Kriegel rode the escalator from the Red Line Metro to the food court on the second floor of Union Station in Washington D.C. Dressed in a dark suit with a charcoal topcoat and black, calf-skin gloves, he greeted Agent Burns at a vendor’s pastry stand with a folded copy of the Washington Post in his hand. “Right on time.”
Burns handed him a manila envelope.
“This better be good news, Agent Burns.”
“It is what it is.”
Kriegel opened the package and skimmed the unclassified report. “I’ll take a large coffee, black,” he told the Korean proprietor behind the register. He pointed at the breakfast muffins on display inside the glass cabinet. “And one of those.”
He paid with a fifty dollar bill and folded the change in his pocket. “What else have you got?” he asked Burns.
“We’re working every angle. Right now I’m waiting on ballistics and latent prints for the crime scene evidence we lifted from the credit union.”
“We got a hit off a latent print McLeary found at the Chase Bank scene.”
Kriegel sipped his coffee, piping hot, leaving a velvet burn on the tip of his tongue. He led Burns away from the vendor station, out of earshot from other customers. “And Ali Muheen?”
“We’re looking into him.”
“Look harder. He’s on our watchlist, which means every jackass within a mile of our investigation will be clamoring to help and more than happy to steal the credit for taking him down.”
Burns followed Kriegel to an empty table. “We found a broken Blackberry at the China Town restaurant Gordon Gentry worked at. Turns out it was registered to Gentry himself.”
“You get anything?”
“It’s at the lab for analysis. McLeary’s trying to dump the call data.”
“Keep me posted.”
“What else do you know about Muheen?” Burns asked her boss.
Kriegel looked away. “Not here. Keep working the Gordon Gentry angle.”
“Muheen doesn’t fit a robbery profile.”
“I’ll help with Muheen. You keep a leash on McLeary. I don’t trust him, and until this investigation pans out, I want eyes on him at all times, understood.” He scanned the patrons inside the food court seating area. “I’m under pressure from the deputy director and every city official with a beef against the FBI. I need results, not excuses.”
* * *
Burns watched Kriegel take a bite from his blueberry muffin. He seemed subdued; a sort of kinder, gentler asshole than the one she’d seen the day before. Despite his methods, his motives aligned with her own quest to stop the robberies and stamp a name for herself in the process.
Kriegel wiped his mouth with a napkin. He dug an American flag stick pin from his inside jacket pocket. “Give this back to McLeary when you see him. He must have lost it in my office the last time you two were there.”
Burns took the pin and examined it. “Anything else?”
“I’m giving you a second chance on this assignment. Don’t fuck it up.”
* * *
McLeary splashed his face with cold water from the sink in the men’s restroom at the FBI headquarters building. The water jarred his senses like an ice bath. With or without him, the case would resolve itself. His confrontation with Seth had ended poorly, and now he found himself wondering what he could have said differently or what he shouldn’t have said at all. He wanted to reach Brian, the less sensitive of his twin sons, and the one more prone to reason without letting his emotions get in the way.
He dried his hands and touched the door handle with a paper towel. Outside the restroom, he found the last person he wanted to see.
“Where the hell have you been?” Burns announced.
“I took a shit. If you’re looking for proof, I already flushed the evidence.”
“Kriegel’s looking for you.”
“So are half the women in Miami. Which is where I should have been two days ago.”
Burns steered him into an empty conference room with a table covered in photographs and various case files. “You have issues. I get that. But like it or not, we’re in this thing together. No one has a gun to your head. If this case is more than you can handle, just say so and I’ll dismiss you.”
“Kriegel’s using you. You’re just too green to see it.”
Burns pointed to the table and ran her hand through her long, auburn hair. “I signed up to do this job. With or without you, I’ll get it done. Whatever philosophical pissing match you and Kriegel are engaged in will only hurt this investigation.”
McLeary snatched a folder and opened it to parse through several black and white photos. He showed a photo to Burns, a picture of a retinal scanner mounted outside the credit union’s vault. “Ever seen one of these before?”
“What is it?”
“High tech security. Our perps tried to force the bank manager to activate the system and open the vault.”
“But they failed.”
“Retinal scanners are sensitive to eye movement or incorrect head placement. Trying to read the blood vessels on the optic nerve works better when the subject’s not under duress.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
McLeary held the photo in front of his face to facilitate a mock demonstration. “The scanner illuminates the eye with low-intensity infrared light to capture images of patterns formed by blood vessels in the back of the eye. Without user cooperation, the process will fail almost every time.”
“Like trying to hit a moving target.”
Burns shook her head. “Why would they take the time to plan a heist with an armored truck, use gas to knock out the customers, then try to spoof a retinal scanner through a gas mask? It’s like they planned for the big event, executed their plan, then let it fall apart at the end. They’re too smart for amateurs. Why would they make such a dumb mistake?”
McLeary replaced the photo in the folder. “You’re right. It doesn’t add up. Ali Muheen’s organization is well funded. Why risk a bank heist and unwanted heat on his terrorist organization for a few thousand dollars?”
“What do you know about Ali Muheen?”
“I know his money has to come from somewhere,” said McLeary.
“Maybe he’s desperate for cash?”
“So he comes to America to rob banks?”
“You have a better theory?” Burns walked the length of the table, pausing to read the case file notes on Gordon Gentry, Ali Muheen, and the victims from the credit union robbery. “Did the lab turn up anything on the chemical grenade?”
“You tell me. I’m only here as a consultant.”
Burns rolled her eyes. “Did you get anything more from Gordon Gentry’s Blackberry?”
“A latent print. No match yet.”
“What about the perp who got away? The one you chased across the bridge and shot?”
“Nothing so far.”
Burns glanced at her watch. “Maybe he crawled in a hole and died.” She put her hands on her hips and stretched side to side, watching other agents walk through the hall behind the glass. She hated the sit and wait routine. Kriegel wanted results, and if she wanted her career to move anywhere but backwards, she had to deliver. “Ballistics pulled a slug from the federal credit union scene and ran it through the database. The bullet markings matched the rifling from a gun used to kill two teenagers in a Baltimore drive-by shooting last year.”
“What about the credit union manager? Maybe he can tell us something.”
“He died this morning at Ft. Belvoir Hospital.”
McLeary shook his head. “Which leads us nowhere…”
Burns reached in her pocket to retrieve the stick pin Kriegel gave her. “Kriegel found this in his office. Said you dropped it.”
McLeary took the pin and fastened it to his jacket lapel. “My boys gave it to me for Christmas years back.”
Burns forced a smile. When she peeled away McLeary’s caveman attitude and rugged demeanor, she found a man she could share the room with and not feel like sex was the only item on the menu. “I know about the girl you saved.”
“That’s old news.”
“I also know what sparked your tiff with Kriegel. Of all the people to pick a fight with, you had to hit Kriegel, didn’t you? He’s had you on his shit list since long before you joined the bureau.”
“He killed a woman.”
“That’s one opinion. The evidence speaks for itself.”
“Kriegel single-handedly dissolved your Army career. I imagine there’s no honor in dishonorable discharge.”
“There’s no honor in murder, either.”
Burns turned her head away from the glass partition separating the conference room from the agents outside. “It eats at you, doesn’t it? The way Kriegel destroyed your career. Twice. You’d do anything to see him go down. Maybe compromise this investigation.”
McLeary turned as an attractive female video technician entered the room.
The technician blushed when McLeary made eye contact. “I’ve got something you should see.”
McLeary followed her to the lab with Burns.
The technician adjusted the controls on a video display. “I tried an image enhancement program on the disk you gave me. The software ran a Fourier Transform on the pixel presentation from the original surveillance footage and erased the background noise.”
“In English,” said Burns.
The technician grinned at McLeary. “Watch this.” She pressed a button and played the security video from the Navy Credit Union robbery.
“It’s hard to make out their faces behind the gas masks,” said Burns.
“Hold on,” the technician said. She pointed to the screen. “Check this out.”
McLeary watched two men force the credit union manager in front of the retinal scanner. One held a gun to the manager’s head while the other tried to hold the manager’s head straight and line the mask’s eye hole with the scanner. Several seconds passed. Then the robbers gave up and disbanded. “Back it up.”
The technician rewound the video and pressed “Pause.”
“What are we supposed to see?” asked Burns, staring at the freeze-frame image.
“Look closer,” said McLeary.
Burns squinted at the video monitor, focusing on the masks. “Can you zoom in tighter?”
The technician adjusted the screen to zoom in on the faces behind the masks.
“Hold it,” said Burns, pointing to the man with the gun. “What’s wrong with his eye?”
McLeary tapped the monitor with his fingernail. “It’s missing.”