Born Out of Due Time, Chapter 14, Part Two
Smith did not mention Caruana’s investigation of possible Hamas operatives coming in from the Twins. The Rosses looked upset, and Caterina had lost her smile. They sat for a minute or so in silence, and Ross got up to pour more madeira. The phone rang, and Mrs. Ross took it in the study. They could hear her exchanging pleasantries with Ashley Borowski. Her tone changed quickly.
“Good lord, where did you see this? On VoxPop News? You actually watch that? I’m turning on the television right now. We’ll get back to you.”
Anterus and the others came in from the living room, and, as the television came on, and the set was switched from Classic Movies to the gibbering hairdos, they could see the news banner: “Tragedy in Baptist Church. Twenty three wounded, over six dead.”
A glittering-eyed anchorman with a leering smile was talking about the case. The name J.P. Snoopington was on the screen… “From Nashville, Tennessee, VoxPop News is live on the scene.”
“Snoop, late this morning a young man entered the Berean Baptist Church in the suburb of Ivy Springs, and, after shouting what sounded like Nazi slogans, he opened fire on the people in the church, killing at least seven people and wounding twenty four others, including the shooter, who has been identified as a young man named Forrest Jackson. Doctors say Jackson, who was shot several times by armed parishioners, is in critical condition. He and his family are longtime members of the church. Forrest Jackson—who takes his name from two racist Confederate generals—is said to be a student at Northwood College, located in the small town of Nadir, —. The shootings took place five hours ago at approximately 11:30 AM Eastern Time. Here’s a reaction from the minister—I believe he is known as ‘pastor’—of the church, Rev. Thoroughgood. Rev. Thoroughgood. Did anyone here think Forrest Jackson was capable of mass murder?“
“I don’t understand it. None of us understands it. Forrest was as normal a young man as you’d want to meet. His parents are pillars of the church—our hearts go out to them in this their hour of need. This whole community is shattered.”
“Were there any signs that he was depressed or under stress.”
“Not really, though his father told me just the other day that he was concerned with some of the things his son was studying in college. Parapsychology, ESP. You know, strange things for any Christian boy to be studying. I don’t know why they would have courses like that in college, and none of us knows why he had to go that far north—he said it was to play football.”
“Thank you, Rev. Thoroughgood. Snoop, we asked Northwood College if Jackson had been taken courses in parapsychology, and they claimed not to have any such courses in the curriculum. Jackson, who played on the football team, was majoring in physical education and leisure-time activities management. It’s a real puzzle, Snoop, and one the FBI hopes to straighten out in the coming weeks. How does a small-town Baptist football player turn into school shooter? Is it the violence of sports programs, or nostalgia for Confederate violence, or is there something in Christianity that turns people to hate? Back to you, Snoop.”
Ross flicked off the television.
“My dear lord. Smith, what are we going to do?”
“I suggest that you make a call to your board chairman, immediately. But do not even hint that you think that VSET has anything to do with Jackson’s going off the deep end. You’re calling him because you used to be president of Northwood and still have contacts there and would like to keep Veritas out of the news. You can tell him that you believe Jackson was one of your student volunteers for a time.”
“Can’t we postpone discussion of this until after the board retreat or at least until we have found out what they are going to do?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, but I see your point. This would be a good excuse to dump you without worrying about repercussions. What happens when they find out?”
“They won’t, at least not right away. I’ll call the staff tonight and get their promises to say nothing. Tomorrow, first thing, I’ll have a meeting with them.”
“What about Freeman and Dyson?”
“Dyson’s never met Jackson and knows nothing about him. Freeman only knows him by his number and nickname in the program. Besides, if Freeman is involved, he won’t want his own activities to be investigated. Really, Shawn’s the only who knows his name, though I wonder if he hasn’t told Corey. I don’t know anything more than the fact that young Mr. Jackson was a volunteer in the VSET program. Do we know anything else? Katie?”
“I don’t, except he seemed to get a bit worked up during the Tombstone game. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I also got a bit carried away. Anterus, you were there. Did you notice anything strange?”
