Prologue | FINDERS, KEEPERS
IT HAD BEEN MONTHS since Kyle Craig had killed a man. Once upon a time, he’d been the type who needed everything yesterday, if not sooner. But no more. If years of hellish solitude in ADX Florence in Colorado had taught him nothing else, it was how to wait for what he wanted.
He sat patiently in the foyer of his quarry’s Miami apartment, weapon cradled on his lap, watching the lights of the harbor and biding his time. He was in no particular hurry, enjoying the view, maybe finally learning to enjoy life. He certainly looked relaxed --- faded jeans, sandals, a T-shirt that said CONSIDER THIS FAIR WARNING.
At 2:12 a.m., a key sounded in the lock. Kyle immediately rose to his feet and pressed his back against the wall, hanging there as silently as a piece of art.
The man of the hour, Max Siegel, was whistling as he came in. Kyle recognized the melody, an old snatch from his childhood. It was from Peter and the Wolf. The strings section --- Peter’s hunting theme. Ironically enough.
He waited for Mr. Siegel to close the door behind him and take a few more steps into the still-dark apartment. Then Kyle leveled his red laser site and squeezed the trigger. “Hello, Mr. Siegel,” he said. “Good to meet you.”
A stream of electrically charged saline solution hit Siegel squarely in the back, carrying fifty thousand volts with it. He grunted between clenched teeth. His shoulders seized up just before his body went completely rigid, and he fell like a tree to the floor.
Kyle didn’t hesitate for a second. He quickly slipped a nylon cord across Siegel’s throat, wound it around three times, and started to drag him in a small circle to sop up the saline solution on the floor, then yanked him straight through the apartment toward the master bath in the back. Siegel was too weak to struggle. Whatever effort he could muster was spent on the cord itself, trying not to be strangled.
“Don’t fight me,” Kyle said finally. “There’s no point in it.”
In the bathroom, Kyle lifted him into the oversize tub and tied off the ends of the cord to one of the chrome fixtures. It wasn’t necessary, physically speaking, but it kept Siegel’s head up where Kyle could see his face.
“You probably don’t even know about these, do you?” he said, holding up the strange gun he’d carried in. “I know you’ve been underground awhile, but trust me, they’re going to be huge.”
The thing looked like a Super Soaker, which it kind of was. Regular Tasers could go for thirty seconds at best. This baby could run and run, thanks to a two-gallon wearable water pack strapped to his back.
“What… do you want?” Siegel finally choked out in response to the madness.
Kyle withdrew a small Canon digital camera from his pocket and started taking pictures. Full face, left profile, right profile.
“I know who you are, Agent Siegel. Let’s start there, okay?”
A look of confusion crossed the man’s face. Then fear. “Oh God, this is some kind of horrible mistake. My name is Ivan Schimmel!”
“No,” Kyle said, snapping away --- brow, nose, chin. “You’re Max Siegel, and you’re FBI. You’ve been deep undercover for the last twenty-six months. Worked your way up with the Buenez cartel until they trusted you enough to start making shipments.
“Now, while everyone’s watching Colombia, you’re running heroin from Phuket and Bangkok to Miami.”
He lowered the camera and looked Siegel in the eye. “Never mind the moral relativism. It’s all in the name of the big takedown at the end. Isn’t that right, Agent Siegel?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about!” he cried. “Please! Check my wallet!” He’d begun to struggle again, but another dose of voltage put a quick end to that. The electricity went right after the motor and sensory nerves. Siegel’s pain tolerance was irrelevant. And the ammo, such as it was, ran right down the drain into Biscayne Bay.
“I suppose you might be forgiven for not recognizing me,” Kyle went on. “Does the name ‘Kyle Craig’ mean anything to you? Or maybe the Mastermind? That’s what they call me up at the Puzzle Palace in DC. As a matter of fact, I used to work there. Long time ago.”
A flash of recognition came and went in Siegel’s eyes, not that Kyle needed any kind of confirmation. His reconnaissance was still flawless.
But this Max Siegel was a pro, too. He wasn’t about to stop playing the game now, especially now. “Please,” he blubbered on when he found his voice again, “what is this? Who are you? I don’t know what you want.”
“Everything, Max. Every last little thing.”
Kyle took another half dozen pictures and repocketed the camera. “You’re actually a victim of your own good work, if that’s any consolation. Nobody knows who you are down here, not even the local FBI. That’s why I chose you. I selected you out of all the agents working in the United States. You, Max. Can you guess why?”
