ASK NOT FOR A LIGHTER BURDEN

CHAPTER 1

Detective Kate Guillory held open the rear door to the unmarked Dodge Charger, eyes on the ground, an expression on her face like her dog had just died. A steady drizzle was coming down, didn’t help with her mood. A couple of seconds later, Evan Buckley came out of the Rusty Spoon diner, looked both ways as he crossed the sidewalk, slipped into the back seat. She put her hand on the top of his head, couldn’t help but notice how he hadn’t combed his hair, then pushed down to make sure he didn’t bang his head on the roof. A little too enthusiastically, if you asked him, except nobody did. He slapped her hand away.
‘Cut it out.’
She slammed the door, didn’t say anything.
The man in the driver’s seat, her partner Ryder, twisted around as Evan slid in.
Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
Evan didn’t answer the indignant shout until he’d gotten himself settled into the back of the car. Made himself comfortable like it was a private limousine. He was tempted to ask Ryder why he wasn’t wearing his chauffeur’s cap, was it because his head was too fat?
‘I’m getting in the car, what’s it look like?’ he said instead.
Biting back the final and, in his opinion, the most important word—dummy.
‘I can see that. What for?’
‘So that you can take me back to the station, get me in a cell and start on me with your nightstick, what do you think?’
Ryder shook his head. If only it were true.
Damn. I must be getting old. This is the first time I’ve forgotten my own birthday.’ Then to Guillory who’d just dropped heavily into the passenger seat beside him. ‘Thank you, Kate. I couldn’t have asked for a better present.’
She rolled her eyes, here we go again.
‘Whatever happened to you two behaving like grown-ups?’
Evan and Ryder held each other’s eyes in the mirror, a rare meeting of minds. Something unspoken passed between them. They were old adversaries, their non-relationship defined by a mutual lack of respect. One time, they’d almost come to blows in the street, the first angry shoves back and forth before the fight proper, before Guillory had broken it up.
More recently, there’d been a delicate truce between them. They’d put aside their mutual animosity, stopped acting like a couple of hormonal teenagers in the schoolyard in order to work together. Guillory had been the reason for the temporary lapse into adult behavior, when ghosts from her past that were best left undisturbed had threatened her sanity. Now that her problems were behind her—more or less—that period of reluctant cooperation felt like something that had occurred sometime before the last ice age. Its return in the near future about as likely.
More than that, it felt as if a continuation of their improved relationship would be tempting fate, requiring it to conjure up some dire circumstance that would necessitate the unnatural alliance.
By chance Guillory had addressed the rhetorical question to the window, not expecting a sensible answer from either man. She didn’t see the exchange.
‘Seriously,’ Ryder said to her as if Evan wasn’t there. ‘What are we doing with him?’ Making it sound like they’d found a stray dog in the street. Not a very clean one, either.
‘We’re giving him a ride to the station.’
‘He can’t use his own car?’
Evan was feeling a little woozy from the painkillers he was taking, a troubled, sleepless night compounding the effect. It had left him feeling tired and listless, so he’d been sensible for once, taken a cab to the diner. He wasn’t about to explain that to Ryder, an invitation to get a mouthful of abuse back. Except the abuse was already on its way. Ryder had twisted in his seat again, saw Evan’s left hand, the dressing on his finger.
Aw. The big bad detective has hurt his lickle finger. So what happened?’
‘I chopped the end off with a carving knife.’
‘Yeah? I’d have done that for you if you’d asked. What really happened? Caught it in your fly?’
‘At least I can see my fly without needing a mirror.’
He’d have expected Ryder to come back with something equally puerile, except Ryder wasn’t paying attention any longer. He was staring at Guillory looking out the window again. Not saying anything. Not even telling them to shut up or grow up. Then he looked back at Evan’s finger and Evan knew he’d made the connection.
Their animosity was based on a number of things. Evan’s relationship with Guillory was the main one, getting bigger by the day as the relationship developed. Ryder resented it. Resented him. He felt excluded, marginalized. Worse, that Evan led her astray, his bad habits rubbing off on her. Involving her in situations that might not stand up under professional scrutiny.
He wasn’t a stupid man. He’d dropped Guillory off at the diner looking like she was about to meet her maker. And now, here was Buckley, his finger bandaged. And Guillory silently staring out through the window. It was all connected, even if he didn’t know how.
One thing he did know. He was excluded. Again. Apart from his new role as chauffeur to Buckley, that is.
He pulled out into the traffic without looking, tires squealing on the wet blacktop, determined to say nothing more. Except he couldn’t help himself. Somebody had to say something to relieve the atmosphere in the car.
‘You two need to put an end to all this shit, you know that?’ Glancing at Guillory, then catching Evan’s eyes in the mirror as he said it.
They didn’t need to be told, that was for sure.
In the back, Evan leaned against the door to stop Ryder from being able to see his face in the mirror. The rain was coming down more heavily now and he didn’t want to be dumped on the sidewalk to walk or try to find a cab. Because that’s where he’d have ended up if Ryder got the faintest inkling that giving him a ride to the station was facilitating the very opposite, the first step in burying himself deeper still in all that shit.

***

‘Stay there,’ Guillory said, pointing her finger at him like he was a playful but disobedient dog. ‘And don’t touch anything.’
He was sitting at her desk as she was about to go fetch a file for him.
‘Don’t you mean, don’t chew anything?’
She frowned momentarily before she got what he meant, then nodded to herself.
‘You’ve got a point.’
From the adjoining desk, Ryder took the opportunity to give them the benefit of his opinion.
‘I said you should’ve left him tied up outside. Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on him.’
Evan grinned at him.
‘Good idea. You never know, you might learn something. Feel free to take notes.’
Guillory shook her head as she walked away, her words drifting back over her shoulder to them.
‘Never has the prospect of grubbing around in the archives been so appealing.’
They waited in silence until she was out of sight. Then Ryder swiveled in his chair to face him, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, man to man-style.
‘What’s all this about?’
Evan had three choices, none of them ideal.
Say, none of your business. Not a good thing to say to a serving police officer while sitting in his partner’s chair.
Tell the truth. Definitely not. Not unless he was looking for the fastest way for the conversation to deteriorate.
Make something up. Preferably something fatuous.
‘I’ve been asked to take a look at the excessive backlog of unsolved cases . . .’
Ryder snorted, kicked back in his chair.
‘That’ll be a sorry day for everyone concerned. Apart from the criminals, of course. I suppose I should’ve known better, expecting to get a straight answer out of you.’
He pulled himself up to his desk, shuffled a few papers around. Evan considered having a bet with himself about how long he could last.
It wasn’t very long at all.
‘What really happened to your finger?’
‘I told you. I cut it off with a—’
‘Yeah, yeah. With a carving knife. You said that already. See what I mean about a straight answer.’
‘No, really.’
‘Even you aren’t that clumsy.’
He made another attempt at doing some work. He picked up the telephone, put it down again. Shuffled the papers a bit more. Typed something on his computer. Evan watched him out of the corner of his eye, almost felt sorry for him as he watched him try to control his curiosity and frustration.
Then Ryder pushed back, got to his feet.
‘You want coffee?’ Sounding like he’d got a mouthful of the dregs.
‘I thought you’d never ask.’
‘How do you want it?’
‘Kate normally gives me the option of over my head or in my lap, but in a paper cup would be okay.’
Ryder raised his eyes to the ceiling, a prayer in his eyes and on his lips.
‘Lord, lead us not into temptation.’
He wasn’t away long, but it was time enough for him to reach a conclusion, one that he announced even before he’d sat down again.
‘It’s about Liverman, isn’t it?’
Evan startled as Ryder got back with the coffees and delivered his coffee-machine-pondering conclusion regarding Joseph Liverman, the pedophile at the root of Guillory’s problems. Liverman was also the reason Evan had entered into a pact with the devil in the guise of a man called Avery Pentecost.
Ryder dumped Evan’s cup on the desk, slopping coffee, held up a meaty hand to stop him from responding, also known as lying.
‘You don’t have to answer that. I thought it was all over. Whatever it is.’
He didn’t even pause to give Evan a chance to volunteer what it was. Nor did Evan feel it was an appropriate time to point out that it was, or could have been over, had he not chosen to resurrect it.
‘Obviously I don’t know shit from shinola as far as you’re concerned,’ Ryder went on. ‘What I do know is that it’s going to come back and bite you both on the ass one day. I just hope I don’t end up having to look at somebody as ugly as you sitting in that chair when I’ve got a new partner because you’ve gotten Kate killed or fired.’
As Evan had thought, best not to mention the voluntary nature of his present inquiries.

***

‘What took you so long?’ This from Ryder, not Evan, when Guillory got back, not even bothering to hide his irritation.
Guillory stared at him. Then at Evan, back to Ryder.
‘What’s been going on here? You two do a personality swap while I was gone?’
Ryder shrugged.
‘Just saying. I feel like I’ve been babysitting the child from hell. I thought I was going to have to read to him.’
‘Really? Then you can’t blame me for wanting to keep away from the pair of you for as long as possible.’
The child from hell smiled sweetly, very pleased he hadn’t been the one to remark on how long she’d been away. He was curious nonetheless.
‘Why did it take so long?’
He’d asked nicely, kept any hint of an accusation out of his voice. That didn’t stop her mouth from turning down.
‘Because, while the two of you have been sitting here drinking coffee and pulling faces at each other, I’ve been digging around in a filthy basement looking in the wrong place.’
He thought very carefully about how to phrase his next question.
Why didn’t you look in the right place? was not the way to go. It would be counter-productive to his investigation unless he learned how to read anally. In the end he didn’t say anything, worked a curious expression onto his face instead. It wasn’t a lot better.
‘You look like a retard when you pull that face, you know that?’
‘Not only when he pulls that face.’ This from Ryder.
She turned on him.
‘Don’t you have any work to do?’
Ryder turned away, muttered something under his breath about proper police work. She slapped Evan on the arm with the file in her hand.
‘C’mon, let’s find you somewhere to sit.’
He followed her across to the far side of the room where there was an empty desk. Most of her irritation was gone by the time they got there. She dropped the file on the desk.
‘There was a reason I was looking in the wrong place. It wasn’t because I’m stupid or because I like wasting my time or even that I wanted to keep away from the two of you for as long as possible.’ She tapped the file with her nail. ‘Take a read, see if you can figure it out.’

***

Ryder was gone by the time Evan had finished reading. He carried the file back over to Guillory’s desk, dropped into Ryder’s chair. Swiveled back and forth a bit, swung his feet up onto the desk while she finished up.
‘You’re lucky he doesn’t catch you doing that,’ she said. ‘Figured it out?’
‘Yep. It was filed under homicides, not robberies.’
‘Attaboy. We’ll make a detective out of you yet.’ She leaned back in her chair, stretched, yawned. ‘Talk me through it. The short version.’
‘That’s the only version there is.’
She squinted at the thick file in his hands.
‘Doesn’t look very short to me.’
‘There’s lots of paper, but that’s not the same thing. On June 3rd 1981, three people held up a branch of Fulton Bank while a fourth man waited in a car outside. All three of them were armed. During the course of the raid, a member of the public who’d been at one of the tellers’ windows at the time, Richard Keller, was shot dead by the gang. Nobody saw who did it because they were all too busy lying face down on the floor.’
‘Sensible people. No CCTV?’
‘They had it but this was forty years ago. Things have moved on a lot since then. They shot it out anyway, even though they were all wearing masks. As if they didn’t even want the police to know which one of them pulled the trigger.’
‘That means we don’t know if the guy they shot was playing the hero, aka the dickhead, or they just shot him to concentrate everybody’s minds.’
‘None of the eye witnesses heard him yell at them or were aware of him attacking them, if that’s what you mean. Like I say, they were all too busy hoping they weren’t next. As well as the cash they took, they emptied out a number of safe deposit boxes.’
‘They clear out all the boxes?’
‘No.’
She thought about it for a couple of beats.
‘So they might have been targeting one of them . . .’
‘Or they might not.’
She nodded to herself like what’s new?
‘I think I’m getting a feel for how the investigation went.’
‘I told you there was a short version. Nobody had a clue. If Ryder was older, I’d say he was in charge.’
She sucked in air through her teeth.
‘Said while sitting in his chair, too. No wonder he doesn’t like you. Anything else?’
‘I think he’s broken the chair.’
He watched her bite down hard to stop the smile from breaking out, even if she couldn’t keep it out of her eyes.
‘The bank raid, idiot, not Ryder.’
He swiveled back and forth a couple times, a worried look on his face.
‘It’s definitely broken. Anyway, the raid. Of the three people inside the bank, there were two men and one woman. Now here’s the strange part . . .’
She saw where it was going, forced out a fake yawn.
‘The woman was in charge?’
‘That’s what it sounded like according to the eye, or ear, witnesses. Something else that a number of them mentioned—one of the men had an Asian accent.’
‘The guy who got shot wasn’t Asian, was he?’ she said.
‘No. He was an American.’
‘What about the woman?’
‘Impossible to say without knowing who she was. Nobody commented on her voice other than she was the one shouting the orders. One witness said it reminded him of being at home with his wife.’
Her eyes narrowed. He kept his face deadpan.
‘You made that up.’
He held the file out towards her. She shook her head.
‘What else?’
‘The murder weapon was never recovered. It was an M-16. At least they got that much from the CCTV. Given the Asian connection, the assumption was that it was lost’—he made quotes in the air—‘by someone returning home from Vietnam.’
‘Careless.’
‘You bet. Same as it was careless of them to let the getaway car catch on fire a couple miles from the bank.’
‘I don’t suppose they wasted their time interviewing all the disgruntled veterans to find out where the gun came from.’
‘No. Apparently they recognized a brick wall when they saw one.’
She raised an eyebrow at him.
‘Unlike some people I could name.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
She stuck out her hand, took the file from him, then flicked idly through it.
‘That’s it, is it? A big fat zero. I’d have expected you to be in the Jerusalem Tavern by now crying into your beer about wasting an afternoon.’
His lack of a response made her stop going through the file, look directly at him. She saw the satisfied smile creeping across his face.
‘There is something. And you’ve found it forty years after the professionals couldn’t. Ryder’s gonna wish he’d stuck around to hear this.’
‘Somebody claimed responsibility. A group of crazies calling themselves Vietnam Veterans Want Respect. Or VVWR for short.’
‘Never heard of them.’
‘Nor has anyone else. That’s the problem. There are a couple of well-known veterans’ groups. The first one was Vietnam Veterans Against the War, started in 1967. Or VVAW. Then in 1978 Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. started up—’
She stopped him with a raised hand.
‘It’s been a long day. No more abbreviations, please.’
‘Anyway, the lead detective got in touch with both groups but they’d never heard of them either. The thinking was that they were a splinter group of some sort.’
She nodded to herself as she talked it through.
‘Splinter groups are normally more radical. They get disillusioned and break away because they don’t think the original group is doing enough, that they’ve lost their way. That’s why you called them crazies.’
‘Yeah. The statement they issued kind of proves it.’ He pointed at the file in her hands. ‘It’s in there.’
‘Give me the gist of it.’
‘It wasn’t like the other groups who were against the war in the first place. This was more about what happened when the vets came home. The government weren’t doing enough to support them, medically or financially. A lot of them ended up begging on the streets. Living on the streets. Not able to get jobs which led them into a life of crime, and so on. It’s a vicious circle.’
‘I can’t argue with any of that. And they thought the bank raid was the answer, did they?’
‘Kill two birds with one stone. Make a nice big political statement. In case the government didn’t know what they meant by vets turning to crime. And get a wad of cash while you’re at it. Cash always makes political ideologies easier to swallow.’
‘This WTF group, the guy with the Asian accent, and all the rest of it. Did they get anywhere looking into the group?’
He shook his head.
‘They put in a request through the local FBI field office.’
She held up the file, her expression saying she’d heard it all before.
‘Let me guess. It’s not in here?’
‘Nope. I don’t know how you professionals work, but I’m assuming you don’t simply put in a request and tick the box, job done. You follow up if nothing comes back.’
‘Of course.’
‘So we’ve got three possibilities.’ He flicked out the little finger on his right hand to start counting them off. It was an unfortunate gesture in the circumstances, put a slight dent in the flow of his thinking, ‘Either there was no file on them, or there was a file but they were told they couldn’t see it, or . . .’
‘It’s been removed. I suppose the hidden secret agent in you means you like that option the best. Dirty cops involved in a big conspiracy and cover-up. I can see you salivating already.’
‘It wouldn’t be the first time. I don’t mean salivating, either.’
She worked a look of hurt indignation onto her face at the affront to her colleagues’ integrity.
‘I don’t suppose it’ll be the last, either. That’s not to say it happens every time.’
He pointed at her computer screen.
‘This was forty years ago. You want to check to see if there’s anything on the system that’s appeared since then?’
‘What was the name again?’
She typed it in as he gave it to her. They waited. Then she shook her head.
‘Nothing. They either stopped robbing banks or they stopped claiming responsibility for it. Or changed their name. Or any one of a million other things.’
Or it wasn’t about the bank raid at all, he thought and didn’t say.
‘I feel sorry for the guy,’ she said.
‘Who?’
‘I’m assuming your next move is to go spoil some retired homicide dick’s day. Remind him of his biggest failure. Who was the lead detective, anyway?’
‘Guy called Jorge Marin. You know him?’
She gave it a moment’s thought, shook her head.
‘Never heard of him. He must have retired a long time ago. He’s probably dead by now. If he’s got any sense. I can ask around if you like.’ She held up her left hand, stuck out the little finger. Waggled it at him. ‘That makes two favors now.’
‘How many do I get?’
She scrunched her face, rocked her head from side to side.
‘I haven’t decided yet. It depends on a number of factors.’
‘Which are?’
‘I haven’t decided that yet, either.’
And Ryder thought he was the one unable to give a straight answer.

CHAPTER 2

As it turned out, Guillory ended up being fifty percent right with her comment about Evan crying into his beer in the Jerusalem Tavern. It was the crying part she got wrong.
It was Tuesday. And Tuesday was the night he met with Kurt Hatcher, a man who’d spent his life working for shady government agencies in unpleasant corners of the globe. Following trouble around. Causing it if none already existed.
They’d been meeting for a beer in the Jerusalem for the past couple of months, ever since their paths had crossed on one of Evan’s recent assignments. They’d packed a lot in during that assignment, none of it good. As a result, their conversation tended to be light-hearted and shallow, a reaction against the horrors of their short, shared history.
Just not tonight.
Hatcher spotted Evan’s bandaged finger straight away, even though his hand was resting on his thigh, and with Hatcher on his right, the little finger was out of sight. Hatcher raised an eyebrow—tell me all about it. It made Evan wonder if Guillory had called him, primed him.
Suddenly he felt very weary about the whole situation. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of his conversation with Ryder, and to have to try to explain himself—to someone whose opinion he valued, this time. Nor was he in the mood for the lecture that would surely follow. Hatcher would figure it out anyway. Let him think what he wanted for now.
So he shook his head. Not now.
Hatcher shrugged.
‘Fair enough.’ Like he hadn’t been interested anyway.
Now Evan knew for sure that Guillory had called him. He put it to the test, anyway.
‘Spoken to Kate recently?’
‘Not for a while, no.’
It was a pointless waste of a breath that he might need another time. Short of applying the politician principle—you know they’re lying because their lips are moving—he couldn’t have said whether Hatcher was telling the truth or not if his life depended on it.
‘So what’s new?’ Hatcher said, moving on.
‘I’m going to do what Pentecost wants.’
Like he said he’d put down a deposit on a new car or had the front door repainted on his house. No big deal.
Hatcher’s head came around slowly as if he was scared of what he might see sitting next to him when he’d turned all the way. He stuck his little finger into his ear, dug around a bit. Inspected it to see if he could identify the cause of the malfunction in his hearing.
‘You want to talk me through that?’
‘Not really.’
Evan was well aware of Hatcher’s past in the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division. In the 1980s, he’d been involved in training and leading the rebel forces—the Contras—against the Sandinista government in the Nicaraguan Civil War. After the tide of public opinion had turned against such interference and the CIA’s activities had been curtailed, he’d been involved with a number of unofficial offshoots of the Special Activities Division that had sprung up, their mandate to continue the good work of killing people and de-stabilizing sovereign governments for disagreeing with the US on ideological grounds. Better still, those activities had been under the radar and beyond the scope of public scrutiny. Hatcher had thrived in that environment, moving from hellhole to hellhole spreading the CIA’s own brand of happy sunshine, then moving into more desk-based positions back home as he outlived his operational sell-by date.
In short, he’d dealt with some shit in his time.
Now his voice had the same incredulous tone that Evan guessed had infused it when faced with a fresh-faced young agent who’d just volunteered for a mission code named Operation Certain Death.
‘Well at least tell me what it is you’ve got to do,’ Hatcher said.
Evan had no problem with that. What was easy. It was the why that he couldn’t pin down.
Hatcher folded his arms over his chest, studied Evan as he explained. Didn’t say anything, didn’t ask any questions. Processing the information, his face neutral now that the initial shock and disbelief had passed. If the Eagles’ Tequila Sunrise hadn’t been playing so loudly on the jukebox, Evan would’ve heard the gears grinding inside his head.
Which Hatcher proved as soon as Evan had finished.
‘Why do I get this feeling that I’m about to be asked to get information for you that you’re not entitled to?’
Evan smiled the smile of a man with the perfect comeback. Because with a man like Hatcher, such questions were easy to answer.
‘Because you’d do the same in my position.’
Hatcher shrugged again. You got me.
‘You want me to see what information exists on this group?’
‘If there is any, yeah.’
‘There will be. No doubt about it.’
‘You sound very sure.’
‘That’s because I am.’ He raised a hand at Kieran for another round of drinks. It was like a pre-arranged signal. Listen up, the good stuff is on its way. ‘You ever hear of Project Minaret?’
Evan shook his head.
‘I’m guessing it was before my time.’
‘Uh-huh. Late sixties and early seventies . . .’
‘That’s the 1860s and 1870s, is it? Your heyday.’
Hatcher pretended he hadn’t heard as their beers arrived, then carried on.
‘Minaret was a domestic espionage project operated by the National Security Agency. It ran from 1967 through 1973, intercepting electronic communications that contained the names of people on their civil disturbance watch list. That included foreign individuals and organizations, as well as US citizens. It then passed the intel on to other government law enforcement and intelligence organizations. The FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Department of Defense and a few others.’
‘Is that even legal?’
Hatcher held up a finger, patience young grasshopper.
‘I’ll get to that. They were particularly interested in anti-Vietnam demonstrators, black power group members, and anyone who’d been in contact with foreign governments. There were some pretty high-profile people on the list, too. U.S. Senator Howard Baker, Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, the actress Jane Fonda, the list goes on.
‘Then, in 1975, we got the Church Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, who’d been a target himself. They were responsible for uncovering the project’s unlawful activities, and it disbanded after a number of NSA officials testified in court admitting to unlawful spying.’
‘But this group wasn’t heard of until the bank raid in 1981. That’s six years later.’
Hatcher took deep breath and a swallow of beer before continuing.
‘These sorts of people don’t wake up one day and think to themselves, I’m going to start a new radical group. They’ve moved from group to group getting increasingly disillusioned until they get to the point where they go out on their own or with a bunch of like-minded crazies. It would be unheard-of if the people behind your group hadn’t been active elsewhere before they started it. That would’ve pre-dated the end of Minaret. They’ll be in the system, as will anything they’re involved in subsequently.’
‘Wouldn’t the information that had previously been collected illegally have been destroyed?’
Hatcher worked a disappointed look onto his face at his young pupil’s naivety.
‘That would be wasteful. All that time and effort.’ He opened his hands in a pontifical gesture. ‘They might have said that they’d destroyed it . . .’
‘I get the feeling it must be very confusing working where you do. You go into the office in the morning and someone says to you, good morning, and immediately you’re on your guard, thinking, is it?’
Hatcher laughed with him, then turned serious again.
‘One result of the investigations into Minaret’s illegal wiretaps was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which limited the NSA’s powers. They also issued guidance on handling signals intelligence inadvertently collected on US citizens without a warrant.’
‘Inadvertently?’
Hatcher nodded happily.
‘It means by mistake.’
‘As in accidentally on purpose?’
Hatcher tut-tutted.
‘I don’t know how you got to be so cynical.’
‘And what did the guidance say you should do with this accidental information? That’s where the idea of waste not, want not came from, is it?’
Hatcher chose not to answer the question directly as if he were training to become a politician.
‘The point is, like most things, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is open to interpretation—’
‘Interpretation? As in someone says to you, don’t do that, and you think to yourself, does he mean that I shouldn’t do that? I suppose that’s what happens when you’re spelling interpretation a-b-u-s-e. You get a bad case of selective deafness.’
‘—and as a result, various interception programs were restarted, although they’re only allowed where foreign nationals are involved. They were particularly sensitive about Southeast Asia. What you said about a guy with an Asian accent means that it’s inconceivable that they didn’t have a file on this group of yours.’
‘You sound as if you’re all in favor of spying on people like this.’
Hatcher shook his head.
‘I didn’t say that. But if they’d been able to monitor them better, then maybe they’d have prevented this bank raid from happening. Given that it did, it’s my opinion that when the detectives made a request for information, there would definitely have been something on file.’
‘In which case, why didn’t they hand it over? Some inter-agency territorial bullshit?’
‘No, it doesn’t work like that. Well, sometimes it does, but in general, they would’ve cooperated unless there was a good reason not to. Like if it would jeopardize something more important than solving the murder of one dead bank customer.’
‘National security?’
‘Not necessarily at that level, but along those lines, yes.’
Evan wasn’t sure where that left him. If Hatcher had told him that there was no file, that would’ve been the end of it. Everyone, or at least most of them, would’ve been happy that he’d hit a dead end.
As it was, two options remained.
The detective, Jorge Marin, had requested the information and had been told he couldn’t have it for reasons above his pay grade. In which case, by pursuing the matter now, he would be stepping on government toes, opening up a can of worms that could lead anywhere. They wouldn’t want what they wanted to keep hidden back then coming out now. He’d find himself going toe-to-toe with the sort of government agency that people like Hatcher—currently smiling pleasantly at him and looking like he didn’t have a care in this world or the next—worked for.
He’d had trouble with those kinds of people before. Specifically, with Hatcher’s predecessor, Newcomb. It wasn’t an experience he was looking to repeat if he could avoid it.
The other option was that Marin had requested and received the file, which had then disappeared. That would only qualify as a case of inefficiency, corruption or conspiracy at local police level. Still not good, but not as bad as the first option.
It appeared that Hatcher had been reading his mind, or if not that, his face.
‘Still want me to look into it for you?’
‘What do you think?’
Hatcher pretended to give it some thought.
‘I believe I’ve heard it said that you’ve got the monopoly on stubborn and stupid—’
‘You’ve been talking to Kate behind my back again.’
‘—so, yeah, I guess you want me to go ahead. I’ll see what I can do.’
He looked as if he was about to say more, then stopped himself, took a mouthful of beer to cover it up. Evan didn’t let him get away with it.
‘What? Say it.’
Hatcher inspected his shoes for a moment, then held Evan’s eyes as he answered.
‘If you want my advice, and I know you don’t, drop it. Don’t do this just for the sake of . . .’ He struggled to find the right word, then came out with a selection, all of which were appropriate. ‘Pig-headedness. Pride. Stupidity.’
Evan slapped him on the shoulder, worked hard to put some confidence in with the gentle mocking in his voice.
‘I never thought I’d hear it coming from you. You must be getting old.’
Spoken in jest, but it didn’t stop the cold chill that went through him that even a man like Kurt Hatcher should advise against his chosen course of action.

CHAPTER 3

Evan called Guillory first thing in the morning, got an unusual, although not unsurprising response when she picked up.
‘You have reached the person who does all your work for you. Please leave your latest orders after the tone. Beep.’
He couldn’t help smiling, despite himself, pictured the mischievous sparkle in her eyes, the crinkles at the corners of them that he hadn’t gotten around to mentioning yet.
‘Most people just say hello. You also need to work on the beep. It’s not very realistic. It’s more like a truck backing up.’
‘I hope you’re not chasing me about that favor already.’
He sucked air in sharply through his teeth as if he’d just burned himself on the stove.
‘Sorry. I got this sudden sharp pain went through my finger. Or where my finger used to be . . .’
‘You want to know where my finger’s gonna be next time I see you?’
‘No, but I know where Ryder’s is right now. Or at least I know where his thumb is. Did you tell him I think he’s broken his chair?’
A small laugh came down the line at him, made him smile again himself.
‘Not yet. I’ve been too busy—’
‘Running my errands, I know. What have you got for me?’
A weary rush of air answered him, didn’t have the same effect as the laugh of a moment ago. It was a sound he knew well, nonetheless.
‘I asked around about the lead detective, Jorge Marin. Seems you’re in luck. He’s still alive. He was mid-thirties at the time, which makes him mid-seventies now. He didn’t retire, either. He resigned . . .’
‘Resigned before being fired, you mean?’
A short silence ensued, one characterized by lips set in a tight line on her end of the line.
‘Cops don’t get fired because they fail to solve every crime, Evan.’
‘There’d be a lot of unemployed cops if they did.’
She chose not to dignify the remark with a response, continued as if he hadn’t spoken.
‘Although it won’t have done his reputation any favors.’
He got the impression that she’d spoken the last sentence purely in order to be able to use the word favors, given the emphasis she put on it. He ignored it, as she’d ignored him.
‘What did he do after he resigned?’
‘Got a job in private security.’
‘Rent a cop? Isn’t that a big step backwards?’
‘Not necessarily. Depends on the job. The guy I spoke to said it was some cushy number paying double what he’d been making as a detective. There’s one other strange thing about the whole situation . . .’
It was a good attempt to hook him, but he knew her too well. Her voice gave her away, a barely-controlled glee behind the words.
‘The guy’s prepared to talk to me,’ he said for her.

