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.