Act of Mercy – Chapter Twelve

"The car was wiped clean," Tim relayed the information. "They couldn't lift one print from it. It'd been vacuumed, too."

"Neil?"

"Yeah, he called me last night when he got home. That's all they have so far. He said he'd let me know if anything turned up on the computers."

Rachel was disappointed. They were back to square one unless Benjamin Corey could give them something and considering how he looked when they found him, it might be some time before he was able to talk, if he were even willing.

Art sat with them during the morning. He was more disappointed than Rachel and, uncharacteristically, he was having a hard time hiding it.

"Did you see anything in that house, anything in the reports, anything that might connect him to the other two? Think. Anything?" Art kept at them, working to produce another lead with sheer obstinacy.

"Vintage cars," said Tim, eyes fixed somewhere beyond Art.

Art turned around to look. "What?"

"I was just remembering stuff," Tim explained, waving a hand vaguely. "He had a key chain on a hook in the front hall that was a blue '68 Mustang, a desk calendar with a '70s corvette, a flyer on the kitchen counter with a picture of a Mustang on the front and the words 'Phoenix' and 'vintage', a small model of a Mustang in his bedroom on the dresser, and there was a car cover in the garage, and a large tool chest, and an oil stain on the floor. You could see it under the car. Might just be he changes his own oil. And there were shammies and polish. The DMV had him driving a 2002 Ford Escort. Hardly the kind of car you keep hand-polished and covered."

He stopped when he noticed Art and Rachel staring at him.

"No, please, continue," Art invited, with a look he normally reserved for listening to alien abduction stories as alibis. "This is fascinating."

Tim appealed to Rachel for direction and caught her wearing the same expression as Art. "Anything else you remember?" she queried.

"It's probably not important," he mumbled feeling stupid.

Rachel and Art exchanged a look, more non-verbal communication for Tim to try and interpret.

Art let out a breath and rubbed his head, his thinking motion. "Vintage cars. My brother has a '72 Corvette." He paused, staring out the window at the gray day then said as if he'd just noticed, "It's February."

Tim and Rachel swiveled in their chairs to look out the window, as if they needed to confirm Art's statement by checking the weather. Satisfied that it was definitely February out there, they turned back to see Art with a little glint of eagerness back. He'd caught a scent.

"Rachel, check with the DMV. See if Mr. Corey ever licensed a car just for the summer months, a collectible. Might not show up on a current record."

"Or maybe he just bought one. He'd have to have ownership papers," Rachel suggested.

Art turned to Tim. "Any chance your BFF, the Feeb, would tell us if they have any information on a second car?"

"I'll ask him."

"Say Mr. Corey does have a nice Mustang… where is it? And if we find it, maybe we'll get lucky and find Price with it," Art wished aloud. "Tim, how is it that you can recall all these details? You'd think that maybe seeing someone with a hole in their face might have distracted you a bit."

"Uh, training."

"Training? Not Glynco?" Art reasoned, though he wondered if he'd maybe missed a memo about new investigative techniques being taught.

"No. Military."

Art looked back at Rachel. "Don't you just love one-word answers? They're so illuminating." Back to Tim. "Maybe you could explain the training to me."

"It's not that interesting." Tim brushed it off.

"Tell you what, Tim, you start talking and I promise to stop you if I get bored."

Tim looked at Art, still not getting a good read on his sarcasm. He decided he'd better just start talking.

"Okay. Well, uh, sniper teams, we, uh, go out, sneak around, set up and watch the enemy or an area. Somebody decided the military was missing out on a great opportunity to gather intel, so they started training snipers to do it. During sniper school they'd pile random stuff on a table, give us a minute in the room then quiz us on it, see what we'd remember. By the end of six weeks they'd show us the room early in the morning then wait and quiz us at the end of a 12-hour day of intensive physical and mental training exercises, range time, class time. You got so you had tricks for remembering all the shit, even tired or stressed. You'd look for patterns, do associations. I still do it," he finished, then shrugged. "Can't stop."

Art humphed. "Now see, that was interesting. And it might just possibly be a useful skill for an investigator. I don't know. Rachel, what do you think?"

Tim looked over at Rachel for help.

"Sarcasm," she translated.

"Aimed at me or the skills?" Tim asked.

"At you."

"I guess that makes me feel better."

"What else, Mr. Total Recall? And only the last part was sarcasm," Art qualified for him.

Tim sat back and rubbed his eyes. "Uh, Steinbrenner, Osceola, Roger Dean – written on the wall calendar in his office, open to March."

"Huh," said Art.

"Yeah," Tim nodded, leaning forward again.

"What?" Rachel demanded.

"Florida," Art answered for her. "Stadiums for Major League spring training."

