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Glenn's roommate woke him up. He looked at the clock. 8:40. "I was asleep?"
"Yeah. Hard day, huh?" Tom smiled at him.
"Hard day. What's that disk there?"
Tom held it up and looked at it. "Oh, this. Well, I'm going out tonight — gonna run down to Mancini's and grab a few — I'll be back in about two hours. Do me a favor and encrypt this while I'm out. You have PGP, right?"
"Yeah," Glenn said. "Why d'you want it encrypted? What's on it?"
"Don't worry about what's on it. Just get it encrypted, alright?" He tossed the disk onto the bed beside him.
Glenn picked it up and shook his head. "Yeah, OK, whatever." He mumbled some more things under his breath as Tom walked out. He'd been getting really weird these past few weeks. He was looking at conspiracy pages on the Internet all the time, instead of porno like any normal college kid. All this UFO stuff and everything.
And the people he was starting to hang around with! He stopped socializing with all the other computer majors and started talking to all these really weird anarchist people. There was this one guy, his name was Confucius or something like that, that Tom talked to on IRC and e-mail all the time. This guy said he was involved with covering up UFOs or something, but he didn't trust his employers anymore. Something like that. Glenn liked The X-Files as much as the next guy, but if he didn't know better, he'd think that Tom was starting to believe all that stuff. Heh.
He stuck the disk in the drive and opened it up. It was stupid, but he'd encrypt the damn thing anyway. What the hell. When he opened it, he was amazed. The disk was full—but there was only one file on it. And it was a .txt file, at that. Kugelblitz.txt. Glenn shrugged and opened up the file. The hard drive worked for a moment, and after a moment kugelblitz.txt popped up on the monitor before him.
Glenn spent twenty minutes skimming the file and then he closed it out hurriedly. Maybe Tom wasn't as crazy as he'd thought he was. He encrypted the file for his roommate and took the disk out of the drive.
* * * * *
Tom sat contentedly in a back booth, watching the television that sat at the bar and gulping down his Miller. An hour and a half and six Millers later, he got up from his seat, crushed out his cigarette, and advanced towards the front door. He walked out onto Brook Street.
It was getting cold out, and it was raining, again. He left the blue neon light behind and began walking home. He walked over the little bridge crossing Crockman's Run. He shivered just looking at the rushing water. They were calling for floods, he heard. He kept going.
Up ahead there - was it just the effects of the alcohol, or was someone coming down the street towards him? "No," he whispered to himself as he contemplated the possibility of it being one of them. But no, it was just some guy from school. He turned back around and there he stood - a big guy with a jacket, and he didn't look too pleased.
"I don't want no trouble," Tom said, and moved to keep going. The big guy took a hold of his arm.
"It's a little late for that," he said. Tom caught sight of a gun under the guy's jacket, and he knew who he was. Tom's eyes grew and he ran straight ahead. A lance of pain seared through his leg, and he fell to the ground. As he lay there bleeding, the man looked at his face.
"Where's the disk?" the assassin said, raindrops making little noises like muffled gunshots on his back. "Where is it?"
Tom looked back, terrified. "I - I don't have it. It's back at my room."
The big man threw Tom back on the ground. "You better hope nobody else sees it." Then he got his gun and struck him across the face with it. He motioned with the barrel. "Up."
Tom tried to stand, but the man pushed him back down. "On your knees. Face the water." He complied and began praying as he sat there. He heard the click of the pistol being cocked.
The rushing water disappered abruptly in a white flash, and then Tom knew no more.
* * * * *
Can't a man do his work in peace? He sighed as he looked up from the paperwork he was filling out. Dewey Escalante's dark-ringed eyes, the result of forcing himself to stay up late on one too many nights working on some case or another, focused on the image silhouetted in his door. The lights didn't even have to be on for him to know who it was.
"What, Pierce?" Escalante asked, rubbing the three day's worth of beard stubble on his chin. "What is it now? Some road signs get stolen again?" Five years, now—five years he'd been working at the P.D. here in this damned hick-town. He needed to get back to New York, that's what he needed. At least it was never a boring job there.
"No, not quite. Nobody's jaywalked recently, either. Rothman just called. He's up at Crockman's Run checking out a murder."
