Memory Man



  And I miss you both so much. I will miss you forever.

  He rolled off Leopold and then lay there panting for a few minutes. He had never felt so tired in all his life. His gut was clenching, his legs and head were throbbing. He could feel the swelling on his face from where Leopold had struck him with the gun. And with his heart racing, blood was now starting to flow more rapidly from his wounded leg.

  But most of him—the most important parts of him, anyway—felt good. Felt terrific in fact.

  It took him the better part of five minutes, but he finally managed to stand with the chair and the saggy, stretched-out duct tape still wrapped around him. He threw himself against the wall repeatedly until the chair fell away in pieces. Then he tugged and ripped until he was free of the tape, and stepped out of his prison.

  He turned to look across the room.

  He hadn’t seen it before, during his struggles with Leopold, but, still, he had known.

  She hadn’t joined the fight after all, either on his side or Leopold’s.

  There had to be a reason for that.

  Now he was looking at that reason.

  He had been wrong. The Smith and Wesson had killed again. Or it was about to.

  He staggered over to where Wyatt lay on the floor, blood still flowing out of her chest from where the shot had struck her.

  He knelt down next to her. She looked far more male than female. But to him she would always be a woman. A sixteen-year-old girl, in fact, who’d suffered so much. Too much. More than anyone should.

  Dr. Marshall had said that these days someone with Belinda’s intersex condition was always involved in the decision as to what gender to become fully and finally. But someone should never feel compelled to choose to be a man simply because she was terrified of being a woman.

  She was not dead yet but she soon would be. The pool of blood around her seemed to exceed what was left inside her. He had no way to stanch the bleeding.

  And in truth, Decker also didn’t have the desire.

  He looked first at her hands. The hands that had strangled the life out of his daughter. Then at the finger that had pulled the trigger on the gun that had killed his wife. The hands that had slit throats and fired shotguns and wrapped a mother and father in plastic and stabbed an FBI agent in the heart.

  Then he gazed down at the face. The eyes were starting to fix, the breathing to relax. The body’s transition to death was commencing in earnest. The brain was telling the rest of the body that it was over and that everything would soon shut down. It was doing all this in as orderly a fashion as possible given that the cause was a hole in the chest driven there by violent means.

  Decker had died before too. He didn’t remember white lights, or a tunnel to brightness, or angels singing. For a man who could never forget anything, he could remember nothing of dying. He had no idea if that was comforting or not. He just wanted to be alive.

  He sat down on his haunches next to her. Part of him wanted to take Leopold’s gun and blow her brains out. Part of him wanted to use his huge hands to crush the remaining life out of her. To hurry her on to where she was inevitably going anyway.

  But he didn’t. Only once did her eyes flicker and seem to fix on his. There was a look there, just a glimpse, perhaps imagined, Decker didn’t know, when he thought he was looking at the scared sixteen-year-old girl back at the institute.

  He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, but didn’t even try to process what had become an unimaginable tragedy all around.

  So he simply sat there and watched her die. And when she did, he closed her eyes. But he could close nothing that had come before. And Decker knew he never would.

  And whether he wanted it or not, Amos Decker, Sebastian Leopold, and Belinda Wyatt, in life and now in death, were all bound together.

  Forever.

  But he was immeasurably relieved to be the one left standing.

  Chapter

  65

  A BENCH.

  Christmas Eve.

  A light snow was falling. It collected on top of the foot that had already fallen over the last three days. The stores were closed. The shopping was done. And after the cataclysmic events at Mansfield, everyone in Burlington was getting ready to sleep and then awake to a day of peace and quiet spent with family.

  Well, almost everyone.

  Amos Decker sat on the bench staring across at Mansfield High. But really he was staring at…nothing.

  In deference to the weather he had on a new overcoat and a wool-lined flapped hat. His hands were gloved and he wore brand-new size fourteen heavy-duty waterproof boots.

  His thigh was nearly healed, though it would always carry a scar where the knife had struck and Belinda Wyatt had both symbolically and literally twisted the blade in him.

  Decker had gotten in the van and driven to a shopping mall about thirty miles away, using the GPS on Leopold’s phone to direct him. He had called Bogart and given his location to the FBI agent. Bogart had ordered up a local medevac chopper, which had arrived surprisingly fast. They’d triaged him on the spot and then flown him to the nearest hospital. Before driving off in the van he’d done a tourniquet on his leg, but he’d still lost over two pints of blood by the time help arrived.

  He had given Bogart the location of Leopold and Wyatt’s hideout. The crime scene had been processed, but by far the two most important pieces of forensic evidence were the two bodies that lay barely six feet apart.

  One shot by a .45 with a murderous trail attached to it.

  The other literally suffocated to death by a fat guy.

  Both deserved what they got. And only one of the people they’d killed had really deserved to die. They had never found Giles Evers’s body. But, as Belinda Wyatt had promised, a package had arrived at his father’s house.

  Clyde Evers reportedly had dropped dead when he opened it.

  Getting a severed head in the mail will do that.

  Decker corrected himself: So maybe two people who deserved to die had.

  And maybe four if you included Belinda’s parents, who out of naked greed had turned against their fragile daughter when she needed them most.

  He did not want to think about death on Christmas Eve. But he seemed so surrounded by it that it tended to crowd out all other things.

  He had visited the graves of his wife and daughter. Lancaster had surprised him by showing up too and laying flowers on their graves. They had talked quietly for a few minutes, snatching some normalcy from what was undeniably abnormal.

  Decker was sitting here because the Residence Inn had thrown a Christmas party for the guests staying there over the holidays. He had no impulse whatsoever to participate in that. Hence he had opted for a bench in the snow over unspiked eggnog and people seeking him out for lively but mindless conversation, which he could neither process nor appreciate.

  The decision had been made to reopen Mansfield the following school year. All the blood would be scrubbed away by then, but all other stains would remain there, forever. The governor was planning to come and give a speech on the occasion of the school’s reopening.

  Decker did not plan to attend the ceremony.

  The town had bricked over the entrance to the underground walkway leading from the cafeteria to the shop class. And the Army was officially cementing shut the connecting tunnel. Bulldozers were scheduled to arrive on January 2 to level the entire abandoned base and haul away the remnants to wherever old military bases went to die.

  The national press had descended on the place when the news had broken about the identity of the killers and their deaths. Bogart had managed to keep Decker’s name out of everything. The FBI agent had turned out to be a good man who actually cared about things worth caring about.

  Most folks would have wanted to be recognized as the one who stopped two killers in their tracks, risking his life to do so. These days money would have flowed from that: book and movie deals, endorsements, offers to join high-level investigative firms, opportunities
to be wined and dined by the movers and shakers. Decker could have had millions of followers online riveted on his every tweet or Instagram posting.

  Again, he would have opted for a bullet to the head over all that.

  Yet he had allowed Bogart to buy him clothes and shoes to replace the ones he’d lost to Leopold and Wyatt. For a poor man any loss is a heavy one.

  Bogart had pleaded with Decker to accept payment from the federal government for his work. Captain Miller had done the same on behalf of the Burlington Police Department.

  “You were a hired consultant, Amos,” he had said over and over until he just didn’t have the strength to say it again.

  Decker had refused it all.

  He had not done so for noble reasons. He needed money to live. He wasn’t shy about taking what was due him.

  He had refused it out of guilt.

  I stood up in front of Belinda Wyatt and said I wanted to be a cop. I said I wanted to be a cop because cops protect people. She never forgot that and twisted something innocuous into something sinister. And when Leopold came along to add fuel to that fire, building it into an inferno, the result was I unwittingly caused the deaths of so many people, including the two I can’t really live without.

  It didn’t matter to him that it was done unwittingly. It clearly didn’t matter to the dead that he hadn’t intended it. But with anything, there was cause and effect.

  And I was the cause.

  And the effect was too terrible to even think about, though it seemed he could think of nothing else.

  Decker could not afford to wallow in self-pity, contemplating this while gazing at his navel. He had to earn a living, and so at some point soon he would push off this bench and go in search of gainful employment. But now, right now, this evening, before Santa Claus came calling, he was just going to sit here and wallow in self-pity and at least pretend to gaze at his substantial navel.

  But then again, maybe not.

  The man sat down next to him and crossed his legs, shivering slightly from the cold.

  Decker didn’t look at him. “I thought you’d be back in D.C. by now.”