"Near Pensacola?" Rachel asked, perking up.

"No," Art and Tim replied in unison.

"They're all down near Tampa and Orlando," Art explained.

"On the way, though," she suggested, sinking a little.

"Yeah, long shot. But that does mean he was likely planning a trip," Art said, eyebrows up, happy with his conclusion. "Confirms what we already suspected. Not a planned suicide."

All three nodded, bobble-heads, thinking.

"Tim?" Art pulled himself out of his reverie. "What did you do with the intel when you were out there as a sniper? Did you write it up?"

"No," Tim exclaimed. "No, we never wrote anything down. Intelligence officers would get it all in a verbal debrief."

"Including your interpretation?"

Tim looked squarely at Art trying to figure where this line of questioning was going.

"We never interpreted the intel. They didn't want us biasing the information. Supposedly only Army Intelligence was smart enough to do that." Tim rolled his eyes expressively. "For example, I would never say that I saw a Taliban sniper. I'd have to say, I saw a male, black beard, traditional Afghan clothing, armed with a Russian Dragunov. Even then, only if I was absolutely certain it was a Dragunov and I'd have to describe the identifying features."

"Huh." Art looked squarely back at Tim. "Around here, we believe you are intelligent enough to interpret evidence. In fact, it's your job. From now on, you write everything you see in your report and include your interpretation. Got it?"

"Yessir."

"And stop calling me 'sir'," Art finished, exasperated.

"Yessir," Tim replied, head tilt, evil gleam.

Art looked over at Rachel for help.

"Sarcasm," she translated.


"You're late, slacker."

Fischer greeted Tim when he climbed out of his truck. Like Cecily had told him, her boss was up at the trailer waiting, hoping for a return visit from his favorite customer.

"The only thing you can be late for on a Sunday morning is church," Tim replied.

"What would you know about church?"

"That I'd never see you there."

"Is sarcasm the only language you speak?" Fischer snapped.

"It seems to be the only thing you respond to," Tim retorted. "It's a good thing I'm fluent. And for your information, I was here exactly on time. I got held up at the house talking with Cecily."

"What do you have to talk with Cecily about?" Fischer asked, a suspicion forming. "Don't you go messing with my staff."

"You know, you sound like my boss."

"Oh yeah? Who's your boss?"

"The Federal Government."

Fischer opened the door of the trailer for Tim, stopped and frowned. "I thought you said you were ex-military?"

"I'm a Federal Marshal," Tim supplied.

"Oh. So you must work for Art Mullen."

Tim stopped, turned, aghast. "You know my boss?"

"He comes to see me now and again when he has questions about firearms," Fischer explained. "He was up here last month with the local Sheriff."

"He must be desperate."

"He hired you."

Tim hung his head. "I walked right into that one."

"Yep."

Fischer stomped into the back, disappeared except for the gruffness which managed to linger. It clung, too, to the words he called back to Tim from behind the wall: "What the hell. Date her if you want. She's off to college next month. I'm going have to find someone new anyway. For some reason she doesn't want to work for me for the rest of her life."

"Can't imagine why not," Tim said just quietly enough to suggest that it wasn't for Fischer's ears.

"I heard that. Maybe I won't show you what I got this week."

Tim smiled, knowing better than to show any curiosity. He plunked himself down on the only chair in the trailer and felt right at home.

The gun smells, familiar, wafted into his sub-conscience and memories drifted up. He felt almost melancholy. It had been a year now, a year since he'd stepped foot on an Army base. Neil was the first real contact he'd had since leaving. They met up in Louisville and got shit-faced on Friday night, ending with Tim hanging off Neil's couch asleep, in no condition to drive back to Lexington. Drinking, they hauled out stories from training mostly, back when it was all deep-down, truly funny even if it was nasty, too, at times. Neil reminded Tim what a hard-assed little nugget of insecurities he was then, but so single-minded that he'd dragged a number of them through Ranger training and they'd come out the other side, all of them, laughing hard until their first deployment. Then they laughed hard, too, but less often and more deep-dark, with lots of blanks in between, and a fear constantly underfoot that no one would admit to.

You got a good look at yourself, like it or not. Tim wasn't sure he liked all of it.

"Want to take her out?"

Tim started, refocused his eyes, wondered briefly if Fischer was back to hassling him again about Cecily then noticed the rifle he was setting on the table.

"It's a Dragunov," Tim said, a glimpse back of the fear underfoot. "Where'd you get that?"

"Ever shot one?"

"A couple of times in Afghanistan."

Fischer actually looked disappointed and it softened his features.

Tim stood up and hoisted the rifle. "What are you waiting for, summer? Where's the ammo? Let's go road test it against the Remington," he cajoled.

He needed the hard edges back on Fischer.


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