Paradigms Lost — Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Ways to Make You Talk

I looked up as the cell door opened. Renee entered. She walked over and took my hand without a word. After a moment, she said, “You okay?”

“I guess,” I said finally. “Am I getting out of here?”

“Hell if I know,” Renee said. “Jason, what were you doing over at Jerome Sumner’s?”

“Bending over and getting screwed by the bastard who killed him.” The fury overwhelmed me for a moment; I slammed my fist into the wall, then nursed my bruised hand. “I was set up perfectly. He was killed by this ‘Vlad’ guy you’re looking for, and I’m supposed to take the fall.”

She might have been in uniform, but she was here as a friend. Her hand on my shoulder told me that. “You won’t. No one who knows you will believe it.”

“But the NSA doesn’t know me. How does the evidence look?”

Renee Reisman screwed up her face. “Not good. You were found there. Your fingerprints were all over the place, including on the keyboard… on just the keys necessary to put up that banner.”

Jesus Christ. Of course they were. The bastard was imitating me! “But the way he was killed — I don’t even think I could do that, even if I wanted to.”

She shook her head. “You know the answer to that. Besides, you’re a smart guy, Jase. Always were. Prosecution wouldn’t have any problem convincing people that you could figure out how to do it.” She hugged me suddenly. “I just came to let you know I’m with you. I could pull strings and get myself here. Sylvie’s pulling for you too.”

I hugged her back, feeling suddenly scared. If the NSA followed the evidence… and Gorthaur was as good at this as he seemed to be… I could end up put away for life. “Thanks, Renee. I mean it.”

“We should get together more often. Not in a jail cell, either.” She smiled faintly, and for a moment she looked like the same girl I’d first met in junior high. “You aren’t going to prison. I promise you.”

“Exceeding our authority a bit, Lieutenant?” a precise voice said from the doorway.

We both jumped slightly. The woman who entered was in her mid to late thirties, sharp-featured, with red hair and a tall, athletic frame. She was followed by a sandy-haired, somewhat younger man carrying a brown paper sack and a briefcase. The woman continued, “Fortunately, I don’t like to make liars out of my professional associates. You aren’t going to prison, Mr. Wood. Jeri Winthrope, Special Agent, at your service; this is my assistant and second pair of hands, Agent Steve Dellarocca.” She extended her hand.

I shook it, then waited while Steve put down the stuff he was carrying and shook his, too. “Thanks. Glad to meet you. These have been the longest hours I’ve ever spent waiting anywhere.”

“Couldn’t be helped, I’m afraid. We didn’t think you were the responsible party, but the evidence didn’t look good. We had to check everything out thoroughly.” She looked at Renee. “I’ll have to talk to Mr. Wood alone now, Lieutenant Reisman.”

Renee nodded. I gave her a smile and said, “Thanks, Renee.”

“Don’t mention it.” The door closed behind her.

“Me, too, Jeri?” asked Steve.

“For now,” Jeri said. “I want you to keep tabs on the rest of the operation.”

“Gotcha. You know where to find me.”

I became aware of the aroma of Chinese food coming from the bag Dellarocca had brought with him.

“Hope you like pork lo mein.” Jeri said. “I thought you’d be hungry, and lord knows I never get a chance to eat in this job.”

“Thanks.” I started unpacking the food. “How did you people get there so fast, anyway? I only ended up there out of sheer luck.”

“We got a call. Person said he heard screams from that house and saw a car pulling out fast.”

“You got a call? That sounds more like police business.”

She nodded. “We’re manning the police phones. Mostly we just pass the stuff on, but it gives us the chance to keep sensitive material to ourselves.”

“But what made that call sensitive?”

“The address. Your friend Jerome, the Demon, was on our little list of people who were potential targets of Gorthaur.”

So she wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t know what was going on. That made it easier. “Why did he go after the Demon?”

“Several reasons. The major one is that Gorthaur hates to be laughed at or threatened; he’s an utter psycho when it comes to insults. The Demon had thrown Gorthaur off his board and threatened him with exposure.”

Nodding, I started to dig into the pork lo mein. Poor Demon. An image of him hanging head-down flashed in my mind; I put my fork down quickly; all of a sudden I wasn’t hungry. “Okay; you seem to assume Gorthaur did him in. So what in the evidence keeps me from being Gorthaur?”

Winthrope gave a snort I interpreted as a chuckle. “Gorthaur may be able to do a lot of things we don’t understand, but he’s not omnipotent or omniscient. He’s good at planting evidence, but apparently he either doesn’t understand or neglected to remember what modern technology can do. Despite the caller’s description matching your car, we were able to determine that your vehicle hadn’t been there previously. We could tell how long it had been standing there — not long at all. Also, if you were calm enough to put up the banner program, you were very unlikely to have forgotten anything… and thus you’d never have come back.” She smiled. “Interesting car, by the way. In your profession I suppose the electronic gadgetry should be expected, but I don’t recall ever seeing an armored Dodge Dart before. Made us wonder if you were in our line of work for real, except that most of the other work seemed homemade rather than professional.”

