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Chapter 1

Mike Wardman gunned the engines. The 39-foot cruiser groaned and hit a giant wave, powered over the crest and landed with a deafening slap. He heard noises that promised his boat could break apart at any moment.

He eyed his radar and saw a single blip five miles ahead. A minute later, he was close enough to make out the Judy Bee's masts. The fishing boat was dead in the water.

His stomach churned as he remembered that this particular fishing boat captain was a hard case with a history of harassing female observers. This time, he may have gone too far.

He checked his watch; it had been thirty minutes since he received Marilyn's '911' text.

Mike decided not to announce himself; no sirens or bullhorns. He climbed the Judy Bee's steel ladder to the main deck. He slipped, grabbed the rail and regained his footing. He heard the grinding of the ice maker below, but it surprised him not to hear any engines or smell diesel exhaust. Trawlers always drag in one direction or in large circles, and engines turned off was a sure way to foul lines which required constant movement to keep from tangling. No captain would ever do that.

He pulled out his badge, which hung from a neck chain to the outside of his bulletproof vest, then he unsnapped his holster strap.

Mike worked his way to the wheelhouse by ascending a narrow flight of metal stairs. As he pulled open the sliding side door he shouted," Federal agent!" He turned his attention to the captain's quarters behind a louvered white door. He crouch-walked to the door, hesitated a beat, listened and swung it open, gun trained ahead. Empty.

Next stop was the salon. Mike peered through a porthole and saw a young man with black, unruly hair slumped on the table as if he had fallen asleep from exhaustion. A bullet hole in his temple oozed blood on his arm.

Fuck.

The galley revealed two more crew members, both on the floor, one on top of the other, arms bent in angles not available to the living. Mike checked their neck pulses. Both men were dead but still warm.

Was Marilyn alive? Where was the captain?

Mike struggled to right his six foot-one frame in the constricted galley as the boat rocked and jerked. He sweated. Waves sloshed against the double hull producing a tinny sound.

The engine room reeked of grease and diesel. The lifeless engines still emitted heat causing him to sweat even more. He quickly checked the bunk area below deck. His movements now turned efficient and smooth, measured and precise. Fluid. There was only one more place on the ship where they could be.

If they're on the ship at all.

Most trawlers carry a small truck container on the aft deck used for storage. It's also where crews drink beer or smoke pot out of the captain's view. The container's metal door was ajar, and Mike peered through the slit but couldn't see much inside. As silently as possible, he pushed open the door, pistol pointed ahead. He spied fishing gear, welding equipment, a workbench with a vise, various pipes and tools. There were no people in the container – dead or alive.

He walked the deck perimeter to make sure no one was hiding under a large coil of line or behind a hoist. He checked the anchor compartment even though it was too small a space to hold someone.

Mike surveyed the fishing boat and concluded that there was no one else on the vessel.

Wait…there was one more place, but ....

Suddenly, two men in a Zodiac boat tender came alongside. It was getting dark, their faces obscured by shadows, and all he could make out were dull shapes. "We heard a distress call," the driver said. The other held a coil of rope above his head signaling that Mike should catch and secure it to the Judy Bee. Just as he lobbed it over the railing, his partner pulled out an AK-47 and sprayed the area where Mike was standing. He hit the deck and crawled inside the container for cover.

They saw my boat. No witnesses.

He was outmanned and outgunned.

Mike considered the welding set-up under the work table before pulling the tanks towards himself. He grabbed a plastic bag from the trashcan and checked it for holes. He then opened the tanks' valves and hissed small amounts of acetylene and oxygen gases into the bag until it was full.

"Come out!" one of them yelled.

"I surrender. Don't shoot," Mike said, as he twisted the end of the inflated bag and tied it shut with fishing line. He duct-taped several lead fishing weights to the bag. Mike grabbed a plastic flare gun that was laying on an upside down bucket, made sure it was loaded and took a deep breath.

"Now!" the voice said, "or we'll shoot right through the door." Mike heard the rifle bolt cycle.

