10: Friday

12:49 AM, Monterey

Kitfox stood in the background as the paramedics worked on Mendoza’s arm. The bullet had traveled lengthwise up his forearm, following the bone, and had remained inside. There was not much blood, but a terrible swelling that gave his left arm a Popeye look. Two uniformed Monterey policemen waited just inside the doorway to place the man under arrest. He would need to wake Zamora for this.

There was little the paramedics could do but stop the bleeding and pack it in ice. That done, one of them went out to get their gurney. Kitfox stepped forward.

“Filipe, do you understand that you’re going to be arrested?”

“What for? All I do is get shot.”

“After you came in and attacked me.”

“Why you say I attack you? I no do nothing.”

“Then why did you come to my room?”

“I— You—” He looked helplessly around at the people in the room. “I not know.”

The hairs on Kitfox’s neck stood up as he looked into the face of whatever plot was afoot. The boy was frightened and confused, and all of Kitfox’s instincts told him that he was sincere when he said he had no idea he had done anything wrong. Darnall and the kid in Reno must have been just like this when they were taken. What a horrible feeling, to be arrested for a heinous crime and have no idea what anyone was talking about.

“Officer,” Kitfox said to the senior patrolman, “you may as well arrest and Mirandize now. Make the charge simple assault. I’ll clarify it after we talk.”

“Yes, sir,” the officer said, and stepped over to the bed where Mendoza sat. “Filipe Mendoza, you’re under arrest for assault. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have the attorney present during questioning. If you so desire or cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed for you before any questioning. Do you understand each of these rights as I’ve explained them to you?”

“Si.”

“In English, please.”

“Yes, I understand, but why you do this to me?”

“I’ll see you at the hospital, Filipe. I’ll explain everything to you there. Where are you taking him?”

“Bay General.”

“All right, I’ll be down to see you as soon as you’re treated. Is one of you riding with him?”

“Yes, sir, that’ll be me,” the junior officer replied.

“All right. I don’t expect any trouble. I’d like you to refrain from discussing the matter with him. There’s something bigger here than just one wigged out night clerk, and I don’t want to give him any information just yet.”

“Yes, sir, I understand.”

The paramedics loaded him up, the officer joined them in the ambulance, and all the city officials departed. With a glance at the clock, Kitfox picked up his cell phone.

“Hullo,” came a sleepy voice after about fifteen rings.”

“Inez, it’s Leon.”

“Leon? What time is it? Are you all right?” The sleepiness lifted like a fog bank as she spoke.

“It’s almost one, and I’m fine. I was just attacked in my bed by the night desk clerk.”

“What?”

“Yeah. He was whipping my ass like a red-headed stepchild until I got to my piece and shot him. Can you guess what he said then?”

There was a long silence, then she said, “He doesn’t remember a thing about it?”

“Pretty good guess. Have you ever thought about becoming a detective?”

“It’s crossed my mind. What’s his status?”

“Minor wound. I had the officers arrest him for assault. He’s on his way to Bay General. I’m going down there to talk to him now. He’s been Mirandized, and I though Mitchell Pierce might be interested.”

“Mitchell . .  Darnall’s attorney?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s damned irregular.”

“So is this case. This isn’t about Darnall, or my night clerk, or burger-boy in Reno. There’s something huge going on here, and if we can’t find out what it is and stop it, your little town’s going to be the talk of the Western world for all the wrong reasons.”

“Mitchell isn’t going to like being woke up at this hour.”

“He should have gone into a different line of work, then. You want me to call him?”

“No, I’ll do it.”

“I don’t think he’ll mind.”

“Not if he listens long enough to hear what I’m saying. I’ll see you at Bay General. Give me an hour.”

2:12 AM, Monterey

“Filipe, this is Mitchell Pierce. He’s a criminal attorney who’s interested in representing you.”

“I can’t afford no attorney.”

“That’s all right, son. This one’s on me.”

“Why?” the young man asked suspiciously.

“That’s not important for now. Suffice to say that you have competent representation.”

“Who’s she?”

“Inez Zamora,” Kitfox said, “Monterey Police. We’re working a case together, and she needs to hear this.”

They had removed the bullet in the ER, it being nowhere near as serious as it looked, and put him in a room with a uniformed officer in a chair beside the bed. He had taken the opportunity to go for coffee.

“Your name is Filipe Mendoza?” Zamora asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’re employed as the night desk clerk at the Holiday Inn on Fremont?”

“That’s right.”

“You understand that you stand charged with assaulting FBI Special Agent Kitfox here, a guest at your motel?”

“That I know, but I don’t know how I get into his room, or what happen why he shoot me.”

“What was the last thing you remember before you were shot?”

“I was at front desk watching television. Very bad old movie. Maybe I was going to sleep off and on.”

“What happened then?”

“Then Mr. Kitfox shoot me.”

“And you remember nothing between those two events?”

“No, nothing.”

Zamora looked at Pierce, and sighed in frustration.

“Mr. Mendoza, did you know Special Agent Kitfox before he checked into your motel?”

“No.”

“After you met him, what did you think of him as a person?”

“Don’t answer that,” Pierce said.

Kitfox drew him to a corner of the room.

“Counselor, this is big. I don’t believe for one minute that this kid is a dangerous sociopath that needs to be put away, in fact, if this is wrapped up with Susan Darnall and the guy in Reno, I’ll probably drop the charges entirely.”

“Are you offering immunity?”

“Not at this time. It could always be something else, but I don’t think it is. Do you want to help Darnall?”

“At this boy’s expense? How do you deal with conflict of interest, Special Agent?”

“Fair question. How about, nothing I find here leaves this room? If he turns out to be a criminal, I’ll prove it with other evidence.”

Pierce stared at him askance.

“Look, I’m trying to help him as well as Darnall. Whatever got to her, got to him, and the kid in Reno. We have to have information if we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

“You level with me, Special Agent, and I’ll consider it. What do you expect to find? Toxic drinking water, alien mind control, what?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that something we haven’t found yet is killing financiers, and when I started investigating, it tried to kill me, and putting a needle in Susan Darnall’s arm isn’t going to stop it. Now, are you going to help us solve this or not?”

“All right, Agent Kitfox, I’ll give you some leeway, but if I say stop, it stops, agreed?”

“Agreed. Go ahead, Inez.”

Zamora raised her pad and pen. “What did you think of Special Agent Kitfox as a person?”

Mendoza looked at Pierce, who nodded.

“I liked him. He well-dressed, he tip good, and he treat me with respect, like I not just his flunky.”

“Do you harbor ill feelings against American Indians.”

“He the first one I meet.”

“Yes or no, Filipe?”

“No.”

“Are you homophobic?”

“Just a God-damned minute!” Pierce exclaimed.

“It’s a legitimate question, Counselor.”

“Legitimate how?”

“Special Agent Kitfox is a gay man. Even if he didn’t make an announcement, he could have given subliminal signals that might have triggered an attack.”

“Thanks,” Kitfox muttered.

“All right, you can answer that, Filipe, but I recommend against it.”

“I no mind. I have a close friend all through school. When we are sixteen, I find out he is, what you say, gay. When he get his work permit, I find him job. I not care if Mr. Kitfox gay. He no want me.”

“How about authority figures? Are you ever hassled by Immigration, for example?”

Suddenly the door flew open, and a short, heavy, rumpled-looking Latino woman bustled into the room, taking in the crowd surrounding the bed, and the young man in it in a single sweeping glance.

“Filipe! What you do to him? Tell me!” she shouted, looking accusingly from face to face.

“Is this your son, ma’am?” Zamora asked.

“Si, he is Filipe Mendoza. Who are you?”

“I’m Lieutenant Inez Zamora of the Monterey Police Department. Please have a seat right over here. We’ll be through in a moment.”

“I no want to have a seat. What do police want with my boy?”

