This posting features Chapter 59 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Brent Marsh had worked with the Alabama State Police Department for almost 23 years — eight as captain — and in all that time he had never heard such a reckless, shoddy, dangerous, ill-conceived scheme. As the conference call progressed, he paced the room, vehemently shaking his head. Finally, it was more than he could take.
“No, no, no. Absolutely not. I will not be a party to this. We’ll get this man killed!”
Steve nodded his head. He had expected resistance, and he was prepared for it. “I understand your position, sir. Really I do. What we are asking you to do is way beyond the normal protocol.”
“That’s right. It is.”
“But I don’t see what other realistic options we have.”
Captain Marsh was incredulous. “You’re talking about serving as human bait. You call that a realistic option?”
“Think about everything we’ve told you.” Steve Harris and Scott Petty had spent the better part of an hour summarizing the sordid saga of Tony Marciano and Dave Tremblor, emphasizing the growing body count and the need to put the matter to rest once and for all.
“I haven’t even had time to verify what you’ve told me,” the captain complained.
“Time is of the essence,” Steve explained. “It’s in short supply right now.”
He was still weak and groggy — an emergency room doctor had replaced eight stitches in his shoulder and given him medication for the pain — but Steve thought he had made a persuasive case. For his part, Scott Petty was just a voice on the phone, and a squeaky one at that, but his obvious command of computers and high finance were clearly on display.
“What makes you think this man will come after you here?”
“It’s all over the news that I’ve been treated at a local hospital. An hour ago, the Lakeland P.D. released a statement indicating that the helicopter crash that’s blanketing the news was related to this situation. I’m scheduled to grant an interview to several reporters in the lobby in about 45 minutes. If he just passes in front of a TV, radio, or computer terminal, he’ll know how to find me. You said so yourself — it’s a zoo out there.”
Marsh had been on the phone to the Demopolis mayor, the governor’s office, and numerous state and local officials. The hospital administrator had showed up repeatedly demanding that more police be stationed in the lobby to control the growing crowd of press and media hangers-on. It was, indeed, a zoo.
“Plus,” Scott Petty added, “his face is on the news as well. He’ll find it difficult to travel, even in disguise, without taking tremendous risks. It’s likely that he has remained in the area.”
Marsh was surprised by this news. “Really? You don’t think he’d want to get away from here as quickly as possible?”
“No,” Petty explained. “He needs to lie low, consider his options. Thanks to Mr. Harris, he would need clothes and money. He would have to ditch the car he stole pretty soon. He’d probably need food, a place to rest. No, the best bet would be to stay local, keep a low profile.”
“We have local officers canvassing the neighborhood,” Marsh observed. “They’re hitting bars, restaurants, Laundromats, hotels, and churches. Sooner or later, they’ll find him.”
“Maybe,” Petty said. “But it all takes time. Just as Mr. Harris said, time’s in short supply.”
“We’re doing everything possible to find him,” Marsh protested. “We have good people — lots of them — working on this.”
“Captain, no one is denigrating your officers,” the voice on the telephone agreed. “But he’s an expert at hiding people and covering his tracks. If he doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be. This is not an ordinary criminal we’re dealing with here.”
Frowning, the captain looked at Steve Harris.
Steve nodded. “He’s right. If we want to catch this guy, we’ve got to smoke him out.”
“I don’t think you have a clear picture of the pressure I’m under. If I authorize this crazy plan and it goes awry, I will have to answer to numerous authorities.”
Perhaps it was the medication or the extreme stress he felt, but Steve felt his control slipping. “Look, captain, I think we do appreciate the pressure you’re facing.”
“But we’ve got to do something. We can’t just sit on our hands. If we don’t do something to lure Tremblor here, he’ll be on the run and chances are you won’t find him. Then I’ll have to look over my shoulder” — and he gritted his teeth at the mention of his wound — “for the rest of my life. We’ve got to end it, and end it now.”
“Justice must be served,” Petty said.
“Yes, but how do you know he’ll risk coming here even if he knows where you are? Security is tight.”
“The guy’s a pro. He can breach security here. No offense to you, captain, but he can get inside the building.”
Petty spoke up. “If you wondering whether he’ll just disappear and call it a day — ”
“That’s exactly what I mean — ”
“That’s the beauty of the plan. I found his bank account, along with Marciano’s account — at least, one of his accounts. The one he can access from prison.”
Despite his skepticism, Marsh was intrigued. “How on earth did you do that?”
“I was able to access the computer that Marciano uses at Sing Sing and trace his transactions. Once I knew his account numbers, using an algorithm I developed, it was simply a matter of—”
Steve interrupted. “The mechanics are not important here. Sorry, Scott.”
“Oh, yeah, whatever.” He sounded hurt.
“The brilliance of Scott’s plan” — and here he laid it on thick to heal the wounds he had inflicted — “is that it leaves Tremblor with no choice. He’ll think he lost his money because Marciano’s upset with him. He was supposed to get half up front and half when the job was completed. But now he has nothing. It’s all been for nothing unless he completes the job.”
“And how does he do that?”
“He kills me.”
Petty spoke again. “So he needs to get to Mr. Harris and then he can disappear forever — presumably with his money.”
“How much money are we talking?”
Petty cleared his throat. “A million was in his account until I cleaned it out, so at least twice that.”
The captain whistled.
“A lot of people have been killed for a lot less,” Steve said as he stared off into space.
Captain Marsh saw the inherent logic in the plan. “So we set a trap. When he comes to get you” — he pointed at Steve — “we get him.”
“That’s the plan.”
“But won’t he be expecting a trap?”
“Absolutely,” Steve agreed. “Which is why he will create a diversion. We’ll need to fall for it so he can get me alone.”
“What kind of diversion?”
“We’ll know it when we see it.”
Marsh sighed, still determined not to participate in such a reckless scheme. “I don’t feel comfortable putting you at risk.”
“I’m already at risk. I just want it to end — one way or another.”
The captain looked skeptical. “Assuming for the sake of argument I agree with your plan, what then?”
Petty was prepared for the inquiry. “The FBI takes custody. They haul him away for interrogation. Under the Patriot Act, he may be charged as a terrorist, which means his rights will be suspended. Or he might be charged with racketeering under the RICO statute since he has ties to organized crime. There are many theories from which to choose.”
Nodding, Steve took up the argument. “We’ve got to find out everything he knows about Marciano’s operation. How did they penetrate WITSEC? Did he have an accomplice? Does he know the identity of any other WITSEC program participants?”
“Why not let the Feds take the lead? It’s their case.”
Petty answered, his voice betraying genuine anger. “The U.S. Attorney who was spearheading the case was one of the people killed in the helicopter crash. The FBI has been running around all over the place, parading in front of the cameras like jackbooted thugs.”
“Hey, Scott,” Steve said in a small voice. “You think that’s fair?”
“I think we need to play this thing close to the vest. The more law enforcement agencies we bring in, the more complicated it becomes. With the Feds, we lose control. We lose nuance.”
Captain Marsh stepped away from the hospital bed and peeked through the Venetian blinds into the parking lot below. Crowds of people congregated on the sidewalk, milled around the cars. He saw news cameras, reporters, policemen, rescue personnel, and innumerable citizens, no doubt curious about the spectacle occurring in this normally sleepy town.
“I want to do whatever we need to stop the violence,” he said. “We’ve got to preserve the public safety. This thing has to end.”
“That’s our thinking as well,” Steve agreed.
Marsh spun on his heels. “Will there be any more shooting?”
Steve sighed. “I hope Tremblor will surrender bloodlessly. If not, we’ll have to shoot him — but not fatally, unless it’s absolutely necessary. We need him.”
“The goal is to ensure that no other innocent parties are hurt,” Petty clarified.
The captain paused, looking up at the ceiling. “Against my better judgment — my professional judgment — I will authorize this action. But I want you to understand the enormity of the risk you’re taking.”
Steve nodded. “Believe me, captain, I understand.”