JUST BEFORE NOON, THE sheriff’s secretary called to report that the FBI had arrived and that Bobby Lee wanted Cam down there. The unreasonably young-looking agent introduced himself as Supervisory Special Agent Thomas McLain. He shook Cam’s hand with a hard, if restrained, grip. He looked to be in his late thirties, tall and rangy, with short black hair and piercing gray-green eyes. If he’s a supervisory special agent, he has to be older than he looks, Cam thought. Or I am getting old. To his surprise, Jaspreet Kaur Bawa accompanied McLain. She nodded at him.
“Ms. Bawa,” Cam said, turning to shake her hand. “We meet again. Are you in the FBI now?”
“No, Lieutenant, I am a consultant to the Bureau in their investigation into the execution video.”
“Oka-a-y,” Cam said, unaware until now that the FBI even had an investigation going on the chair video. Bobby Lee gave him a discreet “Thought so” look.
“Anybody need coffee?” the sheriff asked. “No? Okay. We were just talking about getting you guys into this mess, so let’s hit the conference room and I’ll let Lieutenant Richter tell you what we know and what we don’t know. Mostly the latter.”
It was actually McLain who led off, telling them that the Bureau had opened a case on the Internet execution video and that they wanted to collaborate with the Manceford County Sheriff’s Office, since it appeared that the case had started there. He said he would appreciate any information they could give the Bureau. To Cam’s vast relief, McLain projected none of the traditional “We’re the G, step aside, small people” posturing. He was polite, professional, and
willing to listen as Cam walked them through it, starting with the disastrous minimart heist. McLain had set up a laptop and used it to take notes, although Cam got the impression that whatever went into Thomas McLain’s brain was being stored there in neatly bulleted outline fashion.
Cam then described the abduction incident of the previous night and said that in his opinion, K-Dog Simmonds had been the killer-diller at the minimart, while Flash Butts had been along for the ride, both mentally and physically. He noticed that Ms. Bawa curled her lip when he mentioned the killers. She was obviously still very angry about it.
“He saw the execution video and didn’t want protection?” McLain asked.
“He saw it, freaked, but would
entertain the notion of jail as protection. He’s a crackhead. Brain’s gone.”
“And we have no idea of where James Marlor could be?”
Cam noted the corporate “we” and saw that Bobby Lee probably didn’t feel that way, based on his body language. The sheriff had always been fiercely protective of the Manceford County Sheriff’s Office’s prerogatives when it came to sharing cases. He suspected that the sheriff, like Kenny Cox, lived for the hunt.
“It looks like his departure was orderly,” Cam said. “We found out that Marlor took out thirty-five thousand in cash money a week after the judge let the bastards go.”
“Walking-around money, with no electronic consequences,” McLain said.
Cam nodded. “We think so,” he said. “And he’s the guy with the best motive.” Then he glanced over at the Bureau’s consultant as if to say, and she’s the one with the second-best motive. She stared right back at him, as if daring him to say it out loud.
“Ms. Bawa,” Cam said, “I’m concerned that you’re involved in this case.”
McLain answered before she could speak. “Jay-Kay here is an expert consultant on the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of the World Wide Web,” he said. “And since
she’s based in Charlotte, Washington authorized the Charlotte field office to engage her services.”
“I would have thought the Bureau had its own assets for that,” the sheriff said.
McLain nodded. “We do, but they’re otherwise engaged these days. Mostly by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Also,” she said, “I’m pro bono when I work for the Bureau. No cost to the government.”
Cam gave McLain a look. Having the victim of a crime involved in the investigation was not kosher at either the federal or the local level. McLain understood. “She gets her tasking from us,” he said. “And it’s specifically related to Web stuff. She doesn’t go along on any rides, and she won’t have access to everything we generate about the case.”
Then she shouldn’t be here at this meeting, Cam thought, but he didn’t want to piss McLain off. The Bureau was being polite, and that counted for a lot in his book. “Right,” the sheriff said, “Your consultant, your call. How do you propose to work this?”
“I’ve been instructed to put the technical assets of the Bureau at your disposal and to offer professional advice on the course of the investigation whenever I see an opportunity to be helpful. It’s your case, and it will remain so until and unless certain exigencies arise that trigger a wider national security interest.”
That little speech sounded rehearsed to Cam, but the sheriff thanked McLain for the Bureau’s offer of help, then suggested to Cam that the three of them adjourn to the MCAT office. Once there, Cam saw that Kenny was back. He called him over and asked him to get Ms. Bawa set up with a computer terminal. He took McLain into his personal office, took off his gun belt, and invited McLain to make himself comfortable.
“You have been bending over backward to be nice,” Cam said without preamble. “I appreciate the hell out of it, but how come?”
McLain smiled. “First of all, we really do have a full plate
these days with this antiterrorism mission. And second, now that Butts has been abducted, we think it’s just about guaranteed we’ll see a second execution.”
“The first one was a grisly novelty,” Cam said.
“Yes, but a second one is going to nudge the liberal establishment into high dudgeon. Inquiring minds are gonna want to know: Hey, you guys on this, or what?”
Cam laughed. “And that’s what you meant by ‘certain exigencies’? If the political shit storm reaches a critical mass, you guys will step up?”
“Something like that,” he said with a smile. “Assuming it’s real.”
“Yeah, that’s one of our problems,” Cam said. “It could be a damn hoax.”
“What’s MCAT?” McLain asked.
Cam told him. “Interesting approach,” McLain said. “You okay with us being here like this?” he asked.
“Hell yes,” Cam said. “I was just telling the sheriff that we ought to hand this sick puppy off to the Bureau right now.”
“He good with that?”
“Not entirely,” Cam said. “He feels that since we—and that means a guy in my shop—actually lit the fuse on this thing with a screwup, we should be the ones to ‘unscrew’ it, as he quaintly puts it.”
“I can understand that,” McLain said.
Cam told him what the sheriff had said about a possible division of labor. McLain agreed immediately. “What’s first?” he asked.
“We like James Marlor as the possible doer, and we’ve been looking. But of course now our urgent priority is to retrieve Deleon Butts. We have very little to go on, other than it was a hooded guy in a pickup truck, using an automatic rifle but shooting blanks.”
“Yeah, blanks. We heard about that. Any leads?”
Cam shrugged. “The city cops have a full-court press going in certain neighborhoods, but you know how that goes.”
“And you’ve found no trace of the other guy, Simmonds?”
“Only on the Web. And that’s a problem, of course, because we don’t habeas a corpus.”
McLain frowned but didn’t say anything. Cam switched to his problem with having Ms. Bawa involved. He told him of her sentiments on what should have happened in the courthouse square.
“She told me the same thing,” he said. “Refreshing, isn’t it?”
It was Cam’s turn to smile.
“She’s a piece of work,” he said, “both technically and personally. She’s worked for the Bureau before, with our counterterrorism folks. Technically, she’s beyond good. She keeps a brace of mainframe IBM computers in her home office and connects to the Web with her own T-one line.”
“English?” Cam said. “T-one?”
“That means a huge data pipe. The word
doesn’t adequately describe it. She says she never deals directly with the Web. She interfaces with her mainframes—she calls them her ‘tigers’—and
go out on the Web.”
“Sounds a little scary. This is in Charlotte?”
“Right. She’s a professional consultant. Adheres to Bureau guidelines and does what she’s told. My boss is okay with this, despite the personal angle.”
“As long as you and I can meet like this,” Cam said. “I don’t like civilians listening in on everything we do.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “But she’ll need a liaison here.”
“I put her with Sergeant Cox—he’s the big guy you met out there. He’ll handle Ms. Bawa’s needs.”
“Jay-Kay. Everyone calls her that,” McLain said.
They sorted all the logistics out in about five minutes, then rejoined the gaggle of MCAT cops and agents back in the office. Jay-Kay, who looked positively sleek in a rose-colored business suit, was sitting at Kenny’s computer and showing him something. Kenny looked at Cam over the monitor as he came back into the outer office. The sergeant rolled his eyes, as if to say she had long ago left him in the digital dust. Cam introduced the rest of the MCAT crew to McLain and then suggested they all go to lunch at a nearby cop bar, to be followed
by a joint planning session to see where the hell they’d go from here.
Cam’s heart sank when he saw that there was a message from Computer Crimes when they got back. All it said was that they should go to a particular Web address. He showed it to McLain, who groaned. Lunch was about to be spoiled.
If anything, this one was worse than the first time. They all knew what was coming, and Butts was totally terrified, because
also knew what was coming. The MCAT cops reacted differently to this one, too. There had been shock and horror when they watched K-Dog die, but there had also been an element of satisfaction: That punk had gotten what he deserved. This time, there was no crowing, nor any sentiments of just desserts. They all waited in suspense for the important bit—the final voice-over—and, sure enough, here it came. “That’s two,” the electronic voice intoned.
The comradely buzz they’d developed over lunch evaporated. Jay-Kay took a small handheld computing unit out of her briefcase, connected it to her cell phone, sat down at Kenny’s desk, and went to work on that Web address. Cam called the sheriff and gave him the bad news. McLain called his office in Charlotte and did the same. The people there apparently already knew about it, and they told him to stand by for additional instructions. Computer Crimes delivered a videotape of the second execution a few minutes later, and they watched it again, amid much speculation about whether or not it was real.
“I’ve seen an official electrocution,” McLain commented. “Except for some details, this is pretty close.”
“Details?” Cam asked.
“Yeah. I watched one at Marion, the big-lock pen in Illinois. The prison chair there is actually made of wood, which is nonconducting. The current path is into the skull and out through an electrode on the guy’s leg. They use five cycles of current, not two. The current comes in through a metal skullcap, under which they put a vinegar-soaked sponge to ensure conductivity. The current comes out via a leg iron to ground.” He pointed with his chin at the video. “This guy has put the
top electrodes in the victim’s mouth and is bringing it out through the entire chair, wherever his skin touches metal.”
Cam flinched just thinking about it. “An academic distinction once the juice comes on,” he said, but he still felt a little creepy talking about it.
“But symbolically important,” McLain said. “Whoever’s doing this
the people he’s doing this to, putting the electrode in the guy’s mouth like that. In my book, that strengthens your theory that this is Marlor. This is absolutely personal.”
“I’m wondering where he’s getting high voltage. Doesn’t the state version of this use a couple thousand volts?”
McLain nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, two thousand, I think. That’s not available to a house. He’d need a generator and a sizable power transformer. Those are things we need to look for.”
Kenny joined them and heard McLain’s comment. “After Hurricane Hugo, half the people in this state have generators,” he said. “Transformers, now—that’s probably worth running down.”
“Fifty milliamps of AC power can kill you,” Pardee Bell said. “It doesn’t take being connected to the Hoover Dam to do that.”
The voice on the video made its pronouncement about Flash being number two.
So: Who was number three?
McLain had the same question. “Surely not the judge?” he asked quietly.
Kenny reached forward and turned off the VCR. “Either the judge or Will Guthridge,” he said. “If there’s going to be a three, that is. He’s done the two shooters. The only choice left now is between the cop who supposedly screwed it up and the judge who let ’em go.”
“That’s easy,” Horace said.