Read an Excerpt
They weren’t fooling anyone. The place was called the Hotel Charisma because it had none. I sat in the lobby and passed the time with a pencil, using it to reach down into the fiberglass cast on my left hand and scratch an itch on my wrist. The bellhop at the front door pored over a few curled brochures for a cheap local belly-dancing joint while he chain-smoked something that smelled like horse blanket. I wasn’t sure which one of us was more excited. I watched this spectacle as I waited for Special Agent Masters. She was upstairs, doing whatever she was doing—washing the flight out of her skin, I supposed. There was no hurry; even if he was important, the victim had been dead three days: He wouldn’t be drumming his fingers, impatient for us to get on with it.
A guy wearing baggy MC Hammer pants, a waistcoat that would have been small on a ten-year-old, and a red hat the shape of an ice bucket wandered in off the street past the bellhop. He saw me and came over to sell me a glass of something out of a polished metal urn strapped to his back. He insisted. I resisted harder. Eventually he gave up and wandered off to pester a couple of tourists standing around outside with their snouts buried in a guidebook. I went back to scratching with the pencil and staring absently out the window at the parade of stragglers coming and going. It was a new day in Istanbul, and outside, things were starting to liven up.
While I waited, I recalled the victim’s particulars. His name was Colonel Emmet Portman, and he was six foot two, eyes of blue, and just a little too perfect to be true. Well, maybe not perfect. According to his medical records, Portman’s sperm count was down to a handful of stalwarts. Basically, the guy went to his grave shooting blanks. I was surprised to find that bit of information in his file. I wondered what interesting details my file might contain, but then I reminded myself that I didn’t have to wonder. I knew what was in there: several hand grenades that would ensure I retired as the Air Force’s oldest major, if I chose to stay on to the bitter end.
Where was I? Yeah, Colonel Portman, U.S. Air Attaché to Turkey, who now resembled a human being in kit form prior to assembly. The colonel was divorced and childless; his ex lived in Van Nuys. Aside from that, Portman was so perfect he could have stepped straight off the production line. He’d been third in his class at the Air Force Academy in ’79; he completed the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in ’81; there was a stint in West Berlin during the height of the Cold War; he’d helped put together Reagan’s bombing raid into Libya in ’86; a conversion to A-10 Thunderbolts came next, just in time to bust Iraqi tanks in Gulf War I; then it was on to a posting to Lakenheath, England, where he commanded the 493rd Fighter Squadron—“the Grim Reapers.” The job of Air Attaché to Turkey followed. Along the way, he’d collected a number of medals including the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross: valor, achievement, and flying ability. No doubt about it, the colonel already had a gold star on his forehead. General’s stars on his epaulettes were just a matter of time. Only he got himself murdered, and pretty messily murdered, judging by the snapshots doing the rounds.
“Let’s go,” said Special Agent Anna Masters as she walked past. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a leather jacket, a New York Fire Department cap, and Ray-Ban Aviators. The Ray-Bans weren’t necessary—it was cloudy and the sun was a long way from clearing the buildings. Most likely, Masters just didn’t feel comfortable with eye contact. Eye contact with me, at least. I stood and followed her out onto the narrow hillside street.
OK, perhaps I should bring you up to speed.
My name is Vin Cooper, aged thirty-four. If you guessed from the name that I’m male, congratulations. Maybe you’re in the wrong job. I’m also Caucasian, currently around 215 pounds, and closing in on six foot one inch. My hair is brown, eyes a murky kind of green. No distinguishing marks on my face, though, as I already mentioned, I’m currently wearing a cast on my left arm, from elbow to knuckle. I hold the rank of major in the AFOSI, which is the acronym for the following mouthful: the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations. I’m a “special agent,” which is a fancy title for an internal affairs cop. There are roughly 310,000 personnel in the USAF, give or take, and some of them need weeding out, particularly the murderers, deserters, extortionists, and rapists. We transfer those guys to the Army.
We’ve got all kinds of criminals in today’s Air Force, committing all the crimes that make it worthwhile getting out of bed, seizing the day, and locking it up. At least if you’re a cop.
Anyhow, somewhere along the way I seem to have earned a reputation for solving the more serious of these crimes. At the moment, what the people back in D.C. are hoping is that I’ll—or, should I say, we’ll—figure out who murdered our Air Attaché. We know someone broke into said attaché’s house, sliced him up into bite-size pieces with a battery-powered saw, and laid him out on the carpet in all his sectioned, jointed glory. But we’re hoping for a few more details.
Back to Special Agent Anna Masters. You could say we’ve met. In fact, until recently, Masters and I were an item. That is until she told me she was swinging from the chandelier for some attorney from the JAG corps. A little less than twenty-four hours have gone under the bridge since she delivered this news flash. In fact, she gave it to me an hour before we boarded the flight to Istanbul together. With timing like that, she should do stand-up.
“Did you say something?” Masters asked, turning those piercing Ray-Bans of hers on me.
“No,” I said.
“Oh. I could have sworn you said something.”
“You imagined it,” I informed her.
“Are you going to say something?”
“Are you giving me the silent treatment here?” she asked.
“I don’t talk to exercise my mouth. When I’ve got something to say, you’ll hear it with your ears.”
A cab mooched by, the driver hustling for a fare. We took it.
“You are Americans?” asked the driver after Masters gave him the destination. He was looking in the rearview mirror and lighting up a cigarette.
Not a bad guess, given that we were headed for the U.S. Consulate-General.
“Yes,” said Masters.
“I like Americans.”
“I like Americans. And Japanese.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because you are rich.”
“No . . .” Masters said, shaking her head. She leaned forward to check the meter was running, concerned this guy might also be taking us to the cleaners. Relieved to see the glowing numbers tick over, she sat back and stared out the window.
The rear seat of the cab was uncomfortable, but nowhere near as uncomfortable as the flight over, and not because we were sitting in economy. The problem arose because the flight was packed, and that forced us to sit together. Shoulder to shoulder. For more than twelve hours.
“Do you think this guy knows where he’s going?” she asked suddenly, as the cab turned down a narrow cobbled street.
“Beats me. Why don’t you ask him?”
Masters leaned forward again. “Excuse me, sir. Is it much farther?”
“No. We are here,” he said, pulling over.
I glanced out the window. Where were the security cameras and the bulletproof glass? This didn’t look much like a U.S. Consulate-General-type building, unless it was running a little tourist souvenir business on the side.
“You come and see Turkish rug,” said the driver, turning around. “They are the best—double knotted.” A guy trotted out from the shop with a smile that reminded me of a Chrysler’s grille and opened Masters’s door.
“What? No! We don’t have time,” Masters replied, angry, not moving from her seat.
“But my cousin has beautiful rug. You must see,” the driver pleaded.
“No!” Masters grabbed the front seat with both hands. “We want the U.S. Consulate-General and we want you to take us there now. Do we need to take another cab?”