Zamora put her arm around the woman’s shoulders and turned her toward the chair, whispering something in Spanish as she did. The woman sat down, still looking gravely concerned.

“Mrs. Mendoza,” Zamora said, “this is Mitchell Pierce, an attorney. He’s representing your son, so nothing dirty is going to be done to him, all right?”

“We can no afford attorney!”

“I’m not charging you, ma’am.”

“This is free?”

“Yes. I’ll explain everything to you when the police leave. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

“Do you feel angered or intimidated by authority figures?”

“They can be scary sometimes.”

“What kind of times?”

“Now.”

“I’m talking about your everyday life. Do the authorities ever hassle you, threaten to deport you, anything like that?”

“Sometimes, some of them. My papers are in order though. They can do nothing.”

“If you saw a chance to get even with one of them, do you think you might be tempted to take it?”

“Lieutenant! I agreed to your fishing expedition, not an attempt to get him to incriminate himself in a crime that has yet to be committed.”

“Sorry. Are you a violent person? Do you have a lot of confrontations?”

“Almost never. I am lover, not fighter.”

Zamora had to smile at that. “All right, that’s all for now. Try to get some rest, Filipe. We man need to talk to you again. Counselor?”

She led Pierce into the hall, and Kitfox followed, squinting against the bright corridor lighting.

“He may feel more free to talk without us there. If you want to help him and Darnall, try to find out if he’s done anything out of the ordinary recently.”

“Do you have anything specific in mind?”

“Leon?”

Kitfox gave a blank look and shrugged.

“Anything that might turn a decent young man into a calculating killer. Use your imagination.”

“Thanks. I’ll be in touch.” Pierce reentered the room, leaving the two cops together.

“What a night,” Zamora said. “Want to get some coffee?”

“I think I’d rather get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“My office?”

“No, I think I’ll get over to the Marriott and have a firsthand look at this conference.”

“What do you expect to find there?”

“I don’t know. Use your imagination. What did you say to the mother in there?”

“What? Oh, that was an Aztec proverb. ‘The wolves chase those who run.'”

8:36 AM, Monterey

In less than twenty-four hours the first PacRim Economic Conference would officially open. Most of the participants were already in town, and the day before the opening ceremonies had been set aside for them to meet and exchange ideas in order to get the most from the official events. It was an easy environment for a dapper man with an exotic accent to infiltrate, and Uschi Ikhilevich blended in perfectly, fending off contact by feigning an inability to converse in the speaker’s language.

The conference room was magnificent, the pool area an inviting oasis, the large sitting room off the lobby an irresistible suggestion to lower one’s guard and relax. The delegates, already people of books and pencils rather than athletes, would be unsuspecting, sleeping sheep for the wolves soon to visit them.

Some of those wolves were already present. He had already spotted three of them who were hotel employees. The rudimentary security arrangements would hardly foil them, insiders that they were, and with almost two hundred strangers converging on the hotel, no one was likely to foil his outsiders, either.

Ikhilevich had seen all he needed, and was crossing the lobby to leave the building when Leon Kitfox walked in, not fifty feet away.  He gave a violent start and stopped in his tracks, but quickly wiped the look of shock from his face and turned into the sitting room where he picked up a magazine and stood flipping pages as he watched the FBI man.

Kitfox walked straight to the desk, flashed his credentials, exchanged a few words with the clerk, and walked deeper into the hotel. He identified himself to a security guard who pointed out a ventilator and a stairway door, and made his slow way down the wide corridor toward the pool area, taking in details as he went.

Ikhilevich moved to keep him in sight, wandering aimlessly, studying the magazine and trying hard to be invisible. When Kitfox stopped in the doorway to study the pool, Ikhilevich put his head down and brushed past him with a muttered, “Pardon.”

“Sorry,” Kitfox said, and stepped aside for him to go by. Ikhilevich couldn’t make out what he was studying, but assumed it was the security arrangements in general. He got a good look at Kitfox’s face as he passed. There was a fresh, tender bruise covering his right cheek. He had definitely been attacked, and had taken some punishment, but had persevered.

