Cape May Beach,
It was growing much colder on the dark shore, as yet no hint of dawns light. The Ice Queen, her name notwithstanding, shivered a bit in the inbound breeze.
Moradi sneered at her. “What happened to the famed ice-water in your veins, Sandra, dear?”
“I’m tired, Saal. That’s all. It was a long night. A long drive.”
“Suck it up, princess. There’ll be more—maybe.”
“What are we waiting for?”
“The last cog of the wheel, dearest. The last piece of the grand, complicated, and marvelously complex puzzle that is Saal Moradi.” Moradi scanned the horizon carefully, glancing at his wristwatch as he did so. “The final act of my,” he paused for effect. “Magnum opus.”
“My masterpiece, my dear,” said Moradi, derision in his tone.
“The Queen looked doubtful, as her skin crawled slightly.”
“You frighten me, Saal.”
“That is good, my lovely. I should.”
Another minute and a half passed before the Queen picked up the sound of an approaching helicopter in the distance. It neared swiftly, low in the sky, seemingly almost touching the water, without lights, its blades whipping up tiny waves in the mostly calm sea. It circled once, checking out the scene below, and finally set down lightly on the sand, nearly into the water. It was plain that the pilot wished to avoid detection as much as possible from a row of houses several hundred yards away.
As the blades of the bird began to slow their rotation, Moradi unbuttoned his light weight jacket and strode forward toward the machine. The Ice Queen held back, preferring to watch the proceedings from a distance, the crawling of her skin not yet subsided.
In a few moments the pilot emerged from the helicopter and strode forward to meet Moradi. He carried a large suitcase in his hand. Meeting Moradi halfway to the chopper, he gestured toward the suitcase and spoke in a thickly accented Arabic language. The Queen, although understanding a bit of the language, was unable to make out the individual words.
Moradi nodded several times in apparent understanding, and then took the suitcase, turned and started back the way he had come. The pilot did the same. Suddenly, about a dozen paces from each other, Moradi set the suitcase down as he spun around, pulling his stainless revolver as he did so. He called to the pilot in the same language. The pilot turned toward the sound, and as he did so, Moradi fired several times, killing the man instantly.
Calmly, Moradi ejected the three empty shell casings from the cylinder of his gun, and just as calmly inserted three fresh cartridges from where they had been. Replacing the pistol into its holster, he casually looked over his shoulder to the Ice Queen and motioned for her to come to him.
The Queen obeyed, her feet, although unwilling, somehow moving forward. Passing the fresh and bleeding corpse of the pilot, she wondered just how long it might be before the same fate would be hers.
“He peeved you,” the Queen said.
“Not at all,” Moradi replied. “I simply did not need him anymore. I do however, have a need of his helicopter.”
“I didn’t know you flew them.”
“I fly everything, Sandra. It would be most foolish for a man in my business to not have mastered all the tools of his trade. A maxim Mr. O’Brien will soon come to wish he had observed and practiced.”
“Where are we going?”
“Not very far, Sandra—but very fast. We have much work to do.”
“What’s in the suitcase, Saal?” asked the Queen, even as she dreaded the answer.”
Moradi smiled wickedly as he reached the chopper.
“A reckoning, my dear. That’s all. Just a reckoning.”
When my I finally came awake the next morning, it was to the not unpleasant smell of bacon frying below. I had retired after all to the last upstairs bedroom. After what had transpired the night before, I decided that the living room easy chair was just a little too close to the nursery door. Didn’t want Teresa making a return appearance in the wee hours. Meeting her had been great, but I didn’t want to make a habit of it. Once in the bed, I had slept later than I had intended. But that was all right. The night before had been a busy one.
As I pulled on my outer clothes and made my way downstairs, I wondered which of the two ladies were cooking, or if it was a joint effort between the two. As it turned out, it was a joint effort all right, but there were no women involved. Howard and Matt were busy in the kitchen, while the ladies sat at the dining room table quietly chatting. Brick stood in the doorway to the kitchen, looking on.
Hey—every job needs a supervisor.
Maggie spoke up. “Hello, sleepy-head. I thought we were going to have to bring a bucket of ice cold water upstairs.”
“Not far from it,” I allowed.
“Couldn’t get to sleep?”
“Not too fast. Some late hour meetings.”
Maggie looked puzzled.
“Where’s the Kid, Johnny?” Linh asked.
“The Kid won’t be joining us, Linh,” I answered. “He has another place he needs to be today.”
“The Tuller Hotel. He has a lady waiting for him. Probably a child too.”
Both Linh and Maggie raised an eyebrow on that one. “Must be pretty important people,” Linh said.
“They are,” I replied.
“Puts us down to six.”
“Yeah, I know. Seven would have been better, since we really don’t know what we’re facing—or how many.”
“Just who is the Kid anyway, Johnny?”
“Long story, Maggie—I’ll tell you all about him when we’re back home and on our honeymoon.”
Maggie smiled mischievously. “Well I hope you’ve done something by then, Johnny, to take my mind off the Kid.”
I grinned back. “I’ll do my best,” I said, in my best John Wayne ‘little lady’ imitation.
Matt and Howard entered the dining room carrying a huge platter of fried meat, eggs, hash brown potatoes, and even pancakes. Brick followed with a steaming coffee-pot.
“You two need to knock it off,” Matt said. “You’re sizzling more than the bacon.”
“So what did you two do to get kitchen duty?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Genius boy here suggested that Linh and Maggie make breakfast,” Howard explained.”
“Ouch. You know, for or a guy of your advanced years, Matt—you’re not a particularly smart man,” I observed.
“Yeah,” he agreed, grinning widely. “Now tell me something I don’t know.”
“I’ll tell you two things. You don’t know where Moradi is, any more than I do, and just like me—you don’t know what he’s up to either.”
“Right, Johnny. Got a plan?”
“Matter of fact, yes. Give me some of that bacon and eggs.”
“I mean after you fill your face.”
“Find Faris. She may have a lot more information that we do, and if we’re really lucky, she may be a step or two ahead of Moradi as well.”
“Right, Johnny,” Brick contributed sourly. “If we’re really lucky.”
Shahida came fully to her senses slowly. She could not seem to decide precisely where she was, or for that matter, what condition she was in. She was alive—that she knew for sure. No dead person could hurt that badly. The blast had thrown her against a wall—hard. Her left shoulder ached wickedly, and her right knee was keeping it company.
The room was dark, and wet with mist—a result of the ruptured water barrel. A single small blue bulb burned in a corner from its recessed and protected niche. Thank god for generators and emergency lighting, Shahida thought to herself, as she called softly to her companions. There was no answer. In the dim light she could just make out the trap door, blown from its hinges, and lying in a corner. From one end she could see the protruding lower legs and shoes of a man. Shahida managed to roll onto her knees and work her way slowly to the prostrate form.
It was Harold Wiggins. Shahida was able to push the door off him and get him turned onto his side. It was plain that the older man was having a fair amount of trouble breathing. Even at that, he forced himself to speak.
“Where’s Trey and Dallin?”
“I don’t know yet. How bad are you hurt, Harold?”
“Leg’s broke. I know that for sure. The damned door.”
“How much more do you want? I can feel the bone sticking out of the side.”
“I guess that’ll do, Harold. I’m going to find the others.”
“Go ahead. I’m fine. Not going anywhere.”
Shahida stood on wobbly legs and made her way slowly to the gaping hole in the floor where the trapdoor had once been. Kneeling down and peering inside, she was surprised at the amount of ambient light that was coming from Dallin Week’s belt flashlight. It was doing a fairly good job of faintly illuminating the entire room. Shahida’s heart sank at what she saw. She knew she would never forget it.
Not if she lived forever.
The scene was wildly reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Dallin Weeks cradled a dying Trey Wiggins in his arms. Shahida remained frozen where she was, as it was obvious that there was nothing to be done for the young man. The force of the blast had shattered the inner door and water barrel, along with the wooden gun and food storage racks. Several large pieces were grotesquely sticking out of Wiggin’s body. One of the larger ones had impaled the young man directly through his back and partly exited the center of his chest. His legs and arms were twisted at odd angles, broken beyond repair. One half of his face was burned darkly. Wiggins’ eyes looked directly into those of his friend, even as his lips were struggled to form words, but as she watched, his chest heaved twice and he died.
Weeks drew the horribly broken and bloody body of his friend tight against his own chest, and gently rocked the young man for a few moments. Then he lowered him to the floor and straightened out his arms and legs as well as he could. Looking up for the first time he noticed the figure of Agent Faris above him. Shahida could see his tear streaked face as their eyes met.
“Help me get him out, Shahida,” Weeks said with a broken voice. “I don’t want to leave him down here alone in the dark. He deserves better than that.”
Faris shook her head yes as she reached down to receive Wiggins’ body. Weeks hoisted it up to her, and together they were able to maneuver him out of the lower chamber. In the blue light of the emergency lights, the wounds to his body looked even more ghastly.
Harold Wiggins had managed to work himself up and into a sitting position. He was able to see his dead grandson clearly. No explanation from Shahida and Weeks was needed. Tears ran unabashedly down the old man’s cheeks.
“I’m so terribly sorry, Harold,” Shahida said.
“He knew,” Wiggins said. “Moradi knew everything we were going to do, even before we did, and just exactly where I would go. I completely underestimated him. I was stupid—and I’ve just killed my grandson.”
“No Harold. That’s not true. Your grandson was an officer of the law. Risking his life everyday was what he did for a living. What he chose to do for a living. Every time he walked out of the door in the morning he knew there was a good chance he wouldn’t return. He was a cop. A good one. It’s what they do, Harold. It’s what they do.”
“I’m all busted up inside, Shahida. I can’t even go after Moradi now.”
“I can, Harold. Your grandson saved my life. At least I can get the man that killed him. I promise you I’ll get the son-of-a-bitch. I promise that I’ll get him if it’s the last thing I do on this earth.”
Weeks spoke up. “You won’t be alone. I’ll be with you. Trey was my friend—and I loved him.”
“I know you did, but you can’t go with me, Dallin. You’re still an officer of the law too. I’m going to be going a long way outside of that law now. This just got personal for me.”
For an answer, Weeks began to pull off his uniform shirt, carefully removing the badge and handing it to the older Wiggins. Underneath was only a blood soaked white A-shirt. Shahida and Harold watched as he further removed his duty belt, containing handcuffs, pepper-spray and flashlight holder, and tossed them on the floor. Removing it from its black leather basket-weave holster, he tucked the Glock 9mm pistol into the back of his waistband and the two extra magazines into his hip pocket. The blood and water had plastered the undershirt close to his well-muscled chest. Shahida noticed once again the young man’s odd good looks. Weeks ran his right hand through his well-combed short sandy hair, leaving a streak of Trey’s blood in it.
“Guess I’m not a cop anymore.”
Shahida looked him over for a few seconds. “No, Dallin—I guess you’re not.”
“We need to get going,” Dallin said.
“Yes we do,” Shahida agreed. “Harold—we need your help.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Tell us what to do. You’ve forgotten more than Dallin and I know.”
“Don’t know about that, Shahida—but here’s what I’d do.”
Shahida shook her head yes.
“Take my phone. Call this in to 911 when you are well out of the area. Leave another message for O’Brien. Set up a meeting with him. An exact location. It’ll have to be close to where all this is going to be going down, so I’d suggest the Capitol Mall. Maybe the Washington Monument. It’s an open and straightforward location. Moradi will have to respond because it’s too close to the Senate and House for his comfort. He’ll guess you’re onto his plan. Trouble is of course, that in all likelihood, O’Brien’s not going to be there, so it’ll just be you and Weeks up against God only knows what. It’s going to be your last stand, but you’ll know he’s coming, so maybe one of you will get lucky.”
“We don’t know what he looks like,” Weeks said.
“Don’t worry about it too much, kid. Moradi will be a stand-out. He’ll be the one trying to kill you.”
“We’ve got to get you out of here, Harold.”
“Leave me. Just tell the cops to come into the room through the fireplace. No need to try to protect this ‘secret’ any longer.”
Shahida looked doubtful.
“It’s okay, Faris. I need a little time to talk to my grandson. I need to tell him I’m sorry—for a number of things.”
Shahida started to say something, but changed her mind.
“One more thing, Faris. There’s a code on the back of my phone. Key it in before you do anything else. It’ll disable the GPS. No sense having any more company on the mall that you’re already going to have.”
“Got it, Harold.”
Wiggins shook Shahida’s hand, and then Weeks. “Thank you for being a friend to Trey. Shoot straight—and keep your head down, young man.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
“And both of you—don’t hesitate to shoot. Not even a second. America is depending on you.”
“What about the President?” Shahida asked.
“Forget about him. You’d never get close anyway. Focus on Moradi. You’ll have your hands full enough with just him. Karma will take care of the Prez. Karma always does. She’s one relentless bitch.”
Shahida and Weeks smiled a little at that.
“Indeed she is, Harold. You get well, all right? I want to see you again.”
“The same to you two. I want to see you both again too.”
The three looked silently at each other for a few seconds.
“Later then,” Wiggins said.
“Later then,” Faris and Weeks repeated.
They left then.
In a hurry.
Breakfast was over pretty fast. We had all been more hungry than we thought. Maggie and Linh offered to clean-up the kitchen, but I told them not to worry. The Kid wouldn’t be coming home again—at least not to this house. Everyone looked a little quizzical, but no one asked questions. I was glad of that.
I told my little gang to get everything together that they wanted to take back with them. We wouldn’t be coming back to Virginia Park Street again—at least not in 1940. Gathered together again in the living room a few minutes later, I told them this was about it.
Brick spoke up. “Where are going to end up?”
“You tell me. You’re the Detroit guy.”
“The old fair-grounds. It’s been largely deserted for a long time now. Wide open, and at the same time, kind of secluded. I don’t think we’ll stir up much notice there.”
“As I remember, Brick, it’s just around the corner from the Stone House Bar. Maybe we should stop in for a shot when we get there. See how much it’s changed and all.”
Brick grinned. “You might find Capone sitting there, Johnny—still trying to figure out what hit him.”
I grinned back. I guessed Brick had probably been paying more attention than I thought.
Maggie looked at me and spoke up. “I’m going too, Johnny—all the way.”
“Damned right you are, Maggie. I love you, but I wouldn’t even ask you to stand down. We come through this clean, Maggie, you and I, or we don’t come through at all. Together, even-steven, and completely equal partners in every single thing we ever do—including this. That’s my marriage terms. We’re all in larger hands than our own now.”
Maggie nodded her head yes. She knew she didn’t have to say a word. She knew we understood each other perfectly. We were risking a lot, including the life of a precious unborn child. Yet none of us spoke up against it. We all knew what was at stake, and we all knew what was right. Sometimes, you just have to trust in God. Why not? —everything else was way beyond our control.
We all stood in a small circle, hands linked. I assumed the position of leader, although I didn’t really think our group needed one. I asked Linh to offer a short prayer, and she did.
After we all said Amen, I made my small contribution. “I don’t know what we’re going into,” I started. “But it’s pretty likely to be unholy hell. I don’t think anyone here needs a pep-talk, so I’ll make this real short. Everyone has each other’s back. One for all—all for one. Even unto death. Simple as that.”
Everyone nodded their heads yes. It was our poor man’s tontine. It would have been a good spot for a boozy toast, but nobody had any.
So we simply went back.
Thanks for reading. See you all in a few days with another installment.
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