Johnny's flight touched down in Omaha just after noon the next day, after a short layover in Houston. His vacation was over. It hadn't been a terribly restful trip -- gunfights, arrests, conspiracy nuts, and real government cover-ups -- work would be more relaxing.
After he paid the small ransom to liberate his Dodge Ram from long-term airport parking, Johnny drove to his apartment to pick up a gun. He didn't like to think of himself as a gun nut, but he'd gotten so used to carrying one over the last 10 years, he felt odd without one. Once he'd strapped a Glock .23 into the shoulder holster under his leather coat, he felt himself relax just a bit -- now, he could go out.
He wasn't due back at work until tomorrow, but Johnny headed for the office anyway. On the way, he called Eric on his BlackBerry.
"Hey, buddy. Your flight get in all right?" Eric answered without the formality of a "hello."
"Yeah. Layover in Houston, so that sucked. You stand some lunch?"
"Yeah, I could eat. Where do you want me to meet you?"
"I'm inbound for the office now. Ten, fifteen minutes."
"Right on. I'll meet you outside. Be nice to sneak away from the office for an hour or so, anyway."
"Anything big going down?"
"Meh. Bunch of little stuff. I'll fill you in at lunch."
"Any preference on food?"
"Good call. See you in a few."
Johnny hung up the phone and headed downtown, taking the surface streets rather than the Interstate to avoid the midday traffic. Even at noon, the skies were a dead, fishscale gray. Johnny guessed they'd be getting the season's first snow any day now. A quick check of the thermometer on his dashboard told him it was 45 degrees out -- it had been 80 in North Carolina the day before.
When he arrived at the downtown Sheriff's station, Eric was standing at the entrance, his extensive tattoos poking out of his long sleeves.
"Jesus, man, where's your jacket?" Johnny asked as Eric climbed into the Ram's passenger seat.
"At home. Forgot to check the weather. Assumed it'd be warmer than this. Hope springs eternal, I guess."
Johnny pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the restaurant.
"So, I would have asked how your vacation went, but I saw the police reports. You all right?"
"Oh, sure. Not a scratch on me."
"You know what that means, of course," Eric said, grinning. "Means you get to wear the Shit Magnet badge this month. Good thing, too. I was getting tired of wearing it all the time."
"I suppose I was due," Johnny shrugged, parking the Ram on the street outside O'Connor's.
Surprisingly enough, the place wasn't busy yet -- it was usually jumping around noon. Johnny and Eric took a table near the bar.
"You get a chance to look at that Web site I sent you?" Johnny asked, opening his menu.
"Oh, fuck, did I ever. Seriously, Farm Boy. That site is the best display of museum-quality crazy I've seen in years. You know they think the H1N1 vaccine is a mind-control program?"
"That's pretty fucked up."
"Yeah. And don't even get me started with their theories on Chinese genetic experimentation under Utah."
"Did you say 'under?'"
"Oh, sure. The Chinese have a huge base under Provo. Thought everyone knew that," Eric said, rolling his eyes.
"So, yeah, I get it. Site's crazy. What'd you find out about the guy who runs it?"
"Harrison Ford, born under that name. Poor guy. DOB 11/7/91 in San Angelo, Texas, where he still lives."
"Kid's just a puppy."
"Yep. I was almost in high school back then. Got a hit on a juvenile record, but it's sealed, of course. Spent some time institutionalized last year -- doubt it was the first time."
"Little stuff. Trespassing, stalking. Mostly dropped. One disorderly conduct that wasn't. My guess -- he's harmless."
"Pretty much my impression of the kid, too -- a nutbag, but not a dangerous nutbag."
Eric nodded, closing his menu and sipping his water. He looked around for the waiter, caught the young man's attention, and flagged him down. They ordered and went back to their conversation.
"Your Delta Force buddy track anything down on Jason Black?" Eric asked.
"Couple of things. Gotta present 'em to the boss first."
"Understood. Anything you think might help?"
"One thing I meant to ask you about, now that I think of it. My guy mentioned that Black didn't have a birth certificate. That sounded familiar somehow. Ring any bells with you?"
Eric nodded slowly.
"Yeah, I've seen that before. Russel Brandt didn't have one either. It's a little rare, even in the crime game, but not unheard of. A guy really wants to ghost himself -- I mean, give the cops fucking nothing to work with -- there're ways he can delete himself completely. Finding and destroying his birth records is a part of that. Fingerprint shaving, too, or destroying any record of his prints," Eric said.
"That's where I remembered it from. That guy Brandt. OK, so he ghosted himself. So did you, once."
"Well, not to that level. But yeah."
"So you think Black was into organized crime?"
"Maybe. Or maybe he just took a page from our -- dammit, their playbook," Eric said.
"But could you still track someone like that?"
"Sure. There are ways. First off, he's gotta have at least one clean alias, if not more. Kinda hard to do things like get a driver's license or any sort of property without at least one clean identity. My bet, he's got a few."
"Why? Why have more than one?"
"You might have to burn one. Gotta have backups. Mine was Chilean. Work visa and everything."
"You did tell the Marshals about that, right?"
"'Course I did. Now, if you can get a hold of one of Jason Black's aliases, you're good. Property searches, DMV records. . . probably find out where he buys his groceries."
Johnny didn't tell Eric that he knew where Black was. Riley had found that information for him -- and though he trusted his friend, he couldn't let Eric in on what he knew. Not yet, anyway.
There was another matter he wouldn't have minded Eric's opinion on -- the favor for Riley -- but he'd have to play that close to his chest. In fact, Johnny wasn't planning to talk to anyone about that until he'd done some digging on his own.
