The fix, p.45
Part #3 of Amos Decker series by David Baldacci
think you know someone, when you really don’t.’ I think she was talking about you.”
Ellie simply shook her head but remained silent.
Decker said, “And everything was fine for a very long time, and then along comes Natalie and her gambling problems. And that cratered everything.”
“I knew nothing about that.”
“You knew everything about that. Your husband would have never kept that from you. You were too close. I don’t believe then that he had any idea you had been a spy. He loved you, unconditionally. Everyone said he was a great guy, which ordinarily makes me suspicious. But as it turned out, he was a great guy. What you didn’t know was that Berkshire had never forgiven you for what you did, abandoning the cause, and was on the lookout for any way to get back at you, or better yet, get you back in the fold. And Natalie was her opportunity. Ten million bucks or your child and her family get slaughtered by the Russians. And you knew how cruel the Russians could be. Natalie told him and he told you. You were well-off, but where could your husband get ten million dollars in a matter of days? He must have been frantic. But you knew there was a way. And that meant you had to tell the man you loved that you had been stealing his secrets all that time and sending them to the Soviets.” He stopped and stared at her. “How did he take that, Mrs. Dabney? How did he take that betrayal by his wife of decades, by the mother of his children? How devastated was he? I can tell you that he also told Natalie that he thought he knew someone, but he really didn’t. Like Berkshire, he was talking about you, his own wife, the love of his life.”
Tears now were spilling down Ellie’s cheeks. She shook her head but said nothing as a cold wind whipped through the cemetery. She started gasping for breath, pulled an inhaler from her pocket, and took three quick puffs on it.
They all stood there watching her as the chill wind pummeled them.
JAMISON FINALLY DREW CLOSER to Ellie, handed the woman a tissue she had pulled from her jacket pocket, and then stepped back. Ellie used it to dab at her eyes.
Decker said, “So I’m thinking you contacted Berkshire through an old communication channel. You told her of your dilemma and she told you what it would take to get ten million dollars from her organization. You told your husband and he made it happen. And Natalie was saved.
“But then something happened, didn’t it? Natalie spilled the beans that the debt had not been ten million. She had been forced to say that by Berkshire’s people to make you panic and resort to espionage. Berkshire was probably monitoring your family for any weakness to use against you. And she found the mother lode in Natalie. And she was just waiting for you to contact her. But now you realized Berkshire had deceived you. And you told your husband. And, reeling at the guilt of having betrayed his country, and knowing that he would never have to stand trial for it, he decided to murder Berkshire. With your help.”
Ellie put her inhaler back in her pocket and walked over and sat back down on the bench.
“Mrs. Dabney, I’m not here to judge you. My job is to find out the truth. That’s it.”
Bogart added, “If you cooperate, it will definitely be better for you.”
Brown said, “We’re convinced that something is in the works, Mrs. Dabney. Some attack. If you help us out on that, your future will look a lot brighter than if you don’t cooperate.”
“And telling us the truth would be a good start,” said Decker.
A long minute passed.
When she spoke, Ellie’s voice was husky but firm. And her tone was resigned.
“God, I’m just tired. So tired of all of it.” She paused. “Walt told me about his cancer. He would never have kept that from me. Even after he found out about…what I had done. Although he had Natalie go with him to Houston to confirm the diagnosis instead of me.” She paused and looked over at the grave. “It wasn’t Walt’s idea to kill Anna. It was mine. I wanted to do it.” She slowly shook her head, her eyes closed for a moment. “But Walt, gallant to the last, insisted that he would do it. Like you said, he would never stand trial for the crime.”
“You were the one dressed as the clown,” said Decker. “You were the signal to your husband.”
Ellie wiped her eyes with the tissue. “I had parked my car in a garage near the FBI building. I went in there, changed out of the costume, got in my car, and drove home. I knew what Walt was going to do. I cried all the way. It was like I was in some sort of nightmare. My mind was numb.”
Bogart said, “Before he killed Berkshire, we saw a woman on a video with your husband removing items from his safe deposit box.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I assume it was one of Anna’s people. You don’t know this, but they tried to recruit Walt after he stole the secrets to pay for Natalie’s debts. Anna always played the long game. Getting back at me was a secondary goal. Getting Walt as part of her spy ring would have been a great coup for her. They met with him, told him some things. Walt would never have done that. But Walt was a brilliant man. He and Anna were evenly matched there. He played along because he had his own plan. He later videotaped himself naming names and talking about the secrets he stole so your government would be warned to bring down Anna’s spy ring. But they somehow found out about his plan and took the evidence.”
“Did he name you as part of the spy ring?” asked Bogart.
“No. He wanted me to be spared from that.”
“A very understanding man,” snapped Brown. “Considering how cruelly you had used him all those years.”
Ellie looked up at her. “You have spies working for you, do you not?”
“Do they infiltrate places and pretend to be something they’re not?”
“That happens,” admitted Brown.
“And you believe they are doing important work on behalf of their country?”
“Of course. They’re incredibly dedicated and brave.”
“So in your eyes spies are only incredibly dedicated and brave when they’re working for the Americans?”
Brown flinched but said nothing.
Decker said, “So with that video evidence gone and your husband’s plan ruined, is that when you two decided to kill Berkshire instead?”
She nodded. “After my athletic hopes ended back in East Germany, I was recruited by the MfS. The East German Ministry for State Security,” she added when they looked confused. “They worked closely with Moscow and the KGB. They had formed a joint intelligence program that would deliver agents into the United States, not as foreigners but with the background to make them appear to be citizens. It was thought that in this way we would have more paths to success. I was put in the most intense training for years. It was also during that time that I met Anna, who was also in the same joint program, but on the KGB side. She was brilliant and cunning and dedicated to the cause of the Soviets. I was the spy and she was my handler. We never became friends. That was not the desired relationship. We became something much stronger. We were operatives whose lives would be forfeited the instant we were discovered. That bond is very strong, nearly unbreakable.”
“I can see that,” said Brown, drawing a quick glance from the others.
Ellie continued. “I was indoctrinated. I won’t say brainwashed, because I was proud to serve my country. And I did so, faithfully, for years. The money for the car and the house? I told Walt it was from a trust fund set up for me by the logging company that was at fault for the mudslide that killed my ‘parents.’ I told him it had been earning interest and dividends all that time until it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Decker said, “Okay. Although I’m surprised he didn’t want to save it and put it into the business he was probably planning on starting even back then.”
She smiled wistfully. “That was our little compromise. He got the car of his dreams and I got the house of mine. I had passed by our home often in the past when it was owned by others. I always loved it. Back in my country I
“I can see that.”
She turned to Decker. “And then something happened.”
“You found out about the anabolic steroids?” he said. “And what they had done to you and your children?”
She waved this off dismissively. “No. I had long since learned of that. Yes, I was devastated by the stillbirth and the miscarriages. And by how my girls suffered. But there was nothing I could do about that. But I could do something about what I came to this country to do. I could stop spying.”
“And what was the catalyst for that?” asked Bogart.
She smiled, the expression on her face both tragic and wistful. “I realized that I loved my family more than I loved my country,” she said simply. “And each day that went by I was terrified that they would find out who I really was. So…I stopped doing it. I turned my back on my country. And you’re right, Anna was livid. But I didn’t care. She threatened to expose me. But I had taken steps to protect myself. I had information, evidence that would have crippled her operation. So we reached a détente. And that was how things stood.” She let out a long breath. “Until Anna outwitted me by using Natalie.”
She stood and walked over to Dabney’s grave. “Even after Anna was gone, her circle was still in place. And they contacted me; like Walt, they wanted me to spy once more. Even with Walt dead, they had positions for me that would help them. I didn’t answer them. I thought if I said no, they would kill all of us. But they’ve been watching us. And you kept coming back. I also believed they bugged my house. They must have heard things.”
“Like when we found the dolls?” said Decker.
Brown interjected, “They wasted no time on that one. They hit us the same night.”
“How did Anna end up with Jules’s doll?” asked Decker. “Did she have it all this time or was it more recent?”
“She demanded it from me in return for helping with Natalie. I guess she considered it a symbolic victory considering how we had used them for our spying.”
Decker looked at her. “It’s funny,” he said.
“What is?” Ellie demanded.
“Jules told me she believed you were incapable of keeping secrets from the family. She was obviously wrong about that. Did Cecilia Randall knowingly help you with the dolls and the spying?”
“No, she knew nothing about it.”
“Did you kill her?” asked Decker.
She shook her head. “I could never do that. But her house key, which we kept in the kitchen, went missing. I can only think that Anna’s people heard something that she said that distressed them. And they killed her.”
“I think you might be right about that,” said Decker. “She told us about your coming from money. And your family’s health issues. They were probably worried she might say something else that would make us suspicious.”
Bogart walked over to Ellie and said, “Eleanor Dabney, I’m arresting you on the charge of espionage against the United States.” He read off her Miranda rights as Milligan handcuffed the woman.
No more tears passed down her face as this was being done.
She looked once more over at her husband’s grave. “I’m sorry, Walt. For everything.”
Before Bogart and Milligan led her away, Decker said, “Mrs. Dabney, I have another question.”
“What is it?” she said wearily.
“Why did your husband shoot Berkshire in front of the FBI building? Was that your choice or his?”
“I had arranged to meet with Anna that day. Only she didn’t know that she instead would be running into Walt. But to answer your question, it was Walt’s idea to meet her there. The actual meeting place I had given Anna was to be around the corner at a café. But Walt told me that after I signaled him he was going to confront Anna in front of the FBI building and shoot her there.”
“And then kill himself?” said Decker.
She nodded, looking down at the ground.
“You’re an amazing actress,” said Jamison. “When you were at your husband’s bedside at the hospital I never would have guessed that any of it was an act.”
In a quavering voice Ellie said, “I had just lost the only man I’d ever loved. My tears were very real, I can assure you.”
There was an awkward moment before Decker said, “But why in front of the FBI building?”
“Walt said he wanted to scare the bastards really badly. And killing Anna there would send a powerful message, he told me. I just wanted to see that woman dead.”
“So he said nothing to you that would indicate why?”
She shook her head and then let out a low sob. “Maybe he didn’t trust me anymore. And who could blame him?”
She was led away by Bogart and Milligan.
But Decker didn’t follow.
He walked over and stood next to the grave. Jamison and Brown sat down on the bench and watched him.
Brown whispered. “What do you think he’s thinking?”
“The Lord only knows,” replied Jamison. “I’ve never, ever been able to get inside that mind of his.”
At the grave Decker looked down at the freshly turned earth. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dabney. You deserved better. A lot better.”
“DO THE DAUGHTERS KNOW?” asked Jamison.
She was looking across at Decker in their office at the WFO.
He nodded. “They were stunned, to put it mildly. It’s like they’ve been hit with one tsunami after another. They won’t be able to see her for a while, but Bogart has informed them of everything. They’re getting her a lawyer. She’s going to need a really good one.”
“She helped us. She told us a lot.”
Decker looked over at her. “She’s in her sixties. And in addition to the espionage, she conspired to kill Berkshire. So even with favorable treatment it’s doubtful she’s coming out of prison alive.”
“I know. But talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.”
“She chose to become a spy.”
“Oh, come on, it was the Soviet Union. Do you really think she had a choice? They would have shot her or sent her to Siberia if she’d refused.”
“It doesn’t matter, Alex. The law doesn’t make exceptions for that. They searched the house and found multiple surveillance devices. That’s how they knew what was going on. They were all wireless and could be picked up by someone sitting in a car a quarter mile away.”
She slumped back in her chair and fiddled with a pen taken from a holder on her desk. “What did you mean when you were asking her why Dabney had chosen the FBI building to shoot Berkshire?”
“Because I wanted to know if she had the answer.”
“Well, I know that. But why do you think that’s important?”
“Because it’s inexplicable.”
“Right. And you don’t like inexplicable?”
“Like Anne Berkshire, everything we know about Walter Dabney shows that he’s a person who does nothing without a good reason. He was smart, accomplished, methodical, focused. It’s not easy to build the sort of business he did. You remember he had put together a video and other evidence to try to nail these bastards? He wanted to beat them at their own game. He’d worked in the intelligence field his entire adult life. He knew how much damage these people could do with what he had given them. He wanted to try to make it right before he died. And I don’t think that plan simply included blowing Berkshire’s head off.”
“But Mrs. Dabney answered you. He said he wanted to send a message to those people.”
“I know that is what she said he told her.”
“Are you saying you don’t believe her? What reason would she have to lie to us now?”
“I don’t know. And we’re almost out of time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Brown texted me. The chatter has gone silent. The prep is
The Fix by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes