The FixDavid Baldacci
To Jamie Raab,
a great publisher and a wonderful friend,
may your future endeavors be filled with both fun and success!
Thank you for all your support the past twenty years.
I will always be your biggest fan.
IT WAS NORMALLY one of the safest places on earth.
But not today.
The J. Edgar Hoover Building was the world headquarters of the FBI. It opened in 1975 and had not aged well—a blocks-long chunk of badly dilapidated concrete with honeycomb windows, and fire alarms and toilets that didn’t work. There was even safety netting strung around the top of the building to catch chunks of crumbling concrete before they could fall to the street below and kill someone.
The Bureau was trying to build a new facility to house eleven thousand employees, but a new location hadn’t even been chosen. So the opening of a new headquarters was about two billion dollars and seven years away.
For now, this was home.
The tall man striding down the tree-lined sidewalk was Walter Dabney. He had taken an Uber to a coffee shop down the street, ordered some food, and was now walking the rest of the way. He was in his sixties, with thinning salt-and-pepper hair parted on the side. It looked recently cut, with a bit of cowlick in the back. His suit was expensive and fit his portly frame with the touch of a tailored hand. A colorful pocket square adorned the front of his dark suit. He wore a lanyard around his neck loaded with clearances sufficient to allow him access into the inner sanctums of the Hoover Building with an escort along for the ride. His green eyes were alert. He walked with a determined swagger, his briefcase making pendulum arcs in the air.
A woman was coming from the opposite direction. Anne Berkshire had taken the Metro here. She was in her late fifties, petite, with gray hair cut in parentheses around her long, oval face. As she approached the Hoover Building she seemed to hesitate. There was no lanyard around her neck. The only ID she possessed was the driver’s license in her purse.
It was late morning and the streets were not as crowded as they would have been earlier. Still, there were a great many pedestrians and the street hummed with activity as cars passed up and down with some vehicles making their way into an underground parking garage at the Hoover Building.
Dabney picked up his pace a bit, his Allen Edmonds wingtips striking the stained pavement with purpose. He started to whistle a cheery tune. The man seemed not to have a care in the world.
Berkshire was now walking faster too. Her gaze went to the left and then swung right. She seemed to take in everything with that one sweeping glance.
About twenty yards behind Dabney, Amos Decker trudged along alone. He was six-five and built like the football player he had once been. He’d been on a diet for several months now and had dropped a chunk of weight, but he could stand to lose quite a bit more. He was dressed in khaki pants stained at the cuff and a long, rumpled Ohio State Buckeyes pullover that concealed both his belly and the Glock 41 Gen4 pistol riding in a belt holster on his waistband. Fully loaded with its standard thirteen-round mag, it weighed thirty-six ounces. His size fourteen shoes hit the pavement with noisy splats. His hair was, to put it kindly, disheveled. Decker worked at the FBI on a joint task force. He was on his way to a meeting at the Hoover Building.
He was not looking forward to it. He sensed that a change was coming, and Decker did not like change. He’d experienced enough of it in the last two years to last him a lifetime. He had just settled into a new routine with the FBI and he wanted to keep it that way. Yet apparently that was out of his control.
He stepped around a barricade that had been set up on the sidewalk and that stretched partway into the street. A manhole cover surrounded by an orange web barrier had been opened and workers were congregated around the area. One man in a hard hat emerged at the opening of the manhole and was passed a tool by another man. Most of the other workers stood around, some drinking coffee and others chatting.
Nice work if you can get it, thought Decker.
He saw Dabney up ahead but didn’t focus on him. Decker didn’t see Berkshire because he wasn’t looking that far up the street. He passed by the garage entrance and nodded at the uniformed FBI security officer in a small windowed guard shack situated on the sidewalk. The ramrod-straight man nodded back, his eyes covered by sunglasses as his gaze dutifully swept the street. His right hand was perched on top of his holstered service weapon. It was a nine mil chambered with Speer Gold Dot G2 rounds that the FBI used because of their penetration capability. “One shot, one down” could have been the ammo’s motto. Then again, most ammo would do that so long as it hit the intended target in the right place.
A bird zipped across in front of Decker, perched on a lamppost, and looked down curiously at the passersby. The air was chilly and Decker shivered a bit even in his thick pullover. The sun was hidden behind cloud cover that had materialized on the horizon about an hour before, passed over the Potomac, and settled upon Washington like a gray dome.
Up ahead, Dabney was nearing the end of the block, where he would turn left. The FBI’s “business appointments” entrance was located down there. Years ago public tours were freely given and people could view the famed FBI lab and watch special agents practicing their aim on the shooting range.
In the modern era of terrorism that was no more. After 9/11 the tours were canceled but then restarted in 2008. The FBI had even put in an education center for visitors. But a request for a visit had to be filed at least a month ahead of time to allow the FBI to do a thorough background check. Most federal buildings were now simply fortresses, hard to get into and maybe harder to get out of.
Dabney slowed as he approached the corner.
Berkshire, by contrast, quickened her pace.
Decker continued to lope along, his long strides eating up ground until he was only about ten yards behind Dabney.
Berkshire was about five yards on the other side of Dabney. Moments later that distance was halved. A few clicks after that, they were barely three feet apart.
Decker now saw Berkshire because she had drawn so close to Dabney. He was about ten feet behind the pair when he started to make the turn too.
Berkshire glanced over at Dabney, seemingly noticing him for the first time. Dabney didn’t look back at her, at least not initially.
A few seconds later he saw her gazing at him. He smiled, and if he’d been wearing a hat, he might have even doffed it to her in a show of courtesy.
Berkshire didn’t smile back. Her hand went to her purse clasp.
Dabney slowed a bit more.
Across the street Decker spotted a vendor selling breakfast burritos from a food truck and wondered if he had time to buy one before his meeting. When he decided he didn’t and his waistline would be worse off for it he looked back; Berkshire and Dabney were now beside each other.
Decker didn’t think anything of it; he just assumed they knew each other and were perhaps rendezvousing here.
He looked at his watch to check the time. He didn’t want to be late. If his life was going to change, he wanted to be on time for it.
When he looked back up, he froze.
Dabney had fallen two steps behind the woman. Unknown to Berkshire, he was aiming a compact Beretta at the back of her head.
Decker reached for his weapon, and was about to call out, when Dabney pulled the trigger.
Berkshire jerked forward as the round slammed into the back of her head at an upward angle. It blew out her medulla, pierced her brainpan, banged like a pinball off her skull, and exited through her nose, leaving a wound three times the size of the entry due to the bullet’s built-up wall of kinetic energy. She fell forward onto the pavement, her face most
ly obliterated, the concrete tatted with her blood.
His pistol out, Decker ran forward as others on the street screamed and ran away. Dabney was still wielding his weapon.
His heart pounding, Decker aimed his Glock at Dabney and shouted, “FBI, put your gun down. Now!”
Dabney turned to him. He did not put down his gun.
Decker could hear the running footsteps behind him. The guard from the shack was sprinting toward them, his gun also out.
Decker glanced quickly over his shoulder, saw this, and held up his creds with his free hand. “I’m with the FBI. He just shot the woman.”
He let his lanyard go and assumed a two-handed shooting stance, his muzzle aimed at Dabney’s chest. The FBI uniform ran up to stand next to him, his gun pointed at Dabney. “Put the gun down, now!” the guard shouted. “Last chance, or we will shoot.”
It was two guns versus one. The response should have been obvious. Lie down and you won’t fall down.
Dabney looked first at the guard and then at Decker.
“Don’t!” shouted Decker.
Walter Dabney pressed the gun’s muzzle to the bottom of his chin and pulled the trigger for a second and final time.
DARKNESS. IT AWAITED us all, individually, in our final moments. Amos Decker was thinking that as he sat in the chair and studied the body.
Anne Berkshire lay on a metal table in the FBI’s morgue. All her clothes had been removed and placed in evidence bags to be later analyzed. Her naked body was under a sheet; her destroyed face was covered as well, although the fabric was stained with her blood and destroyed tissue.
A postmortem was legally required even though there was no doubt whatsoever as to what had caused the woman’s death.
Walter Dabney, by an extraordinary twist, was not dead. Not yet, anyway. The doctors at the hospital to which he’d been rushed held no hope that he would recover, or even regain consciousness. The bullet had tunneled right through his brain; it was a miracle he had not died instantly.
Alex Jamison and Ross Bogart, two of Decker’s colleagues on a joint task force composed of civilians and FBI agents, were with Dabney at the hospital right now. If he regained consciousness they would want to capture anything he might utter that would explain why he had murdered Anne Berkshire on a public street and then attempted to take his own life. Dabney’s recovering to the point of being questioned was simply not going to happen, the doctors had told them.
So for now, Decker simply sat in the darkness and stared at the covered body.
Although the room was not actually dark for him.
