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“Did you ever see Forrest Gump?”
WEDNESDAY, THE FOURTH OF JULY
Mac, Lich, Peters, and Sally waited at the security guard station of the World Trade Center Tower in downtown St. Paul. Lich chit-chatted the men working the desk, who were retired suburban cops. The three men discussed pensions, benefits, and divorces; as it turned out, all of them had one. Dick got on a roll, causing hoots and howls with stories about getting cleaned out by his ex-wives. Mac’s partner was looking at possible retirement, at least early retirement, in a few years and frequently worked his numbers, figuring what he would have to live on. Dick would have to work long past age sixty-five, whether it be at a security desk or taking up Shamus’ long-standing offer to tend bar at the Pub.
All of the men looked up as Summer Plantagenate pushed through the interior glass doors. Stressed and tired, with bags under her eyes, the tall, thin lawyer arrived with her long blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, wearing a zip-up gray nylon sweatshirt, white jogging shorts, and running shoes. The last two days had been hard on Lyman’s protégé, and she answered on the first ring when Mac called. Unable to sleep, she welcomed the chance to do anything to help. Summer led them to a bank of elevators for floors twenty-eight through thirty-seven.
Hisle & Brown occupied the entire thirty-seventh floor. The firm resided in ornate offices, their dark-paneled walls appointed with fine paintings and impressive statues. In the spacious lobby, a waterfall separated the reception desk from the leather chairs and sofas of the waiting area. The offices proved to be a powerful aphrodisiac when enticing clients or lawyers to join the firm.
Summer led them through the lobby, past the reception desk and into a large interior room. It was a training room, with a bank of six computers set along one wall, a mahogany conference table surrounded by high-backed black leather chairs in the center, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along the other wall, stocked with reference materials, legal reports, and treatises. On one end wall, cherry cabinet doors opened to reveal a large screen television on the left and a whiteboard to the right.
“We can set up shop in here,” Summer said. “We can use all these computers to access our system and the conference table to look through the paper files.”
“Are your other people on the way in?” Peters asked.
“Yes. I’ve got three of our civil lawyers, a paralegal, and two secretaries on the way – all people who’ve been here for years. They all love Lyman and would do anything for him.”
“Good, we’ll need them all, and Sally can help, too. The guy we’re going to have run the computer part of this should be here any time,” Mac answered and then looked to Peters. “You better get Scheifelbein back over to HQ.”
“I’m on it,” Peters answered, pulling out his cell phone and walking out of the room. Lich followed as his cell phone started chiming.
“Why do you need a computer guy here?” Summer asked, grabbing Mac’s arm. “Can’t you just have a guy run it from your place?”
“Problem is,” Mac said, looking around the room quickly and then back to Summer, “we think someone might be working this from the inside.” Mac explained their theory, Sally nodding along. Plantagenate was stunned.
“They could have… been… gaming this thing from the get go.” She put her hand over her mouth, astonished.
Summer nodded. “Do we tell the rest of my people coming?”
“Let’s not if we don’t have to,” Mac cautioned. “I want to keep this part of it quiet for now.”
Two lawyers and a secretary walked into the room. Summer broke off from Mac and Sally to give them the rundown. The three immediately went to the computers and started them up, and Summer waved Sally over, showing her what to do. The idea was to pull every name they could find from the civil side of Lyman’s practice. When Hagen arrived he’d run that information against the database of information at the Department of Public Safety.
Mac went to the whiteboard, flipped open his notebook, and started copying out the thoughts he had at the Pub. He excluded his speculations on the inside job, keeping that close for now. With it all back up on the whiteboard, he scanned once more for the big picture. Lyman and Chief, long list of cases. How long? Mac turned to Plantagenate.
“Can you access all of Lyman’s civil cases here at the office?
“Everything in the last five years or so,” Summer replied. “The rest is off-site.”
Mac sighed. Nothing was ever easy. “Where? Where is the off-site?”
