The Fractal Murders Part 33

"A witness claimed to see a brand-new Ford or Mercury luxury sedan, dark blue, with Colorado plates in front of Carolyn Chang's home the night of her disappearance. The prefix on the plate was A-M-K. The only Colorado vehicle fitting that description with an A-M-K prefix is an unmarked Crown Victoria registered to your office."

"What's the plate number?"

"A-M-K 8115."

"Yeah." He sighed. "That's one of ours. What else you got?"

It took more than a half hour, but I laid it all out for him. Everything. Polk's lie to Gilbert, his ties to the Koch Group, a man fitting Polk's description breaking into Jayne's town house, Polk's being in Boston at the time of Underwood's death and in Washington at the time of Fontaine's death, and Koch's attempt to kill us the other night. Polk was a southpaw and the man who had stabbed Carolyn Chang had been left-handed. "This look familiar?" I asked. I handed him the tracking device we'd found on my truck. He studied it.

"It's ours," he said, sighing again.

I told him my theory. Showed him the doc.u.ments Gilbert had found that established conclusively that the three victims had been working together on a model designed to predict market behavior. He was initially skeptical, but I thought I saw his doubts dissipate as the circ.u.mstantial evidence of Polk's involvement became overwhelming.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered as he leaned forward and placed his hands on his desk, "a weapon taken from our evidence room is used to commit a murder we're supposed to have investigated." He shook his head slowly from side to side. Gumby just stared out at the Denver skyline. Scott sat quietly and took it all in. I inventoried the military awards and college degrees behind Dittmer's desk. "Where's Polk now?" Dittmer finally asked, the question clearly directed to Gombold.

"He's in the building," Gumby said. Dittmer pressed a b.u.t.ton on his telephone set and a young woman's voice came over the speaker.

"Sir?"

"Have Agent Polk come in here," he said.

"Yes, sir."

Several minutes pa.s.sed before Polk arrived. He wore gray slacks, a light blue shirt with short sleeves, a solid navy tie, and a leather shoulder holster with his howitzer in it. He wasn't happy to see me. "What's this?" he said.

"Close the door," Dittmer said. Polk complied. "I need your weapon and badge," Dittmer said.

"What's going on, boss?" Polk asked. Surprised.

"Your weapon and badge," Dittmer repeated.

"What the f.u.c.k is going on?" Polk demanded.

"You're suspended until further notice," Dittmer said loudly as he stood. "Now give me your G.o.dd.a.m.ned weapon and badge."

"Why?" Polk demanded.

"Killing three math professors seems like a pretty good reason," I said from my chair. I was roughly halfway between Polk and Dittmer, and I made no effort to hide my contempt.

"You think I killed them?" he shouted.

"That's where the evidence points," I said.

"We're not discussing this now," Dittmer said. He extended his long arm to signal Polk he still wanted my former cla.s.smate to surrender his badge and gun.

"What evidence?" Polk shouted. His denial angered me. I stood up and faced him.

"I'll tell you what evidence," I shot back. "A weapon you logged into evidence was used to kill Fontaine. You lied to the police about it. You're in Boston at a s.e.x crimes seminar when Underwood dies in an autoerotic death, you're in Richland when Fontaine takes a bullet. A blue Crown Victoria with Colorado plates is seen outside Carolyn Chang's home the night she disappeared, and that plate traces to the Denver office of the FBI. Carolyn's killer was left-handed and you're a lefty. Three people who developed a revolutionary way of constructing economic models are dead and you work for an economic consulting company. You reinterviewed witnesses who had already been interviewed by other agents, to make sure n.o.body was on your trail."

"I was working on the G.o.dd.a.m.ned case!" he shouted. "You think I didn't know something funny was going on? You think I didn't know that I was in the vicinity when all three murders took place?"

"You broke into Jayne's house and-"

"To find out what you knew," he said. "I couldn't get into your house because of your f.u.c.king dogs."

"We're not discussing this now," Dittmer repeated firmly, but the situation was slipping away from his control.

