Frank Donovan’s POV
Orlando Interagency Task Force, Next Morning
Frank Grimes had only been gone for a day, and I missed him already.
Irene Lindstrom had met with him for less than an hour before she took over. Frank wasn’t even out of the building before she was gathering the team in the conference room, her team of investigators with her. The Drug Enforcement Agency was no longer in charge, and my loss of status was quickly made apparent by my new office. I was in the middle of the cube farm with the low-level agents. “Frank, you will liaise with the DEA on history and drug trafficking activity of the Sons of Tezcatlipoca. I want a background report on my desk by 1500 tomorrow, including an overview of any vulnerabilities in trafficking you might uncover.”
The FBI was definitely in charge now, and more and more of their agents moved into our facility. I wasn’t the only person who felt the shift in power; the local Detectives were feeling left out as well. The Orlando Chief of Police, seeing the Sons dead and no action against the Brotherhood, withdrew all his people except Detectives Rosenberg and Jackson. The Sons who had killed the Ryders and three of his men were dead, and the officer from the hospital had made a full recovery.
Winter Park, the city where Sean and Kelly had lived, closed their investigation, and withdrew their Detectives.
Up by Ocala, the search for the remains of Harleigh Ryder and Jose Correria had been called off. The lake was too big, too muddy and too full of crocodiles to find them. Harleigh was officially declared missing, presumed dead.
I was beginning to think Frank had the right idea; there was nothing left her in Florida to deal with except autopsy results and reports. “Hey Frank, you got a minute?” Special Agent John Berquist of the FBI’s Orlando office had his head out of his office along the east side of the building. He was a good guy and was one of the original investigators on the case.
“Sure,” I said. I got up, bringing my coffee with me as I walked into his office. “What’s up,” I said as I sat down next to his desk.
“One of the things I was tasked to do was to keep an eye on social media for mentions of our case. It’s shit work, but I worked closely with our office tech genius to develop some algorithms that crawl the web and flag suspicious posts.”
“That’s good, right?”
“Damn good, because Agent Nichole is hot as hell and I scored a date with her this weekend. Anyway, yesterday afternoon it flagged this.” He turned the screen to me; it was a Facebook post with a photo, by a woman claiming to have seen Harleigh Ryder at a pizza place in Minnesota. The post had a profile of a young woman; her hair was black, and it sure looked like her.
“Kind of thin,” I said.
“Well, I called her up, and she is positive it was her. She said she has a photographic memory, and never forgets a face. According to her, Harleigh and a man in his mid-twenties ate lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Wadena, Minnesota. When she tried to take her photo, the woman hid her face and left quickly.”
“Harleigh’s dead, John. She saw her doppelganger halfway across the country.”
“That’s what I thought, but something about how certain she was made me check. I called the restaurant last night and talked to the manager. She said an agent had already come by and had transferred the surveillance video from the lunch rush onto a flash drive. Frank, this happened less than half an hour after they left, and the nearest FBI office is in Fargo. That’s more than an hour away, and this town is two hours from the FBI office in Minneapolis. Whoever showed up wasn’t FBI.”
This was getting more interesting all the time. “Did the manager get the agent’s name? Badge number?”
“No, she was a little flustered and eager to help, so when he flashed his identification, she didn’t look at it.”
“Damn. They got away with the video?”
“I thought so because when I asked her to pull up the file, she told me it was gone. I just got an email from her this morning, though.” He pulled up a message with an attached file. “The surveillance data is mirrored into a Cloud account in case of fire or someone breaking into the office. The owner was able to retrieve this. Check this out.”
He hit play; there was no audio, but as the door opened and a young couple walked in, the camera got a good shot of her face after she removed her sunglasses. He froze the image. “I had Nichole run some screen grabs from this video against the photographs we have of Harleigh Ryder. The software she used is 97% accurate when comparing two photographs; since we have multiple photographs and screen grabs, Nichole said with 99% certainty that this woman IS, in fact, Harleigh Ryder.”
He played more of the video, skipping ahead a little. “See this part here? He helps her stand up, keeping her torso straight, and she’s walking stiffly. That gunshot wound isn’t healed yet.”
“Any idea who the dude with her is?”
“No. We ran his photo against facial recognition software and came up empty. There is no chance of getting fingerprints now, and he paid in cash.”
It figured. Still, if it was her, she was doing well and was far from the Sons. I let out a deep breath. “Who else knows about this?”
“Just me, Nichole and the woman up in Wadena. I did convince her to remove her post and tell people it was a fake; if it was Harleigh, she’s in danger.” He looked at me. “Look, I’m going to have to tell the boss about this. I’m asking you right now if the DEA had anything to do with her disappearance.”
“A cop almost died in that hospital, John.” I asked myself if Frank could have done it. I know how close he was to Sean, and how guilty he felt. Could he have pulled this off? I couldn’t see it. If he had her, she’d be in a secure hospital facility, surrounded by armed guards. “This wasn’t us. Frank might have taken her into protective custody, but he’d stick her in a military base or a secure hospital, not some small town in Minnesota."
