Cheyenne, 10–10:45 pm MDT
It had taken a tense scramble in Goodland to organize Dillon Rice’s “posse” for the run to Cheyenne. Buford needed authorization from his captain to change states. Warden had to alert her headquarters. Locals needed to be notified, explanations made, contact-information firmed up. Loading the cars — refilling coffee bottles — fueling — everything took longer than he wanted, now he finally had a good idea where to find Tory.
Then the seemingly interminable drive: about 290 miles, Goodland to Cheyenne, all interstate, estimated civilian travel-time a bit over four hours. Running in tight formation, emergency lights without sirens pushing slower traffic out of the way, they cut it to three.
It had long gone dark when they were ushered into a crowded conference room in Wyoming Highway Patrol headquarters. Only lighted room Sunday night in the big gray-stone government building. Rice was surprised both the chief of state liquor-enforcement and Patrol colonel were there to greet them. When the colonel mentioned Rob Thornton his surprise evaporated; his boss was proving he could move chess pieces long-distance.
There were almost a dozen men and women in the room, uniform and plainclothes. Two guys in red shirts with shoulder flashes and badges; jeans and Stetsons and hand-tooled leather duty belts. Wyoming game wardens, Buford said. Radzinksy cornered a red shirt for a private conversation Rice suspected had more to do with deer hunting than Tory. Candy Warden’s fugitive-team partner was up from Denver with a second team, the Marshals Service determined to run Curtis to ground since the FBI let him get away. Federal pissing contest, Radzinsky opined.
The patrol colonel stepped to the head of the table. “The circus surrounding this missing liquor inspector has rolled into our jurisdiction. Let’s see if we can fold its tents,” he said without preamble. “Sergeant Bana?” A uniformed trooper raised his hand. “Sergeant Bana will take the lead.” Rice thought Bana fit the mold of troopers all over the country: a head taller than his colonel, sun-browned, bulky.
“Guys,” Bana said, “we have federales here with us this evening, U.S. Marshals Service. We’ll try to go slow so they can keep up.” Light ripple of laughter. “Here’s what we got. Then we can do introductions, figure assignments.”
Bana went over the case in quick shorthand, finishing with the white Ford van spotted following a vehicle known to be occupied by Tory Poindexter, the Washington State P-I who rented it, and his link through a Seattle law firm to Curtis.
“Since the sighting came from a local citizen, last seen heading to Cheyenne,” Bana said, “our troopers and some game wardens have been hunting it.” Radzinsky raised his hand. “Trooper Radzinsky, Pennsylvania State Police,” Bana told the group. “For these proceedings, deputized U.S. Marshal. Your question?”
“Tell me you didn’t put the LP on the air,” Radzinsky said. “We think these guys have state-of-the art scanners.”
“Since you’re only an honorary Fed, I won’t take offense,” Bana deadpanned. “Out here we have quaint instruments called telephones in our houses. Still connected to actual telephone wires. We spread word that way to key troopers and wardens. Troopers on the road and wardens in the field got a meet-for-coffee radio signal. Nothing there for eavesdroppers. We passed the alert face-to-face. We’re a small force. You may have more troopers in your Wyoming PA barracks than we do in the whole state. But we talk to each other.”
“Any luck?” Radzinsky said, unembarrassed.
“None so far. We’ve spread the dragnet.” He smiled briefly. “I watch a lot of old TV out here in the boonies.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Radzinksy said. “Have your shit-kicker fun.”
“We’ve had eyes on every white Ford van in and around Cheyenne. Right LP or not. They could change plates. If a van stops at the home or business matching their details we check them off.”
“No abandoned white vans?” Candy Warden put in.
“Marshal Warden,” Bana identified her. “Real Marshal this time, fugitive-recovery detail. No, ma’am. If they abandoned it, they hid it.” He paused. “Okay, let’s introduce ourselves.”
When it was Rice’s turn he added a question. “M’mm, according to my chief, intelligence on the van came from a local named Bubba, who identified himself as a friend of Graham McAllister Dorn the Third. Has anyone contacted Bubba?”
Bana laughed. “Bubba contacted us.” He picked up a folder, produced a sheaf of photos, passed them around. “Bubba’s shots of occupants of the van following Inspector Poindexter. We’ve got these in all units searching. One of these positively ID’ed as the fugitive, John Curtis. The woman is unknown. All Bubba got was the top of the head of the third. Could have been others in back.”
“An assassination team,” Candy Warden said. “They lost one of theirs in the shootout in Colorado.”
Bana shrugged. “Maybe. The van is rented to a legitimate skip-tracer out of Seattle. Name of Jarrett. Civilian bounty- hunter.”
“No wants and warrants on Dorn are there?” Radzinsky said.
“Nope. Strangely enough there is one on Inspector Poindexter.”
“What?” Rice thought he hadn’t heard right.
“Failure-to-appear beef out of Washington State,” Bana said. “Explains a Seattle bounty-hunter.”
“It’s bullshit!” Radzinsky said flatly. “She’s never been in Washington State.”
“M’mm,” Rice said. “Curtis is from Portland. Right down the road from Seattle. The Seattle law firm employing Jarrett as a skip-tracer employs the lawyer representing Curtis. Jarrett is keeping poor company.”
The Wyoming colonel, who had moved to the back of the room to observe, spoke up. “Still, the warrant on your missing inspector complicates matters to a degree, as far as bagging Jarrett. Bounty-hunters get a lot of leeway.”
“It’s bogus!” Radzinsky was getting loud. “It’s that damn Jarrett! The e-spook playing with computers again. He’s gotta be tech support for their whole damn operation.”
“I agree,” the liquor-enforcement chief said. “Colonel, will the warrant affect how your department cooperates?”
“Not one bit. We’re gonna find that van. Arrest Curtis if he’s in it. The sheriff down there has Curtis wanted for murder. We’ll question everyone with Curtis. Let this Jarrett trot out his warrant, bogus or otherwise. We’ll deal with him then. Harder to find the van without putting it out to all departments, but if they’re stone killers we don’t want some unprepared cop or deputy getting killed behind that.”
“M’mm,” Rice interjected, “if this Bubba has been in touch with you, do you actually know who he is?”
“Oh hell yeah.” Bana nodded to one of the red-shirted game wardens. ”Harry?”
“Wal,” this individual drawled, “I guess I know Bubba best. He was in high school ahead o’ me before he went to Vietnam right at the end of that mess. Picked up two bum legs and a Silver Star before it was over. If your lady is with Bubba, not to mention Dorn, who I also know, I’d say she’s pretty safe from ‘bout any goon squad goin’.”
“You haven’t checked?” Radzinksy was astonished.
“Bubba said he wouldn’t welcome official company out at his place,” Bana replied. “Not until Inspector Rice got here.”
“Might scare off this team of killers, if that’s what they are. Bubba wants to give them at least one chance to do their thing.” The room was silent for a beat. Then Radzinksy exploded:
Bana regarded the Pennsylvania trooper bleakly. “You do things your way in PA. We do them our way here. When Bubba says he doesn’t want company, he doesn’t want company. He didn’t want company until Inspector Rice got here.”
“M’mm,” Rice put in mildly. “I’m here now.”
“You are.” The colonel was unperturbed by Bana’s comment. “Sergeant Bana, take Inspector Rice to his missing colleague.”
Cheyenne FliteCraft, 11 pm
Wendell Jarrett, wearing his young-businessman disguise and carrying his briefcase, entered the Cheyenne civil-aviation service center, paused in the restroom to deposit balled-up nitride gloves in the trash receptacle, and walked out to the flight line through the cooling evening. A little riff of déjà vu: the camouflaged Lear from South America was parked beside Feldtman’s leased Boeing, just like Denver. Aboard the Boeing, Feldtman was hunched over his own laptop, evident weariness making him look old and stooped. “You need sleep,” Jarrett said. “Me too.”
“I’m emailing with the clients back east. They’re up late, so I have to stay with them. They’re leaking Poindexter’s cybersex-romance to the media. Somebody on the other side got the jump on them with the big RICO splash. They still think the hot sex trumps complicated — and unproven — accusations about price-fixing.”
“So now you’re telling me what all this was for?”
Feldtman’s tired blue eyes peered above his granny glasses. “Wendell, don’t act obtuse. When could I ever conceal anything from you?” Jarrett grinned; good to be appreciated. “What about your van?” the lawyer asked.
“I wiped and parked it several blocks away. If anybody touches or opens it, it’s wired to let me know.”
“Doubt anyone will give it a second glance. Those magnetic letters are genius, I admit.”
Jarrett had produced magnet-backed blue-and-white globes resembling the AT&T corporate logo, and script spelling out “The Cable Guy” in big block letters, complete with ersatz phone numbers. New plates of course. The van was still a Ford, still white, but no longer unmarked. If cops had been alerted by the cranky old cripple, Spook knew absence of scanner-traffic proved nothing; they’d keep it off the air while they searched. So he hid the van in plain sight, like C. Auguste Dupin’s Purloined Letter. As Poe had concluded well before Conan-Doyle, cops seldom think outside the box.
“Even if they do, nothing to connect it to this airplane. All my stuff is aboard. But I got a question, Forrest. If our clients were so satisfied with the cybersex hack, why are we still here? Especially after this RICO publicity.”
Feldtman dry-washed his face with both hands. “The main client bypassed my cutout to talk to me directly. Well not exactly directly — he talked in circles. Mixed messages, which in the end equate to a deniable wish for Poindexter’s termination. Despite the media furor. Or maybe because of it.”
“Risky. You could refuse, couldn’t you?”
“Claudine took it out of my hands, Wendell. She read the ambiguity to suit herself, because she’s bent on revenge. The general’s men on the Lear are under his orders to follow hers.”
“Why was she even part of the discussion?”
“It’s — complicated. Her special status in interlocking international relationships outside the scope of this project.”
“CIA shit,” Wendell said in disgust. “Screwing up a simple domestic operation.”
“I can’t disagree. But I don’t feel we can leave until I get hold of the general. He’s the only one who can rein in his idiot aide, and countermand Claudine.”
“I thought you had him send his jet here to ex filtrate John. And came over in case they didn’t make it. A job like this needs one boss. I thought that was you. You can’t call her off?”
Feldtman shook his head tiredly. “Claudine usually gets what Claudine wants. She wanted the idiot major and the general’s bodyguards to help finish Poindexter. So they went. The general’s in DC making diplomatic rounds. Probably sleeping with hot and cold running blondes. Not reachable by his embassy.”
“Couldn’t Dip Security find him?”
“I don’t want Diplomatic Security, or any other federal agencies, in this. We’ve already got FBI and U.S. Marshals. Wish you’d been a little quicker with your pink dildo in Denver.”
“I wish you’d been a little slower running your mouth.” Feldtman glared, but took it. “Curtis thought the cowboy and his cripple buddy were laying a trap,” Jarrett said. “More I dig up on this so-called Bubba, more I think he’s right. The Army doesn’t hand Silver Stars to wimps. And Bubba has four fully automatic weapons registered to him.”
“Did you tell the major?”
“I did not. Fuck him, and Claudine, if they won’t follow your orders.”
Feldtman regarded him narrowly. “What, did you make a play for Claudine, get turned down?”
Jarrett laughed bitterly. “Wouldn’t touch that Medusa with a steel condom. She’s a stone killer. The word sociopath comes to mind. Curtis is on his own with her. If they all get blown away, it won’t hurt our clients’ outcome, will it?”
“Who’s the sociopath now? Claudine has her points.”
“Meaning you fucked her? Well of course you did you randy old goat. But you couldn’t talk her out of going, could you?”
Feldtman sighed heavily. “Claudine will kill you without a second thought if she finds you didn’t brief her completely. Not out of her own fear. Because you put her beloved Curtis at risk.”