“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 6

Kelly picked up on the first ring. When Kathy mentioned she was a close friend of her JWM SerializationAunt Anita, Kelly agreed to see them for dinner. Kathy explained that Anita’s friend and boss would be with her. She asked Kelly to pick a nearby restaurant where they could talk. Kelly said she would be at Joe Mama’s restaurant on the corner of Oakland Avenue and Forbes at seven o’clock. Kathy said they would be there and, if Kelly got there first, to get a booth or table where they could talk. A private room would be perfect.

Kathy looked over at Jack and he said, “Perfect. We don’t have time to check into a hotel, so Shadow will have to stay in the car. He’ll be okay as long as he gets a walk and something to eat. I’ll pull off on the first country road. We can stretch our legs and Shadow can do his thing. Break out his kibble and water bowl.”

Ten minutes later Jack turned off onto a secondary road that led to the small town of Delmont. A few minutes later they parked off the road under a large maple tree on the edge of a corn field. Shadow was glad to get out and bounced around like the puppy he still could be.

Jack knew Oakland well and had eaten several times in the restaurant Kelly picked. He pulled into the small parking lot just after seven, cracked the windows for Shadow who settled down in his first class compartment in the back of the SRX. Kathy looked at her watch and told Jack she bet Kelly was already here.

“We’ll soon find out,” he said as he opened the door for Kathy. Kelly saw the couple getting out of a Cadillac from her seat in a booth and was sure they must be the people her Aunt knew. She moved toward the front door to meet them. Just inside the door, Kathy hesitated and stopped, staring at the young woman coming toward.

“My God, Jack, she’s a good bit taller but is the very image of Anita.”

Jack said, “She has to be Anita’s daughter. Add 20 years and she would be Anita. I can’t believe the likeness.”

Kathy, with tears running down her face, hugged Kelly and said, “I may never let you go.”

Jack joined them and kissed Kelly on the cheek. Kathy laughed, still hugging Kelly, “He really doesn’t do that much. His middle name is stoic, no emotion here. Kelly, you look so much like Anita. Let’s get out of the center of the floor. I want to sit down and hear all about you.”

“Okay. But you must start by telling me about Anita. I still cry when I think of her. I loved her, more like a mother or older sister than an aunt. We had a special bond and I’ll miss her forever.”

On the way to their booth, Kelly said, “I hope you like this place. The food is very good. The service, a little less so.”

Jack said, “Don’t worry, we’re here to see you and I have eaten here several times in a former life with the Pittsburgh Police Bureau.”

“No kidding! You were a cop here?”

“Yes, and I lived less than five minutes from here. I graduated from Pitt. So we have some things in common besides Anita.”

“I can’t believe this. Here comes our waiter. Let’s order drinks before he gets away.”

The waiter came up to the table and started his spiel. Jack interrupted him and said, “Carlo, never mind the speech. Bring us three Rolling Rocks.”

Carlo looked at Jack and said, “What a rotten night. God’s gift to the homicide squad is here. How the hell are you, Detective? I’ll take personal care of your order. Cash only. No credit.”

“Be careful and you’ll get the same big tip.”

“Some things never change. Three beers coming up.”

Kelly said, “I guess you really do know this place. Carlo has been a fixture here. Kathy, Anita told me about you. I know very little about her work except that she avoided my questions.”

“You know that Anita was an army major in the Special Forces. She was wounded in Iraq before she retired from the army and joined the CIA. She couldn’t tell anyone about her work there. I worked with Anita in the counter-terrorism group. She was very good. She wasn’t an analyst or a desk jockey. She was an active field operations officer and a very talented shooter. I don’t think I ever knew anyone who was better in a real shooting situation. Anita and my friend here were taking down a room full of al Qaeda terrorists when Anita was killed saving Jack’s life. She died in Jack’s arms. Her last words were about you.”

Kathy saw that Kelly was struggling to hold back the tears and changed seats to sit beside her. With Kathy’s arm around her, Kelly let the tears flow. When she got under control, she excused herself to fix her face.

When she was gone, Jack said, “How can we not tell her that Anita is her mother? Who will that hurt? Marie has already written her off. As long as some money arrives, I don’t think Marie will cause any problem.”

“I agree but first let’s probe Kelly’s feelings about her mother. Also, while there is nothing wrong with the name Kowalski, I’m having a hard time attaching it to Kelly who is really a Marino. Kelly Marino has the right sound.”

Kelly came back just as Carlo was setting three Rolling Rocks on the booth table. Jack took her hand and said, “Why don’t you order for us? It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been here.”

Kelly handed the menus back to Carlo and said, “Bring us an order of eggplant Parmesan with linguini and one of garlic crusted chicken. We’ll start with a plate of crispy calamari.”

“Hey, Jack, my friend, this lady ain’t no cheap date.”

“No problem, Carlo, I’ve invested my cop salary very wisely.”

Kathy said, “We’ll answer any questions you have, the best we can. Now will you tell us about Kelly? Her plans, dreams and hopes.”

“Right now I’m sort of adrift. Anita was my only anchor. It’s because of her I’m in school. She sent me money directly to help with my education with the understanding that I wouldn’t tell Marie. I could have gone to any school in Pennsylvania but I wanted to follow Anita to Pitt. I want to do athletics but I just don’t have time with my part-time jobs and class work. I’m not happy with my grade level but I’m dropping one job to bring my grades up. During the few times she came to visit when I was grown, we would go to the local high school track and compete. I could take her in the 100 meters but anything longer and she just ran away. I couldn’t believe it. She was old enough to be my mother. Nobody that old should embarrass me on the track.”

After Carlos delivered the calamari, Kathy laughed and said, “Anita was special. She could run away from both Jack and me. She was awesome in the water. Come to think of it, she could outshoot both of us. And this big guy here served in Iraq with the Marines as a sniper. So don’t be embarrassed. Anita was better than most of the world.”

Jack nodded his head and said, “Anita was a true warrior. We can’t tell you everything but I want you to know that Anita died in my arms after saving my life. We both owe her.”

“Did she say anything when you were holding her?”

Jack looked at Kathy and nodded. Kathy said, “I’m going to tell you something you should keep to yourself for now. Don’t even tell Marie. Can you do that?”

“Yes, I can. Especially with her. She’s like a newspaper. Whatever she knows, she tells.”

“This will be hard for you. Anita asked Jack to take care of her sister’s daughter, since she was her daughter. Jack and I believe she was giving us a clear message that you are her daughter and her sister raised you as her child.”

Kelly put her hand up to her face and said, “Oh! I knew it! When I got older, I looked so much like my aunt that people were always commenting. And Marie’s husband, Harvey, made it clear I wasn’t his kid. Why didn’t she tell me? I’ll never get to tell her how much I loved her and wished she were my mother? Is there a grave site anywhere?”

“No, there was an intense fire following the firefight, and no bodies were recovered. Maybe someday Kathy and I will take you to the place where she was killed. That’s the best we can do. Know that she always loved you and did what she thought was best for you. I believe she would’ve told you the truth when she could be available to you full time.”

Kathy said, “How are you going to deal with Marie?”

“That’s easy. She has written me off. She doesn’t want me to finish my education. When we heard Anita was dead, she said, ‘What good did her fancy education do for her or us? Don’t you see people like us have to live in the real world? Get a job, find a husband, have kids and grab what little else you can.’

“I hated her for saying that. Only the thought of Anita kept me going. So, for Marie and me, nothing will change. Except I’ve never felt comfortable with the name ‘Kowalski,’ so I’ll start the legal process to change it to Marino after my grandfather. Kelly Marino sounds good to me.”

Jack raised his glass and said, “From now on, you are Kelly Marino.”

Over the eggplant and chicken, Jack and Kathy outlined some changes Kelly could make in her life. Kathy started by saying, “We can help with the name change. That will be easy. Jack has a very good attorney. I think Jack has some other possibilities he wants to discuss with you.”

“If you agree with my proposal, you will have no more money problems. You can quit your jobs and work full time on being a student. Starting now you are an employee of the same organization Anita worked with. Your salary will be $250,000 per year with benefits. After graduation, if you decide to continue working with us, your salary will double. If not, you will get a lump sum payment large enough to carry you until you get work elsewhere. In return for the backing, we will require you to keep us informed of your progress, including your selection of university courses and a successful completion of some other training we assign. As you successfully complete both aspects of your training, we will be able to tell you more about your mother’s career. Also, this arrangement must be kept secret from everyone, unless we tell you otherwise. Any questions?”

Kathy thought, Jack is really testing her. He wants to know now if she has the stuff to be part of what we do. If so, that’s one course of action. If not, then he will see that she gets a good start on her new life.

“I’ve a few. But I don’t know enough now to ask all the right questions.”

“Not to worry. Ask the few you have. There are no wrong questions, only wrong answers. I won’t give you any of those, so go ahead. You have the floor. The first person to see Carlo, signal for three more beers.”

“May I call you Jack?”

“That’s an easy one. Yes, you may.”

“Okay, Jack, why are you offering so much money to a girl you don’t even know?”

“Ah, but I do know you. Kathy has known your mother for years and I trust her judgment. She doesn’t believe you have fallen very far from the tree. Secondly, Anita’s daughter is someone I would bet on sight unseen. Thirdly, I’m pretty good at judging people and I like what I see. And, lastly, I admire your discipline in sticking to your goals when Marie and, I suppose, others were telling you to forget your dream. I believe the money will be well spent and, incidentally, I can afford to invest the money. Next question.”

“I have one more year of study for my B.A. I’m majoring in history with a strong minor in criminology. My grade point average is about 3.3. Are you recommending any changes to my program?”

“What are your extracurricular activities?”

“Outside of the R.O.T.C. program, I’m not active in anything else.”

“Yes. I have some recommendations, but you don’t have to accept them. I want you to get on the track team and to start martial arts training in Hapkido. A friend of mine runs a good Dojang in Oakland, and I’ll give you a letter to him if you decide to accept my recommendations.”

“What do you want me to do on the track team?”

“That’s between you and the coaching staff. I want you in a good conditioning program, and the track coaches will lay it out for you. Don’t hesitate to tell them about your mother’s records at Pitt.”

“Why the kung fu stuff? Is it for real?”

Kathy said, “After your first week, you won’t be wondering whether it’s for real.”

Jack laughed and said, “Hapkido is a very tough and deadly martial arts, not a sport. You don’t spar seriously. It’s too dangerous. In the Dojang, no questions or tentative moves by the students are expected. Your instructor will be in total charge.”

Kathy added, “We aren’t fixated on GPA ratings. Our interest is in how well you can think, react and execute. At least half of what you have learned should be forgotten. The trick is knowing which half.”

“Okay. Kelly, do you have other questions? We’ll give you contact phone numbers for us. Call at any time. I have a check for you to deposit. Your tuition, board, books and some reasonable car are some of the things it will cover. Kathy will send you an iPhone that will be charged to our company. Do not let anyone else use it under any circumstances. The phone has some special capabilities Kathy will explain to you. Just so the record is straight, there are no second chances. Anita made that rule and it has served us well. This check is for $75,000. Deposit it and use it as necessary. There is nothing for you to sign, and we don’t need or want any receipts. The money is yours. It is not a loan. You are in charge.”

Kelly looked at the check and said, “I’ve never even seen a check for this much money. It is for real, isn’t it?”

Kathy said, “Yes, the check is real. Jack has money, but he doesn’t waste it or spend it on ostentatious items. We want to see how you handle these changes in your life. There will be more, if you and we get through a sort of probationary period. Remember you can opt out at any time and so can we.”

