McLain grunted and went to see what Jay-Kay was accomplishing. Cam pulled Kenny aside. “Things are going to get crazy here in the next few hours,” he told him. “I think the sheriff wants a division of labor that keeps us in the game:
The Bureau chases the executioner around the Web, and we find Marlor by using our superior local knowledge.”
Kenny rolled his eyes at Cam’s mention of superior knowledge.
“I know, I know,” Cam said. “But for starters, I want to move on that fifty K he drew out five years ago. That bank in Surry County. See if we can get a line on what that was all about.” He looked at his watch. “There’re going to be lots of phone calls, hand-wringing, and spin doctoring here for a while, so let’s go up there tonight. I’m going ask the Bureau to focus on the Web site.”
“I’ll be ready when you are,” Kenny said.
Then Cam talked to McLain to see what they needed to do to circle the wagons. Jay-Kay needed to talk to their city government network administrator so that she could use their networks without tripping over fire walls. Kenny got one of the guys to come up from Computer Crimes, and he took her to see the administrator next door. Cam told McLain that Kenny and he were going to drive up to Surry County to run down a local lead on Marlor involving mountain property.
“Can’t you just tap a statewide database on property ownership for that?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I lean toward face-to-face investigating,” Cam said. “Given where this is, it’ll be all good ole boys doing a little private banking in the Carolina mountains. They
be in the database, but then again, they might not.”
McLain wanted to know if they should be in on that. Cam told him no, not yet, unless the bankers stonewalled. McLain nodded. “We have ways of dealing with bankers who stonewall,” he reminded Cam.
Cam said he’d keep that in mind. Mostly, though, he wanted to get the hell out of there before news of the second execution gained some traction with the local media.
AS IT TURNED OUT, McLain asked if Kenny could stay behind to work with Jay-Kay, so Cam ended up hitting the road alone. He checked in with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office in Dobson and then drove to a little town called Hanging Dog, up near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The bank manager had started out being a little bit stuffy, so Cam had run the videotape of Flash’s execution for him, after which the level of cooperation rose substantially. The upshot was that James Marlor had indeed purchased a small tract up in the mountains west of town. It took another hour to retrieve plats and establish the rough location of the property. The Surry County Sheriff’s Office provided a deputy, who suggested they go in his cruiser. Cam thanked the sheriff for his help, and then they went up the state road until they crossed over the Blue Ridge Parkway. After that, Cam was really glad to have the deputy driving, because the road quickly deteriorated to a narrow lane, a barely paved affair with lots of one-lane bridges and some potholes capable of serving as tank traps. Heavily forested slopes rose on either side, making the road seem dark. The only signs of human habitation appeared along the road itself, and these ranged from neat little cottages to derelict trailers surrounded by rusting vehicles of every description. They had to stop short at a one-lane bridge to give way to an oncoming logging truck, whose brakes gave it the old college try but generated more smoke than stopping power. The driver gave the cop car a white-eyed look as he rumbled past, but the deputy didn’t seem particularly interested.
They wandered through one long, fairly continuous valley for five miles or so, then climbed a hair-raising switchback
for twenty minutes in second gear. When they arrived at the top, they were not at the top of the mountains, however, and they cut through a steep pass alongside a rushing mountain stream. Cam caught a glimpse of a lake in the distance and asked the deputy which lake it was. He said it was the Sinclair Reservoir, backed up behind a four-hundred-foot-high dam. They branched right out of the pass and the road turned to gravel and then finally to red dirt. Fortunately, it hadn’t rained for a couple of weeks, so they could press on without four-wheel drive. There were no more signs of humans or their houses up here, but the road looked well used. The deputy explained that this was the access road to the hydro plant at the Sinclair dam.
They climbed some more, going between and occasionally across the face of increasingly steeper slopes. Cam couldn’t really see the scope and extent of the mountains because their car was confined to the road, which followed the lowest points. Finally, they climbed another scary switchback and came out onto an overlook. Cam was very glad there’d been no logging trucks on that last bit. The deputy glanced down at the plat map and pointed with his chin at a vista of rolling hills, an expanse of unrelieved forest green, and three large mountains whose tops were sheathed in a blue haze.