"Murder, eh? Things are certainly getting livened up around here. What's the occasion? Happy hour at Mancini's?"
Pierce chuckled. "I'll dispatch men to check out that possibility. Anyway, Rothman wants you to go up there and help out. Seems to have some kind of damn fool idea that you're a good detective or something."
He sighed again. "Yeah, go wait in the car. I'll be out in a minute."
Pierce turned and left the office. Dewey shuffled through the forms he'd been filling out, got them in order, and gulped down the rest of his coffee. This better be good, he thought as he rushed out the door.
* * * * *
The squad car drove slowly northward towards the crime scene. Pierce leaned forward towards Detective Escalante, the ripped vinyl seat covering making a peculiar rustling squeak as he did so. "Rothman says that this is probably one of the strangest things he's ever seen."
The New Yorker didn't say anything. He just sat staring out the window, at the neon signs and passing headlights blurred by the driving rain that seemed attached to this tiny little burg like a parasite. A big blue neon sign hung out front of Mancini's, one of God-alone-knew how many bars around here. Escalante looked at it and his mind was cast back five years, back to that guy on the NYPD—what the hell was his name? Oh yeah, Ramirez, who'd said that the world was coming to an end or something, that nobody could stop it. Ramirez, who held up a bar in the city saying it didn't matter whether he killed his hostages or not, because they were all dead one way or the other. The guy was crazier than a bedbug, sure, but Escalante felt sorry to have to pull the trigger. Damn shame when a cop goes bad.
There was a grinding sound as the car drove down the slight incline into Brookside Park. Yellow police tape was stretched between a couple of trees, cutting off an area about twenty square meters adjacent to the creek, swollen to its banks from all the rain. In one corner lay a body, covered in a white sheet.
"Detective Escalante." Fred Rothman nodded at him.
"What do you have for me, Fred?" the detective said, burying his hands deeper in the pockets of his trenchcoat. Then, looking over at the body and the sizable bloodstain where its face would be, "I guess it's safe to say this guy didn't fall in the creek?"
"He might have. But he sure had some help with that." Rothman bent down. "This is going to be pretty nasty, Dewey."
"It's alright. I worked homicide for six years in New York, remember? I'm used to this kind of thing."
Rothman nodded again and pulled back the sheet. The subject — he looked male, although Escalante couldn't really tell — had a gaping wound where his face would be. He bent down. "Exit wound?" he asked, pointing to the face or lack thereof.
"Uh-huh. The entry wound's in the back of his head. We figure it was some kind of explosive round or something, went off inside the guy's head and wiped out his face." He paused. "Another shot in the back of the leg."
Escalante looked puzzled. "What've you been able to figure out so far?"
"Not much," Rothman said. "There was a wallet on the shore. Looked like it had been looked through quickly and discarded. Say hello to Thomas Anthony Matthiessen, age 22. Student at Ashford, as near as we can tell."
Pierce pointed at the body. "This is a college kid?"
"As far as we know. Bizarre, isn't it?"
"Drugs?" asked Escalante.
"Don't know. We'll have to wait for the toxicology screen. As to time of death, we place it at about 10:30," Rothman said.
"Hasn't been dead very long," said Escalante, looking back towards the car. "Why don't you get this kid back to the morgue and start with the autopsy. I'll talk to Ashford tomorrow and see what I can find out about Mr. Matthiessen." Rothman nodded, and as the body was loaded onto a stretcher, Escalante and Pierce went back to the car.
Pierce looked grim. "That was certainly lovely. Never seen anything like it."
"I have. It's an execution method used for disposing of, uh, threats. I've seen it in New York several times."
"What sort of threats?"
Dewey coughed. "All kinds. The KGB used to be notorious for using this style of killing. 'Punishment method,' they call it. Used it a lot for double agents, spies, high-profile thieves, that kinda thing. Rumor is, some of our boys use it, too. This kid, this Matthiessen, he must've been mixed up with something big."
Damn. This kind of stuff was one of the reasons he left New York in the first place. Stuff like this happened every day there. Yep, every freakin' day.
Torrington, Pennsylvania, was finally seeing some interesting goings-on.
* * * * *
Escalante turned down the collar of his trenchcoat and walked into the offices at Ashford. Toxicology on the body had shown that the only 'drug' in Matthiessen's system at the time of the murder was about seven beers' worth of alcohol.
