The fix, p.36
Part #3 of Amos Decker series by David Baldacci
Bogart turned off the lights and nodded to Milligan, who hit some keys and a screen affixed to the far wall came to life.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” said Bogart. “We found some things I don’t think J. K. Rowling intended to be in there.”
The three sat down and Bogart said, “Dial it up, Todd.”
Milligan hit some more keys and a page from the book showed up on the screen.
“I don’t see anything,” said Jamison.
“Wait a minute.”
Milligan hit some more keys and suddenly various letters on the page started to shimmer.
“They’re fluorescing,” exclaimed Jamison.
“Yes. We had to try a lot of different interactive light sources, but we found one that worked.”
“But they’re different colors,” said Jamison. “The letters are different colors.”
“We think we figured that out. If they used this book over a long term, they would have to send separate messages. The different colors are a way for the receiver to know that. The blue you see is one message. The red another. We don’t know which is more recent, but we think that’s how it works.”
“But what does it say?” asked Decker.
“It’s not that simple. The letters don’t add up to anything that makes sense. Our code breakers are looking at it and we’ve asked for assistance from both NSA and DIA. It might take a while, but at least we know they were passing coded messages this way.”
“Between Berkshire and Jenkins,” said Decker.
“Right. She obtained the secrets, encoded them here, and then he used a special light to reveal the letters, copied them down, and decoded it. Then he would send it up the line to whoever he’s working for.”
“Pretty clever to use a hospice that way,” said Decker.
“You mean pretty cruel,” added Jamison.
Bogart said, “This way Jenkins and Berkshire would never even have to come into contact. They just used the book.”
“You think they used this method to communicate the secrets that Dabney stole?” asked Jamison.
“I don’t know for certain, but it’s a pretty safe bet they did.”
“And yet Dabney murdered Berkshire. Why?”
“We do keep coming back to that,” agreed Bogart. “Remorse for what he’d done?”
“But we can’t show that Dabney and Berkshire actually even met,” said Decker.
“Well, they could have met at a secret location. Maybe the old house in the woods?”
Decker said, “So he sells her the secrets. The amount he thinks is ten million, but it’s actually a lot less than that. He doesn’t even see the money transferred. He knows it went, though, because his daughter and her family are still alive. Then he gets remorse, like you said, and kills Berkshire and then himself. But why out in the open like that? And why would Berkshire have agreed to meet with him near the Hoover Building? That was probably the last place she would want to go. I mean, wouldn’t she have maybe smelled a setup?”
“Maybe not,” rejoined Bogart. “I mean, he’d just done a deal with the woman. She might have thought he wanted to do another.”
“A spy who uses a subterfuge like a book at a hospice so she doesn’t even have to meet another spy she’s been working with for a long time decides to do a face-to-face with a guy she’s maybe done one act of espionage with near the headquarters of the American agency tasked with catching spies?” He looked at Bogart. “Really, how much sense does that make?”
“Not much,” conceded Bogart. “But it happened.”
“No, maybe it didn’t,” replied Decker.
Decker stared across at Natalie.
She had been formally charged, had lawyered up, and was being held because she was considered a flight risk. Because of the sensitive nature of the case, the sole court proceeding conducted so far had been done in the judge’s chambers.
The woman looked like she had aged ten years since they had stopped her from flying out of Dulles.
Decker nodded. He had asked to meet with Natalie alone. The others were waiting in another room.
“She was executed, actually.”
“Why would anyone do that to her? She was our housekeeper.”
“Since you were little?”
“Yes. Cissy had worked for my parents since as long as I can remember.”
“Well, someone did kill her.”
“But why do you think it’s connected to our family?”
“I don’t know for certain that it is. But I have to check out the possibility. It is a little coincidental, you have to admit.”
Natalie nodded. “I guess it is. Do my mom and sisters know?”
“Yes. They all took it hard.”
“Mom raised us, but Cissy was always there for us. And Mom loved her. Dad was gone a lot, and I’m not sure what Mom would have done without Cissy.”
“I’m sure. You were lucky to have her.”
“So why did you want to see me?”
“Have you gotten your deal yet?”
“I think they’re still working on it.” Her lips trembled. “My lawyer thinks I’ll have to do some time in prison.” She looked up at Decker. “I won’t be able to see my daughter if I’m in prison, right?”
“Have you talked to your husband?”
She nodded and used a handkerchief to blow her nose. “He said he’s flying over with Tasha.” She rubbed her eyes. “That was all bullshit about him. Corbett’s actually a really good guy. All this crap I’m in, it was my fault. I got addicted to gambling and I couldn’t stop. He tried to help me, but I was sick, I guess.”
“Admitting that is a big first step to getting better.”
“Yeah,” she said despondently. “I guess my family knows about me?”
“We told them some. They’re very worried about you.”
“Can I see them at some point?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“I’ve really messed up my life, haven’t I?”
“You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” He hunched forward. “But you can help yourself by helping us.”
She shot him a glance. “But I’ve told you everything I know.”
“You actually might know some things you don’t even know that you know.”
“I don’t understand. Like what?”
“When the money was sent to pay off your true gambling debts, did you call your dad and let him know?”
“Of course I did.”
“He thought it was ten million, though, right?”
