Chapter 33

After a long night, of processing evidence, the chief of the night shift brought Cosgrove a preliminary report which he passed to Eric. “Damn,” Eric said, looking at Captain Cosgrove. “Seriously?”

            “Yep,” Cosgrove said. “They ran it twice.”

            “We need a court order for her DNA,” Eric said. “We should run it against the system, just in case.”

            “This is enough to get it,” Cosgrove said. “It’ll just take some time. See if you can get anything out of her before she asks for a lawyer.”

            Marcia, who had slept the sleep of the just in her holding cell, was brought into an interrogation room. She sat down in the chair normally used by the detective. They let her sit for a long time alone before Eric was sent in. He sat down across from her and tossed a blue passport with the image of a modern shield on the cover onto the table in front of the silent woman. The English lettering beneath the cyrillic announced ‘PASSPORT UKRAINE.’ He and Marcia sat silently across from one another until, at last, he demanded, “Who is Katerina Semyonov?”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the woman said, her face showing no emotion at all.

            Eric groaned inwardly. Cosgrove was having him interview the woman first because he figured Eric’s presence would disturb her. What Cosgrove couldn’t fathom, Eric thought, was that nothing disturbed Marcia. “Why is her passport in your safe?”

            “I don’t know anything about the contents of that safe,” she said, sitting back with a smug air, though she knew better than to smile.

            Eric did smile, and for a moment, uncertainty flashed on her face. “Marcia, you know there were a LOT of passports in that safe. There is a reason I asked about Katerina’s though….” He paused for effect, to let the force of his words sink in. Then, as her anxiety rose, he said, “You did a GREAT job of wiping down the safe, inside and out. But … on one of the pages of this passport, our tech discovered a single thumb print. It’s yours, Marcia.”

            “I want my lawyer,” the woman said. “I’m not saying another word without my lawyer.”

            With that, the door opened and Cosgrove said, “We’re all done here. Thanks, Eric.”

            “Sorry, Captain,” Eric said after the door was closed.

            “You had to risk it. You had to try to rattle her,” Cosgrove said, running his hand through his silver hair. “And rattle her you did.”

            “You think she’ll deal?” Eric asked.

            “If her lawyer has any sense, he’ll be fishing for a deal as soon as possible,” Cosgrove said. “My guess is he’ll try us and then take it to the feds if we can’t give him what he wants….”

            “Why the feds?” Eric asked.

            “Just a hunch,” Cosgrove replied.

            “Care to fill me in?” Eric probed.

            Cosgrove cocked his head and said, “Want to go grab some coffee? Off-site?” Eric raised his eyebrows and nodded. The walls have ears, he understood.

***

            Billy rolled over to find Alan sitting up in bed, laptop in his lap. Billy smiled and said, “Good morning!”

            Alan laughed and said, “It’s almost noon!”

            “So it’s still morning then,” Bill smiled up at him. “What ya doing?”

            “Just emailing some friends back home and from college,” Alan said. “Explaining why I disappeared!”

            “And what did you tell them?” Billy asked.

            Alan blushed slightly and said, “I told them I met someone and we’ve been spending a lot of time together….”

            “Really?” Billy asked with a smile.

            “You look like you expected something else,” Alan said curiously.

            “I … kinda thought you might not tell anyone,” Billy said.

            His expression confused Alan, who asked, with a hurt expression, “You didn’t want me to tell?”

            “NO!” Billy said immediately, “I’m surprised YOU wanted to tell your friends about ME!”

            Alan laughed and put his computer aside, sliding down in the bed to lay beside Billy and rolling over onto him. “Don’t be silly!”

            “I don’t know,” Billy said. “I thought you might be embarrassed to be dating a high school kid, or a dumb jock….”

            “You’re not dumb,” Alan said, stroking his cheek gently. “You just sometimes do and say dumb things!”

            “Hey!” Billy laughed.

            “You’re very sweet, Billy,” Alan said. “But you don’t give people enough credit: people value you because you’re worth it! Look at the way Paul gave you chance after chance. You don’t think highly enough of yourself, but you shouldn’t expect people to do the same!”

            Billy pulled the young man into a hug, that proceeded to a heated kiss. “You’re not going to make it easy for me to go back to college,” Alan smiled.

            “How far away from home is your school?” Billy asked.

            “About an hour by bus or car,” Alan answered.

            “Try to come home often?” Billy asked, his voice hopeful.

            “As often as I can,” Alan promised, “and there’s always Skype.”

            “It’s not the same,” Billy said, mock pouting.

            “I know,” Alan said. “But it’s what we’ve got….”

            “Well, for now I’ll just hold on to you!” Billy said, giving him another hug.

***

            Paul grabbed Jim’s arm as they walked down to look in the window of the room where Jonathan was recovering. When they peered in, the boy turned his head and smiled, waving weakly. “Hey buddy,” Jim said, pressing the intercom button.

            Jonathan started talking but they couldn’t hear anything until a figure in a mask with a hospital gown over his clothes pressed a button by the bed. “…until you can come in!”

            “Sorry Jonathan, I missed the first part!” Jim said laughing.

            “He said,” Edwin repeated, laughing, “that the doctor said it would still be a couple of days until you can come in!”

            “Oh, well,” Jim said. “I’m just glad to see you’re doing good! You’re being such a big boy!”

            Edwin nodded and said, “I know you guys have to head home in the next few days, but maybe when Jonathan’s feeling better we’ll come visit you?”

            “YES! YES!” the little boy said happily, making Jim and Paul laugh.

            “Sounds like a plan,” Jim said, smiling widely. After a minute, Jim turned his back on the glass and moved out of sight before whispering to Paul, “I hope this works, Paulie…. A few weeks ago I didn’t know he existed, and now….”

            Paul hugged Jim tight and said, “He seems to be doing okay, Jim! Let’s not invent trouble!”

            “You’ve got enough as it is, don’t you?” Sean asked as he and Andy met them in the hall.

            Jim rolled his eyes and nodded. “I just,” he began again, but his phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out, getting a huge grin on his face. “Danny!” he announced. “I’m going to go talk to him!”

            As Jim rounded the corner to the stair well, Paul looked at Andy and asked, “Have they ever gone this long without talking before?”

            “Not since they met,” Andy answered, shaking his head with a smile.

            Meanwhile, Jim answered his phone. “DANNY! How’s it going?”

            “Not to bad,” Danny answered. “I guess me and Christina are about ready to head home. The police say Robert and Connor’s last known location was a hundred miles from home, and they seem to be running away.”

            “How’s your vacation with Christina been?” Jim asked with a smile.

            “Awesome,” Danny laughed. “She’s a tiger….”

            “Ewww,” Jim said with a laugh.

            “How’s your vacation with loverboy been?” Danny retorted.

            “Not much of a vacation,” Jim said. “I just donated some bone marrow for my little brother….”

            “How’s he doing?” Danny asked.

            “Seems to be doing okay,” Jim said softly.

            “How are things with your mom?” Danny asked.

            Jim stiffened and then remembered Danny wouldn’t have heard. “I … Danny,” Jim sighed.

            “That bitch,” Danny snarled. “She didn’t?”

            “Yeah,” Jim said.

            “If I ever see her again, no one’s going to stop me from clocking her,” Danny said angrily.

            “You’d have to get in line,” Jim said with little humor.

            “So when are you guys getting home?” Danny asked.

            “A few days still,” Jim said.

            “Call me when you get here,” Danny replied. “Let’s get together!”

            “I missed you too, Danny,” Jim answered seriously.

            To that, his friend could only respond, “Uhm, yeah…. Talk to you soon.” Jim smiled to himself as the line went dead.

***

            Eric followed Cosgrove to a bench out near the Vietnam Veterans memorial, erected to honor the hometown boys who’d fought over there. “Typical,” Eric said, teasing. “I think I’ve seen this movie.”

            Cosgrove snorted and said, “I wish this was a movie, because if it was I could just wait for my brilliant detective to solve the case.”

            “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Eric laughed, and Cosgrove just waved him off. “Anyway, what’s your hunch?”

