Leave a Message
by JED O'Day
FBI agent Star Cherokee drove her electric Rivian R1S sport utility vehicle out through Quantico’s guard gates, under the I-95 overpass, past the Quantico National Cemetery, through the hairpin back roads of Prince William County, and past intelligent agencies safe houses known to but a very few, very special people. She was headed to the FBI Northern Virginia Resident Office outside Manassas at the request of her boss when her personal cell phone rang. Ram, the love of her life, a 100-pound military trained German Shepherd, who had saved her butt on multiple occasions, sat in the back of the SUV and growled. It was unusual for Ram to growl and it sent a chill down Star’s spine, so she let the call go to voicemail. She thought, Ram has an uncanny sixth sense about these things.
She brought her SUV to a stop where the two-lane winding back road teed onto a four-lane highway at Route 234. Star turned left, headed north, and waited until she hit a stop light before checking to see who the call was from and why Ram was so concerned. Failing to recognize the number, she checked voicemail for a message. The light turned green just as the message started playing on her Bluetooth.
The voicemail was mesmerizing.
Star pulled over to the side of the road and listened to it three times. “Ram,” she said, “You called that one right. That message is certainly unusual.”
She put her SUV back in drive and continued her commute until she pulled into her destination’s parking lot. She attached Ram’s leash to his collar and passed through security in somewhat of a trance. The FBI had authorized Star to use her K9 as a tool of her trade.
She was thinking about what she should say to her boss about the call.
Cyber Division Special Agent Rusty Winemiller’s first floor office door was open, so Star knocked on his door frame to get his attention. “May I come in?”
Winemiller did not look up, instead, he looked at his watch. He said, “You’re kidding, right? You’re five minutes early. I didn’t expect the end of the world to come so soon.”
Star said, “Wasn’t it you who taught me to change my pattern to be less predictable?”
“Maybe so, but when have you ever listened to me before?”
Star said, “I listened to you when you explained that it is best to get right to the point. I know you called me here to give me a new assignment, but I want to tell you about a call I just received on my cell phone while on the way here. Listen to this.”
“Hello, Star. I am going to kill a man who has managed to avoid justice for his crimes. I tell you this so that you will investigate not only me but also the motive for my transgression and why I chose this victim. In time, you will come to understand why I selected you with whom to share this information. I trust you will get to the bottom of it.”
Ram growled again at the sound of the person’s voice who left the message.
At the end of the recording Star pushed stop and said, “That’s the entire message. Intriguing, don’t you think, Rusty? And why do you think he sent this message to me?”
Winemiller, a paraplegic, wheeled his electric wheelchair around his desk without responding.
Star said, “What do you mean, ‘That’s a stupid question?’”
Special Agent Rusty Winemiller stopped his wheelchair, pulled off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, lifted his gaze toward his protégé, and made eye contact with Star’s penetrating blue eyes, but said nothing.
Noticing the look of disapproval on his face, Star shifted uncomfortably on her feet, and ran her hands through her curly auburn hair. She said, “Sorry, I promised you I wouldn’t do that, didn’t I?”
“It was a condition of our agreement. We agreed that I would accept you back into the Bureau if you never use your special skill of reading minds on me. I’ll eliminate all our in-person conversations and communicate with you only remotely if it happens again.”
“Yes, sir.” Star replied in a chastened tone.
Rusty continued, “The reason I think your question is stupid is because your history is well known. I’d reach out to you, too, if I wanted something investigated. You may only be 25 years old, but few people have access to more intelligent resources than you do. Your parents, Tucker and Maya, are world famous problem solvers. Your relationship with Tank and Jolene Alvarez, owners of America’s premier security and private detective agency is tweeted about daily by thousands, and your year as Assistant Press Secretary in the White House gave you national facetime. Don’t you realize how famous and influential you are? Of course, this guy wants you involved.
“Star, we need to take this to the Criminal Justice Division - this may not a cybercrime” Winemiller said solemnly.
