Tuesday, February 9, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Three

The Omaha Police bomb squad was every bit as good as Ellie had promised -- within an hour, they'd found ten homemade bombs. That accounted for every one marked on the blueprint, but they stayed behind to do another sweep of the mosque after disarming the devices.

"Set to go off at 12:45," Vince had told Johnny, showing him the strongbox full of disarmed explosives.

"I've seen bombs like those. Quite a few of them, actually," Johnny said.

"Then you must've spent some time in Iraq. These are near-textbook IEDs," Vince replied.

Johnny and his team left the bomb squad to their sweep. Will stayed to watch their backs and wait for the Department's other SWAT truck. As Johnny piloted his Ram towards I-480 -- which was looking a bit better now that the plows had taken a pass at it -- his BlackBerry rang.

"Hey, pal. It's Eric. I've got you on speaker -- Enano and Nathaniel are in the office with me," Eric said as soon as Johnny picked up.

"Hang on -- I'm with the rest of the team. I'll put you on speaker so everyone's in the loop," Johnny said, switching on the Bluetooth. A half-second later, Eric's voice poured out of the Bluetooth speaker on Johnny's dash.

"Hey, everyone. Fun morning so far, I hear."

"Yeah, fun's not what I'd call it," Frank said, grinning.

"Glad you're all still with us. We've got a bunch of info to throw at you, here. Hope you're in comfortable chairs," Eric told them. "I'll let Nathaniel start, since he signs my paychecks, and all."

"Deputy. Detectives. I'll get right to it. Your guy Alex Kelley -- either he doesn't know anything, or he's a better actor than Kevin Spacey in that one movie."

"The Usual Suspects," Rawlins muttered.

"Yes, Deputy Rawlins. I do know the name of the film," Nathaniel said.

"Sorry, boss."

"So your read is he's not our guy?" Johnny asked.

"That, or he's a criminal genius. I'm thinking it's the former," Nathaniel said.

"I agree with your boss. He seemed genuinely baffled, but he wasn't playing stupid," Enano said. "He didn't know details of the murders. He had no clue how the arm got into his fridge. He's innocent, or he's really fucking good."

"Where is he now?" Ellie asked.

"Holding. Talking to his lawyer. He'll be here when you get back -- we've got the physical evidence to charge him if we need to," Nathaniel said.

"Did the lab guys match the bullets from either scene with the HK-117 we took from his place?" Ellie asked.

"Not yet," Nathaniel answered. "No prints on that weapon, by the way, and he says it's not his. He admits the other ones you found, though."

"Interesting," Johnny said.

"Yeah, one more thing -- Taub, your forensics guy? He tells me there's a window in Alex's kitchen with a broken lock," Eric told them.

"Thanks, Eric. Now, what about these National Militia guys?" Johnny asked.

"I'll take that one," Enano said. "I've been tracking them. Up until very recently, they've been localized to the Southeast -- North Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. Now we have 'em here, obviously."

"What's their deal?" Frank asked.

"Not far off from most of the White Power groups. 'America for Americans,' that kind of crap. Had they not managed to blow up a small Cuban Heritage center in Miami last year, they wouldn't even be on our radar. Small-time rednecks. Or so we thought, anyway."

"What changed?" Ellie asked.

"About three months ago, they started getting organized. Getting smarter. Bungling, dim-witted half-plans suddenly turned into genuine threats. Still, whenever we caught any of them, they turned out to be --"

"Idiots?" Johnny broke in.

"That's as good a way to put it as any. The guys we snagged weren't capable of planning the ops we were seeing. A car bombing in Tampa. A weapons robbery at a National Guard base in Raleigh. And now, we think, your murders here," Enano told them.

"They got themselves a leader," Johnny said.

"That's what we think," Enano replied. "Your guy Alex Kelley was looking good for the job. Ex-Special-Forces, a grudge against the government. . . but I'm not so sure now. Too many inconsistencies."

"Don't count him out just yet. Alex is a lot smarter than he lets on -- he'd have been dead a long time ago if he wasn't," Johnny said.

"Your shooters are coming in now. What's your ETA at the station?" Nathaniel asked.

"Five, ten minutes," Johnny said.

"I want you to question Kelley when you get in. You know him -- you might pick up on something we didn't," Nathaniel said.

"Copy that, boss. We'll see you in a few minutes," Johnny said. He hit the "End" key on the BlackBerry.

"Kelley's not our guy," Ellie piped up from the passenger seat.

"I don't know," Johnny said. "Siddiq positively ID'd him."

"That's just it -- I don't think he did," Ellie said, digging the picture from her jacket. She held it up. "He said the guy on your right was the one who came into the mosque this week. Alex Kelley is on your left in this picture."

"Shit. She's right, Johnny. We were so sure Kelley was the guy that we didn't even look twice," Frank said. "Who's the other guy in the picture? The guy on your right?"

Johnny didn't have to look at the picture to answer that question -- the image was still burned into his brain. In his mind, he could see the picture as clearly as on the day it'd been taken, when Edison has turned the digital camera's screen to him.

"His name's Riley Cohane," Johnny said. "Alex's unit commander in Iraq. And there's no way it could be him. I just saw him last week." "Where? Here in town?" Ellie asked.

"No. Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That's where he's stationed. Riley's still active-duty," Johnny said. "The Imam must have been mistaken -- said right when he meant left, said your right when he meant the right. Riley's not a possibility. Trust me on that one," Johnny said.

They arrived at the downtown Sheriff's station minutes later, and Johnny led everyone to his desk. Nathaniel, Enano, and Eric were already there, waiting.

"Your nose all right, Deputy?" Nathaniel asked.

"It's fine," Johnny said. "Did our shooters from the mosque show up yet?"

"Yeah. I was just about to start questioning them," Nathaniel said.

"Let's not just yet. I have an idea. You have them down in Holding?"

"Holding Cell 3."

"And Alex Kelley?"

"Holding Cell 1. What's your angle, Johnny?"

"Put the shooters into 1 with Alex. If he's their boss, we'll know it," Johnny said.

"Not if Kelley's as good an actor as they say. He'll just ignore 'em," Frank said.

"I agree. Alex would be smart enough to act like he didn't know those guys," Johnny said, nodding.

"But those shooters barely have the brains to feed themselves," Ellie grinned.

"Exactly. We put them together, see what happens. We watch the whole thing on the camera feed from up here."

Nathaniel smiled and picked up the phone. Eric grinned.

"I told 'em, pal. Told 'em you were smarter than you looked," Eric said.

"Marcus. This is Moore. I want the suspects from 3 moved into 1," Nathaniel said. "No, the guy in 1 stays there. Yep."

Nathaniel hung up the phone and walked over to the TV on the wall. He turned it on with the remote. The image of Alex Kelley, sitting alone in his cell, flickered onto the 26" LCD.

"He give you anything in the interview?" Johnny asked.

"Not really. And we ran down all the guns in his place -- except for the HK-117, they're all legal and registered," Nathaniel told him.

On the screen, the door to Alex's cell opened, and the three shooters were escorted in. Alex glanced at them as they came into the cell. The shooters looked briefly at him before they went to the cell's opposite corner and sat down.

"Doesn't look too friendly," Eric said.

They watched the video feed for the next ten minutes, but neither Alex or the shooters showed any sign of recognition or familiarity.

"Kinda looks like they just want to ignore each other," Ellie said.

"Agreed. I don't think Alex is our man, after all," Johnny sighed.

"You think now it might be the other guy?" Frank asked.

"Wait. What 'other guy?'" Nathaniel said, frowning.

"Something the Imam said. Ellie, you have that picture?" Johnny asked. Ellie pulled the picture from her jacket and put it on Johnny's desk. Nathaniel picked it up.

