Monday May 3rd 1982.
Britain was at war. The country was in the midst of the Falklands Campaign, the war which was never declared. The previous day the Belgrano, an Argentine warship, had been sunk with a loss of several hundred lives. It was talk of the day and the morning's headline in the Sun newspaper, read simply “Gotcha!”
This day also marked a turning point for Yuri Andreavitch. It was both an ending and a beginning. For more than six months he had been acting the part of Peter Scott but all the while holding onto his own identity. Now he felt as though a metamorphosis was taking place from which there would be no turning back. Yuri was in the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square where he had spent several hours completing the formalities which would lead to the issuance of a permanent residence permit, or 'green-card' as it is more commonly known. The day's proceedings began with the handing over of all of his application documents after which he underwent a medical examination and chest-x-ray at a clinic about half a mile away, near Harley Street.
This stage in the preparation for a role as a deep-cover illegal was the culmination of more than 4 years of intense study and training at GRU and KGB facilities in and around Moscow. His entry into the UK several months earlier had been by submarine and inflatable launch and on arrival at the safe house in London he was issued with papers identifying him as Peter Scott. The application for permanent residence in the US took several months during which he was attached to the KGB's London station and undertook research and surveillance assignments.
The real Peter Scott had been born in Ashford in 1958 but tragically died a year later while the family was living in Paris. Having no immediate plans to return to England the Scotts decided that Peter should be buried in France. Tragedy struck the unfortunate family again 3 years later when Peter's parents and his sister, then 6, were all killed when their car collided with a truck along the coast road near Nice.
These unique circumstances made Peter's a perfect identity to be used by the KGB. His birth certificate was issued in the UK and copies were readily obtainable; there was no official record of his death in the UK and he had no surviving close relatives. Although the identity and history created for Yuri would not stand up to the detailed scrutiny of positive vetting, it would be more than adequate to satisfy the minimal requirements of US immigration.
Having been thoroughly briefed by his British station controller Yuri knew that completion of the process at the embassy would be marked by the stamping of his passport with the permanent resident visa. The actual green card would be issued later, in the US.
When the embassy process was complete, and he had the stamp in his passport, Peter Scott made his way to Heathrow airport. There he checked in for PanAm flight 003 to New York with onward connection to Houston in Texas, a trip from which he would never return.
Randolph County, West Virginia
Saturday March 25th 2006
Sometimes described as one of America's best-kept secrets, Randolph County boasts over 1000 square miles of beautiful mountains, valleys, woods, lakes, rivers and streams. The population numbers less than 30,000 and it has one of the lowest crime rates in the US.
On this Saturday, in the spring of 2006, the peaceful tranquility of Randolph County was about to be shattered by the violent beginnings of a series of events which would send ripples across 6 continents undermining economic and political stability on a global scale.
Karen Holdbrook knelt down, breathing hard. She had managed to get across the open terrain without incident by staying close to the stream but rushing along and crouching low had left her gasping and she could not afford to risk being heard as she made her way into the woods. Her objective was a clearing which she guessed was about a quarter of a mile away. The light spring mist which had earlier provided cover was beginning to lift as the morning sun climbed higher in the bright blue sky.
The camouflage colours of her fatigues blended well with the mossy greens and browns of the trees and bushes and she had been careful to fold her long blonde hair under her cap. She held her weapon in her right hand, at the ready and with the safety off.
Just as she reached a large oak tree she heard a faint sound to her right and caught a glimpse of something moving. This was precisely the scenario which the instructor had described to her and she remembered his words: "Keep absolutely still. If you make the slightest move your enemy will hear or see you just as you heard and saw him and you will lose your advantage. Watch and listen, do not react." Karen stood stock still, barely breathing, and watched as the man quietly and deliberately moved from tree to tree. He was about 30 feet away and making his way from right to left, directly in her field of fire. Carefully and slowly she began to raise her weapon. Adrenalin surged through her body and she had to steady the gun against the tree which was providing her with cover. He was now in her sights and she tracked his move from behind a bush towards a tree. As he was about half-way she gently squeezed the trigger.
