Die Trying

Chapter Twenty-Two


  THE ATMOSPHERE IN the Chicago Field Office Wednesday evening was like a funeral, and in a way it was a funeral, because any realistic hope of getting Holly back had died. McGrath knew his best chance had been an early chance. The early chance was gone. If Holly was still alive, she was a prisoner somewhere on the North American continent, and he would not get even the chance to find out where until her kidnappers chose to call. And so far, approaching sixty hours after the snatch, they had not called.

  He was at the head of the long table in the third-floor conference room. Smoking. The room was quiet. Milosevic was sitting to one side, back to the windows. The afternoon sun had inched its way around to evening and fallen away into darkness. The temperature in the room had risen and fallen with it, down to a balmy summer dusk. But the two men in there were chilled with anticlimax. They barely looked up as Brogan came in to join them. He was holding a sheaf of computer printouts. He wasn't smiling, but he looked reasonably close to it.

  "You got something?" McGrath asked him.

  Brogan nodded purposefully and sat down. Sorted the printouts into four separate handfuls and held them up, each one in turn.

  " Quantico," he said. "They've got something. And the crime database in D. C. They've got three somethings. And I had an idea. "

  He spread his papers out and looked up.

  "Listen to this," he said. "Graphic granite, interlocking crystals, cherts, gneisses, schists, shale, foliated metamorphics, quartzites, quartz crystals, red-bed sandstones, Triassic red sand, acidic volcanics, pink feldspar, green chlorite, ironstone, grit, sand, and silt. You know what all that stuff is?"

  McGrath and Milosevic shrugged and shook their heads.

  "Geology," Brogan said. "The people down in Quantico looked at the pickup. Geologists, from the Materials Analysis Unit. They looked at the shit thrown up under the wheel arches. They figured out what the stuff is, and they figured out where that pickup has been. Little tiny pieces of rock and sediment stuck to the metal. Like a sort of a geological fingerprint. "

  "OK, so where has it been?" McGrath asked.

  "Started out in California," Brogan said. "Citrus grower called Dutch Borken bought it, ten years ago, in Mojave. The manufacturer traced that for us. That part is nothing to do with geology. Then the scientists say it was in Montana for a couple of years. Then they drove it over here, northern route, through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. "

  "They sure about this?" McGrath said.

  "Like a trucker's logbook," Brogan said. "Except written with shit on the underneath, not with a pen on paper. "

  "So who is this Dutch Borken?" McGrath asked. "Is he involved?"

  Brogan shook his head.

  "No," he said. "Dutch Borken is dead. "

  "When?" McGrath asked.

  "Couple of years ago," Brogan said. "He borrowed money, farming went all to hell, the bank foreclosed, he stuck a twelve-bore in his mouth and blew the top of his head all over California. "

  "So?" McGrath said.

  "His son stole the pickup," Brogan said. "Technically, it was the bank's property, right? The son took off in it, never been seen again. The bank reported it, and the local cops looked for it, couldn't find it. It's not licensed. DMV knows nothing about it. Cops gave up on it, because who cares about a ratty old pickup? But my guess is this Borken boy stole it and moved to Montana. The pickup was definitely in Montana two years, scientists are dead sure about that. "

  "We got anything on this Borken boy?" McGrath asked him.

  Brogan nodded. Held up another sheaf of paper.

  "We got a shitload on him," he said. "He's all over our database like ants at a picnic. His name is Beau Borken. Thirty-five years old, six feet in height and four hundred pounds in weight. Big guy, right? Extreme right-winger, paranoid tendencies. Now a militia leader. Balls-out fanatic. Links to other militias all over the damn place. Prime suspect in a robbery up in the north of California. Armored car carrying twenty million in bearer bonds was hit. The driver was killed. They figured militia involvement, because the bad guys were wearing bits and pieces of military uniforms. Borken's outfit looked good for it. But they couldn't make it stick. Files are unclear as to why not. And also, what's good for us is before all that, Beau Borken was one of the alibis Peter Wayne Bell used to get off the rape bust. So he's a documented associate of somebody we can place on the scene. "

  Milosevic looked up.

  "And he's based in Montana?" he said.

  Brogan nodded.

  "We can pinpoint the exact region, more or less," he said. "The scientific guys at Quantico are pretty hot for a couple of particular valleys, northwest corner of Montana. "

  "They can be that specific?" Milosevic said.

  Brogan nodded again.

  "I called them," he said. "They said this sediment in the wheel arches was local to a particular type of a place. Something to do with very old rock getting scraped up by glaciers about a million years ago, lying there nearer the surface than it should be, all mixed up with the regular rock which is still pretty old, but newer than the old rock, you know what I mean? A particular type of a mixture? I asked them, how can you be so sure? They said they just recognize it, like I would recognize my mother fifty feet away on the sidewalk. They said it was from one of a couple of north-south glacial valleys, northwest corner of Montana, where the big old glaciers were rolling down from Canada. And there was some sort of crushed sandstone in there, very different, but it's what the Forest Service use on the forest tracks up there. "

  "OK," McGrath said. "So our guys were in Montana for a couple of years. But have they necessarily gone back there?"

  Brogan held up the third of his four piles of paper. Unfolded a map. And smiled for the first time since Monday.

  "You bet your ass they have," he said. "Look at the map. Direct route between Chicago and the far corner of Montana takes you through North Dakota, right? Some farmer up there was walking around this morning. And guess what he found in a ditch?"

  "What?" McGrath asked.

  "A dead guy," Brogan said. "In a ditch, horse country, miles from anywhere. So naturally the farmer calls the cops, the cops print the corpse, the computer comes back with a name. "

  "What name?" McGrath asked.

  "Peter Wayne Bell," Brogan said. "The guy who drove away with Holly. "

  "He's dead?" McGrath said. "How?"

  "Don't know how," Brogan said. "Maybe some kind of a falling out? This guy Bell kept his brains in his jockey shorts. We know that, right? Maybe he went after Holly, maybe Holly aced him. But put a ruler on the map and take a look. They were all on their way back to Montana. That's for damn sure. Has to be that way. "

  "In what?" McGrath said. "Not in a white truck. "

  "Yes in a white truck," Brogan said.

  "That Econoline was the only truck missing," McGrath said.

  Brogan shook his head. He held up the fourth set of papers.

  "My new idea," he said. "I checked if Rubin rented a truck. "

  "Who?" McGrath said.

  "Rubin is the dead dentist," Brogan said. "I checked if he rented a truck. "

  McGrath looked at him.

  "Why should the damn dentist rent a truck?" he said.

  "He didn't," Brogan said. "I figured maybe the guys rented the truck, with the dentist's credit cards, after they captured him. It made a lot of sense. Why risk stealing a vehicle if you can rent one with a stolen wallet full of credit cards and driver's licenses and stuff? So I called around. Sure enough, Chicago-You-Drive, some South Side outfit, they rented an Econoline to a Dr. Rubin, Monday morning, nine o'clock. I ask them, did the photo on the license match the guy? They say they never look. As long as the credit card goes through the machine, they don't care. I ask them, what color was the Econoline? They say all our trucks are white. I ask them, writing on the side? They say sure, Chicago-You-Drive, green letters, h
ead height. "

  McGrath nodded.

  "I'm going to call Harland Webster," he said. "I want to get sent to Montana. "

  "GO TO NORTH Dakota first," Webster said.

  "Why?" McGrath asked him.

  There was a pause on the line.

  "One step at a time," Webster said. "We need to check out this Peter Wayne Bell situation. So stop off in North Dakota first, OK?"

  "You sure, chief?" McGrath said.

  "Patient grunt work," Webster said. "That's what's going to do it for us. Work the clues, right? It's worked so far. Your boy Brogan did some good work. I like the sound of him. "

  "So let's go with it, chief," McGrath said. "All the way to Montana, right?"

  "No good rushing around until we know something," Webster said back. "Like who and where and why. That's what we need to know, Mack. "

  "We know who and where," he said. "This Beau Borken guy. In Montana. It's clear enough, right?"

  There was another pause on the line.

  "Maybe," Webster said. "But what about why?"

  McGrath jammed the phone into his shoulder and lit up his next cigarette.

  "No idea," he said, reluctantly.

