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A novel by
Copyright © 2011 by Steve Nyman
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Writing is hard work. Creating the story and characters is fun, as the ideas flow from mind to paper quickly. It’s the editing that’s difficult. To the many readers who provided valuable feedback and critical commentary, I thank you for your candor, as it helped me improve my work.
In life, we are a product of our experiences, and an author’s writing reflects this. I am fortunate to have been surrounded by many wonderful people who have enriched my life. My FBI colleagues and United States Navy shipmates, who always have my back, are the best of the best. My Annapolis classmates are pure gold. My parents, Robert and Florence, nurtured me and my sisters in a loving home, with the guidance and support all children should have.
My children, Andrew, Claire, Amy, Douglas, Emily, daughter-in-law Stephanie, my sisters Judy and Debbie, all helped with the editing. My brother-in-law Ed Snyder, a gifted cartoonist, with a flair for telling a story, provided invaluable creative suggestions.
I am especially grateful to my beautiful wife, Rosemary, for her unwavering support, encouragement, and love. Rose is my inspiration. She is my best friend.
The new Chief Justice, James Bainbridge, was handed a bag of worms. No, worse than that. And, to think, he was so elated with his new title…he worked hard for this minute, well, not THIS minute, but for the minute that ticked by an hour earlier…the swearing in, in front of his wife, his children…his Mom. God, his Dad would have loved this! It was a dream, a family dream come true. The people who sacrificed for this moment. The work, the sweat, the clawing to the top…all for this. And, as exciting as that moment was, reality came crashing down. A bag of worms. It started just as he thought it would - all of the mumbo jumbo that he expected…all of the 'secrets'…known only to the Chief Justice, well, the Chief Justice and every single Justice of the Court, aide, intern, and assistant that had ever climbed the steps to the Court. There were no secrets here. Nine people are on stage. Nine people put their names to the decisions, but those nine are just the face of the dozens of dedicated legal minds, the law clerks, that do the bulk of the work. Some of the best minds we have in this country. The best educated, from the finest schools, and the really ambitious ones from lesser institutions. All willing to work more hours in a day than God planned for most of us. And, that formula is ripe for the palace coup that is constantly the dance of the day in the Court. Who knows what, from what source, and who knows who, and who will tell? And, telling secrets has been something that paid off big, always! It has been going on since the days of Justice John Jay. And, to that end, he made sure he knew it all, and then some. After all, how could he expect to rise to the top, if he didn't position himself properly? And, his staff will be well compensated for helping with the extra push at the end. Secrets? Not likely.
But, suddenly, it was as if the floor had fallen out from under him. A bag of worms. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. At first, he was sure it was a joke, despite the fact his predecessor was as serious a man as he had ever met. Never saw a smile cross that old wrinkled face. It had to be a prank, a little Supreme Court humor, at the expense of the new guy. But, when the bag of worms was handed to him, although he felt “pawned off on him,” better described it, he knew. No joke. Damn! All that work…for this?
How could this be allowed to continue? One guy with such power, elected by no one? Just some dude? What the hell? How could it have been allowed at all? Was this going to be his legacy, to allow this to continue, or stop it, and expose every Chief Justice, all 17, forever tainting the institution? The other Chiefs, they didn't have to serve in these, more complicated and dangerous times. Does anyone with a clear head think Alexander Hamilton would have thought about computers, Facebook or news stations 24 -7? Who would think that…and where’s it headed from here? Congratulations, Chief Freakin’ Justice…here is your bag of worms. Bainbridge hated the guy before he even met him…and thought about how he would get this bag of worms to go away…
* * *
“Lorna! Hey Lorna! Can’t find my brief case.”
“Where’d you last open it, James? Did you check the study? That’s where everything turns up.” Sipping tea from fine china, she smiled affectionately at her slightly absent minded husband. He was certainly older, but always the dashing high school athlete in her mind’s eye. Lorna loved relaxing on the wicker settee in the corner of the old wooden porch. The sweeping deck with sturdy gray wooden planks, contrasted by shiny white railing and steps descended gracefully to a beautiful garden, protected by old South Carolina oaks. Heavy oak boughs, draped with Spanish moss, shaded the front yard. The study of the old colonial home was the catch-all for everything, his papers, cell phone, even his damn golf clubs. I mean, who keeps golf clubs in their study? A retired Army General does, because, he is entitled to do whatever he wants, well, as long as the politicians don’t catch wind of it.
“Thanks, honey, yup, that’s where it’ll be,” he muttered as he started climbing the creaky steps to the top floor of the old stately colonial home, his right hand gliding over the highly polished mahogany banister. He tried to put some spring in his step, but his mood, and arthritis, wouldn’t cooperate. James Howell was tired, not from the daily routine, but from the constant fight with his conscience. The door to the study was down the hall, past Lorna’s sewing room, where many a quilt and scarf had been lovingly crafted by his beautiful wife of 40 years. His study was for more serious endeavors. Lorna would quilt away for hours, Broadway show tunes keeping her company, while James would tend to business down the hall, recordings of the New York Philharmonic reverberating through the room. But, despite their different taste in music, they were kindred spirits since high school, before James went off to college, and the army. James paused for a few minutes to reminisce over the days he courted Lorna. They were only 16, but he loved her the minute he saw her beautiful form across the gymnasium at a basketball game, her pretty hair and soft face overwhelmed him. He felt a bit weak in the knees when he finally found the strength to walk over and say hello to the prettiest girl he had ever seen. She pretended not to notice, but he found out otherwise, as their relationship blossomed during those carefree days. He wished they were back in that gym, before the world grew so serious. Now, he only had memories. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find the magic anymore, even though Lorna was right down the hall. Don’t get me wrong, he still felt romance for her, but he had difficulty acting on it, or anything else. Clinical depression, perhaps? Probably. But, Zoloft wasn’t fixing this problem. He was strong, both physically and mentally, but for some reason, couldn’t dismiss everyday troubles for the love of his wife. Lorna had a penchant for seeing the good in everyone, and everything. Unfortunately, James, as devoted and loving as he was, could not. Lorna kept the spark for both of them, always hopeful.
As Lorna finished her tea, she heard the squeak of the old screen door. She carefully placed the delicate china tea cup in its saucer, looked up with a smile, knowing her beau would sit down next to her. James ambled on to the wooden porch and sat next to Lorna, placing his arm tenderly around her shoulders. She instinctively rested the side of her soft face on to his upper arm, feeling the warmth and comfort.
“So, honey, let’s go out to dinner. I have the business trip tomorrow and won’t be home for a few days.”
“Great idea. You seem in a good mood, is this the deal you’ve been talking about?”
“Kind of…I think so. I’ve been looking to put the past behind me, and this could do it. I have a score to settle, ya know.”
Lorna sat back up, sighed quietly, and gazed into James’ eyes. She was worried about him, and tiring of the vendetta. It was draining.
“Nothing ever erases the past, James. We just have to move forward, enjoy the present and dream of the future. We have a lot to be thankful for.” Lorna always hoped her advice would sink in, but she knew better.
“I know, honey. You’re right, you’re always right! I need to let it go, but every time I think I’ve kicked it loose, it comes back. A lot of people died.”
“James, please! You did your best, they knew the risks.” Lorna continued to try to assuage her lover’s guilt.
“I guess so…you’re right, I know.” He leaned into Lorna’s soft shoulder, his gray head of hair against her neck. “You’re my sweetheart, I love you so.” A few tears welling up in his eyes. He knew he had to seek vengeance. It was the only way. Lorna hugged him, kissing his face lightly.
“James you’re my hero, since high school.”
They embraced, and snuggled with each other as the sun set behind the oaks.
* * *
The computer screen left a glow in the darkened study. With Lorna already in bed, James sat comfortably in his overstuffed chair, surrounded by the original old clapboard walls, covered with commemorative plaques celebrating his 35 years in the Army. He retired a brigadier general, certainly a noteworthy accomplishment. But, there was nothing on the wall celebrating his highest rank, lieutenant general. He had been forced to retire, busted to brigadier. He was lucky. Some of the brass thought he should be in Leavenworth, instead of the comfortable old home in Charleston. The General remained bitter, resentful over the pencil pushing bureaucrats who determined his fate. Yeah, soldiers died. Always tragic, but, nowadays, the politicians wanted bloodless war, impersonal, neat, and quick. Yet, the assholes created the mess, expecting Generals to clean it up…quietly, with minimal casualties. No, not what you’re thinking. Sure, they wanted few American casualties, but, more importantly, fewer enemy losses. That’s right, keep a lid on enemy civilian casualties, less collateral damage. Translation: fight carefully, not fiercely. He scanned his Inbox, quickly deleting the spam promising free vacations and cheap Viagra, and opened a message from FEDEX.COM.
The email itself contained a tracking number and delivery date. But James wasn’t interested in that. He opened the file attachment, but all he could see were random characters and symbols, which were unintelligible. He grew impatient, muttering under his breath, “Damn thing is so freakin’ slow.” But, the message unscrambled, the military encryption software, illegally obtained, did the trick. The General would stop at nothing. He was willing to break any law to do what had to be done. He was gonna get even, no matter what.
Howell carefully read the email:
We move 3 clients in 30 days. Locations as planned. We require all our furniture to be delivered and available upon arrival. Please advise earliest.
Corporate Relocations Inc.
Howell nodded his approval and quickly replied:
Furniture procured and will be delivered
on time. Storage arranged as per
earlier communication. Here are your
Invoice numbers: 9361 and 471046
Per prior instructions, confirmation numbers will be sent once funds are remitted via wire to our banks. Kindly advise when paid.
A new email arrived, from his old Army command, subject ‘Reunion’. He was happy to hear from old Army buddies, especially since few stayed in contact anymore. But, it was blank, no message. At first he thought it a cruel joke, but dismissed his paranoia, reassured they’d email again. It was 3am as he shut down the PC, and walked softly upstairs to the bedroom, where Lorna lay sleeping. The General softened as he smiled lovingly at his beautiful Lorna. She always stood by him. Without her love, and inner strength, he never would have survived the Army. He carefully moved towards their massive king bed, resisting the temptation to slide beneath the covers on her side, as he used to do when they were younger. He didn’t want to disturb her, and, he needed sleep before catching an early flight to NY. He loved Lorna, but was a troubled soul. Angry, vengeful, torn up, but too prideful to let it go, “Closin’ the loop tomorrow,” he thought as he drifted off to sleep, lightly touching his sweet angel with his arm. “Finally, closin’ the loop.” Retribution was within reach.
* * *
The crisp spring air mixed with the bright sunshine, creating a beautiful early morning scene. Robert Allan walked briskly up 7th Avenue after emerging from Penn Station beneath New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden. It was 7:30 am, and the streets were crowded with rushing commuters, scurrying along the sidewalk, dodging one another, all jockeying for position in the struggle to get to work. Bob, as he preferred to be known by his friends, though he had few, was moving quickly along the sidewalk. At age 60, he was still in terrific shape, carrying his large six foot two inch frame at a very deliberate pace. He weaved through the moving crowd, his navy blue cashmere overcoat, open, swinging from side to side, as he passed the others along the route, dodging street vendors and panhandlers. He almost spilled his coffee as a hot dog vendor rumbled by, pushing a rickety aluminum Sabrett hot dog cart across his path. Bob loved those “dirty water dawgs”, hot, spicy, and cheap, so he resisted giving the street-wise vendor the finger for almost dumping his “cup o’ joe” all over 7th Avenue. The absence of the street gesture was appreciated by the hot dog guy, fully expecting it for failing to yield, each nodding angrily, but respectfully, if only for a split second. This is New York City…no time to spare for Midwest pleasantries. Bob regained his footing, resumed sipping coffee, the sections of concrete passing beneath his stride. He regained focus, so much so, he didn’t take time to enjoy the landscape of pretty young women walking casually nearby. Normally, he would have slowed to enjoy the coffee, and gaze upon the more attractive scenes of the city, but not today.
He had to close the deal. This was it, and Bob knew there would be serious repercussions if he failed to keep his appointment. Rounding the corner of 34th street, he headed east, towards the Empire State building. He looked towards the sky, hoping to see the needle-like top of the nation’s second largest building, but he was too close to the structure. Walking quickly, checking his watch constantly as he approached the 34th street entrance, along with hundreds of others streaming into the office building, the revolving doors in constant rotation, seemingly gathering people from the street, depositing them into the large lobby. Bob wanted to time the meeting perfectly. He had to be in office 8101 at precisely 8:00 am. General James Howell, and Tom Newberg, would be meeting at 8 and he wanted to be there for the very start. He found the elevator bank servicing the 81st floor, and waited for the next car with at least twenty others. “Bong!” The chime sounded, echoing through the lobby, as the green light illuminated brightly above one of the cars. Bob led the pack heading for the elevator. “Gotta make this car. Could be two or three wasted minutes until the next one.” He turned and hit the button for the 81st floor as he entered the car. Checking his watch as the car filled and the doors closed, it was 7:57. Timing looked good. In keeping with New York elevator etiquette, Bob stared straight ahead, gazing at the floor numbers whizzing by on the overhead display. But, as usual, there were a few passengers who were in their own world, trying to suck others into their lives, if only for a minute. “Hey, nice weather, how was your weekend?” Bob was briefly distracted as he looked in the guy’s direction for a split second, managing a wry smile and slight nod of the head. The guy shot back with a remark, “Wasn’t too good, huh?” Bob, now annoyed, flashed him an icy stare. “What’s not too good, pal?” he blurted, with an edge. Sensing the hostility, the friendly passenger laughed nervously, looked up at the floor indicator lights, and retreated into the commuter’s zone with everyone else. The elevator stopped at the 79th floor, and the last person in the car departed. It was 7:59. Bob was angry at the idiot who broke his concentration… “Damn tourist, probably from Iowa, or worse, a European. New Yorkers mind their own damn business.” Focused, he shook it off as the elevator jerked, proceeding to the 81st floor. Office 8110 was directly in front of him as he exited the elevator car, so he made a left in search of 8101. His pulse quickened as he approached the corner where the hall made a turn to the left. This was to be no ordinary meeting. 8101 was at the very end of the hall. It was 8 AM sharp as he stood directly in front of the door. He paused, listened for voices. He heard two men talking, one of the voices sounding familiar. Bob paused, took a deep breath, determined. “This is the hardest part of the job,” he thought. “But, it’s just business.” He entered the office at that moment, opening the door scanning the room quickly. It was a single large room, around 30 feet square, an oak conference table in the middle, surrounded by 8 chairs. A long matching credenza stretched across the back wall, beneath the picture windows showing off the breathtaking skyline below. Two men facing each other, a briefcase resting on a table between them, were the only ones in the room. Howell looked at Bob quizzically, then Newberg. Howell was an imposing figure, well dressed, distinguished, about 70. Newberg, in contrast, was much shorter, younger, street-wise.
“Damn it, Howell! What the hell is this?” shouted Newberg.
“I don’t know!” Howell yelled, while looking directly at Bob.
Upset turned to fear as Bob quickly drew a 9mm Glock automatic, pointed it at Howell, squeezing off two rounds, --thud thud--, the silencer muffling the shots that slammed into Howell’s forehead, the back of his head exploding into the wall, now bright red with blood spray, brain matter adhering to the white plaster. The General slid to the floor, life slipping away, final thoughts of the prettiest girl across the gymnasium fading, as his soul left this earth. Bob rapidly turned his attention away from the dying man and the cloud of gun smoke rising towards the ceiling. He crouched and wheeled to the right, firing three shots rapidly in succession at his next target, scrambling for the door. Newberg took only two steps, when he needed ten, the door at least 15 feet away. Thud thud thud—the slugs impacted the man, sheer terror in his doomed eyes, as if in a millionth of a second he knew his life was ending in 8101. The first round pierced the right side of his neck, instantly severing the carotid artery, spewing bright red blood everywhere. As Newberg brought his hands up to his throat, the next two rounds struck him in the head, the first entering his right ear, the last one in his right temple. He hit the floor hard, 10 feet from his killer, only seconds after Howell died in a heap on the other side of the room. Bob stood silently for a few seconds, dropped his head and wished it could’ve been handled differently.
