“Claims it’s important...something about a death threat on one of your clients.”
“That makes a difference?”
“You know Fisher...and his tendency for drama.”
Davidson sighed, flipped to a new page of the legal pad and jotted down the time. He habitually took notes during conversations, especially if there was the slightest whiff of a case.
“Have a seat.” Davidson ushered Special Agent Gary Fisher into his office. “Joyce, please hold any calls until Agent Fisher leaves,” hoping the not-so-subtle hint would sink in, as doubtful as that might be. Fisher struck him as impervious to hints, blatant or otherwise.
Davidson’s office—in Seattle’s iconic Smith Tower—was best described as straight out of a 1930s Hollywood noir: Art Deco furniture, dark stained mahogany wall paneling, wood-slat venetian blinds in perfect concert with the building’s time-warp interior. He even carried the theme one step further with a wall of original black and white photography of Seattle’s Pioneer Square in the early 1900s during the period when the building held the brief distinction as the West Coast’s first skyscraper. The two Persian carpets on the polished hardwood added another nice touch.
“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
After a quick handshake, Fisher folded himself into one of the two leather armchairs and shot the sleeves of his crisp white dress shirt.
Davidson shut the office door, settled into his leather desk-chair, steepled his fingers under his chin.
“Joyce said you wanted to talk about a client. Who might that be?”
The name caught Davidson completely off guard, at a loss for words.
“Where is he?” Fisher pressed.
“Are you kidding...the lad is dead.”
He studied the FBI agent’s serious as hell expression.
No, this didn’t appear to be a joke.
“We have evidence that he’s alive. I want to know where he’s hiding.”
“Really!” Again, momentarily stunned. “What makes you think that?”
Fisher sucked a tooth, as if weighing exactly how much to divulge. “What I’m about to disclose can’t leave this room. We clear?”
Davidson nodded. “Understood.”
“SFD’s investigation,” referring to the Seattle Fire Department, “indicated an initial explosion in the basement. They never determined the exact cause but suspect it involved the gas line. That detail was never released to the press.”
“Two reasons. The investigation took two months to finish up and by then was the news outlets could care less.”
“We never disclosed the terrorist angle. Those details were—and still are—classified.”
Davidson studied Fisher’s smug body language. “What are you not telling me?”
Fisher smiled. “We believe Gold detonated it. Intentionally.”
“Are you saying he blew up his own house? Why on earth would he do such a thing?”
“Could be several reasons. Maybe it was an accident. Or, just maybe—and this is what I believe—he intended to kill Karim.”
Davidson chewed on that one a moment.
Was it possible? Perhaps. But was it likely? Hmmm....
Several questions came to mind.
“Back to my original question; why do you believe he is alive?”
“From very clever deduction, Counselor. Only one body was recovered from the debris.”
Silence...then, “I assume it was not Arnold?”
“Correct assumption. It was Karim Farhad.”
News to Davidson. The local media—his only source for post-fire facts—reported that the homeowner, Arnold Gold, perished in the fire. He now understood why the terrorism link wasn’t mentioned; the press wasn’t informed of it. Nor had any news sources provided a follow-up story. Which now made complete sense. Without the terrorist angle, the story had no legs. After all, no one of consequence owned the house. No babies or lovable pets perished, eliminating any tear-jerking angle. And, because he simply assumed Arnold died in the fire, he had no reason to follow-up with the police, fire department, or Fisher. Instead, he simply turned his attention to his next client. Realizing this left him feeling unsettled and irritated at himself.
“I want to be absolutely clear on one point,” Davidson said. “Are you alleging that Arnold willfully triggered an explosion with the specific intent of killing Karim Farhad?”
Well, why not? A move like that would be pure Arnold Gold.
He fought to curb the faint smile tugging the corners of his mouth.
By God, he did do it! Blew up his goddamn house, then vanished. Bravo!
“I’m convinced of it. And that part doesn’t leave this room under any circumstance. Understood?”
“Understood. However, if your assertion is correct, Arnold is vulnerable to a possible charge of premeditated murder.”
Fisher signaled Time Out. “Whoa...before you go getting yourself wrapped around the axle, let me be the first to say that if Gold did turn that asshole into charcoal, hey, more power to him. Chalk one up for the good guys. Let me also say that when I do see him—and I will—I plan on shaking his hand. Then I want to sit him down and ask how the hell he pulled off a stunt like that. Got it?”
The lawyer in Davidson didn’t completely buy it, but nodded agreement anyway. “Go on.”
“Reason I’m here is I want your help with finding him.”
Fisher’s tone certainly came across as sincere....
“I would, but have no idea where he might be...assuming, of course, he is alive and his body wasn’t completely consumed in the fire.”
He found himself amused by the image of Arnold kicking back somewhere—the coast of France perhaps—enjoying the good life while siphoning money from crooks.
“Think back to your conversations with him...he say anything, anything at all, that might give a hint where to look?”
“Not a word.” Pause. “I assume you have exhausted your usual due diligence?”
“Obviously. And I can’t find a goddamn trace. The kid simply vanished.”
Davidson leaned back, closed his eyes, and worked on recalling events now warped by the vagaries of memory.
“I gave a statement last year...what did I say then?”
“I reviewed it again before walking over, but want to hear what you remember now. We both know how tricky memory can be. There may be some things you remember now.”
Davidson massaged the bridge of his nose and thought hard. A name popped out of nowhere. He snapped his fingers.
“Nawzer. Did I mention him last year?”
“Nawzer...he was trying to steal Arnold’s system. Did I include him in the report?”
Fisher appeared to think about it. “Name doesn’t ring a bell...” and made a note on his laptop. “Anything else?”
Davidson shook his head. “Nothing at all.”
Neither man spoke for several moments, Fisher making more notes while Davidson mulled over the shocking news.
“Back up and tell me why you believe his life is in danger?”
“Good question. The answer’s very interesting. Last week a story popped up in Al Jazeera. The reporter claimed to be in possession of our case file and that Gold is presently in the W-P-P.”
Witness protection program? Al Jazeera? Wow, another bombshell right out of left field.
“Hold on...I want to be absolutely clear on this...an Al Jazeera reporter, got his hands on a copy of Arnold’s FBI file? How the hell does that happen?”
Fisher glanced at the door, before lowering his voice.
“We’re actively working that up before we entirely buy it. Some of the story’s true, but some’s pure bullshit. We do believe Gold’s alive, but the W-P-P? Hey, that’s total bullshit. Yes, he was offered that option early on, but the kid flat-out refused.”
“How did the reporter get his hands on his case file?”
“If they did.”
“Believe me, O-P-R’s,” meaning the Office of Public Responsibility, “is crawling up everyone’s ass over this looking for a leak, but if they they’ve found the source, it’s way above my pay grade.”
“Huh!” Davidson looked at his notes. “Which brings up another point...how were you made aware of the story? I do not see you reading Al Jazeera over your morning coffee.”
“Another great question. The story was picked up by one of our intelligence agencies and immediately passed on to O-P-R. And because Gold was my investigation, O-P-R sat me down to ask a few, ah, let’s say probing questions.”
Davidson suspected he knew the next answer, but wanted to hear it from Fisher.
“Where does the life or death issue come into play?”
“Ever since the article’s release, C-I-A’s been hearing increased chatter that Farhad’s cell is determined to hunt down Gold to cut his fucking head off. Seriously. Actually behead the kid.”
Davidson made another note.
“Just out of curiosity, is this an official Bureau investigation?”
He believed Fisher had a soft spot for Arnold in spite of trying not to show it.
“It is and it isn’t. It is from the O-P-R standpoint, but it isn’t from the aspect of focusing any major effort on doing anything about Farhad’s group.”
“Why would they ignore a threat from a terrorist group like that?”
“Very simple; the Bureau’s tapped out with other priorities at the moment. But...if you did find him and we gave us actionable information, that priority would jump the list immediately.”
“What qualifies as actionable information?”
“If we were to unequivocally verify he is alive, and if I can persuade him to assist in an investigation, well...” with a shrug.
“In other words, you want me to find him so you can use him as bait.” Then added, “Good luck with your hunt.”
“Look, Davidson...I’m out of leads. I’m asking you, as his lawyer, to find him.”
And there it was.
“No. I do not have time even if I was inclined to assist, which I am not.”
“Let me get this straight; you’re saying you don’t give a damn about the kid?”
“No, that is not what I said. I thought I was extremely clear. My case load is full and I have no idea where he might be...or if he is alive. Most importantly, I do not wish to see the lad used as terrorist bait.”
Fisher shook his head.
“I’m not buying it. Look, we both want to help Gold. Yes, he’s a hacker and gambler, but you have to admit, he’s a damn good hacker and gambler...so, if he turned that fucker into a crispy critter, hell, more power to him.”
“My answer is still no. But, for the sake of argument, if I were to consider working on this, and say I did to locate him, what would be the legal repercussions?”
“Thought we covered that. Our goal is to protect, not prosecute him.”
“But the death remains under investigation.”
“True. But I have to tell you in all honesty, there’s not a shred of evidence against him. Far as the Bureau’s concerned, there is no case. We now clear on this?”
“Fine, but we both know the Bureau does not speak for the D-A.”
“True again, but if Gold is alive, this case becomes Federal. Because at that point, it becomes a Homeland security issue.”
Davidson considered that a moment.
“And the Bureau will agree to sign the appropriate documents attesting to your assurances?”
“Absolutely.” Pause. “You’ll give it some thought? And call me if you remember anything?”
“I will consider what you said. But, you need to understand that any participation on my part is extremely unlikely.” Davidson pushed back from the desk, stood, extended his hand. “Nice to see you again, Agent Fisher.”
After escorting him to the elevator, Davidson returned to his office, shut the door and sat at his desk to reread the notes he was working on before the interruption. Hard as he tried to reconstruct his train of thought, he couldn’t stop worrying about Arnold. Hmmm...why become involved in what might end up to be a difficult, time-consuming, fruitless search? After all, the lad chose to disappear for a reason and was undoubtedly well hidden. What might be the unintended consequences if he did find him?
Assuming I could.
After all, Naseem knew he was Arnold’s lawyer last year. Meaning, if she was seriously searching for him, would she already have eyes on him?
He leaned back in the chair, hands clasped behind his head and stared at the ceiling.