The Plan With No Man …
7:15 a.m. – now-now
I sit in the hall chair across from the stairs. The house is small but pretty in pastels and lacquer. The owner is very neat; everything in its place and a place for everything.
I hear a shell being jacked into the chamber. The woman descends the wood stairs soundlessly; her very white feet are sized eight, the toenails a dark red; yellow silk pajama bottoms come into view; dark undies show through the well-worn light material; a 9 mm Glock 17 hangs from her right hand; the safety is off; her fingernails are the same color as her toes; her walk is steady; her pajama top is a different design and flannel. I read controlled tension in the muscles of her hand. Her white-blond hair is in disarray; her face is clean of make-up; bright blue eyes with extremely white whites find my face.
I talk at those eyes, “I’m sorry I didn’t call first.”
She takes four more steps and looks hard at me. Recognition marks her face despite the disguise of longish dyed blond hair, moustache and black glasses. She frowns at the thought. “I know who you are. You’re dead.”
She sucks on her cheeks. Her eyes scan the room. “Why are you here?” Despite the tension, she takes her finger off the trigger.
“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. That’s why.”
She is unfazed by my cryptic answer. “You armed?”
“Yes, but I need you alive.”
It’s on her face, that she knows the rumors. The woman pulls the second chair to sit across from me and lays the weapon on her lap. “Why is that?”
“You have to protect Audi and Cami.”
I rap on the wall three times and the two girls step from the opening to a dining room off the entryway. The skinny nine-year-old Audi Sampson is brownish blond with a pretty oval face; she is as beautiful as her dead mother. Twelve-year-old Cami Lewis has dyed black-hair and is pretty, but less so than her dead mother. They take a position cross-legged on the floor between us and the foyer.
“I’ve seen you work. You’re a good cop, Diane Simpson. You’re honest. You don’t personally know any of us. No one will suspect you have my kids.”
“Why would I take them?”
“If they are found, they will be used to stop me. In fact, until I am dead they are very expendable.”
“And if you die?”
“There’s a chance they might be safe.”
Her mind works on the pretty face. Diane Simpson is a very beautiful woman, tall, thin, not big in the chest, and she has natural Jean Harlow hair. She has a scar on her shoulder from being shot in a gun fight with a killer, and a thin line under her chin that needed three stitches from getting between a drunk and his wife. Her record says she is brave but not fool-hardy. Two months ago she trailed the flotsam and jetsam of the debris of bodies that follows from me being me. She knows the FBI story is bunkum. The brass told her to keep it to herself; she didn’t like that. She knows I am more than dangerous.
She palms the Glock and points it at me. “Should I kill you now?”
“It’s not about me.”
She nods to the girls. “Is it about them?”
I’d prepared for this mentally on the long ride to Portland, but I have no fallback plan if she says no. “Let me tell you a story.”
The cop rearranges herself; moving and yet hardly moving. She sits very straight, light in her pajamas, and puts the bright blue eyes on me. She parts with a thin straight smile. “I’m ready.”
I ask, “Did you know Trevor Smith?”
Her “Yes” is laden with negative emotions that I don’t expect.
I slow my verbal cadence; I want her to have time to process the information and understand what is at stake. “I met Smith in sniper school eighteen years ago. He was my CIA handler when I was dropped into Afghanistan two days after 9-11. A year after my discharge he recruited me into the FBI as a contractor to protect witnesses who’d been outed, which means I hit the hit-men.”
Simpson looks to the two girls. It is news to them too.
I answer the look; “They need to know. They only know I am dangerous, but not why. I can’t protect them unless they know how scared to be.”
Audi squeezes Cami’s hand; she is my biological girl and she is like me. She tells a truth, “I’m not scared, Dad.” She turns to the older girl. “We’re okay with this, Dad.”
Cami is less certain because she knows fear; but she nods.
