J. B. Turner
For my late father
The call came from a man he knew only as Maddox.
Jon Reznick was sitting on his freezing deck as darkness fell over Maine, nursing a bottle of beer, staring out over the ocean. He let his cell phone ring a few times, knowing what lay ahead. The ringtone was incessant. It had been ten long weeks. He pulled his coat tight and watched his breath turn to vapor.
He sighed long and hard before he picked up the phone.
“We gotta delivery problem in Washington,” Maddox said.
Reznick said nothing.
Down below in the cove, the Atlantic breakers crashed onto the rocky headland with a deafening roar, sending salt water into the winter air. The silhouettes of the tall oaks and maples in the garden, shorn of their leaves, which his late father had planted when he was a boy, bent and creaked in the wind. Away in the distance, out on Penobscot Bay, Reznick could see the lights of the lobster boats as they headed back to Rockland with the day's catch.
Maddox finally broke the silence. “They want to know if you can ensure the safe transfer of a consignment.”
“You must leave tonight.”
Reznick said nothing.
“Is this inconvenient for you?”
“Kinda short notice.”
“Are you available?”
“Tell me, how's the weather where you are?”
A long pause. “It's wet.”
The word “
said it all. “Someone must want this delivery real bad.”
“Will you do it?”
Reznick said nothing.
“This has got to happen. This is an important customer.”
He let out a long sigh. “Tell them I'm in.”
“Smart move, Reznick. Pick up your tickets at the airport.”
“Where am I going?”
The line went dead.
Just before midnight, Reznick's plane landed at Dulles. He wore a black leather jacket, a grey T-shirt, and dark blue Levi jeans and scuffed cowboy boots. He slung his bag containing a shaving kit, fresh boxer shorts, two T-shirts, a clean pair of jeans and his running gear over his shoulder and headed over to the Avis lot. Then he picked up a black Chevy Camaro. In the trunk was an envelope with a fake credit card and two thousand dollars in cash alongside a three-night reservation receipt for the Omni Shoreham Hotel in northwest Washington.
Reznick knew the city well. He headed onto the airport toll road and drove due east on Route 66, over the Roosevelt Bridge and exited onto Constitution Avenue. The traffic was still heavy, despite the late hour. His mind flashed back to the time he first visited the city with his father. It was the fall of 1982 during the first of many trips to see the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. He remembered his father cursing the snarled-up traffic in his rental car. But most of all he remembered what his father wore. A dark suit, white shirt, Marine Corps tie and black shoes polished to a glassy shine. Without fail, his father always touched the names of the young men carved into the black granite wall the moment he arrived. Reznick would stand in silence, arms by his side, as his father fought back the tears.
The blaring siren of a fire truck in the distance snapped him out of his reverie as he drove over the historic Taft Bridge and past the two imposing concrete lions guarding either side. Eventually he took a left onto Calvert Street, the hotel up ahead.
He pulled up outside a traditional eight-story building and tipped the valet ten dollars.
Reznick walked through the grand, sprawling lobby. Marble floor, ornate columns and chandeliers. A young man on the desk took his details as he signed in under a false name, Ron Dixon.
“Three nights. Good to have you with us, Mr Dixon. Do you mind me asking if you're in town for business or pleasure, sir?”
Reznick managed a smile. “A bit of both.”
“Excellent. Can we help you with any bags?”
“No, you're OK, thanks.”
His fake credit card was swiped and he took the elevator to the sixth floor.
Reznick used the card to open his door and flicked on the lights. He hung a âDo Not Disturb' sign outside before he locked the room.
The room was too warm, but spacious. A huge TV was on one wall, a welcome message across the screen. The dÃ©cor was the
look, green floral patterned carpet and king-sized double bed with a couple of rosewood dressers. The drapes matched the carpets.
He peered out of the window over the upscale Woodley Park neighborhood; a good base, well away from downtown. He turned down the climate control switch to cool. He showered and wrapped himself in the white terry dressing gown. Then he lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting for Maddox to call.
The next morning, Reznick ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice and black coffee from room service, before he got changed into his jogging gear â navy T-shirt and sweatpants with well-worn Nike sneakers. He headed over to Rock Creek Park under a flawless December sky, for his daily run. When he arrived at the water-powered Peirce Mill near the entrance, he did some stretching and warm-up moves although the temperature was in the low 60s. A handful of joggers were already pounding the trails.
He switched on his iPod, blocking out the outside world, helping him focus on the task in hand. The thunderous riffs and beats of a Led Zeppelin song got his blood flowing. He checked his watch, 8.48am precisely. He headed north towards the Western Ridge Trail, the smell of dead leaves and pine trees in the mid-December air.
After about a mile, he passed a young Hispanic woman sitting on the curb of a parking lot near Broad Branch Road. She grimaced as she rubbed her knee.
Reznick ran on by. No need to engage in unnecessary conversation with a stranger. Being anonymous was best. He knew the rules. The list was endless. Do not wear loud clothes, talk too much, appear distracted or lost; in fact anything that meant you were no longer blending in. The appearance was crucial. Greys, navy tracksuits and business suits were good. Black shoes, also. But you had to fit into the surrounding environment.