"Okay, okay. Coming out."

Mike cracked the door wide enough to toss out the swollen plastic bag. It rolled unevenly on the metal deck and stopped in front of the men who were now wearing black balaclavas. The shorter one, who was closest, blurted, "What the…" but before he could finish, Mike shot the bag with a glowing flare. The volatile mixture blossomed into a fireball. The man covered his eyes with his hands and dropped to his knees. Mike shot the other one in the leg, and watched him fold.

Must find Marilyn.

Mike ran for the ice hold in the middle of the deck and connected a cable hook to an eye in the hatch door and pressed the ON button that started a winch. It turned slowly. When the massive hatch door finally lifted, he shouted down, "Police!" No answer.

Mike heard a Coast Guard boat siren in the faraway distance. He looked back at the deck and both men were gone. Char smears marked their escape route.

He lowered himself into the hold and sank waist deep into chipped ice and scallops. A ship this size could hold several tons of each. As he looked around, he saw one person face down in the snow, arms spread-eagle. The captain. Dead. Frozen. A foot away, Mike heard a groan and saw fingers poking through the snow. He brushed aside frozen seafood and ice and could make out a face, a female face.

Mike heard the Zodiac speed away into the vastness of Chesapeake Bay.

When the Coast Guardsmen arrived, they stood over the opening and blocked what little sunlight was left. Mike was sitting in the man-made, white mountain of ice and snow, shivering, cradling Marilyn, and telling her that everything would be all right. He didn't know if she could hear him. With great effort she managed a few mumbled words repeated twice: "contact her, contact her," before sliding into unconsciousness.

Chapter 2

For veteran land surveyor Buck Walters this was consecrated ground. Here, neighbor killed neighbor over a disputed property line. Blood was spilled.

As he set up his station, consisting of the viewer and the 'pogo stick' - held by his partner Vincent Kranz - his mind wandered to the 1700's when Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon stood on this exact spot and laid out the most famous boundary line of the new nation.

As he looked around he could see one of the few remaining crownstones shipped from England that marked every five miles of the boundary between Pennsylvania on the north and the colonies of Maryland/Delaware mostly to the south. Through a protective cast iron cage erected by local historians, he could barely discern the weathered Calvert family coat of arms on the Maryland side. If he moved several feet to his left he would no doubt see William Penn's coat of arms on the other.

He had no idea why he was sent here to recheck Mason and Dixon's work. During his 29-year career at the National Geodetic Survey, Buck had dutifully performed his share of sketchy jobs and this appeared to be yet another. One time, a congressman had asked Buck's boss to send someone out to check the exact position of a proposed highway which abutted the lawmaker's empty lot. A few inches either way could mean the difference between a comfortable retirement and penury for the congressman who was being forced out of office due to a sexual indiscretion that would soon make news. Buck took his surveying seriously, professionally and never fudged a report. And, he would do his boss's bidding without complaint. Still, he always wanted to know why.

On this day, standing among weeds, smelling mud, swatting mosquitoes and shooing the occasional black snake with his boot, Buck understood that this was more than another no-questions-asked job. When he got word of the assignment, he checked around: there was nothing to indicate a legitimate need for such a survey. The Smithsonian wasn't preparing an exhibit about Mason and Dixon and, as far as he could tell just by looking around, nobody was planning to erect a shopping mall, army base or highway cloverleaf.

A shout through the walkie-talkie from Vincent returned Buck to the present.

"Buck, it's hot. The bugs are on overdrive, and I have a life that I want to get to."

Vincent was 15 years younger than Buck and still in party mode. They had worked together for about five years and got along well. While they were in the field it was all business for both of them – Buck set the pace on that – and this was okay with Vincent. It meant they could get their day's work done sooner which meant more time in the local bar playing pool and trying to pick up townie debutantes, as Vincent liked to call them. Their vocation had taken them to every state east of the Mississippi River and often to the most remote locations. Other times, like today, they were within a half hour of a decent-sized town with good food, comfortable lodging and possible companionship for Vincent. Buck was married to his wife for over 20 years and never strayed from his vows. What Vincent did on his own time was his business, as long as he got up in time to leave for the field the next day. Hangovers were to be kept to yourself.

