After the morning briefing, Irwin Rogers and Darren Harrison left headquarters and made their way toward their car. A cold winter morning greeted them as they exited the turnstile door. Walking briskly across the parking lot they gulped their remaining swallows of coffee and then waded up the paper cups to tossed them into a passing trash can. Rogers missed.
The two men then climbed into their unmarked car and headed for Georgetown. They had an appointment with Cupcake’s best friend, Luscious, an assignment given to them by Lipskey.
“Mind if we make a quick detour on the way?” Rogers asked.
“Not at all,” Harrison agreed. “Where we headed?”
“I promised Sabrina I’d drop her off at the airport by nine. It will only take a few minutes,” Rogers said sheepishly.
“A few minutes? You sure you don’t want a little more privacy? It’s no problem. I can get lost.”
“No, in fact that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. I need to make a clean break here and to be honest, having you along will help.”
“Rogers, I don’t believe you,” Harrison said. It was the first time he had called him by his last name. “This woman loves you. You can see it in her eyes every time she looks at you. And I know that you care for her. What are you talking about a ‘clean break.’ There’s no such thing.”
“I’ve been down this road before Darren. Believe me, it’s best for both our sakes. Sabrina will survive, don’t worry about that. In a couple of weeks she’ll have some rich artist from Boca Raton or a retired Mafia Don falling all over her. Sabrina always lands on her feet.”
“I don’t know man,” Harrison said, turning to face Rogers with a big smile. “As ugly as you are, I hope you realize what you’re letting go.”
“I never said it was going to be easy,” Rogers said faintly. “But I’ve got two daughters now who barely want to speak to me on Christmas for Christ sakes. During the divorce they sided with their mother and as far as they’re concerned I left their mother for a prostitute, Darren. In their eyes I’m nothing but their dirty old man. And the toughest part is that, in a way, they’re right. I fucked up good.”
“What are your daughters’ names? I’ve never heard you mention them before.”
“Cynthia and Sandra,” Rogers said, “Sandra is 16 and Cindy is 17. They both have one thing in common. They already know it all.”
“You ever think you may not be giving them enough credit? I barely knew my old man,” Harrison said. “He sure as hell didn’t give my mother any child support. Your kids should give you some credit for that.”
“Their mother has them convinced that their new daddy — the lawyer did all that,” Rogers said bitterly. “Anyway, fuck this. I don’t need to bore you with my personal business. It’s just better this way. End of story.”
When they pulled up in front of her Connecticut Avenue apartment house Sabrina exited from the lobby where she had been waiting. Rogers popped the trunk open and got out of the car to greet her. Harrison left his door open and relinquished his seat.
“Morning Sabrina,” Harrison said as he climbed into the back seat.
“Good morning Daren,” she responded with a artificial smile, recovering quickly as she tightened her lips.
“Allow me,” said Rogers as he took her two suitcases and smiled. He gently shut the door behind Sabrina with his knee and then loaded her suitcases in the trunk.
The stank police car smelled freshly feminine once she was seated. She was wearing an off white dress that would be perfect for Florida, once she landed. Until then, she kept it shrouded with a wool, navy blue, full length overcoat. She had trimmed her nails short and they now were coated with a clear finish.
The small talk began with Rogers.
“Well I certainly envy you,” he began. “I checked and the temperature in Palm Beach is 72 degrees. Once you arrive, you should be able to have your lunch on the beach, Sabrina.”
“No, I’m going to be spending the week unpacking.” she said drearily. “The movers have already arrived. I’ve got a few hundred boxes to unpack, I’m afraid.”
Harrison sat invisibly in the back, silently amused. Sometimes white people could be a trip.
After some seemingly endless silence, the trio finally arrived at the airport. Sabrina opened the door rapidly, gesturing for a sky cap to take her luggage. She then turned to face Rogers who was standing in front of her, wearing a painful looking smile.
“Here’s my new number,” Sabrina said, handing Rogers her card. “Like I said, I probably will be unpacking for a week or two. I hope I’ll hear from you, but if I don’t I’ll understand. Just promise me you’ll tear it up if you don’t call me then, O.K.?”
