(This is the continuation of a serial novel. For previous chapters click HERE
Kyle Lipskey had received new orders. Early the next morning the director had summoned Lipskey to his office and personally instructed him exactly how to make the deal with Kamel. Usury Immunity was on the table along with witness protection for life. This offer came directly from the attorney general herself.
Lipskey was also informed by the director that the attorney general had specified that Lipskey be in charge of the negotiations. The director added an important footnote. He told Lipskey that “ both the Bureau and the Justice Department have the utmost confidence in your ability to carry out this assignment.”
While that may sound like a compliment, Lipskey knew better. His rising star status was being put to a final test. Kamel now knew that Mohammad was not in custody and that Lipskey had lied to him. That good cop — bad cop act only works once.
Lipskey doubted that Kamel would ever trust him again. If that didn’t make things tough enough, Lee Williams had been promised by Ira Goldberg that his client would never be interrogated again without counsel being present. Why bother with the middle man, thought Lipskey. He called Lee Williams’ office and made an appointment to see him. The receptionist put him on hold for a minute and when she picked up, Lee Williams was on the phone.
“Agent Lipskey, I’ve been expecting your call,” Williams said cheerfully. “When would it be a good time for us to get together?”
“Would 2 or 3 this afternoon be agreeable with you sir?” Lipskey asked.
“Two is fine. Looking forward to meeting with you.”
A friendly lawyer sets off an alarm. They’re as credible as a shark who claims not to be hungry and Lipskey had just been invited to swim with one in his pool. Lipskey was not about to go swimming alone. He called Ira Goldberg.
“What time is your appointment?” Goldberg demanded. “You should have called me first.”
“Two o’clock sir. I realized I should have cleared this with you as soon as I did it. That’s why I’m calling now. If 2 isn’t good for you I’m sure I can reschedule.”
“No need, I’ll be there. This case is a top priority. Don’t let this happen again, though,” Goldberg said before hanging up.
Two minutes — two lawyers — two hang-ups. It was going to be a great day.
Lipskey met Goldberg in the lobby of the Offices of Williams and Blarney. The two men arrived long enough to be given coffee by the receptionist. Just as they managed to seat themselves in the overstuffed leather sofa while carefully balancing their Styrofoam cups of coffee, the office manager appeared. She pleasantly shuffled the two men, cups in hand, to a vacant conference room. A long mahogany table filled the room. Ira took a seat at the head of the table and Lipskey sat by his side.
“Nice rug,” Lipskey said as he bent down to flip it over. “Hand woven. What do you bet it’s a genuine Persian?”
“Not funny,” Goldberg said while rifling through his briefcase.
Lipskey could never manage to loosen Ira Goldberg up enough to become personal. It’s all business with Ira, he thought.
Looking across the table, Lipskey drifted back to the days of his youth. He remembered the hours he had spent as a child doing his homework on just such a conference table. He would stop at his father’s firm on the way home from school. His father always was meeting with a client or else he was busy talking with one on the phone. At least that’s what his secretary would always say. The receptionist, Cynthia Warner, would give Kyle a soda and send him into the conference room with the same message every time. “Your father says that you should get started with your homework and he’ll see you just as soon as he’s free.”
“Ira how have you been?” Lee Williams asked as he entered the room. “Loved your press conference. You put me to shame.”
“Kyle Lipskey, pleased to meet you. Please call me Lee,” Williams smiled, “ I know your father. A true gentleman and a damn good attorney!”
“Well thank you sir,” Lipskey said.
“ That’s Lee.”
“Well now that we’re one big, happy family what do you say we get down to business?” Goldberg said.
“I wouldn’t say we’re quite ‘happy’ yet, Ira,” Williams said.
“Well you should be, after you hear this. Instead of the death penalty we’re prepared to offer your client full immunity for his full cooperation. He will be enrolled in the witness protection plan, be given a new identity and a suitable place of relocation.”
“First of all Ira, let’s be fair here. You’re in no position to get a conviction, let alone a death penalty. You and I both know that your confession is out the door and you also know that you’d never be allowed to use it against my client in court. Legally speaking, the anthrax is fruit from a poisoned tree, so let’s stop kidding each other.”
