Authors: J.C. Fields
The Assassin’s Trail
Copyright © 2016 John Cawlfield
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system or device, without the permission in writing by the author
Any resemblance to actual people and events is purely coincidental.
This is a work of fiction.
For my wife, Connie and our sons, Sean and Ryan
Table of Contents
This novel, like my first, would not have been possible without the assistance and efforts of others. While the writing itself is a solitary endeavor, getting the words right takes a team.
First, I want to thank the members of my critique group; Ike, Wayne, Bonnie, John D. Judy and our newest member Kwen. Your brutally honest comments and suggestions continue to both challenge and enhance my journey as a writer.
To my editor Emily Truscott, thank you for your work in making this book a better reading experience.
Thanks are also sent to Norma Eaton for her tireless work of making sure my tendency to get comma happy is curtailed. You once again fine-tuned the manuscript before sending it to the publisher.
To Sharon Kizziah-Holmes of Paperback-Press, your continued enthusiasm and support is appreciated more than you can imagine.
Finally, and above all else, I give thanks, each day for my wife Connie. She continues to endure my early mornings, late nights and weekend excursions into my office as I work on my manuscripts. She is truly my best friend and a wonderful partner in life.
The assassin waited on the parked motorcycle, a helmet obscuring his face. One parking space away was a black Mercedes convertible, its top down. His hand, hidden inside his leather jacket, held a suppressed SIG Sauer automatic. He watched the tall, well-dressed man exit the Starbucks and wave to someone inside. As the man approached the Mercedes, the motorcyclist’s grip tightened as he prepared to withdraw the weapon.
Headlights flashed on the Mercedes as another car pulled into the empty parking space next to him and blocked his view of the tall man. A wave of panic engulfed him; his target was about to get away. As the man opened the driver’s side door of the Mercedes, the motorcyclist realized he might have one more opportunity if he hurried. Leaving the gun inside his jacket, he started the motorcycle as the Mercedes backed out of its parking space.
Following the car toward the shopping center exit, he smiled as the Mercedes stopped at the intersection for a red light. The rim of the sun was barely visible above the horizon as dawn brightened. The motorcyclist calmly stopped the bike slightly behind the driver’s side door, withdrew the pistol, and aimed at the man’s head. In the act of checking traffic, the driver turned his head and suddenly noticed the muzzle of the gun two feet from his face. He cringed, instinctively raising his left hand in an attempt to defend himself, just as the pistol spat twice.
Calmly, the motorcyclist replaced the gun inside his leather jacket, revved the engine and accelerated into the intersection. The dead driver slumped against the seatbelt as the car rolled forward, his foot no longer applying pressure to the brake. It stopped when the right front tire made contact with a curb.
Several minutes later, one of the baristas inside Starbucks noticed the black Mercedes still sitting at the stoplight as the green light shifted again to yellow. She said, “Isn’t that Mr. Rousch’s car sitting over there?”
A tall skinny kid with acne and wild hair looked out. “Yeah, sure looks like it. I’ll go see if he spilled his coffee.”
He jogged over to the Mercedes. He glanced at the driver and the interior of the car. Staggering back, he gagged, turned, and ran as fast as he could back to the front door. As he entered the café, he yelled, “Call 911, Mr. Rousch’s been shot.”
Twenty minutes later, Detective Ryan Clark from the Alexandria, Virginia, police department, held his tie and sport coat against his body with his right hand and leaned over the driver’s side door of the black Mercedes convertible. With his gloved left hand, he carefully reached for the ignition key and turned the engine off. That accomplished, he stood and stared at the man in the driver’s seat. Two small holes were visible on the left side of his head. Red and gray matter were splattered against the passenger side seat and door. His partner, Detective Dan White, stood on the other side of the vehicle and grimaced.
“Looks like a drive-by to me. What do you think?”
Clark shook his head. “Don’t know yet.” He walked to the back of the car and wrote the license plate number down in a small note pad, then took a cell phone out of his sport coat pocket. He punched in a number and stared at the car as he listened to the phone ring.
“Alexandria Police Department, this is Sarah.”
“Sarah, it’s Clark, badge 398, I need registration on a plate.”
He gave her the number, and thirty seconds later, she gave him details about the individual registered to the Mercedes. After hearing the name, he paused. “Sarah, I need one more favor. That name sounds familiar. Can you do a Google search on him?”
He heard clicking in the background as she typed. Ten seconds later, she said, “Wow, this guy must be important.”
“What’d you mean, Sarah?”
“He’s got a really long Wikipedia page. It says here he’s the chairman of something called Citizens for Israel.”
“Shit,” Clark said softly. He continued listening and finally ended the call with, “Okay, Sarah, thanks.”
White walked up to Clark as he stared at the dead man. “What’s wrong? You look like you just saw the guy move.”
Clark frowned. “This wasn’t a random drive-by.” He paused, looked at his partner and continued, “Remember the guy they found two weeks ago floating in his pool with a couple of bullets through the heart?”
“He was some big shot at the Israeli embassy,” Clark nodded in the direction of the dead man. “This guy had something to do with Israel as well. I think this is much bigger than a random drive-by.” Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out his wallet, found a yellowed, folded business card next to two $20 bills and extracted it. He unfolded the card.
“Dan, we’re going to need some help on this, and I know someone who can.” He punched the number into his cell phone.
The call was answered on the third ring. “Federal Bureau of Investigations, Assistant Deputy Director Seltzer’s office.”
His cell phone vibrated as he passed the two-mile sign for the airport. Glancing at the caller ID, he briefly debated not accepting the call, but answered anyway, “Kruger.”
“Sean, are you at the airport yet?” The caller was Alan Seltzer, head of the FBI profiling unit and Kruger’s current boss.
“Well, I could lie and say yes, but it wouldn’t matter, would it?”
“No, not really. I need you to meet a local detective before you leave.” Seltzer’s tone was blunt, and from past experience, Kruger knew not to invite debate. They knew each other from their academy years and were still close friends. But Seltzer had moved easily into administration and management, while Kruger made a name for himself solving some of the FBI's highest profile cases.
“How long will this take Alan?”
“Not long. You should be able to catch the afternoon flight to KC.”
“I just missed the airport exit. Go ahead and tell me.” Kruger’s jaw clenched.
“Do you remember an Alexandria detective named Clark?”
“Yeah, works well with the Bureau and doesn’t get his ego bruised like some of them. Why?”
“Well, he just called from a crime scene and asked specifically for you. Said he didn’t want to discuss it over the phone. He also said you’d understand once you got there.”
Kruger frowned. What could possibly be such a big problem that Clark wouldn’t discuss it with the Seltzer? “Okay, where is he?”
Thirty minutes later Kruger parked his rental a block from the crime scene. Whatever Clark had called about was a big deal. A large crowd had gathered along the yellow tape perimeter. He counted ten patrol cars with emergency lights rotating, five unmarked cars and an ambulance. Plus all the major TV station news crews from D.C. and surrounding cities were broadcasting live segments for their morning news shows.
It took several minutes to make his way through the crowd and present his credentials to a uniformed policeman keeping everyone outside the tape. The officer said, “Glad you could make it, Agent. Detective Clark keeps checking to see if you had arrived.” The young officer pointed toward a black Mercedes convertible. “He’s over there.”
Detective Ryan Clark was in his mid-30s. His dark brown hair was worn a tad longer than department regulations and helped hide the growing number of gray strands at his temples. The cheap dark pinstripe suit from JC Penney was wrinkled, but the white shirt was crisp and adorned by a red striped tie. Clark was stooped over, peering into the Mercedes, talking on a cell phone. He stood up and glanced in Kruger’s direction over half glasses. His slender, handsome face smiled, and he started walking in Kruger’s direction. “Hey, I’ve got to go, the FBI agent I called just showed up.” He ended the call and offered his hand.
As they shook, Kruger said, “Ryan, what’s the big mystery?”
“Thanks for coming, Sean. Sorry about the theatrics, but sometimes it’s the only way to get results.”
Kruger paused. “I get that. I’m here unofficially, right?”
“Maybe. At least for the moment.”
“What does that mean?” Kruger said with a note of irritation.
“You need to see this. We’ll discuss your involvement afterwards.”
