"Anyone who knew...said nothing."
--Chuck's voiceover, tag scene of "The Wall, Part II."
"See to that guy," Crumb snapped over his shoulder, pushing his way through the heavy-gauge plastic dropcloth to lower himself to one knee at Gary's side. The young man was staring at Marley as if he'd seen a ghost--no, Crumb realized, not a ghost; just his first violent death. His face was so pale that his dark winter jacket looked like an outcrop of coal beneath it, and his eyebrows and the flag of hair above his forehead stood out like motor-oil streaks on a boiled shirt. His eyes were dull and fixed, the pupils dilated, his expression pinched and vacant. When Crumb laid the backs of his fingers against his cheek, he found the skin cool and clammy. And suddenly Hobson wasn't a baffling nuisance or a dangerous fugitive; he was a civilian in need. "Hobson. Hobson! Come on, kid, you with me here?"
"'M c...cold," Gary whispered. He didn't seem to be fully aware that Crumb was there.
Crumb snarled a curse as he realized the man was handcuffed. More things fell into place, as they had when the letter-bomb went off in his office. If Hobson was a prisoner of the man on the floor--the man who was really J. T. Marley, thought dead these thirty-plus years, if Fishman's computer-aged photograph was to be believed--and if that man had been about to fire on the Presidential motorcade, then Marley had been setting him up. And that probably meant the gun and route map in his apartment had been planted there, although with the likely perpetrator dead, Crumb hadn't a clue how he was going to prove it and clear Hobson's name. "You find a set of keys on him, Schrader?" he demanded of his backup. "We got shackles here."
The younger plainclothesman felt quickly through the dead man's vest pockets--not that he'd said Marley was dead, but Crumb didn't need to be told. He'd been a cop long enough to know his own capabilities, and when he aimed there, at that range, that was all she wrote. "Yessir. Here." A bit of metal flew through the air and Crumb snatched at it at the top of its curve. In moments he had the cuffs unlocked and was gently drawing Hobson's arms out from behind the pole, taking the opportunity to check his pulse. It was going at a runaway clip, a match for Hobson's deep, rapid breathing.
"Call the paramedics," he ordered. "Hobson's goin' into shock. And get the ident team here, I want prints on that corpse." Having been in the military, he knew that anyone who had a government job was fingerprinted; if this was really Marley, his prints would be in the records in DC, even though he'd officially been declared dead.
"I'll call the meat wagon too," Schrader said, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, and Crumb found a moment to bless whoever had invented the things; they might be a major annoyance in restaurants and a downright menace when drivers insisted on using them behind the wheel, but when you needed assistance in a hurry, there was nothing like being able to call it yourself, without having to search for a landline or go back to your car.
"Yeah, fine," said Crumb. "C'mon, kid, you better lie down." He helped Hobson to stand on shaky legs; Hobson raised his free hand to his temple as if the world had started spinning.
"Who...? Crumb? What--?"
"Your friends sent me," Crumb told him. "Fishman and Marissa. They--"
"Marley!" Hobson gasped, just as Schrader, having turned away to talk to whoever was on the other end of his phone connection, grunted and spun back.
"Lieutenant. Over there," he said, pointing, and for an instant Crumb thought he looked almost as far gone as Hobson did. Then he followed Schrader's finger and saw the shoes.
"Aw, hell," he growled. "Maybe you better make that two meat wagons, Schrader. Hobson? You know who that is?"
"D--Dobbs," said Hobson in a brief moment of something like lucidity. "Real...Dobbs. Marley...k-killed-- The President!"
"No, kid," Crumb assured him gently. "Tyson's okay. Marley never took his shot. C'mon."
Hobson's head swung around and met his own steady yet compassionate gaze, the pupils so enlarged that their color could scarcely be distinguished. "Crumb? What are you doin' here? Did--is Marley--"
He's got it bad, Crumb realized. "Schrader, hurry that ambulance up or we may lose this guy." Dredging up training taken decades ago, first in Navy boot and later as a rookie cop, he yanked down a length of dropcloth, folded it in two and laid it on the floor, then patiently coaxed Gary to lie down on it; plastic didn’t breathe, so it would help to keep him warm. He peeled out of his sport coat and draped it over Hobson's legs, then dragged a small tool box over and used it to elevate the young man's feet. Face red, raise the head, face pale, raise the tail, he reminded himself. Hobson shuddered with a chill that had little to do with the ambient air temperature, and Crumb turned to bark at Schrader, who'd gone over to have a look at the other corpse, "Where the hell's that ambulance?"
Schrader didn't bother to reply, he just punched the redial button on his phone and began reaming out Dispatch. Outside a siren whooped--not an ambulance siren, but the distinctive shriek of a radio car. An instant later Crumb heard a door crash open somewhere below, then the echo of heavy treads in the stairwell. Instinctively he placed himself between Hobson and whoever was coming, drawing the gun he'd tucked back into its holster so he'd have both hands free for the shackles.
A patrol officer and two motorcycle cops--probably from the motorcade's official escort--appeared in the door of the stairwell; two or three guys in dark suits loomed behind them, and Crumb swore softly to himself as he saw the com plugs in their ears and the coils of wire trailing down behind their shoulders. Some of Tyson's security detail, he thought. They must'a seen the cycle cops head this way and figured they should be in on whatever was goin' on as well. It didn't surprise him that the two-wheeled pair would have showed up: they'd probably picked up the Dispatch call on their bike radios.
The patrol officer was a young woman, blonde hair done up in a French braid; smaller and lighter than the men, she was also quicker on her feet and reached the scene first. Crumb thanked his lucky stars she was one of "his kids," a cop from not only his own precinct but his very "beat" and station, and recognized him. "Detective Crumb? Do you require assistance, sir?"
"Yeah, Harrell. There should be an ambulance and a couple of coroner's cars on their way. Get back downstairs and clear the road for 'em." He glanced past her at the cyclists, checking the nametags on their jackets. "Kincaid, I want this building locked down secure. Nobody gets up here but the EMT's, the lab, and the ME's boys, and I mean nobody, you got that? Dow, you stay." As Harrell and Kincaid ran back the way they'd come, Dow stepped up beside him and turned to face the suits from Washington, his mouth grim under the concealing dark wind goggles.
"What's going on here?" demanded the first suit. "Who are you?"
"Marion Crumb, Detective Lieutenant, CPD," Crumb told him, using his baptismal name as he did only when he was a hundred per cent serious. "You?"
"Agent Brienne, Secret Service, Presidential security detail." The suit flashed an ID. "These are Agents Strassman and Graham. What happened?" His eyes were hidden by the dark sunglasses he wore, but Crumb could tell by the angle of his head that he was looking out the window, orienting himself to the façade of the hotel across the street, then glancing down to pick up the rifle that lay where Marley had dropped it when he fell. He took a step forward and Dow moved in quickly, blocking his path. Crumb felt Schrader come up behind him, heard the squeak of leather as the younger detective drew his weapon.
Brienne stepped back, his mouth tightening down to a thin line. "This looks very much like a matter of national security, Detective--Crumb, did you say? I'll thank you to order your men to stand aside."
"Not in this lifetime," Crumb told him. "You're not in DC now, Brienne. You're in my city, in my precinct, at my crime scene, endangering my witness. Now back off." A shrill howl sounded out in the street, scaling down rapidly to a gurgling growl, then hiccupping off into silence--that was the ambulance at last, thank God.
Hobson sat bolt upright with a violent start. "NO!" he shouted, staring wildly at something only he could see--and immediately keeled over on the floor in a dead faint. Schrader hesitated a moment, then dropped down to check him out, still watching Brienne and his buddies past Crumb's intervening bulk.
Footsteps thundered in the stairwell, counterpointed by the crash of metal equipment against treads and stair-rails, and two EMT's, a man and a woman, appeared on the far side of the floor. Cops, firefighters, and paramedics all knew one another, even in a city the size of Chicago--their own numbers, after all, totalled only in the lower five digits, which wasn't much bigger than the population of a small town, and they were always running into each other at one disaster or another; as soon as they spotted Crumb the team knew where the trouble was and came over at a quick jog, their medical kits swinging to the rhythm of their stride, a gurney bouncing between them with its folding legs drawn up against it for easier maneuvering on the stairs. "What've you got, Zeke?" the lead team member--it was the woman--demanded.
"Gary Hobson, civilian, thirty-two," Crumb told her. "He was on his feet and walkin' till I made him lay down, and he knew who I was. He passed out about thirty seconds ago. Go easy on him, Freddie, he's been through hell."
"We always go easy on 'em, Zeke," said Frederica Mantell. "Excuse us, gentlemen, paramedics coming through." She pushed her way past the Secret Service guys with no more gentleness than was necessary, and her partner--Sam Cottman was black--deliberately bumped one of them in the thigh with the corner of the gurney. Sam had worked in suburban Virginia before he moved out here three years ago; he knew a government man when he saw one, and for reasons he never talked about, he didn't like them.
