Authors: James M. Tabor
Just after eleven
, Hallie tipped over the correct flowerpot in Kurt Ely’s backyard. She saw no alarm wires or junction boxes and let herself in, locking the door behind herself. She pulled down shades, closed curtains, and put on her caving headlamp. Its tight circular spot wouldn’t be visible outside. She hoped.
Ely’s bedroom closet held dress shirts and pants, a sport jacket. Scuffed shoes on the floor, sweaters tossed onto shelves. Nothing unusual in dresser drawers, under the bed. The bathroom medicine cabinet contained rubbing alcohol, shaving cream, disposable razors. Two more sparsely furnished bedrooms yielded nothing of interest.
In the basement, a dusty workbench sat against one wall. Old suitcases leaned against another. Unpacked moving cartons were stacked almost to the ceiling at the basement’s far end. She looked and poked but found nothing of interest.
be of interest? She couldn’t say exactly. But something had not felt right since her conversation with Maddy Taylor. So now she stood in Ely’s basement, wanting to go but reluctant to leave without … what?
A door opened and closed upstairs. She almost called Maddy Taylor’s name, then shut her mouth. She killed her light and knelt behind the stacked cartons. Someone walked around upstairs, heavy-footed, purposeful. The basement lights came on.
She took small, silent breaths and did not move. The newcomer walked to the workbench. She heard the ripping sound of tape being pulled loose, nothing for several seconds, then the soft beeps of a cell phone’s keypad. A man’s voice:
“It’s me. I got the gift. Yes. Tomorrow. At the cathedral. After, I will confirm.”
The click of a ballpoint pen. “Go ahead.” Silence. “Wait, let me repeat that. Five-two-nine-nine-seven-five-four-four-one-six-eight-two.”
She heard a cell phone snapping shut. The man walked upstairs and left through the back door. She crouched for five minutes, her eyes closed, brow furrowed. Then she turned on her light and searched the basement frantically. She took the stairs two at a time, rummaged through the kitchen, finally found on a counter half of what she needed: a pen. She thought,
The hell with paper
, and wrote on her palm the numbers she had been repeating silently since the man had spoken them.
That was a relief. But something else was not. Down in the basement, she had heard a voice from the grave.
Back home, her first thought was to call Agent Luciano, despite the hour, to tell him that Kurt Ely might be alive. But then she would have to admit to breaking into Ely’s house. The fact that she had used a key wouldn’t matter to the police. And she had no proof, so Luciano would immediately assume she was trying to shift suspicion away from herself. She hadn’t even actually
Ely. Calling Luciano would have to wait. But she had the numbers Ely, or whoever it was, had repeated. She could work with them right now.
In her kitchen, with coffee and a laptop, Hallie Googled the numbers.
Your search—529975441682—did not match any documents.
• Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
• Try different keywords.
• Try more general keywords.
She wrote the numbers on a legal pad. Wrote them again, bigger, with more space between each digit. Assigned letters to the numbers: CEIIGEDDAFHB.
That was no help. It was too long to be a Social Security number or a safe’s combination. A serial number? Or an amount of money: $529,975,441,682?
That didn’t seem likely. She was pouring a fresh cup of coffee when the old, wall-hung telephone rang. “Hello?”
“Answered that pretty quick. What’re you doin’ up so late? Got yourself a new boyfriend already?”
“Stephen. Why are you calling at this hour? It’s after three.”
“Little rich white boy, I bet. Don’ waste time, do you?” He was drunk, his tone ugly. She thought about hanging up, but that would have been running, and she never ran from things that scared her.
“There’s no one here, Stephen. You sound drunk. What do you want?”
“Wanna go to church tomorrow?”
“Me, I’m goin’ to church.
church. Easter Sunday an’ all.”
“Stephen, I’m hanging up.”
“Wait. My key. I want my key.”
“You called me at three in the morning to tell me that? Where are you?”
A moment of silence. Then: “I’m right on your goddamn front porch. Got your gun handy?”
, she thought. Had she locked the door when she came in? She couldn’t remember. She dropped the phone, found the door locked securely. There was no peephole, but she put her ear to the door and listened. Nothing. Back in the kitchen, she picked up the dangling phone.
The line was dead.
Got your gun handy?
Was that some kind of threat? A warning? Or was he just infuriated and trying to scare her? Hard to tell. But suddenly she realized what the numbers were. Redhorse’s call had done it. Now when she looked, the digits divided neatly into a telephone number: 52 997 544 1682. She knew the first two well: 52 was Mexico’s international country code.
She punched buttons on the wall phone and waited through three rings. Scratchy international connection, rough male voice.
“This is Hallie Leland calling. I’m a friend of Kurt Ely’s. Can I speak to him, please?”
She heard a hand cover the phone, Spanish shouts. Seconds passed, and then the connection broke. She dialed the number twice more but got only busy signals.
Ten minutes later, she was getting ready for bed when the phone rang.
No one spoke, but she heard someone breathing on the other end. “Stephen, is this you? Talk to me.”