They walked to the Mercedes SL65 AMG. The roadster’s top was down, sitting in the exit lane of a Starbucks. Its occupant slumped forward, head resting on the top of the steering wheel and the body restrained by the seatbelt. There was a small trickle of blood visible from two neat holes several inches above his ear. The victim was bald, except for a closely buzzed ring of gray hair. Kruger noticed a slight graying around each entrance hole. The right side of the roadster's interior was splattered with bone fragments and grayish red matter, indicating the severe damage on the other side of the victim’s skull.
Kruger bent his six-foot frame to examine the bullet holes a little closer. “Hmm... Double tap at less than three feet with a 9mm.”
Clark nodded, “That was my first impression.”
“Looks professional. Who's the victim?”
“His name is Kyle Rousch. He is… or was the chairman of a PAC known as Citizens for Israel.”
Kruger looked at Clark and back at the body. “Am I supposed to be impressed by that?”
Clark smiled and shook his head, “No, I suppose not. I doubt anybody would be impressed. Citizens for Israel is a lobbying group for the Jewish state. They spend millions of dollars on making sure support for Israel doesn’t fade in Congress.”
Kruger walked around to the right side of the Mercedes and quickly looked at the damage to the other side of the victim’s head. He shook his head and walked back to Clark. “Looks like hollow points.”
“I agree, but we're still looking for the brass. It appears the shooter may have taken the time to police the area before leaving. Pretty cool customer. Pops the guy with a double tap, collects his brass and walks calmly down the road. Early morning, no traffic to speak of, and no witnesses we can find.”
Kruger smiled at his friend and calmly pointed at a security camera above the Starbucks drive-through window. “So, tell me, why the hell did you ask specifically for me? This looks like your jurisdiction, Ryan.”
Clark looked at the camera, shook his head and called to another detective close by, “Hey, Mikey, go check the security tape on that camera.”
Kruger bent over to look into the back seat, took a pen from his inside suit coat pocket and reached down into the back floor of the Mercedes. He slid the point of the pen into the open end of a cartridge shell and stood up. “The guy didn’t pick up his brass, Ryan. The other one is lodged between the seat and the side panel. Definitely 9mm.”
Clark shook his head. He looked around, found the person he was searching for and yelled, “Hey, Roberto, bring your kit, the casings are in the back seat.”
Just then, a man taller than Kruger walked up behind Clark and said, “Agent Kruger, I’m Ted Margolin with the Secret Service.” The man offered his hand and Kruger shook it.
“Secret Service, what the hell are you guys doing here? You don’t investigate this type of crime?” Kruger looked at Clark, then back to Margolin. “Okay, what the hell’s going on?”
Margolin nodded at Clark, who said, “Ted’s been investigating Rousch for over two years. Apparently he was laundering funds from the PAC and sending millions overseas to militant underground groups in Israel. The problem was he had a squeaky clean reputation and was always careful. He’s never left a smoking gun, so to speak. He worked here in Washington during the week and flew home to the Hamptons on weekends.”
Margolin continued, “We were probably two weeks away from a grand jury indictment. Since his routine was consistent, we didn’t have him under observation all the time.”
Kruger tried to resist the urge to say something, but couldn’t. “Well, maybe you should have. See what happens.” He motioned toward the Mercedes.
Margolin looked embarrassed. “No excuses, we screwed up this morning.”
Kruger shook his head and said, “Alright, it happens, but you still haven’t told me why you called for me.”
Clark hesitated for a moment, glanced at Margolin and then turned to Kruger. “This is the second one. Two weeks ago Friday night, the Israeli cultural attaché was found in his pool with two .223 rounds through the heart. No witnesses. In fact, no one heard a sound. The girlfriend came back out from the house and found him. The wife was gone for the weekend.” Clark paused for a few moments. “I’m not sure what we have, Sean, but I know it’s bigger than my department. You’re the only guy I trust at the FBI and I need your input.”
Kruger looked back at the now deceased Kyle Rousch. “Shit, looks professional to me, Ryan. Are you sure the two are related and not a coincidence?”
Clark cocked his head to the side. “Right. You believe in coincidence just like I do.”
“Okay, bad choice of words.” Kruger stared at the Mercedes again. “I agree, you need to bring the Bureau in. It could be the same guy, but the different MOs bother me.” He paused and looked back at Clark. “Look, I’ve been in D.C. too long, I need to go home for a while. I’ll call Seltzer and see what he says. My guess is he'll transfer it to another department. If he sends it to profiling, it will land on my desk.”