He walked up to the desk and showed his ID. "I'm Detective Dewey Escalante, with the Torrington police, and we've…had an incident in town. One of your students here was involved, a Thomas A. Matthiessen."
The blonde woman at the desk looked shocked. "Is this that murder that happened down at Brookside Park? What happened there, anyway?"
"Yes it is, and we can't really speculate on what happened yet. Too soon to tell. But I'll need everything you have on Matthiessen."
The woman nodded, punched something up on the computer, and printed it out. "Here. This is all we've got."
"Thank you." Escalante took the papers and walked out of the building. A computer major. Good grades. No prior record at all. Absolutely nothing to give them any leads on what had happened.
As he stepped out of the building, his cellular phone rang. "Hello?"
"Dewey. This is Pierce. We've got some interesting stuff for you. That Matthiessen kid? I guess you were right when you said he was mixed up with something big. We ran his ID through are computers. Apparently, he was being pursued by the NSA."
Escalante couldn't believe his ears. "The NSA? What for?"
"Something about computer hacking, I don't know. But that doesn't make sense. Doesn't the FBI usually handle computer crimes investigations?"
"I'm up at Ashford right now. I'm holding his records in my hand, and according to this, he doesn't have a record at all, not even for underage drinking. I'm going to do some more digging around here. Try to get a hold of someone at the NSA and see what you can find out." He hung up.
He drew up to the door of Wilde Hall, the school's main computer building. He'd found out that Matthiessen spent a lot of time here. Escalante crushed out his Marlboro on the ground before walking into the building.
He eventually found a college kid walking around. When he saw Escalante, he reeled back.
The detective pulled out his badge. "I'm Detective Escalante, with the police."
The kid nodded, pausing then to brush his long blonde hair back from his face. He sniffed and extended his hand. "Glenn Ellefson."
"I'm here investigating a murder that happened last night. Did you know Thomas Matthiessen?"
"Yeah. Police called me down there last night to ID the body."
"Did you notice anything…odd about him lately?"
Ellefson nodded. "Yeah. He'd been getting really weird the past few months. He was getting really paranoid, you know. He started reading all that government UFO conspiracy stuff. And he started drinking, which was weird for him."
"How about last night? You notice anything?"
Glenn looked at the detective. "Yeah, as a matter of fact. He gave me a disk for me to encrypt."
"What was on it?"
"A text file. One big long file. He said that people were trying to get it."
Escalante rubbed the stubble on his face. "Do you think that's what got him killed?"
Glenn swallowed. "Yeah, I'd say so. I don't know what the file was, but it looked really official. I couldn't read it all — parts of it were German — but what I saw was some very Mulder and Scully-ish stuff. You know, UFOs and all that."
He was stuck investigating a murder about UFOs. Perfect. Not that he was surprised. It all started with the run-in with Ramirez — the proverbial cop gone bad — back in New York. Ramirez had been going bonkers for a couple months before Chief Halloran gave him his pink slip and told him he never wanted to see him again. Halloran must've been disappointed.
A few weeks later, he had to see Ramirez again when a couple of guys on the force — Escalante among them — got called down to a bank in the city that had been held up. And sure enough, they picked up Hector Ramirez himself for questioning. It had been an easy confession — only took about ten minutes to get him to admit he held up the bank. Then one of the cops — what the hell was his name? — made the mistake of asking Ramirez why.
He'd started babbling on and on about aliens and how it was up to him to defeat them, how they wanted to take over the planet or something. He needed the money to get to some place in Russia, Podkamia or something like that, said that was the alien's hideout and he needed to kill them all. Ramirez was about as crazy as they came. And then he escaped from police custody that day.
Well, they heard from Ramirez the next day. The owner of a bar down near Central Park called the police up. Some crazy Spanish guy was holding the bar up, had locked all the patrons in. The police got down there, found Ramirez. Ramirez said he wasn't gonna let the people go. He started yelling at them, saying if they didn't let him go to Russia he'd kill all the patrons. After all, it didn't matter if they died. The aliens were coming. The NYPD had no choice, they killed the crazy fuck first chance they got.