Jack said, “I’ve another point to make. If you get a phone call from us, email or text message asking you to go somewhere, just do it. Don’t think about it. All your expenses will be paid, including special tutors to make up for missed school. Your Hapkido instructor will understand. You need not explain yourself. For a while and only when necessary we’ll give you a reason you have to travel. If that happens, stick to the story. Have we frightened you?”

“No, but it makes me think I just might earn the money you’re paying me. When will I see you again?

“In a month or so. Jack or I may ask you to come to Washington or Charleston. You should receive a letter from our attorney within days on the issue of your name change and your employment situation. We all have to pay taxes.”

“Okay. We have to go now. Your training starts right now. You never saw us, and no one can know about our arrangement. Please stay at the table for five minutes after we leave. I’ll leave enough cash for the bill and tip. Kelly Marino, I’m very glad we met you, and I hope you will feel the same way before too long.”

Kathy hugged Kelly hard and whispered, “It will be okay.”

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“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 5

Jack waited until breakfast the following morning before he discussed Captain Shorer’s JWM Serializationproposal 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.”

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“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 4

Just as Jack and Kathy were getting settled in their suite at the Convention Center, the JWM Serializationphone 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.”

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“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 3

Joel finished his visit to the major Oriental rug store in Georgetown, SC. The two rugs he JWM Serializationnow had in the back of his 11-year-old Dodge Town and Country pleased him. He could mark them up at least seventy-five percent in his Charleston shop. His next stop would be Surfside, just fifteen minutes south of Myrtle Beach on Route 17. He might stay in Surfside. There were many motels that wouldn’t demand a credit card, as long as you paid up front with cash. Joel had no intention of leaving financial forensic trails to document his movements. His instructor in Peshawar, Pakistan, drilled into him the rules of playing the espionage and terrorist game. His instructor would be proud of him. There were many places along Route 17 up the Carolina coast where he could change license plates. Earlier in the year he’d stolen plates from an Ohio car. Even if by some miracle the motel manager checked license plates against his register, there would be no audit trail back to Joel Hankins. Too careful? Not the way he had been trained. You could be too tentative, but never too careful. Success came from dedication and attention to detail. Maybe tonight he could find a young woman. Although the tourist season was not at its peak, Myrtle Beach was a good hunting area. Tourists and young teenage girls, away from home for the first time, hadn’t had time to develop the street smarts to protect themselves. They desperately wanted a good time and didn’t believe people like Joel were out there hunting them.

In the early evening, just after dusk, he’d select a shopping mall and quietly sit in a parking space until he spotted a young girl pulling into a parking spot. At this time of year the girls weren’t wearing much, and he liked to evaluate his target before the attack. If possible, he would move his van next to her car and wait for her to return. All he had to do was slide open the van’s side door, grab his prey and pull her inside. A little chloroform on a small towel held over her face for thirty seconds would end the struggle.

He wasn’t interested in sex. His joy and excitement came from the kill and watching the essence of life escape. That was real dominance. Joel had improved his skill but still struggled to collect the exact moment of death.

The same modus operandi worked on most of his captures. For sure it wasn’t always as smooth as he would like. Sometimes he had to take the risk of getting out of the car or moving the van up beside his victim, pretending to ask a question or flirt, until he could use his chloroform-saturated towel to trap his catch. How surprised they all were when they regained consciousness and found themselves helpless. He had to be careful not to beat the girls too badly or to torture them until they lost consciousness. Once he had made that mistake and she died while unconscious, depriving him of the joy of watching and recording the magic of life leaving her. Her selfishness put him into an uncontrollable rage, and he beat the girl’s body until it was almost unrecognizable. He wouldn’t do that again. Rage leads to mistakes. He had burned everything he had on to get rid of the traces of blood. The inside of his van was also splattered and needed new mats and some of the upholstery replaced.

The victim he selected at the mall wasn’t as young as he first thought, and she put up a strong fight before the chloroform put her out. He took great pictures of her face as she died. Some of his skin might be under her fingernails, even though he did his best to clean them. Maybe the cops would be careless and miss their chance to get his DNA. Not every police department had a crack forensics team. Joel took no time in disposing of her. He dumped her naked body along a deserted road to the beach.

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“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 2

Driving down the familiar streets of Oakland, a sense of déjà vu swept over Jack. ShadowJWM Serialization sat up straighter and stared out the window. Rush hour was nearly over and minutes later, Jack pulled into the driveway of a small detached house just off Forbes Avenue. The house looked abandoned. It was more than a year since he loaded his old Cherokee station wagon with his few belongings and Shadow and headed east to McLean, VA, to take care of his adored ailing father. A lot had happened since then. He could barely remember what his ex-wife looked like. He was certainly a different person than the young, naive man who had lived here. Everything seemed smaller. The violence and stress of the last year marked him. If he had ever feared death, he no longer did. He knew he was a killer when his loved ones or country were threatened. Few people could do what he now did routinely. His senses were always on near-maximum. A feeling of confidence flooded through him. He now loved a woman who loved him in return and was willing to share the danger. Shadow’s nudging brought him back to the present.

Laughing at Shadow’s antics, Jack opened the door and let him out. He watched Shadow stretch and relieve himself on the small strip of grass in front of the house. Marsha had yelled at Shadow every time she caught him urinating on the grass. Kathy got out after examining the house from the car and headed for the front porch. Shadow looked at Jack, gave his Bouvier smile and ran up beside Kathy. As they moved near the front steps, Shadow stopped, stepped in front of Kathy and growled deep in his throat. Jack never questioned Shadow’s instincts. He called to Kathy to stop.

She said, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know but I always trust Shadow’s warnings. Follow us around to the back.”

Jack put his hand on Shadow’s back and led him to the back of the house. Shadow sniffed and continued to growl quietly. In the backyard, a slanted double trap door, typical of houses built in the 1930s, led to the cellar. Taking the key to the padlock from its hiding place behind a crack in the German siding, Jack opened the lock and eased one-half of the door open.

Little of the late morning sunlight reached the basement. It was too dark to make out the interior. Jack could just see the four steep cement stairs leading into the gloom. With Shadow leading the way, Jack and Kathy moved quietly down the stairs. Shadow had stopped growling and stood at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the kitchen, sniffing the bottom step and the surrounding area. Jack picked up a flashlight he had left on the cluttered work bench and giving a small prayer to the makers of modern batteries, switched the flashlight on. Its beam cut through the gloom in the windowless basement. Examining the basement area quadrant by quadrant, he could find nothing out of place until he turned the beam upwards and almost immediately saw a small, partially concealed shape fastened to the inside of one of the rough-cut ceiling joists. A closer look showed a black insulated line running from the shape along the joist and then up through the old pine floor.

“Kathy, what do you see up there?”

She took the flashlight, looked intently at the dark object snuggled up to a ceiling joist and said, “That has to be a bomb of some kind. I don’t see a triggering mechanism.”

Jack was no stranger to explosives or booby traps. His years in Marine Recon had trained him well. He was not going to try to disarm what could be a very sophisticated triggering device.

Jack took Kathy’s arm and said, “I don’t see one either, but disarming bombs is beyond me. Let’s get out of here.”

Rubbing Shadow’s head, he led the big dog back to the SRX. Jack drove around the neighborhood streets, while Kathy used her counter-surveillance skill to make sure they were not being followed. She gave Jack an “all clear.” He parked a block away from the house, pulled over and got his cell phone out. Jack dialed the number from memory. Captain Shorer’s secretary immediately recognized Jack’s voice and put him right through to his old boss.

“Captain, I thought you would still be at lunch.”

“Jack, how in the hell are you, and what brings you back to your old haunts? Football season is here and the Pittsburgh Panthers could use you, if that old knee would hold up.”

