The Brethren - Page 15

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Chapter Fifteen

During lunch, when experience had shown that traffic picked up somewhat at Mailbox America, an agent nonchalantly entered the place behind two other customers, and for the second time that day placed a key in Box 455. Lying on top of three pieces of junk mail-one from a pizza carryout, one from a car wash, one from the US. Postal Service-he noticed something new. It was an envelope, light orange in color, five by eight. With a pair of tweezers he kept on his key ring, he clamped the end of the envelope, slid it quickly from the box, and dropped it in a small leather briefcase. The junk mail was left undisturbed.


At Langley, it was carefitlly opened by experts. Two handwritten pages were removed, and copied.


An hour later, Deville entered Teddy's bunker, holding a file. Deville was in charge of what was commonly referred to, deep inside Langley, as the "Lake mess." He gave copies of the letter to Teddy and York, then scanned it to a large screen, where Teddy and York at first just stared at it. The printing was bold, inblock form, easily readable, as if the author had labored over each word. It read:


Dear Al,


Where you been? Did you get my last letter? I wrote three weeks ago and I haven't heard a word. I guess you're busy, but please don't forget about me. I get very lonely here, and your letters have always inspired me to keep going. They give me strength and hope because I know somebody out there cares. Please don't give up on me, Al.


My counselor says that I might be released in two months. There's a halfway house in Baltimore, actually a few miles from where I grew up, and the people here are trying to get me a spot there. It would be for ninety days, enough time for me to find a job, some friends, etc., you know, get used to society again. It's a lockdown place at night, but I'd be free during the day.


There aren't many good memories, Al. Every person who ever loved me is now dead, and my uncle, the guy who's paying for this rehab, is very rich but very cruel.


I need friends so desperately, Al.


By the way, I've lost another five pounds, and my waist is now a thirty-two. The photo I sent you is getting outdated. I've never liked the way my face looks in it-too much flesh on the cheeks.


I'm much leaner now, and tanned. They let us tan for up to two hours a day here, weather permitting. It's Florida, but some days are too cool. I'll send you another photo, maybe one fiiom the


chest up. I'm lifting weights like crazy. I think


you'll like the next photo.


You said you would send me one of you. I'm still waiting. Please don't forget me, Al. I need one of your letters.


Love, Ricky


Since York had had the responsibility of investigating every aspect of Lake's life, he felt compelled to try and speak first. But he could think of nothing to say. They read the letter in silence again, and again.


Finally, Deville broke the ice by saying, "Here's the envelope." He flashed it on the wall. It was addressed to Mr. Al Konyers, at Mailbox America. The return address was: Ricky, Aladdin North, PO. Box 44683, Neptune Beach, FL 32233.


"It's a front;" Deville said. "There's no such place as Aladdin North. There's a telephone number, and you get an answering service. We've called ten times with questions, but the operators know nothing. We've called every rehab and treatment clinic in North Florida, and no one's heard of this place."


Teddy was silent, still staring at the wall.


"Where's Neptune Beach?"York grunted.


"Jacksonville."


Deville was excused, but told to stand by Teddy began making notes on a green legal pad. "There are other letters, and at least one photo," he said, as if the problem were just part of the routine. Panic was a state unknown to Teddy Maynard.


"We have to find them;" he said.


"We've done two thorough searches of his home," York said.


"Then do a third. I doubt if he would keep such stuff at his office." "How soon-" "Do it now. Lake is in California looking for votes. We have no time on this,York. There may be other secret boxes, other men writing letters and bragging about their tans and waistlines."


"Do you confront him?"


"Not yet."


Since they had no sample of Mr. Konyers' handwriting, Deville made a suggestion that Teddy eventually liked. They would use the ruse of a new laptop, one with a built-in printer. The first draft was composed by Deville andYork, and after an hour or so the fourth draft read as follows:


Dear Ricky:


I got your letter of the twenty-second; forgive me for not writing sooner. I've been on the road , a lot lately, and I'm behind on everything. In fact, I'm writing this letter at thirty-five thousand feet, somewhere over the Gulf, en route to Tampa. And I'm using a new laptop, one so small it almost fits in my pocket. Amazing technology. The printer leaves something to be desired. I hope you can read it okay.


Wonderful news about your release, and the halfway house in Baltimore. I have some business interests there, and I'm sure I can help you find a job.


Keep your head up, only two months to go. You're a much stronger person now, and you're ready to live life to its fullest. Don't be discouraged.


I'll help in any way possible.When you get to Baltimore, I'll be happy to spend some time with you, show you around, you know.


I promise I'll write sooner. I can't wait to hear from you.


Love, Al


They decided Al was in a hurry and forgot to sign his name. The letter was marked up, revised, redrafted, pored over with more care than a treaty. The final version was printed on a piece of stationery from the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, and placed in a thick, plain brown envelope with optic wiring hidden along the bottom edge. In the lower right-hand corner, in a spot that looked as if it had been slightly damaged and knotted in transit, a tiny transmitter the size of a pinhead was installed. When activated, it would send a signal a hundred yards for up to three days.


Since Al was traveling to Tampa, the envelope was stamped with a Tampa postmark, dated that day. This was done in less than half an hour by a team of very strange people down in Documents on the second floor.


At 4 p.m, a green van with many miles on it stopped at the curb in front of Aaron Lake's townhouse, near one of the many shade trees on Thirty-fourth, in a lovely section of Georgetown. Its door advertised a plumbing company in the District. Four plumbers got out and began removing tools and equipment.


After a few minutes, the only neighbor who'd noticed grew bored and returned to her television. With Lake in California, the Secret Service was with him, and his home had yet to qualify for round-the-clock surveillance, at least by the Secret Service. That scrutiny would come quickly, though.


The ploy was a clogged sewer line in the small front lawn, something that could be done without entering the home. An outside job, one that would pacify the Secret Service in case they happened to drop by


But two of the plumbers did indeed enter the home, with their own keys. Another van stopped by to check on progress, and to drop off a tool. Two plumbers from the second van mixed with those already there, and a regular unit began to form.


Inside the house, four of the agents began their tedious search for hidden files. They moved from room to room, inspecting the obvious, prying for the secrets.


The second van left, and a third one came from the other direction and parked with its tires on the sidewalk, as service vans often do. Four more plumbers joined the sewer cleaning, and two eventually drifted inside. After dark, a spotlight was rigged in the front yard, over the sewer cover, and directed into the home so the lights inside would not be noticed. The four men left outside sipped coffee and told jokes .and tried to stay warm. Neighbors hurried by on foot.


After six hours the sewer was clean, as was the home: Nothing unusual was found, certainly no hidden file with correspondence from one Ricky in rehab. No sign of a photo. The plumbers turned off their lights, packed their tools, and disappeared without a trace.


At eight-thirty the next morning, when the doors opened at the Neptune Beach post office, an agent named Barr walked hurriedly in as if he were late for something. Barr was an expert on locks and keys, and he'd spent five hours the previous afternoon at Langley studying various boxes used by the Postal Service. He had four master keys, one of which he was certain would open number 44683. If not, he'd be forced to key it, which might take sixty seconds or so and could possibly draw attention. The third key worked, and Barr placed the brown envelope, postmarked the day before from Tampa, addressed to Ricky with no last name, care ofAladdin North, inside the box. There were two other letters already there. For good measure, he removed a piece of junk mail, then closed the door to the box, wadded up the mail, and threw it in the wastebasket.


Barr and two others waited patiently in a van in the parking lot, sipping coffee and videoing every postal customer. They were seventy yards away from the box. Their handheld receiver beeped with the faint signal from the envelope. A diverse group came and went with the flow-- black female in a short brown dress, a white male with a beard and leather jacket, a white female in a jogging suit, a black male in jeans--all agents of the CIA, all watching the box without a clue about who wrote the letter or where it was going.


Their job was simply to find the person who'd rented the box.


They found him after lunch.


Trevor drank his lunch at Pete's, but only two beers. Cold drafts with salty peanuts fiorn the community bowl, consumed while losing fifty bucks on a dogsled race in Calgary. Back at the office, he napped for an hour, snoring so loudly his longsuffering secretary finally had to close his door. She slammed it actually, but not loud enough to wake him.


Dreaming of sailboats, he made his trek to the post office, this time choosing to walk because the day was beautiful, he had nothing better to do, and his head needed clearing. He was delighted to find four of the little treasures angled neatly in Aladdin North's box. He placed them carefully in the pocket of his wellworn seersucker jacket, straightened his bow tie, and ambled forth, certain that another payday was fast approaching.


