Finally, I was having dinner alone with Franny Tate. It was a mild summer night, we were dining at Cru, overlooking Nantucket harbor. I was leaning across the table to kiss her when the first bomb went off.
A hole punched into the air, a muffled thump that bypassed my ears and smacked straight into my stomach, like those ominous fireworks that flash once and leave no sparks. The blast wave hit a second later, shaking tables and knocking over glasses, rattling windows in their frames. Franny mouthed the word ‘bomb,’ her lips parting in silence and pressing together again, not wanting to say the word aloud, or thinking I couldn’t hear her through the veil of trembling air.
I pushed my chair back, pointing toward the Steamboat Wharf. We ran out into a night tattered by running feet and sirens.
Our romantic evening lay across the stained tablecloth behind us, tipped over and shattered with the restaurant stemware.
Something bad had arrived on my little island, an evil alert, a violation and a threat like a dog with its throat cut dropped on a front parlor rug. It was up to me and my officers to answer that threat, to make sense of it and set things right.
I didn’t explain this to Franny. I didn’t need to. She was running right beside me.
# # #
At that point, I thought it all began with the first bomb threat, two weeks earlier, but I wasn’t even close. It takes a long time to make a bomb from scratch. Lighting the fuse is the quick part.
I can tell you the exact moment when the match touched the cord, though.
It was a bright humid morning in June. An eleven-year-old girl named Deborah Garrison stepped off the boat from Hyannis and skipped ahead of her mother down into the crowded seaside streets. As it happened, I was at the Steamship Authority that morning, picking up my assistant chief, Haden Krakauer. We actually saw Debbie in her pony tails and Justin Bieber t-shirt. She didn’t seem special, just another adorable little girl on a holiday island crowded with them.
And Debbie didn’t actually do anything. Nothing that happened later was her fault. The simple, irreducible fact of her presence was enough. Even years later, the consequences and implications of Debbie’s arrival seem bizarre and implausible, far too weighty to balance on those thin sunburned shoulders.
It was like setting off an avalanche with a sigh.
The next time I saw Debbie, it was a week later and she was holding hands with my friend Billy Delavane when he came to the station to report a stolen wallet. She’d been tagging along with him everywhere, since the day she came to Nantucket. They had met in the surf at Madaket when he pulled her out of the white water after a bad wipeout.
“She’d launch on anything, but she kept slipping,” Billy told me later. “She couldn’t figure it out. No one told her she had to wax the board.”
She was happy to let Billy get everything organized and push her into some smaller waves and even happier to share a cup of hot chocolate with a few other kids at Billy’s beach shack when hypothermia set in.
They’d been inseparable ever since.
Barnaby Toll took Billy’s stolen property report and then buzzed my office. He knew I’d be pleased that Billy had shown up at “Valhalla” as he liked to call it. Billy had been one of the more vocal opponents of the new police station, dragging himself to several Town Meetings and fidgeting through all the boring warrant articles to take his stand against the giant new facility on Fairgrounds Road.
I understood his point. I had been against the construction myself, initially. But, like driving in a luxury car or eating at good restaurants, I adapted to the change shockingly fast. Now I couldn’t imagine working in the cramped crumbling building on South Water Street.
I found the two downstairs in the administration conference room.
Billy tilted his head as I walked in. “Nice place. Lots of parking. In America, where nothing else matters.”
I ignored him, looking down. “Who’s this?”
Debbie spoke up without waiting for him. I liked that. “Debbie Garrison.” She extended her hand and I tipped down a little to shake it.
“Police Chief Henry Kennis.”
“Glad to meet you, Chief Kennis. Can I have a tour? I think this place is awesome.”
“Absolutely. How old are you?” “Eleven,” Billy volunteered.
“I’ll be twelve in September,” Debbie corrected him. “That’s my son’s age,” I said. “You should meet him.” “Most eleven-year-old boys are extremely immature.”
