The fix, p.38
Part #3 of Amos Decker series by David Baldacci
* * *
Sally Palmer was still in her office. She explained that with the disappearance of Alvin Jenkins, she was having to work longer hours until he could be replaced.
“I can’t imagine why he ran off like that. And the police won’t tell me anything,” she said crossly as she sat across from them in her office. “I suppose you can’t either,” she added.
“You would suppose right,” said Decker. “Alvin Jenkins, when did he start working here?”
“Alvin, um, only about two months ago.”
“And when did Anne Berkshire start volunteering here?”
Palmer thought about this. “Around the same time, actually.”
“And when did Joey Scott come here as a patient?”
For this Palmer had to consult her computer. “That’s funny.”
“What?” asked Decker sharply.
“Well, Joey came here nine weeks ago. That means all three of them around the same time. What a coincidence.”
“I don’t think it was a coincidence,” said Decker.
Palmer looked at him strangely, but Decker ignored this and plunged on. “When we first met, you said that Joey was going to be adopted but the couple pulled out when he got sick.”
“That’s right. Disgusting.”
“How did you come by that information?”
“Come by it?”
“Who told you?”
“Oh. It was the caseworker that came with Joey when he was admitted here. She told me. She was as upset by it as I was.”
“So the story is that Joey was going to be adopted but then the adoptive parents found out he was terminal and decided against adopting him.”
“Do you have Joey’s medical file?”
“I know you can’t share the details with us, per se. But can you tell us when he was diagnosed with leukemia?”
Palmer looked uncomfortable with this, but consulted her computer. Once more her face displayed amazement. “I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense. I’m surprised I didn’t put two and two together before.”
“About what?” said Jamison.
Decker answered, “Anyone with cancer is going to go through treatment, especially a child who could conceivably have his whole life ahead of him. With Joey’s form of leukemia he probably had been diagnosed years ago, had the whole spectrum of treatments until it was determined that nothing else could be done. Then he came here. So the couple that wanted to ‘adopt’ Joey would have known all of this long ago. They would have had no reason to ‘unadopt’ him.”
Palmer said emphatically, “That’s right. That’s exactly right.”
Decker looked around. “This is a nice hospice. A private hospice. How can an orphan like Joey afford this place?”
“Oh, well, the couple I was talking about, they had some goodness in them. They’ve been paying the bills here for Joey.”
“So they’re paying the hospice bills of a kid they ‘unadopted’ and never come to visit,” said Jamison. “How does that make sense?”
Decker said, “It doesn’t at one level. But it does at another. How did Joey end up coming to this place?” he asked Palmer.
“It was the couple. They paid the bills and so they got to pick the place.”
“So Berkshire and Jenkins both started coming here after Joey was here.”
“Yes, that’s right. Shortly thereafter, but Joey was here first.”
“And Berkshire asked to read to Joey?”
“How did she know he was even here?”
This puzzled Palmer. “I’m not sure. I do remember her coming in and asking if we had any children. She said she wanted to bolster their spirits.”
“I’m sure. And the only young child you had at the time was Joey?”
“Why, yes. It’s unusual for a little boy or girl to be in a hospice. But it does happen, unfortunately.”
“Right,” said Decker.
“As I said, I thought their paying his bills made up a little for them abandoning Joey.”
“Yeah, well, you can stop thinking that.”
“What?” said a startled Palmer.
“Do you have their name and address?’
“And I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist.”
“Because they’ve been using your hospice to pass stolen classified information to enemies of this country. If that doesn’t work for you, we can always get a warrant and surround this place with a SWAT team. Your call.”
UPPER MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE on the way to Maryland. It was the land of foreign embassies and enormous and vintage private residences. Old money and new dollars uneasily commingled here. Unless one had a net worth in excess of nine figures, one did not get to live in this area.
And it was a neighborhood unaccustomed to having a police presence unless it involved a visiting foreign dignitary and a motorcade with flags on the fenders.
“Okay, Decker, I hope to hell you’re right about this,” said Bogart nervously.
He, Milligan, and Jamison were seated in a parked car across the street from a 1930s Tudor-style mansion fronted by iron gates and a high stone wall.
Decker said, “I hope I am too.”
“Let’s do this.”
They got out and approached the house. Bogart spoke into a walkie-talkie. “Everybody in place. All points covered?”
The response came and he nodded.
“Okay,” he said.
They reached the gates and Bogart punched the button on the call box. There was a screechy sound but no voice came on. He hit it again, with the same result.
“FBI, please open the gates.”
Again there was no response.
“This is the FBI. Please open the gates or we will be forced to open them by force.”
“Nobody home?” wondered Bogart. He looked around and pulled out the walkie-talkie again. “Breacher up.”
A minute later a truck roared up and two men in SWAT gear climbed out. They unloaded a hydraulic-powered ram set up on a wheeled platform.
“Hit it,” said Bogart.
They powered up the ram, set it against the gate, locked the wheels down, and one of the men hit a button on a remote he held. The piston-powered punch shot forward and smacked the gates squarely in the middle. They broke open.
“Hit it,” said Bogart into his walkie-talkie.
A SWAT team poured out of the truck and dashed up the long drive. On the other sides of the property other FBI agents scaled the wall and charged toward the mansion.
Bogart, Milligan, Decker, and Jamison followed closely behind the SWAT team. They reached the front doors, where the lead agent pounded on the wood and announced the FBI’s presence. There was no answer.
“Take it down,” ordered Bogart.
The portable ram was brought up and it slammed against the doors, bursting them open. The agents poured through.
It was an enormous house with lots of places to hide. But they didn’t have to look very hard.
