The Watchmaker: Chapter Four . . . The Assignment

Reckoning

 

                         CHAPTER FOUR

 

Bellevue, Washington

March 19, 2015

 

The decent weather had said bye-bye. Now it was a very typical Northwest winter day, with leaden gray cloudy skies and light rain mixed with snow. Spring was still forty-eight hours away, according to the calendar, but I doubted the weatherman knew it.

Perfect, a complete and total match for my mood.

I had received the summons from his royal highness, “pain-in-the-ass” Howard Carter a scant hour and a half ago. He hadn’t especially made it sound as though it were an invitation. I would have told him exactly where to put it—that was, if he hadn’t hung up on me immediately after informing me that my presence would be required in his downtown office at precisely eleven o’clock. It was a good strategy on his part. He was aware that if he remained on the line for another few seconds, I would have told him to stuff it. As it was, he knew my natural curiosity would take over, and I would simply have to keep the appointment. I tried calling him back several times, to no avail, so now I found myself cooling my heels in front of his massive oak desk.

They don’t make them like that anymore, and I had to wonder to how much effort the old boy had gone to find one that big. It didn’t really match the rest of the setting. Carter’s office was kind of on the small side and very plain. A glass fishbowl. And not on the top floor of the building either, the way his predecessor’s had been. Carter had moved his to the ground floor, not too far from the main entrance. Besides the desk, the only other appointment that said “Chief” was the brass name plaque on the door. He said he believed it made him look a lot more open and accessible, and further, he stated, it didn’t hurt a bit to have the taxpayers actually see the head honcho at work. Under normal circumstances, I would have agreed with his entire line of reasoning. Today, my mood being a scant tick or two above Attila the Hun, it gave me only more reason to be really teed off at him. I could see the general public eyeing me as they passed in and out of the main entrance. To them, I was sure, I must have looked like one of the Chief’s lackeys. The fact that Carter didn’t have any lackeys didn’t alter my feelings one little bit either. Carter, I had to admit, was from the old school, fetching his own coffee and paperclips. Fact was, many a time I had seen him bringing coffee to his underlings.

He was a damned good man. Even the blackness surrounding me this morning couldn’t really alter that fact. I knew it too. Otherwise, I would never had sat waiting a full forty minutes past my appointment time. I crossed my legs and put my feet up on his desk to lessen the lackey look. Tipped my homburg at a classy angle to boot.

And I stewed.

When Carter finally appeared a couple of minutes later, I was a real mood to remove his head, and didn’t mind for a second assuming the much coveted role of Madame Guillotine.

“Where you been Carter?” I blurted out. “Having a quickie with a staffer in the locker-room broom closet? I guess at your age though, forty minutes is a quickie.”

“Funny,” he replied, dismissing me with a single word. “Sorry for the delay. Get your damned feet off my desk, by the way, before I break your ankles.”

I did.

“For your information, I’ve been speaking with the President, and I was about two seconds from having someone bring you up to join in,” he said. “Then I remembered your mouth, and thought better of it—so you’re going to have to take what I’m going to tell you on a second-hand basis.”

“President of what?” I asked. “The local Girl-Scout troop? Don’t tell me. They want you to peddle cookies for them door-to-door this year.”

“The President of The United States, you nitwit. Now shut-up and listen.”

It wasn’t every day that a small town Chief of Police spends forty minutes on the horn with the big-guy. So I did. Shut up, that is. And listen.

“You ever heard of ISIS?” Carter asked.

“Sure—who hasn’t?” I paused. “This is serious, isn’t it Carter?”

“Yeah Johnny. As damned awful serious as it gets. Why the hell else would I bring your sorry butt in here this morning. Just to further ruin my already totally shitty damned day?”

I knew that if this involved ISIS, or the radical Muslim Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Carter was having long tete-a-tete with the POTUS, something big was up. I got serious in a hurry. ISIS was pretty much running roughshod over the entire middle-east, and turning an area the size of the British Isles into a vast killing field. Their threats against the United States and generally the entire free world were frequent and dire, and getting more so all the time. Seems they were intent on wiping out the human race. Carter was something of an arm-chair expert on the political and military aspect of the ever increasing radical Islamic threat, and I knew that what he was going to tell me was going to be grounded in hard fact, and not fantasy. I intended to listen very carefully.

“Bomb threat?” I asked.

“Nothing so simple,” Carter replied.

“What’s worse than a bomb?” I asked again.

“A credible threat to kill, at the very least, one hundred Christian children. And behead them. They don’t care what nationality, race or skin color the children are either. It is simply a threat to kill that many kids—Christian kids—for no other reason than their religion. They say they will make Sandy Hook Elementary look like a summer picnic by comparison. Worse yet, these are home-grown terrorists, American in every way. No middle-eastern names, looks or mannerisms. They hate America and say we have it coming to us. I guess just for being who we are. They say this our wake-up call. They say this will be our reckoning. These are men radicalized sitting in their basements watching ISIS propaganda on the internet. They are going to be tough to stop, because they are going to be so damned difficult to detect—and more difficult yet to find.”

