Jack waited until breakfast the following morning before he discussed Captain Shorer’s proposal with Kathy. He told Kathy that Shorer wanted them to help him with a possible serial killer case that started in Pittsburgh three years ago. Kathy said she was interested in the part about them being legal and having real law enforcement credentials. She wasn’t quite ready for another intercontinental battle with terrorists just yet. A bit of detective work sounded just fine, and Charleston was a great small city.
“You may think I’m being macho, but I’m going to tell Captain Shorer that we will help him with the investigation of his serial killer, but without the knowledge of the Charleston Police Chief. I’ll accept the badge, but no other credentials. I’ll also use our Pittsburgh address on any documents the Captain gives us. He has to know, sometime during our work in Charleston, we will do things outside the law that will upset any police department.
“Prosecutors couldn’t use any evidence we provided, and we could get Captain Shorer in trouble. I’ll agree to keep him informed. I want to go after this guy for his possible connections to al Qaeda. Captain Shorer can always deny any authorization of our activities on his part. Okay?”
“Okay. I’m ready to go with you, but let’s be as careful as we can. Charleston is not Nepal where we could go in with guns blazing. Now that we are outside the law again, I want to make an unauthorized visit to a crime scene. Is the tape still up at your house in Oakland and have all the bombs been removed?”
Jack laughed and said, “Captain Shorer is all about thorough. He had his guys go through every inch of that house. I’m sure the crime lab guys are done by now. How come you want to go there?”
“Two reasons. First, I want to see why your ex hated that house so much, but mostly, I want to see what the bomber could have learned about you from searching your house. You remember I am a trained CIA case officer and see things through different eyes. So swing by on our way back to the cabin and let me do my thing.”
“Okay. Let’s plan on going back to the cabin the day after tomorrow. That will give us some time to visit my alma mater.”
Jack pulled into the curb near his old house and said, “Well, here it is. Let me get Shadow out, and I’ll give you the tour.”
“Jack! No! You and Shadow stay out here. I don’t want all the distraction that follows you two about. I won’t be much more than an hour. I’ll give you the all clear and then you guys can come in.”
Using the key Jack gave her, Kathy unlocked the door and stepped into the small house. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of mildew associated with closed up houses. She started her slow walk through with the downstairs, small living room and a smaller dining room off a Pullman kitchen that needed upgrading. A door to the cellar from the kitchen. No bath downstairs. A staircase with a landing and a right angle turn, led upstairs. A small bedroom in the back of the house, and a larger one in the front with a Jack and Jill bathroom between them. Kathy, talking to herself, said she could live here. The bones are okay. The house just needs some care and a bit of money to open it up, and it would be a good in-city house for a couple getting started. She opened the door to the backyard and walked over to the outside cellar door and examined the lock.
Now that she had done her get-oriented walk through, Kathy went back to the living room to check out the small desk sitting in an alcove off the living room. One by one Kathy took out the drawers and went through the contents. In the center drawer, she found Jack and Marsha’s social security numbers, birth dates and pictures. Jack’s college transcripts were in another drawer along with a small address book containing his father’s telephone number and address. Bills from Jack’s attorney, assorted utilities, vet bills and signed charge card imprints were in another drawer along with bank statements and car repair bills. Another document disclosed Jack’s badge number, work phone and address.
After checking all the downstairs closets and kitchen cabinets, she went upstairs to the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, she found several nearly empty prescription bottles, mostly for Jack’s ex-wife. Kathy went downstairs and stood quietly in the living room while she put her findings together. All in all, any trained intruder could collect the same information. She didn’t know if the intruder had taken anything with him.
It was time to get Jack inside for some questions and a look at the basement. Shadow bounded up the steps and started growling as soon as he came through the door. He ran all through the house sniffing the floor and growling. When Jack opened the kitchen door to the cellar, Shadow charged down the stairs. Jack hurried after him, assuring him it was okay and rubbing his head until Shadow stopped growling. Jack turned to Kathy and said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that our bomber is related to one of the men who killed my father. Might even be a brother to the attacker Shadow killed.”
