The fix, p.5
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       The Fix, p.5
 

         Part #3 of Amos Decker series by David Baldacci  

  * * *

  Walter Dabney and Associates was located off the Fairfax County Parkway in Reston, Virginia. The area was home to lots of government contractors, from massive ones like Lockheed Martin to one-person shops. Dabney’s business wasn’t a Fortune 500 behemoth, but as Decker and Jamison walked into the bright, open, and fashionably furnished reception area on the top floor of a modern glass-and-steel six-story building, it was apparent that Dabney had built a very successful enterprise. Though the hour was late, the news had reached the local and national pipelines and people who worked here had not gone home, as normal. They were out in the hallways looking pale, confused, and distraught.

  After showing their IDs, Decker and Jamison were escorted to a small conference room by a young woman. A minute later a woman in her late thirties opened the door and stepped in. She was about five-five, with a runner’s trim build, shoulder-length reddish-blonde hair, and square-rimmed glasses perched on her freckled face.

  “I’m Faye Thompson. I’m a partner here. Is it…is it really true?”

  Decker said, “I’m afraid so.”

  “Is Walter…?”

  “He’s still alive, but the prognosis is not good,” said Jamison.

  Decker said, “We’d like to ask some questions.”

  “Of course, please have a seat. Would you like anything? Coffee, water?”

  Jamison opted for water and Decker for black coffee. Thompson ordered a hot tea.

  When the drinks arrived and the door closed behind the assistant, Decker took a sip of his coffee and said, “Tell us about Walter Dabney.”

  Jamison took a small recorder out of her pocket and put it on the table. “Do you mind if I record this?”

  Thompson shook her head and sat back. “I’m not sure where to begin. Walter is a great guy. I joined the firm a year out of college. I’ve been here fifteen years, made partner eight years ago. He was a wonderful mentor and friend. And also one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. I can’t believe what happened.”

  “So nothing you observed to explain what he did?” asked Decker.

  “That Walter would shoot and kill someone on the street? No. No way. It’s unthinkable.”

  “We know he went downtown this morning for a meeting at the FBI. Were you aware of that?”

  “Yes. We’re consulting with the Bureau on some projects. We partner with some major contractors, lending our expertise to give the Bureau the best possible resources so they can do their job at optimal levels.”

  Decker said, “That’s the official pitch anyway.”

  Thompson stared defiantly at him. “And it’s also the truth. We’re very highly ranked in our space. Our reputation is stellar.”

  “So he didn’t come into the office today?” asked Decker.

  “Not that I’m aware of. We officially open at eight-thirty. But those with a key card can come and go when they want.”

  “But if he did come here the security system would have a record of that?”

  “Yes. I can check.”

  “Thanks. Was he in the office yesterday?” asked Decker.

  “Yes. I met with him. I had just come back from overseas and was filling him in on what had taken place. I’m still jet-lagged. And now this.”

  “Where overseas?”

  Her lips pursed. “What does that have to do with what happened?”

  “Maybe nothing. But I like to get a full picture.”

  Thompson kept looking at him as she took a sip of tea. “The Middle East. That’s about as specific as I can be.”

  “Any projects that he was working on that might explain what happened this morning?”

  “I highly doubt it. And I can’t really get into that. Most of the projects we work on are classified. And most of the people who work here and all of the partners have the highest security clearances. What security clearances do you have?”

  “I don’t even have a security system where I live.”

  Thompson’s eyebrows hiked and she glanced at Jamison. “So what else would you like to know?”

  Jamison said, “How did he appear yesterday? Normal? Worried?”

  “Normal.”

  “Nothing that would have raised your suspicions?”

  “Like what?”

  Decker said, “Unusual phrases. Agitation. Lack of focus.”

  “No, nothing like that.”

  “Might he have been on drugs?”

  Her complexion changed. “Walter! Most assuredly not. I’ve only seen him drink the occasional glass of wine.”

  “Was he the only one from your firm attending the meeting today?” asked Decker.

  “Yes. Walter knew the technical side of our business as well as anyone. But the meeting today was high-level strategic. Walter often did those solo, particularly when he was meeting with the top people at a client.”

  “Anything in his behavior out of the ordinary in the last month or so?” asked Jamison.

  “Not really. I mean nothing that jumped out.”

  “His wife said that Dabney took an unexplained trip about a month ago. And that when he got back he didn’t tell her where he’d been. And to her he seemed different ever since that point.”

  Thompson looked surprised by this. “A month ago? I don’t know where he went. If our travel people handled it they would have a record of that.”

  “We’d appreciate if you would check,” said Jamison.

  “Of course.” She took out her phone and tapped in a message. “Done. As soon as they get back to me, I’ll let you know.”

  Decker rose and walked around the room while Thompson watched him.

  “The firm is obviously very successful,” noted Decker.

  “We work hard, and yes, it has paid off, very handsomely. We just landed two large contracts that alone will nearly double our revenue from the previous year.”

  He looked at her. “And with Dabney not around, what happens to the firm?”

  Thompson looked uncertain. “We’re a limited partnership, but Walter is the general partner and he holds the majority of partnership interest. I’m sure there’s language in the documents that addresses his…his passing, but I don’t know it off the top of my head. Our in-house counsel would know.”

  “We’d like those documents,” said Decker.

  “Are they relevant to why he would do what he did?” asked Thompson.

  “Everything’s relevant until it isn’t,” replied Decker.

  His phone buzzed. He looked at the text and nodded at Jamison. She rose and pocketed the recorder. “Thank you, Ms. Thompson. We’ll be in touch.”

  “And remember to check whether Dabney was here this morning,” said Decker.

  She said tersely, “I have an excellent memory, Agent Decker.”

  “So do I,” replied Decker. “So I’ll hold you to it.”

  They walked out and over to the elevator bank.

  “What’s up?” asked Jamison.

  “Dabney just died.”

  “Oh my God. Well, I guess it’s not unexpected.”

  “But he regained consciousness before he did.”

  “Did he say anything?” she asked excitedly.

  “Yes.”

  “What was it?” Jamison asked eagerly.

  “Apparently a string of words that made absolutely no sense to any of the people there.”

  “So gibberish? Because of the brain injury?”

  “Well, having suffered a brain injury myself, I can tell you that one person’s gibberish is another person’s revelation.”

  CHAPTER

  8

  TWELVE TIMES. DECKER had listened to the recording of Dabney’s last words a dozen times and still nothing had struck him. No revelations. Not even a glimmer of one.

  He was sitting in an office at the Hoover Building staring at the recorder. Across from him were Jamison and Milligan.

  Milligan, his tie loosened and his normally straight-backed posture drooping a bit, slumped in his chair and said, “We can listen
to this thing for the next ten years and it’ll still make no sense. The guy had blown out a chunk of his brain. He was incapable of rational thought, Decker. It’s meaningless.”

  “Was Mrs. Dabney there?” he asked.

  “Yes. Right up until the end.”

  “And it made no sense to her either? Something that only she would know? Something very personal?”

  “Well, she was crying so hard when he started talking, it was difficult to tell whether she actually heard what he said. We had to filter her sobs out of the recording.”

  “But when she settled down?” persisted Decker. “Still nothing?”

  Milligan said, “I think she thought he was going to sit up in the bed and start talking to her. And then he just stopped breathing. The machines started going crazy and a crash team came in to try to resuscitate him, but they couldn’t. He was just gone.”

  Ross Bogart walked in and sat down across from Decker. “Anything pop?” he asked.

  Decker said, “Right now the victim is more interesting than the killer. She lives in a multimillion-dollar apartment and has a car that costs over a hundred grand that she’s barely driven, all on a substitute teacher’s salary. And once you go back ten years, there’s no record of an Anne Berkshire.”

  “You mentioned that before. A big coincidence, as you said, if she was a random victim.”

  “And she might have changed her name,” suggested Jamison. “That might be why we can’t find anything on her going back more than ten years.”

  “I think she clearly did change her name,” said Decker. “The important question becomes why.”

  Bogart said, “You thought Melvin Mars’s parents were in Witness Protection. Maybe Berkshire was.”

  “Well, we need to find that out. If she had another previous identity then the person she was might have had a connection to Dabney, which would explain why he targeted her.”

  “I’ll get some people on it,” said Bogart. He rose and left the room.

  Jamison said to Milligan, “So I understand that the task force is officially being transferred from Quantico to the Washington Field Office in D.C.”

  “That’s right.”

  Decker broke off staring at the recorder and glanced at him. “Transferred to the WFO?”

  Milligan said, “Since we’re no longer doing cold cases we’re being shipped from Quantico to the WFO. It’s actually an upgrade. The higher-ups have appreciated the work we’ve done.”

  Decker said, “Wait a minute, does that mean we can’t live at Quantico anymore?”

  “You don’t want to make that commute every day,” said Milligan. “It’s a killer up Interstate 95. I was in luck because I live in Springfield. I was going against traffic every day. Now I’ll be slogging along with all the traffic heading north. Ross is in D.C. So his commute will be easy.”

  Decker said, “I don’t have another place to live.”

  Jamison spoke up. “Funny you mention that.”

  “Why is it funny?” asked Decker sharply.

  “I was going to tell you about this at some point, when the timing seemed right. But then again, this might work out very fortuitously.”

  “What the hell are you talking about, Alex?” asked a clearly irritated Decker.

  “Okay, don’t get upset.”

  “I’m already upset.”

  “I’ve actually been doing what amounts to another job on the side.”

  Milligan cracked a smile and said, “What, working for the FBI isn’t fulfilling enough for you?”

  “Another job?” said Decker.

  “There’s a building in Anacostia.”

  “A building,” exclaimed Decker.

  “Yes, well, to make a clean breast of it, I’ve been hunting for a fixer-upper building for the last couple of months. And I found the perfect one.”

  “You’ve been looking for a building?” said Decker dully. “I don’t need a building. I just need a room. A small one. And why have you been looking for a building in the first place?”

  “As an investment. And a way to do some good.”

  “And you’re just mentioning this now?”

  “Well, I was going to tell you very soon. We recently closed on the place.”

  “We closed on a building? Who’s ‘we’?”

  “Well, he actually closed on it.”

  “Who are you talking about?” asked Milligan.

  “Wait a minute,” said Decker. “You don’t have any money to invest in a building. You keep complaining that you can’t afford gas for your car.”

  “Well, thanks for sharing,” said Jamison, glancing embarrassedly at Milligan. “And I’m just his rep.”

  “Whose rep?” asked Milligan.

  Decker’s features slackened as the truth hit him. “It’s Melvin, isn’t it?”

  “Melvin?” said Milligan. “Melvin Mars?”

  Decker stared directly at Jamison. “He bought the building, didn’t he? With some of the money from his settlement with the government?”

  Jamison nodded. “Yes, he did. But only after I found it.”

  “When did all this happen?” asked Milligan.

  “Melvin had all this money and didn’t know what to do with it. So I suggested that he could make money and also help people, which is what he really wanted to do.”

  “How does buying a building help people?” asked Milligan.

  “The building has, well, tenants. And they pay rent.”

  “So what?” asked Milligan. “My wife and I pay rent too. It’s not like it’s a handout. It’s expensive.”

  “This place is a little different. We got it for a great price. And while it needs a little work, we can afford to charge rent that, well, that people who don’t make a lot of money can afford to pay.”

  “You mean like low-income housing,” said Milligan.

  “Sort of, but it’s not like he’s required by law to do it. Melvin can because he doesn’t care about making a killing like pretty much all other landlords. He gets what we think is a reasonable return on his money and folks who otherwise couldn’t afford a place to live, can. A win-win.”

  “So this place has tenants,” said Decker. “But where will I live?”

  “In the building. Top floor. You’ll have a room. And so will I. And our own en suite bathrooms. And we’ll have an office and a big kitchen. Very spacious, in fact.”

 
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