Buck peered through the sight and focused on the ruled vertical lines. He breathed the sweetness of honeysuckle as he motioned with face-up palms up for Vincent to raise the marker. When he was satisfied, Buck signaled the all-clear which was Vincent's cue to move to another spot where the procedure would be repeated until they had enough data points to call it a day. In fact, if they secured one more sighting, according to Buck's calculations, the job would be done.

Buck had a nagging feeling about this job for another reason. His office had moved with the times, and despite Buck's age compared to the other surveyors he was always given the chance to be the first to try new equipment and the latest satellite positioning techniques. For motives Buck could not fathom, however, he was asked to do this particular survey old school: no GPS and no cell phone uploading of data to the government servers. It was all visual sightings and pen and paper documentation.

Buck didn't make his concerns known to Vincent. For one thing, Vincent didn't care. The young man wasn't looking for a career just a paycheck which was fine with Buck as long as he did his job. Buck, however, remained perplexed especially because he was specifically ordered to rent a car, pay cash, and not use a government fleet vehicle.

Clearly, nobody wanted traceable evidence of the survey.

Why?

Buck again rolled around in his mind what he had learned from his formal education and this historic survey in particular. The Mason-Dixon line was not a line of demarcation between north and south to determine slave and free states although through the years this was the accepted notion by the majority of Americans. It was simply a way to settle bloody skirmishes between the Calverts and Penns. What was amazing, however, was how close the original line was to the current state borders even though it was done with crude instruments and poles connected by hand-forged chains.

Its significance today was a curiosity to most, and the majority of the smaller marker stones placed every mile – between the more ornate crownstones - were gone, used to build houses, fences or unceremoniously tossed aside to clear land for farming.

Vincent relocated himself about 20 yards to his right and, affecting a bored stance, held the stick vertically. He motioned to Buck that he was set and the surveyor focused the eyepiece as he had done thousands of times before.

This time, however, he didn't see what he had expected.

Behind Vincent's head a helicopter drone with a three-foot span appeared. It resembled a giant dragonfly. Buck had known that the Survey had purchased these military castoffs and outfitted them for aerial survey work, but Buck had never seen one in action. Now all the hush-hush was making sense. During the past year, the Survey had been plumbing Buck's extensive knowledge, along with others, which would be used to program these flying surveyors, but he believed the project had been shelved for budgetary reasons. That always seemed odd to Buck because the government could save tens of millions of dollars yearly by using the unmanned surveyors. Moreover, they could see ground that was inaccessible to satellites, the modern way of surveying in remote or hostile areas, but often was blocked by cloud cover.

To see one of these drones in flight was thrilling and would open up a new page in the profession of surveying. What an arc, Buck thought: from the first real survey of American land to the ultimate surveyor and Buck had been chosen in such a dramatic fashion to see it. Whoever arranged this surprise scenario was the best.

Buck watched as the drone lingered just above Vincent who was still oblivious to its presence and waited impatiently for Buck to look through the lens. Over the years, the two had worked out a dance with no wasted movement and Vincent signaled his displeasure at having to wait for Buck which he hardly ever had to do. Buck finally looked through the lens but instead of seeing Vincent holding the pogo stick he saw nothing but an empty field. What the…

He legged up on a nearby boulder and could just make out Vincent lying in the grass, the pole cast to his side. As Buck jumped down and ran to Vincent the drone hovered in front of him as if dangling by an invisible thread. Before he could reach his prostate partner he heard a pop come from the direction of the flying surveyor and realized in that split second that it was not a surveyor at all but a military quad-copter outfitted with weapons. A bullet hit Buck square in his forehead, and he folded.

Five minutes later, two men dressed in black uniforms and balaclavas padded their way out of the forest into the clearing and scoured the pockets of the felled survey team. One of them retrieved Buck's notebook, signaled for the other to follow, and they left as quickly and silently as they had entered the area.

Chapter 3

Mike Wardman sat in the director's office staring at the organizational chart on the wall trying to figure out in which box he belonged. From what he could tell, he was pretty far down. Lots of bureaucracy wedged itself between the Secretary of Commerce at the very top and the National Marine Fisheries Service at the bottom in which Mike and his fellow officers served.

The Office of Law Enforcement, or OLE as most people called it, was a small service, less than 150 officers, and their main job was to enforce 35 federal laws, statutes and treaties, according to the handbook Mike received when he signed on. Some of these laws sported obscure names like the Northern Pacific Anadromous Stocks Convention Act of 1992 and the Shark Finning Prohibition Act. Agents rarely arrested anyone and mainly drew their guns at the range. This is not to say that they didn't have exciting moments. Occasionally, they worked a case involving endangered species smuggling or seal poaching where the money went to organized crime families. Even then, when a case got media attention or bodies turned up dead, the FBI took it over.

Mike turned his attention outside the window overlooking Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb about 10 miles north of Washington, DC. The small downtown area had been revitalized over the past few years and some federal agencies took advantage of less expensive office space instead of inside the District proper. Mike could see the headquarters of Discovery Channel across the street.

Director Burke McCord held his hand and rolled his eyes in a dismissive way to let Mike know that he had to be on this phone call but would much rather be talking to him. Mike smiled halfheartedly. He liked Burke, an upstanding guy who went by the book but did well by his agents. He brought Mike into the agency when the FBI 'asked' him to leave. For that he would always be grateful. They met 15 years earlier at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and were fast friends ever since. After training, Mike went to the FBI and Burke signed on to NOAA, wanting to use his police skills in defense of the environment. Mike served as Burke's best man at both of his weddings.

"Mike, I'm sorry. It was the Commerce Secretary's office," Burke said, after he hung up the phone and made a quick notation in his computer.

"First, I want to let you know what an outstanding job you did on the Judy Bee. You'll be getting a commendation from Secretary Wickersham."

"I didn't do much except clear the scene."

"I'm sorry about Marilyn, but you saved her life, and…"

" I visited her before I came here," Mike interrupted. Burke knew that Marilyn and he had history together. "The doc says it's touch and go, but odds are in her favor."

"I'm glad to hear that, Mike. Was she able to say anything?"

Mike shook his head but remembered her last words. He didn't want to say anything until he was sure of what she had really said.

"Keep a good thought," Burke said, as he stood and paced in front of a wall full of plaques and grip & grin photographs. "There's something else I have to discuss. For motives of which I am not privy, the secretary wants us to be part of the Judy Bee investigation. The FBI takes the lead, but Secretary Wickersham wants you to be our liaison, to keep an eye on how it progresses and lend any assistance."

Mike knew from his years at the FBI, that they didn't like sharing the stage with anyone especially lower level federal law enforcement agencies. Whenever a crime turned juicy, they made it theirs.

Mike stood and faced Burke. "What am I missing here? The FBI will send us vetted reports out of courtesy, because it concerns one of our own, but as far as me being involved…"

Mike looked outside again at the lunchtime crowd walking quickly along the sidewalk to escape the cold. Food trucks lined up curbside, wisps of steam rising from their roof vents. He spoke without turning around. "What's this really about?"

"I thought you'd be happy about this assignment Mike. You can keep on top of the investigation… you know, because of Marilyn."

"The Secretary wants me to be his eyes and ears. Why? He can get anything he wants just by picking up the phone and calling the Attorney General." He pictured the Justice organization chart, and realized that the FBI wasn't buried as far down in the Department of Justice hierarchy as Fisheries was at Commerce. "Why does he need me?" Mike felt that he was being set up but for what he didn't know.

Before Mike arrived at OLE, the office was rife with corruption. Because they were an out-of-the-way service, agents abused and shook down fishers, improperly fined them just for grins and spent government money on parties and private boats. Burke was one of the few honest guys, and he brought in Mike to help replace the agents who were fired or took early retirement when the Inspector General finally got around to delivering his investigation to the Secretary of Commerce.

Burke closed his office door. "I honestly don't know Mike. If I had to guess, and it's only a guess, I would say that Secretary Wickersham believes there's a disconnect between the FBI field office and the AG's office. Wickersham doesn't seem to trust their chain of command, but I don't have a clue why that is."

He continued: "Wickersham wants to know why someone would murder a Commerce employee on the job. He wants to make one hundred percent certain that we're not facing some radical group that takes issue with what we do. We're good guys here. We save animals, draw maps and forecast the weather, but it seems that everyone has a grudge against the government these days."

"So, what does the FBI think?" Mike asked.

"That's what you're supposed to find out," Burke answered. "I'll have your regular patrols covered."

"Who's the FBI agent-in-charge? " Mike asked.

Burke hesitated, cleared his throat. "It's Wally Hearst."

"Fuckin' A," Mike said. "This gets better all the time."

Chapter 4

Mike walked on the wooden pier, each step yielding a hollow reverberating sound off the water below. He walked especially slowly, not in any rush to see FBI special agent-in-charge Hearst and his team as they combed over the Judy Bee trying to understand why carnage befell this particular fishing vessel. The air still rang cold, and a thin skin of ice floated on top of the nearby ponds. The birds who migrated south earlier this year were just making their way back to Delaware Bay.

For the second time, Mike saw the masts of the Judy Bee in the distance, but this time he knew what to expect when he got on board.

He didn't have to produce his badge because the state police officer who kept gawkers away from the boat recognized him. As Mike passed, he heard him say: "Sorry about Marilyn."

As a couple, he and Marilyn often hit the after-work crab shacks on Fridays, tossed a few back - he would have beer, she favored wine - and usually headed to her place for the rest of the weekend. Days were spent exploring the nooks and crannies of the Chesapeake on Mike's 20-foot Boston Whaler or, if the weather was too cold, they'd often take a drive into Washington or Baltimore or hunker down in front of a fire at home. For almost a year, they were inseparable and everyone in Rehoboth Beach knew it.

Mike usually kept away from replaying regrets, but breaking up with Marilyn was an exception. He still didn't understand what had happened to them and maybe never would although it was probably his fault.

Yeah, it was my fault. I was unhappy with myself and took it out on her.

As he reached the fishing boat, Mike felt growing rage at whoever tried to murder Marilyn. His anger started in his stomach and worked north to his head. When he caught a faraway glimpse of Wally Hearst, his anger level rose still higher, forcing the memory of his FBI tenure to the surface.

 

The hostage situation clocked three hours, and SWAT team leader Mike Wardman was keeping his mind in a state of readiness. He had tightened the straps on his helmet several times already. He rearranged the Velcro strips on his bulletproof vest and kept his team alert with radio check-ins and quips. Wally Hearst commanded the group and was grateful that Mike kept the radio banter going to keep people pumped and ready.

Inside an office building at Dupont Circle, Yemeni national, Abu Razkar and Mohammed Wazeer, held eight people hostage. Metro Police chased them into the building after the duo purposely smashed their white van into a small office housing Leumi employees. Razkar and Wazeer intended to settle a score with Leumi Bank who they believed financed West Bank settlements. Unfortunately for these two, their intelligence was shoddy. These offices belonged to Leumi Trading Company, a local company that distributed takeout containers to Chinese restaurants. And their ordnance work was just as inferior. The 20 pounds of C-4 molded into the left wall of the van failed to detonate as expected.

Mike learned from past experience that the longer these stand-offs lasted, the better it worked out for hostages. On the other hand, he also learned that in heavily populated areas like this, it was bad pr to maintain a perimeter for prolonged periods as neighborhood people, store owners and office workers lost patience at not being allowed through the cordoned area. Not seeing any movement, most civilians believed that nothing was happening, and they took their frustrations out on the FBI and local police. Given enough time, pickets and protesters supporting the hostage takers might even appear. In a few more hours, the evening rush hour would begin and despite the gravity of the situation, the FBI would bear the brunt of angry commuters, transit officials and local politicians who would soon insist that this incident be wrapped up with decisive action.

