Our confab at the Stonehouse lasted most of the rest of the evening. We had quite a lot to discuss. Like how to preserve the American republic and save Western civilization. No small issues. Capone stayed on for about an hour before saying his goodbyes and heading out, still looking more than a little peaked. He remained on his side of the bar and didn’t speak to me again, although we traded glances across the room like a couple of kids in homeroom. Occasionally, I tossed in a smile, nod and a wink just for effect. It was kind of fun to see him wince, as he struggled in his mind to come to terms with what had just occurred. I could tell that he didn’t have a flippin’ clue as to whether it had actually happened or not. Every once in a while old Al would pull back on the lapels of his suitcoat to see if his .45 were there or not. Of course it wasn’t. He had left it behind—in another world; his only tangible proof that it wasn’t a simple matter of “indigestion.” Even such an experienced time-traveler such as Matt McCabe didn’t seem to notice that Al and I were gone for a while. Only the Kid shot me meaningful looks. He knew something was up. He just didn’t know exactly what.
It was good to have our old “gang” back again. Myself, Howard, Matt and Linh. The core. We had been through some stuff together. Tough stuff. I knew I could trust them with my life—and likewise, they knew I would give my own for them. Added to the mix was the Kid, Brick Wall, and my brand-new fiancé, Maggie Moran. I was still trying to get my head around the fact that she had actually said yes. Moran was a great name, and her late husband was a terrific guy, but I had every intention of changing that surname to something else very soon. Something with an equally Celtic ring to it—Maggie O’Brien. I wondered what Jan might have thought about it if I could only hear her speak. Pure speculation aside, what I was pretty sure about was the fact that she would have been happy for me. No doubt about that one at all.
There were seven of us. A good number. A damned good lucky number.
I reached under our table with my left hand. Maggie must have been waiting for it, as our fingers linked together immediately.
“I’ve never asked you your maiden name,” I said.
She chuckled. “I’m afraid I’m another Mick, Johnny. Seems you aren’t able to get away from them. McBribe. Margaret, or ‘Maggie’ Marie McBride.”
I caught the flash of white smiling teeth across the table. “Another triple M, Johnny,” said Matthew Mason McCabe. “You’re sunk.”
We all laughed then, as I received congratulations from around the table. Howard was the first to change the subject, but then he was always the type to be in a hurry to get down to brass tacks.
“What do you know about Shahida Faris?”
“Nothing. Not since we left modern Detroit. Word was she was dead.”
“Dead my ass.”
“What do you know, Howard?”
“Ms. Faris apparently shagged it out the back door, figuratively speaking, while her housekeeper was blown to bits.”
Howard nodded. “Detroit PD ran the print on a detached finger. It wasn’t Faris. There was no other corpse at the scene.”
“So what’s going on?” I asked.
“I think Faris is dirty. That’s what I think is going on.”
“She doesn’t add up. The house she lived in, the car she drove. The housekeeper. A nice big, fat bank account.”
“I can explain that one,” I said. “She divorced a rich local celebrity. Got most everything he didn’t wear to court.”
Howard grinned. “Nothing much new in that story I guess. Where is she then?”
“Laying low, like us?”
“Not an agent. She’d check in with somebody at the Bureau.”
“True,” I replied. “Maybe she’s not able to check in.”
“Maybe,” Howard allowed. “Got any ideas on how to find out?”
“Yeah, but not from here.”
Matt spoke up. “Let’s get out of here then. We’re about as strong right now as we’re likely to be. Let’s go back and figure out what the heck is going on.”
Howard nodded his agreement.
“I agree too,” Brick added thoughtfully. “Moradi’s about as off-balance right now as he’s ever going to be. He’s got to be wondering what the hell happened to you.”
“Who’s Moradi?” Howard, Linh and Maggie asked almost in unison.
“Saal Moradi,” I said. “The world’s latest contribution to the really long, sordid, and ever popular best-selling encyclopedia of scum-bag psychopathic killing monsters. He’s got a sidekick named the Ice Queen.”
“Whoa—sounds interesting,” Matt said. “I’m beginning to feel like I’m in the middle of a Conan Doyle novel.”
“That’s just about right,” I said. “And we could use a Sherlock right about now.”
“That be you, Johnny,” the Kid said. “Tell us about Moriarty—Moradi, I mean.”
“Not now guys. It’s a long story and the devil needs his due.”
“When then?” Howard asked.
“This evening,” I said. “I’d like us to get a good night’s sleep before we head back and go up against this guy. Moradi’s tough, and I want us to face him fresh. We could stay tonight at the Kid’s house if that’s all right with him.”
“Sure thing, Johnny. The welcome-mat is always out.”
“Thanks, Kid,” I replied. “Let’s head on out then.”
Shahida Faris and the two DC cops exited Central hunkered down on the back seat of Wiggin’s Chevy Suburban. It was a big vehicle and sported a lot of room. They had been lucky so far and no one had challenged them, but even with Harold Wiggins, a well-known figure at the wheel, it would have gotten dicey in a hurry, trying to explain the presence of three very much wanted people almost laying on the floorboards. Finally they cleared the last gate and swung out onto the highway.
“Where to, Chief Wiggins?”
“My place. You’ll find it to be a little more comfortable than Week’s apartment.”
“Just across the river. It’d be just about the last place on earth anyone would expect you to be.”
“Maybe not. The Bureau must know you and Trey are related.”
Wiggin’s smiled. “I doubt it, Shahida. The United States government’s law enforcement agencies don’t run anywhere near as efficiently as you might imagine. Trust me—I’ve been in them for a lot longer than you.”
Shahida looked doubtful. ‘I don’t know.”
“Relax. You read too many detective novels. Besides, my place has a couple of extra features that you won’t find in your average suburban rambler.”
“Like a safe-house.”
“You’re right, Harold. You don’t see a lot of those. Why?”
“You said a couple of features. What’s the other?”
“A pretty well-stocked arsenal.”
“More life insurance?”
“Plenty of ammo?”
“Let’s hope Moradi comes to us then.”
“We might just be able to arrange that, Shahida.”
“I like the way you think, Harold. How?”
“Well, we don’t have an idea in the world where O’Brien is. And he’s our bait. Him and his special watch.”
“What’s the plan then?”
“Convince Moradi that we do.”
The big Suburban lumbered onto the bridge—crossing the Potomac.
Las Guijosa Mountains
The Trail descended sharply. Loose rocks, shale and sand made the going very rough, and the six and a half decades past had done little to improve it. Now the old road was nearly undiscernible with many sizable mesquite trees and cactus growing out of its center.
Joshua shaded the spring sun from his eyes. It was bright for the time of year—the sky a cloudless stunning blue, seemingly going on forever. Joshua marked his destination, just to the right of a small rock outcropping above a sheer cliff. It was all he had to aim for, as the original entrance was all but completely obscured by overgrowth.
He stopped often to mop sweat from his brow, hatred for his grandfather growing with every step. Damned shame, he thought, that he had not killed the son-of-a-bitch sooner. He should have never let him get away. Now, he wasn’t even sure if Matt would return to the mine or not. It had always been part of Joshua’s planned to end it there, right where it had all started so many years before. It was a perfect location. Before he died, Joshua wanted Matt to see and understand that everything he had ever loved had been taken from him. Just as Matt had taken everything from Joshua that day on the banks of Spirit Lake.
Joshua supposed though that he would probably return. He knew that Matt wanted to get back to his precious Cindy Matthews more than anything else in the world. And the only way to a happy life with her was right here at this place. Yes, he would return, and when he did, Joshua would be ready for him. He would be ready, and he would make him pay dearly for the life he had taken—with his own.
We arrived at the Kid’s place in about an hour. The Kid wanted to give us a quick tour of his town though, before we headed back. It didn’t seem very gracious to not accept it. After all, he was our host. As it turned out, I was damned glad he had insisted. It was a trip—in more ways than just one.
I had no idea, from my previous short view of modern Detroit, just what a jewel it had once been. I did know from my earlier reading, that the population of the city had peaked around 1952 or so. This was early 1940. Detroit was still growing at this time. For all of its glory, it was still little compared to what it would become after the war. But here, at this moment, on this night—Pearl Harbor hadn’t even been bombed yet, and Adolph Hitler was still considered to be a clown. At least to the west anyhow.
The Kid’s big Ford was roomy enough to accommodate us all, albeit a little packed in. I sat with Maggie pressed next to me on my left. Directly to my right Matt was scrunched into my side. I guess I don’t have to tell you which direction I was enjoying the most. Maggie was enjoying herself as well. Every time I looked in her direction, I saw her beautiful smile. She obviously very happy to be reunited with me.
I felt exactly the same way.
The Kid chirped on like a child, pointing out the numerous sights and landmarks as we motored along down Woodward Avenue, like a seasoned tour guide. New construction was everywhere. From modest frame to ornate brick houses on the side streets, to sky-scrappers reaching high into the night sky. The Tuller Hotel loomed tall as we drove by. It was the one thing that the Kid had no comment on. He looked away as we passed. The Kid had an appointment coming up at the Tuller very soon. This night though, for the first time since I had met him, he didn’t seem in a big hurry to keep it. This night he was simply enjoying himself, and his life—with his friends.
The royal Penobscot Building gleamed like newly minted silver dollars. The Book Building popped against the night sky. Freshly painted Tiger Stadium did its best Roman Colosseum imitation. A lot of these same sights I had seen before, in a distant future. The old ball park—dead, and gone. The houses mostly burned out or torn down, or in a complete, total, and abject state of decay and destruction. The high-rise office buildings? Mostly empty and falling apart, or long gone, leaving only an empty and weed infested vacant lot.
The magnificent Tuller had become one of those.
Detroit was to become a sad state of affairs, but on this night the lights of the buildings shone brightly, a constant traffic on the night-time streets, and the sidewalks filled with pedestrians, at this point still unafraid of the night, as their descendants would rightly learn to be. They were mostly well dressed. Suits, overcoats, white shirts, and ties. No sagging pants falling off their asses. No overpriced orange or red sneakers with flashing lights. Dress shoes instead. This night there was class. Grunge and plainness would come much later. The ladies wore dresses.
This night the Detroiters walked with a purpose. Later they would run the same way; from the dark—and the goblins that lived in it.
Now back at the house, we sat around the dining room table, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee. Once again, Howard the intrepid lead off the conversation.
“Tell us what you know, Johnny.”
“Well Howard, as you have probably concluded by now, this whole damned thing never had anything to do with blowing up a school-room full of Christian kids.”
“True that,” Howard replied. “I kind of tumbled onto that little fact while I was sorting through body parts in a Detroit church.”
“Why were you doing that, Howard?” I innocently asked.
“Looking for your dumb ass, Johnny. For some strange reason we all thought we should give it a decent burial.”
“Thanks, Howard. I’m touched.”
“Don’t be. How come you weren’t in the pile? Somebody did a real job on the Hilton.”
“Dumb luck, Howard. You know me—generally in the right place at the right time. Or at least not in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Howard grunted for a reply. “So I’m guessing your Mr. Moradi was the mad-bomber?”
“He was,” I said.
“What’s he after, Johnny?”
“To create chaos. And . . . “
“Own the watch.”
“Can he get his hands on it?”
“No. It’s safe.”
“Safe, Howard. Good and safe.”
“I’m just getting to know the guy a little bit,” I answered. “So far we’re barely on a first name basis and not all that close. So I’m going to let Brick answer, Howard. He’s what you might call an expert on Moradi.”
Brick had been pouring himself another cup of coffee. He stopped, turned and gave Howard a long look while he considered his reply. Finally, apparently having formulated his answer, Brick slowly returned to the table and sat down. After taking a long languid swallow from his cup, he answered. It was all very theatrical.
I was impressed.
“Saal Moradi has been around for a long time, Howard,” Brick said. “But he’s hardly been on anyone’s radar-screen—at least big-time. The FBI and CIA have been keeping tabs on him for a while, but they have never really concentrated on him. That’s because he hasn’t been what they’d call a major player. He didn’t have name recognition—like say, a Bin-Laden. Moradi likes the background, the shadows. But trust me when I tell you, there’s not a more dangerous man on the planet.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s probably a Saudi.”
“Probably is the best anyone can do, Howard. He doesn’t exactly have a Wikipedia article you know.”
“You and he have a history.”
“Care to talk about it, Brick?”
“Not especially. I haven’t been Mossad for a while, but that doesn’t mean that I can exactly write a book about those days.
“I don’t want a book. A paragraph will do.”
“Long story short, Howard—I took a Moradi slug while serving as a bodyguard to an Israeli Knesset member. I should have died but I didn’t. So Moradi missed his chance with me. It’s my turn now.”
“Sounds fair to me, Brick. What else do you know?”
“I know what he looks like—without make-up or disguise. Johnny does too. That gives us a slight edge. Moradi would very much like to see me and Johnny dead. He’s more than willing to go out of his way to make that happen. He’s already killed dozens just trying to whack O’Brien. Collateral damage means nothing to him, anonymity does.”
“So what does he look like?”
“About five eight, maybe as much as ten. A buck fifty in weight, tops. Thin guy with a thin face. He had a thin moustache as well when I saw him. It looked real. Brown hair, slightly graying. Dark complexion, but not as much so as you would expect. Flat eyes. We didn’t spend enough time up close and personal for me to give you the color.”
“The guy you were protecting, Brick—did Moradi get him?”
“The person I was protecting was a woman, Howard. And the answer is no. He got me instead.”
“You did your job then.”
“Like what, Howard?”
“Like what is this guy all about? Like what makes him tick? Like what is his thing? Like that. Like everything you’ve been trying to not tell us so far.”
“Didn’t want to scare you, Howard,” Brick said with a weak smile.
“I’m not a little girl, Brick. Try me.”
“There’s ladies present.”
“Duly sworn-in officers of the law. So stop insulting them and talk.”
“Okay—I will. No one knows a lot about Moradi, but a lot of people know something about him. So you pick things up as you go along. Seems he started out his career in Saudi Intelligence. Now mind you, he never spent a day in his life in the Army, but somehow all of a sudden he’s a mover and shaker in one of the better military outfits in the Eastern hemisphere. That indicates more than a little natural talent and ability. Then why, you might ask, would they kick him out in pretty short order?”
“And the answer is?” Howard asked.
“I don’t know. Nobody does for sure, but I’ll tell you what I think. The word on the Interpol street is that after Moradi left Saudi Intelligence, he naturally gravitated toward Al Qaeda. Stayed in their employ for a couple of years and then they booted him.”
“Again Howard, pure speculation on my part, but I think he scared them.”
“What could a Saal Moradi do to scare one of the deadliest terror organizations on the planet?”
“Oh, not physically frightened them, but he scared them with the possibility of tarnishing their reputation.”
“Didn’t know they had a reputation to tarnish,” Howard said.
“Well, they do. Al Qaeda is a terror organization all right, but they are also a political organization. They are not exactly mindless killers. Their terror has motivations, agendas, and it has solid objectives.”
“So you think Moradi didn’t exactly share their political values.”
“Precisely. He was too extreme, and I think maybe—too insane for them.”
“In what way?”
“I think Moradi is a violent sexual psychopath, along with serious delusions of grandeur and violent fantasies. When he was with Al Qaeda, his two specialties were killing people with amazing creativity, and getting information from captives the same way.”
“A torturer,” Howard said.
“Yes sir. But he went too far with it for Al Qaeda’s tastes. Generally he was killing his victims horrifically, but before he was getting the information the terrorists wanted. In other words, he was too damned good at what he did. A kind of sicko over-achiever.”
“So he’s out of work.”
“Not exactly, Howard. There’s one organization where the ‘talents’ of a man like Mr. Moradi would fit right in. Where he’d be perfect. Where the very worst he could be would never be bad enough for them.”
“And this impacts us how?”
“Back in the days of the American west, the old Indians fighters always saved the last bullet for themselves. They didn’t want to be taken captive—not at any cost. White captives didn’t fare very well. They would always save the last round for themselves.”
“Any recommendations, Brick?”
“Yeah. I suggest we do the same.”
On that somber note, our little staff meeting broke up, and off to beddy-by we all went. The Kid’s house was large, and there was plenty of room for us all. Matt and Linh got one bedroom. No one knew for sure, but there seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that they might have a little catching up to do. For that reason, they got the room furthest down the hall. Maggie got her own room. We might be officially engaged, but neither one of us wanted to blow our best intentions at this late date. It was true enough that we might be killed on the morrow, but we were firm in our resolve to be true to ourselves and to each other to the end, no matter what that end might be.
Brick and Howard bunked together in a third room. I thought they might have some catching up to do as well—of a decidedly less intimate nature.
The Kid was in the master bedroom. Me, I could have crashed in the last of the five bedrooms, but I didn’t take it. It was true enough that I wanted a well-rested group heading back to modern Detroit the next day, but what I wanted a whole lot more was a few hours with the Kid. Just him and I, and one other inhabitant of the house—one that was unseen.
I settled for one of the large and comfortable Victorian styled chairs in the downstairs living room. I pulled a comforter around me and settled in. But I damned sure didn’t sleep.
Finally, after the space of a couple of hours, right around midnight, I thought everyone in the house would be asleep. I left my chair and headed up the stairs—toward the Kid’s room. Stopping outside his door, I raised my hand for a gentle knock. I didn’t need to. The door swung open, the Kid standing just inside—still in his suit.
“Come-in,” he said.
Thanks for reading. See you again soon . . .
Dumb, Dumb Joke . . .