They left Otis in the Dunestar in one of the upper levels of the deck that was almost empty. His newly met companions all exited to the glass elevator enclosure and caught the lift without looking back. Otis went up front, started the Dunestar and drove back down two levels to where most of the spaces were filled and people walking about. Parking off in the corner of a nearly empty level was a stupid way to stand out and make people wonder what you are up to.
Otis looked for security cameras and parked well away, backing in since there was no sign prohibiting it, and several other vehicles were aligned that way. First he walked around back and lifted the hatch, confirming what sort of equipment they left for him. Then he pulled his cell phone and called Keith Anderson, the head of Safety Associates in Southern California. The man didn’t expect to see him until the signing this afternoon, and he’d undoubtedly be interrupting his work, but he needed some help right away.
“Keith? Otis here. Yeah I got in ok and I’m set for the signing later. I ran into some complications and I need a hand right now. This isn’t any kind of bizarre test or anything. I do need you or somebody who can scan a vehicle for tracking devices and dispose of it for me. Also I need a ride away from here and have some things to haul, and I’ll need a vehicle until later this evening. By ‘dispose’ I mean take it to some bad assed nasty neighborhood and park it on the street with the keys hanging in the ignition. I’d try not to park it in front of any security cameras. Or if somebody knows a chop shop sell it to them, not too eagerly though, get the best price you can to avoid suspicion. Yeah that’s good.”
“I’m in a grey Jeep Dunestar at the Century Medical building on Sepulveda on parking deck level ‘D’,” he looked and gave him the license. “And Keith, do you have anybody with the shop who shoots a .416 Tac-Tech Barratt? Great. Would you have him loan you a round of ammo and a bullet puller? Well stop and buy one if he doesn’t load his own. I also need a set of golf clubs in a bag and cart. – No, I don’t care what kind, just not antiques. They can be any length, used cheapies are fine, but wipe them for prints and spray them down to inhibit DNA testing.”
“Oh! run a couple names for me too, passive search only, not a directed inquiry, see if the Feebs or Interpol has anything out on a Polzinsky, white male, European features, unaccented American English, shy of two meters, eighty kilos, pushing forty, moustache, no beard, graying at the temples. – I don’t know, assassinations, gun running, war crimes, that sort of thing. -Yeah, no shit. And a Home national,” he said, reading the data off the black card. The picture on the card was horrid. He described it as best he could, but it was like medium everything.
ONI knew somebody was meeting Mr. Polzinsky, if that was his name. Could be they knew his real name. No way did he intend to remain associated with this Dunestar. If the Navy didn’t have a tracker on it the creeps who gave it to him probably did. Crap, could be both of them following it around on a map. The very thought gave him the shivers. He decided to take a walk until his people got here. No point in standing beside such a trouble magnet.
Otis found a coffee kiosk in the lobby of the medical building. He got a latte with a hefty top of whipped cream, and grabbed a handful of napkins for the inevitable mess. He tipped the fellow exactly twenty percent, not enough to remember him as cheap or generous. He walked around outside, taking a different route back to the Dunestar, and saw Keith drive in past him as he walked up the ramp.
He was pleased to see his man backed in on the far side from the distant camera. They both went to the rear and opened their vehicles. Otis opened the big case on the floor and Keith looking over his shoulder let out a long whistle. The long barreled .416 Barrett was the military model, not the civilian version. It had the long tension sleeve barrel and a computerized Nightforce scope with integral laser range finding and Doppler wind correction. The lumps of self adjusting servo motors rode on it instead of manual adjustment knobs. The compartmented case had trigger and barrel tools, cleaning necessities, and two ten round magazines loaded with Hornady match ammo.
There was a window breaching charge that could be wired to the gun’s electronic ignition. It would open a hole a few milliseconds ahead of the gun firing so there was no danger of deflection. The whole rig was way serious overkill for a two hundred meter shot. To the point Otis doubted the pro had specifically requested this gun. A cheap hunting rifle would have been plenty and less likely to be tracked. In other circumstances he’d have been tempted to substitute a lesser gun and keep this for himself, but not given what it was involved with and its unknown providence. Unless, he reflected, possibly the gunman didn’t intend to use the hotel room they provided at all, but planned to shoot from a more distant point of his choosing.
Otis moved the gun and several other items to Keith’s minivan. Otis could read the alarm in his eyes to have the gun in his vehicle. Several sworn officers that worked for Keith shot the .416 or .50 Barratt for their agencies or the Guard, not California cops, but Federal. Barratt didn’t sell to California, so the state hated them and especially didn’t issue private security permits for the big rifle. Possession broke so many laws in California a grand jury would be a week making a list. Otis was his boss, and he trusted him, so he didn’t object – yet. Otis was pretty sure he was near his limits though. He had the bullet puller and requested round, and a man in street clothing who must be his disposal driver.
“I have Phil rounding up the golf bag,” Keith assured him. “He’s supposed to buy one at a used sports equipment store and park a couple blocks over on a residential street. We can meet him there or call him in on the phone. You know, Wiggen is coming into town tomorrow. That’s a hell of a bad time to be riding around with this in the van.”
“Where he parks is just fine,” Otis said. “Sooner we’re out of here the better.” He pulled the bullet, poured the powder on a coffee napkin, and pinched just a couple grains between his fingers to drop back in the neck of the brass cartridge. He replaced the bullet, tapping it home with the back side of the puller and chambered the round. “This will be a lot less of a problem in just a minute,” he assured Keith.
“Uh, Otis…” Keith started to say something in alarm as he tilted the rifle over to get at the trigger. He fired it before he could object. The gun made a funny thump, but no real bang to Keith’s relief. Neither did he have a hole from the back seat out through the front grill as he likely would have made with a full powered round.
Otis ran the cleaning rod down the bore. He was satisfied the bullet was lodged, fully engraved on the rifling about two inches from the throat. He took a magazine and made sure it still accepted a standard round and ejected it properly. There was no visible bulge on the barrel. If somebody checked both magazines were still full. The empty travel case went back in the Dunestar. The empty brass went in his pocket.
“I have to leave this rifle somewhere this evening,” he explained to Keith. “No way do I want it to be a functioning weapon.” It was a nasty thing to do to a sweet weapon, but if something happened to him he also didn’t want anybody to be able to ‘take over’ and fulfill his mission for him. If that should happen, well, with a little bit of luck whoever tried to use the gun would get a big surprise. The thought made him smile.
“Here,” he told Keith’s man, “shake this powder off the napkin over edge of the deck, and when you get rid of the Dunestar stop somewhere along the way and dumpster the case too.
The man nodded an acknowledgment, but was checking out the Dunestar with a laptop. He must be the bug finder too.
“It’s cold, sitting still. Mind if I start it, and circle the deck if I need to?”
“Be my guest,” Otis invited him.
He went around once then surprised Otis by whipping around fairly fast. Otis didn’t want him calling attention to them, but he pulled in after one quick round. He got out and went to the rear of the vehicle, fiddling with something.
“You had two hot spots. First your remote start fob was emitting. Don’t have anything to do with the vehicle, it just runs all the time. Second there was a transmitter in the spare tire valve that didn’t come on unless you were moving. Both are dead now, but you don’t have a spare tire until you get a new valve stem in the rim.”
“Good work. You ready to go dump it?” The fellow gave him a mock salute and climbed back in. He never did get the man’s name.
“Let’s go get my golf bag,” he told Keith. “Then I need the van for a couple hours to check in the Sheraton. Your man with the golf bag can take you back can’t he?”
And that was the second coincidence he didn’t deserve, Otis thought fingering the key cards in his pocket. He’d had a reservation at the Sheraton from three weeks ago, _before_ Wiggen was announced to be visiting the city. No need to find an excuse to enter the building or risk trying to get a room at the last minute when they were probably sold out. He wasn’t sure if he’d even look in the room the conspirators had provided. He was thinking on how to play it.
* * *
Otis checked in to the Sheraton uneventfully. He had two throw away phones in his pocket he’d bought before returning. They were busy enough at the desk no one objected or offered a hand when he piled his own luggage on a cart and took it up to the eighth floor. There were two security cameras on each floor, one pointing down the hall and one covering the elevator. It was dubious anyone was monitoring them real time. Their deterrent value was in reviewing them if a crime occurred. They would undoubtedly be reviewed after an assassination attempt originating in the building, but not before.
The room was average, boring really. He dumped the bag of trash he’d been given in the toilet and ripped the bag into smaller pieces he was sure would flush. He looked around the room trying to decide where he could hide the spacer ID. He rejected the Gideon Bible. Taped to a drawer bottom or table bottom was too well known. He finally saw the cheap floor lamp in the corner had a slip joint half way up. He pulled the brass plated tubing apart and rolled the ID up around the cord. When he fitted it back together he wiped it down to be uniformly shiny. The key cards went inside the plastic cover of the hotel room service menu. It was a slide in folder so they could change inserts, but a very tight fit.
He considered finding the cleaning cart room and using it to access the shooter’s room. But he had nothing with which to disguise himself as a cleaning lady. Pushing a cart down the hall after check-in hours started would draw attention immediately. Anybody from the hotel he ran into would want to know what the hell he thought he was doing. In the morning all the carts would be in use, and the only way he could get control of one would be to bribe or incapacitate a cleaning person. The reasonable thing if he could do what he had in mind seemed to be to brazen it out as soon as possible before everyone was on alert status for the visit in the morning.
Once his things were in his room he took the luggage cart in the elevator back down to the parking deck. He got in the minivan and pulled on dark pants over his khakis, rolled up his sleeves, and put a crushable hat on that was part of his usual kit. Then he ducked down and used the van to shield himself from the camera and came out from behind a car further down the row wheeling the golf bag. The luggage cart was still in the elevator when he called it back.
This trip in he had only the golf bag on the luggage cart with the broken down Barratt in it. He kept his head down so his face was hidden from the security camera by the floppy brim. As an added disguise he drew a gang tattoo on the back of his hand with his pen, and made sure the camera saw it. It would come off easily enough with a disinfectant wipe. Going directly to the room he swiped himself in without a guilty look either way in the hall. The suite had the look of one used as an apartment instead of for travelers. His conspirators probably knew the owner was on a trip or something.
The desk made a fine shooting bench dragged into the middle of the room. It took less than five minutes to refit the barrel and position everything. Just for insurance, besides the plugged bore, he turned on the scope and changed the zero point up a meter and a half meter to the right, deleting the history. He positioned the window breaching charge clipped on the edge of the curtain instead of on the glass where it might be visible with binoculars, and wired it up to a brand new throw-away cell phone. The drapes were only open about an inch. Hopefully that wouldn’t bring anybody from below up to inspect the room. The golf bag was unimportant, assuming Keith sanitized it properly, so it was left in the corner of the room.
Otis left, walking out of the Sheraton along the street until he found a place for lunch. The dark pants went in the trash can in the men’s room; the hat rolled up was tucked in his waist band. It was a pleasant walk back to his room where he cleaned up a little, flushed his gloves and the wipe from removing his fake tattoo. He put his clothing out for the Hotel to dry clean over night in the little bag provided and dressed with a jacket and no tie instead of a suit, this was California after all, and drove the minivan back to Keith.
A stop at a print shop got him a memory card his computer could read. While Keith finished up business to get ready for their signing Otis sat at the small conference table in his office. He opened a throw away mail account and contacted Credit Suisse. A few minutes work had the balance shifted to a new account he was sure had no cosigners. Something he’d have been unable to do without an initial account. A little more work sent half to a new account at First Caribbean on Grand Turk. Unlike the Swiss bank you didn’t have to be there in person to open an account. This evening he’d spread the money around even further, safe from claw backs. He’d leave just a couple thousand in the account the new card serviced.
While Keith spent most of the time on his own phone Otis pulled out his small computer and opened a Program called Lineup Artist. He worked quickly, familiar with the program and proficient with it. He made a face for each of the three who met him at the airport, concentrating on the senior player. In a half hour he had likenesses that would have taken him days of back and forth with an expert artist or forever if he depended on his own freehand drawing skills.
The easy part done he considered what to write. He got a sheet of paper from the mid-stack Keith’s printer and wiped the table clean changing his gloves again.
“FBI – Imperative we inform you there will be attempt on life of President.” he started. He intended to imply he was speaking for an organization, and leave a few articles out and print some of the letters in a form that would suggest a well educated Eastern European who had learned English in a British setting. He printed working to make it different than his normal printing. An expert would find subtle similarities, but only if they had a decent sample of his writing and were already on to him.
“We find ourselves able to frustrate this scheme by communicating, but unable to halt entirely on our own. Your Mr. Polzinsky returned to Atlanta by ONI was not only first layer or persons involved. On enclosed chip please find artists best work up of men working directly with your suspect. If attempt made on President then you will know these words true. Strongly suggest you remove President Wiggen from area under tightest security when this happens. If you temporarily refuse to divulge President’s condition and imply she is receiving medical attention will prevent launch of backup attempt planned. We have identified second attempt – next is up to you. Sincerely – A. Friend.”
It wasn’t perfect. It might cause them to pull Wiggen out of the event entirely, which wouldn’t bother him too much. It might cause a more intense search which would find the sniper’s nest. It might be, probably would be, ignored as the work of some demented flake. Certainly no intelligence agency would really communicate this way, but once the attempt was validated, could they afford to ignore the warning and recommendation? He didn’t think so. It was after all cheap insurance and all the plans would already be in place for an emergency removal to medical attention. If they went along with it and the implication was that Wiggen was injured he might just get the second payment in the Swiss account. That would be delicious.
“I need some DNA spray,” he informed Keith.
“That stuff is illegal in California now you know.”
“I hope that doesn’t mean you didn’t spray the golf bag down.”
“No, I’d have told you if we couldn’t. I just wanted to make sure you knew. They’re getting smarter too. Instead of outlawing a particular reagent they outlawed any chemical agent that interferes with the replication and identification of DNA residues for criminal analysis.” He rummaged through his drawers and brought Otis a can that proclaimed it was Acme Premium Lens Cleaner. When he applied it to the paper and chip it was more a fine fog than a spray.
“I want this delivered today to the FBI through at least three cut-outs. The last two should be somebody you have never used. A courier service or a cab. And they need to be watched so we have positive confirmation of delivery.”
“I’ll call some off shift people in. I need to have somebody else boss it so we can get over to the signing.” He didn’t ask Otis what was in it.
* * *
The studio signing was anticlimactic after the other events of the day, but he got fully engaged in it, assuring the executives more by presence than words what a wise choice they’d made. A couple times Otis caught Keith giving him a thoughtful examination. When they were back in Keith’s van he finally spoke.
“You’re working for somebody else too.”
Otis didn’t say anything. I am, sort of, he reflected. They just don’t know it yet. Certainly several players would gladly pay him to do what he was if they only knew. Wiggen’s own party, and even the off-worlders who would be hurt when she lost the office, now or later. If he could get that to translate to gratitude after the fact – that was a whole different question.
“You didn’t ask anything.”
“Does John know about it?” he asked, refusing to play that game. He meant John Trumble the CEO of Safety Associates.
“No, I got recruited on the plane. But John would approve. He’s made his politics plain to me and this mission fits them. I have the authority to sign the company to contracts, and I have my own morals to serve too.”
“You figure you’re on the side of the angels then?”
“Always. Have you ever known me to do something dirty? Illegal maybe, but actually wrong?”
“No,” he sighed. “And when you spiked that gun it just reassured me you were the right kind of fellow to support. Contacting the FBI reinforces it. I wouldn’t have done half of the things you requested today for somebody else. I hope you know that.”
“It will work out fine,” he assured him. “The most important part is wrapped up already. Now it’s just tinkering with the details.”
“Something to do with Wiggen?”
“You’ll know tomorrow.” Otis promised him with a wink.
When they pulled in at the Sheraton Otis pulled out the two silenced pistols and laid them on the console.
“You might hang on to those for us. Might upset them at the airport if I forgot and tried to board with them.”
“Sweet Jesus, man. What if I get stopped on the way home?” Keith protested.
“I guess you better be an exemplary driver this once.”
* * *
Otis didn’t want any further entertainment and just ate in the Sheraton. It was good but overpriced like most hotel food. His expense account would cover it. He was more aware of value because he didn’t have much money growing up. It had been a struggle for his mom and dad both working to stay in something like a middle class lifestyle with two kids.
After dinner he walked around outside. Across the street and in front of an office building there was a decorative terrace with a small fountain. It appeared most everyone was gone for the day. There was no foot traffic at the main door and the lot was almost empty. He walked slowly giving himself time to examine it. He walked up to the rail around the fountain and worked his way around three quarters of the way until he was standing sideways to the building Wiggen would enter in the morning. It was directly across a huge parking lot from here with his Sheraton sitting on the left. There were coins in the fountain and he dug in his pocket finding a few dimes. While he picked them out he peeled off the sticky back on a web cam that looked like a bolt head. When he gripped the rail to lean out and toss the coins the camera was firmly planted on the vertical aluminum support. It was a good three hundred fifty meters to the only entry that looked possible for Wiggen to use in the morning.
They would likely jam cell phones right around Wiggen as she moved, but if they jammed data wireless it tended to be a tight bubble around her, not this far away. He sat on the edge of a planter and accessed the camera from his phone, zoomed in on the door and centralized it. Then he carefully erased the address the phone had automatically recorded. After a bit he planted a second camera. Not so much as a back-up, but it was better than throwing it away, and he didn’t want to take it back to his room. There were several public wireless nets hot on the plaza so he set the cameras to different ones.
Back in his room he made a pile of pillows and got comfortable. He had several new books in his compact computer, and made himself comfortable to enjoy them.
A firm knock on the door interrupted his immersion in the book. “House, unlock,” he called, and then realized it wouldn’t do that here like at home. It was a plain mechanical dead bolt on top. “Coming,” he corrected and sat the computer aside on the bed.
The pair in the hall were mid-thirties, in nice, but off the rack suits, and the shoes screamed they were cops.
“Hmm, not local, not military,” he checked out the haircut and ties. “You boys gotta be Feds – probably FBI. Why don’t ya come in and make yourselves at home?”
“Thank you,” the man seemed indifferent to his analysis. “You are correct. I’m Special agent Pilato, and this is agent Harrison.” He offered ID and Otis made the gesture of really looking at it since it seemed expected.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions. Do you have any objection?”
“No, not as long as you answer one of mine first. Am I a suspect in some criminal act? If so I’m afraid I’d have to lawyer up on general principals. If you have questions about third parties I have no problem talking to you.”
“Would you mind me seeing what you were reading when we came in?”
“You’re welcome to look at the item displayed. If you want to do a general search of my computer or phone I’ll have to ask you to get a warrant. The comp has all sorts of private information about Security Associates, and my boss would have my head if I just casually handed it over.”
The Special Agent nodded an acknowledgement and picked it up. Otis expected him to toss it back down after a few sentences, but he obviously read it all the way to the page end.
“This is damn good stuff. Who’s the author?” he asked.
“Michael Z. Williamson, the novel is ‘Better to Beg Forgiveness’.”
The lesser agent looked uncomfortable at this chatty exchange. Unlike the older agent he had looked pissed ever since Otis had ID’d them as Feebs.
“Do you know why we came to speak with you?” he asked, probably out of turn.
“Oh sure, President Wiggen is in town and I just flew all the way across the continent to be in the same city. I’m a shooter, an actual competent one. So that scares you guys. Hell of a shame the government needs to train people like me, it makes your job harder, but no way around it unless they go to all mercenaries instead of a citizen army.”
“Leaving aside the political tones of that you are correct. Can you tell us why you are in town and when you expect to leave?”
“I’m here to sign a contract with Yani Cinema for security services. I work for Security Associates out of Atlanta, and we signed the papers up this afternoon. My local man Keith Anderson drove me over there and dropped me off after. You can check with the studio people that I was there too. I might mention this was all arranged and we made reservations before it was ever announced President Wiggen would be in town. If I’d know I’d have re-scheduled it for another week.”
“Why’s that?” the Special Agent reasserted himself.
“Because I don’t like to fly back at night, but if I try to fly out in the morning I can get caught in all the jammed up traffic and flight delays from President Wiggen being in town. No telling if she’ll leave early or late and I could get stuck sitting in the plane for five or six hours waiting to take off. We moved my flight up to tomorrow so all that will be sorted out before I board.”
“And do you feel resentment over that Mr. Anderson?” the under agent asked again.
“Don’t be a horse’s ass.” Otis told the younger man. “Of course I resent it. I won’t play this childish game of any hint of dissatisfaction being the same as disloyalty. I served with officers who needed help to tie their shoes in the morning. I did my job and ignored what I couldn’t fix. I swore an oath to protect the United States and its constitution. That didn’t end just because I’m no longer active duty. I don’t know Wiggen, but I’d do anything to protect her or any other serving President, even if she irritates me. Shit, just about everybody irritates me. You sure as hell do. It’s almost my frigging hobby. I think your computer will tell you I mean all that.”
“With a probability of 97%,” the senior agent agreed. “Nevertheless, I need to follow procedures and ask if we can look around the room, and your vehicle.”
“I don’t have a car. That’s why my local man drove me here and back. I hate rental cars and dealing with them. Feel free to look around. If I make you too nervous here you can always move me out by the airport and upgrade me to a nicer room. I wouldn’t argue with you at all.”
“I doubt my supervisor would buy that. We don’t usually get put up in anything this nice when we travel.”
Otis recovered his computer and sat in a chair by the table. Putting his feet up on the other chair. The agents checked under the mattress and in the drawers, It was interesting that one grabbed all the tissues in the bathroom dispenser and checked behind them, as well as in the toilet tank. They looked at the Gideon bible, but just a cursory glance, they didn’t fan the pages thoroughly. They’re just going through the motions to cover their butts, Otis thought. They didn’t check the backs of the curtains or take the grill off the bathroom exhaust fan.
* * *
If he were doing these interviews Otis would leave an underling in place to observe each person interviewed after the agents left. Any precipitous flight or flurry of communications would be a tip off that something was awry. So he leaned back and relaxed to enjoy his book. If they had anything concrete on him he’s be in an interrogation room being sweated, especially anything from the airport. He believed they really were just scrutinizing anyone with military service who suddenly decided to rush to the same town President Wiggen was visiting. There were always a lot of know mental cases and political extremists to check out too. Probably local cops would be running most of those down. They should have his letter by now, but he didn’t expect that to be taken seriously or to affect their routines until it was validated in the morning.