“North St. Paul, up off of Highway 36, place called Old Files,” one of the other lawyers answered.
“We need people up there as well. Get them there with cell phones, laptops, Dictaphones, the works,” Mac said. “We’re on a tight clock here.” Summer started dialing.
Lich came back into the room with an odd look on his face. “We gotta go somewhere.”
* * * * *
Riles and Rock stood with the warden at the front entrance to the Ramsey County Correctional Facility, otherwise known as the County Workhouse. The short and heavyset warden of the facility, a man named Ferm, worked his second Marlboro. He talked about the first-place Twins, the weather, and the circus that often was the Fourth of July event in his hometown of Stillwater.
“Shit, with all the boats on the river tomorrow night, there’s sure to be trouble.”
“How many boats?” Rock asked as he sucked on a cigar he’d bummed off Lich, skillfully blowing smoke out through the gap in his front teeth.
“In Stillwater, around the bridge,” Ferm replied, “hundreds for the fireworks. Not to mention it’ll just be busy as hell up and down the whole thing all day. My wife and I love the river.” Ferm blew smoke and then shook his head, “but we never go out on the Fourth. The only place it’ll be quiet is up north, near the old railroad bridge and even then, with the fireworks in Stillwater, not to mention those that people just shoot off normally, it’ll be a raucous night. I just hope nobody gets hurt.”
Just then, the diminutive Hagen came through the doors with a pair of guards. He saw Riley and Rock and smiled. “I should have known it was you two fuckers.”
“Ooooo, it’s the hardened convict,” Rock said, smiling, pulling cuffs out of his pocket and dangling them in Hagen’s face before slapping them on the man’s wrists. The cuffs secured, Rock eased him into the backseat of the Crown Victoria.
Riley shook Ferm’s hand and got behind the wheel, pulled away and drove back east on I-94 toward downtown St. Paul. Once on the highway, Rock reached into the back and undid the cuffs. The cuffs were just for show anyway. Hagen was an unlikely flight risk.
Arrested last winter as part of the bust on PTA, Hagen, a computer whiz, was seduced by the money offered by the company to run their network and computer systems. The company, and in particular the vice president of security, a man named Webb Alt, noted Hagen’s computer skills and put him to work on operations that monitored company employees. Before he knew it, Hagen was working for former CIA operatives who had no trouble dropping bodies to protect a covert arms sales operation. When Mac and Company came down on PTA, Hagen was found in a basement bunker in the PTA building, running the computer operations for Alt’s crew. In an effort to shave years off his sentence, Hagen worked with the police and federal authorities to piece together the PTA operations and track down missing PTA personnel.
He was no hardened criminal. Small in size and about as far from intimidating as you could get, Hagen had been dragged into the whole thing without much choice. He could have been sentenced to years of prison time, but Flanagan, Mac, and the rest took a shine to him as he helped tie up loose ends on PTA. Sally successfully worked to get his sentence reduced and also have it served in the County Workhouse.
Hagen had another six months to go on his one-year sentence. Two times already, Riles and Rock had sprung him to do a little work for the police department. This was on top of all the computer work he did at the workhouse. It would cost the county millions to pay contractors for what Hagen was providing them in return for three hots and a cot. Now they were calling on him again.
“So what is it this time?” Hagen asked flippantly, rubbing his wrists.
Rock turned and gave him a serious look. “The chief’s daughter has been kidnapped.”
Hagen’s smile vanished.
“We need your help with that.”
“Whatever you need,” Hagen answered. “Whatever you need.”
* * * * *
Mac pulled his Explorer up in front of Fat Charlie’s place in north Minneapolis. The Fat Man had been cryptic with Lich, merely saying he needed to see them about some information that might prove helpful. Three large African-American men were waiting for them, all with their arms crossed and heads shaved, each sporting sunglasses and a skin-tight black muscle shirt – all in all, an impressive “gun show.” Fat Charlie needed good security in his game, and these guys looked the part. Mac gave them a quick scan and noted no weapons. The guns wouldn’t be far away, however, perhaps stored in the wheel wells of the Tahoe also parked out front. The one in the middle, slightly taller than the other two, spoke up in a deep yet poetically smooth voice. “Charlie sent us up to watch your ride while you’re inside.”