I let that one go and offered Debbie my arm. “Shall we?” “Yay!” She grabbed my hand and led me into the corridor.
“Can we see the jail cells?” “Sure.”
The place was buzzing on a June morning. We had Girl Scouts gathering in the selectman’s meeting room and people milling in the front lobby, complaining about the neighbors’ noise violations and picking up over-sand stickers. Last night’s DUIs, the unlicensed, uninsured, or unregistered drivers (a couple of them always hit the trifecta).
On the way down to the booking room I asked Debbie what she thought so far.
“Well, the upstairs where we came in reminds me of a mall. That hole in the ceiling where you can see up to the second floor? I was like—is there a GAP store up there? This part is more like my school. But nicer.”
“Well, it’s new.”
“New is good,” she announced decisively and I thought, you’ve come to the right place.
“So are you spending a lot of time with Billy?” We pushed through into the booking room. It was crowded, phones were ringing. A bald geezer who looked like he was constructed out of sinew and tattoo ink was being hustled inside from the garage. Debbie stared at him. He was obviously sloshed out of his mind at ten in the morning.
I took her hand and led her around the big horseshoe-shaped desk toward the holding cells. “Debbie?”
“Billy? You’re spending a lot of time with him?” “That guy is creepy.”
“He’s sad. His kid was killed in Afghanistan. He drinks a lot, that’s all.”
“Ugh. Those tattoos.”
“They’re bad.” She’d probably have one herself by the time she was sixteen, but you can always hope.
She moved on. “Billy’s great.” Then, “What’s behind that door?”
I followed her gaze to the corner. “That’s our padded cell.” “For crazy people?”
“Well…for people who might try to hurt themselves.” “Cool! Can I see it?”
We went inside. “Padded” is a slight exaggeration—the beige walls and floor have the consistency of a pencil eraser. “Billy’s not like I expected.” She pushed the walls, bouncing tentatively on the balls of her feet. “I mean, he’s not crazy or dangerous or anything.”
“Who told you he was dangerous?” “Oh, I don’t know…just—people.”
“They were probably talking about his brother, Ed, who actually is crazy. And dangerous. But he’s going to be in jail for a long, long time. So I wouldn’t worry about him.”
“Billy is so the opposite of that. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. I mean, he’s sad about all the changes here, but he knows he can’t stop them. He’s not like some kind of terrorist or anything.”
I put a hand on her shoulder to stop the bouncing. “Debbie.” She looked up at me. “Someone’s been calling Billy Delavane a terrorist?”
“I don’t know. I guess so. It’s just—people talk. People say stupid stuff all the time. Gossip and stuff.”
“I guess. But you’ve only been here a week, and you’re already hearing hardcore gossip about Billy Delavane? I don’t see how that’s possible. Are the kids talking about him?”
“The kids love him.”
“Then who? Your mother? Your mother’s friends?” “Yeah, right.”
The idea of her talking to her mother’s friends was obviously so crazy only a clueless grown-up could entertain it.
We went to the jail cells next, three for the women and six for the men, simple rooms with built-in stainless steel sinks and toilets and a blue cement slab bed. The men’s side was full, so I walked her into the women’s block which was empty for the moment.
Debbie pointed at one of the slabs. “How can anyone sleep on that?”
“We have special bedding, but people don’t usually stay here overnight.”
“What’s that for?” She was looking at the stainless steel rail than ran along the length of the slab, eight inches off the floor.
“That’s called a Murphy bar—it’s for handcuffing people.” “Oooo.” She shuddered.
“We don’t use them much.”
“That’s good. That would be scary, being handcuffed in there.
Is that a phone? It looks like a phone.”
It was—we have a metal plate set into the wall with touch tone buttons and a speaker, so prisoners can have their mandated phone call without any complications. It might seem like an unnecessary luxury, but it beats trying to wrestle a cell phone away from a two-hundred-fifty-pound PCP addict at four in the morning. Someone inevitably gets hurt and the town can only absorb so many seven figure lawsuits.
