Counterfeit Roadby Kirk Russell
Twenty-two years to the day, a videotape of an unsolved 1989 murder arrives at the San Francisco Homicide Detail. So starts Counterfeit Road, second of the series and San Francisco homicide inspector Ben Raveneau’s toughest cold case. The victim, Alan Krueger, a former Secret Service agent, carried in his coat sixty-one hundred dollar bills. In 1989 the
Twenty-two years to the day, a videotape of an unsolved 1989 murder arrives at the San Francisco Homicide Detail. So starts Counterfeit Road, second of the series and San Francisco homicide inspector Ben Raveneau’s toughest cold case. The victim, Alan Krueger, a former Secret Service agent, carried in his coat sixty-one hundred dollar bills. In 1989 the Secret Service inspected the bills and called them legitimate. They take another look now and say, counterfeit.But there’s more. There’s a link to the present they don’t want to talk much about. Raveneau studies the videotape. He pores over the old case files. He hunts for the couple who reported Krueger’s body and enlists the help of a retired homicide inspector. When a young man steps forward with yellowed photos the investigation moves to Hawaii. What made little sense, makes more as Raveneau turns misaligned pieces and realizes something darker is rapidly evolving. But who can he convince? If no one listens, can he, his partner, and one FBI agent stop the attack from happening?
Library Journal Starred Review of Counterfeit Road
"Russell smoothly blends mystery and thriller elements as the action builds to its satisfying climax."
Publishers Weekly on Counterfeit Road.
"Unexpected twists and the genuinely shocking ending keep readers focused on turning pages.
Booklist on Counterfeit Road
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Read an Excerpt
A Ben Raveneau Mystery
By Kirk Russell
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Kirk Russell
All rights reserved.
The video ran two minutes twenty-eight seconds, about the length of your average YouTube. When Raveneau hit play the camera panned from left to right, catching winter sunlight reflecting off windows of the Ferry Building. A glittery sliver of bay showed as the victim, Alan Krueger, and the unknown shooter waited for a car to pass before crossing into the shadows of the lot once used by commuters beneath the former Embarcadero Freeway.
They threaded through parked cars, Krueger ahead, shooter trailing, and once again Raveneau got the feeling they were friends, or at least knew each other. He let it run another five seconds then clicked the mouse and froze the frame. He stared at the screen.
The videotape was made with a hand-held Sony camcorder and shipped four days ago in a used Amazon box from a FedEx drop in Los Angeles. It arrived here addressed to him, Inspector Benjamin Raveneau, Cold Case Unit, Homicide Detail, Room 459, Hall of Justice, San Francisco. That was two days ago, Tuesday, January 11, 2011, exactly twenty-two years to the day after the murder of Alan Krueger.
Raveneau had cut the packing tape, opened the box, and emptied out the Styrofoam peanuts. He left the cassette taped to the bottom of the box and walked it down the hallway to the video unit in the Crime Scene Investigation lab. In the lab they eased off the tape holding the videotape cassette and tested the sticky side for fingerprints and DNA. But whoever sent it was very careful.
Whoever sent it stuck a white label on the black plastic videotape cassette that read 1/11/1989. Raveneau took that date to the cold case closet. He pulled the murder log for '89, looked up January eleventh and found the Krueger files. In the Crime Scene Investigation lab they produced ten digitized copies of the videotape. They gave him the ten CDs, emailed him another, and he forwarded that to his Cold Case partner, Elizabeth la Rosa. He had watched the videotape at least a dozen times since. He started it again now and the shooter and Krueger cleared the cars, the dark hulk of the Embarcadero's decks towering above them as they moved toward two concrete pylons.
They moved diagonally away and as they got smaller the steady-handed filming turned jumpy. In the video unit they said whoever made the tape had started walking, probably following Krueger and the shooter. Raveneau zoomed in now. He froze the video when Krueger had only seconds to live.
Alan Krueger worked for the Secret Service for fourteen years before quitting in 1986 and becoming an independent contractor. At the Secret Service he'd been a counterfeit expert. He was carrying sixty-one new US one hundred dollar bills in the left breast pocket of his coat, the bills folded and held by a silver money clip. The second bullet, the fatal shot, passed through a corner of the bills but missed the clip.
Two homicide inspectors who used to be called the go-go twins, Ed Govich and Henry Goya, caught the case. Goya and Govich showed the bills to the Secret Service and were told they weren't counterfeit. That was well documented. Yet yesterday Raveneau retrieved the bills from storage. He signed them out and handed them off to a Secret Service agent he knew, figuring they were worth another look.
The rest of Krueger's effects were stored out at Hunters Point in Building 606. Krueger was left-handed and wore a hand-tooled leather shoulder holster on his right side. He was licensed to carry a gun but the holster was empty. The holster was out at Hunter's Point. So was a wallet found near his body. The wallet was lying against one of the concrete pylons holding up the freeway. It was covered with newspapers. No driver's license, credit cards, or smaller bills were found. The wallet was empty. Two forged high-quality but fake passports were found in his coat, one Canadian for an Alan McCormick, the other a US passport with the name Allen Jons. In the right front pocket of his pants was a piece of paper with 'Captain Frank' written on it and a phone number that PacBell had identified as a pay phone at San Francisco Airport.
Goya and Govich chased the Captain Frank lead and without any good place to start they worked the wharves and local marinas. They talked to boat captains and harbor masters. They canvassed. They knocked on doors. They didn't get anywhere.
In the video the shooter shortened his step now. He drifted behind Krueger, who turned with a gesture Raveneau read as frustration, as though they had started to argue. When he turned back, his left leg jerked up spasmodically as the first bullet struck. The video barely caught it. If the cameraman intended a clean recording he failed.
Krueger fell and the shooter closed. He read as a dark shape leaning over Krueger. He was fast, efficient, without hesitation, and though in all his previous watching of the video Raveneau had frozen the action at this spot, he didn't now. He let it roll and thought about the two newly-wed Canadians who had found Krueger's body. He was trying to locate them and so far had learned they divorced in 2001. Both claimed not to have heard any gunshots, though an anonymous caller had. The caller didn't leave a name but did leave the time of day he heard the shots, 3:42 p.m.
The Canadians also noted the time they found the body, 3:45, so were probably close enough to have heard the shots. But maybe they were talking or distracted by something else. He remembered how noisy it used to be, the big trucks and busses, the echoes. The old Embarcadero Freeway was gone, demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the Ferry Building where the video started, renovated and reborn as a food court and now a popular tourist destination. He was there this morning. He bought a coffee, and carried it outside across the promenade and the tracks of the light rail system and worked his way down and tried to find where the video maker had stood.
Raveneau's cell phone buzzed now as the video went dark. He turned the computer off as he answered, knowing it would be la Rosa.
'They're here. I took them into the kitchen.'
'How many are there?'
'Three. Two that look like regular Secret Service and a third who looks like he's in charge.'
'Then it's about the money. The bills must be counterfeit and they're worried about something. I'll be there in a few minutes.'CHAPTER 2
The conference room off the Cold Case Unit office had a few beat-up chairs and no table, so the kitchen was where they usually met. The kitchen had two tables pushed together and covered with a striped tablecloth. The Secret Service agents took up the corner of the table that put the refrigerators behind them.
'Can I get anyone water, a soda, or anything to eat?' Raveneau asked.
'We're not here for lunch.'
The one who answered was Nate Brooks, assistant special agent in charge. The other two agents were Jack Swensen, who Raveneau had turned over sixty of the hundred dollar bills to yesterday, and Michelle Raff, a counterfeiting expert.
The bills were no longer in a San Francisco Police Department money envelope, instead were individually wrapped in clear plastic slips and in bags with the Secret Service stamp. Raff looked like she was guarding them. Swensen looked uncomfortable and Raveneau guessed there was some sort of game plan here that Swensen didn't like. He nodded toward the money.
'Thanks for returning the bills.'
'We're not,' Brooks said, and Raff followed with 'They're counterfeit. We were wrong in 1989.'
She said that as if she owned the mistake but she was probably eleven years old at the time. Brooks wasn't there either, also too young. Raveneau took a closer look at him, trying to get a read, trying to understand why anything about this meeting would make him tense. Watchful eyes stared back at him.
