Convicted, стр. 13
“The bureau wants you to travel to Italy. We have two possible sightings of Ms. Nichols—one in Venice—the other in Rome. We have pictures of the woman suspected of being Ms. Nichols. You’ll see she’s always in disguise.” SAC Williams pointed toward a large screen on the wall of his office. Still pictures projected. Some were grainy, as if taken from a distance and enlarged. Others were much more clear and detailed. Harry studied the woman in each photograph. The last time he’d seen Claire, in person, was in June. That was four months ago. The woman in question could be pregnant, or just heavy. Her hair color and length varied from photo to photo, yet there was something about her—in a few of the photos—when she smiled—Harry’s chest tightened.
“Sir, I believe that is Ms. Nichols.”
“This man has been seen with her on numerous occasions. Can you identify him?”
Repeated pictures projected, again with varied quality. “Most of these pictures don’t show his face. It’s like he knows to keep it away from cameras.” The man’s hair color varied, and he often wore a hat. “I’m sure it isn’t Anthony Rawlings, sir”—Harry studied the pictures closer—“He’s familiar. Are they believed to be together?” The way he emphasized the last word made his meaning clear.
SAC Williams’ eyes narrowed. “It appears so. Ms. Nichols told the Iowa City prosecutor that she left the home of Mr. Rawlings of her own free will, and that she feared for the safety of her and her unborn child. She emphasized that the threat wasn’t from Mr. Rawlings. Although you are aware, their relationship has had its perilous moments.”
“Yes, sir. Ms. Nichols told me about that herself.”
“She also informed Evergreen that she believed Mr. Rawlings is still in danger.”
Harry shifted his footing ever so slightly.
“I’ll ask this one more time, can you reenter this case with a sense of impartiality? Our assignment is multifaceted. Agent Nichols was one of us. Though not publicly disclosed—his death is still an open case. The ME found traces of a rare toxin in his blood, actaea pachypoda, more commonly referred to as doll’s eyes. This plant toxin has a sedative effect on the cardiac muscle tissue and can cause cardiac arrest. That same toxin has been identified in very few other deaths. A reoccurring denominator seems to be Mr. Rawlings or should I say Rawls. After years of nothing, it was Ms. Nichols’s research and persistence that pulled these cases together. Upon further investigation, actaea pachypoda was also found in Mr. Rawlings’ blood when he was poisoned in 2012. Interestingly, it was the first time it has been identified in a nonlethal dose.”
Harry wanted to say, “That’s too bad”—however, he wisely chose to remain silent.
SAC Williams continued, “Honestly, it doesn’t come up in a normal toxicology screen and could easily be missed. Not all cases lead to Mr. Rawlings directly. Since other drugs indicating poisoning were found in Mr. Rawlings’ 2012 toxicology report, this toxin wasn’t initially discovered. Thankfully, in criminal cases such as Mr. Rawlings’ attempted murder, trace evidence is retained. When his blood was retested, the toxin was discovered. If it were left up to those idiots in Iowa, it would’ve never been found. We have no way of knowing how many other cases have been missed.”
“May I see the other names and case files which have been identified?”
“Yes, agent, you’ll be leaving today for Venice. A debriefing file will accompany you on that trip. Familiarize yourself with it.”
“If I locate Ms. Nichols, am I to maintain the ex-boyfriend from SiJo persona?”
“For the time being, yes. She trusted you. That’s your role again, to regain her trust. As I said, this case is multifaceted. Ms. Nichols believes a significant threat exists—a threat which was severe enough to cause her to leave the country. Although she remains unaware, Ms. Nichols is our informant. We need her safe. Mr. Rawlings is an influential man with many connections. For the time being, it’s in the best interest of many people for him to remain hidden and safe. With the political and financial climate as it is, the collapse of Rawlings Industries could have global financial repercussions. That’s not something the prominent U.S. government officials want to see at this time. After his location is confirmed, it’s been determined to allow him to stay hidden. Actually, that was the bureau’s plan. I can’t say I agree with the Boston office’s tactics. I think they should’ve been straight with him all along, but it wasn’t my call. Now, we have to clean up their mess.”
“What if the evidence points back to Mr. Rawlings?”
“If it does, we bring him in.”
Externally, Harry maintained his neutral expression; internally he smiled from ear to ear. Bring him in—yes, Harry liked the way that sounded. He wanted to be the person placing Rawlings’ wrists in cuffs—and he didn’t mean the thousand dollar, diamond studded kind. Harry’s need for retaliation wasn’t solely based on what he did to Claire, although admittedly it was a predominating factor. No, Harry’s incentive stemmed from the implication of so many other criminal activities. Rawlings hadn’t only taken Claire’s life, but he’d also, potentially—theoretically, hurt countless others—taking and destroying lives at will. Yes, Harry wanted to see Anthony Rawlings behind bars more than he wanted anything else. Maybe, just maybe, when Rawlings’ crimes were brought to light Claire would see the truth. Oh, there was no doubt that when Claire learned that Harry’s presence in Palo Alto was not coincidental—that he also lied to her, she’d be upset, but lying for good was much better than killing, beating, raping...it twisted Harry’s stomach to think how long the list of Rawlings’ sins could possibly be.
Snapping back to reality, the photo of the man on the wall screen registered, and Harry said, “Phillip Roach.”
“Excuse me?” SAC Williams asked.
“The man in those photos with Claire Nichols, his name is Phillip Roach. He’s a private investigator. I ran preliminary background checks on him. He has a military background and on multiple occasions he’s fallen off the grid. He did work for Rawlings. I don’t know why he’d be with Ms. Nichols now.”
“Well then, that’s on your list of things to learn.”
“Sir, why am I suddenly in Europe?”
SAC Williams smiled. “Welcome back, Agent.”
Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills .
Brent tipped the Styrofoam cup upward attempting to garnish the last drops of caffeine, praying for a jumpstart to his exhausted body and mind. He’d been sitting and watching the feed from the hotel’s surveillance cameras for hours. Agent Jackson remained with him, but the second agent occasionally changed. The one who accompanied Jackson to the hotel was back; however, he’d left for a while and been replaced with another man, wearing the same customary black suit.
Regardless of who was within their room, they sat and watched the same loop over and over. It consisted of a hallway view of Tony and the two agents leaving the suite—the three men alone in the elevator—their walk through the lobby—and all of them entering a waiting black SUV. Brent wondered if Agent Jackson expected something to change, some new information. He wasn’t seeing it; at this point, he was pretty sure he’d see the same video in his dreams—if he ever had a full night’s sleep.
Without a doubt, Tony walked away willingly. There seemed to be little communication occurring between Tony and the agents; however, without audio, that couldn’t be confirmed. Watching his friend disappear from the camera’s view, Brent wondered, was Tony being taken by the person Claire feared? The FBI insinuated otherwise. Without coming out and saying it, Brent sensed that they thought Tony’s departure—like Claire’s—was of his own free will. Regardless of the reason, Brent saw no advantage to watching the same footage a thousand times. Shouldn’t they be tracking down the SUV or something? Suddenly, Agent Jackson’s voice refocused Brent’s thoughts. “There it is! That’s what I’ve been trying to see. I knew something seemed odd.” The other agent hit pause and backed up the video; soon they were all watching the footage again.