Authors: Brian Haig
Margold said, “Let’s entertain your theory for a moment. They’ve got some kind of signaling device—radios maybe—and as you suggested, they launch their attacks simultaneously.” She walked over to the dead guy in the lounge chair. “He’s armed, he’s alert, he’s facing the door...he gets it first. Then her, before she can push the central alarm,” she said, indicating the dead lady at the commo console. “The sleeper, he’s harmless...he gets it last.”
“Nope,” said Ben, shaking his head. “Not only are cameras covering the whole exterior of this house, there’s also motion detectors. No way you could get even
person approaching undetected. Couldn’t happen.”
After pondering Ben’s blanket assurance, I asked, “No blind spots?”
“Glad you asked—none. Cameras cover the full backyard, the house flanks, and there’s two roving cameras mounted high on the columns in the front that give you a panorama of
approaching this house.” He pointed at the monitors. “You saw yourself—driveway, lawn, street out front...everything’s covered.”
I noted, “I saw a blind spot against the front wall of the house.”
“Well, yeah. The cameras had to be mounted on the columns. But we were aware of that. So that space is covered with movement sensors.”
“Radar or light beams?” I asked.
“Radar. I oversaw the security architecture and installation myself. One detector spaced every five feet. Foolproof.”
Wrong answer, Ben. I asked, “And what happens when two or three bodies breach a beam simultaneously?”
“Like, they’re walking in a line, so they all hit the beam at once?” I knew the answer, actually. But sometimes the Socratic method works best.
Ben paused. He then gave the only answer he could give. “Theoretically, you might get one alert.”
“So this Elwood guy pulls into the driveway—and one, two, or three other guys are inside the car with him. He gets out; they get out. They stay low, using the car as a visual screen from the cameras till they get to the blind spot by the garage door. They get right against the front wall of the house, inside the blind spot, and move in lockstep with Elwood.” After a short pause, I added, “And because the folks down here observe what they think is Elwood moving alone on the walkway, they assume it’s him making the movement detectors go off.”
The room was suddenly quiet. I asked, “Is that a possible scenario?”
Poor Ben looked like he just understood he was about to have a big career problem. “I...I don’t think so.”
Margold looked at me, then at Ben, then at the three corpses in the tiny room. She said, “Ben...we better check.”
So we trudged back upstairs, through the long hallway and the spacious foyer, past poor Lacy’s body, and onto the front entry. Neatly trimmed bushes and shrubbery were up against the front wall of the house, and there was a thick strip of mulch separating the bushes from the well-manicured lawn. But once you knew what you were looking for, and at, the disturbances in the garden mulch jumped out at you. Ben bent forward at the waist and gawked. After an awkward moment, he insisted, “That proves nothing. Could’ve been a gardener or a wild animal made those tracks.”
I suggested to Margold, “They’re footprints. You should definitely get molds before it rains.”
Margold’s nostrils sort of flared. “I’ll decide how to do my job, if you don’t mind.” She contemplated the mulch, then pointed at me and snapped, “You...let’s have a word.”
We walked, she and I, to the end of the driveway, far enough to be out of Ben’s earshot. She studied my face and asked, “Who the hell are you?”
“Nobody. Forget I was here. Now, if you’ll please tell your people to give me a lift, I’d like to go back to my office. Incidentally, it was really swell working with you. Tough case. Best of luck.”
“Look...in case you haven’t noticed, six people are dead inside that house. Including the White House Chief of Staff.”
“I noticed. Do I need to walk out of here?” Okay, I was being a little over the top. And maybe Margold’s testiness that morning was justified, as she had obviously been shoved in front of a moving train. But she had rubbed my face in the crap, and what goes around, comes around.
She said, “You’re staying. Don’t pretend otherwise.”
Also, I was thinking on my feet. I had no idea why my boss dispatched me to this gig, and if I stayed I’d only sink deeper into the muck. Mrs. Drummond had not raised a complete idiot, and I now knew that what had happened inside that big house was the form of execution subtitled a political assassination. Mention that phrase in the CIA and people go all pale and sweaty on you. The next thing you know, some idiot named Oliver Stone’s making a movie with a character named Drummond. I said, “You’re the FBI. You’re great—handle it.”