His voice had changed as he spoke. It was more nasal now, with the same shades of Brooklyn accent that laced the real Max Siegel’s speech.
“This will never work! You’re insane!” Siegel screamed at him. “You’re fucking mad!”
“By some standards, I think that might be true,” Kyle said. “But I’m also the most brilliant son of a bitch you’ll ever have the pleasure to know.” Then he pulled the trigger one more time and just let the thing run.
Siegel writhed mutely on the bottom of the tub. Eventually, he began to gag on his own tongue. Kyle watched, carefully noting every detail all the way to the end, studying his subject until there was nothing left to learn.
“Let’s hope this works,” he said. “Wouldn’t want you to have died for nothing, Mr. Siegel.”
TWENTY-TWO DAYS LATER, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Max Siegel checked out of the Hotel Meliá Habana in the ritzy Miramar section of Havana, Cuba. Medical tourists were as common as pickpockets here; no one looked twice at the broad-shouldered man in the linen suit with bruises around his eyes and gauze over his nose and ears as he came through the lobby.
He signed the bill with a perfectly replicated signature and kept the charges on Max Siegel’s brand-new American Express card. The surgeries, however, had been paid for in cash.
From the hotel, he caught a cab across town to Dr. Cruz’s office, discreetly tucked into one of the city’s endless neoclassic arcades. Inside was a full-service, completely staffed modern clinic that would have made a high-priced plastic surgeon in Miami or Palm Beach proud.
“I have to tell you, Senor Siegel, that I’m quite pleased with this.” The doctor spoke softly as he removed the last of the bandages. “It is some of the best work I’ve ever done, if I may say so.” His manner was thoughtful but crisp and efficient --- very professional. You’d never know he was willing to cut so many ethical corners along with the skin and bones of his clients’ faces.
Dr. Cruz had performed seven separate procedures, something that might have taken months or even a year elsewhere. There was blepharoplasty for the eyelids; a template rhinoplasty for the nose, with a complete elevation of the skin and soft tissue in the nasal pyramid; new MEDPOR implants for more prominent cheekbones and chin; a sliding genioplasty of the jawbone; a little silicone augmentation for the brow; and, as a finishing touch, a nice little cleft in the chin --- just like Max Siegel’s.
At the patient’s request, no electronic imaging had been taken before or after the procedures. For the right rate, Dr. Cruz had been more than willing to work from a series of digital blowups in hard copy, no questions asked, no interest in any biophysical detail.
Now, when he held up the large hand mirror for Kyle to see his reflection, the effect was stunning. The implants, especially, were like a miracle of change.
Max --- not Kyle --- smiled back from the mirror. He felt a slight sting at the corners of his mouth, which didn’t move quite the same way as before. In fact, he didn’t recognize himself at all. It was a total mind fuck, in the best possible way. There had been other disguises in the past, including some very expensive prosthetics that had gotten him out of prison. But they were nothing compared to this.
“How long will the bruising last?” he asked. “And this swelling around my eyes?”
Cruz handed him a folder of aftercare information. “With proper rest, you should be looking completely normal in seven to ten days.”
The remaining changes, he could do for himself --- shave and dye his hair down to a dark buzz cut and put in a simple pair of colored contacts. If there was any disappointment at all, it was that Kyle Craig had been so much better looking than Max Siegel.
But screw it. He needed to consider the larger picture here. Next time, he could be Brad Pitt if he wanted to.
He left the clinic in an excellent mood and took another cab straight to José Martí International Airport. From there, he caught a flight back to Miami, with a connection to Washington, DC, that same afternoon. For the main event.
Already, his thoughts had begun to coalesce around one idea: meeting up with his old friend and sometimes partner Alex Cross. Had Alex forgotten the promises Kyle had made to him over the years? That didn’t seem possible. But had Cross grown just a little complacent in the meantime? Maybe so. In any case, the “great” Alex Cross was going to die, and die badly. There would be pain, but even more than that --- regret. It would be a finale worth waiting for, no question.
And in the interim, Kyle was going to have some fun. After all, as the new and improved Max Siegel, he knew better than anybody that there was more than one way to take another man’s life.
Part One | SHOOTER READY
ANOTHER MANHOLE COVER had exploded in Georgetown, blowing nearly forty feet in the air. It was a strange little epidemic, as the city’s aging infrastructure reached some kind of critical mass.
Over time, underground wires had frayed and smoldered, filling the space beneath the streets with flammable gas. Ultimately --- and more frequently these days --- the exposed wires created an electrical arc, lighting a fireball in the sewer and sending another three-hundred-pound iron disk flying up into the air.
This was the weird, scary stuff Denny and Mitch lived for. Every afternoon, they would gather up their papers to sell and hoof it over to the library to check the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) website for wherever rush-hour traffic was at its worst. Logjams were their meat.
Even on an ordinary day, the Key Bridge lived up to its nickname, the Car Strangled Spanner, but today the M Street approach was somewhere between a parking lot and a circus. Denny worked his way up the middle of the traffic, and Mitch took the outside.
“True Press, only a dollar. Help the homeless.”
“Jesus loves you. Help the homeless?”
They were an odd pair, to look at them --- Denny, a six-feet-something white guy with bad teeth and stubble that never quite hid his sunken chin, and then Mitch, a brother with a boyish, dark black face, a husky body that topped out at five six, and stubby little baby dreads on his head to match.
“This is a perfect metaphor right here, ain’t it?” Denny was saying. They talked to each other over the tops of the cars --- or, rather, Denny talked and Mitch played a sort of straight man for the customers.
“You got pressure building, way down low where no one’s looking, ’cause it’s all just rats and shit down there, and who cares, right? But then one day --- ” Denny puffed out his cheeks and made a sound like a nuclear explosion. “Now you gotta pay attention, ’cause the rats and shit, they’re everywhere, and everyone wants to know why somebody else didn’t do something to stop it. I mean, if that ain’t Washington to a tee, I don’t know what the hell is.”
“To a tee, bro. To a P, Q, R, S, tee,” Mitch said, and laughed at his own dumb joke. His faded shirt read, IRAQ: IF YOU WEREN’T THERE, SHUT UP! His pants were baggy camos, like Denny’s, only cut off around the calf.
Denny kept his shirt up over his shoulders to show off a half-decent six-pack. It never hurt to put a little eye candy on the table, and his face wasn’t exactly his strong suit. “It’s the American way,” he went on, loud enough for anyone with an open window to hear. “Keep doing what you always did, so you keep gettin’ what you always got. Am I right?” he asked a pretty business suit in a BMW. She actually smiled and bought a paper. “God bless you, miss. Now that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how we do it!”
He continued to fleece the crowd, getting more and more drivers to reach out their windows with cash in hand.
“Yo, Denny.” Mitch chinned at a couple of street cops working their way over from Thirty-fourth. “I don’t think these two are feeling us too much.”
Denny shouted over before the cops could talk first. “Panhandling ain’t illegal, officers. Not outside federal parklands, and last I checked, M Street ain’t no park!”
One of them gestured around at the snarl of traffic, Pepco trucks, and fire department vehicles. “You’re kidding me, right? Let’s go. Clear out.”
“Come on, man, you gonna deny a couple of homeless vets the right to make an honest living?”
“You ever been in Iraq, man?” Mitch added. People were starting to stare.
“You heard the officer,” the second cop told him. “Move along. Now.”
“Hey, man, just ’cause you got an asshole don’t mean you gotta be one,” Denny said, to a few laughs. He could feel the captive audience coming over to his side.
Suddenly there was some pushing. Mitch didn’t much like to be touched, and the cop who tried went down on his ass between the cars. The other one got a hand on Denny’s shoulder and, like a lightning bolt, Denny knocked it away.
Time to go.
He slid across the hood of a yellow cab and started toward Prospect with Mitch right behind.
“Stop right there!” one of the cops shouted after them.
Mitch kept running, but Denny turned around. There were several cars between Denny and the officers now. “What are you going to do, shoot a homeless vet in the middle of traffic?” Then he spread his arms wide. “Go ahead, man. Take me out. Save the government a few bucks.”
People were honking, and some of them yelled from their cars.
“Give the guy a break, man!”
“Support the troops!”
Denny smiled, gave the officer a crisp salute with his middle finger, and ran to catch up with Mitch. A second later, they were sprinting up Thirty-third Street and were soon out of sight.
THEY WERE STILL laughing when they got back to Denny’s ancient Suburban, parked in Lot 9 by Lauinger Library on the Georgetown campus.
