terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[previous chapter]    [next chapter]

CHAPTER 5


BRUSSELS — Tuesday 01:30

Air Cargo International's Brussels station manager and Duncan were good friends; he met Duncan's flight, personally opening the forward entry door and climbing the ladder into the cockpit before the crew had time to gather their personal equipment and leave their seats. He took Duncan from the airplane directly to operations, admitted Duncan to his personal office, and said he would be outside if needed. He closed the door when he left. Duncan thought he was being oversolicitous but appreciated the gesture. It was one in the morning in Brussels, four in the afternoon on the U.S. West Coast.

He decided to call Ellie and first tried their house; the answering machine picked it up, and he left a short message. He next tried his father's home. Getting no answer, he called his attorney.

“Hello, Dunk.” Bill Batteman's sad voice came across the line.

“Bill, dispatch gave me the news. They said you wanted me to call. What did I forget?”

Duncan waited.

“You didn't forget anything, Dunk, that's not the problem.”

Duncan waited again.

“Dunk, are you alone?”

“Yes, why?”

“Dunk ... I wish to God I didn't have to tell you this. I thought of delaying till you got home, maybe I should have, but I thought ... I don't know what's right or wrong.” Bill's voice broke. “Damn, I thought I could at least keep from crying.”

“Bill, what's happened?”

“Jesus, Dunk, they're dead, both of them.”

“Bill, who, exactly who, is dead?”

“Tom ... and Ellie.”

“Ellie? Ellie is dead?”

“Yes.”

The only sound on the line was the attorney's sighing. Death confronted Duncan in a way he had never before experienced. He had met every previous confrontation with humor and defiance. But now there was no humor. He was barely breathing; his eyes were fixed, staring straight ahead, but he took no notice of what they saw; the image reaching his brain was blurred by tears, but he did not cry and he did not see.

“Dunk, are you still there?”

Duncan had learned, in years past, to accept and move on from the death of close friends in a matter of seconds. It had been a necessity, practiced far too often. But Ellie, Ellie was dead. He didn't want to accept it—couldn't accept it.

“Yes, I'm here ... there was a baby, a son.”

“What?”

“Our son. Ellie was pregnant. She was carrying our son. Four months, Bill, four months.” His voice finally cracked.

“My god, I didn't know.”

“Tell me how ...”

“Dunk, come on home, just come on home. How isn't important now.”

“How my father ... and my wife ... and my son ... died is not important?” Duncan regained his composure.

“Dunk, they were killed by federal drug enforcement officers during a raid on your father's house.”

This time Bill waited.

Duncan finally spoke, slowly. “That is the most incredible, unbelievable statement I have every heard.”

“It gets worse. The Drug Enforcement Administration claims your dad fired on them first.”

“That's a lie.” Defiance had survived—and the beginnings of anger.

“I know, but that's what they're saying. They've delayed making their report available, but that's what I was told by Sheriff Diekirk himself.

“Anyone ... anyone who knows my father knows he would never, could never, do that. My god, man, he's a pacifist.” Duncan spoke as though his father were still alive. “Ellie, where was Ellie?”

“I don't have any details. I'll get them as soon as I can. Duncan ... they claim they found drugs. The Sheriff didn't know how much or what kind.”

Duncan was silent. Had the past somehow come back to haunt him?

“Dunk, you alright?”

“I'm okay,” he lied. Live, Duncan, confront this and live, live to punish whoever did this. “I'll be there as soon as possible. Where are they now, Bill ... the bodies?”

“In the hospital morgue. They'll do autopsies as soon as they get the paperwork for them. We can oppose that if you want.”

The mental picture of Ellie—lifeless—on a slab in a morgue withered Duncan's soul. Finally, with a diminishing voice he replied, “Would there be any point?” He was shaking, his throat parched. Duncan was sinking into shock.

“No, the best we could do is delay it. We can't stop it.”

Duncan thought through his grief, fighting off the shock. He erased the picture from his mind. “Those are only bodies, not them, they're gone. Let the authorities do what they want ... wait! Make sure the autopsies are performed by somebody reliable, somebody thorough, somebody who will report exactly what they find, no more and no less?”

“The coroner has a good reputation, Dunk. I can't imagine there being any impropriety.”

“Bill, something ... crazy has to be going on. I know my father would never attack another human being. I know neither my father nor my wife had anything to do with illicit drugs. If the authorities are saying otherwise, they're lying. I don't know why, but if they can improve their position by rigging an autopsy report, they will.”

“Understood, I'll see what I can do.”

“Bill, there's a lot about me, about my past life, that you don't know. But you do know that I worked for outfits that were CIA fronts.” Duncan paused to choose his words carefully. “Once you do that, especially if you did what I did for as long as I did, you get a little paranoid. Maybe, probably, what has happened has nothing to do with that. But I know how government agencies work. There's no good or bad, it's just whose side you're on. Bill, make sure the coroner follows standard procedure, that a special expert doesn't get run in compliments of the DEA. If it can be done, have a pathologist there representing us.”

“Duncan, I'll do everything I can.”

“I'm on my way, Bill. I'm on my way.”


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday 2000

Greg Ballentine finished talking with Brian Killough. Agent Wood had taken the hint. He hadn't shown at the office for the meeting at three. After an hour Brian and Schumaker had gone to his apartment and found evidence of a hasty departure. They made a few calls to try and find him, went by the bar where he hung out, went by his girl friend's house, but he was gone.

The day had ended better than it started. Wood had run. Tomorrow, sometime, Greg would put out an APB on him, but not too soon; he didn't want to catch him. It was like the old days, a move and a counter-move, making your opponent do your work for you. He had rid the DEA of a bad agent and avoided the unfavorable publicity of a public trial. Greg was pleased with himself.


OVER THE NORTH ATLANTIC — Tuesday 01:30

Duncan reboarded the airplane he had brought in. A fresh crew now piloted it, and he had no responsibilities. He was listed as an additional crewmember, commonly called a jumpseater. There were no other jumpseaters.

After takeoff he changed from his uniform to civilian clothes and went forward to talk with the crew as a matter of courtesy. They had been told the news of his father. He didn't tell them about Ellie. He excused himself after a few moments and returned to the back.

Duncan turned down the lights and sat in the dark, his thoughts turning to the woman who had been the anchor of his existence. Duncan had known many women. As he aged, his emphasis shifted from quantity to quality, from novelty to meaning. When he met Ellie, he was ready, wanting, to find someone with whom to share his life. She had filled, completely, a widening void. Duncan was feeling the recreation of that void, and it had become an abyss. For the first time in many deaths, he completely lost his composure.

It took him thirty minutes to get the sobbing under control. He made a conscious effort to stop thinking of Ellie ... and his father immediately came to mind. What did he resent most, his father having been deprived of what little of his natural life remained or he, Duncan, having been cheated out of his father's companionship?

Duncan gave a final sob. The injustice had been visited on his family, but the pain was now Duncan's.

For another hour he remained alone in the dark, staring straight ahead, not even swallowing. There was no thought that their deaths could have happened as reported.

At whose feet should the injustice be laid? And what should be done, could be done, about it? His father would not have approved of revenge. Duncan didn't believe in revenge for its own sake, but he knew that injustice unopposed was injustice allowed to multiply. If a little revenge was extracted in the course of events, he was not above enjoying it.

Was it all a bizarre accident, the players unwittingly manipulated by fate, each individual acting prudently, honorably, responsibly? If so, there was nothing to be done beyond learning how to best prevent such accidents. He could understand an accident, but federal agents were supposed to be professionals, and professionals have a responsibility to not make mistakes. If they didn't live up to their responsibilities, they should pay.

What if it was a vector out of the past? If that were the case, Duncan himself was the real target. If that were true ... but it was unlikely. His paranoia was showing.

For the moment there were only questions, no answers. I need help getting answers. One name came to mind.

He looked at his watch; he kept one of the two time display windows on UTC time. After years of international flying, he knew the offset in hours from UTC for most of the world's major cities. It was eight-thirty p.m. in San Francisco.

Duncan retrieved a hand-held computer from his flight bag. The machine had become like a second mind for him. He displayed the address and phone number for Tanner, Larry.

Duncan left his seat with the machine in hand, went forward to the cockpit, and sat in the jumpseat immediately behind the Captain. “Okay if I use one of your HF radios?” he said.

“Sure, we're monitoring Shannwick on number one; use number two,” said the Captain.

Duncan reached up to the overhead panel between the two pilots and dialed a Stockholm Radio frequency. He set appropriate switches on the control panel to the left of his seat, put on the headset hanging there, and picked up the microphone. He reached Stockholm Radio on the first try, gave them the San Francisco phone number he wanted, his personal Stockholm Radio charge number, and explained he wanted to be on the line as the call was made since it would probably be answered by an answering machine. Stockholm went through the usual verification procedure for his charge number and dialed the call.

“Hello. You've reached 750-7356.” Larry Tanner's recorded voice came over the line. “Neither Larry or Richard is available. If you like you can leave a message after the tone.” Duncan waited.

“Larry, this is Duncan Harris. I have an urgent need in Eugene for your talents. I hope you're available. I'm over the North Atlantic at the moment, enroute home. My ETA is 1245 local. I'll call you again when I get in, and then I'll be going directly to my attorney's office. You can leave a message for me there if you like, 543-896-3910. You can also e-mail at dunk@efn.org.” He spelled out the address. “My answering machine at home is on the blink.”


SAN FRANCISCO — Monday 23:30 local

Larry Tanner was an expert in the burgeoning field of industrial espionage. He had studied French in school and became fluent in the language when he lived in Paris for two years. Ten years ago he had had the foresight to learn Japanese. The two languages plus his expertise had put his services in great demand.

Business was so good he had considered expanding and hiring others, but he disliked the idea of abandoning fieldwork to become an executive. He resolved the conflict by cutting down on his clients, limiting them to those who paid well, and by bringing in a junior partner as an apprentice, a young Chinese-American named Richard Lee, with whom he already had a personal tie.

Larry and Richard entered their apartment at the moment the answering machine emitted the recurring beep that signaled a message had been received. The call had come in on their private line, not their business line. More calls for Richard, Larry thought; there were disadvantages to an open relationship. Richard walked to the machine and pushed Play. Both listened. The speaker delivered a single message.

“Is he cute?” said Richard.

“Yes, but he's older than I and straight. That's a business call, my young friend.”

“Why's he calling you?”

“Dunk Harris is a friend, a friend in the finest sense of that word. When the Company discovered I was gay and booted me out, he was the one man who stood by me, and he didn't give a shit what the others said. I owe him.”

“He still with the Company?” Richard knew that Company meant CIA.

“No, and he was a contract pilot, not an agent, but he was better at everything than most agents ... he was a natural. Note the end of the message, the part about his answering machine being on the blink? It probably isn't. He's taking care in case of a phone tap. He pays attention to detail.”

Larry crossed to the phone, lifted the receiver, and punched the memory button labeled United Airlines. In the middle of the first ring he changed his mind and cradled the phone.

“Richard, you need more field experience. This is an opportunity. Duncan understands the need to train. He won't feel he's not getting my full attention. Pack your bag, we're going to Oregon.”

“When do we leave?”

“Right now. We'll take the van. You'll drive, I'll sleep.” There were advantages to being the senior partner.

terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[previous chapter]    [next chapter]