The Real Estate Connection Ch. 07bykiwiwolf©
This chapter is dedicated to a group of people second to none. They have helped keep me sane in an insane time by just being themselves. I'd have to go a long way to find a community more giving than The Dawgs. Thanks guys and girls.
"Jesus Christ! Tell me you're joking. Tell me that you just thought you'd yank my crank to get a rise out of me." My outburst was met with silence. Detective Karen Montecelli from Richmond PD homicide and Lieutenant Lee Stowers from the Richmond S.W.A.T. team just stared at me with a mixture of worry and pity. I exhaled forcefully and spoke again.
"So you're telling me that I didn't kill Liz Graeme and not only that but we now have another fucking anonymous player in the mix?" Silently they nodded in unison. "Jesus... that's all we needed." Stevie leaned in close and placed her hand on my arm in a soothing manner as Karen continued.
"Craig I'm sorry man but the ballistics don't lie. The round that took out Liz Graeme was a .308 rifle round. The rifling suggests a Remington sporting rifle but the slug doesn't match up with anything local or anything in the national database. The forensic team gave us an approximate field of fire that puts the shooter either in KJ's studio or one of the stores on either side of KJ's studio. Not very helpful I have to admit but at least it gives us a starting point. Karen is going to go over the scene again tomorrow afternoon but she has to be a bit circumspect about it. If Chief Wallace hears about it the fecal matter is sure to hit the rotary blades."
I sat there with a torrent of thoughts rushing through my brain. What the hell was happening? Initially I was convinced that Montoya was after me for what I had done in Colombia. Then I wasn't sure if I was the target or not. A nearly successful attempt at a hit resulted in me killing the hitter who was briefly involved with one of my best friends... only I didn't kill her. An apparent new player on the block had taken care of her for me. That in itself had opened a whole new can of worms. Was the new player an enemy or an ally? If the new kid on the block was an ally, why didn't he or she make themselves known to me? What the fuck was going on? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that Montoya would never use a female shooter to kill me or any target. It just wasn't the way he worked. It would have been a massive blow to his machismo and for a man like Montoya that was almost worse than death. So if it wasn't Montoya, then who was it? And was I even the target? Montoya had more than enough opportunity to hit me when I was in Colombia. What the hell was going on?
"Craig? Are you okay honey?" Stevie's question rescued me from my fugue. I looked up to find all eyes on me.
"Yeah I was just thinking. I think it's time I made a trip to Langley and had a chat to Carmichael. There's more to this than meets the eye and if we are gonna come out of this undamaged we're going to need more information than what we've got." There were a few nods from around the table all accompanied by grim looks. The tone of the day had changed radically. "I also need to get my weapons back from your ballistics lab. I'm feeling slightly naked without my mini arsenal." This last comment was met with a cocked eyebrow and a wry grin. I wasn't fooling Lee at all. He knew I had access to weapons and would suspect that I had already sourced more firearms or hadn't surrendered all that I had to the police the previous day.
"Craig I'd love to hear about anything you can pick up from the puzzle palace. We couldn't hope to get anything near to the intel you could pick up at Langley and anything you can get for us might help our investigation." Lee's plea was tinged with just a little desperation and frustration and once again I was reminded that his cousin Becky was involved in this too.
"Buddy, you'll be the first to know of anything I can pick up. Carmichael owes me one. Even if it's just for getting caught with his fingers in the cookie jar." This last comment got Lee's attention.
"What do you mean by that?"
Quickly I explained about the listening devices that we had discovered in the house and about Carmichaels role in placing them. Lee's wolfish grin surprised me.
"Craig... we've got him. We've got him by the balls man!" My vacant stare brought a laugh and an illuminating explanation. "Pal the CIA isn't allowed to operate in the US. Intelligence gathering in the US is the domain of the FBI. Okay if the CIA can prove a clear and present danger exists inside the US then they may get a special dispensation to do limited intel gathering but I really doubt that your situation would warrant their involvement. The fact that they did this in our parish gives us an invite to come to the party. We can use this as leverage Craig. Fancy a passenger on your trip to Langley?"
"You pay for your own lunch," I laughed. "We'll leave first thing tomorrow, that ok with you? Hey also... we're having KJ and the Doc who patched me up out to the house for dinner tomorrow night. I was thinking it might be a good time to see if that barbeque grill out on my deck works. Would it be out of line to invite you and your S.W.A.T. team to join us?"
"I can't see a problem with it. We're off rotation at the moment with a three day stand down so we should all be available as long as there are no prior engagements. I'll do a quick ring around tonight and see how many of the boys can make it. Are partners invited?" A quick nod from me brought a smile and a sideways glance at Karen from Lee.
Agreement was reached and arrangements were made and with nothing more to be said we sat back to enjoy the show for a while. The dancers were a lot different to what I was used to in some of the seedier dives I had patronized when on leave. For a start, all of the ladies, without exception, were absolutely stunning. On top of that they all looked happy. From past experiences I was used to seeing strippers that were bored out of their wits, gazing off into the distance thinking about what they were going to have for dinner or what they were going to buy with the money from their shift on the stage. The girls on the stage at Beagle's approached their work with genuine enjoyment and enthusiasm. I mentioned this to Karen which brought a laugh from Stevie.
"My man the experienced strip bar patron. What did I do to get such a paragon of virtue?" I was once again the butt of the joke, which this time I was grateful for as it helped take the edge off a still fairly tense atmosphere.
"Baby it was merely for research purposes. I spent so much time in the jungle that I was scared that I'd forget what women looked like. You see I just had to go to those places. Believe me baby... I didn't enjoy them at all. Not one bit." More laughter before Karen answered my query and saved me from more ribbing.
"Mike, my brother, is very selective when it comes to choosing his dancers. Only women who want to dance get a job here at Beagle's. This tends to keep the no hopers and junkies away. He also runs a pretty extensive background check on all of the girls who apply. This eliminates anyone who has a record. Then on top of that he actually pays them a wage." This brought a raised eyebrow query from Stevie. Karen explained.
"Most strippers only get what they make in tips. For some girls this can mean a huge payout on a weekly basis but for others ... well it can mean a struggle. Mike pays them a base salary and then they get to keep their tips on top of that. He also has a dancer advisor I suppose you could call her. A woman who used to dance herself who looks after the girls. She acts as a sort of den mother, looking after things like costumes, make up and all the other bits and pieces that go with the game. On top of that she is also like an Aunt Abby. If any of the girls have a problem, they can go to her for advice. Mike runs a clean ship here and the girls are treated well. The bouncers know their business and the girls are safe. In the end that is what it's all about in a game like this."
I was impressed and told her so.
Despite the pleasant atmosphere, my stomach was starting to grumble. It had been a long day and I was getting tired. With a promise to meet Karen and Lee the next morning the meeting broke up and a few minutes later we found ourselves out on the pavement in the waning light of the evening. Karen and Lee went back to the office, and KJ left for home as Stevie and I wandered back to the car.
"Let's have dinner at home tonight Craig. I feel like a quiet night with my man, snuggled up in bed watching a movie. You interested?" she asked. I was definitely interested and told her so. After a quick trip to the market to pick up a few dinner ingredients we were headed for home. As we exited the parking lot at the market I noticed the same sedan from that morning slip in behind us. We had our escort back. I briefly wondered who they were working for but with the tangled mess we were dealing with it didn't really matter. I was convinced that if we were to make it through this, it would be by our own devices. The car trailed us all the way home and parked just down the road from the gate when we turned in and drove up to the house. Hemi and Sam were drinking beers out by the pool so Stevie and I went out to join them for a while. The ice cold Miller's draft was just what the doctor ordered and in no time the conversation was flowing easily. I told the guys about my plans for the next day and they were more than ready to offer suggestions about how I could get the info we needed out of Carmichael. Eventually Stevie and I went in to get dinner started.