“That was awesome!” Mitch’s doughy face was shiny with sweat, but he wasn’t even out of breath. He was the type whose muscles looked a lot like fat. “‘What are you going to do?’” he parroted. “‘Shoot a homeless vet in the middle of traffic?’”
“True Press, one dollar,” Denny said. “Lunch at Taco Bell, three dollars. The look on po-po’s face when he knows you got him? Priceless. Wish I had a picture.”
He plucked a bright-orange envelope from under his wiper blade and got in on the driver’s side. The car still smelled of chain-smoked cigarettes and burritos from the night before. Pillows and blankets were bunched up in a ball on one half of the backseat, next to a lawn-and-leaf bag full of returnable cans.
Behind that, under a stack of collapsed cardboard boxes, a few old carpet remnants, and a false plywood bottom, were two Walther PPS nine-millimeter pistols, a semiautomatic M21, and a military-grade M110 sniper rifle. Also a long-range thermal-optical site, a spotting scope, a cleaning kit for the rifles, and several boxes of ammunition, all wrapped up in a large plastic tarp and bundled with several bungee cords.
“You did good back there, Mitchie,” Denny told him. “Real good. Didn’t lose your cool for a second.”
“Nah,” Mitch said, emptying his pockets onto the plastic lunch tray between them. “I won’t lose my cool, Denny. I’m like one of them whatchamacallits. Cucumbers.”
Denny counted out the day’s take. Forty-five --- not bad for a short shift. He gave Mitch ten singles and a handful of quarters.
“So what do you think, Denny? Am I ready or what? I think I’m ready.”
Denny sat back and lit one of the half-smoked butts in the ashtray. He handed it to Mitch and then lit another for himself. While he was at it, he lit the orange envelope with the parking ticket inside and dropped it, burning, onto the cement.
“Yeah, Mitch, I think maybe you are ready. The question is, are they ready for us?”
Mitch’s knees started to jackhammer up and down. “When do we start? Tonight? What about tonight? What about it, huh, Denny?”
Denny shrugged and leaned back. “Just enjoy the peace and quiet while you can, ’cause you’re going to be famous as shit soon enough.” He blew a smoke ring, then another, which passed right through the first. “You ready to be famous?”
Mitch was looking out the window at a couple of cute, short-skirted coeds crossing the parking lot. His knees were still bouncing. “I’m ready to start this thing, that’s what.”
“Good boy. And what’s the mission, Mitchie?”
“Clean up this mess in Washington, just like the politicians always say.”
“That’s right. They talk about it --- ”
“But we gonna do something about it. No doubt. No doubt.”
Denny extended his fist for a bump, then started up the car. He backed out the long way to get a good look at the ladies from behind.
“Speaking of tacos,” he said, and Mitch laughed. “Where you want to eat? We’ve got paper to burn today.”
“Taco Bell, man,” Mitch said without even having to think.
Denny pulled hard on the gearshift to get it into drive and took off. “Why am I not surprised?”
THE LEAD STORY in my life these days was Bree --- Brianna Stone, known as the Rock at Metro Police. And, yes, she was all of that --- solid, profound, lovely. She’d become a part of my life to the point where I couldn’t imagine it without her anymore. Things hadn’t been this sane and balanced for me in years.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Homicide at Metro was so quiet lately. As a cop, you can’t help but wonder when that next ton of bricks is going to fall, but in the meantime, Bree and I had an unheard-of two-hour lunch that Thursday afternoon. Usually the only way we see each other during the day is if we’re working the same murder case.
We sat in the back at Ben’s Chili Bowl, under all the signed celeb photos. Ben’s isn’t exactly the world capital of romance, but it is an institution in Washington. The half-smokes alone are worth the trip.
“So you know what they’re calling us around the office these days?” Bree said, halfway through a coffee milk shake. “Breelex.”
“Breelex? Like Brad and Angelina? That’s awful.”
She laughed; she couldn’t even keep a straight face at that. “I’m telling you, cops have no imagination.”
“Hmm.” I put a hand lightly on her leg under the table. “With exceptions, of course.”
Any more than that would have to wait, and not just because the bathrooms at Ben’s Chili Bowl were definitely not an option. We did in fact have somewhere important we had to be that day.
After lunch, we strolled hand in hand up U Street to Sharita Williams’s jewelry store. Sharita was an old friend from high school, and she also happened to do outstanding work on antique pieces.
A dozen tiny bells tinkled over our heads as we breezed in the door.
“Well, don’t you two look in love.” Sharita smiled from behind the counter.
“That’s ’cause we are, Sharita,” I said. “And I highly recommend it.”
“Just find me a good man, Alex. I’m in.”
She knew why we were there, and she removed a small black velvet box from under the case. “It came out beautifully,” she said. “I love this piece.”
The ring used to belong to my grandmother, Nana Mama, she of the impossibly small hands. We’d had it resized for Bree. It was a platinum deco setting with three diamonds across, which struck me as perfect --- one for each of the kids. Maybe it’s corny, but it was like that ring represented everything Bree and I were committing to. This was a package deal after all, and I felt like the luckiest man in the world.
“Comfortable?” Sharita asked when Bree slipped it on. Neither one could take her eyes off the ring, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Bree.
“Yeah, it’s comfortable,” she said, squeezing my hand. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
I PUT IN a late-afternoon appearance at the Daly Building. This was as good a time as any to catch up on the flood of paperwork that never seemed to stop flowing across my desk.
But when I got to the Major Case Squad room, Chief Perkins was just coming out into the hall with somebody I didn’t recognize.
“Alex,” he said. “Good. You’ll save me another trip. Walk with us?”
Something was obviously up, and it wasn’t good. When the chief wants a meeting, you go to him, not the other way around. I did a one-eighty, and we headed back over to the elevators.
“Alex, meet Jim Heekin. Jim’s the new AD at the Directorate of Intelligence over at the Bureau.”
We shook hands. Heekin said, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Detective Cross. The FBI’s loss was MPD’s gain when you came back over here.”
“Uh-oh,” I said. “Flattery’s never a good sign.”
We all laughed, but it was also true. A lot of new managers at the Bureau like to shake things up when they start, just to let people know they’re there. The question was, what did Heekin’s new job have to do with me?
Once we were settled in Perkins’s big office, Heekin got a lot more specific.
“Can I assume you’re familiar with our FIGs?” he asked me.
“Field Intelligence Groups,” I said. “I’ve never worked with them directly, but sure.” The FIGs had been created to develop and share intelligence “products” with the law enforcement communities in their respective jurisdictions. On paper, it seemed like a good idea, but some critics saw it as part of the Bureau’s general passing of the buck on domestic criminal investigation after 9/11.
Heekin went on, “As you probably know, the DC group interfaces with all police departments in our area, including MPD. Also NSA, ATF, Secret Service --- you name it. We’ve got monthly conference calls and then face time on an as-needed basis, depending on where the action is.”
It was starting to seem like a sales pitch, and I already felt pretty sure I knew what he was selling.
“Generally, police chiefs represent their departments with the FIGs,” he continued with his steady, well-paced speech, “but we’d like you to take over that position for MPD.”
I looked at Perkins, and he shrugged. “What can I say, Alex? I’m just too damn busy.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Heekin said. “I spoke with the chief here, and with Director Burns at the Bureau before that. Your name was the only one that came up in either meeting.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That’s very nice, but I’m good where I am.”
“Yes, exactly. Major Case Squad’s a perfect fit for this position. If anything, it’s going to make your job easier.”
This wasn’t an offer, I realized, so much as an assignment. When I’d rejoined the force, Perkins had given me just about everything I’d asked for. Now I owed him one, and we both knew it, and he knew that I liked to play fair.
“No title change,” I said. “I’m an investigator first, not some kind of administrator.”
Perkins grinned across his desk. He also looked relieved. “Fine with me. Keeps you in the same pay grade.”
“And my cases take priority over anything else I might have to do?”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Heekin said, already standing up to go. He shook my hand again at the door. “Congratulations, Detective. You’re moving up in the world.”
Yeah, I thought. Whether I want to or not.
DENNY LED THE way, and Mitch followed like the man-child in that old Steinbeck book Of Mice and Men. “Right up here, bud. Let’s keep it moving.”
The tenth floor was also the top floor. Sheets of plastic hung over sections of two-by-four wall frame, with nothing but raw plywood underfoot. A stack of pallets by the Eighteenth Street windows made a good roosting spot.
Denny unrolled the plastic tarp and spread it on the floor. They dropped their packs. He put a hand on Mitch’s back and pointed to where they’d just come up.
“Primary exit,” he said, then turned ninety degrees to face another door. “Alternate exit.” Mitch nodded once each time. “And if we get separated?”
“Wipe down the weapon, dump it, and meet you back at the car.”
“That’s my man.”
