The fix, p.20
Part #3 of Amos Decker series by David Baldacci
professional. Just like she always is,” she added derisively. “But all I could make out was that Dad was dead and he had shot himself. I didn’t even know about the woman he killed until I got here, although Jules said she told me. I guess I didn’t process that part. I’m not as coldly efficient as my big sister.”
“Did you think what he did was connected to how he had gotten the money?” asked Jamison.
Natalie nodded, looking miserable as the tears rolled down her cheeks. “I thought it had to be connected. And so I believed it was my fault. I drank on the flight from France. Then when I got here I kept drinking. I don’t remember much before or after.”
“I’m sure that was a big help to your family,” said Decker sternly.
“Hey,” she snapped, “I’m not proud of what I did, okay? So you can leave the high-and-mighty attitude for someone else. And if you keep it up I won’t do anything to help you.”
Decker leaned forward. “Let me lay this out so that you see clearly what’s at stake here, lady. I’m not here begging for favors. Your father committed treason to get the money to pay Corbett’s damn gambling debts.”
Natalie went white and her mouth hung open. She looked like she might throw up.
Decker ignored her expression and continued, “So that makes you, at minimum, an accessory to treason. And you didn’t come forward with any of this information that might have explained, in part, why your father did what he did. That’s obstruction of justice. You combine the two with assorted other felonies, which any competent U.S. Attorney would be able to come up with, and you won’t have to worry about finding a place to live after you divorce Corbett. Your housing will be provided by the federal prison system for the rest of your life.”
Before she became hysterical Decker said, “But if you cooperate, maybe that doesn’t happen.”
“What do you want me to do?” she blurted out.
“Someone I greatly respect thinks your father may have told you something that might help us.”
Decker said, “I’m guessing you’re the youngest.”
“I am. How did you know?”
“You said your dad took care of everything for you. And you said Jules was all professional-like. She’s the oldest. The take-charge one.”
“So you and your dad had a special relationship.”
“You flew over here and went with him to the doctors, didn’t you?”
Natalie said, “He…he called me and told me he thought he was sick. I mean really sick. He said he hadn’t told anyone else. He wanted me.” She broke off and fought back a sob. “He wanted me to go with him to get a definitive diagnosis. He sent the money for the plane ticket.”
“So you went?” said Jamison.
She rubbed her eyes, took a tissue from her robe pocket, and blew her nose. “Yes. And they confirmed that he had stage four inoperable brain cancer. They said that before long he wouldn’t be able to function normally.”
“And what did your dad say about that?”
“That he wasn’t going to do any treatments. They would give him an extra couple of weeks or maybe a month, but he didn’t want that. He was planning to tell Mom, and we talked about how he was going to break the news.”
“And did he talk to you about anything else he was planning to do?” asked Decker.
Natalie looked at each of them before settling her gaze on Decker. “If you’re asking did he tell me that he was planning on shooting someone a month or so later and then taking his own life, that would be a no. I would never have kept quiet about that.”
“But did he say anything that might have hinted at what he was planning to do? It might have made no sense to you, but it could still be important.”
Natalie thought for a few moments. She rubbed at her eyes and said, “We were talking one night. He had called me in France out of the blue.”
“When was this?”
“About a week ago.”
“Go on,” said Decker.
“Well, he said he hadn’t told Mom or the others yet, but he was still planning to. And then he said, ‘You think you know someone for a long time, and then it turns out you don’t know them at all. And then, before you know it, it’s too late.’”
“Did you ask him what he meant by that?” asked Jamison.
“I did, at least I tried to. I thought he might be on some pain meds and was a little incoherent. But then before I could say anything he told me he loved me. And then he hung up. That was the last time I ever heard from him.” She bowed her head and began to quietly sob. After a few moments she lifted her head and said, “Will all this have to come out? Will my mom and sisters have to know?”
“Right now, I don’t see any way to keep this secret,” said Decker.
As they walked out Jamison looked at Decker. “What do you make of that?”
“I think Walter Dabney was being quite literal.”
THEY LEFT THE STRICKEN HOUSE and Mars drove them to the WFO.
On the way Jamison said, “What did you mean that Dabney was being literal?”
“That someone he trusted had screwed him. I just don’t know who that is.”
Mars shot him a glance. “You mean like my old man? Or who I thought was my old man.”
“Yeah, like him.”
“You were sort of hard on Natalie, Decker,” said Jamison.
Decker looked at her. “How?”
“She just lost her dad and you were busting her chops.”
“If she was feeling guilty, she should have been. She was the reason her father stole secrets.”
“But her husband—” began Jamison.
“You make choices,” interrupted Decker. “Walter Dabney would never have done what he did but for Corbett not being able to control his gambling. So the result is the guy who should have had consequences gets off without a scratch. And the guy who should have been left to deal with his terminal cancer and die with dignity is lying on a slab at the morgue. After decades of busting his ass to give his family a great life, he’ll be remembered as a traitor and a murderer.”
“Well, he made choices too,” countered Jamison.
“I don’t see it the same way,” said Decker. “Natalie was his baby girl. What was he supposed to do?”
“He could have said no,” answered Mars. “But he didn’t. I’m not saying it was an easy choice, because it wasn’t. Maybe he should have called in the police or helped Natalie and her family go into hiding. Dabney obviously had connections. He could have maybe helped another way.”
Decker shook his head and said, “Neither one of you have had a kid. I did. You’d do anything to help them. Anything.”
And that was all Decker would say on the drive back.
