Authors: Chuck Barrett
efore he and
Tony left his friend's home, Kaplan needed to prepare the scene. He disabled Tony's brand new iPhone, placed it, the RFIDs, and all the documentation the U. S. Marshals Service had issued Tony in Jeff and Kam's hideaway bedroom at the top of the stairs.
Kam panicked when Kaplan said it was too late to stop the RFIDs from being tracked to her home. She pulled out a small hammer from the same drawer where she kept the razor knife and frantically raised it above her head to smash the electronic devices. Jeff rushed over and caught her arm before she could strike the blow. She indicated the last thing she wanted was to have their lives threatened once again. This time it would not be a tornado.
"What are you doing?" Her voice full of panic.
"I have an idea, Kam," Jeff said. "Just hear me out. Gregg, what do you think if we use these devices to trick whoever is tracking Tony? I could drive to the dump across town and toss them in."
Kam nodded her head in agreement.
"We're not dealing with amateurs, they already know the address. I'm sorry. It is too late for that."
Kaplan assured them someone
show up at the residence and it was best for everyone if no one was home when they did.
Kaplan explained why and instructed Jeff and Kam that they had five minutes to gather any of their necessities, get in their Lexus, and head out of town. This was a longer amount of time than when the tornado struck and destroyed their neighborhood. Since that tragedy, they had prepared an escape bag in case they had another tornado strike.
Kam ran and recovered the emergency bag in their bedroom. When she came back in the room she had trouble controlling her breathing. "Honestly, in my worst nightmare I never thought we would ever need this bag and certainly not for this." Her voice trembled and cracked. Jeff walked over and put his arms around his wife in an effort to offer comfort.
"Leave the food on the table," Kaplan told them. Then he walked to the back door, opened it, and stepped outside. He turned around and smashed his elbow into the glass, shattering it, and sending glass shards onto the floor.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Jeff gave him a puzzled and angry look.
"Corroboration. I need it to look like someone broke in. It will confirm your cover story."
"What cover story?" Kam asked.
Kaplan walked back inside, his shoes crunching over broken glass. "When you get on the other side of Little Rock, use your security system app to activate your alarm. Then turn off your cell phones and don't turn them back on until you get to Florida."
"Florida? What?" Kam sounded bewildered.
Kaplan took a quick look at a map, gave Jeff specific route instructions, and told him to drive all night until they reached their new beach house in Sandestin, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico.
Before they went their separate ways, Kaplan pulled out a stack of hundred dollar bills and handed them to Jeff. "When you get to Florida pay only with cash, and when the authorities knock on the door, which they eventually will, just tell them you've been there a few days. Whatever they tell you about Little Rock and your house, have your story ironed out and act totally surprised. Same thing with the alarm company. Romantic getaway, no phones."
Kaplan, with Tony in the passenger seat, drove Jeff's black Jeep north on Arkansas State Road 386. Its full tank of gas allowed them to put much needed distance between them and Little Rock without having to stop and risk exposure. Kaplan's plan was to drive to Conway, take US 64 east to US 67, and stay on 67 until Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He'd worry about mapping out the rest later.
Kaplan and Tony rode in silence for a long time, which was a welcome relief. The first time Tony spoke was east of Conway.
"If they could track me, why didn't they just send another helicopter after me like at the quarry?" Tony asked.
"Two reasons I can think of," Kaplan answered. "First, I doubt they had another helicopter available and second, if they did, it would draw too much attention to launch another one. The first copter going up in a blaze was seen for miles and 9-1-1 calls alerted authorities. By then the authorities were on heightened alert. As soon as they put another copter in the air, everyone would be all over it. Air traffic controllers would be tracking it with radar, local cops would be chasing it with their own aircraft."
"Wasn't it kind of risky to route your friends back through Little Rock?"
"Not really. Not if they obey traffic laws. Unless these guys have instant access to government databases, it will take some time before they can gather any vehicle information. By then Jeff and Kam will be safe in their Florida beach house. The cops won't know anything about them for a while either."
"Because nothing has happened to point them at Jeff and Kam." Kaplan turned his head and looked at Tony. "Yet."
"I don't get it."
"No, I guess you wouldn't. Whoever is tracking you will show up at Jeff's house sooner or later, and when they do, the whole neighborhood will be dialing 9-1-1."
"I guarantee it. That's why I wanted Jeff to activate his alarm system when I told him to, it will send the cops to his house to investigate
whoever is tracking you shows up. It will take some time for the Sheriff's Department to figure out where Jeff and Kam are, and, in the meantime, law enforcement presence will keep the bad guys away." Kaplan adjusted himself in his seat and settled in for the long drive. "You should get some shut eye. You'll get a turn to drive in a few hours."