They’d been over it maybe fifty times, beginning to end. Drilling was the key. Mitch had all kinds of raw talent, but Denny did the thinking for both of them.
“Any questions?” Denny asked. “This is the time to ask them. Later on, it won’t matter worth a damn.”
“Nah,” Mitch said. His voice had gone flat and distant, the way it always did when he was concentrating on something else. He’d already set the M110, fitted with a sound suppressor, on its bipod and was zeroing it out, calibrating the scope.
Denny assembled his own M21 and slung it flat against his back. If everything went according to plan, he’d never have to use it, but it made sense to have a backup. The Walther was also holstered on his thigh.
He used a compass-set diamond blade to cut a perfect two-inch circle in the window, then pulled the section away with a small suction cup. The streetlights outside sent up a glare that made the window act like a mirror from below.
While Mitch got into position, Denny cleaned another small spot just up and to the left, where he could practically look over Mitch’s shoulder and down the rifle barrel. Even their difference in height worked well.
He took his sighting scope out of its case. From here, they had a clear line to the entrance of Taberna del Alabardero. With the scope’s 100x magnification, Denny could practically see the pores on the faces of the people coming and going from the hot-shit restaurant.
“Here, piggy, piggy, piggy,” he whispered. “Hey, Mitch, you know when a pig knows he’s had enough to eat?”
“When he’s stuffed.”
“Good one,” Mitch said, in the same dead voice as before. He was in his stance now --- a slightly freaky looking, ass out, elbows cocked kind of thing, but it worked for him. Once he hit the position, he would not move or look away until it was over.
Denny made his final check. He eyeballed the steam coming from a vent across the way --- how it traveled straight up. The air temperature was approximately sixty degrees. Everything was a go.
All they needed now was a target, and that would be arriving real soon.
“You ready to let this genie out of the bottle, Mitchie?” he asked.
“Who’s Jeannie, Denny?”
He chuckled low. Mitch was a beautiful piece of work, he really was. “Just the girl of your dreams, man. The girl of your wildest goddamned dreams.”
AT AROUND 7:35, a black Lincoln Navigator pulled up in front of Taberna del Alabardero, a hotsy DC eatery for the stars.
Two men got out of the back on either side and another emerged from the front, while the driver stayed in the car. All three wore dark suits, with barely distinguishable ties.
Banker’s tie, thought Denny. Wouldn’t wear one to my own funeral.
“The two from the backseat. You got it covered?”
“I got it, Denny.”
Everything was dialed in. The scope’s bullet drop compensator would account for the two biggest drags on any bullet --- wind, if there was any, and gravity. From this angle, the barrel might be pointing high, but the crosshairs would put Mitch’s eye right where it needed to be.
Denny watched the targets through his own scope. This was the best seat in the house. Second best anyway. “Shooter ready?”
Mitch slowly exhaled, then pulled off two shots in the same number of seconds.
Vapor trails showed in the air. Both men went down --- one on the sidewalk and the other flat up against the front door of the restaurant. It was kind of visually spectacular, actually --- two perfect head shots to the bases of two skulls.
People were already freaking out in the street. The third man literally dove back into the car, while everyone else ran or ducked and covered their heads.
They didn’t need to worry. The mission was over. Mitch had already begun to break down --- the man was as fast as a speedway mechanic.
Denny unslung the M21, pulled off the magazine, and started packing. Forty seconds later, they were both on the stairs, double-timing it down to street level.
“Hey, Mitch, you weren’t planning on running for elected office, were you?”
Mitch laughed. “Maybe president someday.”
“You did perfect up there. You should be proud.”
“I am proud, Denny. That’s two dead crumbums nobody’s got to worry about no more.”
“Two dead piggies in the street!”
Mitch squealed, a pretty good imitation of swine, actually, and Denny joined in until their voices echoed up the empty stairwell. Both of them were drunk on how well it had gone. What a rush!
“And you know who the hero of the story is, right, Mitchie?” he asked.
“Nobody but us, man.”
“Damn straight. We did it ourselves. A couple of real live American heroes!”
THE SCENE OUTSIDE Taberna del Alabardero was a total zoo when we got there. This was no ordinary hit or rubout. I knew that much without even getting out of the car. The radio had been blaring about a long-distance hit, from a gunman that nobody had seen, firing shots that nobody had heard.