The gun barely made a sound but as the round found its mark the man shouted and turned to face Karen and she could see the bright yellow stain where the paintball had hit. It was her first kill and Karen beamed with pride and satisfaction. Her opponent, a Regional Sales Manager from Florida, scowled and said "I suppose that puts me out for the rest of this exercise?" She replied "Yep, but it's only for a couple of hours and then we're onto a different scenario."
She made it through the rest of the woods to the clearing without further incident and about 20 minutes later Karen was looking down at three members of the opposing team who were in position among some large rocks waiting to ambush a small contingent of her team-mates who would shortly be making their way along the path in the river basin.
Although she was behind them and had the advantage of surprise she doubted very much whether she would be able to get all three of them before taking a round herself but Karen Holdbrook was having the time of her life and was certainly not about to pass up the opportunity to nail a VP of Marketing and two rival sales reps.
Applying logic and planning she decided to first take out Mark, one of the reps, who was to the left of the group. He was probably going to have the quickest reactions of the three and was closest to the largest rock for cover. Her next shot would be for Miriam, the other rep, who was to the right and, if she was still unscathed she would then go for Bill Long whose excess weight would slow him down.
Insofar as she had planned it, it went to plan. The second Karen broke from cover a bright yellow stain appeared right in the center of Mark's chest. If it had been a real round from a real gun he would have been history. Miriam reacted fast. As soon as she saw Karen fire at Mark she raised her own gun and fired three rounds in quick succession. All of them missed and, before she could fire a fourth, a round from Karen hit her squarely on the shoulder. Obeying the rules, she put down her weapon.
Bill was taken completely by surprise by Karen's attack. He was almost in shock as he watch her first take out Mark and then Miriam. He did not have his own gun at the ready and was powerless to stop her from putting not just one but two yellow stains on his jacket.
What Karen had not realised was that there was a fourth member of this group who had positioned himself off to the right; when he heard Karen's ambush he circled round behind her and hit her with two rounds, one in the middle of her back and one on her butt. To this day she has no idea whether the butt-shot was by accident or design but suffice it to say that her assailant was to become a marked man and Karen would eventually exact her revenge at a similar event a year later.
Thanks to Karen's success in depleting the ranks of the opposition her team was able to capture the flag and was a clear winner for that part of the competition. When she got back to the briefing hut she was met by John Reid the instructor whose advice had been so helpful. "Hey, I saw you take out that guy in the wood earlier. Excellent job, very clean kill." "I have you to thank for that John, the way you described that scenario in the training session was just perfect. Without your input I'm sure that I would have moved and given myself away."
"I would love to have seen you take out those three folks on the edge of the wood. Shame that you didn't spot the fourth one, there's a probably lesson to be learned there." John went over to help Jim Skelton and his wife, Judy, the owners of the paintball operation, who were putting out refreshments for the group. Karen was quite taken with John. She figured him to be in his early fifties, not especially tall but he was fit and had the quiet self-confidence of a man who can handle himself. He had a nice twinkle in his steel blue eyes and his wiry, grey hair was tidy and all his own.
Maybe it was the excitement and adrenalin-flow during the simulated combat or maybe it was the too-brief sexual encounter the previous evening with Dave Lyons, her Regional Sales Manager, but whatever the reason she felt a strong urge to seduce John Reid and, given her druthers, would have taken him to bed that afternoon. The incident with Dave Lyons was something which had become a routine whenever they both attended conferences and other events requiring overnight stays. Unfortunately the more it became routine the more it also became less exciting and, for Karen, less fulfilling. Last night was no exception and, soon after they had made love, Dave retired to his own room, probably to call his wife, leaving Karen feeling short-changed. In any event, had the circumstances been different that afternoon Karen was quite sure that she would have hit on John Reid.
"Hello Bill, I gather that you took two rounds from young Karen?" "I sure did! Until today I thought that she was just a great pharmaceutical sales rep who could get in to see doctors where no other rep has gone before. Now I'm worried in case she develops a taste for shooting people because she seems to have a real talent for it."
