CONTROL the DOC – 23

23

We have seen how this euphemism for killing

insinuated something on the order of medical therapy,

along with a standing that was more legal than legal.

~ Robert Jay Lifton in The Nazi Doctors

0930 Hours, 16 September 2013, Mudford County Coroner’s Office, California:

Hank entered the county coroner’s office, not knowing how he would be received. A staff assistant in blue scrubs came through a door. “I can’t answer any questions so, please wait here and someone will be with you in a moment.”

Hank waited while she left to walk to another office. He stood there with his hands in his pockets. What am I doing here?

The girl in scrubs returned. “Doctor Keyes will see you now.” She pointed to his office.

Hank walked to the desk and introduced himself to Doctor Keyes.

“Can I see a report?” Hank asked.

“Who on?” Keyes asked.

“Matthew Sweet.”

“What is your relationship to Mr. Sweet?”

“I’m his doctor. He died September fifth. He—”

“Yeah, yeah. Found high levels of potassium chloride in tissue on toxicology.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Someone put his lights out,” Keyes said. “If he didn’t inject himself.”

“Why would the police chief say the case is closed?”

Doctor Keyes shrugged. “I can’t control the police statements. My guess is they’re investigating quietly. The chief’s in a political struggle.”



1010 Hours, 16 September 2013, City of Mudford Police Department, California:

Hank walked into the Mudford Police Department, determined to get some answers. The foyer was well lighted. The natural oak trim, stainless steel, and glass interior was nineteen-eighties design. He walked to a window where a uniformed officer was seated, at the information desk.

“Can I speak with someone about a case?” Hank asked. “The Matthew Sweet case.”

“Are you a relative?”

“No. I was his physician.”

“Hold on. I’ll check.”

The desk officer made a telephone call, talked to someone, then placed the phone receiver in the cradle, looking up at Hank. “If you’d have a seat, an officer will be out to see you.” He said, nodding his head toward a row of chairs along the wall.

A man opened the single door and walked into the foyer. He had white hair styled in a comb-over on top of his bald area. The hair had been sprayed until stiff.

“I’m Detective Ed Rimmler. Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m Doctor Houston. Matthew Sweet was a patient of mine as well as a friend.”

“Come on back to my desk. I hate talking out here.”

Hank followed Rimmler down the hall toward the detectives’ offices.

“Where exactly do you come in?” Rimmler asked.

“He was in pretty good health, for one thing. And another thing, I just learned that the coroner found an excessive amount of potassium chloride in the toxicology—”

He broke off as they walked into a room of cubicles and desks and a row of glass offices along the east wall. At Rimmler’s desk, they both sat down.

“Yeah, we know all about that. We figured the guy was suicidal over the loss of his daughter,” Rimmler said.

Hank raised his eyebrows. “Well, since you aren’t psychiatrists, how did you come to that conclusion?”

“Look,” Rimmler said. “He was down here, more than once, trying to get us to nose into the investigation back East. Our guys thought he was a little off base.”

“Well, what are you, the police, going to do now?” Hank asked.

“Nothing. To us, it’s a closed case. The guy died of a myocardial infarction.”

“They found excess potassium chloride in his tissues.”

“So,” Rimmler countered. “The guy took drugs. He overdosed himself.”

“He wasn’t a drug user,” Hank said, emphatically. “Besides, he was mostly unconscious from his MI.”

“Maybe he gave himself a dose before he came to the ER?”

“Come on. Potassium chloride into your veins in enough concentration will kill you immediately.”

“Some guys, you don’t know,” Rimmler said.

“Listen,” Hank said. “Matthew Sweet was rocked by his daughter’s death. But he was not suicidal over it. He was my friend. He talked to me. I would have noticed any signs.”

Rimmler shook his head. “Not necessarily. And are you a shrink now? We have seen plenty of suicides where there were no signs, as you say. Just last week we had a sixteen-year-old kid. No signs. No note. Not a word to his friends. And he had a lot of friends, too. Not a loner. No apparent reason.”

“Matthew Sweet was not a sixteen-year-old kid who was hiding his feelings or whatever some mixed up kids hide.”

“Doctor Houston, we need evidence of something in order for us to proceed. It just isn’t there. Do you have some new information?”

“No. Except that his last words to me were, ‘Find out who killed Dana. They got me, too.’ That’s what Matt said.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor. That has to be hard to hear from a friend who is dying. But that wouldn’t hold up in court.”

“What about the Coroner’s report?” Hank persisted.

“We’ve had problems between our two departments,” Rimmler explained. “Some cases, the way they’re handled, leave a lot of room for doubt. Frankly, they’ve made a lot of mistakes up there. Lately, we’ve heard criticism of the FBI lab, too. And we’re just a town of four-hundred thousand.”

Hank sighed, resigned. “Well, thanks for seeing me.”

“My pleasure, if I can help in some other way…”

“Thanks.”

Hank stood up and shook Rimmler’s hand. Rimmler walked him to the door at the foyer. Hank’s thoughts were mixed. I probably shouldn’t have come down here. Cops. How can you figure them? At least I tried. I can say I tried. And they’re just doing their job.



1500 Hours, 17 September, Mudford Police Department, California:

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Rimmler’s phone rang at his desk. He reached over and picked it up. “Detective Rimmler.”

“Ed, there’s a call on line two, from an agent in Maryland. Wants to talk to you.”

“Okay, thanks.” Rimmler pushed the line-two button then rocked back in his chair. “This is Detective Rimmler.”

“Detective, my name is Phil Press, of the Safety Research Institute. We work as a security arm for DHS.”

“Oh? How may I help you?”

“We’ve had one of our investigators following up on a couple leads in Mudford. I just heard from the man tailing our suspect that a Doctor Henry Houston came to see you.”

Rimmler leaned forward and tapped a ball point on a yellow legal pad. “Who is your investigator?”

“I’m not at liberty to reveal his undercover identity at this time.”

“Uh-huh.”

“One of his contacts, who was our informant, is now dead,” Phil said.

“Who?”

“Matt Sweet.”

Rimmler jotted down notes as he talked. “You must know his death was ruled natural causes as a result of an accident, then.”

“Yes, but we don’t buy that it was an accident. Sweet was working on a connection for us with a DHS suspect.”

“Go on.” Rimmler waved to Ford across the room, pointing to his phone. “What does Doctor Houston have to do with this?”

“We aren’t sure. Mainly we’ve been keeping tabs on Sweet’s closest associates. Our investigator said Sweet was due to meet him with some new information.”

Ford leaned over Rimmler and read the notes on the pad.

“That isn’t much,” Rimmler said.

“I know that. Our man says Houston was up to something. He thinks it may have something to do with Sweet’s death.”

“That’s it?”

“Not exactly. We’re wanting to know what, if anything, Houston has to do with another DHS issue?”

“What’s that?”

“That’s classified.”

“So why are you calling me?”

“We’d like your department to search Houston’s home and medical office. Look for fatal drugs that could have killed Sweet and also any computer thumb drives or discs with any encrypted files.”

Rimmler made more notes. “Not much to base a search on. What else do you have?”

“Our guy bought some ammunition from Houston. All legal. And Houston refused to sell him a rifle now that he no longer has a federal license. But because of Sweet’s last comments, our guy thinks there was something going on. Then Sweet ends up dead. It smells.”

Rimmler was quiet a moment.

“You still there, Detective?”

“Yes. Sorry, I was thinking.”

“How about it?”

“All right. I think we can do a search utilizing the ATF based on his once having a federal gun license.”

“My number on your phone screen?”

Rimmler glanced at the LED display. “Yeah.”

“You can reach me at that number. Direct line.”

Rimmler wrote the number. “All right, Mr. Press.” He hung up. “Looks like DHS is going on a fishing expedition and they expect us to bait their hook.” Sighing, he raked his hand through his hair. “Get the district ATF on the line down in Fresno,” he told Ford. “See if they can do a search of his home as a former gun dealer.”

“What about his medical office?” Ford asked.

“I’ll get a warrant for our department for a search there.”

Ford turned toward his desk. Rimmler dialed the number for the District Attorney’s office.



1130 Hours, 16 September 2013, City of Mudford Police Department, California:

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

A uniform officer searched through a file cabinet in the Property Division. Another officer walked by. “What’s going on?”

“Detective Ford asked me to pull up a file on a local gun dealer.”

“What for?”

“For a support to the ATF who wants to search his property.”

“You find it?”

“No.”

“Look for Sports Stores, Pawn Shops, and Dealers.”

The officer pulled another file drawer. “Here it is.”

The title on the file was simple: Henry Houston. The officer pulled it out and carried it to Detective Ford’s desk.



Detective Ford opened the file. He picked up the phone and dialed the number to a federal building in Fresno.

An ATF agent got a call from the call center. “This is Agent Walraven. May I be of assistance?”

“I’m Detective Ford with Mudford Police Department.”

“Yes, Detective, what is it?”

“We need to do a search of a possible perp and we know he was a past gun dealer. On a technical question, does ATF need a warrant to search his home?

“That depends. Was his gun business conducted there?”

“Yes, as far as I know,” Ford said.

“Then I think we can search without a warrant,” Walraven said. “We call it an inspection. We can drop in anytime.”

“Great.”

“I’ll pull his records up from Atlanta.”

“How long?”

“Couple of hours. Is there a rush?”

“Trying to coordinate with a warrant search of his business at the same time,” Ford said. “We can handle that location if you do the home.”

“What’s his name?”

“Henry Houston.”

“All right.”

“Thanks again.”

Detective Ford hung up his phone and went to update Rimmler.



Agent Walraven hung up his phone and then picked it up again and dialed a number to another office in the same federal building.

“Hey, Darryl,” Walraven said. “Get the dealer’s license record from Atlanta for Henry Houston. A Mudford address.”

“Will do.”

“Get another couple guys ready.”

“What for?”

“We’re going on an inspection.”



1300 Hours, 16 September 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

Photo by Specna Arms on Pexels.com

ATF agents and officers stormed into Hank’s home. They were all over the place, searching through everything.

Jenn was there alone. “Who are you?”

“ATF, ma’am,” Agent Walhaven said.

“Why are you here?”

“Dealer inspections are our normal business.”

“My husband is no longer a dealer.”

“We know that.”

“Then you know that ATF has his records that he sent in.”

“True enough. But we are still conducting an inspection for any illegal weapons.”

“Where is your warrant?” Jenn demanded.

“We don’t need a warrant. Your husband was essentially an agent of ATF as a dealer.”

“But he isn’t any more,” she yelled in exasperation.

Walhaven remained calm. “Doesn’t matter.” He pointed agents to the garage.

Inside the home, two agents talked in Hank’s home office. “What do we have?” Agent Warren asked.

Agent Ducey pulled open a closet door in Hank’s office. The gun safe doors were opened. “The wife opened it for me. A lot of various pistols are here. A nine millimeter Taurus, a Czechoslovakian Tee Kay Cee in three eighty, a Rugar revolver in forty-four Remington Mag, a Colt in forty, two Remington black powder Navy forty-fours.”

“Rifles there?”

Ducey pointed to each one as he listed. “A Moissin Nagant eight millimeter Russian, a Garand, a Chinese Mauser in eight, a Marlin lever in forty-four, a Mossberg twelve gauge pump, a Browning twelve gauge auto, an FN forty nine in eight millimeter, a Remington modal seven eighty eight bolt action in three-oh-eight, a Sako bolt in thirty ought six, a Norinco Type fifty six S with a thumbhole stock, and a AR type Daiwoo in five, five, six.”

“Nice little collection,” Walhaven said.

Agent Darryl came in. “In the garage are a three black powder rifles. A Springfield eighteen-forty-two, an Enfield, and a Remington two banded. No ATF files from his past business, but lots of ammunition and reloading supplies, and all legal guns,” Agent Ducey said then paused. “Nothing else.”

“Maybe,” Walhaven said. “Get all the serial numbers and run them. See if anything turns up. Any discs or thumb drives?”

“Several, but none with encrypted files. Just household stuff and a bunch of crap about the Civil War. Do you want Houston to produce receipts for all these weapons?”

“No,” Walhaven said. “That registration crap is just a bogus media thing. But run the serials.”



1300 Hours, 16 September 2013, Henry Houston Medical Office, Mudford, California:

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Pexels.com
Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Pexels.com

A combined force of police, neighborhood POP, SWAT, and canine teams along with four detectives, raided Hank’s medical office. Cops and officers went through the landscaping and through all doors into the office complex.

Detective Worley looked over the reception counter. “Is Doctor Houston here?”

The receptionist’s hands shook. “No,” she said. “I mean, yes, but he’s in his office for a late lunch.”

Worley instructed the uniform K-9 officer to proceed with the dog through the office. He turned back to the receptionist and a nurse. “We have to ask you both to step outside while we conduct a search.”

“What about Jean and Helen?”

“Who are they?” “The accountant and another PRN.”

He ushered them out with hand motions. “All right. Go tell them to go out with you. I’ll talk to Doctor Houston in his office.”

When the dog team was through, detectives Worley, Powell, Rimmler, and Ford went through the cabinets in the small office lab area. Boxes of pharmaceutical samples and other medications were pulled from the shelves and drawers. Syringes of various sizes were piled on another counter.

“What are we looking for that was on the warrant?” Powell asked.

Rimmler snapped on his gloves. “Look for bottles of potassium chloride.”

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

“Or boxes labeled that,” Ford added.

“That’s what Coroner Keyes said he found in the autopsy,” Powell said.

Ford opened a bunch of small boxes. “What are you finding,” he asked Powell.

“I’ve found flu vaccine, cotton balls, gauze packets, tape, alcohol bottles and wipes, acetone, Cialis and Viagra samples, six kinds of statin samples, epinephren and syringes, and omeprazol samples.” He tossed a box of Epson printer ink cartridges onto the counter. “And office supplies.”

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

“What do we have?” Worley asked.

“No potassium chloride, a lot of supplies, and all legal medications,” Ford said then paused. “Nothing.”

Rimmler threw a box of plastic specimen cups against a wall. He picked up another plastic bag of syringes to throw and then thought better of it and dropped it back on the desk. “What a fuckin’ waste of time.”

“You got that right,” Powell said.

Worley looked around. “All right,” he said. “If the potassium chloride isn’t an everyday item in the office, perhaps he made a one-time order from a supplier.”

Ford nodded. “You’re reading my mind.”

“That one girl out there was the office accountant. Get Houston’s purchase records from her.”

“What about his prescriptions he’s written?” Ford asked.

“Good thinking. Check it out.”

“The other angle,” Worley continued, “is that the hospital pharmacy probably has that stocked for use there. Let’s get over there and see if Houston sign out any potassium there.”

All the police left shaking their heads. The Houston office raid had turned up nothing.

“Let’s keep an eye on Houston, just the same,” Rimmler said.

“Got it,” Powell said.

“We may need to ask Houston a few more questions, but first we need to fit some unanswered pieces of this together.”

CONTROL the DOC – 22

22

As the Founding Fathers knew well, a government that does not trust its honest, law abiding, tax paying citizens with the means of self-defense is not itself worthy of trust.

~ Wayne. R. LaPierre

0900 Hours, 9 September 2013, Mudford Rifle and Pistol Range, Mudford, California

22

As the Founding Fathers knew well, a government that does not trust its honest, law abiding, tax paying citizens with the means of self-defense is not itself worthy of trust.

~ Wayne. R. LaPierre

0900 Hours, 9 September 2013, Mudford Rifle and Pistol Range, Mudford, California:

Hank sat at a concrete benches and fired at his target. There was a metallic echo under the large steel canopy, which covered sixty benches in a row along the concrete floor. This was range six, for members of the Rifle and Pistol Club only. His semi-automatic bolt locked open after ejecting empty 30.06 shell casing. The eight other shooters on the line kept firing their rifles and pistols down the range.

Before Hank could begin shooting again, the range master barked a command. “Ceasefire, ceasefire, make all weapons safe.” He was standing at the center, scanning left and right. “Clear all weapons,” he yelled, looking up and down the firing line again to make sure everyone had cleared their weapons.

Hank pulled out his magazine, yanked back the bolt to extract the cartridge in the chamber, and laid the M-1 Garand on the bench.

“Clear?” the range master yelled.

“Clear,” the shooters answered back.

The range master pointed down range. Several guys walked forward to check their targets. Another shooter, a man with a white beard, had just put down his semi-automatic pistol. He started up a conversation with Hank.

“Do you like that rifle you’re shooting?” the man asked from the bench on Hank’s right.

“I sure do,” Hank replied.

“A lot of history in that rifle?”

Hank nodded. “This model has an International Harvester receiver. It’s a Korean War vintage.”

“I’ll be damned. My dad was in Korea. I’d like to have a Garand. Where’d you get yours?”

“From the government. I shot in a few DCM matches, applied, and paid one hundred sixty-nine dollars. It came from the depot in Alabama.”

“Nice deal.”

“I guess you can do the same thing, still.”

“I’m not into matches much. Know where I might get a deal?”

“There was a time I could have gotten one for you,” Hank answered.

“How’s that?”

“I used to be a dealer. It was mostly for myself. Out of my garage.”

“How’d you become a dealer?”

“Easier than buying a gun. The ATF has a form you fill out. You just mail it in.”

“Where’d you get the form?”

“From an ad in Shotguns & More.”

“The range is hot,” the range master shouted. “I repeat, the range is hot.”

Hank and the other man both took a couple shots at their targets.

“Could you still get me a gun?” the other shooter asked, during a break. “I’d pay you a finder’s fee.”

“No way. I sent my license back to the ATF in Georgia.”

“Darn,” the man said. He paused as if thinking. “I could use some ammo. This nine millimeter stuff is expensive.”

“I can get you ammunition.”

“Can you get me a thousand rounds?”

“No problem. But why don’t you reload yourself? Be a lot cheaper.”

“I hear it is, but I never bothered with it. Maybe I will,” the other shooter continued, then paused again. “Get me that ammo just the same.”

Hank nodded his head in agreement. “My name is Hank Houston.”

“I’m Jesse Brown.”

Jesse and Hank exchanged phone numbers. As the man walked away, Hank wondered if this was just an innocent ammunitions buy or something more sinister. He shrugged off the thought. The guy seemed nice enough, and Hank had no reason to suspect he wanted the bullets for anything but target practice.



0800 Hours, 11 September 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

As Hank and Jenn got dressed to go to Matthew’s funeral, they argued.

Jenn sat on the edge of the bed and pulling on a pair of pantyhose. “I thought that you were through with that gun business. I saw that you ordered some ammunition for some guy.”

“I am. A guy just wanted some ammunition,” Hank said.

“Some creep you met at the firing range who you don’t even know.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“You don’t really know some of those shooters you meet. He could be checking out our home for a planned robbery.”

“He’s just an old vet who is now a security guard at the mall.”

“First you wanted to fly. Then you wanted to buy an airport and run it.”

“Not a big one.”

“Oh, Hank, come on,” she pleaded.

“Why are you bringing all this up now?” he asked. “That was years ago.”

“Because then, you were going to throw away everything we’d worked so hard to attain.”

“I understood that.”

“Now, I’m afraid you’re acting the same way as then.”

“How am I acting?”

She didn’t answer him, just kept getting dressed, tossing things around in the bedroom and the walk-in closet. “Then you just had to be a gun dealer,” she finally said. “Can’t you just be happy being a doctor? You’ve got a great practice. But our friends think you’re a little nuts.”

“I have a lot of interests, that’s all.”

“Hurry and get dressed. You’ll be late for your own funeral as well as Matthew’s.”

“That’s an old cliché, honey,” he said.

“Sometimes I like clichés. Sometimes I don’t want surprises. I like our life as a cliché.”

“Oh, God,” he said and feigned distress.

“I think I want out.”

“Not again?” he groaned

“I mean it this time.”

Hank didn’t argue with her further. He knew she was distressed, that she was happier when he had quit being a dealer. He also knew that she didn’t know the entire story.

He finished dressing and walked to her. She stood at the master bathroom mirror and sprayed bursts of perfume onto her neck. He put his arms around her to give her a hug.

She put out her arms. “Don’t mess me up.”

He backed off. “All right, honey. I just want you to know how much I love you.”

She looked in the mirror and adjusted a curl of hair. “I know.”

He watched her face in the mirror. She turned then so he bent slightly and kissed her lips. “I thought you didn’t want me to mess you up.”

“I’ll fix my lipstick while you drive. Come on or we’ll be late.”



Hank drove on the freeway to the funeral. Jenn pulled down the visor mirror, putting on lipstick. The car radio was on a music station, which at the top of the hour went to a news break.

Hank turned his head in the heavy traffic and changed lanes. Jenn reached for the radio controls to turn up the volume.

“Police Chief Richard Serrano has just released an announcement regarding the recent death of prominent local businessman Matthew Sweet,” the news announcer said. “Chief Serrano has said there will be no further investigation of the death, ruling that it was not a homicide as was rumored earlier yesterday.

With over one hundred homicides so far this year, the Police Department has yet to solve over twenty…”

Hank reached over and punched a button to another station. “At least they haven’t said it was a suicide.”

It was upsetting for both of them. It hadn’t been that long since Dana’s funeral. They drove into the Catholic Church parking lot and got out of the car. Jenn held on to Hank’s arm. To Hank, the church mass was excruciating.

He kept thinking about where he had gone wrong with Matt’s care. It was maddening. He couldn’t get past the anger and guilt, closing his eyes as the benediction was completed. I pray it wasn’t my fault.



At the graveside, Linda sat with her chair directly over Dana’s grave. The temporary marker was still in place. Dana’s permanent stone had not yet been placed. Now Matt was to be laid next to her.

Some friends formed a small choir and sang a hymn. The priest spoke in a more informal vein with a shorter eulogy and the reading of another gospel. Another friend played a solo violin version of Amazing Grace.

As the priest gave Linda a gold cross, a line of eight Civil War reenactors, dressed in Confederate uniforms, were being called to attention by their First Lieutenant.

“Load.”

The men reached into their cartridge boxes and pulled out paper cartridges, tore them with their teeth, and poured the powder down their rifle muzzles.

Then they brought the rifles to the ready position, reached into their cap pouches for the small brass cap, and placed it on the nipple in front of the half-cocked hammer.

Then came the command, “Aim” and “Fire.”

The clean volley sounded like one shot.

“Load”, this was for the second volley.

It was loud, slow, and moving to watch.

“Load,” came the command for the third and final clean volley. “Shoulder arms,” The lieutenant ordered next. “Present arms.”

Corporal Kline, off to one side of the rifle squad, played taps. Two Confederate NCOs came to the coffin, removed the draped Confederate Battle Flag, folded it ceremonially, and the sergeant presented it to Linda with a few brief words.

These were Matt’s buddies. Hank and Jenn watched the crowd line up to visit with Linda. They hung back behind the relatives and other family friends.

Jenn turned to Hank. “This is so sad.”

“Yeah.”

“Did Matt ever confide in you about his and Linda’s problem?” she asked.

“No. What problem?”

“Linda told me something recently that I found totally shocking.”

“What?”

“That she and Matt hadn’t made love in ten years.”

“As in no sex for the past ten years?”

“Yes,” she said.

“No. He never told me.”

“Come on, Hank. You’re his doctor.”

“I know,” Hank said. “I know, and I do—did ask him if he had any problems in that area.”

Jenn was dismayed. “In that area?”

“Yeah, with his sex life. Or with his performance.”

“How’d he answer you?”

“He said it was all right,” Hank responded with a sigh.

Jenn shook her head. “You’re not keeping some privacy, privileged, or HIPPA law thing secret here, are you?” She kept her gaze on him, waiting for an answer.

“No. I’m just as shocked as you are, if it’s true.”

“It’s true. She told me.”

“God,” Hank said.

“Yes, and it’s like she has this guilt thing now, thinking she should have gone easier on him.”

“Jeez,” he said.

“I know.”



2100 Hours, 14 September 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

It was dark outside. Hank sipped coffee and stood under his open garage door looking out toward the driveway.

Jesse Brown from the range pulled up in his pickup. “Hi, Hank.”

“Hi, Jesse.”

They shook hands. Jesse reached for his wallet. “How much was that again?”

“Five hundred.”

“Right. Good price these days.”

Hank took the bills. “I got it pretty cheap.”

Jesse followed Hank toward the garage work bench.

Hank handed Jesse a computer printed receipt. “Thanks for the buy.” He helped him carry the case to the pickup.

Jesse offered his hand. “Thanks again. Sure I couldn’t get you to find me a gun?”

Hank shook his head. “Sorry. Not without a license and I don’t have one anymore.”

“I understand,” Jesse said. He got into his pickup and drove away.

Standing at the backdoor, Jenn frowned as she watched the man leave.

Hank closed the garage door and walked to her. “All done. And no problem.”

She shook her head. “See what I mean?”

“What?”

“He’s a real creep.”

“No, he’s not. He’s a nice guy.”

She turned to go inside. “You are so gullible.”



2115 Hours, 14 September 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

Jesse drove down the street, turned left at the corner and pulled over to the curb before calling Phil in Maryland. “Phil, this is Jesse.”

“What’s up?”

“Houston is apparently staying put for now.”

“You turn up anything new?” Phil asked.

“Nothing. He sold me a thousand rounds, but refused flat out to sell me a gun.”

“All right. Well, you tried. The next move is for you and the guys there to hit his office. Search for anything like a flash drive, a disc, anything like that.”

“We tried that, remember? The security is too tight, and there’s a silent alarm right to police station.”

“Damn, that’s right. Well, then we’ll have to find some way to do a legal search. I’ll work on that. You keep an eye on Houston.”

“All right. Will do.”

CONTROL the DOC – 21

21

No finer man ever tore cartridge.

~ Sam Watkins, from The Civil War Memoir Co. Aytch

1900 Hours, 4 September 2013, River Road, Mudford, California:

The commuter traffic was heavy as Matt drove along River Road, a two-lane thoroughfare leading to the on ramp to the CA-99. Two cars passed him, with the last one having to cut close to Matt’s left front fender as oncoming traffic did not slow down. Matt honked his horn at the driver. Jesus

As he continued past a long parking strip, he began to feel nauseated. Then the vertigo hit. Turning toward the shoulder on the right, he over corrected, jumped a curb, and sideswiped the side of a concrete-block building wall.

Yanking the steering wheel to the left, he over corrected again, slamming his head into the left door window.

His car shot across the two lanes, between two sycamore trees, and over the bank into the river. The bank was fifteen feet down from the upper edge.

The car came to rest nose down in the sand and rocks of the partially dry river bed.



2030 Hours, 4 September 2013, Mudford Community Hospital, Mudford, California:

Hank was on the surgery floor, checking on a couple of his patients, trying to tie up a few loose ends so he could go home to Jenn. “Code blue in Emergency Room,” said an abrupt female over the loudspeakers in the hallways. “Code blue, Code Blue in ER, Code Blue in the emergency room.”

Hank went down the stairwell to the ER department. There, he found the doctors and nurses working on the unconscious patient. He stuck his head in and offered to help.

“What have we got?” he asked.

“Car accident.”

As Hank got closer to the patient, he gasped in shock. “Matt? Oh, God. No.”

“Hold the CPR,” the ER doc said. Everyone looked at the monitor. It showed a straight line. “Resume CPR.”

One nurse working on Matt shook his head and acted like they needed to quit. Hank knew they were going to call the code. “Well, I think that’s—” the ER doctor started.

“Can you keep trying? He’s my friend,” Hank said.

The doc shrugged his shoulders indifferently and kept up the code. They worked on Matt for another fifteen minutes. Everyone looked at the monitor. “Hold the CPR,” the ER doc barked.

“We have a rhythm now,” a nurse said.

Hank breathed a deep sigh of relief. The ER doctor patted Hank’s shoulder. “Let’s watch him then get him upstairs to the unit.”



1300 Hours, 5 September 2013, Mudford Community Hospital, Mudford, California:

Hank was at Matt’s bedside in the Cardiac Care Unit. He checked Matt’s vitals and the stitches over his left eye brow. Bill in the ER did a nice job.

“Is Linda here?” Matt whispered to Hank.

“Yes. She’s in the unit waiting area.”

“Good.”

“I’ll go get her.”

Matt nodded. “Thanks.”

“No sweat, pard.”

Matt coughed. “Hank, find out who killed Dana. They got me, too.”

“Don’t worry, Matt. You’ll be all right,” Hank said.

He patted Matt’s shoulder. Poor guy. Paranoia from or related to the trauma of his accident, accompanied with grief and suspicions over his daughter’s death. Hank had seen it before in patients. But what if I’m wrong this time?

He shook off the thought and went to the waiting room to get Linda.



2200 Hours, 5 September 2013, Mudford Community Hospital, Mudford, California:

Hank sat at the doctor’s desk near the nurse’s station in the Cardiac Care Unit. He pulled Matt’s chart and flipped through the pages. He found the laboratory results and went over the values again. The nurses ignored Hank as they did their jobs. One nurse after noticing that Hank sat there, reading a chart longer than most physicians do, spoke to him over the desk. “May I help you, doctor?”

Hank did not look up. He was puzzled by Matt case. “Just checking on Mr. Sweet.”

The nurse shrugged, writing in another patient’s chart.

“He was just in the office a couple days ago,” Hank offered. “He was fine. His lab work was good. Now they found him slumped over in his car where it jumped the curb and went into the river.” Hank sighed, wondering what he was missing. He returned the chart and left the CCU.



2230 Hours, 5 September 2013, Mudford Community Hospital, Mudford, California:

Terry Graf walked into the CCU. Wearing a long lab coat with the hospital logo and a security ID badge from the ER Department, he approached the CCU station desk.

“I’m Doctor Graf. I just wanted to look in on Mr. Sweet.”

“Sure, Doctor. He’s right there,” the CCU nurse said. She pointed to a nearby module. “Did you see Doctor Houston?”

“Yes, I just talked with him,” Terry lied.

At Matt’s side Terry read the wristband data. “Primary Physician: H. Houston MD.” It’s been a lot of years, Hank.

Matt remained asleep while Terry inspected the IV line. He found another piggy back site above the heplock, pulled on latex gloves, took a small syringe from his lab-coat pocket, and injected it into the line, watching the monitor for a moment before slipping out of the module.



Outside the hospital in the parking lot, Hank got into his car. He started the engine and the radio came on with the news. He pushed the button to the CD player and a Brooks and Dunn song began as he drove out of the lot into the night.



Inside Matt’s module in the CCU, the video screen of the cardiac strip traced its QRS complex in what appeared to be a sinus rhythm. At that moment the line fluttered and went into an erratic deflection and the rapid pulse called tachycardia. The beeping pulse sound changed to a rapid sequence tone. This then changed into a coarse ventricular fibrillation. Matt’s heart was not pumping well now. He was, in fact, coding.

The nurses were on top of it and rushed into the module. Another notified the hospital operator to call the Code Blue.

An doctor charged into the CCU. He and the nurses worked on bringing Matt back to life. But despite their best efforts, the monitor strip changed to a flat VF line.

“It’s no use. He’s gone,” the doctor said.



0145 Hours, 6 September 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

The pre-dawn darkness gave way to the creeping glare of light as the garage door lifted with a growl. Their sedan was parked in the garage. Hank opened the car door for Jenn. Once she was seated, he went around to the driver’s side and got in. Hank backed out of the garage and closed the door from his remote control on the sun visor.

“I can’t believe he died, too,” Jenn said. “First Dana, now her father. Linda must be devastated.”

“When I last saw him, I thought he would make it,” Hank said.

“Should I take something over to her?”

“Let’s just be with her for now,” Hank answered. “We can worry about that stuff later.”



0255 Hours, 6 September 2013, Sweet Residence, Mudford, California:

It felt warm inside the Sweet’s home. It also felt empty, even though other friends and people were there. The Green Mountain Boys’ forest-fabric design of the cushions on the shaker furniture belied a different age of décor. The glass coffee table top on basket supports held large books about England and on the origins of tea. None of that seemed important now.

“The last thing he said to me was to find Dana’s killer,” Hank said and grimaced, immediately sorry he said it.

Linda wiped the tears from her eyes. “Oh, God, he was obsessed with that. Maybe the stress of all this killed him.”

“I thought Dana’s death was—” Jenn stopped abruptly.

“Self-inflicted?” Linda asked, completing Jenn’s question. She looked down and folded the tear-moistened handkerchief. “We never believed that. Matt was determined to find out the truth.”

Jenn reached for Linda’s hand. “I’m so sorry,” she said, taking Linda’s hands in hers.

They hugged each other.

“I guess we’ll never know the truth. Maybe now, it’ll stop,” Linda said.

“What will stop?” Hank asked.

“Everything. Last week we were burglarized. Yet, nothing was taken, except my notebook computer. Whoever it was, was looking for something specific.”

After a while it became more difficult. What more could be said? Nothing seemed right. They were interrupted when other friends came to say goodbye for the evening. With more hugs Hank and Jenn also left.

Driving home in their car, they were quiet for a long time. The occasional golden sodium streetlight passed overhead as they drove.

Hank sighed and flicked her a glance. “Awfully strange, everything that has happened to them.”

“Thank God it isn’t happening to us,” Jenn whispered.

“I wonder what she’s going to do,” Hank said, looking back at the road.

“Hank, turn around. I’m going to stay with her at least for today. She really seems to have only his side of the family here.”

“Okay, probably a good idea.” Hank turned the car around and drove back to the Sweet residence.

CONTROL THE DOC – 20

20

But Pearl Harbor demonstrated one enduring lesson:

The unexpected can happen and often does.

~ Gordon W. Prange

1130 Hours, 4 September 2013, Henry Houston Medical Office, Mudford, California:

I

Inside Hank’s office, his nurse, Judy, had put a chart in the door pocket of one exam room and picked up the chart from another door. From the workstation in the hallway, the receptionist approached. “Has the doctor let you know when he will be coming in?” she asked.

“He’s supposed to be here now,” Judy replied.

“It’s going to be worse when he takes off for that AMA convention in Washington,” the receptionist said.

“I know. As long as he keeps us open, I don’t really mind. I need the hours.”

Hank appeared from the back hallway. He put on a long lab coat. “Good morning, ladies.”

“Good morning, Doctor Houston,” Judy said with a smile. She was glad he was there now and they could get to work.

Inside one of the examination rooms, Matt sat on the edge of the exam table. Hank entered and sat on the short swivel stool.

“You’re in good shape,” Hank told him. “Your HDL is up now. Keep taking the Pravachol, though.”

“Okay. When do you want me to come back in?” Matt asked.

“Come in for a checkup in six months. Here’s for your lab work. Get a blood draw a week before you come in.”

“Sure thing.”

“Have you learned any more about Dana’s death?”

“No.” Matt gestured with his hand as he explained. “I went down to talk to the police. They’re nice enough to explain they can’t or have no reason to make an inquiry across the country.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, like I told you before, I went to the police department who handled the case in Virginia. They wouldn’t tell me anything new or different.”

“Probably a policy,” Hank said.

“When I was down at our police station, I tell you it was strange. I mean, they know or should know, because I tell them, that I’m a grieving father. But they probably do understand that.”

“They have to see that a lot,” Hank agreed.

Matt cocked his head and raised both hands, palms out in the gesture of futility. “But I’m there five minutes, getting no answers, and all of a sudden, I get this overwhelming feeling of being so fuckin’ stupid for even being there. Why am I feeling like an idiot? If I’m going to find answers, it won’t be from the police.”

Hank nodded and typed a note in the laptop on the exam room counter.

“Oh, I just remembered something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Matt said.

Hank looked up from the laptop.

“When I went through Dana’s car before I sold it, I found this Virginia map. It had notes on it and a highlighted route. I followed it one afternoon. She had detailed directions written on the map about an end location that was off a Piney Woods Road.”

“What did you find?”

“I never really got to it. I was starting across this property on foot, when a local guy warned me off. He threatened to call the sheriff.”

“Interesting,” Hank said. “What’d you do then?”

“I left. I was a little spooked by the guy.”

“I guess you couldn’t have lied to him about being related to the owner,” Hank said.

“I thought of that for a moment, but then I thought he might have been the property owner.”

“True.”

Matt scratched his head. “According to Dana’s directions, I was only a few yards from some sort of spot.”

“You have the map with you?”

“It’s at home with my other maps from other trips.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“I’ll show it to you. Next time you’re over.”



1230 Hours, 4 September 2013, Sweet Residence, Mudford, California:

Matt drove around the curve in his neighborhood and slowed to pull into his driveway. The garage door was up and Linda’s car’s trunk lid was open. It was another hot day and Matt looked forward to getting inside and having an iced drink and some lunch. He picked up a bag of groceries from the trunk of Linda’s car and entered the kitchen through the garage. He found his house ransacked.

He set down the grocery bag. “What the hell happened here?”

Linda emptied a bag in the kitchen. “This is how I found it. Someone broke in while I was out shopping,” she said.

“I better call the police. At least for the insurance reasons,” he said.

“They just left. I called them right away,” she said.

“They’re gone already?”

Linda shrugged and held her arms out, palms up. “They said there was nothing they could do, except write it up. They said to call them when we find out what was stolen.”

“Yeah, right, that’s what I wanted to do all day. Go to the police.”

“I couldn’t tell if anything was missing,” she said. “Whoever did it didn’t go through my jewelry in the bedroom.”

“They didn’t take the TV or DVD player either,” Matt said. “I have my laptop with me.”

“Oh, my.” Linda turned and hurried to a kitchen work station.

“What?”

She reached opened a cabinet door and gasped in dismay. “They got my Gateway notebook.”

“Shit. Now we really gotta check and make a list.”

“You want some lunch?” she asked.

“No. I feel sick.”

“I Know. I do, too.”

Matt looked around at the house and the furniture that was turned over.

“You need to eat something,” she urged.

He nodded. “I feel dry, too.”



1845 Hours, 4 September 2013, Henry Houston Residence, Mudford, California:

That night, Hank and Jenn sat at their candlelit dining table.

Jenn passed Hank a plate of rolls. “Linda Sweet called earlier. Their home was broken into this afternoon.” She sighed. “Look at all that’s happened to them, and now this.”

“Were they home when it happened?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“It’s late now. I’ll give Matt a call tomorrow.”



1845 Hours, 4 September 2013, Office of Sweet Tax Service, Mudford, California:

Matt walked out of his office late. The strip mall bar near his office had the door propped open. Country-rock music from a live band floated out and through the parking lot. As he walked to his car, he was shoved from behind, into the fender of a pickup. He felt a small sting on the back of his neck, but the pain quickly faded and he dismissed it.

“Sorry mister.”

Matt looked up and watched a drunk cowboy stumbling away between the cars.

“Watch out,” he called.

He knew what he’d said was useless and shook his head. After starting his car, he backed out and saw the drunk wander into the street at the corner of the building. Matt turned in that direction and reached the entrance apron. Turning into the street slowly he searched for the drunk. If that guy gets in a car, I’ll call the cops.

But there were no vehicles parked on the curb and the drunk had vanished.

Control the Doc – 19

19

How editors can continue this tremendous labor,

this exhausting consumption of brain fiber (for their

 work is creative, and not a mere mechanical laying up

of facts, like reporting), day after day, year after year,

is incomprehensible. ~ Mark Twain

1100 Hours, 23 August 2013, Room 418, Hampton Inn on Leesburg Pike, Alexandria, Virginia

Matt called Linda on the hotel room phone.

“Hello?”

“Hi, honey. It’s me.”

“Good morning. How are things?”

“Really tough at times.”

“I know.”

“I go in and out of moods.”

“Me too,” she said.

“Some good news is that I was able to sell the car.

“That was quick.”

“I’ll finalize that with the dealer tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“I could tell you more but I don’t have the time.”

“Why? Your flight isn’t until the day after tomorrow.”

“I want to drive to a place west of here. It looks like a place she visited. I found a map in her car. I’m not sure of the driving times in this area.”

“Really? A place she visited?”

“Yeah. I’m really curious where she might have gone and why.”

“Do you think it might have something to do with her death,” she asked

“I don’t know. Possibly. It just seemed strange so I want to check it out.”

