Copyright by Al Lamanda
It was one of those rare summer days in Virginia when the temperature was moderate and the humidity low enough so that your shirt didn’t stick to your back after a five minute walk around the block.
Mild and pleasant enough for a boy to play with his dog in the safety and comfort of his own backyard without having to worry about sunburn or heat stroke or dehydration. Jennifer Grant watched as her nine year old son Jack rolled around on the grass with his dog Button, a three year old Beagle they adopted as a pup. As Jennifer watched Jack and Button wrestle around on the grass, Button climbed on top of Jack and licked his face.
Jennifer smiled at the sight and wished she could take a photograph of the moment, but pictures of her son were strictly forbidden. As was attending school, riding a bike or skateboard, sports of any kind, having friends and just about anything else that was normal activity for a boy Jack’s age.
Button was Jack’s only friend and Jennifer feared that would be the case for the rest of his natural life. Pets in place of people. She fought back a tear and did her best to smile at Jack when he called to her so she could watch Button jump through Jack’s arms. On his knees, Jack held his arms out in a circle and the little Beagle got a running start and jumped through the circle, spun around and jumped through it from the other direction.
Jennifer laughed and clapped her hands. Button jumped on top of Jack and licked the boy’s face again. It was one of those moments, those few and far between moments that should have been captured on film and placed in a scrapbook, but scrapbooks, like just about everything else that gave proof to her and Jack’s existence was prohibited.
Agent 3 appeared beside Jennifer’s lawn chair. “It’s time, Mrs. Grant,” he said.
Also forbidden were the names of the six men who guarded Jack around the clock, so she gave them numbers. Agent’s 1 through 6, that’s what she called them. She selected the order of the numbers by the age of the agents with 1 being the youngest. Of course, she went their appearance since she had no actual knowledge of their real ages, or anything else for that matter.
“Let him have five more minutes,” Jennifer said.
Agent 3 looked at his watch. “Okay, but just five,” he said. “No more.”
“We’ll meet you inside,” Jennifer said.
Agent 3 turned and walked toward the sliding glass windows that led to the kitchen. Jennifer didn’t have to call her son. On his knees with Button licking his face, Jack saw Agent 3 talk to his mother and knew it was time for a car ride.
Jack stood up and patted Button. “Okay, girl, I have to go with my mom now,” he said. “You be good until we get back or no treats.”
Jack walked toward Jennifer and she stood up to take his hand. Together, they entered the kitchen through the sliding glass doors where agents 1 through 4 waited for them. “Does he need anything?” Agent 2 said to Jennifer.
“Apple juice,” Jack said.
Agent 2 opened the refrigerator and removed a small carton of apple juice, peeled off the thin straw, inserted it into the tiny hole atop the carton and handed it to Jack. “Let’s go,” Agent 2 said.
Agent’s 5 and 6 were in the van parked in the driveway of the secluded Virginia home. Agent 6 drove today, often switching with Agent 5 and they must have had a system, although Jennifer could only guess as to what that system was.
Jennifer and Jack rode on the middle seats with Agent 1 and 2 on their left and right. Agent’s 3 and 4 rode in the back behind them. The windows of the van were bulletproof and tinted so dark it was difficult to tell day from night from the inside. It was the only time Jennifer saw the agents remove their sunglasses while outside the house, when riding in the van.
From the outside, the van appeared old and worn, a faded white with dents and rust. That was a custom job for appearances sake. In reality, the van would stop anything shot at it short of a missile or a tank-busting round and maybe even that, so said Agent 6.
While Jack sipped his apple juice, Agent 6 drove the van along side streets and back roads and avoided the highway north into Maryland. The drive took twice as long, but safety was always rule number one whenever Jack was allowed outside the home.
While Jack sipped apple juice, Jennifer closed her eyes and took an unexpected nap on his shoulder. She didn’t wake up until they were at the gate of the warehouse. Located somewhere in the countryside of Maryland, Jennifer was never really sure exactly where, the warehouse stood three stories tall and housed ten thousand square feet of mostly wasted space. There was a comfortable apartment with three bedrooms and a fully furnished kitchen and living room, but the remaining nine thousand square feet sat empty and unused from what little she could determine.
Jennifer and Jack, on several occasions, spent as long as ten hours inside the warehouse, but never stayed overnight. There was never the need. If an appointment was late or didn’t show, they were always driven home rather than stay overnight.
Agent 5 used a remote to open the motorized gate and a dozen security cameras followed them as the van crept along to the front of the warehouse. A second remote opened the motorized front door and Agent 6 drove the van into the warehouse and turned off the engine.
Agent 5 turned around in his seat and looked at Jack. “Is there anything you need before we get started?”
“I have to pee from the apple juice,” Jack said.
“No problem,” Agent 5 said.
They stepped out of the van into the dimly lite warehouse parking area. With Jennifer and Jack between the 6 agents, Agent 6 opened a door and they stepped into the comfortable, well lit apartment.
“See to the kid while I check on the contact,” Agent 6 said.
Agent 3 walked Jack to the bathroom while Agent 6 entered one of the bedrooms. Jennifer opened the refrigerator for a can of Coke and took a seat at the table. She pulled the tab, took a sip and looked at Agent 4. “Is this going to be a long one?” she said.
Agent 4 shrugged his shoulders inside his black suit. “Depends,” he said. “Well see how it goes.”
Agent 6 returned and looked at Jennifer. “Where’s the boy?”
“The bathroom,” Jennifer said.
“Bring him in when he comes out,” Agent 6 said. “There isn’t much time.”
Agent 5 and 6 entered the bedroom and left the door open. Jennifer took a sip of Coke and a moment later Jack and Agent 3 reappeared. Jennifer stood up and took Jack by the hand. “They’re ready,” she said.
Jennifer led Jack into the bedroom. Agent 5 closed the door behind them. In the bed was an old man of about eighty-five, or so Jennifer put his age as she had no way of really knowing. He appeared on the verge of death and she wondered if a man in his condition would survive her son’s touch.
Two doctors stood beside the bed. Jennifer called them Doctor 1 and Doctor 2. Doctor 2 motioned to Jack, Jennifer released his hand, and the boy walked to Doctor 2. “Are you ready, Jack?” Doctor 2 said.
“Good boy,” Doctor 2 said, and then he and Doctor 1 stepped aside.
Jack moved to the head of the bed where the old man’s head rested. The old man opened his eyes and looked at Jack. “Are you he?” the old man said. “The boy?”
“Yes,” Jack said, barely above a whisper.
“Thank God all won’t be lost,” the old man said.
“Don’t move,” Jack said. “This won’t hurt.”
“Should I be afraid?” the old man said.
“Not of me,” Jack said. He raised both hands toward the old man’s face.
“Wait,” the old man said.
“Promise me you will never use the knowledge for other than what it was intended,” the old man said.
Jack stared at the old man.
“Promise me,” the old man said with the last of his strength.
“Good boy,” the old man said.
Jack looked at the two doctors. Doctor 1 gave Jack a tiny nod of his head and Jack placed his hands on the old man’s face. The old man reacted as if his flesh was suddenly on fire and gasped loudly in pain. Jack lowered his face to look at the old man and slowly the old man settled down.
There was a moment of complete silence.
Jack closed his eyes.
Jennifer and Agent’s 5 and 6, as well as the two doctors stood back against the walls and waited. There was a reason the entire warehouse was made of metal and didn’t have a single window. A couple of years ago, Jack blew out every window in the home of a famous mathematician living in Florida. They constructed the metal warehouse without windows or glass of any type specifically for Jack. Even the lights were made of a secret alloy designed by NASA.
Jack held his pose, eyes closed, hands on the old man’s face.
Jennifer looked at the metal walls. There was a creaking sound, then the walls started to contract and expand as if made of gelatin. This went on for several minutes until Jack tilted his head up and opened his eyes. Jennifer didn’t need to look at her son to know that his eyes would be pure white at that moment.
Suddenly, the walls went still and appeared solid again. A second or two later came the burst of pure kinetic energy that vibrated the metal walls and would have blown out the glass windows if there were any.
Jack raised his tiny hands above his head and Jennifer knew the session was over and the old man had died. Jack turned to look at Jennifer. Blood ran down his nose and splattered on his shirt. The doctors rushed to Jack to catch him before he passed out and hit the floor.
The second bedroom was for Jack to rest in as he usually slept for one to two hours following a session. The third bedroom was for Jennifer, but she rarely used it and usually waited for Jack in the kitchen with the agents. Sometimes, as was the case today, Jennifer prepared lunch for the agents just to have something to do while she waited for Jack to regain his strength and come around.
She made western omelets, brewed a pot of fresh coffee, and served the agents on plastic plates at the table. They ate with plastic utensils and drank their coffee from plastic mugs. Today, Jennifer made extra for the doctors who joined them after checking on Jack’s condition.
“How is he?” Jennifer asked as the doctors took seats at the table.
“Fine,” Doctor 1 said.
“Growing stronger as he ages,” Doctor 2 said.
Jennifer looked at Doctor 2. “That worries you?”
“It gives me pause as it should you,” Doctor 2 said.
Jennifer served him and omelet, filled his plastic mug with coffee and turned away to begin washing the dirty pans and plastic cookware.
Ninety minutes after he passed out, Jack wandered into the kitchen and asked for a glass of milk. Jennifer filled a plastic tumbler with milk and he drank it at the table in the company of the two doctors.
“How do you feel, Jack,” Doctor 1 asked.
“Headache, blurred vision?” Doctor 2 said.
“Any weakness?” Doctor 1 said.
“Good,” Doctor 2 said. “Good boy.”
Jennifer looked at the doctors. They avoided her eyes and looked at Jack.
Agent 6, the man in charge, entered the kitchen. “Are we ready to go?” he said as a question, but it was really a command.
Three days later, while Jack played with button in the backyard, Agent 5 escorted the two doctors into the kitchen where Jennifer was preparing his lunch. “How is the boy?” Doctor 1 said.
“He’s fine,” Jennifer said.
“We’re ready for him,” Doctor 2 said.
Jennifer glanced out the glass doors to the backyard where Jack and Button rolled around on the grass. “Can it wait until after lunch?” she said. “I made his favorite, franks and beans.”
After lunch, the agents drove Jack and Jennifer to the secret warehouse where they met the subject, a brilliant mathematician from NASA. He was young and in excellent health and hardly screamed at all when Jack placed his hands on the young mathematician’s face and transferred the knowledge given to him by the old man into the young man’s brain.
United States Secret Service Agent Ryan Dunn looked out his sixteenth floor hotel window at the Centre Block of Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Canada. One week ago, Dunn celebrated his twentieth year as an agent with a small party hosted by his boss James Bayless at the Washington DC offices. Dunn’s gift from Bayless was a trip north to the city of Ottawa where the number 3 most wanted criminal on the Secret Service list of ten most wanted lived in hiding. Dunn had been on his trail off and on for seven years without results.
The man’s name was Luis Lopez and he was suspected of money laundering, real estate fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy. From Peru, Lopez conspired to acquire 97 million dollars in real estate loans as part of a foreclosure rescue scheme that left 503 victims homeless. In all, thirty banks were defrauded by Lopez before he went underground in Canada.
Canadian police suspected Lopez for several years. They began an investigation into his Canadian activity and once convinced of his identity, contacted the US Secret Service for assistance.
Working with a Canadian team of special officers, Dunn raided the home of Lopez where they found him living with two women from Montreal who fronted as his office receptionist and escort for out of town investors. Canadian authorities found one million in American currency buried in the basement under a wood floor. They also found several M-4 automatic rifles, a dozen handguns and high explosives. In a small wall safe, they found twenty thousand in Canadian currency and six passports for Lopez in various names and countries of origin.
Dunn turned away from the window when room service knocked on the door with his pot of coffee. Wearing just underwear and tee shirt, Dunn opened the door and took the tray from the room service waiter, tipped him and closed the door. On the tray were coffee pot, thermos style, one mug and a small server of milk.
Dunn filled the mug, splashed in some milk and returned to the window where he drank it in small sips as he watched traffic mount on the wide boulevard below. Two days ago, after the arrest of Lopez, Dunn sat around and waited for the expedition disposition and approval to transfer to the states. If all went well in two hours, he would be home in time to catch the Orioles play a night game against the Yankees in their new stadium in The Bronx.
Dunn finished the coffee, turned away from the window and entered the bathroom to shave and shower. Forty minutes later, dressed in his usual fare, dark suit, white shirt, dark tie with black loafers, Dunn left the hotel to cross the wide boulevard to the Parliament Buildings. He felt naked without his weapon, a Glock .40 that he carried in a right-handed draw shoulder rig.
Walter F. Riggins, a senior Federal Office for the Canadian Government met Dunn and signed him in as a guest in the lobby of the Federal Investigations Building. Riggins was just short of sixty; stood an inch less than six feet and what little hair still left on his head was snow white. He had bright, blue eyes that always seemed on alert.
“Have breakfast yet?” Riggins said with no trace of any discernable accent.
“Just coffee in my room,” Dunn said.
“We have an hour or so to kill,” Riggins said. “Our cafeteria has excellent food.”
Dunn followed Riggins down a series of hallways to the cafeteria where Riggins’ critique of the food proved correct. It was excellent. Dunn had pancakes made with buttermilk, smothered in butter and syrup from the Canadian woods, a side order of bacon, toast and coffee. Riggins settled for scrambled eggs, potatoes and tea.
Luis Lopez and his two lawyers, one Canadian, the other from the States met with Riggins and Dunn in a small room adjacent the interview room. “My client wants to make a deal,” the American lawyer said.
“A deal?” Riggins said.
“He’s willing to name names on both sides of the border,” the Canadian lawyer said. “A plus for both governments.”
“It’s an opportunity,” the American lawyer said.
“To do what?” Dunn said. “Lopez is top ten list all the way. Who is he going to give up bigger than himself?”
“At least listen before you reject the proposal,” the Canadian lawyer said.
“Sure, at least just listen,” the American lawyer said.
Dunn looked at Riggins. “Do you agree with Ike and Mike here?”
“That we should listen to what he has to say, why not?” Riggins said.
Dunn looked at the lawyers. “Okay, I’ll listen, but I’m not authorized to act on behalf of my government. Clear?”
Both lawyers nodded eagerly, smelling career maker in the budding. As they entered the connecting doo to the interview room, the Canadian lawyer whispered, “Who are Ike and Mike?” to his American counterpart.
Thirty-six hours later, Dunn and Lopez were on a US Marshals transport plane bound for Washington DC. Six heavily armed Deputy Marshals guarded Lopez while Dunn took a nap and the American Lawyer read a law review magazine hopping to spot his name in print.
At Dulles International Airport, Dunn relinquished custody to four FBI Agents, said goodbye to the lawyer, picked his car up at long-term parking and drove directly to the office for a meeting with James Bayless.
The meeting lasted four hours. Besides Dunn and Bayless, a Special Agent for the FBI and a Federal prosecutor were in attendance. All agreed that the Cuban counterfeiter operating in Miami, Florida that Lopez coughed up quicker than a cat does a furball was worth the price of a reduced sentence.
Afterward, Dunn and Bayless went to lunch at a small diner near the Mall that was a favorite of Congressmen and Senators and less frequently some White House staffers looking to spread some spin around the Beltway.
Dunn had the meatloaf special while Bayless ordered the chicken potpie. Both had coffee and apple-pie for dessert. “When can you leave for Miami?” Bayless said as he lifted a forkful of apple-pie into his mouth.
“Tomorrow,” Dunn said. “I’m going home for the rest of the day and sack out. Then I’m going to barbecue a rack of ribs, open a six pack and watch the Orioles blow another one against the Yankees.”
“I’ll call you later with flight details and hotel arrangements,” Bayless said.
Dunn nodded. “I hope this guy is worth slicing ten years off Lopez.”
Bayless shrugged. “It’s a federal deal. If it doesn’t pan out, they pull the plug and he does his full shift.”
“I just hate wasting my time,” Dunn said.
The drive across the Potomac to his Arlington, Virginia home always took twice as long, sometimes even longer than it should have due to the round the clock DC traffic. Even at two in the morning, a time when Dunn had traveled the highways many a time in the Metro Area, traffic was artery clogging.
To make matters worse, it was a scorcher of a day, above ninety with high humidity and the air conditioner in his eleven-year-old car was on the blitz again. He sat and soaked in his own sweat as bumper-to-bumper traffic inched along the Beltway until finally, there was a break and he was able to get out of Dodge.
Across the river, the heat was even worse and Dunn had to use a handkerchief to wipe sweat from his eyes as he drove. On I-95, there was an accident somewhere and traffic slowed to a crawl and finally to a complete stop.
As he sat in his car and wiped sweat from his face and eyes, Dunn glanced to his left at the man in a BMW. The windows were up and he appeared perfectly comfortable. To Dunn’s right, a man in a massive Lincoln appeared equally at ease. In a childish fit on momentary anger, Dunn balled his right hand into a fist and whacked the AC vent on the dashboard and son of a bitch if the thing didn’t sputter to life and try its best to operate. It hummed for a few seconds, then clanked, sputtered and shut down.
Traffic eased up a bit, started to move and a mile or so down the road, Dunn passed the scene of a three-car pileup. How, in five mile and hour traffic people managed to smash into each other was as much a mystery to him as where they were always in such a constant rush to.
It was late afternoon by the time Dunn finally arrived at his three bedroom, Tudor home in the sticks of Arlington. He selected the home for its seclusion and for its price. Listed as a fixer upper, the house came cheap and in the four years since he lived in it, Dunn hadn’t fixed or repaired one thing. Not because he was lazy or inadequate with tools, he wasn’t. It was just that a man living alone has simple needs, or at least he did. One bedroom furnished, the living room and kitchen, close the other two bedrooms and leave the second bathroom in dire need of repairs because who was there to use it?
Dunn parked in his driveway, picked up the stack of mail in the box mounted outside the front door, unlocked the door and went inside where he tossed his jacket and the mail on the small coffee table by the sofa.
Stripping off the soaking wet shirt, Dunn entered his bedroom on the first floor off the kitchen. It was the smallest of the three bedrooms, but the other two were on the second floor and he felt the need to keep everything on one level. If it weren’t for the fact that the only way to the attic was by way of the second floor, he would have no need to visit that level of the house.
Dunn shed his clothes and took a cool shower to rinse away the sweat of traffic, slipped on a pair of shorts and allowed himself to air dry. He dug out a can of soda from the fridge, sat on the sofa and whittled down the mail. Most of it was junk, ads in the form of discount coupons, specials on phones and other nonsense and he tossed it into the kitchen trash bin. He kept the copies of the Post to read later.
The much-needed nap was out of the question now as it was too close to evening to risk tossing and turning all night waiting to fall asleep. Dunn tossed on a tee shirt, a pair of old sneakers and went to the backyard. One third of an acre, enclosed by a tall, wood slat fence, in dire need of lawn care, the area contained a small table with one chair and a propane grill.
