The Ambassador Has Lost His Head
FBI Building, Los Angeles
Thursday, August 11, 1983
The room was filled with men and women in boring suits and safe haircuts. They sat behind desks, and hid behind manila envelopes. Standing in front of them all was Les Carlisle, Senior Inspector of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles. It was his job to have the most boring of all suits, and the safest of all haircuts. It was also his job to hand out new case assignments to his agents.
He scanned the room, looking for one agent in particular. But that agent - Bill Maxwell - was nowhere to be found. So instead, he inspected the length of his agents' ties and made sure that everyone's socks matched. Finally, the door opened, and a man cautiously walked through the door.
"Maxwell!" Carlisle sang out, in his usual sarcastic tone. "How good of you to join us! I hope you didn't forget about our little meeting here, did you Billy?" If there was one thing that Carlisle loved to do, it was torment Bill Maxwell.
"No, sir, Mr. Carlisle, sir." Maxwell's voice was also sarcastic, even though his attempt at feigning respect was almost convincing.
"I was just on the phone with the, uh, Pentagon."
Carlisle's position made him Maxwell's superior, but in all respects, it was Bill Maxwell who was the star of the Bureau. After all, not everyone had a 99.2 kill record. In fact, no one else did. Bill was America's number one FBI agent.
"The Pentagon?" Carlisle said, ears pricked up. He wasn't sure if Maxwell was serious, or pulling his leg. "Really?"
The room stirred, as the other agents came out of hiding from behind their case file folders. It was a pure delight watching Maxwell and Carlisle run through the weekly tete-a-tete. It happened all the time. In fact, it was a dance to decide who would lead. It was almost a competition for the office's spot as top dog.
"The Pentagon?" Carlisle repeated. "About what, Maxwell? If you don't mind my asking..."
This is where Bill had to shine. He had to make up some sort of excuse, fast. Bill was always making up excuses, to keep Carlisle off his tail. In fact, most of his career for the past three years was in some ways a lie. How could he explain that his kill record was not just a product of his own work as a field agent? Sure, Bill knew had always been a good agent. But he couldn't admit that his success over the past three years was due to the help of civilian schoolteacher, Ralph Hinkley.
Ralph was in many ways the secret to his success. He was actually a superhero who helped him solve many of his cases. The two of them had been given a superhero suit in the desert one night by alien beings. But if he told anyone, he would certainly lose his job, and probably wind up in a room white padded walls. So Bill got used to altering the details on his case reports.
"They wanted to talk to me about an old case," Bill lied. He had actually been out with Ralph, practicing some of the suits special powers.
"An old case?" Carlisle questioned, suspicious as usual. Maxwell nodded as he sat in his chair. "Which one, Bill? Huh?" Carlisle was calling his bluff.
"Uh, the old, um Zephyr One case, sir." Bill looked up at Carlisle, and smiled. His expression was more than a little cocky. Bill knew the case from earlier that year certainly could have warranted a call from the big brass. He kept the secret prototype military airplane out of Soviet hands. That case alone probably earned Bill a spot in the Pentagon's phone book.
"Zephyr One?" Carlisle asked, as he watched Maxwell nod, trying to hold back a grin. He knew Maxwell was lying, but as far as he could prove, Bill was always on the up-and-up. And it ate Carlisle up inside.
At this point of the dance, Maxwell was leading.
"Well, Bill, I have a new case, and it has your name written all over it." Carlisle began. This time, it was Carlisle who tried to hold back a grin, as he planned to take the lead. "It's a missing person case."
Bill sat up straight, his expression turning from cocky to defensive. "A missing person? You want your top agent to go looking for some kid who showed up on the side of a milk carton? "
A few of the other agents chuckled. Carlisle's head whipped around, as he tried to keep control of the room.
"Oh, no, it's even better, Billy Boy!" the senior inspector replied, revenge and pleasure dripping from words. "You see, this missing person disappeared some time ago." Carlisle opened the folder and checked a date. "Oh! What do you know? Back in 1967! How about that?"
