*This chapter contains a shockingly small amount strong language, jogging and bacon.
30. One Bright Idea
“Is he still asleep?” I asked when I felt Maggie’s hand on my shoulder. If he doesn’t get up soon I’m going to finish the bacon.
“We can make more bacon. He was up watching TV in the living room when I got up to get a drink last night. That was around 3am,” she said, sliding her hand along the back of my neck as she came around the sofa. She moved my feet from the cushion and sat. Her legal pad went on one knee and her hand rested on my bare ankle.
“He’ll be ok.” She looked up from her notes, already tapping her pen on her thigh.
That was ok? Carl had slumped in the back of the car, not bothering to wipe his eyes, and stared out the window the whole ride back to his house. Neither of us said we were worried about leaving him alone, instead Maggie asked if we could crash in the guest room.
She tilted her head to one side, her expression sheepish. “Well, eventually. In a few years.”
“I hope so.” I looked down at my screen, scrolled through the last three pages of an employee file and sat back with a sigh. Another blank. Want to trade back?
Maggie smiled and wrote something down on the legal pad she had perched on her lap. “No way in hell. I did those for the last three days.” She patted the top of my foot and went back to tapping her pen.
I stretched my neck back over the edge of the couch. “Do you ever think we’re going about this the wrong way?” The popcorn ceiling made weird patterns and I saw the outline of an elephant in the white paint. Steadman’s employed by someone at that facility. That’s where the credit accounts lead. We’ve been looking at Craig’s files around the dates of the ‘pick-ups’ but it’s all pretty obscure, nothing pointing to any specific employee file. But what if Steadman isn't full time?
I lifted my head to see Maggie sitting bolt upright. “You mean a contractor? He wouldn’t have a file in employee records. That would explain why we couldn’t find his picture, or anything that matched him.” She rubbed her forehead with her fingers. “I don’t know where they’d keep something like that. I know where to look here because Carl got all the files together.”
“Well, if they have to issue them IDs and pay them there’s a record somewhere, what about payroll?” I suggested. I’m sure we can find payroll.
What you want is clearance authorization records. That’s where they keep the pictures. I looked over my shoulder to see Carl standing in the doorway in his bathrobe. His hair was wet but he hadn’t shaved and his eyes were red. “Let me finish my coffee and I’ll bring them up.”
Maggie watched him with her arm on the back of the sofa, hand propping up her chin. She held her right shoulder at an awkward angle but she hadn't put the sling back on. “Did you eat? There’s some bacon left. I can make you eggs.”
Carl shook his head and tipped back his mug. I’ll wait for lunch. “I’m going to boot my machine up and get dressed.” He turned and disappeared down the hall, the belt of his robe trailing behind him on the carpet.
I turned to see Maggie getting up. She tugged her sweater down over the waist of her jeans. “I’ll be right back.” She gestured for me to stay on the sofa as though she had expected me to follow. I watched her pad down the hall after Carl in her orange socks.
I finished my glass of water and went back to the flagged correspondence. Wasn’t there something authorizing a contractor to pull in additional staff support? We hadn’t made notes on anything like that, so I had to go through the emails and memos one by one.
Is that your professional opinion?!
Carl had projected so loud that my eyes watered. I leaned forward and pressed my hands to my temples feeling the angry thought bouncing back and forth through my brain. I took deep breaths and focused on the screen in front of me, forcing myself to read the email I’d pulled up and blink the tears out of my eyes. I’d been echoed twice by Derek and once by Ian when we were kids and I knew it wasn’t as bad as that. Just a shock.
When my eyes had stopped watering I looked down the hall but neither of them were in sight.
I set my laptop on the coffee table and made my way into the kitchen. There was a bottle of Tylenol in the cabinet over the microwave. I took two with a glass of water and leaned on the counter, looking out into the yard. There were no birds this time of year. At least no birds willing to brave the icy birdbath next to the hydrangeas. I bet it’s full in the spring. I forced the thought over the remnant of Carl’s angry outburst. I drank more water and pictured mourning doves and sparrows in the birdbath. They had to fight for space with a cardinal and all of them were scattered by a crow.