***

As Guillory had implied, not all jobs in private security involved sitting in a hut all day long, checking ID and raising barriers. If they did, Jorge Marin had found another means of paying for the house he lived in, an ostentatious brick and faux stone carbuncle that Guillory would’ve called a McMansion. Given the way things were shaping up, that was a distinct possibility.
Marin himself had the look of a man who had spent more of his working life out of the police force than he had in it. There was nothing worn-out or worn-down about him, no tell-tale signs of alcohol or drug dependency to get him through another day of coping with the memories and demons that plagued him. If anything, he looked like he might never have done a day’s work in his life, let alone a stressful one.
He led Evan across the hallway and past an open door that led to a bright sitting room at the front of the house. A well-preserved woman of a similar age to Marin looked up from her book but didn’t say hello. From the look she gave him, if she’d said anything it would’ve been to tell him to use the back door next time he called.
They went into Marin’s study at the back of the house, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a few acres of lawn as perfectly manicured as Marin’s wife. And a whole lot more inviting. Marin gestured to a low leather couch, then sat on the arm of the matching chair opposite.
Evan eased his way into the conversation that would lead to discussing what everything suggested had been the low point of Marin’s career.
‘Thank you for agreeing to see me.’
‘Not at all. Makes a pleasant change from mowing the lawn.’
Evan was tempted to tell him to hold fire on the pleasant for the time being, admired the lawn instead. Marin smiled indulgently, then came out with the real reason.
‘I was intrigued. I got a call from an old friend from my time on the force, Warren Budd. He told me a detective he thinks very highly of . . .’
Evan let him search for the name for a couple seconds, then made a suggestion.
‘Kate Guillory?’
Marin clicked his fingers, nodded his agreement.
‘That’s it. Damn memory isn’t what it used to be.’
It was an innocent enough remark, the sort of self-deprecating comment that people make as they grow older. Except it felt wrong. It felt as if Marin was laying the groundwork for what would come later.
‘Warren told me she was asking on behalf of a private detective she knows. I assume that’s you?’ He paused, gave Evan a chance to confirm it. ‘So, I made a couple of calls myself.’
Evan felt like saying, I’ll get my coat, let him continue instead.
‘Anyway, I heard some interesting things.’
‘Anything you want to share?’
‘Not really.’
‘You didn’t speak to a Detective Ryder, did you?’
Marin shook his head, never heard of him.
‘Like I say, I was intrigued. I believe in making my own mind up. When Warren said you wanted to ask me about one of my old cases, I knew immediately which one it would be. I suppose that made me curious to meet the man who’s going solve what we couldn’t do at the time forty years later. Without having the benefit of any official capacity, too.’
‘Now that you put it like that, I feel like I should leave now.’
Marin smiled, shook his head.
‘We don’t want you to have a wasted journey. Let me ask you something before you start to grill me. Why are you digging this up after all this time?’
‘Better than mowing the lawn.’
It took Marin a couple of beats to catch on, then he burst out laughing.
‘That fits with some of the things I heard about you. Tell you what, I’ll go first and if you get anything useful, you show me yours. How’s that sound?’
Sounds too good to be true, Evan thought and didn’t say.
‘I assume you’ve read the file?’ Marin said.
‘Uh-huh.’
‘Well, I don’t want you to think I’m being uncooperative right from the get go, but you know as much as I do. Probably more. You’ve read it a lot more recently than I have.’
Again, it had the feeling of paving the way. Evan ignored it for now.
‘I’m actually very good friends with Detective Guillory . . .’ He paused, let Marin give a small nod to acknowledge that he understood. ‘She tells me all your dirty secrets. Like how sometimes there are things that don’t make it into the file.’
Marin’s eyes opened wide in mock horror.
‘Maybe now, but not in my day.’
Evan did the translation without thinking.
If you know her as well as you claim to, you’ll know the exact opposite is the case.
‘Especially not on any case I was working,’ Marin added.
There was nothing Evan could say, short of calling him a liar—or at least accusing him of being deliberately obstructive. The time had come to press on, into the areas where the real bare-faced lies would be found. Because he had no doubt now that was what awaited him.
‘There was one thing in particular puzzled me. It concerned the group that claimed responsibility for the raid.’
Marin was nodding now, looking pleased that he didn’t have to give another negative response.
‘Yeah, I remember something about that. A bunch of crazies protesting about the war in Vietnam, wasn’t it?’
‘That’s right. There’s a note in the file says that you made a request through the FBI for any information they might have had on them.’
Marin gave a noncommittal shrug.
‘If that’s what it says in the file . . .’ A crease appeared in his brow. ‘You’re saying there’s nothing in the file?’
Evan shook his head.
‘Nothing.’
‘Obviously they didn’t have anything or they’d have sent it over. I don’t remember. I do remember asking my brother about it. He’d been in ‘Nam, was wounded too. He’d never heard of them. Had no time for any of them, either. I forget what he used to call them. He used to stop the guys begging in the street, tell them to get their shit together. Got in a few fights over it . . .’
Evan waited patiently for the flood of anecdotes to dry up, tried again.
‘You don’t remember anything about an FBI report?’
‘Sorry. It’s kinda hard to remember something that wasn’t there, if you know what I mean. Besides, it was forty years ago. I’ve had another career, two wives, five kids and a heart attack since then.’
Evan listened in silence as the excuses washed over him. He didn’t believe a word of it. Despite the obvious improvement in Marin’s fortunes, he’d bet that there was still a cop lurking underneath. He’d been in his middle thirties when he resigned which meant he’d probably put fifteen years in. He wasn’t a guy who tried it and quit after six months because it wasn’t for him. It was in his blood. He’d have stewed on the biggest failure of his career. Lying awake at night going over it again and again. And he expected Evan to believe he couldn’t remember what happened regarding the only lead he’d had?
‘I moved on,’ Marin said. ‘I know you were hoping that I’d be this bitter old man nursing his memories about the case that broke him, and that you were going to find some hidden clue in my alcoholic ramblings, but that shit’s just for the movies.’
‘You resigned soon after, I understand? Got a new job?’
‘Yep. But the two things aren’t connected. I got an offer I couldn’t refuse through a guy I knew.’ He waved his hand, took in the study and the rest of the house, the expansive grounds outside the window. ‘But not as good as you’re thinking.’ He hooked his thumb towards the front of the house. ‘The wife really took her last husband to the cleaners. Most of this is off the back of that.’
Evan wasn’t sure what the appropriate response to that was. Well done or watch out. He was saved from having to say anything at all when Marin laughed suddenly. It seemed to him that it was the first genuine emotion he’d shown.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘The guys I used to work with liked to say that they were going to deliberately screw up every case came their way if this is what it gets you. Hey! Maybe you’ll get lucky and not solve it too.’
‘Then get a good job and a big house, you mean?’
‘You got it.’
They shared a laugh, Evan wondering if he’d just been threatened. Because his reward for not getting to the bottom of the case might have more to do with staying alive rather than any monetary gain.
‘What was the job?’
He felt as if he’s stuck an air hose up Marin’s ass and squeezed the trigger, he puffed up so quickly.
‘Head of campaign security for a guy who was gearing up to enter the race for the Republican nomination in the Senate elections.’
Evan dipped his head, got a smug smile back from Marin. He saw what was written in his eyes.
Bet that surprised you.
‘Who was the politician?’
‘Nobody you’d know.’
‘Try me.’
Marin looked at him a long moment, then gave the name.
‘Luke Tranberg.’
‘You’re right, never heard of him. Did he win?’
‘Nope. Not that time. Far as I know, he’s still hoping to. But I’m out of it now. A dinosaur like me wouldn’t be any use to him now, anyway. It’s all cyber security. Email and social media accounts and all that crap. Stopping all the sensitive and embarrassing things that they shouldn’t be saying and doing in the first place from getting out, letting the voters know what they’re really like.’
‘That sounds like a nice toxic mix of cynicism and bitterness.’
Marin shook his head.
‘Cynical, yeah. Being a police officer for fifteen years and then working for a guy who wants to be a politician, who wouldn’t be? But bitter? No. I’ve had my time. Things change. None of it for the better as far as I’m concerned, but they like to call it progress.’ He made the word sound like something to be ashamed of. ‘Seems to me that if they haven’t got an app on their phone to do what needs doing, it doesn’t get done. They don’t know what hard work is. But if that’s the way it’s gotta be, at least I’ve been around the block enough times to recognize my limitations.’
Again, Evan heard the subtext loud and clear.
Have you?
He didn’t know what to make of Marin. On the one hand, he was sure that he was lying about his recollections of the case and the missing FBI report. But apart from that, he was a decent enough guy, a man sensible enough to recognize the need for change and not be stupid or proud enough to try to fight it, clinging to his position in a world that he no longer understood or cared for. He’d bet that he’d been a damn good cop in his day with an unshakeable belief in the power of hard work, and a temperament like a dog with a bone when he got his teeth into something.
It wasn’t possible that he’d simply given up. Unfortunately, all of the alternatives that implied were a lot worse.
Marin pushed himself off the chair arm, the interview at an end. He led Evan back through the house towards the front door. Evan was sorely tempted to give Mrs. Marin a cheery wave, call out goodbye, as he went past the open sitting room door. But she didn’t look up, her book discarded in favor of a magazine. He guessed it was Divorce Weekly or maybe a special edition of Squeeze ’Em Dry.
At the door Marin pointed to his finger.
‘What happened there?’
‘A careless accident.’
He may as well have told Marin the truth for all the attention he was paying. He was too busy composing his reply, the one that Evan now realized had been the sole purpose of asking the question in the first place.
‘You need to be more careful where you stick it. Lucky it wasn’t your nose.’

END OF EXCERPT

© JAMES HARPER