The library was a beautiful room, book-lined with a marble mantel topping a mammoth blackened fireplace. An ornate writing desk was set in the middle, a high-backed leather chair situated at the kneehole. There was a black leather sofa against one wall and two wing chairs on the other side of a wood and wrought iron metal coffee table that had probably set the owners back five figures.
Not that they cared anymore.
The man was in one of the chairs. The woman was sprawled across the couch. They each bore the blackened tag of a bullet entry smack in the middle of their foreheads.
“Alfred and Julia Gorski,” said Bogart.
“They’re taking care of loose ends,” opined Milligan.
Bogart said, “We need to search this place from top to bottom
“I’ll call in the tag-and-bag team,” said Milligan. He pulled out his phone and moved over to a far corner of the room.
Bogart looked at Decker. “So they used this dying kid as a means to pass classified material?”
Decker nodded. “They knew Joey was dying. That’s why they picked him to ‘adopt.’ They never had any intention of doing that. They brought him to Dominion Hospice. And that’s why Berkshire started going there. It was a perfect cover to pass the secrets. I mean, who would have suspected? We discovered that Jenkins got the job as the night manager when the woman who’d originally held the position didn’t show up for work. I wonder when they’ll find her body?”
“Damn. This thing just keeps expanding,” exclaimed Bogart, rubbing the back of his neck.
“So does the universe,” replied Decker.
A voice said, “But the good news is we’re dismantling their spy operation by default. They’ve now lost four operatives and counting.”
They turned to see Harper Brown standing in the doorway.
She came forward and looked down at the couple.
“You know them?” said Bogart.
“I know of them. The Gorskis host charity balls, cut ribbons on hospital wings, throw great parties, one of which the head of my agency has attended.”
“What’s their background?” asked Bogart.
“They were immigrants. From Poland. Built a huge import-export company.”
“I guess we know what they were importing and exporting now,” said Jamison.
“I’m surprised if they’re so prominent that they didn’t get negative publicity for what they did with Joey,” said Bogart. “I mean not adopting him.”
Brown said, “That’s why you have PR people. And they were paying for his stay at hospice. No one’s going to ding them after that, if anyone really even knew about it. They’ve funded construction of a new at-risk youth facility in Southeast. No one’s going to hold one kid against them, as awful as that sounds.”
“I wonder how the PR folks will spin their being spies,” snapped Jamison.
Bogart said to Brown, “How did you end up here?”
Brown looked at Jamison. “Alex called me and told me. I appreciate the heads-up.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jamison as Decker gave her a curious glance.
“Do you have any idea who the Gorskis could have been working for?” said Bogart.
“Obvious suspects are the Russians, of course. But you can’t rule out the Chinese, the North Koreans, or some of the players in the Middle East.”
Jamison said, “Would Middle Eastern terrorists use people like the Gorskis? You wouldn’t think they would trust them.”
“Lots of people who look like you and me have been radicalized,” replied Brown. “The same for North Korea and the Chinese. And sometimes it comes down to money.”
“Well, if the Gorskis have been this rich for decades and have been spying this whole time, we might be able to rule out the Middle East,” said Decker. “That didn’t come into play really until after 9/11.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Brown.
“Were the Gorskis in a position to actually steal the secrets?” asked Bogart. “Or were they bankrolling those who did?”
“The latter. Neither of the Gorskis could have come into contact with places where the secrets are actually located. But they also moved in high circles and they came into contact with people who do have those secrets. Some at the highest levels. I’m talking politicians, military, bureaucrats, executive leadership of defense contractors. They’ve all probably been in this house at some point.”
“That’s a lot of very high-level possibilities,” said Bogart.
“Just calling it like I see it, Agent Bogart.”
“So we think the secrets that Walter Dabney stole moved through this network?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Gorskis paid off Natalie’s gambling debts in exchange for the classified information. It might have gone from Dabney directly to Berkshire. She then passed it along to Jenkins and he on up the chain.” She looked at Bogart. “My people have broken the code in the Harry Potter book.”
“There were at least nine months of classified info on there in various colors that fluoresce. As we suspected that included a back door into three highly sensitive DIA databases. That was what we believed Dabney stole. Our undercover ops overseas have been severely compromised. We’ve already lost five assets on the ground because of it.”
“But Dabney wasn’t stealing secrets nine months ago,” pointed out Bogart. “His came later when Natalie got into trouble with the gambling.”
“He’s obviously not the only spy they were working with,” said Brown.
“But surely he wouldn’t have had that information simply because he was a contractor to DIA,” said Jamison. “That sounds more like something you guys would keep internally.”
“It absolutely was. But Dabney used his relationship with key people there to ferret out the entry passcodes for that data. We figured all this out after the fact, of course, but by then the damage was already done.”
“What assets?” asked Decker. “That might narrow down who’s behind this.”
“Syria and Libya.”
“Does that help us take some players out of the equation?” said Decker.
“Thirty years ago, it might have, but Russia is so heavily invested in the Middle East’s geopolitical equation that they could be behind it. Putin is ruthless and he has firmly in mind a plan to make Mother Russia a global player once more. And to do that he needs influence everywhere, particularly in the desert. And we can’t rule out China either, because they have similar goals. All you need is to see what they’re doing in the South China Sea to understand that. And both countries are beefing up their military capabilities. And then you have Un in North Korea as a wild card who’s determined to build a nuke that can reach the West Coast.”
“Sounds like Doomsday is coming sooner rather than later,” said Jamison in a resigned voice.
“Unless we can knock out spy operations like this, I wouldn’t make any retirement plans,” said Brown. “They might prove unnecessary,” she added ominously.
The Fix by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes