Improbable Cause

Chapter Six: A New Deadline

"So you found someone in the house, but it's not our guy?" Ross asked incredulously.

"Not even close," Eames replied. "About the same age but the similarities end there. As near as we can figure out, Penobscott must have escaped through the garage while the local precinct was still calling in the officers to set up the perimeter, and this guy was either already in the house or got in the same way."

"Got an ID on him, at least?"

"On a hunch, Goren ran his prints through the military database. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Burns, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He's in holding; Goren's on the phone with Fort Wayne, trying to get the rundown on this guy."

"But he is connected to Penobscott somehow?" Ross pressed.

"Looks that way. When we pulled him out of the basement, he looked right at Goren and said 'you're not Penobscott'. This is after he damn near shot him in the head. Goren seems to think this means they're not exactly on the same side."

"You said he almost caused an accident?"

"Oh, God," Eames groaned. "I heard the shot and the call over the radio, so I ran back to the basement and saw him with a gun on my partner. I raised my weapon and ordered him to drop the gun, and, well, he did. Literally. We're lucky it was a single-action and he didn't have it cocked when he dropped it."

"Has the man never taken a firearms safety course?" Ross asked incredulously.

"Apparently not, or he slept through it," a voice replied wryly, and both Eames and Ross turned to look as Goren stepped through the door.

"What've you got?" Eames asked.

"Well, it looks like this isn't his first mistaken identity incident. He was briefly held for psychiatric observation after chasing down two women, calling them both Margaret, engaging in strange behavior, and then following a general and his wife into a public bath. Report says he was seriously intoxicated, and once he sobered up he appeared to have regained his sanity. It appears this incident took place just after Margaret and Penobscott married - at the time, he served at the same unit she did. Fort Wayne is faxing us the records. Also, he's spent an inordinate amount of time and effort - much of it outside the hours of the paid workday - chasing down the attempted murder case against Penobscott, despite the fact that it's well outside the statute of limitations by now."

"Margaret did mention she'd been seeing a man just before she and Donald met - she implied it was someone from her unit," Eames put in.

"Get it from the horse's mouth," Ross put in. "Goren, do you think you can handle talking to him?"

Goren gave him an are-you-kidding look. "Of course, Captain." He exited the room with Eames in tow.

She waited until they'd closed the door before turning to her partner, a little incredulously. "'Can you handle talking to him?' Seriously?"

Goren shrugged. "He did shoot at me."

"No one I know can stay calm in dealing with a situation that hits them personally as well as you can," Eames retorted. "This guy fired a single bullet near your head because he mistook you for someone I think we'd all like to take a shot at. Compared to some of what you've taken down..." She decided this wasn't the time to bring up the Brady case. "He'd have more to fear from me, after he nearly killed my partner."

"Can you handle it?" he asked, turning the question back on her. "I want you in there with me."

"Really?"

"We're assuming right now that he tried to shoot me because he thought I was Penobscott. That says to me that this is personal. He liked Margaret, he may still. I can only sympathize with her, but you empathize, and that's a whole other level. We need to open up a dialogue with this man and that could help. A lot."

"Okay. Then I'm there."

Goren pushed open the interrogation room door. "Colonel Burns."

"I'm sorry," the man said immediately. "I wasn't trying to shoot you. I mean, I suppose I was, but it wasn't you, well, I guess I was, but I didn't know it was you, I thought you were -"

"Penobscott, I know," Goren interrupted smoothly. "Tell me about him."

"You don't know who he is? I thought you did."

With an almost inhuman force of will, Eames managed both not to roll her eyes and not to interrupt as Goren spoke again. "Of course we know who he is, but we've only known that for a few weeks. You've been on his trail for fifty years. Why the interest?"

In the most coherent answer he'd given yet, Burns replied, "He's the lowest form of human life."

"Because of Margaret?" Goren pressed. "We know you served with her. We know you cared about her. You were upset when she married Penobscott." He broke eye contact with the older man briefly, instead locking eyes with his partner.

Many people had remarked on the almost surreal connection between the pair. It served them well now. Without a word spoken, she knew exactly what he needed her to do. "Oh, please, Goren. I know his type. It's not about insight or love. He was upset about Margaret marrying Penobscott because it meant she chose someone other than him. She bruised his fragile ego, and he's hunting down Penobscott to get revenge on the man for taking what he thinks he should've had."

"Is that true?" Goren asked Frank, deceptively gentle. "Or are you doing this because you really do care?"