Nowadays, one hundred dollar bills were all big-head Ben Franklins with the colors and squiggly lines, but these notes predated those changes. These were what an advertising company would now market as 'classic' bills, the design used for decades, the design before counterfeiters upped their game following advances in printers.
Brooks reached over. He touched the bag in front of Agent Raff.
'These were printed in the same series as bills used last summer to buy weapons grade explosives. Those bills were laundered through two foreign banks, one in the Cayman Islands, and the other in Mexico City. Both banks took in substantial quantities, as in two million, give or take.'
'Just like these?'
'Exactly like these, same series, same print run, and though you wouldn't see many of this style inside the US, there's a lot of cash floating around the world. The dollar is still the world's reserve currency and sometimes caches pop up. The banks probably didn't want the bills, but they have relationships, and their client is a black market weapons dealer who moves a lot of money so they took them in.' He paused before adding, 'We were already tracking this particular weapons dealer.'
'It has to do with a threat I can't talk to you about yet. In fact, I'm here to ask for your complete cooperation. We need your murder files on Alan Lansing Krueger. How these counterfeit bills tie in or why Krueger had them, I don't know the answer to. But as we learn information and as I can, I'll pass it on to you.'
'Is that why there are three of you here?'
'Special Agent Swensen could have come alone, but I don't want any misunderstanding. We want to work with you.'
'OK, well, the murder files are on my desk. I'll go get them and you read through them in here, and then decide what you need.'
'We'd rather take them with us and get more time to go through them.'
'Of course you would, but that's not going to happen.'
'I'm not bullshitting you when I say this is a very significant threat.'
'And I'm not stonewalling you. I'll give you plenty of time to read but I don't think you're going to find there is that much in these files.'
La Rosa was at her desk when Raveneau walked back into their office. She took off her reading glasses. She watched as he picked up the Krueger files and the murder logbook for 1989.
'I'll be right back.'
In the kitchen he opened the logbook and showed them the entry with Krueger's murder. He explained the columns with date, time, location, victim's name, if known, and the inspectors assigned to the case and their summary.
He slid the murder files out to the middle of the table like a plate of sandwiches.
'Inspectors Goya and Govich didn't have much to go on. They had a piece of paper with a phone number and the name Captain Frank, but that turned out to be a phone booth at SFO. The Secret Service did their own investigation but they didn't share what they found with us, so you probably already know a lot more than I do.'
He looked at each of them. 'I'll give you fifteen minutes or so to read. Then we can talk.'
When he returned to his desk he slid one of the CD copies of the murder videotape into his coat pocket and asked la Rosa, 'Want to go across the street to Roma and get a coffee?'
'Aren't they still in there?'
'That won't take long.'
When he shrugged, she stood up.
'All right, I'm ready for coffee anyway.'
Everybody shares the same elevator in the Hall of Justice and you can wait awhile for a ride. When Raveneau and la Rosa returned from across the street there was a wait and the Secret Service agents were a little agitated as they got back upstairs. Also, the kitchen smelled like popcorn, so they probably weren't alone in here and didn't get much of a chance to talk. Brooks avoided eye contact now, focusing on the cuff of his shirt as if something there had suddenly drawn his attention. That changed as Raveneau laid the CD on the tablecloth.
'What do you want me to copy?' Raveneau asked, and sounded like he was at a baseball game getting a head count before he went for hot dogs and beer.
'Everything,' Brooks said. 'And what's that in front of you?'
'A copy of a videotape we received Tuesday.' He turned to Raff. 'I've never known the Secret Service to look at counterfeit bills and mistake them for real bills. Are you sure it was a mistake?'
'Inspector, it was before my time, but I'm sure it was a mistake.'
'Would you mistake them?'
'No, but now we know what to look for.'
'And you didn't know then?' She looked to Brooks. She wanted his permission and when he didn't say anything, she said, 'The bills are very, very good.'
'What am I starting to remember?'
Raveneau knew la Rosa was starting to remember something as well, something right about that time. He asked Raff, 'North Korea. Help me here, Michelle. When we called out the North Koreans for counterfeiting our money it was around that time wasn't it?'
Raff looked to Brooks and Raveneau said, 'Let her talk.'
She waited until Brooks nodded.