Schrader moved aside to give them access to Hobson, and the two of them went into action like the well-drilled team they were, checking his airway, breathing, and pulse, determining his vitals, examining him for any hint of bleeding or other injury, unstrapping a blanket from the gurney to cover him against the chill of the unheated floor. Even as he concentrated on the Secret Service agents, Crumb could half-hear their voices behind him: "No sign of cranial or spinal trauma." "Zeke said he was walking." "Okay, let's get him on the gurney...one, two, three, lift." "Unresponsive to voice or pain." "No visible wounds or bleeding." "Pulse one-ten and thready." "Respiration twenty-six, shallow." "Better start him on O2, one liter per minute." "He's cold." "Let me in so I can loosen the snap of his jeans." "Right, I'll get his shoelaces." "BP ninety over sixty." "Fifty cc's glucose fifty per cent, 0.8 mils Narcan by IV, push." "Ringer's?" "Can't hurt." "Pupils equal, dilated and nonreactive." "What about his potassium levels?" "Use the ECG." "I'm raising the O2 rate, three liters." "Check." "Skin turgor decreased...I think he's dehydrated."
"I asked once, Detective," said Brienne in a tight voice. "Don't make me ask again. What happened?"
Crumb had better sense than to admit he wasn't entirely sure himself, and wouldn't be till he got a firm ID on the deceased. Always negotiate from a position of strength, that was his motto. "I'll tell you what happened. A guy from your agency faked his own death in '64 and he's been doin' the free-lance assassin thing ever since. Looks like somebody decided to pay him to take Tyson out. Hobson there was gonna be his dupe. He's been workin' on settin' the kid up the last couple of days. Had all of us fooled till a friend of Hobson's came up with proof Marley wasn't who he'd been tellin' us he was."
Brienne glanced quickly at his partners and Crumb guessed he'd hit a nerve. If his friends in DC had been telling it straight, the Marley-Dobbs story was pretty much of a standing legend in the Agency; they'd recognize the names even if they had no personal links to Dobbs. He pressed his advantage. "When we got here, Marley had Hobson shackled to that scaffolding over there and was drawin' a bead through the window with the rifle. I ordered him to surrender, he didn't and I shot him. There's a body on your left--Hobson said it was the real John Dobbs. Since Marley had the guy's ID, my guess would be he either detained or killed him no later than three days ago."
The suits' heads reflexively swung that way. There was a sudden commotion at Crumb's back: "BP's dropping! Eighty over sixty!" "Let's get moving! Zeke, we need to get this guy to the hospital, stat!"
"Go," Crumb ordered, as Dow moved quickly to push Brienne and his buddies back out of the way. The gurney went by in a clattering rush, Sam and Freddie's pounding feet testimony to the urgency of the situation. "Schrader, stay here and secure the scene till the lab comes. Dow, you help him. I'm goin' with Hobson."
Brienne moved as if to block him, and Crumb gave him one fierce glare that stopped the man in his tracks. "Out of my way."
"This isn't over, Detective," Brienne warned.
"It is for now," Crumb retorted. "And if you do anything to impede the ME or the lab in the discharge of their duty, you'll be seein' a part of Chicago you weren't figuring on--the holding cell at District One. I don't think the President would be too happy about losin' three of his security in a strange town, do you?" He swept the lighter man aside with his arm and headed for the stairs.
No one noticed the newspaper lying abandoned in the corner under the scaffolding. And no one noticed when...more or less suddenly...it wasn't there any more.
When the call came in to Dispatch from Crumb's backup, it was Detective Ashworth--the same Ashworth who'd tried to process Chuck in back last October, after he was picked up for "loitering" while waiting for Samantha to show up at the church--who, on his own recognizance, offered Chuck and Marissa a ride to the Randolph Building. Hurrying Marissa and Spike out to his car, Chuck silently swore that he would never say a disparaging word about plainclothesmen again; this one obviously realized that he was dealing with two people to whom Gary was a very important part of the world, and regardless of when or whether Chuck would have to answer for slipping out of custody, he had the compassion to realize that they desperately needed to be sure he'd come through unharmed.
A radio car pulled out just ahead of them, siren wailing to clear the way; Ashworth placed a pop-on "cherry" light on his car roof and followed close on its tail. As soon as they pulled up across from the Randolph Building, the point driver was out the door and racing across the street, quickly joined by a couple of motorcycle officers from the President's official escort. Chuck vacillated briefly between following them and staying where he was, then decided on the latter. If Crumb had called for help, that probably meant Marley was out of action one way or another, but his call hadn't specified who the paramedics were being summoned to help, and if it was Gary, Chuck didn't want to be in their way when they came. Besides, Marissa would need play-by-play, and he knew her better than Ashworth did, so he was the best suited to offer it. With a great effort of self-control he stayed in his seat, shifting around so he could watch the door through which the three cops had disappeared.
"Chuck? What's happening?" Right on schedule, Marissa's hand was on his forearm, seeking reassurance. He covered it with his own, wondering whose fingers were colder; they felt about alike to him.
"Three cops just went into the building," he told her. "Uh-oh...there go three more guys, not cops, guys in suits. Secret Service, probably."
"Can you see the window?"
Chuck counted floors and scanned across, not sure exactly where Marley would have been. "I can't tell anything from down here, Marissa, except that there's no sign of any of the glass bein' shot out."
"Then Gary must have stopped him somehow--"
"Him or Crumb," Chuck muttered. "And remember Gar didn't know what we do; he still thought he was dealing with Dobbs, with a legitimate spook, if you can say that about any of 'em." He swallowed hard and did his best to keep a lid on his vivid imagination. Marley would have had the advantage in such a faceoff; even if he hadn't taken the President down, it didn't mean Gary had survived. Crumb had called for an ambulance and two coroner's cars. That suggested three people, two of them dead. Who was the third? And was Gary the survivor? Chuck wasn't a particularly religious person, but he found a sort of incoherent petition tumbling through his chaotic thoughts like thread through a brocade, repeating itself over and over--Please, please, let him be okay, let him be alive...I can't lose him, I won't...please...
An ambulance swerved past and pulled up on the other side of the street, in blithe defiance of the traffic laws, and the paramedics piled out and began unloading equipment. "EMT's are here," Chuck reported.
"Maybe we can find out who they're here to help," Marissa suggested. "Detective Ashworth, can you--?"
"Sorry, Miss Clark. The call came through on Schrader's cell phone, and I don't have the number. I can see Crumb's car and there's nobody in it. We'll just have to wait."
"Easy for you to say," Chuck growled.
The next few minutes were the longest he could recall living in his entire life. There was nothing he could tell Marissa; all he could do was keep physical contact with her, trying to reassure her and at the same time draw on her boundless faith. Then there was a stir at the doorway and he came alert. The paramedics were coming out with a gurney, swinging it around, raising it on its folding legs, one of them yanking open the rear bay doors of the ambulance. Even at that distance, Chuck could make out Gary's lean height under the blankets, the dark short-cropped hair. "Gary!"
He never remembered opening the door of Ashworth's sedan; for all he knew he teleported through it. He bolted across the street without even checking for traffic, yelling his friend's name. The EMT's--a youngish black man and a slightly older, redheaded white woman in wire-rimmed glasses--paused in the act of loading the gurney as he rushed up to them. "Is he alive? Was he shot? Gar--can you hear me?"
The woman moved in, blocking him, raising her hands to push him gently back. "You have to give us room, sir. He's alive, but he's in a state of serious, life-threatening shock, and we need to get him to the ER right away. Are you a relative?"
Chuck swallowed hard and exerted all the control he was capable of. "No. His parents are in Indiana, it'd take them three hours to get here even if I could get hold of them. I'm his best friend."
The EMT's traded quick glances just as Crumb came lumbering out the door after them and Ashworth's heavy hand fell on his shoulder. "Fishman, get back in that car, you're still under arrest!"
Chuck knocked the restraining grip away. "Go to hell! I'm goin' with Gary!"
The female paramedic looked back at Crumb. "Zeke, the doctors will need a SAMPLE history, and Hobson's in no shape to give it. We could really use this guy if he's as close to Hobson as he seems to be."
"Oh, he is, Freddie, they're as tight as new dress shoes," Crumb assured her. "Ashworth, that's enough. Fishman ain't goin' any farther from Hobson than you can drag him, not till he can talk to a doctor." He met Chuck's relieved and grateful expression with a fierce glare. "Don't thank me, it's part of the job."
"All right." Freddie guided the foot of the gurney into the tracks as her partner pulled up on the head of it and shoved, sliding the device into the vehicle. "You'll need to ride up front, sir, I've got to have room to continue treatment. Sam, take care of him and get us out of here." Without waiting for a reply, she scrambled aboard and yanked the doors shut.
"Marissa--" Chuck hesitated just an instant, looking around for the other member of their triumvirate. Past Ashworth's shoulder he could just see her getting out of the sedan with Spike's help.
