“The notorious professional investigator, Peggy Pryor, will now reveal the details of her demise.” Yes, that's a good first sentence for my obituary. I hope the ad writers at the newspaper laugh out loud when they see it because I’m not amused. How could they make such a stupid mistake and mail me a form for an obituary when I asked for a form to announce a new business? What a downer for a woman my age.
I’ve got to put this away and get down to work. For over 25 years as a legal secretary at a Seattle law firm, I lived by my motto: “Never betray your dreams.” Now my business motto is “Just try to remember your dreams.”
Forget about forms and mottos; let's try earning a living. My friends warned me it would be harder to focus and meet deadlines when working alone and pushing 65. I've let work pile up and deadlines are looming. I've signed contracts with four insurance companies. Three of the cases are routine and easy. They are bill-payers. So, why don’t I get right on them? Any other time I would but the fourth case is a nightmare. I can’t move forward or back away. It saps my energy. The thick file is a complete muddle. It has no logical time line. Over half of it is newspaper clippings. Blame that on the Green River Killer who disposed of 48 victims along the river banks. Now, any other death along the Green creates sensational headlines and columns of ink.
I tried ordering everything by date but that didn’t help explain what happened. So, I arranged them by topic and that wasn't any better. Finally, I decided to start with what interests me most -- Sisy Duello.
I'm not sure why Sisy fascinates me. She’s yet another grieving widow. I see a lot in this business. The newspaper said she vowed to keep searching for her husband, Brad Duello, who is believed drowned. He vanished without a trace. Sisy last saw him the morning of their tenth wedding anniversary, June 26, 2002. That’s five years ago.
I wonder how she’s doing. It took me more than five years to get over my husband’s death and the government’s betrayal. Ray’s last hours were at the Embassy in Saigon when the U.S. abandoned it 32 years ago. I wonder if betrayal factored into Sisy losing her husband. It’s a good bet that it did.
Just last month, a newspaper clipping called “Events Remembered” appeared in the paper. It recapped curious events of 2002 and said. “Five years ago, Brad Duello disappeared from a maintenance crew painting the Green River bridge near Auburn.” The article quoted the King County Sheriff. “The department is still treating the Duello disappearance as a probable drowning. His body was never recovered. After five years, we have nothing new to report. It’s a cold case.”
And this memo from the insurance adjusters, “The BD case is no closer to being solved in 2003. Sisy Duello was conditionally awarded survivor’s benefits by the State of Washington but will have to pay back the money if Duello resurfaces.” Resurface? Is the adjuster being cute or cruel?
The coroner’s inquest interviewed witnesses and family in 2002. Then the coroner adjourned the inquest to reconvene in 2009 when he’ll sign the death certificate. The inquest might reopen sooner if a body or new evidence is found, or dependents are destitute.
And here’s a Letter to the Editor signed by Sisy in 2003 begging the readers for any information they have about her husband or his disappearance. She even offered a small reward.
Sheriff deputy reports said Duello was at work the last time anyone saw him. It was a sunny spring day in June. Duello’s paint crew was putting the finishing touches on the superstructure of a bridge over the rain-swollen Green River. The crew was returning from their morning coffee break when they realized Duello was gone. His truck and tools were still there, but Duello had vanished. By the end of a day searching for him, everyone agreed on one thing. If he had gone into the river, his body might be sucked into the tidal muck and never found.
Brad Alen Duello bought a paid up life insurance policy on July 17, 1995 when he started a business called Highwire Painters. If the coroner declares him legally dead, the Surety Life Insurance Company will pay the beneficiary a million dollars. Sisy will get nothing.
My instincts say to turn this case back. But I stand to make a lot of money for both the insurance company and myself. It's a crime, fraud, to fake a death for insurance money. If I can prove fraud, the insurance company won’t have to pay off on the policy. But, even without fraud, I can save the company money. If Duello has amnesia and I find him, the company could invest the insurance premium for maybe another 20-30 years before paying the death benefit. And that’s how insurance companies make money -- by investing the premium over time.
Some important sources of information are difficult and time consuming to research. Cases, like this one, go unsolved simply because the deputies are busy and crime trumps accidents. I, however, have the time. If I show that Duello is alive, I’ll receive 4% of the face value of the policy. If I show he committed suicide, died as a foreign mercenary, or was put to death for a capital crime, I’ll receive 2%. Duello’s policy has double indemnity that doubles the value for a natural or accidental death.
My nemesis, the claims adjuster at Surety, won’t allow me to reveal the name of the beneficiary so I use T.A. Those initials follow the beneficiary’s name on the policy. The funny thing is T.A. may be totally unaware of the imminent payout of a million dollars.
The adjuster will find and verify T.A.’s current address then let me know what she's learned. She doesn’t like me. Told me so when she warned me to stay off her turf and have no contact with the beneficiary. So, I have one hand tied behind my back. But I’m good at this and there’s always a way to get things done without breaking the rules. A bunch of top-notch lawyers taught me that.
The potential reward more than justifies the risk of wasting my time. The key to solving cases like this is to find the connections between current and past events. Especially, the events seemingly unrelated. In my experience, that usually solves the case.
Usually, I don’t visit the scene of the death or interview those who were there. I learn all I need to know by checking police files and then combing through the public records that the police missed. But, I must admit this Duello thing feels different. I really want to meet the “widow” and her neighbors. Who knows why this seems so important to me. What justifies meddling in people’s lives, opening old wounds, deceiving them?
I drank a cup of tea at my kitchen table and mulled over these knotty questions. If I could meet Sisy without revealing what I'm really up to, I'm sure I'd gain information that I wouldn’t get any other way. But, I need a plausible reason to knock on doors. My friend, Laura, is a cosmetics dealer. She often supplies door-to-door saleswomen with her product line. I dialed her number and she answered on the second ring.
“Laura, hello. Gosh I know it’s been a year since we last played tennis. But, it took a while to get over the beating and for my sore elbow to bend again. I couldn’t turn a door knob for three months. But, I must confess this is more than a social call to make a tennis date. I want to try my hand at selling your cosmetics. No, no, I haven’t changed my mind about becoming your business partner. I need a good excuse to meet and talk with some people in Federal Way. You know, that little town north of Tacoma? A door to door saleswoman would be just the thing.”
Laura agreed and came through with the goods. She was happy to give me her cosmetic samples and brochures. Of course I knew she secretly hoped that I would find out that selling was more rewarding than being a professional investigator. But sales were never my cup of tea. As I quickly learned.
Midmorning on Monday, I arrived in a working class neighborhood of Federal Way. The homes were small. Most were two-story Victorians. Many were almost hidden behind mature trees. I went right to Sisy Duello’s house and rang the door bell. Rang again, but there was no answer. So, I left a brochure in the door with my name, phone number and a note saying I’d call again next week.
Next I went across the street and spoke to the residents of about half the houses. It turned out most had all the cosmetics they needed. At a red house trimmed in shades of purple, a nice looking young man was about to ask me in. But before he could, an older man at the kitchen door yelled, “Don’t waste your time. He’s already spent $150 on cosmetics this year and I’m not paying for any more.”
As I came back to the Duello side of the street, I wondered if the young man might be in the theater. I rang at the house next door to the Duello’s. A strikingly beautiful young woman with dark hair and eyes opened the door and asked me to come in. In an accent I didn’t recognize, she said. “My name is Nora Narus. Are you a saleswoman?”
I introduced myself and followed her to the kitchen. She’d been watching me go door to door and was curious to know what I was selling. The tea pot was boiling and she asked me to join her. She kept up a continuous stream of chatter in perfect English. While I sipped my tea and listened, she told me the latest about each of the neighbors I had spoken with across the street.
When she ran out of street stories, I showed her my samples. A particular lipstick shade, Cherry Mauve, caught her eye. It did compliment her flawless olive-colored skin. She placed an order and I told her I’d bring it next week when I also hoped to meet some of her neighbors who hadn’t been home today.
“Oh, Sisy, next door, is home but don’t go over now. She has a migraine and finds the light unbearable.” I held my breath hoping she’d go on and, being Nora, she did. “Sisy is not like any of my other neighbors. She’s really special. Before her husband died, he bought my computer products for his new business and introduced me to many others who needed office equipment. That really helped me launch my business. The people who bought the equipment did so out of the goodness of their hearts. They had nothing to gain and might actually have been shunned for doing business with me. You can probably tell I’m not a U.S. citizen. I’m from Lebanon and studied computer science in England, but 9-11 has made everyone from the Middle East suspect.”
Then as if to steer clear of unpleasantness, she laughed. “The checks from Highwire Painters were so comical. They had a drawing of a man balanced on a wire with a paint brush in one hand and a paint can in the other. The Duello’s were so very generous. So very generous with their contributions.” She went silent for a few moments as if his death was still a raw subject. “My brother worked with a charity that helped the people made homeless by the unrest in the Holy Land.” She pointed to a picture of a handsome young man that hung on the wall near the light switch. “That’s him. I miss him. It’s so hard.”
She paused to drink her tea then said quietly, “Brad’s heart had to be good and I pray he has found heaven. But when he drank, a demon darkened his heart. Poor Sisy, she always thought more of others than herself. She should have disappeared every time he opened a bottle. I told her to come to me. It would have been easy so easy to do. But she wouldn’t. Maybe she was afraid he’d come after her and then I’d get hurt too.” Nora gave me a weak smile and had no more to say about Sisy. “Would you like more tea?”
“No thank you. You’ve been very kind. I’ll bring the lipstick in a day or two.” I gathered my things and said goodbye.
I drove to an Internet-friendly café, found an out-of-the-way booth, and ordered lunch. Between bites of spinach salad, I typed into my laptop what I’d learned and my impressions of Nora. My palms tingled. When that happens, it usually means I’ve overlooked something that should be obvious to me. I ate the rest of my salad, let my mind relax and looked out the window at several ducks swimming on a small pond. Nearly ten minutes passed before I realized what was bothering me. Nora spoke of Duello’s business–Highwire Painters. But the insurance company files mentioned that Sisy was awarded survivor’s benefits from Workers Compensation. Workers Comp is for an employee not a business owner. I quickly typed the question “Was Duello an employer or an employee when he disappeared?” Then I added, “What is the nature of Nora’s business?”
These were easy Internet searches. Within a few minutes, I could see that Highwire Painters had a business license in August 1995. The business specialized in structural painting – especially municipal water tanks and towers. But, the business hadn’t lasted and Duello closed it in November 1999. So the day Duello disappeared, he was indeed an employee.
As for Nora, her home business, Cedarland Office Machines, dated from January 1995. It’s an electronics wholesale business that seems to be associated with similar operations in other states. Her credit rating is great, so business must be good.
A week later, an envelope arrived from the insurance adjuster with reply letters and a sketchy description of T.A. who was someone older than Brad Duello, worked for Zikher International Advocates and Accountants, ZIAA, and lived along Grebe Lake Boulevard. First chance I got, I drove by the address. It was a lovely Tudor style home surrounded by ten acres of manicured lawn and gardens. It didn’t look like the owner of the house would have any need for the insurance money. A little further down the hill, I passed the house where my old boss lived. I considered stopping in to say hello to his wife but I was anxious to find out what the public records would tell me about T.A. and Duello.
My time would have been better spent if I had stopped and caught up with my old friend. I immediately hit a virtual brick wall at the King County Office of Public Records and Documents. The records I wanted were sealed. I’m glad this doesn’t happen often or I could take down my shingle. Disappointed, I retreated to a nearby café to sip coffee and collect my thoughts. Then I remembered there are certain clerks who can review sealed records–as in the case of an insurance company tracing the address of a beneficiary. I checked the signature on one of the letters. Ah, signed by Dee Nelson. I don’t know her well but she has helped me in the past.
Back at the record’s office, I asked for Dee. When she came to the front desk, she recognized me immediately. To her, the fact that I had her letter meant it would be okay to answer my questions. Dee led me to her office and closed the door.
The files that Dee had researched were now back at a courthouse repository so she couldn’t pull them today. But she told me what she remembered. “Your beneficiary, it seemed, scuttled the wedding plans of Brad Duello and a young lady from a prominent and wealthy family.” This news took me totally by surprise. I’m sure Dee noticed. She was doing more than reporting the facts, she was also giving me her interpretation of what she had seen. People like Dee are priceless to me.
Dee continued, “The beneficiary was willing to buy off Duello rather than have him as an unsavory in-law. In exchange, Duello was never to contact the family again.” All this is a common story, but then Dee added an interesting twist. “Probably as part of the deal, Duello agreed to take a portion of the settlement money and set up a life insurance policy.”
“Do you think this person saw Duello as reckless enough to die young?” I wondered aloud.
Dee laughed, “Remember that Duello’s death, at any time, would mean a guaranteed return on the family’s investment. A savvy family of wealth can wait.”
Dee thought awhile. “I remember an unusual item that may have gotten into the file by mistake. It was a copy of a receipt for a generous contribution made to a religious school in Arak.” She spelled it out “A-R-A-K.” Then she added, “Both T.A. and Duello signed the receipt inside two interlocking stains from wet glasses. It was very curious like a ritual sealing a deal or maybe a hex on your drinking partner.”
Neither Dee nor I had ever heard of Arak and we wondered if it were misspelled. Then Dee ended by telling me, “There are other records that I didn’t open including a packet that looked like adoption papers. As you know, adoption is one of the main reasons that public records are sealed.”
“Who can see sealed adoption papers?”
“Anyone with a court order. But, we don’t always require one for an investigating police officer or child welfare officer.”
“Does the Sheriff’s Office have this information?”
“Yes. Each of the files has an index." Dee confidently said. "When I looked up the information for the insurance adjuster, I noticed I had sent a similar letter to the Sheriff Office in 2002. They had made a routine inquiry.”
“Dee, I just thought of something. Do you have any records for Sisy Duello?”
“Let’s check the computer. Yes, a minor fender bender in 2001. The other driver was cited. Hmm, and two Temporary Orders for Protection. The first in November 1999 and the second May 2002. For both, the petitioner is Sisy Duello and the respondent is Brad Duello. Both times there was a notice of hearing but the actual hearings were cancelled because no one appeared.”
“What happened then?”
Very professionally Dee described the process. “The temporary order expired in 14 days. The purpose of the hearing is to set up a permanent protection order. I don’t know the specifics of this case. But in general, we’re seeing a very common pattern. An abuser takes out his anger on his family, causing physical or emotional injury. The victims are usually too isolated, dependent and terrified to leave or find help. But sometimes the situation is dire, like when children are in danger. Then the victim files for an Order of Protection. But unexpectedly, the abuser swings from holy terror to attentive, loving husband and father. One day the victim is at death’s door, the next the abuser is begging for forgiveness, bringing flowers and romancing her. By the day of the hearing, they are madly in love again and all is forgiven.”
“Can I review these files?”
“The Temporary Order files are held in ‘Confidential Status.’” The application form has a lot of personal information. Without a hearing so both people can explain the situation to a judge, there is no way to know whose version is closer to the truth. However, if you want to see these files electronically, Ms. Pryor, you can apply for access to the court records. It takes a month or so to approve the request. We only want those with a real need to know to have access. The application forms are at the front desk.”
Dee became very quiet as she studied the screen. Finally she said. “This is so odd, it must be a transcription error. I show that Brad and Sisy Duello applied for a marriage license on June 3, 1992 but the license on file shows June 26, 2001 as the date of the wedding. Well unfortunately, our records aren’t always accurate.”
I thanked Dee for all her help and picked up an application form as I left the office. I was glad for her willingness to explain procedures. But, the last thing I want is to have the Sheriff reopen Duello’s case as a possible murder. T.A. or even Sisy, would head the list of suspects. I’m looking to find Duello alive or, if dead, to show it was a suicide rather than an accident. I wonder if Duello plunged into depression and found he couldn’t live with himself after hurting the woman he loved, wooing her back, renewing their wedding vows, only to end in more violence. Good story, sounds like the stereotype of a macho Italian man – all except for plunging into depression and committing suicide.
With the cherry mauve lipstick nicely wrapped with a bow, I returned to Nora’s. She was home and seemed glad to see me. She thanked me for the lipstick, paid for it, then set it aside without opening it. Again, she offered me tea and we returned to the topic of Sisy.
“Our little talk last week got me thinking.” Nora said. “Such painful memories. Brad lost his business and eventually went back to working for someone else. Sisy gave me some help with my business by working for commissions. I couldn’t afford to pay her a salary in 2001. To see her cuts and bruises get worse and more frequent was just heartbreaking. Then in 2002, she finally decided to leave him. I gave Sisy my business credit card and cell phone so he couldn’t track her. But, like so many times before, she forgave him. From my phone bills, I could see that Sisy actually called Brad. So much for trying to keep her location secret.” Nora shrugged. “Sisy was always thankful for my help and repaid me. She still used those comical checks years after their business folded.”
“Is Sisy home?”
“Why yes, let me take you the short way through our back yards.” I gathered up my things and followed her. The back porches sat so close that we could have gone between houses in the rain and not gotten too wet. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Sisy was expecting us and gave me a warm welcome. We sat at her kitchen table. The room was small but somehow felt spacious. Brightly colored kitchen towels on towel racks decorated the walls. They were arranged as if they were photographs. The simple towels and racks were surely heirlooms. She had a flair for frugal decorating.
Sisy was a small, middle-aged woman with long dark hair and dark eyes. I made my best cosmetics sales pitch, which was just short of pathetic. In a quiet voice she said. “I looked at the brochure you left. But, I really don’t need anything right now. I don’t wear a lot of make-up.” She did have a beautiful complexion. It was hard to imagine her face with cuts and bruises.
Nora dominated the conversation as only she could. She talked mostly about the neighbors on the other side of the street. When I finally said I needed to be going, Sisy walked me to her front door. No photos of her husband or any masculine possessions were in sight. But in the middle of the living room was the most unusual Persian rug I‘ve ever seen. The intricate, geometric design actually seemed to draw me in. I couldn’t help but compliment Sisy on her taste. She shrugged, “My late husband sent it to me when he worked in Iran. It’s the only memento I’ve kept.”
I coaxed her to continue. “He worked in Iran? How romantic. What did he do?”
She looked at me as if she couldn’t decide if she wanted to answer. When she did, her voice was so low I leaned toward her to hear. “Brad was a structural painter. He painted towers and high buildings. He could move himself and the sprayer around freely using ropes and mountain climbing gear instead of scaffolding. Brad could do what no one else had the nerve to do; he was like a circus star.”
We gazed at the rug and after a moment she continued. “Brad answered an ad in the paper and worked in Arak for a few months. He made very good money but I was so lonely. We’d only been married a year or so when he left.”
I opened my mouth to ask another question but tears welled in Sisy’s eyes. So, I put my arm around her shoulder and said I was so sorry for her loss. As we parted, she managed a bit of a smile and even waved.
The next day I drove early to the King County Courthouse. I caught Detective Arnie Martin before he left for his morning appointments. We worked together once before on a case involving an insurance policy with a large premium. Detective Martin seemed to like the novel way I investigated a case -- taking a cold case and trying to prove a death had not happened. He asked the clerk to get me the Duello file and said he’d be back to share a cup of coffee with me at 10:00 a.m.
Police records always are such a jumble to me. They are in order of when they were added to the file not when they were created. It’s jarring to be reading about a missing person who retired, then had children, then was born, then escaped from the nursing home, then graduated from high school. I always want to put things in order. But, if I did, I suppose I’d be tampering with evidence.
Much of what was in Duello’s file I already knew. But there were photos, maps and site descriptions that were very helpful. The paint crew had gone to the Ponds Rest Stop and Picnic Area near the bridge for their coffee break. The rest stop parking lot was also where the crew parked their storage trailer and personal rigs. At break, the painters often went to their trucks for a little privacy to catch a nap or make phone calls. Others, who were fishermen, tried their luck at the fish pond. So, no one thought it unusual that Duello wasn’t in sight.
There was a picture of Duello’s paint sprayer. The foreman’s interview said Duello was a good hand and in good spirits that day. They were both looking forward to watching NASCAR races together that weekend at a Renton sports bar. The foreman said he had a close-knit crew, always kidding around. Before break, someone had put a gob of vaseline along the handle of Duello’s paint sprayer. When Duello grabbed the handle, it slipped from his hand and the sprayer banged against the bridge decking with a loud clang. Duello left it and went over to two of his crew mates. He picked out the likely culprit and rubbed the vaseline into the man’s hair. The last time Duello was seen, he was looking for a rag and mineral spirits to wipe off the handle of his sprayer. "Well," I said to myself. “This sure doesn’t sound like a suicide.”
After the break, Duello was nowhere to be seen. The foreman thought he might be playing his own joke. But he reluctantly called 911 after a quick search by the crew didn’t find Duello within a quarter mile of the bridge. The deputy got there quickly -- along with an ambulance and a small fire truck. The EMTs paired up and worked both banks down the river. Then they returned and walked a way up the river.
A deputy took a lot of photos. Each one was carefully documented with time, subject, point of view, and map locator numbers. Nothing about the river banks near the bridge looked like anyone had slid down since the last rain. Some photos showed clusters of people. Gawkers, I guess. A set of pictures of parked cars showed the license numbers plainly. Only two cars caught my interest. One was a shiny black BMW. The other was closer to the bridge, an older black Chevy Impala covered with dust. The dust on the trunk lid was heavily smudged with hand prints as if it had been opened and closed many times. I made a list of all the plate numbers, colors and makes of all the vehicles in the photos.
I was relieved to see notes about the requests for Temporary Protection Orders. The notes said that the first event involved a very drunken Brad struggling with Sisy at the top of the stairs. When he lost his balance, they tumbled down the stairs together. She suffered bruised ribs and a miscarriage. That must have been horrible. In the second incident Brad was again drunk and brought home a prostitute. I sucked in my breath. No wife could forgive that, yet Sisy apparently did. There probably were other incidents of abuse when Sisy had not asked for a protection order.
I was glad to see Dee’s letter in the file. But something was not quite right. The letter wasn’t noted on the “File Contents” summary. I wondered what that meant. Had someone quickly filed the letter without proper documentation and notification? Had everyone who needed to see it been told of the letter? I asked the clerk to make me a copy.
Right on time Detective Martin breezed in with two cups of coffee. After catching me up on the weather, he said he’d spent the morning tracking down leads on a lost service pistol. He shook his head sadly and said. “At this time in my career, I’m relegated to Lost and Found.”
Then I turned his attention to the Duello case and summarized my findings. Gingerly, I raised the topic of the beneficiary. He read the copy I gave him and looked at the routing stamp. His initials showed that he’d seen it. But no one else had handled it except the mail clerk. “You know I likely stuck this in the file,” he admitted. “I don’t remember following through on it.”
As I told him the additional facts that I knew about the insurance policy, his smile disappeared. “Thanks Ms. Pryor for showing me this. We’ll try to follow up this week.”
I gave him the address and information for both the beneficiary and Dee Nelson. A detective would have the authority to see the sealed files. I said. “There is a curious receipt for a donation to an Arak school in the file. I’d love to have a copy of it.”
“You bet, Ms. Pryor. That’s the least I can do for bringing this to my attention.”
As I drove home, I felt expectant – I’d soon know if T.A. is a man or woman. I wondered why that seemed so important to me. What’s really more interesting, is how T.A. is related to the young lady that Duello romanced. Is T.A. her father, grandmother, brother, clergyman? But maybe the young woman didn’t know this T.A. or their relationship was purely legal or financial.
Suddenly, my thoughts were shanghaied by images of the roaring rapids of a rain-swollen river. My god, Brad Duello, where are you? A bloated body usually washes up on shore months after drowning – but yours didn’t. There were no ransom demands. You haven’t made any phone calls. You haven’t taken any money out of your bank accounts or used your credit cards in five years. No family members – down to distant cousins -- have seen or heard from you. Your last day was as ordinary as could be. Even better than ordinary – no petty resentments or discontent in the crew. A wife and family anticipated an anniversary celebration when you got home.
How could I explain the disappearance of this man? Amnesia? Mental illness? Ran off with the circus? Entered the witness’ protection program?
Did he leave willingly even though leaving his truck behind? Maybe the wealthy beauty whisked him away in the shiny BMW to rescue their love child from the sorrows of adoption. Did T.A. own a black BMW? I had reached the point in an investigation when the facts swirl out of control with speculation. When that happens, I have to step back and do something ordinary – like the laundry.
As I exited the Interstate, I looked forward to a soaking bath and a glass of Anisette. That would settle the barrage of ideas swirling in my head. I had found this wonderful golden liqueur on my honeymoon in the south of France. Oh damn, I just remembered. I threw out the empty bottle last week. Turning right, I drove a few blocks out of my way to the local liquor store. When I walked in, I realized they’d moved everything around again. But the friendly clerk pointed me toward the section marked Flavored Liquors. There was the Anisette. But as I was about to grab it, I noticed the price was two dollars higher than last month. I felt betrayed and scanned the other bottles. On the shelf below, I was startled by the word -- Arak. The bottle label said it was an anise-flavored liquor and it was actually cheaper than the Anisette.
I turned the bottle of Arak in my hands as I walked to the check out counter. The clerk’s eyes widened when she saw my choice. She shook her head and warned me, “Now that is very different from your Anisette.” She turned away from me and rummaged through a file drawer. Out came a dog-eared pamphlet titled: Arak – the Original. She warned me, “I’ll sell this to you but promise me you won’t open the bottle before you read all of this. Then if you change your mind, you can bring it back and we’ll gladly give you your money back. We stock Arak as a favor to several immigrant families from Syria and Lebanon.” Of course, her undue caution made me all the more determined to reject their pricy Anisette.
When I got home, I put the Arak down on the hall table along with my mail. I really didn’t want to read anything – not even the letter from my sister or the note from Raymond P. Nygen, my husband’s namesake. Instead I drew a bath, eased into the hot water and relaxed to Rodrigo’s guitar. After an hour, my skin was shriveled and so was my interest in insurance policies. But, to assure my peace of mind, I put a load of laundry into the washer. Later when I transferred the wet clothing to the drier, I remembered the Arak, or to be more specific, I remembered the pamphlet: Arak–the Original.
First I scanned the pamphlet and looked at the captions on the drawings. Then I read it through. I was fascinated. Arak, which means “sweat” in Arabic, is believed to be the first distilled alcoholic beverage. In the eighth century, alchemists put wine in a copper vessel and attached a coil of copper tubing. They warmed the vessel slowly and found that a clear, colorless liquid would drip from the tube. They carefully collected this first small portion. When nothing more dripped out, they increased the heat and collected a much larger portion of clear, pale yellow liquid.
The first liquid was a marvelous solvent. It could dissolve the black color from burnt wood. Then the black liquid was very easy to dry to a powder. It was marketed throughout the Islamic world as an eye liner called kohl. The Syrians called the first liquid “al-kohl.” European traders called both liquids alcohol. They had little interest in the first drippings but wanted all they could get of the second. The second liquid was marvelous for drinking and socializing. The traders quickly learned to avoid drinking the first liquid because “Allah would darken their eyes with blindness.”
The best Arak is said to be home brewed from ancient recipes. But, brewers who heat the wine too quickly do not get a good separation of the two alcohols. Drinking the resulting Arak can cause blurred vision and raging headaches. By tradition, Arak is always diluted with water: one to five. Then ice is added to chill and further dilute the alcohol. Its potency is judged by how milk-like the mixture looks. If it is properly brewed, it looks like lion’s milk. I set back and wondered how you’d milk a lion.
The pamphlet mentioned that there was always a large selection of appetizers at hand when Arak was consumed. Also by tradition, Arak must never be consumed by a person alone unless he hopes to be visited by ghosts. Usually Arak is part of creating a large and festive dinner party or celebration. Rituals and spells, such as spilling a few drops on the floor, are preformed to keep any demons at bay.
I found some ham, cheese and crackers to eat. And a spare bowl went down on the floor. I opened the Arak bottle and carefully followed the instructions. The yellow liquid turned milky as I added the water. It smelled somewhat like my Anisette but more potent. I let a few drops bounce into the bowl on the floor and warned, “Stay back.” Then I gingerly tasted the “lion’s milk” followed by lots of ham, cheese and crackers. The food had an interesting effect on the taste of the Arak but I’m not sure I could learn to love this. I only finished half of my drink. The rest went down the drain as I intoned, “Okay demons, head for the sewer.”
I spent an hour reading my mail. My sister’s letter was several pages but short on news. She filled me in on the early spring flowers that were blooming in Portland and the migrating birds she was seeing for the first time this year. My niece and nephew were getting ready for their trip to France to perform with their Choral Society. My sister will chaperone. She invited me to come down to Portland for their farewell concert. The trip to France will be something they will remember all their lives. I read the rest of her letter but my thoughts were elsewhere. Instead I pictured my husband, Ray, as he looked on our sunny walks in the French Pyrenees. How could thirty two years have passed away?
Next I opened Raymond Nygen’s short note. I can’t read these notes with dry eyes. He always seemed to have two major concerns. First was his struggle with his medical school education and the second was his attempt to ease my loneliness. Raymond writes that he must soon choose a hospital where he will intern. He can’t decide if he’ll stay in California or go out-of-state. Washington is on his list of possibilities. Joli, his mother, was doing well and looking forward to retiring from her job as an interpreter with the State Department. He hoped I could come down to San Francisco for his mother's retirement party in June.
I put Raymond’s note down and blew my nose. Joli always believed that my husband saved her life by getting her on a helicopter that awful day in Saigon. She was no more than eighteen but looked much younger. She helped the State Department interview street urchins who knew as much as anyone about what was going on in Saigon. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas was playing on the radio as she ate breakfast that morning. Joli had no idea that the song signaled the diplomatic staff to pack and assemble their families for immediate evacuation. For her it was a work day like any other. She left her homeland with her purse, her lunch and the clothes on her back. Many of the interpreters who weren’t so lucky met a grizzly end being rehabilitated by the Viet Cong.
Although Joli wouldn't agree, Ray did something fairly routine but not quite what you’d expect of a Marine. At a reunion of Saigon personnel and their families, I met a senior embassy staffer who was there that day. He told me how Ray steadied the panicky crowd and quickly loaded people onto the helicopters. Ray was in his battle fatigues but he also wore his white, dress gloves. He was imitating a traffic cop. He didn’t have a whistle–but Ray didn’t need one and could whistle beautifully.
When a four-year-old boy held back, cried and clung to his mother’s skirts, Ray marched to him and took his hand, all the while whistling Yankee Doodle. Several in the crowd clapped the cadence. He and the boy marched in unison. When Ray instinctively ducked under the rotors, the boy did too. The cramped march brought laughter from the crowd and the tension eased. Ray always found it so easy to control a situation with humor.
The senior staffer told me Joli got his seat on the copter that day. He and his family were the last to load. As he was getting everyone strapped in, the copilot yelled to him that the Embassy wanted him to stay behind awaiting further orders. He found his brief case and jumped off the copter. He told Ray the copilot thought he was overloaded and wanted someone light. Ray scanned the crowd. And, there was little Joli. He signaled her to board. As she moved forward, many around her objected loudly. Intimidated, she cringed and stepped back. Ray went to her whistling the tune “With a little bit of luck.” A glee club member, sensing a nasty confrontation, took up the song and coaxed the crowd to join him in the chorus.
With a little bit . . . with a little bit . . .
With a little bit of luck, we’re goin home.
With a little bit, with a little bit
With a little bit of bloomin luck.
At that point in the evacuation there was no reason for anyone to push ahead of Joli. Everyone could see the approaching helicopter that would land just as soon as the helipad was clear. No mob blocked Joli from leaving. But she was lucky in one way. She got out early and didn’t have to see what happened later in the day. It’s unbelievable that the last of the embassy staff evacuated in a panic and left so much of value behind.
I tried to shake off these painful memories by looking through the junk mail and magazines. Then I carried most of it to the garbage bin. There was nothing left to do but fold the laundry. I let myself think about happier times honeymooning in the south of France. After I put away the clean clothes, I felt both weary and agitated. I found my copy of the memoir of Arturo Barea called Forging a Rebel and settled into my favorite reading chair.
I woke with a start under the glare of the floor lamp. I was slumping in the easy chair with the “Rebel” draped over my belly. Both my palms tingled as I rubbed my cheeks. My mouth gaped open as if the dentist had ordered, “Open wider, please.” When my head finally cleared, I was glad I was alone. I stood up and methodically flexed, relaxed and stretched all the muscles in my body. I needed to burn off the adrenaline that the dream has caused or there would be no getting back to sleep. As I paced, the dream resurfaced.
It was a simple dream of wind blown dust. In the dream, I looked and looked for a place to get out of the blast that pushed me forward. I pulled my turtleneck over my nose so I could breathe. After a time, I thought I saw a gaping hole next to a tree. The tree limbs were tossed by the wind. I slid into the depression and the air cleared. It was too dark to see but, mercifully, I could breathe. Then there was a loud crack and a huge tree limb settled over the hole. I was embraced by the leaves that began rubbing a warm substance onto my wind-burned cheeks. Then men were shouting. The noise left a metallic taste in my mouth. The flavor of the racket jarred me awake.
I went to the bedroom to find my dream journal. I've recorded my dreams since my husband died. Tonight’s dream is definitely one for the journal. So, I fixed a cup of chamomile tea and sipped it as I wrote down the dream. Then I made a list of the most important elements.
Then I free associated with each item even noting recent events that came to mind.
Dreams are like puzzles – baffling messages from the unconscious. It's the clumsy way the unconscious tries to remind me of what I already know. Through the day, I see but don't remember most of what happens around me. But the unconscious never forgets. Maybe because forgetting is such a blessing, the conscious mind overpowers the unconscious. But when the conscious mind is asleep and unable to block these memories, the crafty unconscious sends them up in dreams.
I almost never can decipher a dream when I wake so I let it incubate. In the meantime, if something in my day reminds me of the dream, I pay attention to “whatever happens next” and follow my basic instincts. So often I’ve avoided an embarrassing or sometimes a dangerous situation. Say, I walk past a mirror and I’m reminded of a dream. My instinct is to go back and take a second look in the mirror. Then, I might see that my lipstick is smeared onto my teeth. My conscious mind couldn't be bothered. But the smeared lipstick had registered with my unconscious and it warned me in the only way it could.
Or say I’m driving along and remember a dream. Instinctively, I put my foot over the brake pedal just shortly before some dog runs onto the road. My unconscious mind noticed the running dog. The conscious mind saw the oncoming cars. The unconscious mind can be a huge help if you find a way to understand its methods and follow its lead.
People call me lucky. But it isn’t random chance. It’s a skill to be learned.
Almost a month passed and I still hadn’t heard from Detective Martin. But, I was glad to get off the emotional roller coaster that this case had become. Instead, I worked on several other projects, went to Portland to see my sister, and hosted a brunch for my bridge club. I also caught up on errands, started my garden and did some Spring cleaning.
I was dusting the dining room table and stowing away the extra leaves. The dust and leaves reminded me of my dream. The main features of the dream did seem to be the dust and the leaves. Then the dust reminded me of the dust-covered car in the deputy’s photos and the hand prints. But the meaning of leaves baffled me. In the dream, the tree seemed both sheltering and menacing.
Just then the phone rang. It was Detective Martin. “Hello Ms. Pryor, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. You wouldn’t believe the crime spree we are having.” He said that as if every Spring should have such a spree.
“The Tijuana drug cartel is trying to expand into Seattle. Homeland Security and the increased border surveillance in Tijuana must be causing the thugs to look for easier pickings. We’re trying to nip the migration in the bud. But they are gaining on us. We’re picking up the pieces from their ‘signature’ gangland reprisals. They terrorize the homies by murdering one or two each week and stuffing their headless bodies into car trunks. I don’t like our home-grown pushers but no wetbacks are going to wipe them out like that.”
“Oh, sorry Ms. Pryor, I didn’t mean to fly off on that projectile. But I’ve been living this stuff non-stop for three weeks.” I could hear him flipping through his notes. “Let’s see, you want to know about my talk with the beneficiary on Duello's life insurance. Well, the beneficiary turns out to be an incredibly busy attorney.”
This was too much. I had to interrupt. “Wait Detective Martin, is the beneficiary a man or a woman?”
He chuckled. “A man, an older man, a successful man, a very wealthy man. You know where he lives I think. Well the interior of his house is even more spectacular than the grounds. He’s somehow connected to the Persian Gulf or the Middle East. He has portions of mosaic floors removed from ancient villas. Beautiful silk brocades hang on his walls showing scenes from the crusades–not copies but fragile originals. Persian rugs covered the floor. It was like a museum with a state of the art security system to match.”
“But back to my sordid tale. It was a long while before he would see me. He was playing hard to get until I nudged him a little. I mentioned that I could reopen the Duello inquest to evaluate his involvement. He sensed the summons circling and, within a day, a time slot opened for our interview.”
Abruptly he changed the subject. “Look at the time. I’m going to be at the Justice Center in Kent tomorrow. If you're willing to drive that far south, I think I can get free about 4:00 and I’ll bring the Duello files with me. As I said, things are pretty hectic around here. Oh and Ms. Pryor, I have a copy of the receipt you wanted.”
I sensed he was about to hang up so I quickly said. “Last time I was in Kent, I went to the open house for the new Justice Center. I should be able to find it again. I’m glad you got to talk to Dee Nelson. Don’t worry about the late hour tomorrow. I have a lot to do in the afternoon.”
He was gathering things together and may not really be listening. But, I wanted to let him know he wasn’t inconveniencing me. “I have work in the Law Library that will keep me busy earlier in the afternoon. So, late afternoon would be good for me. Bye now. See you tomorrow.”
I heard “Martin, over and out.” Then he snapped the cell closed.
When I hung up, I thought -- the phone call was ‘what happened next’ after thinking of my dream. I went to the bedroom and found my dream journal. Then I went to the kitchen, turned up the heat under the kettle, and found a Lady Grey tea bag. While I was waiting for the water to boil, I scanned the pages for the description of my dream.
I balanced the hot tea cup on the dream journal and carried everything out to my reading chair. As the tea cooled, I carefully reviewed the elements of the dream and what Detective Martin had said in his phone call. I didn’t want to miss something important.
If the dust reminded me of a car, was there anything about leaves that was like a car? Then I saw it in my notes: “trunk.” Trunk was related to both leaves and cars.
I felt suddenly giddy as if I’d won the lottery. Then I began to sober up when a lone thought slid through my mind, “It took you long enough.”
I drank my tea and considered carefully what Detective Martin had said. Was there a connection? Oh my, there was. The bodies of the gang war victims are being found in car trunks. The giddy feeling instantly turned to dread.
I sat completely still and thought of nothing. Yet inside me, things were realigning.
At 4:00, I was in a conference room across the hall from Deputy Carrie Carter’s office. Laid out on the table were the Duello files and evidence. The young deputy greeted me when I came in, showed me the room and said Detective Martin would be along soon. I found my magnifying glass and went right for the photo records. I looked very closely at the back of the dusty car. Evidently the trunk had been opened and closed many times. You could see the fringe of vertical marks where fingers had disturbed or wiped away the dust. They looked more or less alike. All except for one area that looked different like someone had moved their fingers in an arc leaving a broad smear.
“How are you getting on, Ms. Pryor?” Deputy Carter asked in a cheerful voice. “I’ve brought you some tea. Detective Martin asked me to answer any questions you might have. When I was a rooky, the Duello drowning was one of my first cases–I assisted the photographer.”
“Thank you. I’m making good use of my time. But, I do have a question. Can you tell me the owner of this car?” While she looked at the photo and wrote down the license plate number, I fished around in the bundle of negatives to find the negative for this photo. “And would it be possible to get a larger print of the photo of the car?”
“Yes, I can get both of those for you. I’ll be right back with the owner’s name. I’ll request the enlargement but it may take a day or two.” She methodically signed the negative out of the file.
“Thanks, that would be great. The tea is my favorite.”
“Thank Detective Martin. He was specific.” We looked at each other and she smiled knowingly.
I found Detective Martin’s notes on T.A. Evidently T.A. seemed surprised to learn that Duello had been missing for five years. He confirmed that he knew Duello. T.A. checked his files and said he'd met with Duello twice –- once in 1995 and again in 2001. He explained that their transactions were confidential. But he agreed to explain why he was the beneficiary on Duello’s life insurance.
The firm, ZIAA, administers family trusts. Most clients of ZIAA had dual citizenship. The firm balanced assets according to the laws of two or more countries. The purpose of the firm was to see that wealth transferred smoothly from one generation to another without too much loss from taxes. Detective Martin’s notes had the following in quotes: “Our law firm guarantees complete confidentiality. So rather than naming the trust itself as beneficiary, Duello named me in my capacity as Trust Administrator. If you look at the insurance policy, T.A. follows my name. Frances Taynen, T.A.” Taynen declined to give any information as to why Duello would take out a life insurance policy.
But Detective Martin’s interview with Dee Nelson provided more information. He learned that a female child was born to a young woman in Turkmenistan in 1995. There was a copy of a birth certificate in Russian. The child was adopted by her aunt and uncle. Duello’s name was not on the birth record but he acknowledged he was the father of the child. He set up a modest trust fund to cover the cost of her education.
Deputy Carter returned with her laptop computer. “Well, Ms. Pryor, I have an unexpected answer. The car is licensed by the Western State Hospital.”
She stopped and looked at me intently. “For the Criminally Insane." She gave me time to take that in, then said. "But there's something even more interesting than that. We have a record of a previous request for the identification of ownership.”
Again she looked to see if I was ready to hear the rest. “The Seattle-Tacoma Port Authority made the request on July 8, 2002. How many days is that after Duello disappeared?”
“He disappeared on June 26, 2002. That’s, let’s see, 13 days. Is there anything in the comment section of your database?”
She opened the comments. “Yes, Gary Prescott of the Port Authority said the car was left in short term parking, Lot R for about two weeks. It had gone through the parking pass gate at 12:35 p.m. on June 27, 2002. You know Ms. Pryor, this is uncanny. There were a lot of vehicles in the parking lot. What drew you to this car?”
I opened my mouth to tell her, but thought better of it. I’m not sure she would understand ‘tapping the unconscious.’ I’m not sure I understand it. “It was just a lucky hunch. Is there a phone number for Mr. Prescott?” I could see she didn’t believe in lucky hunches and was disappointed that I didn’t offer a better explanation. Maybe I underestimated her and she was someone who wanted to develop such skills and put them to good use in her job. Deputy Carter left to find the phone numbers of the hospital and the Port Authority.
At 5:15, Detective Martin stuck his head in the door. “Sorry Ms. Pryor. Hope the staff was helpful and you found enough to keep you busy. I need to return two phone calls then I’ll join you.” But, I didn’t see Detective Martin for another hour. In the meantime, I looked through the evidence box. Most of the items were not of much interest. There was a pair of gloves with Duello’s name on the bag along with photo references. The gloves were covered with mists of paint.
Then I saw something that I didn’t recognize. It looked like a half size pop can with a straw. It had a label: APBP Jet Injector. The bag’s label said: Date: 6-26-02. Location: men’s bathroom waste basket Ponds Rest Area. Description: Vet Supplies for Horses. Comments: Veterinary Clinic for horse owners was held in picnic area 6-23-02. I made notes of all the information on the jet injector label.
When Deputy Carter returned with the phone numbers, I asked her about the injector. She looked it over and said. “I’ve never seen a jet injector before. I’d guess it’s a way to give an injection without a needle. But I do know about APBP. I give it in pill form to my terrier before I crate him up to fly home on holiday visits. Many airlines require animals be sedated so they won’t harm themselves.”
“Thanks, you’ve been really helpful. Can I buy you lunch next week? If you have time, I’ll tell you what I know about tapping the luck in a hunch.” She smiled and we agreed to meet on Wednesday.
As Deputy Carter left, she said good night to Detective Martin who was just coming in the door. He looked at his watch. “Wow Ms. Pryor, it’s 6:15. I have totally ignored you and, as if that’s not bad enough, you’re now locked down inside the Kent Justice Center. You can thank Homeland Security for this innovation. Our doors automatically lock at 6:00.” He pointed to his security pass. “Visitors wanting to leave must find someone with a pass to let them out.” He chuckled. Then he sat up straight and switched to his interrogation voice. “I have a proposition, Ms. Pryor. If you’ll have dinner with me, I’ll spring you out of here.”
I laughed as I put the injector back in the box. I’ve grown to like Detective Martin’s sense of duty and humor. He’s been so helpful, so often. Of course, we are going to dinner. That’s the only way I’ll have his undivided attention so I can get his take on the strange things I’ve learned. “Well Detective Martin, what are you hungry for?” Did I really say that? I could feel the warmth in my cheeks –- just like a schoolgirl.
He said nothing about the blush. “There’s a piano bar down the street that serves the best fish and chips this side of Seattle. Good food and good music. It’s one of my favorite places. I go there whenever I’m working in Kent.”
“I’d love to accept your proposition. I just need to visit the ladies’ room to make myself presentable. Why don’t you put your office to bed for the day and I’ll meet you at the security station?”
Arnie was waiting when I came up to the main floor. He'd also made himself presentable. Hair combed and a touch of aftershave. “Let’s walk. It isn’t far and I need to work the kinks out of my back. Too much stress today.”
It was a beautiful evening. As we walked, Detective Martin asked me to call him Arnie.
“Out of the office?”
“Yes.” Arnie replied. “We’ll keep the formality in the office. It keeps the tongues from wagging.”
“Well then, please call me Peggy -- outside the office.” I was almost sorry when we got to the bar. The street seemed full of possibilities.
Arnie opened the door and the music spilled out like fog. The piano player was playing one of my favorite tunes and I joined in with the lyrics. “Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night. It could happen to you.”
While I sang, our eyes adjusted to the dim light of the bar. Then we wound our way to a secluded table and we both ordered fish and chips. The waiter arrived and asked if I’d like a drink before dinner. “Yes." I ordered Anisette and Arnie got a beer.
When the drinks arrived, I told Arnie. “I want to compare their Anisette to a liquor called Arak that I’ve tried.” Arnie, who was sipping his beer, nearly dropped his glass as he tried not to choke. “Did you say Arak?” He sputtered as he wiped his chin. “Peggy, I’m sorry, you don’t have the genetics to be drinking that, nor the larceny.”
I had no idea what he was getting at and let him talk. “Distillates like Arak, Ouzo, or Raki are used by many organized crime bosses to seal deals with their hirelings. It’s almost the same as swearing on a Bible. They take it very seriously. Believe me, I know. Breaking a deal sealed with Arak often means I have another murder to solve.”
I sat quietly and tried to absorb what he was saying. Then Arnie produced a copy of the receipt with the rings of wet glasses around the signatures. I looked at it and thanked him. Then I asked. “Do you think that’s what this is?”
Arnie looked at it and shook his head, “No, I don’t think so. This isn’t a promise to do something, it’s an acknowledgment that something important already happened.”
“But Arnie, Duello was paid off for his promise never to contact the family again.” Just then our food came and it seemed a shame to spoil this pleasant evening with talk of death. I reminded myself that proving that Duello was murdered would do me no good. I even forgot to tell Arnie about the dust-covered car.
Once we set aside the shop talk, the dinner, music and conversation were the most enjoyable I’ve had in a very long time. Arnie told me about his family. His sister was always trying to set him up with blind dates. But recently he’s had a reprieve. His sister was at wit’s end because her daughter lost her lease and moved back home. Poor Sis no longer could use her sewing room in the evenings just when she was working on a quilt for the Quilter’s Guild Annual Show and Sale. I felt myself warm to the description of his family and their problems. When I told him about my sister in Portland and her children, we agreed our two families were very much alike.
“Do you have children?” Arnie asked.
“No, the Marines kept my husband busy in foreign lands and then the Marines made me a widow.” I hoped that would be enough explanation. Arnie seemed to understand. We listened to the music and finished our drinks.
It was 9:00 p.m. when we left. As we approached the Justice Center, the streets were lined with parked cars. People of all ages milled about. Some seemed tired, some angry and many were simply scared. Arnie said they were here to get friends or relatives who had been questioned or booked during the day. He insisted on walking me to my car in the parking garage.
In the row of cars opposite mine, a burly man leaned against a car smoking a cigarette. On the car was a magnetic sign saying “Bail Bonds.” The man dropped the cigarette, ground it under his foot and nodded at Arnie. “Good evening, Detective Martin.” Arnie simply nodded in reply but did not answer.
Arnie helped me into my car then looked to see where the man had gone. He was no where in sight. Arnie said he needed to get back to work. He promised to call me soon so I could fill in the gaps in the Duello case. I started the car and Arnie hurried off. Before I could back out, a crowd of people walked past, blocking my exit. While I waited, I watched Arnie walking along the crosswalk and wondered how late he would have to work.
Suddenly, men were shouting in Spanish. In the rearview mirror, I saw the man who greeted Arnie slap a teen half his size. He lifted the boy and shoved him against my car. Instinctively, I locked the doors. The clicking locks were echoed by a fainter click. As quickly as the fight started, it was over. The teen was submissive and apologetic. The man helped the teen straighten his clothes and retrieve his cap. Then he threw his arm around the teen’s shoulder and squeezed him affectionately. They walked off in the direction Arnie had gone.
When I finally worked my way out of the garage and onto the street, I could see people lined up in the Justice Center lobby waiting to be cleared through security. “Wow, this place never sleeps.”
At 5:55 a.m., I was wide awake before the alarm went off. Dozens of questions swirled in my head. There was only one way I knew to quiet the agitation. I got up and made a list.
Tacoma Port Authority Pan Pacific ORTO
Western State Hospital
I connected to the Internet and learned that jet injectors of APBP could be purchased with a prescription from Internet suppliers. It’s used to calm high-strung colts that are to be castrated. It can sedate an animal within minutes and has very few adverse side effects.
Then I realized how hungry I was and made an omelet with bacon and hash browns. If I keep this up, I’ll be shopping for a whole new wardrobe.
Finally it was 8:00 a.m. I dialed the number Deputy Carter had given me for the Western State Hospital. It connected me to the switchboard. I learned that the Maintenance Division handled the Motor Pool. The operator said the office didn’t open until 9:00 a.m. but I could leave a message on the answering machine.
When I connected to the answering machine and introduced myself, I briefly described the vehicle I wanted to know about and provided the license number. Then I gave my phone number and e-mail address.
At 9:30 a.m. the phone rang. “Ms. Pryor? My name is Shelly Dorn. I am the comptroller at Western State Hospital. Your question concerns a vehicle that we sold five years ago. So, the Motor Pool Office referred you to me. I’ve pulled our records on the black Chevy Impala. What would you like to know?”
“Thanks for calling back Ms. Dorn. When I learned that the car was owned by Western State Hospital I wondered why it did not have a state license plate. I guess we can start there.”
“We always have one or two older vehicles with regular licenses. There are two reasons. Sometimes our employees prefer not to drive vehicles that are identified as state property. It can be a stigma for both state officials and the families of our patients that are being visited. The other reason is financial. The license for an older vehicle costs a little less than that of a state license.”
“That seems logical, the taxpayer in me is satisfied. Okay, now a harder question. Any idea why the car was abandoned at the Port Authority on July 8, 2002?”
“Our records aren’t clear on that so I’ll try to fill in the blanks based on how things tend to go around here. The car needed a lot of minor repairs during the Spring of 2002. We sent it to Burt’s Auto Repair again on June 25, 2002. Evidently we did not go pick it up. When it was taken, Burt’s just assumed we had come for it. Everyone was happily clueless until the call from the Port Authority.”
“Do you have any idea why the car was so dusty?”
“Yes,” she laughed. “All the motor pool cars were coated with dust that spring. It was an unusually windy June. The hospital was adding a new building to the west of our Motor Pool parking lot. We gave up trying to wash the vehicles until after the dirt moving was done. Now I have a piece of information that you would not know to ask about. When we retrieved the car from the Port Authority, it was spotless inside and out. The engine looked new. As clean as I’ve ever seen an older car. The motor actually sparkled. We assumed some joy riding teens felt guilty about stealing the car and cleaned it up before leaving it. I was so happy, I sent it off to the State Auto Auction before it got dusty again.”
“Thanks Ms. Dorn. That fact is helpful. I have one more unrelated question. Does the hospital use a product called APBP Jet Injectors?”
“Let me get out of this database and open our supplies list. Do you know what APBP stands for? Oh, here it is: acepromazine butorphanol. Yes, we purchase a dozen each year for the Horse Barn. We have a physical therapy program for our patients where they care for and ride horses. A few of our mares have foals each year. Helping with the birthing is particularly therapeutic for our clients.”
“Does the Horse Barn staff monitor the use of this item?”
“Yes, but not as carefully as the hospital monitors drug usage. The injectors have a stale date of a year. It’s our policy that left over items past their stale date are burned in the incinerator.”
“I really don’t know how to thank you Ms. Dorn. Your information puts a new light on the case I’m investigating. Can I call you back if other questions come up?”
“Please do. But I have a question for you. What are you investigating?”
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to tell her. “When your car went missing, it was photographed by a sheriff deputy at Ponds Rest Stop and Picnic Area near Auburn. A man disappeared that day and has not been seen or heard from since. The empty jet injector of APBP was found in the waste basket of the men’s restroom.”
“Oh my goodness. Do you have the jet injector’s lot number? I can tell you if it came from our inventory.”
“Let me check my notes. Can you believe this, I actually have it? It’s Lot No. 4233ju2001.”
“This may take a moment I can’t search on lot numbers.” It only took her two minutes. “Yes, here it is. I surplused veterinary supplies in June of 2002 and this injector was among them. Our vet accepted the supplies and reduced our vet bill accordingly. His name is Ed Spear, DVM.”
“Wow, Ms. Dorn, I learned more from your question than from my own. Thank you so much. You have my phone number if you want to call me. Bye for now and thanks again.”
I was on a roll. I called Deputy Carter. She was very interested in what Ms. Dorn had to say. Then I confessed my concern. “Look Carrie, I think I would be out of line to contact the vet. He’d probably be busy and refuse to talk to me anyway.”
“I totally agree. What a relief. I was wondering how I was going to convince you not to talk to him. You have uncovered someone who may be able to tell us about the stolen car, the jet injector and the missing man. Interviewing the vet calls for police work. Since criminal activity could be involved in this, we have a specific protocol to follow. I should be able to talk to him before our lunch date.”
“Great, that takes a load off my mind. In the meantime, I’ll see if there is anything of interest in the Port Authority information. I believe there’s actually a great deal about the Port on the Internet. Arrival and departure schedules. Cargo descriptions. The layout of docks and parking lots.”
“Good luck. See you on Wednesday.” Carrie said as she hung up.
I powered up the computer again and decided a cup of tea was in order. I made a fresh pot and got out a scone. I am so hungry lately.
I was right about the Port Authority Internet site. They had a bird’s eye view of the docks and parking area. You could zoom in enough to read the numbers on the empty parking spaces. With my mouse, I tried pointing and clicking. Up came the lot number, parking space number, parking fees, and restrictions. Then I did the same on the docks near Lot R. Up came the registration information for the style of dock, the equipment it had to load and unload the ships, and cargo offloaded per hour.
I could almost hear the din made by the workers and machinery. My head began to spin. A very unladylike belch left a strange metallic taste in my mouth. The feeling of dread returned. I pushed my chair away from the desk and put my head down between my knees. From this angle I asked myself. “What’s wrong with me?” Then I realized it was all about the port information being so easy to find -- even for a terrorist group anywhere in the world. I raised my head, took a couple of deep breaths and let the computer screen came back into focus.
I did a search for the ships leaving from each dock on June 27 and 28, 2002. Almost effortlessly, a spreadsheet filled the screen. The port was busier then I could imagine. I had the identification numbers for three “restricted” docks near Parking Lot R. The container ships leaving these docks had a cargo classification of “military.” One in particular, the Irenic, departed at 3:40 a.m. on June 27, 2002. It was bound for the Indian Ocean, which probably meant Pakistan. The supplies were undoubtedly needed to root out the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
My stomach churned. My thoughts switched from the Port Authority to Saigon. The image of my husband guarding the embassy pushed out all other thoughts. I always believed it was safe duty. Yet, at the end, Ray didn’t go to a safe location and wait to be evacuated with his unit. Instead he stood in the street outside the embassy gate pleading with a crowd of terrified refugees who were trying to get inside the embassy. He yelled for them to make their way to the docks. Find a boat and sail for the U.S. carrier out in the harbor. A few families responded and rushed down an alley leading toward the docks. The others pushed into the places they left. Suddenly, Viet Cong sniper fire and mortar rounds exploded along the street. Many were killed instantly. Many more were injured. Ray’s body was found among the dead but it was not evacuated. In the rout, there wasn’t room even for critical embassy files.
I slowly made my way to the couch to lie down. I’m rarely sideswiped like this, but today whatever was ailing my stomach was shaking my nerves. I closed my eyes, fell asleep and dreamed I was in a world of mists. The trees, streets, houses and people were just vague impressions. Even when I looked down at my own hands they were almost transparent. My bones and nails were more visible than my skin. But I didn’t feel panicked by this. The anxiety started when a man approached me on the sidewalk. I stepped off of the curb to let him pass. He came up, stopped, and looked down at me. I looked up at him as he saluted.
The dream didn’t awaken me. Instead, I slid into a deep, dreamless sleep. When I next opened my eyes, it was dusk. I had slept nearly six hours.
I set up slowly and wondered if I had a fever or if I had the flu. It was strange but when I took inventory, I felt just fine and I was hungry–again. In the kitchen, I made a tuna fish sandwich, put it on a plate along with a pickle wedge and a spring of fresh parsley. I sat at the kitchen table and took a bite of the sandwich. It was tasty but the tuna had a slight metallic flavor.
I put the sandwich next to the parsley on the plate and stared at it. It looked like the parsley was rooted on one lip of a depression. Thought drained away and my eyes filled with tears. I got up and walked to my bedroom. I rested my eyes on the bookshelf by the bed. Still, nothing came to mind. Finally, I shook my head and blinked several times. “What am I looking for?” I wondered. I turned to leave and something in my mind whispered, “dream.” I jumped in a panic. Since when have I started hearing voices?
I walked to the bookshelf, found my dream journal and took it to the kitchen. I finished my sandwich. It tasted fine now. I reviewed the dreams I had added in the past two weeks. Nothing there. Suddenly, my dream popped into mind. What a strange dream it was. I quickly wrote it down but did nothing more with it. I was looking for the dream with “metallic taste.” I found nothing in the recent past. Oh yes, it’s here on Valentine’s Day. How could I forget?
It read, “Then I heard men shouting. It registered as a metallic taste in my mouth. The flavor of the racket jarred me awake.” The flavor of the racket put me to sleep today.
OK, so the tuna fish tasted metallic. And then what happened? My mind went blank then as now. A sandwich with a bite taken out next to a sprig of parsley. Hearing a voice – a man’s voice. Wow, maybe I should make an appointment with a shrink. I belched.
Excuse me! The tuna was the second time I tasted the metallic flavor. What followed that first belch? Well I was thinking of Ray and the desperate, heroic act that took him from me. No one else in our government seemed to care about protecting the wealth of knowledge and state secrets that the interpreters and informants knew. Then my stomach lurched and I felt sick again. Sick this time because of the Port Authority. Why do they make it so easy for people to know how to disrupt the port? How to move things in and out of the country? Terrorists anywhere in the world can see what I found. Enemies of the state, even those living among us.
My lunch date with Carrie on Wednesday was short but momentous. We ordered sandwiches on pita bread. And while we waited, I explained how to use a dream journal. I gave her a blank journal I had bought a year or so ago. It had lines and wasn’t useful to me. Sometimes, I sketch my dreams and the lines somehow get into the way. I told her we would get back together when she had written down ten dreams. She laughed and said that could take a long time, she so seldom dreamed.
I gave her some advice. “When you are dropping off to sleep, tell yourself you want to remember your dreams. The conscious mind can be very obedient when instructed.”
When the sandwiches came, we talked about mutual interests like tennis, fresh herbs, and the China Olympics. Then her cell phone rang. She took the call and apologized for having to run. As she paid her bill and gathered her things to leave, I asked her if she'd talked to the vet. She looked at me strangely. “Oh Peggy, they’ve sealed all the Duello files.”
“Who are ‘they’ Carrie?” My question caught her off guard.
“Homeland Security, the FBI.” She whispered. “Oh God, I’ve already said too much. Please don’t ask me any more questions, Peggy. I’d be breaking the law to answer them. The Patriot Act to be exact.” She turned without saying goodbye and hurried out the door.
It wasn’t possible to fit this bombshell into the mix of information I had uncovered. What could have triggered the interest of the FBI? Do they know where Duello is? Do they know if he’s alive?
Later, I was still mulling over those questions as I washed the supper dishes. The doorbell rang. I wiped my hands on the dish towel and headed to the door. When I opened it, no one was there. I opened the storm door and stepped out to see if any cars were driving away. As I stepped back in, the storm door would not close. I looked down to see a small brown bag. I picked it up, closed the storm door and locked it. Then I closed the front door and locked the deadbolt. I looked at the small package and wondered why I felt so spooked.
Gingerly, I opened the small grocery bag. Inside was the dream journal that I'd given Carrie. I leafed through it and saw there was writing on the first four pages. I sat down in my reading chair.
Page 1: June 23, 2002 "I dreamed eight white colts frolicked in a blue pasture by a green river. Two brothers walked to the nearest colt. One brother wore scrubs, the other a blue uniform. They stroked a colt and soon it’s curled up on the ground fast asleep. The same thing happened to six more of the colts. When the brothers got to the last colt, something was wrong. The brother in scrubs questioned the other. The uniformed brother shrugged as if there was no answer. The last colt pranced around the sleeping colts and woke them. The seven got up and grazed peacefully.”
Below there was a sketch of a snake or was it a river? Below that there was a stick man “shrugging.” But he also held something that looked like money bags.
Page 2: June 26, 2002 "I dreamed of a trapeze acrobat. He swung skillfully above my head. Everyone was awed but in the end he was swept away on a river of alcohol. Now he’s asleep.”
Below there was a sketch of a small circle with lines drawn on the left side. Are they hair, whiskers, shower head, needles? ”
Page 3: March 16, 2007 "I dreamed of blackness. I’m sad and drained. All I had was a small pin light. Its light showed me a door that I did not want to open because a powerful man stood behind it. On the door was a burning shield that glowed even after I turned off the light.”
Below there was a sketch of a blue Superman. Except on his chest was a G and he held a spear in his hand.”
Page 4: March 17, 2007 "I dreamed I had shamrocks all stacked together like a book. A wise woman told me my wish to be happy would come true if I gave her the shamrocks. She'll burn them and scatter the ashes below a Laurel tree. When she waters in the ashes, her answer will be rich.”
I haven’t had a fire in the fireplace since late February so I made sure the flue was open. Then I found a metal wash tub in the basement and a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the bathroom. I put the journal in the tub and soaked the first four pages with alcohol. Then I put the tub in the fireplace and tried to light the book without getting myself burned. The vapors lit and quickly consumed the four pages, but the rest resisted burning. I found some thin twigs and wood chips in the fire wood bin. I dropped them on top of the blackened journal and soon a nice little fire warmed the room.
In a couple of hours, the pan was cool and it was dark outside. The fire was easy compared to finding gardening tools and hoses. I took the pan to my laurel tree. It has never thrived in my backyard. I used the hoe to scrape up the soil, added some ashes, then used the rake to stir them in. I hooked up the hose and watered them in. As I watched the water puddle under the bush, I thought “Rich Spear, FBI G-man, you are the one who knows what happened to Brad Duello.”
I woke early the next day and got on the Internet. I found the website for Ed Spear, DVM. He’s a livestock veterinarian. I looked at the ads for feed and medical supplies that bordered the page. Then I saw a link labeled “Clinics.” There was quite a long list of the clinics going on all over Seattle. Most of them had already happened. Among those scheduled for late spring were Vaccinations for West Nile Virus and What to Do before Calling the Vet.
Then I saw Castration without Infection. I clicked on the Castration Clinic. Up came registration information for several different dates and places. One site was Duwamish Park. I clicked on it. The training agenda showed that lecture and demonstrations would take two hours. At the end of the agenda it said. “We want to thank Dr. Ed Spear and his brother Rich who have volunteered to demonstrate proper technique.” There’s a picture of the two. They looked like two cowboys who have stepped out of a B-Western movie .
I felt frustrated. It really did me no good to know about Rich Spear – to know his name or his job. I can’t talk to him. I can’t even let on that I know he exists. I wondered if he knew me? I had a strong feeling he did. It’s a showdown. I pushed hard to find out what happened to Duello. In response, he’s tipped his hand or was it “covered his tracks?” Will he push back? Am I being as rash as Ray in Saigon? Will I be sorry I’m trying to find Brad Duello?
Okay think! What was the FBI worrying about in early 2002? I searched the Internet. The FBI still couldn’t crack the anthrax letters case. Ahmed Ressam, an Al-Qaeda operative, was being tried for bringing home-made explosives into the U.S. at a border crossing north of Seattle. His plot to bomb the Los Angeles Airport might have succeeded but a customs inspector, Diana Dean, found the explosives in the spare tire of his car.
And speaking of gutsy women, flight attendants, Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones, stopped the shoe bomber from blowing up their airplane. Whistle-blower Colleen Rowley goaded Congress into investigating the FBI by showing that the Bureau had sufficient information to predict and prevent the 9-11 terrorist attack.
Okay what else? The Patriot Act removed legal safeguards making it easier to investigate terrorism. The FBI could bypass the FISA Court to set up electronic surveillance of foreign communication. Could that mean that Nora Narus was being watched or wire-tapped? Sisy was calling Brad using Nora’s cell phone. Can they tap a cell phone? Would that have brought Duello to the attention of the FBI? Or was his work in Iran the connection? What goes on in Arak? There must be some kind of paper trail if he was nabbed by the FBI, shipped out and held for over five years. Will I be able to get any information now or will I find all files classified and sealed?
Well the only way to find out was to see if I could make Rich Spear budge yet again. Over an entire career, I've sorted out what investigators like him have jumbled up. I took their messes and merged the information into a logical case file so the attorneys would look good in court.
I threw myself into a full-scale document search. I researched every source I could imagine. My search uncovered two lengthy sources that took days to review and only confirmed what I already knew. By Friday, there was nothing new to show for my effort.
I decided to get back to my own life. I looked through the mail that I’d let stack up all week. Half way through the stack I saw the return address for King County Office of Public Records and Documents. I couldn’t think why I’d get something from them. When I opened the letter there was a note from Dee Nelson. My request for electronic access to state and federal court files, requested in February, was approved. There in the letter was the gateway Internet address and my password. Well, it looked as if my weekend was going to be work after all.
I soon learned that the gateway search engine and the database structure were dinosaurs. After finding only dead-ends on searches having to do with Brad Duello and 2002, I decided to learn the system by asking for items I knew existed. I queried until I found a wide variety of old cases that I had helped prepare. I located them by date, topic, attorney names, precinct, court, judge, docket number, warrant number, plaintiff, defendant, etc. Soon I had what amounted to a training manual for the system. Then my computer slowed to a snail’s pace. I could make a request and go get a cup of tea. Before it occurred to me to shut down the computer so I wouldn't lose my work, my computer seized. I unplugged it and said a little prayer.
Sunday morning, I plugged the computer in and turned it on. It worked fine until I accessed the Internet. Then the computer crashed again. There’s no one who can repair a computer on Sunday. My developing paranoia made me wonder if the FBI was doing this to me. If they were and I wanted to foil them, I would . . . ? I would . . . ! Yes! I’d go to the University library and log onto one of the public computers.
An hour later, I was in the records databases and the speed of the University computers was astounding. Maybe my computer was just old and on its last legs. I searched, being as innovative as I could, without much success. When my time was up, I went to the student union to get lunch. I found a table by the window and reviewed my notes as I ate.
I looked up to see a nice looking young man standing by my table. “Pardon me.” He said. “Can I ask you a question? My name is Matt Bell and I go to school here. I’m looking for anyone who may have witnessed an accident yesterday at about this time in the parking lot outside there." He pointed through the window. "My car is in pretty bad shape and I don’t have the money to get it fixed.”
“Sorry Matt, I wasn’t here yesterday.” I replied. “Hope you’re able to find someone who saw the accident.” I watched him as he continued from table to table questioning people. How likely was he to find a witness?
The combination of wind, sunlight, and trees outside the window sent dancing shapes across the table. As I mused about Matt’s quest, I thought, “This is so unreal, I feel like I’m sleepwalking.”
I returned to my notes and saw that I had written two words on the paper. Matt Witness. I stared at the words and wondered why I‘d put them down. I finished my sandwich and gathered up my things to return to the library. When I left the building, I again noticed the trees swaying in the wind. Then it hit me–MATERIAL WITNESS! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Law enforcement officers can serve a warrant to pick up and hold anyone who they think has information about a crime. And the warrants are easy to get from a judge. I let out a "Whoop!" Then this old-lady literally ran across the campus like a student late for class.
I found a free computer in the library and was feeling confident again. But an hour later, my emotional roller coaster stalled. Material witness warrants obtained on terrorist-related trials were sealed. That was no surprise. It was important to protect them from retaliation. It took a while before I remembered that warrants are also listed on the court dockets. I searched every possible combination of Brad Duello, Brad Alan, Brad Allen, Bradley, Bradly, Duelo, B. Duello. Nothing connected. I felt like crying in frustration. I sensed that I was close but the answer stayed just beyond my reach.
I called up the Internet picture of FBI Agent Rich Spear and his brother. Once again I thought. “He looks as goony as the hero’s sidekick in a B Western.” A sidekick provides comic relief. And Rich looks like a joker -- every inch a joker. You can see it in his cocky stance and his grin that’s almost a sneer.
I slumped over. I’ve never felt so defeated–so bad–so very bad. Bad? I sat up straight. Oh my God. B.A.D.!
I quickly opened the gateway site. Found the court docket database and typed the initials B.A.D. into the search engine. A docket number popped up. I brought up the list of associated docket documents and there it was -- a Material Witness Warrant for B.A.D. issued on June 12, 2002 and executed on June 26, 2002. Requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Western District Legal Unit.
I stared at the screen. There was no euphoria. Tears rolled down my cheeks and soon I was sobbing. A kind-hearted librarian came over to see if I was okay. She helped me save my work and close down the computer. Then she invited me into the employee lounge for tea. I was completely spent and could only say "yes."
As I quietly sipped my tea, I tried to decide what to do next. Knowing that Duello was probably alive meant I'd solved the case. But it also brought up the horrors of what was happening to him. If a nation was wiling to trade liberty for security, no one was safe. A watery grave might have been better than the horror of five years in a filthy cell.
I longed to talk to Arnie or even Carrie. But I knew that it would compromise them with the FBI. Their careers could be destroyed. There was no one I could turn to. Even the librarian could be accused of violating the Patriot Act just by helping me.
I gathered up my things, assured the librarian I was feeling much better and thanked her for her kindness. The wind was still blowing as I walked to my car. When I got in and started the motor, a call-in talk show was on the radio. The topic was "Unrest in the West or Terrorism before 9-11." There seemed to be no way to get away from this nightmare.
Callers were talking about the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and its causes -- Waco and Ruby Ridge. Another caller reminded everyone about the Unabomber and the Montana Freemen -- all incidents that took place in the 1990s. I only half listened as I pulled out into traffic. But, when I got onto the freeway, I began to listen with interest.
A retiree from Idaho introduced himself and spoke as if he had first hand knowledge of what happened at Ruby Ridge. He told a story of stubbornness and stupidity ending in tragedy. In my raw emotional state, I accepted it as gospel.
"During the Ruby Ridge trial in April 1993, we learned that federal agents had known about Weaver for three years before contacting him. But the important point was that Weaver was not under investigation. The agents asked him to inform on people he knew in the Aryan Nations. When he refused, the agents entrapped him with an illegal firearm charge. An undercover agent asked Weaver to alter two shotguns he had for sale by cutting off a portion of the stocks. After charging Weaver, the agents offered to drop the charges if he would be their informant."
"Again Weaver refused. Now he was bombarded with court-required meetings and hearings, confusing delays in court schedules, and venues that often required him to drive over 400 miles to Boise. His probation officer told him the wrong date for the trial and the court issued an arrest warrant when he didn't show up."
"The initial siege resulted in three deaths. The first one was Weaver's dog, the second a U.S. Marshal and the third was Weaver's 14 year old son who was shot in the back. Then an FBI sniper was called in. He ignored orders to guard against collateral damage and killed Weaver's wife by putting a bullet through her head as she held her baby daughter."
When this caller hung up, there was call after call defending the brave FBI and US Marshalls who put their lives on the line fighting rogue domestic terrorists in their mountain lairs. Someone must have alerted federal agents to listen to the radio broadcast.
As I took the exit ramp, the host was thanking the callers and wrapping up the show.
"I want to leave my listeners with some words from Thomas Jefferson. As president, he pardoned all the citizens convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson said. “When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.”
I felt sticky and my head hurt. When I got home, I dropped my purse, notes and coat on the floor in the hall. In the bathroom, I filled the tub with warm water, stripped down and soaked until I felt clean again. As I dressed and dried my hair, I composed a short note to Arnie. But how could I get it to him?
Even though I was hungry, I didn't want to cook. The piano bar and its fish and chips came to mind. I found a CD with soothing music and got into the car for the drive to Kent.
Dinner for one was a bit lonely but the piano player sang and made it an enjoyable evening. While I was there, no one came in who knew me. When I paid the bill, I asked the bartender to give Arnie a note. He said with the sly smile of a co-conspirator. “Sure thing. I'll probably see him in a few days.”
Inside the envelope was a short poem.
Arnie and Carrie–
The answer is rich.
The ash is buried.
But the key is bad.
I did not sign it. Other than being Arnie’s casual friend who likes Anisette, the bartender did not know who I was. If the FBI saw it, it would look something like the note of a jilted lover.
By Tuesday, my report was ready for the insurance company. My evidence wasn’t conclusive. But it would allow the claims adjusters to ask some very probing questions and perhaps get the answers they needed. I had to put the whole thing out of my mind and wait.
My emotional roller coaster was beginning to wear me down, so I had long phone calls with me sister and occupied my mind with my bread and butter cases. I also faithfully recorded and analyzed my dreams. I wasn’t responding to events like any normal person would and I needed to understand why.
Six weeks after I sent my report and recommendations to the insurance company, a letter waited when I got home. I tore it open and read the simple and noncommittal note.
Dear Ms. Pryor:
Enclosed please find a check for the full amount agreed to under Contract #5660. Your recommendations proved invaluable in establishing the status of the insured.