“It’s holding up well, but my football career is over. I’ve been out of the country for a while and trying hard to get my father’s estate shaped up. I need to see you tonight, if possible. I went back to my old house in Oakland and found a booby trap in the basement. I might have triggered it, if Shadow hadn’t made me be careful. He growled when we approached the stairs to the front porch. I took his warning, went in through the basement door and found the bomb attached to a ceiling joist.”

“Christ, Jack! What have you been up to? I better get the bomb squad out there immediately. I have no choice. The damn thing may be big enough to kill a few neighbors.”

“I’ll meet the squad at the house. Can we do this without the sirens and lights?”

“Okay! I’ll try to treat it as a suspected gas leak but that won’t last. We have to talk. I don’t like people trying to kill my best detective, even if he is on a leave of absence.”

“You got it! I have a long story to tell you. But the story has to stay between you and me for the time being. You’ll understand when I give you the details. How about dinner tonight? I want you to meet my significant other. She is a gorgeous and dangerous lady.”

“You’re on! I’ll pick the place. Now let’s deal with the bomb.”

“You pick next time. I know you like the Fish Market, and we’ll be staying at the Convention Center. I’ll see you in the restaurant tonight. Seven-thirty, okay?”

When Kathy asked what was going on, Jack told her the bomb squad should be arriving there any minute, and he had to show them what he found.

Kathy said, “Damn those people. How many of them do we have to kill? I am really angry. Thank God for Shadow. I love that dog. How did he know?”

“I’m a bit puzzled. Dogs have sensory capabilities that aren’t understandable by humans. Shadow is very intelligent and doesn’t miss anything. He wasn’t trained as a bomb sniffing dog, and it’s doubtful he could have caught the distinctive odor of the explosives from outside the house. His reaction must, in some way, be tied to the recent attack on my father’s house in McLean.”

Two full-time housekeepers and Jack’s father died in the attack, but not before Shadow gave the alarm and killed one of them. Two additional intruders were killed in the house. The attack team was made up of members of a renegade KGB sleeper team based in Charleston, SC.

Jack said, “I wonder if a surviving member, motivated by revenge for the death of one of his family, may be responsible for the bomb. Shadow may have picked up the scent of an old enemy.”

Ten minutes later, as the light was beginning to fail, a police cruiser glided past the house and parked down the street. Jack recognized one of the officers and, leaving an unhappy dog in the car, he and Kathy went to meet them. Don Esposito saw them coming, “Hey, Jack, how ya doin? We don’t need you drumming up business for us! You never were boring! Whatcha got here? The Captain said it was a bomb situation. Is that right? And aren’t you going to introduce me to Miss America?”

“Don! Give me a chance to get a word in! I missed you, too. Yeah, some package nestled up to a joist in the basement with a wire running out of it. Being the smart detective I am, I told myself not to fuck with it but to wake up Esposito. He’s getting all that hazardous duty pay for telling the bomb squad where to go. Kathy, say hello to Mr. Esposito so he can get to work.”

“Hello, Mr. Esposito. I hope you’re good at this bomb business.”

“I’m not too bad. Glad to meetcha. If you tire of this bum, call me. I can be available. Jack, how about you show me where this suspect bomb is lurking?”

“Okay, suck it up and follow me. Kathy, please keep Shadow company. He hates to be left out of any action. Hey, Esposito, remember, please don’t touch the damn thing until I get out of there. I’m not drawing the big bucks for bomb squad duty and, besides, I’m on leave-without-pay. Follow me and I’ll show you my bomb.”

Jack led the two officers around the back to the outside stairs and opened the cellar doors. Once inside, Jack used his flashlight to point out the bomb. Esposito took a quick look and said, “Okay, I see it and it sure looks like a bomb. That wire running out of it may mean that it’s not set up for remote detonation or that this bomber is damn smart. Who in the hell would want to kill a poor dumb detective on leave-without-pay? Who’ve you been hanging around with? Never mind talking. Let’s get out of here. I think I heard the real bomb squad pull up.”