Harrison was climbing back into his front seat as Rogers kissed her goodbye. It began as a long kiss that Sabrina broke off from in the middle. She turned and walked briskly away, never looking back.
While on the way to his favorite Italian sub shop, Staff Sgt. Anthony Esposito couldn’t believe his eyes as the soldier passed him. The son of a bitch was wearing his uniform! Esposito did an immediate about face and ran up to catch up the soldier. As far as Espisito was concerned, he now knew who had stolen his uniforms. There was only one Staff Sgt. Espisito at Andrews Air Force Base and he was it.
“Hey troop!” he yelled at Mohammad, who calmly turned to face him, while noticing the name tag of the man who was accosting him.
“Where are you stationed at?” demanded Espisito.
“What’s the problem, sergeant?” Mohammad asked innocently.
“The problem is — you’re wearing my fucking uniform you scumbag!” Esposito barked loudly.
Mohammad did not want to use his knife. It was obvious this soldier was ready to fight. Pulling a knife would only mean a prolonged struggle. This man was already pumped and definitely was no wino. Instead, Mohammad tried to avoid drawing a crowd while positioning himself on the curb of the sidewalk.
“ I’m assigned here on temporary duty.”
“Bullshit. You don’t look like no Espisito I’ve ever seen. Where are you permanently stationed then asshole?” Espisito demanded angrily.
A name was on the tip of his tongue, but Mohammad was nervous and, judging from the facial expression on Sgt. Espisito’s face, Mohammad knew that he had already paused too long to answer the question convincingly. The muffled explosion from the bullet sent a large puff of smoke trailing from the muzzle of the Beretta. The slug caught Espisito on the bridge of his nose, making it appear as though he had grown a third, red eye. For a second his body froze motionless, wearing a wide-eyed expression of disbelief. Then the hole spouted its crimson leak as Espisito fell sideways onto the sidewalk like a felled tree. Within seconds a quart of blood had formed a puddle around his lifeless head.
From his peripheral vision, Mohammad sensed that the larger crowd was forming to his left. He turned right and walked briskly away. No one in the crowd said a thing. As a shopkeeper at the local sub shop dialed 911, Mohammad remembered the name of the Air Force Base he was trying to remember. McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, next to Fort Dix. He knew the name was on the tip of his tongue.
Mohammad headed straight for his motel room. He now was resigned to the fact that his days in uniform had just come to an end. It was time to check out of Clinton. Before he could leave he needed to go shopping for a car to steal, and no place was better for that than the satellite parking area. With 48 hours left in his life, Mohammad felt that he may have enough time left for one last fling.
The bullet that Doctor Lee had removed from the body of Alexi Defarshi during the autopsy was about to pay off. Examination of the corpse of Staff Sgt. Espisito revealed that the fatal slug had only partially exited the back of his head. The bullet’s tip remained protruding at the base of the skull and, once it had been retrieved, it was sent directly to the FBI for a ballistic comparison. Because a .32 caliber shell casing was recovered at the scene of the Espisito homicide, all evidence was processed priority and the test results returned within 24 hours.
The morning briefing focused on the shooting.
Lipskey began. “There was a shooting yesterday in Clinton, Md.,” he said, addressing the task force from the head of the table. “The victim was a sergeant in the Air Force who apparently had gotten into an altercation with what appeared to be another Air Force sergeant. The argument ended up in a shooting. The weapon was a .32 caliber automatic and, according to witnesses, it barely made a sound. I have just received the results of the ballistic comparisons and it’s now confirmed. The murder weapon belongs to our boy, Mohammad.”
“So he’s now wearing a military uniform,” Rogers said in disgust. “That’s beautiful. There are only 20,000 or 30,000 people dressed like that in the area.”
“Well,” Lipskey said, “at least this explains why we may have missed him during our sweep of Clinton last week. Now we’re going to hit the streets, redouble our efforts and find this son of a bitch if it’s the last thing we do. I want every motel, bowling alley, and shopping mall covered. Any place this guy could pass the time away by hanging out.
“That means restaurants, fast food establishments, 7-Elevens, and bars. No business is to be excluded. Agent Parker will be passing out your assignments, according to grids. Each one of you will be responsible for searching your entire grid area. Rogers, I want you and Harrison to act as our liaison with the local police. Check in with them and get a list of any stolen autos since the homicide. It’s my guess that Mohammad’s going to shed his uniform. He’s smart enough to know that we’ll be on to him after he used his gun. We think he stole a car once before to get rid of that witness, so there’s no reason he won’t do it again.”
“Where was the last one stolen from?” Harrison asked.
“The satellite parking area in Clinton,” responded Rogers, while doodling on his notepad.
“Let’s pay special attention to that area … in fact … wait a minute.” Lipskey said, struck by an idea. “Let’s get a team together to stake out the satellite parking area. Elena and Marcus — that will be your assignment. Check out the van and make sure you park where you can observe the entire area. I want full video coverage as well. Understand?”
Elena Lopez and Marcus Williams both nodded in the affirmative.
“I take it Rogers that you and Harrison came up with nothing productive from your meeting with Miss Luscious,” Lipskey said with a smile.
“No sir, not really,” Rogers said uncomfortably. “She’d seen Mohammad with Cupcake a couple of times — that’s all. He was just another trick as far as she’s concerned.”
“She’ll definitely let us know if she sees him again though,” Harrison added. “She and Cupcake were really tight.”
“Well then on that note, if nobody has anything else, let’s hit the streets shall we!” Lipskey said, adjourning the meeting.
On their drive to Clinton, the two detectives paralleled the Potomac. On the Virginia side of the river they could see the aircraft stacked in line for takeoff from National Airport. Rogers thought of Sabrina for a moment.
“You know something Irwin,” Harrison began, “I was reading an article in an investment magazine the other day. It said that in the next 10 to 15 years, 25 percent of you baby boomers will be heading down to Florida. The article indicated that the smart ones will get down there early, before the rush. To me, that’s what’s so great about police work. You can retire while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. That is if someone doesn’t get you first. When do you plan on pulling the plug?”
“In a couple of years, when my child support payments are up. Who knows. Maybe I’ll stay longer. I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“I’ll be dammed if I’ll stay a day past 20. Shift work will kill you man,” Harrison said. “Besides, I’d like to find something a little more positive to do with my life than always dealing with other people’s problems. That’s all we ever see.”
“I used to talk that same stuff Darren, but I stuck around. I was never any good at the politics,” Rogers said with a chuckle. “Guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks they do, heh Darren?”
“Man, you’re no different than a thousand other cops. Having the right woman in your corner would have helped.”
Suddenly, the detective’s conversation was interrupted by the thunderous roar of a jet during takeoff. Both men watched as the aircraft slowly ascended into the sky, banking right after clearing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and slowly disappearing into the southern sky.
When Rogers and Harrison arrived at the Clinton Police Station they made their way back to the Detective Bureau where they were warmly greeted by Detective Al Franklin, who immediately offered them coffee.
“You guys in Washington have to knock this shit off,” Franklin began jokingly. “We don’t need any higher murder statistics out here in Prince George’s County, Irwin. Clinton’s been a nice, peaceful little town up until now. Thanks to you, we have some international terrorist out here whacking people left and right.”
“Sorry Al,” Rogers agreed, “but don’t you worry — the real police are here now. Have you had any more cars stolen in the last 24 hours from that satellite parking area?”
“I’m already ahead of you Mr. Real Police,” Franklin said. “A 1987 Nissan Maxima, burgundy in color, bearing Maryland registration 609- AWN. It was stolen yesterday between 0800 hours and 1800 hours by person or persons unknown.”
“The older cars are easier to steal,” Rogers said. “Darren, we better let Lipskey know about this — just in case it’s our man.”
As Harrison grabbed a phone and began dialing Lipskey, Rogers turned to face Franklin. “We’re staking out the satellite parking area just in case he returns. The stakeout team is already in place.”
“ Do you want me to notify our uniform units to stay out of the area?” Franklin asked.
“No, I don’t think so. I’d rather not put that out over the air. Let’s keep everything appearing as normal as possible. The stakeout team will be in a gray Chevy van with Maryland plates, occupied two times — one Hispanic female and one black male — just in case one of your patrol units decides to jack them up. They’re both federal.”
“You got it.”
“Also we’re going to have the rest of our team divided by grid over a 10 square mile area. Most of the day they’ll be questioning store owners, gas stations, motels, etc.”
“Lipskey wants to speak to you,” Harrison announced while holding the phone suspended in the air, unreachably above Rogers’ head. Instinctively, Rogers tried to grasp for it without looking until he realized that the tips of his fingers were touching Harrison’s elbow. Harrison smiled at Rogers before lowering the phone enough so Rogers could reach it. Erratic laughter filled the room.
Harrison knew they were invading other cops’ turf. When doing that, it’s always a good idea to break the ice a little and nothing does it better than showing you don’t take yourself too seriously. Harrison had just melted a little ice for the both of them.
“Rogers here,” he announced as he grabbed the phone from Harrison. “That’s the only one stolen in the last 24 hours from that area, Kyle. Yes, we’re all set up. That’s right. O.K., if that’s what you want. The number here is 555-4367. I’ll call you as soon as anything develops.” Then Rogers hung up.
Rogers turned to Franklin. “Al, do you think we can borrow a couple of desks for a while. Looks like the two of us are going to be manning the radios and phones for the rest of the day.”
Special Agent Elena Lopez tried not to shiver as her breath showed inside the van. It was 21 degrees and the small electric heater that should have been keeping them warm was broken. Her toes were already numb.
Special Agent Marcus Williams, wearing a Redskin stadium jacket with the hood up, stared silently at the video screen monitoring the satellite parking area. He watched as the commuters parked their partially defrosted cars and huddled into awaiting car pool vans for their final commute to Washington. All of them were oblivious to the fact that they now were being filmed. To pass the time, Williams occasionally zoomed in for a tight shot to check out some of the more attractive female commuters.
Lopez pretended to ignore Williams and his antics. She had a feeling from the beginning of this day that it was going to be a long one. By 9 o’clock, all the commuters had come and gone and now there was an eerie silence that hung over this frozen landscape of parked steel.
Two hours had passed before the first sign of activity. Then, the single figure of a man, dressed in an army jacket, was seen wading through the parked cars. He was conspicuously peering inside each car he passed.
“Time Four to Command,” Williams said quietly into his microphone.
“Command to Time Four, go ahead,” Harrison replied from his desk at the Clinton station.
“ We have some activity. White male 5-10, medium build in an army jacket and blue jeans. He appears to be casing the parked cars at this time.”
“Units close?” Harrison asked over the radio.
A large squelch noise sounded as too many units keyed up at the same time.
“Too many units. Time Three was that you?” Harrison asked calmly.
“Time Three affirmative, we’re a couple minutes away.”
“Other unit?” Harrison asked while gesturing Rogers with his hands to listen.
“Time Five to Command. We’re close. Where’s he want me?”
“Command to Time Five and Time Four, listen up. Time Four, for now stay in the northwest area of Sprigg Street and Del Marva and Time Five you park southeast at Governor and Old Mill. If anything goes down, I want Time Three to close in from the north and Time Five from south of the access highway. That should box him in. Meanwhile, Time Three keep us advised,” Harrison said.
“We better get them a K-9 just in case there’s a bail out,” Rogers said.
“Time Four, so far the subject hasn’t touched a car. He’s just looking inside them at this time,” Williams said.
“Time Four I copy that. Do you have your video activated?” Harrison asked.
“That’s affirmative,” Williams said.
Rogers, together with Al Franklin, had arranged to have a K-9 car start toward the vicinity.
“Time One Eleven, my E.T.A. is five minutes,” K-9 Joe said firmly over the barking screams of his partner, Steel.
“At this time the subject is attempting to gain entry into a Honda Accord, gray in color. He’s using a slim Jim to open the door. Do you copy, command?” Williams asked with a elevated tone of urgency.
“I copy,” Harrison acknowledged. “Time Five and Time Three — start moving in.”
“The subject is now inside the vehicle,” Williams said.
Elena Lopez jumped behind the steering wheel and started the van.
“At least we can turn the heat on now.” she said. “He’s coming out,” she yelled while slamming the van into drive.
To her left and right she could see the fast approaching vehicles of Time Five and Time Three converging in her direction. She was at the center now, blocking the only exit from the parking lot that led onto the street. She was looking straight at the speeding Honda as it continued to accelerate in her direction.
“He’s going to ram us,” she announced, almost calmly just before the impact. Her head bounced off the windshield before rolling back unconcious on the floor next to Williams. The sound of shattered glass and bending steel filled the air as the heavy van was briefly shoved backward from the collision.
Williams’ seat back was facing the front, absorbing most of the impact as he broadcast his final message.
“We’ve been hit. We have one down,” he announced as he heard the screeching tires of the other agents as they arrived on the scene. Williams heard car doors slamming and then voices yelling “FBI — Freeze.”
Then there were shots.
Williams didn’t move. He kneeled down beside Lopez and gently rolled her over. She had a large swollen gash on her head. The radio was filled with the sounds of screaming agents still in pursuit of the suspect. The sound of K-9 Joe’s approaching siren was growing louder as it echoed inside the crumpled metal hulk of the van.
“We need an ambulance,” Williams pleaded into his radio between the voices of the agents in pursuit.
“Time Four — hang in there — an ambulance is on the way,” Harrison said calmly.
The left side of Nadia Gavidias’ body began to twitch. Her left eye squinted in pain and her left cheek was contorted. Then, her entire left side began a series of spasmodic jerks. Marcus Williams tried to hold her down and prevent her from further injuring herself. He remembered seeing this same look on the face of Lou Ciano that day on the mountain. As he held on to her, an eternity seemed to pass before he finally heard the siren sound of an approaching ambulance.
“Where did you see him last?” whispered K-9 Joe to one of the agents crouched behind a Ford Bronco in the parking lot.
“He’s somewhere over there — between the blue Escort and that red Camaro,” replied the agent, while pointing his shiny 10 m.m. Smith and Wesson in the direction of the car.
“County police. Come out or I’ll turn the dog loose,” K-9 Joe announced while unleashing Steel. Steel bolted directly for the Ford Escort. He eagerly tracked the scent of his prey which led directly behind the Escort. Steel lunged upon his quarry. First there were the familiar sounds of screams from a man struggling in vain to break loose from the grasping jaws of Steel. Then the sound of a single shot rang out, followed the yelping cries of a dog in pain.
K-9 Joe could no longer contain himself. He bolted from behind his position of concealment and ran directly toward his wounded partner. He had his Beretta poised with both arms extended and locked as he leaped, with a loud thud, atop the trunk of the blue Escort. K-9 Joe immediately began to fire and didn’t stop firing until his clip was empty. Sixteen shots later the suspect laid dead, riddled from head to toe with 16 9mm holes. After the sound of the last shot had echoed off into the distance, K-9 Joe stared down at the carnage below. His stance remained frozen, almost statuesque, a macabre figure of a man clutching a smoking gun while gazing down upon the field of death beneath him. K-9 Joe now knew that this would be Steel’s last apprehension.
Steel laid silently on his side, breathing heavily. His heaving chest was now soaked in blood. He was staring upward, into the face of K-9 Joe, almost as though he had been waiting for Joe’s final approval and praise before passing on. Joe jumped down from the hood of the car and knelt down beside him on the frozen ground. Steel tried to get up to greet his partner but the pain was too much. He let out a weak sound of pain and then fell back onto his side before becoming very still. A glossy, peaceful look appeared in the dog’s eyes as he exhaled his final breath. His fir still felt warm as Joe held him in his arms.
“It’s O.K. now boy,” Joe said, trembling with rage and despair, “it’s O.K.”
He was barely aware of the voices of the two agents who were standing behind him. They were examining the blood soaked body of the man, comparing their mugshots of Mohammad with the face of the fallen suspect.
“This is definitely not him,” said one agent to the other.
K-9 Joe said nothing at that moment, preferring instead to cradle Steel’s head in his arms while closing his eyes to hold back the tears.
to be continued…
(Feature photo by Larry Luxner)
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.