Ever since then, murders with these weird sorts of connections followed Escalante around. Or was he just seeking them out? Who knew. And now here was another one, with this Matthiessen kid. Shit.
* * * * *
Ellefson hit the keys at near-blinding speed, the detective wincing slightly at the white jumble of letters and numbers appearing on the stark black screen. He shook his head. This computer-programming stuff was all Greek to him. Obviously it wasn't to Ellefson. In a few moments, he'd accessed Matthiessen's e-mail log. With a sudden exhalation of air from his nostrils that sounded like a cross between a chuckle and a sneeze, he muttered, "There's a surprise."
"Well, there's a lot of messages on here from some guy with the handle Sun Tzu," Ellefson said, staring intently at the 'Saved Messages' folder of Matthiessen's e-mail account. "I could've guessed that. Tom'd been talking to this guy on IRC and stuff all the time these last few weeks. Claims to be part of the government cover-up of UFOs. I think we both know how likely that is." Ellefson looked through the messages for several more minutes. "Here's something interesting. A bunch of messages from people in the government. FBI, CDC…"
With a sudden motion, Escalante looked up. "What are the names?"
"Lemme see…the FBI guy is a Henry Gonzalez, the CDC is a Dr. Christopher Fogelberg. Mean anything to you?"
"Maybe," he replied quickly.
Ellefson frowned. "Well, doesn't look like there's anything else interesting."
"Well," Escalante said, getting out of his chair, "thanks for your help. I'll be in touch with you if I need anything else."
"Alright. Later, detective."
As Escalante exited the building and made his way back to his car, he thought to himself. Gonzalez and Fogelberg. He'd encountered them once before, on a case he worked in Baychester. That was certainly a bizarre case, one of the weirdest he'd ever worked on.
He remembered it as if it were yesterday. August 12, 1995. At first, it thad started out like an average homicide. Seems a number of local kids had been vanishing: sometimes they found a body, sometimes not. Only took the police about three days to track down the suspect, a construction worker, Earl Sklar.
Well, after that, what Escalante called the "Ramirez Effect" kicked in, and the case got downright strange. First, Sklar started to claim he'd been abducted by aliens. Big surprise. Then Gonzalez and Fogelberg showed up. Gonzalez's story at least washed. He'd said that Sklar was suspected in some murders up by Yonkers somewhere. But Fogelberg's story didn't wash, there was no two ways about it. He said something about Sklar having some kind of brain fever, something like that.
He had no idea how that case ever turned out. Fogelberg and Gonzalez said the Feds were taking over the investigation. Escalante was off the case. He'd known the two Feds long enough to know he didn't care for their company. It was right after that he left for Torrington.
Why was Matthiessen mixed up with them? Escalante asked himself this question as he walked up to his Ford Taurus parked out front of the admissions office. He reached out and grabbed the sheet of bright yellow paper stuck underneath his windshield wiper. Damn ticket. Didn't they see his police tags?
Only it wasn't a ticket. Several lines of scrawled writing barely identifiable as English were written on the paper in black ink. "Detective Escalante," it read, "I've recently become aware of your interest in the Matthiessen case. Meet me at Mancini's tonight at 7:00 for further information. Sun Tzu."
Matthiessen's informant, he thought to himself as he fumbled with his key. Maybe he knows what's up with the case. Maybe.
* * * * *
Escalante was sitting in his car, watching the raindrops run their courses down the windshield, listening to the measured and dull squeak of the windshield wipers. As he navigated the rain-slicked streets, a thousand possible scenarios for what Matthiessen was involved in, why he had been in contact with Agent Gonzalez and Dr. Fogelberg, all ran through his mind.
As he pulled in along the curb of Brook Street across from the bar where Sun Tzu had told him to meet him, the middle-aged detective glanced at an expanse of overgrown land, the black-faced macadam of the lot crumbling as who knew how many weeds pushed their way through. Almost involuntarily, he walked across the street and straight into the lot.
A tiny and badly polluted brook, little more than a trickle, ran through the lot. Yes, it was in just such a place as this that he worked his first homicide case in New York, the murder of Melissa Thomson. The "Blacker Dahlia," some clever journalist had called it, playing off the similarities between it and an unsolved killing in L.A. half a century before.