“Either way it’s poison for your client, Lee,” Goldberg smiled. “Let’s say you get the anthrax thrown out, along with the confession What have you accomplished for your client? I think you better discuss our offer with him don’t you? Ramzi Kamel knows he’s a dead man even if his attorney doesn’t. Follow your own advice, Lee, and let’s stop trying to kid each other.”
“Naturally I’m obligated to discuss your offer with my client, however if he accepts it, I’m afraid that I will have to withdraw my appearance in this case.”
“Care to tell us who’s paying your fee, Lee?” Goldberg asked.
“I will say this much Ira. It’s an organization that is concerned with fundamental human rights for Islamic citizens in the U.S. This organization felt that, in the interest of human rights, it should provide a defense fund for Mr. Kamel, particularly after they learned of the blatant brutality he had been subjected to during the course of his arrest.
“Their firm belief is that Mr. Kamel is innocent. It can be safely assumed that they would have no interest in his case were Mr. Kamel to publicly admit his own guilt.”
“So what you’re telling me is that Kamel needs to get himself another attorney should he decide to accept our offer?” Goldberg asked.
“I’m saying that I believe I can beat the charges you have against my client in a court of law. Should he elect to retain me for that purpose, I would be willing to try this case If on the other hand, Mr. Kamel elects to accept your offer, my job is over. I would see no further need to continue my representation.”
“Let me understand this in layman’s terms, Lee,” Lipskey said. “Are you saying that even if your client wants to cooperate, you will refuse to represent him because the people paying you don’t want him to cooperate?”
“The people paying me believe he is innocent. There is a difference.”
“Yes Kyle, what Mr. Williams is saying is that this ‘defense fund’ would be less financially enthusiastic were Kamel to admit that he’s guilty,” Goldberg said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they want him out for their own reasons at this juncture.”
Lee Williams remained silent.
“Kyle,” Goldberg said, “ would you excuse the two of us for a moment? I need to talk with Mr. Williams alone and off the record.”
Lipskey knew better than to argue. He left the conference room and seated himself in the receptionist area, once again left alone to do his homework.
Ten minutes later, Ira Goldberg emerged from the conference room all smiles.
“Then we’ll follow you over there if that’s all right with you Lee.”
“That’ll be fine. Just give me 10 minutes and if it goes as we expect, he’s all yours,” Williams said.
“Let’s go, Agent Lipskey,” Goldberg said. “I’ll explain later.”
Once they arrived at the special detention area, Lee Williams entered Kamel’s cell while Lipskey and Goldberg sat in the waiting area. Williams was going to explain the government’s offer to Kamel and advise against it. He would however allow Lipskey and Goldberg to answer any questions Kamel might have about details of the agreement and more importantly, give them an opportunity to give their argument for taking it.
Five minutes later, Lee Williams emerged from the cell.
“You’re up Kyle!” he said, before departing the room. “No shenanigans people.”
“Let’s go,” Goldberg said.
The guard led Lipskey and Goldberg down the hallway slowly. Ramzi Kamel was seated on his bunk. He was glaring indignantly at Lipskey as he entered.
“Hello Ramzi,” Lipskey said while taking a seat on the toilet at the end of the cell. He left the only chair vacant for Goldberg who instead elected to stand. Lipskey now felt too ridiculous to move.
“First of all I’m not here to apologize for anything I’ve done Ramzi. I would lie all over again if I had to. My job was to get that poison you brought into this country off the streets.
“Now I’ve come to you with an offer. This is Ira Goldberg, the U.S. Attorney in charge of this case. He will not lie to you and his offer is guaranteed by the Attorney General of the United States. This is a very important decision, Ramzi. Don’t make the wrong one just because you are angry with me.
“I am a soldier, just like you, and I have my orders just like you. If you would rather that I leave I will. You and Mr. Goldberg can talk alone. It doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is that you listen to our proposition with an open mind. Do you want me to leave?”
Ira Goldberg looked uncomfortable. As a Jew he felt less than enthusiastic about be locked in a cell alone with an Islamic Fundamentalist, especially this one. He waited for Kamel’s answer.
