Guiltless Chapter 16: The Feeb

I felt a  strong sense of foreboding as I walked into Lindsey’s on Wednesday morning.

Offering to help Claire felt like picking at the edges of an old wound. Or stirring up still water. There was a part of myself I’d locked away in the deepest recesses of my mind. Another me, so to speak. The Jean Wellings who’d made a strong impression on the top dogs at the CIA.

Curious, rational. But also cold, unfeeling, and shockingly efficient with a handgun.

Getting involved in Ryan’s defense seemed to draw the former traits out, and the latter bubbled dangerously close to the surface. It’d been six months since I’d won the internal struggle. Would I become her again? Could I stand her? Did I really want to know who lay beneath the thin shell of calm I’d built up around my darkest feelings?

Even as I spotted Claire several tables away I knew getting involved was the right decision. Ryan’s whole life was at stake, I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing. I would do whatever it took.

Just like I’d killed, for my country.

Claire wasn’t alone. The brunette beside her stared at me with serene interest as I made my way towards them. Her dark eyelashes and her full brown hair accentuated her warm gaze as she watched me approach. Another intelligent, capable woman. But she seemed a perfect contrast to Claire’s incisive intellect.

Claire spoke as I took my seat opposite them.

‘Jean, this is Special Agent Pauline Banks, from the Violent Crimes Division of the FBI. She’s agreed to be our private investigator for the duration of Ryan’s defense. Pauline; this is Jean Wellings.’

Pauline thrust her hand out after the introduction.

‘Hello Jean,’ she said. ‘Claire’s told me a lot about you.’

‘Good stuff, I hope?’ I said, shaking her. I got the distinct impression I was being appraised, that put me on edge. There was a myth about intelligence folk being able to feel each other out. The result of a sixth sense, or the experience which came from a life of discerning the motives of others?

Pauline broke into a warm smile, she seemed satisfied with me. I must have hidden my discomfort well.

‘Interesting things, either way,’ she said. ‘Like your theory about Ryan being drugged with scopolamine. How did you come up with that?’

‘You’ll need to prove it first. There’s nothing in the discovery file’ interjected Claire. ‘I read Ryan’s blood report, based on a sample taken after his arrest. No sign of any drugs.’

Pauline looked across at Claire before speaking.

‘That’s true,’ she said. ‘But if Ryan was drugged shortly before midnight on Friday, going by his story; that gives a ten hour window till his arrest. It’s not farfetched. The compound is present in many drugs prescribed here, but it’s also a key ingredient in an insidious cocktail used in South America. Burundanga, I think that’s what it’s called.’

‘Is there any way to be sure?’ I asked.

Pauline nodded.

‘We could test Ryan’s hair samples in about a month for traces,’ she said.

Her eyes seem to lose focus as she stared over my shoulder; pensive.

‘If you’re right, we’ll have to look at the barman,’ she added, as an afterthought.

‘How can I help?’ I said.

‘You can visit Ryan till we sort his bail out,’ said Claire dryly.

Pauline smirked at me as I bristled in indignation.

‘Old boyfriend?’ she asked.

I nodded.

‘It’s nice of you, not many people would come running if their ex is about to be put on trial for murder…’ mused Pauline. ‘There is something you can do, come to think of it. You can help Claire round up character witnesses for Ryan. That’ll be a key part of his defense. They’ll be more willing to trust you. But I’d be wary of relying on you so much. You’re a student after all.’

‘That won’t be a problem,’ I said.

Pauline and Claire gave me a questioning look.

‘I have, had, a 4.0 GPA. And I got perfect scores all through high school. My supervisor thinks I’m some kind of freak of nature who belongs in a lab,’ I explained with a straight face.

***

There are many factors required for a successful surveillance operation. For starters; a humdrum and convincing cover story, which grants plausible deniability to the watcher. Excellent peripheral vision is also needed. Surreptitiously studying one’s mark from an angle gives an observer a distinct air of disinterest.

Technology is the third component. Hidden lenses and flesh coloured earpieces are the bread and butter of close range surveillance. More sophisticated operations combine the two into a mundane device which can be hidden in plain sight; like the Bluetooth headset Avery wore while shadowing Jean Wellings in the bar called Lindsey’s Red Lion.

The video feed was linked to his smartphone, which was covered by a dark plastic film to discourage onlookers. The headset’s audio feed was linked to Sciratio, who lurked outside in Avery’s Jaguar.

Avery’s suit completed the businessman look. He stared at the three women deep in conversation on his phone screen. He recognized Claire Anderson from an online piece Sciratio had looked up the night before. Avery frowned at the memory. The former SEAL was getting very attached to the Garretts’ case.

Too attached.

‘Are you getting this footage, Sciratio?’ he inquired.

‘Yeah, I think I saw something. Tilt your head just a bit, about 10 degrees to your left.’

Avery complied. The camera angle shifted and he found himself staring down at the image of a freckled redhead on his phone screen.

‘Nice eh?’ drawled Sciratio.

‘You do know Giles is getting the raw surveillance footage, in addition to our transcripts?’ said Avery.

He listened to the former SEAL’s self-indulgent chuckle on the other end of the line.

‘That’s the plan,’ said Sciratio, his tone breezy. ‘I’m betting the sight of college hotties will send Creed into anaphylactic shock.’

‘Amusing’ said Avery.

He was a competent lip reader. He had to be in his line of work. The ability to consistently gather information was critical to accurately profile a target. He caught snippets of conversation from Claire and the unknown brunette. Something about blood tests, and drugs.

‘So Jean’s getting chummy with the lawyer,’ said Sciratio in his earpiece. ‘Who’s the third woman?’

‘No idea,’ said Avery. ‘Giles will check it out.’

He shifted his attention to Jean, who sat with her back to him. She seemed rather relaxed in this familiar environment. Complacent, and a little too focused on the women with her. That worked in his favor so far, but he couldn’t ride his luck forever.

‘I’m going to have a look around her apartment soon,’ said Avery.

‘I’m cool with that,’ replied Sciratio. ‘I’ll cover for you when you’re ready, just say the word.’

Avery reached for his coffee and sipped.

For now all they could do was watch and wait.

Watch and wait.

***

Jinnah poured his tea, his demeanor measured, his movements unhurried. He savored the silent rage building up in his unwilling visitor, who watched him from across the table in his corner office.

‘Would you like some tea, Mr. Gravitt?’ he offered.

Gravitt frowned.

‘Let’s cut to the chase. I’m only here because you forced the District Attorney’s hand,’ said the ADA. ‘You’ve got what you came for. The deal’s off the table, you can take a back seat now.’

‘I intend to see this through to the very end, Mr. Gravitt’ replied Jinnah. ‘And I certainly intend to be much involved in prosecuting Ryan Chow.’

Gravitt fidgeted in his chair.

‘You practice corporate law,’ he said. ‘And outside the United States to boot. I don’t see how you can help me.’

Jinnah smiled.

‘I attended the best; Harvard Law School’ he said. ‘I got top marks in criminal and case law. A phone call to my professors will probably draw the response that I should have stayed in America.’

‘You could have, you should have, but you didn’t. For me that makes all the difference. You are not licensed to practice in the states. This whole thing is a farce. Stick to public relations and playing tourist. I’m done here.’

Jinnah watched Gravitt stomp to the  door and slam it behind him. He waited for a full minute, then reached beneath his desk for the blinking tape recorder that lay in an open drawer. It had been obscured from Gravitt’s line of sight for the duration of his visit.

‘You can come out now, Mr. Bateman’ called Jinnah.

The door to his private bathroom opened, revealing Patrick Bateman.

‘I haven’t had this much fun in years,’ burbled the journalist. ‘Ooooh, this is gonna be big.’

Jinnah stroked his beard.

‘This, and the Coroner’s report should have enough material to keep you busy for a while,’ said the lawyer. He pushed the tape recorder towards Bateman. The journalist’s hands gobbled it up and his eyes gleamed with greed.

‘I want the story out by tomorrow,’ said Jinnah.

‘You kidding?’ gushed Bateman. ‘I’ll run it today if I can manage it.’

Jinnah chuckled, but his gaze remained cold, and his mind schemed.

‘Step one, poison the mind of the public with an exclusive on the prime suspect. Garner their sympathy.’

He would do whatever it took to win. Abu would have his justice, one way or another.

And Claire Anderson would never know what hit her.

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