The Way It Was
In 1997 Americans continued to lead a fun-loving existence with few problems on the home front, still managing strategic isolation from a world becoming more complex and dangerous every day.
The 1991 Gulf War was behind us.
Gasoline was $1.22 a gallon.
Great Britain gave Hong Kong back to China.
Princess Diana died in a so-called car accident.
The average cost of a new home in the U.S. was $124,000.
Movie tickets were still under $5.00.
Madeleine Albright became the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.
Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Most people were unaware that Hale-Bopp was not a new dance craze.
911 was four years away.
The stage was set in the spring of 1997 for a chain of events no one saw coming.
What you are about to read happened much this way, except for those incidents that make this story fiction…
Memo from Tibbetts to Great Western Casualty & Indemnity, San Francisco (cc: SF NCIS HQ):
An hour ago we got a secure FAX regarding handwriting, a photo of a credit card slip, a head’s-up where we may conclude Maryann Reneberg is still alive. The information comes from Charles Lemmings, former ONI Case Officer and current DoD kite. He knew Reneberg at the Pentagon. Did you know Lemmings? He thought he recognized her leaving a 7/Eleven in Wheeling, West Virginia. Lemmings’ grandmother lives in Wheeling. He asked the clerk if the woman paid by cash or credit. When the clerk said the person paid with a credit card he had the clerk retrieve the credit card slip. Lemmings took a camera shot. No doubt, it’s a match.
Reneberg may be living under an alias in Indiana, West Virginia or Ohio. We ran the name on the credit card and no such person can be tagged to any valid address or social security number but the credit card was valid!
Additional tracers from credit card purchases across three states have now been identified via handwriting analysis, different names on the credit card purchases but matching handwriting.
That’s what sticks out about this information. If there’s nothing to it, then why did the person make purchases in multiple states over a thirty-six hour period all with different credit card names? If it’s not Reneberg, then why does the handwriting match?
Dead people can’t write, can they, Jack? We’re running various scenarios now at Ft. Meade…
Thought you should know.
NCIS Director, Washington, DC
15 March 1997
San Francisco International Airport (SFI)
San Francisco, CA
TRAFFIC WAS ALWAYS HEAVY TO SFI no matter the time of day or route of choice.
Not spending much time packing after hurrying back home to Davis, California from my office at Great Western Casualty & Indemnity, San Francisco Downtown Branch, then a quick check with my secretary at NCIS HQ San Francisco, I decided to take essentials for two weeks only, not a day longer.
My primary job was Director, NCIS HQ in the Bay City since being talked back into DoD by Tibbetts. Working two jobs had its benefits, especially when my continuing post as Chief Claims Adjuster for Great Western had been set up as an ad hoc billet arranged by Tibbetts where my services would be used in cases considered critical to the company, mostly high-dollar claims. Another perk at the top of the list was that I was able to set my own hours at Great Western. The position of Chief Claims Adjuster provided an outside buffer and information pipeline that NCIS could not provide.
The last thing I did before leaving the house was to jot Evelyn a short note and clip it to the refrigerator door to let her know I would call later that evening. After setting the house alarm code, off I went to hassle the bay area freeway system to SFI.
Finding parking at one of the world’s busiest airports was always difficult, often worse than that. Severely crowded even for the afternoon hour and muttering under my breath, I made off for ground-level Long Term. One thought only was on my mind: Get Maryann Reneberg once and for all, dead or alive, either way, no matter.
Made a fool of was not something anyone wished to entertain and, when so many lives had been at stake in DC two years earlier, I felt I hadn’t come through, though my fellow investigators assured me I had…and when no one else had even sniffed in the right direction.
My supporters included Director Tibbetts and that made it a little easier on the nerves, but just a little. Still, that hadn’t erased the pain of Reneberg slipping through the net.