After talking to Esposito, the bomb squad Lieutenant set about directing his growing on-site force to evacuate every house within two hundred feet. Jack knew that action would take at least an hour, and there was nothing he could do to help. He waited until the Lieutenant was finished issuing his preliminary orders and introduced himself as the owner of the house. Esposito chimed in to add Jack was a homicide detective on leave. Jack then offered to give the entry team the house keys and a briefing on the layout of the house. Jack could see the Lieutenant was giving him his undivided attention now that his bona fides were established. When the officer asked him who was on his suspect list, Jack told him he didn’t know. He didn’t want to pass out any more information before he had a chance to talk with Captain Shorer.

When Jack slipped into the car with Kathy and Shadow, she told him the newspapers could have provided enough information for the bomber to find his old Pittsburgh house, who then placed the bomb in an attempt to kill him or someone he cared about. She doubted it had anything to do with their killing a room full of al Qaeda mid-level cadre in Kathmandu.

Jack said, “I believe you’re right. Maybe the bomb forensic guys can give us something. Now let’s get Shadow checked into his old kennel and ourselves in a hotel.”

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Is there a worse crime than shooting innocent children while they are learning new skills?  I don’t think so. Why after decades of these terrible events haven’t we fixed the problem. Surely protecting children, especially in schools, should be a top priority. Focus groups, roundtable discussions, political speeches and public hand wringing over the Second Amendment by both conservatives and liberals hasn’t helped. Maybe because school shootings aren’t about guns or the Second Amendment. Instead the problem is still with us  because of the bureaucracy associated with the management of the education process in America. No new great discovery regarding guns is needed. Although background checks can stand improvement.

There are thousands of buildings in America that have tight security that limits access to authorized personnel only. We know how to secure buildings and larger sites. The problem is that school security is in the hands of teachers, school administrators, school boards and elected politicians. Collectively I wouldn’t search for security know how within this group. Rather, I would go to security professionals who are totally outside the thinking and mindsets of our educational professionals. In many schools teachers cannot or are not permitted to control their own classrooms. They do know how to educate our children. For some reason education professionals, including the powerful Teachers Union, think they should be in total control of school security.

It has always been that way and it has failed and will continue to fail to secure our schools and to protect our children. It shouldn’t matter to the teachers and school boards who controls the security of buildings and grounds, including access. They should welcome being freed from being responsible for school security. Their primary responsibility is to educate children who want to learn. (A subject for another time.) I believe the responsibility for school security should be with the local police and/or sheriff departments. They know how to secure buildings if they are not handicapped by impossible “rules of engagement” imposed by local educators and politicians. There is no doubt this approach will be expensive and inconvenient. But it will work and provide the safety and security children and teachers should have in our schools. Maybe it is time to stop talking and give the responsibility for school security to the professionals.

Blog: factsandfictions.com | Twitter: @factsfictions80


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“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 1

Jack Brandon, on his way to run some errands, paused on the porch of the mountain jwm-serialization.jpegcabin he inherited from his father, and looked out over the thousand acres of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains that came with the cabin. His father, Peter Brandon, built the cabin, two hours east of Pittsburgh, as a final hiding place, in his struggle to escape a vengeful KGB. Forty years ago, his father, a KGB officer on the fast track, opted for freedom in America but on his terms. He stole all the operational funds the KGB provided for his mission in America. Assuming the name Peter Brandon, he eluded the KGB hunt. The team hunting him found and killed his wife and infant daughter. Only Peter and his young son Jack escaped. For the next three and a half decades, Peter Brandon extracted his vengeance by working with a CIA officer to destroy a Cold War espionage network of Soviet undercover agents living in America. During the last year of his life, Peter revealed his story to Jack, who joined him in his mission to protect America from foreign terrorists’ threats. Jack’s background as a Marine Recon Officer and detective in the homicide department of the Pittsburgh police gave him the know how to pick up his father’s mission after al Qaeda killed Peter Brandon in his McLean, VA home. The hideaway mountain cabin now housed Jack, Kathy and Shadow, Jack’s beloved Bouvier des Flandres. Kathy had been an up and coming CIA case officer, who joined the Brandon Group to escape the increasing bureaucracy of the counter terrorism office, and the money covered her mother’s medical bills.