While Kathy nodded her head and continued prowling around the cellar, Jack thought, she is bothered by something. Not wanting to break her concentration, he waited until she turned to him and said, “Jack, there’s a real problem here. You say the outside cellar door was locked with a padlock, and it’s unlikely that anyone could have found the key. The lock shows no signs of picking, and the back door was locked on the inside with a dead bolt. So how did he or she get in and out of the house?”
“Well, he could’ve gone out the front door and relocked it with his picking tools.”
“I doubt a professional bomber, which this person was, would take a chance on stepping around the pressure-activated bomb trigger placed under the foyer rug. The space there is really small. One misstep and it would be all over. No, the intruder had another way out that we haven’t found yet.”
After a careful window by window search, Kathy pointed to the dog door in the kitchen. Any opening big enough for a hundred pound dog provided enough space for a small man to squeeze through. The rough edges of the dog door held a few small blue threads. Kathy told Jack it had probably been pulled closed and latched with a thin wire loop. Jack laughed and said he couldn’t wait to call Captain Shorer.
Kathy said, “You know the bones of this little house are not bad. A few changes and I could live here.”
As Kathy was looking around the kitchen for anything she could add to the cooking tools in the cabin, Shadow went through the dog door into the small backyard. Lost in thought, Jack barely heard the front door ease open with its customary slight squeak. Without even thinking, he pushed Kathy down behind the kitchen counter that divided the kitchen from the small dining area. The intruder leveled a .38 Magnum at Jack and said, “Finally, I get to kill you. My family swore we would find and kill you. First, I want you to know why. Then you are going to wish that the bomb had killed you.”
As he was telling Jack that his family and his dog had killed two of his brothers, Jack felt Kathy slip a heavy butcher knife into his hand below the counter. Watching the killer’s eyes, Jack could tell he was getting ready to shoot. Just as the magnum steadied, Shadow came charging through the dog door with a roaring growl. The killer’s gun switched to the bounding Shadow, giving Jack time to position and throw the heavy butcher knife. Six inches of the knife buried itself in the attacker’s chest just as Shadow’s charge crashed into the killer, knocking him to the floor. Jack vaulted the counter and threw himself on the downed gunman before he could bring his weapon up against Shadow’s chest. Shadow had fastened his huge jaws on the man’s throat. Kathy came sliding up against the killer from his other side and plunged another kitchen knife into his kidney. Jack took control of the magnum revolver and pulled a growling Shadow off the attacker.
“I hope you had enough, you son-of-a-bitch. If you aren’t dead, you soon will be.”
Jack had to hold Shadow’s collar as the huge black dog wasn’t sure his adversary was finished. Kathy checked the shooter’s carotid pulse and said, “It’s okay, Shadow, this bastard is really dead.”
She knelt beside Shadow and hugged him with tears running down her cheeks. “How can we ever thank him for saving our lives twice in two days? This dog will never ever do anything wrong.”
Jack pulled out his cell and called Captain Shorer. When he answered, Jack said, “Captain, I need a homicide squad at my house. We have a dead man who came into the house with a .38 Magnum to kill us. He has three lethal wounds and is lying where Shadow’s charge knocked him down. All the weapons are here, and it’s a clean crime scene.”
“Good Lord, Jack, you certainly know how to stir up the unit. I’ll have a squad there in five minutes. Sure there’s no need for an ambulance?”
“No, this perp is dead three times. Just the forensic guys, the morgue wagon and a homicide detective to take our statements.”
When Jack saw the first squad car pull up and cut the siren, he saw an old friend, Dan Reilly, get out of the black and white. Jack called out, “Hey, Danny, better come in the back door. The front entrance is pretty messy.”
Reilly and his partner came through the back door took one look at the scene inside and said, “Jack, what the hell are you are up to? A bomb one day and a murder attempt the next day. Is everyone here all right?
“Yeah, we’re all okay. Dan, this is Kathy and you know Shadow. I think both of them still have their warrior blood up. So forgive any lack of hostmanship. I think you will find three possible causes of death, the knife in the chest, the torn throat and the knife thrust in the kidney.”
“Jack, why didn’t you just shoot the bastard? It would have been much neater.”
“We weren’t carrying. That’s something I am going to change as soon as you finish here.”
“Jack, this perp gets the drop on you with a magnum and, before he can shoot, he gets a kitchen knife in the chest and kidney and his throat ripped. And he had you covered from 15 feet away? You gotta admit that’s something you don’t see every day. My partner, Bill Rogers, will take your statements while I put the crime scene together. I think the forensic guys are here now. Okay?”
A few minutes after the forensic team started on the crime scene, Captain Shorer came striding through the back door. He took one look at the dead body and bagged weapon and said, “Jack, what the hell is going on? Are you all okay?”
“We’re all okay. A bit of adrenalin still pumping, and Shadow is still looking for another bad guy.”
“I was told on the way here that no shots were fired. How did you take this guy down from 15 feet with no firearms?”
“Pretty much instinct, reaction and luck. When the shooter came through the front door, he focused on me. He never saw Kathy on the floor behind this waist high counter. I pushed her there as the door was coming open. The guy had a speech he wanted to give before killing me. He could have easily killed me, if he had come in shooting. The delay gave Kathy time to slip a knife in my hand and when Shadow charged through the dog door, the shooter swung the magnum to Shadow. That’s all the time I needed to throw the knife. Shadow and the knife arrived almost simultaneously. The shooter went down. By the time he hit the floor trying to defend himself from Shadow, Kathy and I were on him. She put another kitchen knife into the shooter’s kidney and we called you.
“I think Shadow heard the front door open, the strange voice, and charged in. This is conjecture, but I believe Shadow recognized the shooter’s scent. When my father and his staff were killed in Virginia, Shadow was shot by one of the attackers but still killed him. I think the guy on the floor was connected with and related to the man Shadow killed. During the shooter’s speech, he said something about the family hunting me down.”
“Okay. Leave that part out of your statement. No use letting the shooter’s family know that we are on to them. The press would love to play up that angle. Until this thing is solved, I insist that both you and Kathy carry badges. You can supply your own firearms and the documentation I give you will cover you. Do you agree?”
Kathy hugged the Captain. Looking at Jack she said, “I don’t know about him, but I will happily take the badge and gun offer. No more scenes like this. I felt so damned helpless.”
“When you’re finished here, give the key to Reilly and come to my office. I want to go over a few things with both of you.”
Jack looked at Kathy and when she nodded, he said, “Captain, we’ll be there in an hour. All right if we bring Shadow in with us?”
“Jack, that dog is welcome any time. Wish I had one like him.”
As they watched the Captain’s car pull away, Jack put his arm around Kathy and said, “Well, what do you think?”
“I’m worried. We’ve been lucky. We could have been killed twice in the last two days. I don’t mind living close to the edge, but this is getting ridiculous. A gun and badge will help, but we must make some changes to our lifestyle and our security. The bad guys know who we are and we don’t know who they are. That’s not a good picture. Frank will want us to continue helping him run down domestic terrorists for the CIA, but that will be very difficult if we don’t deal with the people who are trying to kill us. We need to have a meeting with Frank soon.”
“As usual, the lady from the CIA speaks with clarity and resolve. I share your premise. Let’s agree to cooperate with Captain Shorer on his possible serial murder case. Then, after we meet with Frank, we can use our new police credentials to find and deal with the people who are hunting us.”
An hour later, after giving their brief statements to Dan Reilly, Jack, Kathy and Shadow pulled into the Bureau of Police parking lot at 1203 Western Avenue. The guard at the door was waiting for them and even said, “Hello, Shadow, anytime you want a change, come to my house. Much less excitement. Go on in, Jack, the Chief is waiting for you.”
Mildred, the keeper of the Captain’s inner sanctum, smiled and said, “Jack, when are you leaving? You’re causing far too much action and confusion in our world.”
“It’s good to see you again, Mildred. May I present my partners, Kathy Grayson and Shadow?”