"What?" Bill sat up straight, clearly insulted now. "A 16 year old case? You're putting me on a 16 year old case? Are you kidding me?"
"Do I look like I am kidding, Bill?" Carlisle slapped the file down on Bill's desk. "Take a look, Maxwell. The Ambassador from Vatanyok - Bekha Tashkilat."
Maxwell flipped through the pages of the file. "Yeah. Soviet Republic... " Bill nodded as he followed along, still a bit confused at why he was getting this case.
"Only then, when the ambassador went missing, Vatanyok was still independent." Carlisle added. "He went missing, the day before the Soviets took over."
"Why are they opening up the case, now? And why pull the best agent in the country, for a missing person case."
"Maybe you should call your friends over in the Pentagon. Ask them..." Carlisle smirked. He had another surprise for Maxwell. He had just taken the lead.
Bill chuckled, like he often did when he was nervous. But he wasn't worried. With Ralph's help, he could solve the case in 10 minutes. All Ralph had to do was put on the red superhero suit. He'd holograph in on the Ambassador, and the case would be solved. One, two, three.
"So, the Big Brass from the Pentagon want me to find this ambassador? What makes them think he's still alive?"
"They don't. He's already dead. They found his body. Just this morning, in fact." Carlisle said, as he bit the inside of his cheek. He enjoyed seeing Maxwell confused.
"You're gonna waste your best agent on this? A 16 year old murder?" He laughed again.
"Yes, Maxwell. You see, I got a call from the Pentagon, too. This morning. And they said they want you." Carlisle smirked, as he said the last few words.
"But I've got 12 other open files..."
"Well, put them aside! This is top priority. Pentagon, remember?"
Carlisle ended the meeting and dismissed his agents. Maxwell remained at his desk, thumbing through the folde. He couldn't figure out why this was such an important case. And why was the Pentagon involved? After all, it seemed like fluff, didn't it?
As he walked passed Maxwell's desk, Carlisle bent over to look at Maxwell, eye to eye.
"Have fun, Maxwell. And next time you speak to your friends in the pentagon, remember to say hi. From me. Okay?"
Maxwell sighed, groaned, then followed Carlisle out the room.
Saddleback Butte National Park
Bill turned the car off road at the base of Antelope Valley. He followed the directions spelled out in his case file, and the tire tracks left in the sandy dirt and occasional scrub forest. The granite mountaintops towered above him. His companion, Ralph Hinkley, chattered in the passenger side seat of the car.
"Isn't this great, Bill? Getting out, into nature."
"Yeah, sure kid." Bill typically loved the outdoors, but here, on the western edge of the Mojave, a knot formed in his stomach. While he appreciated the solitude and the natural environment, he always remembered that it was the desert where Bill and Ralph were approached by that alien spacecraft.
"Ow! Can you take it easy, Bill!" Ralph said, as he bounced in his seat, as the car seemed to hit every bump in the whole park.
"Little tan government issue sedans weren't meant to go off road, Ralph!" Bill chuckled. "You know, this may be the first government issue vehicle I trash without your help, Ralph!"
"Very funny, Bill," Ralph replied. He was used to his partner's teasing. It took Ralph a long time to figure out how to use his super suit, ever since he lost the instruction book three years ago. Bill's cars were often the casualty of his trial and error efforts. "At least this time it won't go up in flames."
"It's still early..." Bill said, sarcastic tone in his voice.
"So, Bill," Ralph said, suspiciously. "What exactly is this case about?"
"I told you everything I know." It was obvious that Bill was lying.
"I don't understand what kind of evidence could possibly be out here, in the desert?" Ralph asked, suspiciously. "Come on Bill. You're holding out on me."
"No I'm not! This will be a simple case. We come in, take a quick look, you use magic jammies and get some vibes off the body..."
"Body? Body?! You didn't say anything about a body, Bill!"
"Well, I knew you wouldn't come if I told you, kid."