As Escalante replayed the specifics of that case in his mind, he was astounded by how much he recalled. It was unfortunate for him that was his first case on homicide; the other cops told him it would only get worse from there, and they were right. But that case wasn't one that one would tend to remember a lot about. He couldn't help but think that that memory was a sign of things to come.
He shrugged, eager to get all memories of Thomson's slaying out of his head, and jogged out of the vacant lot and back onto the sidewalk, and from there into Mancini's. An average bar, he thought as he stood in the doorway. The smell of tobacco smoke mixed with alcohol permeated the air in the place.
I must be getting too old for this, he thought as he took a dimly-lit booth, the blaring music making his ears bleed. After he had waited there for nearly fifteen minutes, a short Japanese man walked up to him.
"Yes," he said, standing up. "Sun Tzu?"
The Japanese man looked around and then took a seat. "You weren't followed?"
"Good. Now listen to what I have to say." He turned, looked around, turned back to Escalante. "My employers had an interest in seeing Matthiessen eliminated."
The detective's expression changed to one of suspicion. "You were involved in the murder?" Then, "You're the guy Matthiessen was in contact with."
He shook his head. "I didn't say that. He was a hacker—I'm sure you know that. He had found some information which was very incriminating to my employers."
"The disk Ellefson told me about?"
Sun Tzu nodded. "I've been sent to retrieve the information. I can't help you unless you promise that I will have your full cooperation in that matter."
Escalante thought carefully. "You have my word."
The Japanese man paused a moment before answering. "Good. Find Dietrich Grohl. He's just been admitted to Bethesda. His name's in the files Matthiessen had obtained."
"He can tell you what you need to know. He can tell you everything." Sun Tzu finished off his beer and got up. As he stood there, he turned to the detective again. "Meet me tomorrow, 7:30 AM at the park where Matthiessen was killed with the disk and I'll get you the clearance you'll need to see Grohl."
* * * * *
The tall, thin Hispanic man watched Sun Tzu leave the booth. He'd certainly been a lot of help, he thought sarcastically. Escalante withdrew his cell phone from the pocket of his trench coat, which lay on the leatherized vinyl seat next to him, and dialed Pierce's number.
"Dewey—I was just about to call you," Pierce answered, his voice having a somewhat disappointed tone to it.
"Did you manage to get in touch with anybody at the NSA?"
"Yeah. At least the person who I talked to had no idea what I was talking about. There was no NSA investigation in this region."
Escalante looked shocked. "What?"
"The Feds weren't after Matthiessen, as near as I can tell."
"At Ashford, I talked to Matthiessen's roommate. From what he said, it's pretty much undeniable that somebody was after him."
"Well, that puts a new light on things. That implies that the NSA either was after him for something really, really big, or that somebody else was, and they're covering their tracks."
"My money's on the latter," the ex-homicide detective said ominously.
"Meaning?" asked Pierce.
"Meaning I just met with a guy calling himself Sun Tzu. He was in contact with Matthiessen for the last few weeks. He claims he's part of a conspiracy."
"You're paranoid, Escalante. Next you're gonna tell me this guy has something to do with UFOs."
"I don't know. Maybe he does. His roommate said that he was given a disk by Matthiessen shortly before the murder. He said there was some UFO-related information on it. And this Sun Tzu guy said that his employers, whoever they may be, could be damaged by the information on this disk and that they were awfully eager to get their hands on it. I've agreed to turn the disk over to Sun Tzu."
Pierce sighed. "You're right, I guess. UFO or not, there does seem to be something bigger going on here."
"I'm heading to Bethesda tomorrow. I'm going to assign some guards to Matthiessen's roommate. Even though I'm turning over the disk, he may still be in danger," said Escalante.
"Bethesda, Maryland?" asked Pierce, incredulous. "What the hell for?"
"There's a guy at the Naval Hospital, a Dietrich Grohl."
"Grohl," he repeated, "Grohl. I can tell you who he is right now. A pretty famous pilot for the Germans during World War II. A bigwig in the Luftwaffe, I think."
"Hmm. Well, according to Sun Tzu, this Grohl knows some of what's up."
Five minutes later, Escalante was standing outside underneath the overhang out front of Mancini's. The rain-slicked sidewalk and streets glowed eerily with the reflection of the harsh blue light emanating from the neon tubes. He proceeded down the street, but quickly turned the corner onto Lorenz. Escalante, like many homicide cops in the NYPD, mixed unfazeability with a healthy dose of superstition, and he didn't particularly feel like passing the murder scene at night.
* * * * *
The water of Crockman's Run passed sluggishly by Escalante, who was walking through the grass of Brookside Park, the dewdrops on the grass discoloring his leather shoes. The whole place had an air of serenity. It seemed that nature had certainly forgotten about the events which transpired here only two days before, even if few people in Torrington ever would.
7:36. Where the hell is Sun Tzu? he asked himself as he fingered the disk anxiously. He sat down on a bench in a pavilion near the creekside and waited. He didn't have to wait long.
"Detective," said a familiar voice behind him. Escalante turned to see the Japanese man. "Do you have the item?"
Escalante pulled the disk out of his pocket. "Right here."
"Excellent. I appreciate your compliance with my request." He withdrew a laminated badge from his pocket and handed it to the detective. "You'll need this to see Grohl."
Taking the badge, he examined it. The clearance level was marked MAJIC. He didn't recognize it. Sensing his bewilderment, Sun Tzu spoke again. "Very high clearance. Not just everyone has access to this information. Grohl is in possession of extremely compartmentalized knowledge."
Escalante slid the badge into his pocket and got up. Sun Tzu spoke one more time. "Leave for Bethesda immediately. My employers are soon going to have Grohl eliminated for insurance reasons. It is imperative that you hear his story before they get to him."
The detective nodded and headed back to his car. He drove up the slightly inclined gravel road and into Ashton Street.
* * * * *
"Dietrich Grohl, please." Escalante shifted slightly as he flashed the clearance badge. The nurse on duty took the badge and looked it over carefully. She returned it to the detective and punched up something on her computer. She stood up and pointed. "Room 529, elevators are that way."
"Thank you." He was relieved beyond words that the badge had worked. Sun Tzu had come through. He slid into the elevator when it arrived at the first floor, and within two minutes he was standing in front of Room 529. A soldier dressed in combat fatigues and brandishing an impressive-looking rifle stood guard at the door.
"This area is currently off-limits to all but MAJIC personnel." He eyed Escalante expectantly. The detective produced Sun Tzu's badge yet again. The guard checked it against a clipboard in his hand. He nodded and gave it back. "Go on in, Mr. Jameson." He stood aside.
Escalante opened the steel door and walked into a room that smelled of mixed staleness and formaldehyde. He heard the monotonous bleeps of a heart monitor, and glanced at the bed in the corner, which was a mass of tubes, wires and was enclosed by a large, plastic tent. He read the scrawlings on the diagnosis chart hanging at the foot of the bed. It was Grohl, diagnosis was advanced lung cancer and heart disease. Escalante walked over towards the bedside.
"Mr. Grohl?" The old man lying in the bed with tubes in his nostrils was unresponsive. Escalante repeated his greeting and the man slowly turned his head. Escalante took a seat in the chair beside the bed. "I'm here to talk to you. I'm investigating a murder in Torrington, Pennsylvania. I'd recieived word that you could be of some help."
"Murder?" he said with a heavy German accent undimmed by time. Grohl looked at him with old blue eyes and shook his head. "I can be of no help."
"I know who you are, Mr. Grohl. You were a pilot in the Luftwaffe."
"Yes, I served in the Luftwaffe."
"The murder was of a young man, a student. He'd found some computer files with your name and that of several other German Luftwaffe officers."
"I would know nothing about that."
"The files concerned mainly something called Kugelblitz," said Escalante. "You were involved in that."
"Kugelblitz…ball lightning…" Grohl trailed off. "A project I was involved with as a young man. Developing for the Luftwaffe a new aircraft. The prototype was found in the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, as you say."
"You know of the crash in America, at Roswell, shortly after the war. This was a crash of a like kind."
"It was a crash of a UFO?" Escalante asked, unbelieving of what the old German was telling him.
"A flying saucer, yes. A man named Stefan Reichardt had found the object in 1941 and brought it to our attention. The Luftwaffe, we built our own saucers. Kugelblitz was the code name for the project."
"Do you know a man named Graubenstein?"
Grohl's bleary eyes rolled back in his head momentarily. "No."
