Previously:“I’ve got some contacts on the west coast; that might be your best option. Let me make a few calls, see if I can set up some interviews.”
*Michaels was a habitual criminal, aged sixty-one, who’d spent more than half his life behind bars. He’d been jointly responsible for the death of a jewellery store clerk and a customer during a robbery in the early nineties, and killed all three of his partners in a fight over money after they fled the crime scene.
*“There was some action while you were out. Someone accessed the Michaels file, and several of the others we have flagged.”“Get any ID?”“One of the fakes I found when I checked Metro’s servers. I can’t prove it was Morgan…”
*“If he thinks we’re relying on Tournay to build a more solid case, won’t he soon learn that the gendarmes have her body, and think we plan to charge him with her murder?”
I walked a few hundred yards and ducked through two food courts and a bar, and eventually found a good table at another coffee shop on the beach, near a children’s playground with a musical carousel; I’d been there before, when I’d taken the kids to the beach, and knew that the noise level was usually high enough to drown out anyone trying to listen in.
I didn’t want to waste a burn phone on this, but my phone has long been unlocked; occasionally I buy pre-paid SIM cards, and wait a few months to make sure that nobody remembers who bought them before I use them. I keep a couple in my wallet, and if the need arises I use them once then get rid of them. Debra obviously thought I needed to be discreet, so this seemed like a good occasion to use one.
Debra picked up on the third ring with a non-committal “Yeah?”
“It’s me… Dexter.”
“Okay. Nobody listening in?”
“Better keep this short. You know that they think you’re the Butcher.”
“I’m not supposed to talk to you about the case – not supposed to talk to you at all – until they’ve finished the investigation, and they had to suspend me until they were done. I’ll probably never be able to work in Miami again.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Fucking should be.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Stay the fuck away from LA.”
“LaGuerta got me a transfer to the LAPD. I’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops, but I ought to be able to keep my seniority and my badge. I couldn’t talk to you until I’d gone through the interviews and the lie detector test, knew they’d ask me too many questions about it.”
Lie detector test? Suddenly Trent Kort’s plan was clear. These days a lie detector test is mandatory for any sensitive job. Get me to Washington, get me strapped into a chair, then start questioning me about the Butcher case. Probably Westen had put him up to it. Lie detector evidence wasn’t usable in court, but the right questions might reveal information they could use to find evidence that was admissible.
“Oh, I see.”
“So… what the fuck is wrong with you, Dexter, why aren’t you fighting this, looking for the people who framed you?”
“I’m doing my best to cooperate.”
“You’d better be. Because the alternative would be you’re the Bay Harbor Butcher, which makes me an idiot for not noticing. And it’d mean that you killed fucking Doakes.”
“I didn’t. Gibbs thinks that Lila did it, the French police are looking for her.”
“Lila? Lila Tournay? Why… why the fuck would she kill Doakes?”
I wondered why she’d hesitated then, but said “She was obsessed with me, and Doakes was on my back a lot, I guess she decided to do something about it. You know what she was like, the way she tried to set fire to me and the kids.”
“I guess so. Do you think the French police will find her?”
“Let’s hope so.”
“I thought you’d gone to look for her when you went for your Paris vacation.”
“I thought about it, but when I got there I chickened out. The more I thought about it the more I figured she was crazy, I just wanted her out of my life.”
Debra took a few seconds to answer. “Okay, I guess that’s it. When things have quietened down a little I’ll get back in touch. Right now I need to be really careful, so don’t call me again, or try to get hold of me, unless you’re in the clear. Got it?”
“I guess. Let’s hope I can talk to you soon.”
“Be careful, Dex.” She hung off.
There was something wrong, I was sure of it. Was she trying to get me to confess? It hadn’t felt like it, but at the end there was something off. She was digging for something. Evidence that I’d met up with Lila in Paris? That could have been a little incriminating, perhaps, if Gibbs really thought she’d killed Doakes, but not the end of the world.
Suddenly I thought of a reason why she might be suspicious; could they know that Lila was dead? If they did, why would Gibbs tell her? Why not confront me with it instead? They’d quizzed me for hours about Zoey Kruger, and they’d had no real evidence that I’d even met the woman. They had endless proof that Lila and I had been lovers and that she’d tried to kill me and the kids, ample motive.
Lila’s DNA hadn’t been in our records; we’d looked for it, but I’d made sure we didn’t find a usable sample. That was a good thing too, because her blood was on one of the slides. It meant nothing on its own, but if the French actually had her body they’d know when she was killed, around the time I was in Paris, and they’d be able to match her DNA to the slide. It was probably enough for extradition, if the slides were ever ruled to be admissible evidence.
Gibbs must have told Debra, maybe to prove to her that I was the Butcher. Everyone else’s blood could be explained away as someone framing me for the Butcher’s crimes; Lila’s death was too intimate, too personal, the killer had to be me, or someone preparing to frame me nearly two years ago. Gibbs would have told her not to discuss it with me, but Deb was never good at keeping secrets from me. I wondered if she’d ever talk to me again then dismissed the thought; I had more urgent fish to fry.
That had to be it – Gibbs was keeping it in reserve, a slam dunk case against me if all else failed. Asking if she’d killed Doakes was the opening salvo, and with the FBI taking over it was his way of staying in the game. Always assuming that he’d even told the truth about that, of course, but that was something I could check; I called his hotel and asked for his room, and was told that the occupant had checked out.
Some time in the next few days the FBI would probably bring me in for questioning, but right now they were probably doing the usual bureaucratic dance of setting up headquarters, liaising with local law enforcement, and looking at everything everyone else had done. It gave me a window of a few days, if I could shake off the police and Westen long enough to make a few preparations. I couldn’t do much about the investigation, but I could give my Dark Passenger some relief, and I had a near-perfect target.NCIS Office of Special Projects, Los Angeles
“Agent Gibbs, please.” said Henrietta Lange, and waited a few moments. “How are you, Jethro?” She sipped her tea and listened to the phone for a moment. “Yes, she received a call from the Miami area this afternoon… he used a new number, it traces back to a SIM card sold several months ago and never previously used, but we have positive voiceprint identification… no, she didn’t ask him if he’d killed the woman, or tell him that she’s dead, but I think that she probably said enough to arouse his suspicions... Doctor Getz believes that she is under considerable stress; he must have picked up on that. I’ll send you a recording, of course… Yes… he made one other call, to your hotel, checking that you’d booked out, after that the number went dead and we were unable to activate it remotely. I’d imagine that he’s taken out the card.”
She listened for a few moments, then said “and thank you too, Agent Gibbs. Good luck with the next phase.”
She sipped the rest of her tea, considered for a while, then called Nate Getz to her office. “Doctor Getz, now that you’ve had an opportunity to study Detective Morgan, what do you think of her long-term prospects?”
“She’s under a lot of stress and it shows, but she’s resilient, I think that she’ll be okay once her brother is out of the picture, and she’s had some time to recover.”
“Good. I’d like you to run a few checks, assess her suitability for recruitment.”
“Why not, Doctor Getz? The police here will treat her as an outsider, a hard-luck case they’ve taken on as a favour to their Miami contacts. I doubt that she’ll be happy there in the long term. With the exceptions of her rather colourful use of language, the blind spot where her brother was concerned, and some lapses in her personal life, she appears to have an excellent record. It would be a shame to waste her.”
“If you’re sure…”
“If I were sure I’d be doing it today; since I’m not, and since we certainly can’t do it until her brother is out of the picture, I want you to take the time to investigate her thoroughly and prepare a full assessment.”Dexter Morgan
When I got back to the apartment I switched on the TV, hoping that the ads would annoy anyone listening, unlocked my laptop, and read through the file on Frank Michaels again. Fortunately it was still loaded into the browser; I’d intended to shut the window when Gibbs appeared, but minimised it instead. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to save it to my hard disk, or access the department computers from home.
The show on TV had rival groups of over-excited Californians bidding on the contents of abandoned storage lockers. It looked as carefully staged as professional wrestling, sanitised of the vermin and garbage that I invariably saw when I visited real lockers to collect evidence, but reminded me that in a couple of months I’d need to do something about renewing the rental on my own locker; hopefully I’d be free of surveillance by then, otherwise it might become a problem. There were things in there that would be hard to explain. I could imagine the scene: ‘Tonight on Storage Hunters, Brandon and Laurie’s big gamble pays off with a killer surprise…’
Back to business; Michaels was going to be released at 11 AM on Monday. The parole conditions included regular appointments with a probation officer, but he had forty-eight hours before his first check-in. That would have been a good time to catch up with him, but I couldn’t be sure that the FBI would hold off until Wednesday. I had to do this fast and cleanly, and without leaving a trail.
I read through the file again, concentrating on known associates and contacts, and hit pay-dirt. He’d had a cousin living on the outskirts of Miami who’d died six months earlier, and inherited a dilapidated house and five acres. The attorney who handled the estate had suggested selling it immediately, to give him some cash to start his post-prison life, but Michaels refused. He claimed to want to live there, and he’d mentioned it at his parole hearing, as evidence that he wanted to settle down and turn over a new leaf.
Paging back through the file, I found that the cousin had tried to give Michaels an alibi, and that the house and grounds had been searched for some antique jewellery that hadn’t been recovered; the estimated value then had been forty-three thousand dollars. I had no idea what it would be worth at modern prices, probably considerably more. My guess, they were still hidden there somewhere, and Michaels planned to retrieve them before selling the property; he’d head there as soon as he could. I had no interest in the jewellery, but planned to be there to meet him, if I could shake off my followers.
I found some reasonably current paper road maps – no point tempting fate by looking on line unless I had to – and tried to work out access and exit routes. The roads didn’t look promising; all of the routes into the area funnelled through a couple of key intersections that would be easy to monitor. If Michaels disappeared someone would probably check the traffic camera footage. But with the maps spread out I noticed that another narrow road ran parallel to the street, behind the lots, running from the main road to a small building and pier on one of the canals that zig-zag across Miami, leading to a tributary of the Miami River. I had no idea what the building was, but the location and route looked interesting.
It was time to be a little dishonest. It was likely that my apartment’s internet access was being monitored, but there were plenty of other WiFi routers in my condo, and every so often I ran a little utility to sniff them out and crack as many passwords as possible. I checked through the list and found an old friend, HappyHome18, still using the impenetrable password ‘p@55w0rd,’ and went into Google Maps. The satellite view was eighteen months old and showed a wooden pier, half-hidden by trees. Photos taken from the water and the pier included the building, behind high wire fences; power lines, transformers, and Miami Power signs made it clear that it was an electrical substation. It probably used canal water for cooling. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever taken my boat down that particular canal, but there are buildings like that all over Miami. It looked promising, a way in or out that didn’t rely on the roads, but I’d have to see it for myself.
I went to the back room that looked out over the parking lot, and saw Westen’s car. He was easy to spot, so easy it must be deliberate. There would be other, unseen watchers, Axe and possibly some of the people I’d seen outside the bar the previous evening, not to mention cops, FBI agents, and anyone else with an interest. If my guess was right there might even be a French commando squad out there somewhere, ready to snatch me to a trial in a Paris court. But it wasn’t likely, unless they mistook me for a Greenpeace protester. What I needed to do was get loose of the surveillance long enough to check the site out.
If I went there by road I was certain to be followed and watched; I could take my boat along the canal, of course, but it was possible that was being tracked too – that was how Doakes caught me in the act, which eventually led to his untimely if somewhat convenient death. I needed a plausible reason to be in the area, something that wouldn’t arouse suspicion. I checked a few web sites, found nothing promising, but eventually came up with a simple plan.
One of my sock puppet email accounts was signed up as a Craigslist member. I’d originally used the membership three years ago, to post an ad which lured one of my victims to his richly deserved fate – fortunately nobody had ever put the pieces together and associated the ad with his disappearance. This time I posted several ads for items from an imaginary boat-shed clearance at some moorings a couple of miles from Michaels’ house. Then I disconnected from HappyHome18, and used my own connection to look at several innocuous sites which eventually included Craigslist. Not surprisingly, I found something I wanted; an unused EPA-certified sewage holding tank ‘suitable for 1997-2004 Century 2900 center console series boats.’ I sent Mr. Sock Puppet an email asking him to keep it for me, waited a few minutes, then used HappyHome18 again to get into Sock Puppet’s email, find a couple of dozen messages including one from Dexter Morgan, and tell him that the tank was his if he could come and pick it up – today if possible. Five minutes later I checked my mail as Dexter, and was soon in my car, heading for the dock as though I hadn’t a care in the world.Michael Westen
“He’s on the move,” said Fiona, calling me from her vantage point in the apartment overlooking Morgan’s condo.
Morgan came out of the apartment block carrying a piece of paper, glanced in my direction, and drove off. After a couple of minutes following I guessed that he was headed for his boat. I told Fiona and Sam, but Sam and I both continued to trail him in case I’d got it wrong.
I caught up with him at the dock. Gibbs wanted us to keep up the pressure, so I watched while he fuelled the boat, making it obvious that I was there. Eventually he pretended to notice me – and gave me a cheery wave. I strolled over and said “Hi.”
“Nothing else to do?” asked Morgan.
“Any good at plumbing?”
“I just found a sewage holding tank on Craigslist. It’s just what I need for the boat; the old one’s corroded. But I’ve got to fetch it today, and get it plumbed in.”
“I’m not sure…” I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t try to hack me into pieces and dump me at sea, but it didn’t seem polite to say that.”
“It’ll be fun,” said Morgan. “Bring your friend too. You’ll be happier if you can see what I’m doing, and I’ll be happier if you aren’t breaking into my apartment again.”
“Why not? Though I hope you won’t mind if I tell someone you’re aboard with me, I’d hate there to be any misunderstandings… say if I fell overboard or something.”
“Likewise. Where are we headed?”
“Miami Canal Marina. Take about three quarters of an hour each way.”
“Let me give him a call.”
I called Sam, and he arrived on foot a few minutes later – no point letting Morgan see the car he was driving.
“Okay,” said Morgan. “Your people know you’re going with me, and I’ve just left messages with a couple of people. Let’s have a nice afternoon on the water.”
When you’re a spy, one of the things they teach you is not to take lifts from strangers; more often than not it’s going to be a one-way ride. But letting people know we were aboard gave some reassurance. It wasn’t complete protection, of course; Morgan could be planning to kill both of us and take off, but I didn’t think that that was the game plan. And Sam and I were both armed, it wasn’t likely he’d get the drop on us.
Morgan took us out and soon had the boat up to cruising speed. I glanced at his chart and couldn’t see anything odd about the route he was taking, just a straight run along the coast, up the Miami River, and along one of the canals that runs into it.
Eventually Morgan said “Is Trent Kort really a CIA agent?”
“Come on, Westen, you were watching when I met him.”
“Oh, him. I’ve seen him around, but I never worked with him. Trent Kort? How do you spell that?” I knew who Kort was, of course, but I wasn’t going to admit it unless I had to.
“With a K. Didn’t you sic him on me?”
“Not me. They fired me, the last thing they’d want to do is help me.” And that, for once, was the truth.
“Must be a friend of Gibbs then.”
“Might be… the NCIS guys seemed to know who he was. Though I’d have to say they seemed a little surprised too.”
“Maybe he really did want to offer me a job.”
I played along. “Job?”
“Bull,” said Sam. “The CIA doesn’t do forensics.”
“About what I thought,” said Morgan, and turned his attention back to steering. He didn’t say anything more until we reached the marina about twenty minutes later. He found an empty berth and took the boat in, saying “It’s a boathouse somewhere along here. Coming?” He took the keys and climbed onto the pier. Sam and I followed him, wondering how this was going to play out. Morgan looked around, then headed towards a bait shop.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “I’m looking for the Travis boatshed.”
“Never heard of it,” said the man behind the counter.
“It should be around here,” said Morgan. He pulled some crumpled papers from his pocket, and smoothed them out. “Supposed to be by slip F-18. I’m supposed to be picking up a sewage holding tank.” He showed the page to the bait guy.
“You’re fucking kidding me. Travis and slip F-18? And a fucking sewage tank?”
“I don’t understand.” I have to admit I had no idea what he was talking about, but Sam was grinning, I guessed he’d gotten the joke.
“Travis McGee, man. He moored at Slip F-18 in the books. And his boat was called the Busted Flush! Someone’s yanking your chain!” He started laughing.
Morgan glared at him, then turned to us angrily. “This your idea of a joke? Or did you want to get me out here while someone goes through my apartment and plants more evidence?”
I shrugged. “Not me, Morgan. Might be a joke, it isn’t mine.”
“We’ll see about that.” He took off, back towards the boat. We trailed along behind him, but when we went to climb aboard he said “The hell with this. I’m through trying to be nice. Leave me alone, or I’ll see you in court.” He started the engines and took off on full power, leaving us standing on the dock.
“Well, that went well,” said Sam.
“Gibbs told us to let him think he’s given us the slip. I guess this qualifies. Okay, I’ll call Fiona, I guess she can come pick us up. You give Gibbs a call, let him know things have started.”Dexter Morgan
“I didn’t think you’d remember Travis McGee,” Harry said as I wrapped my phone in tin foil to block its signal, then changed course for a side-branch of the canal.
“It’s a good thing you suggested I read the books.”
“I figured you’d learn from them, MacDonald wrote serial killers very well. I particularly liked the way that they usually got caught because they got sloppy, or got caught up in schemes that were way too complicated. Are you sure that isn’t happening to you?”
That’s my father, the voice of caution, like Jiminy Cricket or that annoying girl in the Harry Potter books I read to the kids. “I hope I look like an idiot – with any luck they’ll think someone conned me.”
“Or realise you wanted to ditch them.”
“It’s possible. But I hope they won’t know why I picked that particular marina.” I turned my attention back to the controls, and adjusted the fuel mix. After a few hundred yards the outboards were coughing and sputtering, and I took her in to the next pier I came to. Right next to a strangely familiar Miami Power sub-station…
There weren’t any other boats docked, possibly because the hum of transformers was loud enough to rattle your fillings, but in case someone I hadn’t noticed was watching, I made a show of examining the engines and adjusting the control lines, then climbed up onto the pier to stretch my legs.
It looked promising; there was nobody in sight, and only one car parked inside the sub-station fence, with the Miami Power logo on its door. There were cameras on poles along the fence, but they were pointed inwards, monitoring the building and its grounds. There were lights, but again they were facing inwards; no lights on the road at all. By night, and with the lights on to dazzle the cameras, someone on the road in dark clothes would be almost invisible.
I walked a little way along the road, and pretended to take a leak in some bushes – well, there wasn’t actually much pretence, I needed to go. While relieving the pressure I got out my monocular and took a look towards Michaels’ house. It was shabby, with waist-high grass and a couple of rusting cars just visible above the weeds. Plenty of cover. But I was already outstaying my welcome. I still had to check the boat for bugs, and decide what to do about them, and that was best done well away from a future crime scene. I looked round a last time, memorising the layout, then turned back to the boat.
Before I left I needed to hide a kill kit, somewhere it wouldn’t easily be found. Just the basics; some knives, a hacksaw with a good blade for bone, disposable protective clothing, Hefty bags, and so forth. Not the quality I prefer, but there was no way I’d be going near my locker any time soon, so cheap and expendable was the easiest option. It hadn’t been easy to put it together with Westen and his friends watching me, but I’d managed. It made a neat package that had fitted quite well in the storage space below my seat; now I taped it to one of the pier supports, in the shadows where it wouldn’t easily be spotted, and memorised the location.
I’d been there nearly twenty minutes, for all I knew Westen had hired a boat and was looking for me. I took a last look around, still nobody in sight, and got away from there as fast as I could.TBC