It arrived safely with a million other letters, tons of paperwork shipped into the capital to sustain the government for one more day. It was sorted by zip code, then by street. Three days after Buster dropped it off, Ricky's last letter to Al Konyers made it to Chevy Chase. A routine check of Mailbox America by a surveillance team found it. The envelope was examined, then quickly taken to Langley.
Teddy was between briefings, alone for a moment in his office, when Deville rushed in, holding a thin file. "We got this thirty minutes ago;" he said as he handed over three sheets of paper. "It's a copy. The original is in the file."
The Director adjusted his bifocals and looked at the copies before he began reading. There was the Florida postmark, same as always. The handwriting was too familiar. He knew it was serious trouble before he began reading.
In your last letter you tried to end our correspondence. Sorry, it won't be that easy. I'll get right to the point. I'm not Ricky, and you're not Al. I'm in a prison, not some fancy drug rehab clinic.
I know who you are, Mr. Lake. I know you're having a great year, just wrapped up the nomination and all, and you have all that money pouring in. They give us newspapers here at Trumble, and we've been following your success with great pride.
Now that I know who Al Konyers really is, I'm sure you'd like for me to keep quiet about our little secret. I'll be happy to remain silent, but it will cost you dearly.
I need money, and I want out of prison. I can keep secrets and I know how to negotiate.
The money is the easy part, because you have so much of it. My release will be more complicated, but you're collecting all sorts of very powerful friends. I'm sure you'll think of something.
I have nothing to lose, and I'm willing to ruin you if you don't negotiate with me.
My name is Joe Roy Spicer. I'm an inmate at Trumble Federal Prison.You figure out a way to contact me, and do it quickly.
I will not go away.
Joe Roy Spicer
The next briefing was canceled. Deville foundYork, and ten minutes later they were locked away in the bunker. Killing them was the first option discussed. Argrow could do it with the right tools; pills and poisons and such. Yarber could die in his sleep. Spicer could drop dead on the track. Beech the hypochondriac could get a bad prescription from the prison pharmacy. They were not particularly fit or healthy, and certainly no match for Argmw. A nasty fall, a broken neck. There were many ways to make it look natural or accidental.
It would have to be done quickly, while they were still waiting for a reply from Lake.
But it would be messy, and unduly complicated. Three dead bodies all at once, in a harmless little prison like Trumble. And the three were close friends who spent most of their time together, and they would each die in different ways within a very short period of time. It would create an avalanche of suspicion. What if Argrow became a suspect? His background was hidden to begin with.
And the Trevor factor frightened them. Wherever he was, there was the chance he would hear of their deaths. The news would scare him even more, but it might also make him unpredictable. There was a chance he knew more than they thought.
Deville would work on plans to take them out, but Teddy was very reluctant. He had no qualms about killing the three, but he was not convinced it would protect Lake.
What if the Brethren had told someone else?
There were too many unknowns. Make the plans, Deville was told, but they would be used only when every other option was gone.
All scenarios were on the table.York suggested, for the sake of argument, that the letter be returned to the box so Lake could find it. It was his screwup to begin with.
"He wouldn't know what to do," Teddy said.
The thought of Aaron Lake reacting to this ambush and somehow trying to silence the Brethren was almost amusing, but there was a strong element of justice to it. Lake had created this mess; let him handle it.
"Actually, we created this mess," Teddy said, "and we'll deal with it."
They couldn't predict, and thus they couldn't control, what Lake would do. Somehow the fool had avoided their net long enough to drop something in the mail to Ricky. And he'd been so stupid that the Brethren now knew who he was.
Not to mention the obvious: Lake was the type of person who secretly swapped letters with a gay pen pal. He was living a double life, and didn't deserve a lot of confidence.
Confronting Lake was discussed for a moment.York had been advocating a showdown since the first letter from Trumble, but Teddy wasn't convinced. The sleep he'd lost fretting over Lake was always filled with thoughts and hopes of stopping the mail long before now. Quietly take care of the problem, then have a chat with the candidate.
Oh, how he'd love to confront Lake. He'd love to sit him in a chair over there and start flashing copies of all those damned letters up on a screen. And a copy of the ad from Out and About. He'd tell him about Mr. Quince Garbe in Bakers, Iowa, another idiot who fell for the scam, and Curtis Vann Gates in Dallas. "How could you be so stupid!?" he wanted to scream at Aaron Lake.
But Teddy kept his eye on the bigger picture. The problems with Lake were small when compared to the urgency of national defense. The Russians were coming, and when Natty Chenkov and the new regime seized power the world would change forever.
Teddy had neutralized men far more powerful than three felonious judges rotting away in a federal prison. Meticulous planning was his strong suit. Patient, tedious planning.