Debbie was fascinated with the phone. “That is so cool. It almost makes up for the handcuffs. Can you call long distance?”
“No. Local calls only.”
“So you take people’s cell phones away?”
“Oh yeah. We take their iPods, too. And their PlayStation portables.”
“That’s so mean.”
“Actually most criminals don’t have PlayStation portables.” “Billy hates cell phones. He refuses to text me. He was watching me yesterday and he said, everything is opposite now. In the old days being ‘all thumbs’ was a bad thing.”
I smiled and she pounced. “See? He’s really funny. I’ve never heard of a terrorist with a sense of humor, have you?”
“No, I guess not.”
We walked to the last cell and turned around. “So—you have no idea who’s saying this stuff about Billy?”
“No, but if I hear anything else, I can tell you. Plus I can snoop around. Like an informant.”
I led her back out to the lobby where Billy was waiting. On the way I asked her what else she planned to do on the island this summer—she couldn’t spy for the police full time.
She shrugged. “Nothing. I guess I’ll go to that stupid whal- ing museum, or the oldest house or whatever, or just sit on the beach.”
I had an idea. “You should tell your mom about Murray Camp. It’s fun. My kids go.”
“Really?” She sounded dubious.
“It’s great. You meet all the island kids and there are kids from all over the world whose parents stay here for the summer. They have tennis and kayaking and windsurfing and biking and cook-outs, and…I don’t know. You name it. They explore the island. You really learn about this place. My kids love it.”
“Okay.” I could see she wasn’t convinced. I made a mental note to call her mother.
I said my good-byes and went back up to my office. Two big windows showed a view across the parking lot to Fairgrounds Road and beyond. It was a big improvement over the sub-street-level closet I’d worked out of for my first few years on the island.
I hooked my chair and sat down.
# # #
The arrest reports on my desk were a standard summertime array. The fat Midwestern couples who insisted on riding mopeds down Wauwinet Road, taking blind turns side by side. The tradesmen who ran them into the bushes after too many beers for lunch at the Chicken Box. The girl caught stealing earrings from The Souk. The boy caught stealing a sweater from Murray’s. I had no leads on the oxycodone suppliers plaguing the island, and nothing new on the underground prostitution ring I’d been hearing rumors about. For the moment all I had was the strong suspicion, developed through too many years of too many after- work drinks with the hardened cynics of Administrative Vice in L.A., that the two were connected somehow.
Then there were the angry yuppies to deal with. For instance, one Tyler Gibson, who bullied himself into my office a few minutes later, brandishing a handful of parking tickets like a magician starting a card trick.
“What am I supposed to do with these?”
I stood up. “Good morning. I’m Chief of Police Henry Kennis. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.”
He was a slender man with lots of well-groomed blond hair framing his hawkish face, blue eyes set tight together, sharp nose, thin lips clenched around his indignation, sucking it like a sourball. He spoke with a slight southern accent. I stuck my hand out as I walked around my desk.
He shook it. “Tyler Gibson.”
“Good to meet you, Mr. Gibson. Why don’t you sit down and tell me the problem.”
We settled ourselves and then he launched. “I’m not going to pay these tickets. It’s outrageous.”
“Well…all the streets are marked, Mr. Gibson. If you keep your car in a thirty minute spot for an hour, someone will probably ticket you.”
He stared at me, features pinched in the effort to control his temper. “I am a resident of this island until Labor Day, Chief Kennis, and I am paying dearly for the privilege.”
“I appreciate that, but—”
“So I demand to know why I wasn’t given a resident parking sticker.”
“Where are you living? What’s the address?”
“On Deacon’s Way. 10 Deacon’s Way. Off Cliff Road.”
I shrugged. “There you go. Those stickers are issued to homeowners within the core historic district. There’s a big sign in the lobby explaining the rules. Take a look at it on your way out.” “This is absurd. You’re telling me I have to pay these tickets?”
“I’m sure you can afford it.”
He jumped to his feet and brandished the tickets at me. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to sue this town, and the Board of Selectmen, and you personally. You’re going to lose and you’re going be giving back all the money you’ve extorted from people like me for decades. It’s going to be expensive and I’m going make a point of seeing that a good chunk of it comes out of your pay check. Maybe then you’ll think twice about biting the hand that feeds you!”
I didn’t offer any of the obvious responses to this petulant tirade. I was more or less under orders not to gratuitously alienate people who were paying in excess of two thousand dollars a week to rent a vacation home, and spending twice that on jewelry and restaurants. I never got a chance to answer him anyway, because that was the moment when Chief Selectman Dan Taylor showed up.
I heard him first. “I’m seeing Chief Kennis right now and you can’t stop me!”
I had arrested Dan’s younger son Bruce the night before, at a rowdy beach party in Madaket, but that was no excuse for this confrontation. I had also saved his older son Mason from killing himself, but that was more than six months ago, and Dan’s memory was short. One thing for sure—I needed to tighten up the security downstairs. It was turning into Grand Central station around here.
“Dan, come on in. Mr. Gibson here was just leaving.”
I brushed past Gibson, stepping out into the hall to greet the burly Selectman. Gibson lingered behind me. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” he said.
“I need you to go.”
I turned around. He was standing at my desk, looking for something actionable, no doubt—some memo about harassing summer visitors.
“Now,” I said.
He strode past us. Dan hadn’t even noticed him. He was glaring at me, a squat pugnacious troll, balding with a fringe of gray hair and a big square face designed for temper tantrums. He filled my office, incongruously sporty in Nantucket red shorts and a Lacoste t-shirt.
“What do you think you’re doing, Kennis? What the hell kind of—”
“Sit down, Dan. Take a deep breath and—”
“I will not sit down! I have no intention of sitting down! How dare you patronize me! You threw an innocent boy in jail while real crimes were happening on this island—my lawyer will be checking the 911 logs! The only question is—who was paying you to do it?”
I spoke quietly, not so much to calm him as to underline the difference between my professional demeanor and his absurd hysterics. “Your son was caught performing a sexual act on a minor, Dan. There were roughly fifty witnesses. He had enough weed on him to get all of them high, and he took a swing at me when I pulled him off the girl. He’s in serious trouble. You have to calm down and start dealing with the situation.”
“The situation? You want me to deal with the situation? I’ll tell you the situation, Kennis. This nonsense is going away like it never happened. I’m taking Bruce out of this station with me. Right now. You’re signing the necessary papers and clearing all the bureaucratic bullshit and walking us to the door with a big grin on your face and waving bye-bye as we drive away. Or I will make your life a living hell here. I will ruin you. I will destroy you in this town!”
It was a flimsy blizzard of words thrown like confetti at a wedding, filling the air for a second but falling immediately, bluster as litter, scattered on the floor.
“How’s Mason doing? I saw one of his poems in Literati a couple of months ago.”
“I don’t know what happened in that room, I don’t know what you said to him, but—”
“He had a gun that should have been locked away in your gun safe, Dan. We could have prosecuted you for that. I wanted to, but you have important friends, and they went to bat for you. Nice lesson for your kids, by the way.”
“That’s the way the world works Chief. That’s how you get ahead. Not by writing fag poems for some socialist school magazine.”
“I don’t know. He’s dating the prettiest girl in school, and last I heard, he was planning to get an MBA. That doesn’t sound like a socialist fag to me. Just the opposite. Not that I care either way. One of my best friends fits that definition. So do most of my favorite writers. I’m rereading Gore Vidal right now. Great stuff. You should check him out.”
I sat down, settled my feet on my desk and leaned back into a bar of dusty summer sunlight. “Let’s cut to the chase, Dan. The bail hearing is set for one o’clock. Bring a lawyer. And be on your best behavior. Or I will happily throw you in jail right next to your son.”
Barnaby Toll stuck his head in the door, belatedly. He must have heard the shouting.