For Decker it was an ethereally bright blue. A near-fatal hit he’d received on the football field had commingled his sensory pathways, a condition known as synesthesia. For him, death was represented by the color blue. He had seen it on the street when Dabney had killed Berkshire.
And he was seeing it now.
Decker had given statements to the D.C. police and the FBI, as had the security guard who had joined him at the scene. There hadn’t been much to say. Dabney had pulled a gun and shot Berkshire and then himself. That was crystal clear. What wasn’t clear was why he had done it.
The overhead lights came on and a woman in a white lab coat walked in. The medical examiner introduced herself as Lynne Wainwright. She was in her forties, with the compressed, slightly haunted features of a person who had seen every sort of violence one human could wreak on another. Decker rose, showed her his ID, and said he was with an FBI task force. And also that he had witnessed the murder.
Decker glanced over as Todd Milligan, the fourth member of the joint task force, entered the room. A fifth member, Lisa Davenport, a psychologist by training, had not returned to the group, opting instead to go back to private practice in Chicago.
Milligan was in his midthirties, six feet tall, with close-cropped hair and a physique that appeared chiseled out of granite. He and Decker had initially butted heads, but now the two men got along as well as Decker could with anyone.
Decker had trouble relating to people. That had not always been the case, because he was not the same person he had once been.
In addition to the synesthesia, Decker also had hyperthymesia, or perfect recall, after suffering a brain trauma on the same vicious hit in his very short career in the NFL. It had altered his personality, changing him from gregarious and fun-loving to aloof and lacking the ability to recognize social cues—a skill most people took for granted. People first meeting him would assume he was somewhere on the autism spectrum.
And they might not be far off in that assumption.
“How you doing, Decker?” said Milligan. He was dressed, like always, in a dark suit with a spotless crisp white shirt and striped tie. Next to him, the shabbily attired Decker looked borderline homeless.
“Better than she is,” said Decker, indicating Berkshire’s body. “What do we know about her so far?”
Milligan took out a small electronic notebook from his inside coat pocket and scrolled down the screen. While he was doing that Decker watched as Wainwright removed the sheet from Berkshire’s body and prepared the instruments necessary to perform the autopsy.
“Anne Meredith Berkshire, fifty-nine, unmarried, substitute schoolteacher at a Catholic school in Fairfax County. She lives, or rather lived, in Reston. No relatives have come forward, but we’re still checking.”
“Why was she down at the Hoover Building?”
“We don’t know. We don’t know if she was even going there. And she wasn’t scheduled to teach at the school today.”
“Sixty-one, married, with four grown daughters. Has a successful government contracting business. Does work with the Bureau and other agencies. Before that he worked at NSA for ten years. Lives in McLean in a big house. He’s done very well for himself.”
“Did very well for himself,” corrected Decker. “His wife and kids?”
“We spoke with his wife. She’s hysterical. The kids are spread all over the place. One lives in France. They’re all coming here.”
“Any of them have any idea why he would do this?”
“We haven’t spoken to them all, but nothing pops so far. They’re apparently still in shock.”
Decker next asked the most obvious question. “Any connection between Berkshire and Dabney?”
“We’re just starting out, but nothing as yet. You think he was just looking to shoot someone before he killed himself and she was the closest?”
“She was definitely the closest,” said Decker. “But if you’re going to kill yourself why take an innocent person along? What would be the point?”
“Maybe the guy went nuts. We might find something in his background to explain his going off the deep end.”
“He had a briefcase and an ID. It seems he was heading to the Hoover Building. Was he going to a meeting?”
“Yes. We confirmed that he was meeting to go over a project his firm was handling for the Bureau. All routine.”
“So he goes off the ‘deep end’ but he could still put on a suit and come downtown for a routine meeting?”
Milligan nodded. “I see the inconsistency. But it’s still possible.”
“Anything’s possible, until it’s not,” Decker replied.
Decker walked over to stand next to Wainwright. “Murder weapon was a Beretta nine mil. Contact wound at the base of the neck with an upward trajectory. She died on impact.”
Wainwright was readying a Stryker saw that she would use to cut open Berkshire’s skull. She said, “Definitely jibes with the external injuries.”
“If Dabney dies will you be doing the post?”
She nodded. “The Bureau is taking the lead on this since Dabney was a contractor for them and it happened on their doorstep. So I’m your girl.”
Decker turned away from her and said to Milligan, “Has the FBI assigned a team to the case yet?”
“Who’s the team? Do you know them?”