"The documents say you and he worked together on several occasions."
The near-hairless head of the old man shook back and forth. "I am old. I have forgotten some things. I know not who this Graubenstein is."
"And that you and he disagreed on the future of Kugelblitz," Escalante continued.
"Großteufel," muttered the ancient German, absentmindedly. "Yes. He was in the Schutzstaffel, SS as you say. He was one of the Fuhrer's favorites. He said that the Kugelblitz object, it was a sign from the devils. Folterteufeln…" Grohl's voice trailed off.
The bleeps became more intermittent. "Mr. Grohl?" It was obvious that the heart disease from which he suffered was catching up with the airman. Grohl turned to Escalante and muttered something. "Paperclip…"
Escalante felt someone tugging on his sleeve. He turned and met a familiar face.
"Sun Tzu?" he whispered.
"Quiet," the Japanese man ordered. "You don't know me. Every action has a consequence, you know. Now go. Quickly."
* * * * *
The rain that had covered Torrington and extended most of the way down the East Coast had finally cleared. Escalante was driving on the I-270 near Gaithersburg, momentarily blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the still-wet road, when his cell phone rang.
"Detective," said the familiar voice.
"What happened back there at the hospital?" he asked Sun Tzu.
"The guard at the door reported to my employers access to Grohl's room by unauthorized personnell. I had to get you out of there before they caught up with you."
"You set me up."
"No. I wasn't aware it wouldn't check out."
"What about Grohl?"
"Dead," answered Sun Tzu. "Massive heart attack. No autopsy will be performed, of course. My employers cannot risk exposure."
"So you've said," replied Escalante.
"Be careful, Detective. Your life is now in danger."
The informant hung up. "Asshole," Escalante muttered as he threw the phone onto the passenger seat and drove on. Was Sun Tzu planning to betray him or not? He had no way of knowing. No way at all.
* * * * *
Driving through a forested area in the early twilight, your eyes can sometimes play tricks on you. Already watching the roadside suspiciously as a result of the warning Sun Tzu had given him, Escalante's perception had deceived him on numerous occasions. He saw — or thought he saw — ominous-looking, black-clad figures at the roadside on many an occasion. But they proved to be only stunted trees, and the result of his own imagination. So he wasn't exactly prepared when another figment of his imagination stopped him near Catoctin.
A bluish-gray car — he didn't know what it was, some kind of sporty model — drove suddenly out of a side road and sat itself in the road in front of the detective's car. Escalante's brakes squealed as his tires tried to find some traction on the damp blacktop. His car finally came to a halt, and when the door of the steel-colored sports car started to open, he began expecting the worst.
"Detective Escalante," called out the man in the dark-colored suit, who was even now walking in his direction. "Get out of the car, please." Oh great, he thought. Friggin' Feds. That's all I need.
"What's this all about?" he asked, as he unbuckled his seatbelt. Damn, if this guy didn't look familiar. Almost like…
"Just get out of the car, please. We'd appreciate your cooperation." The Fed's hand resting on a large-caliber pistol under his jacket was a not-too-subtle hint that he'd really appreciate Escalante's cooperation.
Then Escalante recognized who it was. "Fogelberg," he muttered as he clambered of his Taurus. "I had a funny feeling I'd be seeing more of you." Then, "Would you mind telling me what the hell's going on?"
Fogelberg glanced back towards his car, exchanging glances with the lady in the passenger seat. The passenger nodded at him, and the CDC doctor turned back to the detective.
"Follow me." He led Escalante back to the steel-gray machine that sat idling on the road, and motioned him to enter. The New Yorker grumbled as he situated himself in the back seat.
* * * * *
"Where's Gonzalez? I thought he'd be at your side like an obedient lapdog."
Fogelberg said nothing, just backed the car up and drove up the road he had just come down before apprehending the detective. "Gonzalez' been…incapacitated for the time being."
"Incapacitated? Like wounded?" Escalante asked.
"Institutionalized? Well, that guy seemed kind of batty last time we met."
The woman in the passenger seat turned to face Fogelberg. "You know this man?" she asked with a barely discernable English accent, thumbing in Escalante's direction.
"Detective Escalante was the civilian LEO on our first case," Fogelberg replied in his by-now familiar monotone.
