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‘Chase’ Chapters 9-12


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CHAPTER 9

THE NEXT DAY I was back at Holy Name, doing my best to dodge basketballs and screaming grammar school tweens during lunch yard duty when I got a call on my cell phone from an unknown number.

“Hello, Detective. My name is Len Brimer. I write for the Daily News. I was given your number by a woman from your squad.”

“Yeah, sorry, Len,” I said, as I pulled my old friend hyperactive Henry down from where he was trying to climb the yard’s chain-link fence. “No comment for now. I’m still trying to run down some leads.”

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“No, you don’t understand. I’m not calling as a reporter. I’m actually involved in the case. At least, maybe. That jumper from the hotel? I think I was on my way to meet him before he died.”

“What do you mean, you think?”

“It’s a kind of a long story. We should meet.”

Twenty minutes later, I got out of my unmarked Chevy on 30th near Eighth, where several huge flocks of pigeons were dive-bombing between the old concrete office buildings of south Midtown.

Before Alfred Hitchcock could show up, I crossed the sidewalk to a Garment District pub called The Liffey. Brimer showed up a little later. He was a tall dude, six four, six five; in his thirties; balding but athletic-looking. Wearing black wind pants and a gray Hofstra hoodie, he looked like a basketball coach.

“Okay, Detective, here’s what happened,” Len Brimer began after we were seated in a booth. “So I’m out at Citi Field trying to get in to see the general manager about the Campbell trade, and I get a call. The guy calls himself Charlie, and he tells me he’s an old friend of my younger brother, Adam. He tells me he was in Adam’s frat at Syracuse ten years ago, and that Adam had told him about me. That I was a reporter or whatever.”

“That sounds weird enough,” I said as the waitress brought me a Bud Light pint.

“It gets weirder,” Brimer said. “So this guy, Charlie, said he had a huge story about the government that he wanted to tell the press, but that he didn’t know anyone in New York or trust any reporters. He said he knew Adam was a great guy and that he had spoken highly of me so he was wondering if I could help him.”

“A huge story about the government? Like a whistle-blower sort of thing?” I said.

“He was vague, but that was the kind of gist I got,” Brimer said, nodding. “I told him that really wasn’t my bag, and I could refer him to some good guys I knew, but he said no. That it had to be me. And also not to tell a soul. He was adamant about that. He sounded pretty paranoid.”

“Did he have any sort of accent? From New York, you think?”

“Maybe not New York, but he sounded normal. Like anybody. Definitely American. He sounded sane but worked up, so I finally said okay, and we set up a meeting at Index House on the West Side.”

“Then what happened?”

“So I go there and nothing. He told me he was a tall guy with black hair, but as I head into the bar where he said to meet, I don’t see him. I talked to the bartender. She said she remembered him, but he left. I even spoke to the desk clerk to see if he’d left a message. But there was nothing.”

“What time did you get there?”

“9:40. 9:50.”

“Yeah, we think he was already dead by then.”

“I knew it,” Brimer said, scrunching his face as he stared down at the table. “I tell ya, I feel like crap. Instead of heading straight there, I waited for the Mets’ GM and then the cab in from Flushing got stuck in traffic. Then when I heard about the jumper, I thought, wait a second, was it this guy who called me?”

“Did you speak to your brother about any Charlie in his frat?”

“I did. Adam knew lots of people in his frat, he’s still in contact with a bunch of them on Facebook and LinkedIn, but he can’t think of anyone named Charlie.”

So now our mystery man was some kind of whistle-blower?

I looked out the window, watching the birds looping above Eighth, my mind turning over the false names and the twenty-four numbers in the man’s stomach.

 

CHAPTER 10

DEVINE SAT IN the backseat of the rental Nissan truck on Eighth, staring out the tinted back window at the bar that the cop had gone into. He might have seen him at the window, but it was pretty foggy.