The way you spoke, the way you carried yourself, your accent, dialect, they all gave off signals. The moment a concierge thought your luggage looked too flashy or too beaten-up; it all painted a picture. If you're in a top-end hotel, wear top end clothes and carry smart cases.
The small things matter. Be attentive. Logos are easy to remember. Better without them. The trick was to be anonymous. But don't try too hard. Don't shun eye contact. That in itself will attract attention. What has he got to hide?
The senses had to work overtime. And tactics had to be changed, depending on the circumstances. Move to another hotel, change into new clothes, ditch a car and get a different model.
He headed along Beach Drive as he ran through the park. Heart rate steady. Deeper and deeper through a verdant urban sanctuary in America's capital city.
Slowly the endorphins kicked in as the sun flickered through the branches of the leafless oaks and maples. The sweat ran down his back and stuck to his grey marl T-shirt.
On and on he ran.
Up a hill and down a ravine, and back on the trail along Beach Drive, passing a small stone police substation in the center of the park, two officers leaning against a cruiser, drinking coffee. He gave a polite nod and they nodded back.
Heart pumping harder as his head became clearer. This was his routine ahead of every job and it passed the time. Kept him focused.
Along the northern section of the park, he passed Rolling Meadow Bridge and doubled back along a trail by the public golf course. On past the amphitheater and across Bluff Bridge to where he'd started.
He checked his pulse. Only slightly raised.
Ten minutes later, Reznick did some cool down stretching exercises against a park bench, when his cell phone in his waistband vibrated. He switched off his iPod and saw the familiar caller display.
“How you feeling today?” It was Maddox.
“So, any questions?”
Reznick wiped some sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. “You got a name?”
A beat. “All I know is that he's an American. OK?”
“On home soil? How come?”
A long pause. “Look, they wanted to keep it in-house. That's all I can say. This is a sensitive one.”
“Tell me, where is the subject now?”
“Walking the national mall with his son.”
“What kind of monitoring?”
“Electronic. Far safer.”
Reznick stayed quiet, knowing he was right.
“How about we speak later today?”
“I don't know. But stay close to your hotel.”
Reznick shielded his eyes against the sun. “Why?”
“Why stay close to the hotel?”
Maddox sighed. “Look, I've not had any confirmation, but I've heard from someone higher up the chain that we might have to move very quickly on this particular delivery.”
“Sooner rather than later. Bear that in mind.”
The rest of the day dragged as Reznick waited for Maddox to call.
It could be a matter of hours. He dialed 12 and ordered a late brunch of scrambled eggs, black coffee, buttered toast and more freshly squeezed orange juice. After a warm shower, he channel hopped between CNN, Fox News and the Weather Channel. Bombings across Kabul and Helmand Province as the Taliban launched a coordinated series of attacks to destabilize the Afghan government and instill fear in the population. He could see the way the wind was blowing there and it was all bad.
Early evening, he ordered a club sandwich and a Coke from room service. Afterwards, he went for a walk, keeping within six blocks of the hotel. He returned to his room, lay down on his bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
When he awoke, he checked the time. It was 8.09pm. And still Maddox hadn't called. Had there been a delay? Perhaps a last minute change of plan?
The thought of delays depressed him. He was asked to do a job; he wanted to get it over with. Then move on. He couldn't abide the long-drawn-out ones.
Feeling groggy, Reznick headed down to reception, bought a pair of swimming shorts and swam forty lengths of the empty pool, leaving his phone on his towel, on top of a lounger.
He headed back to his room and changed into a fresh T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He paced the room, stopping occasionally to do push-ups and sit-ups, trying to keep sharp, not knowing when the call would come or if it would come at any moment.
Eventually, he slumped in the room's easy chair and watched an old black and white Jimmy Cagney film with the sound down.
His cell phone vibrated in the top pocket of his T-shirt.
“You're on the move.” The voice of Maddox.
“Go to the Park America garage, 3000 K Street Northwest, and leave your car on Level 2.”
Reznick made a mental note.
“Proceed to Level 5 where you'll find a black BMW convertible. Your keys can electronically open it. Proceed to the St Regis Hotel, and book in under the name, Lionel Fairchild. New ID and documents are in the passenger's jockey box, and a tan Louis Vuitton travelling bag with overnight essentials is in the trunk.”
“What's in the bag?”
“The usual kit. Laptop, delivery equipment; it's all there.”
Reznick said nothing.
“After you check-in, head straight to your room, which has already been allocated, and await final instructions.”
Reznick did exactly as he was told.
First, he checked out of the Omni taking time to thank them for such a pleasant stay but sorry he had to cut short his visit for family reasons. He picked up his car from the valet and drove to the nearby parking garage as instructed. He left the vehicle on Level 2 and climbed the stairs. A rather smart BMW with tinted windows was parked at the far end of Level 5. He popped open the trunk, the monogrammed designer men's travel bag was inside. He picked it up, got into the car and clicked the fob to centrally lock the doors before he unzipped the bag.