Show and Tell for Federal Suits
State of Control draft, copyright WRBJr Living Trust
DAY TWO Denver, 8:45 AM MDT
Buford’s unit commander was putting on show-and-tell for visiting federal suits. “Who caught this originally, Sergeant?”
Buford shifted in his chair to regard the intruders. “Palmer and Tollefson. Good detectives, both of them.”
“I’m sure they are, Sergeant Buford,” agreed charcoal-pinstripe: FBI liaison. Tan glen-plaid nodded: BATF, involved because his agency co-hosted the RICO meet with the IRS, and because the missing woman was a liquor inspector. Both Feds were tall, reasonably fit, crisply attired. One brunette, one sandy blonde. Charcoal-pinstripe’s dark hair came to a widow’s peak. Glen Plaid’s was fashionably tousled. Buford rubbed his rasping chin. His own pants needed a press.
“Nothing much new, Cap’n. Inspector Poindexter’s still missing. So is Curtis’s rental car. Whether they left the garage together we have no idea.”
Pinstripes asked, “You think it was an abduction?” Buford was terrible on names at first meeting. “Party or parties unknown working with Curtis?”
“Not enough to go on.”
His captain cleared his throat. “Nothing to indicate Mr. Curtis is other than a tourist cut down in random gun-play. Which the law firm representing him was quick to point out to the mayor’s office, and to management of the hotel. There were broken light bulbs around the door from the lobby steps, rendering visibility difficult. Curtis’s lawyers mentioned liability issues.”
“Broken light bulbs?” Pinstripes said. “Freshly broken?”
Buford nodded grudging approval of his question. “Looked like it to my guys. Glass still on the floor.”
“The dead man,” Glen Plaid put in, “worked for a Pittsburgh beer warehouse audited by Inspector Poindexter several times, according to Pennsylvania LCB.” BATF had been doing its homework. “Any evidence Gerner was with her?”
Buford wondered if Glen Plaid talked to the soft-voiced guy back in PA. Bryce? No, Rice, like Uncle Ben’s, the Pennsylvanian said. “Not much evidence at all,” Buford said. “Our initial canvass turned up empty.”
“What do you have?” Pinstripes asked.
“One recovered slug crammed in cement near the ceiling: 9mm. Ballistics don’t have much to work on. Went through and through Gerner’s skull, deformed in the wall. Angle indicates the shooter was low to the ground firing up. Squares with the preliminary autopsy. Slug took him just below his right nostril. Out the crown of his head. Dead before he hit the floor.”
“And the wounded guy?”
“ER people say Curtis took the round in the thigh almost dead level. Also through and through. Crawled a ways, by the blood trail. We lined up his first blood with spatter from Gerner. Add where the shell casings fell, they had the shooter between them.”
“How many casings?” Pinstripes asked.
“Two, both nines. Probably a Glock based on firing-pin and ejector marks. Same brand as shells in the Glock magazine in her purse.”
Glen Plaid leaned forward. “You found a blackjack on the dead man. A big knife on Curtis. What does Curtis say for himself?”
“Says he’s a hunting-knife collector. Bought it off a knife-smith at a street-fair in Cheyenne. There was a fair the day he says. Three smiths. Knife pattern matches work by one. Says he sold five. Seven-inch general-purpose blade with elk-horn handles. Curtis also says he don’t remember a thing about getting shot. Fancy doctor backs him up, calls it temporary amnesia. Brought in by his law firm.”
“Awful lot of backup for a beer-route salesman from Oregon,” Pinstripes said.
The captain said, “Law firm won’t say who hired them.”
“Of course not. We’ll have a look at them all the same. No other bullets recovered?”
“No,” Buford said. “Ear-witness heard only two pops. Nothing in the wall behind Curtis.”
“And Curtis’s rental is missing?”
“He was surprised we didn’t have it. Don’t think he was acting.”
“Maybe the car was there, left with a bullet hole?”
Buford scratched his chin. “Maybe.” Who did this guy think he was, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.?
“It’s plausible,” the FBI man said. “One man pulls his car across the door to block your vic. One follows her down the steps. Mousetrap her. Sap her. Take her.”
“Except she’s heeled,” Buford said thoughtfully. “A crack shot. Won some combat-shooting award back in PA. Still, that’s some kind of skill. Take a hit, shoot out of a trap.”
Glen Plaid said “Maybe I can offer something here. Her husband runs a gun shop with a range. I’ve been there, he runs a clean license. LCB says he trained her way past qualification level. Knows his stuff. Studied with Massad Ayoob.”
Pinstripes said, “Your people checked ERs for walk-ins with blunt head-trauma of course.”
“Nobody matching her description.”
“Captain, what’s the law here on out-of-state officers going armed?” Glen Plaid asked.
The captain waved it away. “Woman ganged up on, assaulted? Even without her badge I don’t see anyone making a fuss. But we’re into speculation here.”
Buford told Pinstripes, “You know, your scenario adds up. Dead man had a cell phone in his hip pocket. We punched redial. Got a 503 area-code, a cell belonging to Curtis.”
“Wonders of modern technology,” the FBI man said. “The dead man calls to tell Curtis she’s coming down. Curtis’s phone on him?”
“Unknown. They snatched him and his effects into that convalescent home before we followed up on Gerner’s phone.”
“Which convalescent home?” Buford recited its name and address. The FBI man wrote it down.
“Tidy if redial on his phone led back to Gerner’s,” Glen Plaid said.
“It won’t, by now,” Buford said. “I make Curtis a pro of some kind. Smart enough to clear his phone.”
The captain said, “We don’t have enough for a warrant on his phone bill just because Gerner may have called him. At this point he’s not really a suspect.”
“Why a pro?” Glen Plain asked Buford.
Buford tugged a rumpled yellow sheet out of his suit-jacket. “Before he was a beer-truck driver he was a soldier. Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts. Africa. Desert Storm. Couple places the Army wouldn’t tell me. Some kind of Ranger Airborne asshole. Maybe even Delta since the Army’s so touchy. Other-than-honorable discharge. Whatever that means.”
Pinstripe’s eyebrows climbed. “Professional strong-arm men don’t usually have jobs like driving a beer truck.”
“May not have been near a beer truck,” Glen Plaid replied. “Wouldn’t be hard to assign a phantom route, give him a visible means of support. Wouldn’t be the first time hoodlums in the liquor business did it. Or even first time they tried to whack a liquor inspector.”
“Until Poindexter turns up, or Curtis’s car,” Buford said, “Curtis is our only handle.”
The captain cleared his throat nervously. “We can’t — “
“The FBI will keep an eye on Mr. Curtis,” Pinstripes said. “Your unit needn’t take unnecessary heat. We turn something to implicate him, you have a different situation.”
“And we’ll handle it,” the captain promised. “With pleasure, I might add. We just have to be sensitive to the mayor’s concerns.”
“Understood. Given a missing law- enforcement officer, the FBI is not that troubled by what the mayor thinks. Of course I never said that.”