Shortly after Jack’s father was killed in his home by terrorists, the FBI and local police, acting on information supplied by the group, took care of the remaining elements of the terrorist network. The identities of Jack and Kathy were exposed to al Qaeda during a deadly showdown in New Delhi.

A few more days of rest, then they would have to decide where they would set up next. Some place where it would be difficult for any revenge seeking terrorists to find them. Jack was still running over some options in his head as he drove back from his short trip to Somerset, PA. Besides the need for some groceries, he made a few phone calls. Using cell phones from the cabin was not done. Pay phones were getting scarce but there were some in Somerset. On the way back, he’d decided he would take Kathy and Shadow for a visit to his old home in Pittsburgh. Jack was so focused on the details of a trip to his old haunts, he nearly missed the turn into the overgrown lane to the cabin.

Shadow, the 100-pound plus black Bouvier, came bounding up the quarter mile one-lane entrance to the cabin and jumped into the front seat with Jack when he opened the door. Shadow liked few things better than to sit up front and hang his head out the window as he surveyed his domain. Jack pulled into the small parking area below the cabin and was welcomed by Kathy with a big hug when he got out of the Cadillac SRX.

“Hey, I’ve only been gone for a few hours. Don’t look so worried.”

Kathy pushed him back so she could see Jack’s face and said, “It’s just that we’ve had so many close ones in the past year. I don’t think you worry enough and that attitude scares me to death. In the almost a year since I’ve been sharing your bed, I thought for sure I had lost you more than once. I don’t want to change you, but could you just please take fewer risks. First, Recon Marines, then a homicide detective and, even worse, picking up your father’s crusade against terrorists. There, that’s my speech. I just had to get it out.”

“Kathy, I know I’m not immortal and believe it or not, I intend to cut down on the risks we take. How about we go to Pittsburgh for a few days? We could stay in my old house. It’s sitting empty. Or we could stay at a hotel. I want to show you my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, a real northern city university.”

Kathy said, “Good! Some city living would be good and I’d like to see your old house. Maybe we’ll live there someday.”

“I’m not sure Shadow will be happy there. He never liked my ex-wife and despised the small backyard. Anyway, he can come with us. He’s spent too much time in kennels recently.

“I want both of us to have dinner with my friend and the Assistant Chief of Investigations. I worked for him in the homicide unit. He’s a great guy and like a father to me. Okay? Let’s get packed. We’ll start with a visit to my old house. It’s still furnished with what I could afford on a cop’s salary. The place is probably dusty as hell. We can be there in three hours.”

Kathy said, “So let’s get started. We don’t need much. We do need new wardrobes after losing all our stuff in India.”

On the way west on Route 30, Kathy questioned Jack about the house, neighborhood and details of his previous life as a detective in the homicide unit of the Bureau of Pittsburgh Police. She told Jack she was having trouble with his financial status as a police detective one day and a near-billionaire the next. How did he deal with that? Jack told her it wasn’t hard. He was the same person, or almost the same person. He knew that one day his father would leave him some money but had no idea of the extent. The size of his father’s estate took his breath away when Lee Jensen, his father’s attorney and friend, revealed the figures to him, as well as the terms of acceptance. To accept his inheritance, Jack had to agree to work full-time, using the wealth his father accumulated from the seed money taken from the KGB when he escaped, to enjoy and protect American freedom.

Kathy had been with Jack and Anita, her best friend and fellow team member, on their mission of the past year to track down and kill his father’s murderers. Kathy knew she and Jack had been lucky. Anita gave her life to save Jack’s. She accepted that hazardous operations meant casualties had to be expected. Luck was also involved in her meeting Jack. She’d never met a man like him before. Kathy thought Marsha, Jack’s ex-wife who wanted to be rich, had dumped Jack and run off with a divorce attorney. Too bad for her. Jack was spoken for now.


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