            “Trafficking,” Cosgrove said. “I think that they were using the chief’s access and insight to run a sex trafficking ring through our town….”

            “Jesus Christ,” Eric said. “We’ve got to figure out fast…. If they kept them in town, once their co-conspirators hear Marcia’s being held, they’ll kill them and move on.”

            “Exactly,” Cosgrove said. “I figure we’ve got forty-eight hours tops before this hits the news and then….”

            “Oh shit!” Eric exclaimed, hopping to his feet and pulling out his phone.

            “What?” Cosgrove asked.

            Eric held up a finger as a sergeant picked up the phone at the station. “This is Detective Eric Vickers….”

            “What do you need, detective?” the man asked.

            “Get someone in the room with Marcia Swanson. Tell them I said to grill her hard!” Eric insisted.

            “Why, sir?” the sergeant asked.

            “Because I need her lawyer to remain in the building and tied up, too busy to make any calls,” Eric explained, and Cosgrove finally understood. Marcia’s lawyer would act as her contact with her cronies, should such contact be required.

            “Yes, sir,” the sergeant responded, and set out to fulfill his mission.

            Putting away his phone, Eric looked at Cosgrove and said, “Meet you at the station,” before racing off to his car.

            The two men arrived back at the police station within minutes of each other, and Cosgrove found Vickers rifling through his desk looking for something. “We’ve got to get a surveillance team to track his movements when he leaves here,” Vickers said. “Do you think we can get a warrant to to monitor his phones?”

            “The Feds will be all over that,” Cosgrove winced.

            “Captain,” Vickers said, “we can’t worry about that! Besides, I don’t think we’ll have to wait long and we need to be ready to move! Chances are we’ll have everything we need before the FBI can send an agent over.”

            “I’ll work on the warrant and get the SWAT team ready to move,” Cosgrove said. “You get in there and take over the interrogation. The longer we can keep that rat here, the better.”

            Eric nodded and walked toward the little interrogation room. Inside he found a junior detective asking random questions leading nowhere. “Thanks detective,” Eric said. “I’ll take over from here.”

            “So the big boys are here,” Wally Conklin, Marcia’s attorney, snorted dismissively, causing the exiting policeman to glare over his shoulder.

            “Wally!” Eric said without a smile. “I’m surprised the widow of a public ‘servant’ can afford such representation….”

            Conklin’s smile was as brittle as thin ice. “Marcia and I are old friends.”

            “I can totally buy that,” Eric said, sitting down. “Birds of a feather.”

            “So, more pointless questions for my client? If so, this interview is over,” Conklin said.

            “I suppose your client told you about our physical evidence?” Eric asked, ignoring the man’s question.

            “Flimsy at best. I’m sure Marcia just picked up something that Chief Swanson carelessly left on his desk. It doesn’t prove she knows anything,” Wally smiled, sitting back in his chair.

            “That would be more plausible if we hadn’t discovered another fingerprint since our last conversation,” Eric answered without a moment’s hesitation. It was a lie, but the lawyer didn’t know that.

            Conklin’s smile flickered almost imperceptibly, and his eyes cut to Marcia, whose face was stoney. “I need a moment to confer with my client,” Conklin said curtly.

            Eric stepped outside and Cosgrove pulled him aside. “The judge is considering our request now, but we’re running out of time I think.”

            “I know,” Vickers said, shaking his head. “They were going to realize we were stalling real soon though.”

            “Christ, Vickers, they’re going to kill those women,” Cosgrove exclaimed.

            “You don’t KNOW that, Captain,” Vickers replied. “They could just move them on to another city, sell them to another cartel….”

            “They don’t have the time, and can’t take the risk,” Cosgrove asserted.

            Eric nodded. “Captain, I…. Why don’t you go back to your office and … do some paperwork?”

            Cosgrove’s eyes narrowed and said, “Why?”

            “You don’t want to know,” Vickers said with a pointed look.

***

            “Agent Forster, we need help finding these boys!” Sheriff Dueks complained to the man in a dark suit. ‘Fucking Feds!’ he fumed to himself.

