Category Archives: Action thrillers

“Shades of Justice” Chapter Thirteen

9 AM Wednesday, June 4th

The next morning, Jack called a taxi and rode to Wilkinsburg, a nearby suburb of Pittsburgh, to see Howie Miller about using his investigative agency. Howie was waiting for Jack and offered him a steaming china cup of dark French roast. Jack looked at the cup and said, “Howie, is this the cup you use to impress clients? Well, I’m impressed. Give me a minute to commune with this cup and its contents and I’ll tell you why I’m here, taking up your time.” Jack drank some coffee. He thought over his opening and said, “An organized gang of kidnappers has been picking young women off the streets of major cities and selling them to clients in the Middle East and Far East. The police are working on it. But with the crimes taking place in almost random areas and with the police reluctant to commit major resources to finding young women of age who are reported missing, they don’t have much to show. To make it worse, the missing girls are often in major universities or employed in large urban areas where no one even reports them missing for days. I represent a number of the families who want to remain anonymous. They have asked me to do a private search for them. Their interest is to get their daughters home again. No interest in court or legal proceedings. The information I’ll share with you, if you decide to take the case, would not hold up in court. I’ll personally vouch for its authenticity. Are you interested?”

“How many investigators do you want me to use?”

“All you have and can get. They have to be willing to travel.”

“Jack, you’re asking me to shut all my cases down. I can’t do that.”

“How much do you charge an hour or day for your people on the job? I assume no one gets paid unless they are working on a contracted job.”

“Right. Nobody gets paid that I am not charging time and expenses to a client. My top guys get $500 a day and expenses. The others get $250.”

“I’ll triple the rate.”

“What! $1,500 per day for my top guys?”

‘“Yes, and a $50,000 bonus for you to manage the show and to be personally on call. Report only to me. No official interaction. No press and no credit for solving a major crime. No telling spouses or lovers or bar talk. A talking out-of-school investigator is out of your agency. Not just pulled off my job. Okay?

“Jesus! Jack, where is all the money coming from?”

“Not to worry. I’ll give you $25,000 cash to get started. If you need more let me know. And our arrangement details stop with you. You start as soon as I leave. What say?”

“I can’t turn it down. I know some serious shit is involved here but I trust you to protect me.”

“I have your back. Just like old times. Do we have a deal? No paper, just a handshake.”

Howie reached across the desk and took Jack’s offered hand. In the next hour, Jack gave Howie the leads he got from Walid and how he wanted Howie’s people to proceed. Jack made it clear that the people were dangerous and wouldn’t hesitate to kill. They were street smart but not pros. Probably had no training.

As he finished his briefing and handed Howie the data and photos, he said, “Just so we’re on the same page, there may be some rough stuff later, but for now it is strictly surveillance with photos and reports. You know the drill. Photos and data on everyone these four people meet. Error on the side of discretion. Don’t spook the targets. You and I will decide if we need to pick up the pressure.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Twelve

By the time the panel truck was thoroughly wiped down with Clorox and ready for Kathy to return in the morning, it was after midnight. Jack asked Kelly to come back to the hotel to go over their activities and make plans for the next phase. While Jack was walking Shadow, Kathy made Kelly and herself a tall gin and tonic. They clinked glasses and Kelly said, “It seemed simple, but it wasn’t, was it?”

“No. Far from it. I’ve seen many operations in my time in the CIA. Jack can do more with fewer people than anyone I ever met or heard about. He has a gift of seeing the entire operation in several versions in his head while he is separating the operation into steps that can be easily briefed and followed. If something in one of the steps changes, he has a workable option ready to go.”

“How unusual is it for someone to be grabbed off the street, interrogated, made to cooperate and leave in a non-hostile state with a plan to recontact us all in one hour?”

“Just about never.”

“I still don’t understand how he made that work.”

“Jack was ready for it not to work. As it looked possible, he was planning as he was interrogating. Once he convinced Walid that he didn’t care if he died or not, Jack knew he had him. He started assessing Walid when he put him in the neck hold that put him out. He knew from then Walid wasn’t a pro, probably had no training, and was a weak person. So he began to plan to make him be a ‘willing’ informant. You notice how he convinced Walid that he, Jack, knew all about him and knew the answer to some of the interrogation questions. Examine the contact plan he gave Walid. There was no doubt that Walid knew the contact location. Having him stay in the car allows us the time to look for any kind of an ambush. If we see something we don’t like, we use the cell phone to direct him to another site. On the way to the next contact point we’ll do a thorough counter-surveillance check. If he’s clean we meet him. If not he gets no second chance.”