General Howell was dead, killed unarmed, without any warning. Bob checked himself for blood spatter before grabbing the briefcase, quickly exiting the kill zone, the acrid smell of gunpowder and fresh blood making him nauseous, a feeling he had grown to ignore, as it would pass as quickly as it appeared. No one was in the hallway as he stood waiting for the elevator, his eyes darting around the perimeter of the ceiling, checking for security cameras. There weren’t any, a fact that was probably not lost on his dead victims when they planned their unfortunate meeting. His heart was pounding, but he was able to keep a calm outward appearance, “Damn clean hit. No witnesses… didn’t even ruin my new coat.” He needed to talk to himself, just to get back to reality. A shootout in an office building wasn’t real to him anymore, his sensibilities deadened by it all. As his pulse began to fall, his conscience made a brief appearance, spurred by his reflection in the shiny façade of the elevator doors…”Those bastards deserved it, but, I hate this job…I really do.” Bob disliked what he’d become, an instrument of death, without remorse. But, he loved the chase, and the challenge. He stepped into the elevator and descended from the carnage he left behind. No time to waste…he had another meeting. But, first, he decided to grab a hot dog and a Coke to relieve the stress.
* * *
The New York Dispatch was the city’s newest newspaper, having evolved from the tabloid tradition found in the many colorful newspapers in London. Sir Jon Lake, a British expatriate, founded the newspaper after a checkered career in British journalism. He had the connections, the title, and most important, the money. He lured many of the renowned investigative reporters from the major U.S. newspapers, especially the New York Post. Karen Reilly was his biggest prize, a young, attractive reporter, formerly of the Post, who was infamous for getting the most sensational stories no matter what the cost. Her six figure salary paled in comparison to various “extras” she received. She was controversial, pretty, and popular with the readership, despite her questionable reputation among the smug critics and professors of journalism. Karen was well aware of her status, and exploited it.
It was 10:00 am, and Karen picked up the phone to call one of her sources at One Police Plaza. She hoped to get some leads and a jump on the Empire State murder investigation. Pete was a good source. He was a detective, on the job for 10 years. If he wasn’t working the case, he’d reach out to his own sources. Pete answered his phone and was very helpful, explaining, other than the criminal record of Newberg, there was little evidence and no leads, with the exception of the routine security surveillance cameras in the lobby of the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, no security cameras existed on the 81st floor, certainly a fact the killer exploited. Since the killings happened early in the morning, before the throngs of commuters hit the lobby, the video pictures only had around twenty people using the one elevator bank serving the uppermost floors. Karen decided it was worth a shot to review the tape and see if she could work with the pictures of the people ascending to offices high in the building. Pete agreed to send a copy, but admonished Karen the video was provided “off the record”.
“Ok Pete. Send ‘em over.” Karen dropped the phone into its cradle, twisting about in her chair, staring out the office window, tapping her pencil against the corner of the desk while gazing upon the towering Empire State Building, its east side gleaming in the morning sun. Off the record, my ass. She thought about this emerging story, but so far there was nothing but a strange murder, certainly nothing new to New York. But generals aren’t murdered every day, and certainly not in the company of gun runners like Newberg. “Murder, but damn it, no sex angle,” she thought. But, Karen suspected sex in every story. Men in power always seemed to have a poor sense of fashion: can’t keep their pants on. She turned and faced her computer and began reading email for the long day’s work ahead. The first message was a reminder of a 2:00 meeting with Jack Kane, the editor. She groaned as she read it. She didn’t care for Kane. I mean, he was alright and all, not a bad guy, but he always lectured on procedure and ethics, as if he was too good for sensational stories that sold newspapers. She always felt he had no business working at a tabloid, should be at the Wall Street Journal. Despite her tendency for the salacious, she felt a need to expose the darker side of government, a newspaper tradition dating back to the American Revolution. She knew the public had a weak appetite for accuracy, and an insatiable desire for conspiracies, scandals, violence, and especially, sex. She was ready to deliver.
At 2:10 pm, Karen strolled into Jack Kane’s well- appointed office. She liked to be a little late, to set the tone. She glanced at the paunch and thinning hair of her boss as she moved towards his desk. His appearance suggested a lack of care, but he came across as a hardworking, veteran newspaperman, no polish, always professional. But she didn’t give a damn about any of that crap, always questioning his authority. It was a striking contrast, with Karen and Jack in the same room. Jack appreciated her youth, with a shape that turned heads. Her hair fell softly about her shoulders, and her bright eyes sparkled. She appeared soft, feminine, vulnerable, but was tougher than her curves suggested. Jack was visibly annoyed at her tardiness, as Karen expected…… and enjoyed. He was full of BS as far as she was concerned.
“The meeting was at 2, Karen. I mean, really, always late?”
“I know, sorry. Let’s get to it Jack, I have deadlines to meet,” she said with dismissive tone, a deliberate lack of contrition in her voice. She loved to remind him that it was she who was the writer, with all the real work to do.
“Yeah, yeah Karen. I know. I have deadlines, too. Sir John’s waiting for the schedule, and I’m the one who has to do it, so what’s on your desk?” throwing the ball
right back at her.
“I’m finishing up the piece on that Senator’s mistress. It will be ready by next week, plenty of time to make the deadline, assuming we don’t waste a lot of time in meetings.” Ouch, a shot directly at Jack. But she didn’t give a damn. She sat back in her chair, crossed her legs slowly without fixing her skirt, raising and sliding one shapely leg over the other. She watched Jack’s eyes as she moved, hoping to catch him stealing a glimpse. Karen drew her power from making men uncomfortable.
“Ok, just about an extramarital affair? Anything else?”
He stared into her eyes and smiled, ignoring her attempt at a seductive tease. He knew her too well, wasn’t taking the bait. She left her skirt askew as she replied. But Jack stayed focused on her eyes. He was no dope. Karen was a royal pain in the ass, but it was one of those aches you put up with, not in a masochistic way, but because he had no choice. There was a lot to gain with this pain.
“Yeah, of course. He’s corrupt to the bone. He’s using bribe money to keep his young slut in a penthouse apartment. The “honorable” Senator from New York has been selling influence to defense contractors.”
Jack nodded his head, showing approval. Sex is good.
“Okay, what’s next?”
“I am starting a piece on the IT industry. I have information that certain companies are overcharging customers, including the federal government, and pirating software.”
“Sounds pretty dry, Karen, especially for you.”
“Oh, don’t worry. There’s good dirt…great stuff.”
“Ok, anything else?”
“I called a source over at police plaza this morning about the murder of General Howell. They’re sending me some security camera video.”
“Interesting, but don’t piss off the cops.” He needed to keep the upper hand.
“Don’t sweat it Jack. For God’s sake, I work with the PD all the time!” a little agitated, face reddened.
“Relax, Karen. Calm down. Doctor’s advice, remember?”
“Yeah, you’re right. I need to chill.” But, no apology for the outburst. No way.
“Good, take it easy,” as he paused and sat back in his chair, ready to dispense a little advice and show some compassion.
“How ya feelin’? What’d the doc say about your fainting spell, just dehydration like you figured?”
“No big deal. I’m fine.” Karen shrugged off his concern. “Ran some tests, some heart palpitation, nothin’ to worry about, but suggested exercise…stop drinking and smoking. Yeah, no kidding! Cost me $300. Could’ve watched Oprah for that.” They both laughed, establishing a slight, if not brief, social connection.
“Glad to hear you’re ok,” pausing for a few seconds. Enough socializing, back to business, the veteran newsman remembering Karen was a pain in the ass. “But, back to this story. Be careful when dealing with the cops, ok?”
“Ok Jack. I get it. No worries.”
“Ok. We won’t worry about the General now. Let’s schedule a follow-up meeting for next week.”
“Ugh, another damn meeting,” she thought, as she stood up, smiled politely and left. She was determined to dig up all she could. She’d show Jack she could always stay a step ahead of him…… and the cops.
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