Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"Son of a bitch," I breached. "Are you sure about all this?"
"Honey," she laughed, "who do you think are the crypt-keepers of all these local skeletons in tiny closets? It's not the - quote, unquote - 'Spokane power elite’, an especially ineffectual buncha pussy-boys who make Gaspar Milquetoast look like Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson. No, sugar, it's all of us administrative assistants, aides-de-camp, executive secretaries, nannies, maids, paralegals, hairdressers, and the odd slash mistresses of these goobers. We keep the wheels of social harmony greased. We yank back on the reins when things get too complicated and we preserve the balance of power far better than Hank Kissinger ever did. That's why I'm stickin' a cattle prod up Art's keister just about daily. He's practicing a particularly slope-headed form of selective blinders with Janie Wright, mostly because his girl, Sera, is Jane's life-long best friend. I don't know exactly how much he knows, 'cause I'm sure as shit not telling him anything, but he's at least aware of Janie's affair with some Colville kid, even though he doesn't know the relationships involved. For an extraordinarily bright man, he has a lethal dose of this good-ole-boy permissiveness about extra-marital winky-dink. He thinks it's cute...or hot. I can't tell which. He doesn't know about the bank accounts."
"You're sure?" I asked.
"Nobody but Marlise, me, and now you," she smiled.
"Uh-huh," I chuckled. "And what's in it for you, spilling all this to moi?"
"Well," she grinned serenely, "aside from the collegial little poke I'm hoping you'll throw me in the van, once I get you drunk, it's really sorta tawdry. Every time little Miss Steampot has come into our offices, she's ordered me around like some wetback chambermaid. You can probably guess how much I like that. The last time she tried to send me out for her double-dry hazelnut macchiato, I believe my exact words were, 'bite my ass you spoiled little pissant.' She's rocking the boat, here, and if there's one thing us Spokanians love, it's steady boats."
"Jeez, B.J.," I grinned. "If I thought I remembered how, I think I'd come across right about now."
"Well, let's go for the lightning round, then," she murmured. "I don't know anything about this. It's just fishy, okay? Art gave me a number to call about a wire fraud investigation, yesterday. It was that Portland law firm, Blackwood, Portale & Meeks? Well, he gave me the wrong number, 'cause I call it and get Chuck Portale's private line. He answers it by saying, 'is that you?' I say, yeah, I'm pretty sure it's me and he laughs like he's constipated and says it's a joke he plays with his wife. What do I know? Maybe it is. But, while he has me on the phone, he asks if I know anything about this one-name dude Joe, who owns the property on the Res. I say no, 'cause at the time, nothing was up with him. I told Portale as much and mentioned that I was a little puzzled because I was the one who cut that check for the lease and it went to him,
Joe. He said the trust was set up by a corporation and he drew up the trust with the corporation's attorney. He's never seen Joe, he says; doesn't even have his last name. So I say that's odd and he says, 'oh, you know these tight-ass Scandinavians, wouldn't admit it was raining if they were soaking wet.' Now, if he's never seen the guy and doesn't have his last name, how's he know the guy's Scandinavian?"
She smiled and swirled her drink.
"Now, about your sex life…"
"The guy's a spook," I yawned, "almost certainly. Just don't know what flavor."
It was 12:30 and all three of us were hitting the wall. I hadn't come across to Bettijean's satisfaction but did offer a bona-fide raincheck, which she got in writing on a cocktail napkin.
"A spook?" Aaron frowned, "Like…like a spy?"
"Something like that," I nodded. "Hooks called back but with ballistics on the French shooting. 850 yards. In 'Nam, the army and the C.I.A. had these snipers, guys with no family, no other skills, that they sorta…umm, erased, for lack of a better word. No rank, no formal pay rate, no M.O.S., no records. Supposedly, there were four of them. Any one of them could put five rounds in an area the size of a matchbox from 400 yards. Two of them died in firefights, one lost his leg to a landmine, but one just sorta disappeared when the war was over. Nobody knew his name but, wisdom has it, he was C.I.A. to start with, and just got reassigned."
"As a spy," Jack said flatly.
"No, as a sniper," I replied.
Aaron and Jack looked at each other and then at me.
"We use snipers?" Aaron whistled.
"Of course," I laughed. "The sort of diplomacy you never hear about. Oh, we don't take out official big-shots, but we'll snuff a petty despot or budding folk hero, now and again."
"That's…that's outrageous," Jack fumed, clearly thinking about whipping out the trusty cell phone to do something about it.
"Yeah," I nodded, "it is, but it's also S.O.P. for pretty much every government on the face of the earth. And, callous as it sounds to say it, as an alternative to war, it ain't bad. But, trust me on this, a guy who shoots like that, cleans up after himself, moves like that…spook. And, unless I miss my guess, he's spun out of control and his peeps are planning to erase him all over again; this time more literally."
"This couldn't be the C.I.A. behind this thing…could it?" Jack muttered.
"As one namby-pamby liberal dupe to another, I feel your pain, but, even when the C.I.A. makes a dumb-ass mistake - 90% of which no one will ever know about - they do it undercover of darkness, frequently using uninformed third parties, and almost always within the political arena. They don't take out paper salesmen, in public, with a gun.
"So," Aaron mused, trying to piece it together, "if it's this C.I.A. sniper, he's…he's not doing C.I.A. business. And all this shooting, this fast, it sounds like there's…some sort of deadline. And, if it's really about the resort thing, what's the deadline?"