"Bullshit! You kicked me off the damn case." He shifted his gaze from Fogelberg to the pretty brunette in the other seat. "Who's this?"
"Jennifer Lewiston-Myrtle," she said, extending her hand. "USCS."
The road they were on now was considerably better than the one they'd been on. Recently paved — a sign of civilization. A flash of green metal caught his eye — Catoctin Mountain Park.
Escalante turned his head to face Fogelberg again. "I asked you what this was about." Then he paused a moment. "It's about Matthiessen, isn't it? Weird cases like that seem to just follow me around."
Fogelberg glanced at Lewiston-Myrtle and nodded his nearly-bald head. "Yes. I understand you met with Mr. Sakurai."
"You mean Sun Tzu? Yeah, I met with him. He gave me a clearance card, fixed me up with a visit to a Dietrich Grohl. Is that a bad thing?"
"No. We ourselves have used Mr. Sakurai's services on a few occasions. He won't betray you, if that's what you're worried about. But I have reason to believe his days are numbered." The doctor paused as he pulled the car into a small cul-de-sac. Once the car was parked, he turned. "You met Grohl. So what we've found so far may not surprise you.
"Matthiessen had gotten a hold of something, something that Sakurai's people wanted back."
"Yes, yes, I know. A UFO crash in Germany. Sun Tzu told me all that."
"I think I can explain," Lewiston-Myrtle broke in. "My father was an agent with Scotland Yard during the Second World War. You may recognize the name of a Nazi agent he encountered on a few occasions. Josef Graubenstein."
"A Kugelblitz researcher," the detective answered.
"Now this is only supposition, but appearances are that Graubenstein was more than just a scientist. He was working extensively with the Irish, and in 1940 my father was forbidden to investigate further the Irish-Graubenstein links. The case was turned over to an agent with MI-5 and a former friend of Graubenstein's, Aleister Crowley."
Escalante's eyes grew. "Crowley?" he asked unbelievingly. "The guy was a freakin' nutcase."
"MI-5 called on his services only rarely," Lewiston-Myrtle offered. "Only in certain instances."
Escalante had to stop himself from humming a certain Ozzy Osbourne song. "So how's all this connect to Kugelblitz?"
"It doesn't, at least not directly," Fogelberg continued. "But the fact that Graubenstein was associated with both Crowley and Kugelblitz is interesting."
"Interesting — but it probably doesn't mean anything. And she said herself it's just a hunch."
"Jennifer's 'hunches' have proven to be accurate in the past."
The detective looked out the back window. "You want to take me back to my car now?"
"Telling you this wasn't our only reason for asking you here, Detective. We'd like to ask you to help us," said Lewiston-Myrtle quickly. "We believe you could be an asset, what with your being followed around by these cases, as you put it."
"We believe we could be on to something big," Fogelberg added. "Something that could potentially be dangerous. Helping us could prevent further deaths like Matthiessen's."
"But my duties in Torrington…"
"We can arrange an explanation for your absence."
After a lengthy pause, Escalante spoke up. "Alright, I'll help."
"Good." Fogelberg turned the key in the ignition. Darkness had descended over Catoctin Mountain Park, as the car carrying the two Federal agents and one police officer drove on, down the mountain, onto the gray strip of the highway.
"Where are we going?" the detective asked.
"Philadelphia," Fogelberg answered.
Philadelphia. It wasn't New York, but it would have to do. As the car drove on through the dark night, the headlights illuminating their surroundings in an eerie yellowish-white glow, he fell asleep. His job was about to get much more interesting.
POLICE OFFICER DISAPPEARS IN MARYLAND
One of Torrington's most respected police officers, Det. Dewey Escalante, has vanished "under mysterious circumstances" from his car, which was found parked in a wooded area near Catoctin, Maryland.
Maryland State Police found the Ford Taurus registered to Detective Escalante parked alongside State Routes 15 and 806. The police currently have no theories as to the motive behind the detective's disappearance. They noted, however, that they found tire tracks near the abandoned car, suggesting that he may have been abducted.
Detective Escalante's last case was the murder of Ashford University student Thomas Matthiessen, and he was reportedly engaged in investigation of said crime when the abduction occurred…
from the Torrington [PA] Journal, April 28, 1997