“Kathy, how will I ever learn all this?” Kelly sighed.

“Just like this, little sister. You have good instincts, at least as good as mine. Jack’s are off the chart and he never turns them off. That’s why I feel safe with him, even with all our enemies. And don’t forget your DNA. Your mother was one of the best ever. She could shoot better than Jack. Her operational skills weren’t as good. She didn’t have Jack’s intricate planning abilities. But, if you’re half as good as your mother, you’ll be better than 95 percent of the people in this business. Watch Jack, ask questions when you can, and learn to compartment your thinking process, don’t ask me how. Just work on it.”

After a pause, Kathy said, “Jack will be here in a few minutes. It will be late before we are through. I want you to stay here tonight. You are now involved with some very bad people who know you and where you live. We have to do something about that. Living alone in a known place puts you in unnecessary danger. Not a good idea. And since you’re staying, you can have another gin and tonic.”

“Okay. Some of these rooms are bigger than my apartment. I can put up with it for one night.” Kelly smiled and finished her drink.

Jack and Shadow came in. “Did I just hear someone say they were staying over night? That’s good because for a while we shouldn’t make a practice of being alone.”

Kelly couldn’t answer Jack because Shadow was so happy to see her that he was trying to get in the overstuffed chair with her. Jack said, “You are a special person. He never pays that much attention to anyone but Kathy or me.

“When he settles down, we can get on with some serious stuff.”

“He’s okay,” Kathy said, scratching the dog’s head. “He’s just bored. No action and long periods wandering around this suite.”

Jack said, “Okay. Everyone, including you Shadow, come and sit or lay around the dining table.”

Everyone settled in and Jack started. “Kelly, tough times are ahead. I know you have been there and done that but this will be a bit different. Here we may end up the hunted as well as the hunters,” he paused to let that thought sink in. “The worse problem first, I believe within the next few months we will lose our inside influence with the police and the CIA. There will be no one looking out for us. The link with the police will be finished within 60 to 90 days. Probably the CIA link is already gone with the posting of Sam Richfield to Tokyo. He is no longer in a position to give us any advanced warning. In the eyes of most law and order officers and intelligence folk we are outside the law. No matter how effective we have been, we are breaking the law and are big-time criminals, murderers, kidnappers, extortionists, torturers, have weapons violations, surveillance without warrants, breaking and entering, wire taping, arson, use of aliases … need I go on?”

“How many managers or street cops would pass up a chance to bring us in? It would be a career-making bust,” Kathy said.

“You’re scaring me.” Kelly looked back and forth at Jack and Kathy, her eyes wide.

“Good,” Jack said. “It will take all our skills and discipline to stay out of serious jail time.”

“What can we do?”

Kathy said, “Simple. Don’t get caught. For example, this is the last time we will all be together in public. Cops showing your picture to the hotel staff would be the starting point. So while we need to operate together, we must be very careful about the wrong people seeing us together. That’s step one. The next one is to be ready to drop out of sight. That means sets of alias documentation that will stand up to at least a first level of checking. We cannot fake fingerprints and DNA. We need transportation bought and prepositioned. Maybe even airplanes. Also passports if we have to leave the country and places arranged around the world where we can live safely. Same for here. I want at least three places bought under different identities or by some organization or company. Shadow is a problem. We can’t hide him and he’s not going to be left anywhere, so if people are looking for anyone traveling with a black Bouvier, we defeat that by having more than one. Maybe even owning a kennel of Bouviers and giant schnauzers. We start getting ready tomorrow.”

Jack said, “Kathy, take Kelly to this address. The man who answers the door is a master forger. He knows me and works for us. My father found him and bought his loyalty years ago. He gets a nice check every year. Tell him what we all need. Give him 30 days for the essentials and 60 days for the nice-to-have documents. We need to be able to travel to Canada and not as tourists. Same with Mexico. He needs no real names. He may already know my father’s but don’t tell him any more than necessary. Tell him these documents have to be used to buy property and businesses outside the U.S. Concentrate on getting Mexico and Canada on the must-have-soon list.