“Yes, I noticed, and that is why I postponed our lunch until I could talk with him. I found out that he had been having some strange dreams about turning into an aesthete—an Oscar Wilde type—and maybe a homosexual member of the SA. I strongly advised him to withdraw from the program, at least temporarily. He told me he was going home for the weekend and would decide when he returned. I was not especially disturbed, but I did dictate a memo to Justin indicating Jackson should be suspended and directed to seek professional help.”
Since Caterina decided to stay with the Rosses and make herself useful, Anterus called Billy back to take him home.
“You get around, Buddy. From the Icehole to Buttes Drive. That’s like going from Nadir to the North Shore in Chicago. Any more cops and robbers stuff?”
“You could take me the long way around, just to make it easier to spot a tail.”
“I’ll take you the back way through the Park.”
“I didn’t realize it was that close.”
“Sure it is, man. You know those bluffs overlooking the lake? This road comes to the end of them and then turns away toward town, which is the way we’re going. Look see that drive-off?”
“Yes, what about it.”
“Guys can park their car there and walk up to the bluffs and down into the park. It’s less obvious, you know, if you’ve got a blanket and a girlfriend.”
“Yes, I see.” And he did.
Smith was tired and he entered his house without checking the door. The living room was dark, and he detected the scent of one of his cigars. He was thinking it smelled too fresh and heard only the slightest rustling sound before he blacked out. When he came to, Sal Nicosia was standing over him, cigar in mouth with a spring-loaded blackjack in his hand. Smith felt the back of his head. It was oozing blood and hurt like the devil. How much, he wondered, could one poor brain take?
“I give it to you light, Smith, because I didn’t wanna hafta hang around this place too long. I dunno why we wondered about a small-time grifter like you.”
Smith saw his leather bag where it had fallen on the floor beside him, and, as he started to reach for it, Nicosia kicked it away.
“Wouldn’t do ya no good, anyways.” And reaching into his pocket, he pulled out Joey’s .38. “I’m a cop, I check everything out. You’re some tough guy, asshole. No, don’t get up. Just sit there on the floor. Tell you what, Smith, you and me are gonna have a talk. If I like your answers, you’re gonna get off light with maybe only a broken nose,” he said, hefting the blackjack. “But if I don’t like, it’s gonna get uncomfortable for you very fast. So who are you?”
Nicosia kicked at his chin. Smith ducked quickly enough to take it on his shoulder. Nicosia didn’t seem to care.
“That’s just a taste. You’ve gone by other names. What about Anderson?”
Smith said nothing and prepared to dodge the next kick that took him in the side of the head, but he had moved fast enough to avoid serious injury. It was only a light wound but from the thin skin on his skull he was bleeding like a stuck pig.
“OK, Anderson. Where were you Thursday night?”
“Seeing you in the park, getting ready to plant the stuff in the Rosses house.”
Sal feinted a kick and crashed Smith’s neck with his gun. Smith was dazed but still thinking about his next move.
“OK, you’re not Farley Anderson, but you knew him. Probly his son. Again, what’s your real name?”
“Still no one knows it just the same,
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name."
This time, he was ready, and when Nicosia kicked out again, Smith grabbed his leg. As Nicosia crashed down sideways onto a chair, Smith jumped to his feet. He grabbed the brass Atlas holding up the globe, and, aiming for Sal’s head, managed only to slam his back on the way down. Nicosia dropped the .38 but was still quick enough to trip him as he came down. As Smith jerked out his neck knife and stabbed at his hip, the ex-cop jerked out his own Glock 9 .mm from his holster. Before Nicosia could fire, they both heard:
“Drop it, Sal, or you’re a dead man.”
Dyson switched on the light, and Smith got to his feet, while Nicosia slumped bleeding into the chair.
“Good timing, Rick.”
“Good timing, bullshit. I was waiting in the kitchen the whole time.”
“Why didn’t you come in sooner? This guy could have kicked my head off.”
“Maybe I was interested in the conversation. At least, I wanted to give Nicosia enough rope to hang himself.” By now the cop reasserted himself:
“I’m not the one who’s in trouble, buddy. I’m taking you in.”