"How is this going for you? Are you getting what you wanted out of it?" "To be honest, John, I'm not sure we know exactly what we were trying to achieve but I can tell you this much - my people are having the time of their lives and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will be back."
Karen walked over to John. "Where are you from John? I just love your accent." "Me? I'm originally from England. Up in the far northwest quite close to the Scottish border. How about you?" "Originally from Pennsylvania but I'm now just outside Washington. My territory includes parts of DC and parts of Virginia. Do you ever get over to DC?"
"I've been over a few times on business and to do the Smithsonian and other sites but it's at least a couple of years since I was last there." "Well, think about making a trip, I'd like to buy you dinner and spend some private time listening to that wonderful accent of yours. I haven't got one on me but before we leave I'll give you my card so that you can call and set something up. I'm serious." "Thanks Karen, I'll certainly think about it."
John felt a twinge of regret as he walked away from Karen. Camouflage fatigues could not disguise her great looks. Natural blond hair, a gorgeous petite figure and sparkling blue eyes but even more important to him was her intelligence, wit and the sense of playfulness and fun. Unfortunately, although a lifetime devotee of heterosexuality, John had not been with a woman since the incident eight years ago which changed, and very narrowly missed ending, his life. Every now and then he thought that maybe he should give it a try and this was one of those times. Perhaps Karen might be the one, he mused.
During the afternoon the two teams played a different scenario and Karen notched up three more kills, not least of which was Dave Lyons who, much to his chagrin, she nailed twice in the butt while he was trying to carry the flag to safety. By 4.30 the whole group was in their coach heading back to DC and John was helping Jim and Judy load the guns, gas cylinders, masks and other equipment into Jim's Ford Expedition. "It went well, Jim." said John, "I spoke with that guy, Bill Long, who seemed to be one of the top dogs, and he told me that they will definitely be back." "I hope so - they're good payers. No beating about the bush on pricing and the deposit and interim payments were both on time. Nice people to work with too, and a fun group - I could use a few more corporate clients like that. Far better than the kids' parties and a lot easier to run." "Thanks for all your help, John, I don't know how we'd manage without you." "You're welcome and I enjoy it. If you are all set I'll head back to the house. Chief will be be wondering where I've got to and he'll be looking for his dinner." "Take care, John!" "Thanks Judy, you take care too."
Michael O'Brien hated his job. Being his own boss didn't help, it was the work itself that he hated. It made him feel dirty and there was no end in sight.
It was more than three years since he had founded O'Brien Associates, a kind of jack-of-all-trades business which operated in the murky areas of private investigation, security, surveillance and intelligence. Clients included law firms, private citizens, intelligence agencies and even, on at least one occasion, the mafia. Though the name implied size it was essentially just O'Brien plus additional helpers hired on a case-by-case basis as needed.
He had started the business to meet the rising costs associated with treating his wife's multiple sclerosis which had been diagnosed some years earlier. Mary had been so full of life and energy and it was heart-breaking for him to see her condition deteriorate to the extent it had but this only fueled his determination to do whatever it took to get the best treatment and care for her that money could buy.
In his other life he had put in 20 years as a detective in the Washington police department and, unlike many, he had been an honest cop, stubbornly refusing to get caught up in the bribery or corruption despite the constant temptations.
Today's job was one of those he hated the most - he had to kill someone. He had no idea whether the person he had to kill was a good person or a bad person, all he knew was that someone wanted that person dead and disappeared by the end of today and that it was worth $50,000 to have it done.
To make matters worse he did not even know who was placing the hit. The middle-man was Fisher, who was definitely part of the intelligence community but almost certainly free-lance, not a career agent. Although O'Brien had done other assignments for Fisher he did not know with whom he was affiliated and, in the convoluted world of intelligence, it could even be more than one agency.