He'd never been tempted to read the letters. Let the Brethren do the dirty work. He could keep his hands clean, shuttle the mail, rake his third off the top. And besides, Spicer would kill him if he delivered mail that had been tampered with.


Seven agents watched him stroll back to his office.


Teddy was napping in his wheelchair when Deville entered. York had gone home; it was after 10 p.m. York had a wife, Teddy did not.


Deville delivered his narrative while referring to pages of scribbled notes: "The letter was removed from the box at one-fifty p.m. by a local lawyer named Trevor Carson. We followed him to his office in Neptune Beach, where he stayed for eighty minutes. It's a small one-man office, one secretary, not a lot of clients. Carson is a small-timer along the beaches, does divorces, real estate, two-bit stuff. He's forty-eight, divorced at least twice, native of Pennsylvania, college at Furman, law school at Florida State, got his license suspended eleven years ago for commingling client funds, then got it back."


"All right, all right;" Teddy said.


"At three-thirty, he left his office, drove an hour to the federal prison at Trumble, Florida. Took the letters with him. We followed but lost the signal when he entered the prison. Since then, we've gathered some information about Trumble. It's a minimum-security prison, commonly referred to as a camp. No walls or fences, very low risk inmates. A thousand of them at Trumble. According to a source within the Bureau of Prisons here in Washington, Carson visits all the time. No other lawyer, no other person visits as much as Carson. Up until a month ago he went once a week, now it's at least three times a week. Sometimes four. All visits are official attorney-client conferences."


"Who is his client?"


"It's not Ricky. He is the attorney of record for three judges."


"Three judges?" Yes.


"Three judges in prison?"


"That's right.They call themselves the Brethren."


Teddy closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.


Deville let things sink in for a moment, then continued: "Carson was in the prison for fifty-four minutes, and when he exited we could not pick up the signal from the envelope. By this time, we were parked next to his car. He walked Within five feet of our receiver, and we're certain he did not have the letter. We followed him back to Jacksonville, back to the beaches. He parked near a place called Pete's Bar and Grill, where he stayed for three hours. We searched his car, found his briefcase, and inside there were eight letters addressed to various men all over the country. All letters were outbound from the prison, none were inbound. Evidently, Carson shuttles mail back and forth to his clients. As of thirty minutes ago, he was still in the bar, quite drunk, betting on college basketball games.


"A loser."


"Very much so."


The loser staggered out of Pete's after the second overtime of a game on the West Coast. Spicer had picked three out of four winners. Trevor had dutifully followed suit, and was up a thousand bucks for the night.


Drunk as he was, he was smart enough not to drive. His DUI three years earlier was still a painful memory, and besides the damned cops were all over the place. The restaurants and bars around the Sea Turtle Inn attracted the young and restless, thus the cops.


Walking was a challenge, though. He made it well enough to his office, a straight shot south, past the quiet little summer rentals and retirement cottages, all dark and tucked in for the night. He carried his briefcase with the letters from Trumble.


He pressed onward, searching for his house. He crossed the street for no reason, and half a block later recrossed it. There was no traffic. When he began to circle back, he came within twenty yards of an agent who'd ducked behind a parked car. The silent army watched him, suddenly fearful that the drunken fool might stumble into one of them.


At some point he gave up, and managed to find his office again. He rattled keys on the front steps, dropped his briefcase and forgot about it, and less than a minute after opening the door he was at his desk, sprawled in his swivel rocker, fast asleep, the front door half open.


The back door had been unlocked throughout the night. Following orders from Langley, Barr and company had entered the office and wired everything. There was no alarm system, no locks on the windows, nothing of value to attract thievery in the first place. Tapping the phones and bugging the walls had been an easy task, made so by the obvious fact that no one on the outside observed anything inside the offices of L. Trevor Carson, Attorney and Counselor-at-Law.


The briefcase was emptied, its contents cataloged at Langley's instructions. Langley wanted a precise record of the letters the lawyer had taken from Trumble. When everything had been inspected and photographed, the briefcase was placed in the hallway near his office. The snoring was impressive, and uninterrupted.


Shortly before 2, Barr managed to start the Beetle parked near Pete's. He drove it down the empty street and left it innocently on the curb in front of the law office, so that the drunk would rub his eyes in a few hours and pat himself on the back for such a nice job of driving. Or maybe he would shrink in horror at the thought of having driven while intoxicated once again. Either way, they'd be listening.


***



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