  Bogart shrugged. “I was, but I had some unfinished business here.”

  “It’s Christmas Eve. Won’t your family miss you?”

  “What family?”

  “You have a ring on your finger.”

  “I’m separated, Decker. Recent event.”

  “Sorry to hear that.”

  “She’s not, and, in all honesty, neither am I.”

  “Kids?”

  “She’s a Hill staffer and works ungodly hours. So neither one of us ever found the time at the same time.

  “Wyatt told you she had sex with Debbie Watson?”

  “She was lying about that,” replied Decker.

  “How did you know? Because you’re right: Autopsy revealed she hadn’t transitioned entirely to a man. The equipment wasn’t all there.”

  “The whole time she sat with her knees together. Tough for a guy to do. But more than that, I don’t think she really wanted to be a man. What happened to her made that decision for Wyatt. But she couldn’t go the whole way.”

  Both fell silent.

  “Okay, cutting to the chase, I’d like you to come work with me.”

  Decker turned to look at him. “What does that mean exactly?”

  “That means exactly, at the FBI.”

  Decker shook his head. “I couldn’t pass the physical. I couldn’t pass anything.”

  “You wouldn’t be a special agent, of course. But I’ve been assigned to put together and head up a special task force made up of professionals from a wide range of occupations and disciplines, and that includes civilians. The goal is to catch really bad guys. And I can’t think of anyone better suited to that than you.”

  “But I’m not a professional anything.”

  “You were a cop and then a detective. You have the experience and God knows you have the brains.”

  “You don’t have to do this, Bogart. You bought me the boots and clothes.”

  “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for me. I want to move up at the Bureau. My career is all I have left now. I’m pushing fifty. I’ve got to hit the turbos soon, or else I’m just wasting my time. And I figure with you on my side, my odds of cracking the really tough cases go way up. And then promotions will follow. I wouldn’t mind one day running the place.”

  “So you mean leave Burlington?”

  Bogart stared straight ahead. “Would that be a problem for you?”

  “I didn’t say that.”

  “So it wouldn’t be a problem for you?”

  “I didn’t say that either.”

  Bogart looked at him. “Can I cut to the chase and up the ante?”

  Decker said nothing but gave a small nod.

  Bogart held up his cell phone and flashed the light. A minute later Decker could hear footsteps coming.

  Alex Jamison came into the ring of light thrown by the streetlamp. She had on a long winter overcoat and calf boots, and a scarf was wrapped around her head. She stopped in front of the bench and looked down.

  Decker looked at her and then at Bogart.

  “What am I missing?” he said.

  “I thought it would be obvious,” said Bogart. “For a smart guy like you.”

  Decker looked back at Jamison.

  “He made me the same offer, Decker, although I think it had a lot more to do with you than me.”

  Bogart said, “She made some good finds in the investigation. Showed some guts and intuition. I know she’s a journalist by trade, but I’m just looking for talent, wherever I can find it.”

  “You’d leave Burlington?” Decker asked her.

  “To tell the truth, I already have.”

  “What about being a reporter?”

  “Andy Jackson taught me to find the truth. I figure that holds true for your line of work too. And maybe I can do more good working with Bogart than I can seeing my byline on a story.”

  Decker glanced at Bogart. “Does Captain Miller know you’re making me this offer?”

  “Yes. He’s not thrilled about it, but he understands. And Lancaster is being promoted to his second in command. And in case you didn’t know, she’s taking meds for the tremor in her hand and it’s working. And she’s put on some weight now that she’s stopped smoking.”

  Decker nodded to all this but didn’t break his silence.

  Bogart said, “So you’ll think about it?”

  “No.”

  “Decker,” began Jamison in protest.

  “I won’t think about it, because…because I’m going to do it.”

  Bogart and Jamison exchanged surprised glances.

  Decker looked at them both. “But tonight, I’d prefer to be…here. By myself.”

  Bogart got to his feet at the same time that Jamison said, “And we’ll be back tomorrow. And you won’t be by yourself ever again. I think you’ve been alone long enough.”

  They turned to walk off, but Jamison looked over her shoulder.

  “Merry Christmas, Amos.”

  He acknowledged this with a tilt of his head, and they walked on and were soon out of sight.