“Kathy, you will never know how many broken hearts your man left behind when he went to Washington before the ink was even dry on the divorce certificate. Keep him on a short leash while you’re in town. The Captain has coffee ready for you and I’ll bring in a bowl of water for our hero.”
Mildred ushered them into the Captain’s office. He hugged Kathy and Jack and said, “I hope you both know how lucky you are, and Shadow, you are the best cop of us all.”
Shadow knew he was the center of attention and, with his stubby tail wagging, looked like he was wondering what’s the big deal. Captain Shorer led them over to a conference table and told them to take a seat and help themselves to the coffee and pastry. Kathy said, “I was always told the only pastries allowed in a cop shop were doughnuts.”
The Captain grinned and said, “She is not only deadly and beautiful but has a deep understanding of police work. Now let me get bureaucratic and serious. I’m concerned about the efforts some unknown revenge seekers are making to kill you. You are a police officer on leave without pay but still under the protection of this office. I’ve professional and personal reasons to end this. I need your help to do so.
“I want both of you to go undercover to find these killers. I’ll give you solid credentials and badges. You can provide your own weapons. You’ll report only to me and Dan Reilly. I’ll check out two encrypted iPhones for your use. From what you’ve told me, I think your search will take you to Charleston. Certainly my suspected serial killer is there. So, two separate operations for you. You will be modern day versions of dollar-a-year people. No expenses. That’s not a problem, is it?”
“No, money is not a problem. But, I’ve other issues to discuss.”
“Okay. The floor is yours.”
“I can’t tell you everything I’d like to, because of security issues that I don’t control. I think I can tell you enough for you to see the potential problem. It has to be off the record. Kathy and I have been doing some covert work for the government in the field of counter terrorism. It’s the problem of national security issues taking precedence over law and order. I think you used to call it justice divided when the Feds played their trump card in a Pittsburgh case.
“We’ve one high level contact that we report to infrequently. We get no money, only instructions and information. If we get caught, we’re on our own. I’m sure we can handle your work and what we do for the government, as long as you know we won’t always be able to tell you everything that’s going on. I’ll promise you, if dual responsibilities gets to be a problem, we’ll tell you. Kathy, what say you?”
“I agree and thank you, Captain, for your trust.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this. It seems right even if it sounds a bit wacky. So far I don’t feel I have to brief the Bureau Chief or any of his staff minions. I’ll tell Dan only what I think he needs to know.”
“Kathy, let’s get to work. Captain, can we read your file on the possible serial killer?”
“Sure, as soon as you raise your right hand and I swear you in and give Kathy a badge. Jack, unless I’m mistaken, you still have yours.”
“Yeah, I do. Occasionally I get it out and look at it. Life was much simpler then. In fact, the badge is in my bag.”
“Good because you’ll need them to pick up some weapons at your favorite gun shop. You can read the file right here. It won’t take long. I have to go to a meeting now, so I’ll say goodbye and good hunting. Just leave when you’re finished. Do you need any more coffee?”
Kathy said, “No, we’re good. I hope the next time we see you, we’ll have some good news. Thank you for your help.”
Captain Shorer was right, there wasn’t much in the file. The x-rays of the cause of death indicated a right-handed person or persons with some combat training and strength killed all the victims. When she finished reading the file, Kathy said, “I don’t believe in coincidences. The fact that this elderly mill worker, killed in an alley with no robbery evidence, exhibits the same neck fracture as the young females puts this Joel Hankins person square in my sights. He was connected to the two Pitt coeds, the old mill worker was his father, and now the other killings are centered around Charleston where Hankins has an Oriental rug store. All we need is some evidence that will stand up in court. So let’s get started.”
“Come on, Shadow, you heard the lady. It’s time to get up and go.” Shadow got up, stretched and followed them out to the car. On the way out Mildred rubbed the dog’s head and handed Jack a small box containing two iPhones. As they were leaving the parking lot, Jack said, “Before we start back, I’m going to stop at the gun shop most cops use to get us a couple of handguns.”
“Great. I already feel more secure. Real creds and a weapon. Never again do I want to feel as helpless as I felt on the kitchen floor in your house when the shooter burst in. I’m a little surprised the forensic team was not able to identify the shooter. That should tell us something. Like maybe these people are careful to stay under the radar and pay close attention to detail.”