"By the way," I said to Polk, "Koch botched the job the other night. We confiscated his FBI tracking device and gave him a good beating. Probably should've killed the f.u.c.ker, but the prosecutor may need him to testify against you."

"What are you talking about?" Polk demanded.

"We're not discussing this now," Dittmer shouted.

Polk turned to Dittmer. "You son of a b.i.t.c.h," he said. "You set me up."

Dittmer pressed the intercom again and said, "Send some agents in here to take custody of Agent Polk."

"Right away, sir," a female voice replied.

Polk looked at me, then at Dittmer, then back at me. "Don't you get it?" he pleaded. "Dittmer's the one who decided our office would run the investigation. That's why he was so interested in knowing whether the phone records could connect any of the victims."

"You're the one who logged in the gun," I said.

Polk turned to Dittmer again. "You f.u.c.kin' set me up," he repeated. He was as angry as I'd ever seen him. Every vein and artery in his neck was bulging. "You got me that job with Koch. You sent me to Boston. Told me to take time off to attend my reunion. You had me drive to Lincoln with you for that stupid meeting. How f.u.c.king stupid could I have been? I ought to f.u.c.kin' kill you right now." I knew what was about to happen and reached for my Glock. Then everything went into slow motion.

Polk started for Dittmer, his face filled with rage. "You f.u.c.kin' set me up," he repeated yet again. Dittmer stepped back and began to draw his weapon with his left hand. Gumby saw what was about to happen and went for his gun, as did Scott, but I got to mine first. I shot Dittmer once in the chest.

36.

I'M NOT SURE I CAN explain it," I said. "I guess the idea had been floating around in the back of my mind, but it didn't come together for me until Polk started going off on Dittmer. All of the sudden everything made sense."

"Lucky for you," Gombold said. He wore a gray suit, white shirt, and maroon tie. Black wing tips. Two weeks had pa.s.sed. We were sharing a booth in an upscale bar near the federal building. It was four P.M. on a Friday afternoon and the place was filling up. He looked at me, signaling me to continue. I'd given a formal statement immediately after wounding Dittmer, but now was our chance to talk in a more relaxed setting.

"I'd been studying Dittmer's glory wall while we waited for Polk," I said. "It struck me that he and Hawkins had both been in Vietnam at about the same time. Both in intelligence. Then I noticed that Dittmer had attended Duke. And I remembered that Hawkins had attended Duke. And even though Dittmer was taking notes with his right hand, he was going to shoot Polk with his left hand."

"And the coroner in Kansas said Carolyn had probably been stabbed by a lefty?"

"Yeah." I took a few cashews from the bowl between us and washed them down with red wine.

"Well," Gumby said, "the important thing is, you were right. The pubic hairs we took from Dittmer match the ones found with Carolyn's body. It took some work, but we verified that he flew to Seattle and Boston under an alias."

"And he drove to Lincoln with Polk in an FBI car?"

"Yeah, Dittmer scheduled some kind of meeting in Lincoln that week just so he'd have an excuse to go there, and he decided to take Polk with him. Polk says they took the Crown Victoria, and the mileage records seem to support that. They put about fourteen hundred miles on the car during that time period."

"Enough to get you to Lincoln and back, with maybe a little side trip down to Kansas so Dittmer could dump Carolyn's body."

"Yeah."

"What about Hawkins?" I said.

"Picked him up the day after you shot Dittmer. He and Dittmer aren't talking, but we've learned they were fraternity brothers at Duke and worked with each other in Vietnam."

"How is Dittmer?" I asked.

"He was lucky. The bullet punctured his lung but didn't do any serious damage."

"He might have been better off dead," I said.

"Yeah, he might have. I don't condone what he did, but I have to confess I feel a little bit sorry for him. He devotes most of his life to his country, then gets pa.s.sed over for promotion and loses his wife to cancer. Decides he's ent.i.tled to something more than a government pension and ruins his life." I nodded in silence.

"What about Alan Koch?" I asked.

"Told us everything," Gumby said. "Sitting in back of your truck for a few days must have had a therapeutic effect."

