A Novel of the FBI
By Paul Lindsay
Published by Simon & Schuster
October 2002; 0743215060; 320 pages
Occasionally, in the hope of slicing through the ever-thickening Gordian knot of American justice, FBI agents have been known to venture across the deeply rutted line of oath and breach a law or two. While some people might judge the specifics of such violations to be minor, or even admirable in their daring, jurists would undoubtedly pronounce these acts felonies. Earlier in his career, Jack Kincade might have been capable of such dutiful misdirection, but now, as he was about to commit his fourth bank burglary, justice was the last thing he wanted to see served.
His only defense, should one become necessary, was that these were small felonies, in dollars and cents, a few thousand, if that. He had never added them up, he supposed, because he didn't want to know that he was risking so much for so little. Invoking a thief's myopia, he told himself that it didn't matter; there was no way he could be caught. He ran his hand through his thinning dark brown hair several times, absentmindedly measuring its density. It had once been thickly baroque, marquee proof of his genetic indestructibility. He picked out two new casualties from between his fingers and examined them. The roots were still attached; they weren't going to grow back. He leaned over the desk and filled the scarred glass in front of him with vodka.
For the first time since switching brands a month earlier, he noticed a yellow cast to it, like trapped, day-old rainwater. He held the glass up, trying to decide whether the late afternoon light coming through the smeared window of his motel room was the cause, or whether it was simply a consequence of the alcohol's eight-bucks-a-fifth inferiority. He turned the bottle to read its label:
Handcrafted for your drinking pleasure
in Houston, Texas
Taking a measured sip, he let it lie on his tongue in a flat ribbon and inhaled across its surface. It had a slippery, carbonous aftertaste, not unlike what he imagined traces of crude oil might leave behind. Apparently Pistol Pete's was best tossed back in large, blanketing doses that bypassed the taste buds of Friday night cowboys, and not sipped by discriminating FBI agents who were about to violate U.S. banking laws.
He gulped a mouthful. The resulting sting temporarily masked the vodka's flaws, but it was too late. A tiny compulsion had barricaded itself in the back of his head, vowing not to be taken alive.
Strangely, that's the way things were now. Through a carefully administered regimen of neglect and apathy, he had learned to disregard the larger things in life almost completely, but the smallest imperfection could wrap its jaws around him with the accelerating panic of a wounded animal.
He tried to rid himself of this latest threat to his euphoric disorder by reciting an all-occasions mantra specifically developed for such emergencies: Don't give a good goddamn don't give a good goddamn don't give a good goddamn. He looked at his drink again. The discoloration was just as urgent. Pistol Pete's was going to need fixing.
He looked around the room. Some years earlier, when half of the motel's units were converted to weekly and monthly rentals -- a procedure the permanent guests referred to as "going condo" -- tiny kitchenettes were added. The entire modification, while raising the weekly rate thirty dollars, consisted of a waist-high refrigerator recessed under a single three-foot-long shelf. On his counter sat a toaster oven scorched to a spotty black by a succession of frozen-dinner brush fires. Surrounding it were cans of beets, okra, lima beans, and mincemeat, left, maliciously he suspected, by a string of previous tenants. Scattered between them were a few condiments, mostly the kind that came in small packets as part of a carryout meal.
He opened the refrigerator. Except for a single can of Coke, it was empty. He briefly considered the vodka-cola combination, but knew that the soft drink would be considerably more valuable as an antidote the next morning. A search of the envelope-size freezer revealed a single empty ice tray containing only a spiky coating of blue frost.
He fanned out the packets on the shelf and decided against adding the contents of a clear plastic container of earth-brown soy sauce. Then, noticing an almost-full bottle of Tabasco sauce, he took it back to the desk and carefully shook out a single drop into his drink. After swirling it briefly, he could see that the vodka's color hadn't changed enough to affect its taste. Another four drops were added with some precision. Stirring the mixture with his finger, he sipped it cautiously. Then gently, as if one drop too many might cause an explosion, he tapped in a sixth and tasted it again.
