Authors: Kyle Mills
Tags: #Thrillers, #Government investigators, #Suspense, #Action & Adventure, #Fiction
"Would you back off?"
The voice was desperate, frustrated. An exaggerated whisper that was a little louder than a conversational tone but hadn't quite reached the resonance of a shout. Fred Clausen pinched his lips between his teeth and was forced to bite down fairly hard to keep from laughing. He took a step to the side and watched the concentration return to his partner's face as the young man tried again to shove the key in the lock.
The dented and only partially attached doorknob didn't seem to be in any danger of giving in, so Clausen leaned his back against the cinderblock wall and took some of the weight off his arthritic knees.
The faint light from the large neon sign at the other end of the parking lot flashed white then red, over and over again, giving an alternately angelic and devilish quality to his partner's expression as he continued to complete what should have been the simple task of opening Room Fourteen.
The architecture of the Pagoda Motel took a shot at Oriental but didn't quite make it--unless, of course, they had trailer parks in Peking.
Six detached buildings had been carefully lined up on a treeless expanse of asphalt at the edge of the city, separated from the street by nothing more than a barely noticeable seam where the blacktop of the parking lot met the blacktop of the road.
Clausen brought his wrist up close to his nose and had to wait a few seconds for a car to drive by and reflect enough headlight to defeat the gloom. His watch read eleven thirty-two. He should have been into bed listening to the pleasant rhythm of his wife's snoring a half-hour ago.
The light from the passing car had also been sufficient for his overly enthusiastic young ward to unlock the door and dive through. He reappeared a moment later, his face a mask of anger and purposefulness Clausen reluctantly bounced his back off the wall and shuffled past him into the stale-smelling belly of the room, his feet causing quiet crunching sounds as they found old food and God knew what else hid den in the thick red shag. He headed straight for the TV and flipped it on, then picked up the phone by the bed and used it to jab at a particularly dark and utterly unidentifiable stain on the bedspread. It didn't appear to be tacky, so Clausen dropped onto the bed while his partner jerked the curtains fully shut and put the stout leather bag he'd been carrying on the table under the window.
"What the hell are you doing? Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" Clausen grunted out, scooting to the bottom of the bed and using his toe to jab at the television's volume button. Soon the housewife on the screen was pitching her dish detergent at a decibel level that vibrated the ashtray on top of the set.
"I don't mean to bother you, Fred, but do I have to remind you that we have a job to do? Maybe you could find the strength to pitch in a little Clausen let his head loll over and he watched with feigned interest as his new partner cleared the pre drilled holes in the wall that separated the room they were in from the one next door. The kid was hopeless. He had the look: close-cropped hair, a body that was thin and ramrod straight, a grave, dignified expression that seemed to hang on at the corners of his eyes even on those rare occasions when he laughed.
And then there was the wardrobe. They were there to take dirty pictures of a guy in a hotel that rented rooms by the hour a casual dress affair if there ever was one. So what did he do to blend in? He took off his suit jacket and put on a blue windbreaker that looked suspiciously like it had been pressed.
Clausen had tried to teach the kid how to get by in today's FBI. How to swipe police collars and pad arrest numbers, how to suck up to the supervisors and ASACS everything he'd learned in his pleasantly uneventful twenty-five years in the Bureau. And what did he get for all that effort and goodwill? A cold stare. No future, this one. No future at all.
"Anything worth looking at?" Clausen said, struggling out of the pit in the center of the mattress and trying to ignore the pain in his lower extremities as he knelt down on the floor.
They'd been shadowing this high-society prick for three mind-numbing weeks now. Their orders had been explicit as to the high level of surveillance required, but had been cautiously vague when it came to things like what it was they were after. Now it looked like a light was about to dawn.
Clausen reached for the reel-to-reel tape recorder under the bed and slipped the headphones over his ears, effectively blocking out the sound of the television behind him.
His young partner was completely engrossed in his effort to assemble the tiny box of a camera he'd pulled from his bag, so Clausen crawled over to the section of compromised wall beside the bed's Formica head board.
The reel-to-reel was still recording silence as he pressed his eye up to one of the small holes and took in what seemed to be a mirror image of the room they were in.
Their subject or perhaps more accurately, victim had done only a marginally better job of blending into this part of town than Clausen's partner: old, dirty polyester slacks, a black T-shirt with an obnoxious slogan peeling off in large flakes, tennis shoes with one sole flapping.
The effort had been wasted, though. Even calculatedly uncombed, it was obvious that his thick brown hair had been expertly trimmed. His fine, pale skin was equally well cared for and the quiet air of superiority that made him look older than his thirty-two years was too perfect to have been learned; it had to have been bred into him.
The black woman he was slowly circling was less interesting. One of the countless street-walking hookers who could be seen gathering in small flocks on almost every corner in this part of town. Clausen concentrated on her for a moment, trying to calculate why their victim had chosen her over all the others.
She seemed pretty much generic. Taller than average maybe, and a bit more stocky. Not really fat, it was just that she didn't have that angular thinness many of her peers carried as badges of their addictions. She was also no spring chicken probably nearing the end of her useful life in this kind of work. Of course, her clothes were typically impressive, constructed of boldly colored fabric designed to shimmer in dim streetlight and accent the outline of skimpy underwear beneath. Makeup was equally heavy and haphazardly applied. An unnaturally colored wig covered her head.
Clausen pulled away from the wall and flipped the headphone off his left ear.
"Is it me or were we taking pictures at that boy's wedding less than two weeks ago? I mean, I know those blue blood chicks probably aren't what you'd call wild in the sack, but damn, I "
"Could you just be quiet?" Another harsh, scolding whisper. Clausen ignored it.