“That way, yonder,” he said. “Maybe eight miles in, and half of one up.”
The deputy’s “yonder” indicated a crumbling, brush-covered firebreak that led generally north and west into the wilderness. A set of high-tension lines snaked across the hills along the route of the firebreak. None of it looked suitable for wheeled vehicles. Tracked, maybe, but not wheeled. Cam asked if there was another way to approach the cabin’s location. The deputy said there was an abandoned cattle farm on the back of Blackberry Mountain, on whose front slopes the cabin supposedly was located. He gave Cam driving directions.
That evening, Cam checked in with Kenny to see how the zoo was taking shape. Kenny reported that the rest of the day had turned into a whirl of urgent meetings, conference calls,
more meetings, and no visible progress in locating James Marlor. “The Bureau’s pulsed all their systems, and everything seems to end right about the time the neighbor says he beat feet. One gas card used a mile from his house around that time, and then genu-wine radio silence.”
“Is it still our case?”
“McLain’s been in with the sheriff, and he also met with the powers that be next door. I worked with Jay-Kay for a while, but then it became obvious I was way out of my league, so I just backed out and let her smoke the keyboard by herself.
“She get anywhere?”
“She says that each video clip was posted just once, and then the site it landed on forwarded it out to the world. Whoever did the posting came in via a secure server, banged it out there, and went back down. She’s working on a way to uniquely identify some aspect of the original post, and then there’s a govvie system that can lurk the Web and watch for that tag.”
“How the hell can she do that if he only posts and runs?”
“She says it has to do with the configuration of the actual packets he posts,” Kenny said. “At that level, it’s by me, boss.”
“What are the teams doing?” Cam asked.
“Still looking for K-Dog and Flash. Word’s out on the street that they’re real Internet movie stars now, so whatever help we might have gotten from the snitch network is drying up fast. Nobody wants to attract pickup trucks with hooded drivers.”
“You get word to Will Guthridge that he might be a target?”
“I talked to him myself,” Kenny said. “He’s not sweating it.”
It must be something they teach ’em at the Police Academy these days, Cam thought. Too many cops thought that the bad guys would always draw the line at doing a cop, because, according to Hollywood, that would spark a cop-killer frenzy and the heat wasn’t worth what would happen next. Cam knew it wasn’t true anymore, if it ever had been. Today’s bad guy would ice a cop as soon as hit a dog in the
road. It wasn’t that they didn’t stop to consider the possible consequences. It was more that they didn’t associate consequences with anything they did, good or bad.
“Get to his district boss,” Cam said. “Get him into the district house on admin duty somehow until we sort this thing out.”
“Got it,” Kenny said.
“And then there’s the judge,” Cam said.
“The Feebs are working that one. They’re asking us to set up the protection loop. And that’s a pity.”
“You can think it, Kenny, but you can’t say it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But in my book, she started this shit. I’m surprised he didn’t start with her.”
“Well, we don’t want him to end it with her, either,” Cam said. “Bellamy’s a tough lady. She may need a talking-to, just like Will.”
“You ask me—” he began.
“I didn’t. I know how everybody feels about Judge Bellamy right now. I’ll talk to McLain when I get back tomorrow.”
“How about the cabin?”
“Round me up a state helicopter.”
“You gonna take McLain along?”
“No,” Cam said. “I’ll evaluate the situation, then get back to the office and huddle with them. After Eric Rudolph, they should be right up to speed on rousting bad guys out of the Carolina mountains these days.”
Kenny laughed at that one.
CAM GOT CLEAR OF Hanging Dog at eight o’clock the next morning and was back in the office by 11:00 A.M. He briefed the sheriff on what he’d found up in Surry County. Bobby Lee listened and then said he had some news.
“The Bureau’s backing out,” he announced, a glint of triumph in his eye.