It didn’t matter. Therkelson was on it. He had gone in five minutes after him and recorded the cop and reporter’s whole convo with the shotgun mike in his duffel bag. Devine had listened in, and he was pretty pumped. Because overall, it seemed like they were good. That Pretty Boy had contacted a reporter could have been very bad, but they had taken him out in time.

The reporter didn’t know anything, and neither, apparently, did the clueless cop.

They had even found what they were looking for on the notes on Pretty Boy’s phone. The green light was staying green. The Pretty Boy problem had been solved. The boss man was going to like this little turn of events.

Devine smiled as he took another dainty, savoring spoonful of the fig-and-goat-milk ice cream they’d gotten from a trendy place on East Broadway, Ice & Vice.

He’d bought the latest Zagat’s foodie guide when they got into town. When they weren’t working, he and Therkelson had been hitting all the newest and coolest eateries. Dinner was going to be parrilladas mixtas from some happening Tex-Mex joint called Javelina in Union Square. He couldn’t wait.

He knew a little about food. How to actually prepare and cook it instead of just ramming it into your piehole like mail into a mailbox, the way Therkelson did. Growing up, his grandfather owned the second-best diner in Dyersburg, Tennessee. By thirteen, he was working behind the flat top, cracking eggs two at a time for the truck drivers and line workers from the stove factory just across the interstate.

Might have been a cook. Maybe even a frou-frou New York jackhole celebrity one. Except Pop-Pop died and his grandma sold The Spoon—officially called the Wood N Spoon Diner, but everybody just called it The Spoon.

Therkelson opened the door and got into the driver’s seat in a hurry. “Hey, snap out of it, Devine,” he said, starting the truck.

“We got movement. They’re coming out. Should we follow the reporter or the cop?”

“The cop, of course,” Devine said, scraping ice cream off the wax cup. “Stay on the cop. The reporter doesn’t know his ass from his elbow.”

 

CHAPTER 11

FOLLOWING MY AFTERNOON meeting with Len Brimer, I went back to the Major Case squad room. Parked in my cubicle, I was drinking a Diet Mountain Dew and polishing off the last crumbs of a Cronut when I received an email from the hotel with the additional footage I had requested.

With the new whistle-blower angle Brimer had told me about still fresh in my mind, I wanted to take a closer look at the other two guys who’d been in the bathroom with our mysterious John Doe.

I watched the video over and over again. John Doe goes in, followed by a big blond dude and a shorter guy with dark hair. The short guy waits in the hall. As I looked more carefully, I noticed the short guy in the hall checked his watch twice before going in. I also noticed the way he was standing in the hall, head slowly swiveling back and forth like a guard or a sentry. As if maybe he knew that his big buddy was dealing with John Doe and was making sure no one intervened.

After John Doe came out, the expression on his face might not have been embarrassment at throwing up, but panic after barely fighting off two attackers. The two guys who came out about a minute after him didn’t look too beat-up, I saw, as I let the tape run on. But the quick, determined way they split, the short one going to the front desk and elevator bank as the other bigger guy headed up the back stairwell following John Doe, was definitely of note.

About seven minutes later, the big blond guy came back out of the rear stairwell, met up with the short guy, and then they left.

I thought about that. Two men go into the back stairwell that leads to the roof and only one leaves seven minutes later? I couldn’t say for sure if the blond guy had thrown our John Doe off the roof, but I couldn’t rule it out.

I was still sitting there letting these new concerns sink in when my desk phone rang with a muffled chirp.

“Mike, I don’t know how you jumped the line,” Medical Examiner Dr. Linder said in my ear. “But in my hand, I hold the hot-off-the-press report from our latent lab. Today’s your lucky day, Mike. You have a hit on your mystery man jumper.”

“Tell me this isn’t a practical joke. What’s his name?”

“One Stephen Eardley,” she said. “It says here, he’s in the Air Force. His prints actually came from the FBI database off his 2001 Armed Forces application. I’ll email the whole report to you just as soon as I’m done scanning it.”

“You’re the best. I owe you, Clarissa. Talk to you later,” I said, already bringing up a search engine to find Stephen Eardley.

As soon as I hit Enter, my jaw fell open. I collapsed back into my office chair in wide-eyed wonder as the search results continued.

I didn’t think this case could get any stranger, but it had. I clicked the first link and read a news article from the Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner dated May 20, 2007.

 

LOCAL HERO DIES IN IRAQ

The small town of Liberty in northwestern Ogden Valley is in mourning today as a native son, Air Force pilot Stephen Eardley, was put to rest at the Liberty Cemetery. Eardley, who played football and baseball at Weber High in Pleasant View, was killed in action on Friday, May 3, 2007, when his C-130 aircraft crashed thirty-six minutes after takeoff from Balad Air Base in northern Iraq.

An on-board flight fire that was speculated to have been caused by an electrical short circuit forced Eardley to attempt a crash landing. The pilot was trying to lose altitude quickly in a maneuver known as a side slip when the plane went out of control, inverted, and crashed in the desert. Eardley, a five-year veteran pilot attached to the elite Air Force Special Operations Command, was thirty-two years old.

 

Killed in action! I thought, as I sat there grabbing the sides of my head. How? How the heck could that be?

How could Eardley be killed in action in a plane crash in the Iraq desert in 2007, and then end up dead again in Midtown Manhattan?

 

CHAPTER 12

EARLY THE NEXT morning, I was sitting in the crowded business section of a southbound Acela Amtrak train, checking my email between sips of an iced Americano as southern New Jersey streaked past the window beside me.

The high-test coffee was entirely necessary. I’d been up half the night fielding calls as the lid officially blew sheer off the top of my case.

After several phone calls to three different FBI officials of increasing rank, I’d learned that the newspaper article on Eardley was correct. According to Air Force records, Stephen Eardley was KIA in a military plane crash in Iraq in 2007.

Which one would think was nuts enough. But it got more complicated.

Because Eardley had been supposedly killed in a military plane crash in Iraq in ’07 during a classified mission.

That was why I was heading down to Washington, DC, this rainy gray morning. Since I didn’t have intelligence clearance, I was told the best way to make headway into Eardley’s death was to contact military intelligence personnel in DC—off the record.

Though a so-called legal Chinese wall separates the intel community from domestic law enforcement, I’d learned that unofficial exceptions are sometimes made for compelling reasons. Especially if there is anonymity and all parties are sufficiently discreet.

Classified intel and Chinese walls, I thought, putting away my phone to look out the train window at the wet trees and old brick factories blurring past. Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, I go.

Just after ten thirty I got off the train. I found myself smiling despite the rain when I saw the liaison the Bureau had sent to guide me around the Beltway. Waiting in a blue fed car for me, outside the magnificent dripping arches of Union Station, was none other than my good buddy FBI Special Agent Emily Parker.

Parker and I had been on several high-profile cases together, including a series of kidnappings of rich kids up in New York. We’d come close a few times to romantic involvement. It never worked out, yet amazingly, we still liked and talked to each other.

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“No bag, I see. Just a briefcase. You pack light,” Emily said, after she gave me a hug of greeting.

“Yeah, well, with all the warnings about the stonewalling I’m about to receive from Washington officials, I figured this might be a brief trip.”

“Well, we’ll see about that, Mike. I’ve been asking around all morning. I actually have a few leads we can try.”

“Has there ever been something like this before, to your knowledge?” I asked as Parker pulled out and cruised us down a busy avenue past the nearby Capitol.

“Something like what?”

“Somebody faking being killed in action, ending up actually alive?”

“Not that I’ve ever heard of,” Emily said. “Desertions, sure, but walking away from a maybe deliberately downed fifty-million-dollar military aircraft? That’s a whole different ball of wax.”

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