Agent Kriegel got out of his office chair, cracking his knuckles and mumbling to himself with the blinds drawn tight in the darkened room. The smell of stale cigar smoke lingered on his clothes. He could see McLeary’s head above his secretary’s cubicle, right where he’d like to view it through the scope of his sniper rifle. He’d drawn the line with Burns. Tried to warn her—reason with her—and yet somehow, and God only knew, she’d managed to heap a whole lot of trouble on herself before the ink on her transfer papers dried.
* * *
Burns entered Kriegel’s office with tentative steps, avoiding eye contact with the devil disguised in a pin-stripe suit.
“Shut the door,” Kriegel ordered. He tugged on his suit slacks to adjust the suspender straps. “Help me understand something. I gave you a simple assignment less than forty-eight hours ago, and now you’ve got my dick in a meat grinder and nothing to show for it. What the hell were you thinking? Chasing an armored truck through rush-hour traffic? Trading shots like you’re shooting a movie?”
“We were in pursuit,” Burns started.
“Pursuit of what?” Kriegel took a blank folder from his desk and opened it. “You see this?”
“Tell me what’s here.”
Burns studied the manila folder. “Nothing.”
“Exactly. Just like the back of the empty truck our guys hauled out of the Potomac River two hours ago.”
McLeary grabbed the empty folder and tossed it on Kriegel’s desk. “Don’t waste my time.”
“Shut your pie-hole McLeary. I’ll get to you in a minute.” Kriegel bit the end off a fresh cigar and spat in the trash can. “God dammit Burns. I figured you would have more sense, with your law school education and your Quantico test scores. Whatever you gained in knowledge, you’ve completely lost in common sense.”
“Your gun—Agent Burns. The Arlington PD were kind enough to drop it off this morning. In case you forgot where you’d left it, they found it in the gutter a few blocks from the credit union. You’re damn lucky they recovered it at all. Losing your weapon in the line of duty is a fast-track way to end your FBI career.”
“It got knocked out of my hand.”
“Before or after you opened fire in public?”
“What was I supposed to do? Let the perps get away?”
“If necessary. Yes. You have to think on your feet, Burns. Make smarter decisions.”
“I was aiming at the tires, Sir. If McLeary hadn’t—”
“Save it Burns. I don’t know what Mickey Mouse games they played in your previous unit, but I run a tight ship and I’m short-staffed as it is feeding Homeland Security with agents I can’t spare. On top of that, the Director has his foot up my ass so far I can smell his toes.”
Burns looked at McLeary. The room felt hotter than Hell’s Kitchen in August. She’d heard the rumors about Kriegel’s temper but downplayed the verbose recollections her bureau colleagues had fed her until now.
Kriegel opened the blinds to peer at the landscape of high-rise buildings fanning out from his Washington office. He glanced at the city streets and the rows of parking meters jutting up from the sidewalks like match sticks. “How many parking meters do you think they have in Crystal City?”
“Sir?” asked Burns.
Kriegel closed the blinds. “I’m not asking you.”
McLeary crossed his arms. “What are you getting at?”
“I brought you into this mess to assist this investigation. Not fuck it up.”
McLeary checked his watch. “Is there a point somewhere?”
“You clipped a parking meter with your renegade stunt and took out the store front window of a bridal boutique operated by—guess who—because I really love this—the mayor’s daughter. Guess who was on the phone ten minutes after your little escapade with Agent Burns? And guess whose ass got chewed again?” He clenched his fist in the air. “I’ve got a U.S. Senator complaining about someone in a red Mustang tearing across a sidewalk café at fifty miles an hour. I’ve got Internal Affairs asking why one of my agents is conducting an investigation in a stolen vehicle.”
“Borrowed vehicle,” McLeary corrected him. “And you can tell Internal Affairs to—”
“Shut up, McLeary. You’re not in charge here. You’re a technical consultant who shot and killed an unarmed suspect.”
