The clock on the conference room wall displayed 1346 with disinterest. The five assembled in the room were not in concert with it.
Donald Palfrey sat at the foot of the cherry table, hands clasped over the binder each had received when walking into the room. The 6’7″ retired Marine was a head taller than the rest, even seated.
Crystal Kalin sat beside Don, her red-head buried in her binder and left hand typing notes on her BlackBerry.
Gerald Maxwell was beside Crystal, facing the door with his eyes closed. The onlooker might have believed he was absorbing the material through the palm of his hand, which was nearly as wide as the book.
Gregory Chan walked in to take the seat opposite Crystal. He brought two folders and began to search his tablet.
Paul fidgeted in the chair opposite Jerry. Over the next 14 minutes, he would mentally review each of their military and law enforcement backgrounds, just in case he had to answer for his choices.
Greg. PhD Criminology. Masters Forensics. 16 years Royal Air Force. Three tours of combat. 42 lifetime citations of excellence, valor and bravery.
Don. JD. Masters in Sociology, Criminology. 22 years in the Corps. Seven tours of duty. 16 years of sealed duty records. 21 known citations. Seven times wounded. Heli-crash survivor.
Crystal. Masters in Communications, IT and BS in Social Behavior. Eight years national security. Six citations for meritorious conduct and excellence.
Jerry. Masters in Anthropology. BA in Criminology. 14 years law enforcement. Hostage negotiator. Combat simulation trainer. Explosives guru. 16 citations for excellence and valor. Two for discipline.
They all five stood in unison when Reaper entered the room at precisely 1400. When he took his place at the head of the table, everyone sat, but no one relaxed.
He put his elbows on the table, placed the palms of his hands together and rested his chin on the steeple of his long fingers. His icy gaze came to rest on Salisbury’s eyes. Paul shifted uncomfortably in his seat before he rose and took the remote.
He crossed the room and dimmed the lights. All eyes shifted to the screen behind Palfrey. Paul cleared his throat before he began.
“The crash scene has not been completely reconstructed by the local PD, but we simulated it in the lab. Results are on page eight. The speed was sufficient to kill Matthews, had he not already been dead. Char patterns inside the car evidence the liquid inside the cabin was diesel. The wire from the timing mechanism did not disintegrate according to plan. Still waiting on primary labs to determine exactly which class of wire it was.”
Paul was happy to change the slide away from the burned wreckage of Bevan’s car. Even though he did not know Bev personally, they had been teammates on a number of operations. Matthews was an exemplary colleague. Salisbury took a deep breath before he went onto the next slide, which showed a collage of four men. Kalin and Maxwell were already on the page and making notes.
“Matthews’ notes on the server named these four as his primary targets. Upper left: John Strickland, sheriff. Upper and lower right: His sons, Jack and Mark. On top is Jack, John, Jr. 38 years old, no profession of record. Last job held was a pizza delivery driver in high school. Has not had identification issued since then. Been off the grid for the last 20 years.
“Mark is on the bottom. 32 years old, mason by trade. Been operating on a no-show scheme for the last 10+ years. Pilot’s license only current tie to society. Otherwise, off the grid.
“Lower left: Craig “Feathers” Cannon. 41 years old. Easy to identify in a crowd by his ink. Brother owns the reservation casino where money from the drug and gun operations is laundered. His record only includes a hand-off as a juvenile from the local court to the tribal council for vandalism. He has no other official data.”
Paul made eye contact with Reaper in the dimness of the conference room. The man was distant and distracted. Salisbury worried if his presentation would be found lacking, despite his attempts to assemble more than just what Matthews had uploaded to the server. He cleared his throat again and changed the slide, as Jerry closed his binder.
When the picture came up, Paul started again. “Crawford is a rural town with a population of just under 2,500 who are sprawled all over the west end of the county.” Innocent pictures of the town’s buildings and residents flickered on the screen as he spoke. “In the last ten years, the murder count has risen from just under two per year to over 15 per month. The thinning of the herd is uneven.”
The screen came to life with pictures of gang-related graffiti and vandalism. “The gangsters are the ones who are dying the fastest. Their mortality rate is not from gang wars, as there is only one gang-banger set in town, The Bones. The motorcycle gangs are immune to the violence, except when their markers get too high.
“The guns are going to the motorcycle clubs and are kept away from the gang-bangers. The drugs are distributed to anyone with money. A small operation is cutting and counting and is overseen by Jack. Most of the members are girlfriends, wives or consorts of the family. Mark is over the import and distribution.”
Don sat up in his chair when the next slide hit the screen. “Buford A. Alistair, Esquire. He organized all of the operation and provides the tax shelters for the laundered money. His cut is high, 6%, but he has saved them about $10 million, provided they had ever paid a dollar in taxes in the first place.”
Paul turned off the projector and turned the lights up. Everyone packed up their belongings, and Reaper asked the only question. “How many guns are in the area?”
As Paul sat back into his chair, he answered, “A little over 15,000.” Reaper nodded and looked to the door. His team filed out, knowing their assignment. Salisbury leaned forward onto the table, wary of what was to come.
When the door closed behind the last agent, Reaper turned back to Paul. “Why was Cranston not in this room?” Salisbury blinked three times in shock before words streamed through his brain. None of them want to coalesce into a sentence. “Your silence is not reassuring, Salisbury.”
Good ideas hit him. Because he is too close to this. Because he was Matthews’ best friend. Because they have more experience. Paul struggled to find his voice, even though he felt his mouth moving. Too late, he realized the words escaping it were actually audible, “Because your future son-in-law has no business on this mission.”
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