“Well, be careful.”

“I will.”

“I love you, hon.”

“I love you, too.”



1130 Hours, 23 August 2013, Hampton Inn, Leesburg Pike, Alexandria, Virginia:

Matt started the rental Jeep and drove northwest on Leesburg Pike toward Falls Church. His first checkpoint was the address in Haymarket. The directions were good. He found the neighborhood and Jim’s house. He stopped the Jeep. There was a realtor sign with a sold board hanging under it. Matt looked at the map then drove out to the Lee Highway.

As he drove he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Somehow I feel right, following her map. I feel close to her. He had most of the route memorized. The next turn took him to the US-211 West to Luray and on to New Market, then it was north on the old highway parallel to the Interstare-81

Outside of Forestville he had to stop and study the map again. He proceeded on Piney Woods road and stopped where he thought he was the correct location. He looked left and saw an over grown old house. If there was a creek behind it, he could not tell from the road. He pulled a little forward and onto the narrow dirt shoulder. There was no fence as he walked toward the north. A pickup pulled up next to Matt’s Jeep.

A man yelled from the open window. “Hey, mister. Whacha doin’ here?

“Looking around,” Matt said.

“Are you family to this land?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then you’re trespassing. I better call the sheriff.”

“No,” Matt said. “I’ll leave.”

Matt walked back, started the Jeep, and drove away. The man in the pickup followed him for two miles then turned off.



2100 Hours, 25 August 2013, Mudford Airport, Mudford, California:

Linda picked up her Starbucks coffee and walked to a bench to wait for Matt outside of the TSA area. A group of passengers approached and walked past her to the luggage pickup area. Matt appeared from behind another group. He dragged his one carryon piece then let go when he reached her.

Her eyes were full but she managed a smile and reached out to him. They hugged as others walked around them.

“We have to go to the baggage claim,” he said.

She nodded, linked her arm in his, and leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked.



1500 Hours, 2 September 2013, Golf Course, Monterey, California:

There was a light offshore breeze, but the nearby pines blocked some of the wind’s effects on the green of the golf course. Hank and Matt were putting—or trying to.

“Jesus, a double bogey,” Matt groaned. “I thought I had it. I mean it went right where I aimed it. Did you see the way that ball broke?”

Hank scratched his head near his gray-haired temple. “Tough luck, Matt,” he told his friend. “You’ll do better on the next hole. I’ve seen you.”

Both men picked up their balls and headed for the next tee.

“I’m just too uptight,” Matt explained. “I know it’s been a while since I played, but I can’t shake Dana’s death. She’s always on my mind.”

“You may never get over it, Matt,” Hank said. “We all may never get over it.”

“Oh, I know that. I was thinking yesterday about Mike Reynolds, in Fresno, the ‘three-strikes-you’re-out’ guy.”

“Yeah?” Hank said.

Matt gestured with his arms in the air. “I mean, he loses his daughter, the cops in Clovis kill the bastard who did it, and does he get over her death? I mean there was instant justice but it wasn’t enough. No, there isn’t any getting over it. I know that.”

“That’s what I mean,” Hank agreed. “I know.”

Matt was quiet again. He kept his head down as he walked to the next tee area. “Have you ever had panic attacks, Hank?” he asked, without looking up.

“Once or twice, maybe.”

“Ever thought about killing yourself?”

“No, not really.” Hank answered. “Is that’s what’s bothering you?”

“Sort of.”

“Talk to me.”

“It hit me in the middle of the night,” Matt told him. “I was in bed and it hit me how easy it would be. Then I was overcome by this feeling that I would really do it.”

“You ever heard of Sam Watkins?” Hank asked.

“No.”

“Sam Watkins was in the Civil War from Tennessee. He was in it from the beginning. Saw many of his friends killed right beside him. Went through all those battles with the Army of Tennessee from 1861 on. In the summer of 1864, he was in the Atlanta campaign and got wounded in the ankle or foot. From there he was taken to a field hospital and then given a medical furlough.

“On this furlough, he took a train, southwest from Atlanta to Montgomery Alabama, the state capitol. On a tour of the state capitol, he climbed, as a tourist, up into the dome of the capital. While up there, Sam had this panic attack and froze. He frightened those around him and somehow, someone helped him get down. It was shocking to Sam, but he was confounded by it also. What stunned him, and he learned then of his fear of heights, was that he realized that he wanted to jump from that three hundred foot height, in order to kill himself.”

Hank took a deep breath. “He had been through three years of battles, had made many heroic stands in the face of enemy Union fire, and now he was afraid he was going to jump from the observation level of the Montgomery dome interior.”

“This is a real guy?”

“Yeah. And he went back to Atlanta, kept fighting until the following spring, and was lucky enough to survive.”

“Wow.”

“Then it took another twenty years of living before he wrote this all down in a book. But my point is, that fear of harming oneself has been around for a long time. Sam was probably depressed and didn’t know it.”

“Probably,” Matt muttered.

“And he probably had good reason to be depressed.”

“You ever been thatdown, Hank? Feeling low?” Matt asked and this time he met Hank’s eyes.

“Sure.”

“How’d you get out of that?”

“It was before I met Jenn. I had been married before.”

“I didn’t know that. You?”

“Yep, me. I had jobs, but I couldn’t keep them. I quit or got fired every six months. This went on for about five years. The marriage suffered because of all this. She had an affair. It went nowhere, but she wanted out. When it was over she moved with the kids back east.”

“You have other kids?”

“Yes, I do.” Hank sighed. “I was down so low in life that I was out drinking every night. I was broke, family gone. I wasn’t into crime, but I still hit rock bottom. Anything I did would be an improvement, but I was so low that I didn’t care. Partly, I was angry too. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t care. After a few months, the anger subsided somewhat, and I wanted to get out of that place where I was. The hole. The rut. Rock bottom, whatever you want to call it.”

“Jeez,” Matt said and looked down again.

Hank studied Matt’s reaction for a moment.

“What got you out?” Matt asked.

“Jenn. Jennifer got me out. I owe everything I’ve done, right or good, to Jennifer,” Hank mumbled, almost inaudibly, while he twirled a golf ball in his fingers. “My Jenn.”

Matt was quiet but nodded.

“If I can do anything more for you, let me know,” Hank said.

“You’ve been great, Hank. You’ve dragged my ass out here today. I really needed this.”

“This been a great day for it, too,” Hank said, trying to be more upbeat with the conversation. “But I’ve got to put some office time in when I get back. I’m going to an AMA Convention next week.” Hank made his tee-off swing and held the driver over his left shoulder as he squinted and watched where his ball was going.

Matt watched Hank’s drive before speaking again. “I’ll tell you what’s more troubling to me. The Alexandria Police Department in Virginia are convinced Dana’s death was a suicide. I know that’s bull. I’m sure she was murdered.”

“Murdered?”

“That’s right,” Matt said.

“Did the police even mention that possibility?” Hank asked.

“They said there was not a trace of evidence that it was a homicide.”

“That doesn’t sound—”

“Jesus,” Matt yelled. “Just look at this tee. How do they expect us to shoot from here?”

“Lots of traffic this morning.”

“There’s mud everywhere.”

“You go ahead, Matt.”

Matt set his ball on a tee, brought his driver back, and took a swing. He lost his footing and slipped in the mud. The torque of his swing twisted his body as he fell on his back with his head pointed down the fairway, his two legs pointed up.

Hank watched the ball in the air then looked down at Matt, who was struggling to get up but not having much luck.

“What the hell are you doing down there?”

“I slipped,” Matt groaned. “Grab my hand.”

Hank laughed hard, pulling him up. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said between laughs.

“I can’t either. It happened so fast.”

Both men laughed so hard they wiped tears from their eyes. Hank looked down the short fairway. “Well, you’re sitting good,” he said. “You’re on the green.”

“About time.”



1730 Hours, 3 September, Over San Joaquin Valley Airspace, California:

Hank’s Cessna 182 cruised over the San Joaquin Valley. Hank sat in left seat and piloted the plane.

Matt sat in the right seat and looked out of the window. “This has been a great day, Hank. Where are we now?”

“Over Planada,” Hank answered. “I’m going to practice an instrument approach. See this gauge? That’s the ILS.”

“Okay,” Matt said. “Where’s the airport?”

“Right in front of us. We’re on a shallow glide slope. You are going to get another pilot’s vantage point of the landing.”

Hank talked to Air Traffic Control on the radio about his approach. When it looked like Hank was through with the mike, Matt brought the subject around to Dana again.

“You know, Dana was just not suicidal. She was never low or emotionally depressed. She was always up. And she was excited about her job.”

“I hate to say it, but I don’t remember,” Hank said. “What was she doing?”

“She was an accountant for the FAO, Federal Accounting Office.”

“Wow. Big outfit. They must have thousands working there.”

“I guess so. But this whole thing smells, Hank. I told the police that, too.”

Hank tried to concentrate on a radio call coming in from Air Traffic Control, while listening to Matt, too. “Just a minute, Matt. Air Traffic Control just told me something.” He keyed the microphone. “This is Cessna eight-six-eight tango.”

“This is Mudford Control, Cessna eight six eight tango. You are cleared to proceed to base leg and final.”

Hank turned the control wheel.

As the plane banked, Matt instinctively grabbed the panel in front of him for a hold.

Hank parked his Cessna at his usual spot in the general aviation ramp and tie-down area. Inside the Cessna, he and Matt unbuckled their seat belts.

Hank reached down to the left side of his seat and released two button snaps. He pulled up a natural leather holster with a nine-millimeter Taurus semi-automatic in it. The steel was blued and the grips were walnut.

Matt stared at Hank. “You always carry that gun?”

“Sure. Never know where you might be forced down.”

“I guess that’s true.”

As they walked from the general aviation ramp and tie-down area, Hank looked across the airport runway to a gray jet parked by the hanger. A gray 727 was across the runway at a military hanger. “Looks like that same plane from a few months ago,” he said.

“Sure does,” Matt agreed. “Must be military.”

Hank and Matt left for the auto parking lot. They walked to separate cars.

“Don’t forget your appointment,” Hank called out to his friend.

“It’s a good thing you reminded me,” Matt yelled back. “I’ve been as forgetful as hell about everything, lately.”



1930 Hours, 3 September, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

While Hank was in the shower, Jenn finished her bath and stood in the tub while it began to drain. She stepped out and dried herself, powdered her skin, then dressed and went downstairs.

Hank finished his shower and stepped out of the door-less marble stall to dry himself. He started to speak to Jenn, when he realized that she was not there. He sighed and took a breath. He could still smell the powder she used. It was a soft feminine odor and would always remind him of Jenn.

That night Hank and Jenn talked, while having drinks in their kitchen. Gray speckled granite countertops ran throughout over the teak cabinets. Jenn tossed her streaked bangs out of her eyes and tipped her head back as she sipped her drink.

Hank’s arms swept the air as he talked about his day.

“Did you two have a good time?” Jenn asked, sipping her drink.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he answered. “It was great. Matt took this one shot from a tee, the tenth I think, lost his footing, slipped in the mud, and fell flat on his back.”

“Oh, the poor man.”

“We were laughing so hard the rest of the day, that we both did terribly.”

“So he didn’t hurt himself, then.”

“I don’t think so. I had to help him up, though.”

“How’s he doing? I mean about Dana. Does he talk about her?”

“He’s fine. I know it just killed him, losing her. I mean, you know, it has crushed both of them, really. But sometimes, you can’t tell with the way he talks.”

They both paused and sipped their drinks.

“It’s so sad,” Jenn said. “At least our two are all right. I can’t imagine how awful it must be.”

“But get this—” Hank gestured with his glass in the air. “—now Matt thinks Dana was murdered.”

“Murdered?”

“That’s right. He’s even done some checking around.”

“Is he that obsessed? It doesn’t sound like he’s too good to me,” Jenn said.

“Well, maybe this is how he’s dealing with it,” Hank said. “And, like me, I think he is wondering what it was that Dana was worried about. I’m still bothered by that myself. So he must have that on his mind.”

“God, the poor man,” she said,

Hank and Jennifer sipped their drinks. The only sound for a while was the tinkling of the ice in their old-fashioned crystal glasses.

Control the Doc – 18

18

Get on the line, get on the line. Goin’ to Washington town.

~ Delirious, Arkansas Confederate Soldier, wounded and left at Gettysburg

1155 Hours, 19 August 2013, Near Capital Mall Area, Washington, DC:

 

Matt studied his area map. The FAO was located at 441 G Street. He could see that Dana’s office was within walking distance, four blocks north and two blocks west. The first person he wanted to see was Tom Cannell and then Paula. He couldn’t remember Paula’s last name. Had she told him? He also wanted to see Holly Fox and any others in Dana’s department who would see him. He knew he couldn’t interrupt their work, but he could leave his name and where he would be staying. He planned to stay in Alexandria, where he had made a reservation.

He had no idea what to expect. What sort of tourist dropped into the FAO just for a visit? He shook his head and, from his cell phone in the foyer of the building, dialed Paula’s number. “This is Matthew Sweet, Dana’s dad. Can we talk? Maybe let me take you to lunch?”

There was a moment of shocked silence on the other end of the line.

“I’m here in Washington,” he continued, holding his breath. “Downstairs.”

“Sure,” she said after a pause.

“All right. Can Tom or Holly make it also?”

“I—I’ll see. We’ll meet you on the corner of Third and G.”

She was polite, as before, but seemed overly shocked somehow. As she was disconnecting, Matt heard her speak to someone near her in the office. “I can’t believe this. Dana’s father is here, downstairs.”



1300 Hours, 19 August 2013, FAO Office Building, Washington, DC:

Up on the floor, Paula still had to contact Tom, but Holly had agreed to come. “How does he know about us?” she asked.

“He called a few days ago,” Paula explained while she waited for Tom to answer the phone. “Didn’t he call you?”

“No.”

“Where is Tom?”

“He’s here someplace. I saw him on the elevator earlier,” Holly replied.

Tom finally picked up his extension. “Hello?”

“Tom, this is Paula. Dana’s father is here. He wants to meet with us, offered to buy him lunch.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes. I don’t want to meet with him alone. Will you join Holly and me?”

“I guess. Where, the cafeteria?”

“No, not the cafeteria. I suggest the restaurant at the Art Museum.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because I like it there. Meet us downstairs right away. All right?”

“Sure.”

Paula hung up and Holly laughed.



Matt watched the three of them approach. Tom appeared tall and thin with dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Matt couldn’t help wondering if Dana had slept with him.

He knew that he would never know the details of her private life, yet, such thoughts often bothered him.

“Hi, I’m Paula,” the first girl said. She had short blonde hair with dark roots.

“Hi, I’m Matt Sweet.”

There was handshaking all around.

“I’m Holly.”

Holly was sort of mousy, but cute, Matt thought.

“And Tom,” Tom said and laughed.

They walked down to the intersection of Constitution Avenue and then to Pennsylvania Avenue. Several tourists on the street followed them to the triangle glass and concrete Museum of Modern Art. Matt stopped briefly to examine a sculpture of welded metal. “We need to move along,” Holly said. “The restaurant is on the second floor balcony.”

Once seated, they looked over the menus.

“I recommend the Greek Salad,” Paula said.

“None of you will be surprised,” Matt said. At first he thought he shouldn’t bring it up. It seemed so trite. But then, he thought, What the heck. “But Dana told me about this place and about the Greek salad too.”

“That’s right, she loved it here,” Tom said.

They ordered and an awkward silence ensued.

“I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me,” Matt said, breaking the silence. “Did you all socialize with Dana a lot?”

“Not really,” Paula said.

Holly nodded in agreement.

“Excuse me for being blunt, Tom.” Matt cleared his throat. “I know you said that she went out with you once. Was there someone else she was dating? After Jim, I mean.”

“I think so,” Tom said. “But I don’t know for sure. It wasn’t something that she would confide in me about.”

Paula and Holly looked at each other but did not speak.

“Did she talk of others to you gals?”

“She talked mostly about the master’s degree she was working on,” Paula said.

“Yeah,” Holly agreed.

“That’s for sure,” Tom added.

“And other history stuff,” Holly said. “She was thrilled with the history stuff in this area.”

Their food came. It was a welcome break from the tension.

They all ate rapidly and Matt was aware that they wanted to get back to the office.

“Maybe the police will help you more,” Tom suggested.

Matt swallowed a bite before answering. “Tried that,” he said. “I went to the Metro department a few blocks up,” he said. They don’t have a thing on Dana, Nothing.”

Tom was surprised. “Really?”

“They said—” Matt swallowed the lump in his throat and continued. “The gal there explained that since Dana lived in Alexandria, it was probably out of their jurisdiction and that maybe the Alexandria Police Department would have more information.”

“That makes sense,” Paula said.

“So that’s where I’m headed,” Matt told them. “I’m staying there anyway.”

The others all nodded.

Outside the museum, they walked back to the FAO building. At a crowded intersection, Tom and Paula took the lead, while Holly and Matt followed. Holly leaned closer to Matt as they walked.

“I didn’t want to say this in front of Tom,” she said. “Dana was dating a guy in another agency.”

“DHS? CIA?”

“No. But it’s something to do with our national security.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I think it was a man named Cullman.”

Matt nodded. “Thank you, Holly. I’ll check it out.”

They caught up with the others and said their goodbyes.

After they parted, Matt went into the FAO and checked the directory for the location of the DHS. He couldn’t find it. He asked an information clerk and was directed to an office on the ground floor. It was another room full of desks and partitions. A man approached him. “May I help you?”

“Is DHS in here?”

“No, I’m afraid this isn’t their office building.”

“Oh.” Matt hesitated, thinking.

“May I be of some help?” the clerk asked.

“I’m Dana Sweet’s father. She was a former employee here.”

“I see.”

“I understand that she was dating Cullman somebody, or I guess Cullman could be his last name, in an agency connected to the DHS.”

“Well, I wish you knew his full name, Mr. Sweet. Then you’d have a place to start over at the DHS.”

“Well, on second thought, I’m here for only a couple of days. Thank you, anyway.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Sweet.”



1415 Hours, 19 August 2013, FAO Building, Washington, DC:

The information clerk watched Matt walk away, then he dialed a number on his phone. “Is Phil in?”

“He’s not back from lunch.”

“You’ll never guess who just walked in?”

“Who?”

“Dana Sweet’s father. He’s in town asking questions about Cullman.”



1430 Hours, 19 August 2013, I-395 South, Washington, DC

Matt drove past the Pentagon on the way to Alexandria. Questions bothered him, and he wasn’t getting many answers. True, he was meeting some of Dana’s friends and co-workers, as planned, and he had a lead on one guy she was dating—or might have dated.

The DC Metro Police were a dead end. So he had only to go to her place and pack her things. That was going to be hard. And get her car. Damn. He’d forgotten about her car. He’d try to sell it. Then he’d go to the Alexandria Police Department.



0900 Hours, 20 August 2013, Dana’s Apartment, Alexandria, Virginia:

Matt knocked on the door of Dana’s apartment house. A woman opened it. “Hello?”

“Hello, Mrs. Tilson? I’m Dana’s father.”

She opened the door wider and beckoned with one arm. “Oh. My goodness. Please call me Opal,” she said. “Come in, come in.”

He stepped past her into the living room. “Thank you.”

“I’m so very sorry about your daughter,” she said. “It was such a shock.”

“Yes. For us, too.”

“Please sit down, Mr. Sweet.”

Matt sat on the sofa. “I apologize for not calling. I wasn’t sure of my schedule.”

“That’s all right. I’m usually always here. I’m retired.”

“I’ve come to pick up Dana’s things.”

“Oh, my, yes.” Opal rose “I’ll show you to her room and all.”

Matt followed her up the stairs, down a hallway, and through a door on the left.

“This was her room with a separate bathroom for privacy.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s a bit of a mess. The police came and went through everything. They left it more of a mess, but I picked it up some. Everything is here as she left it. Her computer was taken by the investigators. It was never returned.”

“Is it all right if I go in and out with some boxes?”

“Oh my, yes.”

Opal left Matt alone. This was more difficult than he’d imagined. He sat in the desk chair and studied the desk area. Her notes were still tacked everywhere. He rose and walked to the bed, bent down, and lifted the mattress skirt, searching under the bed. There was a backpack there and he pulled it out. It was unzipped, empty. He noticed that it was well worn. Maybe she got a new one.

It was strange feeling as he searched for her property. Yet, he realized he couldn’t be anywhere else. I’m glad I came. What else could I do?

There was a small closet door ajar. He opened that and was more surprised by how few clothes were hanging on the rod.

The chest of drawers had more clothing. He decided to buy one large suitcase, bring it back to the apartment, and pack. He’d check that through on the return flight.

“Mrs. Tilson—Opal,” he called into the kitchen as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

“Quite all right,” she answered.

At the street, he found her car. The police said it had been found at a local restaurant nearby. He guessed they’d had it towed back to her apartment after forensics got through with it. Using the key he had brought with him, he opened it. It was clean.

He sat in the front passenger seat and went through the center console and the glove compartment.

There was a map of Virginia that was folded in an unconventional manner. He studied the markings on it and the notes. It looked like Dana’s printing. She had places circled. These were Haymarket, Luray, New Market, Sperryville, and Forestville, each connected by a highlighted route.

Near the Forestville circle, were detailed directions to Piney Woods Road. I wonder what Dana did there. Must have been a reenactment.

He folded the map and locked the car. The next stop was to find a store that sold luggage.

Control the Doc – 17

17

Everything’s for sale. Everything has a price.

~ Don Perry, M.D., 1990

2100 Hours, 18 August 2013, Matthew Sweet’s Home, Mudford, California:

Linda talked with Matt on the bedroom phone. “Aren’t you tired?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Have you gone to her apartment yet?”

“No. But I will tomorrow. I’m talking with some of her friends tomorrow, too.”

“Those at her work?”

“Yeah. They seem like nice kids. I wish you were here.”

“I know. I still can’t imagine—I just couldn’t.”

“I know.”

“What time is it there?”

“Eleven, no twelve p.m.,” he said.

“You must be tired. I should let you go to sleep.”

“You need to sleep, too,” he said.

“I’m running the tub now.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

She went to the master bath, turned off the tap, and swished her hand through the water. Candles around the tub flickered in the nearby mirrors. Climbing into the tub, she leaned back in the warm water and began to sponge her shoulders. The sudden, intense grief caught her by surprise as she thought about Dana and she burst out sobbing, her face buried in the sponge.



0530 Hours, 19 August 2013, Mudford, California:

Hank jogged down the road in the early-morning darkness. He became visible under the golden yellow glare of a sodium street lamp. Then he was in the darkness again, as he headed out of the suburban neighborhood toward the large parcels of land at the edge of the city. The road paralleled the river, which meandered in a westerly direction from the Sierras.

On a rise in the road, Hank could see a few farm lights a mile away, south, across the river. Soon, he ran between almond orchards on both sides and east toward the foothills, where the trees gave way to flat, green, alfalfa pastures.

From the east, the dawn light created an orange line that ran along the Sierra Nevada crest, the mountains a black silhouette.

Hank had a lot of things on his mind. His patients in the hospital, Jenn’s birthday, and the check he needed to mail to his son at college.

On a low hill ahead, a cyclist met him and passed, going the other way. He did not wave. Beyond the cyclist a car sped toward them.

“Asshole,” the cyclist yelled as the car swerved past, barely missing him.

Hank turned his head. The cyclist stood on the soft shoulder of the road, flipping off the car, which sped past Hank.

“You all right?” Hank yelled.

“Yeah,” the cyclist hollered back. “That’s why we need bike lanes.” He mounted his bike again and rode on.

Hank shook his head. He’d heard it before. He’d almost hit several cyclists himself on this road. The bike riders usually rode in the lane they were supposed to, but the road was only a narrow two-lane with little or no paved shoulder. And drivers these days were always in a hurry. They passed on curves, on hills and raced around each other, sometimes trying to get around a line of cyclists on the weekends. It was crazy and cyclists were often killed.

Was this close call an accident just now?Hank wondered. He hadn’t been touched, but it would have been easy for the cyclist—or the driver, for that matter—to have run into him. The driver of the car could have easily killed either the cyclist or Hank.

I’m on this road a lot. Anyone could learn my habits.

It was getting lighter. He turned around and jogged back the way he’d come. Stop being so paranoid. Time to get back home. Get a shower, a cup of coffee.



0600 Hours, 19 August 2013, Henry Houston Home, Mudford, California:

Jenn was still in bed when Hank got home. He turned on the shower, then stripped, tossed his clothes into the hamper, and stepped into the stream of hot water. He heard Jenn get up and head downstairs.

When Hank finished dressing, he went down to the kitchen. Jenn had put on a thin robe over her pajamas. She popped bread into the toaster and sipped her coffee. Hank poured himself a cup from the coffee maker.

“I witnessed an incident on the road this morning,” he said.

“A wreck?”

“No. But I was almost hit by a cyclist, and the cyclist was almost hit by a car.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Not at all. It happened so fast. Someone could have gotten hurt, though.

She turned from the toaster. “You should be careful.”

“Easy advice.”

She laughed while she carried her coffee over to sit by him. “I’m glad you’re all right.

He looked at her and pretended seriousness. “What are you up to?”

“What are your plans today?” she asked him instead.

“Make the rounds then go to the office,” he answered.

“I was thinking you could fly me up to the city. I’d like to do some shopping. I’d like to take Berle, Doctor Stewart’s wife.”

“Who?”

“Berle Stewart,” Jenn said. “I ran into her at the club a couple of weeks ago. Never really knew her before. She’s quite nice.”

“You know, honey, I can’t just drop everything and go on a moment’s notice.”

“You always say that. Anytime you want to get more flying hours in, you seem to find the time.”

“Plan it,” he said. “Let me know a couple of days ahead of time, and I’ll fly you both up there.”

She leaned toward him and kissed him. “Okay.” The toast popped up and she buttered a piece for him. “Any word from Matt on his trip to Washington?”

“No, nothing. Which is odd. I was supposed to get together with him before he left. He wanted to go over his plans with me. Then, before I knew it, he was off on the trip.”

“Were you going to tell him what Dana confided in you?”

“That’s just it. I was thinking about that. I’m not sure I should. I don’t want to add to their pain. And other than her concerns about Jim Calder, she never really got a chance to tell me what was bothering her.”

“Why don’t you call him? At least see how he’s doing.”

“He’s probably too busy since it’s only been a couple days since he left.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Getting her things from the apartment, for one thing. I think I recall him mentioning that he was going to sell her car there.”

“I’ll call Linda,” she said.

“Why didn’t she go with him?”

“Have no idea.”

“It’s so sad,” Jenn said. “Linda was consoling me and telling me that we have to go on.”

“True. We do have to go on, but I think about Dana a lot.”

CONTROL THE DOC – 16

16

The whole world is changing, but there must be

some truths to hang on to. ~ Matthew Sweet

1700 Hours, 9 August 2013, Mudford Police Department Foyer, Mudford, California:

Matt had been to the local police department several times. They were sympathetic, and they were always polite. Matt knew he was being a nuisance. Still, just this one last time, he hoped they could tell him some small thing that they might have heard from the Washington, DC Police.

He entered the small reception area inside the exterior double glass doors and took a deep breath. There were two interior doors of solid, blond-finished wood with eight-by-ten-inch safety glass in the center. To the right of these doors was the information station. A uniformed information officer sat behind the glass-enclosed counter. After Matt told the officer who he wanted to talk to, the officer made a phone call.

The officer looked up periodically at Matt, then resumed reading and flipping through several sheets of paper in a file. The wait was frustrating. He considered walking out but eventually the doors opened and a uniformed female officer approached him. “Mr. Sweet?”

“Yes,” Matt said and rose.

She offered her hand to shake. Matt extended his and felt her firm grip. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

Matt hesitated. Maybe it had been a mistake to come to the department again. On his previous visits he had followed a plain clothes detective into the department and sat at his desk chatting. No, this wasn’t good. Matt began to answer when the officer spoke first.

“Why don’t we go outside?” she suggested, as she walked to the double glass doors.

Matt opened the door for her and followed her outside. They stepped around the concrete barricade cylinders. “My daughter was killed,” he said.

They walked between the courthouse and the county office building. The sky was clear, but there was a chill in the air. The pathway was lined with green gingko trees. They approached the narrow paved drive to the county jail. Beyond the drive was a small park.

“I know about your daughter,” she said.

“I guess everyone does,” Matt admitted.

“Something like that.”

As they walked farther, he watched her and thought that she was too beautiful to be a cop. Her auburn hair was done up in a bun at the back.

“I don’t really know why I came down here again.” She listened but said nothing, so he continued. “I guess I wanted to talk. And I can’t keep upsetting my wife with my suspicions.”

“This must be difficult for your wife,” she offered.

“Yes, it is.”

She paused before continuing. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Which was?” he asked.

“What can I do for you?”

“Oh.” Now he paused and thought before speaking. “I’m looking for answers.”

“Mr. Sweet. If you want answers, you need to be asking in Washington. You might begin by talking with her friends and co-workers there.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he conceded. “I should be asking them.”

“I sincerely hope that you find some answers,”

“Thank you.”

She offered her hand to shake once more then turned to walk back to the department. He watched her a moment.



1830 Hours, 9 August 2013, Mudford Faire Mall, Mudford, California:

Matt drove to the mall. He walked past the shops on the ground level, thought of stopping in the bar at the end, but decided against having a drink. He could not feel more numb than he already did. He reached the second floor and wandered through those shops. At the sporting goods place, he checked out the golf equipment. He took swings at the indoor miniature tee in the corner. He didn’t buy anything. Just took swings from a dozen different clubs. He couldn’t get over the feeling of aimlessness. Is this the pain or the safety from the pain?



0610 Hours, 12 August 2013, Sweet Tax Services, Mudford, California:

Matt opened the doors to his office. As he entered he deactivated the alarm by punching in the code on the ten-key pad on the wall. He left the night light on and walked to his desk at the back of the office, peeled off his navy blazer, and put it on the hanger behind the partition. Though he’d been raised in California, he liked the preppy look with open-necked, long-sleeved, blue button-down shirts and khaki trousers.

He pulled a legal-size notepad out of a drawer. At a little past six a.m. Pacific Time, nine a.m. Eastern Time, Matt figured now was a good time to reach office workers before they got too busy. He had Dana’s work number, but had never used it before. It felt strange, knowing that she wasn’t there. He punched in the number. As expected, he reached the main number menu line, which asked for the caller to enter an extension number. He punched in her extension, hoping to get a friend answering the phone. He waited for the connection. Then her voice came on the line.

“This is Dana Sweet. I’m either away from my desk or on the other line,” she said. “Please leave your name and number and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”

Matt was shocked at hearing her outgoing voicemail message. He hung his head as he listened to the beep, stayed on the line a moment, then hung up the handset. He began to weep, touched at hearing her voice. After a few minutes, he rose and went to the bathroom sink in the back. He washed his face, dried his eyes, and then returned to his desk.

He redialed the main number to the FAO. He listened to the menu line again and tried to reach a live person to talk to. He punched an extension and a woman answered.

“I’ve dialed the extension for Dana Sweet, who no longer works there,” Matt said. “Is there someone in that department I could speak to?”

“You could talk to Paula. I’ll connect you,” the woman said.

“Thank you.”

He listened to the ringing.

“This is Paula. May I be of service?”

“Yes,” Matt said. “I was trying to reach Dana Sweet’s desk.”

“I see,” Paula said and then stopped.

“Did you know her?” Matt asked.

“Well, yes, I worked with her.”

“I see. Could you talk about her a moment?”

“Who is this?”

“Me? I’m Dana’s father.”

“Your Dana’s father?”

“Yes. I—I’m sorry. I thought I identified myself. I’m Matt Sweet.”

“We are so sorry for your loss, Mr. Sweet. We all liked her very much.”

“Did she seem depressed to you? Upset? Anything to suggest that she would…”

“Commit suicide?” Paula finished. “No. She was worried about Jim, but she didn’t seem depressed.”

“Are there others in your office who…” he asked then hesitated while searching for the right words. His doubts about his motives kept creeping back. They weren’t just selfish doubts. Is this call hurting this girl’s feelings? If so, it’s too late. She’s waiting. “…who were friends with Dana?”

“There’s Holly, Gina, and Tom in our department.” She gave him their extensions.

He wrote the names and numbers as Paula listed them. “Would they talk with me?”

“I’m sure they will,” Paula said. “You can only ask.”

“Yes, I can only ask,” he repeated. She didn’t respond, so Matt continued. “You have a nice voice,” he told her. “I have no idea what you look like, but by your voice, you sound like a nice person.” Paula didn’t respond. “Dana was fortunate to have you as a friend.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sweet.”

“No, thank you. You’ve been very helpful. And also—”

“I can only imagine your loss,” Paula said, cutting him off as if suddenly in a hurry. “I hope you find the answers you are looking for.”

“Thank you, Paula.”

“Good bye, Mr. Sweet.”

“Good bye.”

Matt put the phone down and looked at the notepad. He now had a short list of co-workers and office friends, along with their extension numbers, at the FAO. It was a beginning. These were friends who possibly knew something. He flipped over the page and, on the new page, wrote a list of questions to ask Dana’s co-workers. He didn’t want to be bumbling and fumbling for words as he had been with Paula. Then he picked up the phone.

One extension for Holly Fox connected very quickly. Holly was polite and surprised by the call. She did not know of other close friends. She told him Dana had not seemed depressed to her, cut the call short, and thanked Matt for calling.

Matt called the second girl on his list. All he got was a voice mail “away from my desk” message. A third call, this one to Tom Cannell, connected. Although, Matt was getting smoother, Tom was rather curt with his answers.

“Is this a bad time?” Matt asked.

“No,” Tom said. “There’s no good time.”

“Were you and Dana dating?”

“No, though we went to dinner once.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I wanted to see more of her, but she wasn’t interested in me,” Tom explained.

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ve been upset about this, and angry, too.”

“How so?” Matt asked.

“I think she was seeing someone else.”

“Do you know who?”

“No.”

“All right,” Matt said.

“It has been a huge loss for this department. We miss her terribly.”



1530 Hours, 14 August 2013, Dulles International Airport, Virginia:

Matt had tried to sleep on the plane. At Dulles International, the rental car company provided area maps, which included the District of Columbia. He had the maps his auto insurance company provided, too. Now in the rental car, he felt a combination of anxiety, excitement and dread.

He drove east on Highway 267 through the Virginia hills and soon reached the Falls Church area. His plan was to go to the Metropolitan Police Department then to the FAO office building. He then planned to go to Alexandria, check into a motel there, and go to Dana’s last address to get any of her belongings.

At Falls Church, Highway 267 ended at the I-66. Matt took the I-66 east and crossed the Potomac River on Memorial Bridge. As he drove past the Lincoln Memorial on the right, he was amazed at the view of the other memorials and sights along the Capitol Mall. He picked up the trip map book from his carry-on bag and flipped to the Washington, DC pages. There were two locations mapped out for him. He was surprised that he hadn’t realized how close the two locations were. He saw at a glance that 300 Indiana Avenue was just east on Highway 395, off of C Street, and 441 G Street NW was between Fourth and Fifth Streets west of Highway 395.

The traffic was heavy and backed up, stop light to stop light, along Constitution Avenue. The time spent in the traffic jam allowed him to take in the view of some of the monuments and get a feel for the area. On the left, was that Eighteenth Street or Nineteenth where he saw the Simon Bolivar statue? He watched a black SUV in front of him turn left, the driver having found a side-street parking spot. A family climbed out, slinging their bags and cameras, wearing their sunglasses.

Soon he was passing the Washington Monument area on his right. The black iron fence of the White House south lawn was on his left. Traffic was heavier here and crowds of tourists flocked across Constitution Avenue in both directions. He finally reached the Pennsylvania Avenue intersection, turned right, drove the 229 yards, and then turned left again at the light on to Constitution Avenue. The directions proved fairly easy to follow. Next, he turned left on to Louisiana NW and then left again on to Indiana, which was the exact location of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Inside the foyer at the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department Building, he looked at the directory near an elevator door. He couldn’t decide, from that alone, where to begin so he gave up and went to the information desk. The woman, a young police cadet, at that desk led him to a second floor office. This office was the Victim Crime Solvers Service Unit. This office was large with a high counter top and a computer monitor at one end.

Another young woman approached the counter. “May I be of service?” she asked Matt.

“Yes, my daughter was working for the FAO when she was found dead.”

“Oh my, I’m so sorry,” she said with genuine concern.

“My question is, since the only indication I got was that she took her own life, could they be wrong? I think she was murdered.”

“Oh.”

“So,” Matt continued. “How do I keep this case open?”

“Let me get her name and see what is in our system.”

“Dana Sweet,” he said. “D, A, N, A. Sweet. S, W, E, E, T.”

He waited while she typed on the computer keyboard. She watched the screen intently. He watched her eyes and felt that he was just a statistic to her. She typed something again and stared at the screen. Matt had that renewed feeling of doubt about his reasons for being there.

Finally, she spoke. “It appears she isn’t in our system.”

“How can that be?” he asked.

She hesitated. “She may have not been in our jurisdiction,” she said. “Where was she found?”

Matt began to answer then blinked and hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“How come?” she asked.

“We got the phone call from a police department. I just assumed it was the one here in Washington, DC,” he said.

“Did she live here in Washington?” she asked.

“No, she lived in Alexandria,” he answered.

“Perhaps it was the Alexandria Police Department who called you,” she said.

Matt nodded his understanding, but he couldn’t speak. He felt very stupid.

She spoke again. “We have nothing on her in this department, Mr. Sweet, as the case is out of our jurisdiction, in all likelihood.”

“I see,” he managed to say.

“Would you like for me to give you the address and phone number for the Alexandria Police Department?”

Matt’s feeling of stupidity quickly turned into anger— at himself and at the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department as he was suspicious he was getting the runaround. Whether this was true or not didn’t matter. He clenched his teeth and tried to calm himself. After a moment, he loosened his jaw and managed to be civil. “Yes, I’d like that.”

She nodded, typed two keys, then hit the return key once. She watched the screen and then reached for a sheet of paper coming out of the nearby printer. She handed it to Matt. “I hope this helps you, Mr. Sweet.”

Matt knew she was doing her best and tried to hide his disgust. “Thank you,” he said. “You’ve been very kind.”

She nodded and, as Matt turned to leave, he noticed that she’d managed a smile. It was a terse smile, but a smile of understanding, nonetheless.

Control the Doc – 15

15

Dear Dad: I think that I’ve made a mistake.

~ Dana Sweet

1730 Hours, 24 July 2013, Dana’s Apartment, Alexandria, Virginia:

When she got home from work, Dana wrote a letter to her father and saved it to a CD, along with her as-yet-unfinished thesis on government population control and Jim’s after action report. She’d give it to Hank for safekeeping when she saw him next week. In the meantime, she’d hide the disc in Opal’s bedroom. Just in case.

She then deleted the after-action report and the letter to dad from her computer using file-wiping software called File Shredder. It was supposed to fix it so that the files couldn’t be recovered, but she wasn’t sure she believed it.

The phone rang in the kitchen. She heard Opal answer it and start chatting with a friend. Dana slipped into Opal’s bedroom and stuck the disc in the back of her bottom dresser drawer. Satisfied, she closed the drawer and hurried out of the bedroom, running smack into Opal, whose eyebrows were raised in both confusion and alarm.

Dana thought fast. “Oh, there you are,” she said, putting as much relief in her voice as she could. “I was trying to find you to tell you that I’m going out, so you don’t have to cook for me tonight.”

Opal nodded. “Okay, dear. Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’m just meeting a friend for dinner.”

Dana sighed as she headed back to her room. She hated lying. And now she had to go out to eat—when she would have rather just had a quick bite and gone to bed. But she hadn’t been able to think of any other excuse for being in Opal’s bedroom. Damn, why did she have to get caught?

She took a quick shower and, after dressing in casual clothes, left the house and walked down the street to her car. As she opened the car door, a man approached her from across the street. The image startled and frightened her. Then she relaxed. “Cullman?”