“They are?” Cam asked, truly surprised. “Two people executed in an electric chair on the Internet and they’re backing out?”
executed,” Bobby Lee said. “All we
have are two video clips purporting to show two people being executed, said clips arriving on the Internet from an unknown and unverifiable source. Senior Bureau management in Washington is skeptical. No physical evidence—no crispy critters. They, on the other hand, are facing an unlimited supply of crazed Muslims. Basically, they will not deploy assets on this case until we ‘show them the meat,’ to quote Mr. McLain.”
Show them the
? Cam wondered who’d come up with that beauty. “The bodies could be anywhere,” he said. “This isn’t the Bureau I know—they get into something, they don’t just withdraw, especially if it has a publicity tail like this one.”
“Things have changed, Lieutenant,” Bobby Lee said. “Ever since nine/eleven, the Bureau’s been backing out of what they consider routine crimes and redeploying assets into the counterterrorism task forces. The bosses at the Hoover Building think our videos are some kind of hacker stunt.”
“So where are Simmonds and Butts?” Cam asked. “And James Marlor?”
“I’m waiting for you to tell me,” the sheriff said. “But basically the Bureau seems to be saying: Who cares?”
“Excuse me?” Cam said.
The sheriff told Cam to sit down. “Look at it from Washington’s perspective: Two local hoods have disappeared, after having been let off by some Communist judge. Not believing their good fortune, they promptly get their ugly asses out of Dodge. And Marlor? He’s now lost two wives, plus his stepdaughter. Perfectly logical for him to hang it up at Duke Energy and go somewhere—anywhere—as long as it’s away from these unhappy parts.”
“But how about the abduction? A white guy pulling into a black neighborhood at one o’clock in the morning and cutting loose with a submachine gun?”
it was a white guy,” the sheriff pointed out. “And there isn’t a single bullet hole anywhere. Our only witness to Butts being abducted showed twice the legal limit for alcohol in his blood when he made his statement. And now
not to be found anywhere.”
“Why would a bunch of guys on a crack corner make all that up?” Cam asked.
“Because they’re a bunch of crack-smoking, drug-dealing, bitch-slapping, booze-slopping no-loads with nothing else to do? Just like brother Flash?”
Cam didn’t know what to say. “So what now—we just quit right here?”
The sheriff smiled his “Gotcha” smile. “Not at all. We work it from the physical-reality point of view, as opposed to the virtual-reality one. First, find Marlor, or find out what happened to him. Consider that your main bang. Second, keep someone looking for the two mutts, because if either of them surfaces, obviously we’re home free.”
“Well, hell, maybe the Bureau’s right,” Cam said. “Why do anything?”
The sheriff got up and started pacing around. “Because I can’t afford to be wrong about this,” he said. “And because of what the executioner said when he did the black guy: ‘That’s
two.’ Assuming this is real, I think he’s going to do one more.”
“And that would be Bellamy?”
He nodded. “I think so. Either way, Next Door feels, of course, that this whole mess has given Triboro a big black eye. They want it to go away, but they’re terrified of what the voters will think if they do nothing and the judge shows up in lights, so to speak.”
“Will there be budget money for a twenty-four/seven protective detail, and if so, for how long?”
“How long?” Bobby Lee said. “How ’bout until MCAT finds Marlor, or one of those two purported victims surfaces. I’m planning to use SWAT-qualified assets for the detail, and to rotate the requirement through the district offices. Starting with Sergeant McMichael, seeing as how he started this cluster fuck.”
Well, there is some justice, Cam thought. But the sheriff had ducked his question. “That could be a very long time, Sheriff,” Cam said, thinking of those vast, remote mountains he’d just visited. “It took the entire FBI four years to find Eric Rudolph, and actually, they never did—it was a local who dropped a dime on him.”
“Way I see it,” the sheriff said, returning to his desk, “if all this
real, he’ll come for the judge. If it’s not, you only have to find one of three people to prove the whole thing a hoax. Granted, finding Marlor might be hard, but K-Dog and Flash?”
Cam didn’t say what he thought should be obvious: that they might never find any of them.