around him went flat expecting another bullet from nowhere. Chris spun round and saw a car at the far end of the street turn and race away. He and several others fired, but with no effect. Ellison, who might have had a chance of being more accurate was down on his knees next to Sandburg.
“Chris!” Ezra said urgently.
Vin was swaying where he stood. Chris hastily unlocked him from Ezra and took his weight.
“Blood justice,” Vin said incomprehensibly, and crumpled against him.
Chris supported him with one arm, found himself reaching out with the other to Ezra, who was by now looking distinctly pale, and as he held on to both of them, he couldn’t take his eyes from the growing group of people around the two men who had been shot.
Miller swerved down a side street, through a link, into another main street and knew he was clear. He felt no qualms of conscience. It was better for the country this way. He was reasonably certain that the man who’d briefly blocked his shot at Josephs would have been wearing a vest. It was Banks who should take the blame if he hadn’t been. He’d gone for the body shot, relying on that. As he’d predicted to himself, the man had fallen, everyone else had frozen and he’d got the one clear shot at Josephs that he needed. Josephs wouldn’t get his day in court to tell how the CIA had saved him from answering for what he’d done fifteen years ago. Ellison, Banks and a few of Team 7 might have a clear idea, but they were bound by their jobs to support anything that was in the interests of security. Benedek was sniffing around, but he’d only had a day and it was all over now. No, Miller was satisfied he’d done a good job. He wasn’t sure for a moment what was prickling uneasily at the back of his mind, then he realised. It was the long hair of the man he had had to shoot to get at Josephs. The long hair, and the fact he had been standing beside Ellison.
Miller’s hands tightened just a little on the steering wheel. Could that have been Sandburg? It made horribly plausible sense. He was more than ever grateful he’d decided to do this alone. There had better be no trace at all of his connection with the shooting. However sure he was he had done the right thing, if it had been Sandburg, he definitely never wanted to see Ellison again for the rest of his life.
Continue on to Part 6 of 7