Washington DC, Friday, September 20, 5:45 p.m.
It was the end of a nice Indian summer day in Washington, DC — not too hot, not too humid, with the first yellow and red hints of autumn in the air, the kind of day you want to put in the
back of a drawer and bring back out in January. For a cop, saying anything nice about the Nation’s Capital was a whole lot, Eddie Barnett thought as he stepped inside the Hog Heaven Sports Bar. In deference to the new politically correct era in the city, the sign over the door featured a large Redskins logo with a hog’s head and snout in a headdress instead of the former Indian brave.
Eddie’s partner, Charlie Wisniewski, was already inside, hunched over the bar and staring up at a large, flat-screen TV hanging above the shelves of booze. They still had some time to kill before they went out, so Barnett sat on the tall stool next to him. It was getting dark earlier now, and it would not be long before they would take to the streets for a third straight night attempting to track down Billy-Ray Perkins. Still trying to stay on the wagon, Barnett ordered a Diet Coke. Charlie, who no longer gave a shit about wagons, diets, or much of anything these days, was having his usual Police Special: a shot of bourbon with a Bud chaser. Barnett watched as Charlie lowered the shot glass into the glass of beer, bent down, and took a long pull. Barnett shook his head. What could he say? Charlie was Charlie.
Hog Heaven now had pretensions of being a trendy sports bar. “Used to be just a goddamned bar!” Charlie would snort anytime someone called it more than that. Sports or not, though, what it had always been was a cop bar. Located north of Pennsylvania Avenue and east of the Capitol, it was convenient to most of the District’s numerous law enforcement agencies. These days, that included the District Metro Police, the Police Departments in a dozen suburban cities and counties, the State Police from both Virginia and Maryland, and the full alphabet soup of Federal law enforcement from the FBI, Treasury, TSA, ATF, Army CID, Metrorail, ICE, US Marshals, Border Patrol, NCIS, DEA, Capitol Police, the Secret Service, National Park Police, and even Smokey the Bear, for all Barnett knew.
The bar got its name in the mid-1980s during the glory years of Washington Redskins football. As every loyal Skins fan knows, The Hogs were the legendary offensive line of Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, and Mark May. They were the ‘big uglies’ behind whom John Riggins
and Joe Theismann ran and threw their way to championships and into the NFL Hall of Fame. Back then, a cop bar really was a cop bar, populated by an entirely different breed of ‘big uglies’ in blue uniforms or cheap suits with bulges under their arms or around their waists. The place reeked of week-old cigar smoke, the music ran to twangy country, and the clientele was entirely white, male, and heterosexual. Other than the occasional ‘working girl’ looking for a warm trick on a cold night, back then it would have been as odd to see a woman step into the place as it would have been to see a guy in a Dallas Cowboys hat or an armed robber step through the front door. Either would have been suicidal.
To Charlie, those were the good old days, as he kept telling everyone who would listen. Their beloved Redskins won NFL championships, the dark wood, leather, and smoky interior of the bar gave the place a masculine ‘lived in’ look, and a cop could actually draw his service revolver and shoot a bad guy without being run to ground by a ravenous pack of lawyers. Unfortunately, those days were long gone. Like toys in kids’ meals, fur coats, Big Gulp soft drinks, and the three-martini lunch, even the Hog Heaven had succumbed to the progressively new and improved city. The crowd inside was still mostly cop, but half the customers now were women. Soft jazz from a surround-sound system had replaced the loud country music from the jukebox, and the banks of HD flat screen TVs were as likely to be showing a soap opera now as sports. And smoke? With the Nicotine Nazis around, no one dared light up a cigar, cigarette, or anything else inside. Flavored vodka, cosmos, and low-cal light beer had replaced the bourbon, Guinness stout, and Budweiser. The ultimate insult to Charlie, however, was seeing pastel, out-of-focus Monet prints where autographed Redskin jerseys, rows of player photos, and old game posters once hung.
It was on that sad note that Charlie turned on his stool and scanned the early evening crowd. “If they turn this place into a gay bar, Eddie, promise you’ll shoot me.”
“What makes you sure it isn’t already?” Barnett answered and blew him a kiss.
Charlie looked him over from head to foot. From his expression, Barnett could see Charlie was beginning to wonder about him — early-thirties, stylishly unshaven, a diamond stud earring, blue jeans, and a faded Sting ‘Broken Music Tour ‘05’ T-shirt. Charlie shook his head. “Nah, Louise would kill you first.” That was when Charlie’s eyes locked on the fresh Band-Aid on Eddie’s forehead. “Speaking of divine retribution…”
“Sometimes love hurts.”
“And sometimes love throws things.”
They turned back to the mindless Sports Center replays on the TV as a red ‘Special News Bulletin’ banner rolled across the screen and the picture changed from baseball replays to scrubby sand dunes. The headline read “North Coast of Israel” as four attack helicopters with blue and white Israeli markings rose into the air with a loud THUMP, THUMP and a cloud of swirling dust. Heavily armed soldiers with helmets, flak jackets, and submachine guns sat with their legs hanging out the open doors. With the bright morning sun glinting off the door gunner’s visors, the helicopters raced to the coast and turned north, twisting and turning as the surf broke across the white-sand beach below.
“Jumpin’ outta helicopters — ain’t that what you used to be dumb enough to do?” Charlie asked.
“Air assaults? Yeah, in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“Freakin’ ragheads, what do you think they did this time?” Charlie grunted.
“Pretty much anything they want, and they’re damned good at it.”
“Yeah, but over there, at least you got to shoot back.”
The scene on the TV screen split, with the Israeli footage in the background and a local DC news desk popping up in the lower right corner. Two attractive American TV reporters: Jeff Wang and Louise Taylor, sat side by side in front of the cameras, with plastic smiles as they tried to keep up with the director’s audio feeds, teleprompters, camera changes, and the constantly changing video on the screen behind them.
“In late-breaking news from the Middle East,” Jeff began in his ‘earnest’ voice, “the search continues for the surviving Hamas terrorists who attacked an Israeli commuter bus on the coastal highway north of Haifa this morning.” As he spoke, the aerial footage behind him focused on a plume of black smoke rising over the dunes in the distance, where more helicopters circled like vultures.
Just as quickly, the camera switched to Louise Taylor, who added, “So far, the body count is fifteen dead — thirteen commuters on the bus, plus two terrorists who were gunned down by Israeli security forces. Unfortunately, that help came too late to prevent the slaughter.” Behind her, the Israeli news helicopter continued to circle the scrubby dunes. On the coastal highway below, Israeli Military Police roadblocks held back long lines of civilian vehicles in both directions. Inside the containment area, armored cars, trucks, and ambulances lined the road shoulders. Military helicopters crisscrossed the dunes, sweeping low and adding noise, flying sand, and debris to the chaos below. In the center, the smoldering black hulk of the commuter bus lay on its side in a drainage ditch with a neat row of black-rubber body bags running down the center of the road next to it.
“It is believed the terrorists came ashore following a heated off-shore gun-battle last night in the Mediterranean between the Israeli Navy and a group of small speedboats carrying the Hamas gunmen from their bases in southern Lebanon,” Jeff went on. “At least three of the speedboats were sunk, but Israeli sources believe the terrorists who attacked the bus were survivors from the earlier battle who found their way ashore. That’s the reason for today’s massive search of the nearby coastal hills south of Haifa.”
“As you see,” Louise said with a frown and a tone of grave concern, “it looks as if the Israelis have their hands full this morning.” She raised her fingers to her earpiece and added, “Jeff, we have a new feed coming in from Tel Aviv,” as a grainy black-and-white photo of a dark-skinned Arabic-looking man with a well-trimmed black beard and moustache filled the screen. Dressed in combat fatigues, he held an AK-47 over his head, exhorting a crowd.
“Yes,” Jeff chimed in seamlessly. “While no group has taken credit yet, our State Department sources say this is more work of Black Flag. They are a Hamas fringe group led by the secretive Ibrahim Al-Bari, shown here in a file photo. The Israelis are now confirming that one of Al-Bari’s younger brothers is believed to have died in the bus attack, and the other was among the dead fished out of the Mediterranean this morning. Unfortunately, there is no word on the fate of their older brother.”
“Well, we can all hope they track him down soon,” Louise said as the camera switched back to her. “But what effect do you think these recent incidents will have on the peace process?”
“You could ask, what peace process, Louise? Everyone knows that the Israelis won’t wait very long before they hit back, and hit back hard.”
“Still, with all the other problems President Wagner has on his plate right now, and his poll numbers dropping like a rock, you have to wonder.”
“Yes, we do,” Jeff turned to the camera with his most ‘concerned’ expression. “So, today’s question is, ‘Terrorism. Can it happen here?’ ”
“TV-6 wants to know,” Louise added. “If you think it can, dial 577-0001. If you don’t, then dial 577-0002.”
“We’ll have your answers at 11:00, right here on Washington’s TV-6,” Jeff said as he stacked his papers and the TV screen cut to a Mop-and-Glo floor-cleaning commercial.
“And Jeff can dial 1-800-Kiss-My-Ass,” Charlie said as he looked up at the screen and shook his head. “You gotta hand it to them Israelis,” he said. “They don’t take no crap from nobody — not from the press, the lawyers, Congress, or even that nitwit we got in the White House.”
“No, they don’t, but they get more than their share anyway.”
Charlie took another long pull on the beer and looked over at Barnett with a sly grin. “By the way, wasn’t that your Louise up there on the tube?”
“My Louise? Oh, that’s funny, Charlie, real funny… and if she hears you called her ‘mine’, she’ll smack you silly.”
“Okay! Okay. Your old ex-sometimes-girlfriend, Louise, then.”
“And if she hears you call her ‘old’ or ‘ex’, it’ll be even worse.”
“Me? I never understood what she saw in your sorry ass to begin with, but you are flat-out nuts to let a good-lookin’ woman like that get away.”
“Yeah, well, it’s a little more complicated than that.”
“It always is,” Charlie said wistfully as he looked at the Band-Aid on the younger man’s forehead and drained the last of his beer. “But how can Louise stand working with that clown Jeff?”
“Money,” Barnett was quick to answer. “Lots of money.”
“Still, you need to figure out some way to make it right with that girl. You love her, she loves you…”
“And we are terrible together. You know that.”
“Eddie, I been married to Norma Jean for forty-two years, ever since J. Edgar gave me a job, so don’t make me laugh. You don’t know shit about women. That’s your problem.” Finally, Charlie glanced at his watch. “Well, it’s ‘show time’, Podnah — time for you and me to make a house call on old Billy-Ray Perkins.”
Wisniewski slapped a ten-dollar bill on the bar and slid off his stool. They were both wearing navy blue nylon windbreakers with “FBI” written across the back in large, neon-yellow letters. Charlie reached under his left arm, pulled out a long, hog-leg, .357-magnum revolver, and spun the cylinder to check the load. As Barnett watched, Charlie did the same for the ‘official’ Bureau-issued Glock 9-mm automatic he carried in a second holster on his hip, seating a round in the chamber, and patted his ankle to make sure the small .32 caliber Beretta automatic ‘bail-out’ gun was still there.
Barnett shook his head. “If you ever fall in the water with all that hardware on, you’re gonna drown,” he said.
“Maybe, but if you ever served warrants in the Cabrini-Greene housing project in Chicago, like I did, you’d carry a bazooka, if they let you.”
Barnett smiled and shook his head, knowing his own .38 caliber Police Special snub-nose revolver was securely clipped to his belt in the center of his back.
“A little pop-gun like that don’t cut it no more, Eddie. It’s gonna get you killed.”
“Not if I shoot straight.”
With their usual pre-op needling over, the two men headed for the door, exchanging knowing glances with a few of their cop friends sitting around the bar. Outside, the twilight had faded into a lovely autumn evening. Charlie paused at the curb and sniffed the air. “Nice night. Too bad we gotta go out and screw it up.”
They had drawn a battered gray Ford sedan from the motor pool and left it parked under a ‘No Parking’ sign near the corner. As they neared the car, both men suddenly sped up and headed for the driver’s side door.
“I’ll drive,” Barnett said as he reached for the door handle.
“The hell you say!” Like a good NHL defenseman, Charlie got one of his prodigious hips in the way and cut him off. “I’ve got six months ‘til retirement, Eddie. Norma Jean’ll thump my butt good, if she hears I ever got in a car with you behind the wheel again.”
“Oh, come on. It’s only a wreck from the DEA impound lot, Charlie.”
“It ain’t the car Norma Jean’s worried about, it’s me; and I gotta live with that woman.”
“Ah, she loves me,” Barnett gave up and walked around to the passenger side.
“But she don’t love your driving.”
“Not all those accidents were my fault. Haven’t you ever heard of ‘hot pursuit’?”
“Hot pursuit? That was the third car this year. If it happens again, the Director’ll have your ass and mine too… if Norma Jean leaves him any.”
“Okay, okay, you can drive.” The passenger seat was all the way forward, so Barnett squeezed inside and shoved it as far back as it would go. The cushions were dirty, the car smelled of cigarette smoke, and the rear floor was littered with Taco Bell wrappers, Chinese take-out boxes, and cardboard Starbucks coffee cups. “Damned day shift,” Barnett mumbled.
“What? You think they’re gonna leave us something nice? Besides, this wasn’t the day shift. Our guys don’t eat crap like that,” he threw a thumb toward the back seat. “I heard DEA used it for a stake-out and stuck us with the mess. But Starbucks? Where the hell do those DEA clowns get the money to buy freakin’ Starbucks?”
“We’re in the wrong end of the business.”
“What was your first clue?”
Their old sedan merged into the steady stream of red, rush-hour taillights. To the left and right they passed the City’s big floodlit monuments — the Washington, the Lincoln, the Reflecting Pool in the Mall, the Capitol, and finally the White House itself, cold and white as seen from two blocks away over the rings of barricades. The perfectly manicured lawns were surrounded by decorative wrought-iron fences and a myriad of less visible electronic ones. Thick concrete bollards blocked the surrounding streets, driveways, and parking lots from traffic. Through the trees, they could barely make out the dim shapes of men in dark suits on the move, talking into radios. Barnett knew there were many more Secret Service agents around, prowling the grounds, walking the perimeter, and keeping watch on the roof. Up there, they were dressed in black, wore baseball caps, and carried night vision scopes, sniper rifles, and even anti-aircraft missiles.
“Look at that shit,” Charlie grumped as he glanced over and shook his head. “Twenty years ago, you could drive by the White House, park, and walk right up to the gate. Now, it is Fortress America. What the hell are we teachin’ our kids?”
“Probably how to survive,” Eddie answered as he slumped down in the seat.
It was late enough now that the District’s normally thick rush-hour traffic had begun to ebb. They turned northeast past some of the City’s posh retail streets lined on both sides with trees and trendy shops. Continuing into the darker, seamy residential streets beyond, the trees began to lose their leaves and ‘trendy’ turned to trashy, abandoned, and half-vacant.
“I’m getting tired, Charlie,” Eddie told him.
“Try gettin’ to bed on time.”
“Not that kind,” he sighed. “I’m tired of this crap. What do you and I ever get? College kids at Georgetown running a real estate finance scam in a fraternity basement, New Jersey ‘wise guys’ short-sheeting the Navy with cheap wire cable, and now, some good-old-boys from Beckley, West Virginia, exercising their God-given constitutional right to stick up branch banks with AK-47’s. If they weren’t so dumb, they’d be funny, and I’m just flat tired of it. The wrong end of the business? It’s a lot more than that. I’d like to get something that has at least a hint of dignity for a change. You know what I mean?”
“Eddie, I got six months… do you know what I mean? Besides, Billy-Ray and his three cousins may look like an episode of Duck Dynasty, but he happens to be a particularly nasty piece of work and you know it.”
“Yeah, nasty and dumb as dirt. Where’s the challenge there?”
“Why don’t you decide that after we catch him. Besides, you got nobody to blame but yourself. You keep pissin’ off the Director. He may not be able to fire you, but he can sure as hell give you every dead-end job that pops up.”
“Well, when we do finally bag him, I wish somebody would figure out a way to keep ’im in jail long enough for us to finish the paperwork before he’s back on the street again.”
Suddenly, Charlie’s eyes flashed and he studied Barnett for a moment. “Wait a minute. I got it, now! All this pissin’ and moanin’ ain’t about Billy-Ray, the car, or you being tired, is it? It’s about Louise. Oh, yeah,” he grinned and pointed his finger at the younger agent. “She threw you out again, didn’t she?”
“Just because Louise and I decided to elevate our relationship to a higher plain of mutual understanding and affection…”
“What? You popped the question and she turned you down again? Like that ain’t happened before.”
“Not exactly.” Barnett took a deep, reluctant breath. “This time it was kinda the other way around.”
“She asked you? And you said no? Oh, that was a really bad idea, Eddie!”
“I think I know that now,” Eddie said as he touched the Band-Aid on his forehead.
“With Louise that could be a near death experience. What did she throw this time?”
“An ashtray?” Charlie started coughing, turning red in the face as he tried not to laugh. “Huh! I thought she quit smoking… then again, I guess she could have quit bowling, or horseshoes.”