"I'm telling you, son, I know about these things. I see rocky times ahead for this guy's marriage." He affected a sad shake of his head.
"I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to wait the full year Emily Post allows before I send a gift."
That was the comment that finally did it. His young partner pulled his face away from the camera in front of him and whipped his head in Clausen's direction. His eyes seemed to have sunk a little in his head, probably due to the extreme tension in his facial muscles.
"Are you having a good time, Fred? Are you?"
"We have a job to do!" the young agent continued earnestly.
"An important job."
"An important job, huh?" Clausen leaned back into the peephole and watched the hooker next door begin a seductive dance to the music in her head.
"Son," Clausen said, sitting back on the carpet and leaning against the bed.
"This is nothing but institutional paranoia. I think you could safely say that we're violating that boy's civil rights for no good goddamn reason."
His partner was concentrating on his camera work again and except for the barely perceptible ripple in the muscles of his jaw, he didn't react to Clausen's analysis.
"You just gonna stand there, or are you going to come over here and get some of this?" The woman's voice barely rose above the interference coming through the headphones. Clausen sighed quietly and rose to the small peephole again. He watched her reach out and saw the young man jerk backward out of range.
"Don't touch me!"
The woman didn't seem at all surprised by what Clausen thought was kind of a strange request to make of a paid-for hooker. He watched the young man take another step back and nod toward a corner of the room hidden from the FBI agents' view.
The sound of muffled footsteps was closely followed by a second girl coming into view. She crossed behind the woman standing in the middle of the room and came to a stop between her and the young man, who seemed to have temporarily stopped breathing. Clausen felt a brief burst of adrenaline shock his nerve endings as he carefully examined the new player in their little drama.
She was so tiny. Her thin body was devoid of curves and wouldn't have reached five feet if she'd stood on her tiptoes. Her complexion seemed a little darker than that of the other woman in the room, but it could simply have been her lack of makeup or the frame of dark curls shadowing her face. Her clothes were less professional, too a simple one-piece blue dress with buttons down the front. One thing was certain, though.
This girl was still looking forward to being a teenager.
The older woman took a tentative step toward her client again, and again he moved back. Her expression of confusion melted into a sly smile when the man jerked his head toward the young girl standing silent between them.
"Why don't you come on up here with me, honey," the woman said.
Clausen could see the self-consciousness and hesitation in the little girl's face as the woman took her hand and helped her up on the bed.
The girl scooted back and laid her head on a dirty pillow, her dress sliding up her legs far enough for Clausen to see what looked like a pair of white-and orange polka-dot panties. The slightly nauseous feeling in his stomach started to grow when he realized that they weren't polka dots at all. They were fucking cartoon characters.
Jerking away from the peephole, he fell backward onto the grimy carpet.
"No way," he mumbled, meeting his equally horrified partner's gaze.
"There's just no fucking way." Clausen rose slowly to his feet, slid his .38 from its holster, and started purposefully for the door.
"What the hell are you doing?" his partner said in a loud whisper, then jumped up and blocked the door. Clausen grabbed the lapels of the young man's windbreaker and tried unsuccessfully to shove him out of the way.
"What the hell are you doing?" he repeated, eyes trained on Clausen's right hand that, in addition to the nylon lapel of his windbreaker, was holding a loaded pistol.
"What the fuck do you think I'm doing?"
"We aren't authorized to interfere, Fred. You know that. We're just here to record events. Now come on. Let's do our job."
"Our job?" He released one of his partner's lapels and pointed to the wall they had been looking through.
"Our job is in that room right now."
He tried to push past again, but his young partner shoved him roughly back.
"Yeah, Fred, our job is in that room. We are going to gather the evidence that we were ordered to gather. You think I like this? I have a daughter not much younger than that girl. I'd like to go in there and hold that son of a bitch down while you put a bullet in the back of his head. But I can't. There are bigger things at stake here "Pull your head out of your ass! There's nothing at stake here."
"It doesn't matter what you think, Fred. It doesn't matter what I think.
We have clear orders."
Clausen slowly lifted his gun hand until it was aimed at his partner's chest and looked into his eyes. They were clear and unafraid, glowing with the light of a man young enough to think he could make a difference A kid who had been stroked into thinking he could save the world.
But Clausen was too old to use that excuse. Old enough to know that this assignment was bullshit. And what was even more bullshit was that he was going to let this go. He could already feel his righteous indignation fading as thoughts of his pension and a retirement full of warm beaches and umbrella drinks crowded into his mind. He let his gun fall to his side and watched his partner return to his camera as though nothing had happened. He stood motionless in the middle of the room for what seemed like a long time. Finally, not sure what else to do, he took a few hesitant steps toward the wall and put his eye back up to the hole, intentionally focused only on the man who was the subject of their assignment By the look on his face, the show playing out on the bed was the center of his universe. Clausen forced himself to follow the man's gaze and watch as the older woman used her teeth to slide the girl's panties over the sneakers still tied to her feet. The little blue dress was completely unbuttoned now, revealing the uniform brown of the girl's barely pubes cent body. Clausen felt the breath catch in his throat as the woman began running her tongue in slow circles up the girl's thin legs. He had to look away when she buried her face between them.
Their subject was standing now and had managed to tear his attention away from the show in front of him long enough to slip on a pair of rubber surgical gloves. Clausen closed his eyes hard and backed away from the wall. When he opened them again, his partner was looking at him with a mix of sympathy, uncertainty, and pain on his face. It was more emotion than he'd thought the little bastard capable of.