He glanced between the two detectives. "A - a little of both, I guess. Or I used to be one but now I'm the other." He fixed his eyes briefly on Eames. "At first, it was like you said. I was just angry about losing her. I tried to break them up but I only ended up bringing them closer together - it's a long story. And then I got drunk and made a fool of myself, and I went home to Fort Wayne and my wife divorced me. I stewed for a couple of years, blaming Margaret, Louise, Penobscott, everyone. Gave up medicine to take a desk job with the Army, because I felt like that was all I could count on. Then one day, someone gave me a memo putting all stateside bases on alert that Donald Penobscott was wanted for the attempted murder of Margaret Houlihan, and that if he tried to come onto the base, we were to arrest him and hold him until the proper authorities could have him extradited - her father knew a lot of higher-ups in the military, and so did our CO, so I guess they were responsible for all that. In any case it was like - it was like when you have a dream that makes perfect sense at the time, and then you wake up and suddenly realize it only made sense in the dream world your mind created. It was that level of realization. I suddenly saw that a woman I'd loved had married a monster and all I'd cared about was how it affected me."

"And that was when you started devoting your time to finding Penobscott?" Goren pressed.

He nodded. "I thought if I could catch him, bring him in, I could make it up to her somehow. But by the time I got the memo, he was gone, disappeared. I tried everything, every new technology that came out, but nothing. And then I heard that police in New York were looking for him. So I got the first flight out of Fort Wayne."

"How did you end up in that house?" Goren pressed.

He looked slightly abashed. "I told you, I've kept up with technology. I have a portable police scanner. I heard the report of the sighting and I happened to be close, so I slipped in while the police were setting up the perimeter, but he must've gotten away before I got there, I don't think he could've gotten past me. I stayed in the passageway until I heard people moving around the basement, then I slipped out. I could see silhouettes, but not details, in the light from the flashlights. You have a similar build to him," he told Goren. "About the same height."

Goren nodded, having already figured that.

"I didn't mean to shoot at all. It was an accident."

This time, Eames' irritation was genuine. "And then you dropped a loaded weapon five feet. Have you never taken a firearm safety course?"

"Should I have?"

"Let's get back to the issue at hand," Goren suggested before Eames could say what he knew she was thinking. "Penobscott. You've been chasing him a lot longer than we have."

"He's good," Frank commented. "I hate to admit it, but he is. He was a West Point grad, and even though as I recall he was in the middle of the pack, he must've learned something. I guess he's keeping up with technology too, if I'd outpaced him, I should've gotten some kind of lead by now."

The detectives shared a look. If that was the case, it seemed to support their theory. Penobscott really was losing his memory. He actually believed he was back in the nineteen-fifties, all the technological advances of the past half century forgotten.

"So, what's going to happen to me now?"

"I suggest you get yourself a lawyer. You'll be charged with assaulting an officer, but a good lawyer might be able to get you a suspended sentence on a plea bargain, if you really didn't realize you were shooting at a cop or in a room full of cops. We'll be in touch."

xxxxxxxxx

"So you're right about Penobscott having his mind stuck in the wrong time. How does that get us closer to catching him?"

"I don't know yet," Goren replied, and his frustration at that fact was evident. "But everything's relevant. I just need to figure out how."

Another officer tapped on the office door. "Detectives?" She handed Eames a piece of paper.

The detective scanned it and her eyes went wide. "Well, whatever the relevance, we better find it fast. Missing Persons report. Theresa Braddock, twenty-eight, blonde, five-four."

"Last seen when?"

"Noon, leaving work on a lunch break. Lucky for her, her boss watches the news, and she's been around long enough they know she's reliable. When she was over two hours late coming back, they called the police."

"And since we put the local precincts on alert, they knew better than to give the standard 'wait a day' spiel," Ross surmised. "That means we've got a little under two days to find this guy before he has another body on him. Logan and Falacci closed the case on that judge's wife this morning; as of right now, they're on the Penobscott case too. Forget the standard interviews, family and so on, we already have a pretty good guess who's responsible and we don't have time to waste."

"Right." Eames nodded, looking to her partner. "For the moment, let's split up, we'll get more done. You go to the scene, talk to the last to see and start tracking down potential witnesses. I'll bring the others up to speed and then we'll head down and meet you there."

"I'll put out an APB for her and the car and talk to upstairs about a press conference," Ross added. "Go."

*~*~*~*

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