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The Blood of Patriots
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBefore it was a mecca for skiers, Aspen, Colorado, was a mining center. Founded in 1879 and named for the trees that spike the landscape, the town became a resort after World War II thanks to declining silver lodes and unparalleled slopes.
Joanne Ward and her twelve-year-old daughter Megan lived in nearby Basalt. Located at the junction of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, the former railroad hub and coal center produced charcoal used by the smelters in Aspen. The huge kilns erected for this purpose remain a tourist attraction. Today, it is also a destination for trout fishermen, rafters, and campers who enjoy the majestic mountain beauty.
The Ward women moved there in 2008. Joanne had divorced her husband after seven years of marriage—a month of marriage, she maintained, if she factored out the time her husband spent on the job. It was a wound that went back to 9/11, a week after they returned from their honeymoon, when he spent three solid days digging frantically for his kid brother in the Pile. He found Joseph at dawn on the fourth day—the top half of the young firefighter anyway—under a shattered office sofa. Joanne stuck with him until he got over the loss somewhat. He would always appreciate her for that. She moved in with, and then married, a wildlife illustrator who sold fine art prints on the Internet; they also met on the Internet. John didn't hold any of it against her—it was a common cop-story. He and his daughter Skyped several times a week and she came to see him on holidays. He probably saw her more now than he did when she was a baby. It's one thing when Mommy has to tell a kid that Daddy loves her; it's another when he has to prove it or it doesn't get said.
The day of Ward's arrest he was suspended without pay and released on his own recognizance. Except for the New York Post and Fox News—which pointed out that the vendor was breaking several laws at once, and applauded him for trying to clean up the streets of Lower Manhattan—the media called him a Muslim-basher. Grabbing the guy's shoulders to get his attention had translated as "violence." Telling the arresting officers that he was a cop became "emblematic" of corrupt officers who tried to get away with misconduct and corruption. The more charitable articles blamed his actions on untreated post traumatic stress from the death of his brother. Muslims blamed American intolerance, police intolerance, intolerance against undocumented aliens.
Ward remained in his apartment. Neighbors brought him food. Except for the Muslim ones. Suddenly, the cab driver and his family who lived down the hall, whose kids he had taken to Coney Island when his daughter was in town, didn't want to know him.
Despite a day-long recess, the DA in the gunrunning trial failed in his efforts to conceal Ward's arrest from the jury. The judge ruled that Ward's testimony would have to be stricken and the jury informed about the questionable mental state of the Peoples' key witness. Cherkassov was released the following morning. His attorney had already filed the paperwork that allowed him to remain in the United States.
That same afternoon, before Ward's self-imposed house arrest, he had appeared in a conference room at One Police Plaza—down the street from the courthouse. There, Ward was urged by the DA, the police union, and an NYPD attorney to plea-bargain with the Nigerian huckster: his resignation from the force in exchange for charges dropped. Otherwise, if he were found guilty, the detective faced jail time and dismissal.
"The commissioner doesn't want the illegal immigrant bonfire burning up his workflow for the next six months," the young punk lawyer had told him with the same hard-edged certainty of the arresting cops. He acted as though Ward were a child molester being offered the preferable prospect of chemical castration over ten years in prison.
"And what did the Commissioner promise your pro bono counterpart?" Ward had asked. "Not to bust the other illegal scumbags who are harassing tourists sending American dollars to radicals overseas?"
"That's not your concern."
Again, the smug certainty. Ward wondered how much extra damage he'd incur if he punched the guy square in the mouth. "So I get sacrificed for protecting citizens instead of the asshole who was preying on them."
"That, plus trying to coerce the two officers."
It was a farce without end and everyone knew it, except maybe this manicured clown. The problem was, without a nearby structure to mount surveillance cameras, the memorial was effectively a video blind spot. And despite the best efforts of his Organized Crime Control Bureau brothers who hit the park within an hour, they were unable to find tourists who had caught the incident on video. They left flyers behind on trees, but they were gone the next morning, presumably used to stuff the fake handbags other Mecca-bowers were selling.
"How long do I have to think about it?" Ward had asked.
The attorney then gave him a memory stick, pushed it across the table with his fingertips like it was a cyanide pill. "The regulations and your resignation letter are on there," he had said. "We've got the weekend coming up but I wouldn't give it past Tuesday."
Of course. The commissioner telling the press, "We're looking into the matter" wouldn't hold them off much longer. "We'll have a statement to make early next week" would get the media off his back, especially if he gave them one of those characteristic half-smiles that let them know it would be a dead issue by then.
Ward didn't bother to go home and pack. He took an underground passage to the subway, rode out to the Jamaica terminal in Queens, and cabbed to the airport from there. He could have used his driver's license as an ID but used his shield instead to buy the plane ticket. In fact, the clerk said the airline seemed happy to have him aboard. Her smile told him she was sincere. Right then, that mattered to Ward. He wanted to feel good whenever he thought back to the last time he used it.
Joanne had already heard the news. A friend in New York had sent her a link to the NY1 Web site. But Ward hadn't returned her call until he was at the gate and about to board. Her message had expressed measured concern for his well-being, cautious because for all she knew he might well have gone off the tracks. Finally. This was something he wanted to discuss in person. When she didn't pick up, Ward left a message saying only that he was on the way. That wasn't her favorite news at the best of times. But she'd see him or, at least, she'd let him see their daughter. That was what he needed right now. To get out of the city and hang with someone to give him unconditional love.
And what will you give her in return? he had asked himself. For that he had no answer. This was a lot to lay on a kid.
Now he was in Aspen listening to clerks nattering about a terminal-clearing false alarm the day before as he rented the only midsize they had, a white Prius.
"What kind of false alarm?" Ward asked, the cop in him unable to not wonder.
"There was a shell casing beside an insurance dispenser," the young man told him.
"Do you get a lot of those? False alarms?"
"I've been here a year and this was my first," he said.
"We don't get the kind of traffic volume that puts us on the A-list," said the chatty young woman he had been talking to.
"Vegas, baby!" replied the other.
Obviously, security training was thin this far from the gates. Staff shouldn't be joking about terror targets. "It's numbers, not lifestyle," Ward said.
"Pardon?" the woman asked.
"Never mind," he said. "I'm a cop. Police talk."
That was one of the formulas law enforcement used to conduct risk assessment. Terrorists preferred mass casualties above all. To hit a movie star on vacation was next-to-pointless; many people would be happy to see some spoiled hunk get his Carradan skis splintered and move on. Second on the list was to strike at so-called decadent targets: amusement parks, casinos, film and TV centers. Third were national symbols. It may have been said in jest, but terrorists would achieve two of those three goals by striking at Las Vegas. A concurrent hit at nearby Hoover Dam would give them a hat trick. Aspen would be a B-list target, and only then if they could get a slew of celebrities or international jet setters at the height of the season—which this was not.
Ward didn't much care for the resort. It was like the Hamptons with snow, a place to show off what you could afford on and around you. He was hungry and he was tired, but he was on 82 heading northwest within fifteen minutes. It was off-season and two hours before the evening rush—he wasn't even sure they had one here—and the highway was empty. He made the trip in just under a half-hour.
Ward hadn't been to Colorado in nearly a year, since he visited Megan the previous Thanksgiving. Still, as soon as he got off on Basalt Avenue he knew that things weren't right. The last time he was here a new Pullet 'n' Pork had just opened at the corner of Two Rivers Road. He remembered chuckling at the dancing chicken and pig sign off the driver's side of the car. The restaurant was gone, replaced by something called the Al Huda Center. As Ward drove by he felt the small of his back tingle. This place wasn't honoring some civic hero named Al. Beside the ornately carved wooden door was a brass plaque with Arabic characters.
His eyes followed the low-lying structures of the small strip mall. Adjoining the Al Huda Center was a day care facility. Next to that was the Fawaz Dry Cleaner. A pizza parlor, Papa Vito's, sat on the far side. That was where all the dented, dirty trucks were parked.
"This is a joke," he muttered. Basalt did not have a significant Muslim community before, at least not that he noticed.
As Ward passed the strip mall he thought he saw a familiar figure in his rearview mirror. "Angie?"
Ward swung the car around and pulled into the parking lot. He looked more carefully at the young woman who was climbing into a small white Fawaz delivery van. It had to be her, the girl who used to babysit his daughter. He rolled down the passenger's side window as he pulled in.
"Angie Dickson?" he asked before she shut the door.
The teenage girl looked over, her blue eyes wary, her blond ponytail swinging behind. "Who's asking?"
"It's Megan's dad, John Ward."
The pretty face erupted in a smile. She slid from the van as Ward swung around the front of his car.
Angie was the daughter of Earl Dickson, manager of Fryingpan Savings and Loan. Ward had spent time with Angie when she brought Megan to New York one summer. It was the first time the then-sixteen-year-old had been out of Colorado.
He kissed her cheek and stepped back. The tall, slender teenager was dressed in a plain white blouse and black skirt. Neither was particularly flattering. But what struck him most were her eyes. Always lively, eager to take in everything around her, they seemed flat, purely functional.
"How have you been?" he asked.
The smile matched the eyes now. It became pinched and a little less inviting. "Same as everyone."
"That doesn't sound good."
She shrugged a shoulder. "People aren't happy."
"I thought you were going off to college," Ward said.
"I was accepted to UC Boulder but I decided to wait a year," she said. "Y'know, the economy."
"Your dad's bank okay?"
"It's picked up the last few months but it was hurt like everything else a few years back," she said. "Not as bad as tourism. That was hit hardest. We've got a lot more people fishing for food than for recreation."
Ward cocked his head toward the dry cleaner. "Is that the reason for all this?"
"The mussacre?" she said softly.
"The Muslim massacre. That's what folks call it." She laughed nervously as she gave a quick sideward glance. Ward recognized the look. It was the same one drug dealers and those goddamn hucksters flashed when they were checking for cops.
"Tell me about it," Ward said.
"Happened about—let's see. Five months ago," she said, looking up as she counted back. "Yeah, April. Right after tax time. Things went from bad to super bad when the summer bookings didn't start to happen. A group came in and bought up this strip mall and another, along with a bunch of short-sale homes."
"They were just investors from Chicago, called the Midwest Revitalization Initiative," she said. "We didn't know they were Muslim. When we found out people were joking that it should have been called the Mideast Relocation Invasion."
Ward knew that wasn't a joke. There was no humor in her voice.
"My dad could tell you more. All I know is that the developers of these places needed cash to finish other projects, homeowners were struggling and looking to sell to the transplants, so the money was offered and they took it."
"I can't believe things got so bad so fast," Ward said. "That new place seemed busy last time I was here, the Pullet 'n' Pork?"
"Oh. They had a fire. Never reopened. Mr. Randolph—he lives up the mountain, provided all the pork—he thought it was suspicious."
"Dad says he's just a suspicious guy. Anyway, everyone had their own stuff to worry about. The police said it was a grease fire and that was that."
Ward looked at the white van. "So now you work for the new owners."
"They needed someone who knows the area and didn't have an arrest record," she said. "They pay over the hourly and the checks don't bounce. My dad said those are good reasons to work for anyone these days."
"At least they don't make you wear a head scarf."
"I know, right?" Angie chuckled. But the smile was gone now. "Some folks might not even object to that if they had jobs. They say we should be grateful. The prices were fair and without the bailout these places would all be boarded up. Except for Papa Vito's. You can't beat his price for a pitcher of beer, and people are drinking a lot of it. He refused to sell his lease, so he'll be here at least till the end of the year."
Angie saw a face in the shop window and turned back to the van. "Hey, I've gotta make my deliveries. How long are you here for?"
"A day or two."
"Maybe I'll see you around," she said. "Give Meg a hug for me."
Angie shut the door and drove off. Ward waved as she left then turned toward the dry cleaner. The face in the window was gone. But not the fire in the small of Ward's back. If anything, the sense of danger was even stronger now. He wanted to see his daughter but he was suddenly having butterflies. He wasn't the same gangbusting crusader-dad she had known; he wasn't sure what he was and he didn't want to show that to his kid. He needed to get his man-legs under him, fill his new, emptier self with something useful.
He crossed the river, made a right onto Midland Avenue, and looked ahead toward the city center. He saw the sign of the stand-alone building on the right and headed for the Fryingpan Savings and Loan.
Chapter TwoWard parked and entered the bank with no clear idea what he wanted to ask or say. He didn't know Earl Dickson, wouldn't know him if he saw him, but he wanted to know more about what had happened here. He wanted that because he was a detective and detectives asked questions and observed people and drew conclusions. Even if it were just an exercise, he needed to move those muscles. Until now, he hadn't realized how much just a few days alone in his apartment, ostracized by all but his team, had compacted and crushed him.
The tellers were busy and there were several people sitting on cheap vinyl sofas beside the door. There were three officers. Two had cubicles and the third had an office. Two were busy with clients; the other, an older woman, was on the phone. Ward didn't have to read the nameplate on the door to know who the office belonged to. The door was shut and there was a middle-aged couple inside. The woman was touching a handkerchief to her eyes. The man's shoulders were rounded. They were losing a home or a business. Earl Dickson was showing them where to sign papers.
Ward studied the man. He was stout, balding, with close-cropped graying hair on the sides. He was wearing a three-piece suit and a grave expression. It was set, a mask, like the simulacrum of grief worn by a funeral director.
"Can I help you?"
The woman who had been on the phone was walking over. She was tiny, older, with sparkle in her voice. Her eyes, though, seemed tired.
Excerpted from The Blood of Patriots by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2012 by William W. Johnstone . Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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