“You really are stupid, aren’t you.”
“Oh, yeah, you’ve got a gun. Big f-ing deal. Wait till—” then checked himself—
“The gun? That’s nothing. See this?” Flipping open a leather case, he Dyson stuck his ID in the thug’s face. “Federal agent. You’re under arrest on about a dozen charges including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, but that’s small stuff compared with meddling in a Federal investigation.” Nicosia turned suddenly tame.
“I’m bleeding to death, man. Get me to the emergency room. Could be an artery.”
“You’d better hope it isn’t an artery, because if it is, by the time I’m through talking to you, it will be too late.” Turning to Smith, Dyson said coolly, “You’d better go in the back and get cleaned up. Fix us both a drink, will you, and bring this poor bastard a towel. You wouldn’t want him bleeding to death all over your nice living room.”
Smith fixed two stiff Dickles and brought them, with a bath towel, to Dyson, who belted both of them down.
“Not bad. It’s better if you go in the back, shut the door, and do not listen in. In fact, it’s better that you never saw or heard any of this.”
Smith took the glasses back to his little study, poured himself not her drink, and closed the door. After wiping the blood off his head and tidying himself up, he shut his eyes but kept his mind blank. It was better not to think too much. Ten or fifteen minutes later, Dyson called him.
“I’ve got a car on the way—I arranged it two hours ago. Yes, I’ve been here a while. Great place you’ve got. You have unusual taste.”
“It suits me.”
“I’ll bet it does. They’re going to get Nicosia stitched up and drive him to Minneapolis for further questioning. They’ll be here before too long.”
Nicosia was sitting in the chair, glowering and sullen but no longer the pit bull ready to spring—more like a whipped cur. The arrogance had drained out of him with the blood still leaking from his thigh. Dyson extended the cop professional courtesy.
“You want a drink, pal? Cigarette?”
“Cigarettes cause cancer, and whiskey destroys the liver. I stick to beer.”
As Smith got up to get a beer out of the kitchen, Dyson switched to sarcasm.
“Just a clean living honest patriot. We should introduce him to our friend Shawn. Listen, Nicosia. I don’t know what you’re thinking but you’re out of your league. If you don’t talk, you’re going up for attempted murder and maybe espionage. We’ve got enough to put you away for ten to twenty. But don’t worry. They love ex-cops on the inside. You’ll have a good time.”
“I didn’t do nothin. I was working a special job for the force, and I had authorization from Veritas…..”
Smith came back with a beer and a glass. Nicosia waved aside the glass and drank out of the bottle.
“Mind if I ask him something?”
“Go right ahead. What’s on your mind?”
“Just this. Nicosia, pay attention. What did you and Lieutenant Caruana have on Doctor Yunis?”
“Yunis? Who’s that? A local quack? Never heard of him.”
Dyson looked curiously at Smith and barked at Nicosia.
“You know who we’re talking about, and we know you know.”
“Maybe I heard of him. Has a big practice up on the Iron Range? That guy? Some kind of rich big shot, made a lot of money on Wall Street?”
Dyson kept looking at Smith who nodded,
“That’s the one. He’s an Arab, as you know.”
“Do I? Maybe. What about it.”
Dyson sighed, “We don’t have a lot of time, Sal. When the boys come from Minneapolis and take you away, it will be too late to do anything for you. Better answer Smith’s questions.”
Smith improvised quickly: “Yunis got himself hooked in with some Arab charity that turned out to be an Islamic front group. That much we know. Was it Hamas?”
“Look, you guys don’t know this town and what Caruana could do to me.”
Dyson interjected: “Caruana will never know. We’ll put out the story that you’re a hard case, but we didn’t have enough on you to make most of the charges stick. It’s your last chance.”
“OK, I’ll trust you. I got nothing else. Yeah, it was Hamas…. Caruana was investigating possible terrorist recruits coming up here—I guess you guys know that. He got hold of one of them about a year ago. The lieutenant can be pretty rough, and he beat it out of him, just lookin for anything he could use on somebody. He’s been bleeding the doc for money ever since, but he finally got the chance for the big score.”