Several seconds later, the caller hung up. She dialed *69. A recording said, “We’re sorry. That number is private.”
Hallie slept badly and woke at ten the next morning with her mind churning.
Redhorse. Ely. Luciano. FBI. Lie detectors
. She pulled on a white polypro top, blue shorts, New Balance 990s. She usually carried her cell phone, but couldn’t find it and wanted to run more than she wanted to look for it. After stretching, she jogged the half mile uphill to Norbeck Road and the level mile to Georgia Avenue. She had worked out an eight-mile triangle that started with four straight, flat miles north on Georgia, then two western miles of interval hills on winding back roads, and finally a long, easy return leg on Norwood Road. She usually finished in about an hour.
She cruised at eight minutes a mile, ignoring stares and honks, but still glad to leave busy Georgia Avenue behind for the hilly back roads. Ivy Lane rose and fell for a mile. She swung right onto Remarque Road, a narrow, unpaved lane that climbed very steeply for a half mile. It ended in a circle, which led back to the road.
She was coming around the circle’s far side when she saw two men. Both wore yellow bandannas over shaved skulls, black-and-yellow wristbands, and black tank tops with “LK” in gold on the chests. Heavy gold chains hung around their necks, and they had so many tattoos that their skin looked more blue than brown.
“Hey, how you doing?” one called. “Nice day for a jog.”
’Bangers. Time to go
Their chests and arms were huge, and they were blocking the road, but she could run through woods that abutted the circle and then back to Georgia Avenue. She turned to sprint away.
“Halleeee, don’t run off. You call a friend of ours. He just want us talk with you a little.”
They know my name?
Before she reached the woods, a black Navigator with D.C. tags and mirror-tinted windows blocked the circle. Two more Latin Kings got out. Both pairs came toward her, pimp-rolling and smirking, touching themselves. One lifted his shirt, showing a pistol butt. He said, “Hey,
She was trapped. The houses were close together on both sides of the road. If she bolted toward them, the men could cut her off easily. They were close enough now for her to see their teardrop tattoos. One man had three, the other four. A tear for each kill, she had read somewhere, like notches on a gun. Right eye for whites, left for blacks.
They were fifteen feet from Hallie when the door of one of the houses opened. An older woman with white hair and a white apron over her blue dress stepped out onto her front porch and touched a newspaper with her foot. She started to pick it up, and Hallie felt as if she were watching a scene in slow motion. The Kings ignored her. Hallie thought,
If I scream for help, she will panic and lock that door
A King was reaching for her when she spun and trotted toward the house. Fast enough to avoid the man’s grab, slow enough not to panic the woman. The men watched without moving. Hallie thought they expected the old woman to see them and slam the door. Hallie expected so, too.
The woman stood, paper in hand, and looked toward the sound of Hallie’s approach. With pleasant smile and steady voice, Hallie said, “Hi! Sorry to bother, but I really need a bathroom.” She trotted right up the steps, pulled the woman by her wrist into the house, slammed the door, and locked it.
“Who are you? What do you think you’re doing in my house?” Both of the woman’s eyes were filmy and gray with cataracts. She hadn’t seen the Latin Kings.
“Men out there were going to attack me,” she said.
“What men? I didn’t see any.”
“Out in the street. Four. I need to use your phone.”
The woman pointed toward her kitchen. When Hallie returned, the street was empty.
“Be sure to call us if you see them again.” The Montgomery County officer was turning his white cruiser into her driveway.
“Don’t worry. And I appreciate the ride back.”
A dark blue Buick sat in front of her house. The cruiser stopped, and she stepped out. A man in a gray business suit emerged from the Buick, came over, and showed the officer an ID. Another man got out. He wore a blue blazer and chinos. That one she recognized.
“Agent Luciano!” Hallie said. “I can’t believe you’re here already. I am
glad to see you.” She almost hugged him. “You won’t believe what just happened. Montgomery County police called you, right?”
Luciano looked at her. “What?”
“I was out running, and four men came after me. They were gang members and—”
Luciano held up his hand. “We don’t know anything about that. This is why we’re here.” He withdrew an envelope from his jacket pocket and handed it to her.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It’s a warrant to search the premises of your house and its immediate environs.”
I thought you were here because … Why would you want to search my house?”
“You failed the polygraph, Dr. Leland.”
She was stunned. “That’s not possible. What part?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that. Please read the warrant. We could have forced entry, but I thought we’d give you a few minutes. Your car was here.”
“I didn’t lie about anything. You have to believe that, Agent Luciano.”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe.”
“I would have let you in.”
“I believe you. But—” He held up his hand. “Look, please stay outside while we execute the warrant. And it would be easier if you unlocked the door.”
“Or you’ll break it down?”
He waited. She took the key from its pocket inside the waistband of her running shorts.
“One thing you should know. I keep a handgun under my bedside table. I have a permit for it. How long will this take?”
“As long as it takes, Dr. Leland.”