I grinned back. “Picked it up at one of those seized-property auctions; I think it belonged to a mid-level drug-runner. It was the silver-and-black color that caught my attention. That and the fact that I’d been shot at twice recently made an armored car sound like a good investment.”

“I can understand that.” She finished off an egg roll, then sat back. “Okay, let’s get working. Everything here’s being recorded, of course. We’ve got some questions for you and I hope you’ll cooperate.”

“Hey, I want this twit caught as much as you do. Maybe more; he killed my friend and tried to get me sent up.”

“Right.” She pulled out a laptop computer from a case slung over her shoulder, and opened it up. “First, tell me how you got into this and what you know so far.”

I told the whole story, leaving out certain small points — like vampires and werewolves — starting with my arriving on the scene in the woods, and finishing up with finding Jerome dead. “That’s about it.”

“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me who your contact was that spilled the beans on Gorthaur and his particularly annoying technique?”

“Don’t even think about it. Confidentiality is a large part of my business. If the police can’t trust me to keep my mouth shut, they wouldn’t hire me. Nor would a lot of other people.”

“Thought not.” She glanced at a few papers. “Okay, Mr. Wood, now let’s have the whole story, shall we?”

Oh-oh. “What do you mean?”

“Give me some credit for brains, please. Interrogation is my business. I’ve been doing this for sixteen years now, and I assure you I know when I’m not getting everything. So far you haven’t lied to me once… but I know damn well that you’re hiding something. So let’s try specific questions and answers, shall we?”

“Go ahead,” I said, trying to look confused. “I’ll tell you what I can.”

“First, tell me: just what was your part in the death of Elias Klein.”

What the hell had put her on that track? “He was trying to kill me and accidentally electrocuted himself; you can look that up in the records.”

“Funny thing about those records,” Winthrope said with a nasty smile. “I find the entire thing written up as you describe it… but the coroner’s report is about as vague as I’ve ever seen. In fact, our analysis department gives a ninety-percent certainty that the report was totally fabricated.”

Oh crap. “I’m not the coroner; you’d have to ask him.”

“Oh, I intend to. But let’s go on. What was Elias Klein working on before his unfortunate demise?”

“I’m not exactly sure. Sometimes I wasn’t kept up on everything he did.”

“Now, that’s very odd, Mr. Wood, since he appears by this receipt to have used your services just days prior to his death. What is also very odd indeed is that Klein’s files for his last investigation are not to be found.”

Damn, damn, damn! Renee must’ve forgotten the accounting office files. Either that or, more likely, some of the stuff had been misfiled and was found and properly filed some months later.

“And finally, it is very interesting that neither of Mr. Klein’s partners can give a detailed account of his investigations. However, we are fortunate in that the wife of one recalled a name that her husband had mentioned during the time in question: Verne Domingo.”

That tore it. The great vampire cover-up was full of more holes than a colander. “Okay, Ms. Winthrope. I’d like to tell you a story. But I can’t do it without permission — it affects a lot more people than just me, and like I said, confidentiality is my business.”

She studied me a moment. “Sure. Here, use my phone. I’ll be sitting right here, of course.”

I grimaced. “Naturally.” I took her cell phone and punched in Verne’s number.

“Domingo residence, Morgan speaking.”

“Hey, Morgan, this is Jason. I have to talk to Verne.”

“Of course sir.” A few moments went by, and then that well-known deep voice came on the line. “Jason! I heard you were arrested! Are you all right?”

“Physically I’m fine, but we have a serious issue. I’m being interrogated by an NSA agent named Jeri Winthrope, and she’s been asking some really pretty pointed questions. In particular, she’s been looking into the past history of certain people, and she wants the truth about Elias Klein.”

Verne was silent for a few moments. “You do not believe you can, as you would put it, ‘scam’ her?”

“I wouldn’t want to try. I tried tap dancing around the whole subject and she yanked my chain but good. They’ve found some remaining files and gotten a few comments that give them you as a lead.”

I could sense the consternation on the other end. Finally he sighed. “Jason, I trust you. I have to, in this instance, for you have had it in your power to bring me down for months now, had you wished, and instead you have proven to be a friend. Tell her what you must. I will prepare my household to move, if things become impossible.”

“I don’t want you to –”

“I know. But also, if you do not tell her the truth — about myself and about what is behind this entire series of murders — we may be condemning her to death. Do as you must.”

I swallowed. “Thanks, Verne. Maybe it won’t come to that. Bye.”

I turned back to the agent. “Okay, Ms. Winthrope, you win. I’ll tell you everything. But I’m not going to argue it out with you. If you don’t believe what I tell you, it’s going to be your loss, not mine.”