Kriegel kissed the space where Doctor Beckman’s soft, slender neckline met her fair-skinned shoulder and rolled out of bed, squinting at the digital alarm clock with his badge and gun resting beside it on the nightstand. He clenched the vibrating smart phone he’d shoved under his pillow and read the text message.
Stark naked at 0430 hours, he felt exhausted from a night of persistent sex with a woman whose lustful appetite often exceeded his own.
A quick shower and shave brought his brain back on line. Despite his hard-ass reputation at bureau headquarters, he preferred the field work instead of greasing the political machine in Washington, where decisions stemmed from money and influence with little thought to the men in the trenches.
He drove through drizzling rain, traveling east across the Woodrow Wilson bridge to the new crime scene along the Potomac River. Greeted by a pair of Virginia State Police officers dressed in wet weather gear, he stopped short of the cordoned-off crime scene and ducked under the yellow tape.
“Sir,” the first officer greeted him, inspecting the FBI badge Kriegel offered. “Over here… We found a badge and gun on the body. We called it in. The department routed the request to you.”
Kriegel followed the officers toward the river bank, where a partially-decomposed male victim lay face up with frozen eyes locked toward the heavens in a permanent stare. “Christ on a cracker. What happened here?” Kriegel directed his attention at the coroner about to unfold a new body bag.
The coroner pointed to the line carved inside the victim’s neck. “No obvious signs of physical trauma other than apparent strangulation from the bruising around his neck. Petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes supports asphyxiation as the likely cause of death.”
Kriegel inspected the victim. “No weight around his hands or feet. Someone dumped him in a hurry—or they wanted us to find the body.” He turned around when headlights flooded the area, and watched a government sedan pull alongside his car. He waited for the driver to get out and make his way across the yellow tape. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I’m Special Agent Parks with Homeland Security. I was assigned to assist a bureau investigation.”
“I know who you are, son.”
“I got a call about an hour ago. My partner, Agent Rollins, has been AWOL since—”
“Take it easy,” said Kriegel.
“Shit!” Parks exclaimed. “That’s my partner!”
“Easy…” Kriegel tried to calm him down.
“That’s what I’m here to find out. When did you see Rollins last?”
“Three days ago. He left our surveillance post on a coffee run and never came back. I tried his cell, his home, his beeper. He never answered.”
“What time three days ago?”
“A little after two a.m. Thursday morning.”
“And why am I just hearing about this now?”
Parks looked about the crime scene. He fidgeted with his hands. “I figured something personal must have come up. Something urgent. Our shift was almost up. I had his back when he was gone. Yesterday we were both off duty.”
“Did he say anything to you before he left?”
“No, but he was acting weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nervous. Squirrelly. I figured it had something to do with his divorce. He’d been caught up in the shit with his wife big-time.”
Kriegel watched the coroner load the body of Agent Rollins in the back of the van. He knew the agent’s wife through Doctor Beckam’s group of friends. “Rollins was a good man, a good field agent. He had skin in this game.”
“What was he doing here?” Parks asked.
“Nothing, as far as I can tell. The river carried his body here. His murder took place somewhere else.”
“I don’t get it…”
“Did you see or hear anything during your surveillance operation? Anything at all?”
“No Sir. It was quiet. No one came or went from the Sayeed residence.”
“Your partner didn’t kill himself. Someone wanted him dead. The more you can tell me, the better our chances of finding who did this.”
Parks strategized the conversation in his mind. How to steer the line of questioning where he wanted and how to shun any hint of suspicion toward himself. “I don’t know what to tell you. Rollins was devoted to the job, but he kept to himself outside duty hours.”
“I don’t need his life story. Something must have happened, recently. Something prompted him to walk off the job.”
“I’m not sure this is anything at all, but the night before our shift last Thursday, Rollins told me he was going to take some personal time. Said he had to meet someone.”
“He didn’t say.”
“Did he say what for?”
“I didn’t ask. I figured it was his attorney or something to do with his divorce.”
“What else can you tell me about him?”
“Sometimes he complained about money problems.”
“I mean big problems. I think his divorce was sucking him dry.”
“Was he involved in something he shouldn’t be?”
“If he was, I didn’t know about it.”
“He was your partner.”
“Like I said, Rollins liked to keep to himself.”
“I understand,” said Kriegel. “The bureau has a lot of irons in the fire. We’re balls to the wall on this Abdullah investigation. I need you to focus on tracking Fayez Sayeed. We’ll find your partner’s killer. I promise.” Kriegel grabbed the ringing cell phone from his belt. “Kriegel.”
“Sir,” the female voice replied, “we have a problem.”
Kriegel recognized the voice from the cyber-crimes agent in his command. “Spit it out.”
“Someone hacked our network and copied top secret files from the Carnivore database. An alert from a proxy server pinged the NOC. We traced the hacker through a router in Singapore and a Unix box in Berkeley.”
“Cut to the chase.”
“We traced the hacker’s IP address to a bureau laptop registered to someone in your department. Special Agent Shannon Burns.”
Kriegel turned back to Agent Parks. “Sync up with Doctor Beckman’s team. Find out where they are on the vaccine supply.”
“Watch your back. If Abdullah’s people got to Rollins, they could be gunning for you.”