The Enemy Chapter Twenty One

I kept tight hold on the ten-dollar bill and took her through it, step by step. She told us that after I slid her off my knee she had gone around looking for girls to check with. She had managed whispered conversations with most of them. But none of them knew anything. None of them had any information at all, either firsthand or secondhand. There were no rumors going around. No stories about a co-worker having a problem in the motel. She had checked back in the private room and heard nothing there either. Then she had gone to the dressing room. There was nobody in there. Business was good. Everybody else was either up on the stage or across the street. She knew she should have kept on asking. But there was no gossip. She felt sure someone would have heard something, if anything bad had actually happened. So she figured she would just give up on it and blow me off. Then the soldier I had been talking to stepped into the dressing room. She gave us a pretty good description of Carbone. Like most hookers she had trained herself to remember faces. Repeat customers like to be recognized. It makes them feel special. Makes them tip better. She told us Carbone had warned her not to tell any MP anything. She put emphasis in her voice, echoing his own from ten days before. Any MP anything. Then to make sure she took him seriously he had slapped her twice, hard, fast, forehand, backhand. She had been stunned by the blows. She hadn't seen them coming. She sounded impressed by them. It was like she was ranking them against other blows she had received. Like a connoisseur. And looking at her I figured she was reasonably familiar with getting hit.

’’Tell me again,’’ I said. ’’It was the soldier, not the owner.’’

She looked at me like I was crazy.

’’The owner never hits us,’’ she said. ’’We're his meal ticket.’’

I gave her the ten bucks and we left her there at the quiet table.

’’What does it mean?’’ Summer said.

’’Everything,’’ I said.

’’How did you know?’’

I shrugged. We were back in Kramer's motel room, folding stuff, packing our bags, getting ready to hit the road one last time.

’’I saw it wrong,’’ I said. ’’I guess I started to realize in Paris. When we were waiting for Joe at the airport. That crowd. They were watching people coming out and they were kind of half-prepared to greet them and half-prepared to ignore them, depending. That's how it was in the bar that night. I walked in, I'm a big guy, so people saw me coming. They were curious for a split second. But they didn't know me and they didn't like what I was, so they turned away again and shut me out. Very subtle, all in the body language. Except for Carbone. He didn't shut me out. He turned toward me. I thought it was just random, but it wasn't. I thought I was selecting him, but he was selecting me just as much.’’

’’It had to be random. He didn't know you.’’

’’He didn't know me, but he knew MP badges when he saw them. He'd been in the army sixteen years. He knew what he was looking at.’’

’’So why turn toward you?’’

’’It was like a double-take. Like a stutter step. He was turning away, then he changed his mind and turned back. He wanted me to come to him.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Because he wanted to know why I was there.’’

’’Did you tell him?’’

I nodded. ’’Looking back, yes, I did. Not in detail. I just wanted him to stop people from getting worried, so I told him it was nothing to do with anyone, just some lost property across the street, maybe one of the hookers had it. He was a very smart guy. Very subtle. He reeled me in like a fish and got it out of me.’’

’’Why would he care?’’

’’Something I once said to Willard. I said things happen in order to dead-end other things. Carbone wanted my inquiries dead-ended. That was his aim. So he thought fast. And smart. Delta doesn't hire dumb guys, that's for sure. He went in and smacked the girl, to shut her up in case she knew anything. And then he came out and let me think the owner had done it. He didn't even lie about it. He just let me assume. He wound me up like a clockwork toy and pointed me in the direction he wanted. And off I went. I smacked the owner on the ear and we fought it out in the lot. And there was Carbone, watching. He saw me work the guy over like he knew I would and then he put in the complaint. So he got it coming and going. He got both ends bottled up. The girl was silenced and he thought I would be taken out of the picture because of the disciplinary procedure. He was a very smart guy, Summer. I wish I had met him before.’’

’’Why did he want you dead-ended? What was his motive?’’

’’He didn't want me to find out who took the briefcase.’’

’’Why not?’’

I sat down on the bed.

’’Why did we never find the woman Kramer met in here?’’

’’I don't know.’’

’’Because there never was a woman,’’ I said. ’’Kramer met Carbone in here.’’

She just stared at me.

’’Kramer was gay too,’’ I said. ’’He and Carbone were getting it on.’’

’’Carbone took the briefcase,’’ I said. ’’Right out of this room. Because he had to keep the relationship secret. Just like we thought about the phantom woman, maybe he was worried there was something personal to him in it. Or maybe Kramer had been bragging about the Irwin conference. Talking about how Armored was going to fight its corner. So maybe Carbone was curious. Or even concerned. He'd been an infantryman for sixteen years. And the type of guy who gets into Delta, he's got a lot of unit loyalty. Maybe more loyalty to his unit than to his lover.’’

’’I don't believe it,’’ Summer said.

’’You should,’’ I said. ’’It all fits. Andrea Norton more or less told us. I think she knew about Kramer. Either consciously or subconsciously, I'm not sure which. We accused her, and she wasn't annoyed, remember? She was amused instead. Or bewildered, maybe. She was a se*ual psychologist, she'd met the guy, maybe she'd picked up a vibe, professionally. Or the absence of a vibe, personally. So in our minds we had her in bed with Kramer, and she just couldn't make it compute. So she didn't get mad. It just didn't connect. And we know Kramer's marriage was a sham. No kids. He hadn't lived at home for five years. Detective Clark wondered why he wasn't divorced. He once asked me, divorce isn't a deal-breaker for a general, is it? I said, No, it isn't. But being gay is. That's for damn sure. Being gay is a big-time deal-breaker for a general. That's why he kept the marriage going. It was cover, for the army. Just like the girlfriend photo in Carbone's wallet.’’

’’We have no proof.’’

’’But we can get close. Carbone had a condom in his wallet, as well as the girlfriend photo. A buck gets ten it's from the same pack as the one Walter Reed took off Kramer's body. And another buck gets ten we can comb old assignment orders and find out where and when they met. Some joint exercise somewhere, like we thought all along. Plus Carbone was a vehicle guy for Delta. Their adjutant told me that. He had access to their whole stable of Humvees, any old time he wanted it. So another buck gets ten we'll find Carbone was out in one, alone, on New Year's Eve.’’

’’Was he killed for the briefcase? In the end? Like Mrs. Kramer?’’

I shook my head. ’’Neither one of them was killed just for the briefcase.’’

She just looked at me.

’’Later,’’ I said. ’’One step at a time.’’

’’But Carbone had the briefcase. You said so. He ran off with it.’’

I nodded. ’’And he searched it as soon as he got back to Bird. He found the agenda. He read it. And something in it made him call his CO immediately.’’

’’He called Brubaker? How could he do that? He couldn't say, Hey, I was just sleeping with a general and guess what I found?’’

’’He could have said he found it somewhere else. On the sidewalk, maybe. But actually I'm wondering if Brubaker knew about Carbone and Kramer all along. It's possible. Delta is a family and Brubaker was a very hands-on type of CO. It's possible he knew. And maybe he exploited the situation. For intelligence purposes. These guys are incredibly competitive. And Sanchez told me Brubaker never missed any angle or any advantage or any wrinkle. So maybe the price of Brubaker's tolerance was that Carbone had to pass stuff on, from the pillow talk.’’

’’That's awful.’’

I nodded. ’’Like being a whore. I told you there would be no winners here. Everyone's going to come out looking bad.’’

’’Except us. If we get the results.’’

’’You're going to be OK. I'm not.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Wait and see,’’ I said.

We carried our bags to the Chevy, which was still hidden behind the lounge bar. We put them in the trunk. The lot was fuller than it had been before. The night was heating up. I checked my watch. Almost eight o'clock on the East Coast, almost five on the West Coast. I stood still, trying to decide. If we pause for breath even for a second, we'll be overrun again.

’’I need to make two more calls,’’ I said.

I took the army phone book with me and we walked back to the greasy spoon. I checked every pocket for loose change and came up with a small pile. Summer contributed a quarter and a nickel. The counterman changed the pennies for silver. I fed the phone and dialed Franz at Fort Irwin. Five o'clock in the afternoon, it was the middle of his workday.

’’Am I going to get past your main gate?’’ I asked him.

’’Why wouldn't you?’’

’’Willard's chasing me. He's liable to warn any place he thinks I'm going.’’

’’I haven't heard from him yet.’’

’’Maybe you could switch your telex off for a day or two.’’

’’What's your ETA?’’

’’Tomorrow sometime.’’

’’Your buddies are already here. They just got in.’’

’’I haven't got any buddies.’’

’’Vassell and Coomer. They're fresh in from Europe.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Exercises.’’

’’Is Marshall still there?’’

’’Sure. He drove out to LAX to pick them up. They all came back together. One big happy family.’’

’’I need you to do two things for me,’’ I said.

’’Two more things, you mean.’’

’’I need a ride from LAX myself. Tomorrow, first morning arrival from D.C. I need you to send someone.’’

’’And?’’

’’And I need you to get someone to locate the staff car Vassell and Coomer used back here. It's a black Mercury Grand Marquis. Marshall signed it out on New Year's Eve. By now it's either back in the Pentagon garage or parked at Andrews. I need someone to find it and to do a full-court press on it, forensically. And fast.’’

’’What would they be looking for?’’

’’Anything at all.’’

’’OK,’’ Franz said.

’’I'll see you tomorrow,’’ I said.

I hung up and turned the pages in the army directory all the way from F for Fort Irwin to P for Pentagon. Slid my finger down the subsection to C for Chief of Staff's Office. I left it there, briefly.

’’Vassell and Coomer are at Irwin,’’ I said.

’’Why?’’ Summer said.

’’Hiding out,’’ I said. ’’They think we're still in Europe. They know Willard is watching the airports. They're sitting ducks.’’

’’Do we want them?’’ Summer said. ’’They didn't know about Mrs. Kramer. That was clear. They were shocked when you told them, that night in your office. So I guess they authorized the burglary, but not the collateral damage.’’

I nodded. She was right. They had been surprised, that night in my office. Coomer had gone pale and asked: Was it a burglary? It was a question that came straight from a guilty conscience. That meant Marshall hadn't told them yet. He had kept the really bad news to himself. He had come back to the D.C. hotel at twenty past three in the morning, and he had told them the briefcase hadn't been there, but he hadn't told them what else had gone down. Vassell and Coomer must have been piecing it together on the fly, that night in my office, in the dark and after the event. It must have been an interesting ride home. Harsh words must have been exchanged.

’’It's down to Marshall alone,’’ Summer said. ’’He panicked, is all.’’

’’Technically it was a conspiracy,’’ I said. ’’Legally they all share the blame.’’

’’Hard to prosecute.’’

’’That's JAG Corps'problem.’’

’’It's a weak case. Hard to prove.’’


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