The Day of the Gun—Part II
And now, for your reading pleasure, here are chapters 3-6 of The Day of the Gun.
As the body of the one man who might be called his friend slipped from view, Kurt felt a fresh wave of fear, accompanied by nausea, wash over him. He buried his head between his knees. All he heard was the fierce pounding of the pulse in his head.
“Okay, we’ll do it your way,” the leader said. He motioned with his rifle for his companion to creep into the woods.
“Fuck. Why do I gotta go?”
“Just do it.”
The young fellow, clearly agitated, stepped into the trees. Once he was out of direct sunlight and in the shade, his eyes would adjust rapidly. When they did, he could not help but spot the man he had come to murder.
Driven by fear and rage, the old Kurt Martin rose up and pushed his new persona aside. He stepped from behind a tree and toward the rifleman with a speed he did not know he possessed. The fellow peripherally caught sight of the movement and turned to fire.
He was a second too late.
Kurt thrust the trowel into the man’s Adam’s apple with all the force he could muster. It slipped into the soft, meaty tissue with remarkable ease, like a hot knife sliding into warm butter. The squishing sound reminded Kurt of a game he played when he was a boy. He would pick up overripe tomatoes his mother had thrown in the trash when she cleaned out the refrigerator and place them on the curb before slamming his foot down with all his might. That sound, which so delighted him as a child, was the sound of this poor sap’s Adam’s apple disintegrating from the force of a steel blade slicing through the wet, warm flesh.
When the trowel was buried up to the hilt, the would-be assassin opened his mouth to speak, but he uttered only a short gurgling sound before a huge red glob spilled from his gullet. His eyes rolled up in his head and he pitched forward, face first, to land on the forest floor. Kurt watched the hapless fellow's ponytail disappear into the nest of kudzu and poison ivy at his feet.
“That’s for Jim — and Michael — and Vicky,” the former Marine whispered.
“Butch, what the fuck is goin’ on?” the leader asked from the edge of the forest. For the first time, he sounded scared.
Thinking of his friend Jim lying dead on the lawn 50 feet away, Kurt Martin was beyond rationality. Usually, he was a cautious man — he had stayed alive all this time by assessing every angle of a problem like an engineer calculating data or an especially thorny theoretical dilemma — but caution had disappeared along with his friend’s head. He stooped, gripped the departed man’s machine gun — it was an ancient Russian AK-47, he saw at once — and charged ahead.
Three steps up the hill, he flicked off the safety, found the trigger, and squeezed, just as they had taught him to do it at Parris Island a thousand years earlier. The AK-47 Kalashnikov Rifle, he knew from experience, could fire 600 rounds per minute and was accurate at 1,500 meters — way more precision than he needed to handle his obviously ill-trained assailant. It had been the weapon of choice for the Soviet Army from 1949 until it was supplanted by a newer model, but its versatility and relative light weight made the AK-47 a popular rifle more than 60 years after it first appeared. He had not fired one in many years, but he found it like riding a bike — once you learn, it comes back almost instinctively.
The hunter had become the hunted with astonishing rapidity, and he lost all pretense of bravado. The sight and sounds of an angry, desperate man rushing at him was more than the fellow could take. He dropped his gun and turned, legs pumping. A white Chevy van parked on the corner, three houses down, seemed to be his destination.
He might have made it if he had been in better shape. Alas, he had consumed too many beers and burgers over the years. His potbelly and large, flapping, bulbous flesh were too much weight to carry.
By contrast, his pursuer was a man of almost religious fanaticism when it came to physical exercise. In his previous life, Kurt Martin had been a decorated Marine. These days, he ran in marathons and prided himself on his training regimen. He closed the distance between hunter and prey with lightning speed.
When he was 20 feet from his attacker, Kurt stopped, took aim, and shot the man in the ass. The fellow went down like a full-grown buck mowed down by a hunting rifle in a sharpshooter’s hands.
Writhing in agony, his hip and buttocks a bloody red mess, the man seemed oblivious to his predicament. He screamed and screamed and screamed. Heads popped out of windows and doors throughout the subdivision. Kurt imagined his neighbors’ surprise when they looked outside to see their quiet, unassuming, shy, bachelor neighbor brandishing a machine gun while standing over a bleeding man in the street.
From somewhere far off in the distance, the shrill sounds of sirens could be heard.
He would worry about the repercussions later. For now, he had questions to ask. “Shut up,” he told the man, but the screaming continued.
“I said, ‘shut up.’”
When the man did not heed this perfectly sensible advice, Kurt reached down, grabbed a handful of the guy’s Rolling Stones T-shirt, one which featured the famous protruding tongue, and pulled him so they were nose to nose. Nodding at the rifle with his head, Kurt spoke through gritted teeth.
“Shut the fuck up or” — and he moved the gun barrel down — “lose the balls.”
Instantly, the man stopped screaming, although he continued to whimper like an injured dog.
His eyes wide with terror, his face streaked with blood and coated in sweat, the man nodded vigorously. He understood. Message received.
“Now,” Kurt said with barely controlled fury, “tell me who sent you.”
The assassin’s eyes clamped shut in pain. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a loud, full-throated groan escaped. It was the sound of a huge sarcophagus lid pried open by intruding hands after two thousand years of undisturbed peace. It echoed across the yards and houses of the previously quiet neighborhood.
The sirens were growing louder. Kurt did not have much time, nor was he inclined to be gentle. He slammed the rifle butt against the man’s scarlet buttocks, and the assassin shrieked louder than ever.
“I need a name.”
The man seemed to suffer a breakdown of sorts. His screaming continued unabated.
“Give me a name, goddammit,” Kurt shouted, raising the gun as though he would strike the intruder.
“Mac-Mac,” the injured man gasped. “Lane.”
Kurt frowned. He wasn’t sure he understood. It took him a moment, but gradually the name registered.
“No. Impossible. Are you sure?”
He reached down to interrogate his whimpering captive at greater length, but the man either was dead or had passed out from pain. Releasing the shirt, Kurt stood and the bloody fellow collapsed like a rag-doll.
“Surely you don’t mean McLean,” he said aloud to no one.
Thirty seconds later, two black and white patrol cars skidded around the corner, almost colliding with the street sign for Shiloh Trace. The patrolmen saw the bloody man lying in the grass and a crowd of onlookers peering from behind the protective cocoon of shrubbery and stucco porticos, but that was it. When the two men emerged from their Crown Victorias, guns drawn, crouching, they gazed around the neighborhood for signs of the reported gunman.
As the police would later say, he was nowhere to be found.
Paul Hewson had not risen high in law enforcement on the strength of his striking good looks or sterling personality. He was one tough sonofabitch. Everybody said so, and everybody was right. At 63, his stomach was large, his hairline small, and he was past his prime, but he knew something about investigating cases. Even before the Gruesome Twosome put him on the map six years earlier, he had been known for his prowess. He still had a twinkle in his eye and a trick or two up his sleeve. What was more, he knew instinctively when something wasn’t right.
Something wasn’t right about this case.
“Now, hold on,” he said, interrupting Detective Fazio’s running narrative, “you mean to tell me that this fellow — what’s his name?”
“Kurt Martin — right — was nowhere to be found?”
“Yes, sir. Nowhere to be found.”
“But you’re sure he was the man with the gun?”
Fazio’s partner, Marlowe, answered. “We canvassed the neighborhood and found at least half a dozen eyewitness accounts that positively identified Martin as the shooter. Here’s a copy of our preliminary report. It’s a bit rough, but it gives you the basics.”
Hewson took a manila folder from Marlowe and opened it. Two typed, single-spaced pages, already dog-eared, stared up at him. When would these young guys learn that old eyes needed double-spacing? He sighed, leaned back in his chair, and plowed through the turgid prose, careful to tilt his head so he could see through the smudged lenses of his store-bought reading glasses.
“So,” he said as he looked up. “Martin’s not the only shooter.”
“He’s the shooter of the first unidentified suspect and he stabbed the second unidentified suspect,” Fazio interjected as he consulted his small spiral pocket notebook. “The weapon used to kill James Francis Gilleland apparently belonged to the first unidentified suspect — the one that Martin shot. The suspect’s fingerprints were on the gun that shot Gilleland and gunpowder residue on the man’s hands indicated he had fired a weapon recently.”
“And we have no leads on either man’s identity?”
Fazio shrugged. “No identification on either body. Their fingerprints are not on file. They’ve never been in trouble with the law, apparently.”
“The responding officers tried to question the first suspect on the scene, but he was in shock. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”
Hewson lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes. As a young man he was thrilled with the complicated cases; they tested his mental acuity, and in those days he was a hotshot eager to prove his mettle. Now, they just gave him a headache.
“What about the second suspect? The one with his throat cut?”
Fazio shook his head. “We’ve turned up nothing so far.”
“The witnesses are all over the place when it comes to descriptions,” Marlowe said. “Most everybody agrees that Martin had a gun. They differ on the timing and how many other men were involved.”
“So what do we think happened here?”
The detectives glanced at each other. “Hard to say,” Marlowe offered. “But it looks as though the two suspects attacked Martin and he turned the tables on ‘em.”
Fazio nodded. “We think there were just the two dead men we found — aside from Martin, that is.”
“What about the van?”
“Stolen from a plumbing supply house about an hour before the shooting. No prints other than the men we found; nothing we can use.”
Marlowe anticipated the next question. “Ballistics confirm the weapon as a Kalashnikov rifle. Ancient — probably dating from the ‘70s. We think the other one’s the same model.”
Hewson nodded. “What kind of burglar uses an AK-47?”
“Because this model of Kalashnikov is so old, it’s rare. We’re trying to find out where it might have entered the country,” Fazio offered hopefully. “Even though we don’t have the rifle Martin took, we may be able to find out where they both came from using the bullet fragments.”
Hewson stared into space. “I remember when this was just a sleepy little town. We didn’t have twin serial killers stuffing heads into a gym bag or people shooting up neighborhoods with assault rifles.”
The detectives exchanged looks. Lately, their boss had been waxing philosophical far more often than they would have liked.
“Very good, gentlemen,” the chief muttered as he snapped back to the present. “At least the ballistics angle is something to go on.”
The most puzzling aspect of the case for Captain Hewson was the behavior of this Kurt Martin fellow. Who was he that two men bearing automatic weapons would try to kill him? How had he managed to live through the ambush in his home and overtake his assailants? And, perhaps the most troubling part, why had he fled the scene? Clearly it was self-defense. Was this man hiding something? At this point in the investigation, questions outnumbered answers.
“Okay.” He pulled his hefty body from the tall-backed leather chair — a replica of the far more expensive one his father, the Judge, had used during 30-plus years on the bench — and shuffled over to the coffeepot. “Keep me posted. I want a copy of the final report as soon as it’s ready. Aggressively pursue all leads.”
The detectives seemed to have expected something more, so the dismissal caught them off guard. “All right, then,” Fazio said, motioning with his head that he and his partner should leave. “We’ll get right on it.”
“And let me know if we find out anything about where those AK-47s originated.”
“You got it, chief.”
“You guys sound like a bunch of cops from a cheesy novel, you know that?”
Hewson poured himself a cup of coffee even though the brew was almost two hours old and the Mr. Coffee was about to shut off automatically. Caffeine stimulated his thinking, and he certainly needed stimulation to come to grips with the Martin case. “Shit,” he muttered as he paced back to his desk.
He opened his drawer, slipped out two ibuprofen tablets, and downed them in an instant. On second thought, he reached for another. There’s nothing like a good cup of department coffee and ibuprofen to kick the gray matter into overdrive.
It just didn’t add up. No matter what angle he used, he could not for the life of him understand this fellow Martin’s odd behavior. Sliding back into his chair as he watched his two best detectives saunter back to their cubicles, Hewson consulted the cover sheet.
Departmental policy required a cover sheet on all reports, even preliminaries. The sheets included identifying data and statistics such as photographs, a Social Security number, telephone numbers and addresses, and any other pertinent data.
Reaching for his mouse, Hewson double-clicked onto the international crime database icon. In the old days, good detective work required a fellow to pound the streets and alleyways of a neighborhood, but these days, sifting through databases was far more efficient. Hewson had been a late convert to the database club, but when he finally came around, he took to it like a man embracing a new religion. He was reborn in front of his Apple; it was his deity. Thank you, Steve Jobs!
Squinting, he retrieved Martin’s Social Security number from the cover sheet, typed it into the system, pressed Enter, and sat back to wait. Sipping his coffee from an “I [heart] New York” mug, he gazed around the small office at the huge stacks of paper and memoranda awaiting his review. When would he ever get to it all — and who gave a shit, anyway?
The computer beeped, indicating that the search was completed, and he found himself gazing at Martin’s driver’s license. The man was pasty-faced, scowling at the camera. Hewson saw several open revolving accounts, outstanding checks in Martin’s Bank of America account, a receipt showing he had paid his latest ad valorem taxes, and a copy of his income tax returns for the past five years.
At first, nothing looked out of the ordinary. The guy had the same standard, boring, middle-class lifestyle as just about any other thirty-something divorced man living on a modest income. It was only when Hewson tried to scroll back to earlier years that he noticed something odd.
All the data were only five years old. Scrolling down the screen, he blinked, searching for something that predated an apartment rental in September 2008. Nothing. He could not recall having ever encountered this kind of discrepancy in previous cases.
How could that be? The department prided itself on the accuracy and thorough data available in the new system. They’d spent untold thousands acquiring the best. So, was this the best data? Surely not. Say it ain't so.
One way to find out. He reached for the phone and dialed an interior line. Scott Petty, the department’s computer geek, picked up on the first ring. Talk about efficient.
“Scott, it’s Paul,” Hewson said without preamble. “I’ve got a question for you.”
Through a mouthful of sandwich, the voice answered. “Okay — shoot.”
“If I can only pull up the last five years of a perp’s data files, what does that tell you?”
“Sorry. I was chewing. What do you mean you can only pull up five years? Is it sealed, encrypted, access denied — something like that?”
Not too many years earlier, Hewson would have been mystified by the use of the fancy computer-geek words and concepts. It was a testament to Petty’s pedagogical skills that the terms held meaning for the old man.
“Huh-uh. I mean there’s nothing there. The file’s blank. Nothing before” — he tilted his head back as he leaned into the screen, “September of oh-eight.”
Another pause lingered on the line long enough for Hewson to consider asking if the connection had been lost. When Petty spoke, his voice sounded strange, perplexed. Scott Petty was a computer whiz, as far as Hewson could tell. The younger man was seldom perplexed.
“It tells you one of two things. You either accessed an incomplete file or the guy didn’t exist more than five years ago.”
Hewson explained how he had accessed the data.
“Hmm. Sounds like you did it right. I tell you what — are you in your office right now?”
“Let me pop over.”
“See you in five.”
The line went dead as Hewson replaced the receiver. He was raised as a “guts ‘n glory” cop, a man accustomed to the physicality of law enforcement work. In his youth, he would have taunted a fellow like Scott Petty, he of the scraggly, hippy beard and mustache, hair on the collar, faded blue jeans and hush puppies. The odd scarecrow sported the build and look of a young Woody Allen. Hewson realized that a new age had dawned, and this new breed, those with an intellectual bent and unsurpassed problem-solving skills, were the cops who got things done in the age of the Internet and cyberspace.
As Hewson pondered the changes in police work, Petty tapped on the door with three fingers while he twisted the knob and leaned inside the room. “Knock, knock.”
The chief grunted as he rose from his chair. “Hey. Thanks for coming over.”
Hewson waved his hand toward the computer. “It’s still on the screen.”
“Warm, just the way I like it,” the young man said as he slid into the detective’s chair. “I always like the leather ones. They feel great, and the high back is much better for your posture.”
“I suppose so.”
Petty leaned forward in the chair and placed his fingers on the keyboard. In the next instant, they danced across the keys like a concert pianist showcasing his virtuosity at a recital. In many ways, Petty was every bit as talented as a world-class musician, at least to Hewson’s eyes and ears.
He spoke not a word for the better part of ten minutes. During that time, the young man’s face skipped through a litany of expressions — first came excitement like a child contemplating a heavily wrapped package at Christmas. Next, the brow was furrowed in a mask of concentration. Finally, a look of bewilderment spread across the terrain.
After collapsing into a folding chair on the other side of the desk, Hewson waited patiently as long as he could. Finally, he felt as though he would burst. “Well?”
Petty shook his head and leaned back in the chair, folding his arms behind his head. “Well,” he said at last, still obviously sorting through the implications of the data. “You did everything right. According to the file, Kurt Martin did not exist before September of oh-eight.”
“Maybe the file’s wrong — or incomplete.”
Petty blinked several times. Leaning forward, he pointed at the screen. “It’s possible, but not likely. I crosschecked every file I could think of. I even Googled his name, and variations thereof. Somewhere we should have found a record. From what I can tell, no one with that name and Social ever attended public school or college in the United States. He never got married or divorced, bought property, registered for Selective Service, or applied for federal employment or assistance of any kind. No grants, student loans, no income taxes before oh-eight.”
“Could he be European? An immigrant, maybe?”
Petty shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll have to do more digging, but I doubt it. Immigration has no record of him. Even Homeland Security came up empty.”
Hewson stood up and slammed his mug down on the desk in frustration, sloshing coffee on nearby papers. “Goddammit. What does all this mean? I’m right back where I started.”
The captain frowned as he looked down at the young man. “What do you mean?”
“Let me ask you a question, chief. How much do you know about the federal witness protection program?”