“Text me the information, and I’ll get somebody over there.”
“Thanks. We have to assume any bomb plot is now in progress. If it was an anniversary bombing, they’re not waiting anymore.” Chris would fill him in about the sexting later, which would have accelerated the plot.
“Agree, they have to know we’re onto them by now. Meantime we’ll liaise with Homeland Security, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the FBI. They’re all here. You need to get up here after you assess the situation at the Wheeler house.”
“Okay. You going to send a helo for me?” Chris knew that getting a helo wasn’t always easy for ATF, which no longer had an aviation fleet. It received air support from DEA and U.S. Customs & Border Protection, through a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU.
“Yes, we got all the toys up here.”
“Good. Let me let you go. Call the locals and I’ll meet them there.”
“That’s no fun,” Chris said, hearing the bravado in his own voice. He used to say things like that all the time, but the words didn’t fit so easily in his mouth anymore. He’d liked risk before, when he had nothing to lose. Now, it was different. Or it could have been.
Chris turned right, then left. At the first red light, he texted the Rabbi the photos from his phone. When the light turned green, he headed through the quiet suburbs late on a Sunday night, when everybody thought their biggest worry was work or school the next morning.
He had to make sure they were right.
Chris turned into Murray Hills, and the development was quiet, the houses still and darkened. He turned onto Mole Road, found the house, parked in front, and hustled out of the Jeep. He had beat the local police.
The Wheeler’s house was quiet, still, and dark, but a black BMW sat parked in the driveway behind a white Acura. It had to be Evan’s. Chris hustled to the BMW, pulling out his phone and switching to the flashlight function. He reached the car, scanning inside, but saw nothing.
“Evan?” he called out, but there was no response, and Chris prayed the boy wasn’t in the trunk, alive or dead. He would’ve popped it but he had to get inside the house. He jogged across the patch of front lawn, and when he reached the concrete steps in front of the door, he noticed that the front door stood partway open behind the screen door. The house was darkened inside.
Chris slipped his phone in his back pocket and pulled his gun from his shoulder holster, entering as quietly as possible. He found himself in a small living room and though the lights were off, he could see a dark figure lying motionless on the floor.
“Evan!” Chris rushed to the figure’s side, kneeling and holstering his weapon. But the figure wasn’t Evan. It was Courtney’s husband, Doug, lying on his back. Blood soaked his T-shirt and the rug around his body, filling the air with its characteristic metallic odor.
“Doug!” Chris palpated under Doug’s chin to feel for a pulse, but there wasn’t any. The man’s flesh felt cool, and his body remained still.
Chris began CPR, pressing down on Doug’s chest, but there was no hope. The vast darkening stain on the rug showed that Doug had sustained a catastrophic loss of blood.
Chris kept compressing Doug’s chest, but it practically caved in from the pressure. He could feel that Doug’s sternum had been shattered and his ribs splintered, so there must have been two or three gunshots. Blood squeezed between Chris’s fingers as he pressed down, and he glanced around to assess whether someone else was in the house, either dead or alive. He was taking a chance that he could be ambushed but he sensed he was alone and he had to give Doug every chance to survive.
“Come on, Doug,” Chris said, trying to massage the man’s heart back to life, but it wasn’t happening. He finally stopped the compressions, feeling as if he were abusing a corpse.
Chris rose, wiped his hands quickly on his jacket, reached for his weapon, and began his walk-through. Courtney could be lying dead somewhere in the house, and so could Evan. He crossed the living room to the kitchen and scanned the room, but it was empty, its red pinpoint lights from the dishwasher, coffeemaker, and microwave clock glowing like a suburban constellation.
Chris hustled back into the living room and spotted a stairwell at the far left, so he went to it and climbed upstairs, looking around. There was a bathroom at the head of the stair, but it was empty, then he advanced down the hallway, ducking into the first room on his left, a master bedroom. Moonlight spilled through its two windows, and he could see there was no one else in the bedroom, which looked in order, not showing signs of struggle or ransacking, as if from a burglary.
Chris ducked out of the first bedroom and went to the second, evidently a spare bedroom with a single bed in the corner, and there was no activity or disturbance in there either.
So far, so good, Chris thought, relieved to see that Evan wasn’t dead and neither was Courtney, at least not at this location. He left the bedroom, hurried back down the hall, and descended the stairwell. He spotted a side door, so he hurried inside, and down a set of stairs. He found himself in a finished basement with a bar, big-screen TV, and framed football jerseys on the wall. It was undisturbed, and there was no exit.
Chris ran upstairs and returned to the living room, where he saw Doug’s body, and he looked down at the fallen man with a stab of anguish. Now two men had been murdered, and there would be more lives lost if he didn’t succeed. He couldn’t bring himself to even think the word, fail. Suddenly he heard the sound of sirens a few blocks away. The local police were en route.
Chris walked to the front door and switched on the light switch with his elbow, illuminating the room to signal that he was inside. The locals must have reached the block because the sirens became earsplitting, and he spotted another light switch next to the door, for the exterior fixture. He flicked it on with his elbow too, casting a yellowish cone around the front door.
Flashing red-and-white lights chased each other around the walls of the living room, accompanied by the blare of sirens, and Chris realized his hands were covered with Doug’s blood. He raised his hands palms up, standard procedure in case the locals hadn’t gotten the message that he was on the scene, an occupational hazard for undercover agents. He knew of a case where two undercover agents almost killed each other, each believing the other was the criminal.