Standing in the kitchen side by side chopping vegetables to go with the steaks, it struck me that it had been a long time since I had thought of my previous life. I had been content in the jungle. The basic life had suited my plans and dreams; they'd been a means to an end, a way to fund my dream. Now that I was living my dream, I was more than content... I was happy. I leaned over and softly kissed Stevie on the cheek.
"What was that for?" she asked with a grin.
"Do I need a reason to kiss my lady?"
After dinner we stuck to the plan. Stevie surprised me with her DVD choice. I wouldn't have picked her as a war movie type of woman but she chose "Blackhawk Down". It brought home the fact that although I loved this woman without question, I really had a lot to learn about her. Mind you the discovery process was a hell of a lot of fun. When the movie was over we made love slowly and finally fell asleep in each others arms. It had been a long day.
It was raining when we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed next morning. In the jungle the arrival of rain had usually been enough to drop the spirits of my merry band of men. Here in my semi rural paradise it hardly mattered. It would mean that I would have to take a little more care on my trip to Langley but other than that I wasn't bothered one way or another. Similarly Stevie was her usual bright and breezy self. While I showered, she bounced downstairs to get breakfast started. As we ate we discussed the day to come. Stevie was going to go in to the office to arrange a few things then out to her house to finalize the handover to the new owner. It would be a few weeks before things were finally ironed out but essentially the property would change hands today. Hemi was going to keep her company. All in all we had a full day ahead of us. It almost felt like we led ordinary lives as we kissed each other goodbye and climbed into our vehicles to drive into town. I stowed the small bag I was carrying in the back seat and set off to pick up Lee.
It was just after 8.00 when I pulled up outside Lee's house to find both Lee and Karen out on the sidewalk. Good mornings were exchanged before Karen kissed Lee goodbye and climbed into her car to head in to work and Lee clambered into the Tahoe with me for the hour and a half drive to Langley. Like me, he was dressed in cargo pants and a t-shirt; casual seemed to be the order of the day.
"Morning buddy. I spoke to most of the guys from the team last night. You've got nearly a full compliment of S.W.A.T. guys descending on you at about 6 this evening. I hope you know what you're in for. These guys party hard."
"Lee I'm ex army remember? They can't show me anything I haven't seen before man." Lee just shook his head and laughed as we pulled away from the curb.
During the drive, Lee and I discussed how we would tackle Carmichael when we finally got to front him in his office. We were assuming that he would be there when we arrived but it was a fairly safe assumption as he was a creature of habit. He basically lived in his office only emerging to cause mayhem when he meddled with other people's lives. The approach we decided on was a risky one but we figured the possible outcome was worth the risk. Before long we were pulling up to the guard house at Langley.
"Lieutenant Lee Stowers from Richmond PD and Craig Miller here to see Deputy Director Carmichael on official business." I winced when he said we were here on official business. This was anything but official and I could see Lee's career going south pretty quickly if this didn't pan out. However Lee was running this part of the show so I left him to play it how he wanted.
"Can I ask what the nature of the business is?" The guard was diligent in his duties. He wasn't going to let us in without a good nosey at what we wanted. "Is the Deputy Director expecting you?"
"No he isn't. Why don't you get him on the phone and tell him we're here."
The guard stepped back into the guard house and while watching us carefully picked up the phone and made a short call. We couldn't hear what he was saying but it was obvious he was talking to the man himself. His posture straightened and his whole demeanor changed. It was as if Carmichael was standing in front of him watching. Then it hit me. He very well could be watching. The whole approach and guard house area was comprehensively covered by closed circuit cameras. I could just picture Carmichael peering intently into the monitors, watching our every move as he talked to the guard. I fought the temptation to do something stupid like flick him the bird on camera as we waited patiently for five minutes before the guard got off the phone and came back out to the car.
"Okay sir you can drive through. Follow the signs to the visitor parking where you will be met. Please stay in your vehicle until someone arrives to escort you inside." He was courtesy personified as he stepped back inside the guardhouse and hit the button to raise the barrier.
Finding a parking space in the visitor's area was easy. It seemed that Langley didn't get many visitors this early. Our welcoming committee was already there waiting for us; five serious looking men in suits that did little to hide the bulges at the hip or the armpit depending on where these guys preferred to carry their hardware. As I switched off the engine the leader of the group stepped up to the car.
"Good morning Major Miller. Would you and Lieutenant Stowers please step out of the car?" We did as instructed and stood waiting for our next instruction.
"Gentlemen we are going to perform a quick search on you now. Please assume the position." Lee and I both turned to the truck and 'spread 'em' as they say on TV. The frisk was thorough almost to the point of being embarrassing but it was over soon enough. Lee and I had left our weapons in the glove compartment of the Tahoe which I was positive would be searched as well once we were out of sight.
Flanked by our escorts we were through a side door then through a metal detector before being taken to a bank of elevators. This struck me as strange as visitors to the CIA headquarters were always required to sign in. Obviously someone didn't want an official record of our visit. A few minutes later we were being ushered into Carmichael's office.
He was sitting back in his well padded leather office chair with his hands folded across his stomach looking like the cat that just got the canary. My unease deepened as I took in his smug grin. The door was shut behind us leaving me and Lee alone with Carmichael. Wordlessly we walked over and sat down on the chairs in front of Carmichael's desk. He regarded us with that unbearable smugness for a while longer before speaking.
"Lt. Stowers, does your boss know you are here? Isn't a murder investigation a little outside of your job description? I would have thought that as a S.W.A.T. officer you would be off doing what you folks do best... shooting things." Lee's laugh at Carmichael's comment wasn't exactly what you would call friendly or packed with mirth. Carmichael then turned to me.
"So Craig... decided to pay us a nice social visit have you? Or have you decided that it's time to come over to the Dark Side? You know we'd give you a job here any time so why don't you come on board? You know you're ideally suited for the job."
"You don't have enough money to buy my services Carmichael. Now enough bullshit. We want to know all you have about what's happening to us in Richmond. And we want it now."
"Miller you think you can just wander in here unannounced and demand things from me? Who the hell do you think you are? You're just some jumped up hired gun with delusions of grandeur and glory. Well I've got news for you pal... the good guy does not get to ride off into the sunset with the girl this time. This time, you're gonna be lucky to make it out of this with your ass intact."
Carmichael's smile became wolfish as he continued.
"And what did you expect to gain by bringing your tame lawman with you? You expect me to quiver and shake in fear? You need to know that inside this building I am the law. I could make sure that you never saw the light of day again Miller. Did you even think about that you sanctimonious son of a bitch?"
Things were going perfectly as predicted. It was a given that Carmichael would come out of the starters gates with all guns blazing. As with most cowards he was a firm believer in the old adage that the best defense is a good offence. The problem he had was that his offence was flawed... and it was time to tell him so.
"Carmichael you are going to tell us what you know about our situation and you're going to tell us now. For once you don't hold all the cards. We have the monitoring devices you planted in the house and unless you have a federal warrant permitting you to plant them, you're in deep shit. Intelligence gathering in the continental US is waaaay outside your charter. On top of that I'm pretty sure I can make a damned good case for an investigation of the CIA for attempted murder. As for you making us disappear... well good luck to ya pal. There are at least a dozen people who know we came here today. And we're expected back by 2pm at the latest. You see, I'm hosting a little barbeque tonight for a few friends... including the off duty members of the Richmond S.W.A.T. team. Now you're a lot of things but stupid isn't one of them. We're going to be walking out of here under our own power."
Watching Carmichael shrink under my words was one of the best feelings I'd had in all my time dealing with the man. He knew we had him; now it was just a matter of waiting him out. Lee and I sat back and left him to his thoughts. It took him only a few moments to make his decision. Getting up from his desk he walked across the room to a small bank of filing cabinets. It amazed me that in this day of electronic media he still relied on old fashioned hard copies. Mind you with hacking being a favorite past time amongst the disaffected, he probably felt that sensitive data was safer in his filing cabinet and he may have been right. It only took him a few seconds for him to find the file he was looking for remove it from the cabinet and drop it on his desk in front of me. The side tab read Miller, Craig. I guess that was me.