I guess I need to get a book cover made! Hope you all had a nice weekend. I was excited to get back to the story and see what else we could flesh out. More intrigue in today's installment. Let me know what you think...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done, so please keep your spelling and grammar fixes until the Beta Reader rounds.)
Cal and Diane didn't say much on the drive back to Charlottesville. They relegated themselves to listening to Top 40 station, each lost in their own thoughts. By the time they'd gotten home, Cal was convinced that it all had been some strange coincidence that Tommy Quinn had somehow recognized him from their time in the Marine Corps, that there was no conspiracy and that the wreck had just been the tragic end in a troubled man's life.
"Thanks for going with me,” Cal said as they were about to get out of the car. Diane squeezed his hand but said nothing. Now Cal really wanted to explain everything to her. He knew that she knew that he was holding something back, but the grief of the day made it seem like talking about it would only dig up bad memories.
"How about I order us some dinner?" Cal suggested, when they’d entered their rented home.
"I'm not really that hungry,” Diane said, slipping out of her coat and hanging it behind the door.
"Yeah, me neither."
For a moment they just stood there. Cal didn't know what to say. Was this where Diane would call him out on his lie?
"I'm sorry about your parents." Diane said finally.
Cal nodded. Of course they'd talked about his parents before, but today it had become that much more real for Diane.
She stepped closer, "Cal, I'm serious. I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what you've gone through."
The coming reply wouldn't get past the lump in his throat, so he reached out and stroked her cheek. She grabbed his hand gently, and that was all it took. They came together like magnets finally unleashed, their love for each other, the pain of lost ones, and the joy of being alive and together. Their lips locked, and then Cal picked Diane up and carried her to the bedroom.
Cal woke to the buzzing of his phone on the bedside table. It was just after 2:30 in the morning and at first he didn't recognize the phone number. Then it hit him. It was Tom Quinn.
"Tom, is everything okay?" Cal answered quietly, trying not to wake Diane.
"Cal, I'm sorry to call so early but, well, I hate to impose,” a pause, then, “Could you come here?"
Cal didn't hesitate. "Yeah, of course. I'll leave in five minutes."
Cal thought he heard voices in the background, maybe Mrs. Quinn, with other male voices. Before he hung up he asked, "Tom, is everything okay?"
"It is now, but, if you could hurry I would appreciate it."
The call ended and Cal rose from the bed.
"Who was that?" Diane asked groggily.
"It was Tom Quinn. Something's happened. I've got to go."
Now Diane was wide awake. "I'll come with you."
"No, you've got that thing for work today.”
"At least call Daniel." Diane said, without hesitating.
Before, it had been as easy as walking down the hall and knocking on Daniel Briggs's door, but Cal and Diane had decided to rent a house a few blocks from The Jefferson Group’s headquarters. Diane liked to call it The Frat House, even though the house was spotless, but still filled with The Jefferson Group's warriors, most of whom lived at the headquarters or in the auxiliary house across the street.
Cal dressed quickly and texted Daniel as he slipped on his shoes. As usual, Daniel texted right back and said he'd be out front in five minutes. He was there in four, no questions asked. Unlike his trip with Diane, Cal explained everything to Daniel, from the crash two days before to Tommy Quinn’s final words and, of course, the phone call from Tom Quinn, Sr. Daniel didn't say a word, just drove.
They were an hour into their journey before he asked, "Does Diane know?"
"No." Cal said, "It could be nothing."
When they arrived at the Quinn household the police were just leaving. Tom Quinn ripped down the yellow police tape to let them in, and told Cal that it was a break in. Husband and wife were obviously distraught and Cal guessed that Patty Quinn had probably been crying, although she put on a good face and even offered them coffee and something to eat. After Cal introduced Daniel, the sniper disappeared, already seeking out the scent. While he was gone, Cal suggested that maybe Patty should go back to bed, that they were safe now. She agreed, although somewhat reluctantly, and Cal took Tom into the kitchen and they both sat down at the table.
“Tell me what happened."
Even though he'd probably told the story multiple times before, the older man said it again. His voice was monotone, almost robotic. Cal could see the man's toughness just by the fact he still had energy to speak.
"Good thing I'm a light sleeper,” Tom said. "Never been a robbery in all the years we've lived in this neighborhood, but I still always sleep with my pistol under the night stand. I’d just gone to the restroom when I thought I heard something. Patty was still asleep. Figured maybe it was my old ears playing tricks on me. Good thing I was smart enough to take my weapon. Padded out into the hallway and there he was, black ski mask and all, right out of Central Casting. I didn't hesitate, I shot, but my the round went high, right out there. The police already dug out the nine millimeter slug and took it with them. Don't know what good it'll do, of course. Well, that's all it took. The guy in the mask went right out the front door. Slipped out more than ran. Disappeared before I could get a better look at him, and that was it. Whole thing took no more than 20 seconds."
Cal could see that the old man was still replaying the scene in his head. He gave him a moment and then asked, "Tom, I was just wondering why you called me. I'm happy to be here, but I'm not sure what I can do." He’d never once mentioned what he did for a living in his previous visit.
“I’m a pretty good judge of character, Cal. I knew something was wrong with my son. Never one to let on for Patty, of course, but when we met you yesterday I could tell that you were a good man. I saw how you were with Diane, and I can't tell you how much it meant that you spent the day with us. So when I got back to the bedroom and saw your phone number I just called, after I called the police, of course. At any rate we're kind of alone in the world with Tommy being dead and all. Most of our old friends have moved out of the neighborhood. Lots of nice young couples now, but it's pretty much just Patty and me. I hope you don't mind that I called."
