Read Under the Color of Law Online

Authors: Michael McGarrity

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Thriller

Under the Color of Law (6 page)

"Do you know any of the men who have been involved with your wife?"
Terrell shook his head.
"I've been asked not to discuss anything of substance with you or your detectives until it is determined if my wife's murder has any connection to my official capacity."
"What can you tell me about the trade mission?" Kerney asked.
"Very little. It is a confidential, joint enterprise of various federal departments that has operated quietly with White House approval for the past eighteen months. Our existence, who we're dealing with, and why, haven't been publicly disclosed, and will not be unless an accord is reached."
"The FBI has claimed case jurisdiction for national-security reasons,"
Kerney said, checking the rearview mirror.
"They'll be here in full force tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, the two men who got off the plane after we entered the terminal have been behind us since we left the airport."
"Yes, I know. I'm staying at the Hotel San Marcos."
"And your traveling companions?" Kerney asked.
"Where will they be staying?"
"I have no idea, Chief Kerney. But they will be at my wife's house shortly on official business. Please have your people give them full access. You do understand that my conversation with you is strictly off the record."
Kerney made a turn onto a narrow street that led to the downtown plaza and the nearby hotel. The car behind continued on, out of sight.
"Under pain of federal prosecution?" he asked.
Terrell's hand was on the door latch as Kerney pulled to a stop in front of the hotel.
"I'm sure it won't come to that. Thank you for the briefing. I'll be in town for a few days. There are people to notify and arrangements to be made. Perhaps we'll talk again."
"I'll be available," Kerney said.
As Terrell passed through the lobby door, Andy Baca called on Kerney's cell phone and requested a quick meeting in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
He wouldn't say why but sounded a little peeved. Kerney gave him a five-minute ETA and drove hurriedly through the empty downtown streets, wondering what was up.
As he cruised through light traffic on Cerrillos Road, Lieutenant Molina made radio contact, asking for clearance to allow two FBI agents access to the crime scene.
"Let them in," Kerney said, "and meet me in my office in twenty minutes so I can bring you up to speed."
"Ten-four," Molina grumbled after a slight hesitation.
At Wal-Mart, Kerney spotted Andy's unmarked unit at the side of the building away from the parking lot lights and got in beside him.
"I got a telephone call right after I spoke with you," Andy said.
"Applewhite?" Kerney asked.
Andy shook his head.
"The U. S. attorney. Supposedly he wanted to let me know about the task force and make sure the resources of my department would be made available to the FBI."
"How polite."
Andy grunted.
"Yeah, right. When was the last time you ever heard of the FBI using a U. S. attorney as a front man for a task force investigation?"
"Never. What did he really want?"
"After he chatted briefly about national security implications and the need for discretion, he gave me Applewhite's name as the FBI contact person and asked me to call her at her hotel. So I did. She basically gave me the same line that she fed you, minus any aspersions about Mrs.
Terrell's sexual escapades."
"So, you get a reassuring call from the U. S. attorney within minutes of our conversation. What a coincidence."
"Your phone is tapped," Andy said.
"Either that or they're using a telecommunications-intercept system through the National Security Agency, which means they probably know we're meeting right now."
Andy brushed a hand through his thinning hair.
"Jesus."
"Drop the Applewhite fact check," Kerney said.
"You don't want to get involved."
Andy smiled slyly.
"Too late. I did it myself just to be obstinate. Her story checks out. I verified the car rental, the date she and her husband arrived by plane in Albuquerque, when they checked into their rented Taos condominium, and the time today that she reserved a hotel room in Santa Fe. But what I found interesting was that everybody I talked to, once I connected with the right people, had the information I needed at their fingertips.
No paper shuffling, record searching, or computer scan."
"Oops," Kerney said.
"Tomorrow should be a very interesting day."
"I know a retired special agent who might be willing to give me some background on Applewhite," Andy said.
"Let it go. If they're listening to my conversations, they're probably listening to yours. Best for them to think I'm satisfied that all is as it seems. I picked Terrell up at the airport and drove him to his hotel.
He brought two company men masquerading as FBI."
"You're sure?"
"That's my guess."
"Want some advice?" Andy asked after a pause.
"Sure."
Andy pulled at the collar of his off-white uniform shirt.
"Start wearing your blues, Kerney."
"Do you think that will impress the feds?" Kerney asked with a laugh.
"No, but it might make your troops start to think you're proud to be their chief."
"You know how I feel about uniforms."
"Then you should have been an accountant instead of a cop."
Kerney studied Andy's serious expression.
"What have you heard?"
"The same gripe that dogged you when you were my chief deputy. I put up with it because I knew what you did was far more important than whether or not you wore a uniform on the job. But now you're the chief of a department, and you damn well better dress like one. Wear the uniform."
Andy was right and Kerney knew it.
"I'll spit-shine my shoes and polish my brass in the morning," he said as he opened the car door.
"Call me if you get into a firefight with the feds," Andy said.
"If that happens, it will be too late to call," Kerney said.
"All of this could turn out to mean nothing."
"You never know," Kerney replied.
CHApter 3
About the only thing Cloudy Herrera liked about working days was that the shift started at six in the morning and usually nothing much happened for an hour or two. Assigned to the north patrol, Cloudy expected he'd catch some false burglary alarm calls and take spillover assignments on the south side of the city where the units stayed busy with shoplifting, assault, auto theft, vandalism, and traffic accidents.
So far his radio had been quiet.
At a stop-and-rob convenience store just off the Interstate, Cloudy bought an extra large coffee, left it on the counter, and went to empty his bladder in the public restroom. As he zipped up, his call number came over the handheld radio.
Cloudy keyed the microphone clipped to his shirt and responded.
"Unattended death at the College of Santa Fe," the dispatcher said.
"See Brother Jerome Brodsky at the Christian Brothers residence hall."
Cloudy acknowledged and checked the time. It was five minutes after seven.
"ETA four minutes," he added, hurrying to his unit.
Morning traffic was still light and he could get to the campus running with lights only in plenty of time. Halfway there he remembered he'd left his coffee behind on the counter, which had cost him a buck and some change. That didn't make him happy, but the thought passed when he realized he didn't have a clue where the Christian Brothers' residence hall was located on the campus. He called dispatch and asked for directions.
Two dead bodies in two days, a first in his three years on the force.
He parked in front of the old World War Two barracks where the brothers lived. There better not be any damn dogs around, he grumbled silently, thinking about his ruined uniform trousers.
He announced his arrival and the shift sergeant came on the horn to say he was rolling and would be there in two.
"Ten-four," Cloudy replied, staring at a tall, older man in long black robes who came hurrying down a pathway to a gate, his expression dazed and shaken.
Kerney passed the National Guard recruitment billboard, turned off the frontage road that paralleled the Interstate, and drove toward the new armory. He parked and listened for a minute to the radio traffic about an unattended death at the college before entering the building. Inside a female staff sergeant dressed in army fatigues directed him to the conference room where the FBI task force had set up shop. He entered the room to find Lieutenant Molina at a conference table large enough to seat the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Council, and the whole White House cabinet. With Molina were every on-duty detective, an eight-man FBI crew, and Special Agent Applewhite, who assisted a man at the head of the table as he quickly scanned through a document folder.
The two men who'd accompanied Ambassador Terrell to Santa Fe were not present.
The surprised look on Sal Molina's face as he considered the sight of Kerney in uniform almost made Kerney smile. Molina's reaction alone made wearing the blues worth the effort.
The man with Applewhite looked up, nodded at Kerney, rose, and came around the table to greet him.
"Chief Kerney," Charlie Perry said.
"It's good to see you again."
"Hello, Charlie." Kerney shook Perry's hand, thinking back to his summer as a seasonal ranger in the Gila Wilderness, where he'd met Perry, who'd been undercover at the time, investigating a militia group in Catron County. He'd butted heads with Perry, who had treated him as a washed-up ex-cop, hamstrung his attempts to link the militia to a lucrative game-poaching operation, and forced him off the job-all out of pure ego. But with the help of a state game and fish officer named Jim Stiles, Kerney had still managed to punch a big hole in the militia's leadership and make some rock-solid arrests.
"Seems you've resurrected your career since last we met," Perry said.
The sarcastic bite came from Perry's choice of words, not his tone.
Kerney studied the younger man's face. Trim and lean, Perry matched Kerney's six-one height. Perry had missed one long neck hair when shaving. It curled below his Adam's apple just above his shirt collar.
Another jutted out on the side of a nostril. Judging by his past experience with the man, Kerney assumed Perry was too vain to realize he needed glasses.
Perry stared back at Kerney cockily, his brown eyes showing a touch of disdain.
"Looks like you've moved up in the food chain yourself, Charlie," Kerney said.
"Let's get to work."
"We're ready when you are," Perry replied, gesturing at the table.
After introductions Applewhite passed out folders and Perry guided the group through the documents, which laid out very little about Phyllis Terrell's personal history or her extramarital affairs, and gave a brief resume on Hamilton Lowell Terrell, who after his retirement from the army had served as ambassador in both Panama and Ecuador, and who now carried the rank of ambassador without portfolio. Included in the paperwork were the names of three men who allegedly had been Mrs.
Terrell's lovers during the past two years, and some supplementary information on the considerable net worth of the surviving members of the Straley family, including the victim's father and sister.
"This is all you're going to give us?" Molina asked when Perry closed the file and put it to one side.
"You have the names of two local men who may have been sexually involved with the victim," Perry replied.
"That should be enough to keep you and your people busy."
"And the third guy down in Ramah?" Molina asked, consulting his notes.
"Scott Gatlin."
"I have an agent on the way there now," Perry replied.
"We'll handle it."
"What about the papers and items that were removed from Mrs. Terrell's residence last night?" Molina asked.
"Nothing of value to the investigation was taken," Perry said.
"I'm supposed to trust you on that?" Molina snapped back.
Perry fiddled with his pen before replying.
"The ambassador's personal property was secured at his request and consisted of nothing more than photographs, books, and memorabilia."
"Then why wasn't I allowed to inventory the contents last night before the boxes were removed by your two agents?"
"Because, as I just said, it had no bearing on the case," Perry replied.
"I want to do a full-scale search of the residence," Molina said.
Perry reached for another folder.
"Agent Applewhite asked the ambassador to sign a permission-to-search form late last night. He was more than willing to do so."
Perry passed it down the table, watched Molina read it, and then turned his attention to Kerney.
"I'd like Agent Applewhite and another agent to assist in the search, if that's all right with you, Chief."
"No problem," Kerney said.
Perry smiled thinly.
"Good. Then there's only a few more issues to cover. Susan Straley has arrived from Virginia and Proctor Stra ley is on his way to Santa Fe now. My people will conduct the necessary interviews. Also, I've called a press briefing at noon to release the name of the victim, announce the formation of the task force, and read a prepared statement from the ambassador."
Perry's smile widened.
"Unless you'd rather handle it, Chief Kerney."
"Go for it, Charlie," Kerney said, looking at the tidy, neat rows of agents flanking Perry at the far end of the table.
"But tell me, what will the rest of the task force be doing while we're searching the house and interviewing Mrs. Terrell's boyfriends?"

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