The meeting with Fisher the previous day had been brief and to the point. The target was to be terminated and the body disposed of so that it would not be found. The target's computer and any computer-related items such as data storage and CDs were to be removed and brought to DC by a technician who would accompany O'Brien and his team but travel separately. Timing was to be today when the target would be away from his house until late afternoon. Fisher made it very clear that he was paying top dollar and expected O'Brien to take along enough back-up to ensure that there would be no problems. Fisher had then handed over two envelopes. The first contained a photograph of the target with his name and address, the second contained $25,000 in used $100 bills.
Heeding Fisher's words O'Brien decided to take along two gunmen as back-up. He chose Carlos Martinez and Sergio Perez who had worked for him on several other assignments and handled themselves well. Both worked for one of the Columbian cartels one of the many 'baby cartels' which have taken the place of the infamous Cali cartel. Whatever the nature of their relationship with the cartel it did not get in the way of free-lancing for O'Brien, even at short notice.
The three of them were traveling in a Toyota 4-Runner which O'Brien kept in a storage lock-up and only used for this kind of work. It was officially registered to a Michael Evans of Arlington, Virginia and in the glove compartment there was a driver's license and insurance certificate in the same name.
Mary was being taken care of by his sister, Fran, who had readily agreed to take time off from her Saturday chores. One of the few good things about the work that he did was that it did give him a lot of free time to spend with Mary. As with this one, the best-paying assignments were often of quite short duration and in the case of longer jobs, such as surveillance, he was able to hire subcontractors.
It took them a little over 4 ½ hours to cover the 260 miles between the Washington suburbs and the hotel where they had arranged to rendezvous with Alan Sumner, the technician. As they pulled into the parking lot they could see the electric blue Subaru WRX which Sumner had described to O'Brien not exactly discreet, especially in the rural backwaters of West Virginia, but that was up to him. After he had introduced himself O'Brien took Sumner over to the Toyota to meet the Colombians. There could not have been more of a contrast Carlos and Sergio dark, tall and thick-set, Sumner fair-haired, less than 5' 6'' tall, bespectacled and as thin as a rake.
OK O'Brien said to Sumner, Here's the plan. We drive to the
house - you follow close behind. When we get there you stay well back, in your
car, off the property, until we've checked it out. If the coast's clear Sergio
will let you know and you can drive in. We'll get you into the house and help
remove whatever computer equipment you need to take. As soon as that's done
you head back to DC. We'll follow a bit later. Is that clear?
Seems straightforward replied Sumner.
Let's hope so.
Without good directions the house would have been almost impossible to find. The whole area was heavily wooded and the driveway was well concealed and unmarked. As soon as he was off the road O'Brien pulled up and got out of the truck. Opening the rear door he took out the weapons case and removed a MAC-10 each for himself and Sergio and a Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun which was Carlos's weapon of choice. Sometimes referred to as the 'American UZI' the MAC-10 is a great weapon for close-quarters combat, having the ability to empty a 32-round magazine of .45 rounds in under 2 seconds. Whatever it may lack in terms of accuracy is more than compensated for by the rate and sheer density of firepower.
Sergio, you stay here with the truck. Carlos and I will check out the house. Here's a phone, when you hear me talk just press this button to talk back. If the house is clear we'll let you know and you can tell Sumner to drive in and then bring the truck down.
Chief was a very smart German Shepherd adopted by John soon after his move
to West Virginia. Deemed untrainable by the county police department
not because of any lack of intelligence but because he had a mind of his own
and did not
always unquestionably obey orders - he had been in need of a good home. John and Chief hit it off right from the get-go and were usually inseparable. The one exception was when John was helping with the paintballing and the first and last time he had taken Chief along proved to be an unmitigated disaster when Chief disarmed one of the players who just happened to be the main client.
When John was away Chief always had the run of the house and the property and John saw no need to shut him in. With such a low rate of crime and with a smart dog keeping watch John figured that the chances of his being robbed were slim to none.
When he heard the strange truck pull into the driveway Chief ran out of the house and cut through the woods to see what was happening. If John had been around he would have barked to alert him but his instincts told him that now was not the time to bark.
There were three of them, taking things out of a box at the back of the truck. Two of them started walking down the driveway towards the house and the third stayed beside the truck. Chief made his way back through the woods looping round so that he came up towards the house from the side. The two men were looking around the house, they tried the door and, finding it open, they went in. Chief watched and waited.
O'Brien and Carlos reached the house and found it empty, as expected. O'Brien called Sergio on his handset: It's clear. Tell Sumner to come down and you bring the truck down here, we need to park it up out of sight of the house.
Five minutes later Sumner pulled up in the WRX, its exhaust rasping like a
motorbike. He got out and O'Brien said OK, I found the computer.
Sumner followed him inside and over to a desk on which was a keyboard and monitor
with a tower below. I just need the tower plus any data disks. If he backed
anything up it looks as though he just did it using CDs or DVDs. Have you looked
around for a lap-top or a PDA?
No, said O'Brien, we should do that. Carlos, you look upstairs and I will look here and in the basement. Meanwhile you may as well start moving the computer gear out to your car, Alan.
Fifteen minutes later they were satisfied that there was no lap-top computer
and that Alan had anything that looked remotely like it might store data. I
think I've got everything I need. I should hit the road now a lot of
work ahead hacking into this and extracting whatever I can.
OK, get going. Drive safely and don't let the cops catch you speeding in that thing out here they'll lock you up and throw away the key.
It was a large property about 5 acres in total and the driveway continued through a wooded area beyond the house. O'Brien decided to park the truck about a quarter of a mile away, well out of sight. Carlos, you stay with the truck. We'll call you on the phone when we need you but if you hear shots head down on foot leave the truck here out of harm's way.
O'Brien's plan was to surprise the target when he entered the house. Holding him at gunpoint they would take him outside where Sergio would kill him. It would be done away from the house to minimise forensic evidence. As an ex-detective O'Brien knew only too well that totally eliminating evidence was impossible but if they were careful the evidence would only exist in places which were unlikely to be searched. In the truck were a body-bag, some heavy chains and directions to a remote but accessible lake.
Sergio was waiting by the front door when O'Brien arrived back at the house taking seats in the main living room they waited to hear the sound of the target's car.
As soon as he pulled off the road and into his driveway John knew that something was not right. Chief was in the middle of the driveway, standing stock still. John stopped the car and got out: "What's up Chief?" The dog barked once and stooped down, scratching the ground with his left paw. Kneeling down, John gave Chief a quick hug but he could feel the tension in the animal and knew that something was spooking him. "OK Chief, you stay here, I'm going to go on to the house on foot and see what's going on."
John took the same short-cut through the woods that Chief had taken earlier and a few minutes later he was on the edge of the wood looking down on the back of the house. Very carefully he covered the 100 yards or so of open scrub until he reached the side of the house. What he saw through the kitchen window made him shudder. Two strangers were sitting in his living room, each one cradling a MAC-10 in his lap. Facing the front door and front window they were unaware of his presence out back and he was able to withdraw and head back to his car, so far unseen.
"Who are they?" He said, talking as much to himself as to Chief. Hostiles for sure - of that he had absolutely no doubt. MAC-10s were not standard issue for any mainstream agencies he knew of and the fact that they were inside the house with no vehicle in sight pointed to their being up to no good.
He knew that this was something he had to deal with himself. It was the only way he could get to the bottom of it. He was not going to solve this by calling the local police. He had to find out more and that meant confrontation.
Opening the back door of his Outback he reached under the front seat and pulled out his Browning. It was a 9mm mark III with a 14-shot magazine. Being a good shot he was able to sacrifice stopping power for capacity and fire-power without undue risk. Checking that the safety was on he put the gun in one of the side pockets of his camouflage jacket. Opening the hatch door at the rear he took out the crossbow which he had used in a demonstration to the paintballers earlier. The Hunter Max 200 is ultra light-weight but capable of propelling a 20-inch bolt into a target over 100 yards away in under a second. Fitted with a red-dot sight it is a silent, accurate and deadly weapon.
"Stay here by the car, Chief. I'm going to the house. Stay."
Back at the house John took position behind a tree on a slope overlooking the front and side: this gave him a good view of both the front and kitchen doors. He laid down the loaded crossbow and checked the Browning in his pocket. Then, opening up his cell phone, he dialed the number of the phone in the house. In the living room the phone began to ring.
O'Brien and Sergio were startled by the ringing phone but did not move to pick it up. After the fourth ring the answer-phone tripped in and a recorded message announced that no-one was able to take the call. After the beep the same voice came on - "This is John Reid and you are in my house. I have seen that you are both armed and I want you to come out of the front door and put your weapons on the ground. Then we can talk."
The two men gaped at the phone, totally blind-sided. O'Brien went to one window after another but could not see the target anywhere. He had said "you are both armed" and that meant that he did not know about Carlos. This just might be their ace in the hole.
"Carlos, are you there?"
"The target is here but he's spotted us and is somewhere outside the house. He's probably armed but he hasn't seen you yet. Make your way very carefully back to the house. Stay well back and out of sight. In a couple of minutes Sergio will go out the back door and we'll see if we can flush him out. If you see him shoot to kill."
Picking up the crossbow John trained it on the side door. There was no way that these guys were going to walk out and lay down their MAC-10s - it simply wasn't going to happen. He hoped that the crossbow would give him the edge he needed. The chance to take one man out noiselessly and without giving away his position.
The kitchen door opened - a few inches at first and then enough for Sergio
to slip out and crouch behind a storage bin, his
MAC-10 at the ready. He looked around, quickly realising that the bin only provided partial cover from the front and that he was totally exposed to the wooded area up the hill to his left. That was his last thought as the 20" bolt embedded itself deep in his chest. The impact lifted him clear off the ground and, as his trigger finger tightened, the MAC-10 spewed out the entire contents of its magazine.
He really wanted to take the second man alive - to find out who was behind this - and that meant getting closer to him. Leaving the crossbow behind John took out the Browning and chambered a round, switching the safety to the off position. Just as he reached the bottom of the hill, about 20 yards from the house, the front door opened and O'Brien dived out, crouching low and firing two quick bursts at John. He was almost caught by the hail of bullets and, taking no chances, put two bullets into O'Brien who dropped his weapon and slumped back against the wall of the house.
Immediately after O'Brien had called him Carlos began to make his way to the house. When he was within sight of it he hid among the trees and from there watched the violence unfold. He saw Sergio brought down but could not see where the arrow was fired from. Then he caught a glimpse of the target as he made his way towards the house. He was too far away to do anything when O'Brien made his run at the stranger but he now saw his chance and stealthily made his way towards the house. As he got close he raised the shotgun and was just about to squeeze the trigger when 65 pounds of muscle, fur and teeth came out of nowhere and grabbed the gun in its jaws, pushing it upwards so that it discharged harmlessly into the air. Chief was a smart dog. Had he gone for an arm or a leg or an even tastier morsel Carlos might have been able to turn the gun on him but by taking a sideways run at the gun itself Carlos had no chance.
John heard the commotion and the shotgun blast in the same instant and less than two seconds later Carlos was dead with a bullet in the chest and another in the forehead, his blood, brains and some splinters of bone streaked across the grass behind him.
"I thought I told you to stay by the car?" Not caring about mixed signals John gave Chief a big hug and patted him on the side.
Lying against the side of the house O'Brien was in very bad shape. John had
deliberately aimed low and the two rounds had taken him in the gut. His clenched
hands were doing nothing to stem the flow of blood which had already soaked
his shirt and trousers. "I know that this'll sound crazy but I could get
you to a hospital."
"I'm finished. Too much damage... won't be long... Need a favour."
"Quid pro quo. You need a favour, I need information; let's trade. Who sent you?"
"No clue.. honestly. Only contact... a guy calls himself... Fisher... middle man... could be Agency could be... anybody. Paid big bucks... job had to be done quick... The favour... slipping fast... take cell phone... in the directory... Fran... my sister... call Fran, tell her I'm gone... in basement... toolbox... envelope... instructions... key... safe deposit box... bank... Fran to tell Mary... sorry." Gasping, O'Brien slumped unconscious. He would not awaken.
John removed O'Brien's wallet and found credit cards, a driver's license and all kinds of other ID all in the name of Michael O'Brien with a Washington DC address. This stacked with his story. If he'd been with one of the Agencies he would probably having been carrying either fake or no ID and in the case of fake it was usually the bare minimum - not the stack which filled O'Brien's wallet.
He could see no signs of damage in the house but strangely his computer tower was missing from its place under the desk. The monitor and keyboard were still there but the tower had gone. He then noticed that all of his software and back-up disks were also missing. Some had been on the desk and some in one of the drawers - all had been taken.
Back outside, Chief barked and led John down the track towards where they had hidden the truck. The 4-Runner was unlocked with the keys in the ignition, ready for a speedy exit. There was no sign of the computer, only a very ominous body bag and some heavy chains. John had not the slightest doubt that had it not been for Chief he would have been wearing those chains to a lakeside party later that evening. With that thought he patted and hugged Chief again. Chief wagged his tail.
John knew that he had to get away from the house and sooner rather than later. Reporting this mess to the police wasn't going to get him anywhere, except maybe prison. What he needed to do was get on the road, go somewhere he would be hard to find and discover who had set this up, and why.
In the basement he had built a large strong-box, sunk deep into the concrete floor, with a well-concealed lid. He first took out an envelope containing $50,000. Using credit cards leaves a trail, cash does not. He had no idea what kind of tracking resources his pursuers might have access to but was taking no chances. Next he took out a set of false plates, registration, insurance and a driver's license. The registration and insurance certificate both referenced a Subaru Outback of the same year, model and colour as the one in his driveway but they were Maryland plates. The driver's license was in the name of John Robinson and there was one credit card in that name also. For statements and renewals he had set up an address in Maryland with a forwarding service to a PO box in a nearby town. This was not an identity which could be used permanently but it was better than leaving a trail with John Reid's name all over it. Last out of the box was another Browning, two spare clips and two boxes of 9mm ammo.
Back upstairs he opened up his contacts folder. This was a leather-bound zip-around folder, about the size of a desk diary, in which he kept business cards, phone numbers, addresses and other useful information. Flipping through the cards he pulled out one that he'd been given a couple of months earlier. Theresa Wright was an investigative journalist he'd met over at Jim's. She was researching an article about corporate fraud and a CEO who was under suspicion, if not already indicted. John was impressed by her thoroughness - when she discovered that her subject and his top tier of managers had been on one of Jim's corporate paintball events she had driven all the way from Washington to interview the two of them. Without really thinking about it John reached for his cell phone and tapped in her number.
"This is Theresa."
"Hello Theresa, you probably don't remember me but we met last December in West Virginia when you were researching that piece on Jack Shard."
"John! Of course I remember you, and I'd recognise that accent anywhere! How are you, and to what do I owe this honour?"
"I'm not sure where to begin, but I think I need a journalist."
"Huh? I've heard of people needing a doctor, I've heard of them needing a lawyer and I've heard of them needing a priest but never in my life have I heard of anyone needing a journalist. I may never look at my profession the same way again. Tell me, what makes you think you need a journalist?"
"You may not believe this but less than an hour ago I got home to find three heavily armed men at my house, waiting to kill me. I won't go into all the detail now but I managed to kill them before they killed me and what I need to do is find out who they were working for and why I'm a target. To do this I need the help of someone with connections but who is unconnected to me and I thought of you."
"Am I hearing straight? You just killed three people? Why aren't you calling the police? If they were armed and trying to kill you there won't be a problem - it was self-defence."
"It's not the police I'm worried about, I know from what the leader said before he died that it was a contract hit. Someone paid a lot of money to have me killed and whoever that was is still 'out there' and I have to assume that when they find out that I'm still alive they'll try again. I need to find out who's behind this and why. I'm sorry - I shouldn't have called you - this is too dangerous, I should be handling it on my own."
"John, wait, it's me that should be apologising. I want to help. How quickly can you get over here? I'd like to help work this through and, maybe you're right, this is a job for a journalist. I have a spare room where you can stay while we follow up the leads."
"It's about 6 o'clock. I need to pack some stuff in the car and then take Chief over to Jim's place. I should be able to be on the road by around 7.30 and be in DC by about midnight, possibly a bit earlier if there's no traffic."
She gave him directions on how to get to the apartment from the interstate. "Drive safely, John."
"I will. See you in a few hours, and thanks."
After retrieving the Outback from its improvised parking spot near the driveway entrance John packed a small wheely-case and a hold-all with some clothes and toiletries. He had no idea how long or what to pack for but he chose light casual gear figuring that if he needed anything different he could buy it along the way.
As he drove up the driveway he wondered if he would ever be able to return. Certainly if his cover had been blown he would need to move on and it would have to be to another state, a long way from West Virginia.
Judy answered the doorbell - "Hey John, come in! And how are you Chief?
"Hi Judy, Hi Jim, something's happened and I need your help."
Jim said "Let's go into the kitchen, can I get you something John? A beer?"
"Thanks Jim but no, I need to keep all my wits about me. I will have a soda if you've got one - Diet Coke or Pepsi's fine."
Jim handed John a can from the refrigerator and they sat down at the table.
"I'm not sure how to put this but this afternoon when I got back to the house I found three men waiting to kill me. I kid you not, if it hadn't been for Chief here, they would have succeeded and by now I'd be in a lake somewhere, in a body-bag weighted down with chains." He described to them in detail what had happened at the house. "I need to find out who was behind it and why. It could be some bad guys I damaged in a former life but that doesn't explain why the computer was taken. I just can't figure it out. What I can't do is be around here helping the police with their enquiries - I'd be a sitting duck - wouldn't stand a chance. I need to hit the road and go undercover. I've spoken to a journalist over in Washington who has agreed to help with some of the information gathering but meanwhile the biggest favour I have to ask is will you look after Chief for me? I haven't a clue whether it will be days or weeks but I can't take him with me and he gets along great with you."
"Of course, John, We'd love to have him stay with us, for as long as it takes."
"I've got his dishes and some of his food in the car, I'll give them to you before I go."
"What would also be a help is if you could call the police for me. It would be best left until the morning so that I will be in DC and well out of the way. You can describe to them what happened. Let them know that I left the leader's wallet and ID with his body. I didn't check the other two - they looked Hispanic, maybe Mexicans or Colombians. I'll give you the leader's cell phone to give to the police, I just have to make one call on it first. All I ask is that you don't give any clue as to where I might be and don't mention the past that I alluded to. Anything else is fair game. I'll just go out to the car, make this call and get the dog's stuff."
"Hello, is this Fran?"
"Yes, who's speaking?"
"I'm sorry but I have some bad news for you about your brother. I'm afraid it's very bad news. I can't give you the details but I can tell you that he had an accident and is dead."
John heard her gasp in shock "What happened? Who are you? Is this some kind of practical joke?"
"Unfortunately not. The reason I am calling is that I was with him when he died and he gave me his cell phone and asked me to call you. He wanted me to explain to you that in his basement there is a tool-box and inside it you will find some papers with instructions about what to do as well as the key to a safe deposit box in a bank somewhere. I know that you will find it hard to take all of this in but just remember tool-box, papers and key. I have to hang up now but you should hear from the police sometime tomorrow. Before he died his last words were to tell Mary that he was sorry and that he loved her. I have to go now,
I'm sorry to have been the bearer of such bad news."
Chief watched while John took his dishes and food out of the car and into the house. Despite a reassuring hug and the words "back soon" there was a soulful look in the dog's eyes as John got into the car, fired up the engine and began the long drive to Washington.
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