The grass was six inches tall and filled with weeds. Dunn didn’t own a mower as there was no need. In a few weeks, the relentless sun would scorch the lawn to a crispy brown and the weeds would shrivel and blow away. Since he never watered the lawn, it wouldn’t start to grow again until the cooler month of late September or early October, just in time for fall to kill any additional growth.
Dunn stood in the shade provided by his house and stretched for a few minutes with some light yoga to limber up. Multiple plane rides in the span of a few days reeked havoc on his limbs and muscles. Once limber, Dunn did some pushups and situps, then practiced the techniques he learned in the academy twenty years ago. The forward roll into a weapons draw and aim, the dislocate an arm, the neck kill, the drop and stun, the crowd disperse, the protect the President at all cost and so on and on until Dunn was so covered in sweat he might as well have been back in the shower.
Dunn ended with additional pushups, situps and a session with a leather jump rope that left him breathless. A second shower followed, then, dressed in a well-worn warm-up suit, Dunn fired up the grill to barbeque a rack of ribs. He drank a beer and read a copy of the Post while the ribs cooked.
Dunn set up a folding tray in front of the sofa and ate the ribs while watching the Yankees pound the Orioles in a three-hour game that ended shortly before the eleven o’clock news.
Bayless called a few minutes after the game ended. “Don’t you ever sleep?” Dunn said.
“Don’t you?” Bayless said.
“Every chance I get,” Dunn said. “So what’s the plan?”
“You’ll be hitching a ride on a nine thirty US Marshals transport flight into Miami,” Bayless said. “A routine prisoner pickup flight. Someone from the Dade County Sheriff’s Department will pick you up at the airport. You take it from there.”
“My FBI contact?”
“Special Agent in Charge Tom Wilkes. I’ve met him, he’s a good man.”
“I’ll send you gift box of oranges,” Dunn said.
“What for?” Bayless said. “I hate the Goddamn things.”
Dunn turned in after that and gratefully slept the night without waking to a sweat-drenched nightmare.
Jack was watching the Cartoon Network from his favorite perch, prone on the rug in front of the television. For some reason, Jennifer noted, Jack preferred the older, less sophisticated cartoons to the more modern, high tech ones. The Road Runner and Bugs Bunny were two of his favorites, but he’d watch just about anything so long as it didn’t involve Japanese monsters, yellow sea creatures in short pants or sword wielding girls who could fly.
As the Road Runner dashed off in a cloud of smoke and uttered its famous “Beep-beep,” much to the dismay of the befuddled coyote, Jack laughed and sipped apple juice through a straw in the tiny carton.
Jennifer sat on the sofa and read a novel, or tried to, but every time Jack laughed her eyes went to her son and she found herself smiling, distracted from the book in her hands. There were so few real boy moments in her son’s life that each one that came along had to be burned into Jennifer’s memory for there was no other way to remember them. She would grow old and Jack would grow up and she would have no scrapbook of his childhood photos, no home movies or trophies from his little league, no report cards to frame and display on the walls.
All she would have was what she was able to lock away tight in her mind to recall later on in her old age and that would have to suffice.
Button wandered in from the backyard and took her usual spot beside Jack on the rug. She gave him a few licks, then flopped over and closed her eyes beside him. Jack placed a hand on her exposed tummy and gently rubbed it. The dog responded with gentle tail wagging.
Agent 5 entered the room then and stood beside Jennifer. “Mrs. Grant, can you get the boy ready?” he said. “We’d like to be on the road in ten minutes.”
On the road meant a one-hour car ride to the small, private hospital sixty miles south of their Virginia home. Constructed three years ago, the only patient of the hospital was Jack and as far as Jennifer knew, was staffed and used just for his visits.
Jack wore shorts, a short sleeve shirt and basketball shoes for the outing. Even so, the boy was hot and Jennifer asked Agent 6, not driving today, if he could turn up the air conditioner in the car.
Agent 5 was the better driver; at least it seemed so to Jennifer. His skill behind the wheel was with the small things such as taking a turn at the right speed to avoid passenger shift, braking to a stop without feeling that little kickback, accelerating on the highway without having to floor the gas peddle. The little things that made the ride more comfortable.
The hospital, secluded in the countryside and surrounded by a ten-foot high privacy wall, was a one-story structure painted entirely white. Like the warehouse, a dozen or more security cameras followed the car as it made its way from the automatic gate to the hospital front door.
Doctors 1 and 2 conducted a preliminary examination of Jack and told Jennifer what she already knew, that her son was in excellent health. Doctors 3 and 4, young assistants to 1 and 2 then prepped Jack for his MRI, a procedure that by now was routine for the boy.
About an hour later, while Jennifer watched The Bold and the Beautiful on a wall mounted television in the lounge, Doctors 1 and 2 came in and told her that her son was a miracle of science. They had been telling her that every three months for the past four years. At first, they tried explaining the brain, its various compartments and functions, what did what, but it was lost on her, and she shortened their briefing to just her son’s health and mental wellbeing.
On the drive home, Jack tugged on the collar of Agent 6’s suit jacket and the agent turned around in his seat. “Where are we going?” Jack said.
“Home,” Agent 6 said.
“I meant tomorrow or the next day,” Jack said. “After every trip to the hospital there is a place to go to.”
Agent 6 looked at Jennifer. “Tell him,” Jennifer said.
“I won’t know until we’re called on the phone,” Agent 6 said.
“But, we’ll be going?” Jennifer said.
“Yes,” Agent 6 said and turned around in his seat. “Somewhere.”
The phone call came two days after dinner. Agents 1 through 3 ate with Jennifer and Jack at the large kitchen table while 4 through 6 stayed on duty, then they switched places before dessert.
Jack helped Jennifer do dishes, then after a bath, they watched television for one hour until it was his bedtime.
Agent 5 took the call in the living room on the hard line. He spoke for less than one minute, then entered the kitchen where Jennifer was baking scones for something to do other than watch realty shows on television. “Boston,” Agent 5 said. “First thing tomorrow morning.”
Jennifer sighed, then nodded and returned to the scones. An hour or so later, she carried a plate of warm scones to the living room where Agents 3 and 4 were taking a break on the sofa. They were watching a rerun of 24 and laughing where they shouldn’t be. “Best comedy on the air,” Agent 4 said.
“I made these with a fresh pot of coffee,” Jennifer said. “Who’s in the watch room?”
“5 and 6,” Agent 4 said.
That meant 1 and 2 were grabbing some sleep. They would rotate accordingly. As far as Jennifer could tell, none of the six agents slept more than four hours at a clip. “Could you tell them I made scones and some coffee,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer was washing out the pans at the sink when Agent 6 came in from the watch room, the room set up with monitors and other equipment installed for their safety. “Help yourself,” Jennifer said over her shoulder.
Agent 6 loaded four scones onto a tray along with two mugs of coffee and looked at Jennifer. “Thank you, Mrs. Grant,” he said.
Jennifer turned to Agent 6. “Thank you, Mrs. Grant,” she said, mocking him. “Is that all you can say, thank you Mrs. Grant.”
Agent 6 appeared confused. “I don’t understand.”
“For God’s sake,” Jennifer snapped. “We’ve been living under the same roof for years, would it kill you to call me Jennifer, Jen, Jenny, something other than Mrs. Grant?”
“Is something bothering you, Mrs. Grant?” Agent 6 asked.
“Nothing, forget it,” Jennifer said. “No, wait. Would it hurt to takes us out once in a while? Let my son see a movie, eat some popcorn and maybe go for ice cream afterward like a normal kid? Toss a fucking football to him. Would it?”
Agent 6 stared at Jennifer. She so rarely swore that it usually meant she’d reached the boiling point.
“He’s just nine, for God’s sake,” Jennifer said. “He needs to act like a boy once in a while instead of a robot all the time.”
“I’m not authorized to allow that,” Agent 6 said. “You know the rules.”
“You know the rules, Mrs. Grant,” Jennifer mimicked Agent 6 again.
Agent 6 continued stare at Jennifer.
Jennifer flopped down at the table, buried her face in her hands and let the tears flow. Agent 6 stood there with the tray of scones and coffee and watched her. “Mrs. Grant?” he said.
Jennifer raised her face. “Go on, go back to your precious cameras.”
“I’ll ask,” Agent 6 said. “That’s the best I can do, but I’ll ask.”
Jennifer nodded. “Thank you,” she said and returned to the sink.
Agent 6 turned around in his seat and looked at Jack. “This is a four hundred and fifty mile drive, Jack,” he said. “We’ll stop for lunch and dinner later on, but if you need additional stops speak up. Okay?”
Jack nodded. “Can we watch TV?”
Agent 6 nodded, then turned around and looked at Agent 5. “Go,” he said.
Jennifer switched on the mounted DVD player and selected the movie Shrek, one of Jack’s favorites. That took them through to lunch. They stopped at a highway rest stop and ate outside at a picnic table on the lawn where the six agents could keep a close watch on the pedestrian traffic.
Jack napped for an hour after lunch, then a second movie took them nearly into Massachusetts. “We’ll take a break at the border,” Agent 6 said. “There’s a big place on the highway.”
Although it was close to dusk when they stopped, it was still warm enough to eat outdoors at a picnic table where the agents could keep a close eye on the massive parking lot and Jack.
Agent 6 made several calls while they ate. After the last call, Jack looked up from his plate of Popeye’s Chicken and said, “Are we staying at a safe house tonight?”
“Yes,” Agent 6 said. “One run by the FBI, so we know it’s protected.”