And then there were the victims. Congressman Victor Vinton was dead, along with Craig Pilkey, a well-known banking lobbyist who had recently dragged both of them into the headlines. These homicides were a scandal wrapped in another scandal. So much for quiet times in Homicide.
Both dead men were the subject of a federal inquiry regarding influence-peddling on behalf of the financial services industry. There were allegations about backroom deals and campaign contributions and all the wrong people getting rich --- or richer --- while middle-class citizens had continued to lose their homes in record numbers. It wasn’t hard to imagine someone wanting Vinton and Pilkey dead. A lot of people probably did.
Still, motivation wasn’t the first question on my mind right now. It was method. Why the long gun, and how did someone pull this off so effortlessly on a crowded city street?
Both bodies were covered on the sidewalk when my buddy John Sampson and I reached the awning in front of the restaurant. Capitol Police were already there, with FBI on the way. “High profile” means “high pressure” in DC, and you could all but cut with a knife the mounting tension inside that yellow perimeter tape.
We found another of our own, Mark Grieco from Third District, and he briefed us. Given all the noise in the street, we had to shout just to hear one another.
“How many witnesses do we have?” Sampson asked.
“At least a dozen,” Grieco told us. “We’ve got them all corralled inside, each one more freaked out than the last. No visual on the shooter, though.”
“What about the shots?” I asked in Grieco’s ear. “We know where they came from?”
He pointed over my shoulder, up Eighteenth Street. “Way over there --- if you can believe it. They’re securing the building now.”
On the north corner of K Street, a couple of blocks away, there was a building under some kind of renovation. Every floor was dark except for the top one, where I could just make out people moving around.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “How far is that?”
“Two hundred fifty yards --- maybe more,” Grieco guessed. The three of us started jogging in that direction.
“You said these were head shots?” I asked as we went. “That’s right?”
“Yeah,” Grieco answered grimly. “Dead on, pardon my pun. Someone knew what the hell he was doing. Hope he’s not still around somewhere, watching us.”
“Someone with the right equipment, too,” I said. “Considering the distance.” With a suppressor, the shooter could have gone completely unnoticed.
I heard Sampson say under his breath, “Damn, I hate this thing already.”
I looked back over my shoulder. From this level, I couldn’t even see the restaurant anymore --- except for the red-and-blue lights flashing off the buildings around it.
This whole MO --- the distance of the shot, the impossible angle, the murders themselves (not one perfect hit, but two in a crowded environment) --- was completely audacious. I think we were meant to be impressed --- in a strictly professional capacity, I was a little stunned.
But I also had a sinking dread in the pit of my stomach. That ton of bricks I’d been wondering about --- it had just fallen.
BACK AT HOME, I high-stepped over the second and third porch steps, avoiding the squeak with my long legs. It was just after one thirty in the morning, but the kitchen still smelled like chocolate chip cookies when I came in. They were for Jannie, who had some kind of school function. I gave myself half credit for knowing she had a function but points off for not knowing what it was.
I stole one cookie --- delicious, with a hint of cinnamon in the chocolate --- and took off my shoes before I snuck upstairs.
In the hall, I could see Ali’s light was still on, and when I looked in, Bree was sleeping next to the bed. He’d been running a slight fever before, and she had dragged in the ancient leather armchair, aka laundry stand, from our room.
A library copy of The Mouse and the Motorcycle was open across her lap.
Ali’s forehead was cool, but he’d kicked off the blankets in the night. His bear, named Truck, was upside down on the floor. I tucked both of them back in.
When I tried to take the book from Bree, her hand tightened around it.
“And they all lived happily ever after,” I whispered in her ear.
She smiled but didn’t wake up, as if I’d worked my way into a dream of hers. That was a nice place to be, so I slipped my hands under her knees and arms and carried her back to bed with me.
It was tempting to help her out of her pajama bottoms and T-shirt, and everything else while I was at it, but she looked so beautiful and peaceful like that, I didn’t have the heart to change a thing. Instead, I lay down and just watched her sleep for a while. Very nice.
Inevitably, though, my thoughts returned to the case, to what I’d just seen.
It was impossible not to think about those dark days in 2002, the last time we’d witnessed anything like this. The word “sniper” still strikes a bad chord with a lot of people in Washington, myself included. At the same time, there were some scary differences here, considering the skill of this shooter. It all felt more calculated to me, too. And then, thank God, I was asleep. Counting bodies instead of sheep, though.
Excerpted from CROSS FIRE © Copyright 2010 by James Patterson. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.