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Dead Sleep 11
“That sounds like an official reply. What’s your personal opinion?”
“If your sister is alive, it throws Lenz’s present theory—whatever that might be—into question. Lenz talks a lot about how everything is possible, how there are no rules, but deep down he’s wearing blinders. I don’t think he always did. But these days he’s prejudiced toward the tragic ending. I’m open to something else. That’s it in a nutshell.”
“Why are you open to something else?”
A wistful smile touches the corners of Kaiser’s lips and eyes. “Because I know the world obeys no laws. I learned that the hard way.” He picks up a plastic-wrapped fortune cookie, then discards it. “Lenz probably asked you about all sorts of family stuff. Right? Intimate stuff?”
“That’s the way he works. He likes to know all the underlying relationships. He’s upset a lot of the victims’ families doing that. I’m not criticizing him for it. He did some groundbreaking work early in his career.”
“That’s pretty much what he said about you.”
“Really? Well, I won’t kid you, I don’t think he should be involved in this investigation.”
“I don’t trust his instincts or his judgment. He was involved in a case a while back that turned into a real clusterfuck. And Baxter places too much weight on what he says, because of their history.”
“Lenz told me his wife was killed during a case. Is that what you’re talking about?”
“Yes. Did he tell you why?”
“No. He just said it was a vicious killing.”
“It was that, all right. And it happened because Lenz did something supremely arrogant and stupid. He got there five minutes after she died on her own kitchen table.”
“He retired after that. He’s done some consulting for Baxter since, but I don’t think he learned the right lesson from what happened. He still has too much faith in his own abilities.”
“What do you think about his plan to use me to rattle any suspects you dig up?”
“It could work, but it’s not as simple or safe as it sounds. The results could be inconclusive, and the strategy could put you right in the killer’s sights.”
Kaiser’s cell phone beeps again. He lifts it from the detritus of the meal and scans the LCD. “Lenz again.”
“Are you going to answer?”
Since Kaiser took the conversation into personal territory, I feel justified in doing the same. “You’ve told me Lenz’s dirty laundry. What about yours? Why did you leave Quantico?”
“What did Lenz tell you?”
“Nothing. He said he’d leave it for you to tell me, if you would.”
Kaiser looks off toward a stand of palm trees, where two lovers and a dog lie on a blanket, an ice chest beside them. “It’s pretty simple, really. I burned out. It happens to everyone in that job, sooner or later. I just snapped a little more spectacularly than most.”
“After four years at Quantico, I was pretty much Baxter’s right hand. I was handling far too heavy a load. Over a hundred and twenty active cases. Child murders, serial rapes, bombers, kidnappings, the whole sick spectrum. You can’t assign priorities in a situation like that. Behind every single case, every photo, is a desperate family. Distraught parents, husbands, siblings. Frustrated cops aching to help them. It got to where I was actually living at the Academy. When my personal life fell apart, I hardly noticed. Then one day the inevitable happened.”
This vague reference to his personal life makes me check his left hand. There’s no wedding band there.
“What was that?” I ask. “The inevitable?”
“Baxter and I were out at the Montana State Prison, interviewing a death-row inmate. He’d raped and murdered seven little boys. Tortured most of them before they died. It was no different from interviews I’d done a dozen times before, but this guy was really enjoying telling us what he’d done. A lot of them do, of course, but this time . . . I just couldn’t detach myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about this one little boy. Six years old, screaming for his mother while this guy shoved power tools up his rectum.” Kaiser swallows hard, like his mouth is dry. “And I lost control.”
“What did you do?”
“I went over the table. I tried to kill him.”
“How close did you come?”
“I broke his jaw, his nose, and assorted other facial bones. I damaged his larynx and put out one of his eyes. Baxter couldn’t pull me off. He finally clubbed the base of my skull with a coffee mug. Stunned me long enough for him to drag me out. The guy was hospitalized for twenty-six days.”
“Jesus. How did you keep your job?”
Kaiser slowly shakes his head, as if gauging how much to tell me. “Baxter covered for me. He told the warden the con jumped me and I defended myself.” Kaiser’s eyes search out the lovers again. “I guess you’re going to go all liberal on me now, tell me I violated his civil rights?”
“Well, you did. You know that. But I understand why. I’ve made myself part of the story before, instead of covering it. It sounds to me like you had a delayed reaction to something else.”
He looks back at me as though surprised. “That’s what it was, all right. I’d lost a little girl a week before. Working a rape-murder case in Minnesota. I was advising Minneapolis Homicide, and we were close to getting the UNSUB. Really close. But he strangled one more little girl before we did. If I’d been one day faster . . . well, you know.”
“It’s in the past. Isn’t that what you told me? You can’t change it, so forget it.”
His honesty brings a smile to my face. “A while ago you said ‘clusterfuck.’ That’s a Vietnam term, isn’t it?”
He nods distractedly. “Yeah.”
“Were you there?”
“You look too young for it.”
“I was there at the end. Seventy-one and -two.”
Which makes him forty-six or forty-seven, if he went over when he was eighteen. “The end was seventy-three,” I remind him. “Seventy-five, really. There was still a lot of ground fighting in seventy-one.”
“That’s what I meant. The end of the fighting.”
“What branch of service?”
“Were you drafted?”
“I wish I could tell you I was. But I volunteered. Every civilian was trying like hell to stay out of the military, every soldier was trying to get out of Vietnam, and I was trying to get in. What did I know? I was a kid from rural Idaho. I went to Ranger School, the whole nine yards.”
“How did you feel about journalists over there? Photographers?”
“They had a job to do, like I did.”
“A different job.”
“True. I met a couple who were okay. But some of them just stayed in the hotels and sent Vietnamese out to get their combat shots. I didn’t care much for them.”
“That still happens in some places.”
“I’ve seen your name under some pretty rough pictures. Are you a lot like your father?”
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth. All I know is what people have told me about him. Guys who worked with him in the field. I think we’re different as photographers.”
“Wars attract different kinds. There are the hotel guys you talked about, who don’t even count. There are the Hemingway wannabes, out there to test themselves. Then you have the ones who get off on the danger, who live for the rush. They’re the crazy ones, like Sean Flynn, riding hell-for-leather through firefights on a motorcycle, with a camera in his hand. And then there are the good ones. The ones who do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do. They know the danger, they’re scared shitless, but they do it anyway. They crawl right into the middle of it, where the mortar rounds are dropping and the machine guns are churning up the mud.?
“That’s the kind of courage I respected over there,” Kaiser says quietly. “I knew some soldiers like that.”
His face is lined with silent grief; I wonder if he knows it. “Something tells me you were a soldier like that.”
He doesn’t respond.
“That’s the kind of courage my father had,” I tell him. “He wasn’t that gifted a photographer, when you get down to it. His composition was never that great. But he would get so close to the elephant that the cra zies wouldn’t even go there. And when you’re that close, composition doesn’t matter. Just the shot. And that made his pictures unique. He went into Laos and Cambodia. He spent twelve days underground at Khe Sanh, during the worst of the siege. I have a photo a marine shot of him peeing in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”
Kaiser’s eyes flick toward me at last. “Who told you that? About the elephant?”
“My dad. When I was a kid, I asked him why he did such a dangerous job, and he tried to make out like it wasn’t dangerous at all. He said the soldiers called combat ‘seeing the elephant,’ that it was like a big circus.”
“It was, in a lot of ways.”
“Later, when I got a taste of it myself, I understood better.”
“If you’re not like him, what kind of photographer are you? Why do you do it?”
“Because I have to. I don’t even remember making a conscious choice.”
“Are you trying to change the world?”
I laugh again. “In the beginning I was. I’m not that naive now.”
“You’ve probably changed it more than most people ever will. You change people’s minds, make them see things in a new way. That’s the hardest thing to do in this world, if you ask me.”
“Will you marry me?”
He laughs and hits me on the shoulder. “Are you that starved for affirmation?”
“This past year has really sucked.”
“The past two have sucked for me. Welcome to the club.”
Kaiser’s cell phone rings again. He ignores it, but this time it does not relent, and he finally picks it up and looks at the LCD. “That’s Baxter at Quantico.” He presses Send.
“Kaiser.” His face grows tight as he listens. “Okay, I will.” He hangs up and gathers the leftovers into the bags.
“Baxter wants me back at the field office.”
“I don’t know, but he said to bring you with me. They’re setting up a video link to Quantico, and he wants you there.”
My heart stutters. “Oh, God. Do you think they’ve found out something about Jane?”
“No point in guessing.” He tosses the bags one after another at a metal trash can ten feet away. They bang in without touching the rim. “Baxter’s voice was on edge, though. Something’s popped somewhere.”
THE FBI FIELD office is run from the fourth floor, which was designed so that you see nothing but hallways and doors unless you walk through one of the doors. A few of the doors are open, and as I walk past them, I sense people watching me. At a door marked “Patrick Bowles, Special Agent in Charge,” Kaiser gives me a look of encouragement.
“Don’t be shy. Just say what you think.”
“I usually do.”
He nods and ushers me into a large L-shaped room with a broad window overlooking Lake Pontchartrain. There’s a desk in the dogleg of the L, and sitting behind it is a florid man with quick green eyes and silver hair. On the way over, Kaiser told me that SAC Bowles is the senior FBI official in the state of Louisiana, in charge of 150 field agents and 100 support personnel. Trained as an attorney, Bowles has served in six other field offices and has supervised several major investigations. Fashion-wise, the SAC is the antithesis of John Kaiser: he’s wearing a three-piece suit that never hung on any department store rack, silver links on his French cuffs, and a silk tie. When he gets up to greet me, I see that his shoes are Johnston & Murphy, at the least.
“Ms. Glass?” he says, offering his hand. “Patrick Bowles.”
A little Irish in his voice. It makes me think of the Irish Channel, but of course the Channel is now home to black and Cuban families, not Irish immigrants. To avoid awkwardness I shake his hand and give him a guarded smile.