“Tomorrow morning I’m meeting with an old friend who runs an investigative agency of former detectives and cops. I’m asking them to find and follow the people Walid identified tonight. I may buy the agency. I need to think on it a bit more. Okay, on those thoughts, happy dreams. I’m going to bed.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Eleven

9 AM Wednesday, June 4th

While Jack and his team were beginning to make their way up the kidnappers’ chain, Sally McGovern was gaining awareness of her situation. She awoke slowly over several hours. Her first awareness was of movement, movement she knew was not new to her. In a few more minutes, she thought, I’m on a boat. How did I get here? When she tried to get up, she couldn’t move. An awareness came that her arms and legs were tied down and there was a strap across her middle. Her vision slowly returned and she could make out the details of a small stateroom. Her right arm just below the elbow hurt. Looking up, she saw a bag of fluid dripping down an IV line into her arm. She was covered with a sheet and light blanket. Under it she was naked. I must be in a hospital. But it can’t be, this is a boat. I can feel the engine vibration and hear engine noise. It feels like we are running at least 18 knots in choppy water. Sally was an experienced cruiser and could relate to the sounds and motions. Gradually, she remembered two men grabbing her and the stinging sensation in her arm. My God, I’ve been kidnapped. I feel woozy. Someone is feeding me through an IV and, from the way I feel, drugs as well. I’m so thirsty. Might as well call out, I need water. And I need to play dumb. Don’t let these thugs find out how tough I am. If no one else is looking, I’m sure Kelly is. If she finds me, these people are going to be sorry.

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Ten

An hour later, Walid had told Jack everything he knew about his team of watchers. He gave up their names, that they were all Pakistanis, their addresses, cell phone numbers, procedures, and the name of the team member who passed on the requirements. He got paid $1,000 and expenses each month. He didn’t know where the orders came from and Jack believed him. The last thing he gave them was the names of two young women they were now surveilling. Walid knew the young women were to be sold but he didn’t know where or how they were moved. He also looked blank when Jack asked him about the sniper.

Jack stared at Walid when he was through asking questions. He said, “Walid, I’m deciding whether we should kill you. I don’t want to. But how can I trust you? If you tell your team about tonight, they will kill you for sure. If I let you live and you betray my trust, I will either kill you myself or tell the police to brief the local newspapers about your cooperation. So what should I do?”

Walid, trying to hold back tears, said, “You can trust me. I have never been so frightened. I will leave this group and go to another city.”

Jack said, “No! They will find you. You must stay here and act as if nothing happened. When Alice Clay calls your cell, do not answer. The call from her means you must go to the Starbucks on Craig Street at 11:30 AM and park as near as you can to the place you parked today. Wait in your car with your cell phone turned on. Do you understand?”

Walid nodded. “I understand.”

“Good. If it is impossible to follow these instructions, go there the next day for sure. No second chances. I know you are taking chances. Here is an envelope with $2,000. If you follow instructions and work well, there will be more and I will protect you from the police. But do not fail me. We will drop you near your apartment. I’m going to put this bag over your head. I will help you out of the vehicle to the curb. You sit down there and count to 100 before taking the bag off.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Nine

Kathy’s only worry was that there may be more than one person living in the same apartment. If there were, Jack would be beside her in seconds and take care of the problem. She looked through the door window. Saw nothing except staircase. She rang the bell and heard it faintly through the door. A staircase overhead light came on and she heard descending footsteps. A face looked out. Good, it’s the same person, she thought. She motioned for him to open the door. He hesitated for a moment then opened the door and said, “What do want?”

“I’m sorry but I scraped a blue Ford Taurus and wonder if you know who owns it. No one else is around and I’m in a hurry to find the owner so I can pay for the damages. You know how it is with insurance companies. They charge…..”

“Lady, stop for a minute. Did you say you hit a blue Ford?”

“Yes, but I’m trying…..”

“Shit! Never mind. Show me the damage.”

“No need to get angry. I’ll pay.”

“You’re damn right you will.”

With the suspect walking beside her, Kathy led the way back to the traffic side of the blue Ford. As they came around the trunk and Kathy pointed to the front door, Jack slipped up behind and put a two-arm neck lock on the suspect, lifting him a few inches off the ground. The neck lock cut off blood flow to the brain from both carotids and in less than 20 seconds the man collapsed. Jack lifted him and put him in the back of the truck and closed the door. Kelly secured his arms and legs with duct tape and put a piece over his mouth. Kelly went to her car and drove off with the panel truck right behind.

Several blocks away, she pulled into a parking spot and got in the panel truck. She went into the back with Jack as Kathy drove off. The prisoner was awake and struggling. Jack hadn’t said a word. He nodded at Kelly, leaned over and spoke through the bag into the prisoner’s ear.