  "We looked at the mug shots," Webster said. "I sent them over to the Behavioral Science Unit. Shrinks looked them over. "

  "And?" McGrath asked.

  "I don't know," Webster said. "They're a pretty smart bunch of people down there, but how much can you get from gazing at a damn photograph?"

  "Any conclusions at all?" McGrath asked.

  "Some," Webster said. "They felt three of the guys belonged together, and the big guy was kind of separate. The three looked the same. Did you notice that? Same kind of background, same looks, same genes maybe. They could all three be related. This guy Bell was from California. Mojave, right? Beau Borken, too. The feeling is the three of them are probably all from the same area. All West Coast types. But the big guy is different. Different clothes, different stance, different physically. The anthropologists down there in Quantico think he could be foreign, at least partly, or maybe second-generation. Fair hair and blue eyes, but there's something in his face. They say maybe he's European. And he's big. Not pumped up at the gym, just big, like naturally. "

  "So?" McGrath asked. "What were their conclusions?"

  "Maybe he is European," Webster said. "A big tough guy, maybe from Europe, they're worried he's some kind of a terrorist. Maybe a mercenary. They're checking overseas. "

  "A terrorist?" McGrath said. "A mercenary? But why?"

  "That's the point," Webster said. "The why part is what we need to nail down. If this guy really is a terrorist, what's his purpose? Who recruited who? Who is the motivating force here? Did Borken's militia hire him to help them out, or is it the other way around? Is this his call? Did he hire Borken's militia for local color inside the States?"

  "What the hell is going on?" McGrath asked.

  "I'm flying up to O'Hare," Webster said. "I'll take over day-to-day from here, Mack. Case this damn big, I've got to, right? The old guy will expect it. "

  "Which old guy?" McGrath asked sourly.

  "Whichever, both," Webster said.

  BROGAN DROVE OUT to O'Hare, middle of the evening, six hours after the debacle with the Mexicans in the truck in Arizona. McGrath sat beside him in the front seat, Milosevic in the back. Nobody spoke. Brogan parked the Bureau Ford on the military-compound tarmac, inside the wire fence. They sat in the car, waiting for the FBI Lear from Andrews. It landed after twenty minutes. They saw it taxi quickly over toward them. Saw it come to a halt, caught in the glare of the airport floodlights, engines screaming. The door opened and the steps dropped down. Harland Webster appeared in the opening and looked around. He caught sight of them and gestured them over. A sharp, urgent gesture. Repeated twice.

  They climbed inside the small plane. The steps folded in and the door sucked shut behind them. Webster led them forward to a group of seats. Two facing two across a small table. They sat, McGrath and Brogan facing Webster, Milosevic next to him. They buckled their belts and the Lear began to taxi again. The plane lurched through its turn onto the runway and waited. It quivered and vibrated and then rolled forward, accelerating down the long concrete strip before suddenly jumping into the air. It tilted northwest and throttled back to a loud cruise.

  "OK, try this," Webster said. "The Joint Chairman's daughter's been snatched by some terrorist group, some foreign involvement. They're going to make demands on him. Demands with some kind of a military dimension. "

  McGrath shook his head.

  "That's crap," he said. "How could that possibly work? They'd just replace him. Old soldiers willing to sit on their fat asses in the Pentagon aren't exactly thin on the ground. "

  Brogan nodded cautiously.

  "I agree, chief," he said. "That's a nonviable proposition. "

  Webster nodded back.

  "Exactly," he said. "So what does that leave us with?"

  Nobody answered that. Nobody wanted to say the words.

  THE LEAR CHASED the glow of the setting sun west and landed at Fargo in North Dakota. An agent from the Minneapolis Field Office was up there to meet them with a car. He wasn't impressed by Brogan or Milosevic, and he was too proud to show he was impressed by the Chicago Agent-in-Charge. But he was fairly tense about meeting with Harland Webster. Tense, and determined to show him he meant business.

  "We found their hideout, sir," the guy said. "They used it last night and moved on. It's pretty clear. About a mile from where the body was found. "

  He drove them northwest, two hours of tense darkening silence as the car crawled like an insect through endless gigantic spreads of barley and wheat and beans and oats. Then he swung a right and his headlights opened up a vista of endless grasslands and dark gray sky. The sun was gone in the west. The local guy threaded through the turns and pulled up next to a ranch fence. The fence disappeared onward into the dark, but the headlights caught police tape strung between a couple of trees, and a police cruiser, and a coroner's wagon waiting twenty yards away.

  "This is where the body was found," the local guy said.

  He had a flashlight. There wasn't much to see. Just a ditch between the blacktop and the fence, overgrown with grass, trampled down over a ten-yard stretch. The body was gone, but the medical examiner had waited with the details.

  "Pretty weird," the doctor said. "The guy was suffocated. That's for sure. He was smothered, pushed facedown into something soft. There are petechiae all over the face, and in the eyes. Small pinpoint hemorrhages, which you get with asphyxia. "

  McGrath shrugged.

  "What's weird about that?" he said. "I'd have suffocated the scumbag myself, given half a chance. "

  "Before and after," the doctor said. "Extreme violence before. Looks to me like the guy was smashed against a wall, maybe the side of a truck. The back of his skull was cracked, and he broke three bones in his back. Then he was kicked in the gut. His insides are a mess. Just slopping around in there. Extreme violence, awesome force. Whoever did that, I wouldn't want him to get mad at me, that's for damn sure. "

  "What about after?" McGrath said.

  "The body was moved," the doctor said. "Hypostasis pattern is all screwed up. Like somebody beat on the guy, suffocated him, left him for an hour, then thought better of it and moved the body out here and dumped it. "

  Webster and McGrath and Brogan all nodded. Milosevic stared down into the ditch. They regrouped on the shoulder and stood looking at the vast dark landscape for a long moment and then turned together back to the car.

  "Thank you, doc," Webster said vaguely. "Good work. "

  The doctor nodded. The car doors slammed. The local agent started up and continued on down the road, west, toward where the sun had set.

  "The big guy is calling the shots," Webster said. "It's clear, right? He hired the three guys to do a job of work for him. Peter Wayne Bell
stepped out of line. He started to mess with Holly. A helpless, disabled woman, young and pretty, too much of a temptation for an animal like that, right?"

  "Right," Brogan said. "But the big guy is a professional. A mercenary or a terrorist or something. Messing with the prisoner was not in his game plan. So he got mad and offed Bell. Enforcing some kind of discipline on the troops. "

  Webster nodded.

  "Had to be that way," he said. "Only the big guy could do that. Partly because he's the boss, therefore he's got the authority, and partly because he's physically powerful enough to do that kind of serious damage. "

  "He was protecting her?" McGrath said.

  "Protecting his investment," Webster said back, sourly.

  "So maybe she's still OK," McGrath said.

  Nobody replied to that. The car turned a tight left after a mile and bounced down a track. The headlight beams jumped over a small cluster of wooden buildings.

  "This was their stopping place," the local guy said. "It's an old horse farm. "

  "Inhabited?" McGrath asked.

  "It was until yesterday," the guy said. "No sign of anybody today. "

  He pulled up in front of the barn. The five men got out into the dark. The barn door stood open. The local guy waited with the car and Webster and McGrath and Brogan and Milosevic stepped inside. Searched with their flashlights. It was dark and damp. Cobbled floor, green with moss. Horse stalls down both sides. They walked in. Down the aisle to the end. The stall on the right had been peppered with a shotgun blast. The back wall had just about disintegrated. Planks had fallen out. Wood splinters lay all around, crumbling with decay.

  The end stall on the left had a mattress in it. Laid at an angle on the mossy cobbles. There was a chain looped through an iron ring on the back wall. The ring had been put there a hundred years ago to hold a horse by a rope. But last night it had held a woman, by a chain attached to her wrist. Webster ducked down and came up with the bright chrome handcuff, locked into the ends of the loop of chain. Brogan knelt and picked long dark hairs off the mattress. Then he rejoined Milosevic and searched through the other stalls in turn. McGrath stared at them. Then he walked out of the barn. He turned to face west and stared at the point where the sun had fallen over the horizon. He stood and stared into the infinite dark in that direction like if he stared long enough and hard enough he could focus his eyes five hundred miles away and see Holly.