I return my attention to the cop. “My ex-wife Shana, her husband, Robert Sampson, stole $57 million from the drug cartel by stinging the Feds to take the money and then snatching it from under Smith’s nose. Smith tortured Sampson, but the lawyer died before he could give Smith what was needed. He brought me back from the field to retrieve the funds so to speak, though I didn’t know he’d engineered that. Anyway, with the help of Lit-t, a little black guy you know,” I wait for her to nod; “we stole the money and used it to free Shana and Audi.”
The cop says, “I heard a rumor about the money.”
I nod. “The kicker was that Shana was the plotter with her brother, Dennis Doyle, a cop you knew. Or so she thought. The end result was four dead FBI agents, three dead cops and Shana and Cami’s mother killed.”
“And Cami’s father,” Simpson looks at the girl, and then back to me, “and the five dead assassins in your house?”
The impromptu list was four bodies short. I lean toward the woman and put a question on my face. “I’m not so sure where they came from, but they don’t count in the current story line. The key was that Smith made a statement before he died; he said,” I see his lips move in my head, “‘Oh, Jake, what you don’t know. You think this is the all of it. That’s your problem, you don’t have any vision, you can’t see beyond today. I engineered you to be here.’”
The pistol is back in her lap. She leans toward me; her breath smells of Listerine. “That’s what this is about?”
I shake and nod my head at the same time. “Sort of, but you need to know more history. Smith’s words set me to thinking, especially about how big the word ‘here’ was. In Afghanistan, before 9-11, I was involved with a woman at the embassy, a doctor, Janna Davis.” I don’t say we were in love, because I don’t know, despite our being in love. “Smith said he engineered her death on the 9th because he wanted me unencumbered. I dug that out two weeks ago.”
I shrug. “People want to live. I traded their lives for information.”
“They still alive?”
“I didn’t kill them, but that was a mistake. They are now dead, and my enemies know I am alive, though I don’t think they were fooled. That said, it forced into motion a plan to flush me and take me out permanently.”
The question ‘why’ creates a singular expression on the human face; that look preceded the words. “Why would they care?”
“That’s an open question, but let me continue.” I point to the girls; “We have been in Witness Protection for the past two-plus months, and only four people know how to reach me. This morning I received a call from Janna’s mother, Karen Davis, that Janna’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Lizzie, had been kidnapped. Karen said Janna called me the most dangerous man alive, and she needed that man. She says Lizzie saw the kidnappers, and they won’t let her live. That was intentional, because Lizzie isn’t the end game.”
She points at me. “You are.”
“Yes, maybe.” I look to the girls again. “So we picked up stakes, killed our cell-phones and got out of Dodge.”
Simpson says, “I saw you last week; you didn’t see me.”
“You’re wrong; it was at Lovejoy and 23rd.” She is obviously surprised; she is a cop and she didn’t see me noticing her. I add, “I see everything all the time.”
“I couldn’t be sure it was you.”
It begs the question; “Why didn’t you follow me.”
She shrugs the pretty shoulders. “I was on a stakeout. What were you doing?”
“I was working.”
“And you’re here because?”
I touch the unfamiliar moustache; I speak through my splayed fingers; “Like I said, no one knows that you know me or that I know you.”
“I don’t know you.”
“That’s what I said. I need the girls to be safe with someone I trust.”
The cop reiterates with emphasis, “You don’t know me.”
~ ~ ~
My mind – simultaneously like extra movie screens – runs the past like it is today; it is my past in present tense, then-now moments in the now-now. At first I felt lost in the various nows, but I am used to them; the then-nows lasts mere seconds, but it’s as if my brain has multiple temporal timeframes disconnected from my real now life, like then is happening now in its entirety and what must be seconds can span hours with total clarity and completeness, and no rush. This strange facility started after the motorcycle accident, but it seems to have tapped a reservoir of information hidden deep within the databases of my brain; as if my entire life is open to reassessment in high definition and an unbelievably minute detail much finer than I actually lived it.