It wasn't good, but with as much scrutiny as he allowed himself to examine anything these days, he reasoned that Tabasco would neutralize any undisclosed groundwater ingredients that the great state of Texas had failed to require Pistol Pete to list on its label. He fired back another mouthful. Although it had an old-fashioned medicinal repulsiveness, he decided he liked it. Unlike almost everything else in his increasingly disobedient life, the drink provided its own penance, something an Irish Catholic found illogical, and therefore, perversely reassuring.
That was one of his favorite things about alcohol: its slow, steady warmth never failed to provide a sanctuary from the endless drudgery of logic. At the far end of the room lay his Border collie, its face evenly cleaved, one half black containing a brown eye, the other side white, its eye a frosty blue. The animal's chin rested comfortably between mottled gray paws. Holding up his glass in the direction of the disinterested dog, Kincade let his voice resonate with clear, unarguable authority. "Congratulate me, B.C. Bastardizing something as inferior as Pistol Pete's handcrafted vodka has qualified me for permanent membership in the ranks of the Great Unwashed." As if seconding his self-denouncement, the ancient black phone on the table next to his bed rang.
If there was an upside to the decaying orbit of his life, it was that he no longer had to concern himself with the consequence of his actions. This, in turn, had a way of reducing all enemies to minor roles. And phone calls, all phone calls, had become enemies. Not once since moving into the motel had the device been the bearer of good news. It was the only remaining conduit between him and responsibility, the single, tenuous thread by which he could be tracked down by bill collectors, the friend of the court, the office, or any other group or individual to whom he owed money, time, or feigned passion.
The phone rang a second time. "Friend or foe?" he demanded of the Border collie, which opened its eyes in dutiful response. The ears flagged momentarily until the dog fully recognized the echoing vowels as those of yet another of his master's sputtering soliloquies, which, it had learned, when accompanied by the smell of alcohol, required no actual canine response. Its eyelids slid shut lazily.
Kincade knew to answer the phone was probably a mistake, but anymore that seemed to be less a deterrent to his decisions. In this case, however, experience had taught him that the weekend was normally a sanctuary from the persistence of professional pursuers. Besides, it could be about the card game; maybe it had been called off. He picked up the receiver and spoke with the metallic, arrhythmic voice that people use to record themselves. "This is Special Agent Jack Kincade. I'm sorry I'm not in right now, but my hundred and eight minutes of paid overtime for the day have expired. You can reach me Monday at eight fifteen A.M. If you wish to leave a message, I'll be sure to ignore it until then."
"Sorry, Jack, Bill Chapman told me to call and give you this." It was Tom Reedy, the Bureau night clerk. He had been with the FBI for five years. During that time, he had used his employment to fund law school and had recently graduated. Although he hadn't taken the bar exam yet, he had already developed -- or perhaps, like many lawyers, was born with -- an attorney's ability to ignore all unprofitable cries from the wilderness, especially those of agents attempting to keep their off-duty hours uninterrupted.
"How'd you know it wasn't my machine?"
"An answering machine?" Reedy laughed. "Jack, that's a little sophisticated for you, isn't it? You're not even allowed to have a Bureau vehicle."
"Yeah, get caught driving drunk just once and they take away your car. But I figured out a way to make fools out of them."
Reedy didn't want to be in receipt of any complicitous information, at least not until he became a member of the bar when hiding felonies would become not only ethical but billable. However, the rhetorical charge in the agent's voice told Reedy that there would be no escaping Kincade's imminent confession. "How do you do that, Jack?"
"I drive my own car drunk."
"Good for you, Jack. That'll show them who the fool is." Kincade laughed, pleased that Reedy had gotten the punch line right. He lit a cigarette and silently took a sip of his iceless drink. "We tried paging you, but you didn't answer."
Kincade looked over at the desk. Next to the black beeper lay its batteries. He had taken them out the day it was issued. "Chapman -- he's the fugitive supervisor?" Kincade had been in the Chicago division half a year and still wasn't sure who the supervisors were. For some reason, this lit a small candle of pleasure inside him. He took a long drag on his cigarette, and some ashes fell on his shirtfront. Brushing them off with the flat of his hand, he could feel the paunch that hung over his belt, a sullen emissary of middle age, its inevitability gloating back at him. He grabbed it with a full hand pinch to measure it for new growth. The test, selected specifically for its inaccuracy, convinced him that his waistline was about the same: an inch or so greater in circumference than his trousers. Back in his tennis days, he had hardly had enough of a waist to keep his pants up. But that was three or four lifetimes ago, when the sport had paid his way through Dartmouth.
The days of youth: His only regret was that he had not understood his absolute invulnerability, and hadn't explored more fully the wonder of deeds without consequence. The body or the spirit, no matter how badly abused, then needed only twenty-four hours to recover, to blur all resolutions and readopt Recklessness as its marching order. Aging had been a hypothetical galaxy, an infinite number of light-years away. Unreachable. Unfeared.
"Yes, he is," Reedy said with a patience that seemed more labored as the conversation went on. "We just got a communication in from Portland; one of their fugitives is registered at the Star Crest Motel in De Kalb, room three three one."
"Hold on while I get a pen." Kincade went to the desk and rummaged through its drawers, unable to find a sheet of paper. He picked up an old newspaper and pencil and went back to the phone. "Okay, fire away."
"Subject's name is Daniel Louis O'Keefe," Reedy said.
"What's he wanted for?"
Knowing Kincade was going to see the answer as another reason to object to working on the weekend, Reedy hesitated. "He's wanted for bond jumping."
"What was the original charge?"
"He's a deadbeat dad."
"A deadbeat dad? Come on. This can't wait until Monday?"
"Sorry, Jack, I don't write 'em, I just read 'em."
"There's just something evil about hunting a man with the same misfortunes as oneself."
"I guess it takes one to catch one," Reedy said. "According to Portland, they're not sure he'll be there very long. That's why Chapman wanted me to get ahold of you tonight."
"Portland. It never fails, the smaller the office, the bigger the priority. Okay, give me the rest of it." As the night clerk read the rest of the communication, Kincade absentmindedly took notes along the edge of the newspaper. When Reedy finished reading the communication, Kincade said, "Is that it?"
"That's it, Jack. And thanks for taking the time to fit me in so close to happy hour."
Apparently, Kincade's love of cocktails and other distractions was not as classified as he would have liked. But, as he thought about it, within the achingly pedantic confines of the Bureau, a certain amount of infamy was probably a good thing. He tore the strip containing his notes off the newspaper and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. "That's the problem with today's FBI, Tom: The lowliest employee can be a giant pain in the ass to its most intrepid agents."
"You know what they say: Those of us who can, do; those of us who can't, sodomize."
"Isn't that the motto of the Illinois Bar Association?"
"If you ever need my services, it will be."
© 2002 Paul Lindsay
Justice has become a distant ideal for disenchanted FBI agent Jack Kincade. Once a bright light of the Bureau, he lives in a seedy motel with his loyal Border collie, his largely off-duty hours dominated by rotgut vodka spiked with hot sauce and an unusual sideline: robbing banks. Then he gets a call about a cold case that has just come back to haunt the Bureau in the worst possible way.
FBI veteran Paul Lindsay's fifth FBI thriller, Traps, portrays an agency wracked by apathy and infighting. But attention is soon paid to a three-year-old unsolved kidnapping when the victim's father places an unmovable eight-hundred-pound bomb under the Cook County Jail and its fifteen thousand inmates and demands that his daughter be found. And the brand-new agent in charge learns that Kincade, of all his agents, is his best bet to solve the case. Kincade is soon roused out of his motel room by Ben Alton, a black agent who has lost a leg to cancer and just returned to duty to be relegated to coordinating the unsolved bank larcenies Kincade's been so busy committing. With so much to lose, Kincade joins Alton, and they surprise themselves when, within a few short hours, they solve the kidnapping. But Alton is taunted by unanswered questions and nags Kincade to stay with the case. As the red herrings fall away, this unlikely team faces a pathological adversary with a vengeance so self-serving he threatens the lives and families of the agents themselves.
Paul Lindsay has filled Traps with his most complex protagonists to date and rich Bureau detail. An ingenious tour de force that lays bare the internal dissension within the FBI, along with the inner souls of its characters, Traps is Paul Lindsay's most gripping and authentic novel yet.(back to top)
Paul Lindsay served in the Detroit office of the FBI for twenty years before retiring in 1993 as a street agent. He graduated from MacMurray College in 1968 and served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine Corps infantry officer. He and his wife live in New Hampshire.