“Show Mr. Taylor to his car, Barnaby.” “Yes, sir.”
In the quiet of my office after he led the fuming selectman away, I picked an envelope off the blotter and stared at my name scrawled across the front, under the unfamiliar riot of blue and green Irish stamps.
It was a letter from Fiona Donovan, a woman I’d fallen in love with and then arrested the winter before. The envelope bulged with photographs, and part of me wanted badly to see them. But I knew that was pointless. She had been extradited, she was never coming back to this country, and I was never going there to visit her. It was over. Nothing she had to say could matter to me anymore.
I threw the envelope into the trash. Then plucked it out again. I turned it over, weighed it on my palm, still uncertain. But the decision was taken out of my hands.
The first bomb threat came two minutes later.
Ezekiel Beaumont: Ten Years Ago
Zeke Beaumont knew they were coming for him. They had been stupid enough to threaten him first. The big one, Tony his name was, had approached him when they were walking the outdoor chain link corridor that afternoon. At first what Tony said was drowned out by a formation of low-flying F-18s.
“We’re gonna fuck you up,” Tony repeated, after the planes had vanished out over the Pacific. “You pushed Dooley.”
So that was it. Beaumont shrugged. “He pushed me first.” “You don’t fuck with Dooley, man.”
Tony had walked away after that.
The midday sun was hot and the starched pressed uniform all the inmates had to wear was sweltering. Beaumont’s arms and legs were prickling, chafing against the heavy material. He kept walking. He had to look calm, but he was furious at himself. He always did this. He had to make trouble.
He had left a cigarette butt near Dooley’s free-weight set-up in the yard this morning. You weren’t supposed to use Dooley’s barbells, and you definitely weren’t supposed to leave a mess behind. Dooley had walked up to him a few minutes later with the crumpled Marlboro pinched between two massive stubby fingers.
“What’s this?” he asked.
Beaumont had responded without even thinking. “A moron with a cigarette.”
Dooley had shoved him, and it had turned into a shoving match.
Beaumont knew he should have apologized, but he couldn’t.
He got to the end of the walkway and turned around. The F-18s were coming back. The thunder was growing in the air beyond the walls. No wonder the Iraqis hated the United States. Send those planes over a village a couple of times and you’d scare the crap out of them permanently.
Beaumont clapped his hands over his ears again, letting the roar of the big jets rumble through him like the IRT express subway through a local station. Finally, they were gone. He stuck his hands in his pockets and kept walking, easing around a group of tough Hispanics. They nodded to him without saying hello. He made a small salute in return. They hated Beaumont, but they had to put up with him. He used his job in the stockade commandant’s office to get them cigarettes, Spanish language newspapers and occasionally more exotic items like pornographic playing cards, Caifanes and Maldita Vecindad tapes, or brass knuckles. They had no idea how he did it, so they regarded him as prison shaman. Beaumont was happy with that. Science always looked like magic to the barbarians.
He had gotten the office job in the first place because he had the highest tested IQ at Miramar. The Commandant’s office gave him access to the facility’s computer system, and he had been fucking with computer systems since he was in high school. It was easy to alter merchandise order manifests and stock supply lists. Covering his tracks was a little more difficult, but for the moment no one suspected anything and no one was looking.
His access to the brig computer system was his one advantage over Dooley’s thugs. He certainly couldn’t out-fight them. There was nothing on hand to blackmail them with. He had no particular standing in the stockade, no influence, no connections he could ask to intervene on his behalf. He had plenty of lackeys, though—helpless, lonely freaks who needed allies and craved the little treats Beaumont procured.
Enemies and lackeys, that summed things up. But he liked it that way. Friends were a liability. You trusted them and trust could be lethal. He had trusted his commanding officer in Kuwait. The CO had wanted to help and the deal he suggested seemed fair: if Beaumont turned in his supplier, he would walk away with a general discharge, no questions asked.
The trouble was, he didn’t exactly know who the supplier was. They used no last names, no ranks, no serial numbers. It was always just Zeke and Eddie. They worked on a handshake and dealt in cash. But that wasn’t a problem, the CO told him. All Beaumont had to do was let the MPs know when the next meeting was going down.
They had met in a dingy café off Fahd Al Salim Street and done all their subsequent business there over the joint’s specialty Indian tea. It gave Beaumont heartburn and made him long for a shot of Johnny Walker. But there was strictly BYOB in Kuwait City, and you better not let them catch you. It was actually kind of funny—discussing hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal drug sales in an upright Muslim restaurant where they’d call the cops on you for drinking a glass of wine. Beaumont gave the MPs the address, ditched the meeting, and waited.
A week after the bust he was still waiting for his papers to be processed when he picked up the new issue of Stars and Stripes. There was a front page profile of Major General Edward Claymore, 3rd Corps Support Command.
It made perfect sense. No one in that godforsaken desert was better setup to get his hands on any item he wanted, from fan belts to ceiling fans, emery boards to MREs. 3rd COSCOM supplied food, water, and clothing to more than a hundred thousand troops. It kept their vehicles rolling and their guns loaded. It brought everything an army could possibly need into the country and shipped it out in the trucks it serviced, over the thousands of miles of roads it maintained, all over the theatre from Mishref to Baghdad. COSCOM was the lifeline, the supply line.
And, it turned out, in the case of Eddie Claymore’s illicit drug business, the pipeline.
Staff Sergeant Beaumont closed the paper with a sickly chill. Nothing was going to happen to Claymore. If Beaumont’s CO went up against the command structure of COSCOM, they’d crush him. He wouldn’t even try. No one ever really helped anyone else. People didn’t risk anything for each other. They didn’t even inconvenience themselves. They turned away. The CO was no different, for all his chummy talk.
Beaumont had seen the CO one more time outside his office and offered enough evidence to make an airtight case against the Major General, talking fast as they walked through the parking lot, flop sweat evaporating in the furnace heat. The CO wasn’t listening. He wasn’t interested. Beaumont could tell it was over. He considered running, but there was nowhere to go—just a thousand miles of desert, a ring of crumbling Arab towns where he’d stick out like a Ken doll in a dumpster. Fleeing was useless. He’d just get the crap kicked out of him and add a few years to his sentence.
In the end he went quietly. The CO never even showed up at the court-martial. Major General Edward Claymore was quoted in the newspaper when the verdict was announced, something about not letting “a few rotten apples spoil the barrel.”
He was still making a fortune out there, probably close to twenty thousand dollars a day after expenses, while Zeke Beaumont was doing hard time in Miramar. Well, no one said life was fair. Actually his Dad had told him something much more to the point—life was plenty fair, if you made it that way. “Don’t let things happen to you,” he said, “Make things happen to other people.”
Good advice. Today he was going to make something happen to Dooley and his friends, something bad. They’d get caught kicking the shit out of another inmate, and that would mean an extended sentence and a transfer to Leavenworth, where they’d never be heard from again. It meant taking a beating, but hopefully not much of one. Timing was everything here. No margin for error. Once those boys started it wouldn’t take them long to do permanent damage.
Zeke looked at his watch—a few minutes before noon. They’d be hustling him inside for lunch soon. You never had a moment to yourself at Miramar. Or at least, you weren’t supposed to. Dooley and his pals shouldn’t have been able to jump him, but they had obviously worked something out, which meant they had to have at least two or three guards on the payroll. The most likely prospect was Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Brad Liddell, a thin balding kid from Jersey with acne scars and giant teeth. Rumor was the originals had been knocked out and the Navy had fitted him with dentures a size too big. Liddell walked Beaumont from the brig commander’s office to his cell every night, after he was finished with the inventory spreadsheets on the computer, or the requisitions or the payroll…whatever busy work they had loaded him up with that day. Of course he did his own work, too.