“Thanks,” Mac said. “Around the back again?”
The man nodded.
As they walked around the back, Lich couldn’t help himself, quipping, “What’s with the shades at three fuckin’ AM? Shit, it’s darker than their skin out here. That’s just…” Lich grappled for the right word and missed, “silly.”
Mac smiled. “Silly? Maybe. But I tell you what, you go tell that dude, all six-plus-feet, two-forty of him, that he looks silly. Christ. His upper arms are the size of my thighs. See what he does with you.”
“Ahh, I’d just pump a little of my Smith into him,” Lich said, touching his hip.
Mac snorted. “Anything out of your Smith would just bounce off those guns of his.”
Down the back steps, the door was already open and one of Charlie’s sons, attired in a white dress shirt and blue silk tie, was waiting for them, Déjà vu set in as he walked them back into the barroom, where they found the same haze of cigar smoke and Charlie sitting in the same chair.
Dressed in a more subdued gray suit with a black and white striped tie, Charlie sat with a cigar in his right hand and a drink in his left, a bottle of Wild Turkey and a bucket of ice sitting on the table in front of him. His sons sat on either side of him. On the couch to the left of Charlie sat what looked like a homeless man dressed in dirty, work jeans, a soiled white T-shirt, and a black stocking cap. The man was eating a towering ham sandwich off a plate full of chips and coleslaw.
Mac took a chair in front of Charlie, and Lich stood behind him, both hands on the back of the chair. Mac could feel the time running down, so he skipped the pleasantries. “You said you had something for us?”
“And good evening to you, Detective,” Charlie replied, a little put off by the curt start.
Lich jumped in, always ready to soften Mac’s attitude. “Look, Charlie, we just don’t have a lot of time for chit-chat,” he said mildly. “We need to get right to it.”
“Pretty tough the last couple of days, huh?”
Mac nodded and exhaled slowly. “Although, we might be on something now that will help us and we need to get back to it. So….”
“We best get to it then,” Charlie said, nodding and pointing to his right. “This is the guy you need to talk to. Meet Ron.” The homeless guy acknowledged them with a nod.
“This guy?” Mac asked skeptically.
“Yes,” the drug lord replied. “I know he don’t look like much, but looks can be deceiving. Trust me. He provides an important service for me.”
“Which is?” Lich asked.
“He watches my competition.”
Mac understood immediately. “He looks like a junkie.” And then turning to Ron, “But I take it you’re not?”
“Correct, Detective,” Ron replied, looking up from his plate of food. He wiped the corners of his mouth neatly with a napkin. “I’m incognito,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice, sounding nothing like a strung-out street raver.
“That’s great Ron,” Mac answered. “But why do I need to talk to you?”
“Before he speaks,” Charlie interjected, “we’re just talking here, right?” The drug lord wanted to help, but he didn’t care to be pinched either.
“I work St. Paul. I don’t care what you’re doing in Minneapolis,” Mac replied. “So what do you have?”
“This last week, I’ve been watching our competitors down along Lake Street,” Ron said. “There are a couple of good crews down along there, and I’m evaluating them.”
“So?” Lich said, rolling his hand.
“I was sitting in a vacant house a block north of Lake Street around noon on Monday, getting out of the sun and eating some lunch, when I saw a van pull up across the alley behind an abandoned building. It pulled up right alongside another van.”
Mac turned his chair toward Ron. Lich pulled up a chair of his own, taking out a notebook. “What happened next?” Mac asked.
Ron grabbed Lich’s notepad and pen and drew a diagram. “I was just casually looking out the window – I was at a bit of a distance away from the vans, which were across the alley and to my right at maybe a forty-five degree angle.” Ron drew a line from his perch in the vacant house to the vans across the alley. “But something about the movement looked a little odd to me, so I went to the window.”
“What then?” Mac pushed, leaving his chair and taking a knee at the coffee table, looking at Ron’s diagram.
“I saw two men get out of the van on the left and get into the front seats of the van on the right.”
“What did they look like?”
“Big guys, easily over six feet. Big arms, shoulders, pretty defined,” Ron said, running his hands over his pecs and arms. “They’d done some weightlifting, I’d say, based on the way they carried themselves.”
“What did they look like?”
“Hard to say,” Ron said. “They wore baseball caps and sunglasses. I’d say black hair. They had darker complexions, maybe what looked like dark razor stubble.”
“That’s two men. Did you see anyone else?” Mac asked, looking up from the diagram.
“Charlie’s told you what’s going on, right? Mac asked. “You know about the kidnappings we’re working?”
“So did you see these men transfer a girl between the vans?”
Ron shook his head. “I saw them moving something between the vans, but I couldn’t make out what it was. It happened very fast, and the vans were kind of angled away from me,” he said, pointing to the diagram. “I could tell they transferred something between the vans, something that took two people. But I couldn’t see what and, at that time, I didn’t know about the kidnappings, so I didn’t really have any context for it.”
“Are the two men the only people you saw?”
“Yes and no. There was someone who jumped from the one van to the other, but other than seeing the blur of him jumping, I didn’t see anything else. I only really saw the two I described to you.”
Mac shared a look with Lich. Ron was on the level. “Anything else?” Mac asked.
“Yeah,” Ron answered. “There was one other thing about the big guys.”
“Which is what?” Mac asked.
“Did you ever see Forrest Gump?”
“The movie?” Mac asked, puzzled. “‘Stupid is as stupid does.’ ‘Life’s like a box of chocolates.’”
“Sure, what about it?”
“Remember the part where Forrest finds out he has a son? Then he goes and sits down in front of the television with the little boy? The way they’re sitting exactly the same, tilting their heads to the left at the same time as they watch TV. You realize they’re father and son. Brothers do the same type of things.”
“So you’re saying….”
“If I didn’t know better, I think they might have been brothers.”
“Brothers?” Mac asked, interested.
“Yeah. The way they walked, the way they swung their arms, along with height and physical appearance. It was very much alike, very similar. And then, the kicker was that before they both got into the van, they each crooked or rolled their neck to the left, like a nervous tic.”
“Let me get this straight,” Lich said skeptically, “you got all this watching them for a couple of seconds?”
“I know I saw them for just a few seconds,” Ron answered, nodding, “but the neck roll, the gait, you know it just… registered with me that they looked like brothers.”
“You think just brothers?” Mac asked, buying what Ron was selling. “How about this… could they be twins?”
Ron closed his eyes and stroked his bearded chin, trying to remember. “Maybe. It’s possible, I mean there were definite similarities between the two based on how they looked and walked. They were the same size. Complexion was the same.” He looked away for a few seconds and then nodded his head, “I think it’s entirely possible, but again, that’s based on just a few quick seconds.”
“So what happened after you saw them get into the van?”
“They pulled out and turned to their right, my left, went down the alley, and that’s the last I saw of them.”
“What did you do next?’
“I went back to eating my sandwich and then….”
“The van blew,” Lich said.
“That’s right,” Ron said, mimicking the explosion with his hands. “Then I hear sirens, so I bailed.”
“You fuckin’ bailed?” Mac was incredulous. “You see this and you fuckin’ bail?”
“There’s a reason for that,” Charlie interjected. “He has orders from me to avoid contact with the police at all costs.”
“It’s why I didn’t want Gerdtz and Subject here,” he answered. “Ron scouts for us. He’s unknown to my competition as well as the police. I want to keep it that way,” Charlie said. “I don’t want the authorities thinking I’m looking at moving into that area. I don’t want the police thinking I’m eyeing people up for a hit, because I’m not.”
“So why scout it?” Lich asked.
“I’m not interested in new territory. I am keenly interested in how they operate, what their strength is, what the quality of their shit is,” Charlie responded. “Minneapolis is rehabilitating Lake Street and the surrounding neighborhoods, pouring in tons of money, public and private. I mean, take a look at what they did to the old Sears building. It’s magnificent. Hell, I’ve got some money in the businesses going up. But with all that investment, the city will not stand for open drug-dealing down there. Those crews are eventually going to get pushed out. They gotta go somewhere, and every time turf gets shut down around the city, the guys who lose the turf come up to the north side and try to set up shop. I want to know what my people might be facing.”
“In other words, you want to know in advance who might need to be popped, eh?” Lich said bluntly. “I mean, we’re just talkin’ here, right?”
The drug lord shrugged his shoulders. “You don’t have to kill someone to make them go away,” Charlie said. “I prefer my people talk business without stickin’ a gun in someone’s face. I get a read on someone before they come up here, then my people will know what’s coming and how best to handle it. You end up with less trouble this way. There’s crews that have come up here, moved into my area, and after a little talk, have gone to work for me. There were others that,” Charlie shrugged, “didn’t make the cut.”
Mac nodded and gestured to the scout. “And Ron here let’s you know what you’ll be up against.”
“That’s right,” Ron said. He sat back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other and lighting a cigar, talking as if Charlie’s place was his private office. “I spend a week or two roaming around, making some buys, sizing up the crews, evaluating how they operate, and getting a sense of how they’ll tool up if they moved here.”
“I get all that,” Mac answered. “But still, you see those two vans, one blows up and these kidnappings are all over the news and yet you don’t….”
“I didn’t know about the kidnappings,” Ron answered. “Not until tonight.”
“How is that possible?” Lich asked. “It’s been all over the news.”
“When I go undercover, I go undercover,” Ron replied, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m walking around twenty-four seven doing the junkie thing. I watch these crews until late into the night; sleep in a vacant house, under a bridge or overpass, looking all the part of a junkie. I’m not watching the news, reading a paper, monitoring the Internet. A junkie doesn’t do that, so I don’t. I’m a junkie when I’m scouting, the only difference being I don’t use what I buy.”
“No cell phone?” Lich asked.
“Nope,” Mac answered before Ron, knowing the answer. “Police could be listening to cell phones.”
“Correct,” Charlie added. “Cell phones and the drug business do not mix.”
“So how is it then,” Mac asked. “That Ron comes to us now?”
“I put word out after our meeting the other night for our people to keep their eyes open. Word went out face-to-face. It’s old fashioned I know, but safe. My guys are out driving around, talking to our crews and spreading the word that way. Because of that, word didn’t get to Ron until after dark tonight. And when it did, he immediately said he needed to see me. Once he told me what he’s just told you, I made the call.”
Mac looked at his watch, now 4:10 AM, and yawned. The hours were catching up to him. He looked back at Ron, relaxing back in the chair, smoking his cigar. If it weren’t for the clothes, you’d think the only thing missing was a snifter of brandy.
“So Ron, where’d you go to school?”
Ron smiled. “I suppose I blew my cover, huh? I was in the Army out of high school. After I got out, I used the GI Bill to pay for college. I was a business major at Minnesota State - Mankato. After I graduated, I went to work for Charlie in his real estate business.”
“How’d you end up as a scout then?”
“I had the Army background, and Charlie asked me to put it to use. It’s a little dangerous; mind you, but kind of fun as well. Lets me feel like I’m working recon again.”
“You don’t have a problem with the drug trade?” Mac asked, interested.
“Maybe a little, but I get an adrenaline rush from doing it,” Ron said, and then smiled. “Plus, I get hazard pay for this, which is more than I get paid for real estate work.”
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