"You want me to holograph off a dead body, Bill?" Ralph began to fidget in his seat, and he was growing increasingly agitated. "Stop the car! Stop it, now. I'm getting out. I'll fly back to Los Angeles on my own..."
"You hate to fly, Ralph."
"Yeah, but you know what I hate more than flying, Bill?"
"Dead bodies. Stop the car!"
"Come on, Ralph," Bill said, trying to calm his young partner, and also trying to make sure he didn't chicken out on him. He knew very well that Ralph could pick up and leave him if he wanted to, and just fly back home. Bill tried to reassure him. "You don't have to, uh, touch the body, kid. There will probably be other evidence there. Some clothing, maybe."
"Clothes of a dead guy." Ralph smirked at Bill. "Why do we have to do this, anyway? This is hardly a case big enough for the suit. You said it yourself, this is just fluff."
"Aw, come on, kid. You can't turn your back on this. I mean, this guy's got family, back in Birkenstock..."
"Whatever. Think of it as a human relations piece."
"Since when have you been sympathetic to the Soviets, Bill."
"I am NOT being sympathetic! I just want this case finished quickly, so we can get onto more important things."
Ralph hated this. He hated wearing the silly red superhero suit. But when it was to save the world from nuclear war, or even to find a little boy lost in the forest, he did it, because he knew it was for some good reason. This case seemed meaningless.
"Anyway," Bill added after a moment or two. "Aren't good diplomatic relations, keeping the U.S. and the Reds from fighting, worthy of the suit?"
"Ok. Ok. You're just lucky school is out for the summer."
Bill smiled, knowing he got his way. Again.
The crime scene was easy to spot. There were three police cars, three Park Service Jeeps, a van, and one car with official plates. There was also a large tent, set up to provide some cover from the blazing summer sun. There were about a dozen or so people on site.
As Bill approached the makeshift parking area, he waved his right hand at Ralph.
"Okay, Ralph, time to get invisible. Otherwise, they'll want to see some I.D."
Ralph sighed, tugged at the red superhero suit underneath his normal clothes, and with a little Ping!, he disappeared. Bill jumped, just a little, in his seat. Even after three years, he never would get used to that.
Bill pulled the car up next to the others and parked. As he got out, he whispered to Ralph, to make sure he was still with him.
"Yeah, Bill, I'm here."
The agent slammed the sedan's door and several heads turned towards him. A woman broke from the crowd, and approached. On her way, she quickly made a stop in the tent and grabbed a cup of coffee from a large thermos.
"Mr. Maxwell?" she called out in front of her, as Bill approached. "Agent Bill Maxwell?"
"The one and only," Bill said, as he flipped her his badge. It was still a little to far away to really read, but it was enough for the moment. "Yeah, honey, that's me." Bill heard Ralph groan. In a hushed tone, and through the corner of his mouth, he tried to silence Ralph with a "sush!"
As the woman got within an arm's length, Bill reached out a hand towards her. She began to shift her coffee into her left hand, but before she finished, he took the cup from her.
"Oh. Thanks, sweetheart. Just what I wanted! Mmm, next time, no cream and sugar in mine. Thanks darlin'." He followed that with a friendly laugh. As he walked past her, Ralph began to chew him out, in an invisible whisper.
"Bill! That was terrible!"
"What? You know I don't take cream and sugar in my coffee, Ralph. What is wrong with you?"
Bill walked towards a group of men, and flashed his badge once again.
"Bill Maxwell, FBI Los Angeles! I hear you boys need a little help out here."
The local blues rolled their eyes, knowing that now that the feds were here, they were going to be upstaged.
"So what do you got? Where's the body?"
From behind him, he heard a light cough.
Bill turned to find the coffee runner.
"Not now, honey."
One of the Park Rangers cleared his throat, and turned Bill's attention to the woman behind him once again. "Agent Maxwell, this is Professor Moore. From the University. From the Department of Anthropology..." His voice trailed off.
Bill's smile turned to an annoyed and slightly embarrassed frown as he turned to see his former coffee runner, now with her own cocky look on her face. He shifted the coffee into his left hand, and held out his right one for a conciliatory shake. Instead, she simply reach for the coffee cup.
"I like mine with milk and sugar," she said, sarcastically, as she started to walk away. She poured the coffee onto the ground, and tossed the cup in the direction of the tent.
Bill rolled his eyes, and began to follow her. He ignored Ralph's muffled chuckle. A few of the others followed too, including a man in his late 50s, who introduced himself as the County Coroner, Dr. Seligman.
Within a few yards, she stopped alongside three other people, one with brushes, trowels, and dental picks, and the others with cameras and evidence bags in their hands. A shallow grave was open, and the remains of a skeleton were beginning to emerge.
Although Ralph was invisible, his disgusted moan was audible.
"Squeamish, Mr. Maxwell?" Dr. Moore said as she squatted, and without looking behind her.
Bill rolled his eyes again. He jerked his head back slightly, in the direction of the car, as if saying "Ralph, if you are going to act this way, it's better you stay with the car."
"No, professor. It was just my stomach rumbling. Must have been some bad coffee." He bent down to take a better look.
"We found this here, early this morning, about 6am. We were on a routine survey. The soil was eroding away, and the distal end of the right tibia was exposed." She pointed towards the bottom of the leg, as Bill's eyes glazed over slightly. "His leg. No foot bones. Must have been dragged away years ago, by something."
Bill looked at the skeleton, and wrinkled his nose. It was old enough that most of the flesh was gone. The body was still shrouded in clothing, kept relatively undisturbed.
"And we found this, in his pocket." She picked up a plastic bag, carefully opened it, and pulled out a red booklet. Then she carefully lifted the clothing to show a pocket.
"A passport..." Bill said, as he carefully opened to the first page and the laminated photo. "So this is the ambassador..." Bill said, standing up again.
"Yes. And no."
"Yes and no?"
"Take a look at the skull," Dr. Seligman pointing out the features as he described them. "The jawline of the mandible. Small teeth. Based on the condition of teeth, probably about 30 years old. Now, take a look at the rounded face on passport, the square jawline. Slight overbite."
"Says the Ambassador was in his fifties."
"Agent Maxwell. The cranium does not match the passport."
Bill rolled his eyes. "Ah, geez. So, it's not him... what am I doing here? Get me out of here."
"Mr. Maxwell, wait." The professor spoke up, annoyed by the agent's impatience. "Now, look at the body. Doesn't it seem a little odd."
"For a dead guy? No. I'd say it looks about right."
"Look here," she continued, ignoring Bill's sarcasm. She pointed towards the foot again. "Look. The epiphysis is not fused."
Bill tried to follow along, but it was obvious he couldn't.
"This leg, is from someone no older than about 14 or 15 years old."
Bill's mouth began to open slightly, as he began to understand. The coroner and the professor began to lift up bits of clothing to point out some more of the unusual evidence.
"The pelvic bone? Female, adolescent."
"Vertebrae, arthritic. Probably over 50 years old. Judging from its robust stature alone, male."
"Right humerus - arm bone - is 4 centimeters longer than the left. And here, on the left, cut marks, from a serrated edge."
"Mr. Maxwell," the professor stated, as she stood up straight. "It's my professional opinion that there are at least four, but maybe six different individuals in this grave, disarticulated, um cut up, and buried together."
The coroner nodded in agreement as she offered up her hypothesis.
Bill walked back towards the empty car. Judging from the hundreds of footprints circling the car, Ralph had been pacing. Bill opened the car door, got in, and started the engine. The passenger side door opened, seemingly on its own, and then slammed shut.
"Let me guess, Bill. Finding the killers is our number one priority. It's for the security of our country..."
"Actually, no, Ralph. Not this time."
"No? Not national security?"
"More of a human interest story," Bill said, in a serious voice. "You know, third page sort of thing. Right up your alley."
"What, like finding a little kid in the forest?" Ralph was half joking.
Bill was silent for a moment, then answered.
"Actually Ralph, it's more like finding four of them."