"I don't think there's a literal time frame." I replied, "
it is the project, I think he just wants it stopped. On a related note, Jack, B.J. Moorage just told me about an accidental phone call to Chuck Portale, the lawyer in Portland, who clumsily dropped a couple of questions about our boy Joe into the conversation. Claimed he'd never met the guy and asked if she and Art knew anything about him. Said he didn't have his last name, either, and that the trust was set up by a corporate attorney, in the corporation's name.
"With Joe as the beneficiary, so to speak?" Jack asked.
"Didn't say, exactly, but you gotta presume," I nodded. "Then, when Bettijean allows as how that's an odd deal, Portale laughs and makes a joke about tight-ass Scandinavians who like to keep secrets. If he's never met the guy and doesn't know his last name, how's he know the guy's Scandinavian?"
"Well, he is," Aaron replied.
"You know that?" Jack smirked. "You don't know his last name, either."
"How do you spot a Scandinavian?" Aaron shot back.
"Uh, blonde, tall, blue eyes, dumb-ass accent," Jack chuckled.
"Bingo," Aaron nodded, “He doesn't have an actual accent, like the Ikea commercials, but you get a flavor of it worked into an Oregon accent."
"There's an Oregon accent?" Jack blinked.
Aaron and I looked at each other.
"Easterners," he chuckled.
"Yes, Jack," I replied slowly, "there is an Oregon accent. Rooted in Scandinavia, just like my own Carolina shitkicker tongue sprang from those English white trash who settled there. Aaron, are you saying you heard something else in it?"
"Yeah," he nodded, "kinda Norwegian. 'Y'know, comes out 'y'noo; that kinda thing."
"So Joe's our sniper?" Jack interjected. "Would he be that stupid, messing with something that close to home?"
"At this point, that's a leap," I cautioned. "We've got a busy sniper in England and France and we've got a hermit who smells a little funky. Joe may just be one of those fiercely independent types who likes to leave no tracks. That
sort of a Northwest kink, Jack. For a long time, this was the last frontier. I've even picked up some of it. People around here still value their privacy above all else. What happens if we find Joe sitting in his porch rocker tomorrow morning? If he's here, he's not our boy."
"We going up there?" Aaron asked.
"Can't think of a better way to settle it," I nodded. "Go up, knock on his door, tell him our problem and ask him for help."
"What if he puts either a gun or the door in your face?" Jack pressed.
"Then we start digging until we dig him up," I shrugged. "At that point, we've been upfront. That work for you, Aaron?"
"Yeah…I guess," he yawned, "although, I can tell you, it was me in his place without even anything to hide, I'd tell you to go fuck yourselves."
"G.P.?" I asked.
"G.P.," Aaron nodded. "Man should at least be free from nosy questions in his own home."
"If we're wrong, I'll buy him a helicopter," Jack groaned. "I'm going to bed."
I laid awake far longer than I thought possible, the threads of all we were dealing with trailing through my head. Each one dangled a frayed end that screamed "Pull me!" Most, I knew would be false, eat up time, and create a taller stack of bodies.
Little did I suspect, as I stumbled fitfully into dreamland, that events were about to slam into high gear without my having stirred the pot at all.
Joe collapsed onto the rank coverlet of a sad pensione in Vienna and willed his body to stillness.
His mind was another matter.
The sick feeling in his gut was attached to the recurring notion that his "friend" might be right. That his home was lost to him the evening he first saw bulldozers arriving on flatbed trucks, off across the valley floor.
In retrospect, he now saw, maybe he shouldn't have even tried to stop it. It was a mountain haven for rich pricks; the very oblivious geese he had walked amongst, undetected, for 20+ years. He could have simply adopted any one of his nine identities that carried a paper trail, live in it, and let people "know" him to their heart's content. Five of the nine even contained some name that shortened easily into "Joe," so there would be no suspicion about that.
The danger there, of course, was that someone would prove either incredibly lucky or unusually determined. Someone willing to dig far enough to interview high school classmates, for example, would undo the whole thing. Every disguise has its limits.
He could do that now, he realized. After living in disguise for the entire trip, he wouldn't be recognized and connected to this by anyone. Dunbar, Beecham, and Pennington would certainly make the cost prohibitive for P.P.V. If he could somehow manage to get to Bartinelli, he mused, they'd have to back out, by which time he could be sipping a tall lemonade in his porch rocker. He'd slip into Aldus Johann Aaberg or Wilem Jusef Torvik and lay better than even money that no one would even look too closely at a contented hermit. Which I would be, he thought with satisfaction, which I would surely be.
He thought for a while and made a decision that left him with a tiny, glowing spark of optimism. Just one more thing to do before going…home.
"Is it you?" Katja answered.
"Yes," Joe smiled, "it certainly is."
Calvert sat in the bright shade of a London afternoon, his beloved limeade sweating in the tumbler at his elbow and case files strewn across the glass top of his terrace's café table. Hyde Park teemed with kids and laughing vacationers just below him as he scanned reports of massive cranial trauma, entry and exit wounds, toxicology reports, and crime scene photos for that one off note that would become his compass, the devil is in the details, he always preached to his troops and believed in his heart.
This time, he was reduced to head scratching and muttering. Questions of "why?" and "for what?" had long since been filed under "unknown." He was left with "how" and "when" and they weren't very talkative.