That she might still be among the living meant what I didn’t want to face…that she was smarter than all of us put together as well as deadly dangerous. Maryann (alias Vicki Vacchi) and I had been lovers before I had met Evelyn Johnson. Vicki and I had been DoD Pentagon Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) brats and supposed to have had the best interests of our country at heart. I certainly did.
That I hadn’t seen it coming, that she had fooled me completely and murdered Robert Morris and his wife in addition to scores of people in the city and flag officers at the Pentagon under her surreal Vicki Vacchi vendetta, meant I hadn’t had a clue to Reneberg’s underlying narcissistic, pathological personality.
An investigator of long standing was supposed to learn from past mistakes, not stay stupid. Had I?
Dark cumulus clouds blanketed the sky with heavy rain predicted before nightfall, certainly not unusual for the bay area. The typical San Francisco weather for late March matched my mood, numbing cold and arctic-like wind.
As usual, the weather people had it all wrong. The crap was coming down now.
Jerking the first suitcase out of the trunk, I felt pings of San Francisco ice-rain needling me in the face, blowing in from the west. Hurrying to get out of the near gale force deluge, I set the heavy, gray Samsonite on the ground, grabbed my briefcase and was about to reach for the other suitcase when my cell chirped.
It was Tibbetts.
“Jack, I’m guessing you’re close to the airport by now…”
“Your timing is impeccable as usual, boss,” I said. “I’m in the process of unloading the car in this damned ice water. What’s up?”
“I assume you’re planning on booking to Wheeling, West Virginia and tracking the Reneberg leads from there?”
“You’re psychic. That’s really impressive, Tibbs.”
“Well, delay the last. I had one of our security people place a case folder in your trunk before I sent the memo to both work sites, Great Western and SF NCIS HQ. The file is under the spare tire lid, comprised of a number of emails, photos and other particulars. I figured you would head to the airport after getting the memo.
“We’ve already made airline reservations for you on Delta, Flight #1750, leaving SFI at 1350 for LAX.”
“Los Angeles?” I wondered out loud.
“Hang on, you’ll land at LAX. The case begins a short distance from there.
“You’ll probably wish to call after digesting the contents of the file once at your destination. Things were put together as straightforward as possible but on the fly, so overlook the disjointed insertions.
“The latest information indicates that tracking Reneberg from Wheeling or any other locale on the east coast would be an exercise in futility. We’ve verified she’s already gone dark, possible last known residence, Meadow Springs, West Virginia.
“The people in Meadow Springs have probably seen the last of her.
“Recent possible IDs, and I say possible, show Reneberg in the Southern California area, indicating she’s probably pulled the pin on the West Virginia area, at least for the time being.
“Everything you need to know is in the file, including the address of our safehouse in Malibu where you’ll be staying.
“Get the red folder out now and do a glance-over. Let me know if things are in order as you see it,” Tibbetts said. “I’ll hang on…”
The maroon Samsonite was muscled out of the trunk then the carpet covering lifted up out of the way. Blocking out the rain to the trunk somewhat by turning sideways, I twisted off the locking clip on the lid, set the cover aside and retrieved the red folder, shut the trunk lid then hurried to the left rear door of my car and, with some difficulty, opened the door then held on tightly to the handle to keep the wind from springing the hinges, got in the back seat and yanked the door shut.
“Yeah, I’ve got it,” I said, soaking wet and shivering from the cold.
“Open the folder and, after the cover sheet, read out loud the first three sentences in the opening paragraph of page one,” Tibbetts said.
The inner packet was removed from the red folder and opened. I noted the cover sheet title read Malibu and flipped to page one and read out loud, “Reneberg may have been in the Malibu area in recent weeks and may be there now. ID remains uncertain but possible. Keep your eyes open.”
“That’s it,” Tibbetts said.
“Our safehouse address,” Tibbetts went on, “is in the middle of the first page, along with the key code to get in and the alarm sets once inside, leaving and returning sequences, that kind of thing. The security precautions at the house are quite extensive, as you’ll soon discover.