"I'll take her," Crumb offered. "Go."
Chuck didn't waste time talking. He ran for the shotgun door of the ambulance and jumped aboard as the black paramedic, Sam, buckled himself in. He'd barely touched his own harness buckle to the securement catch when the ambulance lurched forward, its siren coming alive, howling like a banshee in distress.
If it hadn't been for the endless questions, Chuck didn't think he could have survived the first fifteen minutes or so at the hospital, but the necessity of answering them gave him something to focus on. Gary's name, age, address, next of kin, religious affiliation, insurance information. Was he allergic to any medications, foods, or environmentals? What medications was he currently taking? Had he been having any medical problems? Feeling ill? Had any surgery or injuries? Had he been seeing a doctor? Which one? When and what did he last eat and drink? What sequence of events led up to today's problem? Long before all the forms were satisfied, Crumb had arrived with Marissa and Spike, which at least provided Chuck with someone he knew was on his side and just as worried about Gary as he was. He was peripherally aware of some kind of minor altercation between Ashworth and a guy in a suit, topcoat, and dark glasses, probably Secret Service; Crumb disappeared for a moment, and the disturbance ended abruptly. Then the old cop saw the two of them (the three, counting Spike) settled in the emergency waiting area and took off again, promising that he'd be in touch--something about the lab, Chuck thought he said, though he wasn't paying much attention. Apparently he persuaded Ashworth that Chuck wasn't a flight risk, since the black plainclothesman wasn't visible after that.
The wait seemed endless, though intellectually Chuck doubted it was any longer than forty-five minutes or so. At last a balding, middle-aged man in scrubs appeared and strode toward them with a confident air. "I think the doctor's coming, Marissa," Chuck said, and stood, drawing her to her feet with him.
"Someone here for Hobson?" the man inquired.
"We are," Chuck told him. "I'm Chuck Fishman, this is Marissa Clark. His family's out of state, but we're his best friends. How is he?"
"Why don't we sit down and I'll tell you all about it," was the reply. "I'm Dr. Kenfield, by the way. Mr. Hobson was in a bad way when we got him, but I see no reason he shouldn't make a full recovery."
"What do you mean a 'bad way'?" Chuck demanded worriedly. "Was he shot or something?"
"No, no, he has no physical wounds of any kind," Kenfield assured him. "My information's still rather sketchy, but I suspect his main problem was what we call psychogenic shock--the kind that's caused by psychic stimuli, such as an emotional overload--complicated by water and electrolyte deficits, or dehydration, if you prefer. He had a touch of hypothermia, really quite mild, nothing to be concerned about, and he's a little run down: low blood sugar, slight anemia, probably hasn't eaten recently."
"He'd had supper at his apartment last night," Marissa said, "or at least I'm pretty sure he had. I found him at McGinty's--that's a bar in River North--about eight; he doesn't usually go there until after he's eaten, unless we've agreed to meet for a meal."
Kenfield nodded. "That sounds about right. His pH level isn't life-threatening--it rarely is in these cases--but we do want to initiate vigorous fluid and potassium administration. Our first priority was to get his blood pressure back up before he crashed. Once we did that, he stabilized nicely, and he's on his way upstairs as we speak. His breathing's still a bit labored, so he'll be intubated for a little while--I doubt more than a couple of hours. We'll be administing D5W for the blood-sugar problem, then a hundred milligrams of thiamine and two of nalaxone, and 0.4 of Narcan. Also potassium, calcium and magnesium, and one or two liters of normal saline to build him up. Now that his pressure's back where it belongs, the biggest factor is the dehydration; it needs to be treated over a prolonged period of time, usually forty-eight hours. He hasn't been conscious yet, but it's my opinion he's been under a great deal of stress and is probably exhausted."
"You have no idea," Chuck muttered. "He's gonna have a lot of questions when he comes out of it, Doctor, and we're about the only people who can answer them. Can we sit with him?"
"Yes, there shouldn't be a problem about that. Apart from having to have his IV's changed, he won't be needing that much nursing; I've sent him to the minimal-care unit. Besides the oxygen, he's on a cardiac monitor, nasogastric tube, and a Foley catheter, but don't let any of that frighten you; it's routine emergency protocol for unconscious patients, and I suspect we'll be able to dispense with most of it in short order."
"Should we call his folks?" Though God alone knows what we'd tell 'em...
"I don't think it's really necessary, unless you want to; you'd probably know them better than I would. He'll need rest, but I don't foresee a requirement for medication. Does he live alone?"
"He's divorced. There's a cat, that's all. But we can stay with him, take turns, if he needs help," Chuck said. "And the service at his hotel is really good--the doorman seems to think a lot of him."
"That's something you can settle between yourselves, after he's awake," Kenfield observed. "For now, let me call an orderly to see you to his room."
It was voices that woke him. A quiet, restrained rumble he didn't recognize, though it was clearly a man's voice, and then, sharp against it like the bark of a hysterical Chihuahua, Chuck's familiar hoarse tones. "No. Didn't you hear me the first time? No."
Another rumble. Chuck's response cut it off, climbing into the higher registers, harsh and angry. "You listen to me, pal. I don't give a damn how many ID's you flash in my face. I just came off about the worst eighteen hours in my life, and the guy who was right in the middle of 'em had an ID too, only he wasn't who he said he was, so how do I know you are? And just because you both played football in college you don't have to think you can scare me, either. You want to know what I've been through? Do you? Huh? Well, I'll tell you. I've been shoved up against a wall in my best friend's apartment, searched, handcuffed, yanked around like a pit bull on a chain, detained overnight, questioned--more than once--turned loose and used as a judas goat, arrested again, allowed to escape, threatened with five years in jail when I went back of my own free will, plus had to wait in the cop shop under guard to find out whether that same best friend was still alive. I've had to stand by helplessly and watch while a cop with a gun drew a bead on him. So where the hell do you get off thinking there's anything you can do that could scare me? Huh? Yeah, sure, maybe you can pick me up and throw me out, but if you do I'll raise enough of a ruckus to bring half of Hospital Security running. And maybe you can intimidate them, but you can't make 'em forget you were here, let alone the nurses. And if you can, then I'll go out the front door and straight to the Sun-Times --their editor just got whacked by your rogue agent and they thought a lot of him, and they'll be on you and everybody even remotely connected to you like fleas on a hound. So just get used to the idea--I'm staying . Deal with it."
"Chuck..." That was Marissa, quiet, conciliatory, pleading.
"No, Marissa. There's plenty of times you can talk me out of something, but that's when I know deep down I'm wrong. This time I'm not, and I think you know that as well as I do. We are not leavin' Gary alone with these goons and that's my last word on the subject. If you wanna go, that's your choice. But not me."
Gary cracked his eyelids open and peered between his lashes at the scene before him. It took only a moment for him to realize he was in a hospital room; he'd been convinced of that even before he saw it--the smell of rubber, disinfectant, flowers, and bland food was unmistakeable. The room appeared to be a single, and the door was shut. Beside the bed in which he lay, two plastic chairs had been drawn up; Marissa was sitting in one of them, Spike at her side, alert, ears up, attention riveted on the tableau barely a yard in front of his nose. Chuck, whose olive-drab Army fatigue jacket and muffler were thrown over the back of the other chair, stood with his back to the bed, his feet set, hands balled into tight fists at his sides, spine stiff, posture squared and defiant, looking rather like a banty rooster about to fly at a pair of Great Danes. The Danes were two tall, broad-shouldered men in two-piece J. C. Penney suits and long gabardine topcoats. Gary was reminded of that moment on the bridge back in November after Theresa went into the water and he'd barely grabbed Chuck in time to stop him from attacking Frankie Pirelli with his bare hands. But he couldn't remember ever hearing Chuck so belligerently defensive before. What was going on? Who were these guys, and why was Chuck so stubbornly resistant to the idea of leaving? Gary tried to speak and found his throat was so dry that he had to swallow twice before he could force any sound out of it. "Chuck?"
His friend spun around, sheer relief flooding his face. "Gary!" He hurried to the bedside as Marissa stood from her chair and cautiously edged her way up to stand at his shoulder; his fingers enfolded Gary's own, tight and warm. "God, Gar, you had me scared half to death. Don't do that!"
"Do what?" Gary asked. He was confused; his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. "What happened?"
"You collapsed is what happened," Chuck told him. "Fainted dead away right in front of Crumb. When we saw them bringin' you out on a gurney we thought maybe he hadn't been in time after all."
Crumb. The sound of the veteran's name brought it all back--the unheated air of the vacant floor, the cold steel handcuffs clinched around his wrists, the hard cylinder of the scaffolding pole against his back, Marley's cool voice calmly explaining the situation, his own desperate attempts to distract the man, and then-- Gary gasped as he saw again Marley's body spinning away from the window and falling, face-up, at his feet; saw the dead eyes still staring up at him--
"Gary." Marissa's hand was on his shoulder. "Take it easy, Gary. It's over. Marley's dead and the President is safe. You did what--what you set out to do."
He struggled to control his breathing, to slow his pounding heart. Marissa would never lie to him, he knew that. If she said it was over, then it was over. But why...? "H-hospital?" he managed. "What--?"
"You were dehydrated, exhausted, and you hadn't had a bite to eat in over eighteen hours," Chuck told him. "Plus you were what Crumb called shell-shocked. Your blood pressure was droppin' like a rock, your pulse was goin' a mile a minute. They brought you here to get you stablilized. They've been pumpin' you full of fluids the last four hours--just took out the ventilator a few minutes ago. Just before these two apes showed up," he added bitterly, glaring back over his shoulder at the two suits.
That did explain the dryness and the scraped feeling in his throat; he knew that ventilator tubing tended to have that effect. He made an effort to check himself out, to determine whether there was anything Chuck wasn't saying. He felt wrung out, like a used dishrag, but in no real discomfort. He turned his head slowly on the pillow, noting the IV bags hanging from their four-pronged stand near the bedhead, the leads that ran into his arm and hand. He couldn't make out the lettering on the bags and wondered what precisely he was being given. One thing he didn't find was monitors--no ECG or the like. He must not be in very bad shape. Chuck had said he'd collapsed. Well, come to think of it, he wasn't exactly surprised. Last night--had it been only last night?--after he'd seen Chuck under arrest and bolted for safety, he'd spent most of the hours till morning riding the El aimlessly around the city, too bewildered and keyed up to sleep, and only fallen into a doze around dawn. Since then, or at least up until he'd confronted Dobbs--no, not Dobbs, Marley--at the Randolph Building, he'd been going non-stop; even in the safe haven of Hanratty's pawnshop, or the scarcely less safe catacombs beneath the Sun-Times Building, he'd been so worried and confused he hadn't been able to sit still, but had paced almost unceasingly. He couldn't remember when he'd eaten last--supper yesterday, he supposed--and while he'd probably had a drink or two of something somewhere along the line, he couldn't have sworn to it. He looked up at his two friends and saw how deeply their relief was marked on their faces. He must have given them a pretty bad scare, for them to look like that now. "S-Sorry, guys," he said, wincing at his use of Marissa's least favorite word. "Didn't intend to--"
The two men in suits interrupted, one pushing up to the bedside directly to Chuck's right, the other circling around to stand at the foot of it. "Apologies later," said the latter, reaching into his jacket and producing an ID. "Agents Brienne and Strassman, Secret Service. We have some questions for you, Mr.--Hobson, isn't it?"
Momentary panic at the sight of the familiar format of the ID cards and the badges in the holders beside them was quickly quashed. Sure, yes, Marley had been an imposter, but Gary wasn't a conspiracy theorist; he knew the vast majority of government agents were probably just what they claimed to be, and only men doing their jobs. But questions...what was he going to tell them? He had to keep the Paper out of it--
"I thought you wanted us to leave," said Chuck, his arm around Marissa's waist, sarcasm dripping from every word. Brienne--the one who had spoken, if Gary's distance sight was accurate--turned and gave him a flat look, a bit like the kind you might expect from a shark.
"No," Gary managed. "No...need. Chuck and...and Marissa, they...everything I know they've known right along with me." Chuck, catching the dryness of his voice, reached for the carafe and tumbler on the nightstand, poured out a drink of chilled water, and handed it to Marissa to hold, with a quickly murmured explanation, while he leaned down to help raise Gary's head and shoulders, then support them while holding the vessel to his lips. Gary curbed his urge to gulp and took long sips, holding the water in his mouth a moment before he let it slide coldly down his throat. It felt wonderful.
Brienne exchanged a look with his partner. These two had been together quite a while, Gary realized; they could communicate without speaking just as he and Chuck could sometimes. "All right, then. This man Marley--what do you know about him?"
"I know he...he was a Secret Service agent, he was on the Presidential detail the day Kennedy was assassinated," Gary said slowly, choosing his words carefully and hoping the two agents would attribute his pacing to his exhaustion and residual mental confusion; the icy water had lubricated his throat and he found it was no longer difficult to talk. "He was supposedly killed in an airplane crash in central Peru a few months later; the only way they could identify him was by dental records. Only...only he wasn't dead. He faked it, I don't know how, and...and I guess he went into business as a free-lance international assassin. Someone...someone paid him to kill President Tyson. He knew there was, was a Secret Service agent named John Dobbs following him...an agent who'd been convinced for over thirty years that he wasn't dead. Knew Dobbs was getting close, and...and somehow he got the drop on him, took his credentials, and...and went to the Chicago Police Department pretending that he was Dobbs. He...he mailed a letter-bomb to Harry Hawks, the editor at the Sun-Times--"
Brienne interrupted. "A letter-bomb which, so we're told by witnesses, you prevented from doing what it had been intended for, Mr. Hobson. Grabbed it out of Hawks's hand before he could open it, threw it into a file cabinet and slammed the drawer shut on it an instant before it went off." His eyes, cold blue and hard as chips of ice, drilled into Gary's. "Now how did you happen to be there at just the right time, Mr. Hobson? How did you know the parcel was deadly? And why did Marley want to kill a newspaperman he'd never even met before?"
Fortunately, once he realized that the tries--one successful, the other not--at Hawks were part of something bigger, Gary had also realized that eventually he'd probably be faced with some kind of interrogation from someone other than the CPD, and to keep from going crazy while he waited for Hanratty to work his computer wizardry on the photo in Morris's book, he'd tried out possible answers in his mind. "I, I'm in and out of the Sun-Times Building all the time," he said. "Lots of people there know me; you can ask them. Mostly I visit Morris the archivist, down in the basement, but I stop upstairs too. As for the bomb, it, it was plastic explosive, right? Well, you know how you've got bomb-sniffing dogs? I'm kind of like a bomb-sniffing dog, I've got, I've got a sensitive nose. I smelled the stuff and knew I had to get it away from Hawks before it blew."
Chuck lifted one eyebrow in a slow gesture of disbelieving respect. Brienne and his partner, who could only see his back, didn't catch it. Brienne considered the story. "We checked you out, Mr. Hobson. It wasn't easy, given the obstructionism of your Detective Crumb--" Gary just managed not to show his surprise at the concept of Crumb trying to protect him, and wondered why the man should have-- "but we did manage to discover that you seem to be who you claim you are. And I suppose it might be possible for a man to be able to distinguish plastic explosive by smell, just as some of us can hear into higher frequencies than others. We'll let that go for a moment. Why do you suppose Marley wanted to kill Hawks?"
Here Gary was on firmer ground, or at least he could build on the truth. "I think he thought that Hawks knew something, suspected something, that he wasn't supposed to. Hawks told me that when he was a cub reporter, he knew a typesetter at the Sun-Times named Lucius Snow. Snow had a theory that Kennedy was killed by someone on his own security detail, someone who recruited Oswald and set him up to take the blame. He thought this killer was probably Marley, because of the convenient way his, his 'death' was timed, only a couple of months after the assassination."
Again that silent exchange of weighted glances. "It's interesting you should say that, Mr. Hobson, because the agent you mentioned, John Dobbs, was tipped to the possibility of Marley's survival by a letter from a man named Lucius Snow. At least, according to Dobbs's own case journal he was; no one else has ever claimed to have seen the letter, so what exactly Snow said to convince Dobbs of this is something we may never know."
"Well, there, then, that proves it, doesn't it?" said Gary. "Somehow Marley found out why Dobbs had gotten turned onto him and decided to check into Snow. But Snow's dead, he died over a year ago. Hawks was the only person still at the Sun-Times that he'd ever confided in, I guess. Maybe Marley guessed that somehow, maybe he found out that Snow and Hawks used to be friends during Hawks's cub days. Maybe he wanted to find out just how much Snow had said, how many details Hawks had. And maybe he figured that it wasn't a good idea to leave somebody who knew about Snow's theory alive, especially when he was in such a, a position of power in Chicago journalism. I mean, he already had it planned how he was going to kill President Tyson; it was so similar to the way Kennedy was killed, he had to have realized that Hawks might make the connection."
That part was a lie, of course. But he couldn't tell them the truth without telling them about the Paper. He understood the real reason for the bomb; originally it had never really been intended to do Hawks any harm at all. Marley had known about Snow's Paper, had admitted to Gary that he'd "seen" it; Snow must have shown it to him, reasoning that a Secret Service agent--a man who dealt in things ordinary people weren't allowed to know--would be "safe" to entrust with its secret, and hoping desperately that this glimpse into the future would be enough to convince Marley to act. When Marley's "business" brought him to Chicago--arguably an easier place to do the deed than Washington would have been--he'd probably guessed that there was a high likelihood Snow wasn't alive any longer, but he'd reasoned that even so, there might be someone else getting tomorrow's Sun-Times today, so he'd mailed the bomb to Hawks, figuring that the story of the man's death would get into the Paper and lure that person out. And it had. Gary had played right into his hands--and had been getting the Paper just long enough to have built up something of a reputation as an eccentric and a chronic busybody. It wasn't quite the same kind of situation it had been with Oswald, who was not only a crank but a vocal malcontent with ties to Soviet Russia, a perfect patsy for the murder of a Cold War President; but from that first moment in Crumb's office, Marley had been spinning his web, trying to plant doubts about Gary in official minds, to make him seem that he wasn't just an eccentric, but unstable and dangerous.
