Authors: Christopher Reich
She was more confused than ever.
That Saturday they met at the Y for the first of many three-point shooting contests. She kicked his butt, winning 10–4. In the three years since, he had never beaten her. He could, however, dunk with two hands.
The elevator door opened and Jenny stepped into the corridor. In the time it took to descend three stories, she had gotten herself sick with worry. Her born survivor should have checked in by now. She knew she’d be able to track him down at work, but she couldn’t wait that long. It was time to start checking hospitals.
Thomas Bolden sat studying the dregs of his coffee when the door to the interrogation room opened and a tall, bleary-eyed man walked in. “I’m Detective John Franciscus,” he said, a mug in one hand and a sheaf of files under his arm. “How ya doin’? Need some more coffee? Or is it tea?”
Bolden looked up. “What happened to Detective McDonough?”
“Little out of his league.” Franciscus pointed to the Styrofoam cup in front of Bolden. “You okay?”
Bolden crumpled the cup and tossed it into the wastebasket. “Out of his league. How do you mean?”
“Quite a tale you spun. Robbery. Abduction at gunpoint. Assault. We’re talking three felonies right there. You’ve got a lot of us interested.” Franciscus pulled out his chair and froze halfway between standing and sitting. He was lean and rickety and on the wrong side of sixty, with lank gray hair that hung across his forehead and an alert, angular face. He wore a .38 snub nose strapped to his waist and a badge pinned to his belt to show that he knew how to use it. “Sure you don’t like the brew? I can run downstairs, get you a Coke, iced tea, whatever.”
Bolden shook his head. “What about the guy I brought in?” he asked. “Detective McDonough said you were running his prints. Any idea who he is? You check out the construction site yet?”
“Slow down a second,” said Franciscus, dropping into his chair. “I need a little time to get things all set up.” He arranged the folders on the desk. He unclipped his cell phone from his belt, checked that it was on, then set it down within arm’s reach. He dug into his breast pocket and fished out a pair of bifocals and set them down next to the phone.
“Construction site was a goose egg. Nobody there. Gates were locked.”
“Locked? No way! I drove a car through them two hours ago. Did you send someone up to look?”
“Like I said, the gates were locked. We saw no sign of intrusion. Tell you what, I’ll go by there in the morning . . . have a look around. That all right?”
“That’s fine.” Bolden eyed the clock and yawned. Four-thirty. Since arriving at the precinct house, he’d been fingerprinted, photographed, questioned, and kept isolated in an interrogation room. He’d given his name, social security number, address, home phone number, his work, cell, and BlackBerry numbers, too. He’d shown them the bruises on his back and sides. An officer had taken a look at his cheek and informed him that the grains of gunpowder had been blown so deep into the flesh that they would take months to work themselves clear. They wanted cooperation. He gave it to them in spades. Now he wanted a little cooperation himself. “Mind if I use your phone?”
“Sure thing.” Franciscus tossed him the phone, low and fast. “You’re quick.”
“Like how you took down that bruiser?”
“Something like that.”
“Think you might have overreacted?”
“No,” said Bolden. “Not unless you think I blow off rounds an inch from my face to get my jollies or jump from a couple hundred feet up in the air. In fact, Detective, I’d say that given the circumstances, my instincts saved my life.”
Franciscus thought about this for a second. “I’d say you’re right. I’d also say you’re lucky. Anyway, your story checks out. Miss Dance’s description of the two men who mugged her, um—” He ran a fingernail across the topmost paper in his folder. “ ‘Irish’ and ‘Wolf’—matches yours. I just got off the phone with the doctor who’s looking after the guy you roughed up. He had a tattoo just like the one you said ‘Mr. Wolf’ had. A little rifle high on his chest. That’s not all. He also has a parachute on his arm with the words ‘Death Before Dishonor’ below it. Popular with Airborne troops. We sent his prints down to Bragg and to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Negative on both counts. How do you figure? First thing they do when you show up for Basic is take your prints. Take ’em again when you join the division. I was there. I know.”
“All these army hotshots. ‘Unsat’ this. ‘NPQ’ that. Rangers . . . Green Berets . . . whatever. Sounds a little weird, don’t you think? I’m not one for coincidence. What about you?”
Bolden shook his head.
“I have a call in to the provost marshal’s office at Benning,” Franciscus went on, “and to Army HQ to forward any photographs of soldiers between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five who meet a description of the men who abducted you earlier. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope.”
“And the other guy? Is he talking?”
“Not likely. He’s getting his busted teeth fixed as we speak. We’re booking him for possession of stolen property and a firearms violation.”
“The gun was stolen?”
“Don’t know. Serial numbers were filed down. We can bring them back up if we try hard enough, but seeing as how you weren’t killed, I don’t really see the point. It doesn’t matter anyway. Possession without a permit earns you one year in the slam. No questions asked. It’s the cell phone that was stolen. A woman reported the theft yesterday afternoon. The phone was taken from her handbag at a place close to where you work. Balthazar. You know it?”
“Yeah.” Bolden dropped his eyes. “I had lunch there today . . . um, I mean yesterday.”
“Did you, now?” Franciscus made a note, his salt-and-pepper brows arched behind the reading glasses. “ ‘Bout time we’re getting somewhere.”
“Would you excuse me a second?” Bolden turned in his chair and tapped in his cell number. His voice mail picked up on the second ring. Either the phone was off or it had run out of batteries. Next, he tried his home. When there was no answer, he left a message saying that he was all right, and that he would be back to shower and change before going to work. Earlier, Jenny had left him a message from the hospital saying that she was fine and was about to be released. He tried her place, and when the machine picked up, he hung up. He’d already left word saying that he was fine, and would call later. He slid the phone across the table. “Thanks.”
“No problem. We’ll just add the charges to your city tax bill.” Franciscus eyed Bolden over the rims of his bifocals. “That, sir, was a joke. A pleasantry. You may now smile.”
Bolden forced a smile. “Happy?”
Franciscus set down his pen and folded his hands on the table. “Actually, Mr. Bolden, I’m anxious to learn more about you.”
“What about me?”
“Just a few personal details.”
“I went over this already. What do you want me to add?”
“Look, Mr. Bolden, I’m here to help. We don’t have to be best friends, but I think it’s a good idea for me to know a little about you.”
Bolden was too tired to argue. “I’m a banker. I work at Harrington Weiss. Born in Iowa. Grew up in Illinois. Went to college at Princeton. Business school at Wharton. Came to the city after I finished. No, I don’t know anyone who dislikes me. And, no, I don’t believe Miss Dance has any enemies, either.” He drew himself closer to the desk. “Look, I told all of this to Detective McDonough. I’ve never seen any of these men before.”
“But they knew all about you. Even where you were eating lunch.”
And that he’d worked twenty-five hours a week at Butler Dining Hall.
Bolden nodded. He knew he would have to get his head around all that later. Right now he just wanted to go home.
Franciscus looked down at his notes again. “And this guy ‘Guilfoyle,’ he was sure you knew about something called Crown, and someone named Bobby Stillman?”
Again, Bolden nodded. “I don’t have a clue who, or what, they were referring to.”
“That’s what we’re here to find out,” said Franciscus. “I am curious about one thing. Just where’d you learn to hit a man like that? You knocked out three of his teeth. Part of me’s wondering who assaulted who. I don’t know who I should be feeling sorry for.”
“Don’t know. Just something I picked up.”
“No, you didn’t. That’s not something you just pick up. It’s something you’re taught. Something you practice. Tell me, where does a bright, well-educated kid like yourself learn to take down two pros?”
Bolden looked at the stack of papers Detective Franciscus had brought in with him. By now he imagined that they’d run his prints through the system, too. It was the law that the court seals a minor’s files when he turned eighteen. “Don’t your papers tell you?”
“That what you’re so worried about?” Franciscus closed the folder. “Nothing in here ’bout you. Anything you want to tell me . . . anything you think might help . . . you got my word it’ll stay between me and you.” When Bolden didn’t answer, he said, “Let’s start with that artwork on your shoulder. I couldn’t help but notice it when you changed shirts. Who are ‘the Reivers’? Oh, and I especially liked the second part: ‘Never Rat on Friends.’ ”
Bolden fought the instinct to look down at his shoulder. The Reivers were family. The Reivers were friends who looked out for one another. The Reivers were all he had had when things had gotten tough. “Just some old friends,” he said.
“Friends who need a few lessons in using a tattooing needle. Where’d you get it? Prison? Reform school? That why you worried if you checked out? Don’t worry, I’m not going to say a thing to your employer.”
Bolden dropped his eyes. He felt himself draw back, the old distrust of police—of authority, in general—take over.
“It’s not a crime to have belonged to a gang, Mr. Bolden,” said Franciscus. “It might help me with my work.”
“It wasn’t a gang,” Bolden explained. “Just some guys I used to run with. That was over fifteen years ago. It’s got nothing to do with what happened tonight.”
“And what about the gangs you work with in this neck of the woods?”
“The gang-intervention program? It’s run out of the Boys Club. I just help organize some of the events. Raise money. That kind of thing. We held a chess match last weekend. One of the kids beat me in the second round. I didn’t make any enemies there, either.”
“So you don’t believe that there’s a connection between your work at the Boys Club and what happened tonight?”
Franciscus removed his bifocals and laid them on the table. “And that’s your last word?”
“It’s the truth.”
Franciscus laughed tiredly. The truth, his eyes said, was a very tricky thing. “I’m going to level with you, Mr. Bolden. I’m not entirely sure you’re the innocent you make yourself out to be. I think there’s a lot more going on here than you’re letting on.” Franciscus moved his chair closer and threw his hands on the table, so that he and Bolden were face-to-face, two opponents ready to arm wrestle. “I’m going to let you in on a secret. These guys who took you for a ride, made you walk the plank . . . I’ve met men like them before. There are more and more of them these days. I call it a shadow mobilization. All kinds of special agencies cropping up. These guys come creeping through our offices every now and again, getting a pat on the back from the chief, promises of cooperation, that kind of stuff. Makes you a little scared after a while. I’ve been on the force thirty-odd years. I know a thing or two about bureaucracy, and I’m asking myself just who in Jehovah’s name is supposed to be looking after all these guys? It’s my experience that guys who’ve had their prints zapped from the systems, their pasts erased, are one of two things: spooks or contractors. Now, if they’re spooks, it’s okay. All part of the game. After all, if I can look ’em up from the Three-Four, you can be sure that someone in Iran or France or India can look ’em up, too. But that dirtbag you took apart is not affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency, the NSA, the DIA, or any of those Joes. I can tell. My guess is that the goons who came after you tonight are, or once have been, civilian contractors.”
It was a term that had been all over the news lately. “Like who? Kellogg Brown and Root? Halliburton? They’re builders, right? Oil work, construction, cafeterias, dry cleaning, that kind of stuff.”
“I’d look more on the more active side of things. Security work. Bodyguards. Military trainers. You know the big players? Tidewater. Executive Resources. Milner Group. There are about twenty thousand of them over in the Middle East right now, providing security to our marines. Beefy guys in sunglasses and Kevlar vests. Weapons out the wazoo.” Franciscus shook his head. “Civilians looking after the military? Go figure that one out. Makes you wonder which side of the donkey his ass is.” Finally, he shrugged. “My question is, why are guys like this coming after you?”
Bolden hadn’t stopped asking himself the same thing since he’d been thrown into the back of the limo downtown. He decided he didn’t like Franciscus’s tone much. He was like the rest of the cops he’d known. One hand stuck out to help you up, the other to throw the cuffs on your wrists. “But you’re going to hold him?”
“That we are. Once his mouth’s cleaned up, we’ll ship him downtown to One PP, give him a B-number, take a picture of him that he can give to his mother. Like I said, illegal possession of a firearm in New York State draws a mandatory one-year sentence. Throw in the cell phone, he’ll get to know the Department of Corrections better than he’d like.” Franciscus looked at him a moment longer. “You aren’t afraid these men are going to come after you?”
“I can look after myself.”
“Sure? We’re here to help.”
“Yeah,” said Bolden, with more certainty than he felt. “They know they got the wrong guy. I don’t think they’ll be coming after me anymore.”
Franciscus pushed back his chair and stood. “If there’s nothing else you’d like to add to your statement, you’re free to go. One of the officers downstairs will give you a lift home. Anything else comes to mind, give me a call. Here.”
Bolden took the business card and slipped it into his pocket. He wasn’t sure whether to say thanks or screw you. All he knew was that he was happy to leave the police station.
“And Mr. Bolden,” said Franciscus, so quietly that he almost didn’t catch it. “Be careful. I don’t know what game you’re mixed up in. But it ain’t patty-cake.”