            “Look Sheriff, the role of the FBI in this case is coordination of information, oversight, and immediate emergency response,” Forster explained calmly. “The trail is cold. We’ve got a nationwide alert out for these boys, but Robert is smart. No credit cards, completely under the radar. In all honesty, there’s very little chance of catching them, except by pure dumb luck, until they strike again. And who knows when or where that will be?”

            “So that means you’re on to more exciting cases then,” Dueks yelled. “Tell me what’s more pressing than a teenage cannibalistic sociopath?”

            “It isn’t about exciting, Sheriff! It’s about pressing! Our team is relatively small, and covers the whole country! Do you have any idea how many serial killers are estimated to be operating in the United States right now?” Forster demanded, losing his cool for the first time. “We estimate twenty to fifty! All over the whole damn place. And our number … it’s artificially low, designed to make people like you feel safe. But you know, some people claim the number is closer to three hundred!”

            “Christ,” Dueks said, exhaling sharply.

            “Look, Sheriff, you’ve got my number. If you get anything, you can call me. And if I get anything, I’ll call you. That’s the way it works from here on out. But I’d say your part in this is probably over,” Forster predicted.

            “So you think he’s running? Aren’t these guys supposed to devolve and shit?” Dueks asked.

            “That is the usual pattern,” Forster said. “And yes, all the evidence says he’s running.”

            “Why is it that you don’t sound confident in your words?” Dueks said, sitting back in his seat.

            “Because NOTHING is right about this kid, sheriff,” Forster admitted. “He’s a real enigma. I hope we take him alive.”

            “Between you and me, if he does come back this way, that is NOT my top priority,” Dueks growled.

            “I get that, sheriff,” Forster nodded. “I get that.”

***

            “We’ve got to get rid of the evidence now,” Marcia whispered. “As in yesterday, Wally! I’m not going down alone on this one. If I get caught, I’m taking you all down with me.”

            Wally’s lip curled with anger, and he nodded. “As soon as I get to the car, I’ll call Ramon and have it taken care of.”

            “Fuck,” Vickers muttered to himself behind the glass. Nothing he was hearing would be admissible in court; in fact if anyone ever found out what he was doing, he’d probably go to jail. Listening in on a attorney-client consultation was a strict no-no. But he’d have to check with his lawyer about how that works when the lawyer is a co-conspirator. He knew he’d need to independently verify Conklin’s involvement in the trafficking, at the very least.

            “You’re going to trust that spic with our lives? You willing to bet your freedom that he won’t screw it up?” Marcia challenged.

            “We already have,” Conklin growled. “You’re the one who put him in charge of watching the whores! Fucking junkie….”

            “Our partners recommended him highly,” Marcia countered.

            “Well, if they trust him to be able to run this operation, shouldn’t we be able to trust him to cover it up?” Conklin asked.

            “Tell him to burn the warehouse down after he kills the girls, then,” Marcia said. “Then ask Vasquez if he might not want to see to Ramon after….”

            “Sounds like a plan,” Conklin said, before walking to the door and pounding on it. The officer answered and Conklin demanded, “This interview is over. I want my client returned to her cell. She has nothing more to say.”

            “I’ll need to get Detective Vickers,” the officer said, closing the door on Conklin. A few minutes later, Vickers stepped into the hall and the officer reported the conversation.

            Vickers nodded and sighed, before opening the door and announcing, “An officer is on her way to transport your client to holding, Wally.”

            “About time, Vickers,” Conklin said, grabbing his briefcase and looking like he was in a hurry.

            “Sorry, Wally,” Eric said with a smile entirely void of authenticity. “I thought you billed by the hour!”

            “Ha ha detective,” Wally said surlily. “Greedy lawyer! You’re so creative! Where do you get your material?” Brushing past Vickers, he grumbled, “I really don’t have time for this!”

            “Always a pleasure,” Vickers called after him, giving another detective a prearranged signal. They needed to keep Wally under constant surveillance until he tried to make that call; then they’d scoop him up.

            A man approaching from behind distracted Vickers, asking, “Detective, can we talk somewhere more private?”

            “I’m sorry,” Vickers said, “but I’m kind of in the middle of something here!”

            “I’m John Waters, a special prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office,” the man said, drawing Vickers’s interest. “These agents are ATF and DEA respectively,” Waters added, gesturing to the men flanking him.

            “I see,” Eric said, nodding. Then he took out his radio and said, “Take him now!”

            Waters shut his eyes and shook his head. “Mother fuck!” The lawyer exclaimed.

            “What was it you wanted to talk about, counselor?” Vickers asked with a steely expression.

            “God damn it, Vickers, we’ve had Conklin under surveillance for months trying to dig up enough dirt on him to get him to turn on the cartel! Now? He’s next to useless!” the man exclaimed.

            “How long have you known about the girls?” Eric asked.

            “What girls?” Waters asked. “We’re trying to bust a drug ring!”

            “Jesus Christ,” Vickers said, “you guys have your heads so far up your….”

            “What Detective Vickers means to say,” Captain Cosgrove said as he approached, “is that there’s a bigger picture, gentlemen!”

            Vickers raised his eyebrows at Waters and said, “Can you believe this guy told me recently that he’s not a politician?”

            Waters couldn’t help but laugh and put his hand on Vickers’ shoulder. “Why don’t we talk about this in your office, Captain?”

            Cosgrove glared at Vickers and led the group into his office, and Waters asked, “So what are we looking at here? And why did you get a warrant on Conklin?”

            “Conklin’s a co-conspirator,” Vickers said.

            “We know,” Waters replied. “He’s been working with Vazquez’s people to obstruct justice. We’re just watching him until we have enough to bring them all down. Or we were, anyway….”

            “Well, I just listened in on an attorney-client conversation between Conklin and Marcia,” Vickers began.

            “YOU WHAT?” Cosgrove exploded.

            “They’re gonna kill those girls!” Vickers exclaimed. “And I heard them discuss having Vasquez eliminate his own people to cover it up when it was done!”

            “That’s not admissible!” Cosgrove said. “We’re screwed!”

            “If we can save those girls, I don’t give a good God damn!” Vickers answered.

            Waters interjected, “Gentlemen! US Attorney here! What would you have told me about this crime when I got here?”

            “That this woman was involved in human trafficking and that her attorney, Conklin, had stonewalled us,” Vickers said.

            “And you’d gotten a warrant to follow and listen in on Conklin on suspicion he was her co-conspirator?” Waters asked. Vickers nodded, and Conklin said, “We already knew he was a co-conspirator, and you had a warrant: there’s no privilege between an attorney and his client when they’re conspiring to commit a future crime. I don’t see this being a problem in the long run, gentlemen. I think you did the right thing, detective, but in the future I’d suggest getting legal advice first….”

            “I’ll take that under advisement,” Vickers said drily.

            “Now, what can you tell me about the trafficking?” Waters asked. Vickers filled him in as quickly as he could. “So our best chance of getting those girls out alive is to find this Ramon character?”

            “Seems so,” Cosgrove nodded. “Can we make a deal with one of them?”

            “My bosses want Vasquez, and they’re not going to compromise using Conklin to get him,” Waters said.

            “Well, Vasquez is a key player in the trafficking, so let’s get Conklin to roll on them all,” Vickers said.

            “We wanted more on him first,” Waters said, “but human trafficking on top of the drugs ought to be enough.”

            “Why’s the ATF interested in this?” Vickers asked. “Gun running too, right?”

            “Yeah,” Waters said.

            “That should be plenty. Are you authorized to do a deal?” Vickers asked.

            “Anything up to witness protection,” Waters nodded.

            “How are we gonna run this?” Vickers asked.

            “I’m taking point,” Waters said. “I don’t want anything getting screwed up.”

            Vickers frowned and said, “Just get us a location on the girls.”

            Waters nodded. “Where are you taking him?”

            “Interrogation 3,” Cosgrove said. “He should be there shortly.”

            The two Federal agents accompanied the attorney. When they were out of earshot, Cosgrove said, “I already had the officer take his cell phone and briefcase. The warrant covers those. We’ve got to work fast before these suits screw it up or screw us over.”

            “You don’t think?” Vickers asked.

            “For them, getting Vasquez in the long run is more important to them than finding some Eastern European slaves,” Cosgrove said darkly. “A raid will alert Vasquez and I’m not sure they want that, if they’ve thought about it. My guess is they just won’t be able to get that information, if you know what I mean.”

            “Yeah,” Vickers said. “Political fucks!” With a snarky smile, he said, “No offense, sir!”

            “None taken,” Cosgrove said, rolling his eyes.

            “Is that SWAT team on standby?” Vickers asked.

            “Ready to roll,” Cosgrove nodded.

            “I’ll go check with the lab,” Vickers said. “Meet you in observation?” Cosgrove nodded and Vickers set off in search of the evidence.

***

            It was nearly sunset when the two teenage boys walked into a big chain pharmacy looking every bit the small-town football stars they were. This immediate image was betrayed by the accumulated dirtiness and smell which any half observant employee would have noticed. The front cashier, however, was paying more attention to her Vogue Magazine than to the customers who had just arrived.

            Connor made a quick pass through the food aisle and filled a reusable shopping bag he grabbed from a hook on an end-stand. Robert walked around the store looking for something. When a man with a vest walked around a corner, the big boy asked, “Are you the manager?”

            “Assistant manager,” the man replied. “Steven Banks.”

            “Mr. Banks, is your boss here?” Robert asked.

            “He’s gone home for the evening,” Banks replied. “Can I help you with something?”

            Robert nodded and knocked the man back against the wall. Soon his arm was against the man’s throat. “Take me into your office and lets empty the safe?”

            Banks looked like he might refuse, but then nodded. He cautiously led Robert to a door with a keypad, and made no attempt to alert his co-workers, hoping that his cooperation would be rewarded by a safe ending to the crisis.

            Once Robert had cleaned out all the cash the man could access, however, he looked up at a little lens and smiled. Then he turned his attention back to Banks, who shortly discovered how much Robert enjoyed playing to a camera.

            Half an hour later, Robert met Connor out behind the store and the two of them continued their trek across the nearby state line, heading always westerly. They’d continue to move across the country for a while yet, until things died down and the search became less active. In their wake, a trail of blood just sparse enough that they weren’t likely to be caught any time soon.

            The rural store was slow that night, and it was nearly forty-five more minutes before the manager’s failure to answer a customer service call alerted the staff to any problem. Over an hour had passed when the police finally arrived. By the time anyone thought to check the cameras and to make the connection between the boys on the screen and the boys from the offender bulletins, Connor and Robert were well beyond the distance where local, rural police in two different states could coordinate a cordone. By the time word passed back to the FBI, there was little to be done but place a document in a file and send out a new, updated APB.

***

            It was one of their last nights in the capital and there was nothing more Jim and Paul could do at the hospital, so they visited Jim’s grandpa in his room, then said goodnight to Jonathan through the window and intercom outside his room. Then Andy and Sean herded the boys out to the car and swung by the hotel to pick up Alan and Billy for a night on the town. They went to a nice steakhouse near the hotel and were planning to go to a free live show down by the river when everyone noticed Jim’s intent stare at the screen of a television in the bar.

            On the screen, a large warehouse was engulfed in flames. Police and firefighters surrounded the building which was an inferno. The scrolling update across the bottom of the screen read, “Fire in Davidson County warehouse district rages…. Police expect fatalities….”

            “Why would there be fatalities in a warehouse fire?” Jim wondered out loud.

            “Especially at night,” Paul added.

            “There’s a SWAT van,” Sean noticed. “Maybe they cornered Robert? Maybe it’s all over?”

            Andy pulled out his phone and messaged Detective Vickers, “Is it Robert?”

            Moments later, he got his response: “Fuck, no! God damn mother fucking sons of bitches!”

            Seeing his dad’s face, Jim asked, “What? Dad, what did he say?”

            Jim shook his head and said, “It isn’t Robert, and it isn’t good!” Then he turned the phone so the boys could read the message, which he couldn’t read out loud in the restaurant.

            “Let’s go see something funny,” Paul suggested. “We need to relax!”