“You’ll find a Zeus-Zen suitcase in the master bedroom walk-in closet, top shelf, left, fully stocked with disguise gear. Use it at all times and make sure you reflect the same look each time out.
“Didn’t take much guesswork to assume you’d want Mark Clemons and Phil Graten working with you. Insist they do the same. If Reneberg spots you before you find her, we’re out in the cold again. Worse yet…well, we won’t go into that.
“Another thought, you can forget about the disguises if you’re made.
“I’ve already contacted Clemons and Graten. They’re about an hour behind and should get to the safehouse around, oh, 1800.
“Suggestion, read the file. Digest the information then get back to me before Clemons and Graten arrive. After we talk, you’ll have a more complete picture.
“Oh, for our phone discussions between Malibu and DC when in the safehouse, use the only phone in the house, the one in the master bedroom.
“You can continue to use your special cell when not in the house. But your cell will not work inside the house because of the titanium walls. The descrambling architecture embedded in the house phone system is beyond belief.
“That’s why you’ll experience a slight delay in transmission time.
“The house walls have a double-thin layer of titanium and the stuff they use on the space shuttle skin. Other delights as well, as does the roof, so not friendly to wireless.
“The master bedroom phone is a dedicated, hard-wired trunk line and set the government back a pretty penny. DoD will probably feel good about our agency actually using some of their crap.
“One last thing,” Tibbetts said, “you work well with Wil Gilbert and he’s the best we’ve got. I’ve put him on alert, so he’ll be at the ready whenever you call. Use access code Yellow-4. We’ve reset his assignment space for the next month from his normal workspace to the office adjacent to SuperMax. Whatever you need, he’s at the ready. Gilbert also has BAB for the next ninety days to CyberCom Ft. Meade.”
“Wait, hang on a second, even for you that’s a pile, Tibbs,” I said. “What the hell is BAB?”
“It means Block Authorization Bravo (BAB). I didn’t know what it meant either,” Tibbetts said, “had to look it up. One of DoD’s new acronyms for the week. Lights up your prostate, doesn’t it?
“Anyway, that means the most inaccessible piece of minutia on the planet can be had in seconds. Gilbert’s wife loves hubby to take assignments like this because it gives him a lot of comp time after things wrap up.
“She’s already threatened Gilbert with a vacation to Cape Town, South Africa.
“Did you know South Africa has Penguins?
“Why would anyone want to vacation to Cape Town in March or April?
“Be careful, Jack, and starting now.”
15 March 1997
LAX Car Rental, Off to Malibu
NO SUDDEN EPISODES IN LOSS of altitude, the V-8 juice cold this time, the flight to LAX and the land of yellow-brown air was uneventful. The first thing I had noticed upon landing in L.A. and de-boarding was the poor air quality. Even though LAX was close to the ocean, smog could be smelled in the air. Just like old times.
My suitcases had been temporarily misplaced but eventually came across on the conveyor belt. Only two people were in line at the Hertz counter and it didn’t take long to execute the paperwork.
Making sure the Lincoln Town Car rental keys were put firmly in my pants pocket this time, I looked around for the buggy-cart rack and pulled one out. The damn things used to cost only a buck, now the airport geniuses charged three dollars. Talk about a racket.
Off I went to locate my rental car in Space 10B. The bright blue, four-door Lincoln had a dent in the left-side rear door. I went back to the checkout desk with the paperwork and had the attendant make note of it.
The normal way to get to Malibu from LAX was to take Sepulveda Boulevard north to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) then meander north up the coast road. Deciding instead to take a route I had used dozens of times years ago when matriculating at Long Beach State and majoring in surfing, it was the sacred route of surfers descending upon the Malibu coastline from inland venues. That meant going somewhat out of the way and taking the 405 North from LAX to 101 North, exit at Topanga Canyon off ramp on the 101 in Woodland Hills, then due west down Hwy 27 and, at the PCH, a right turn at the Pacific Ocean and the 6.3 mile drive north on Hwy 1.