“So why are you talking to the President?”

“All the Chiefs of Police in the entire United States with large Christian children’s Schools are a part of this operation. That’s about two dozen cities by the way. I’ve just come from a conference of Chiefs concerning the matter in Los Angeles. Wouldn’t you know it, but guess what city has the largest Christian children’s school in the States?”

“Would you happen to be the Chief of Police of that city?”

“Bingo. The Bellevue Christian Children’s Academy has more kids registered than any other facility—making us, in the eyes of the FBI—the prime target. Nearly four hundred students.”

“You still didn’t answer my question about the President,” I noted.

Carter walked around his desk to the front side and sat down on the edge. Even though he was already close, he seemed to want to lessen the distance between us. We were locked up tight in his office, yet he seemed a little concerned about being overheard. He lowered his voice an octave, as he glanced around the room.

“No one is going to attack that school in my jurisdiction successfully. I almost wish they would try. Already there is enough firepower concentrated in that area to take out half the Chinese Army if it came to that. The thing is Johnny—I’m not all that convinced that Bellevue is the target. I think we may simply be a red-herring. The real threat may be somewhere else. And I don’t care where it is—I want it stopped. Dead stopped. I let my feelings be known at that conference. Apparently my very privately and carefully chosen spoken words were not lost on a certain listener who shall and must remain nameless. In a matter of mere hours, a call between myself and the President was arranged.”

“We don’t want an attack to happen anywhere—period,” Carter continued. “We want to locate these men, probably four in total, and take them out before they ever get started. Three white Americans, and one middle-eastern handler. He’s the only one we’ve got a clue on. We do not want to arrest them, and we do not want to try them. We want them dead—simple as that. The President of the United States, as the Commander in Chief, is the one and only person in the entire country that can legally authorize that. He has that authority, just the same as if he were ordering a drone strike in Iraq.”

“Except that these are American citizens,” I countered.

“Yes, except for that,” Carter agreed. “Under the circumstances, that little nicety is a fine point of law I’m willing to overlook. In case no one has noticed it, we are in a state of war.”

“The President has the entire US Army at his disposal. Including all the Special Forces. Seals, Green Berets, you name it. Why would he be asking you for help?”

“Because I volunteered it.”

“And you know something he doesn’t?”

“I have something he doesn’t.”

“I’m all ears.”

“I have you.”

“Did your leaking brain aneurysm finally let go?” I asked.

“Maybe.”

“If not—you’re insane. Simple as that, Carter.”

“The President of the United States is asking for your help, Johnny. Hell, America is asking for your help. Are you really willing to say no to that? You’re a better man than that.”

“Why the hell me, Carter? I’m nearly forty-five years old. I have absolutely no military training or experience whatsoever. I’ve got a bad back and a balky spine, and legs that work right only whenever the hell they feel like it. I’ve got a partner that just bailed on me. And you want me to go up against some of the most deadly and sophisticated terrorists in the world?”

“I’ll give you a new partner. A good one too. Someone you can trust.”

“You’re still not answering my question. Why me? There must be—hell, I don’t know—a couple of thousand better qualified people out there.”

“You are the most qualified. I talked to the President about it. He agrees. You and your partner will have a complete green light to deal with the problem in any way you see fit—just as long as all the bad-guys end up dead. You will be one-hundred percent legal, regardless of what happens. You literally have a license to kill, from the Commander in Chief of the US military. Collateral damage doesn’t count. You are as legally bullet-proof as Agent 007.”

I continued to stare at him as though he were a madman. Or perhaps as though he had just stepped off a space-ship and calmly asked me to take him to my leader.

“Listen to me Johnny. I don’t take what I’m asking you to do lightly. I realize that being an assassin and a hitman is not exactly work that is right up your alley. But I also know you are one of the smartest detectives on the planet, and that’s one of the things that it’s going to take to find these guys. You also have more heart, and more courage, and more guts than any other man I’ve ever known in my life. And I’m not simply blowing smoke up your ass either. It’s true—and you damned well know it.”

“What else?” I asked. “You’ve stroked me enough Carter, I almost have a hard-on. Now how about simply telling me the truth.”

I waited patiently. I was prepared to wait all day if I had to. For the truth.

“You also have a magic pocket-watch,” he replied.

I raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips, stunned into silence.

Howard simply shrugged his shoulders, and in his best Jesse Stone imitation, calmly said, “I’m the Chief of Police. I know everything.”

1

Thanks for reading. Next up .  .  . Chapter Five.

Until then–Good Night.

Dumb joke of the day:

Why did the Pirate go to the Carribbean for vacation?

.  .  . he wanted some arr and arr.