“We know who you are and what you’ve done. We’re not the police and don’t see much of a reason why we shouldn’t kill you now. If you help us you can live, otherwise don’t waste our time. We’ll just find someone else from your band of kidnappers to help us. Now I’m going to take the bag off your head and the tape off your mouth. I’ll give you a chance to live. Scream and it will be the last sound you ever make. Nod if you understand me.”

The prisoner nodded several times. Jack had gone through the man’s wallet and knew the name he was using was Walid Kassem. Jack took off the bag and tore off the duct tape. Walid choked and gagged. Kelly handed Jack a bottle of water and he gave Walid a drink.

Jack said, “Walid Kassem. Yes, I know your name and that your car is stolen, as well as the license plates, and you are part of the kidnapping gang that kidnapped a young woman yesterday. I hope you’re smart enough to know letting you see my face means if you don’t work with me and answer every question you will be dead by drowning in the next ten minutes. Now, think hard and tell me if you are willing to cooperate. Talk now!”

Walid rolled his eyes try to see who else was there. Kelly was back in the shadows and Jack was shining a flashlight in his eyes. Walid tensed against the tape constraints and said, “I am not telling you anything.”

Jack leaned down, taped his mouth and eyes, tied his legs up in a 45-degree angle to the overhead supports in the roof of the truck, and secured his body using the cargo straps in the truck. Kelly handed Jack a towel and a half-gallon bottle of water. Jack put the towel over Walid’s face and without saying a word began slowly pouring water on the towel. Walid began to struggle. With his mouth taped, the sensation of drowning was more pronounced. A few seconds after the struggles stopped, Jack removed the towel. He made no move to help him breathe. Jack took the tape off his mouth and Walid began to gag. When he began to breathe Jack leaned over and whispered, “Walid, are you ready to help me?”

“What do you want?” he managed to sputter.

“Wrong answer.” Jack taped his mouth, put the towel on a struggling, moaning Walid, and began pouring water on the towel. The thrashing redoubled. In 90 seconds, the movement stopped. Jack removed the towel and tape. Slowly, Walid began to breathe. Again Jack whispered in his ear, “Walid, are you ready to help me? I don’t think you’ll live through the next towel session.”

Walid rasped out, “Yes! Please stop! Please! I’ll help.”

“Listen Walid, this is your last chance. So you had better not hold anything from me. And no lies. You see, I already know some of the answers. How do think we found you? The last one died. He told me some things but then stopped talking. You can see I had no choice. Don’t make the same mistake.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Eight

Kathy and Kelly got back to the hotel at 6:30 PM. Jack came back from a workout in the hotel gym a few minutes later. He announced he was the bartender and took orders. Everyone settled on a tall gin and tonic with a slice of lime. Gathered around the dining table, Jack listened to the account of their day. Kathy told him about their approach.

“The guy Kelly described came in Starbucks. She described him perfectly. I watched him when Kelly came in. He definitely recognized and watched her closely. I believe he was relieved to see that she was alone. I left first. Kelly came out behind our suspect and we followed his car to a boarding house in Schenley. We saw him use a key to go in a side entrance. We got pictures of him, his car, his house, and jotted down his license number, which we should run tonight.”

“Good work. We may have a break here. My instincts are to pick him up immediately and interrogate him. If he won’t cooperate, we have a disposal problem. We’ll deal with that when we have to. I’ll run the plates now.”

Five minutes later, Jack was back with the information from running the plates through Captain Shorer. Shorer had mixed the plate search with a couple of others his office was running.

“The plates were stolen three weeks ago,” Jack reported. “It’s more than likely the car was also stolen. Kathy, rent us a panel truck. Kelly, find a site where you watch either his car or the entrance to the boarding house. I assume you are carrying your SOCOM .45?”

“After that attack on your Charleston house, I’m never without it.”

“On your way to the guy’s house, pick up three gallons of water, a bucket, several towels, a box of latex gloves, some kitchen trash bags, three small high-intensity flashlights, and a roll of duct tape. Don’t buy it all in one place and pay cash. We’ll interrogate this thug in the van Kathy’s renting. We may have to dump him in the river if he doesn’t cooperate. Are you okay with that?”

“We’ll know if he’s part of the kidnapping gang by the time you finish with him. If he doesn’t help us, then he can try swimming.”

“Okay. Be on your way. Stay in touch with your cell. When we are on the way to Schenley, we’ll call.”

