Authors: Brian Haig
I noted the sparkly engagement rock on her finger. Two more weeks and the knot would’ve been tied; the bridal gown surely was fitted and bought, the church reserved, the RSVPs collected—the guests wouldn’t even have to change their travel plans, just their moods and wardrobes. I was tempted to adjust her skirt for dignity’s sake, but Margold and her pals would probably get lathered up and cite me in a report or something.
I squeezed June’s shoulder, stood up, and informed Margold, “Let’s reconstruct.”
“Fine. You start.”
“All right. At 6:15, Lacy’s probably waiting in the foyer for Elwood to arrive. Maybe she’s seated on a stair—the guys downstairs announce through her earpiece that Elwood’s headed up the walkway—
, she walks to the door, opens it, some guy’s holding a pistol, and before she can speak or react,
—a bullet passes through her throat. Right?”
“Right. Had to be a silencer.”
“She flies backward. Two, maybe four guys enter, and...and...”
“Maybe not all the killers were men.”
Margold gave me a weird look. “Yeah...possibly. You’re thinking they brought along a woman to stay at the door and talk so the Belknaps would hear a feminine voice and not suspect anything amiss.”
“It’s a possibility we need to consider.”
She looked down at Lacy a moment. “Interesting theory. Wouldn’t that presuppose they knew a female agent would open the door?”
We both allowed that vagrant thought to hang for later. Margold suggested, “Next one shooter goes into the living room, and one or two more sneak downstairs to the basement. One remains here by the door. Say it’s a she...she goes straight to the kitchen and gets into position...she gives the signal and they all open up.” She faced me. “Like that, right?”
“Be careful with the exact numbers. Say two to four, and wait till forensics and ballistics confirm the exact count.” I added, “Where are the spent shells?”
“You’re thinking they used catchers on the guns?”
“If they used silencers, that means automatics, and that means the shells should’ve ejected. Tell your forensics people to look under every rug and inside every crevice. Of course, I doubt they’ll find any.”
We returned to the dining room, where the two agents still loitered against the wall. Margold looked at them and said, “You two getting paid for sitting on your asses?”
The heavy one said, “Ah, don’t bust our balls. We’ve sealed it off and we’re waiting for forensics. Just following the manual and making sure we don’t contaminate the site.” After a moment he added, “You’d be well-advised to do the same.”
Margold shook her head and began walking around the table.
I asked, “Why aren’t the ME and forensics here already?”
The skinny guy said, “We were ordered to avoid locals. No quality control or evidence transfer issues.” After a moment, he added, “So the teams have to come all the way up from Quantico.” He shook his head. “Welcome to Washington. They’re caught in traffic. About five minutes out.”
Margold was moving around the room, testing out the shooters’ positions, I guess to confirm my theory about a second gunman. She looked at me and said, “I’m done. Anything else?”
“Uh...” There was something. But what?
She looked at her watch and asked, again, “Are you done?”
I studied Mr. and Mrs. Belknap. We were overlooking something, I was sure. I said, “Ben mentioned Elwood arrived at 6:15 every morning.”
“Yeah. And he came five minutes late this morning.”
“You should think about that five minutes.”
“On my list already.”
“Also...well...Belknap probably had to wake up at five...maybe five-thirty, so he could shower, shave, dress, and have breakfast.”
“What’s your point?”
“Ever been married? Cohabited?”
“No, I’ve...” But apparently I had struck a sensitive nerve, because she snapped, “If you have a point, get on with it.”
“Conjugal habits, Agent Margold. The guy’s an early bird; she didn’t have to be. How’d they know these two get up and eat breakfast together?”
I was sure she got my point, but she did not acknowledge it. In fact, she said, “Let’s go back to the basement. Now.”
She stopped halfway down the stairs, turned to me, and whispered, “No more of those observations in front of the others. Obviously, if the killers knew how to skirt the security, and obviously if they knew about the security room in the basement, and...I’m not stupid, Drummond. Inside knowledge, right?” She looked me in the eyes and added, “But don’t confirm that to anybody. Understand?”
I didn’t understand. But I did appreciate that there was more here than met the eye—either a cover-up or not everybody in this house was trusted, or this lady had a few bats in her attic.
Ben had also returned to the security room, where he was replaying the tape of Elwood over and over, like if he watched it enough times the past would change and he’d still have a career. I sort of felt sorry for the guy. The killers had not played fair; they had found the kink in Ben’s armor, and broken it off in Ben’s butt.
The rule of thumb in his business is that guarding moving targets is the tough part. Home truly is a man’s castle, and when you construct a deep moat around it, and you man the ramparts with stouthearted souls, it should be safe and impenetrable.
Should be. Unless the moat becomes your worst enemy. From the moment that black limo pulled into the driveway and entered into the castle proper, so to speak, it was accepted by the watchmen in the basement for what it appeared to be and in fact was not. The system instills confidence, nullifies distrust, and erases the wariness. June Lacy didn’t die because she was careless, June Lacy died because her bosses told her to trust the electronic moat to do her work for her.
Every Washington institution plays by its own rules, and the Secret Service has a less forgiving mentality than most. Ben was headed for an early pension, unless he was a wicked bullshitter, in which case he’d end up handing out tickets at the White House tours office. But it was better than the cold morgue drawer where his team and the hapless Mr. and Mrs. Belknap were headed.
Anyway, Margold and I nosed around and gave the basement security room another once-over. Nothing new jumped out, though I concluded that Margold had probably hit the mark about the progression of death—the guy in the chair got nailed first, the lady at the console got it second, and then the sleeper.
If you had perfect intelligence and time to consider and plan the assault on this room, that’s exactly how you’d do it; says so in the manual, neutralize the most imminent threats first. But that was exactly the point; the shooters didn’t have time—they burst open the door and shot. I looked around for stray bullets that had struck a wall or the furniture. None. One shot, one kill...with the exception of the lady at the console, who took three slugs on her right side. I spent a moment examining her more closely. Her right arm was stretched out, she was in easy reach of the panic button, and it struck me that her killer had coldly used the impact of the bullets to drive her back, to prevent her from reaching it.
Too impressive. I mentioned to Margold, “It’s likely they used fiber-optic filament cameras. Slip it under the door, and you know what lies behind the closed door.”
She nodded. Then she bent over the corpse on the bed. She was beginning to explain, “This guy must’ve pulled the night shift, and—” when her cell phone went off. She answered, “Margold...uh-huh...I understand, George...right.” After a moment, she said, “No...well, we’re almost wrapped up...Uh, yeah, we can be there. Ten minutes.”
She punched off and appeared distracted. Finally she looked at Ben. “I’ve gotta go. Forensics and the ME will be here any minute. Agent Jackson’s in charge till they get there.” She looked at me. “The Director got diverted en route. We’re heading to his location.”
“We?” I shook my head. “Your boss, your case, your nightmare.”
For the second time she smiled. “Is It? Did I fail to mention we’re meeting at the George Bush Center? Isn’t that a CIA facility?”
I stared at her, then I turned to Ben and said, “Give us the tape with Elwood arriving.” A fresh thought hit me, and I asked Ben, “Did you view the portion with Elwood departing?”
“Uh...no. I...I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Provide that, too.”
Margold looked at me and said, “Good catch.”
We went back upstairs, and halfway up I grabbed her arm and suggested, “You should think twice about allowing Ben free rein of this house.”
“For one, he’s a potential suspect. Inside knowledge got out, and Ben certainly knew the layout.”
“There’s going to be a witch hunt, and Ben was in charge of this operation. He should never have been permitted to tamper with the evidence before you arrived. But this is now your watch. Cover your ass.”
“I...I should’ve thought of that.”
She was right. She should have.
She returned to the dining room to inform Agent Jackson he had the football and to eject Ben from this house.
Ben rejoined us at the front door, handed Margold the tapes, and said to me, “Look...don’t draw hasty conclusions. There’s no proof there was more than one killer.”
“There was more than one, Ben. Get used to it. If it’s any consolation, I’ll be sure to pass on that the security was nearly adequate.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Yeah. I won’t.”
On our way to the car, Margold said to me, “This what you do for the Agency...reconstruct crime scenes?”
“Then how’d you...how’d you put it together?”
“Oh...well, I used to kill people.”
She shook her head. “Seriously.”
“All right, I’m a criminal lawyer.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “That’s why I hate working with you CIA people. You’re all compulsive liars.”
She said, “Get in the car.”
And the problem with the FBI is they’re all compulsive skeptics. Before I went to law school I was in Special Ops, I did do this for a living, and it does afford a certain familiarity with method and technique.
On a more becomingly modest note, I saw the disturbances in the garden mulch before we ever entered the house. Margold should’ve paid better attention when she was slapping on her latex mitties and telling me what an asshole I was.
She informed the driver, “We’ve got five minutes. Don’t make me late. Move.”
He stomped on the gas, and we peeled out down Ballantrae Farm Drive, mini-mansions whizzing by on the left and right. Halfway down the block, a long convoy of vans and dark Crown Vics passed us going the other way. Margold whipped out her cell phone and spent two minutes giving instructions to her contact in the forensics team, telling the technicians what to collect—foot molds in the garden, spent shells, fingerprints on the doorbell buzzer, whatever. She ended the conversation saying, “Yeah...okay...we’ll both find a time later for you to get our shoe molds.”
She punched off, sat back, and stared out the window, apparently searching her brain for anything she had overlooked. This was a lady with a world of bad news on her shoulders, and she was not carrying it well, in my view. I asked her, “Are you the case officer?”
“Nope. That would be Special Agent Mark Butterman. A good man, one of our best.”
“He one of the guys back at the house?”
“Those were initial response guys. Butterman lives halfway to Baltimore. He’s in that big convoy.”
“Well, why were you sent?”
“Same reason you were sent.”
“Because you’re witty, charming, and brilliant?”
She eyed me for a moment and then said, “You can figure out a crime scene, but you can’t figure this out?”
“They need two sacrificial assholes to take the fall in the event this thing doesn’t work out and the President dies.”
N THAT VERY INTERESTING AND DISTRESSING NOTE
WE PULLED TO A STOP
at the entrance of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Margold said to the driver, “Wait here,” then to me, “You can relax now. You’re home.”
“Yes, home sweet home.” Though in fact this was not my home.
A word about how I wound up here. The winter before, my former boss, a two-star named Clapper, the Judge Advocate General, decided it would be in somebody’s best interest if Sean Drummond took a long sabbatical. I was a Special Actions Attorney, a cryptic title that suggests little—in fact is meant to suggest nothing—but I was part of a small and select cell of judges, lawyers, and legal assistants that attend to the legal issues of those people and units engaged in Top Secret operations. It is a shadowy world, and it was our job to keep the lights turned off.
I spent eight years prosecuting and defending criminal cases, and I wouldn’t confess this around the water cooler or anything, but I love the Army and I actually liked my job. In fact, I was sort of hoping the Army had misplaced my file, or some clever clerk had said, Hey, this Drummond guy, he’s good at this, and I know this sounds really novel, weird even, but what if we left him in place: great for the taxpayer, great for Drummond...works for everybody, right?
Exactly—the Army never thinks that way.
Actually, I think General Clapper wanted a break from me, which is understandable. I can wear on bosses. So I was loaned to this civilian law firm for what was supposed to be a year, a big white-shoe outfit in D.C. filled with Ivy League types, former politicians, and other stuffed shirts. I think Clapper was hoping the stuffiness would rub off, and we could sit around afterward, sipping sherry and talking opera and fine wines, and we’d really bond. As if that wasn’t bad enough, certain members of this firm were hip deep in shenanigans, and the JAG officer I replaced—a she, as it happened, and a dear friend—was murdered. So I was enlisted by her sister, a City of Boston ADA, to help bring down the murderer, who was on a killing spree and terrorizing D.C.