~ ~ ~
I pull into the lot at Hillside Center Park and stand on a bench to see my house. I blink my eyes, click zoom, for a goodbye look. The roof shines white with snow like an alabaster mausoleum.
A cop car pulls up to the curb; it’s the blond cop again. She and her male partner enter the unlocked front door. Ten seconds later the man comes out and throws up over the railing; the woman is on her walky-talky.
I have a good read on Simpson; she can have my back anytime.
A black Escalade pulls to a stop across my driveway and two agents get out.
Lit’t says, “It’s going to get dicey with the cops, Jake.”
“The hard part is done, Lit’t. The future goes where it goes.”
“You’re not worried?”
“Not really. I’m like Rafe; my handlers can’t afford to lose me.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
It’s the fourth time I’ve seen her, that is, since the party and the scar.
~ ~ ~
“I know you enough.” I get by it; “I have to find Lizzie.”
The cop assesses what she knows; she considers the resources of officialdom versus one guy. No, I don’t know that she does this, but it’s how I see it.
“Let the FBI do it.”
~ ~ ~
I see Janna in the morgue at the Embassy. The attendant turns the white sheet down from her pretty face; I turn it down to her waist. She was shot three times in the chest. I touch the abrasions on her cheek, her hair shifts. Her right eye socket is broken, and her left ear has been cut off. She is right, I don’t care enough. My anger exceeds my love.
What love? I am never angry. I suck back tears.
~ ~ ~
I try to strip the emotion from my voice; I am not successful. “I owe Janna more than you can imagine, Ms. Simpson. And I work for the FBI, and I don’t trust them. Wanting to kill me is a very dangerous step, and whoever these people are, they know that and they are doing it anyway. Do you understand what I mean?”
She nods. “You mean, why didn’t they let the sleeping dog lie?”
“Yes. My finding out about Janna’s death spooked them that I’m not done. They are right, of course, that once I have the thread, I’ll unravel the whole thing in time. They know me. I will.”
She tests my limits; “Will you die for the girl?”
“If I have to; Janna earned at least that much.”
“And if you don’t make it out alive?”
I point at her again. “You get the girls.”
“Because I trust you.” I reach into my coat pocket past the butt of the Beretta. I hand her an envelope. “That gives you unlimited and complete access to my accounts. I have a hundred thousand in cash on me.” I pull two $5,000 bundles from my jacket and hand them to her. She sets them next to the Glock. “This is walking around cash. The accounts have $31 million. It’s up to you to keep the three of you alive.”
She wrinkles her brow searching for words. She says, “I don’t care about the money.”
“I know, but if I’m dead, you might need it.”
She looks to the girls. “When will I know?”
“By morning at the latest; I’m not big into procrastination.”
She asks the obvious, “Should I run?”
I shake my head. “No, no one knows about you, so cocoon. If you don’t hear from me by morning, assume the worst.”
She frowns. “Pessimistic?”
I open my hands and explain the truth of me. “I don’t plan on dying, Officer Simpson, but with kids,” I smile to the girls, “come responsibilities.” I palm a cell-phone. She puts it with the money. “This phone won’t be activated until I’m well out the door. Audi knows the number. Its only reason is you and them. I have to go.”
She twists the envelope in her hands. She’s not happy. “This isn’t right.”
I don’t care about what is right. “Will you do it?”
With no hesitation, “Of course I will.”
At the door I turn. The three women stand together, like a family. “If you receive a call from Espadrille, say ‘I am Diane’ and she will tell you what you need to know.”
“Who is she?”
“She’s my computer. She’s watching your house, your phones, your computer, your car, your alarm system.” I sweep my hand to take in her house. “She let me in.”
I remove my beige digital runner’s watch and toss it to her; it’s an afterthought I should have planned. I warn myself to not get caught up in my action and forget about what is important, keeping my girls alive.
I say, “Wear this. Espadrille will know where you are. It is a passive device, no one will suspect it. Remember, Espadrille will protect you, so don’t put her off.”