"I don't have a license," he said. "Remember, you destroyed it."
"You're a funny man, Tony," said Kaplan. "Somebody is trying to track you down and kill you and you're worried about a stupid driver's license. Hell, if we get pulled over, a driver's license will be the least of our worries."
Tony reclined his seat and rolled to his right side leaving his back facing Kaplan.
He had promised WitSec Inspector Mike Cox that he would keep Tony safe. What had he gotten himself into? He was putting his life on the line for an old man he knew nothing about. In a few hours, he would demand full disclosure from Tony. The old man owed him that much. Besides, there might be another piece to this puzzle wrapped inside that information.
A piece that might keep him from getting killed.
"Where were you headed when all this started?" Tony asked while still reclined and facing the window.
"To see a woman?
The statement took Kaplan by surprise.
"What makes you think that?"
"Things you said back at the restaurant." Tony replied. "You told Inspector Cox you were just passing through and you didn't have time to babysit. I figured your urgency was because of a woman. It usually is, you know."
Kaplan looked over at the old man, curled on his right side, "Indirectly, I guess it is."
Tony turned over and pulled his seat upright. "That's kind of vague, don't you think?"
"Yes it is, because it's none of your damn business."
"What's the harm in sharing?"
"For crying out loud, if it will shut you up," Kaplan said. "I am searching for a woman and there is a man in Texas who can help me locate her. I was going to see him."
"Why don't you just call him? That's a long way to drive only to find out he isn't there?"
"Then I'll wait for him."
"What if he does not know where she is? It could be a wasted trip."
Kaplan didn't answer right away. "It doesn't work that way, Tony. It's complicated."
Tony must have taken the hint because he reclined his seat and turned toward the window again. "Women are always complicated," he said. "Sooner or later you will tell me. Everyone always does."
But Kaplan didn't hear him. A disturbing thought shot through his mind and ricocheted like a bullet in the brain. His insides tightened and cramped. A sickening feeling overwhelmed him. His body flushed. Anger filled his veins. Anger toward himself. How could he have been so sloppy? It was Tradecraft 101 and he blew it. In his hurry to get his friends clear of the house and on their way to Florida, he forgot to cover his own ass. He forgot to remove his Virginia license plate from his Harley. And there was no going back to get it.
s the three
Deputy U. S. Marshals walked toward the accident scene Moss noticed Special Agent Small talking with two men who looked like
Mutt and Jeff
. A tall man was grossly overweight and the short man was too thin. The only physical similarity was they both looked like they had been on the losing end of an ass-kicking contest. Their faces were bruised and bloodied. Their clothes, dirty and torn. The big guy had a busted lip and bloody gums. He held out his hand showing Special Agent Small two bloody teeth.
North Little Rock Police Department had cordoned off the area with yellow tape. An officer with the Arkansas State Police informed Moss that several troopers would remain on site to protect the scene until the National Transportation Safety Board arrived to investigate the crash.
Moss asked the trooper, "Have those two," he pointed to the men Small was talking to, "been interviewed yet? Other than by Special Agent Small."
"I believe so," the officer said. He pointed to a man in jeans and a tan sports coat. "When I arrived, they were talking to him. Detective with NLRPD."
Moss, Moore and Hepler walked over to the man.
"Excuse me, detective." He held up his ID card. "Pete Moss, U. S. Marshals Service." He pointed to Moore and then Hepler. "This is Inspector Moore and Deputy Hepler." They each held up their creds. "May we ask you a few questions?"
"Four Feds," the detective said. "Three U.S. Marshals and FBI. This must be big."
Moss ignored the detective's sarcasm. "Have you interviewed the two men Special Agent Small is talking to now?"
Moss waited for the detective to continue, but he didn't. Not on his own accord.
"Did they say what happened?"
"Neither one of them saw the crash. They said they were both unconscious at the time. The big guy said when he regained consciousness fire was all around him. Said he thought he had died and gone to hell."
"Did the blast knock them unconscious?"
"Nope. He said some guy on a motorcycle attacked them and knocked them both out. When he came to the guy was gone. Took the old man with him. Claimed the attack was unprovoked. Said they saw someone up here and came to see if they needed help."
"Did you get a description of the guy? And the old man?"
The detective opened his notepad. "They thought the old man was around seventy. Gray hair, khaki pants, and a dark shirt with flowers on itâ¦like a Hawaiian shirt or something. Or to quote the big guy exactly, he was dressed in a
flowery fag shirt
"And the other guy?"
"Said he was big. And strong. Muscular type. Said he had thick dark hair and a heavy five o'clock shadow. He was wearing blue jeans, a black shirt, and leather jacket. The little guy said the man's hands moved lightning fast. Said he'd never seen anyone move that fast before. Big guy said basically the same thing. Said they got off their ATV to help and the guy went crazy and attacked them. He said it was unprovoked."
"You mentioned that already. Doesn't pass the smell test, though. These clowns don't strike me as the good Samaritan types."
"I didn't think so eitherâ¦and they both have prior misdemeanors. I figured they started something and the guy finished it."
"Does he know which way they went?" Moore asked.
"No idea." The detective pointed to the top of the hillside. "The little guy did say when he came to he thought he heard a motorcycle up on Fort Roots Road heading toward the VA hospital but wasn't sure because of all the sirens. One of our responding patrol cars went in that direction and saw a motorcycle with a passenger on the back. He tried to pursue but got stuck behind a traffic accident. No way of knowing if it was the same men or not."
"Thank you, Detective." Moss motioned for Moore and Hepler to follow as he walked away.
"What do you think, Pete?" Hepler asked. "You think it's our witness?"
"Of course it's our witness. I'm too old to believe in coincidences like this one. You already briefed me on the reports. Like I said in the car, this tough guy and the old man took 365 and headed toward Mayflower or Conway. It's the only logical explanation."
Hepler's cell phone rang; he raised a finger and walked off. Moss noticed Special Agent Small answer his phone as well. Then the detective's phone rang. The Arkansas State Police officer started talking into the microphone strapped under his chin.
Hepler returned with an anxious look on his face. Several of the other LEOs were heading for their vehicles.
"What the hell is going on?" Moss asked.
"There's been a break-in at a home on the Arkansas River." Hepler replied. "River Road Drive. Just south of Mayflower."
"And they found several high-tech RFID tracking devices in the home."
"Come on, JP, getting information from you is like pulling teeth. What else you got?"
"A cell phone and driver's license belonging to our witness's alias, Anthony Napoli."
of night enveloped the back roads of Arkansas.
The Jeep's headlights illuminated only the area directly in front of the vehicle and Kaplan could see nothing on either side but darkness. This time of night the road was practically void of traffic.
It was farm country and farmers had to get up at the crack of dawn to work their fields. Which meant they were probably asleep right now. This was the Mississippi deltaâflat, muddy, and fertile. Most farmers grew beans or cotton or rice. Several variables factored in on crop selection. He had no clue what they were. Nor did he care. He was convinced of one thing though, the mosquito should be considered the state bird. They were enormous and could suck your blood like a vampire.
Lack of traffic made the drive easier. Unfortunately a lone car on a highway in the wee hours of the morning was anything but inconspicuous to an eye in the sky or a LEO out on patrol.
US 64 joined US 67 at a small town called Beebe. Kaplan made the left turn. He planned to stay on 67 until Poplar Bluff, Missouri then he would look at a map. The streets in Beebe were deserted and everything was locked up tight, even the gas stations. It was a good thing Jeff's Jeep had plenty of gas because he wasn't sure when he'd see any signs of life again. A few minutes later, any trace of Beebe had disappeared into an abyss of darkness behind him.
He could see nothing on either side of the four-lane highway from the peripheral shine of his high beams except fields and the occasional tree. In his rearview mirror, a single set of headlights about two miles behind him.
When the pothole appeared in his headlights, it was too late to avoid hitting it. The impact jolted the Jeep to one side. Tony jerked upright in his seat.
"What the hell was that?"
"Just a hole in the road, nothing to get worked up about."
"I thought someone had rammed the car." Tony yawned and then said, "You and Jeff good friends?"
"We were once best friends. Why do you ask?"
"Just wanted to know if I could trust him to keep his mouth shut is all."
"He won't say anything. I've known him since childhood. We grew up next door to each other."
"You said you lost touch for a long time. People change. How do you know he won't go to the authorities?"
"Look ,Tony, I don't have a problem with Jeffâ¦it's you I'm not sure about."
He glanced at Tony and then back to the dark highway. "It's time to have a come to Jesus talk, Tony. Who the hell is trying to kill you?"
He could feel the old man's stare. He glanced at Tony. The old man lowered his head and tightened his lips as if struggling to come up with a response
"I already told you I'm not at liberty to discuss it," Tony quickly changed the subject. "I don't know anything about you. Even your friend didn't know about your profession. You claim you work for the CIA, yet you have never shown me any credentials. You might have saved my life back in Little Rock but how do I know it wasn't a setup? How do I know you're not one of them. You could be kidnapping me for all I know. You could have lied to your friends. This whole thing could be a ruse."
Kaplan was tired and fed up with Tony's incessant complaining. He sat in silence, not sure if he wanted to respond. Finally he said, "You're absolutely right, it could be a ruse. Of course, if I were one of the bad guys, you'd already be dead. I've had plenty of opportunities to kill you. Even thought about it a couple of times because you're such a pain in the ass, got a U.S. Marshal killed, and endangered the lives of my friends. Yet here you sit, alive and still running your mouth. It's because I gave my word to a dying U.S. Marshal and you know something else, Tony, I don't want to be here. I would rather be headed in the opposite direction. But I made a promise to Inspector Cox to deliver you to a WitSec safe site, and I only know the location of one. So unless you have a death wish, I suggest you start telling me who or what I'm up against."
Tony fidgeted. His defensive body language told Kaplan he wasn't going to give anything up.
"I'll make you a deal," Tony finally said after a few moments of silence. "Prove you are who you say you are and I'll tell you what you want to know."
Kaplan glanced at the old man and then returned his attention to the road. He reached down with his left hand, lifted his pant leg, and pulled something out of his left boot, switched on the overhead light, and handed it to the old man.
After a few seconds Kaplan asked, "Satisfied?"
The old man studied it, handed it back, and said, "Can I trust you?"
"You already have. With your life."
“By the way, I did not endanger your friends. You did. As soon as you took us to their house." Tony had a smug look on his face. "Now, what is it you want to know?"
Kaplan didn't get the chance to ask. The headlights he'd seen earlier in his rear view mirror had closed the gap and were now less than two car lengths behind him. He couldn't tell much about the car on the dark, deserted road. Just two bright lights shining in the rear window.
Kaplan checked his speed; he'd set the cruise control on the speed limit, so if it was a cop, he wasn't going to get pulled for speeding. His internal clock and familiarity with police procedures ruled out any chance law enforcement could be on to them this soon. The car stayed in the same spot behind him for several minutes, then pulled to the left, and accelerated.
Kaplan's initial thought was relief as he figured the car just wanted to pass him. Hopefully the 55 MPH speed limit was too slow for the driver.
The car pulled to the side of the Jeep and matched his speed. Instinctively, Kaplan's tactical training kicked in and he disengaged the cruise control. There was a flash and the left back window shattered. He depressed the brakes quickly and firmly. The car flew past and he got a good look at it as the Jeep's headlights lit up the car's side. A dark Crown Victoria. Just like the one that followed them from the restaurant and he evaded at the Big Dam Bridge.
He maneuvered the Jeep behind the Crown Vic. Once again, a shooter leaned out of the window and began firing at them.
"They're shooting at us," Tony yelled.
"Got any more helpful news?"
He swerved left and right in an attempt to throw off the shooter's aim.
A bullet hit the windshield. A spider web shaped crack appeared at the base of the windshield halfway between Kaplan and Tony. The bullet lodged in the back seat behind him.
"Are they the same ones from the restaurant?" Tony asked.
"Pretty good bet." Kaplan swerved left and right behind the Crown Vic. "Duck below the dash."
"Right." The old man did as instructed.
He accelerated and rammed the Crown Vic from behind. The car began to fishtail but quickly regained control.
Tony groaned as he bounced back and forth from the impact.
Part of Kaplan's tradecraft training had included a defensive driving course he'd taken at FLETC, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia on the property that was once Naval Air Station Glynco. FLETC's mission was to train personnel who protect our homeland. The course was not limited to defensive driving, there were several offensive maneuvers taught as well, including PITâPrecision Immobilization Technique. Its sole purpose was to force a fleeing car to abruptly turn sideways resulting in a loss of control.
It wasn't simply ramming the rear end of a fleeing vehicle but rather the systematic placement of his fender against the rear fender and applying a turning force causing a loss of traction to the rear tires of the fleeing vehicle.
Getting his vehicle in position for the PIT was the difficult part. Whenever he went left, the Crown Vic went left. Right, the Crown Vic went right.
Their highway speeds were frequently in excess of eighty miles per hour. The use of a PIT at this speed could end with a catastrophic result, however at the moment, it was his best option.
The vehicles jockeyed for position for nearly a full minute before the driver of the Crown Vic failed to correctly predict Kaplan's next move.
He placed the left front fender of the Jeep against the Crown Vic's right rear fender and applied the turning force.
The Crown Vic's tires lost traction. Its rear end fishtailed to the left. The driver over reacted when he tried to correct for the loss of control and the Crown Vic jerked hard to the left and flipped. Kaplan swerved and braked hard to keep from becoming entangled with the out of control car.
The Crown Vic rolled side-to-side several times, went airborne end-to-end, and landed in the wide grass median where it came to rest upside down.
Kaplan braked to a stop in the middle of the road. Tony rose from the floorboard, made a cross on his chest and said, "Are they dead?"
He pushed Tony's head below the dash, drew his weapon, and said, "Stay put. I'll check."