Jack pulled into the small parking lot outside the Wilkinsburg gun shop. Leaving the windows open for Shadow, they went into the nearly empty shop. Jack led the way up to the counter and said, “Hey, Charlie, got any old rusted handguns priced high for your cop friends?”
“Jack, haven’t seen you in months. What happened, lose your weapon?”
“No, just need a good backup for myself and my new partner. Kathy, come on up here and meet Charlie. He never saw a cop he couldn’t sell his old stock to.”
“Hello, Kathy, what are you looking for?”
“How about the SOCOM, Mark 23?”
“Good choice but expensive. I’ve five or six in stock. They run $637 without the 10% police discount.”
“Kathy, show the man your badge and Charlie, we’ll take two SOCOMs with four mags each and 100 rounds. Throw in shoulder rigs and behind-the-back belt holsters. Don’t forget our 10% discounts.”
“How could I forget with you high IQ homicide guys looking over my shoulder?”
Twenty minutes later, the SRX pulled out of the parking lot on the return trip to the cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains. Kathy set to work loading the magazines and fitting the SOCOMs into the belt holsters.
Kathy hadn’t finished loading the magazines when Jack said, “Kathy, when Anita died in my arms, she asked me to take care of her sister’s daughter. Then she said, ‘her daughter is my daughter.’ At the time you thought she was drifting away, and I didn’t understand her. But, what if I did? Could she have had a child while she was in high school or early in college?”
“You’re suggesting Anita had a baby when she was in her late teens or early twenties and gave the baby to her older sister to raise as her own daughter?”
“Yes, don’t you think that could have happened?”
“Of course that’s a possibility, assuming her dying words were as you heard them. It’s not a unique solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Where does that leave us?”
“Her sister’s home is on the way back to the cabin. Call the number she gave us for her sister and see if we can stop and see her. We can be there in 45 minutes.”
When Kathy mentioned Anita’s name, her sister, Marie, agreed to see them right away. She lived on the corner of Foster and Mace Streets and said they would see a blue Cherokee parked in the carport. Jack gave Onstar the address and 40 minutes later, Kathy spotted the blue Cherokee, and Jack parked along the curb next to the mail box that said Marie Kowalski. The houses were small, mostly dating from the 40s and 50s. The lawns were trimmed with small but attractive gardens.
Marie saw them pull in and came out on the porch. She greeted them and after introductions, said, “Come on in. I have a Pit Bull mix in the house, so I think that black bear in your car should stay there. I’ll bring him some water and, with the windows open, he’ll be fine today. If he needs a walk, a small park is just down the street.”
Jack signaled Shadow to stay. He gave his disgusted look but lay down on the back seat. Jake, the Pit, looked them over carefully as they entered, but when Marie said “these people are friends,” Jake relaxed and came over to have his head rubbed while he sorted out Shadow’s scent.
“I want to hear about Anita but first, can I serve some tea and scones?”
Kathy said, “We don’t want to cause any extra work, but I can’t turn down a cup of tea, especially accompanied by a scone.”
“Nonsense! You are friends of Anita, and I’m grateful that finally someone has come to see me. I miss her terribly. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Kathy, do you see any similarity between Marie and Anita?”
“Maybe in mannerism and a little bit in the eyes, completely different body style and skin tone. Marie is much lighter in color than Anita. Anita had that distinct Mediterranean coloring. Also Maria is taller and much heavier. She doesn’t have Anita’s graceful movements. Sometimes sisters are not carbon copies. I wouldn’t have identified them as sisters based on appearances. It will be interesting to see the daughter.”
“Depending on what we learn here, I’ll have Lee Jensen’s law firm draw up some legal papers dispensing Anita’s estate including a monthly payment from us. Marie will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that she can talk to no one about what we tell her. And remember no true names here, first names only. Follow my lead on the circumstances of Anita’s death. I’m going to include an intense fire that made body recovery impossible.”
Kathy heard Marie coming from the kitchen and got up to help her manage the tray loaded with scones, butter, jam and a large teapot. Marie made a second trip to get the tea cups. When she came back and all were seated, Marie poured the tea. Kathy noted that Marie was probably using her best china service in their honor.
Jack said, “Marie, this is too much. But I, for one, very much welcome the elegance and homemade scones are a rare treat.”
During tea Marie asked, “What can I call you? I know Anita worked in the don’t-talk-about-it-world. I’ll appreciate anything you can tell me.”
“You can call me Jack and my partner will answer to the name Kathy.”
“Oh, yes. Anita said she had a good friend called Kathy.”
“Anita and I worked together and were very close. I will always remember her and admire her. She saved our lives more than once. She gave her life to save Jack’s in a shootout with some terrorists halfway around the world.”
“Will I be able to bury her?”
“We’re so sorry, Marie, but that won’t be possible. The fire fight was followed by an intense fire that was not extinguished. No bodies were recovered. We have a few suitcases of Anita’s things which we’ll ship to you in the next week. Anita wanted her estate to go to you and her niece. You will be getting a letter in a week or so explaining Anita’s estate. Will that be okay with you and the rest of her family?”
“Yes, I don’t see any problem. My husband, Harvey, left when Kelly was still an infant. He has never been back to see Kelly or send any money. I kept his name but there aren’t any Kowalski’s involved in our life. I have no idea where he is or even if he’s still alive. If he thought I had any money, he’d be at the door in a heartbeat. Without Anita, I would have been in trouble. She sent me enough money each month to help me get by.”
Kathy asked, “Tell us about your daughter. Anita often talked about her niece.”
“Kelly cried for days when we heard Anita had been killed. They were always close. She has her own apartment in Oakland. Not too far from the University. She’s trying to follow her aunt’s career. Her grades would be better if she didn’t work so much. She has two jobs. When she comes for a visit, she is either studying or sleeping. You know how it is with some mothers and daughters. Kelly and I are not as close anymore. I think she resents me telling her to forget college and get a good job.”
Kathy nodded and said, “Do you mind if we talk to her?”
“No, of course not. She’s 22 and on her own. I’ll give you her address and phone number, and you can call and ask to see her.”
Marie said she would be back in a minute with Kelly’s number and address.
Jack waited until Marie had left the room and said, “When she comes back, let’s make our goodbyes. I want to go back to Oakland and see Kelly. Our house should be safe for a quick visit. I’ll tell Captain Shorer we are going to spend one or two nights in the house. The crime scene tape should be gone by now.”
Kathy replied, “I feel a lot safer being forewarned and armed, but I don’t think we should take the risk, even if it is slight. We just don’t know if the guy who tried to kill us is alone. If he wasn’t alone, his partner or partners could easily have set another bomb, maybe hidden better than the first one. I doubt that your police buddies have put a 24/7 watch on an empty house. I’ll find us a hotel or motel that is pet friendly. Shadow can sleep in the bedroom with us. He won’t let anyone get close. It seems we have nearly worn out our welcome. I’m ready to go.”
Marie came back with Kelly’s address and cell number, and Jack told her to expect a letter from an attorney in a week or two. Jake was the only one showing any warmth as he wagged his tail at the door. Marie shook hands with them and closed the door.
Kathy said, “What happened? We were doing okay until we said we wanted to talk to Kelly.”
“Money happened. She’s afraid Kelly will get the bulk of Anita’s estate. And she got that right. I don’t think all is good between mother and daughter. When we get on Route 22 West, try to reach Kelly on her cell. It’s not too late to take her to dinner. If you have to push her some, do it. Use Anita’s name and say we’ve some serious things to discuss with her.”
“Hey, don’t forget I’m the case officer/agent handler on this team. You’re just a recon marine with some cop experience and a nice guy to have around. And being rich helps and I’m still on your payroll and you are still the boss. Boss, do you agree about finding a hotel or motel?”
“Yeah, it makes sense. No use pushing the envelope when we don’t need to. Now try to reach Kelly and get us a room somewhere in or near Oakland.”