Ms. Margold ignored me and began talking about the seriousness of this thing and so forth. I tuned her out.
In fact, I was sure this was why my boss had ordered me to keep a low profile. The Agency did not want to be within ten miles of this thing. Actually, the Agency headquarters was only two miles down the road, so I should walk fast.
Apparently Margold saw she had lost my attention, because she swallowed and said, “Okay, I get it. Look...well, I’m sorry if I was...a little brusque earlier.”
“Okay...I was rude. Nothing personal.”
“Bullshit. You’re worried because you’ve got the murder of the year on your hands. The Lord of the Feebs will be here any minute, and you caught the rap. You’re supposed to show you’re on top of this thing and explain what happened here, yet for some reason no ME or forensics people have arrived, the first guys on the scene are standing around with their thumbs up their butts, Ben’s worried about covering his ass, and it suddenly struck you that you’re all alone with your ass on the line. So I say something bright and enlightening, and you decide I might be helpful. Also, you’d like somebody to help catch the crap when it flies. Thanks. Get me a ride out of here.”
Her jaw muscles tensed a bit, but she kept her cool. Actually, she smiled. “You’re more alert and intuitive than I gave you credit for, Drummond.”
“Are you going to get me a ride?”
“But you’re not leaving.”
“Wrong. Says so in the federal statutes—CIA handles assholes outside, FBI handles assholes inside. It’s yours.”
I spun around and was starting to walk away when she warned, “You better hear about the note before you take another step.”
I stopped, but did not turn around. Actually, I knew I should not have stopped. But knowing what you should do and
what you should do are two very different things. I could feel her eyes on my back.
She mentioned, “It was found on that oriental chest in the foyer. The initial entry crew immediately transported it to our lab for analysis.”
Okay, now I had a millisecond to decide—did I really want to hear about the note? This was Washington, the one place where in fact what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. But having seen all those bodies, I was curious. Boy, was I in a fix.
Then it was too late as she explained, “To paraphrase the words read to me over the phone, this slaughter was a warning. ‘You can’t stop us. There will be others, and the President will be history in the next two days.’”
“Their word, not mine.”
That awkward phraseology aside, it occurred to me that my options had just dwindled. The assassins could be foreign terrorists, and that would definitely involve the Agency, so I should stay or I’d be in hot water. Or they could be homegrown idiots and staying would implicate the Agency in a domestic legal matter, and also put my ass in the sling. The only clear fact was that the people who found a way to bypass the security in this house, murdered six people, and beelined out of here were legitimately bad hombres, skilled, bold, and smart. In fact, Mrs. President might think about calling a few term life agencies to see who offered the most affordable rates for a few days of additional coverage on Mr. President.
Margold was thinking along the same lines and said, “This thing might be beyond domestic. You’re as involved as I am.”
Not so. At least, not yet.
She added, “The Director could get here any second. He’s expecting a full and comprehensive briefing. Trust me, he’s not a man you want to disappoint with half-assed results.”
“All right. I’m here in an advisory capacity.” I reconsidered and said, “Actually, I’m not here. The instant your boss shows up, I’m out of here.”
She nodded, but did not reply.
In retrospect, I should have heeded the old warning: Never test the depth of water with both feet. But it was already too late.
E STEPPED BACK INSIDE FOR ANOTHER VISUAL AND MENTAL SWEEP OF
the surroundings. First, however, I took a moment for attitude adjustment. I was annoyed at being back inside this house, annoyed at being blindsided by my boss, and most of all, I was annoyed at Ms. Margold. Had Miss Tightass not kept the motive and victim profiles from me in the first place, we wouldn’t have to go through this again. For the record, I’ve seen death, destruction, and corpses in my Army and legal career, and I’m not queasy. Yet it is something I’ve never grown used to, and a rerun is in some strange way worse than a first run.
But you have to focus at a murder site, and I noted first the absence of a peephole on the front door. There were lines of small side windows to each side of the door, and I suggested, “Possibly she never saw his face.”
“What? Oh...Lacy...You mean Elwood’s face?”
“Yeah. Look here. If he stood close enough when he rang the doorbell, even if she peeked out the side window, she could only observe the side of his body.”
Margold walked over and peered out the window to confirm the accuracy of this observation.