The meeting was interrupted by a message from Deville's office. Trevor Carson's passport had been scanned at a departure checkpoint at the airport in Hamilton, Bermuda. He left on a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, that was scheduled to land in about fifty minutes.
"Did we know he was in Bermuda?"York asked.
"No, we did not," Deville answered. "Evidently he entered without using his passport."
"Maybe he's not as drunk as we thought."
"Do we have someone in Puerto Rico?" Teddy asked, his voice only a shade more excited.
"Of course," said York.
"Let's pick up the scent."
"Have the plans changed for ole Trevor?" Deville asked.
"No, not at all,"Teddy said. "Not at all."
Deville left to deal with the latest Trevor crisis. Teddy called an assistant and ordered mint tea. York was reading the letter again. When they were alone, he asked, "What if we separate them?"
"Yes, I was thinking of that. Do it quickly, before they have time to confer. Send them to three prisons far apart, put them in isolation for a period of time, make sure they have no phone privileges, no mail. Then what? They still have their secret. Any one of them could conceivably ruin Lake."
"I'm not sure we have the contacts within the Bureau of Prisons."
"It can be done. If necessary, I'll have a chat with the Attorney General."
"Since when did you become friends with the Attorney General?"
"It's a matter of national security."
"Three crooked judges sitting in a federal prison in Florida can somehow affect national security? I'd like to hear that conversation."
Teddy sipped his tea with his eyes closed, all ten forgers on the cup. "It's too risky," he whispered. "We make them mad, they become even more erratic. We can't take chances here."
"Suppose Argrow can find their records;'York said. "Think about it-these are con men, convicted criminals. No one will believe their story about Lake unless they have proof. The proof is documentation, pieces of paper, originals and copies of the correspondence. The proof exists somewhere. We find it, take it from them, then who will listen?"
Another small sip with his eyes closed, another long pause. Teddy shifted slightly in his chair and grimaced from the pain. "True," he said softly. "But I'm worried about somebody on the outside, somebody we know nothing about. These guys are a step ahead of us, and they always will be. We're trying to figure out what they've known for some time. I'm not sure we'll ever catch up. Maybe they've thought about losing their htde files. I'm sure the prison has rules against maintaining such paperwork, so they're already hiding things. The Lake letters are much too valuable not to copy again and stash on the outside."
"Trevor was their mailman. We've seen every letter he's carried out of Trumble for the past month."
"We think we have. But we don't know for certain,"
"Spicer has a wife. She's been to see him. Yarber's getting a divorce, but who knows what they're doing. She's visited in the past three months. Or maybe they're bribing guards to run mail for them. These people are bored and they're smart and they're very creative. We can't just assume we know everything they're up to. And if we make a mistake here, if we assume too much, then Mr. Aaron Lake gets himself shoved out of the closet."
"How? How would they do it?"
"Probably contact a reporter, feed him one letter at a time until he was convinced. It would work."
"The press would go insane."
"It can't happen,York. We simply cannot allow it to happen."
Deville returned in a rush. US. Customs had been notified by the authorities in Bermuda ten minutes after the flight departed for San Juan. Trevor would be landing in eighteen minutes.
Trevor was just following his money. He had quickly grasped the fundamentals of wire transfers, and was now perfecting the art. In Bermuda, he had sent half of it to a bank in Switzerland, and the other half to a bank in Grand Cayman. East or west? That had been the great question. The quickest flight out of Bermuda went to London, but the idea of sneaking through Heathrow scared him. He was not a wanted man, at least not by the government. No charges were filed or pending. But the Brits were so efficient at customs. He'd go west and take his chances in the Caribbean.
He landed in San Juan and went straight to a bar where he ordered a tall draft and studied the flights. No hurry, no pressure, a pocket full of cash. He could go anywhere, do anything, and take as long as he wanted. He had another draft and decided to spend a few days in Grand Cayman, with his money. He went to the Air Jamaica counter and bought a ticket, then back to the bar because it was almost five and he had thirty minutes before boarding.
Of course he flew first class. He boarded early so he could get another drink, and as he watched the other passengers file by he saw a face he'd seen before.
Where was it now? Just moments ago, somewhere in the airport. A long thin face, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, and little narrow slits for eyes behind square glasses. The eyes glanced at him just long enough to meet Trevor's, then looked away, down the aisle, as if nothing had been seen.
It had been near the airline counter, as Trevor was turning to leave after buying his ticket. The face was watching him. The man was standing nearby, studying the departure notices.
When you're on the run, the stray glances and second looks and drifting eyes all seem more suspicious. See a face once, and you don't even know it. See it again a half hour later, and somebody is watching every move you make.
Stop drinking,Trevor ordered himself. He asked for coffee after takeoff, and drank it quickly He was the first passenger off the plane in Kingston, and he walked quickly through the terminal, through immigration. No sign of the man behind him.
He grabbed his two small bags and raced for the taxi stand.