MCKENZIE BRIDGE — Sunday 20:30
“I killed your wife,” Longstreet blurted, looking at Duncan Harris. The man's poker face gave Longstreet nothing, and he started to sob. He was trying to get warm in front of a fire built for him by this man, husband to the woman he had killed, and the man who had saved his life. He was wearing dry clothes given to him by this man, clothes that had belonged to the man's father ... whose murder Longstreet had helped cover up. And it all happened upstairs from where he now sat. It was too much.
Duncan looked down at Longstreet. It was hard to keep hate alive when you knew your enemy was only another human being trying to cope with a grievous mistake. “What happened?”
Longstreet started talking.
HOUSTON — Sunday 23:00
Samuel Devlin sat in the plushness of the CIA chartered jet and wondered to which of his competitors the aircraft belonged. Sam was the President and only stockholder of Air Cargo International.
When the CIA got out of the aviation business in the late seventies, they sold their airlines to individuals whose patriotism could be counted on to supply whatever air services the Company might need, and they ensured loyalty by offering the properties at favorable prices. Sam Devlin was one of the people selected. He paid ten cents per dollar of real value. The transaction immediately raised his status from millionaire to multimillionaire. He worked hard for the next fifteen years. Now a billionaire, his patriotic self-image kept him from ever forgetting who had given him that big leg up.
When he received the telephoned request for a confidential meeting with a CIA liaison officer, Sam had no objection to the day of the week or the lateness of the proposed meeting. He offered to meet the chartered jet bringing the man at whichever of Houston's many airports they chose. The aircraft landed at ten-thirty p.m. at Andrau AirPark on the west side of Houston. As Sam went aboard, he made a mental note of the registration number on the airplane's tail; he'd find out which of his competitors had supplied the aircraft for this trip.
When told what the Company wanted, he immediately decided what to do, but wanting the favor to appear larger than it was, he asked for a few minutes to consider the proposition. The proposed act of perfidy against a loyal and trusted employee bothered him not one bit. Sam's loyalty was upward, not downward.
“Duncan Harris is the best line pilot I've got. He moves airplanes when nobody else will. Isn't there some other way of handling this?“ he finally replied, speaking the truth about his feelings toward Duncan.
“This is our best bet,” the liaison officer replied. “From past evaluations we know he loves flying. The threat of losing his job will keep him quiet. He's fifty-five. At that age he'll worry about his chances of getting another flying job, but he's been a loose cannon in the past. That's why you've got to intervene personally.”
Sam was surprised to hear Duncan was fifty-five. He doesn't look any older than his early forties, Sam thought, but he'd heard Duncan took good care of himself, drank lightly, and didn't smoke. “Loyalty to my employees is important to me,” he lied, but if the Company feels it's necessary...”
“We do, and the plan is set,” the liaison officer interrupted, sparing Sam the necessity of further lying. “Get him to return to work and notify us of his first flight duty. We'll take it from there, and the sooner the better. After he's lost his credibility, he'll be no further threat to the Company, the DEA will have what they need, and you'll have cause to fire him. Neat and tidy.”
“And he'll never fly again?”
“That's right, at least not legally.”
MCKENZIE BRIDGE — Sunday 21:00
Wislowski sat under the tree for an hour. The rock-on-rock sounds stopped after the first quarter hour. The daylight was waning; he could go back now and find out why Longstreet hadn't answered his radio calls. He had used the time to concoct a credible story about an arduous chase up one ridge and down another, except he wasn't sure ridge was the right word for the hill he was on. He stood and started downhill. There was an immediate crack of rock-on-rock, loud, close, and between him and the river.
“Shit!” Wislowski flattened on the ground. He had moved less than five feet. With his gun in his right hand, he brought his radio to his mouth with his left. “Longstreet, Longstreet, I need backup, now, goddammit,” he transmitted, not caring that he wasn't using the other agent's radio call sign. There was no answer.
Whoever it was had been uphill from him. Now they were downhill; they had circled. He would go uphill, then parallel the river, then go back to the river. Damn, this was going to take time, and it was getting dark. Wislowski started crawling uphill. Another rock-on-rock sound, louder and closer than the last, stopped him ... it came from up the hill.
Wislowski felt his mouth go dry. There had to be more than one. Jesus, he thought, we killed two of their people. The thought of his body being found with hands tied behind his back flashed through his mind.
“We see you.” The voice floated, melodiously, through the dusk from his uphill side.
Wislowski's eyes jerked from side to side, searching for better cover.
“If you want to talk to us, use the radio in your left hand. We have your friend's radio. Longstreet, was that his name?” This voice was deeper but soft, and from his downhill side. The words were spoken slowly.
Wislowski closed his eyes and pressed his forehead into the ground. He felt liquid warmth flooding his pants.
The next words came slowly, softly from his radio. “We didn't kill him. He tried to swim a very cold river with a very strong current with his boots on. He didn't make it.”
“Where is he?” Wislowski finally transmitted.
“What do you want?”
“To ... go ... home.”
“What do you mean?”
The words came flooding across from the other voice, spoken loudly, clearly and so rapidly Wislowski could hardly keep up. “Listen, asshole, all we want to do is to go home. Spread-eagle yourself, push your gun out from your right hand. We'll pick it up, take your ammo, your compass, and your flashlight. We'll go home; you'll be lost in the dark; you can walk out in the morning. Fair enough?”
MCKENZIE BRIDGE — Sunday 21:30
“I hear it's pretty rough for ex-cops in prison,” Longstreet said. He had told Duncan everything, had answered all of Duncan's questions.
“So I hear,” Duncan replied. “Do you think you'll go to prison?”
“After I tell them what really happened? They'll throw the key away ... you should have let me drown.”
Duncan didn't reply. The two men sat in the living room, both with a cup of tea in their hands. Longstreet sat on the edge of the fireplace hearth, close to the flames. He hadn't been able to get warm, and, though it was August, Duncan had built him a fire.
It had been light outside when they started their conversation, though at first it wasn't a conversation at all; it was Longstreet sobbing, spilling forth the crimes of which he had accused and convicted himself. As the torrent of his words slowed, Duncan had sought and received the details, storing the answers away in his memory; he would not forget.
It grew dark, but the firelight alone remained sufficient. Time stood still, measurable only by the flickering of the fire and the regular breathing of the two men.
Duncan looked at the younger man. Tom Harris's pajamas fit him perfectly. At his father's request, Duncan had purchased two pair of pajamas for him when Tom had started spending more time in bed than out. The older Harris had decided that if his housekeeper and daughter-in-law were going to have to wait on him in bed, they should at least not be subjected to an old man's nudity. The other pair of pajamas, ruined by blood and bullet holes, had been returned to Duncan when he picked up Tom's ashes.
Duncan shook off his reverie, “Do you want another cup of tea?I do.”
Duncan returned from the kitchen and placed a fresh, hot cup on the hearth beside Longstreet and returned to the couch facing the fire. He focused on Longstreet. Would any good purpose be served in destroying this man?
“Are you sure you really want to tell them?” Duncan asked.
Longstreet looked up. “I don't want to, but I have to ... besides, if I don't, you will.”
“Maybe... maybe not. I've already told them what I thought happened, and but for details, I was correct ... and they know that. Your cover-up was inept. Greg Ballentine figured out what happened within the first few days. All the cover-up did was make a bad P. R. problem worse ... you don't understand your own organization. You're still idealistic. You still think you're fighting a necessary war that can and should be won.”
Duncan warmed to his topic. “If you tell them what you did, it'll cost you your career, no doubt about that. But whether you'll go to jail or not depends on how they think they can best cover their ass. If they think they can maintain the fallacy that my wife and father were drug dealers, they'll get rid of you and that's the last you'll hear of it. If they can't maintain that lie, then they'll need a scapegoat, and that'll be you, and they'll throw the book at you.”
Duncan stood and walked to the window facing the river. He thrust his hands into his front pockets, turned and faced the silent Longstreet. “This whole drug war thing is a mess, a farce. The government created the DEA for all the wrong reasons to fight the wrong problem in the wrong way, and that's why it's failing so miserably. But I have to ask myself, if the drug war can't be stopped, who do I want busting down doors unannounced?Someone with a conscience who has made a tragic mistake and not likely to make it again or the macho man who might replace you, who thinks he's on a mission from God, who thinks there's a moral difference between nicotine and marijuana or between alcohol and cocaine.”
Duncan turned back toward the river and extended his right hand toward the waters. “I put the ashes of my family in that river today.” Tears welled in his eyes, but his voice did not crack. “Taking you down might be considered just retribution by some, but neither my wife nor my father ever believed in revenge. They were better than I. No, Longstreet, you're not the enemy. The drug war is the enemy. My wife and father were innocent victims of an unnecessary conflict. The only way I can honor them is to help stop the war, although personally I would take great pleasure in slowly executing you and every member of your god damn team, the fucking parasite you call an informant, and all the people who sent you.”
“I'm sorry ...” Longstreet tried to speak, failed, and lowered his head.
“I'll get your clothes out of the dryer. Use the phone if you need to. I'll take you to your car as soon as you've changed. Keep the pajamas. I insist, and remember to whom they belonged.”
As soon as Longstreet disappeared into the bathroom to change, Duncan heard a soft voice in the hallway. “A friendly coming in,” and Larry Tanner entered, equipment bag in hand.“ I heard the last part of your speech.”
“I meant it.”
“I know.” Larry dropped the bag on the couch. “The film's still in there, and his gun and jacket. You want it.”
“Leave it. The other agent ...”
“... is on the other side of the river, sans compass, flashlight, and ammo,” Larry completed the sentence. “He won't try to move until it's light. We put his stuff in the bag.”
“I'll be back after I take this guy to his car.”
“You're too kind, Duncan, much too kind. That always gets you in trouble,” Larry said, shaking his head. “I think we should put him back in the river.” Larry was serious.
Longstreet came back into the living room dressed except for his boots, which were still drying by the fire. He did a double-take when he saw the equipment bag. Duncan stood apart from the bag. Larry had left the room.
“Decision time, my friend,” Duncan said. “Your gun and jacket are in the bag, and the film is still there. I had planned to expose it to sunlight. I don't think anyone should be the subject of a DEA inquiry just because they came to a memorial service. That's an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
Longstreet looked at the bag, looked down, looked at his boots by the fire. He crossed to the hearth, sat down, and put on the boots. Duncan remained apart from the bag, watching Longstreet. Neither man spoke.
Shoes on, Longstreet knelt by the bag, unzipped it, and upended the contents onto the carpet. He appeared puzzled when loose ammunition spilled out with the other items.
“The ammo belongs to your friend. His compass and flashlight are there as well,” Duncan said.
“Where is he?”
“Lost on the other side of the river would be my guess. If I was out there without a flashlight or compass and didn't know the area, I'd sit tight until morning.”
Longstreet put on his gun belt, which doubled as an equipment belt and had his radio attached. “Has he still got his radio?”
Longstreet put the radio to his mouth, keyed the transmitter ... and then unkeyed it. “I've forgotten his call sign.”
Duncan chuckled, “Then use his name.”
“Yeah.” Longstreet keyed the mike again, “Wislowski, do you read me?” and waited. The reply came as he was about to try again.
“Longstreet? Longstreet, is that you?”
“Yeah, where are you?”
“Jesus, am I glad to hear from you. They told me you had drowned.”
Longstreet paused before speaking, “I guess I did, but I'm okay now ... maybe a little weak. Are you okay?”
“Fuck no, I'm sitting in the middle of this goddamned forest. It's so dark I can't see my hand in front of my face, and I can hear my heart beating; it's that quiet. Longstreet, watch yourself. These guys are pros. They are way beyond us.”
“I know. Look, I've got something to do here, and then I'll come get you. It'll be awhile. Just sit tight.”
“I can't do anything else. I lost my flashlight and compass.”
“I know. I have them here ... and your ammo.”
Wislowski stopped transmitting.
Longstreet looked at the canisters of exposed film and at Duncan. He knelt on the carpet and, one by one, threw them into the fire. Each made a sizzling, blowing sound as gas generated by the vaporizing film escaped. “I don't know how the hell I'm going to explain this.”
Duncan was tired, exhausted, by the time he got back to his father's home. The excitement, his physical exertion saving Longstreet, his agitated emotions—all had taken their toll, and it had been a long day; his dad's grandfather clock tolled midnight as he walked in the door. All lights were out except a single hall light.
“Richard and I have a bet going,” Larry called from the darkened living room. “I told him that Dunk Harris, being the helpful fellow he is, wouldn't just drop the DEA goon at his car. He'd give him a hand finding his partner. Can I assume from the lateness of your return that my unbelieving young associate now owes me one hundred dollars?”
Duncan didn't answer the question; he hated it when he was predictable. Coming into the living room, he sat in his father's empty easy chair.
Larry took Duncan's silence for the assent it was. “See, I told you,” he addressed Richard. “Let this be a lesson to you. Whenever you work with Dunk, watch out for his kindness. It's a weakness, the one thing you can predict about him. You owe me one hundred dollars.”
Duncan changed the subject, relating everything Longstreet had said including the fact that it was he who fired two fatal shots into Ellie Harris. When he stopped, neither Larry nor Richard spoke. Except for the rush of the river, silence reigned.
Duncan finally broke his introspection, “One last thing before you go back to San Francisco. I want you to kidnap a man for me.”