She nodded. “That’s what I told him because that’s what they told me to say.”
“And they did that because they wanted your dad’s only recourse to be selling classified information. That would be the only way he could raise that kind of money in the short term.”
“Agent Decker, what if he had just refused to help me? Then what would have happened?”
“They might have had a Plan B to get to your dad.”
“And the gambling debts?”
“That would have been bad for you. But they apparently read your dad right. They knew he wouldn’t refuse you.”
“That makes me feel even shittier. I killed my father. And the only thing he ever did for me was pretty much everything.” She put her head down on the table and quietly sobbed.
“Natalie, when you called your dad about the money being paid and your being safe, what did he say?”
She slowly lifted her head. “He said he was so relieved, but that he wanted me to get some help. He said if it came to it he would fly over and bring me home to make sure I got the right help.”
“But he never made any mention of how he’d come by the money?”
“But did you suspect?”
She said slowly, “I didn’t know their net worth, but I didn’t think they had that sort of cash lying around. Maybe mort
“Maybe sell secrets?”
“I won’t lie to you. I can’t say that it didn’t cross my mind. But even though it wasn’t ten million dollars, the people I owed the money to were going to kill me. That I know for a fact.”
“I don’t doubt it. I know people who’d slit your throat for an OxyContin pill. Did he say anything else? Other than what he said about thinking you know somebody but really don’t?”
She sat back in her chair and wiped her eyes with her sleeves. “I didn’t tell you everything. The last time I talked to him was two days before he shot that woman.”
Decker leaned forward. “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
“I was in shock. I guess I couldn’t believe what I’d done to my father. I was terrified everything would come out. And of course it did.”
“Did he call you?”
“What did he say?”
“He sounded so…sad. So hopeless, when he was the biggest optimist I’d ever known. I just figured it was the cancer. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat it. That would depress anyone, right?”
“Right. What else?” prompted Decker.
“He said that whatever happened, I should remember our family as it was. The happy times. When we were all young. Before…before all the crap in life just took over.”
“What did you say to that?”
“I tried to cheer him up. I told him I would come and visit him soon. But it was like he wasn’t listening to me. He said that when you’re looking at the end of your life coming, it was the most clarifying moment he’d ever had.”
“Clarifying moment? I wonder what he meant by that?”
“I don’t know. I tried asking him. But he just wasn’t listening. I thought he was starting maybe to lose it.”
Natalie choked back a sob. “It was so stupid. He asked me if I remembered when I was a little girl and we had all gone to Disney World. And I went on one of the rides and I had a really bad asthma attack. I mean really bad. They had to take me to a hospital in an ambulance. Mom was unhinged by it, so she stayed with my sisters while Dad rode in the back with me. He was very comforting because I was so scared. My dad was always so strong, so calm, no matter what.”
“What did he say to you about that time?”
“I told him I remembered it really well. I had nightmares about it for a year after. I literally thought I was going to die because I couldn’t catch my breath. I had no idea why he was bringing that up now. So when I asked him he said, ‘Remember when the going got tough, who was there for you. Remember your old man was right there holding your hand. Always think of me trying to do the right thing, honey. Always. No matter what.’”
“Why do you think he said that?”
“He was dying. I didn’t read any more into it other than that. I didn’t know he was going to shoot someone two days later and then kill himself. I just thought he wanted me to remember him in a good way. He didn’t have to tell me that. I would have done that regardless. I loved my dad.”
“But now that you know what he did, does it change how you interpret his words on that call?”
Natalie looked at him curiously through bloodshot eyes. “I…I hadn’t really thought about it that way, I guess. Do you think it changes things?”
“I think it might change everything,” replied Decker.
DECKER SAT on the bleachers.
Melvin Mars was right next to him.
They were at a local D.C. high school football field watching the varsity team practice.
“Growing the kids bigger every year,” said Mars. “They look like a college team.”
The sky was overcast and a very fine drizzle had started.
“They’re running a pro set,” said Decker. “Everybody wants to get to the NFL these days.”
“I think a lot of these kids would be okay with just getting a shot at a college education,” said Mars.
“You might be right about that.”
“So you called me up to watch a high school football team practice?”
“I talked to Harper Brown,” said Decker.
“Oh, right. Yeah.”
“I went over to your hotel to check on you really early the other morning when you didn’t answer your phone.”
“And you saw her leaving?”
“She told me. She also told me about Alex shooting that guy. Damn. How’s she doing?”
“She’ll be okay.” He paused. “So, you and Harper Brown?”
“What do you want me to say? It just happened.”
“You don’t owe me an explanation, Melvin. You’re an adult. You can do what you want.”
“It’s been a long time for me, Decker.”
“You going to see her again?”
“Yeah. I plan to.”
“Good for you.”
“You mean that?”
“Why go through life alone?”
“Hey, hold on. I’m not popping the question or anything. We’re just hanging out. Having some fun.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“What about you?”
“What about me what?”
“You just said it. Why go through life alone?”
“I’m not alone. I’ve got you, Alex, Bogart, Milligan.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Hey, didn’t you know? Alex and I are like an old married couple. We argue a lot. About you.”
When Mars look at him quizzically, Decker said, “Long story. Short answer is, we’re both happy for you.”
The Fix by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes