Just as Jack and Kathy were getting settled in their suite at the Convention Center, the phone rang. Captain Shorer was calling to tell Jack that it was a bomb and it had been disarmed. The bomb was rigged to explode when a pressure switch under the rug in the small foyer was depressed. The technology was old, but it was clear the bomb had been placed by a professional. A forensic team was searching for prints and any other traces the bomber may have left behind. The bomb squad searched the entire house. No other explosives were found. So far, interviews with the neighbors had failed to turn up anything. The press would carry as much of the story as they could collect. You can’t do evacuations and question neighbors without getting some unwanted publicity. Jack thanked the Captain for calling and said he had reserved a table in the dining room of the Fish Market for seven-thirty.
Before going down to have dinner with Captain Shorer, Jack briefed Kathy. He told her he trusted Captain Shorer completely, but they had to remember, he is a police officer and bound to follow the law, so no discussions about their killing a number of terrorists in the US, India and Nepal. The Captain will wonder why someone put a deadly bomb in Jack Brandon’s Oakland house. A detective on leave-without-pay should not be a target for a professional bomber.
Jack decided the best cover stories used part of the truth. He planned tell Captain Shorer he believed it was the same people who killed his father. Shadow killed one of the attackers, and his father and the Vietnamese staff killed two more. Now the terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda had Jack’s name and photo. Maybe the bomb attempt was related to al Qaeda trying to even the score. Kathy asked Jack if he thought that story would fly.
Jack said, “Captain Shorer is too seasoned and wise in the ways of the world to question the story. If you don’t want the answer, don’t ask. Chime in at any time during dinner, just stay with the broad outlines of the basic story. Before we get too deep into dinner, I have a couple of checks I want to give the Captain toward his favorite charities.”
Jack ushered Kathy into The Fish Market restaurant at seven twenty-five, knowing that Captain Shorer would be there precisely at seven-thirty. The hostess had their table ready in a secluded alcove. The mention of his suite number when making the reservation must have carried some weight. At seven-thirty Jack saw the Captain coming their way behind the hostess. Jack introduced Captain Shorer to Kathy.
Captain Shorer said, “In this place, after duty hours, I’m Paul to everyone except the best detective I ever had. He can still call me by my title, otherwise I won’t be able to control him.”
Kathy smiled and said, “We share that problem. Jack is not easily controlled. I wish I had a magic awesome title.”
Captain Shorer laughed and Kathy said, “My mother told me good men are not controllable.”
Paul took her hand and said, “Anyone as beautiful as you are can get along without an awesome title.” Their drinks arrived and after they toasted the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, Jack said, “I have something that will give me great pleasure, if you will accept my offering?”
Captain Shorer looked at Jack and said, “You have my full attention. What are you offering?”
“It’s no secret that you have almost single-handedly kept the Policemen’s Fund for officers’ families in need due to injuries or death in the line of duty in the black. Please accept my check as a donation to the fund.”
Jack then reached into his jacket pocket and passed an envelope to his Captain. Captain Shorer said, “Thank you, Jack” as he opened the envelope. Seconds later he looked up at Jack and said, “Is this for real?”
“Yes, it is. You see, I inherited far more money than I was expecting, and I can’t think of a more deserving place to spend some of it.”
“Jack, this is the first million dollar personal check I have ever seen. Are sure you want to do this?”
“Yes, but one caveat. I want to remain anonymous. Please make up some story about where the money came from if you need to. It’s all done legally.”
“I can do that. This money will let me do more for some families who really need help. Any more surprises before you tell me about the bomb?”
“Yes. One more. You see, I also know about the program for children you operate through fund-raising events. So here’s another contribution.”
Captain Shorer opened the envelope, looked at the check and said, “Anytime you want to have dinner with me, I’ll come even if I need to be carried. Two million dollar checks in one evening are too much. I assume the same caveat applies?”
“Yes, if that’s okay with you.”
“Jack, I will never forget this evening and I haven’t even had dinner yet. Your money will do a lot of good in the city of Pittsburgh. Now, I do need another drink. Maybe even a double.”
Everyone ordered another drink. Jack said, “This is the Captain’s restaurant, and I propose asking him to order for us. Okay?”
Kathy laughed and said, “Go for it, Paul.”
Over dinner of steamed mussels, grilled flounder covered with a caper sauce and sautéed asparagus accompanied by a few bottles of Cakebread Chardonnay, Jack told Captain Shorer the story he had earlier tried on Kathy, adding details when he could. Jack gave the full story about the attack on his father’s house and all he had learned from the local police. Captain Shorer said he would ask the police for a copy of their report to include in the file about the bombing attempt on Jack’s house.
Jack was sure the local police would cooperate. They had a high opinion of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau and the Captain in particular. Jack then asked Kathy not to be embarrassed, but he was going to give the Captain a summary of her background. After he finished, Captain Shorer said they made an awesome team. He would like to have them working for him.
After dessert, Kathy asked to be excused. She was sure the men had some things to talk over, and she also needed a good night’s sleep. After she left, Captain Shorer ordered some more coffee and said, “I have something to talk to you about. Do you have the time?”
“Captain, you know I do.”
“I need some help. You know how I hate unsolved homicide cases. Well, I have one that is almost ready for the cold case storage locker. First, let me tell you about the case and what few facts we have. Almost three years ago, two Pitt coeds were murdered on their way home from the University’s library. Their naked bodies were found in Schenley Park by an early morning jogger. Their families had called 911 around midnight, two hours after the girls should have been home. Normally, you know, we wouldn’t have done anything about two college girls being a couple of hours late coming home. Lieutenant Arrington knew one of the families, and alerted a couple of black and whites to cruise the area. They found nothing but did verify that the two coeds had left the library together about nine-thirty. They should have been home within 30 minutes.
“Of course, once the bodies were found, we put resources on the investigation. Forensics, in cases like this, usually gives us quite a bit of data. I have never seen a sex crime that produced so little information. No semen was found on the bodies. They were killed elsewhere and dumped in the park. No special positioning of the bodies. They were just dumped. The lab said both died from broken necks. Bruises on the bodies indicated their heads had been smashed together with considerable force, as if someone came up behind them and banged their heads together. Traces of duct tape were found on both bodies. Legs, arms and mouths had been taped. No signs that either one put up a struggle. Other than the fact they were found naked, there was nothing to indicate that this was a sex crime. Both necks were broken the same way. Most likely by a right-handed person, who had some hand-to-hand combat skill. The captives, we believe, were killed within an hour of their abduction.
“In the next four weeks we did everything we know how to do, ask for public support, neighborhood canvases, backgrounds into the lives of the victims and their families. No one could name any enemies. No stalkers were noticed. Classmates were questioned. Both girls were attractive, popular and dated frequently. Everything was tracked down. No hits. Trying a Hail Mary shot, I had every boarding house that provided short-term rooms for cash within ten miles queried for the night of the murder. We were able to track down nearly all the short- term renters that checked out within twenty-four hours of the murders. One possible suspect was found. A young man, early twenties, gave a probable false name, left shortly after dawn the day after girls were taken, no one saw him go, but the owner remembered he drove a dark blue Dodge van with temporary tags. We canvassed all the used car lots where cash can buy a car without much, if any, check on the identification of the buyer. Again, we found one lot that after some pressure was applied, the manager remembered a sale to a young man. The salesman’s description of the buyer and the one of the boarding house owner were hard to reconcile. The resulting police artist’s sketch was not of much use.
“The investigation in Pittsburgh has run its course. We’ve been looking at crimes in other areas that bore a similar M.O. A few have. Our search criteria included any killing of young women, where the cause of death was not from some sort of weapon and where none of the usual earmarks of a sex crime were present, like semen, mutilation of the bodies or ritualistic positioning of the corpses. Over the past two years, five incidents fit our search parameters. All occurred in the southeastern states. All five were within two hundred miles of a center point, the city of Charleston, SC. None was within fifty miles of Charleston. All took place in urban areas. Forensics indicated all the victims showed signs that they were beaten before their necks were broken. Also all showed traces of the use of chloroform. The Pitt coeds were bruised but no trace of chloroform was found.”
Jack said, “Interesting, but that’s not enough to conduct a serious investigation. Do you have anything else?”
“There is one thing, but it’s so tenuous, even my own detectives think I am grasping at straws. And it’s not enough to put on the police wire. I’m even a little reluctant to mention it.”
“Chief, you have always thought outside the box, and many times, you have been right on. So go ahead.”
“Two weeks ago an out-of-work, old mill worker was found dead in an alley behind a Garfield bar. What little money he had was still in his pocket. Medium-priced watch on his wrist. No signs of violence, except that his neck was broken in the same pattern as our two coeds. The bartender recognized the victim and said he was a frequent customer and there was no trouble or argument between the victim and anyone in the bar.
“I’ve asked several other police departments to send us x-rays of their broken neck murders. I expect them to start arriving next week. In the meantime, we just finished a background investigation of the victim, his family and friends. The man’s only family member was a son, who showed up briefly for the funeral. The only real asset the victim owned was a rundown bungalow in Garfield. Not enough to murder anyone over. The son hadn’t seen his father in the last five years. There was no relationship. The son said his father was a mean bastard who mistreated his mother and him. I checked with the police in his home area and the son was seen in his Charleston shop the morning of the murder.”
Jack said, “Captain, come on, what you are holding back?”
The Captain chuckled and said, “I see you can still stay ahead of me. Okay. Here is my outside-the-box analysis. In talking to the son, you could see he hated his father. Our background check on the son showed he dropped out of Schenley High School in his senior year and disappeared for the next two and half years. He has a passport that, according to State Department records, was used to go to Pakistan the year he dropped out of school. He was in the same high school class as the two murdered Pitt coeds. No record of his being in Pittsburgh at the time they were killed. But he was back in the country by then. And he now lives in Charleston!”
“Do you know what he was doing in Pakistan and how long he was there?”
“According to his passport entry from Pakistan, he was there for a little more than two years. We have no idea what he was doing, but suspect he was being trained in an al Qaeda camp inside Afghanistan. Now you know as much as I do.”
“Your hunch is worth checking out. It’s a long shot but what else do you have. I would like to see the x-rays of the broken necks. But first, tell me why you told me this tale.”
“I don’t know what you are doing, but it occurred to me while I was listening to your briefing about the bomb in your old house and wondering what you weren’t telling me, that you might be able to help with this case. I could give your badge back and a letter confirming your affiliation with the Pittsburgh Police. I could also provide a legal umbrella for the rest of your group to work with you. Gun permits and the works. It just happens that the Chief of Police in Charleston is a personal friend, and I know he would allow you to work for me on this investigation if he were kept informed, especially since I can tie this to the bomb attempt to kill one of my officers.”
As Jack started to respond, the Captain said, “Sleep on it. I think this guy may still be working for al Qaeda. He is now operating a small Oriental rug outlet in Charleston importing rugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Does that strike you as a perfect cover job or what?”
“Okay, Captain, I’ll think on it, talk it over with Kathy and call you sometime tomorrow.”
“Jack, I want you to do this but I’ll not push it. I am still in shock over your very generous gifts. God bless you. Now, I must go and so must you. Never keep a beautiful woman waiting too long.”