I insert plastic pads into my mouth and my cheeks puff out as if I’ve added ten pounds. I see myself in the mirror; my eyes pull down at the edges. I look even more dangerous.
“Will you call?”
“Only through Espadrille.”
The door closes with a click.
~ ~ ~
I sip a coffee at a table in a Starbucks in the Pearl – one of god knows how many, and I count everything, but I haven’t a clue. Frank LaBonte chats up a tattooed and studded barista. His hair is black, undyed, and he looks much younger than his thirty-five years. The girl thinks he is focused on her, but he is turned so his eyes have the Cohen family in sight. A mean smile, almost disconnected from his face, plays out on his lips; because he looks forward to death.
The Cohens were at OMSI with the three kids and stopped here before driving a last five blocks home. If there hadn’t been a parking spot, they’d have gone home first and walked back; it is their regular haunt. Cohen’s real name is Marvin Waxman; he and his family are in witness protection. Marvin was the accountant for a Ponzi scheme run by a Boston crime family; he turned state’s evidence and the trial of the boss, Padraic ‘Paddy’ O’Halloran, starts in a week. Cohen and his family won’t be safe until the trial is over, if then, but right now he is positively toxic. LaBonte will kill the family in the next forty-eight hours, publicly and horribly, to send a message to any other potential turncoats in Boston.
The Feds would like to move them again, but Marvin is already totally skittish and that might send him over the edge. That’s why they choose me, to make LaBonte gone. They wouldn’t need me if they’d done a better job of secreting the family, but the kids and wife kept their first names and the LaBonte found them through successive name search drilldowns; Esther and Tevi and Eli and Natalie, how hard could it be?
LaBonte stands to leave. The barista hastily scribbles her number on a card and puts it in his pocket as he exits the door. Two minutes later the Cohens get up. I precede them out the door. I turn towards their house and stroll. Their car passes me. I see Diane Simpson in an unmarked car; she is preoccupied with a house across the street. Her eyes stop on me, but I’m not who she’s looking for, and she’s not sure it’s me; but she is a cop and she wonders. That’s what cops do.
~ ~ ~
I open the truck’s door and start the engine. The temperature is thirty-two and the rain is mixed with wet flakes of snow; per Yogi Berra, ‘it’s déjà vu all over again.’
I make a u-turn to head west on Savier.
~ ~ ~
Agent Billy Thornton looks the quintessential FBI-man in his black suit and white shirt and solid blue tie. He is in his mid-thirties with healthy wind-blown skin; his thinning black hair is buzz cut with random prematurely graying hairs taking over in small clumps. He oozes trust; he is nothing like Trevor Smith. He lays the pictures of the five Cohens on the stand-up table.
“They’re the charge, Jake.” My new name is Kotter; Billy doesn’t use it; Killman is never used.
He places a larger picture of Frank LaBonte between the family photos. “He’s the contractor. We don’t know if he’s after Marvin or the whole family, but we want him gone.”
We inhabit a strange world of euphemisms; no one says kill or murder or assassinate. I work within a culture of upward deniability that keeps hands clean outside the sphere of unofficial killers like me, but I may be the only one in the domestic side of the government; there’s no way to know. And there is no way the government would ever admit to my existence. I have no doubt they’d kill me before they’d let me testify to anything, but I’m okay with that; it’s what I’d do in the same situation. And killing hit-men? I’m alright with that too.
“Any idea on when the hit’s going down?”
“No, but they’ll want it to be uber-public like leading the national news. They’re afraid Cohen’s testimony could start a chain reaction. I think they’ll wait til the last possible minute.”
I scan the file and return it to Thornton; that’s protocol, but I remember every word, every stain on the paper. I don’t forget. They know this, and that is why I have to die if they no longer trust me. I think it keeps them up at night, knowing they probably can’t kill me; but they know about me and kids, so they wouldn’t attack me directly.
~ ~ ~