This posting features Chapter 37 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
McLean and his right-hand man exchanged looks. “That was odd. What do you suppose that was all about?”
Dave shrugged, attempting to look nonchalant. “Probably more of Roth’s well known theatrics. That’d be my guess. He’s an odd one, all right.”
“Yeah, that’s true.” McLean sounded dubious.
“What do you suppose he’s doing at Sing Sing?” Dave crossed his arms as he spoke.
McLean was on his feet, pacing around the room. “I think you’re right; he’s meeting with Marciano. You checked up on Marciano, didn’t you, when we had questions about Harris and the original shooting?”
Dave nodded. “He’s still there. Lives like a king.”
McLean frowned. “The question is why Roth spent the time and trouble to get up there today when so much publicity is going on here. The FBI’s running the investigation now, so I would think the U.S. Attorney would want to be on hand.”
“You’d think so. Like I said — he’s odd.”
“Mr. McLean,” Shirley’s voice said through the telephone intercom. “Mr. Roth is calling again.”
McLean consulted his wristwatch. “That wasn’t five minutes.”
Dave agreed. “More like three.”
Wincing, McLean gazed at his assistant. “I know it sounds silly, Dave, but I guess I need to take this call privately. I have no idea why on earth, but you heard him.”
Dave nodded. “No problem, Mac.” He turned to leave the room and then pivoted on his heels. “You still want the ice cream?”
“What? Uh, no. I’ve lost my appetite.”
Dave smiled. “All right, then. Just remember, boss: Things are not always what they seem.”
Reaching for the phone, preoccupied, McLean nodded. What a strange remark.
“Are we secure?” Roth asked without preamble as soon as he was connected.
McLean leaned against his desk with the phone cradled on his shoulder and his back to the door. “Yeah, we’re secure. Why all the secrecy?”
“Dave Tremblor has left the room? I’m not on speakerphone?”
Mac McLean felt the beginnings of white-hot anger. He could be a patient man, but the stress of recent events was eroding his normally even disposition. “Yes, yes. He’s gone. I’m alone — no speakerphone. Now, tell me, Roth, why all the intrigue?”
The U.S. Attorney hardly knew where to begin. “I’m here visiting with Anthony Marciano, as you probably guessed.”
“And he and I had a good conversation about what’s going on in this case.”
Something in Roth’s fevered tone ignited a fire in McLean’s gut. He wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed, but it didn’t sound good. “Okay. This isn’t earth-shaking news. You can’t trust what a felon like Marciano tells you, as I’m sure you know.”
“Oh, I have a healthy level of skepticism, all right,” Roth confessed. “Still, what he says has a ring of truth. I think it’s corroborated by other sources.”
“What did he tell you?”
Roth hesitated. “Did somebody just pick up the phone in your office — an extension perhaps?”
McLean frowned. “What? No. No. Roth, are you getting paranoid now?”
“Are you sure?”
McLean could feel impatience, like a hot liquid, bubbling inside his head. “I said no. The only other connection to my private line is with Shirley, my secretary, and she’s completely loyal. She’s been with me for almost 25 years. Above reproach. This is a secure line.”
Roth sounded uncertain. “I don’t know. Trust no one.”
“For God’s sake, Roth! Get to the point. I’m busy here.”
After a brief pause during which Roth appeared to mull over his options, he resumed his narrative. “Harris claims that one of the gunmen whispered your name before he died — ”
“Now, listen here, Roth — ”
“Let me finish — let me finish. He claims that one of the gunmen whispered your name as the person who was the mole inside the DOJ. I asked Marciano about it. He said no; it wasn’t you. The mole is close to you, though.”
McLean snapped his fingers. I know about you, McLean. “So that’s why Harris was so certain I was involved. He thought I was the mole.”
Roth sensed that he had grabbed his audience. “Exactly.”
“How do you know this?”
“I interviewed Harris before I spoke with Marciano. Their stories match.”
“Why did Marciano cooperate?”
Roth coughed. “Let’s just say his creature comforts got more comfortable.”
McLean saw where the story was headed. “So Marciano bribed someone in Justice to supply him with information on Harris. He then sent two amateurs to shoot up the neighborhood in a loud way. Is that what you’re saying, Mr. Roth?”
“Correct. And the plan afterward was to release confidential information on other WITSEC clients. Coupled with Harris’s loud, splashy, bloody death and the published names of witnesses — ”
“WITSEC would be dead.”
“That’s the size of it.”
“Ingenious. Don’t take out Harris alone. Take out the whole program.”
“Tony the knife likes to think big.”
“But how did Marciano find someone willing to be a mole?”
“The usual reasons are money or ideology. In this case, it was the former.”
“It gets worse. Think about it — the mole had to be someone close to you. The closer the better.”
McLean’s heart skipped a beat. “Was it Shirley? The mole — it just couldn’t be Shirley. Not sweet old Shirley.” His secretary was closer to him than almost anyone. She had access to top secret documents, encrypted files — the whole works. She had the highest security clearance, but that would not stop a determined mole from disclosing sensitive data — for the right price. Didn’t Shirley have a son — or was it a daughter — in college now? She probably needed quite a bit of money to supplement her modest DOJ salary.
“Shirley — your secretary?”
“Yes, my secretary. My long-time secretary.”
“No, it wasn’t your secretary,” Roth assured him.
A wave of relief swept through McLean. “Oh, thank God!”
“Think about it, McLean. Marciano had to make the initial contact, so it must be someone he could easily access. Who on your staff meets with Marciano regularly?”
It hit McLean at once, and left him almost speechless. “No!”
“Yes. Each time, Tony the Knife kept after him, probing for weaknesses, dropping hints, looking for any sign that he had found a willing partner.”
“Yes, it was Dave Tremblor,” Roth said after a brief pause. “He’s the mole, Agent McLean. Dave Tremblor.”
“That’s insane.” McLean was even more perplexed at the mention of his closest confidant than he had been at the mention of his secretary. It just wasn’t possible. He and Dave had been in too many tight spots together to even conceive of such a thing.
“It’s the only scenario that makes sense.”
“No, Roth, it makes no sense at all!”
“Think about it. The leak had to come from someone who had access to all of the agency’s program information. That narrows the number from what — several dozen?”
“Three dozen or so.”
“Okay — 36 people, give or take. You know yourself that it could only be three people — the three people who enjoyed complete access. Period. That’s it.”
“Shirley, Dave, and me,” McLean muttered aloud.
“Right. We know Shirley didn’t do it. We’ve already checked her out. She’s clean. That leaves you and Dave.”
McLean put his hand over his mouth, lost in thought.
“Listen — I’ve dispatched three U.S. Marshals to take Tremblor into custody. They should arrive momentarily. In the meantime, you need to stall him. Don’t let on you know anything.”
“Are you out of your mind, Roth? Dave Tremblor? I’ve known the man, I don’t know, 20 years. I’ve eaten dinner at his house. I know his wife and kids.”
Roth had expected this level of disbelief; he was prepared for it. “I understand your skepticism,” he said. “I know it’s difficult to believe, but I’m pretty sure there’s something to it. I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if I wasn’t pretty certain. I wouldn’t insist on such secrecy if I weren’t fairly certain.”
McLean rubbed his eyes. It was too much; it was all just too much. The stress of the last few days was almost more than he could bear.
“There, right there,” Roth hissed into the phone. “Did you hear that?”
“That sound. It sounded as if someone just hung up your phone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” McLean said, although his voice sounded far less confident that it had only minutes earlier.
“It was Tremblor,” the U.S. Attorney said with a gasp of realization. “He was listening in on the other line.”
“Please! You’re paranoid.”
“Am I? Listen to me, McLean. This is not the time to play around. This is your life. Lock your office door. If you have a firearm, unholster it. Hang on ‘til we get there!”
“I’m telling you, Roth, this whole thing is ridiculous — ”
He heard the latch behind him click as the door opened. Turning, McLean spied his long-time friend, the Davemeister, sliding into his office. The man’s face looked serene, unsuspecting, open, and honest. He seemed not to have a care in the world.
“Sorry to interrupt. I know you said you didn’t want one, but Shirley insisted I bring it to you, anyway. Chocolate, right?” In his outstretched hand, Dave held an ice cream cone.
For a split second, McLean’s heart had tripped into hyperspeed. Relaxing, he extended his hand to take the cone. “Thanks, Dave, but this is not really the time.”
“What’s going on there?” Roth shouted into the phone.
Bringing the ice cream to his face, McLean opened his mouth to answer Roth’s question. Incredibly, no words came to him. Looking down, he saw his shirt was drenched in a sea of red. He felt cold, so very cold.
Dave held up a huge hunting knife, the serrated edge coated in blood. “Severed the windpipe,” he explained. “I’m sorry it came to this, Mac. I told you I was a man of many secrets.”
McLean reached for his desk drawer but he was far too slow, his reflexes dulled by shock and blood loss.
Dave slid in front of the desk. “Uh-uh. It wouldn’t do you any good, anyway. It’s not loaded,” he said as he took the phone from his former boss.
A look of astonishment rippled across the agent’s face as he cradled his neck with his hands. A moment later, his eyes rolled up in his head and he slid to the floor.
Standing over his friend, Dave Tremblor shook his head sadly. “So sorry, Mac. Really. I am.” He wiped the blade on a rag.
“McLean? McLean? What’s happening?” Roth screamed on the line.
“I’m sorry,” Dave whispered into the receiver before he hung up. “Agent McLean can’t come to the phone right now.”