"So, what have you been up to?" Johnny asked. The waiter was coming out of the kitchen with their food.
"Uh, cleared the Eastman murder. Vietnamese gang, looks like."
"Nah. Looks street-level. Punk kids, as my granddaddy might've said. Other than that. . . been a little boring, really."
"Just wait for the first snowfall. Criminal Investigations tends to slow down a bit after that -- no one wants to be out in that shit. Not even the disreputables."
"Yeah, about that. What is it with the weather in this place? A hundred plus and humid in the summer. Blizzards and subzero in the winter. I mean, they kinda stuck me here, but you live here by choice. Doesn't speak well of your sanity, man."
"Eh. I'm used to it. Grew up with it. Not much weather-wise that can bother me -- I've seen it all, either here or in the Middle East."
"I need to move to somewhere a bit more temperate, I think. I'm getting to be an old man -- 78 degrees year-round would suit me fine."
"Old, hell. You're what, 35 now? That's not even close to old."
"It's ancient. You're just rationalizing since you just turned 30."
"I take it back. You are old. I'm young and strapping, though. And modest."
"Whatever. So what's on your plate for the rest of today?"
"Gonna run into the office for a bit after this," Johnny said, finishing off his corned beef and gouda sandwich.
"Jesus, Farm Boy. Didn't anyone ever bother to define the word 'vacation' for you? It means you're not at work, and you don't go into work. Simple, really."
"Yeah, I know. But I have to track down a local address on someone."
"They make Google for that."
"Too recent. He just moved here. And he might have a record, so I was going to run wants and warrants, traffic stops, DMV files."
"Give me the name. I'll look him up."
"Nah, you don't have to do that, man."
"Not like I've got much else going today. Happy to do it."
Johnny considered for a moment. He hadn't intended on bringing anyone else in on this -- Riley's favor -- but he trusted Eric. Besides, it was just an address and a name. Eric would probably get a hit instantly from the DMV.
"All right. Name's Alexander Richard Kelley, DOB 10/14/84. Check DMV first."
"You got it."
"Just shoot me an email with the address when you find it."
"Will do. This part of a case?"
"Nah. Personal stuff."
Eric nodded as he keyed the name and date of birth into his BlackBerry. He slid the device into his shirt pocket and finished his drink.
"Gym tonight?" Eric asked.
"Think I'll take your advice and take the night off. Tomorrow, though. Can't have you going soft on me."
"No danger of that. I've been training with Jeffers, that guy from Warrants, while you've been gone. Kid hits like a fucking cement truck."
"Yeah, he used to fight Golden Gloves back in the day. I'm not surprised he beat you," Johnny told him, not bothering to hide his smirk.
"Oh, you misunderstand. He hit me, sure. Couple of times. But he hasn't managed to beat me just yet. I'm fast for an old man, you know."
"You should invite him along tomorrow night. Always can use some new blood -- keeps me from getting predictable."
"I've fought with you. 'Predictable' isn't a word that springs to mind when I think about your style -- 'aggro,' maybe. But not 'predictable' by a long shot."
Their waiter dropped the check off at the table, and Johnny reached for it. Eric's hand shot out, snatching the check from under Johnny.
"Told you I was fast for an old man," Eric said, grinning and reaching for his wallet.
"I can get that, Eric."
"No worries. We'll call it a welcome back lunch. You can get me some other time."
Johnny shrugged. He'd known Eric a little more than a year now. In that time, he'd quickly learned it was pointless to argue with the guy.
Eric had two strategies for avoiding an argument.
The first was simply refusing to engage in any sort of discussion, instead doing whatever it was he wanted to do in the first place. The second was a bit more demoralizing. Eric would argue your point with you, making you ultimately contradict yourself. It was humiliating. But Eric was a smart guy, and when he turned his intellect toward making someone else look stupid, the results were truly astounding.
Unless, of course, you were the guy he made look like an idiot. Then the results were soul-crushing. Hence, Johnny rarely argued with him.
"All right, man. Time to be heading out, I guess. Appreciate you looking up that guy for me."
"Sure thing. Like I said, not much to do. I have to at least look like I'm working -- otherwise, Nathaniel tends to loan me out as tech support for other departments. And that, my friend, is not what you'd call fun. I spent half an hour in Traffic one day looking for a Word doc on some idiot's machine. Guy had been storing all his important docs in the Recycle Bin. I seriously wanted to punch him, but, y'know. He's a cop, and all."
"Yeah, probably best you don't go around punching anyone, much less cops. Come on, I'll give you a lift back to the office," Johnny said.
"That's all right. I'm gonna pop over to that retro place and see if I can find a coat I like. I'll just leg it back from there."
"You sure? It's no problem for me to drop you off."
"No, I'm good. Head on home. Try to get some relaxing done on your vacation. Back to the salt mines tomorrow, after all. I'll text you that address as soon as I have it."
"Right on. See you tomorrow, then."
* * *
Johnny made a quick stop at the Post Office to get his mail from the last week. The place was as he'd left it, but his neighbor had kept an eye on it while Johnny was away. Johnny wasn't worried about break-ins, really. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Johnny was a cop, and that his neighbor Darrell was an ex-cop. It was a quiet little area, anyway. Johnny couldn't remember the last time a house had been robbed here.
Johnny was just about to head over to see Darrell. He had a six-pack of Falstaff beer in one hand (a thank-you for looking after the house) and his BlackBerry in the other. He was at his front door when the BlackBerry chirped -- Eric had found the address.