I obviously did not need to explain why this point was relevant, even important. The driver, Larry Elwood, was at that moment our only identified suspect. But there were no living witnesses and Elwood’s face wasn’t on the videotape in the basement, which left open the possibility that the gentleman we observed on film stumbling up the walkway was an impostor. The fact that June Lacy couldn’t recognize Elwood’s face at the door would leave his status ambiguous. Solving crimes is about inclusion and exclusion; Larry Elwood could still go either way, and we were back to roughly five billion UnSubs—FBI-speak for Unknown Subject and normal-speak for haven’t got a clue. I mentioned, “Make sure your forensics people take fingerprints from the doorbell buzzer.”
“I’ve already made a mental note of that.”
“Incidentally, where’s the car? And where’s Elwood?”
“Missing. We’ve confirmed that Elwood left the motor pool at five-thirty, headed this way. An APB’s out on him and the car.”
“It’s a big city.”
“No, Drummond, it’s a small city. New York and L.A. are big cities.”
Ironically enough, I get a little pissed when sarcasm is used on me, and I replied, “Great. Then you’ll have no trouble finding them.”
“Actually...the car’s equipped with a specially coded satellite navigation system that also works as a locator.”
“But it’s apparently been disabled.”
“Isn’t that a surprise.”
“Yeah, actually.” She looked at me and said, “Only a handful of people are aware of the existence of that locator system. A very small handful.”
“Not as small as you thought.”
I took a knee and regarded June Lacy’s body again. Her left hand covered the bullet hole, and the exit wound was hidden beneath her, so it was impossible to confirm whether the same caliber bullet did her as the others.
My eyes shifted to her face. June Lacy wasn’t beautiful or even pretty, really. Her face was too roundish and her features were flat and ordinary, though she was striking, I thought even captivating, in a way that caught you by surprise. It took me a moment before I put a finger on it. She had a noisy innocence, a serenity of spirit, a sort of pleasant simpleness, not of the mind but of the soul, where it counts. Hers was that kind of happy girlish face found peeking out from the third row of a church choir, or at curbside during the Memorial Day parade, hand over her heart, having not the slightest doubt that this is the greatest country on earth, that the world is populated by knights and dragons; she stands with the knights, and is just so damned proud to be part of it. I’m not that type. Perhaps I once was, but no longer. Actually, for a moment I felt guilty and even a little soiled in her presence. More than that, I felt terribly sad and, in some strange way, deeply angry.
Ben had mentioned she was a Minnesotan, and indeed, Special Agent June Lacy emerged from a Nordic gene pool; her hair was silvery blond, her skin fair and unblemished, and her eyes were a sort of Baltic Sea pale blue. She was a slumber party habitué, never the prom queen though always in the court, the girl everybody entrusted with their most embarrassing secrets, though she wouldn’t be among the elite Secret Service were she not also bright, ambitious, and adventurous.
No doubt, in some small town in northern Minnesota everybody was real tickled that little June with the pretty blond pigtails was now a handpicked bodyguard for the President of the United States. Every year the high school principal probably informed the incoming frosh that if you cracked the books and kept the wrong sorts of noxious substances out of your nose, a desk in the Oval Office might be a stretch, but a seat on Air Force One wasn’t, because one of our fine students did it, and doesn’t that make you all proud?
Clearly, a walk in Lacy’s footsteps would no longer be the galvanizing inspiration it once was.
I glanced up at Agent Margold, who, incidentally, looked like the class-valedictorian-school-president-most-likely-to-succeed type. “She never had time to react.”
“Don’t feel sorry for her, Drummond. Had she been on her toes this would never have happened.”
A priori, I couldn’t argue that point, nor did I try. In my experience women tend to be harsh about other women. Whereas I, a male, was a bit conflicted. It’s no longer PC to regard men as the protectors and females as the protected, implying as it does a relationship of the stronger and the weaker. We’re all interchangeable and androgynous these days—all sensitive, caring creatures, who share cooking duties, child-rearing, and thankfully not childbirth or monthly periods. I even remember to put down the toilet seat at a lady’s house. But I was raised an Army brat and spent my life on Army bases, where the fifties are eternal. Point is, I find it a little difficult to get my arms around all the contemporary mantras on these things, and I was very pissed that somebody put a bullet through June’s throat.