An hour later at 8:30 PM, Kathy called and told Jack she was in a dark brown Ford panel truck. “Turn left out of the hotel and walk a block and a half. I’m on your side of the street in a short-term parking place. I bought some masking tape to block the interior lights. By the time you get here I’ll be done.”

“I’m on my way. See you soon.”

Much to Shadow’s disgust, he saw Jack leaving again without him. He whined once and Jack told him it was okay and he would be back soon. Shadow provided too much of an identifying mark for this operation. Jack knew he had skilled, experienced people in Kathy and Kelly but things go wrong easily when you’re pushing the envelope this hard. His goal was to get enough information so he could give direction to the retired cop agency tomorrow morning.

Jack found Kathy waiting patiently. He tapped on the passenger window and when the door unlocked he got in and said, “Now, ain’t this fitting for a honeymoon adventure?”

Kathy said, “Lover, you forget I’m not the live-on-the-edge junkie, you are. I’d sooner be back in our suite. But I do hate these bastards in the human trafficking business. They ruin hundreds of lives for money they soon waste, while these poor girls become playthings for the rich perverts of the Middle East and Asia. So let’s go bring some misery and fear into one of them.”

Jack said, “If we can break him or turn him into an informant, the information we get will result in a number of these pigs feeling the pain of retribution. Kelly’s picking up some stuff we’ll need. She’s probably waiting for us now from a position where she can watch the house and the side entrance. I’m going to call her now. What are we, about 15 minutes out?”

“Make that 10 and I’m taking it easy. No tickets.”

Kelly picked up and said, “Go.” Jack told her they were less than 10 minutes out and asked if she had seen any action.

“No. I’m parked in a good spot and there is another place right in front of me that will take a panel truck. No one has been in or out the side entrance. Lights are on in what I believe is the apartment or room he’s staying in. There is a dim light over the door. The streetlights here are partially blocked by the many trees. I saw a few people on the street earlier but no one in the last 30 minutes. The neighborhood is old, rundown, and quiet.”

“When we pull in, come and get in the panel truck.”

Right on schedule 10 minutes later, Kathy said, “I see Kelly’s car and the parking space in front.”

When Kathy cut the lights, Kelly climbed into the back of the truck. Jack said, “Here’s how it’s going down. Kathy, this guy doesn’t know you. Go ring his bell or knock on the door. If no action, pick the lock and pretend the door was open. When he sees you, tell him you’re sorry but you scraped his car and you don’t want an insurance claim on your record so you want to give him cash for the damage. Ask him to come out and look at the damage. Leave your cell open to my number. I’ll be able to hear what’s going on. Any trouble or if he won’t come out, keep the door open and I’ll be there in a few seconds to bring him out and load him in the back of the truck. Put the bag over his head when I’ve got him under control. That should do it. Kelly, when I put him in the back, take him down, duct tape his arms and legs. No prints. Wear your gloves. Put all waste in one of the trash bags. I’ll jump in behind him and help.

“Give Kelly time to move her car several blocks from here. Follow her and pick her up. Then drive around while Kelly and I convince him to talk. If he doesn’t, he gets water boarded. All clear. Any questions?”

Kelly asked, “Are we trying to avoid putting any marks on him? Like abrasions on his wrists or ankles or bruises?”

“Yes. Use your soft skills. Nerve points, joint locks, come-along holds. I’ll put him out if necessary using pressure on his carotid arteries. Okay? Let’s go!”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Seven

Jack scrolled down his contact list until he came to Miller’s Investigation and Protection Agency. He called the number and his old partner Howard Miller answered. “Are you for real or just a scam?” Jack said.

Howie said, “For Christ’s sake Brandon, I thought you would be dead by now. You here to stir up trouble again?”

“No, just looking for a good detective agency. Can you recommend one?”

“Yeah, you’re talking to the only good one in the city. What can we do for you?”

“How many can you put on the street with two days’ notice?”

“If the money is right, I’ll have ten guys ready to go. All street smart with police backgrounds or trained personally by me.”

“The money will be right. Get your guys ready. I’ll stop by your office tomorrow morning about ten. Okay? And Howie, keep the lid on. No paper, big meetings, or talking to cop friends. For good people I’ll triple your rate. One leak and its over.”

“I’ll hafta know what’s going on.”

“Tomorrow, I tell you the story. Trust me, it’ll be okay. Mostly surveillance and background checks.”

“Good. I’ll have coffee for you. Still drinking the strong French roast stuff?

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

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