"Ellie showed this photo to the Imam at the temple. He made a positive ID from it -- the man who we believe set the bombs," Johnny said. "At the time, we thought he meant Alex."

"But unless he ID'd you," Eric said, "He must've meant this other guy, the one on your right."

"One problem there," Johnny said, sighing. "It's simply not possible. I just saw him last week -- the day after the Hassan murders."

"According to time of death from the medical examiner, you were in North Carolina the day after the murders," Nathaniel said.

"Exactly. So was Riley. We had breakfast together at Fort Bragg."

"The Imam must have been mistaken. Or we lead him unintentionally," Frank said.

"It's possible," Enano piped up.

"What? How do you think it's possible that Riley was in two places at once?" Johnny asked him, frowning.

"But he didn't have to be in two places at once." Enano grinned. "He just had to be here that night, back at Bragg the next morning."

"Or he could have had someone else -- one of his lackeys -- carry out the Hassan killings," Eric said. "Granted, they're not too bright. But any damned fool can pull a trigger. He gets 'em the gun, the silencer, and bam. Six bodies."

"I really doubt it, folks," Johnny said. "Riley's not the type. And before Bragg, he was in Afghanistan. There's no way he had the time or a reason to plan something like this."

"Still, we'd better look into it," Nathaniel said, holding up a hand to cut off Johnny before he could protest. "I know, Deputy. I know. If nothing else, we can rule him out as a suspect. Meanwhile, we should cut figure out what we're going to do with Mr. Kelley downstairs." "I'd like a chance to interview him, sir," Ellie said.

"It's a good idea. She's kind of a natural, boss," Johnny said.

"Good. Eric?"

"Flights in and out of Eppley, pester the TSA for surveillance videos, get blocked by the Army on Cohane's file. I'm on it, Nathaniel."

"I'm going to take this picture, if you don't mind," Enano said. "Check with our good friend Vassily, see if he recognizes any faces. That just leaves the three shooters, though I doubt you'll get too much out of them."

"You and me, Detective. Up for it?" Nathaniel said.

"After you," Frank nodded.

"Eric -- I'll talk to some people at Bragg. I might have better luck with them," Johnny said.

"Yeah. Probably will. You know how to talk all military, Farm Boy," Eric grinned.

"All right, people. We've got leads to run down. Let's move." At Nathaniel's command, they all went their separate ways.

* * *

"Edison residence," the voice on the other end of the line said. It sounded to Johnny like a young child.

"Hi. Is your dad around?" he asked.

"Yup. Daddy! Phone's for you!" the kid screamed.

"Ow," Johnny muttered, pulling the receiver away from his ear. A few seconds later, he heard an older (and thankfully quieter) voice.

"This is Mark Edison."

"SFC Edison! How've you been, brother? John Teal."

"Well, holy shit. How the hell are you, Staff Sergeant?"

"I've been good, brother. Real good. You?"

"Can't complain. Civilian work, but it pays."

"Good to hear, man. Hey, I need a favor. I mean, I'd love to catch up and all, but I'm kind of on the clock here."

"Sure thing, Sergeant. What can I do for you?" Edison said.

"I'm trying to track down Master Sergeant Cohane. Heard from him lately?"

"Hmm. Last time I saw Riley. . . had to be about six months ago. At his retirement party."

Johnny felt his stomach hit the floor.

"Say again?" he said after a moment's silence.

"I know, right? I never thought the old bastard would retire, either. Not with a war still on, anyway."

"Nothing since then?"

"Nope. 'Fraid not."

"Thanks, Edison. Hey, shoot me an email sometime. We'll catch up."

"You know it, Sergeant."

Johnny hung up the phone and swallowed hard. Riley had lied about still being in the Army -- in fact, he'd gone to lengths to appear as if he was still on active duty.

Fuck. What else is he up to? Johnny thought. He didn't know, but he knew someone who might.

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