Home Chapter 24

 “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”

Jonathan Swift

 

 

Marc lumbered through the Federal Plaza towards the offices of the F.B.I., his shoes squeaking in the humid night air, the herald of a dreaded New York summer’s beginning.

His creaking steps through the threshold of the gray and black building caused him to glance at the emblem underfoot. Unnoticed in the usual hustle to get to work, the bold ribbon unfurled, seized his attention, proclaiming Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. Topmost of the badge, on a field of gold surrounded by stars, the scales of justice, unmoored and untethered. The seal itself was daily waxed, shiny, perfect—as ideal as the F.B.I. seemed from the littered halls of his brick and cinderblock high school.

He’d fought his way here. Focused on it when his Civics teacher had mentioned the possibility to his class of lost and burn-out teens. The notion that he could leave, leave his town without joining the military. He’d wanted to join the good guys’ club ever since he’d seen Inspector Lewis Erskine fight for justice every Sunday night at eight.[i] The need had survived Watergate, and disillusion, and questioning his sexuality. He’d escaped small-town troubles, giving up parties, drinking, drugs, and identity, sublimating everything, eyes fixated and forward, into this shining building in a dirty city. Why?

Fidelity.

Bravery.

Integrity.

F.B.I.

He caught the eye of the woman on the front desk. Colbert, he was pretty sure her name was. He already knew too many of the overnight officers’ names, despite being assigned here less than a year.

And they recognized him as well.

“Agent Morrissey,” she declared as he approached. “Agent Dunn is waiting for you downstairs, and I have some messages for you.”

Well, that’s perfect.

Any hope of in and out, then home to Craig, died a quick death.

No such luck. In fact, no luck at all.

For a half-second he considered turning around and bolting anyway, but no. He would have to see his supervisor tonight.

First virtue, first directive: Fidelity.

“This is from Agent Galway,” the woman added as she handed him the message. He flipped it open.

Meeting at 7am, Agent Robertson’s office. 

Wonderful. At least they’d get his beating out of the way early.

Colbert gave him another piece of folded paper. “And this is from a man calling on behalf of a Catherine Chandler.”

Goddamn Chandler.

If only she’d let them in, just a little, gave them what they needed. If she had, he wouldn’t be here with his S.A.C.[ii] and the entire food chain ready to eat him alive.

He grabbed the note and marched towards the elevators.

Escorting a beat-up Moreno to his jail cell via NYU Medical had been an utter, damn delight. Two hours in an emergency room that could have doubled as a Blade Runner set. Another few hours in a curtained exam bay while Moreno’s lawyer demanded double sets of x-rays. Then one more hour before the medical diagnosis: contusions—a.k.a, bruising and a chipped tooth. The lawyer spent the bulk of their time together berating him, Agent Dunn, Maxwell, Maxwell’s right hook, the New York Bureau, the Federal Bureau, and the United States Government, somewhat in that order.

Taking suspects, along with their lawyers, to the hospital after your senior agent royally screws your investigation wasn’t what he’d signed up for after leaving Newark.

He remembered the interview with a wince.

“Why do you want to move to the New York office, Agent Morrissey?”

“I believe I have a talent for pulling the pieces of a case together, and in New York, I’ll be working under the most experienced and most innovative agents in the field.”

What a joke.

An elbow press of the button and an immediate off-key ding, as if the car had been waiting to take him down. Stepping on, dread rising with the sink, he read Galway’s note again.

Meeting at 7am, Agent Robertson’s office. The message spoke volumes with its curtness. Could Frank Dunn, the supervisor he had once hoped would super-charge his career, cost him his job?

A level down and off, the moves and missteps to get here echoed across the tile floor. A year in Nebraska after the Academy, coordinating Bureau business for two states from a tiny field office, then two more in Indianapolis—a miniscule desk behind the scenes, working anything and everything they threw at him, from price-fixing corn conglomerates to deciphering Neo-Nazi militia rolls, to busting meth labs, then three years in Newark focused on the mafia. Enough time to make a small name for himself and to yearn to move up and on … and end up blindsided by a crush on an effeminate man, gay with a capital “G”, the type of partner he’d strategically avoided.

But love was unpredictable—his love of Craig and his love of New York.

The Washington and Quantico offices were higher, of course … but also stilted, stifled, conservative. The Manhattan office, the new ideas, the innovative investigations, the fireworks. On Dunn and Robertson’s team, he thought he’d learn the techniques and meet the contacts that made legends in the Bureau.

Oh, their team might become legends all right … thanks to Dunn…

“This is the big leagues, Morrissey,” his S.A.C. had assured him today between their wait-the-woman-out sessions and springing Moreno on her. “This is how we persuade reluctant witnesses to talk. You’ll see. It gets results.”

Results like probably losing John Moreno’s appeal of detention? After their stunt bringing Maxwell and Chandler into boxing distance of their former boss, Moreno’s attorney had the grounds to spring him until trial. [iii]

And treating their witness like a goombah, it made no sense—a rookie mistake … or a jaded one.

Or the worst possibility—this was how the game was played here. Robertson and Yarrow hadn’t disapproved of the thumbscrews strategy when they’d delivered their reports. Nothing against or for it in writing. All official communication kept free of directives, open to back-peddling and interpretation as needed.

Parker, the other agent roped into taking Moreno to the hospital, had warned him.

“Dunn’s lost it. He used to be a bigshot, but that’s the problem—too much skin in the game. Won’t compromise, and you got stuck in the middle of his shit sandwich. They’re going to reassign the squad, so you better think about how you’ll sell your part in this, or you might end up in Anchorage, especially after Thornburg gets wind…”

Just because you were in one of the leading field offices in the nation didn’t mean the ambition ceased. If anything—at least if his S.A.C. was anyone to go by—that drive seemed to metastasize into ruthlessness. Perhaps the price and-or mechanism for advancement?

If that’s how it was here … If integrity took a backseat to ambition…

Morrissey turned into the Pit. His boss sat alone on the edge of a new configuration of desks, now spaced apart and cleared off. In the quiet, the ticking of the clock above them and the far sound of a vacuum marked the fact they were the only agents still down here.

There was nothing left of their investigation, no files, no computers, and on Dunn’s desk sat a cardboard box of faux wood grain, as if to put a veneer of respectability on what the laden box broadcast. Everything told Marc what to expect out of tomorrow’s get-together. They’d disbanded the task force, everyone reassigned, possibly to different offices.

What would he tell Craig, especially if they sent him to another state? But it might be worth it if he never had to work under Frank Dunn again.

The senior agent didn’t acknowledge him entering.

Dunn would certainly hate Marc for thinking it, but his expression—tight-lipped, folded arms, far-away stare—looked exactly like Chandler’s. His worn features held the years of fighting the bad guys, the confidence built on wins, and the resentment from being used by the powers that be.

“Robertson killed the task force,” the older man said as Marc approached.

“I figured,” was the only reply he could come up with that might not piss his boss off too much.

Yet even after spending days and nights with Dunn’s own special kind of contempt for the world, Marc Morrissey wasn’t ready for what came next out of his supervisor’s mouth.

“I’m going to crucify that bitch.”

Crucify? Chandler?

Jesus, that was harsh.

Sure, they could hate her for muddying the waters, but she was also their witness. If there was any way to bring her back to the fold…

“What do you mean?” The words were out before Marc could untangle the consequences.

“Do you realize how many years I’ve put into this case? How many man-hours we had invested in Gabriel?”

That had been Chandler’s question, and now, by necessity, Marc’s—the one his S.A.C. never answered.

How long had Dunn’s group been investigating that son-of-a-bitch? And did they know where he’d held her downtown?

“Sir, there are some aspects concerning this case I don’t think I have all the facts on.”

“You back me up at the meeting tomorrow,” Dunn demanded, ignoring the over-nice accusation, still trying to be the officer in charge. “We’ll come out smelling like roses if you keep quiet and let me do the talking.”

Fidelity?

No. Not before Marc had the truth.

“Was Chandler right? Did you know where Gabriel’s people held her?”

A pause, before Frank Dunn looked into his eyes.

“He was ours, Morrissey.”

Jesus, he did.

Did Robertson know? Did Yarrow? Did they sign off on it? It would be totally against all Bureau policy.

“The bastard was going to be the unit’s biggest catch yet. We couldn’t compromise the investigation for one woman. He and his people already murdered hundreds.”

Sure, Marc got that, but all the more reason to save her. They should have found a way. That she survived was a goddamn miracle, and why they all should have cheered when a murderer died by his own sword.

“Sir, we left her to rot with a psycho and his gang who all have a well-deserved rep for creative torture and violent murder.”

Dunn narrowed his gaze. “Then why didn’t he kill her?”

Why didn’t he? It was still a question, but…

“We’ll probably never find out now, not after how we treated her. And does it really matter? She’s just an A.D.A. who took on the wrong mob boss.”

“Don’t be naïve, Morrissey,” the angry man huffed. “It doesn’t look good on an agent, even a pissant from Punxy.”

Dunn vaulted from his chair and started rummaging through the demotion/moving box, pulling out his Rolodex.

“Gabriel’s drug shit meant nothing, a means to power. C. I. was all over him,” he stated, like he was explaining to a three-year-old.

“Counter Intelligence?” Marc questioned. “Why?”

Dunn kept searching the box.

“Because dealers make friends with government officials, foreign and domestic. The bigger their operations, the more connections and money required to bribe their way up the ladder—the cost of business.”

Dunn working with C.I.? Was he finally moving up? Is this what the case cost him? A move to Washington?

The older agent unearthed a folded note and placed it on the desktop, then began flipping through the Rolodex’s cards.

“Elliott Burch is the key. Burch dabbles in third-world politics, and Chandler is Burch’s skag in the D.A.’s office,” he finished in a sing-song tone of disdain. “You get it now, moron?”

He snatched over the lone phone left in the room. “She knows everything; I’m sure of it. And she won’t talk? She completely fucks us?” He placed the receiver at his ear. “Hell, she’s probably working for Blanco or Elson.”

“You know we looked!” Morrissey shook his head against his boss’ theory. “She had no connections to anyone else. Me and Grey went through her finances. They’re squeaky. She’s just a do-gooder A.D.A. roped into the wrong case—collateral damage.”

It wasn’t the whole truth, the VICAP profile of her probable savior bumping against Marc’s statement, but he held onto it. Robertson might want him to investigate that angle. And Dunn for sure didn’t deserve the lead.

“We couldn’t compromise the case!” Dunn yelled while punching numbers into the phone.

“Then we gave her no choice! She killed Gabriel because she had to escape … to save herself and her baby!” Marc snapped. “Hostages have the right to fight back!”

Agent Dunn, the one Marc had studied before being assigned to his command, the man from the files, should have agreed. But somehow that wasn’t the man in front of him now.

Why hadn’t Marc questioned Dunn’s crazy plans? When he was torturing Chandler, or confronting her and Maxwell with their former boss, why hadn’t he stopped it? Things were moving fast, but he’d recognized his S.A.C. was screwing up. Why hadn’t he gone to higher ups with his concerns?

You didn’t trust yourself. You didn’t want to violate the chain of command … And didn’t want a poor report from your supervisor on your record.

A shame-filled heat overtook Marc’s face.

You’re too used to hiding your convictions. Masked yourself in protocols. You should have bucked the chain, because now they need someone to blame, and you could be it, boyo.

Into the phone trapped between his shoulder and jaw, Dunn commanded, “I need Bramburg.” Then, in a less imperious tone, “Yeah, I’ll hold.”

He put his hand over the square handset, answering in a whispered shout, “You know that hag is withholding information.”

“It doesn’t matter! The case is someone else’s because she’ll never tell us! You never gave her or Maxwell a reason to trust us! We could have kept her safe, gotten her to testify, gotten her loyalty, but that’s gone. With the hitman in the metro, she’d be an idiot not to flee. She’s off the table!”

Impossible to illuminate the whole without Chandler. Like having a penlight to map a dark room.

And the worst part, there would be no justice.

After selling out his own people and New York to the mob, Moreno would go free.

Fixing wrongs—the idea of it, the wish for it—slipped away every moment Frank Dunn was on this case.

“She’s as corrupt as Moreno,” the other agent seethed.

“She isn’t,” Morrissey retorted. He had some years in investigation too, and that wasn’t what he got out of Catherine Chandler.

Chandler, the message.

Damn.

He turned from Dunn and snatched the paper out of his pocket.

Written in the desk agent’s careful script: A man named Cleon Manning called for Catherine Chandler with a description of a suspect — White man, late 30s to mid-40s, pale complexion, short, bleached blonde hair, large eyes, last seen wearing all black and driving a motorcycle.

Description of a suspect? The hitman? How did she know?

He had to contact her. He had to sort this out … without Dunn.

“I’m leaving now. I may be a ‘pissant from Punxy,’ but you’ll only dig yourself and the rest of us a deeper hole if you don’t leave her alone.”

“Don’t worry, you traitorous pussy, I’ll leave her alone.”

He scowled as a final send off.

Marc got halfway to the elevators before Dunn finally got his guy on the line.

“Bramburg? Yeah, it’s me. Catherine Chandler’s at 226 72nd Street … and Hank, she was pregnant when she was kidnapped by Moreno and Gabriel’s people.”

Even across the Pit, Marc heard the muffled exclamation through the receiver.

Wait.

Bramburg?

He turned back.

“Yeah,” Dunn went on, “when she stabbed Gabriel, too. Had the baby in secret sometime after she escaped.”

Henry Bramburg, from the Sentinel?

More excited babble from the phone.

Dunn, my God, what are you doing….

“Dunn!” Marc yelled.

“Yeah … Yeah, I bet that’ll make your story,” the older man replied, ignoring him. “Never say I didn’t give you nothing.”

Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. Only words.

Justice balanced on nothing.

“We’re through with her,” Dunn finished with a smirk. “She’s all yours.”

 

—— 

 

 

[i] The F.B.I. – Television Series 1965-1972

[ii] Special Agent in Charge

[iii] Home: Chapter 18 

 

 

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