Drake Hotel, Chicago

L.T. con­tin­ued his narrative.

“What every­one believed at the time the ‘black box’ was found — and what the pub­lic is still being led to believe — is that the new sys­tem of lithi­um-ion bat­ter­ies in the plane had over­heat­ed and ignit­ed fuel fumes that had built up in the mechan­i­cal space.

“As you’ve prob­a­bly heard, there has been a good deal of trou­ble with those types of batteries.

“However, fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion by the FAA and the NTSB dis­cov­ered that the bat­tery con­nec­tions had been tam­pered with and, appar­ent­ly, an open fuel con­tain­er had been delib­er­ate­ly left in the compartment.

“And, in all like­li­hood, all this was done because you were the target.”

“Me?  Why me? And by whom?”

“You recall the fel­low you dis­patched in Cincinnati?  Somehow his son found some papers that the father had left which described the meet­ing he was hav­ing with you.  And since those papers described you as a paid assas­sin, the son has obvi­ous­ly reached the con­clu­sion that his father was mur­dered — by you — and did­n’t die of nat­ur­al causes.

“Somehow — we haven’t been able to fig­ure out how — he traced you to Hawaii and was able to hatch the plan that result­ed in the plane going down, pre­sum­ably with you in it.”

“You mean to tell me that this guy killed over two hun­dred peo­ple to avenge his father’s death?  Why did­n’t he just come after me personally?”

“Not sure.  But he’s obvi­ous­ly not a pro­fes­sion­al like you.  Maybe that’s why he did­n’t choose a per­son­al con­fronta­tion.  Anyway, he appar­ent­ly got access to the plane by brib­ing one of the air­port work­ers into get­ting him a uni­form that gained him access to the apron area of the air­port on Maui, and then onto the plane.  Maui air­port secu­ri­ty isn’t very tight any­way.  It’s more of a tourist des­ti­na­tion and they don’t spend a lot of time deal­ing with high-secu­ri­ty issues.”

“Well, L.T., this is all very inter­est­ing, but sure­ly you did­n’t drag me all the way to Chicago just to let me know that some­one was gun­ning for me.  If you know all this why has­n’t he been arrested?”

“One, even with all this infor­ma­tion, there’s no direct link between this guy and what hap­pened.  Everything is cir­cum­stan­tial for the moment.  And two, if we arrest­ed him he might very well reveal what he knows about you. And you’re too valu­able to us to have all that blow up in the press and the courts.”

“Yeah, I can see that point.  How much does he know about me?”

“As far as we’ve been able to ascer­tain, he knows your name and where you live.  We don’t believe he knows what you look like, which may explain why he select­ed the broad attack approach he did with the air­plane.  We also believe that he must still think you died in the crash.  He flew back to the main­land with­in a cou­ple of days of sab­o­tag­ing 2620 and he lives in a lit­tle town south of Chicago called Watseka.  The pop­u­la­tion is only a lit­tle over five thou­sand.  We don’t know where or if he works.  He seems to have no vis­i­ble means of sup­port, but nei­ther does he appear to have mon­ey prob­lems.  Perhaps he inher­it­ed from his father.”

My mind was filled with pos­si­bil­i­ties, all jum­bled up and clash­ing with each oth­er, cre­at­ing con­fu­sion.  After what seemed a lengthy pause dur­ing which we both had sev­er­al drinks of cof­fee, I final­ly asked “So, what do you suggest?”

“Michael, we could take this guy out for you, but I felt that it was impor­tant for you to deal with it in your own way.  I know you have very strong scru­ples about what you do.  This guy tried to kill you and destroyed the fam­i­lies of over two hun­dred peo­ple try­ing, so he obvi­ous­ly does­n’t enter­tain the same reser­va­tions you do about tak­ing lives.  But he’s also mar­ried and has one kid, a ten-year-old boy.  That has to be a fac­tor in what­ev­er you choose to do.

“But if he ever finds out that you sur­vived the plane crash, he may well come after you again.  And don’t for­get, he knows where you live, so your friends and neigh­bors could be in dan­ger as well.”

“There are cer­tain­ly a lot of fac­tors to be weighed.  I guess the best thing to do is for you to give me the port­fo­lio you have on this guy and leave me to deal with it.  I sure don’t know which way to go with it right now.  I’ve nev­er tak­en out some­one who had a fam­i­ly depend­ing on him and hope it won’t be nec­es­sary to do so this time.  If I do, I’ll have to be sure that his wife and kid aren’t involved in any way and that they won’t suf­fer if he’s not around.

“Damn!  I hate this!”

“I know, Michael, I know.  I hope you’ll agree that I had no choice but to pro­vide this infor­ma­tion to you.”

“Yeah, I do.  I would be espe­cial­ly con­cerned if he dis­cov­ered I was still alive and it posed a dan­ger to peo­ple in Winchester.

“Thanks.  I guess.”

I stood, picked up my top­coat, and took the prof­fered file fold­er from L.T. I shook his hand and walked deject­ed­ly toward the door.

As I exit­ed the room, L.T. stood in the open door­way and watched me down the cor­ri­dor.  I heard a soft “Be care­ful” as I neared the elevators.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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