“Take a seat here,” he says, motioning toward a leather chair in a group.
Glancing to my left, I see Arthur Lenz on a sofa in a private seating area in the deep leg of the L. The good doctor doesn’t look happy, but he stands and walks over to us. He and Kaiser do not exchange greetings. Kaiser sits in a chair opposite mine, and Lenz claims the sofa against the wall to my right. SAC Bowles retakes his place behind his desk. He looks like a no-nonsense kind of guy, which is fine with me.
“Have you learned something about my sister?” I ask.
“You’ve met Daniel Baxter?” asks the SAC, ignoring my question. “Of the Investigative Support Unit?”
“You know I have.”
He glances at his watch. “Mr. Baxter wants to discuss something with the four of us. We’ll have a satellite video link in about thirty seconds.”
Bowles pushes a button on his desk, and a three-foot section of wall above Dr. Lenz slides back, revealing a large flat-panel LCD screen.
“Just like James Bond,” I say softly.
Lenz gets up with an irritated sigh and leans against the long window to the right of Bowles’s desk. I glance over at Kaiser, who gives no indication of his feelings. I guess there’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait in the FBI. There’s a lot of it in photojournalism, too. After a moment, the LCD screen goes blue and numbers begin flickering in the bottom right corner.
“There’s a camera above the screen,” says Bowles. “Baxter can see us all in a wide-angle shot.”
Suddenly, Daniel Baxter’s face fills the screen, and his voice emanates from hidden speakers.
“Hello, Patrick. Hello, Ms. Glass. John. Arthur.”
The video feed isn’t jerky like some home-computer hookup. It has the seamless resolution of corporate America’s tête-à-têtes. The ISU chief looks directly at me as he speaks, which gives me the feeling that he’s actually standing in the room.
“Ms. Glass, from the moment you called me from your return flight from Hong Kong, we’ve been using the combined weight of the Departments of Justice and State to gather the Sleeping Women paintings for forensic analysis. Negotiations like these usually take weeks, but the exigencies of this situation allowed us to apply unprecedented pressure. We now have six paintings in our possession. We’ve already begun our analysis, using both our own technicians and outside consultants. The bad news is, we’ve found no fingerprints preserved in the paint.”
“Damn,” curses Bowles.
“There are hundreds of prints on the frames, of course, but they’re probably meaningless. We have found traces of talc in the paint, which suggests that the artist wore surgical gloves while doing his work. We have what we believe to be the first painting, and it tests positive for talc, which means the UNSUB was intent on protecting his identity from the start. This guy doesn’t learn as he goes. He’s a savant. We’re X-raying the paintings to find out if there are any hidden zmessages or ghosts, but we—”
“What’s that?” asks Bowles. “A ghost?”
“A painting beneath a painting,” says Lenz, speaking for the first time.
“X-rays might also detect fingerprints on the canvas beneath the paint,” Baxter continues. “Our UNSUB may not have been so careful as he made sketches, knowing that the surface would soon be covered with paint.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Kaiser says. “Artists know about X-ray analysis.”
“I’m glad you’re letting me in on all this,” I say to the screen. “But what’s it leading to? What’s the urgency?”
“Bear with me,” says Baxter. “We’ve made arrangements for eight paintings to be shipped to us in Washington. The owners of six more—all in Asia—have given us permission to send fo
rensic teams to their homes or galleries to make the necessary studies. Those teams are en route now.”
“That leaves five,” says Kaiser. “Nineteen total, right?”
Baxter nods. “The remaining five are owned by a man named Marcel de Becque.”
“A Frenchman?” asks Bowles.
Something ticks in my brain, something Christopher Wingate said.
“It’s more complicated than that,” says Baxter. “De Becque was born in Algeria in 1930, but reared in Vietnam. His father was a French colonial businessman who put his money into tea plantations.”
“And he lives in the Cayman Islands,” I finish.
“How did you know that?” Baxter asks sharply.
“Wingate mentioned him.”
“De Becque won’t send us his paintings?” asks Kaiser.
“He’s not only refused to ship his paintings to us, but also refused to allow our forensic teams to go to his estate on Grand Cayman to study them.”
Kaiser and Lenz share a look.
“What reason did he give?” asks the psychiatrist.
“He said it was inconvenient.”
“Frog son of a bitch,” growls Bowles. “What’s he doing in the Caymans? Probably running from something.”
“He is,” Baxter confirms. “In 1975, while we scraped the last Americans off the Saigon Embassy roof by helicopter, de Becque was slipping out in a private plane. He’d sold his plantations just before the Tet offensive, which is suspicious in and of itself. He was tied to intelligence people on both sides, and he undoubtedly played both ends against the middle when he could. Word is, he was heavily involved in the unofficial war economy throughout the conflict.”
“Black marketeer,” Kaiser says with obvious distaste.
“Four years ago,” says Baxter, “Marcel de Becque was implicated in a stock-fraud scheme on the Paris Bourse. The scam involved a fraudulent platinum discovery in Africa. He had to flee, but he netted close to fifty million from the deal.”