Malibu was famous for one thing: The most perfect right-slide, point break in the western hemisphere. If the swell rolled in at just the right angle, which was most of the time, and breaking two to four feet, which it did more often than not, you were in heaven.
Malibu per se was more an idea than a real city, deservedly famous for its miles of spectacular, sinuous coastline and crystalline beaches, Santa Monica to Pt. Dume that had appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. Pricey and catering to multi-millionaire residents, Malibu had always been an ideal place for visitors to enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking and other sundry activities. A haven for pickpockets, you learned to keep tabs on your wallet at all times.
The population of the Hwy 1 Malibu strip had remained fairly constant over the past four decades at about 13,000 or so, some years more, some less. Incorporated as a city in 1991, the median age usually held steady at about 50.1 with the ethnic breakdown at 88 percent Caucasian. Malibu always had a city council, so-called, but before 1991 it was known as a town meeting.
Malibu was important to the State of California for three reasons: (1) tourist dollars; (2) huge tax revenue from legal and illegal (a matter of perspective) marijuana growers in the region, always hidden far from Topanga Canyon, little patches of heaven under hot-house canopies dug out from among heavy tree cover; and (3) site locations for film companies doing TV shows or movie sets. Equally strange, there were no major hotel chains on the PCH beachside of the highway, not allowed. City income resonated heavily from tourism and resulting taxes on local businesses.
It was good to relive my younger years in negotiating the winding road of Topanga Canyon and once again taking in the ostentatious estates nestled in the Malibu hills, those you could see through the heavy foliage and tree cover.
After negotiating the final turn twenty-five minutes later, Hwy 1 and the Pacific Ocean came into view.
Turning right on the PCH, I felt at home at last, never thinking I would ever see this piece of wonderland again.
A few minutes later I was at the pier and stopped a few minutes by the side of the road to give homage to my surfing years. The smell of salt air and noise of chirping gulls brought back memories as if it were yesterday.
Driving slowly because of the difficulty in deciphering house numbers, I eventually spotted the safehouse in a row of expensive beachfronts, 1450 Pacific Coast Highway, a three-level, modern affair of white brick and ostentatious glass, the cost of which could only be imagined.
How in the world can a government agency foot the bill for something like this? I asked myself, unable to come up with the smallest pinch of an answer. No expert on beachfront real estate, west coast or east, still, I estimated the spread at 1450 probably couldn’t be touched for less than 3M. I would have to ask Tibbetts how it was that NCIS had been able to bag this place.
The time was 1715.
The red folder had a flat, streamlined clicker in it and I had been smart enough to put the ultra-thin device in my shirt pocket when first realizing its possible use, so I didn’t have to get out of the car to retrieve it from the trunk.
Hitting the ENTER button, the garage roller door lifted to reveal a surprisingly spacious area, easily wide enough for two vehicles. Exactly as Tibbetts had said, to the left side of the garage sat a brand new Dodge Challenger high-performance hemi, the keys of which I had in my pocket. We would keep my Lincoln and return Clemons and Graten’s rentals.
After unloading and dragging everything inside, I flipped the suitcases on the master bedroom king bed and unloaded a few things. Putting away my underwear, t-shirts and socks, I decided to let it go at that for the moment and stepped into the walk-in closet. The tan Zeus-Zen was exactly where Tibbetts had said it would be and later I would inspect the contents.
Prominently taking up the entire right side of the huge walk-in closet was a computer desk, chair and five large monitors. Above the desk and all the way to the ceiling, VAX power units stacked up, replete with cabling, peripherals and cooling equipment. Some of the hardware I recognized, most of it I didn’t have a clue. The five monitors displayed a crystal clear 360-degree view around the house with no rips or tears in the video. I would learn later that it also piped audio into the closet station’s storage drive besides being audible over the speaker system if turned on.
Another monitor was mounted on the bedroom wall just below the ceiling and facing the king bed, a consolidated composite of what the five monitors in the closet picked up, views sent from the rooftop and other outside locations. Whenever the outside cameras picked up any motion, an audible chime went off and video was displayed on the appropriate closet monitor as well as the master bedroom monitor, including full audio.
It was now time to thoroughly read the Malibu file.
Making way to the living room, I opened the draw curtain all the way and got excited over the fantastic ocean view, the waves rolling in no more than a hundred feet from the house. This was some house.
Scrutinizing the alarm setup at the overhead above the sliding door, floor and sides, I realized this was the most sophisticated system I had ever seen for a house. A fly couldn’t get in this place without the inhabitants being warned. The outside pickup cameras were well placed and hidden around the house perimeter, unseen and constantly recording in high definition.
Impressed with the overall setup, with some difficulty I maneuvered the super heavy oak lounge rocker near the sliding-glass door and sat back in a comfortable position and opened the file.
The first thing that caught my eye was a one-paragraph summary of what the Malibu assignment was all about, namely, Maryann Reneberg’s connection to Green Sky, reportedly homebased somewhere in the Malibu area, the code name picked up by Langley during a routine pocket search of outgoing email from a front-corporation called Bethlehem Imports & Exports, a long-standing suspected terrorist organization that had original roots in Teheran and Baghdad. It had been on the NSA’s watch-list since the early 1990s. What was unclear, and the first question I would ask Tibbetts when I called in a few minutes, was how Green Sky and Maryann Reneberg had linked up in the first place…
In the Loop
15 March 1997
1450 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)
“THE WHOLE THING READS LIKE a TV script, Tibbs,” I said to the boss, relocating to the bedroom and getting comfortable in the computer chair and putting my feet on the bed. “How in hell did Reneberg make contact with Green Sky?” The call to Tibbetts routed to the dedicated line in his den at home as well as the desk phone at NCIS HQ DC. The time was 2035 on the east coast.
“That’s probably not the right question,” Tibbetts said to the speaker phone, finishing off the last of his Cognac at home, leaning back in his blue leather swivel at his desk and petting his golden retriever, Bonkers. “It’s a bit more alarming than that, Jack. I would imagine the real question is how did Green Sky manage to recruit Reneberg?”
Tibbetts’ opinion was as good as mine. Certainly that could be the reason she ended up in Malibu. She wasn’t in Puerto Vallarta, San Diego or Billings, Montana. She was in Malibu, or purported to have been. Had she been on Green Sky’s radar before General Conners’ murder at the Pentagon in DC? An interesting thought but either way Green Sky knew before we did. That also meant they had sleepers inside the Pentagon. So it was reasonable to assume Green Sky had aided Reneberg in getting C4 into the Pentagon, meaning certain Marine guards had to have been on the take, meaning any number of things.
“You’re in Malibu,” Tibbetts went on, “to capture or kill Green Sky AND Maryann Reneberg AND, hopefully, ANSWER that question.”
We talked for the next fifteen minutes about the Green Sky/Reneberg connection until my heartburn regarding particulars in the red folder had been put to rest.
The conversation lightened up when I asked how NCIS came to acquire 1450 Pacific Coast Highway. “That’s a real story. It’s not NCIS, Jack,” Tibbetts said. “It’s DoD. I sat in on the original selection process for the location. The powers that be decided a while back to set up a west coast presence as unobtrusive as possible while at the same time posting up where the movers and shakers of Hollywood and the underworld rub shoulders. La Jolla was ruled out because it was too far south. San Francisco was ruled out because, well, quite simply, it’s too damned hard to out-maneuver that antiquated freeway system. I don’t know how you live in that area, Jack. Davis, California isn’t much better. It would prove too much for me on a daily basis, but you don’t seem to mind.
“We ruled out Los Angeles…well, you figure it out.
“Malibu was chosen because of the key location in the Southern California area, easy access to the freeway system once you get to the 101 or 405 and yet isolated from excessive incursion of the unwanted people, namely, prying eyes. If a skunk wanders by in Malibu, it’s in plain sight and locals know right away that a bushy tail’s on the prowl.
“Don’t worry, though, for the coming weeks, you, Mark and Phil are simply the new tenants who are renting a spacious getaway that’s been rented out many times in the past. I know you used to surf some years ago and it would probably serve well to at least get out in the water for anyone who might be studying the newbies. By the way, there’s a surfboard in the hallway closet. Fall off your board a couple of times, bloody your face a bit and get tied up by some kelp, in a few days you’ll fit right in.
“Oh, guess the name of the former owner of 1450 Pacific Coast Highway before DoD took it over?” Tibbetts asked. “He was a movie star who passed away in the early 1990s.
“No, wrong guess… On second thought, you’re better off not knowing who it was, not one of your favorite people.
“Anyway, it happened this way… DoD picked up the property by out-bidding the competition,” Tibbetts went on. “Hey, what’re unlimited taxpayer funds for, right? Improvements made to the house and installed surveillance equipment cost in the neighborhood of one and a half million, so I’m told. Walls are bulletproof and you might keep that in mind.
“Bulletproof glass, on the other hand, has a certain look to it and had to be avoided, too obvious, but something the engineers had to allow for in the eventuality of a breach. That’s why triple-pane glass was used, the inner layer almost qualifying as bulletproof, a composite Plexiglas, almost as strong as Kevlar. All alterations to the house were done from the inside out, taking more time to complete but certainly less noticeable that way.
“You’ll stay at the safehouse until not safe, meaning you’ll continue to stay there until you decide other plans need to be made.
“Keep in touch, Jack.”
Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA
“Might I have a short word?” the Arab man asked, extending his hand to the nineteen-year-old who had just made the final basket in a dorm intramural scrimmage. His team had lost. “Atai el-Kamout, am I right?”
“Yes… Do I know you?” the young man said, out of breath from a hard-fought game but shaking the stranger’s hand.
“No, but I am very much interested in your potential.”
“Basketball is my first love and…”
“No, no, my interest lies elsewhere,” the Arab man said.
“You have no love for Occidental. Am I right?” the Arab man said straight out. “You should be matriculating at a name institution like Columbia University, Dartmouth or Harvard.”
“Who are you?” the young man asked, uneasy and stepping back.
“Let’s say we can benefit each other down the line, in years to come.”
“We’ve been following your progress since you were thirteen, you and four other youths around the country. You are my choice, the best of the lot.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Atai asked, now on the defensive.
“You have a gift, a special talent to persuade, to deliver moving speeches, to sway an audience. You are very good with words.”
“How the hell would you know?” the young man asked.
“Oh, I know quite a lot about you, Atai. Born Atai el-Kamout in Moetoba, Kenya, in early fall 1961 by the waters of the Great Lake, grandparents currently residing in Hong Kong, I believe,” the Arab man went on, “a lot of wasted time spent in the Jakarta school system and when ten years old you decided to build a raft and paddle away from the islands of Indonesia out into the open Pacific, to who knows where, tired you were of being called names at school. So, you see, Atai, I know a lot about you.
“Do you remember the incident in junior high when you were caught smoking marijuana after school behind the gymnasium, your third offense as I remember?” the Arab said. “You were going to be permanently suspended from school, asked to go elsewhere, regardless of your father’s efforts.
“What an embarrassment to the family.
“We intervened and all was taken care of.”
“What do you want?” Atai finally demanded, unsure where the conversation was headed because he couldn’t figure out what the Arab man wanted.
“We have a plan for you, starting now and extending well into the future, first a high profile school, then a law degree at a prestigious university and, Allah willing, a job you can only dream about? Interested?”
“You don’t know anything about me, mister, because if you did you would know we don’t have much money,” the young man said. “Everything we have is because my father worked for it.”
“Yes, I understand,” the Arab went on, “and we can assist your family as well. It’s all up to you. What you achieve in this life will be because you worked for it and can ‘cut the mustard’ as Americans say. What we are going to do is make sure, how do Americans say, ‘obstacles’ are removed in your life’s journey or, if not removed, lessened to a great degree. You will climb mountains you can only dream about, Atai, because you will have the opportunity to do so.
“For that opportunity given to you freely, we only ask that you ‘lean’ to our side of the ledger when certain crossroads present themselves.
“What do you have to lose, Atai?” the Arab man asked finally.
“I’m listening,” the young man said.
“Good, that is good.
“You will attend Columbia University in New York after leaving Occidental within the week, it’s already been arranged.
“There is a certain professor there who will take you under his wing. He will indoctrinate you into everything you need to know, the general area, best restaurants, what to do, what not to do, and most important will stand as a guidepost in your career path. You will come to call him Mr. X.
“You will have a useful stipend at your disposal, including transportation. You will not have to worry about ‘normal’ bills of typical college students.
“Lessons learned at Columbia, when the times comes you will be off to Harvard Law School.”
“Harvard?” the young man said. “How can that be? We don’t have the…”
“Things will be taken care of, Atai, all taken care of in the order of things,” the Arab man said and repeated, “in the order of things.”
The Crew Arrives
15 March 1997
PCH, DoD Safehouse
CLEMONS PULLED UP FIRST, SOME fifteen minutes ahead of Graten. After unloading the cars and unpacking suitcases, we had a sit-down in the living room.
“Okay, let’s have it,” Clemons said, taking in the unusual architecture of the vaulted ceiling and skylight. “Is that an original Dali above the piano?”
“I wouldn’t know, but probably. Tibbs said a lot of the original stuff stayed with the house,” I said. “Some spread, isn’t it? Wait ‘til you get a close-up of the electronic security in this place. It’s wired with backup, heavy-duty battery packs. Recorded video of the house perimeter tracks directly to Tibbetts’ NCIS office and his home. Video also feeds to the master bedroom. If the bad guys cut the juice, everything would work up to seven days on the battery pack, so I’m told.
“Another subtle point… We don’t have to review the day’s video for intrusions. That’s done for us by one of Gilbert’s people in DC. Anything out of the ordinary, we’ll be brought up to speed with an immediate phone call.”
“How in hell did NCIS get hold of this place?” Graten asked.
“Not NCIS, DoD.”
“Whatever. Okay, so let’s have it,” Clemons said again.
“We’ll do dinner at Neptune’s Net and breakfast at The Country Kitchen. By the way, the Kitchen opens every morning at 0630, so we’ll always eat there. I can vouch for their breakfast burritos and patty melts.
“We’ll get something to eat at the Net after we discuss the case, shouldn’t take more than forty-five minutes. I’m hungry enough to eat the ass off a Hereford.
“Before we leave here, you’ll be expected to don a disguise persona. I’ll bring in the suitcase after we talk a while.
“By the way, we have three car rentals. We only need two operational vehicles. We’ll return your two cars and keep the Lincoln. Did you guys notice the Dodge Challenger in the garage? Ours to use…
“Here’s the story…”
After taking twenty minutes to fill them in on specific particulars, Graten spoke up. “We know this for sure? Reneberg was tracked to the West Virginia area by handwriting, meaning she’s alive?”
“How can that be? How could she have survived the detonation at the Pentagon?” Graten wondered out loud.
“Looks like she outsmarted us again. The only thing I can figure out is that she had the area wired beforehand and everything in place and I stepped right into it. That’s what I get out of it, anyway,” I went on. “As to why we’re here in Malibu, surveillance footage at the Kitchen verifies a remarkable body-double if not Maryann Reneberg, video picked up on 12 March, a few days ago.”
“Have you seen the footage?” Clemons asked.
“No, but Tibbetts has. Good enough,” I said.
Graten asked, “So, that means the body at the Pentagon we thought was Reneberg was a plant, an escape valve when she needed it, and later Reneberg just walked out the front entrance with the crowd?”