"It's a deal," Browning said.
In the year since Tim Ingrams arrival in Albuquerque a strong friendship had developed between the two men. Both were divorced, and they spent a lot of free time together, meeting for after work drinks, taking off for day-long fishing trips on the weekends, and frequently working on state business for the Society of Professional Corporate Security Executives.
Tim had come west from a job with a Virginia high-tech think tank to take over as chief of security for a Department of Defense contractor that did top secret research and development at Kirtland Air Force Base.
His job required him to live on the base and he'd been given a choice field-grade officer's housing unit.
A guy with a casual style who made friends easily, Tim liked to throw parties and entertain. Fred had been his guest many times, usually sitting in at a regular Thursday-night poker game, or hanging out on Sunday afternoons at the cookouts Tim organized during the NFL season.
Adjacent to the Albuquerque International Sunport, Kirtland began as a World War Two bomber training facility. After the war, part of the Los Alamos atomic bomb project moved to the base, and over the next fifty-odd years, Kirtland grew into a high-security facility for the storage of nuclear warheads and cold-war weapons development and testing.
Sandia National Laboratory, an Energy Department facility, was housed on the base along with an Air Force Test and Evaluation Center and a Space Technology Center. Although much of the work on the post remained secret, the development of satellite and computer based systems for verifying arms-treaty nuclear-weapons reduction had received a great deal of press attention over the last few years.
Construction around the main gate to the base slowed Browning's entry.
He waited patiently for traffic to move, thinking if anyone could confirm the identity of the FBI special agent as a military officer, Tim Ingram could. Tim had spent countless hours during his years back east in Beltway meetings with defense intelligence types, and he loved to tell funny stories about their ineptitude and dull wits. He particularly disliked pedantic military analysts and knee jerk FBI bureaucrats.
The air-police guard stopped him as he rolled up to the checkpoint, consulted his clipboard, scanned Browning's driver's license, and waved him through. He drove toward the officers' housing area wondering why Andy Baca, who hadn't told him much, wanted an ID check on an FBI agent.
Maybe it was tied to the murder of the ambassador's wife up in Santa Fe.
But then again, New Mexico was home to two national laboratories, several high-security military installations, and dozens of defense contractors engaged in sensitive government work. There was always the possibility that one government spy shop or another had some big investigation going on. Any good cop would want to learn what he could about the people who came snooping around in his backyard.
He parked at the curb and rang the bell. Tim opened up right away.
"Hey," Browning said.
Ingram smiled. About five eight, Tim had a boyish face, curly light brown hair, and the trim frame of a middleweight boxer.
"I'm just about to make myself a drink," Ingram said.
"It's been a hell of a week so far. Take off your jacket and join me."
"Gladly," Browning replied, pulling off his suit coat.
In the kitchen he watched Tim pour generous double shots of his favorite whiskey into tumblers.
"So, you've got a friend who wants some back-door information on a fed,"
Tim said with a chuckle and a shake of his head. He handed Browning a glass and led him into the living room.
"That's pretty cheeky, but you've got to love it.
Anybody willing to risk stepping on a few FBI toes must be a good guy."
"I thought you'd get a kick out of it," Browning replied.
"What got his antenna up?" Ingram asked as he settled into an easy chair.
"He's got good instincts," Browning said. He sat across from Ingram and put his drink on the coffee table.
"How did he come to tap into you as a source?"
"We go way back," Browning replied.
"I tried to pitch him to join the society a few months ago. Told him about the membership and what the organization does. He remembered enough to think I might be able to help."
"Sounds like he's pretty sharp."
"If the feds aren't playing straight, he's got a right to know. I'm guessing it's about the ex-ambassador's wife who got iced up in Santa Fe."
"That was my guess too."
Ingram made a face.
"Those damn prima donnas. Somebody ought to tell the Bureau we don't have a national police force in this country-thank God. I'd love to know what he's got cooking. I bet it would make a great story. Did your pal give you any specifics at all?"
"Nope, he just asked for a records search of FBI agents who belong to the society. When this agent's name didn't pop up, he asked me to expand the search to all members with the same first name."
"Well, let's see the picture."
Browning reached for his coat jacket, fished out the fax, and handed it over.
"This isn't Major Elaine Cornell," Ingram said.
"Positive," Ingram replied snapping a finger against the fax paper.
"Compared to Cornell this woman looks halfway decent. I think the major is one of the 'don't ask, don't tell' soldiers."
"Good enough," Browning said, retrieving the fax.
"Stay for dinner." Ingram picked up the cordless phone from the end table and tossed it to Browning.
"Call your friend with the news while I get the grill cranked up. You like your steak medium rare, right?"
"Hey, you don't have to feed me," Browning said.
"No bother, amigo," Tim said as he made his way to the kitchen.
"Besides, I need some company."
After a few more drinks, a steak and potatoes dinner, and an hour of laid-back conversation, Browning left. Ingram took his cordless phone into the study, used the redial key to access the number Browning had called, and identified its location using a software program on his laptop computer. Then Special Agent Ingram called Charlie Perry and gave him the news.
"What's the state police chief mucking around in this for?" Perry grumbled.
"Not my problem, Charlie. You can tell Applewhite-who in hell came up with that name?-that her cover is intact. Make sure you put a lid on this so it doesn't spread any further."
"Yeah, sure," Perry said.
"I know what to do."
Ingram's next call went to the executive who managed the operations of the computer-chip facility.
"At the end of the week, downsize Fred Browning," he said.
"In the meantime keep him completely out of the loop."
"He doesn't know anything in the first place," the man replied.
"Care to tell me why?"
"Double up on production security and be prepared for a complete facility shakedown next week."
"I still need a reason."
"Make one up."
"He'll put up a stink about it."
"Not if you give him a generous severance package and recommend him for a new job with another company," Ingram said.
"I'll get back to you with the specifics."
"Do we have a leak?"
"Unknown at this time," Ingram answered.
"Your new security chief will report to you on Monday. Assessing any security breach will be his first assignment."
"And who exactly is that person going to be?"
"Someone with impeccable credentials."
Ingram's last call of the evening went to a Silicon Valley company vice president. He hung up after making sure Fred Browning would have a job in California with more money and greater responsibilities, at least for a while.
That should keep Browning from pondering too carefully the events of the week or jumping to conclusions.
If not, stronger arrangements might be necessary.
Kerney stayed in his office well past quitting time, half expecting to get a phone call summoning him to city hall to explain his decision to pull Officer Herrera off the streets. According to Helen Muiz, Herrera had stormed out of police headquarters at the end of his shift after receiving his transfer papers, saying he had no desire to be a paper shuffler or a desk jockey. She gave Kerney five-to-one odds that Cloudy had gone directly to his uncle, the city councilman, to complain. So far, there had been no repercussions, but that could change quickly.
His meeting with Captain Larry Otero had gone better than expected, and Helen was typing up the promotion order and the personnel paperwork for Kerney's new deputy chief.
Before leaving his office she predicted the deep-freeze reception Kerney had received as chief was about to thaw rapidly. She gave him twenty-to-one odds on it, along with a big smile of approval.
Ten minutes into his talk with Otero, Kerney knew he'd found his second-in-command. The captain was smart, level headed, and a good fit with his temperament and management style. Otero agreed not only to take over supervision of day-to-day department operations, but also to spearhead the completion of the five-year strategic plan that had been left hanging by the last administration.
Andy Baca's call to report that Special Agent Applewhite wasn't an army intelligence officer had left Kerney questioning whether he'd been paranoid or just way off the mark about his gut reaction to the woman.
He still felt uneasy. While he had no reason to doubt the national security implications of the case, he found it hard to understand why Applewhite had fed him a line about her State Department assignment.
Kerney knew he would never be given all the facts or reasons, regardless of the outcome, and that galled him.
He was equally bothered by his thirty-year-old recollections of Hamilton Lowell Terrell, aka the Snake, Kerney's first in-country commander. He had not been a man to be trusted.
Under Terrell's command routine patrols were reported as inserts into enemy territory, every skirmish became a major firefight, any setbacks in field operations were blamed on the attached ARVN units, and body counts were always inflated. But old grievances about Terrell probably had no bearing on the present situation.
Because he saw no point to it, Kerney had opted out of attending a task-force debriefing session currently in progress. He already knew that Terjo was still missing and that the special agent sent to Ramah had yet to locate or interview Proctor Straley's ranch manager, Scott Gatlin, alleged to be the third of Phyllis Terrell's recent lovers. He also knew that Sal Molina hadn't been allowed anywhere near Proctor Straley or his daughter Susan, who were sequestered in a Santa Fe hotel suite with FBI bodyguards.
Meanwhile, Detective Bobby Sloan and the three agents on loan from Andy Baca were wading knee-deep through interviews in the Father Mitchell slaying with nothing substantial to report.
Kerney leaned back in his desk chair and looked around the stark office.
He'd done nothing to decorate it since moving in, and he wasn't inclined to hang up framed certificates, plaques, or other memorabilia from his law enforcement career as most other police chiefs did. He'd read recently that such a "trophy wall" was standard equipment for corporate VIPs and Capitol Hill politicians.
Now that he was a bigwig, maybe he should get with the program. If nothing else, it would spark some amusing sarcasm from Helen Muiz. And Sara would never let him hear the end of it, he thought with a smile.
Sara was coming in from Fort Leavenworth this weekend. After they toured the land in Galisteo that was up for sale, maybe she'd help him pick out a few prints he could have framed for the office.
Because of his hectic week and the intensity of her class schedule at the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, he hadn't spoken to her for days. He missed the sound of her voice, the updates about the progress of her pregnancy, and all their exciting talk about building a home and starting a family.
With Larry Otero on board as deputy chief, unless something major broke in the homicide cases, the weekend would be his to spend with his bride.
He'd married Sara less than a year ago, soon after her return from a tour of duty in Korea, where she'd been decorated and promoted for crushing a North Korean assassination plot against the visiting secretary of state.
Although he saw her infrequently, she'd made Kerney feel far happier about his life than he ever could have imagined. The considerable wealth he'd recently inherited from the proceeds of Erma Fergurson's land bequest paled in comparison to the rich texture of his relationship with Sara. He couldn't imagine loving someone other than smart, sexy, feisty Lieutenant Colonel Sara Brannon.
He left his office, signed the paperwork for Otero's promotion Helen had waiting for him on her desk, said good-night, and drove to his cramped quarters, thinking it was time to get serious about building a new house.
The top-floor presidential suite at the Hotel San Marcos consisted of a sitting room, bedroom with master bath, fully equipped and stocked galley kitchen, and study. Furnished with high-quality reproductions of Spanish Colonial pieces and decorated with original lithographs of well-known New Mexico artists, it had corner fireplaces in each room, hand-troweled plaster walls, and Mexican tile accents in the kitchen and bath.
Ambassador Hamilton Lowell Terrell stood gazing out the sitting-room window with his back to Charlie Perry. The narrow street was empty of foot traffic and only a few cars remained parked at the curbs. From his vantage point he looked down on a line of flat-roofed buildings that housed retail shops, all closed for the night. At the corner of the block rose a three-story building. It had two rows of old-fashioned wood sash windows evenly spaced above the ground floor, some with broken glass, others with damaged screens. Although two stores, a gift shop, and a boutique operated at street level, the rest of the building looked empty and unused.