Star said, “How do you know this guy didn’t reach out to me because he knows I work in the FBI cyber division now?”
Rusty wheeled back behind his desk, punched a few strokes on his keyboard and asked, “What’s his phone number; the one that popped up on your incoming cell phone screen?”
She gave it to him.
He punched in the number into his computer and waited for roughly two minutes during which time he petted Ram to reinforce that they were friends. Better to be Ram’s friend than not.
Finally, Special Agent Winemiller said, “Your caller’s name is Colby John Manion of Blytheville, Arkansas. He is a retired Air Force Colonel who has stage four pancreatic cancer. He sponsors a blog critical of the government’s investigation into the 2017 Las Vegas massacre where he lost a granddaughter attending the outdoor country music festival.”
Winemiller continued to read the background information on Manion and said, “Star, I’ll bet he’s going to kill someone associated with the Las Vegas massacre; it could be someone he suspects is responsible for the shooting, or maybe someone who he suspects covered up the crime.”
Star asked, “Sir, did you say he has a blog page? Doesn’t that mean it could be a cybercrime?”
Rusty said, “It would be a stretch for me to authorize an investigation into the person who made that call, but what you don’t know is that the assignment I was about to give you may well dovetail with the call you received today from this Manion fellow. I want you to investigate the alarming increase in murder committed by senior citizens. We think there might be an organization out there encouraging terminally ill seniors to commit vigilante type crimes through email, social media, or ordinary telephone contact. People at the end of their lives have less to lose. We’ve dubbed this development the “Deadly Gray” phenomenon.
Star asked, “What do you mean by alarming increase in murder by seniors?”
Winemiller sat back in his chair. “The murder rate by men and women over the age of 65 has quadrupled over the past five years. Most of the murders are committed by people seeking revenge for some injustice in their lives. It sounds to me like Manion fits the mold.”
“Seventeen murders were committed this week alone by seniors. I want you to investigate whether or not there is a common thread.”
Star said coyly, “Let me guess, Congress is afraid members will be targeted by this group called Deadly Gray if, in fact, it is organized.”
Rusty Winemiller winked at her and said, “Bingo,” though he suspected Star had not deduced her assessment, but that she had again read his thoughts.
Star said, “Do I have Carte Blanche? May I use consultants?”
Rusty said, “As long as she doesn’t shoot anybody.”
Star responded, “Now look who’s reading other people’s thoughts.”
Star scrolled through the list of 17 recent victims by alleged senior perpetrators looking for a common thread and a starting point. There seemed to be no universal theme associated with the victims. Some were famous, most were not. Some were convicted criminals, most were not. All, she thought, had to have shadows of one form or another.
Ram laid at Star’s feet.
Star said, “Ram, I don’t know where to start. Manion is not on this list. These murders occurred before Manion called me.”
Ram lifted his head off his paws but that was all.
Star continued, “Let see, all the perps are older than the Sun. It doesn’t look like any of them knew each other. I’m going to send these names to cyber research and see if the geniuses over there can find some common connection.”
“Ram, are you paying attention?”
Ram never moved a muscle.
“One of the victims was a defense attorney. I get that. I’ll cross-reference the people the lawyer defended with the old man that killed him.”
“Hmm. I see one of the victims was an MS-13 gang leader. Wow, you gotta respect an old man who would take on that challenge.”
“Another of these was a failed attempt on the Speaker of the House. I’m not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole.
“Ram, you’re not helping much.”
“Ah, here’s one you’ll like.” Ram stood up and nuzzled Star. “A Vietnam era Marine sniper placed a round through the head of a long-retired editor of the New York Times. The Marine turned himself in.”
“One of the victims of the Deadly Gray was a 31-year-old rapist on parole. The killer is a 75-year-old woman from Paris, Kentucky. Let’s see, she killed the guy in Cincinnati. Are you ready to go for a ride?”
Ram was at the door before she finished her sentence.
And the search for answers to the mystery begins.Jed O’Dea is an author of mystery/thrillers. See http://jedodea.com