“So Yunis gave him the high-powered insulin and taught him to rig the monitor…Well did he?”
“How good a deal are you gonna cut me?”
Dyson broke in again: “Better than you deserve. You probably didn’t realize what you were doing,” and smiled: “Is that right?”
“Yeah, swear to God I didn’t know Ross coulda died. My agency has a contract with an electronics lab. I gave the monitor to the lieutenant, and one of the guys in the shop jiggered the thing.”
Smith again: “We figured that much. Who’s he working for, Wright?”
“I don’t know. Wright told me I was to make sure no one broke into the offices or the Rosses’ house. We never talked about the insulin stuff. I’ve told you everything I know. I swear.
Dyson cracked: ”You swear a lot for a crook.”
“Crook nothing. I was following orders. I’m an usher at Saint Ant’ny’s. So what about me?”
Smith said nothing, not knowing what he could say. Dyson smiled, but it was a hard smile.
“Listen, altar-boy, just do as you’re told, and I’ll do my best for you, which is a Hell of a lot better than what you are facing.”
“So what is it you want?”
“Clam up and say nothing unless I tell you to. Nothing about Yunis, nothing about Caruana. Deny all knowledge. You can give them little bits, maybe. I’ll have to think about it. You came here just to get even with Smith for beating you up. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer, but don’t tell him anything about Yunis or Caruana. At some point, when we’ve got what we want, you’ll probably make a confession, but we don’t want anyone to know anything until…”
“Until I tell you. At this point, Sal, we own you, and don’t forget it.”
When the car arrived, with two men in typical tourist outfits from the Twins—cargo pants with innumerable pockets, colorful shirts that don’t tuck in, brand new black leather running shoes. The complete Rick Steves uniform. All it lacked was the “Kick Me” sign. They searched Nicosia and took his wallet and keys. Dyson handed them the blackjack and the Glock and handcuffed him. Dyson kept Joey’s .38 and only gave it back to Smith, once they were gone.
“Where did you pick up that story about Yunis and Caruana?”
“First it was something Caruana said, when I saw him in a bar out near where you and Wright are staying.”
“You’re talking about the WTF?! Lounge?”
“Yes, I went in this afternoon because I recognized Caruana’s car—he’d been following me today.”
“Caterina took me for a drive in the country. I went into the lounge, where he was meeting with Justin Wright, who seemed to know about my outing with Caterina, which they seemed to regard as a date. I pumped Caruana for information on what he worked on, and he complained that he had to check up on possible Somali terrorists coming up from the Twins looking for work. ”
“That’s not much to go on.”
“No, but Yunis is an Arab name, and typically Muslim, not Christian. That’s when I thought—it’s a long shot admittedly—that Caruana might have got something on Yunis.”
“Well, you lucked out. It’s better to hold back and wait until you’e got a sure thing.”
“We don’t have all the time in the world.”
“You’re right there, but fools rush in, as they say.”
Smith asked about the appointment with Dr. Johnson Hilding.
“It’s all set for tomorrow at two. She should show up early, just in case, but there will be no paperwork and no record of the examination.’
“You people do have your ways, don’t you…..?”
Smith looked expectantly at Dyson, as if he were waiting for an answer to an unspoken question.
“I told you I had worked in intelligence.”
“You also told me you were retired.”
“Yes, well, you’re the one who insisted that agents never really hang up the badge. That’s not true for everyone, but for people who did my kind of work, there is never a complete severance.”
“But you still have your gun and what looks like a current ID. And enough clout to get a car and two agents up from Minneapolis on short notice.”
“It could be important.”
“Agreed, but is the rest of what you told me as accurate as the statement that you’re retired?”
“That was mostly true. I’m pretty up on the new technologies, and I’ve been making a good deal of money investing in start-ups. I really am starting a think tank, which is why I came here. My old agency is interested. I don’t have the full story, but I believe they are in negotiations with Veritas. My advice to them was to back off and leave Ross to settle his problems with his board and only get involved once the people here made up their minds what they were doing to do.”
“And what about me?”
“What about you?”
“What is their or your view of me. I’m not at all clear.”
“Frankly, they don’t know who you are, and at this point I would rather not guess. Some of us think you have something to do with a strange case before my time. There was a volunteer in an ESP experiment, and he seemed to have the ability to project his mind back in time. He certainly impressed the people working with him, until things went wrong, and he got away and went into hiding. They were not too worried, because they had wiped his memory. Some think you could be his son or maybe some kind of misguided follower carrying on whatever work he was doing. I will tell you the truth, Anterus: Whether or not you have any, uh, unusual talents, I have strongly advised the agency to leave you alone.”
“Thanks, if you are telling the truth. And, oh, thanks for being here to stop Nicosia from shooting me or stomping me to death. I was aiming for a femoral artery, but anatomy was never my strong suit.”
“You needed to go higher and in toward the groin.“
“Next time I’ll do a better job.”
“How sharp is that little knife of yours?” Smith handed it over to him, handle first.
“You could shave with that.”
“Yes, indeed. I have, and it won’t break on a bone. But the blade is short enough to be legal or almost.”
“Look, I’m not going to lie to you, but I am also not going to tell you everything I know. What I propose is that we trust each other for the purpose of saving Ross—and you, if necessary.”
“I suppose that’s fair enough. At least it will have to do. But I do have one question. Who is Myra Bullock?”
Dyson kept a straight face and with it laughed.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you—and I am not going to.”
Smith thought about asking Dyson about the imaginary telephone company, but thought better of it.
“Since you are not going to tell me about the beautiful Myra, the refugee from a screwball movie, maybe you’ll tell me why you are willing to do me any favors.”
“I won’t say much about this, except one thing. From everything I know, you have done nothing wrong. You’ve got mixed up in things you don’t know anything about, and you are paying a big price for it. I’ve lost patience with this kind of work. I think the little things that interest Ross—and you—may be more important than all the security games we have been playing since the end of the Cold War. Maybe not important to everyone, maybe just to me. I still have enough authority, maybe, just maybe, to do something useful.”
“All right, there’s nothing you will tell me. How about at least explaining what you were doing in Borowski’s office on Monday morning?”
“I don’t trust Shawn, Corey even less. I wanted to see if I could find out anything he was up to.”
“And did you?”
“You planted something in his computer?”
“Yes, but I thought you didn’t know anything about this stuff.”
“It’s a survival skill, like tracking. Something I know I have to learn if I am going to hang around here. Whom else did you bug?”
“No one, but I did unhook the bug someone had planted on me—probably our friend Sal. He’s not smart, but he’s dogged.”
“Did you check out the other offices?”
“Are you the one who told Justin about my conversation with Ross?”
“No, I didn’t know anything about it. Justin is so unfocused he did not take the trouble of bugging his own office to give himself some cover, so you might say I did him a favor. I did look for some kind of recorder or listening device in his office, but nothing.”
“How did Wright find out I never received any degrees?”
“Maybe he always kept a receiver with him or maybe someone else tipped him off—Freeman or his assistant or even Caruana.”
“OK, I’ve told you some things, more than I should have. Now it’s your turn. What do you know about Sal? Anything useful?”
“The other night, the night that Ross’s insulin was switched, I was walking in the park, and I thought I was being followed by someone. It must have been Nicosia, but I was wrong about what he was doing. He wasn’t following me—though he did see me. He was really cutting through the park to get to the Ross’s place without being seen.”
“The DA covered for him. You think he is in on the deal?”
“Probably not, but someone has got to him, maybe you or someone in your agency.”
“It wasn’t me. Could have been someone with the FBI or even MIA. I don’t think either would have pulled a stunt like this, though. They—I suppose I should say we—can be pretty direct, when we have to be, but this was stupid and from our point of view pointless. I just don’t get it. But, enough of this. We have some plans to make. The Veritas retreat starts Wednesday. I suggest we go somewhere quiet, maybe tomorrow after work. The office seems to be infested with termites. You can think about where.”
“Maybe there’s an Orkin office in town.”