Detective Meltzer entered the Phoenix FBI office and made his way through the lobby which looked like a museum. The walls were draped with portraits of past presidents and congressional representatives, with a sprinkling of some past FBI directors as well. In the center of the blue carpet was a circular imprint of the FBI’s logo.
He handed the guard his pistol, shield and keys, then stepped through the metal detector.
Once on the other side he gathered his stuff, then signed for the gun and left it with the officer. As he approached the reception desk, he scribbled his name on the sign-in sheet, then held up his shield, “Detective Sam Meltzer for Agent Turkle please.”
The receptionist was an older woman, overly professional, with a thin wireless
headset and her hair in a tight bun. She seemed to read the urgency in Meltzer’s demeanor, but she was there to deflect interruptions for the local agents. She punched a couple of buttons on her keypad.
“He’s not in right now,” she said. “Would you like to leave a message?”
This was her cue to decipher whether the message went to his text or a bloated
After everything Bryant had told him, Meltzer had a fistful of messages he’d like
to leave him. Tracking a rogue FBI agent was like chasing the abominable snowman. Half the people aren’t going to believe you, the other half will give you five minutes to prove it first.
Meltzer ran a hand through his hair. “Does he have a partner?”
The receptionist took this in stride. “Yes, Agent Shawn Backman. Would you like to see if he’s available?”
The receptionist pushed a button and spoke quietly into her wireless receiver while Meltzer paced. He should’ve known better than to show up unexpected, but phone calls only get you so much. He’d lose the ability to see the person’s expression to his accusations. Meltzer had spoken with Officer Scanlin, who basically corroborated Bryant’s account of that afternoon’s incident. Scanlin was a good cop who’d never give up another law enforcement officer, but when the name Turkle came up, the hesitation in Scanlin’s voice was all Meltzer needed.
The receptionist cupped her hand in front of the receiver and lowered it below her mouth. “I’m sorry, Detective, but Agent Backman is in a meeting right now. Would you like to leave a message?”
Right, Meltzer thought, he’s in a meeting. He stood there ready to rip down J. Edgar Hoover’s portrait from the wall behind the receptionist. Then something occurred to him.
He needed to be able to talk with this agent without a professional screener like this woman overstepping her boundaries.
“Yes,” Meltzer said, looking thoughtful and as sincere as possible. “I’d like you to tell Agent Backman that I’m a very close friend of Special Agent Frank Rickter.” Then he leaned over the counter to let her know this would be a response he’d be waiting for.
Frank Rickter wasn’t a real person. He was a fictional character from a popular novel about a rogue FBI agent who brought down an entire field office because of his corrupt behavior. Even though the fictional agent acted alone, the entire division lost their jobs. Every agent Meltzer ever knew was familiar with the book, and Meltzer was banking on the fact this agent would understand the reference.
If Turkle was as corrupt as Meltzer thought, his partner had to be in on it. Or at the very least have his suspicions. If he got the message, he’d want to know what Meltzer knew. It put Meltzer’s neck on the line, but he needed to do something drastic.
The receptionist tapped a button on the side of her headset and looked up at Meltzer with a touch of surprise in her eyes.
“He’ll see you,” she said, standing and ripping a small card from a printer next to her. She placed his ID badge inside a plastic sheath attached to a band to wear around his neck.
“Here,” she said. Then she gave him directions to Backman’s office. Meltzer knew by the color of the badge that it was a restricted card, allowing him access to just a few corridors. Should he veer from his route in the slightest, an alarm would sound and his location would be flagged immediately.
Meltzer didn’t want to stray. He picked up steam as he marched toward the field agent’s office, thinking of the proper strategy to get the maximum amount of information possible. In Meltzer’s line of work information was a valued currency. Maybe the most valued currency. But prying it from a trained professional like an FBI agent would require great skill.
He found a bullpen of cubicles in the center of a series of offices. When he approached one with a friendly face behind it he didn’t need to ask a thing. The man pointed to an office with all-window walls, where a man sat behind a desk, waving for Meltzer to come.
When Meltzer finally entered Agent Backman’s office, the guy was standing and reaching out a hand to greet him.
“Good to meet you, Detective,” Backman said, pointing to a leather chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”
Meltzer sat while Backman pointed a remote control at the TV and turned it off. Then he dropped the remote on his desk and sat down.
Backman gestured toward the dark TV screen. “Lots of crazy stuff going on out there right now,” Backman said.
“Is there something I should know about?” the agent said.
That was good, Meltzer thought. In the tug of war for information, the man just tugged first.
“Actually,” Meltzer said, “I was hoping you could help me out.”
“Sure,” Backman said, lifting one end of the remote, then placing it back down as if the unit were doing pushups.
“I need to know how close you are with your partner, Ron Turkle.”
Backman openly frowned. He slid the remote away from him, then leaned back in his reclining chair and stared at the ceiling. “What did he do now?” Backman asked.
Meltzer told him. Leaving out his speculations and sticking to the facts. When he was done, Backman didn’t hide his disgust with the situation and Meltzer felt the emotion was real and not there for show.
Backman got up and closed his office door. He sat on a chair next to Meltzer and leaned toward the detective. He spoke in a low voice. “Ron’s been through a lot over the past few months.”
Meltzer nodded, not sure where this was going, but glad to hear the submissive tone.
“I mean,” Backman continued, “he’s just never been the same ever since his heart attack.” Backman shrugged with a sad grin. “You’d think a brush with death like that would change a person for the better, maybe allow him to appreciate the little things.”
Meltzer knew enough to shut up and get out of the way.
“Anyhow,” Backman said, “the guy’s developed this unhealthy obsession with that Margo girl. He seems to accuse her for everything from rainclouds over the valley to the Middle East crisis.”
Backman shot a glance over his shoulder at the bullpen and the bustling support staff who were oblivious to the conversation. When he turned back and looked out the window, his mind seemed far away. “Ron missed a mandatory meeting this morning with the SAC. I know for a fact the SAC was going to suspend him for at least two months.”
“After hearing this,” Backman said with open palms, “I don’t see how he recovers from it.”
“So where is he?”
Backman let out a sigh. “We don’t know. He never made it home last night.” Backman began tapping his right foot double-time. “Listen, any chance you can let us handle this in-house? It would spare the Bureau at lot of ugliness and I’d give it my full attention.”
Meltzer shook his head. “Sorry, but no. Dr. Bryant just lost his family this year, and as far as I can tell, this girl is the only thing keeping him alive. I can’t afford to have anything happen to her.”
Backman looked ready for that. “Sure, I understand.”
“But here’s my deal,” Meltzer said. “We work together until this guy comes in, and I’ll make sure not one word gets leaked to the press.”
Backman nodded with a hint of a grin, acting like he’d accomplished something with the meeting. He stood and held out his hand. Meltzer stood and shook it.
They both ended up looking out the window as if they were outlining the first steps in their alliance together.
“So what do you make of the sunspots?” Meltzer said, throwing the agent a softball.
“I have an astronomer friend who works at Kitt Peak just outside of Tucson,” Backman said, staring at the mixture of clouds. “You know they have the world’s largest solar telescope down there.”
“Yeah. Anyway, I called him just after the National Weather Service labeled those things sunspots. He told me he had no idea what was happening over the skies of Arizona. But one thing he was absolutely certain of . . .” Backman turned to face Meltzer. “They definitely weren’t sunspots.”