“He fired at Agent Burns with an automatic weapon.”
“The divers searched the river. They found no such weapon.”
“Then tell them to look again.”
Burns stepped forward. Weary of Kriegel’s exhortations, she felt compelled to defend her position before her new Section Chief raked her career across a bed of flaming coals. “He tried to kill us. We had authority to shoot back.”
Kriegel glared at Agent Burns. “And what about our mystery man your partner wounded on the bridge?”
McLeary shook his head. “He got away.”
“Did you see him?” Kriegel asked Burns.
“I never got a good look.”
Kriegel shifted his wrath to McLeary. “Did you identify yourself before you fired?”
“He shot at me. I shot back.”
“What if you’d missed?”
“Did you order this suspect to stop before you put a bullet in him?”
“He couldn’t hear me.”
“Did you fire a warning shot?”
“I don’t fire warning shots. He tried to kill us. I returned the favor.”
“With a hundred civilians on the bridge?”
“They were in their cars.”
Kriegel felt his pressure rising. “And where’s the stolen money?”
“You’ll have to ask the guy who stole it.”
“Which one is that? The nimrod who got away or the DOA we pulled out of the river?”
“Maybe it sank.”
“Or maybe I’m looking at an encore performance from you, McLeary.”
“We never recovered any stolen cash,” said Burns.
“Then what the hell did they do with it?”
“Maybe the robbers made the drop before they reached the bridge.”
“Or maybe Santa Claus found it in his sleigh,” said Kriegel.
Burns cleared her throat. “What about our DOA? Have we at least identified the body?”
Kriegel opened another folder. “The prints came back to a Robert Mathews. An armored truck driver with a wife and two kids. His record’s squeaky clean. No wants, no warrants, no priors.”
“I don’t buy it,” said McLeary.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”
“You make this guy sound like some kind of hero. Clean record or not, he robbed a bank with deadly force. He got what was coming to him.”
“You’re out of control, McLeary. You’re impulsive, irrational, unreliable, and sloppy. You’re a danger to your peers, the American public, and this investigation.”
“Can I add something?” said Burns.
“Save it,” Kriegel grunted. “And if I were you, I’d think long and hard about what happened out there. And about your future with the FBI. I’m not here to be your friend. I’m not here to listen to your bullshit excuses. I want results. I want these thugs to stop shitting in my back yard. I want them caught and I want them behind bars.”
“I think we’re all in agreement here—”
“Negative, Agent Burns. Effective immediately, you and your sidekick are officially suspended. I want you both off this case, pending an internal investigation.” He turned toward McLeary. “Your gun’s with ballistics until this shooting is cleared. IA will contact you directly.”
Burns got up and shoved her chair. “What about the investigation?”
“The Director wants to formulate a new task force. Put some fresh boots in the field.”
McLeary shook his head. “We’re wasting time. We should check the local hospitals for gunshot victims and look deeper at this Robert Mathews.”
“Not your call, McLeary.”
“You hired me to do a job.”
“I hired you to crack this investigation, not throw shit on my face.”
McLeary smirked at Kriegel. “New suit?”
Kriegel looked at his pinstripe jacket in admiration. “Yes, as a matter of fact it is.”
“I hope it came with a pair of balls.”
Kriegel’s face turned crimson. He clenched his fists so hard his fingers turned white. “Get the fuck out of my office! NOW!”
Burns ushered McLeary out and heard the door slam behind them. “What the hell were you thinking in there?” She grabbed his arm. “This isn’t a hobby for me. I happen to like my job. I need this job. And I didn’t bust my ass to get this far in my career to have a screwup like you ruin everything.”
McLeary stayed silent.
“You think I owe you for tackling me on that bridge? If you hadn’t pulled your stupid stunt, we might have caught the other perp. Don’t expect any gratitude from me. Those shots were a mile wide. I was never in any immediate danger. I had the situation under control.”
McLeary jerked his arm away. “You’re welcome.”