Probably saved by his build, Ikhilevich decided as he entered a secondary hallway off to the left. Maybe his people would have better luck with the woman.

8:53 AM, Monterey

Kitfox stood at one of the tables at the back of the big conference room trying to get a feel for what things would be like when the conference was in full swing. The room would be packed, hot, the rows of doors probably standing open for air circulation. Row upon row of international bankers and financiers would line the tables, attention on the dais where speakers of high standing would present the latest thing in . . . what? Trade? The IMF? The World Bank? All of these things and more, probably. What could a single resolute man stepping into one of these doors with a machine gun accomplish? How about a bomb?

To what end, he thought, turning away and leaving the room. No heads of state would be in attendance, no cabinet ministers or state secretaries. All of these people had staff and coworkers, and their replacements were already groomed for the most part, and ready to step into their shoes.

Could that be the motive, simple advancement of the killer? People had been killed for less, far less. He pushed the elevator call button. But that didn’t fit. People in different places with different jobs in different organizations had been killed, and certainly no one stood to gain by killing Kitfox, yet an attempt had been made. No, it was all something else, something much bigger than individuals. But what?

The elevator doors opened and disgorged Lieutenant Zamora, dressed today in jeans and T-shirt with a light jacket.

“There you are,” she greeted him. “You’re sure a hard one to get hold of. What are you doing here?”

“Seeking an epiphany.”

“Here? Your face looks terrible, by the way.”

“It only hurts when I touch it. Or move it. Or think about it.”

“Great. So, how’s the epiphany coming?”

“It isn’t. I thought it was in the conference room, but I couldn’t find it.”

“Let me have a look.” He turned to accompany her back down the hall.

“We’re still not getting it. There’s nothing to be gained from killing these people. They reschedule in a month, and their replacements come to the party.”

“Maybe somebody needs a month to do something,” she suggested.

“To do what?” he asked as they entered the room and Zamora stood taking it all in. “They aren’t going to change any laws, they aren’t going to sign any treaties. They’re going to talk about money.”

“Do you know that, or are you just speculating?”

“I know they aren’t government officials. The most they can do is make recommendations that may or may not be carried out.”

“Well, look at all the crap they go through with the WTO meetings every year. This is just a smaller version of that.”

“Exactly. They get raw eggs thrown at them, and urine poured on their cars. They don’t get killed. If these were terrorist killings, there should have been some statement, some demand made by now, and anyway, where does the attack on me fit in?”

“That’s easy. You’re onto something, and you’re probably making the killer nervous.”

“The killer’s in your jail.”

“Not that killer. The one you’re sure is putting people up to all this.”

“Yeah. If we just had a motive, we could work backward until—”

He was interrupted by the chiming of Zamora’s cell phone.

“Zamora . . . No, that’s great. Nice work . . . No, I’m at the Marriott with our FBI friend . . . Okay, I’ll see you later.”

“What?”

“Pierce called the office. Mendoza vacationed in Cabo San Lucas this summer.”

“The same as Darnall.”

“Yeah.”

“How does a minimum wage bellhop afford a vacation in Cabo?”

“Maybe he has family there. The point is, he did. What are you going to do right now?”

“Finish looking this place over.”

“You aren’t finished?”

“You aren’t finished?”

“Not in detail. I think I’ll start on the roof and work down.”

“Okay. I’m going back to the office and call Detective Sturgeon in Reno. We need to find out the vacation habits of burger-boy.”

“That will be good to know, but what if did go Cabo? Lots of people do.”

“Yes, but then we’ll have a link, and we can start picking at it. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“All right. I’ll meet you for lunch. We can compare notes.”

“It’s a date,” she said, and set off for the exit.

11:32 AM, Monterey

Inez Zamora sat at her desk behind stacks of paperwork, a limp tuna sandwich staining the paper towel on her pull-out tray. The call to Reno was hours old, and now she was tied to her desk, at least if she wanted the reply first-hand. That was actually a benefit to her, as she had several other cases in progress, both her own and her subordinates, and it gave her a good, compelling reason to stay at the desk and manage the paperwork. She was struggling with a probably-cause question when the phone rang.

“Monterey Police, Lieutenant Zamora speaking.”

“Lieutenant, Rick Sturgeon, Reno.”

“Ah, good morning, Detective. I hope you have news for me.”

“I have. Our perp vacationed in Cabo San Lucas four months ago. Stayed at one of the smaller places, the Casa de la Playa.”

“Jackpot!”

“Are you going to give me anything, Lieutenant? I have a murder investigation of my own here, and I’m real short on motive.”

“Us, too. We have two perps now.”

“Two?”

“Yeah. Twelve hours ago a motel night clerk assaulted Kitfox in his room.”

“The FBI guy?”

“Yeah. He got shot for his trouble, but get this. Both of our people vacationed in Cabo around the same time. We haven’t gotten to where they stayed yet, but I’d be willing to give you pretty good odds if gambling was legal.”

“It is legal here, but I wouldn’t take them. Are you going to keep me in the loop on this?”

“Until this turns out to be coincidence, you bet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to call the feds.”

She depressed the switch button of her desk phone, then dialed Kitfox’s cell phone.

“Hello, Leon Kitfox.”

“Leon, Inez. What are you doing?”

“Writing my shoot report.”

“Well, take a break. You’ll never guess what.”

“What?”

“Burger-boy took his summer vacation in Cabo. Stayed at a place called Casa de la Playa. Supposed to be off the beaten path, from what Sturgeon says.”

“That’s interesting, but does it help us, and if it could, how do we figure out how?”

“The same way you cracked it at the beginning. Just keep picking at it until we get the next piece.”

“That can be a lengthy procedure. The delegates are here now, and the conference starts in the morning.”

“We have to come up with something.”

“I agree. What are you doing right now?”

“Clearing some old paperwork. I want the weekend free. I plan to attend this conference.”

“As do I. Okay, I’m here in the building. Do you have the counselor’s number?”

“Pierce?”

“Yeah.”

She gave it to him.

“All right, you go ahead and work your caseload. I’m going to see if Pierce will let Darnall tell me about her week in Baja. If you aren’t finished by then, I’ll try to get a statement from Mendoza, too.”

“Okay. Call my cell, I may be on the move by then.”

2:30 PM, Salinas

“Thank you for seeing me so promptly, Mr. Pierce.”

“It’s no inconvenience, Special Agent. I’m as eager to get to the bottom of this as you are.”

“Good. Shall we begin, then?”

“Please.”

“All right. First, Mrs. Darnall, you’ll observe that I’ve come alone. There are no tape recorders nor prosecution witnesses present. Anything you say to me here will be off the record.”

“I should caution you, Susan, that if you should, for example, admit to a motive for killing Mr. Durant, and he can then prove it by other means, the immunity of this room will be meaningless.”

“I understand.”

“All right. Go ahead.”

“Mrs. Darnall, I don’t know how much your attorney has told you about items that are peripheral to this case. We have given him extraordinary information in return for your cooperation because we think you were tricked or coerced by some method into committing an act that you would not ordinarily consider. We think your crime is part of an unknown party’s larger scheme, and we would rather endanger our case against you if it gives us greater insight into that plot. Do you understand?”

“No.”

She looked like a kitten surrounded by pit bulls, resigned to a fate she didn’t comprehend.

“Does she know about the other cases, Counselor?”

Pierce nodded.

“Similar attacks, one against a similar sort of victim, and the perpetrators remember nothing about them. This suggests a coordinating mastermind, if you like. We want that mastermind, do you understand that?”

“Yes.”

“Good. We believe that whatever happened to turn you and at least two other people to violence took place in Cabo San Lucas. I understand that you booked a vacation, but when your husband was unable to get away, you went by yourself.”

“He insisted. He said the rest would do me good.”

“His absence must have put a damper on the festivities.”

“It automatically eliminated the wining and dining, the dancing, anything romantic. There are other things to do, though.”

“Such as?”

“I read a novel. I got a tan. I swam, I bought souvenirs, I sampled a dozen restaurants. It wasn’t exactly purgatory.”

“How did you feel when he told you to go alone?”

“I didn’t want to. I didn’t think I’d have any fun without him.”

“Lots of married couples take separate vacations.”

“Not us. Twelve years into it, and we still take one like newlyweds.”

“You’re very lucky.”

“I used to think so.”

“Yes. So, you already had some stress before you even packed.”

“I suppose I did.”

“Making you even more susceptible to whatever might have been done to you.”

“But, what was done to me?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. Where did you stay?”

“A little off-the-beach place called Casa de la Playa. They were having a special.”

Kitfox and Pierce exchanged meaningful looks.

“What do you remember about the place?”

“Cheap. The cheapness. Lots of formica, imitation wood, AstroTurf for carpets. You really do get what you pay for. I remember being glad that Jeff wasn’t going to see it.”

“Was there anything unusual about the room?”

“No, it was just . . . it’s hard to describe. It was like a museum display from the sixties, like something out of the Brady Bunch.”

“How about the people?”

“Well, let’s see. There was the manager. Real boot-licker. Fat, always managed to have a two-day beard, and always apologizing for some shortcoming. A couple of bellboys, a hostess, housekeepers. Nobody stands out. Everyone looked and acted just like they were supposed to.”

“How about the restaurants? Did anything strike you as unusual there, something that made one feel different from the rest?”

“No. Of course, I was eating Mexican the whole time. They just bring it on a plate, and drinks, of course, all you can put away.”

“Did you ever get drunk, or maybe feel like you’d been drugged?”

“Hmmm. No, I wouldn’t have more than one drink without my husband there, and as to the other, I don’t have any gaps in my memory until the night . . . well, you know.”

“Of course.” Kitfox rubbed his eyes. “What am I missing here?”

Pierce replied with a shrug.

“Souvenirs?”

“Possibly,” Kitfox agreed. “What did you buy?”

“Trinkets. A couple of shirts, some earrings, shells. Just junk, really. It wouldn’t matter, anyway. I bought them last thing, put them in my bags, and checked them through. I passed them out as soon as I got home. I barely had them in my hands.”

“Okay.” Kitfox threw Pierce a frustrated look. “You have plenty of time on your hands right now. I want you to use it to mentally review your vacation. If you remember anything out of the ordinary, anything at all, call your attorney at once. I’ll leave for them to allow it.”

“Thank you, but what is it you’re looking for?”

“I wish I knew.” He stood up and rapped on the door for the guard. “I know you’re under quite a strain here, but try to get some rest if you can.”

“Thank you, Agent Kitfox,” she said as the guard unlocked her cuff from the table. “Thank you for everything you’re trying to do. I just can’t think of anything.”

“It’s all right. If you do remember anything, however insignificant it seems, call Mr. Pierce at once.”

“Not you?”

“In the eyes of the law, I’m still your adversary. Your attorney’s a good man. He’ll pass along anything I should have.”

“Thank you.”

“What do you think?” he asked Pierce after she had been led away.

“I think this is the strangest relationship I’ve ever had with a law enforcement officer.”

“I was thinking along those lines myself, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t see her just deciding one day to murder someone. I mean, we both know she did it, but this carefully planned murder didn’t come out of her head. Somebody put it there, and what I have to find out is who.”

“There’s the sixty-four dollar question. Somebody programmed her to kill a man, and yet nothing there struck her as unusual.”

“So, Cabo is the common link, and maybe this Casa de la Playa specifically. It’s too much to ask of coincidence. All of this had to originate there, and yet it was so sophisticated that this intelligent, educated woman didn’t recognize that anything was amiss.”

“That’s a frightening thought,” Pierce allowed. “What do we do now?”

“If you have the time, we go talk to Mr. Mendoza.”