One Dead Friend Deserves Another
When Arnold Dover, chief counsel to the Los Alamos National Security, LCC, arrived at the remote warehouse with the tribal police, my operation, known as the Seven Dwarfs, was blown. Five of the seven scientists I had recruited from the super secret labs were swept up: Happy, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful and Sleepy. The three Pueblo Indians who kidnapped me, beat me, stole my car, and hid me here in this rank warehouse were also handcuffed and placed into custody.
Luckily, the warehouse, which contained drums of ammonium nitrate, the cat-piss smelling fertilizer used to build bombs, didn’t explode, as I had feared. I figured blowing up the place with us in it would cover Chief Counsel Arnold Dover’s tracks. The “accident” would have been the perfect conclusion to the lawyer’s elaborate snare, which caught us all at once, the Pueblo’s revolutionary guard, the scientists at the lab trying to get the truth out, and me, the spy.
So shaken was I at Dover’s arrival with the cops in tow that I didn’t register the entrance of the Sixth Dwarf, Brock Davidson, who was by Dover’s side.
Once, Davidson had been a super-staffer on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, their “topper.” I counted him as a colleague and a friend. And I thought he had died in The Detonation. I had mourned for him. Maybe that’s why I didn’t recognize him, despite his unusual stork-like bearing and semaphore-like mannerisms. At that blurry moment, concussive moment, he may as well have been a beaky Marabou stork, the undertaker bird.
The fog of mayhem grew louder and more confusing to me as the police took up positions. I didn’t realize at that moment I had suffered a concussion. I recall the ensuing events as still photos and YouTube downloads. Back of my eyelids, There were countless black-and-white images of the tribal police bursting into the warehouse. I’ve got a slide-show in my memory of a K9 German Shepherd called Mako — after the shark — unleashed. How I learned the dog’s name I will never know. I’ve got an earworm podcast running through my head that starts with someone screaming on the sound track. There’s yelling. Perhaps a gun shot. I had a terrific headache. Some parts of my memory ran videos on a tiny smartphone screen: A cop wielding a Glock shouting at Elvis the Pueblo Indian to Put your weapon down! It looked to me like the warehouse knocked him over by tilting and spinning. The sound of his skull bonking off the stone-hard gray floor echoed like an empty gourde. That was the instant Mako the shark dog reached him, slowing and stalking over him thoughtfully. Elvis screamed. But the dog was unmoved. The animal walked the length of Elvis’s body from toe to throat until he stood astride his face. Drooling on Elvis’s Ray-Bans, Mako nudged the Dodger’s ball cap off his head and began lapping his forehead. Maybe they were old friends.
When the big space was secured by the cops, Dover approach me and took my arm. “You don’t look well,” he said and called to a police officer, “He’s one of us.” I didn’t argue. He introduced me to his bird-like “colleague,” Brock Davidson who said, “Hello Jackson.”
I didn’t blink. “You’re alive.” Seeing Davidson again, alive, was like a plunge through the glassworks of my nervous system. It was shattering, but I didn’t want him to see that.
“You’re bleeding,” he replied. He looked pale and strained, but my head was rippling from the concussion, which means I wouldn’t bet on my memory of the moment. He looked at me over the top of his round reading glasses.
“Still wearing the same peepers?” I asked, as if this were any other day.
“Peeper? Christ, what era are you living in?”
“New. You should be more observant.”
“There you go, my pretty.”
“Don’t you belong somewhere else?”
He lifted his brow and formed a neat row of lines across his forehead. “Business, calls.”
“I like business stories. Tell me about it.” Davidson was a big fish. Before The Detonation, he had been in line to run the CIA. See him like this was more surprising than moving, at least in my state.
“You need a tune up.”
“We can talk over lunch.”
He looked at his watch. I am tall, but he is taller, always well dressed, crisp, alert. Dover took a step backward, trying to see the both of us at once, seemingly surprised at the match.
What was Davidson doing with Dover, and why was Davidson in New Mexico when he should be at the agency’s alternate location at the Biltmore in Asheville?
“I can vouch for this man,” the stork said. He spoke with authority. I thought I heard a beak clack. His head swiveled to take in the room, snapping left and right, this angle and that angle, like a bird of prey.
I turned to my Seven Dwarfs and saw Alessandra Almont, the radiochemist and candidate for the Nobel Prize, get cuffed. She looked at me sharply, as if I were to blame. Jeff Berger, her long-haired consort and colleague, offered up his hands to be cuffed. He looked wrung out, sleepy, a wet shirt hanging from a clothesline. Tom Grant, the cantankerous bow-tied genius of exotic explosives, flicked his eyes over me, narrowing them with growing contempt. Ted “Doc” Exner, the renown miniaturizer of nuclear weapons, took it all in with curiosity. He held up his handcuffs for all to see, big grin on his face. The man was clueless. Link Sutton, the man in charge of one of the most important weapon’s forensics programs at the labs stared down at his handcuffs, the muscles in his jaw doing pushups.
Which one would betray me? Grumpy Grant was my guess. He could sell me out and possibly save himself. Sutton would back him.
“Give it time,” I mumbled.
“What are you talking about?” Davidson’s voice was sharp, almost angry.
“Thinking out loud.”
“If that’s thinking, give it another shot,” Davidson suggested.
Dover smiled at the two of us. “You didn’t mention that you knew Jackson.” He spoke with surprise and delight, but his eyes wrinkled with confusion.
“We go back a long way.” Davidson looked at me, his stare as blank as a man watching a spider climb a wall. “Captain Mendez?” He raised his voice, turning from me to the police chief, a man dressed in full tactical gear. “I’ll take care of this gentleman.” He wrapped his hand lightly around by biceps and spoke to me softly, reassuringly. “I am not the Kestrel, Jackson.”
“Glad to hear it.” What the fuck was a Kestrel?
He squinted at me. “You haven’t heard about the Kestrel, have you?”
“You mean the little falcon.”
“Maybe it’s the wound. You don’t look so very well Jack.” He tugged gently at my arm, turning me to see where the blood had clotted at the back of my skull. I felt him search around my stiffened hair.
“I’m a little dizzy,” I said. “What’s the Kestrel thing?”
“Quiet down. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“I need my phone,” Davidson and Dover exchanged glances. Dover began to speak with the police chief, but the leader of the Pueblos, a man I called Red Face because his wore war paint, cut them short. “I’ve got it,” he said, “right here in my jeans pocket.”
“That would include a wallet,” I said.
The cop took the phone and the wallet from Red Face. I feared Red Face would mention the money, the fifties, and I wondered how he would explain that.
“Using disposable phones, Jackson?” Davidson observed. “Why would that be?”
He was on to me. “I’m being followed,” I told him. If all else fails, and you’ve stopped smoking cigarettes, you’re only alternative is bullshit.
“Followed?” He feigned alarm.
“Arabs.” I looked at my wallet. The fifties were there.
“Why?” Now he faked interest but didn’t take the bait.
“They think I know too much.”
He raised his eye brows, scrutinizing my face. “Back to this again?”
I kept covering my tracks. “Arabs and Iranians.” The more elaborate the lie the better, although you could easily trap yourself in the complexity. “I need my car.”
The police chief who had been hanging close to the three of us broke the spell. “Car stays here with us,” he said, “you understand that?”
“It’s my car,” I replied, sounding plaintive, innocent. That drew a look of distress from Davidson. I turned to him. “I’ve got a bottle of Jameson in the trunk.” He smiled. That cleared things up for him. I’m known for my love of drink.
“Crime scene,” Dover said, “right chief?” As a lawyer, Dover was either being earnest fellow or playing toady.
“Serious crime scene. I don’t want anything contaminated.”
“I’m surprised the FBI hasn’t arrived,” Davidson said.
“For now, this is mine.”
Davidson was right. Why hadn’t dover pulled the FBI in on his sting?
The chief looked at me. “You gonna press charges?” Pressing charges, I knew, meant choosing sides against my own people, my Seven Dwarfs.
Just there on the couch was a pottery box with a SIM card inside. My purpose for visiting the Pueblo. “Not just yet,” I told him. The SIM card held evidence against the management at Los Alamos which was holding back data on The Detonation. I dragged my tongue around my cheek. I was still acutely aware of the shredded flesh from the bullet wounds I had received in the autumn. It distracted me. “I want to keep my powder dry,” I added. “Maybe I’ll press charges later.”
“No hurry.” He seemed a little too agreeable. Dover looked on nodding his head, as if his actors were keeping to the script.
“Mind if I grab that?” I pointed to the box with the SIM card and started walking to the sofa. No one objected. As I past Tom Grant, I said, quietly, “I’ll take care of this.” I turned to Link, “I swear.”
“What’s that you said?” a young SWAT cop asked.
“I said, ‘Take care. I’m outta here.’”
He wasn’t entirely satisfied with the explanation.
Alessandra called after me. “Enjoy your clay pot.”
Was she signaling? “It’s a beautiful piece.”
“Save your money,” she replied. Her brow knit into a stitch of anger. “The price of pottery is getting a little high.”
I ignored her. My mind had turned to Davidson’s Kestrel.
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