“I got you, didn’t I?”
I looked over my shoulder at Carl with a mixture of concern and annoyance. It was a relief to see Carl’s face contrite instead of blank and hopeless. “It happens. Are you feeling better?” I asked. Did Lee-
“Come out and give me what I deserved? No, not this time.” Wouldn’t have blamed him, as loud as I projected.
The face he made was the same embarrassed and down look that Derek got when he over-projected. I set my glass in the sink. He saw me walk toward him but he looked surprised by the hug. My brothers used to over-project all the time. I know you didn’t mean it. “Just don’t do it anymore today or I won’t be able to concentrate on those thrilling employee files.”
His cheeks were red but he looked better. “Give me a few minutes to pull them together and we can start going through the clearance records.” He moved around me to boot up his laptop. It was sitting on the kitchen table from the day before. I promise to be quieter.
I’ll hold you to it. I took my glass back in the living room where Maggie had resumed her seat on the end of the sofa. I stood behind her and set my glass on the end table. Are you ok? I asked and laid my hand against the curve of her shoulder.
She shrugged and turned her head so I could see her profile. “I’m fine.”
What was that all about? I asked her because I was curious and I didn’t want to end up thinking it at Carl later. I got the feeling it might upset him.
She paused and touched her fingers to the back of my hand. They were warm and the touch gave her whatever she needed to formulate an answer. “He wasn’t going to go to Mrs. Singh's tonight to see the baby.”
Didn’t want to run into Lynn? “You were trying to convince him?” I guessed with a slight smile. She couldn’t have been very subtle about it.
“Something like that. It worked.” She squeezed my hand and let it go, head bent over her legal pad again.
I sat down, surprised when she pulled my feet into her lap and started rubbing the insoles. She had been making more physical gestures since the hospital.
“If you keep psychoanalyzing me you can try rubbing your own feet,” she said without looking up.
I glanced at her over the screen of my laptop, she was smiling and tapping her pen again. Bad habit. I must have picked it up from some shrink. “I’m quiet, I’m reading boring emails.” I wiggled my feet under her hand. Continue please.
“Got the access. Who wants to split the clearance files with me?” Not to interrupt a fetish in progress or anything-
“I’m on the emails,” I said quickly.
Maggie sighed and waved him over. “You know how much I enjoy records.”
Carl sat in the chair next to her end of the sofa and picked her laptop up from the coffee table. “I’ll get them loaded. You want A-N or M-Z?” There are about three hundred of them all together.
I only have 125 more emails to go through, I thought and tried not to look smug.
Maggie pinched the bridge of her nose and slapped the top of my foot. “The two of you are hilarious. I’ll take A-N.”
“Here you go,” he said and passed her the laptop. I’m going to make more coffee, start in on my pile, he added in a brisk tone. Too brisk. He stood up and went back into the kitchen with our eyes following him.
I looked at Maggie and she shrugged. “At least he’ll have something to do until tonight.”
That has to be better than sitting around, I agreed, going back to the emails.
We worked steadily toward noon, pausing to get coffee, take notes, or yawn through the tedium. When we did get a break it was Carl who found it.
I got it!
I hunched in my chair, eyes watering again. Maggie winced too. Her eyes were wet when she looked over at me. She had the most ridiculous smile on her face.
So did I. We ran for the kitchen. Carl was standing over his laptop, waving us both over and pointing at the screen. “It’s him. It’s definitely him.” Look, he’s used three different names with the same department. All with pictures. Elise, did that email from Craig mention a Donald Weston? Carl asked before we’d even made it around the table.
Then I saw it myself. In the clearance file, clear as day, was Steadman staring out of the screen. He looks so unassuming.
Maggie’s laughed was harsh and she scowled. The expression didn’t suit her face. “Trust me, that one isn’t harmless.” Her shoulders tensed and she gripped the back of a kitchen chair with white knuckles.
“That’s a bad man,” Carl agreed. The emails, Elise?
I tore my eyes away from the screen and nodded. “Yeah, let me get them, we can check.” I almost ran into the living room, pulled the plug from the laptop and dashed back to the kitchen. I have all of the mentions of contractors around Park Slope dates flagged. Five emails. “What was that name again?” I pulled out a chair and dropped into it, already pulling up files.
“Donald Weston, Andrew Piken, and Gary Selinski. So far those are the ones in the right timeframe that come up with his picture.” Tell me we bagged him. Carl bounced on the balls of his feet.
I hunched over my screen, skimming for the highlight’s I’d made. “Here it is. Authorizing Andrew Piken to use department resources for his survey. A week before Park Slope.” I sat back, a feeling in my chest like I’d run a mile. Money, intent, pictures.
“I’m calling the Deputy Director. We need to put this all in a preliminary report and box the rest of it up for him to look over later.” Can you write something up?
I nodded, already typing. “I’ll put it together. We should give them the profile and the unregistered shortlist too.” I’ll use the office report format.
“I’ll get the shortlist together.” I felt Maggie move past me to get to her computer. Carl went to the other side of the kitchen and dialed his phone.
Start with what we know about Steadman. What were those aliases?
Carl’s voice was deep and serious. “Marjory? This is Agent Childers, I need to speak to Deputy Director Rawls.”
I did a search for the other two names and got hits in Craig’s emails. I skimmed them and inserting them into the report. Correspondence showing a knowledge and permission of Selinski, Waylon and Piken’s actions.
Without looking I knew that Carl was grinning. “Trust me when I say he’ll want you to pull him out of the meeting. It’s a lead on the Steadman case.”
I found Carl’s report on the credit accounts and double checked the sources. Funding from the Nevada Geological Surveys Department.
“Yes I’ll hold.” He tapped his slippered foot against the tile.
Corresponding with airfares purchased under the same name for dates showing intent in the Park Slope case. Case? No, incident.
“Jerome, it’s Carl. We’ve got him. I can tell you where Steadman works and for who. I’m emailing you a report in the next ten minutes with some pictures.”
The suspect was observed abducting William Montgomery in the parking lot of his workplace.
“No, I’m not fucking with you. He’s working for Craig out at some Geological Surveys facility in Nevada.”
I found some of Carl’s best stills, half listening to his conversation as I typed. I can email some pictures, but we’ll have to send the video by courier. What else do we need?
“I can assure you that’s not what they do out there. Too many medical supplies going in to be a geo outfit.”
Better put the profile in. Is it Dr. M. R. Lochlan or Margaret R. Lochlan, MD?
Carl’s tone was edging into impatience. “Working on a contract. Look, I’m telling you it doesn’t matter how we got it because you are going to want to marry me after you have this bust under your belt.”
With this profile the group was able to narrow the list of targets to a short list of likely candidates.
“Because my guys can’t handle it and you know it. We interrogate them after they’re caught.”
Steadman was discovered in the clearance authorization records for the facility under three separate aliases.
“Call me when you get it then.”
And that all ties neatly together, the end.
“How long is that going to take you?” Carl asked as he closed the phone.
“Done. I need to read through it and then you can email it to Deputy Director Rawls. We’ll have to courier the rest, too much to send online,” I told him and moved aside so he could sit down and read the draft. I’m going to go help Maggie get the files together.
Maggie was rifling through her notes so fast the paper sounded like it was being crumpled.
“How much do you think we have to send? I think we can wait to write up the paper notes but some of these files have to go.” I flopped onto the sofa near her and thumbed through one of the file boxes. Thank god the courier fees come out of the Senator’s budget.
She nodded. “I don’t know what we need to send. We need the profile and the correspondence from Craig. The unregistered’s shortlist. The clearance files with Andrew’s picture.”
“Shouldn’t we be calling him Donald or Gary or something now?” I stacked the files from the UL on the table. I put the ones that had been abducted since the beginning of the investigation on top. We’re going to need to pack these in one of the boxes so the courier doesn’t lose anything.
“We’re not using one. We’re taking it over to Jerome’s office.” We’ll get there faster and I was looking through those emails you flagged. Craig’s got a meeting with a contractor tonight. Can you guess which one?
I emptied one of the boxes. “Ok, well we can put it all in here. We can either burn a disc with the records he needs to see or bring our laptops.” We should be good to go in fifteen minutes.
Carl’s phone rang and he jumped, knocking over a vase of dried flowers. He grabbed for the vase and opened his phone with the other hand. “Childers.” It’s Jerome. He got the report. “We’re about ready to go now.” Wants to know if we know where Steadman’s living. “Not yet, but we know he has a meeting in Craig’s office tonight.” There was a pause and I could hear the tinny sound of Jerome’s voice. “Forty minutes tops, traffic should be light.” He says haul ass. “Got it, see you in a few.” He hung up and grinned. “I think he likes our report. We’d better go.”
It took us ten minutes stumbling over each other and tangling laptop cords to get to the car. Carl’s foot was so heavy on the gas that we made the forty mile drive in thirty minutes flat. I felt like a relay runner, flying through the halls with my briefcase and an armful of files while Carl jogged ahead of us down the hall. He made a sharp left and we caught up in time to see him drop the big box on the desk of an older woman who was on the phone. “Agent Childers, Deputy Director Rawls is still-”
“I’m right here.” Jerome swung through the door as red faced and out of breath as we were. “Come on down the hall.”
Carl hefted his box again and we trailed behind him with the computers.
Down the hall Jerome held open a door and ushered us inside. He closed the door before he spoke. “I’m sure you recognize my group from Park Slope.”
We stood near the door and stared. It was a conference room that had been turned into something from the last weeks before an election, maps covering two walls and laptops and papers everywhere. Carl, what the-
He looked baffled but the box of files had already been lifted from his arms and one of the agents was leading him to a table.
A guy at Maggie’s elbow cleared his throat. “Dr. Lochlan? The Deputy Director asked me to go over the profile with you.”
She followed him to the table and gave me a bemused look over her shoulder.
“Miss Atwood. I’d like to go over a few things with you.” Deputy Director Rawls was suddenly in front of me. “And please, call me Jerome.”
“Elise,” I said, offering my hand. You and your people seem very anxious to take us on our word.
He smiled. It made his face look strained like it wasn’t his usual expression. “Snatching up two of the principle investigators in the Park Slope incident wasn’t a very quiet way to start digging into the Steadman case. Though I’m sure the Senator had his reasons.”
I can tell you what he’s authorized me to provide to another agency. “The Senator has a reason for everything. I have a feeling you’re alike that way,” I told him and solidified my block. “Are you afraid Steadman’s going to slip away if we don’t move now?” I asked, eyeing the bustle in the room.
He shrugged and thought too long about his answer. “We’d like to get him sooner rather than later. Carl was talking about a meeting tonight. If we can confirm everything now, all the better.”
They wanted him while they knew where he was and before anyone could leak that they’d found him. “I understand. We were on a deadline too.” I can walk you through what we found in Craig’s correspondence. We’ve only confirmed his knowledge of the Park Slope job, but there were other mentions of contractors that might be relevant. I stepped forward and put my laptop case on the end of the conference room table.
Jerome hovered next to me with a frown. He was either itching to ask me something else or he was digging.
I turned my machine on and waited for it to boot up, not giving anything away. “Let me bring up the emails from the dates surrounding the last abduction.”
His frown slipped. “The one you got the pictures from?” he asked, pulling out a chair to sit next to me.
That’s the one. There’s video too. “I have to go through them but you can see that his aliases pop up several times. It’s a good bet-”
“Director?” A young agent with cropped brown hair had his hand on Jerome’s shoulder.
“What?” He stood and took a step away from the table. The agent stared earnestly at him, thinking something. Jerome nodded, shooting a side glance at me before clearing his throat and turning to face the conference table. “Fawcett, Alvarez, Taber, Goldman, you’re with me. Childers, you come too. Briggs and Wilson will stay here and help sort through this evidence.”
Without a word or a pause the four he had named dashed out the door followed by Carl. Jerome turned to Maggie, who had crossed the room. There was a tense minute where they stared hard at each other. Finally Jerome shrugged. “I’m sorry, you and Ms. Atwood don’t have the clearance to come with us.”
She shook her head. “I’ve been shot at enough. I’m surprised you got your warrant so fast.”
How did you manage that? I asked, eyes on Jerome.
He shrugged in a gesture that was supposed to be modest. “This is a very high profile case. If you can help Briggs and Wilson sort through what you brought us it would be a lot of help.”
I saw Maggie nod and nodded along.
“I have to go. They’ll be halfway to the airstrip by now,” he said and jogged out of the room.
Maggie sank into the chair next to me and sighed.
“Did that really just happen?” I asked, feeling several steps behind. Jerome must’ve sent the report straight on to the judge to get a warrant so fast.
“I imagine he did. He was going to get hung out to dry after Steadman escaped,” she agreed.
She was absorbing it faster than I could. “Carl’s going to miss seeing the baby tonight,” I realized, remembering how he’d breezed past us and out the door.
“Avoidance. This is something to distract him, something he thinks he can control.” There was a skeptical edge to her tone.
I looked down the table where the two remaining agents had their heads together over the box of files we’d brought. “You don’t think they’ll get him?” They seem pretty motivated.
She smiled with too many teeth. “I think they’ll get him. One way or another. I just don’t think Carl should be in the field as distracted as he is. Which is what I tried to tell Jerome.”
“Ms. Atwood? Can you bring me up to speed on the correspondence you brought?” Agent Wilson asked.
I looked up to see that he was standing midway down the table though I hadn’t seen him approach. “Sure thing. I have it all right here.” Maggie got to her feet and I touched her hand briefly. Jerome isn’t going to let Carl get in the way of his bust. He won’t have a chance to get hurt.
She squeezed my fingers and joined the other agent at the far end of the table.
“Well, Agent Wilson, pull up a seat,” I said and gestured to the one beside me. I’ve got a few hundred emails left to sift through.
Doing our research at the FBI offices was a lot like working at Carl’s house, with more hands and less comfortable chairs. I picked through the emails at my station with one hand and raised my empty coffee cup to my mouth for the third time, only realizing that it was empty when I got it to my mouth. I put it back down and shifted in my seat, copying another email to the folder for the Piken alias. 52 to go.
“There’s a vending machine down the hall and a cafeteria across the atrium,” Wilson said without looking up from his screen.
I didn’t need an engraved invitation. I stood up, stretched, and grabbed my purse. “Can I get you anything?” I asked him. I twisted my knee so it popped and relieved some of the pressure. Which way down the hall?
He looked up. “Oh, sorry, if you go out in the hall and take a left, it’s past the ladies room, on the right. Atrium is further down. When the hall dead ends you take a right.”
“Thanks.” I looked down the table where Maggie was drawing something out on her legal pad, Briggs looking on. I smiled and decided to see if I could find her tea in the cafeteria.
Out in the hall I slipped into the ladies room to wash my hands and face with cold water. I leaned on the counter, watching at my reflection. I felt tired but alert and could admit to a little disappointment that we wouldn’t be there watching Steadman get manhandled into a police car. Maggie’s right, you’ve been shot at enough, I reminded myself.
When I pushed open the door to the hall I saw Maggie kicking the vending machine.
“It ate my dollar.” She stepped back from it and crossed her arms over her chest.
That’s one bad machine. I stood beside her, shoulder to shoulder, frowning at the battered looking coke machine. “I could get Agent Wilson to shoot it for you.”
She nudged me with her shoulder and dropped her arms. “Do you have a dollar?”
“I might.” I dug into my purse and found my wallet. I held up a dollar between us. What do I get for it?
She took my wrist in her right hand and smirked. “I think we could negotiate something.” She rubbed her thumb over the inside of my wrist, eyes on mine.
Come to dinner with me at my brother’s house. I had been meaning to ask her for a few days but the timing had never been right. It still wasn’t.
She dropped my hand like it had burned her. “You want me to have dinner with Derek?”
I stepped forward. “He’s sorry, he asked me days ago if you’d come. He wants to make it up to you, so does Claire.” I meant to do this better.
She leaned against the wall next to the vending machines, her hands tucked into her pockets. “And if it happens again?” she asked, not meeting me eyes.
“Then he’ll have to change his pants before dessert,” I said with a straight face. I leaned on the wall next to her. You’re his hero. He wants to have you over. I didn’t mention that it was the first step to getting the rest of the family to accept her. Maybe even mom, if we ever spoke to each other again.
She sighed like she had when she was talking about Carl, a tired resigned sound. “This is very important to you, isn’t it?”
“He’s my brother.” Claire makes the best lasagna on earth, I boasted.
She let out a brief snort of laughter. “A bribe, I see. Think the way to my heart’s through my stomach?”
Her eyes widened. “Well, I-”
The conference room door burst open and hit the wall hard. “It’s on the news, they got him,” Wilson half-shouted, waving us toward him.
We ran back to the conference room. The TV that they had been using to review the surveillance footage had been wheeled near the head of the table and had a news report blaring from the crackling speakers.
“Christ Briggs, turn it down,” Wilson said and pulled up a chair. “The news chopper’s been following the convoy since they entered Vegas city limits.” He sat backwards on the chair, arms and chin propped on the backrest.
“Did you hear anything from Jerome?” Maggie asked, pulling up two more chairs and dropping into one.
There was a wall of reporters out in front of what looked like a courthouse. A woman in a beige trench coat spoke into a mike and gestured over her shoulder. “…convoy should be arriving any minute carrying the sole suspect in the recent Park Slope Disaster.”
“Alvarez called and told me to watch the news stations. CBS picked it up first,” Briggs said, standing next to the table, arms crossed tight against his chest.
Oh, they must have- “Wait, they told you to watch for it? They tipped the press?” I asked, staring at the two agents.
“Don’t you think they wanted to get caught on camera doing something right?” Maggie asked, earning a sharp look from Wilson that she ignored.
What if he escaped custody again? Got away somehow? I wondered, confused. The coverage felt premature. A ‘green move’, as Gates would say.
“Not going to happen. Look the cars are pulling up,” Briggs pointed out, uncrossing his arms long enough to point to the screen.
There were three black government bland sedans and one black van flanked by police cars with their sirens blasting. The reporter was cut out of the shot by a close-up on the van but her modulated tone could be heard over the footage. “Bill, I’ve just been informed that two men are in custody. The second man is the director of Nevada’s Geological Survey Department, Stuart Craig.”
The camera held on the back door of the van parked as close to the curb as possible, police with barricades manning a straight corridor to the tinted glass doors that led inside. There was seventy feet of open space between the van and the door.
Everyone was expecting the doors to open, even the reporter had fallen silent, breathing into the mike for a moment before someone cut the sound. One moment nothing and the next there was Steadman, blinking into the camera lights from the edge of the van, heads above the agents and cops on the ground, wearing the same khakis he’d had on when he shot at us in the parking garage.
I reached out and found Maggie’s hand, holding it tight as he hopped down from the bumper, disappearing in the hail of flashbulbs and bodies until they switched to another camera. It had a good side view, Steadman surrounded by agents in their tactical vests and looking calm, as collected as a man walking down the aisle at the grocery store. And then Craig, who I’d seen in pictures and in Harding’s memory, pausing on the edge of the van, dazed enough that they had to push him to get him moving. He stumbled out of the van, caught by an agent and propelled forward with a firm hand on his shoulder. Steadman disappeared into the building first. Craig stayed on camera a moment longer, sweating under the flashing lights, his face flushed and his hair wet at the temples. Then he was gone too and the station cut back to the reporter.
“It’s all over.” Somehow I had expected more.
“At least until the press conference. Your buddy Childers will be there. It’s supposed to start in fifteen minutes,” Briggs said.
Maggie squeezed my hand; it had gone slack in hers. “I guess it just started then.”