Jennifer stroked Jack’s hair. Nine-year-old boys shouldn’t know about FBI safe houses and the inner workings of the Secret Service. They should know about video games and football, how to tease girls and what it feels like to get a punch in the nose by the school bully.
“If it’s not too late when we get there, can I watch another movie?” Jack asked Jennifer.
Jennifer looked at Agent 6. He looked at his watch. “We should be there in ninety minutes,” he said.
Jennifer stroked Jack’s hair. “I think so,” she said.
The safe house, a three-story brownstone building on Boylston Street in the heart of Boston had a beautiful, fenced in backyard garden, complete with frog pond and water fountain. After dark, hanging lanterns illuminated the gardens and the frog pond lights turned different colors every thirty seconds.
Jack fell asleep on the sofa halfway through The Incredibles, another of his favorites and after Jennifer tucked him in, she took a mug of coffee to the patio table in the backyard gardens. Although they were in the heart of Boston, the only sound she could hear was the running water of the fountain in the frog pond.
Agent 4 came out to join here at the table. “I’m fine,” Jennifer said.
“I know,” Agent 4 said.
“I’m just getting some fresh air.”
Jennifer took a sip from the mug and looked at Agent 4. Like his colleagues, Agent 4 was tall, well built with a deadly, sinister way about him. She knew all of the six men were capable of killing at a moments notice to protect Jack. Somehow, that wasn’t a comfort to Jennifer. “Can I ask you a question?” she said.
“I guess so,” Agent 4 said. “Sure.”
“Don’t you ever get sick of baby sitting us?”
“I don’t…I’m not sure what you mean,” Agent 4 said.
“I mean being with us round the clock, day in, day out, month after month,” Jennifer said. “Don’t you ever get sick of us, bored with us, that’s what I mean.”
“You’re my assignment,” Agent 4 said.
Jennifer searched his eyes to see if he was serious or not. He was. She might as well have been talking to an insurance salesman about a policy. “I guess, I’ll go to bed now,” she said and stood up.
“Mrs. Grant?” Agent 4 said.
Jennifer paused to look at him. “Yes.”
“He really is a good kid.”
Jennifer nodded. “Good night, Agent 4.”
They transported him overnight to the backyard gardens where he lay on a bed inside a large tent. Once a large man, his cancer ravaged body weighed not ninety pounds by Jennifer’s estimation. Although the man’s face was but a skeleton of his former self, Jennifer recognized him immediately. It was the first time she knew the identity of a subject. Her husband Matt was a mathematician with the NASA engineers and studied at MIT for four years. One of Matt’s professors, a Nobel Prize winner for his two hundred-page theory on modern banking transactions presided over Matt’s graduating class twelve years ago. The man gave a wonderful, humor-laced speech that ended to loud applause and cheers from the graduates.
Jennifer remembered that day as if it were yesterday because so few in Matt’s world had a sense of humor.
Now the man was at death’s door from cancer, too weak to travel to Virginia so they brought Jack to him. The agents took every precaution, from the tent to boarding up all the exposed windows facing the gardens. They knew from experience that the tremendous shock waves given off by Jack would do far less damage outside in the open and chances of damaging surrounding buildings were slim. The tent was to hide the event from prying eyes, if there were any.
Doctors 1 and 2 must have flown in early this morning or late last night. They examined Jack, then led him to the garden and into the tent. Jennifer followed and stood aside near the open flap.
The professor looked at Doctor 1. “Is this the boy?”
“Yes, professor,” Doctor 1 said. “Jack.”
“The recipient?” the professor said.
“The student you selected. One of your own,” Doctor 1 said. “Now an engineer with NASA.”
“Good,” the professor said. “Good.”
“Are you ready, professor?” Doctor 1 said.
The professor turned his head and looked at Jack. “I’m ready.”
Jack moved closer to the bed and looked at the professor. “Don’t be afraid,” Jack said in his small boy’s voice. “I won’t hurt you.”
The professor smiled at Jack. “I know.”
Jack reached out with his tiny hands to touch the professor’s face.
Four days later, the agents drove Jennifer and Jack to the secret warehouse where the young NASA engineer waited with all the excitement of a five year old on Christmas morning. “This is amazing,” he said. “Just fantastic. To think that all of the professor’s knowledge will live on through me is just amazing.”
Doctor 2 listened to the NASA engineer’s heart with a stethoscope. He lowered the stethoscope and looked at Doctor 1. “I guess we’re ready for Jack now.”
Doctor 1 turned to Jennifer. “Bring the boy in, if you would.”
Jennifer nodded, left the room to fetch Jack. He was at the kitchen table, sipping apple juice and working a five hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle that he started months ago. From the looks of it, he was about half way done. “They’re ready,” Jennifer said and took Jack by the hand.
The young NASA engineer was still smiling when Jennifer led Jack into the special room. Smiling, but sweating heavily, Jennifer noticed. The doctors noticed as well. “Relax,” Doctor 1 said to the engineer. “The boy won’t hurt you.”
“I’m just so excited,” the young engineer said.
“Well, take a seat in the chair and the boy will give you something to really get excited about,” Doctor 2 said.
The young engineer nodded and took a seat in the leather chair so that Jack would be eye level with him. The young engineer smiled at Jack. “I’m ready for you,” he said.
Jack moved forward and extended his arms toward the young engineer’s face. “I won’t hurt you,” Jack said.
“I know,” the engineer said.
Jack placed his hands on the young engineer’s face. “Close your eyes,” Jack said.
The young engineer closed his eyes as did Jack. For a few moments, the room was completely silent. Then, slowly the energy started to build. Jennifer looked at the walls as they started to bow and take on that liquid metal appearance. In a few moments would come the full burst of energy and the transfer would be complete. A bloody nose would follow and Jack would need to sleep off the experience.
Then something entirely different happened, something new. Jack opened his eyes and lowered his hands. The two doctors quickly rushed forward to Jack. Agents 3 through 6 went on immediate alert. The young engineer remained motionless with his eyes closed, suspended in some sort of mental time warp, Jennifer reasoned.
“What is it, Jack?” Doctor 1 said. “Is something wrong?”
Jack turned his head to look at the two doctors. “He doesn’t speak…English,” Jack said.
“What do you mean, Jack?” Doctor 1 said.
Agent 6 pushed past the doctors. “Jack, what do you mean? Tell me.”
“Different,” Jack said. “I can’t understand what he’s thinking.”
“Different, how?” Agent 6 said.
Jack shrugged his thin shoulders. “Funny sounding.”
“Can you repeat some of it?” Agent 6 said.
“I’ll try,” Jack said. He placed his hands on the young engineers face. A few seconds passed and Jack started to speak in Persian.
“My God,” Doctor 2 said. “What is that?”
“Persian,” Agent 6 said.
“You mean from Iran?” Doctor 1 said.
Agent 6 nodded his head. “Yeah, that’s what I mean.”
Agent 5 had his cell phone out. “I’ll call the boss.”
“Tell’em we got a hot one,” Agent 6 said. He looked at the doctors. “Okay, make him stop now.”
The following morning, Jennifer sat in the backyard to watch Jack play with Button. Agent 6 sat in a lawn chair by her side. “I suppose I’ll never find out what happened to that engineer, will I?”
“No,” Agent 6 said.
“He was a spy, wasn’t he?” Jennifer said.
“I’m not authorized to speak on that,” Agent 6 said.
Jennifer turned to look at Agent 6. “Have you found a replacement donor for the information yet?”
“We don’t find anybody,” Agent 6 said. “When they have someone, they’ll tell us the specifics.”
“How about you?” Jennifer said. “Wouldn’t you like to be a great deal smarter than you are right now?”
Agent 6 stared at Jennifer. He wasn’t sure if she was kidding with him or not. “No, I wouldn’t,” he finally said.
“I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility,” Agent 6 said. “Sometimes being too smart is a burden.”
Except for six US Marshals armed for war, Dunn was the only other passenger onboard the massive, four engine transport plane. The senior deputy marshal told Dunn they would be flying to Leavenworth from Miami with twenty federal prisoners later that afternoon.
Dade County Deputy Sheriff Carlos Rios, a third generation Cuban-American picked Dunn up at the airport in an unmarked car that was so obvious a police car they might as well taken a cruiser with the lights and wailer on full power.
Dunn rode next to Rios as the deputy hit the Florida Turnpike South. A large man with a round, jovial face, Rios would have been equally at home wearing a Santa suit at the mall as his uniform. The man wasn’t hard in the eyes, Dunn calculated from his smiling face. That meant he had yet to draw his weapon in the line of duty and use it.
Dunn hoped for two things on this assignment, that if Rios were part of the invasion team, the need for gunplay wouldn’t occur or that if it did, Rios would be up to the task. Usually, Dunn knew from experience, first timers froze in place until one of two things happened. The first is the first timer didn’t react until someone in command gave the order to shoot. The second was the first timer stayed frozen and wound up getting shot and possibly killed.
Training, no matter how much of it you received didn’t add up to actual field experience and no truer thing could be said of police work. So when Rios smiled at Dunn and said, “I thought you guys spent all your time running beside the President’s limo and guarding First Ladies,” Dunn shuddered a bit at the question.
“The last President I met in person was Bush,” Dunn said.
“That’s not so long ago,” Rios said.
Rios slowed to take the off ramp for US 1, turned right and headed south. “We’re meeting Sheriff Escobar for lunch, okay? he said.
“Sure,” Dunn said. “The Flamingo Diner about a mile from the Safety Building.”
Rios looked at Dunn. “How’d you guess?”
“This isn’t my first time in Miami,” Dunn said.
The Flamingo Diner was one of those modern diners made up to look like a throwback to the Art Deco era of the nineteen thirties that populated the Miami landscape back then. It was big, bright, beautiful and pink. A pond in back was filled with the birds of the diner’s name.
Dade County Sheriff Xavier Escobar occupied a booth for six by a window. Dunn went in alone, picked up the Sheriff and walked to the table. “Sheriff Escobar, Agent Dunn,” Dunn said extending his right hand.
Xavier Escobar was tall, fit, in his early fifties, had thick, graying hair and bright, very dark eyes. He was in full uniform. When he spoke, it was without accent. “How’s your Spanish?” he said as Dunn took a seat opposite him.
“Fair to good,” Dunn said.
“Mine’s terrible,” Escobar said. “I’m fourth generation Cuban. My parents never spoke it around the house, so I never learned. I went to night school after I joined the department because down here if you don’t speak it, you don’t speak.”
A waitress brought Dunn a mug and filled it with coffee. “If you don’t care about your waistline, try the strawberry pancakes with whipped cream,” Escobar said.
Dunn nodded to the waitress. She looked at Escobar. “Two,” he said.
The waitress nodded and walked away. “My contact with the FBI, have you heard from him?” Dunn said.
“Special Agent Tom Wilkes, he called from the airport,” Escobar said. “Should be here any minute baring any mishaps on the turnpike.”
Wilkes arrived a few minutes later. Escobar told the waitress to hold their pancakes until Wilkes ordered lunch and to bring the food out all at once. Wilkes, a fifteen-year veteran of the FBI was about Dunn’s age, shorter and had the look of an accountant. Dunn knew he was anything but as the FBI didn’t assign men by their looks, but their capability.
Wilkes looked at Dunn after sitting. “I read your report on Lopez,” he said. “Nice work up there in Canada. What do we know of this, what’s his name?”
“Peralta. Alexei Peralta,” Dunn said.
“He’s a first class scumbag,” Escobar said. “Came over as a kid in the eighty-one debacle with his family. The word is that he murdered his father over a Chevy Nova when he was just fifteen. Owns and operates a scrap yard in North Miami, but it’s really a front for car thieves. He’s been picked up a dozen times, but has a high priced lawyer and always beats the rap. He employs a known hit man at his scrap yard, but we haven’t been able to nail down exactly why.” Escobar looked at Dunn.
Dunn said, “Our CI said he filters counterfeit money into Canada, Mexico and South America. He buys in bulk at thirty cents on the dollar and sells it for fifty. That may not sound like much, but when you’re dealing in tens of millions, it adds up quick. We don’t know who his supplier is, but my guess is he’ll roll over and cough him up rather than spend life without parole.”
“How do you want to handle the arrest?” Wilkes said.
“I have a twelve man task force in place,” Escobar said. “We’ll raid his house after dark. My information is he lives with a woman and her three kids. We don’t know if the kids are his or not, but either way, we go in clean and no one gets hurt.”
“Warrants?” Wilkes asked.
“Through us,” Dunn said. “Federal all the way.”
“Who gets him in the end?” Wilkes said.
“Us, split between our two departments, Dunn said. “But, the Sheriff will grab the headlines, is that’s okay with you.”
Wilkes shrugged. “Who needs headlines?” he said. “Headlines never put anybody away. Besides, I hate the dog and pony show for the media bloodsuckers.”
Dunn glanced at his watch. “Eight hours okay with you, Sheriff?”
“Fine with me,” Escobar said. “I call my task force in around six for a meeting.”
Wilkes picked up a menu and glanced at it. “What’s good in here?” he said.
The element of surprise minimized the risks involved when children and girlfriends occupied the home of the suspect, especially if that suspect had the reputation for pulling the trigger. To knock on the door and announce Police gave the suspect ample time to scoop up a kid and place a gun to the child’s head, leaving you defenseless and in need of a hostage negotiator. Then your quiet raid became fodder for CNN.
It was easier and safer to do exactly what Sheriff Escobar’s highly trained and equally efficient task force team did when they received the order. They mobilized around the house, cutting off all escape routs while a two-man team used a battering ram to smash in the front door. The moment the door smashed in, a second two-man team rushed in with M-4 rifles at the ready.
Dunn, Wilkes and Escobar waited on the curb. Peralta’s house, set back on a cul-de-sac with woodlands behind it received very little streetlight and the entire operation was over in fifteen or less seconds by Dunn’s watch.
When Dunn, Escobar and Wilkes entered the Peralta home, they found three children, two of them girls seated on a sofa where they watched a woman of about thirty being restrained by two deputies as she spit on Peralta who was handcuffed on the floor.
“Control her,” Escobar said to his men as the woman attempted to kick Peralta in the head.
Two deputies pulled the woman away and gently forced her to sit on the sofa with the three children, who watched the antics with mild amusement. Escobar looked at the woman. “Do you speak English?”
“Of course I speak English,” the woman snapped. “Where do you think we are?”
“Are these your children?”
“Two of my men are going to take you to my office and if we have to, we’ll put you up in a motel for the night,” Escobar said. “I’m hoping we won’t have to.”
The woman stood up. “Let me put on some shoes,” she said and looked down at her bare feet.
Escobar nodded to one of his men. “Go with her.”
The woman and a deputy left the living room and turned down a hallway. Dunn turned to two deputies. “Get him off the floor.”
Two deputies lifted Peralta and sat him in the chair he had been sitting in prior to the raid. In person, Peralta was a short, but powerful man, forty years old with thick features and slick, dark hair. Six gold chains adorned his thick neck. He glared at Dunn as Dunn stood in front of him.
“I know you speak English, so don’t try to bullshit me you don’t,” Dunn said.
“Why would I bullshit you?” Peralta said. “You got nothing on me.”
“I want my lawyer.”
“Sure, no problem,” Dunn said. “Let me tell you this first before you make your call. You’ve been ratted out, my man. We know all about your operation and we’re going to find the goodies if we have to tear every stick in this house down. If we have to do it the hard way, you lose any chance at a deal. You’ll pull life and serve twenty-five before you see the streets again. Do the math.”
“Deal? What kind of deal?”
“Twenty, out in twelve,” Dunn said. He looked at Wilkes. “Sound reasonable?”
“Depends on what he gives us.”
Dunn looked at Peralta. “So what do you got to give us?”
At that moment, the woman raced out of the bedroom armed with a hammer and attempted to hit Peralta in the head with it. Escobar and a deputy jumped on her, wrestled her to the floor and cuffed her. From the floor, she spit at Peralta.
Dunn said to Peralta, “My, my, what did you do to this woman, Alex?”
“I want my lawyer,” Peralta said.
“Take him downtown and get him his lawyer,” Wilkes said. “Deal’s off. See you in twenty five to life, asshole.”
Escobar nodded to two deputies. They grabbed Peralta, lifted him off the chair and he said, “Okay, okay, you win, but I want the deal in writing and signed by my lawyer and the prosecutor.”
“What’s your lawyer’s phone number, Alex?” Dunn said.
With Peralta’s lawyer present, Escobar’s deputies dug up the coffin buried in the false floor of Peralta’s garage. The coffin contained four million dollars in counterfeit money and one million dollars in genuine US currency. The four million in counterfeit ten and twenty dollar bills was scheduled to be sold in South America the following month. The buyer was a Colombian businessman who left the drug trade for the equally lucrative, but far safer profession of money laundering. The quality of the counterfeit money was high level, good enough to pass for genuine in most stores, shops and maybe some banks if the tellers were careless.
The bigger fish came later in the interrogation room at the county public safety building where Peralta gave detailed information on his sources. A retired engraver for the Treasury Department living on a modest pension in Costa Rica decided to give himself a cost of living raise by opening his own print shop. During the day, he printed local newspapers, advertisements, menus and fliers. During the evenings, he printed money and a great deal of it.
By phone, Dunn gave a detailed report to Bayless, then faxed him a copy of Peralta’s statement. “I guess we’ll have to go down and get him,” Bayless said.
“By us you mean me,” Dunn said.
“I can reassign the case and let someone else mop up,” Bayless said. “But then you’d miss out on mini vacation to Costa Rica and…”
“Jim, I’ll be home tomorrow,” Dunn said. “Work out the details with Justice and I’ll go down and clean up the mess.”
“Remember the crate of oranges?” Bayless said.
“You said you didn’t like oranges.”
“But, I love cigars,” Bayless said. “Especially when they’re from Costa Rica.”
Known to Jennifer Grant as Agent 6, Richard Zane, a seventeen-year veteran of the Secret Service drove his car into Washington DC for a classified meeting with his supervisor John Watts.
They met in Watts’ sixth floor office in the agency building. Watts, a twenty-five year veteran was second in command of all bodyguard details of Presidents, past and present, their wives and foreign dignitaries.
“How is it going out there, Richard?” was Watts’ first question.
“You read my daily reports,” Zane said.
“Yes, now tell me what isn’t in them,” Watts said.
“To be honest, she’s having a difficult time keeping it together,” Zane said.
“The boy’s mother?”
Zane nodded. “She lonely and I think a bit frightened for the boy. Maybe if her husband were still alive…” Zane left the sentence unfinished.
“I can understand how she feels,” Watts said. “Would it help if I paid her a visit?”
“It couldn’t hurt.”
Watts nodded. “Okay, lets talk about Los Angeles.”
Forty-five minutes later, Watts and Zane walked the hallway to the elevators. From his office, James Bayless walked out with Ryan Dunn and together they walked to the elevators where Watts and Zane stood waiting.
“John, how are you?” Bayless said.
“Good,” Watts said. “You know Richard Zane?”
“Sure, of course. Ryan and I were just going to lunch. Join us?”
“As long as we don’t have to see any Congressmen,” Watts said.
They took Bayless’ car and he drove them four miles south of the Mall to a quiet pub that offered a decent lunch at a reasonable price and more importantly was not a hangout for Washington powerbrokers.
They ordered coffee before lunch and Bayless told Watts and Zane about their latest counterfeit money bust in Miami. “Ryan is off to Costa Rica tomorrow to extradite the retired engraver. More like a five day paid vacation if you ask me, but he’s definitely earned the right. What about you, John?”
“Same old, same old,” Watts said. “We grab the headlines, but you guys have all the real fun.”
“This probably isn’t the right time to bring this up,” Zane said. “But my detail is up in fourteen months and I was thinking of transferring over to active investigations for a while.”
Bayless looked at Watts. “He’s earned it,” Watts said.
“Tell you what,” Bayless said. “In twelve months, come talk to Ryan here. He’ll fill you in and if you’re still interested, he can take you under his wing.”
Zane looked at Dunn. “Okay?”
“Why not,” Dunn said.
On the drive back to the Virginia safe house, Zane thought about the upcoming trip to Los Angeles. The boy couldn’t fly, so they were scheduled to travel by Amtrak sleeper car more than three thousand miles. Security would be tight as the boy would be exposed to the general public, but if there were no leaks, no one would know the boy was on board that train making that trip.
Still, the whole ordeal worried Zane. He wasn’t the cold hearted, uncaring robot Jennifer Grant believed him to be. Since he was first assigned to the boy thirty months ago, he’d grown quite fond of him, but he wasn’t a father figure and acting as one didn’t protect his life.
Zane ran through the schedule one more time searching for loopholes and weaknesses. He would call the team together later tonight and they would go over it again and again until they either found a problem or eliminated them.
Zane guided his car to the off ramp of his exit. It was one of those long, winding ramps that required deceleration to twenty-five miles per hour. As he turned into a long curve, he never saw the drunk behind the wheel of a large pickup going sixty-five the wrong way on the ramp.
The government of Costa Rica was extremely friendly to Americans and with good reason. The expatriate population of retired American citizens living there grew at great numbers each year. Retired businessmen purchased homes and condominiums along the beach, spent vast amounts of money and helped turn the eight hundred miles of coastline into a year round tourist destination that generated two billion a year in income.
The country of four million had no standing Army and laid claim to have the only President who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, Oscar Arias. Another, lesser-known claim to fame for the tiny country was that the first European to set foot on its soil was Christopher Columbus in 1502. So said the file Dunn read on the private jet he took for the trip.
He also read the file on Arthur Wentwood, the engraver turned counterfeiter turned money launderer. A government employee all his life, Arthur retired ten years ago from the US Mint where he spent the last twenty years engraving the backs of twenty-dollar bill plates. Now sixty-three years old, it was a good bet that Wentwood would die of old age before seeing the outside of a federal prison.
Dunn’s plane landed at the airport in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica where a detective with the state police met him at the gate. The detective spoke near perfect English and told Dunn he had an emergency phone call from his office back in the states.
On the car ride to the police station, Dunn called Bayless on his cell phone.
“I hate to cut short your mini vacation, but I need you back home as soon as possible,” Bayless said. “Can you wrap it up down there in two days?”
“Two days?” Dunn said. “That’s cutting it close, Jim.”
“Not if I make some calls to the federal police,” Bayless said. “I’ll arrange for their men to extradite Wentwood on a Marshals transport plane later on, but I need you home in two days.”
“Can I ask what this is about?” Dunn said.
“But you’re not going to tell me.”
“Not until you’re in my office.”
“All right, two days,” Dunn said.
“Don’t forget my cigars.”
Arthur Wentworth stood five foot four in his stocking feet and looked like a poster boy for the black socks with sandals retirement crowd. With snow-white hair, twinkling blue eyes, he appeared harmless to the point the Costa Rican Police questioned Dunn’s information.
As it turned out, Arthur Wentworth was so harmless after all. “I’ll make a deal with you assholes,” Wentworth said in a chipper, almost upbeat voice and with his blue eyes twinkling.
“We found a fully operational printing press, four sets of engraved plates for the ten and twenty dollar bill, a dozen drums of ink, mixing tools, washing machines filled with poker chips, a complete set of government engraving tools and ten million in counterfeit currency,” Dunn said. “What kind of deal can you possibly offer me?”
Wentworth chuckled. “Ever try living on a G-12 pension, sonny boy?”
“Not yet,” Dunn said. “I’ll get there.”
“Well, when you get there, you’ll learn pretty fucking quick you wasted your entire life in government service,” Wentworth said.
“Nobody forced you to work for the government, Mr. Wentworth,” Dunn said.
“That’s right, nobody did,” Wentworth said. “Do you want to hear my deal or not? If not, somebody else will.”
“What’s your deal?” Dunn said.
“You drop all charges, turn me loose and have my pension increased to a level 15 and I’ll stop printing my own money,” Wentworth said.
The Costa Rican detectives looked at Dunn. “He’s insane,” a detective said.
“Because if you don’t, at my arraignment, I will name the Costa Rican government officials who take bribes and look the other way when paper is shipped to my home from the states,” Wentworth said. “I will also name the high level American officials who sold me the paper and ink right from the supply house at the mint in exchange for a little supplemental income, of course.” Wentworth glared at Dunn. “Now, are you going to slap the cuffs on me or are we going to fucking talk?”
Dunn turned to the Costa Rican detectives. “I need a hard line phone.”
Thirty-six hours later, Dunn sat in Bayless’ office, along with John Watts. They used the conference table near the window for maximum light. The view from the window was of the Washington Monument, the west Mall and the Reflecting Pool. No one so much as glanced out the window at the tourist spectacle below.
Each man had a cup of coffee. Milk, cream and sugar packets rested beside a thermos style coffee pot. Dunn sipped from his cup and waited. Bayless spoke first.
“Ryan, this isn’t going to sit well with you, but I’m taking you off the Wentworth investigation as of this morning,” Bayless said.
Dunn didn’t speak. He knew his boss very well, knew the full explanation would be forthcoming. The only mystery was what John Watts was doing in the room.
Bayless continued. “I’ll take responsibility for the full investigation while you’re away,” he said. “I won’t screw it up, I promise.”
“Away?” Dunn said.
“Ryan, just listen for a minute,” Bayless said. “We have an emergency that calls for experience, intelligence and a cool head. That’s why John here requested you for the job. I thought about it and I have to agree.”
Dunn shifted his eyes to Watts. “John, would you?” Bayless said.
Watts took a small sip of coffee before speaking. “After lunch the other day, Agent Richard Zane returned to his car and drove south into Virginia to brief his men on a special assignment. On the exit ramp, a drunk behind the wheel of a pickup smashed into him head on. Zane died on route to the hospital. The drunk was thrown from his truck and sustained a broken nose.”
“Jesus, the man wasn’t forty, was he?” Dunn said.
“Just turned,” Watts said. “However, his untimely and unfortunate death, as tragic as it is has left us in a real bind. I need you to help out on this, Ryan. If there were another way at the moment, I would take it. There isn’t.”
Dunn looked at Bayless. “Are you going to tell what this is about or do you expect me to wade through all this Washington Spin the Tail on the Donkey speak and figure it out for myself?”
Bayless looked at Watts and nodded. Watts said, “This is more about the security of our nation than anything else going on in the world today and not one word of what I’m about to say leaves this office.”
“I don’t think that after twenty years of service that my loyalty, dedication or ability to keep classified information classified is in question,” Dunn said. “Do you?”
“Ryan, this is not about…” Bayless said.
“No, he’s right,” Watts said. “I asked for him because he has those very qualities I just questioned. I’m sorry, Ryan. That was stupid on my part and I apologize.”
“No need, just tell me what’s going on,” Dunn said.
Bayless spoke first, then Watts, then it went back to Bayless to finish up the briefing. During the forty-five minutes it took for Bayless and Watts to complete the briefing, Dunn drank two full cups of coffee and half of a third. Bayless ended with, “Well, there you have it, Ryan. That’s it. That’s what we need.”
Dunn stared at Bayless and Watts. “This is some kind of fucking joke.”
“No, no joke,” Bayless said. “I wish it were.”
“How long has this been going on?” Dunn said.
“We’re into our fourth year,” Watts said.
“Four years and nobody knows about this?” Dunn said.
“Nobody who isn’t supposed to,” Watts said. “We’d like to keep it that way.”
“That’s why you volunteered,” Bayless said with a weak smile.
“I’ll drive you home so you can pack, then I’ll drive you to the Grant residence in Virginia,” Watts said. “You won’t need your car so it can stay downstairs in the garage.”
“No need to go home,” Dunn said. “I always keep a suitcase with a week’s worth of fresh clothes in the trunk of my car.”
“Well, let’s go then,” Watts said.
Jennifer Grant started to cry at the news of Agent 6’s unexpected death on the highway. She wondered how she could cry for a man whose name she didn’t know and probably never will know, but it struck a chord with her, reminded her of Matt’s untimely death and the tears flowed as John Watts told her the story.
“Mrs. Grant, this is an awkward moment for all of us, but Jack is still my top priority,” Watts said. “If you could find it in yourself to calm down a bit, I’d like to introduce you to his replacement.”
Jennifer wiped the tears with a tissue and forced a tiny smile on her lips. “Silly, I suppose, to cry for someone whose name I’ll never know, but it seems like such a waste to me. What happened to the man who hit him?”
Watts hesitated, then thought, what the hell, why not? “He’s a second cousin to a Senator. A carpenter. He was working on the Senator’s home that day and stopped for a few on the way home.”
Jennifer stared at Watts. “Is that why it hasn’t made the news?”
“No,” Watts said. “Because your son is classified and that makes everybody around him classified, including you and all incidents.”
Jennifer nodded and settled her eyes on the tall, striking looking man standing just behind Watts. He was maybe five years older than Agent 6, broader in the shoulders and chest, with strong features and speckled with gray black hair. “Are you the new Agent 6?” she said.
Dunn stepped forward. Jennifer, seated at the kitchen table, looked up at the towering man that she now estimated at six foot four inches tall. “I guess you can call me Agent 7, if that’s all right?” he said in a deep, but soft voice.
“Mrs. Grant, where is Jack now?” Watts said. “I’d like to introduce him to the… to Agent 7.”
“Backyard playing,” Jennifer said. She stood up from the table and slid open the glass doors. She turned to look at Dunn. “Like dogs?”
“Well enough,” Dunn said and followed Jennifer out to the backyard. He took ten steps behind Jennifer, paused and took in the entire backyard with one sweep of his eyes. “Excuse me a moment, Mrs. Grant,” he said and reentered the kitchen where Watts was helping himself to a Coke at the refrigerator.
Dunn said, “How long have they lived here?”
“Three years,” Watts said. “Problem?”
“Step outside for a minute,” Dunn said.
Watts followed Dunn through the open sliding glass door to the patio table. Jennifer had walked across the lawn to Jack, who was rolling around with Button. She turned to look backward at Dunn.
Watts said, “What’s on your mind?”
“The fence is twelve feet high and that’s good,” Dunn said. “But it won’t stop a bullet and that’s bad. Any idiot parked in a car with a sound monitor can pinpoint the boy and his mother and put two in their heads and be gone before your men reached the street. There’s six cameras on a pan, tilt, zoom mount covering the entire backyard and that’s good, but they’re not night vision and that’s bad. There’s four floodlights creating a light pool and that’s good, but they’re not on a night timer and that’s bad. There’s also blackout areas where the light pool doesn’t cover and there’s no inferred motion detectors to back up those dead spots and that’s really bad.”
Watts said, “Jesus Christ.”
“Do you want to protect this kid and his mother or not?” Dunn said.
“What do you want?”
“Have the interior of the fence reinforced with four inches of Styrofoam insulation and covered with a one inch layer of stucco,” Dunn said. “Anybody shooting less than armor piercing, all it’s going to do is fragment. Have night vision cameras installed with built in motion detectors and add two more floodlights to cover the blackout areas. Oh, and have the glass in the sliding doors replaced with bullet proof.”
“Anything else?” Watts said.
“I’ll let you know after I’ve checked the rest of the house,” Dunn said. He looked at Jennifer. “Right now I’m going to introduce myself to the kid.”
“Don’t you want to meet your team?” Watts said.
“One of them is in the backyard,” Dunn said. “Have him meet me inside the house with the others in a few minutes.”
“In the watch room,” Watts said and turned away.
Dunn walked across the lawn to Jennifer and Jack. The boy was wrestling with his dog, a cute little beagle and it was obvious the dog loved its owner. “Boy or girl?” Dunn said.
“Girl,” Jack said. “Her name is button.”
“Because she’s as cute as?” Dunn said.
Jack stood up and Button nipped at his ankles. “Down,” Jack said and Button sat down next to Jack’s leg. “That’s what my mother called her. It just kinda stuck.”
Dunn looked at Jennifer. “Good choice.”
“So, who are you?” Jack said to Dunn.
“Replacement,” Dunn said.
“Agent 6 was in a car accident, Jack,” Jennifer said. “Agent 7 will be filling in for him for a while.”
Jack looked into Dunn’s eyes, then reached down to pat Button on the head. “Agent 6 died, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” Dunn said. “It was just one of those things that shouldn’t have happened but did.”
Jack nodded. “Do you play chess?” he said.
“A bit,” Dunn said. “I’m not very good though.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Jack said.
“No, I guess it doesn’t,” Dunn said.
“Jack, come in the house and help me get started with dinner,” Jennifer said. “Agent 7 has to talk with the others for a while.”
Jack looked at Dunn. “Play a game before bed?”
While Jennifer and Jack started dinner in the kitchen, Dunn met Watts and the five agents in the watch room. Watts introduced each member of the five man team by name and told Dunn names were never to be used going forward for the safety and security of the boy and his mother.
“That white van outside,” Dunn said.
“A custom job,” Watts said. “The glass will stop everything up to an elephant gun and maybe even that. Same with the doors, sides and back. The tires will stay inflated for fifty miles when pierced and even the gas tank is reinforced.”
“We sweep it every day for explosives,” Agent 5 said. “Same with the house, phones and yard.”
“The radio?” Dunn said. “That entertainment system in the living room. A radio can be turned into a wiretap without much effort.”
Agent 5 seemed momentarily confused. “We’ll… check it.”
Dunn turned to Watts. “I want forty Manhattan phone books and some cans of liquid Styrofoam delivered by tonight.”
“What the hell for?” Watts said. “I just said the…”
“Is he the most valuable human being alive on the planet today or not?” Dunn said. “Those were your words, John, not mine.”
“I’ll have them delivered,” Watts said.
“Good,” Dunn said. He looked at the five agents. “Let’s go over the train schedule and assignments, then we’ll talk about the weak spots in this house and the van.”
Watts glanced at his watch. “I’ll have the books delivered as soon as I reach the office.” He shook Dunn’s hand and said, “Thank you for this. I’ll make it up to you one way or another.”
“Just tell Jim not to screw up my investigation,” Dunn said. “And have that other equipment delivered no later than tomorrow.”
Watts nodded and left the watch room. Dunn looked at the five agents. “How’s her cooking?”
“I’ve gained seven pounds since I’ve been here,” Agent 5 said.
Dunn ate last at the kitchen table with Jennifer and Jack. The boy, for so slight a kid had a ferocious appetite, finishing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs that gave Dunn trouble. He also ate four garlic rolls to Dunn’s three and washed it all down with several cartons of apple juice.
“Play a game?” Jack said.
“You know the rules, Jack,” Jennifer said. “Dishes and homework before play. Right?”
Jack frowned like a normal kid as he looked at Jennifer. “I guess so.”
“And I’ll be checking the math test, so no fudging.”
Dunn stood up from the table. “How about I help with the dishes so the boy can get started on his homework,” he said. “That might give us a bit more time for a game.”
Jennifer stared at Dunn for a moment. “You’re going to help me do dishes?”
“It’s not against the rules, is it?”
“You make the rules,” Jennifer pointed out.
“All right then,” Dunn said and walked to the sink where a large pile of dirty dishes rested.
Jack jumped up from the table. “I’ll be done in an hour,” he said and raced out of the kitchen.
Jennifer wrapped an apron around her waist. “You dry,” she said.
Twenty minutes later, Jennifer poured two fresh cups of coffee at the table. “He seems like a perfectly normal boy,” Dunn said as he took a sip from his cup.
“He is,” Jennifer said. “A bit of a runt for his age, but otherwise normal as the next kid. Well, except for that.”
“I’m not sure I understand what that is,” Dunn said.
“I’ve been living with it for nine years and I barely understand it myself,” Jennifer said. “I probably never will.”
“They called it telekinesis,” Dunn said. “But, I’ve never believed in that.”
“It’s more psychokinesis,” Jennifer said. “Without the spoon bending or levitating knives from the table. At least not yet.”
“He reads minds, so I’m told.”
“Reads them?” Jennifer smiled and took a sip of coffee. “It’s more like he records them, stores them and then transplants them into a selected subject.”
“So the knowledge is never lost,” Dunn said.
Jennifer nodded as she took another sip from her cup.
“Any idea how it works, his mind, I mean?”
“Nobody does. They’ve been studying him for four years now and they don’t have a clue. When and if they ever figure it out…well, who knows?”
“How did you discover his…talent, for lack of a better word?”
“I didn’t,” Jennifer said. “My husband did. About six years ago when Jack was three years old.”
“Tell me about it,” Dunn said.
Jack appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. A folded chessboard and a wood box of pieces were under his arm. “My homework and test are done,” he said to Jennifer. “On my desk.”
“One hour,” Jennifer said. “Then it’s bed.”
“What if we’re not finished?” Jack said.
“Then you carry the game over to tomorrow.” Jennifer stood up and looked at Dunn. “I’ll be in Jack’s room.” She looked at Jack. “That test better be no less than an A, young man.”
“Aw, mom,” Jennifer mimicked Jack as she stuck her tongue out at the boy.
Jennifer returned an hour later and looked at the chessboard. Jack, playing white had made nine moves. Dunn, playing black had made eight. “I see this is going nowhere fast,” she said.
Dunn slid a bishop across the board in a move designed to block a move Jack wouldn’t make for two more moves. Jack knew it and looked at Dunn. “Pretty good, Agent 7,” he said. “It’s going to take some figuring.”
“Figure it while you brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” Jennifer said.
“Aw Mom me one more time, young man,” Jennifer said. “Go ahead.”
“Can you at least send Button up?”
“Don’t I always. Say goodnight to Mr.…. to Agent 7.”
“Good night,” Jack said. “We’ll finish the game tomorrow.”
Dunn nodded. “Goodnight, son.”
Jennifer poured a cup of coffee and sat at the table. “This is about as exciting as it gets around here,” she said.
Dunn stood up from the table. “I should go check on the men. Goodnight, Mrs. Grant,” he said.
“Wait,” Jennifer said. “Can you do me a small favor?”
“If I can.”
“My name is Jennifer.”
Dunn nodded. “Goodnight, Jennifer,” he said.
Dunn and Agents 1 through 5 looked at the stacks of Manhattan phone books piled up in the driveway. Dunn turned to the Agents. “A couple of you men get some power tools and remove the interior walls of the doors and rear hatch,” Dunn said. “Line the interior of each door and the trunk with the phone books, fill in the cracks with the liquid Styrofoam, then put it all back together.”
The five agents looked at Dunn.
“Even an armor piercing bullet won’t penetrate more than two inches of a Manhattan Yellow Pages,” Dunn said. “Five and four, come with me.”
Dunn led Agents 5 and 4 to the backyard where Watts had delivered the equipment delivered that Dunn requested. Dunn looked at the dark suits the two agents wore even though the sun was starting to blister. “Do you guys own more comfortable clothing?” Dunn said.
“Like what you have on?” Agent 5 said looking at the warm up suit Dunn wore.
“Well, from now on you only wear suits when we go out unless I call for undercover,” Dunn said. “Go change and meet me back here.”
Jennifer served salad, soup and turkey sandwiches for lunch at the backyard patio. While Dunn and agents five and four ate, Jack played with Button on the grass. Button glanced at the table, as the smell of turkey was a powerful distraction. Dunn held out a small piece of turkey and the dog broke away from Jack to snatch it up, turned and raced back to the boy.
“We leave in two days,” Dunn said. “What do you do with the dog?”
“There’s a kennel not far,” Agent 5 said. “We usually take her there.”
“Same one every time?”
“That’s probably not a good idea, huh?” Agent 4 said.
“Only if you want people to learn your habits and remember you,” Dunn said. “The best way to get remembered is to own a cute dog.”
“I’ll find a new kennel,” Agent 4 said.
Dunn picked up a second sandwich. Working in the hot sun all morning beefed up his appetite. “Let’s talk about this train ride,” he said as he bit into the sandwich.
“We’ve done it before,” Agent 5 said.
“Ever overnight?” Dunn said.
“No,” Agent 5 admitted. “Boston, New York, Atlanta. Never overnight.”
“It’s going to take four days to reach Los Angeles,” Dunn said. “That’s a long ride. Why can’t the boy fly?”
“We don’t know,” Agent 5 said. “That’s just what they say.”
“His doctors,” Agent 4 said. “They give him a physical usually the day before we travel and the day after.”
Dunn finished his sandwich, washed it down with lemonade and stood up. “Finish up what’s left of the installation and we’ll run a test. I’m going in to talk to the boy’s mother.”
Jennifer was watching a soap opera on the sofa with her bare feet up when Dunn walked into the living room. “I have a question for you,” he said.
Jennifer slid her legs off the sofa and sat up. “Sit. Ask.”
Dunn took a seat on the sofa and looked at Jennifer. “Why can’t the boy fly? Is there a medical reason?”
“Cabin pressure,” Jennifer said.
“The doctors are concerned that the cabin pressure might somehow affect Jack’s ability,” Jennifer said. “The same for sports, school bullies and pretty much everything else that normal boys his age do.”
Dunn stood up. “Cabin pressure,” he said and walked away.
Jack studied the chessboard carefully before making his next move. Dunn studied the board as well and knew Jack’s next move would be a placement for three moves down the road. Button slept beside the boy’s legs and Jack would occasionally reach down to pat the dog on the head as if reassuring himself his friend was still there.
Jack looked up from the board and smiled at Dunn. He placed his hand on his queen and slid the piece across the board to take one of Dunn’s pawns and leave the queen in a position to put Dunn’s king in check in two more moves.
Dunn nodded to Jack, then moved his knight into position to block Jack’s second move when he used the queen to attack. Jack studied the board and did something adults usually do when deep in thought; he raised his tiny right hand to his chin and rubbed it gently as if stroking a goatee.
Jack was still deep in thought when Jennifer walked in and announced it was his bedtime. “Can I just make this move, mom?” Jack pleaded.
Jennifer looked at Dunn, then at Jack. She sat down and waited. Five minutes later, Jack slid his bishop across the board in a move designed to change Dunn’s strategy and force him to play another piece.
Jennifer said, “Your next move better be made with a toothbrush, young man.”
Jack frowned at her. “You’re no fun,” he said.
“I’m your mother,” Jennifer said. “Fun is for grandparents. I’ll be up in a few minutes to tuck you in. Go.”
Jack stood up and immediately Button was on her feet and ready to follow the boy. “Goodnight Agent 7,” Jack said.
“Goodnight, Jack,” Dunn said.
Jack left the kitchen with Button on his heels.
Dunn looked at the chessboard. “He plays well. This game could take weeks.”
“Agent 7, I appreciate what you are doing, but don’t make friends with my son unless you intend to stay and see it through,” Jennifer said.
Dunn looked up from the board and saw the restrained anger in Jennifer’s eyes. “For three years he’s lived with a group of men who he doesn’t even know by name. They protect him every single second of his life, and that’s all they do. They don’t toss a football with him. They don’t help him with his homework. They’re not father figures or role models. They guard him and watch over him without feelings like the Terminator.”
Jennifer stood up and turned to the coffee pot in the machine on the counter. She filled two mugs and set them on the table, then reclaimed her seat. “Do you plan to stay on?’ she said. “Are you prepared to be the friend, role model and father figure my son doesn’t have?”
“Then I would appreciate it if you didn’t break my son’s heart,” Jennifer said. “He’s had enough of that in his nine years to last a lifetime.”
Dunn took a sip from his mug. “Fair enough,” he said.
That Dunn took his scolding so well it seemed to defuse Jennifer’s anger and her eyes lightened from dark to almost a speckled green. She lifted her mug and took a sip, sighed and set it down. “It’s obvious why Mr. Watts asked you to fill in,” she said. “The other agents seem like amateurs next to you, but please, don’t make friends with my son if you don’t plan to stick around and pick up the pieces of his heart after you break it.”
“Again, fair enough,” Dunn said.
Jennifer lifted her mug, took a sip, set it down and looked at the chessboard. “Who’s winning?”
“It’s a draw,” Dunn said. “Twenty moves from now, we’ll both be playing our queen, a few pawns and nothing else.”
“Does he know that?”
“I think so.”
“Why play on?”
“One of us might get careless and make a mistake.”
“One of you?”
Jennifer and Dunn looked at each other until she stood up from the table. “I have to tuck him in. Goodnight, Agent 7.”
“Goodnight, Jennifer,” Dunn said.
Dunn stood quietly in the corner of Jack’s bedroom as doctors 1 and 2 examined the boy from head to toe. Jennifer stood next to Dunn for a few minutes, then asked the doctors what they would like for lunch and excused herself.
As the poked, prodded and listened to Jack’s heart, the boy seemed bored by it all. It occurred to Dunn that he probably was. Finally, after about an hour, Doctor 1 said, “Okay, Jack, we’re done. You can get dressed now.”
The boy wasted no time jumping into his clothes. “Agent 7, let’s go grab some lunch before these guys hog it all,” he said with a slight smile.
“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Dunn said. “I want a few words with the doctors.”
Jack opened the door and looked at Dunn. “Don’t take too long. These guys will talk your ears off,” he said and left the bedroom.
Doctors 1 and 2 looked at Dunn. “You’re Ryan Dunn,” Doctor 1 said. “Watts briefed us on the situation. Agent 6 was a good man.”
“You didn’t know his name?” Dunn said.
“Nor he ours,” Doctor 2 said. “Watts’ orders.”
“The boy is healthy?” Dunn said.
“From head to toe,” Doctor 1 said.
“But, he can’t fly?”
Doctor 1 looked at Doctor 2, then at Dunn. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean?”
“I mean, can he fly or not?” Dunn said. “At thirty thousand feet, will his head explode, will he start talking in tongues, what?”
“We don’t know,” Doctor 1 said.
“You don’t know,” Dunn said.
“We don’t even know how the boy does what he does,” Doctor 2 said.
“Appreciate the fact that what we know about the human brain and how it works would fit on one corner of a postage stamp,” Doctor 1 said. “We could study the boy for another twenty years and still be no closer to understanding it than we are today. We don’t know what would happen if he was subjected to intense cabin pressure, but until we do understand more, we’d no sooner let him fly than become a professional boxer.”
“And what about him?” Dunn said.
The doctors appeared confused by Dunn’s question. “When he grows up, wants a normal life, what about all that?” Dunn said.
“We don’t make those decisions,” Doctor 1 said.
“Who does?” Dunn said.
“Honestly, we don’t know,” Doctor 2 said. “Maybe you should ask that question to John Watts?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Dunn said.
Jennifer sipped hot chocolate as she watched cable news from her favorite spot on the sofa. It was a slow news day with nothing much to report, so the anchors filled airtime with Breaking News Alerts about mudslides in California, a heat wave in Florida, possible tornado activity in Kansas. In other words, they had nothing, knew they had nothing, but didn’t want you to know it.
She looked at her watch. Ten minutes to Jack’s bedtime. She was about to get up and enter the kitchen and paused when she heard Jack speak from behind the swinging door. “That was a really bad mistake, Agent 7,” Jack said. “It’s just cost you the game.”