“I thought you might like to go out for dinner,” he said.

She hesitated, not sure she was up to handling his advances tonight. “Oh. I don’t know. I’ve had a long day.”

“Oh, come on. It’s on me.”

On second thought, maybe he could advise her. And besides, this way, she wouldn’t have lied to Opal. “Actually, I am glad to see you.”

“See?”

She paused a moment. “All right.”

“Well, can you meet me at the restaurant?” he asked and named a popular spot close by. “I need to stop by the office, and it would save time if you could just meet me there.”

“Sure. I can do that.”

“Great,” he said. “Then I’ll meet you in the parking lot there in just a few minutes.”



0800 Hours, 26 July 2013, Old Bay Motel, Baltimore, Maryland:

Northeast of Washington, DC, the streets were wet from an overnight shower. The motel’s neon sign reflected off the wet pavement and the large window in the office. The early morning light created a sunburst of red bars, like on the Japanese battle flag of World War II.

The motel manager wiped the sleep from the corners of his eyes and sipped his coffee. The aroma of the coffee mixed with the odor of the disinfectant and cleaning solution. It was a clean place.

He thought of the first motel he had been a guest in. It was on the beach at Venice, on the west coast of Florida. It had been a relaxing vacation of sifting through small tide pools, searching for shark’s teeth.

He sipped his coffee while on the computer. A morning TV show was on.

A woman screamed from outside the rooms. Then a motel maid ran into the office, shaking and crying.

“T—there’s a b—body in a r—room,” she gasped.

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” the manager said.

“She’s d—dead.”

“What room?”

“T—two thirty s—six.”

The manager picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

He’d seen it all through the years. It’s either tourists, hookers, or dead bodies, he thought. Or robbers. The first time they had been robbed, his wife had wanted him to quit the motel business.

He had been ready to move on when she passed away from a massive stroke. After that, he didn’t know what else to do with his life so he stayed on with motels.

He went up the second floor stairs and then down the balcony walkway to the room. The door had been left open by the maid, so he looked inside. The body was in view but he knew enough to not touch anything, not even the door. An unmarked sedan and a black-and-white police car screamed into the lot and parked by the office.

“Up here,” the manager yelled. He walked to the stairs and down to meet them. “The maid found the body,” he said, pointing.

“Who’s the maid?”

“Margie.”

Then the manager led the police along the second floor balcony. The police pushed past him into the cool air of the air-conditioned room. For a moment it felt good. Then the sickening smell hit. The nude body of woman was sprawled across the bed. They called for backup from the crime scene unit and began securing the scene.

One cop held up the dead girl’s ID. “Dana Diana Sweet,” he said, “California driver’s license.”

“Really? Student or tourist?”

“Birth date, November…” the cop read and paused. “This makes her twenty-three years old. Could be either.”

For a while he studied the room. Looks like a suicide. But he kept the opinion to himself. The medical examiner would have to make the final determination.



2050 Hours, 29 July 2013, Henry Houston’s Home, Mudford, California:

The phone rang and Hank picked up the extension in the utility room. “Hello.”

“Hank, t—this is M—Matt.”

“Matt? What’s wrong?”

“I—I just got off the phone with a cop back in Washington. S—she’s dead.”

“What? Who?”

“Dana.”

“Dana?”

A dry sob was Matt’s only response.

“Oh, dear God.”

“We’re still numb over here. I knew you’d want to know.”

“Oh jeez, Matt.”

“I—I gotta go. I’ll talk to you l—later.”

“I’m so sorry, Matt.”

Hank hung up the phone. He couldn’t believe it. He’d known she was in trouble, but to wind up dead?

“Who was that?” Jenn asked from the kitchen.

“Matt. He just told me that Dana’s dead.”

“What on earth? How?”

“He didn’t say. He was so torn up he could barely talk.”

“Oh, no.” Jenn started to cry. “Poor Linda. D—do you think this had something to d—do with what D—Dana wanted to t—talk to you about.”

Hank took her in his arms, trying to comfort her. “I don’t know, hon. I just don’t know.”



2220 Hours, 29 July 2013, Matt & Linda Sweet Home, Mudford, California:

Linda placed the open photo album with the others on the coffee table. She followed Matt to the garage and stood at the laundry room door. Matt cried as he looked at Dana’s different uniforms and things hanging with his reenacting gear on the wall. He wiped his face with a bare hand, grabbed an Enfield bayonet and scabbard, withdrew the bayonet, and raised it above his head.

“Honey,” she yelled. “What are you doing?”

He threw the bayonet across the garage where it clattered when it hit the tools above his work bench. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

His face was contorted in rage. He snatched up a leather cartridge box and threw it as well. It echoed with a clang as it hit the metal garage door. Matt grabbed the top of a steel storage rack and pulled it over. It crashed to the floor, with all its contents flying across the room.

Linda turned her head around. Was that the door chimes? She left the laundry room. The front door chimes rang again. As she reached the foyer, she glanced at her reflection in the large mirror. It was only for an instant but she saw her red, puffy eyes and drawn-down features. She instinctively brushed her frizzy hair from her right temple with her hand as she reached for the door.

Hank and Jenn stood under the porch. Linda stepped out and hugged both of them. “Come in,” she managed to say. “I’m so glad you’ve come over.”

“What’s all that banging?” Hank asked.

“It’s Matt.” Linda turned to lead them to the garage. “Maybe you can calm him down. He’s just going crazy, trashing his shop.”

The banging got louder as the three of them reached the laundry room. Linda opened the door. A steel military ammunition box hit the wall by the side of her head. She ducked. “Matt, for God’s sake,” she yelled. “Hank and Jenn are here.”

He ignored her and threw a hammer across the garage. Hank stepped past Linda and grabbed Matt’s arm in mid-throw of a canteen, which dropped to the floor.

Matt jerked his arm from Hank’s grasp. “I’m so fuckin’ mad,” he said.

“I know,” Hank replied.

Matt turned to Hank and burst into tears. Hank put his arms around him and pulled him into his chest.

“I thought I had everything all figured out,” Matt said between sobs. “I was so wrong. I don’t understand anything now.”

Linda watched from the door, crying again, and brought her hands up to cover her mouth and face. Jenn stood next to her, crying too, and put her arms around her.

“Let’s go inside, Matt.” Hank led Matt inside.

“I’m sorry,” Matt said.

He was calmer now. He hugged Linda as they walked through the kitchen. They all sat around the coffee table in the family room. A box of tissues was on the sofa. Wet tissue clumps were everywhere. Albums were open to pages of photographs of Dana at different years of age.

“What happened?” Hank asked.

“We don’t know much,” Matt said. “The medical examiner’s office there said that after the post-mortem examination that they would release her body to us.”

Hank nodded. “Nothing else?”

Linda answered. “They said they may not know a cause of death until after the toxicology report comes back.”

“Which, they said can take weeks to get back from another lab,” Matt added.

“There’s so much we don’t know,” Linda said.

“Is there anything we can do?” Jenn asked.

“Not really,” Linda said.

“There’s just the arrangements we have to make,” Matt said.

“Later, if you think of anything…” Hank said.

“We’re glad you’re here,” Linda said. “It means everything to us, you being here. Dana loved you both, so very much.”

Matt folded his hands together, hung his head, and cried softly as Linda rubbed his back.



0800 Hours, 3 August 2013, Mudford Airport, California:

On the tarmac of the airport the large jet sat with its cargo bay door open. The metal casket was unceremoniously unloaded from the cargo hold.

Hank supported Matt with a hand on his shoulder as the broken man watched his daughter’s coffin being loaded into a hearse.



1300 Hours, 6 August 2013, Mudford, California Cemetery:

The flower-covered coffin sat on the lowering rack under a canopy. The family sat in chairs set up on the grass. Matt held Linda’s trembling hands. Hank stood with Jenn near the other mourners and watched the small crowd at the graveside, his mind wandering.

Less than an hour ago, in the church service, there had been standing room only. He’d been focused there. Now, outside, his attention began to wander. Things gnawed at his mind about Dana. How could this happen to a beautiful young girl? The newscasts made it no better, emphasizing that she worked in Washington, DC, as if that was the reason for her death.

The priest gave a signal and a group of girls sang a hymn. As they sang, Jenn tightened her grip on Hank’s arm. His mind wandered again. How many hours have I spent wondering about conspiracy theories? While it’s fascinating stuff, there are enough cynics and skeptics around without me being one of them. I try to not let it interfere with my work, with my patients and their welfare, but this thing with Dana is making it hard.

The hymn was over and the priest began another homily about Dana. As the priest spoke, Hank thought back to a time before he’d sent his gun dealer’s license back to the ATF. He couldn’t sleep one night and kept thinking of all the things he could have done wrong, worrying that he had sold something to a criminal. After all, anyone could lie on the 4473 form. And the state received the DROS, dealer record of sale, form. Everything else he had kept as the law required. But what would he have done if the ATF had come down on him with a search?

Hank hadn’t thought that he was prone to anxiety attacks, but he’d come close to one on that night. But he rationalized then, as he remembered now, that the ATF wouldn’t bother him, really. They didn’t care. As a license holder, Hank was, in effect, an agent for the feds as one of their dealers.

The local police department might be a different story. They could get a warrant of their own. It had happened to a small dealer working out of his garage in Clovis. The guy hadn’t done anything wrong, but someone had made a complaint. So the police had raided his home, gone through everything, treated him like a criminal, and threatened to confiscate and impound his inventory of various guns. They backed down after looking at his ATF record book.

Why I am thinking about all this again? Does my subconscious think this is connected to Dana? Like my Cessna’s problem? Or am I just being paranoid again? The priest finished a benediction and Hank’s thoughts were jerked back to the funeral as people began to stir. The priest then made the sign of the cross over the coffin and gave a gold cross to Matt and Linda, who accepted the gift with tears streaming down their faces. Linda held the priest’s hands briefly. She then clutched the cross over her own heart tightly to her breast and broke into quiet sobs of heart-wrenching grief.

Matt put his arms around her shoulders. People gave them a few moments before lining up to offer their words of condolences. Hank couldn’t help but wonder how much more grief they were in for before this was all over. The police said it was suicide, but he really doubted that. Jim disappears and Dana kills herself? No way. Paranoid or not, Hank knew a cover up when he saw one

CONTROL THE DOC – 14

14

West with the Night.

~ By Beryl Markham

1215 Hours, 13 July 2013, US 15/29 Lee Highway, Warrenton, Virginia:

ana drove southwest from Haymarket. As she approached Warrenton, she kept to the right and took the US29B business exit onto Broadview Avenue. Broadview ran west then turned south, around the old town area. God, I feel dry. She turned right into the Exxon gas station and parked by the ice machine at the corner of the building. She noticed a bronze Chevy Suburban behind her that drove in and parked at a pump under the canopy.

After a wait in line inside the market, Dana bought a bottle of water. She tucked the bills and change into a front pocket of her jeans. The bronze suburban was still there.

On Broadview Avenue south, she turned to the right to continue on the Lee Highway US-211. This would take her all the way to Newmarket at the I-81 along a winding highway. Before Newmarket there was Luray where she read the sign and laughed. It read Jelly Stone Recreation Park.

“Who would have figured,” she said out loud.

She was still laughing when she came to the turnoff for East Main Street in Luray. Just across the intersection of Reservoir Street, she saw a statue on one corner and restaurant on the other—a Hardees.

“Damn, now I’m hungry,” she mumbled to herself.

She pulled into Hardees and parked. After another wait in a line, she sat at a table for two and ate. Getting a refill of her drink, she went to the parking lot and noticed the statue again on the opposite corner. The walk to the statue corner was short. The sign read Confederate Soldiers Monument. She studied the monument for a while, remembering what a California historian and reenactor had told her once as she’d been observing a similar statue in Pasadena. “There were over twenty-five thousand of those statues made after the war,” the fellow had said.

It does look like the one in Pasadena. She turned around to walk back to Hardees. In the parking lot, she noticed a bronze Chevy Suburban.

Is this a coincidence? Have they been following me? I can’t take that chance. Sorry, Jim. I can’t go on right now. This is going to have to wait. She reached her car and returned to Alexandria the same way, on the Lee Highway.

The same Suburban followed here to Alexandria. When she parked under a tree, the Suburban drove past and appeared to drive out of the neighborhood.



1450 Hours, 14 July 2013, Dana’s Apartment, Alexandria, Virginia:

Dana wrote a letter to Hank about the plan she had developed since she discovered she was being followed. She sat in a chair in her room with a pen and a spiral note book. The letter was hand written because she didn’t want any of it on her computer, in case her place was searched again. That included not having a deleted MS Word file that could be recovered by any skilled techy.

Dear Hank,

You are getting this hand-written letter because I don’t want to talk on the phone or in emails about this. I need you to do me a big favor. Meet me half way, literally, at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on August 1. As you know, American Airlines has direct flights out of Mudford to DFW, Texas. Meet me at the food court nearest the American Arrival gate on that date, August 1. The gates can change, so I’ll arrive earlier and locate yours. Chances are it will be in the same wing of the terminal. We won’t have to go through the TSA checks. We can catch departing flights out of there easily.

I’m not coming home this summer at all, as I need to work, but this is too important to wait. And I can get the day off on August 1st. Call me after you get this. In the call, tell me two things. Tell me, “the plan is on” and the “arrival time” of your flight. I’ll assume it’s for Thursday, August 1. Do not mention the flight number as those can change, and the information could be picked up by surveillance. I need to tell you something important and I need your advice. Please!