Once they got to the WFO they needed a temporary visitor’s badge for Mars, but they had called ahead to Bogart and he had taken care of it, meeting them at the front entrance.
“Damn, Melvin, you look good,” said Bogart. Then he glared at Decker. “And Alex phoned me to let me know what happened last night. Decker, you took a big risk. A stupid risk. What the hell were you thinking? Oh, excuse me, it was obvious that you weren’t thinking. You’re lucky Melvin was there to save your butt.”
“I always count on a little help from my friends,” said Decker.
“You and the Beatles,” retorted Bogart. “But lightning usually doesn’t strike twice.”
“Alex already gave me hell for it.”
“No reason not to pile on,” said Jamison tightly. “Then the message might actually sink in.”
Bogart escorted them back to his office. When they were settled, Decker said, “Based on a hunch from Melvin, we spoke with Natalie, Dabney’s youngest daughter.” He went on to tell Bogart what had happened.
Bogart said thoughtfully, “So you think Dabney knew who was blackmailing him?”
Decker said, “But there’s another piece to it. You think you know someone? The problem is, that could mean different things depending on the situation. Who was Dabney referring to?”
“Could be lots of possible people,” interjected Jamison.
Decker nodded. “That’s the problem.”
Bogart said, “But at least it gives us a new lead to follow up.”
Jamison said, “It might be someone he worked with over the years.”
Decker said, “Well, it would be someone in a position to blackmail him now. We’ll have to dig into Dabney’s background more.”
“Where do we start?” asked Jamison.
Decker answered, “At the obvious source. Walter Dabney and Associates.”
* * *
“Have you found out anything else?” asked Faye Thompson, Dabney’s partner they had spoken with previously. He and Jamison were in her office. Mars had gone back to the apartment.
Before he could answer she said, “By the way, I sent the photo of the woman in the video with Walter around the office. No one recognized her.”
Decker said, “Okay, thanks. We were hoping you could help us on a line of inquiry.”
“We’ll need a list of all your employees and partners, with particular focus on ones who have been here long-term. And we’ll need the same for your clients. Same focus. Long-term.”
Thompson sat back looking both flustered and suspicious. “Where is all this leading?”
“Hopefully, to the truth.”
“Sounds more like a scattergun approach.”
“Investigations like this have to look at everything,” said Decker. “And we can’t discount the possibility that whatever drove Walter Dabney to do what he did originated here.”
“I think that’s extremely unlikely.”
“Do you have a warrant?”
“Do we need one?” He cocked his head. “I would have thought you’d want us to find out the truth behind all this.”
“Of course I do. But I’m also running a business. And this sort of thing can be very disruptive. And you very well know that most of what we do is classified. We can’t just start breaching confidences.”
“Well, we apologize for the inconvenience, but two people are dead.”
“I get that, but—”
Decker interrupted her. “And there’s something else.”
“Walter Dabney needed an enormous amount of money very quickly. I won’t get into why. But he stole secrets from a project he was working on here and sold them to enemies of this country.”
Thompson slowly rose, wide-eyed, and stared down at him. “Bullshit!”
“DIA has been investigating this for a while. If you don’t believe me, talk to them.”
Thompson put a hand against the wall to steady herself. “DIA?”
“Serious, classified stuff.”
“We’ll have to do an immediate internal review.”
“Might be a little late for that.”
“This could ruin us,” groaned Thompson.
“The sooner we solve this thing the better it’ll be for you,” Jamison pointed out.
“I have to talk to some people,” said Thompson.
“Okay, but if you don’t want to cooperate we can easily get a warrant,” said Decker.
She said quickly, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t cooperate. Look, I have to check with some other partners and our lawyers. Can I at least do that?”
“Absolutely. And we can wait here while you do.”
She stared hard at him, but Decker’s features were unflinching.
She rose and picked up her phone. “Then please excuse me while I go and do that,” she said coldly. She left the room and slammed the door behind her.
“Do you think she’s hiding something?” asked Jamison.
Decker shrugged. “Other things being equal, I think she’s just pissed because this is going to hit her right in the wallet.”
“Do you think it was wise to tell her about the stolen secrets?”
“I’m tired of spinning wheels. We need to interject some urgency into the equation. And I didn’t tell her exactly what they were, because Agent Brown never told me.”
Thompson came back a half hour later with a flash drive. She handed it to Decker. “Please understand that we want you to treat this information with the highest level of confidentiality.”
“We understand that,” said Jamison. “And we will.”
Thompson kept her gaze on Decker. “Yeah, I’m sure you do, but I was talking about him.”
Decker rose and left the room.
Thompson eyed Jamison. “How do you stand that guy?”
“He’s excellent at what he does,” she said defensively.
Thompson snorted. “Well, he would have to be, wouldn’t he? To put up with the rest of the prick.”
Jamison scurried after Decker, who was striding down the hall to the exit. She caught up to him midway and fell in step beside him.
She eyed the flash drive. “Probably a lot to sort through.”
“Hey, maybe we can have dinner with Melvin tonight. We can go out.”
He didn’t respond.
“Decker, I said—”
“I heard you, Alex. That sounds fine.”
“Great. Say seven-thirty at Cotton’s? It’s on Fourteenth Street. I’ll make a reservation.”
“Yep. Got it.
She hesitated. “I’m sure you’re glad to see Melvin.”
“I mean, after all, he is your best friend.”
“Yes, he is.”
Jamison stuffed her hands into her pockets and marched along, her features rigid.
The Fix by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes