(This is the continuation of a serial novel. For previous chapters click here.)
Irwin Rogers was shifting through the mounds of paper work on his desk. Each new sighting of elusive Mohammad had to be checked out. Since the first day Mohammad’s picture aired on television the number of those sightings had tripled.
All shootings that involved .32 caliber autos were forwarded to the Bomber Task Force where the ballistics were run for a comparison with the bullets taken from the body of Alexi Defarsi. All stabbings perpetrated by unknown assailants were forwarded for wound comparison with those found on the body of the rug dealer, Achmed. The local FBI field office would collect this data from the surrounding metropolitan jurisdictions and forward it to the Bomber Task Force. The Wino stabbing in Clinton, Md., was one of those cases. Irwin Rogers read it and then picked up the phone to call Al Franklin, the detective assigned to the case.
“Al, this is Irwin Rogers, Metropolitan Police. We met a couple years back at that homicide convention in Atlanta.”
“Sure, I remember Irwin, you were on the Cold Case Squad. How’s life been treating you?” Franklin asked cordially.
“I’ve been too busy to notice Al.”
“So, what can I do you for?”
“Well Al, I’m working on this Bomber Task Force thing and the man we’re looking for is known to be handy with a knife. I understand you just handled a stabbing out in Clinton yesterday. What can you tell me about it?” Rogers asked.
“I can tell you right off the bat that I doubt if this is going to be your man. These were a couple of winos fighting over a chicken.”
“Any idea what kind of knife?” Rogers asked.
“Not yet. We don’t even know the name of the victim. A post mortem is scheduled for Thursday, the day after Christmas. I can fax the initial out to you the same day if you think you’ll need it.”
“That would be helpful if you would. Tell me Al, what’s your impression of the kinds of wounds the victim has? Are we talking pocket knife or something more substantial?” Rogers asked.
“I’d say this was a little more than a pocket knife. No multiple stab wounds. Just one big, continuous wound. The victim was stuck deep, long and hard. He was ripped open from the lower abdomen to the sternum. I’d say he had about eight to nine-inch slice into his vitals. He was dead when he hit the ground.”
“I see you have the suspect listed as a white male, in his 30s, 5-8” to 5-10”, medium build with a navy skull cap. Was there anything else?” Rogers asked.
“That’s basically it I’m afraid. Our witness is a drunken crackhead named Pinkney. You name it and Pinkney’s done it. He’d already had more than a little taste of his Mad Dog by that time of day, if you know what I mean.”
“Where can I find this Pinkney character if it turns out I need him later?” Rogers asked.
“No fixed address but he usually hangs around the back of the Shopping Center where the stabbing occurred. You can find him there or else standing in the intersection adjacent to the shopping center with a little sign around his neck. You know — one of those — ‘Will work for food’ or ‘Need a liver transplant’ type signs. Don’t worry Irwin — Pinkney ain’t going nowhere.”
“Good enough,” Rogers said. “How about faxing me that autopsy report as soon as you get it Al, and once again thanks for your help. I’m sure you’re right that this is nothing, but you know how it is.”
“Indeed I do. Talk at you later, Irwin.”
Rogers felt uneasy when he hung up the phone. He decided to pull the crime scene photos from Achmed’s homicide at the rug store on Wisconsin Avenue.
Achmed had died from a single stab wound that had penetrated the breastbone and entered the heart. The murder weapon was believed to be a double-bladed dagger with serrated edges about seven inches long. After penetrating the heart, the perpetrator had twisted the knife in a clockwise motion. The knife has a hilt about two inches in width which cause blunt trauma to the surrounding wound cavity. Suspect is right handed.
Achmed’s killer went straight for the heart not the stomach. Perhaps there really was no connection between the two. Then again, if he was off guard and startled … who knows? Rogers tossed the case file on his desk and leaned back in his chair.
An unclaimed television set from the property warehouse sat atop a file cabinet in the office. It was 11 p.m. — time for the news. Rogers turned up the volume hoping to catch an update about Daren’s dinner with the president. It was the lead story. “President honors two heroes while pledging to commit his second term to combating terrorism here and abroad.” The 30-second sound bite showed the president giving Harrison and Lipskey a big, presidential handshake. Rogers smiled briefly and then turned the television off.
Mohammad was dressed in the heavily starched, olive drab uniform of a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force. The black jump boots he wore, which he purchased at a nearby surplus store, were bloused and immaculately spit shinned. On Christmas Day he checked into a Super 8 motel under the name that was embroidered on his freshly stolen uniform; Espisito. Staff Sgt. Aaron Espisito. That ought to keep them guessing for a while, he thought.
Mohammad paid his motel bill one month in advance. On Christmas Eve he had broken into a nearby dry cleaners and stolen three sets of Air Force uniforms. This new identity afforded him the anonymity he required. He especially enjoyed wearing the hat, the peak of which he vigilantly maintained exactly two fingers off the bridge of his nose, just as he had done a dozen years earlier while serving in the Iranian Air Force. During those years he had flown a Bird Dog spotter plane used in conducting aerial surveillance.
Now, looking back, he realized those years in the Air Force may have been the best years of his life. Survival is so much simpler when your enemies can be distinguished by their uniforms.
Ever since his unfortunate run-in with the winos, Mohammad had been wrestling with a problem within his mind. He felt he had neglected to take care of a minor problem and after careful consideration he now felt that it was time to do so. It was Thursday, the day after Christmas, and for most people in the Clinton, Md., it was another workday commute to Washington.
Commuters often park their cars at satellite parking areas in the suburbs and then car pool or bus in from there. These staging areas for the nine-to-fivers have always provided fertile hunting grounds for the local car thieves. The great advantage of these cars was obvious. If stolen by nine, you have eight hours to play until the car can be reported stolen. That’s plenty of time to commit your crime.
Mohammad marched in full uniform up to a gray Honda Accord. After glancing left and right to assure he was alone he broke the small rear window on the right, rear side of the vehicle. After unlocking the doors he calmly slid behind the driver’s seat. Underneath his military jacket Mohammad had concealed a dent puller which he inserted into the ignition.
This tool, which is sold at auto parts stores everywhere, is legally used by auto body shops for repairing dents. It is also an invaluable aide for the would-be car thief. Within 20 seconds Mohammad had popped the ignition out of the Honda, inserted a screwdriver in place of a key and driven off.
As Mohammad rounded the corner, he headed east toward the shopping center where the man he had seen yesterday was still standing predictable in the intersection. Mohammad began to accelerate while aiming the Honda directly for the median where the man was standing. The Honda leaped across the concrete and squarely struck the man in the hips, sending him, together with the sign he was wearing, cart wheeling into the opposing traffic.
Reginald Pinkney landed on the hood of a westbound pickup truck, smashing into the windshield before rolling off the vehicle and onto the street. The sign he had been wearing, “Will Work For Food,” had been reduced to splinters. The edge of the sign closest to his chin had been driven upward into Pinkney’s jaw, instantly breaking his neck.
Mohammad scraped the under carriage of the Honda off the median by accelerating rapidly. A flurry of sparks and smoking rubber streamed from the vehicle as it continued east at a high rate of speed for another mile. Then, after executing a series of left and right turns into a sub division of houses, Mohammad abandoned the vehicle and briskly made his way back to the motel on foot.
The Lap Cop
The fax Detective Franklin promised to send Rogers arrived a few minutes past noon on Thursday. It contained the results of the autopsy report on Devil Dog. A serrated blade, about seven inches in length, had killed the victim, according to the report. On the cover sheet Franklin had posted a note which included the information about the fatal hit and run of Reginald Pinkney.
Irwin Rogers read the cover sheet first and then the autopsy report. The second greatest error of the criminal mind is being too clever. The similarities of the wounds would have required more scrutiny, however the timing of the hit-and-run made that scrutiny a priority in Irwin Rogers’ mind. He would run it by Lipskey at the morning briefing.
Each morning the Task Force would meet to exchange ideas and information while receiving their daily assignments. Kyle Lipskey headed the meeting and approved all assignments relative to the investigation. The following morning Rogers was the first to speak.
“I have a report here regarding a homicide in Prince George’s County last Saturday. It happened in Clinton, Md.”
“It was a stabbing. There are wound similarities with our Wisconsin Avenue rug dealer. A single wound, again from a dagger with a seven-inch serrated blade. P.G. Police feel that this as an altercation between three vagrants over a chicken. Vagrants One and Two try to take chicken away from vagrant Three. Vagrant One gets seven inches of cold steel in the belly and our eyewitness, Vagrant Two, flees on foot only to be apprehended later by K-9.”
“Ouch, that chicken must have been finger-licking good,” Lipskey said with a smile. “So let’s bring in Vagrant Two and have him do a composite of Vagrant Three.”
“Vagrant Two just became a hit-and-run fatality yesterday,” Rogers said.
“That doesn’t leave us much to go on does it?” Agent Parker said as though he were thinking out loud.
“I believe that was exactly the point,” Rogers said.
“The point of the hit and run?” Lipskey asked incredulously.
“Could be,” Rogers said flatly. “There is a guard who works at the supermarket where the stabbing occurred. He may have gotten a good look at suspect just before the stabbing went down.”
“Does this fit the profile, Doctor Harvey?” Lipskey asked.
“Indeed it does,” said Harvey, a gaunt, pock-faced man in a thick wool suit. Harvey was the Task Force’s human behavior specialist.
“Mohammad, as we have said earlier, denies his homosexuality. That is why he seeks transgendered sexual partners rather than straight gay men. His knife becomes his phallus. This explains his reluctance to withdraw that phallus once he has penetrated his victim with it. This man derives great pleasure from killing but he is never recklessly compulsive.
“He plans all his moves with great deal of precision and he leaves nothing to chance. If the homicide in Clinton was in fact committed by our suspect, then it is almost certain that it was also our suspect who killed this eyewitness. Mohammad would never fail to deal with such a critical detail as a living eyewitness.
“His life’s survival has depended on remaining anonymous. He is compelled to clean up his messes because he knows he can leave nothing to chance. He requires order, uniformity, neatness and above all else — the completion of his mission. The mission is everything,” said Harvey who was now addressing Lipskey directly.
“But he can’t complete that mission, doctor,” Lipskey argued. “We have the anthrax.”
“Then he will find more anthrax or else devise an alternative plan,” Harvey countered. “We know he is still out there somewhere Kyle. Believe me, as long as Mohammad is alive, his entire existence will be devoted to the fulfillment of his quest for martyrdom.”
“Well I guess that means you and Harrison will be going to Clinton today, Rogers,” Lipskey said. “Keep me advised and bring Billingsley with you to do the composite.”
Leonard Billingsley dutifully climbed into the back seat of the unmarked Ford while clutching his laptop computer. Leonard was nicknamed the Lap Cop because of the software program he used to replicate drawings of suspects. He was a quiet man who preferred not to engage in idle chatter. He sat silently in the back seat for the entire ride to Clinton.
When the three men arrived at the supermarket, the store manager summoned the security guard to his office and allowed the detectives to use his office while they began piecing together a composite sketch of the stabbing suspect.
Leonard Billingsley began with the outline of the suspect’s head, sucking in the cheeks with a click of his computer mouse while adding a bit more bridge to the nose. Whenever the security guard nodded in agreement Leonard would patiently move on to the next phase of the reconstruction.
By the time he had completed the brows and nose, Rogers knew it was Mohammad. In spite of the blue wool skull cap which was pulled over the ears and across the forehead, the close set eyes remained Mohammad’s single most identifying feature. When the image was finally complete it resembled the same cold, blank stare Mohammad was wearing when he posed for his driver’s permit.
“Now we’d like you to look at some photos, sir, to see if perhaps you can pick him out from this group,” Harrison said.
The photo spread would never survive a court challenge because five of the six photos were colored mug shots while the sixth photo was an enhanced photo of Mohammad’s Virginia driver’s permit. It stood out plainly from the others. A first-year law student could have had the identification thrown out in court.
It took the security guard less than 10 seconds to place his finger on top of Mohammad’s photo. “That’s him.”
Rogers look up at Harrison and said, “He’s here, Darren. The son of a bitch is here.”
Harrison nodded in agreement and said, “We better call Lipskey.”
The Potomac Dream
The moment Lipskey learned of the latest sighting of Mohammad, he immediately informed the press. While there was a chance the media exposure would scare Mohammad off, it was considered more likely that it would either flush him out or, at the very least, keep him off balance by further restricting his movement.
Lipskey wanted to intensify the pressure. He flooded the town of Clinton with FBI agents. They searched the woods, behind the shopping center, the dumpsters, abandoned cars and posted their latest sketch of Mohammad in all of the neighboring businesses. Their conspicuous presence was intentional, however, their efforts were fruitless. There were no fresh leads on the trail of Mohammad Karun.
On New Year’s Eve, Mohammad sat comfortably in his motel room, avoiding the loud revelers who were partying in the adjacent rooms and hallways. Nothing could stop him now. The latest sketch that was airing on television made Mohammad look like a bum and it bore little resemblance to his current appearance. The uniform of Sgt. Espisito was his salvation. He now believed that fate would protect him and he needn’t run anymore. In spite of this abiding faith in his own destiny, Mohammad slept with the Beretta in his hand and vowed to save the last bullet for himself. Whenever a door would slam loudly, his finger would curl tightly around the trigger. In just a few weeks, it would all be over he thought.
Mohammad was engaged in thoughtful reminiscing. He remembered how stunned he was back in 1987 when he learned that a German teenager, Mathias Rust, had flown from Finland to Moscow undetected by the Soviets. Rust ended his flight by landing his Cessna aircraft in the middle of a Red Square parade for all the world to see. Without ever firing a shot, this young pilot had exposed the vulnerability of the Russian air defense system. To Mohammad, Mathias Rust was a greater pilot than Lindbergh had been. Rust had successfully invaded the second-most powerful country in the world and publicly humiliated them. Even more embarrassing was the aircraft he had flown. It was not some state-of-the-art Stealth Bomber, but rather an unsophisticated, run of the mill, civilian trainer. Goliath was felled by a slingshot. These were particularly comforting thoughts for Mohammad now and they allowed him to slowly slip into a deep sleep. He too now had his slingshot and dreams of it filled him with visions of the Potomac and of the final destination that river would take him.
“ Sic Semper Tyrannis”
Mickey Fitch walked briskly down the corridor and entered the receptionist’s area which led to Philip Donovan’s office. His limp arms dangled at his sides, flailing to the beat of his rapid gate.
“He’s expecting me,” Fitch announced loudly to Donovan’s secretary, as he strolled past her and opened the office door without knocking.
“Calm down Mickey, I know that look,” Donovan said with a smile as he gestured Fitch to be seated. “Just tell me what you have.”
“Let’s just say I’ve got an off-the-wall hunch that makes perfect sense. Question: Where will the President of the United States be tomorrow?” Fitch asked.
“I have no idea,” Donovan replied.
“Exactly,” Fitch said. “His day-to-day schedule can be changed at any moment. Australia today and Bangor, Maine, tomorrow. Anything’s possible right?”
“Right. So what’s your point Mickey?”
“If you absolutely had to predict a single given date and time when the president would be at a specific location — where and when would that be?” asked Fitch, who now was too excited to wait for Donovan’s reply.
“I’ll give you a hint. It’s going to happen in the next two weeks.”
“The Inauguration, once every four years. Security is tighter than a drum there, Mickey,” Donovan said.
“Sir, need I remind you how many times our own operations have managed to circumvent security that was supposed to be ‘tighter than a drum?’ Let’s not forget that we are talking suicide mission here,” Fitch said while crossing his long legs and slouching back in his chair.
“Something else. That shopping center in Clinton, where they now believe Mohammad stabbed his last victim … it faces Maryland Route 5. I’ve driven past it a hundred times on the way to my mother’s home in Port Tobacco.
“There’s a very interesting little historical landmark across the street from that shopping center. A small red house that use to be a tavern back in the 1860s. It belonged to Mary Surratt. John Wilkes Booth stayed there the night he shot Lincoln. Did you know Booth was also pretty handy with a dagger himself? I did a little research,” Fitch said as he flipped open his notebook.
Listen to this: “‘He wrested himself from my grasp and made a violent thrust at my breast with a large knife. I parried the blow by striking it up, and received a wound several inches deep in my left arm, between the elbow and the shoulder.’”
Mickey Fitch arched his white eyebrow and stared dramatically at Donovan before concluding with his final footnote. “Sir, those were the words of Maj. Henry R. Rathbone, testifying about how he had been stabbed by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865.”
“Now that’s a little far out, don’t you think Mickey? A coincidence perhaps but really … you’re starting to sound like an Oliver Stone movie,” Donovan said with preppie sarcasm.
“Coincidence?” Fitch asked, sounding indignant. “Really. I suppose you think it was a coincidence that just before killing Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald watched the movie Manchurian Candidate, starring an actor, by the way, whose name just happened to be Lawrence Harvey. I suppose it must have been another coincidence that John Hinckley watched the movie Taxi Driver more than a couple of times before he took his shot at Ronald Reagan.
“Sir, what we first must understand about all assassins is that in their twisted minds, they are actors starring in their finest roles. They are all actors delivering their final exit lines like John Wilkes Booth did when he uttered ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ before disappearing offstage. I agree that this whole idea sounds far out, but then most assassins are far out by their very nature,” Fitch said as he uncrossed his legs and leaned his large pale head forward and partially across Donovan’s desk to whisper.
“By definition, a person would have to be a lunatic to stick around here when he knows the entire law enforcement establishment of the United States is looking for him. This man is an obsessed fanatic. What other obsession would be keeping Mohammad in this area?”
Donovan paused for a few, long moments and said nothing. Through the years he had come to respect the powers of Mickey Fitch’s analytical mind. Usually Fitch was inclined to be more dispassionate during his presentations. Donovan wanted to be careful not to discourage Fitch’s new found enthusiasm.
“You know Mickey,” Donovan said, “there is one thing that is certain about your scenario, the Inauguration would be a terrorist’s wet dream. The Who’s Who of America goes to that party. Members of Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court, VIP’s, even past presidents attend. Talk about an ultimate target of opportunity.”
“And all you have to do is be willing to die, which we already know is no problem for our man, Mohammad. He can’t wait.”
“But how Mickey?” Donovan asked. “How is he going to make his delivery? No car or truck would be allowed within miles of the president. The area is swept for bombs and chemical agents long before the president arrives and this year the 101st Airborne Division will be surrounding the area. The entire area is a no fly zone. What’s he going to do — fire a cruise missile?”
“If Mohammad had a cruise missile, believe me, he wouldn’t hesitate to fire it. Instead he’s going to have to make good with what he does have. We must assume that he still has plenty of Semtex explosive left, since he never got to use it with the anthrax agent. Now, the question remains, how do you deliver it to the steps of the Capitol on Inauguration Day?” asked Fitch, now deep in thought with himself.
“Speaking of that anthrax agent; I just got a preliminary report on the actual agent that was recovered. I’m afraid it was a little more complex than mere anthrax,” Donovan said. “The biological agent recovered in the bank’s safe deposit box also contained another highly infectious virus. Nothing like it has ever been seen before at the Centers for Disease Control. All they have been able to determine so far is that the virus is a time-released contagion. The full effects would take several years to manifest themselves in the body of the host.”
“Time released? Why would they want to develop an agent like that? There’s no military advantage in delaying the effects of biological agents. The purpose in using nerve gases in biological war is to inflict casualties right away, not years later. Nerve gas always causes immediate symptoms in the people that are exposed to it.”
“Unless you can’t afford to get caught deploying those biological agents,” Donovan said while standing to pace around the room as he talked.
“The operative word here is biological agents. Not nerve gas. Take the Gulf War. We made it perfectly clear to Saddam that if a single chemical or biological agent were used by his forces during that war, we would not rule out deploying our nuclear arsenal in response.
“So what else could he do but keep things conventional? With this particular biological agent you could leave a few doses behind during your hasty retreat and allow it to spread slowly. The symptoms would show up years later, long after your opponent’s victory parade was over. A sort of – I lose now – you lose later scenario.”
“It’s a good thing that virus was detected and neutralized before it could be deployed,” Fitch said. “Maybe now they can work on developing an antidote.”
“Let’s hope they’re successful Mickey, because whoever knows how to make this stuff is still out there.”
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.