“That brings up the next point. I can read a map; some of those bikers who were here are from northern Minnesota, about three hours from where Harleigh was spotted.” He looked out through the window. “The Orlando cops want blood; one of their men was poisoned and almost died, and they just buried three others. Ten minutes after I go to my boss with this, the Orlando PD and State’s Attorney will be on a plane for Two Harbors to investigate Chase, Rori, and the others they brought down. Nobody goes to northern Minnesota in the winter unless they live there or they are fishing, Frank. It’s going to turn into a shit show, and Harleigh will pay the price.”
He wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t even lunchtime, and I had a headache already. “We can’t let this get out of this office,” I said. “Harleigh’s parents were killed because someone leaked his new identity. I don’t know who took her, but this video shows her safe and guarded. We should leave her alone, John.”
“It’s my ass if Commander Lindstrom finds out I’ve been withholding information from her,” he said as he leaned back.
“What good would it do to find Harleigh Ryder anyway?” He looked at me, confused. “The men who shot her are dead. The ones who took her from the hospital are protecting her. We know the Sons have Cartel contacts, and Frank was worried they have a mole in the DEA, maybe other agencies. Telling your boss about this puts a big target on Harleigh’s back, and that girl has suffered enough already.”
He looked out his window as he tapped his pen on his desk. “What do I say about the videotape?”
“The truth. You investigated, facial recognition showed it was close but not conclusive. Given the differences you saw in appearance, you moved on.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. I was getting nervous, then he slapped the desk and sat up. “Fuck it,” he said. “If you guys did this, or the Brotherhood spirited her away, she’s safer than with us.”
I relaxed and smiled. “Thanks, John. I’ll talk to Director Grimes about this when I see him next.”
“If they’re going to keep her safe, the Brotherhood needs to keep her out of sight,” he said. “You know the Club better than I do. Can you pass along a friendly reminder? One of those ‘I’m not saying, I’m just saying’ warnings?”
I laughed; there were times both sides of the conversation knew exactly what had happened, but neither could openly say it. This was shaping up to be one of those times. “I have nothing else going on. I’ll go talk to Mongo over lunch.”
“Thanks, Frank. I’m completely swamped; I need to get back to writing my reports. How is yours coming?”
“I wish I had left with the Director, that’s how it’s going.” I got up. “Let me at least bring lunch back for you.”
He wrote down his Chick-Fil-A order and I left him to his work. I grabbed my suit jacket and sunglasses and walked out to my rental car, driving the familiar roads to the Steel Brotherhood clubhouse. The Club was still paranoid about security; I parked on the street near the gate to their new building and made a call. “Mongo, it’s Agent Frank Donovan of the DEA,” I said when he answered. “I’m outside your Clubhouse, and I was wondering if you had time for lunch.”
“As long as you like Chick-Fil-A.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes. Is it all right if I bring the Old Lady along? She gets cranky if I get waffle fries without her.”
“Why not,” I said. “I’m parked by the gate, and the car’s already cooled down if you want me to drive.”
“I’d rather ride,” he said. “Follow me to paradise when I pull out.”
It took a few minutes before I heard the Harley coming out, one of the biggest they made being ridden by a huge biker and his Old Lady. I turned my rental car around and followed them a half-dozen blocks to the crowded restaurant. “What do you need to talk about,” Mongo asked as I held the door open for them.
“Not now,” I said. I ordered my favorite Spicy Chicken Sandwich meal with a shake and fries, along with John’s order to go. They looked at me funny but ordered theirs to go as well. When it came out, I led them back out to my car, and we all got in as I fired up the air conditioning. “Before I start, I need to warn you not to say anything in response to what I tell you. If you did what I think you did, I understand why and I don’t care how. I don’t want to know what you know, and nobody else needs to know either.”
Three Tequila looked at me like I was drunk. “Are you feeling all right, Agent Donovan?”
I just nodded and pulled out my sandwich. “Just remember that we have eyes and ears everywhere. Don’t trust phones or emails, and don’t forget that everyone in the country has a cellphone camera now.” I gave them a minute to think about it while I had a couple of bites. “Yesterday, Harleigh was spotted with her bodyguard at a pizza place in Wadena, Minnesota.”
Three Tequila started to say something, but Mongo pulled her back, shaking his head. “How?”
“Someone recognized her in the restaurant, and that person took a picture of her and put in on Facebook. It came to the attention of an FBI agent, who thankfully talked to me before he went to his boss. Facial recognition confirmed it is her.” I paused, watching their expressions. If they were hiding her, they were doing a hell of job pretending she was dead. “You have to make sure she stays safe and completely out of sight. I think I was able to squash this, but if the Sons find out she’s alive, she’s their number one target. The Director doesn’t want his friend’s only daughter to die because Chase and your other Club members in Minnesota are getting sloppy.”
I finished my sandwich as Three Tequila started crying, burying her face in her old man’s broad chest. I got out, tossing my trash away, then I opened the door for them. “Make sure he understands and keeps her safe,” I said as they got out.
“Agent Donovan,” Mongo said.
“Don’t say anything,” I said. “Go back inside and eat. You have my number.” He nodded and walked her away; she was clinging to his side and barely holding on. I got back in, driving away.
He hadn’t told her the Brotherhood had spirited Harleigh away; you can’t fake the reaction Three Tequila had to the news. She’d gone all this time thinking she was kidnapped or dead, and it had put her through hell.
He’d be lucky if he had a doghouse to sleep in tonight.