Always, Dana



2345 Hours, 20 July 2013, Civil War Event, Casa de Fruta, California:

Matt was at Casa De Fruta where there was a night battle scheduled on the Saturday Orders of the Day. It would be a spectacular sight with the muzzle flashes and length of the flames visible in the dark.

After the second afternoon battle that day, the men only had an hour to rest and get a bite to eat, before the night battle was on. Matt removed his shell jacket and hung it on the corner of the command tent. He needed to cool off.

Linda took a wet cloth and wiped his face. “Your face is red,” she said. “You need to lie down before the next one.”

“I think I will,” he said. “I wish Dana was here. She loved these night battles.”

“I think you better get used to the fact that she may be taking a different turn in her life.”

“I suppose.”

Linda helped him recline on his cot in the tent. “I miss her, too,” she said then left him alone.

The night battle was always the third battle on a Saturday. There were a few minor complaints, but these were generally considered the finest night battles anywhere in the nation. A huge spotlight hung from a light pole at the corner of the walnut orchard and would not be shut off until the night battle was over.

It was still dusk when the brigades were marched out to their locations and, therefore, not really dark when the battle got going. The confederates were on the side of the hill and behind a wall. The artillery line below and to the right began laying down their fire.

With tremendous flashes, the flames shot out thirty feet in front of the gun barrels. When the guns went silent, the smoke and cooler temperatures created an eerie, floating fog that drifted across the landscape, lending a ghostly ambience to the scene and diminishing the glare of the spotlight.

The advancing union line marched forward to attack the confederate hill. They stopped to fire and the only thing visible was their muzzle flash. This created more smoke and fog. The confederates were ordered to fire.

The noise, the fire, the yells, grew in a crescendo of sound as the union line approached, nothing but dark shadows in the fog and smoke.

The visiting actor in the confederate ranks stepped forward with his black-powder pistol drawn, aimed at the approaching union troops.

“Take this you damn Yankee sons-a-bitches,” he yelled then fired all his rounds from the Remington forty-four caliber.

“Here,” a reenactor nearby said. “Take my musket, sir. It’s loaded and ready to fire.”

The actor holstered his empty pistol and took the Enfield from the confederate soldier behind him. He fired at the Yankees who fell at the base of the hill. A young man holding the colors went down on his knees as if hit, but kept the colors high.

The orders had been to fire by company. This night the Third Confederate kept the fire hot, firing volley after volley. At the end Matt was hoarse from yelling the commands above the noise.



1230 Hours, 21 July 2013, Cafeteria, FAO Building, Washington, DC:

While Dana was at lunch with others from her office, her cell phone rang. She looked at the screen. It was Hank.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi, Dana, it’s good to hear your voice.”

She laughed. “Yours, too,” she said. “It’s been awhile.”

“I’m sorry. I know. Is this a bad time?”

She stood, excused herself with hand motions to her friends, and walked away from the table. “No, but I’m at lunch with friends,” she said. “It’s okay.”

“I just wanted to let you know that the plan is on. At nine-thirty in the morning.”

She breathed out a sigh of relief as Hank confirmed meeting her on the first of August at DFW Airport and that he was arriving at 9:30 a.m.

“That’s nice,” she said.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I am just relieved to hear this news.”

“Good. I have to see another patient, so I have to cut this short.”

“That’s all right. Thanks for calling.”

“Bye.”

“Bye, Hank.”

She shut the phone and returned to the lunch conversation. Her fear was just as strong as the day she returned to her trashed apartment. The plan was simply to meet him at the airport and tell about the drive he now possessed. She had to tell him what Jim had told her.

Give the drive to the senator.

Dana had no way of knowing if she could actually find Jim’s other drive and follow through with Jim’s request. She closed her eyes. God, I’ve made such a mess of things.

At the table, Paula smiled. “Who was that?”

“A family friend back home. He’s trying to plan a surprise party for my folks’ anniversary,” Dana lied.

“Wow. That’s nice.”

“Yeah. But it’s sort of hard planning from my end here,” Dana said.

The others nodded in sympathy.



0900 Hours, 24 July 2013, in a Cessna 182, over San Joaquin Valley, California:

In the single engine airplane, Hank adjusted the left earpiece of the headset and briefly scanned his instruments. Jenn looked out of the right window under the wing of their Cessna. The patchwork image of farms and roads on the valley floor below them stretched out toward the horizon.

“That was nice seeing Scott,” she said. “He never drives up to see us these last few months.”

“He’ll find his way. You worry too much,” Hank said.

She looked out at the landscape again. “When are you going to Dallas?” she asked.

“Next week, on the first.”

“Why?”

“Dana has something to tell me.”

“What is she going to tell you?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

“Why can’t she tell you with a call?”

“I don’t know that either,” Hank said.

“That’s strange.”

“Yes, it is. But I trust her.”

“You’d think she could talk to her folks.”

Hank shrugged. “For some things that’s not so easy.”

He noticed the huge shadows on the earth below, cast by the white, billowy cumulus clouds, which were scattered above their altitude. He knew the flight service station had updated the information and that the weather report had included the passing of the low pressure cold front. It looked like the clear weather cumulus clouds, to him, behind the cold front. It was ideal flying weather. Nice calm, dense air.

Jenn pointed to a shadow on the ground. Hank scanned the sky and saw a huge towering cumulus in front of them.

“It’s way above us,” he said.

Jenn nodded. “Are we going around it?”

“No need,” Hank said. “We’ll just fly right under it.

“It’s beautiful and even awesome,” she remarked.

He nodded.

Jenn continued to gaze at the towering cumulus as they kept on course. She noticed that it was flat on the bottom and darker there.

“We might get a little rain under it,” Hank said. “But we’re almost home. Twenty minutes.”

“I know. We’re doing over one-hundred thirty knots,” she said. “But when we’re at this cruising altitude, the ground below slips by so slowly, that it is really quite boring up here.”

Hank chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right. Why do you think I told you to bring something to read?”

The small Cessna flew closer to the large cloud, which was about two thousand feet above their plane. Jenn leaned forward to glance through the windscreen. As she looked, she could see the concave bottom of the cloud. It was not completely flat. She had not taken the pilot’s meteorology class, so she did not realize the significance of her observations. Hank looked forward toward the patchwork of farms, which extended miles before them. Soon they flew under the cloud, into its shadow. It grew darker in their cabin. They could see, beyond their position, the dazzling sunshine of the terrain below.

Jenn swallowed. “I just had to clear my ears,” she said. “Are you descending?”

“No,” Hank said. “I’m straight and level.” Then he scanned his altimeter again. He found they had risen about five hundred feet. And the altimeter was still showing that they were climbing. “Oh, now that’s interesting,” he said.

“What?”

“There is an updraft under this cloud,” he explained. The warm air under it is rising up from below, is cooled, expands, and keeps rising into the formation of the tower.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.”

“I’ll just nose over a little and get lower that way.” Hank pushed the column forward and the plane angled downward, as if in a glide slope, only Hank kept up the cruising power.

“Great,” Jenn said.

Hank checked his altimeter again and this time he became concerned. “Well, it appears we are still rising.” He pushed the column forward again, then back, and the plane was now at a steeper angle almost a diving angle.”

“Hank, what is going on?”

“That updraft is stronger than I thought,” he said. He looked at the altimeter again and they were still gaining altitude.

“Hank it’s raining now,” Jenn said.

Through the rain, they could see the sunshine still on the horizon, but they were higher also. They could also see, through the rain, the bottom of the cloud getting nearer to them. At this time Hank was becoming very alarmed.

He nosed over more. Now they were in a dive attitude looking straight down at the ground. When Hank looked at his altimeter, it was still gaining.

“Hank, what is happening?” Jenn yelled.

“We are being pushed backward into the cloud,” he said.

“What?”

“We’re being pulled into the cloud.”

“We’re flying straight down,” she yelled. “How can we be going up?”

“That’s how strong this updraft is,” he answered.

His mind was racing. If they went into the cloud with no ground references, even if he was flying on instruments, he would not be able to control the plane in the turbulence higher up. He risked getting vertigo. The plane could get beat up with hail and torn apart, more likely than not. If drawn up into the cloud, they likely wouldn’t survive it.

“Hank, we’re going up into it.”

The darkness enveloped them. The ground and sunshine disappeared. There was the light from the instruments and that was it. Flashes of purple lit the sky when they felt the first bumps, Turbulence. It could flip them over, or stall their wings. Hank thought fast. The prevailing winds carried the storms easterly. I should have turned west, while angled downward, while under the cloud, instead of maintaining the northerly heading.

Hank checked his compass heading. He pulled back on the column and, watching the instruments, turned the wheel to the left, and pressed the left rudder. He watched the compass. There. Bring it to 270. There were more bumps now, and Hank saw they were gaining more altitude, but now he was trying to fly west, and out of the morass they were in.

There was a patter of noise, besides the bumps. Jenn yelled again, “That’s hail.”

Hank saw it but didn’t speak. It was small stuff. He knew it could be larger balls of ice higher up. He scanned his instruments as more buffeting and bumps rocked the plane.

“I’m going to be sick, Hank.” Jenn groped for a bag to vomit into. The cabin became darker, then there was a greenish flash. “Was that lightning?” she asked.

“Probably,” Hank muttered.

Then it was blackness, again, purple again, and green again, all around them. From the altimeter readings, Hank estimated they had gained over a thousand feet inside the cloud.

There was a huge flash in the darkness and a jarring bump that pulled them up hard in their seatbelts and then slammed them back down. Hank was pretty sure they were going to disintegrate very soon. He thought they might be inverted also. Nothing happened immediately, only more bumps and flashes. He kept the heading on 270. Then a lighter purple surrounded them, then a green glow. He scanned his instruments but the attitude didn’t seem correct.

“Hank,” she said. “I feel like I’m hanging toward you sideways.”

Hank felt his own weight pressing his arm to the left window. What he didn’t realize was that they had been tossed in such a way by the turbulence that the right wing was straight up and the left wing straight down. Hank was heading west still but the attitude of the plane was such that the updraft had less lift. Then a yellow–green light surrounded them, and the bumping ceased. It was then they flew out of the darkness and they were out of the side of towering cloud at eleven thousand feet. The Cessna was on its side angling forty-five degrees toward earth, with the right wing up and the left wing down. Hank kept in the dive as he turned the wheel right, to bring the wings horizontal, then pulled back on the wheel to level out.

Jenn looked back, but she could not see that the cloud top reached forty-eight thousand feet. Hank checked the instruments and fuel gauges. The engine behaved as if nothing had occurred. Neither spoke for a long time. Jenn was very shaky and drank some water from a plastic bottle. Hank held her hands to steady them. He was shaking also. There was no need to speak. In twenty minutes they landed at their home airport. Both felt relieved to be on the ground.

As they left the plane, Hank couldn’t help but wonder if it had been tampered with. His instruments had not acted the way he’d expected them to. Was it just a freak of nature, or was someone trying to kill him? And did this have anything to do with what Dana wanted to talk to him about? Her missing boyfriend was an agent for the DHS, after all. And with all the shit that the NSA was pulling these days, one could never be too sure.

No, now you’re just been paranoid, he told himself as he and Jenn headed for their car. Even so, he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that things were not as they seemed.



1545 Hours, 24 July 2013, SRI Office, FAO Building, Washington, DC:

SRI Director, Phil Press, called for a meeting with Terry, Cullman, and Bill Gander. They sat in a circle around his desk.

“I just had a call from our staff man in Bastain’s office,” Phil said.

“Calder issue again?” Terry asked.

“DHS doesn’t like what’s transpiring. Calder knew all the classified ops we’ve done plus had access to even more at DHS.”

“What’s the problem?” Terry said. “Jim’s gone now.”

“The senator is asking DHS what happened to Calder. Apparently the senator wasn’t spooked enough by our man to let it go.”

“Maybe Jim told the senator more at that meeting than our guy knows,” Cullman said.

“It’s possible. But I think the senator would have called a hearing by now, if that were so,” Phil said. He paused for replies. When no one responded, he continued. “Cullman, I liked how the Calder solution went down with the first-phase rapid biological, followed by the second team ID stripping the body and taking care of disposal.”

Cullman nodded as a thank you. “What’s DHS want?” he asked.

“DHS wants any of Jim’s informed contacts taken care of,” Phil answered. “We had someone screw with that Doctor Houston’s plane in California. Almost brought it down, but apparently he was a better pilot than we gave him credit for.”

“Why?” Terry asked. “He represents no threat. Calder never made contact with him.”

“No, but Dana has, though whether she’s told him anything or not, we don’t know. So we’re putting him on the back burner for now. There’s a more immediate threat that needs to be taken care of first.”

“And that is?” Bill asked.

Phil looked at Bill. “I want you, Cullman, and Harold to take care of Dana Sweet. The guys following her say she showed up at Calder’s house this morning. She didn’t stay long, but now they aren’t sure where she’s going. If she goes back home, you can make contact with her there. If not, then you can ‘bump into her accidentally’ wherever she ends up tonight.”

“Not a problem. That’s all?” Cullman asked.

“For now. Terry and Glen will take care of her father later if the need arises,” Phil said. “We’ll have our guy in Bastain’s office tell us if things settle down with the senator.”

“How do you want it to go down?” Cullman asked.

“Make it look like a suicide.”

“No problem. Anything else?” Cullman repeated.

“Yeah, give me the op details in person when you finalize.”

“You got it.”

“Remember, nothing written as usual.”