"I doubt it," I said. "He probably figures the three of them are pretty good candidates for the death penalty, and he decided to rat out the other two to save his own skin."

"I guess," he said. He grabbed a handful of cashews.

"Don't keep me in suspense," I said.

"Koch had been an economic a.n.a.lyst with the CIA, just like Hawkins. That's where they met. They stayed in touch over the years. Hawkins went to Koch with this intrinsic time model and Koch loved it. Thought it would revolutionize the business and make his firm a lot of money."

"All they had to do was kill the people who'd come up with the model."

"And Dittmer was the man to do it," Gumby said. "With those three dead, they didn't have to worry about the model becoming public knowledge. So, according to Koch, they approached Dittmer and Dittmer agreed to do the dirty work." He motioned for the waiter to bring another gin and tonic.

"Dittmer sure manipulated Polk," I said.

"I don't think he ever intended for Polk to take the fall," Gumby said. "I don't think he even thought of it until after he took Bailey Green's gun from the evidence room. He knew that would cast suspicion on Polk if anyone found out, and he figured, why not set it up so all evidence points to Polk just in case?"

"Then he kept the case in Denver when Jayne Smyers reported it to the bureau."

"Yeah."

"When did Polk get suspicious?" I asked.

"I talked with him a little," Gombold said. "When we were working the case, he thought it was strange that he had been in the general vicinity at the time of all three deaths. He had a funny feeling about it; that's why he reinterviewed so many witnesses after receiving the 302s from the local agents.

"When we got the interview summaries from Lincoln and learned about the big Ford in front of Carolyn Chang's home on the night of her death, Polk wondered whether Dittmer might've been involved, but only one witness claimed the car had Colorado plates and the notion seemed so ridiculous that Polk dismissed it as a coincidence.

"Then when Gilbert called and told him a gun missing from our evidence room had been used to kill Fontaine, he knew something was wrong and decided to do a little investigating on his own. He knew someone in our office was bad, but didn't know who and didn't feel he could trust anyone. That's why he requested the gun from Gilbert instead of routing the request through Dittmer."

"Is that why he broke into Jayne's home?" I asked.

"Yeah, he wanted to know what you knew, but given that you two are like India and Pakistan, he couldn't just pick up the phone and ask."

I took another sip of wine. "What's Polk up to now?" I asked.

"He's been a.s.signed to Montgomery, Alabama. He'll be moving next month."

"Good a place as any for him," I said. "He in any trouble over the break-in?"

"The professor said she didn't want to pursue it, and the bureau sure didn't want to publicize it, so the director gave him an unofficial suspended oral reprimand and sent him to Alabama."

"Punishment enough," I said.

"Haven't you talked with her?" he asked.

"Not lately," I said.

"I thought you two had a thing going."

"It's up in the air," I said.

He switched topics. "That was a quite a write-up in the News," he said. I was the best-known investigator in Colorado at the moment. My fifteen minutes of fame.

"I almost got the wrong man," I said. n.o.body is harder on Pepper Keane than Pepper Keane.

"Hey," he said as he looked right at me, "you figured out the economic connection. You proved the deaths were related. Polk didn't have any of that. If you hadn't taken this case and stuck with it, Dittmer would have quietly retired and all three of them would be living the good life."

"I suppose," I said.

"Just be glad it's over," he said. I smiled, but it wasn't quite over for me. I still had to win back Jayne Smyers.

We finished our drinks and the waiter brought our check. I paid it. We talked for a few more minutes, then walked out into the late afternoon sun and shook hands.

"Want to join my wife and me for dinner?" he asked.

"Take a rain check," I said. "I've got an early day tomorrow."

"Tomorrow's Sat.u.r.day," he said. "I figured you'd take it easy for a while."

"I plan to," I said, "but my brother's a scoutmaster, and I volunteered to help him and his kids with a little conservation project." We both donned our sungla.s.ses. "Actually, they volunteered to help me. The kids are working on their conservation merit badges."

"That the one where they have to do so many hours of public service?"

"Six hours," I said.

"What are you gonna have 'em do?"

"We're going to take down a stand of Russian olive trees."

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