Clark nodded his agreement. “Okay, thanks, Sean. By the way, how are you and Stephanie doing?”
“We’re good. I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks. She's been on the west coast and I’ve been stuck here in D.C. Lots of phone calls.”
Clark smiled. “Why don’t you two get married?”
Kruger hesitated before he answered. “Someday, maybe.” The hesitation was more a realization of why he wanted to get home.
“Sean, take my advice, get married. I plan on getting married again, just haven't found someone like Stephanie.”
Kruger smiled and shook Clark's hand. “We’ll see. Expect a call from Seltzer.” He turned and started walking back to his rental car. The last thing in the world he wanted was another prolonged case, one which would take him away from Kansas City. Was it time to retire? Twenty five years of dealing with the dark side of humanity might be enough. Over the past few months getting back to Kansas City and being with her dominated his thoughts. The realization Clark had verbalized his feelings made the decision easy. He would discuss it with Stephanie. She brought calm to his chaos, and right now, he needed calm.
Rescheduling his flight back to Kansas City was an exercise in frustration. Kruger’s patience paid off and he was assigned the last seat on a US Airway flight at 7:30 p.m. Kansas City was his home, having lived there for over twenty years. His son was born and grew up there. His mother and father were buried there, and the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with lived there. There were other memories, many not as positive.
Considered by many to be one of the foremost FBI experts on profiling, Kruger was in high demand by police departments across the United States. Constant traveling came with the job. After earning a PhD in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma, he found teaching to be less challenging than expected. On the advice of an adviser at OU, Kruger applied at the FBI and was accepted. Now, twenty-five years later, the job was less challenging. He yearned for consistency, less traveling and a home life never realized.
The flight arrived early and he was at his car by 9:30 p.m. After putting his bags in the trunk, he retrieved a cell phone from his backpack and made a call. On the third ring, he heard, “Hope you’re back in town.”
“That’s why I’m calling. I know it’s late, just wanted to see if you were still up.”
“Considering I just got to the condo twenty minutes ago and my body’s still on Pacific Time, I’m not even remotely tired.”
“How was LA?”
“Beautiful weather, great people, fantastic restaurants. There was only one thing missing.”
“What was that?”
Kruger smiled, happy she was back. “It’ll take about thirty minutes for me to get home. Are you hungry?”
“Not really, are you?”
“Nope. I thought if you were, I’d pick something up.” He paused briefly. “What I really want is a beer. I think there’s a few left in my fridge. Can you check? If not, call me and I’ll pick up a six-pack.”
“Sounds perfect. I’ll see you when you get here.”
Kruger ended the call and started the long drive from the Kansas City airport to his condo on the west side of The Plaza. Stephanie Harris was his neighbor in the condo next door. Both moved in soon after the building was remodeled and converted to condos. Strangers when they moved in, now four years later, they were close friends and in love. She was a senior VP with a greeting card company. Her traveling rivaled Kruger’s; she was gone as much as he was. Their arrangement was simple: they were committed to each other. If both were in town, they would spend as much time together as possible. If not, long telephone calls were the norm. Since they lived in adjacent apartments, there was no need to move in with each other.
Kruger’s first wife abandoned him and their 10-month-old son after three years of marriage. She simply packed a suitcase one day, left a note and disappeared. She would call their son on his birthday and occasionally on Christmas. After Brian started college, even those calls stopped. Now a senior at the University of Missouri, Brian had not heard from her in over four years.
Apparently, he was correct about the beer. Stephanie did not call him back. So he drove straight to the condo and parked his black Mustang GT in its designated parking spot. Their adjacent apartments were located on the second floor of the building with the back stairs entrance only ten feet from his car. Designed with an open floor plan, his living area blended into the kitchen and dining space. Dominating the space was a central see-through fireplace, one of his favorite features of the condo. Another favorite spot was a balcony off the living area. It faced east and overlooked The Plaza. Two bedrooms were located in an adjacent hall, each with its own bathroom. One was his bedroom. The other served as an office and spare bedroom when Brian came home from college. The wall separating the living space and bedroom area was highlighted by floor to ceiling book shelves and a built-in entertainment system. He preferred not to have a TV in his bedroom, but there were speakers on each bedroom wall fed by his main system. Normal music was smooth jazz, classical or the occasional classic rock.