He was on the List of Users—someone had changed it to Lusers in the old days. The old ITS system was a Smithsonian exhibit now, but the jargon remained. It suited him. He was a loser—and a cracker. That was the hacking term for crooks. Beaumont was born in South Carolina, but he had only been a real cracker, the kind people respected, since high school, when he’d used that crude system’s buffer overflow to launch his first format string attack—one simple code injection and he was a straight A student. The brig system incorporated a program that attempted to track private computer use, a Jedgar they called them at school, after the FBI director. But the Navy was using the same Unisys MCP he had played with in the old days. The tracking program was easy to dike, just two lines of code.
He changed the schedules and posted two additional guards in the last long stretch of corridor that led to his cell. He posted their duty call for 8:15, just as the attack should be starting.
He was setting up a print run for the immediate distribution protocol when Angela said, “What are you doing?”
He looked up. She was smiling.
“Just checking on the bed linen inventories.” “And I thought my job was boring.”
Was she flirting with him? “I’m sure there are lots of things you’re good at, Angela. I bet you have some hidden talents. And quite a few that are…right there in plain sight.”
She actually blushed. “Zeke!”
“For instance—I bet you knitted that sweater yourself.” “How did you know that?”
“Well, you don’t see that kind of workmanship in store- bought clothes. And my sisters knit—I know a homemade grafting stitch when I see one.”
She pushed her hair back from her forehead, stood up a little straighter. “My, my. You are full of surprises.”
She had no idea how accurate that comment was. Startling people into a vulnerable moment of contact, an intimacy he could exploit—that was Zeke’s real talent, his most valuable one, and it didn’t show up on the IQ tests. He absorbed facts and details and archived them and used them for leverage. He had overheard two women talking about knitting on a cross-country bus. Ten years later he could convince a prison secretary of a whole fictional family full of handcraft minded siblings with one telling detail.
He could teach a class in the technique if he wanted to give away his trade secrets. He even had a name for it—the tip of the iceberg theory. If you could construct a plausible jagged three-foot chunk of ice and float it in the right spot, people would naturally assume there was a whole iceberg underneath. You couldn’t sink a ship with your little decoy, but you could get it to change course, and that was all Zeke ever wanted. That was the real fun. But dangerous—you could easily wind up in a military brig scamming for your life. Even now, even here with imminent danger pressing like a hand at his throat, it still gave him a rush. It wasn’t that much different with computers, except that machines were much easier to fool than people. You just had to know the language and he knew them all, including C++, the core language of the Unix machine he was manipulating right now. He finished up and Angela ambled back to her desk. Nice girl.
She might come in handy some day.
# # #
The corridor was empty. Liddell slammed the big door behind them. It had all seemed so easy in the office, sitting at the terminal. But so much could have gone wrong. The orders might not have been delivered. His tampering might have been discovered.
Zeke took a deep breath as Liddell griped on about missing his Toronto Blue Jays. He had season tickets, but they did him no good stuck in the smog on the other side of the country. He was sure the Jays were going to win the World Series this year. Zeke agreed. He could feel the blood pounding behind his eyes. The far door opened. Dooley and Tony and two others started rolling toward Zeke and Liddell like a phalanx of Bradleys. They filled the whole corridor. Zeke tilted his wrist so he could see his watch. The digital read out said 8:13. He had two minutes.
If the orders had gone through. If his tricks were undetected.
He let his breath out through his teeth in a low hiss. His body was already flinching, trying to draw into itself. This was going to hurt, which was part of the plan.
The group stopped. Liddell faded back. “Hey, Beaumont.” Dooley grinned.
“I suppose it’s too late for an apology.”
Dooley snickered. “Oh no. You’re gonna say you’re sorry, Beaumont. But you’re gonna do it with a shattered knee, and a collapsed lung and a ruptured kidney. And that’s for starters. Every time you try to piss or walk upstairs for the rest of your life you’re gonna say you’re sorry. We’re gonna break you so you can’t be fixed.”
Zeke risked another glance at his watch, 8:15 exactly. “Expecting somebody?” Dooley asked.
“Right. The cavalry. Like in those old movies. But in real life there ain’t no cavalry. The Indians just massacre everybody. Nobody shows up to help. Nobody gives a shit.”
“You may have a point there, Dooley.” Zeke admitted. “You’re not as stupid as you look. On the other hand—how could you be?”
Dooley’s face hardened. “Grab him.”
Tony took one arm and an even bigger guy grabbed the other. Dooley took a step forward and the first punch hit Zeke’s stomach like a police battering ram blasting through a cheesy motel-room door. He was wide open and Dooley charged in, knocking Zeke’s head left and right with two roundhouse punches. Agony exploded behind his eyes, he could feel his sinuses rupture and his jaw break. He sagged forward and Dooley grabbed a handful of his hair, yanking him up face to face.
“How stupid do I look now, fuck face?”
Zeke could barely open his mouth to talk. “About the same,” he managed to say. “But there’s three of you.”
Dooley grunted and drove his knee up into Zeke’s groin. The flat glassy wave of pain raced through him like voltage.
The next punch ended it.
Zeke woke up in the brig emergency ward, his nose bandaged, his ribs taped, and his jaw wired shut. It was day time, that was all he could tell. They had him on some powerful painkiller, probably oxycodone. He had no idea if it was a day or a week after the attack and he didn’t care. He was high as a kite, being fed through a tube and drained through a catheter. It was the perfect life style for a lazy shit.
He faded again and when he came to, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Brad Liddell was staring down at him.
“Good news, Beaumont,” he smiled, showing his oversized teeth. “Dooley and his pals shipped to Leavenworth yesterday. They were caught in the act, committing felony assault on a fellow prisoner. Open and shut. It added five years to their sentences and that’s an automatic transfer. So you’re OK. You pulled it off. Good for you. Funny thing is, no one could quite figure out how the guards who broke things up happened to be in D block at that time of night. They were normally assigned to the northeast perimeter detail at that hour. But they got new orders that very afternoon! What a coincidence. Some people think there’s a glitch in the computer. I know it’s true. I even have proof. It’s you, Beaumont. Am I getting through there? You’re the glitch in the computer. I’m no alpha geek, but I was good enough to hang a bag on the side of that little worm you wrote. I was stuck for a while. I had to reboot twice. But I nailed it finally.”
The terminology penetrated the drug haze. There was another hacker at Miramar. Suddenly, he felt sea-sick, as if the bed was floating in deep water, rocked by groundswells, about to tip over. He closed his eyes but that made it worse. He opened them again. The kid was grinning down at him.
This was bad. If Liddell turned him in, they’d transfer him to Leavenworth, too, and Dooley would be waiting. Actually, that would be the good part—a familiar face. He knew he couldn’t survive there.
He tried to talk—was he going to beg or bargain? It didn’t matter; nothing came out.
Liddell held up a hand.
“Don’t bother, Beaumont. I’ll do the talking. And I’ll make it short since I’m not even supposed to be in here. How about this? You’re mine now. Whatever I want you to do, you do it. Whatever I need, you get it. Sometimes I just need to hit someone. Sometimes I need other things. I may keep you to myself and I may rent you out. All you have to do is keep me happy. Me and my friends. Think about that while your jaw heals. Look for me when you get out of here. Because I’ll find you if you don’t.”
He squeezed the oxygen tube until Zeke’s eyes bulged. Then he was gone. Zeke started to fade again after that, but his last thoughts were of Kuwait and his commanding officer, his great friend with the sure-fire deal to keep Zeke out of prison. His true comrade who never even showed up at the court-martial.
There was going to be a day of reckoning for that Judas. It would be intricate and cruel and Zeke knew exactly how to do it. The fool talked too much when he was drunk. Planning it would be logistically complex, but so what. It would take time, but that was okay. Zeke had all the time in the world.
When he finally fell asleep, he was smiling.