Wally Hearst knew this too.

The current stand-off passed the five-hour mark as Wally dialed up a private channel. "Mike, we need to go in."

"What do you know?"

"They're threatening to kill one hostage every five minutes."

"What do they want?"

"They won't say."

"That doesn't sound right."

"We need to go in. Is your team ready?"

"Wally, there's something wrong here. What does the shrink advise?"

"She's in agreement. Institute Plan Charlie."

Before Mike could respond, Wally switched to a group channel. "SWAT team one. You're going in."

Mike followed orders and two team members created a diversion at the front door while the other four bashed through a back bathroom window and made their way swiftly into the area where they surprised Razkar and Wazeer who began spraying their AK-47's at the hostages instead of them. The two Yemenis were cut down in ten seconds flat which still was enough time for them to kill three of the six office workers and injure two more.

When it was over, Mike sat in the back of an ambulance as an EMT shined a penlight into his eyes. "I'm fine," he said, as he pushed the paramedic's arm away.

Mike shot Wally an angry look but didn't say a word.

One month later, a board of inquiry cited Mike for storming the office without just cause. They encouraged him to resign. Unfortunately, the two-way radio recordings that would have proved his innocence, were accidentally erased. The official reason leaned toward a technical malfunction.

 

Now, meeting on the Judy Bee, would be the first time the two had been face-to-face since then.

Wearing his standard blue work uniform and boots, Mike looked at home on a working boat but out of place among the gaggle of FBI agents dressed in business suits, long overcoats and shiny black shoes. They seem to talk a lot on their cell phones, Mike realized, as he asked around for Hearst, the snake-in-charge.

No one thought to empty out the ice hold which now held rotting scallops. The smell overwhelmed the FBI agents which could be why they huddled toward the fore and aft sections instead of mid-deck near the open hatch where Mike found the dead Captain Weatherhill and Marilyn.

The smell didn't bother Mike, as he stood above the hatch eyeing the metal block and tackle assembly above it that he had used to lift the hatch cover. He leaned against the winch, waiting for Wally to appear which he did a moment later.

"Hello, Mike."

"Hello, Wally."

"I go by Wallace, now," he replied. No time for small talk, he began. "We believe that another fishing boat crew had a beef against the Judy Bee men. Maybe some argument over fishing grounds," he said.

"I doubt that," Mike said. "That's not how these guys do things. They curse and fight, but the boat and the catch remain off limits. Livelihoods are sacred. No matter what else happens, they respect that. If they insist on duking it out, they go to the nearest gin mill for courage and then step outside."

"Well, be that as it may," Wallace said, "that's where we're looking. You're welcome to look where you want. Just keep us posted on what you learn."

"And you'll do the same? " Mike asked, knowing the answer.

"Of course. You're still family Mike. That counts for something."

Mike realized for the first time that Wallace actually looked like a weasel with his sharp nose, tight features, short legs. Despite their small size, weasels are vicious predators.

A phone rang. "I have to take this," said Wallace, as he turned his back to Mike and started talking. Mike realized how easy it would be to lift the clutch on the winch and release the heavy block & tackle directly above Wallace's head.

Chapter 5

The two men sat in the front seat of a yellow Camaro. It's not what you'd call a car that blended into its surroundings, but it appeared to be doing the trick. The short man in the passenger side fidgeted, tapping his feet to a song that only he could hear. His fingers drummed on the dashboard in sync. Friggin' Jack Shanolin, who took his name from the Sex Pistols song, Friggin' in the Riggin,' always wore a watch cap because he thought it made him look like a merchant seaman. No one ever questioned him about it further. His partner, Johnny Rotanda, on the other hand, had no trademark clothing save his lucky black jeans with an Army-issued web belt that he always wore on the job. His forte was being able to sit in the same spot for hours without so much as a twitch. On surveillance, you could barely hear him breathe and that sometimes freaked out Jack who would often ask if he was okay. "Fine," is all Johnny would answer, and that might fill hours for both of them as far as conversation was concerned.

Many people wrongly had staked their lives upon first impressions when they saw this Mutt and Jeff duo coming their way. These two didn't look like killers; they had no mean scars or swaggers. But when working as a team, they melded into one moving part for the dispatch of person or persons who were their targets. It was their unassuming, even friendly demeanor that brought them success in their chosen profession.

They watched the entrance of Beebe Hospital Center, waiting for visiting hours to be over so they could pay a visit to Marilyn Montclair's room.

Their plan was simplicity, one they employed countless times in their efforts to undo the good works of doctors and nurses. Dress in scrubs, pin on phony ID badges, carry cleaning supplies and kill. There was nothing more to it.

Jack pointed to the dashboard clock. Visiting hours had already ended at 9:15. They would wait 20 minutes for friends and loved ones to clear out of the hospital before making their move.

Jack continued to drum, and Johnny sustained his sphinx impersonation.

Twenty minutes passed. "Let's get ready," Johnny said as he reached into the back seat and handed his partner an ID badge that he had concocted that afternoon. "Nice work," Jack said, as he eyed the badge then flipped the dome light switch off so it would not illuminate the interior when the door opened. That would be a rookie mistake but one he had seen trip up pros.

Just as he cracked the door, Jack saw the black Jeep Cherokee pull into the hospital driveway. "Wait," he said, as he held Johnny in place. "It's some of kind police vehicle, but I can't make out the jurisdiction. It's not county, not state… who the hell is it?"

They both could read POLICE in white block letters on the rear but not the emblem on the side of the door. "It looks like some kinda bird or something," Jack said, squinting. Had they been closer, they could have made out the NOAA seabird logo. "C'mon, that's nothing to worry about. It's some kind of rent-a-cop making his rounds. Let's do it."

Being careful not to slam the car doors, they walked to the entrance as if they worked there. Which was the idea. They didn't give the police vehicle a second look. The guard at the front barely picked his head up to see the two aim for the basement where they would grab cleaning supplies. A bucket and mop would be the minimum each would need to look the part.

Meanwhile, Mike had already said hello to those in the nursing station and was sitting beside Marilyn's bed in the ICU room. Even though it was after hours, they had recognized him and let him attend her bedside.

Mike held Marilyn's hand and spoke softly.

"I know that things didn't work out well between us. I wish I could have been a better boyfriend for you, given you what you needed. I don't know what else to say."

When he stopped talking, he could hear the high beeps and low tones of the machines hooked up to Marilyn, who was unconscious, and breathing with help from a ventilator. The doctors had told Mike that Marilyn had fought back against her attackers and was slammed to the deck – marks on her skin confirmed it – and was tossed in the ice hatch probably because they thought she was dead. Marilyn sustained internal injuries and the odds were 50/50 for recovery.

He continued: "I don't know who did this, but I will find out, and I'll…"

Just then, two cleaners pulled back the privacy screen. "Oh, we're sorry," said the one with a watch cap. "We're supposed to clean the floors. We didn't know any visitors were still here."

Mike eyed the two workers. "That's all right," he said. "I was just leaving." He gently placed Marilyn's hand under the covers, gave her a kiss on her forehead and walked out of the room.

By the time Mike reached his car, Marilyn was dead.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Licensed Private Investigator and investigative journalist Larry Kahaner is the author of 15 non-fiction books, including the best-selling Book-of-the-Month selection Competitive Intelligence, which was translated into six languages, and AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War. His work has appeared in many publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. He has been a guest on CNN, CNBC, and NPR.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I am a fan of noir authors like Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Charles Willeford, Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson... I could go on.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Greed can overcome common sense and logic.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
This is the first book featuring Mike Wardman who was once at the top of the police food chain as an FBI agent but is now relegated to being a 'fish cop.'

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