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Authors: J.C. Fields

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BOOK: The Assassin's Trail
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Chapter 10

 

Kansas City, MO

Sunday

 

Small talk was not his favorite pastime, but he did enjoy observing corporate culture in action. The reception held for them by Stephanie’s company on Sunday afternoon was a great place to observe the pecking order and who was trying to get promoted. After all the congratulations and hand-shaking, Kruger found himself standing next to the bar and drinking the first of his self-imposed two beer limit. While watching Stephanie introduce Brian and Michele to her co-workers, he thought back to last night’s dinner after their wedding.

Stephanie had arranged everybody at the table so she could sit next to Brian. After the cocktails and wine were served, she turned to him and in a serious tone, said, “Brian, now that your father and I are married, I would like to ask you a question. I know I’m not your real mother, but I love you like a son. With your permission, I’d like to introduce you tomorrow, and in the future, as my son. Would that be alright?”

Brian smiled. Like his father, he was seldom caught off guard by unexpected questions.

“Only if you allow me to call you Mom,” he answered.

From that moment on, the evening went perfectly.

He smiled with the memory and sensed more than saw someone approaching where he stood. Wine glass in hand, Neil Ross, CEO and president of the company, was walking over to Kruger. The two shook hands, and Neil said, “Congratulations, Sean, I’m happy for both of you. Stephanie’s an extraordinary individual and a valued member of my team. She deserves a fulfilling personal life.”

“Thank you, Neil. I agree, she is extraordinary.”

Neil Ross was in his early 60s, and not a heavy man, but one who had the body of someone who spent more time behind a desk than on a treadmill. He was dressed in a dark gray pinstripe Armani suit, complimented with an open collar blue silk shirt. His once coal-black hair was now lightened by an increasing number of silver streaks. Ross was the same height as Kruger, but today he appeared weary, his posture was slightly slumped, and the dark circles under his eyes detracted from his handsome face. Neil looked out at the crowd and said, “Can I talk to you for a moment on a professional level?”

Kruger looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “About what, Neil?”

“Stephanie tells me you know a little about Fernando Guevara.”

Kruger shrugged. “I made a few calls, can’t say I know a lot about him.”

Neil nodded his head. “I understand your reluctance to discuss this, but I and some of the local board members have been asked to meet with Guevara later this afternoon here at the Marriott. His staff called on Friday and inquired if we would be available to meet with him.”

Neil paused for a few moments and looked at Kruger. “How did the man know several of us would be here?”

“Neil, I don’t believe in coincidences. He knew about the reception, which means someone inside your organization is feeding him information. Stef and I didn’t even decide to get married until last weekend. This whole thing was thrown together this week.”

“Yes, I’m afraid I agree with you. I can’t for the life of me figure out who would benefit. Can you tell me anything about him?”

Kruger thought for a moment. He had met Neil Ross several times over the past four years and liked the man. He was ethical, loyal to his staff and managed the company with compassion.

“I honestly don’t know much, but as a profiler I would consider him narcissistic and manipulative. Definitely deceitful. I wouldn’t believe a word he tells you, and anything discussed, I would get in writing. Preferably notarized by the Supreme Court.”

Neil smiled at the last part. “I called a few friends around the country yesterday trying to get prepared for the meeting. They all agree with you. He has a ruthless reputation and everyone suggested not trusting anything he says in conversation. He told Frank he wants to have a private meeting with just the two of us in the morning. Not sure what it’s about, maybe to discuss his offer before the board meeting tomorrow afternoon.”

“Can’t you tell him the company’s not for sale?”

“Unfortunately, it is my fiduciary duty to determine what is best for the shareholders of this company. If he makes a good offer, I am bound to present it to the board. Now, they can vote to decline the offer, but I have to take it to them. If he does buy us, I’ll be gone, and senior management will be dismissed and replaced within six months to a year. That’s his pattern.”

“Do you think the board will vote that way?”

“The board has always agreed with Frank and me on our decisions because we do what’s right for the company, and they trust us. But we’ve never had to deal with a situation like this before, a semi-hostile takeover bid.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what to expect.”

“Sorry, but I’m not in a position to say too much.” Kruger was getting uncomfortable. He couldn’t tell Neil about the conversation with Ted Margolin.

Kruger was about to tell Neil he couldn’t discuss anything further when a slender man in an incredibly expensive suit walked up to Neil. He was slightly over five-and-a-half feet tall, with coal-black hair combed straight back, bushy eyebrows over a hawk nose. The man extended his hand and said, “Neil, I’m Fernando Guevara. I was told you would be here. Mind if I join you?”

Neil looked shocked for half a second, but recovered rapidly, shook the extended hand and said, “Why, no, I don’t mind, nice to meet you. Mr. Guevara, this is Sean Kruger. He and his wife are the reason for this little get-together. They were married yesterday.”

Guevara smiled and shook Kruger’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Sean. What is your position in the company?”

Kruger smiled, noticing that Guevara did not say congratulations or hello, but simply addressed him by his first name and got to business. He had also addressed Neil, a man he’d never met, the same way. How interesting. Kruger was going to enjoy this next part.

“Actually, I’m not with the company,” he replied. “My wife is the Senior Executive Vice President of Domestic Sales. I’m an agent with the FBI.”

Normally, in social settings such as this, when he dropped the FBI bomb, people either got flustered or were fascinated. Guevara did neither.

He politely said, “Well, nice to meet you anyway.” Then he turned his attention back to Neil. “I would really like to meet your staff. Can you introduce me?”

Neil appeared tense and upset about the intrusion, so Kruger said, “Neil, I have to make a phone call. I’ll talk to you later.”

With that comment, Neil lead Guevara toward a group of senior managers gathered around a TV watching a Royals game.

Kruger observed as Guevara was introduced to each of the managers, half of whom were women. As the introductions progressed, Guevara seemed to ignore the women and concentrate on the male members of the group. Kruger smiled and slowly shook his head. Stephanie walked up to him and nudged him on the arm.

“Was that Fernando Guevara? I heard he might show up. Did you meet him?

“Yeah, I met him. That’s him with Neil, all business, no time for social niceties. Since I don’t work for the company, I’m persona non grata. Interesting guy, but I wouldn’t want to have a beer with him. Watch how he interacts with the group over there. He’s basically ignoring the women.”

Stephanie watched for a few minutes and said, “Great, just great. At least Neil isn’t kissing his ass. That would make it even more disgusting.”

Kruger laughed and said, “Neil doesn’t look too thrilled either. Probably wanting another glass of wine. Or something stronger. Why don’t you go get Neil another drink, take it over there and get introduced?” There was a hint of mischievousness in his voice.

Stephanie stared at him and shook her head, “You’re impossible. I’m sure I’ll meet him soon enough. I need to rescue Brian and Michele. I left them with Bill and Lucy Henderstill. I hope they’re still awake when I get back.”

She walked away, making a wide circle around the area where Fernando Guevara was standing.

Kruger was following her with his eyes, thinking about how great she looked, when he noticed the man in the navy blazer. He was sitting at the bar and staring at Guevara. His expression was blank. Every few moments, he would fiddle with what appeared to be a Bluetooth receiver in his right ear. Kruger immediately suspected it wasn’t a Bluetooth receiver, but a hearing enhancing device. He had used something similar several times when he was on surveillance. However, this one looked more like something from Walmart.

As Guevara moved around the room meeting different people, the man would follow discreetly, always staying about thirty feet away.

He didn’t appear to be part of a security team. He was slender and did not have the upper body strength of most corporate security personnel. Plus those guys usually stood closer to their client and were constantly glancing around. This guy wasn’t; he was concentrating on Guevara.

Besides the blue blazer, he wore khaki pants, a light blue polo shirt and loafers. He was holding a short glass containing a clear liquid and trying to be inconspicuous.

Intrigued, Kruger didn’t care if the guy was spying on Guevara, but he did care if the man was working for Guevara and recording private conversations. He made sure his iPhone’s camera would not flash and discreetly took several pictures from about fifteen feet. After watching the man for a few more minutes, his years of experience told him the guy wasn’t working for Guevara. He was following him.

Thirty minutes later, Guevara finished his rounds at the reception and left. His shadow set his drinking glass down and followed at a distance. In Kruger’s mind, this left no doubt the guy was following Guevara. As discreetly as possible, Kruger wandered over to where the man had set his cocktail glass. Reaching down, he used three fingers spread inside the glass to pick it up without disturbing any finger prints on the outside. He took the glass to the bartender, showed his FBI credentials and asked for a plastic zip-top bag.

Nodding, the guy found one behind the bar and handed it to Kruger. “You gonna pay for that glass or just take it?”

Kruger stared at the man. “It’s evidence. I’m taking it. You got a problem with that?”

The bartender backed up and hurriedly shook his head no.

With the bagged glass in hand, he walked to a quiet section of the reception area and took his iPhone out. He attached the pictures of the man to an email and sent them to a technician at the FBI Facial Recognition Department in D.C. Hopefully, he would get a response in a day or two. The fingerprints on the glass would be taken to the local FBI office first thing in the morning for processing. If he was lucky, using both methods there was a good chance to identify the man by tomorrow afternoon.

Suddenly he realized there might be one more possibility. He found Ted Margolin’s number on his phone and called. Ted answered immediately, “Do you know it’s Sunday, Kruger?”

“Actually I do, but I just met Fernando Guevara. I also found something interesting and thought you might want to know.” He paused. “If you don’t, I can call you tomorrow.”

“Don’t hang up. What is it?”

“Did you know he has a shadow?”

Margolin was quiet for several moments. “What do you mean, a shadow?” He paused, but before Kruger could answer, he continued. “Hey, what’s going on, are you harassing the man?”

Laughing, Kruger said, “No, he showed up at a reception my wife’s company is holding for us. Remember, the company he is trying to take over.”

“Okay, now what do you mean about a shadow?”

“Someone is following him. Not a pro from what I could tell, but definitely someone trying to listen in on his conversations.”

Margolin was silent for a moment, and then said, “We don’t have anyone following him, if that’s what you wanted to know. Could be an investor trying to get a scoop on his next target. They’d start buying shares anticipating the announcement of Whiterock making an offer. Once the news is out, the stock price of the target company goes up, and the investor makes a profit. Or it could be a reporter for one of the financial publications.”

“So you think this is just some guy trying to make a buck?”

“Yeah, that’s how I would view it.”

“Okay, Ted, thanks. Sorry to bother you.”

Kruger ended the call and stood thinking. Was the guy just some investor trying to get a lead on a stock or a reporter? If either were true, he was wasting his time getting the fingerprints analyzed. But his instincts told him different, and those instincts had solved more than a few cases over his career. Finally he decided he would get the prints checked and wait for the facial analysis. No use getting excited, and if it turned out to be a false alarm, so be it. At least he was being proactive.

Chapter 11

 

Kansas City, MO

Monday

 

A patch above the left breast pocket on his shirt read ‘Jerry’ in stitched cursive letters. His name was not Jerry. The time was 10 a.m., and busy shoppers were already competing for parking spaces around Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. Frustration growing, it took several passes before one of three parking spaces he had chosen the previous day where available. The spot was just west of O’Dowd’s Little Dublin at the corner of Pennsylvania and 48th Street. After parking the white Ford van, he gathered his clipboard, opened the door, and walked to the back of the van for his tool case. Calmly strolling to the front door of the tavern, he knocked and waited. O’Dowd’s was still closed at that time of the morning, but a manager unlocked the door and motioned for him to enter.

“Well, Jerry,” the manager said, glancing at the name on his shirt, “about damn time you got here. We open for business in less than thirty minutes, so you’d better hurry”

“Sorry, couldn’t find a parking space. From what I was told last night it shouldn’t take very long.” Thomas Cooper smiled. “Just show me which restroom and I’ll get started.”

“This way.” The manager started walking toward the other side of the pub. “The men’s room overflowed last night about closing time. What a mess. We had to pay a couple of guys overtime to clean it up.” The manger talked like he was speaking to no one in particular, just complaining. Cooper liked that. The less attention the manager paid to him, the less likely he would remember a description. After all, he was just a plumber, and no one remembered what a plumber looked like.

After showing him the offending toilet, the manager said, “Please hurry.”

He quickly left the room to attend to more important problems. After the door to the restroom closed, Cooper took a long wire out of his tool kit. Snaking the wire into the bowl, it only took a few seconds before he felt resistance on the probe. He quickly pulled the object out and deposited it in the trash can. He had clogged the toilet the night before right before closing time with a specially designed sponge. Making sure he was still in the bar when it backed up and overflowed, he handed the night manager a business card for a company called Just In Time Plumbers. It was an actual company; he had taken the business card the previous week from the company after applying for a job.

He said, “I can be here first thing in the morning to fix it. I would right now, but don’t have my tools.”

The night manager said, “Okay, I’ll leave a note for the day manager. What time will you be here?”

With the toilet unclogged, Cooper sat down on the toilet and waited for a phone call.

He didn’t wait long. Less than fifteen minutes later, his cell phone vibrated. He answered it by saying, “Yes.”

“On time, twenty minutes, your position.”

The call ended.

Cooper stood, left his tools in the restroom and strolled to the front door. A young college student was preparing the front of the bar for the lunch time crowd. She smiled at him.

He smiled back. She was cute, blond, petite but well-endowed, and her name badge told him her name was Crystal. “Hi, Crystal, I have to get more tools out of the truck. Be right back.”

He waited as two gentlemen in suits entered the now-open restaurant, then he walked out and turned right toward the van. He stopped in front of it, pulled a cigarette from a box in his shirt pocket, lit it, and continued to walk away from O’Dowd’s.

Five minutes later, he had doubled back. The shirt with Jerry above the breast pocket and the flesh-colored surgical gloves were gone. His chosen position was about a hundred yards due south of O’Dowd’s at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Ward Parkway with a perfect view of the van. He leaned against the building and waited.

After another six minutes, he saw the limousine turn off of 47th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue and head toward him. It slowed and turned right onto 48th Street, stopping even with the back of the van. He had calculated correctly. The limo stopped exactly where he needed it to be located. The driver got out and hurried back to the rear passenger side door. Once the door was open, a man about five-and-a-half feet tall with black slicked-back hair exited. He paused to say something to the driver.

Cooper quickly glanced at a photo on his cell phone, smiled, and with his other hand, pressed the button on the converted garage door opener hidden in his pants pocket. He then moved behind the building to avoid the concussion.

The van exploded with a massive force, violently shredding the metal, glass, wiring, and plastic on the right side of the limousine. The driver and passenger died instantly from the concussion and shrapnel. Their bodies were then incinerated as the limousine’s gas tank ignited. In the ensuing chaos, Cooper joined a group of panicked pedestrians rushing to get away from the noise and dust of the explosion. Amid the screams, he quickly walked to the east side of The Plaza. It took him almost seven minutes to reach the spot where he had parked a rental car earlier in the morning. As he opened the car door, the sirens of first responders could be heard off in the distance. Not wishing to get caught up in a police blockade, he calmly got in the car, started it and eased away from the shoulder. He headed north.

The route he followed took him to I-70 East, where he merged onto the interstate highway and started the three-and-a-half hour drive to St. Louis. There was little worry about being stopped by police for a traffic violation, but he kept his speed to the posted limit, just in case. Cooper figured they had more important things to do. He was right.

Six hours later he was sitting in the last row next to the window on a Southwest Airline flight bound for Love Field in Dallas. His hair was now its natural color and his tinted contacts were discarded. As the plane began to taxi toward the runway, he allowed himself a slight smile. Leaning his head back in the seat, he closed his eyes and relaxed for the first time that day.

An hour and half later, as the plane taxied to the terminal at Love Field, he turned on his phone and texted a one word message to a memorized number. After sending the word Dallas, he deleted the number from the phone and shut it off.

After exiting the plane with his carry-on in tow, he noticed the airport was moderately busy. This suited him fine. Waiting for the taxi took several minutes, but no one paid unusual attention to him. He instructed the driver to take him to the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas. After paying the driver, he exited the cab, waited for it to get out of sight, then hiked three blocks to the Westin City Center. There, he entered the hotel and went to the restroom. Waiting ten minutes, he exited the hotel, found a cab waiting and proceeded to DFW airport.

He boarded the 9 p.m. flight to Atlanta and arrived just after midnight Eastern Time. After working his way to his car in long term parking, he left the airport, found I-85 south and started driving. Pleased with his progress, he finally stopped at a Holiday Inn Express in La Grange, Georgia. Once in his room, he turned his cell phone on and found he had a text message waiting.

The message was simple, “Acknowledged check in 2.” This meant his previous message had been received and for him to check his email in two days. Satisfied with the events of the day, he took a quick shower, laid down and slept until noon.

BOOK: The Assassin's Trail
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