'The bills you're referring to were called supernotes. That was because the quality was so good. Before these here on the table the first known supernotes were spotted by a banker in the Philippines in 1989.'
She touched the bills in front of her.
'That's what these are now. Alan Krueger's murder occurred before those in the Philippines were spotted, so now these are the first known supernotes.'
Raveneau took a moment to absorb that.
'And these are the same as those passed by the weapons dealer to the Cayman Island and Mexican banks?'
Brooks answered. 'That's correct.'
Raveneau pulled Brooks' card from his coat. 'What's the best number to call you at?'
'Hand me that and I'll write it on the back.'
Raveneau watched him write a number and when he got the card back slid the CD across the table. 'Watch this and then give us a call. You'll recognize Krueger. If not, he's the taller one.'CHAPTER 3
Retired homicide inspector Henry Goya was in his mid-sixties. Not too long ago he had a quadruple bypass surgery that Raveneau knew about only because Cynthia, the Homicide Detail's secretary, was good friends with Goya's daughter. Goya's daughter also got her dad to join Facebook.
On his Facebook page Goya looked like an ageing, slightly crooked art dealer. A photo showed him in a wicker chair on the porch of his house in Petaluma, gray beard cut short and carefully trimmed, left hand resting on the carved knob of a wooden cane. In his right he held a thin cigar. A whiskey sat on the glass-topped table in front of him, a small terrier expectantly at his feet. The photo was probably meant to communicate the wonderful time Goya was having in retirement, but Raveneau had heard the quiet excitement as Goya connected with the Krueger case again.
'Did you find the Canadians?'
'Did my old partner ever call you?'
'No.' Raveneau had left several messages for Ed Govich, but Govich was yet to call back.
'Henry, tell me again what you remember about the Canadians other than there was something off about them.'
'OK, well, they were newly-weds here for a week and staying at the Hyatt, so that put them in the general area where the murder happened. They told us they liked to walk a city when they visited it, and that's what they were doing, out walking when they decided to cross under the Embarcadero Freeway. They happened upon the body and called 911. Ed and I weren't far behind the first uniform officers, so we got to the Canadians right away, and they were helpful, especially her.
'But she was also shaken up or seemed to be. Or she was nervous. Ed thought she was nervous in the way a suspect might be, but I didn't get that from her. Now the husband was different. He got huffy later when we asked them to come in with us to Homicide, and when they did come in he stopped cooperating. That's part of why Ed flew up to Calgary to re-interview them.'
'I'm sorry, Ben. I'm not answering what you asked about. They showed us passports, wedding rings, their itinerary, where they had eaten and visited, all the details of their visit, maybe too many details. So many that we checked on a restaurant they said they ate at and there wasn't any record of them. Ed checked on that. Then a few days later we got an anonymous tip from someone who was farther away than the Canadians said they were and he reported hearing gunshots, but I already told you about that. Are you getting any closer to finding them?'
'Maybe I ought to look for you.'
This was the second time Goya had suggested this and the department did occasionally hire retired officers in what got called the 9-60 program. In it a retired officer could work twenty hours a week, but no more than nine hundred sixty hours a year. Goya wasn't particularly coherent in how he framed his memory of the case, but then the murder was twenty-two years ago and what mattered most to Raveneau was that Goya still carried the case with him.
Raveneau had learned the truth in the cliché after he and la Rosa started the Cold Case Unit, that the good inspectors often carried their unsolved cases with them. Anytime a retired inspector phoned he always took the call. He thought of the retired inspectors as a collective consciousness that made the Cold Case Unit larger. They were his network. But Goya was a decade into retirement and getting him into the 9-60 program would be a very, very hard sell.
'Henry, why don't you come in tomorrow and we'll go to lunch and talk the case through.'
Excerpted from Counterfeit Road by Kirk Russell. Copyright © 2012 Kirk Russell. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Meet the Author
Kirk Russell lives in Berkeley, California. He is married with two daughters and is the author of the highly-acclaimed John Marquez crime series and Ben Raveneau thrillers.
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Wow! This story dragged me in on so many levels. The intertwining of plot and character just made me want more. I want to know all the backstories. I am getting the next book today. Mr. Russell you are a heck of a story teller!