The Last Ballot Cast – Part 2 — excerpt

Chapter 1
November, 2011
McGill Investigations, Inc. — Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t often, if ever, that the number two official in the FBI came calling at the offices of a private investigator. Byron DeWitt didn’t come hat in hand because he wouldn’t have dreamed of covering his locks with cloth, leather or fur. Sun streaks were the look for California surfers, not hat hair.

The deputy director left his entourage at street level where the ever genial Dikki Missirian, the building’s owner and McGill’s landlord, was serving them complimentary bottles of San Pellegrino under Cinzano umbrellas, the weather being unseasonably warm.

McGill was the one with the supporting cast. Sweetie was with him as his business partner and as a matter of course. Also present were Elspeth Kendry, Deke Ky and Leo Levy. The special agents from the Secret Service needed to be kept informed of any perceived threat they hadn’t detected on their own, and Leo needed to know if any evasive or aggressive driving might be on the horizon.

DeWitt looked around, saw that there was an open chair next to Sweetie, guessed it was for him. Before sitting, though, he shook hands with all present and introduced himself to those he hadn’t met. Shaking McGill’s hand last, he began with his first item on his agenda, an apology.

“Sorry I screwed up. Responsibility is on me.”

McGill said, “Anybody in this room can tell you how far from perfect I am. I’m grateful you saw your way clear to come here today. It would be awkward for all of us if you weren’t feeling cooperative.”

He sat behind his desk and gestured for DeWitt to take his seat.

DeWitt agreed. “Yeah, there are some hard chargers downstairs who said the director and I should just tell you to butt out and dare the president to overrule us.”

McGill gave DeWitt a look. Sweetie was the one to laugh.

She said, “Good thing cooler heads prevailed.”

“What Ms. Sweeney is saying,” McGill told DeWitt, “is we can’t be muscled.”

DeWitt said, “That’s the last thing I want. My idea is, let’s catch these SOBs and go out for a drink afterward.”

“No worries about who gets credit when we do catch them?” Elspeth asked.

The deputy director shook his head. “I’m pretty insistent about taking blame when it’s deserved; I’m less concerned about claiming credit.”

DeWitt held his hands out to McGill. Peace, he was plainly asking.

McGill nodded and asked, “What’s your takeaway from what happened with Todd?”

The deputy director said, “That’s he’s smart and he probably still has Crosby and Anderson with him. They were loose canons at the CIA, but they’re tough and experienced.”

“You think Langley might be holding anything back on us?” McGill asked.

“No, they’d be too afraid of what the president might do.”

That was one big reason DeWitt’s inclination to work with McGill had won out over the hard line advanced by not only his subordinates but the director, as well. The president was clearly taking a special interest in finding Damon Todd; she’d made the CIA come across with personnel records they’d undoubtedly have preferred remain their private reading. If she didn’t want her husband — and company — working the case, she would have told them so, and passed the word to the FBI.

Sweetie said, “When I first read the files on Todd, Crosby and Anderson, it made me wonder what you’d get if you crossed a virus with bacteria.”

“A lot of dead people,” Deke told her.

Following up on that point, DeWitt asked McGill,      “Are you sure Dr. Todd meant to kill you when he attacked you in your office?”

“Someone comes at you in the dark with a baseball bat, what would you think?” McGill said. “Todd told me he strangled a man. We also know that Dr. Evelyn Patanky, the therapist who helped him recover from a nervous breakdown, disappeared and has never been found.”

Deke and Elspeth exchanged a look. Without saying a word, they’d passed sentence.

Almost like Crosby and Anderson might have done.

They weren’t going to take any prisoners either.

McGill spotted the silent exchange. Didn’t choose to comment. Wasn’t sure he objected.

As if she were a mind reader, Sweetie gave voice to what the others were thinking. “So we’re dealing with killers all the way around. Makes for a take-no-chances approach to the situation.”

McGill pointed out, “The problem is, none of these guys has any record of committing any crimes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there aren’t even any arrest warrants out for them.”

DeWitt said, “Consider them persons of interest to be brought in for questioning.”

“Something best done by those of you who still have badges,” Sweetie said.

DeWitt replied, “That would be ideal, yes, but under the law everyone has the right of self-defense. Given the fact that we all know how dangerous these men are, exercising that right to its full extent would be understandable.”

Maybe in court, McGill thought, but if he or Sweetie popped Todd or one of his friends, it might not look too good in the context of a presidential election. He could practically hear the demands for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Better that than leaving a widow and fatherless children behind, but he and Margaret were going to have to be careful.

“Did you learn anything from the attempt to lure Todd to the house in Pennsylvania?” McGill asked DeWitt.

The deputy director said, “Yes, we were close to succeeding. From information we learned from the decoy we took into custody, we worked our way back to a bar in Wilmington, Delaware. Three men we believe to be Todd, Crosby and Anderson were there directing the efforts of the four people who spotted Lydell Martin leave work and followed him back to the safe house we were using.

“We believe Todd was using smart phone or tablet computer technology to receive video and voice reports from his scouts. Once Todd saw the house Martin entered and the coast was clear, we expected him to come in and find out what had gone wrong with one of his subjects. But he sent the decoy and I gave the premature order to grab the wrong guy. The decoy had a disposable phone he’d been given and used it to curse out the people who’d gotten him into the mess. That was all the warning they needed to get away.”

Sweetie had the grace to admit, “I would’ve jumped the decoy, too.”

“So would I,” McGill said. “The thing to understand is you weren’t the only one to make a mistake, Todd did. He screwed up somehow, but he recognized the mistake before it could hurt him. It’s always a pain when a bad guy is smart.”

DeWitt said, “He is that. We have a pretty good idea of what his mistake was. All the scouts he had watching Martin drove gray foreign made sedans. So did the decoy. It must have occurred to Todd at the last minute that he should run one last check to see if anyone else had noticed that pattern.”

Leo spoke up for the first time. “These gray cars, were they stock models? Was any of them rigged for high speed?”

DeWitt said, “The Audi the decoy used wasn’t a high performance vehicle. We haven’t contacted any of the scouts or impounded their vehicles. From the video we have on them, they appear to be run of the line models. The background checks we ran on the scouts show no history of advanced driving skills.”

Leo nodded. “How about these two fellas, Crosby and Todd, they have any special behind the wheel training?”

“Not that I saw,” DeWitt said. “I’ll double-check on that.”

McGill said, “You haven’t contacted any of Todd’s scouts because you didn’t think you could get the truth out of them? Maybe because they weren’t even aware of what they’d done.”

DeWitt said, “Yes, that and we wanted to leave just a bit of doubt in Todd’s mind about the extent to which we’re on to him. We’re tapping the scouts’ phones, hoping Todd might use disposable cell phones to call them. If he does, he’ll learn his people haven’t been contacted by law enforcement. If he’s on the phone with them long enough, we’ll get at least a general idea of his location.”

“Good thinking,” McGill said.

The deputy director nodded. “There was one thing that struck me that night. Just before I gave the order to grab the decoy, I noticed that the people Todd had used for his scouts were all socially prominent. I thought they looked like a cross-section of Who’s Who in America. From reading about Todd’s idea of crafting personalities to help people get the most out of themselves, and from meeting Lydell Martin, I got an idea.”

Hearing DeWitt’s words, McGill thought he knew where he was going.

Out of respect and a desire to keep things friendly, he didn’t jump the man’s idea.

But if he was right, he just thought of a way to play off it.

“What’s your idea?” he asked.

“Well, part of it is that Todd, Crosby and Anderson wouldn’t take the risk of hiding out anywhere close to where we tried to trap them. They had to take off for somewhere else.”

“In a car,” Leo said, “but not a gray one.”

DeWitt said, “Exactly. It’s almost certain that they went to stay with another of Todd’s subjects, but how do we who those people are?”

Sweetie saw where DeWitt was going now, too. She also chose not to interrupt.

“Seems easy now,” DeWitt said. “We look in Who’s Who and we crossmatch the entries there against everyone we can find whom Todd knew as a classmate, student, colleague or friend. Any matches, especially people who experienced sudden leaps in achievement like Lydell Martin, we start watching. Tap their phones, if there’s any justification. With luck we’ll find him.”

McGill liked the idea. It was smart and it was the kind of massive information collection chore for which the FBI was best suited. So was the job McGill had for the bureau.

“That’s good,” he told DeWitt. “Here’s something else to consider. If Todd chooses not to stay with any of his subjects, he’s still going to make use of them. Todd and his friends will need money to live on. They’re not going to rob banks or get jobs. They’re going to take donations from the people Todd has helped. The money won’t come in cash-filled envelopes. It will be moved electronically.”

DeWitt smiled. He liked the idea and appreciated that McGill was sending more work his way.

He said, “What we look for are money transfers from several widely dispersed accounts among Todd’s crafted personalities to a single recipient account, his. We can follow the electronic trail right up to his doorstep.”

Always practical, Sweetie told DeWitt, “Even for your people, that sounds like a big job. In the meantime, we’ve still got three very dangerous creeps on the loose. Assuming they have money, we also have to think they have guns.”

McGill said, “You’re right, Margaret.” He looked around the room and told everyone, “So in the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, ‘Let’s be careful out there.'” Starved Rock State Park — Utica, Illinois


Arn Crosby and Olin Anderson stood atop the sandstone butte that gave the park its name and looked out on the Illinois River one hundred and twenty-five feet below. The park was a great find: rock formations, canyons, woodland, riverfront. It was a wild world, set apart from all the placid cornfields that surrounded it.

The place had a bloody history, too. An Indian chief returning from a tribal council downriver was ambushed and killed by members of another tribe. In revenge, the chief’s tribe and its allies caught several members of the hostile tribe on the spot where Crosby and Anderson stood. The chief’s killers weren’t attacked; they were besieged and starved. Hence the name.

Having read the sign that told the story, Anderson asked Crosby, “You know what this reminds me of?”

Crosby knew. He and Anderson had been all but married for the greater part of their lives.

“The Pali on Oahu” Crosby said. “Kamehameha and his army paddled ashore at Waikiki and drove the local studs up to the edge of the cliff and they jumped.”

“Or were pushed, depending on who tells the story,” Anderson said. “Either way, they died quickly. No prolonged agony, watching the meat disappear off their bones.”

Crosby said, “You’re right. What the Indians did here was crueler.”

“Wonder why some of the tribe that got caught didn’t die fighting.”

“Or jump off the cliff,” Crosby said.

He sat on the rock and looked down at the river. The water was gray on the chilly overcast day. Anderson sat next to him, his arms around an upraised right knee. The weather being what it was, school in session, people at work and no park ranger around, they had the place to themselves.

“Speaking of the Pali,” Crosby said, “I’ve been thinking of Danny Kahanamoku lately.”

Anderson smiled. “The Hawaiian. Wonder if that bastard’s still alive.”

“Sure, if he hasn’t made love to Pele yet.”

Pele was the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanos. Danny K. had said when he got tired of living he was going to paddle his canoe from his home on Maui to the Big Island and make love to the goddess by throwing himself into the molten heart of Mount Kilauea.

Nobody who knew him doubted he was serious.

Danny K. had served in the Middle East with Crosby and Anderson and had been captured by hajis when he’d been knocked senseless by an IED that killed two other guys. The hajis figured it right that Danny K. worked for the Americans, but at six-four and two-sixty, brown skinned but not black, they were unsure of what kind of giant human being they’d caught.

“Never saw a Polynesian in their miserable lives,” Anderson said.

“Sure didn’t speak Hawaiian,” Crosby said. “Couldn’t find anyone who did.”

“Bastards thought he was spouting gibberish.”

“Didn’t care for what he said when he finally told them in English he was preparing for death by talking to his gods.”

Anderson said, “Sorta marked him as an infidel.”

“If their threat to cut off his head was any clue, yeah.”

“Good ol’ Danny K., though, he came back with three haji heads in a canvas bag.” Anderson enjoyed the reminiscence a moment and then asked Crosby,

“You just happened to think of an old pal or was it more than that?”

“More. I talked to Danny the way he talked to his gods.”

Anderson smirked. “Didn’t know you’re fluent in Hawaiian.”

“Danny K. understood. I talked to him because I can’t talk to you.”

Anderson’s forehead turned bright red. “What the hell do —”

Then it hit him. Crosby couldn’t talk to him the same way he couldn’t talk to Crosby. Because Todd had fucked with both their heads. But Crosby, devious bastard that he was, had looked for a work-around.

Anderson asked, “You and Danny K. have a nice little chat?”

“Sure. The guy has always been a good listener. Watch. I’ll talk to him again. He won’t even mind that I’m repeating myself.”

Crosby stared out at a point somewhere above the river. Told the indomitable Danny Kahanamoku, wherever he might be, that a little mindfucker named Damon Todd had messed with his head, kept him from scheming with his best pal, Olin Anderson. The three of them were on the run from the Company but he and Olin had lost operational control.

Anderson jumped in, focusing on the same spot in midair.

“Hey, Danny, it’s Olin. I’m in the same fix as Arn. What do we do?”

Almost immediately, the heads of the two former covert operatives jerked back and forth as if they’d been hit with a backhand, forehand combination. For a moment, they were stunned. Then they turned to look at each other and smiled.

As one, they told each other, “Make love to the goddess.”

They wouldn’t have to worry about any booby-traps going off in their heads if they beat the IEDs to the punch. If you didn’t worry about dying, who could have any hold on you? They’d known that all along, of course. It had just taken Danny K. to remind them.

What was the point of continuing to live if you were stuck on a rock starving?

Maybe not for food but everything else that made life worth living.

Better to jump or die fighting.