We are pleased with your performance and will certainly contact you in the future when similar investigations are needed by our company. We will also recommend you to the members of the Insurance Association of America of which our company is a founding member.
Thanks for a job well done.
I looked briefly at the check for $20,000. Then I stared fixedly at the letter as I moved to the couch and sat down. My head began to ache thinking about the ominous menace of CIA surveillance, extraordinary rendition, detention and interrogation, FBI, Homeland Security, FISA courts, Patriot Act, AbuGrabe, Guantanamo... Finally, I pulled myself out of what could be a spiral into madness. Instead I whispered, “Where are you, Duello?” Then I held my head and sank back into denial. “This can’t happen to Americans, to US citizens. It can’t.” Slowly that song I’d heard with Arnie crept its way into my reeling mind. “Hide your heart from sight, lock you dreams at night. It could happen to you.”
I couldn’t just sit there paralyzed with fear. I grabbed my purse, found my car keys, got into my car and headed to Federal Way. By the time I arrived, I'd calmed down somewhat. Driving and panic aren’t compatible.
As I turned onto Sisy’s street, I saw the sign in her yard. Soon I could see that it said "This House For Sale." The sign had a flag attached saying "Sold." I went to her door and rang the bell. Waited then rang again. Frustrated I pushed the bell over and over. Suddenly I had a clear image of Sisy living all this time with the sorrow of being a widow when she really wasn’t. The thought unleashed my own long-suppressed grief and tears rolled down my cheeks.
Nora appeared at my side, wrapped her arms about me and guided me to her house. She helped me to the couch, offered me a cool cloth for my face, and went off to brew tea. When she returned, my tears were spent and the tea helped me recover my wits. “I need to talk with Sisy. It’s about her husband.”
Nora frowned. “I think Sisy knows. She had several official-looking visitors three weeks ago. Sisy didn’t tell me what they wanted. But, she got very busy and put the house on the market. It didn’t take long for potential buyers to show up. Last week Sisy hired a moving company to pack up her things and put them in storage. Then the sale pending flag went up. Sisy packed her bags and left. I don’t know for sure where she went. But if I were a betting woman, I'd say she's at a motel nearby. Anyway, I’m sure she’s in contact with the realtor. But of course they won’t tell you anything – not even the time when the papers will be signed to sell the house. But, don’t worry, I know Sisy will call me when she’s settled. We just have to wait, Peggy.”
“Nora, when she calls, tell Sisy I have information about her husband that may be useful to her. Give her my number. Tell her she can call me anytime.” I listened to a bit more of Nora’s advice and grew even more nervous. When I couldn’t sit still any longer, I thanked her for all she’d done and said goodbye.
I intended to drive home but missed my turn and headed East. The radio cut through my emotional turmoil with a deafening hip hop beat. I switched it off and signaled to take the next exit. I hoped I could simply turn around. Instead, I lost my way outside Auburn.
My frustration was almost more than I could stand. Then I was crossing the Green River. “Oh, my God,” I whispered. “Is this the same bridge where Duello disappeared?” Now as then, the river was rain swollen. After rumbling across the bridge, I turned into the rest stop. Only one other car was there. Soon the driver came out of the restroom, drove off, turned onto the highway, and crossed the bridge. I sat in my car for a long time trying to calm down. Finally, I decided to use the restroom and then find my way home.
When I opened the door, the roar of the water startled me. I stood and felt utterly lost. The sound of the water drew me toward the river. The maples tossed in the cool, gusting wind. Dirt, blown up from the gravel parking area, struck my face. My cheeks began to burn. I tried to protect my eyes, stumbled then staggered as I tried to regain my balance. I felt like a drunk as I lurched toward the pedestrian/bike path that paralleled the bridge. I could see the water crashing and churning under the grating.
A sense of doom overwhelmed me. I grabbed the railing for support. “Where are you Duello?” I yelled into the roar. My fear turned my fingers to ice as I rolled the words over and over in my mind. Then the words subtly changed. “Where are you both?” And changed again, “What have I done?”
In my agitation, the memory of a dream drove everything else from my mind. Above the water’s roar, a car door slammed. An urgent thought filled my mind. “Drop.” I let go of the railing. At the same time that my knees buckled, something ripped across my forehead. Then metallic sounds ricocheted in the bridge girders. I lay on the grating with its metal nubs pushing painfully into my skin. Warmth gushed over my face. Now, the thought demanded, “Lie still. Play dead.” Footsteps approached cautiously. Than I heard another car brake onto the gravel. Soon shouting children were jumping out and racing each other toward the restrooms.
I remained frozen and listened but I could not distinguish the sounds. Slowly, I raised up on my shoulder and saw a car turn onto the highway. A van was refilling with children. I lay back and flexed and relaxed every muscle to prove to myself that I wasn’t badly hurt. I grasped the neck of my T-shirt, pulled it up and wiped away as much of the blood as I could. The shallow wound had almost stopped bleeding. But the throbbing in my head and neck was unbearable. I pushed myself up and sat with my back against the railing. It was all I could do.
Over the roar of the water I heard a voice. “Lady, are you okay?” I looked in every direction I could turn my neck. No one! Am I having hallucinations? But, there it was again. “Down here, lady.”
I looked down through the grating at a man in fatigues. His wiry hair was held out of his eyes by a red bandana. He looked old but he was likely my age. He was unshaven and his skin was rough and suntanned. When he saw my face, he took a step back and wobbled a bit on the fisherman’s path. Regaining his balance, he said. “Hold on Darlin’. I’ll be up in a minute.” When he reappeared he was crossing the highway with a bucket and a bottle.
He knelt beside me and his fingers touched the inside of my wrist. “Let me take a look at your forehead. Now how did you manage this? Hit your head on this railing?” He looked intently into my eyes while I gazed back at him like a bird charmed by a snake. The concern on his face melted into a smile. He handed me the bottle. “Here hang onto this until I get back” Then he left with the bucket.
The bottle was pretty grimy and had only an inch of whiskey in it. I considered for quite awhile whether it would do me some good. I unscrewed the lid and tried to pour some into the cap. But I was shaking too much. I told myself, “Alcohol sterilizes things. Sure.” Then I just tipped up the bottle and guzzled down half of it. As I sputtered and coughed, my good Samaritan was back with his hair whipping in the wind and his bandana floating in the water in the bucket. He yanked the bottle away from me. “Take it easy, Darlin’, I sure hope you aren’t some alcy falling off the wagon. Now lets see what’s under this blood.”
I flinched as he wiped the bandana against my face. “Take it easy." He said. "I laundered this with the soap in the restroom. It’s cleaner than your T-shirt.” As he wiped away the blood, he kept up a constant chatter. “My friends call me Medic for obvious reasons. You are in the hands of a battle-hardened expert. I’ve cleaned hundreds of flesh wounds under far worse conditions than these. No infections were reported back to me except for a stupid Marine in Danang. He was drunk and trying to get to the latrine. A sniper bullet ripped through his calf. He spun into the ditch that drained the latrines and started yelling for help. There he stood knee deep in filth. I pulled him to a safe spot and ripped off his pants. But, the damn sniper kept us pinned down. I had no water and my hands were caked with shit.”
At that I winced and he said. “Sorry did I hurt you?” I smiled and gingerly shook my head “no.” The whiskey and his dirty story were beginning to have its desired effect. I was relaxing.
“Now Darlin’. I also washed my hands when I was in the restroom so quit your cringing. Let me dab a bit of this whiskey onto your laceration. Now listen up. Your scrape isn’t too bad at all. You may not need stitches but you’ll likely have a scar at the hairline. The bruise you’re developing worries me more. A concussion can’t be ruled out. The pupils of your eyes look fine right now but someone needs to keep an eye on you for the next 24 hours.”
He sat down beside me and felt my pulse again. “Are you comfortable?” I shook my head “yes”.
“Okay then. What’s your story?” He took something out of his shirt pocket. Turned my hand up and put a flattened piece of metal onto my palm. “I’ve seen a lot of these come out of wounded soldiers. But this is the first time one has plunked down beside me on my bedroll. I thought maybe it was target shooters defacing the bridge again so I walked around to see if I could nab them. That’s when I saw you up here on the bike path. Well now its your turn. What’s this all about?”
“I don’t know. I’m here because I’m looking for a painter who disappeared.”
“House painter or artist? Lots of artists come here to paint the ducks.” He interrupted.
“Structural painter. He was painting this bridge the day he was last seen. I’m here because after five years of not knowing if he was alive or dead, I’m pretty sure he’s alive. But I don’t know where he is or why he left so suddenly.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found. Hassle with the police, hassle with the wife, hassle with the bottle.” He sounded like he was speaking from experience. “Several years ago I spent a day or two here watching a paint crew. It was a great show. Some of them were quite daring. Just like lizards crawling around on the girders. They only had about one more day of work when I left. What was his name? I ate lunch with a few of the guys.”
“Brad Duello. I’ve heard he was one of the best. He painted the most difficult and dangerous parts of all kinds of large structures.”
Medic thought awhile. “I probably watched him but I don’t remember meeting him.” Off in the distance we heard a siren. Then a paramedic’s ambulance, a small fire truck, and a sheriff deputy’s car pulled into the gravel parking lot. Medic stood up and waved them over.
“Who called them?” I demanded indignantly.
“It’s another thing I did while I was getting water,” he replied smugly. There’s a payphone in the picnic area. You can make a free 911 call.”
“Medic, I don’t know your real name and we haven’t finished this conversation. My name is Peggy Pryor. P-R-Y-O-R. I’m in the phone book. Will you call?”
Medic smiled, “I’ll call next week when you’re as good as new. Now let these folks take care of you. If they tell you to stay over night for observation, do it.” He tied the wet, bloodied bandana around his head, then gave me a big smile and a silly salute. “No infections. Guaranteed.”
Then the paramedics were taking my vital signs as we exchanged names and they checked me for concussion and broken bones. I’m sure the alcohol on my breath made them wonder if the fall was my own fault. Medic went over to talk with the deputy. The fire truck left. It was a false alarm for them. Judy, the lead paramedic decided I didn’t need to go to the hospital. She suggested that they take me and my car to a nearby emergency care clinic where the doctors could stitch me up and monitor my progress. I agreed. I needed to keep medical expenses to a minimum. I probably would have refused treatment except for Medic’s warning.
As the paramedics helped me walk to the car, I noticed Medic and the deputy disappearing down the river bank on the other side of the bridge. Judy asked me if I needed to use the restroom. I nodded. "Okay, don’t lock the stall. I’ll guard the door out here and I’m coming in if you aren’t done inside of five minutes. And, why don’t you hum so I know you're okay?” I came out a few minutes later still humming, ‘Down by the Riverside.’ Judy smiled, shook her head and rolled her eyes. She asked me for the keys then scolded me when I told her the car wasn’t locked. After she made sure my seat belt was fastened, she slipped into the driver’s seat. I found my purse, gave her the keys and put the piece of metal I’d been carrying into a zipped compartment. Judy led out and the ambulance followed.
As we neared the bridge, I could see Medic crouched down on the bike path where he'd found me. He waved for the deputy to crouch down too. First he pointed to something in the girders. Then he swept his hand in an arc to the other side of the bridge. When we passed them, they were leaving the bike path. Everyone waved.
I asked Judy if she knew the deputy’s name. “Harvey Eldrige. He’ll be in to see you when he’s through looking around. This area is still trying to recover from the ugliness of the Green River murders over 20 years ago. The community has spent a lot of tax dollars sprucing things up. Now this trouble with vandals using the bridge signs for target practice. It’s a shame. Every nick mars the new paint job and causes rust.”
“Have other people been hurt?”
“No, not that we know of. But families around here won’t bring their kids to that wonderful little fishing pond and picnic area. That’s why it’s so deserted except for the travelers using the rest stop. Neighbors have heard gunfire on several evenings but the Sheriff has so much more pressing business. Maybe your incident will change that.”
As promised, we soon arrived at the clinic. Judy asked a few questions to complete her paperwork, gave me a carbon copy and helped me to the waiting room. After a few minutes, the doctor-on-call arrived dressed in running gear. While cooling down, he read the paramedic’s report and the nurse cleaned my wound for a third time.” The doctor applied antiseptic, an injection of Novocain and then a few stitches. He had me tract his finger and then he shined a light into each eye. “You’re fine for the moment. But I want you to stay with us for the rest of the day. Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
The nurse bandaged me up with a stretchy gauze and gave me two Tylenol. She put me into a consultation room that had only chairs. She promised to look in on me every hour to check my vital signs. The nurse gave me a gown and said she'd soak my T-shirt in cold water. I felt sleepy but the nurse told me not to doze. She brought me intake forms to fill out, a pamphlet on concussions, and coffee. She also smeared a gel behind my ear and attached a vertical monitor. “This will signal me if you slump over.” Finally, she settled down with a pad of paper and asked me to describe something unusual that I'd seen just after my accident.
I thought a long time. The nurse tapped her pen and looked at her watch. Finally, I said. “Someone helped me.”
She smiled. “Good, give me as detailed a description as you can.”
When I was finished she laughed. “I know Medic. This is a great description. You really nailed him.” Then she was serious. “This is how we’ll use this. If I see any deterioration in your vital signs in the next few hours, I’ll ask you to describe Medic again. If you can’t do it, you’ll likely find yourself in the hospital." Then we heard a beep from the hallway. "Oops! I’m needed elsewhere. You can have visitors or call friends and family if you want.”
Before I could think about calls, Deputy Eldrige stood at the door. He gave me his card then took down all the usual info from me – name, address, phone number, etc. He got out the incident forms and quickly reviewed them with me. I had little to add. He was very thorough. Then he asked if I was up to answering questions? “Yes, as long as I don’t dose off.” We both laughed and the tension between us eased.
He asked me to tell him everything that I could remember. I did – even the strange parts about the emotional distress I felt over our country becoming a police state, snatching citizens and holding them for years in foreign prisons. Then he wanted to know what I’d done just before I got to the bridge. My sob story on Sisy’s porch also sounded like a woman over the edge.
Then Deputy Eldrige summarized. “It looks like there are at least three possibilities.”
#1. “Peggy Pryor, a 63 year old woman, became alarmed by a tramp under a bridge. Pryor fell and hit her head on the railing resulting in a possible concussion. The tramp got help and gave Pryor his whiskey and a war souvenir.”
I gave him a sour look, but said nothing.
#2. "Peggy Pryor is accidentally hit by a stray bullet from an unknown shooter who may be a hunter, someone shooting at targets, or someone vandalizing the bridge?”
I shook my head. It just didn’t ring true even when Judy had mentioned it.
#3. "Peggy Pryor is wounded by a deliberate attempt on her life by an assailant with a handgun and silencer. Pryor avoided a bullet through the heart by instinctively diving out of range. The assailant was scared off by a van pulling into the rest stop.”
I wearily stared across the floor in silence.
“What do you think, Ms. Pryor?”
“Well, the first one is the least fantastic. Let me get you the piece of metal that Medic gave me.” I carefully kept my head erect as I retrieved it from my purse. “Can you tell if it’s a Viet Nam Era bullet?”
“I can’t but our forensic people can. Medic showed me two places on the bridge where the paint was scraped off and the metal exposed. We triangulated the path and think a person with a gun may have used your car to steady his or her aim. I’d like to take wipe samples on the exterior of your car to see if we pick up any gun powder.”
I was finding it hard to take all this in. Powder? Dust? “I’m sorry Deputy Eldrige. I’m afraid I’m not up for any more questions now. My car’s in the parking lot. It's a blue Tercel. Please take whatever samples you need.”
“Thanks Ms. Pryor. That’s everything I wanted to cover. I’ll get back to you when the results come in.”
I had a sandwich from the vending machine for lunch. Then I simply sat there for the rest of the afternoon. At 6:30 p.m. the nurse removed the monitor and told me I looked good to go. Here’s your T-shirt. I ran it through our dryer. The flower design hides the stains pretty well. Oh, you also have a visitor in the lobby who seems to be in need of a ride.
I dressed, folded the gown, put it on the chair and gathered up my things. I was surprised but very glad to see my visitor was Arnie. When he saw me he rushed over and took my elbow. But I turned and gave him a big hug.
“Are you surprised to see me?" He asked. "You look a little worse for wear.”
I just laughed as we walked through the door arm in arm. Then I gasped, “Look at my car.” It looked like the worst window washing job ever. It had smears all over the windows, hood, top and trunk.
“We’ll run it through the car wash. May I be your chauffeur, Ms. Pryor?”
“But aren’t you worried about the FBI and your career?”
He laughed. “No. I’m near retirement. What can they do to me? Now Carrie, she has her whole career ahead of her so she needs to back off.”
“Well it worries me, Arnie. I’ve caused enough chaos in people’s lives. Where’s your car?”
“Oh, a friend dropped me off here after work. On the way down, we swung past your house and I left my car there. I talked briefly with a phone company repairman working on your line. Did you call them?”
I frowned and shook my head. “No, but maybe it was the phone line that caused my Internet problems this weekend.”
Arnie thought about that for awhile then changed the subject. “Deputy Eldrige filled me in on the details. So, there’s no need for shop talk.”
I was glad for that. I was so tired and longed to go to sleep. Arnie supplied a delightful banter as we drove. He talked about the stormy weather, the Jazz Festival coming next week, and this year’s catch of Copper River salmon at Pike Place Market.
When the carwash took control of the car, he leaned over to put his mouth near my ear. In a low voice he said. “I got the note you left at the piano bar. That’s actually a good way to get information to me. It took us awhile to realize B.A.D. were Duello’s initials. With that info, our staff was able to locate the Material Witness Warrant. I officially changed Duello’s status from accident victim to kidnap victim. Then I requested assistance from the FBI. If a material witness in a federal case has disappeared, it’s their baby.” I frowned but could think of nothing to say.
“You’ll never guess what happened.” Arnie continued obviously pleased. “Taynen called me a few weeks ago. He'd gotten a phone call at 3:00 in the morning from Duello.” I sucked in my breath and turned to see if he was serious. He gently turned my head back. “You know. It’s the condemned man being read his rights and given one phone call to his lawyer. Taynen said Duello sounded okay but had no idea where he was. Duello was shocked when Taynen told him he'd been gone five years.”
I turned to ask a question but Arnie brought his finger to my lips and shook his head. The noise of the carwash had stopped.
With a clean car, we rode in silence to my place. When we pulled up, a very pleasant young woman got out of her car. She walked over and joined us on the sidewalk. Arnie introduced me to his niece, Karen Ives.
Arnie explained, “I’ve asked Karen to stay with you for a week or two. She’s an LPN at Community North. It’s purely a marriage of convenience. Karen has been living with her folks since she lost her lease. She needs a place to stay until she finds a new home. Community North is just a few blocks away. And you, Peggy, need someone to watch over you until we know you are out of the woods.”
I was too sleepy to argue and I knew he was right. I welcomed Karen and told her, “I’ve some friends who know about every rental in town.” Karen got her bag out of her car and followed us into the kitchen.
Arnie looked serious. “Before I go home and let you two settle in, I’m going to spend about 20 minutes ‘clearing’ the house, basement, and yard. That’s police talk for ‘checking under the bed.’ Since we haven’t ruled out Deputy Eldrige’s possibility #3, a patrol car will swing by here each time it’s in the neighborhood. I’ll check your bedrooms first so you can settle in.” Arnie disappeared up the stairs, turning on lights, and yes, he did look under the bed.
I leaned over to Karen. “Is he always like this?” She just smiled, “No, I’ve only seen him like this once before when my 7 year-old cousin got lost during a family picnic. It was the best organized search party ever. We all had assignments. Even the little ones were told to go to sleep and dream of where their brother could be found. My cousin had wandered off several miles. It took four hours of searching to find him.”
“Karen, you can stay in the guest room at the top of the stairs. My bedroom is at the back of the house. The main bathroom is yours. I have a half bath off my room.
Karen went out to her car to find some extra cell phone batteries. After Arnie cleared the upstairs and came down, I asked him. “Is this really necessary?”
He drew me to him and smoothed my hair, carefully avoiding my bandages. His breath on my neck made it hard to concentrate. “I don’t know. This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. I know the mob. Family violence is universal. And the stupidity of doped up kids is predictable. But the likes of federal agents turning on the people they are sworn to protect, I can’t fathom. First, the quarry is taken out -- then everyone who learns too much is silenced or suddenly gone too.” Then he added. “It’s not just for you, Peggy, it’s for everyone. Did you know we have no idea where Sisy is?”
“Why are you looking for her?”
“Unlawful flight. Now that her husband has been found, she owes the state a good deal of money.” He muttered. “Now, get some sleep and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Yes, tomorrow.” I said as Arnie took my arm and steadied me as we went up the stairs to my bedroom. “Goodnight, Arnie. And thanks for all you’re doing.” I said stifling a yawn. Then he went off down the stairs to finish his search.
He met Karen at the bottom of the stairs. “Now remember, lock the doors when I leave and call if the least little thing bothers you. You know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I thought you could get hurt. A patrolman is close by.” Then he smiled. “And don’t look so serious, Peggy is likely to find you a sweet little place to live around here. No more rush hour commutes.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead.
I slept soundly until a knock on my bedroom door woke me. I turned and moaned. My head was throbbing again. Karen heard me and came in with a tray that held coffee, toast, water and a couple of Tylenol. “How are you feeling?” she asked and set the tray on the bedside table.
“Like I was hit by a train. Hand me the water and tablets.” I could see she was dressed for work.
“First let me help you sit up and I’ll take you though the protocol you learned so well yesterday.” She was as good as the clinic nurse. “Well, everything looks good except your bruise. You’re going to have a black eye I’m afraid. Now, here are your tablets. I’m going to walk to work. Try not to be a lay about this morning – get up and move around. I’ll be back at lunch to check your vitals again.”
And so our days went for the rest of the week. Karen was a wonderful companion. She had a lot of Arnie’s quirks which included a great sense of duty and humor. I spent my days contacting neighbors and friends trying to locate a suitable apartment for her.
On Sunday Karen went to see her family. My old boss, one of my nephews, and several members of my bridge club came by with fruit baskets, cards, and cheerful conversation. They all shook their head and wondered about my black eye and the dangers of urban life. I was glad to see them but also glad to see them go.
On Monday, I went to see my doctor and he was impressed that an LPN was watching over me. He took out my stitches and said the scar would hardly be noticeable. But my eye looked worse than when it was just black. Now it was blue, yellow, green and purple.
The rest of the week was very routine. I focused on Spring cleaning and getting the yard spruced up. The Laurel in the back yard was looking very green. I’ll have to give it more ashes next March.
On Wednesday Karen ran me though the routine before leaving for work. She said she'd noticed a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. It was old – well beyond its expiration date. She asked if she could throw it away. “You should not be taking aspirin right now.”
“Sure, but what’s the harm in aspirin?” Before she could tell me, her cell phone rang. She answered and handed it to me saying, “My uncle would like to talk to you.”
Arnie laughed when I answered. “I should have thought of this a while back. How are you doing, Peggy? My informant says you are mending right on schedule.”
“Thanks to you and your family. Would you like to come over for dinner this weekend? It’s the least I can do.”
“Well, I’d love to but circumstances require me to beg off. Results are coming in from the forensic tests. The bullet fragment is not Viet Nam Era. It may be from a police pistol. So Deputy Eldrige, being as thorough as he is, read me my rights and took my service pistol.”
“What?” I said indignantly.
“Yes, and he did the same thing to Medic. You probably didn’t know that Medic had a target shooting pistol in his bed roll. Medic and I talked briefly after our interrogations yesterday. He asked me to let you know he can’t call you as he promised.”
“That’s awful. How long will the young Deputy Eldrige keep you two twisting in the wind?”
"Not long for me. They will quickly do the forensics on my gear. Anyone can buy a Sig Sauer P228. It’s the special hollow point ammo that we use to minimize collateral damage that makes a police officer or deputy suspect. But in your case, the chain of events points toward a shooter who’s not a trained officer or detective. Someone trained would have moved closer to you. Also a detective would have used the vegetation near the bike path for better concealment, and the detective’s field of fire would never have swept across the bridge deck. And finally, someone who is trained would never use the target’s car to steady his aim if his aim was murder.” I winced at this callous discussion of ambushing someone who happened to be me.
“But there’s something that spooks me more." Arnie continued. "No one from the press has picked up the story. Reporters would do anything to get a story about a cop under suspicion in an attempted murder investigation.” I couldn’t help wincing again. Karen mouthed silently, “Are you okay?” I smiled and nodded as Arnie continued, “Anything concerning a Green River shooting should be hot copy. I can’t explain it. It’s like someone is keeping the lid on this. If they are, I’d sure like to know how it’s done.”
“Think about it Peggy." Arnie continued. "With one shot this assailant is keeping everyone from comparing notes on the Duello case. Medic said he’s remembered some interesting things about the week the crew painted the bridge. And, Sisy Duello could probably contribute but she’s on the lam – avoiding us. If you were into conspiracy theories, you could say the FBI or CIA or any other combination of three initials are in this up to their armpits. ”
“But what about Sisy? I can’t believe she took off. Did you say ‘unlawful flight’?”
“Yes, Ms. Duello owes the State of Washington quite a bit of money. Taynen notified the state that Duello had surfaced. Sisy liquidated her property with remarkable speed when the state contacted her. Almost seemed like she had it all rehearsed. I’ve seen people vanish like this but it’s usually because they’re afraid of being deported. We’re pretty sure she’s left the state so we issued an all points bulletin for information on her whereabouts. I think Taynen has something up his sleeve to get her out of this debt. But even so, he doesn’t know where she’s gone.”
“Oh, but what about Medic? Why would anyone think he’d want to hurt me?”
“Medic wouldn’t hurt you or anyone else. He fought his piece of the Viet Nam War as a conscientious objector and saw some of the worst fighting. But what matters now is that he has information about the bridge site, what happened the morning before you came and what happened to you. I think our Deputy Eldrige is putting the squeeze on to get everything he can out of Medic. Being a possible suspect has an amazing, clarifying effect on the mind. Believe me I know. You sort through every possible clue that would clear you. You know I think Eldrige has something, something significant that he’s keeping under his hat and not telling the rest of us. It’s making me real nervous. Eldrige knows how to keep his suspects on edge. He’s damn good at this business. I think he’ll make Detective someday.”
We both laughed at Deputy Eldrige’s expense. “Oh Peggy, you may get a call from Erica Blair. And I almost forgot. The phone company said there was no work order for your house. Be careful what you say on your phone.”
Before I could ask for more information, Karen reminded me she had to leave. I told Arnie goodbye and he promised to call again when Karen returned.
I dressed and sat at my kitchen table for the next hour feeling a mounting sense of frustration as I mulled over what Arnie said and what he had implied about the FBI or CIA or whatever three letters. Wasn’t Rich Spear just as well trained as Arnie? And what is Deputy Eldrige keeping from us?
The phone rang and a young woman introduced herself as Erica Blair who worked with Francis Taynen at ZIAA. “Mr. Taynen suggested I call you concerning Brad Duello. May I take a few moments of your time to tell you why I have called?”
Francis Taynen is the trust administrator and beneficiary on Brad Duello’s life insurance policy. My old boss described him as an expert in international law. Taynen was the lawyer Brad Duello contacted with his one phone call. He's probably the only lawyer Duello knew to call. Of course, I was interested. “Yes, Ms. Blair I have quite a bit of time on my hands at the moment.”
“Ms. Pryor, Mr. Taynen has assigned Brad Duello’s case to me. I have a specialty in constitutional law that I acquired along with a law degree from Tulane University. As you can tell from my drawl, I’m from the South where civil rights are trampled on regularly. So, I come with a good deal of experience. Detective Arnie Martin also recommended you. He was impressed with how thorough your investigation was.”
“Thank you Ms. Blair. It’s good to know he thinks well of me. Would you like to come to my home for tea on Thursday?”
“Hm, my schedule is pretty tight on Thursday. I know it’s short notice but could I have about an hour of your time this afternoon?”
“Sure. I’ll have the tea brewed at 3:00 p.m.”
I gave her directions to my house and hung up. My palms began to itch. What is escaping my notice? I stood at the window and gazed at the laurel tree. Then I went to the tool drawer in the kitchen and found a screw driver. Back to the phone, I removed every screw. I'd no idea what to look for. But I saw something that looked to me like it didn’t belong. I felt indignant, betrayed. How could this happen? I disconnected the phone, threw all the pieces into a shopping bag and took it out to the garbage can in the alley.
At 3:00 p.m., a nicely dressed mulatto woman walked up the sidewalk. When I opened the door, I put my forefinger to my lips, stepped out onto the porch and led her half way back to her car.
“Sorry to be so mysterious Ms. Blair, but I have reason to think my house is bugged. And by now there is a strong possibility that your car and office also may be bugged. All perfectly lawful, but not very constitutional, I might add. The people who know anything about Brad Duello end up playing a kind of cat and mouse game with phantoms unknown. Since the weather is warm, we can sit in the backyard.” Erica looked doubtful and a little wary of a woman who looked like she’d gotten the worst in a fist fight. But, wisely, she just shook her head in agreement. I took her to the back and pointed out the chairs.
While I brought cups of tea and scones on a tray, Ms. Blair got a notepad out of her brief case and left her case by the corner of the patio. While the tea cooled, we took a few minutes to get to know each other. I told her of my background and made a half-hearted effort to explain my bruised head. She was very glad to hear I’d spent much of my life as a legal secretary. And I was glad to hear that she'd graduated top in her class.
When we ran out of small-talk, Ms. Blair said. “Ms. Pryor, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I would like to review your case notes. My investigating team would not be able to reproduce your work in a timely manner. I’m prepared to offer you $1,000.”
When I answered, the edge in my voice surprised us both. “Ms. Blair, you are focusing on a straight forward legal case where a citizen has been falsely imprisoned. But this case is a great deal more than that. Other people are affected. Mainly those of Brad’s family. But also there are those of us who are investigating his case–and you are now one of us. We're upsetting the government’s applecart and we're being treated like enemies of the state. I know this sounds like I’m just another conspiracy nut. But how else can I wake up a country full of people who still believe their liberties are intact.”
“I still believe our liberties are intact.” Ms. Blair objected.
“I hate to be blunt but you are in denial, Ms. Blair.” My anger flared. “Soon it will sink in that your new client, an average working man, lost his liberty by the misuse of a legal court order. And the FBI knew what happened, withheld information and allowed the local authorities to believe he drowned. And now the FBI is threatening to trash the careers of the Sheriff’s staff that helped me.” Ms. Blair was taking notes.
As quick as it came, my anger vanished. “I’m sorry Ms. Blair. I have no right to condemn you. I still believed our civil rights were intact until just this morning. After you called, I dismantled my phone and found a bug. A detective told me about someone, unauthorized, tampering with my phone line. But I thought he was exaggerating.”
We sat silent for a long time. The day was beautiful. The birds flittered and sang in the trees. They were waiting for the crumbs that would be left when I cleared the table.
I broke the silence, “Ms. Blair I’ll consider your offer but there are broader issues that are equally important to me. I know Sisy Duello has sold out and disappeared. I also know who she is most likely to contact when she feels it’s safe. That contact actually may be of more interest to the FBI than Duello was. I’m already compromised with the FBI. It wouldn’t be a good idea to compromise anyone else. I’d like to offer my investigative services to you if finding her is important to you.”
She hardly hesitated. “Finding Mrs. Duello is not important to me. She is not my client. As you well know, Ms. Pryor.” I could tell she was miffed so I said nothing.
She took a full minute to cool down, took a deep breath and said. “I am interested, but only to the extent that Brad Duello is responsible for his wife’s debts. I have filed a request for remuneration from the federal court for the time Brad Duello has been detained as a material witness. He’ll get the prevailing wage which will be minimum wage. But at 365 days 8 hours a day for 5 years it comes out to be a little less than the amount the state has paid Sisy Duello. I have negotiated a settlement with the Department of Labor for the workers comp payments. They agreed to accept the payment and write off the difference.”
How strange to be at loggerheads with this woman. She has been nothing but candid and professional. Duello is damn lucky to have her representing him. As attorney of record, I know she will also do okay financially. The court will give her an attorney’s fee that is likely almost the same as the “difference” the Department of Labor is going to write off.
“Are you going to publicize this case?”
“No.” She sighed. “Publicity would likely help me locate Mr. Duello and expedite his return. But it is not in the nature of ZIAA to make a public splash. Instead, I have filed a writ of habeas corpus; the grand jury will have to bring charges or the court will have to set him free.”
“Ms. Blair, do you know where he is?”
She hesitated for a long time. “No, I don't. Even Mr. Duello doesn’t know where he is. His first call woke Mr. Taynen at 3:00 a.m. I’ve only talked to him once. A nameless official called me in the early evening – after 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.” Then she said with disgust. “Before they put Duello on the phone, they told me the conversation was being recorded. Client/lawyer confidentiality thrown right out the window.”
“It sounds like he’s half a world away. I believe he left Seattle on a container ship that was sailing to the Indian Ocean and carrying military supplies for Afghanistan.”
She was speechless but finally composed herself. “That’s why I need your case notes. I don’t know these details. They could be very helpful.”
“Ms. Blair could you give me a day or two to consider your offer? There’s a lot of information of a personal nature in my Duello file that I’d rather not give you. If there’s something left that would be of value to you after I cull the file, I will accept your offer.”
“That’s only fair Ms. Pryor. I do hope we will be able to complete this transaction soon.”
We both stood and shook hands. Erica Blair walked to her brief case and put the legal pad into it. I walked her to her car and promised to call her soon. Then I walked back to the patio to gather up the dishes.
I piled the cups and saucers onto the tray and noticed my palms tingling again. I stopped, sat down and rubbed my hands along my thighs. In a few minutes, I realized what was bothering me. The birds were gone. Or, if they were there, they sat quiet and well hidden.
Only a sparrow hawk would run them off from the crumbs. But even then, one or two are always daring enough to risk all. Maybe a blue man spooked them. This absurd idea tickled me and I hummed with delight.
I picked up the tray full of dishes. Then I turned and yelled. “I’ll not have any bugs in my house.”
The next week was quiet. Karen and I enjoyed a spring treat of Copper River salmon. I culled my Duello file of any reference to Nora Narus and my personal life, copied it and sent it to ZIAA. Since Nora was a very valuable source, I felt I had to protect her identity. Ms. Blair promptly sent a check and a note saying she was very pleased with how complete and coherent the file was. She also told me that Duello’s homecoming was delayed. There was a fight and he was in the hospital. She didn’t have any details but officials thought he’d be home by the end of the month. She hadn’t been able to talk to Duello and was demanding his medical records.
To keep from worrying, I started working on my other long-neglected insurance projects. Friends called with several leads on rentals. Karen looked at two and found a place she liked. She started shopping for the things that would make it a home.
On Thursday morning, Deputy Eldrige came by to see how I was doing and to tell me about the swab tests on my car. We sat at the kitchen table and shared a pot of tea.
“Ms Pryor, I’m glad to see you’re well." Deputy Eldridge began. "When a black eye colors up like that, you know it’s healing. Sorry about leaving your car in such sorry shape. It turned out there was black powder on the trunk lid and the back window. It was gunpowder. So, the shooter probably used your car to steady his or her aim. That bears out Medic’s triangulation using the path of the ricocheting bullet. But I found something else and I took the liberty of removing it.”
He handed me a piece of magnetized vinyl in the shape of a capitol “T.” It was about six inches tall with a reflective white surface. “Do you know what this is?"
“No, I’ve never seen it before. Where did you say it was?”
“I didn’t, but it was to the right of the rear license plate. Now that I know you didn’t put it there, I think the person who did is the person I’m looking for. I think it was put there so your car would be easier to follow in traffic especially at night. Would you do me a favor and not mention this to anyone?” I reluctantly agreed. I hated to do this to Arnie and Medic. I really wanted to talk this over with Arnie especially. After Deputy Eldrige left, my hands shook and my head throbbed. I opened my purse, found a traveler’s tin of aspirin, and took two.
At 3:00 p.m., my headache was gone. I gathered up Karen's notes and drove to my doctor’s appointment. The doctor started his exam in a breezy manner. “Karen’s chart on your vital signs looks good. But, it does look like your blood pressure may be creeping up. Let me run you through the routine.” But soon he became very intent and added several new tests. “Peggy, give me a complete description of Karen Ives, your LPN.”
I blinked my eyes, opened my mouth and searched for the words. Nothing seemed to occur to me. “She’s cute and very competent.” I fudged.
“No, tell me about her eye color, hair style. How tall is she?” I tried to answer but I couldn’t shape an answer to his questions. I began to feel panicky.
“OK. here’s the good news. We have caught this early. I suspect you are developing a subacute subdural hematoma. I’ll need a CT scan to confirm. We’ll run you over for the test in the hospital shuttle. I’ll page Karen to meet the shuttle and see that you get to the right place. If we’ve caught this early enough, we’ll control it with medication. Otherwise, I’ll arrange for surgery tomorrow morning.”
“Surgery? On my brain? Tomorrow? But I feel fine. Doesn’t that count for anything?” I murmured helplessly as an orderly arrived with a wheel chair. I got into the chair under my own steam thinking the doctor would relent.
“I’ll see you over there in about an hour.” He nodded at the orderly who pushed me down the hall and out the door. In a few minutes, the van arrived. The orderly used the shuttle lift to put me and the chair into the empty van. As he secured the wheelchair, I could see two men, one in the driver and one in the passenger seat. When they glanced around to see if I was ready, I saw that their faces were covered by surgical masks and dark glasses.
The orderly walked to the passenger side and handed my chart through the window. Then the orderly stepped back. Did I see him put something in his pocket? The man in the passenger seat swung around again as he looked at my chart. I saw his plain blue suit and somber tie. He was speed reading my chart. Then he looked up and seemed to be memorizing my face. He nudged the driver and said. “Let’s go.” He nodded at me. “Hullo Mrs. Pryor. Hang on. This won’t take long.”
Nothing seemed real to me. So, I quit trying to make sense of all the activity. People finally let me fall asleep under warm blankets. I was so relaxed. But now I was in a hospital ward. Why was I so sleepy?
A gentle voice asked. “Are you going to stay awake now?”
I turned my head to see who was talking. Someone in green scrubs, hair cap and surgical mask held my left hand and stroked my arm. His eyes smiled at me and I smiled back.
“Hello, Medic.” I said lazily.
“What gave me away?”
“Your reassuring voice and your mischievous eyes.” I giggled.
Medic put down my hand, checked the clock and made some notes in my chart.
I moved my right hand toward my head. But Medic reached over and intercepted it. “Use your left hand Peggy.” He carefully watched me. “Are you trying, Darlin'?” I nodded yes.
He released my arm and slid the sheet off my feet. “Wiggle your toes for me.” I did as he asked and he put the sheet back over them. He took me through the protocol I’ve come to expect. But he added something new.
He showed me a test tube. “Tell me what temperature it is?” He held it to the inside of my left arm. “Are you going to tell me?” Then he placed it on my right arm.
“Oh, it’s cold.”
“How about this?” He put another tube on my left arm. Then he touched my right arm.
I flinched. “That’s really hot.” I accused.
He made more notes then he picked up both my hands so I could see them. “Now Darlin', I want you to squeeze my hands as hard as you can.” I did and he put my hands down and made yet more notes.
He leaned back in the chair. “You’re doing just fine. The orderly will come to take you to your room in a few minutes. Your doctor will see you during evening rounds. You’ll be more awake then. I’ll come to see you after I’m off shift. I hear you have questions.”
“Yes, Medic, do come. I would like to spend time with you. You’re my favorite . . .” I said dreamily and forgot how to end my sentence.
He moved closer and said gently. “And you’re my favorite too.”
Medic appeared at the door to my room at about 11:00 p.m. He wore civilian clothes and carried purple chrysanthemums. I looked him over and said “Well short hair, shaved, and clean clothes. Welcome Dr. Jekyll and thanks for the lovely flowers. I know just the spot to put them in my yard.” He put the flowers on a small table, came over to my left side and took my hand in his.
“Not a doctor. I’m your mischievous Recovery Room nurse. And not Jekyll. My mother named me Konrad. Konrad Fridlekh.
“Pleased to meet you.” I smiled. “Medic suits you so much better.”
Arnie came in the door with white dahlias. “Oh Arnie thank you. They are lovely and I know just where I’ll put them in my yard.” Arnie put the flowers on the window sill and sat on my right side. I reached for his hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad you could come.”
They both looked at me expectantly so I started out. “Well, Karen warned me not to take aspirin. She tried to clear it out of my house so I wouldn’t make a mistake. But, I had some in my purse and took them without thinking. So, now I’ve had surgery and they have stopped the bleeding under my skull. Everything is good except I may have lost the use of my left arm.”
Arnie leaned forward to see my limp hand in Medic’s hands. “I’m so sorry Peggy."
“Well, what’s done is done. It means months of physical therapy. Maybe Brad and I will recover together. Did you hear? He’s in the hospital, he was in some kind of a fight.” Arnie nodded yes and Medic looked concerned. I didn’t want to dwell on this piece of bad news and changed the subject. “Now it’s your turn. Are you two still under suspicion?”
“No.” They said in unison.
“So Arnie, you go first. Whose gun was it?”
“Remember the ice storm in late January. That’s about the time that we stepped up our surveillance of the Tijuana gang members. One of our deputies was chasing some suspects in a neighborhood known for its Meth labs. He slipped on the ice, cracked his head and was out cold. We think a bystander picked up the gun in all the hubbub of getting the injured officer to the emergency room. That’s the gun that took a slice out of your head, Peggy.”
“But why me?”
“Deputy Eldrige thinks you were targeted when a gang member put a magnetized T on your car. Probably when you were at the Justice Center. We asked the Highway Patrol to watch for other cars with the decal and found about a dozen so far. One was on the car belonging to the Sheriff’s daughter.” Arnie shook his head.
“Oh dear. I think I know when I got it. Remember just after you left me at the parking garage, Arnie. Two men were fighting and knocked up against my car. It didn’t last long.” I thought a moment. “Remember the Bail Bondsman who said 'Hello' to you, Arnie? It was him roughing up a teenager.”
“Well that man had the perfect alibi on the day you were shot. He was behind bars awaiting trial. We finally had enough evidence to charge him as a purveyor of child pornography and snuff videos. The judge took our advice for once and denied bail. But his hirelings, especially the young initiates, might have been told to go after you in order to get at me.”
Arnie looked down at his hands, preoccupied and obviously unhappy. We sat silent for several minutes. Finally, I said. “So, it may not have been the Feds. Can we rule them out? I’ve always wanted to be on the FBI’s least wanted list.” Medic nodded in agreement. Arnie looked up and managed a grateful smile.
“In my business, it’s never safe to rule anything out until there’s a conviction.”
I looked over at Medic. “Now, what did you find out?”
“Well, I learned I don’t like being interrogated.” Medic started. “Deputies Eldrige and Carter are so young, but so very effective. They had me in a sweat. During my questioning, I mentioned a photographer who'd been at the park while the bridge was being painted. I had struck up a conversation with the guy and he gave me his card. He said he was shooting the ducks. But, he seemed to be taking pictures of the paint crew.”
Medic sat thoughtfully for a few minutes then continued. “Of course, Deputy Carter wanted that card. I sure regretted mentioning it. Who knew if I could find it after all that time? I tore my apartment apart and found sixteen business cards. But none said ‘Photographer.’ One did say ‘Discrete Inquiries.’ And I sure hoped that was the one.”
“It seemed to have worked.” Arnie piped in. “Deputy Carter located the photographer and got his bridge crew and duck photos. She inspected each one looking carefully at all the faces. She found that one man who had nothing to do with the paint crew appeared a couple of times in the background. She had his image blown up so she could make a positive ID. You won’t be surprised to learn that the man was FBI Agent Rich Spear. Deputy Carter even found Spear in our police photos the day of the incident. That meant that Duello was there in the trunk during the search. Makes our deputies look like chumps and makes me furious.”
“Who hired the photographer, Arnie?”
“Leave it to you, Peggy, to zero in on the important facts. It was someone named Sarashanoff from Azerbaijan. And that’s all we know.”
“Azerbaijan. I need a map.” I looked from Arnie to Medic. “Is that near Iran? Is it near Turkmenistan?”
Just then a nurse came in with my meds. She stopped abruptly and announced. “Visiting hours are over.” Then she added with exasperation. “This woman just got out of surgery. Medic, you of all people should know better. Out. Now.” She looked like she was herding cats as she headed them toward the door. “And don’t come back until tomorrow afternoon.”
The sleeping pill the nurse gave me knocked me out. People came and went through the night but didn’t disturb me. The girl with my breakfast tray woke me and helped me sit up. As she pushed the tray of food over, I saw a map of the Middle East folded under the bowl of oatmeal. Then the girl pulled back the curtain by my bed and framed in the doorway was Medic in his scrubs. His worried look melted into his mischievous grin. Then he was gone.