The camel club, p.12
The Camel Club,
Part #1 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
AS SOON AS TYLER REINKE AND Warren Peters left Roosevelt Island, they headed directly back to NIC. They dropped the “suicide” note off to have it compared against samples of Patrick Johnson’s handwriting and to have it checked for fingerprints. They instructed the labs that there might be useful latent fingerprints on the paper that would rule out suicide. That’s what they said, but not, of course, what the NIC men intended. If any of the witnesses last night had touched the note and they were on a database somewhere, Peters and Reinke would have a golden opportunity to tie up the loose ends.
After that, they drove to Georgetown, parked their car and began walking toward the riverbank.
“They haven’t come forward,” Peters said. “We’d know if they had.”
“Which might give us some breathing room,” Reinke replied.
“How much do you think they saw?”
“Let’s just go with worst-case scenario and assume they saw enough to pick us out of a police lineup.”
Peters thought for a bit. “All right, let’s also go with the theory that they haven’t told the police what they saw because they were on the island doing something illegal, or else they’re scared to for some other reason.”
“You were in the bow of the inflatable; how good a look did you get?”
“It was so damn foggy I didn’t see much of them. If I had, they wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Boat they were in?”
“Old and wooden and long enough to accommodate at least four.”
“Is that how many you saw?”
“Only two, maybe three. I’m not really certain. I might have winged one of them. I thought I heard somebody cry out. One was an old guy. I remember seeing a whitish beard. Pretty crappy clothes.”
“Maybe. Yeah, that could be it.”
“Now we’ve got the police, FBI and Secret Service to worry about.”
“We knew that going in,” Peters replied. “A homicide gets investigated.”
“But the original plan didn’t take into account eyewitnesses. What’s your take on this Ford character?”
“He’s no kid, so he probably knows how to hedge with the best of them. We’ll find out more on him and his partner later. I’m more worried about the Bureau.”
When they reached the riverbank, Reinke said, “We know they were headed this way. I made a preliminary recon of the riverbank earlier this morning and didn’t find it, but the boat has to be here. I’ll go north, you go south. Call if you spot anything.”
The two men headed off in opposite directions.
Patrick Johnson’s fiancée had finally stopped sobbing long enough to answer a few standard questions posed to her by Alex and Simpson, who sat across from the devastated woman in her living room. The FBI had already been by to interrogate her, and Alex doubted that Agent Lloyd had exhibited the greatest bedside manner. He decided to try a gentler approach.
Anne Jeffries lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Springfield, Virginia, where eighteen hundred a month in rent bought you considerably less than a thousand square feet, a single bedroom and one toilet. She was medium height and a little on the plump side, with a puffy face engraved with small features. She wore her brunet hair long, and her teeth had been bleached to a startling white.
“Our wedding was to be on May first of next year,” Jeffries said. She sat dressed in a rumpled sweat suit with her hair unkempt, her face unmade and a pile of used Kleenex next to her feet.
“And there were no problems that you were aware of?” Alex asked.
“None,” she answered. “We were very happy together. My job was going great.” However, she made each of these statements as though they were questions.
“What is it that you do?” Simpson asked.
“I’m director of development for a nonprofit health care group based in Old Town Alexandria. I’ve been there about two years. It’s a great position. And Pat loved his job.”
“So he spoke about it to you?” Alex asked.
Jeffries lowered her tissue. “No, not really. I mean I knew he worked for the Secret Service, or something like that. I knew he wasn’t an agent, like you two. But he never spoke about what he did or even where he did it. It used to be that old joke between us, you know, the ‘if he told me, he’d have to kill me’ thing. God, what a stupid line.” The tissue went back up, and the eyes filled with fresh tears.
“Yeah, it is a stupid line,” Alex agreed. “As I’m sure you know, your fiancé was found on Roosevelt Island.”
Jeffries took a deep breath. “That was where we had our first date. It was a picnic. I still remember exactly the food that I brought and the wine we had.”
“So he maybe committed suicide at the site of your first date?” Simpson asked. “That might be symbolic.” She and Alex exchanged glances.
“We weren’t having problems!” exclaimed the woman, who’d sensed their suspicion.
“Maybe from your perspective you weren’t,” Simpson said in a blunt tone. “Sometimes the people we think we know best we don’t really know at all. But the fact is a bottle of Scotch and a gun were found with his prints on them.”
Jeffries stood and paced the small room. “Look, it’s not like Pat was leading some secret double life.”
“Everyone has secrets,” Simpson persisted. “And killing himself at the place where you had your first date, well . . . ? It may not be a coincidence.”
Jeffries whirled around to look at Simpson. “Not Pat. He didn’t have secrets that would cause him to take his own life.”
“If you knew about them, they wouldn’t be secrets, would they?” Simpson said.
“His suicide note said that he was sorry,” Alex interjected, shooting Simpson an angry look. “Any idea what he was sorry about?”
Jeffries dropped back onto her chair. “The FBI didn’t tell me about that.”
“They were under no obligation to tell you, but I thought you would want to know. Any idea what he might have meant?”
“Was he depressed about anything? Any change in emotions?” Alex asked.
“Nothing like that.”
“The gun he used was a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber revolver. It was registered to him. You ever see it around?”
“No, but I knew he’d purchased a gun. There’d been a couple of break-ins in his neighborhood. He got it for protection. I hate guns personally. After we were married, I was going to make him get rid of it.”
“When was the last time you spoke with him?” Alex asked.
“Yesterday afternoon. He said he’d call me later if he got the chance. But he never did.”
She looked like she might start bawling again, so Alex spoke quickly. “No idea what he was working on lately? Anything he might have mentioned, even just in passing?”
“I told you, he didn’t talk about work to me.”
“No money problems, ex-girlfriend, things like that?”
She shook her head.
“And what were you doing last night between the hours of eleven and two?” Simpson asked.
Jeffries looked stonily at her. “Is that supposed to mean something?”
“I think the question is pretty straightforward.”
“You said Pat killed himself, so why does it matter where I was?”
Alex cut in. He was finding his partner’s interrogation technique very annoying. “Technically, it’s a homicide, which can include anything from suicide to murder. We’re just trying to establish the whereabouts of everyone involved. We’ll be asking lots of people that same question. Don’t read anything more than that into it.”
Slowly, Anne Jeffries’ defiant look dissolved. “Well, I left work around six-thirty. Traffic, as usual, was a bitch. It took me an hour and ten minutes to crawl a few miles. I made some phone calls, had a bite to eat and went back down to Old Town to meet with the woman who’s making my wedding dress.” Here she paused and let out
“Your friend’s name?” Simpson asked, and wrote it down.
The two agents rose to leave, but Jeffries stopped them.
“His . . . his body. They didn’t tell me where it is.”
“I would imagine it’s at the D.C. morgue now,” Alex said quietly.
“Can I . . . I mean would it be possible for me to see him?”
“You don’t have to do that. They’ve already positively identified him,” Simpson added.
“That’s not what I meant. I . . . I just want to see him.” She paused and said, “Is he, is he terribly disfigured?”
Alex answered, “No. I’ll see what I can do. By the way, is his family nearby?”
“They live in California. I’ve spoken with them; they’re flying in with Pat’s brother.” She gazed up at him. “We were really very happy together.”
“I’m sure you were,” Alex said as he walked out the door with Simpson.
Outside, he faced off with his partner. “Is that what the hell you call effective interrogation techniques?”
Simpson shrugged. “I was the bad cop and you were the good cop. It worked pretty well. She’s probably telling the truth. And she doesn’t know zip.”
Alex was about to respond when his phone rang.
He listened for a minute and then turned to Simpson. “Let’s go.” He started walking off fast.
“Where to?” she asked, hustling after him.
“That was Lloyd from the FBI. They think they just found out what Patrick Johnson was sorry about.”
WHEN ALEX AND SIMPSON arrived at Patrick Johnson’s Bethesda residence, they were surprised, for two reasons. One, there was no visible police presence, not even a marked vehicle or yellow police tape. A couple of Suburbans in the driveway were the only evidence of someone being on-site.
The second surprise was the house itself.
Alex stopped on the front sidewalk, put his hands on his hips and surveyed the single-family home. It wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t attached to another house either, and the upscale neighborhood was within walking distance of the thriving Bethesda downtown area. Alex said, “At Johnson’s pay grade I thought we’d be looking at a one-bedroom apartment like his fiancée. Hell, this thing’s got a yard. With grass.”
Simpson shook her head. “When I got assigned to WFO and didn’t know squat about the D.C. housing sticker shock, I priced some places around here just for the hell of it. This is over a million dollars, easy.”
Inside, Agent Lloyd was waiting for them. Alex said, “Where’d he get the money for this place?”
Lloyd nodded. “And it’s not just the house. There’s a new Infiniti QX56 in the garage. Runs over fifty grand. And we found his other car. He left it on the Virginia side of the river before he took his last swim. Lexus sedan, another forty grand.”
“Selling secrets?” Simpson asked.
“No. We think it’s a more reliable source of illegal cash.”
“Drugs,” Alex said quickly.
“Come up and see for yourself.”
As they were being led upstairs, Alex mentioned to Lloyd, “Bureau securing crime scenes differently these days?”
“Special marching orders on this one.”
“Let me guess. Since it involves NIC, discretion is valued over all other things.”
Lloyd didn’t answer but he did smile.
In the master bedroom closet there was a set of drop-down stairs leading to an attic access panel. On the floor of the closet they saw bundles of something stacked in clear plastic.
“Coke?” Simpson asked.
Lloyd shook his head. “Heroin. That brings ten times the return coke does.”
“And his fiancée knew nothing? Where’d she think he got all this money?”
“I haven’t asked her that yet because we interviewed her before we found this. But I will,” Lloyd added.
“How’d you get onto the drug angle so fast?” Alex asked.
“When we saw where he lived, we ran Johnson’s name through SEISINT and pulled up the property records on his purchase of this place. He bought it last year for one point four million and put a half million in cash down from a financial source we haven’t been able to trace. He financed the cars and then paid them off soon after, again using a bank account we can’t track. I knew it had to be an inheritance, drugs or selling secrets. The point of least resistance was the drugs. So I pulled in a dog from DEA. It started barking its head off when it went into the closet. We didn’t find anything until we saw the panel to the attic. We lifted the dog up there and bingo! He had it stacked between the rafters with insulation over it. ”
“Well, I guess other things being equal, it’s better he was selling drugs than selling his country down the river,” Simpson commented wryly.
“I’m not even sure he had access to secrets worth selling,” Lloyd replied. “And now we don’t have to go down that road. But this is going to be a big enough mess as it is. Hell, I could write the Post headline myself: ‘Carter Gray, Intelligence or Drug Czar?’”
It seemed to Alex his FBI counterpart was looking forward to every last bit of dirt thrown up on the only federal law enforcement agency that rivaled his in terms of budget and bite. He said, “Now the question is, did he kill himself because he was a drug dealer getting married to a respectable woman and suddenly couldn’t handle it, or did his druggie associates kill him and try to make it look like a suicide?”
Lloyd said, “I’d vote for him taking his own life. He died on the spot where he and his fiancée had their first date. Drug dealers would’ve just popped a new hole in his head while he was sitting in his car or sleeping in his bed. The whole murder-suicide subterfuge is way too sophisticated for those types.”
Alex considered this, then said, “Did you find anything else connected to the drugs? Transaction journal, list of drop-off spots, computer files, anything like that?”
“We’re still looking. But I doubt he would’ve been careless enough to leave stuff like that around. We’ll let you know what we do find so you can close your file out.”
As Alex and Simpson walked back to the car, Simpson glanced at her partner. “Well, there goes the pain in your ass that you didn’t really need. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Alex said curtly.
“But a drug dealer at NIC, they’re still going to take heat over that.”
“That’s how the cards fall sometimes.”
“So back to WFO?”
He nodded. “I’ll shoot off my e-mail upstairs, follow with a more detailed one when friend Lloyd fills in the rest of the spaces, and we go back to busting counterfeiters and standing in doorways looking to catch a bullet.”
“Sounds like a thrill.”
“I hope you believe that, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time.”
“I’m not complaining. I joined the ranks, nobody pushed me here.” She didn’t sound very convincing, though.
“Look, Jackie, I usually mind my own business, but here’s a piece of real honest advice for a healthy career with the Service from someone who’s seen it all.”
“Do your share of the crap work, no matter who’s looking out for you upstairs. One, it’ll make you a better agent. Two, you’ll leave the Service with at least one friend.”
“Oh, really, who’s that?” Simpson said irritably.
The Camel Club by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on54 votes