"We understand that Hawks is dead," said Brienne. "And that you were the supposed killer. Tell us how that happened."
"I, I don't really know," Gary admitted. "I mean, I don't know how Marley got in and out of the Sun-Times Building without anybody seeing him. I think maybe Hawks might have called him, told him about Snow's...theory, and Marley volunteered to come over and discuss it in person instead of on an unsecured phone line. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that when I went to Hawks last night to get his help, I found him in his office, dead. Of course he thought Marley was Dobbs, so he'd have let the man get close." He looked down at his hands, at the IV lines, knowing he shouldn't break eye contact, but too distressed by the memory to avoid it. "Somehow, somehow Marley persuaded Crumb to get a search warrant for my hotel room. They found a, a gun in my desk drawer, and a map of the motorcade's route through the city, and money--it was money Chuck had won at the track on a long shot, but they didn't know that. The gun was the same one that was used to kill Hawks."
Brienne pounced. "How did you know that? You've been on the run since last night."
"I told him," Chuck put in sharply. "I had the rotten luck to be at his place when the cops broke the door down. That was when they arrested me the first time. After Crumb realized he didn't have enough to hold me on, I linked up with Gar and told him what I knew. By then Ballistics had made the match--Crumb or Marley must've put a rush on the job. They told me about it to try to get me to tell them whatever I knew about Gary, where he was, what he was planning. Only I didn't know anything to tell, and I wouldn’t have if I could."
Gary gave him a grateful look. "Thanks, Chuck. I know we didn't exactly get into that, but I sort of hoped that was the way you'd seen it."
Chuck squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, not wanting to say anything further in front of the agents, but clearly hoping that the gesture would convey his feelings--that they might not be very much alike, might differ on almost everything and especially on subjects connected to the Paper, but that when the chips were down, Chuck could no more betray Gary than he could have shot the President himself.
Brienne seemed to accept Chuck's version of events--as well he should, since that was indeed exactly how Gary had found out just what had been discovered in his desk drawer--and moved on to his next question. "You were in the Randolph Building with this man you call Marley. Detective Crumb seemed to be of the opinion that Marley intended to frame you for the President's murder. How did you know he was there? What made you suspect his plan?"
Here, Gary knew, was where he had to tread carefully. Maybe they thought he was Marley's accomplice, or maybe they were just trying to get more information about the man, to perhaps learn who had hired him. He could tell them about Snow's package--Morris could confirm that Snow had been obsessed with Kennedy's murder, although of course he didn't know exactly why--but the package no longer existed: Marley had taken it from Hawks's office and probably destroyed it. He could claim that Marley had either tracked him down or come upon him by chance and taken him to the Randolph as a prisoner, but would they believe that Marley could have done that in a city he wasn't familiar with, when the whole Chicago PD hadn't been able to? Or he could tell a half-truth and hope it worked as well as the past two apparently had. "I...I didn't know he was there, exactly," he said, "but I kind of worked it out. And--and at first I didn't realize he wasn't just who he'd said he was; when I found him there, I still thought he was Dobbs. But I knew Marley was involved, or at least I knew that the man I thought was Dobbs believed he was, because when Chuck was under arrest he heard Dobbs--Marley--tell Crumb to let me go, that 'he may lead us to Marley.' And I knew who Marley was--not what he looked like, but his history--because by then I'd talked to Hawks, and he'd told me about Snow's theory and how Marley was supposed to have died. I thought, if Snow had been right, then maybe Marley was planning to repeat how he'd done it thirty-three years ago. Criminals stick to an MO because they're comfortable with it and it works for them. Marley's had worked really well--so well that nobody but Snow, and later Dobbs, ever connected him with the assassination. So I asked myself, if, if somebody really meant to harm the President, what would be the best way for them to do it? Not to be in the same building with him--you guys would have all the entrances and exits covered, you'd be checking ID's, e-even if the assassin had good fakes and managed to get away there'd be too much chance of somebody remembering him afterward. But, but at the hotel, as he was getting out of the limo, the President would be vulnerable. The route had been on TV, it wouldn't be hard to figure out which entrance to cover, and even if Marley didn't get him the first time around, he'd know where to watch the second. The Randolph's been undergoing renovations, it's been covered in the papers and such, so it would be a good place to be--no office workers in it, out of the weather, up high where people aren't likely to look, big enough to offer several ways in and out, and overlooking the main hotel entrance where the motorcade was likeliest to pull up; you, I mean his security, you'd be watching more on your own level, like for somebody like Squeaky Fromme or John Hinckley who'd try to, to come right up to him with a handgun. I figured the police or somebody would have cleared the work crews out for the day, as a security measure, so all I had to do was search the higher floors till I found something that didn't look right."
The two agents looked at each other again, and then Strassman spoke up for the first time. "You haven't quite answered the question, Mr. Hobson. What made you think the President might be in danger?"
Gary took an instant to marshal his thoughts, hoping they'd figure he was just trying to collect the memories. "I think, I think it was something Marley said, when I still thought he was Dobbs, I mean. After, after the letter-bomb went off, Hawks and I ended up at the police station giving statements, and he got awfully interested in what we s-said--I wondered why a Secret Service agent would care so much about an attempt to k-kill a newspaper editor. I didn't know the Marley story then. And Marley talked about how he'd come to Chicago before the main Presidential party as a...I don't know what you'd call it, maybe an advance scout. He talked about looking for 'people who thought they knew things before other people did.' I d-don't know much about the way you guys work, but that...it, it sounded off to me. I mean, everybody knows the U. S. Government doesn't recognize the validity of psychics and things, not officially. The Russians did, I've read about some of the experiments they ran, but not the Americans. It didn't s-seem quite...right...that Marley--Dobbs--would be given an assignment he could describe like that, at least to, to a couple of civilians with no clearance, like Hawks and me. I thought maybe, maybe he was hiding something, maybe he'd had some kind of tip. Like I said, I didn't know then that the man he was claiming to be had been hunting for the man he really was all this time, or that Snow had thought Marley was Kennedy's real assassin. But after I found out, it all fit together. I figured that Dobbs knew or guessed Marley was in town looking to repeat a successful MO, and that meant, yes, the President was the likeliest target. And then when I hooked up with Chuck at my apartment and we were looking to see if there was anything the police had missed, I found a cigarette lighter under my window, right by the desk, a lighter with the initials JTM on it. That was when I realized it must have been Marley who'd planted the map and gun. But Marley made me give him the lighter back at the Randolph Building, so I can't prove to you that I ever had it."
Chuck was eyeing the two agents narrowly, and Marissa had her head slightly tilted, as if she were listening for subtle clues--shifts in position, changes in breathing, barely detectible undertones of speech--that sighted people wouldn't notice. "What happened when you reached the Randolph Building?" Strassman pursued.
Gary told them, repeating everything exactly as it had occurred, except for any mention of the Paper. "It wasn't till he started talking that I understood just how carefully he had planned everything. He'd set it up to look as if I'd been paid to kill Hawks because he knew about Snow's theory, and he meant to go on the way he'd begun and make it look as if I'd also been the President's assassin. You, you said something about Dobbs's case journal. Maybe he'd already rigged it to look as if the real Dobbs already suspected me, and after you found Dobbs's and my bodies, you'd go back over his papers and find the evidence Marley had planted. Or maybe he figured the same thing would happen as had happened in Dallas, except this time you'd find a body next to the murder weapon, like he'd intended for you to do back then if Oswald hadn't realized he was being set up and made a run for it. Maybe he figured that the circumstantial evidence would be enough, and you'd accept things the way you saw them."
"Maybe," Strassman agreed. "Or maybe there's something you haven't told us." He leaned a little closer, into Gary's space. "All this seems rather unnecessarily complicated, don't you think? You suggested that Marley killed Hawks because Hawks knew of Snow's theory and might, afterward, see the similarities between the Tyson and Kennedy assassinations. But how did Marley happen to know of the theory? Dobbs knew, but it wasn't something he'd be likely to tell the man he'd been hunting all these years."
"How, how would I know?" Gary retorted. "Marley told me that, that Dobbs had been his 'guest' the last few days. I didn't, didn't get a good look at Dobbs's body, but maybe, maybe Marley beat it out of him, or gave him truth serum, or something--the coroner could tell you, why don't you ask him?"
"We have," said Strassman. "He didn't appreciate being told to put a rush on the job, but his preliminary examination showed no indication of either. If, as you say, Marley intended to make it seem that you had killed Dobbs as well as the President, he would have had to be careful not to leave behind any suggestion that Dobbs hadn't been at liberty and in perfect condition right up to the end. You, as the lone assassin, wouldn't have had much of an opportunity to keep him prisoner at the same time you were trying to elude the police."
"But, but Crumb and his officers, they knew Marley as Dobbs," Gary pointed out. "He couldn't kill them. As soon as the real Dobbs was found and ID'ed, somebody would have realized something wasn't right, wouldn't they? They'd have to wonder who this guy was who'd been running around Chicago with Dobbs's ID in his pocket. Wouldn't that have cast some doubt on the picture of me as, as a 'lone assassin'?"
"Yes, it would," Brienne agreed. "But then, Marley was nearly sixty-four years old--getting a bit long in the tooth for jobs like this. Very probably he meant this to be his last commission. It would have appealed to his vanity to go out with a bang, repeating the scenario of his first great success. Given the money he'd probably earned over the last thirty-odd years, he must have been set up to take a very comfortable retirement in some warm climate, someplace that doesn't have extradition agreements with the American government, and doubtless under yet another alias, so it wouldn't matter if anyone guessed his real identity. Nor would it matter if Snow's theory came to light once the deed had been done; no one could use it to prevent a crime that had already been committed."
"So what are you sayin'?" Chuck broke in. "That Gary was workin' hand in glove with Marley all along? That he fooled Marissa and me too? That's a crock! I've known this guy since we were six years old. He couldn't kill another human being any more than he could fly from here to Jupiter. It's just not in him."
Strassman gave him another of those flat sharklike looks. "Mr. Fishman, when you've been in our line of work as long as we have, you come to understand that there is nothing that is 'not in' any person, given sufficient provocation. Sometimes that provocation is ideological, sometimes it's monetary--as it probably was in Marley's case--and sometimes it's something else. Whether or not Mr. Hobson was involved in Marley's plot, it's transparently clear that there's a piece missing out of the picture he's been trying to paint for us, and we intend to find out what it is." Back to Gary: "Who are you trying to protect, Mr. Hobson? What did Marley tell you--the name of his principal, the reason for the assassination? Or is there something else you don't want us to know about?"
"He never told me anything like that!" Gary protested. "I, I don't really know why he didn't, he had me right where he wanted me, he told me just about everything else, he figured I'd never live to pass any of it on. Maybe, maybe he had some kind of thing about not saying who he was working for, not even to somebody in my situation. You’d know more about professional assassins than I would--"
Brienne swung around the corner of the bed and came to join his partner in a swirl of gabardine coattails. "Meaning precisely what?" he demanded.
"All right, that does it!" yelled Chuck. "You can just stop right there, I'm not letting you bully him another minute! Get out of here before I call Security!" He reached for the button that would buzz the nurses' station, and Strassman grabbed his wrist before he could hit it. Furious, Chuck cursed, twisted, and slipped out of the agent's bigger hand, then brought his arm around in a wild haymaker that slammed into Strassman's right cheekbone, splitting the skin and staggering the taller man back. There was a moment of confusion as Brienne tried to push past his aroused partner, Marissa was thrown back against the corner of the nightstand and off her feet, and Spike erupted into a tornado of enraged barks, and then the door of the room flew open and Crumb burst in. The agents weren't expecting an intervention from the rear. Crumb crossed the room in two strides, slapped his hand down on Brienne's shoulder and literally flung him back away from Chuck, then clamped onto the rigid arm with which Strassman had hold of Chuck's shirt, lining him up for what would have been a stunning punch.
"All right, that's enough!" Crumb barked. "Turn him loose, Strassman. I said turn him loose!" and suddenly he'd drawn his .38 Special from the holster at his waist and had it pushed up against the agent's nose.
With one hand occupied and the other too far from his own weapon to make a play for it, Strassman clearly realized that he was at a disadvantage. He slowly loosened his grip on Gary's friend, who backstepped quickly, straightening his clothes, and then turned to help Marissa back to her feet. "What is goin' on here?" Crumb demanded.
Strassman explained. Chuck explained. Spike quit barking and went into a long rolling rumbling growl. Brienne regained his feet and began saying something about executive privilege and national security. Gary couldn't say a word; the shock of realizing how close the agents had come to guessing the truth had brought on a fit of trembling that was only exacerbated by the sight of his friends' mistreatment. "Quiet!" Crumb ordered at last, and glanced toward the one person who seemed to have retained the kind of calm that is found at the eye of every storm. "Miss Clark? You okay?"
"I--I'm just shaken, that's all," Marissa told him, clinging to Chuck's arm for support. "Spike! Be still! Lie down!" The dog subsided with a sidewise look at his mistress, then lifted his lip silently at the two agents as if to tell them he wasn't finished.
"You--you..." Chuck was nearly to the point of incoherence. "Picking on a blind woman--just what the hell rights do you think those fancy ID's give you, anyway?"
"From where I was standin'," Crumb said, "it looked to me like they were also pickin' on a sick man and a man half their size. Hobson? You with us?"
Gary swallowed hard and tried to bring his shaking under control. "I--I--yeah, I'm just--"
Chuck helped Marissa back to the chair she'd been sitting in before, then retreated to stand just in front of the nightstand, between it and Crumb's screening bulk. "Don't try to talk, buddy," he said quietly. "Just take deep breaths. You want some more water?"
Gary shook his head; his hands were too unsteady, his teeth chattering too badly, for him to trust that he wouldn't spill the entire tumbler's worth all over the bed. "All right," said Crumb again, "let's hear what this was all about. Miss Clark, you tell it."
Marissa did, calmly, completely, and concisely. By the time she had reconstructed the exchange for Crumb's benefit, Gary's nerves had begun to settle down and he was able to take another glass of water, steadied for him by Chuck, who then perched himself on the edge of his friend's mattress and glared at the duo from Washington as if to make it very clear that he was there to stay.
"Gary spoke freely," Marissa finished. "He didn't have to; he hadn't even been read his rights. Don't even Secret Service agents have to abide by the Constitution? Doesn't the fact that he was willing to talk at all, without a lawyer present, mean anything?"
Crumb had put his gun away at some point; he nodded but didn't take his eyes off the two Feds. "I'd say it did, yeah," he agreed. "Youse guys, you didn't think of that, did you? If a man's got somethin' to hide, don't it make sense he'd want to hold you off a day or two till he was back on his feet at least? Hobson's a lot of things, but he's not stupid, and he knows he's not in shape to face an interrogation right now." He let that sink in, then went on: "Now about Hawks. The gun we found in Hobson's apartment was the one that killed him; Ballistics is sure of it. But you haven't been in that apartment and I have. It's not hard to get into and out of without goin' through the lobby; you can use the window and the fire escape down into the alley, that's how Hobson got out the second time we went there. After I thought it over, I realized that might be the key, and I sent some of my Forensics people over there to have a look. There was snow on the rooftop area that Hobson uses as a terrace, but they found part of a shoeprint on the windowsill where somebody'd gone out. We matched the tread pattern to the shoes Marley was wearin'. That puts him there, leaving and probably entering by stealth, which he'd have had no legitimate reason to do. I also checked on something Fishman told us while we had him detained. The money we found with the gun totalled up to exactly $42,000. OTB records show that Fishman won that amount at the North State Street parlor the day before yesterday; he signed for it, showed his ID and gave his Social Security number. To my mind, that casts a lot of doubt on the possibility that Hobson killed Hawks, because if he wasn't hired to do it, he had no discernible motive." He stared hard at both of them. "Plus which, if you're thinkin' that Hobson was Marley's accomplice after all, you're comin' pretty damn close to accusing me of being the same thing, not to mention Detective Schrader; we both told you we found him in shackles when we got there. In my experience, people don't shackle their accomplices, and I've been in this game probably as long as the both of youse put together."
"Nice shot, Crumb," Chuck applauded quietly, seeing the momentary uncertainty wash over the agents' faces before they got their poker expressions back again.
Crumb wasn't finished. "There's another thing. I can see how Marley might want Hawks dead; like Hobson said, lettin' him live with what he knew would make it possible for him to clear Hobson's name by pointin' out the similarities between the two assassinations, and that might be enough to set you guys on Marley's trail. But what reason would Hobson have had to kill Hawks on his own? Even if he'd been planning to kill Tyson, how would that connect to Hawks? Hawks knew about Snow's theory, which implicated Marley, not Hobson--hell, Hobson wasn't even born when Kennedy was shot. And if he'd had a reason, why not just let the letter-bomb do the job for him? Why prevent it only to come back later with a gun and put a slug in the guy's brain? It took me a while, but I finally figured out that was what didn't feel right about the whole mess. No, Marley was tryin' to cover his own ass, and that, with what Schrader and I saw at the Randolph and what my lab guys found, means Hobson's clear."