“You may stay. One liar is as good as another. Is that not right Mr. Goldberg?” Kamel asked.
“No that’s not right, Mr. Kamel. Any agreement we reach today would be signed in the presence of your attorney and it would be binding so long as the terms of the agreement were upheld. In exchange for your complete cooperation, we are prepared to offer you a new life and a new identity. Did your attorney tell you this?
“Did he tell you that this is done every day and that the government always keeps its word in these agreements?
“Do you trust your attorney?”
“As much as I do any infidel,” Kamel said.
“I’m sure Mr. Williams has told you that he could win this case in court and that you would eventually become a free man again. We know that isn’t true, though. You will never be a free man as long as your name is Ramzi Kamel. We can change all that for you and give you a second chance with your life. Perhaps even teaching at a small university.”
“Ramzi,” Lipskey said, “whether you want to believe me or not, you must consider what we are offering you. It’s a chance to live your life over again. If you go to court and win, you know in your heart that you will lose.
“Everyone knows that we have to set you free the minute the jury says ‘Not Guilty.’ And who will be waiting for you Ramzi? How long will you be safe? You need us and we need you. There is no shame in that. There is no hope in the alternative.”
“Mr. Kamel,” Goldberg asked, “did it ever occur to you that Mr. Williams is really not working for you? Do you know who pays him, Mr. Kamel? The Holy Man pays your lawyer is that not correct?
“In that case, this is simple. If you believe the Holy Man will agree with what you’ve done, then you have nothing to fear. By all means go to trial. On the other hand if you think the Holy Man will disapprove of your actions, then I think you better consider our offer very carefully.”
“Mr. Goldberg. Can you guarantee me that I will be allowed to teach?” Kamel asked.
Ira Goldberg looked up from the swollen eyes of Ramzi Kamel and then into eyes of Kyle Lipskey. Goldberg then looked directly into the eyes Kamel and said “Yes.”
Mohammad now lived in a wooded area, adjacent to Hyde Field, a small, private airport in Clinton, Md. Clinton is a metastasizing suburban sprawl just outside of Washington, D.C. It is the home of Andrews Air Force Base and the president’s fleet of jets including Air Force One.
The winter nights were now getting colder. Mohammad had purchased a sleeping bag along with some gloves and a navy blue scull hat that he kept pulled over his ears. When nightfall came, he would sleep in one of the track homes under construction. Each night he would select a house that was nearing completion but still unlocked. Mohammad would look for the flickering light of the propane gas heaters that were left on to prevent pipes from freezing. At dawn he would awake to the first sounds of the arriving trucks. Construction would never begin until daybreak. He would sleep in the basements near the door until he heard the sounds of the workers slamming their truck doors. Then he would quietly retreat into the woods until nightfall.
To break up the day he would wait until noon to purchase his food, which had been mostly can goods. He never shopped at the same store twice and spoke as little as possible when he did. His beard was slowly growing back as was the hair on his head.
Today was a sad day for Mohammad. It was the 23rd of December, the day he was to have entered Paradise. Today was the day the anthrax should have been released. The 23rd so that 48 hours later the deaths would begin. It would have been a very Unmerry Christmas and an especially Unhappy Hanukkah. Instead, Mohammad sat freezing slowly in the woods waiting for the sign of inspiration he knew would come. He gazed out beyond the tree line at the small trainer airplanes that were part of the flying school at Hyde Field.
He remembered his own days in flight school. Mohammad had trained on a Cessna exactly like that mustard colored one parked under the canopy. The sky was gray and it had begun to snow. He wanted to light a fire but he was afraid the smoke would attract attention. He could see in the distance that a group of local winos were once again gathering behind the shopping center.
Mohammad was hungry. He decided that today he would buy a fully cooked, rotisserie chicken at the Giant supermarket. As he ventured toward the shopping center he didn’t realize how much he looked like the winos he was passing. Perhaps that is why he ignored their greeting as he passed them by. Once inside the store he walked directly toward the deli. He selected a plump, golden brown chicken, with an order of green beans and potato salad. He made a point of holding his cash in his hand.
As he walked down the aisle toward the cashier, he picked up a loaf of French bread and a liter of Coke. He felt the security guard watching him. He went to the express counter and placed all his items on the conveyor belt, ignoring the friendly “hello” of the cashier, holding out his money instead.
“Paper or plastic,” she asked.
The cashier counted out his change and handed him his plastic bag. The smell of the hot chicken meat surged from the plastic as he grabbed the handles. Mohammad avoided the eyes of the security guard as the exited the store.
Once outside, he walked rapidly toward the rear of the shopping center. As he passed the green dumpster he heard a voice call to him from behind it.
“What are you too good to say hello to us?” the voice asked. Then another voice spoke.
“Yo bro – what chew got in the bag? How ’bout sharing a little of that, you stuck-up mother fucker?”
At that moment Mohammad learned what it meant to be bum rushed. Two winos, one black and the other white, rushed at his bag from behind the dumpster. The black man ripped the bag from Mohammad’s hand while the white man punched him in the face. The white man’s fist was hard and callused, but his punch was weak and it failed to knock Mohammad to the ground.
Mohammad acted out of reflex. He plunged his dagger directly into the white man’s stomach and then he twisted it, blade up ripping toward the sternum. The white man looked into Mohammad’s face with a puzzled expression as he sunk to his knees in the snow. Red blood began squirting from his abdomen as he collapsed face first into the pavement.
Mohammad quickly turned his dagger on the black man. The wide-eyed man held up his hands in surrender before turning to run. Mohammad held the bloody edge of the dagger’s blade by its tip and prepared to throw. It would be an easy shot to stick him between his shoulder blades. He held the dagger behind his back and prepared to launch it. Then with a smile he hesitated, allowing the man to escape instead. Thank you my friend, you have bought me some time, Mohammad thought to himself.
Mohammad reached down into the snow and picked up his hot chicken. He walked back toward the front of the store, crossed the street, and began to eat the hot, tender meat of the chicken while blending into the noon lunch crowd.
“One Frank One and One Frank Two, take the cutting. Rear of the Giant, Route Five and Surratt Road,” droned the monotone voice of the County Police dispatcher.
“10-4, we both copy.” acknowledged the patrol officers.
“Time One-Eleven I’ll start that way ’til advised,” K-9 Joe said.
K-9 Joe and his dog, Steel, were unquestionably the best K-9 team on the County Police Department. Maybe the best team ever. Whenever tracking the scent of a felon, K-9 Joe became part canine himself. It was a controlled schizophrenia.
Like his German shepherd, Joe thirsted for the opportunity of a good bite. Steel had been trained to only respond to commands given in German. It was of no use to yell stop or no to him in English.
While racing to the shopping center at his tradition warp speed, K-9 Joe made it a practice to work his dog into a salivating frenzy. He enticed him with the signals that meant fresh, human meat lay ahead. Steel could sense by the sound of the siren and by the way he was being hurled around in the back seat through the corners, that soon it would be Yummy Time. K-9 Joe was always able to transmit his own enthusiasm to his dog.
“ Frank One, it’s confirmed. It looks like an 81. Start Homicide and Evidence,” the patrol officer said.
“Hear that Steel? An 81. It’s now a homicide. Yummy Time!” Joe yelled while arriving at the shopping center.
Steel was lunging against the back door of the squad car as K-9 Joe hooked him up to a long lead leash. Damn rookies have already fucked up the crime scene, K-9 Joe thought. Their footprints and tire marks were now everywhere leading up to the body from the south.
K-9 Joe led Steel up to the body. He could tell by looking at the corpse that it was dead when it hit the ground. There was no sign of movement or suffering in the snow. Several quarts of blood had formed a nearly perfect circle of red in the snow around the body’s abdomen.
“Find him boy; Get em.” K-9 Joe yelled in German.
This was too good to be true. Steel picked up the scent of a single set of footprints in the snow that led from the body. They went due north and paralleled the rear of the shopping center. They were now in fresh pursuit of the fleeing wino. Steel was running in the snow on lead with K-9 Joe right on his tail. K-9 Joe held his 9mm Baretta in one hand and the leash in the other. A half a mile later, the trail ended at a partially stripped car that lay abandoned in the woods.
“County police. Come out with your hands up or I’ll turn the dog loose,” K-9 Joe said quickly while unhooking the leash. Steel howled as he charged the car and jumped into the back seat. Ass, elbows and screams were all that could be seen and heard for the next few minutes. Then K-9 Joe called off his dog while sticking the barrel of his Baretta under the nose of the half devoured wino. He cuffed the wino, pulled him from the car seat and laid him face down into the snow.
Steel was never particular about what he ate. From thighs to scrotums, meat was meat for Steel. Today he seemed to have had a particular taste for thighs and arms. The puncture wounds were everywhere.
“Where’s the knife?” K-9 Joe demanded.
“What knife man? I didn’t cut him! It was the other dude,” the wino moaned.
“The other dude huh?” K-9 Joe laughed while easing his leash on Steel, allowing him to inch closer to the face of the wino. “Why did you run then?” K-9 Joe yelled.
“Because I didn’t want that motherfucker to cut me too! I swear to God.”
“Why wouldn’t you come out of that car and surrender then?” K-9 Joe asked.
“I’m afraid of dogs man!”
During his many years as a police officer, K-9 Joe had learned that suspects rarely lie when the German shepherd who has just eaten them is standing inches from their faces, especially when the dog is prepared to do it again. K-9 Joe believed the wino.
“Stand up and tell me what happened.”
As the handcuffed wino limped back to the squad car, he told K-9 Joe everything. When they got back to the crime scene Homicide still had not arrived. K-9 Joe told the beat cop what happened — that it was a Strong Armed Robbery over chicken that went bad.
“So where’s the chicken?” asked the beat cop, looking down at the potato salad and green beans.
“Our suspect has it. White male, 30s, medium build, 5-8 to 5-10, with a navy blue scull cap pulled over his ears. Armed with a knife and a chicken,” K-9 Joe smiled.
The beat cop returned the smile.
As K-9 Joe reexamined the scene, he observed a set of tracks leading from the woods, across the field and into the shopping center. They were just where the wino said they would be. He tried to find them again when he walked toward the front of the store but he could not. Too much traffic and time had already passed.
“I need someone to transport this man to Southern Maryland Hospital and get him checked out.”
“Fine,” the beat cop said, “I don’t mind getting a little blood on my car for you Joe.”
“Thanks,” K-9 Joe said with a smile. “When Homicide finally decides to get here, I’ll meet you at the hospital. I’m sure they’re going to want me to first check out the woods for them. After all, I wouldn’t want to see them get their wingtips wet in the snow.”
The beat cops liked K-9 Joe. When he searched a scene they knew he would either make an apprehension or he would damn near kill himself trying. Rain or snow, cold or hot, Joe and Steel were out there in the trenches with the troops. He didn’t wear a suit and he worked the streets just like the beat cops did. Joe was a kick-ass cop, not a kiss-ass one.
“How many bites you got so far this year, Joe?” the beat cop asked while buckling up the wino with a seat belt.
“ This makes 66 for year brother, but it ain’t over yet,” Joe said. “Business always picks up around Christmas. You know what they say — ’Tis the Season to be Jolly.”
Eventually the homicide detectives arrived. They talked to the security guard who told them he had watched Mohammad closely when he entered the store because he had figured he was one of those winos who hung around in the back parking lot.
When pressed further, the security guard admitted that he had never seen Mohammad before today. The cashier remembered that Mohammad had held out two 20s when he came to her counter. Aside from that, she remembered little.
At the hospital, the wino was admitted under the name of Reginald Oliver Pinkney Sr. He gave the detectives a perfect description of Mohammad, though they didn’t really seem to care. Pinkney had a long rap sheet for petty theft and strong armed robbery together with a string of drug and alcohol charges.
“Tell us what happened Pinkney,” demanded the senior detective, Al Franklin.
“I asked this dude to share some of his chicken,” Pinkney began while wincing in pain from the dog bites. “We was hungry — that’s all. When I asked him, this dude gets all up in my face and the next thing I knew he and Devil Dog gets into it.”
“ When you’re referring to Devil Dog, do you mean the man who was stabbed?” the detective asked.
“Yeah that’s right. I don’t know his real name. He calls me Pink Knee and I calls him Devil Dog. Anyway, next thing I know, this dude pulls out a blade and sticks Devil Dog in his belly. Let me tell you man … this dude was cold. He cut out Devil Dog’s guts and smiled while he did it. Then he turned on me.”
“Then what?” Franklin asked.
“What the fuck you think — ‘then what’? I ain’t gonna stick around and be next. S-h-i-t, I ran like a motherfucker! Next thing I know I got some motherfucking dog tearing my ass up. I can’t win no way.”
“Don’t bullshit me, Pinkney. How do I know it wasn’t you who stuck Devil Dog?” Franklin demanded loudly.
“I ain’t got no knife man. You know that.”
“You could have ditched it before we found you. No man is going to stick you cause you ‘asked him’ for some chicken, Pinkney. Now if you be straight with us well be straight with you. But don’t you play me for a God damn fool.”
Pinkney paused for a moment to considered his options. Just then a nurse approached Pinkney’s bed and began pouring a burgundy colored antiseptic into the bite holes of his legs. Pinkney shivered in pain as the unsympathetic detectives looked on.
“ All right,” he screamed, still feeling the sting of the antiseptic bubbling in his open wounds. “Devil Dog did try and snatch the man’s bag. What can I say? We were hungry man.”
“I get it. Now you’re going to try and hang all this on your dead buddy, Devil Dog huh? Guess you figure a dead man can’t defend himself.”
“It’s the truth man,” Pinkney said while thinking to himself how glad he was that he’d been wearing gloves. Pinkney knew that there would be no prints on the plastic shopping bag. He also knew that Devil Dog would understand. No disrespect to Devil Dog but he would have said the same thing if the situation was reversed.
The homicide detectives didn’t put a whole lot of stock in Pinkney’s description of events but, fortunately for Pinkney, they really didn’t care. This wasn’t exactly going to be a high profile case. Wino kills wino over chicken.
The deceased had no I.D. and would be temporarily listed as a John Doe, also known as Devil Dog. At least until his prints could be run. This homicide had all the makings of an investigation destined for the back burner.
Meanwhile, back in the woods, Mohammad knelt down next to the stream to wash the blood from his knife and hands. The cold, running water numbed his palms and wrists. The black hairs on his wrists and fingers flowed with the current like black seaweed. Mohammad watched the police from the tree line and could see there would be no further search. The morgue wagon was loading the black plastic bag that contained the body and the K-9 officer had already departed.
Mohammad could not rid himself of the dead man’s stench. His dagger had opened up a decaying man’s body. Years of alcohol abuse had gushed out from the man’s belly, drenching Mohammad clothes with its noxious odor. It smelled like death.
Alcohol had robbed that man of his soul. He was better off dead, Mohammad thought. He lay on the cold ground and listened to the peaceful ripple of the stream. Moments passed until suddenly the thundering roar of an approaching jet shattered the silence.
The unmistakable blue, white and silver colors of the 747 could be seen slowly descending in its final approach toward Andrews Air Force Base. The goddess of fate, al-Manat was finally sending the sign of inspiration Mohammad had been waiting for. Mohammad must first cleanse himself of this foul stench and then prepare for battle. He looked up at the sky as the huge shadow of Air Force One passed overhead.
At first Mohammad smiled and then he began laughing aloud as he read the words on the side of the plane: The United States of America. The President of the United States was a thousand feet over the head of Mohammad Karun and he was arriving just in time for dinner with Lipskey and Harrison.
To be continued …
George Munkelwitz has been a law enforcement officer for 32 years. He spent 22 years patrolling the streets as a Prince George’s County Police officer. He served in Vietnam as a military intelligence specialist where he worked with the controversial Phoenix Program. Prior to the anthrax attack, he was writing the book “The Mother of Satan.” After the anthrax attack, an article appeared in the Washington Times magazine Insight, quoting his expertise in military intelligence, and mentioning his book. ABC news interviewed him but he felt the network treated him like a suspect and not an expert in the field. He never published the book after that interview. Nearly two decades later, his serial novel is finally published by Baltimore Post-Examiner.