"Of course not. I'm happy to be here."
"Cal, there's one other thing. Something I told the police, but they didn't really seem to hear me."
"What is it?"
"Well I- I know the police officers think it's just one of those smash and grab type things, you know, that the guy was probably here for money or maybe some jewelry, but I had my wallet sitting right there at the kitchen table, even had the car keys. I'm sure whoever it was had already seen that, but they didn't get touched. I'm sorry," Tom said, shaking his head, "I'm just overthinking it. I probably just got lucky, got the jump on him, you know."
"Would you mind if I took a look around, see if maybe the police missed anything?"
"That's what I hoped you'd do."
"Well, good. Why don't you go to bed now, see if you can't get a little rest. We'll hang around until daylight and then we'll make plans from there. Sound good?"
Cal could see relief on the man's face, like the burden had finally lifted. "Thank you, Cal, I really mean that, thank you."
"Everything's going to be all right, Tom." But even as he said it, Cal had a creeping feeling that this was just the first act in a much longer drama to be played out.
Senator Warren Fowler gazed out the huge bay window to the snow covered fields of the early Wisconsin winter. While most hated the cold, Senator Fowler relished it. It made him feel alive. Even in his early 70s he enjoyed cross-country skiing and the occasional snowshoe jaunt with his dogs.
But there was no time for that today. Ever since the presidential election, his schedule had been packed as the recently picked chairman of the Republic National Committee, the former senator from Wisconsin was in the thick of it all. The Republicans had lost the election and this had come as no surprise to the senator or his colleagues on the conservative side of the government. The current president, a Democrat from Massachusetts, Brandon Zimmer, was a good man, a solid leader and in many ways more Republican than some of Fowler's own colleagues. But it wasn't Zimmer's good standing that had won the election. It had been the actions of his opponent, a rising star in the Republican Party, the only man who, at the time, could have even come close to competing with Zimmer, whose popularity was soaring.
It had been impossible to keep all the details from leaking to the public. Congressman Antonio McKnight had done the unthinkable. Just prior to their first televised debate, McKnight had actually attacked the President of the United States with a knife. A brief scuffle had ensued and thankfully, Zimmer, after being stabbed multiple times by McKnight, had somehow summoned the strength, to toss his attacker of the wooden balustrade and down to his death.
The White House, the Secret Service and a few in the know, those like Senator Fowler, had made the awful decision that the congressman's actions could not be swept under the rug. They crafted what would be released, that Congressman McKnight was a troubled soul and had hidden his demons well. Fowler was one of a dozen who knew the truth, that McKnight was a sociopath, that his life had been perfectly crafted, and that the man from Miami had somehow ditched his terrible upbringing and reached the highest heights of the Washington elite.
Fowler had to tip his hat to a man like that. Such ambition, such strength to do it all on his own. There were details even he would never find out, that the Secret Service and probably the President knew, darker secrets, things that should never be allowed to see the light of day. Senator Warren Fowler knew about such secrets. He had his own.
There was a knock on the door.
"Come in,” Fowler said.
A young man marched in, mouth already open to give his report.
Fowler held up a hand. "Is it cold in here?"
The man took his meaning and pulled out the cell phone from his pocket, even as another man emerged from the shadows. The senator’s bodyguard rabbed the phone and set about frisking the visitor.
"I'm sorry about all this cloak and dagger nonsense,” Fowler said, congenially. "Cigar?"
The younger man nodded as he took a seat in front of Fowler's desk. Fowler selected two Maduros from his humidor, handing one to the man. After the thick smoke was happily billowing from each man's cigar, Fowler asked "Do you remember Operation Mantis?"
The young apprentice froze. "Yes, sir. I remember." He looked like he was about to choke on the cigar smoke still in his lungs. He even coughed a little bit out.
"As it turns out, we've had a breach,” Fowler said almost, but not quite, nonchalantly. The young man went from gray to green. Fowler's eyes went from fatherly kind to ice cold. "If I'd wanted you dead, I wouldn't have wasted a cigar on you." Then the lightness in Fowler's eyes returned. "Are you okay? You look a little peaked."
"Just woozy from the cigar,” the man said quickly. "This is good one, Senator. Cuban?"
Fowler snorted. "Dominican." As if a senator from Wisconsin would smoke one of those Communist sticks. "I want you to interview your staff. Find the leak and report it to me."
"Just find it,” Fowler snapped, but his smile was warm, the same one that had won over thousands of voters over the years. The man even the media had taken to calling “Uncle Warren” for his warm disposition, turned back to window, puffing his cigar. It was a dismissal and the man knew it. Fowler didn't speak again until the man was gone.
The shadowy figure from the corner emerged once more. "Do you think it was him?"
"No,” Fowler answered, “but it won't hurt to keep him paranoid. I know exactly who the leak was."
"A dead kid,” said Fowler, taking a long, slow pull from his cigar. He let it out in a thin stream that hit the window and plumed out. "A very dead kid in a very expensive car. I'd very much like to recoup my losses. I'll have the details to you by nightfall."
The man from the shadows didn't say a word but walked back to where he belonged, leaving Fowler to once again calculate which way to turn the ship. For him, there was only one true North. Revenge, plain and simple.
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