"Don't forget the photo," Chuck put in smugly.
"That too," Crumb agreed. "Not that we don't have the fingerprints to prove who Marley was, but that just substantiates it. I didn't have the chance to tell you, Fishman, but that was pretty damn decent detective work, especially for a civilian."
Chuck shrugged. "We couldn't have done it without Morris. He was the one who had a cousin with all the computer equipment we needed."
"Still," Crumb pointed out, "from what I hear, you were the one that spotted the resemblance between the cleaned-up younger photo and the man you knew as Dobbs. After thirty-plus years, that takes a good eye." He returned his attention to Brienne and Strassman. "Now, the way it stands, there's not a DA in this country who'd try to prosecute Hobson on what we've got left. And from what youse guys said to me a little while back, I don't think you'd even want to hand it over to 'em. So how about we call it quits where we are, and maybe I'll forget that I saw you about to commit assault and battery on a citizen of this metropolis, huh?"
"That's blackmail!" Brienne burst out.
"Nah," said Crumb with something that looked suspiciously like a smirk. "Blackmail is the attempt to obtain gain from a person by threatening to tell something that'll disgrace him. I never threatened either one of youse, I just posed what they call a theoretical question. Plus you layin' off of Hobson ain't any gain for me. Fact is, if he goes on runnin' around this town doin' whatever the hell it is he does, I'm likelier to get a few more headaches out of him before it's time for me to start drawin' on my pension." His tone hardened a bit. "Now I'm gonna suggest that you both clear out of here and leave these people alone, now and in future."
Strassman took a breath as if to say something, but Brienne stopped him with a lifted hand. "It seems you have the home-court advantage, Detective," he said grudgingly. "And you're quite right; the evidence you say you've found does tend to throw quite a bit more than a reasonable degree of doubt on the concept of Hobson's guilt. But--" and here his eyes swept across all four of them, lingering an instant longer on Gary and Chuck-- "let me make something plain to you. Nothing that has been said in this room tonight is to be shared with anyone else, ever. That means no press, no official reports, nothing. We'll take care of things on our end, and you, Detective, will stamp the Dobbs and Hawks murder cases closed. On the books, none of this will have ever happened."
"What!" yelped Chuck.
But Gary understood, in a way. "It's okay, Chuck. You know I didn't do any of this for publicity."
"Supposin' I go along," said Crumb. "Okay, I can put it that Dobbs was killed by Marley, a man he'd been tryin' to put his hands on for over thirty years, and just ignore the whole question of why Marley was in Chicago to begin with. The rifle in the Randolph Building was the weapon used to kill Dobbs, so it works. But what about Hawks?"
"Just say that he was killed by an unknown intruder who fled the scene before anyone could get a look at him," Brienne replied. "A newspaper editor probably makes his share of enemies. Lose the Ballistics report that links the bullet in him with the gun found in Hobson's apartment; it's the only thing that ties them together. Tell the press that there was a misunderstanding and you weren't seeking Hobson for the murder itself, but as a material witness to it, just as you brought Fishman in for the same reason."
"That might work," Crumb allowed grudgingly. "But I won't be held responsible for any curious newshawk who starts diggin' on his own, now or ten years from now, and you better grant these three the same."
"Done," said Brienne tightly. He shot Gary an inscrutable look. "And as for you, Mr. Hobson, I suggest you make a sincere effort to stay off Federal radar screens from now on. I still think there's something left unsaid, and if you ever give me the excuse, I intend to find out what it is. Come on, Strassman, let's get back to the President." The two of them turned without another word and strode out of the room.
"Bullies," said Marissa in a tone that made the innocuous word sound like an obscenity.
"I got another name for 'em that begins with a 'b,' " growled Chuck.
Gary sighed. "Thanks, Crumb. We owe you one."
"What made you decide to come here, Crumb?" Marissa inquired.
"Well, actually, I figured this'd be where I'd find Fishman, and I got something belongs to him," the old cop replied, reaching into his jacket and producing a fat brown manilla envelope. "Seein' that we obtained proof this money was legitimately yours, it's not evidence in a murder case any more. You can count it if you want to."
Chuck barely restrained himself from snatching it out of Crumb's hand. "I wondered if we were ever gonna get it back," he admitted.
"That wasn't the only reason you came, though," Gary guessed. "I mean, that money was safe in the evidence lockup. It could've stayed there a few more days."
Crumb glared at him. "Wise guy, ain't you, Hobson? Well, yeah, you're right. Those two just left my office about an hour ago. Sorry I didn't stop to think that they might come over here and harass you guys next, but I haven't slept since I came on duty yesterday afternoon, what with Fishman's detainment and then finding out about Hawks's death and the gun we seized in the search of your apartment." He settled into the chair that held Chuck's jacket and muffler. "After we took you out of the Randolph, I had the ident team do a super fast rush on the fingerprints we lifted off the two bodies. We got an answer back in like two hours. Marley was Marley, sure enough. Only Brienne and Strassman must have red-flagged his records, 'cause I'd no more than gotten the report on my desk than they were in my face."
"And that's when they gave you this ultimatum?" Chuck guessed. "You said they'd said something 'a little while back' that made you figure they didn't want to try to bring any of this to court. And people call me paranoid."
"It's all about image, Fishman," Crumb told him. "Like I told Marley, you're not stupid. Think about it. All these years the Warren Commission Report's been the official Government position on the Kennedy assassination. What the four of us know gets out, it throws the whole thing down the toilet, makes all the other conspiracy theories out there seem that much more legit to the general public. It stirs up all kinds of doubt about whether we need to be afraid of somebody we didn't know about before gettin' ideas in their head about further assassination attempts. Plus it gives the Secret Service a black eye it might never recover from, that one of theirs used his position to kill the guy he was supposed to be protectin'."
"Like the credibility gap during the Johnson Administration," Marissa guessed.
"Just like that," Crumb agreed. He sighed. " 'Course we'll probably never know who paid Marley, this time or that. Though my guess would be that with Tyson it had somethin' to do with these trade talks he's here to have. Things like that can mean billions of dollars to some countries."
Gary saw again the headline on the Paper changing to the mention of 'landmark agreements.' "I think you're right," he said.
"Oh, and one other thing," Crumb added. "I never thought you were what Marley was tryin' to make you look like, Hobson. I been a cop too long to think you're a danger to anybody, except maybe yourself and my peace of mind. I kept tellin' him you weren't worth his worry, but of course he wouldn't let it lay. I only asked for a search warrant to get the guy off your back; I figured we'd go in, find nothin', and he'd leave you alone. If he'd really been Dobbs, it would'a worked."
"Yeah, that was the key to the whole thing--that he wasn't Dobbs, that Snow was right," Gary agreed. "It's okay, Crumb. You couldn't have known. You were going with what you had. Marley was a pro--he'd had a lot of years to perfect his technique. I'm not really surprised he had you fooled."
"Yeah," said Crumb. "It's a fact of life in my line. For any police force, the name of the game is wait-for-the-bad-guys-to-make-a-mistake. You have to play for the breaks, like a football team waitin' for a turnover. The problem is, the crooks--the pros like Marley, at least--keep gettin' better, learnin' from their mistakes. Both sides become more and more sophisticated. But the criminals always have the initiative, and the cops keep playin' catch-up. That's the reason so many cops get killed--they don't have that one or two seconds to figure out what they're gonna do, which makes all the difference. It lets you figure out what's happening, select your target, and decide how to take it. The crooks have done that already." He held out his big hand. "Anyways, seein' as you're never gonna get any thanks for what you did today, I figure I owe you an apology."
"Accepted," said Gary. Chuck shook his head sadly as the two of them clasped hands.
Two days later:
Chuck flicked on the lightswitch beside Gary's door and stood aside to let his friend in, Marissa on his arm, then shut the door behind them and began arranging the cartons of Chinese takeout he carried, picked up on the way from the hospital, on the coffee table. Gary took Marissa's coat and saw her seated, threw his own jacket at the hat-tree and slumped onto the sofa cushions beside her.
"Mrrrow!" cried Cat, bounding onto his lap and rubbing its forehead against his chin.
"Hey, guy," said Gary quietly, gently batting the waving tail away from his nose as the cat turned a circle on his knee. "Chuck been keepin' you fed?"
"What?" said Chuck. "You didn't think I was keepin' my promise? I've been here four times since you were in the hospital. Fed him, cleaned out the litter pan, looked for the Paper and didn't find it."
"Cat knows better than to bring it when Gary isn't home," Marissa observed, reaching out to pat the tabby.
"Funny it didn't turn up at the hospital," Chuck said, shrugging out of his jacket and tossing it on the armchair. "I mean, he got it to you in the El station, for cryin' out loud! Not to mention at that old summer cabin you went to back right after you started gettin' it."
"Meee-rrrr," said Cat uninformatively, and bounced down to the floor to touch noses with Spike, who greeted him with a soft "whuff!" and a wag of his brushy tail. Pleasantries exchanged, the orange feline curled up against the dog's warm side and settled in for a long stay.
"I see the place got cleaned up nicely," Gary observed, looking around his home. "I guess I'm gonna have to use some of that track windfall to pay some extra charges on the room."
"Nah," Chuck assured him. "Boswell caught me comin' in last night and said it was taken care of. I think Crumb pulled some strings and pried a little money out of the Secret Service's petty cash. They paid for fixing the door too."
"I wonder who's been taking care of Chicago the last couple of days," said Marissa thoughtfully.
"I'm just glad it wasn't me," sighed Gary. "Even if I'd been off the IV's, I don't think I could have. I needed some time to work through everything."
Marissa tilted her head curiously. "What do you mean, Gary?"
"I mean I think it set me up," Gary told her. "You remember, Chuck, the streaks it kept having?"
"Yeah," his friend agreed, "so? So the presses go futzy in Tomorrow-Newspaper-Land too."
"Not just that. I've had time to think about it, and I understand now why that scratch at the track didn't show up. The Paper wanted you to make a bet on your own. It knew you'd pick your lucky number and bring in a windfall. I think Marley somehow knew about that money and used it to make me look bad. I mean, I could have proved I don't own a gun, and there's no way he could have gotten my fingerprints on it like he did on the rifle. But five figures in cash in my desk drawer--"
"Aw, hell," said Chuck softly. "I'm sorry, pal."
"Not your fault," Gary replied at once. "I mean, how could any of us have guessed the truth? Even I didn't start fitting all the pieces together till Hawks told me about Snow's 'theory.' "
"You mean," Marissa reasoned slowly, "that the Paper wanted to make sure you'd get framed for Hawks's murder to guarantee that you'd lead Crumb to Marley? Didn't it think you'd try to prevent the President from being assassinated without being so, so personally involved?"
"I don't know if that was why, or if it wanted to tie the Secret Service in knots, like the way we worked it out at the hospital," Gary admitted. "I mean, I hope I'd have tried--he was supposed to be killed in Chicago, and I'm supposed to take care of saves in Chicago. It's not like trying to prevent some tragedy in London or India or someplace. This is my city, my responsibility."
Surprisingly, it was cynical Chuck who made the connection. "No, wait a minute. I don't think the Paper really meant for you to get hurt. I think maybe it just knew that the spooks weren't gonna listen to you if you tried to warn them about what was gonna happen."
Gary gave him a long look and said slowly, "I think you've got it, Chuck." And he told them what he hadn't told Brienne and Strassman, about what Marley had said in the Randolph Building.
"My God," whispered Chuck when he was finished. "You know, Snow was lucky Marley didn't go after him. I mean, if Marley knew about the Paper--"
"I think he was holding Snow in reserve," Gary mused. "He figured that something like a newspaper that tells tomorrow's news might come in useful some day. Though probably it was because of the Paper that he fled the country and faked his own death. You heard Brienne: Dobbs got onto Marley because Snow tipped him. I wish I knew what Snow told him, it might make my job easier."
"You mean if it hadn't been for Snow, Marley would have just killed Oswald in the Depository building and passed himself off as the guy who took out the President's assassin," Chuck paraphrased. "Wonder how he persuaded Oswald to come into it. From what you guessed, and he didn't say you'd guessed wrong, Oswald was there of his own free will."
"That's probably one of those things we'll never find out," Gary replied. "But, yes, that's just what I think. He'd have stayed on with the Agency, collected his money--he'd probably arranged for it to be sent to some offshore account somewhere, so nobody would find out about it and start asking questions--and maybe made himself available in case some visiting head of state was ripe for assassination. But somewhere along the line, Snow realized that the man he'd encountered, the man who gave him a Secret Service card and promised that everything was under control, was either connected to the crime or criminally negligent. And somehow he managed to convince Dobbs that he wasn't just some kind of crank."
"Maybe he showed Dobbs the Paper too," said Marissa.
"How do you figure Marley faked his death?" Chuck wondered. "It got everybody but Dobbs off his back, but how'd he do it?"
"It wouldn't have been too hard," Gary observed. "All he'd have had to do was to get into his own dentist's office and switch his records for somebody else's, and then insure that that person--another dupe, even a cadaver--was on the plane when it crashed. He might even have made sure he was seen boarding it, and bailed out with a chute before it went down."
"The one big mistake he made," Chuck said, "was that second letter-bomb, the one he left for Crumb. When we showed Crumb the picture of Marley, I thought at first that he was gonna dismiss it as some kind of trick, and then the bomb went off. I have my issues with Crumb, but he wouldn't have lasted this long as a cop, or gotten as high in the Department as he has, if he was stupid. He must've made the connection in a split second--a letter-bomb was sent to Hawks, so this one was probably planted by the same person, and the only outsider who'd been in and out of his office regularly the last few days was the man he knew as Dobbs. Put that together with a picture that proved Dobbs wasn't Dobbs at all, and he realized something wasn't right."
"Marley must have been afraid that Crumb was experienced enough, or familiar enough with Gary, to realize that something about his scheme didn't fit together," Marissa speculated. "After all, Crumb did say he thought from the beginning that there was something not right about the whole scenario. Or else he hoped that killing the precinct's senior homicide detective would throw the police into confusion just at the time the assassination was planned to go off. We got there just in time. You walking back into the station set off such a yelling match, there was no way he could ignore it. It brought him out just in time to avoid getting caught in the blast."
"I'm not sure there was any 'just' connected to it," Gary told her. "I think the Paper had the whole thing under control all the time. I mean, if Marley hadn't let Chuck escape when he did, he wouldn't have gotten to Hanratty's and spotted the resemblance between Marley-then and Marley-now. He was the only one who could have: Morris and Hanratty had never seen Marley, and you couldn't. And that was what cinched it for Crumb."
"Kinda like that business with my apartment heat right after the New Year, you mean?" Chuck guessed. He shook his head. "You know, there's times this thing gives me goose bumps. Hey," he added in a voice of somewhat forced cheer, "did you guys hear about the proclamation the Mayor issued this morning? You know Lake Shore Park, next to Northwestern Medical School? Four weeks from today there's gonna be a ceremony to change its name. It's gonna be Harry Hawks Park."
"That's nice," said Gary in a subdued tone. "He'd like to be honored that way. And he loved this city; it's only right that it should remember him officially."
Marissa, sensing the tension that still filled his long body, put her hand gently on his arm. "Gary, are you all right with this?" she asked, a note of concern sounding in her voice. "You're not going to try to reject the Paper again because it, well, used you, are you?"
"I'm tempted to try," Gary admitted softly. "It's one thing to get this job dumped on me with no warning and less training, it's another to think that--that whoever sends it doesn't trust me enough to let me in on everything. And it worries me a little that if it happened once it may happen again, and I won't know what's coming down the road at me until I'm stuck in the middle of it and sinking. This was close--too close. If it hadn't been for you guys, and Morris, and Crumb--" He paused and sighed. "But I've tried to get rid of the Paper before, and it never works. I guess I've signed up for the duration. I'll just have to, well, trust that it won't do this again unless there's really a vital need. But I hope it'll give me another day or two to think everything out." Only Chuck saw how sad and haunted his eyes were as he spoke. He knew how deeply hurt Gary must have been at being manipulated by his unknown "supervisors." Gary would see that as a betrayal, like Marcia throwing him out of the house. And Gary himself was so constitutionally incapable of betraying anyone, he didn't take it well when someone did it to him. He'd worn his wedding ring for over a year before tucking it away in the drawer, and Chuck suspected even that act hadn't brought him complete emotional closure.
For a moment Chuck actually entertained the thought of coming down here every morning before his friend woke up and making off with the Paper before Gary could get it--not to get rich (well, not only to get rich), but to try to give his friend peace of mind. But it wouldn't work, and he realized that after little more than a few seconds. Sooner or later he'd miss a day, or Gary would set up an ambush and catch him, or--or something; hell, even if he destroyed the stupid sheet, that was no guarantee it wouldn't keep coming back to haunt its chosen servant--hadn't Gary talked of burning it in a street brazier only hours before it had appeared under a batch of cartons very much like these to warn Chuck that his friend's life was in peril? No, Chuck told himself with a mental sigh, like he says, he's in it till...well, till he isn't any more. All I can really do for him--all we can do--is help him out when he asks, or when he gets in over his head, and be here for him when he needs to talk. With that understanding came the dawning comprehension that he was part of this too; not to do the paper's bidding so much as to serve as an anchor to Gary.
"Well, come on," Chuck suggested cheerfully, "let's eat before this stuff gets cold. What does anybody want to drink?"
"Coke," Gary decided.
"Club soda with lime, please, Chuck," said Marissa.
"Two Cokes, one fizzwater with green," Chuck agreed. "Coming right up."
Email the author: