He was on his way home, a leisurely trip driving back roads in rural Georgia.
A sudden encounter with a young teen interrupted his trip.
He’d just completed a job, and the last thing he needed was a passenger.
Especially a kid as a passenger.
One of my emails the previous night had been to the documents group of my agency. I wasn’t really supposed to use those people for personal business, but I justified it to myself by arguing that I’d be no good going undercover if I was worrying about Colt, and so anything to eliminate that distraction would be job-related. When we arrived at the hotel, a prepaid reservation had been made in my name, and a package was waiting for me. I took it up to my room to open it and found ID documents, all of them in the name of Logan Fairchild, some for me, some for Colt. Mine was a New Jersey driver’s license with my photo on it. His was a middle-school ID without a photo. Evidently Fallbrook Middle School in Lawrenceville didn’t require photos.
There were also credit cards and business cards. Just what the doctor ordered.
Colt wasn’t sure of the name of the golf course his father owned but said the man had bragged many times that it was the only course in the county, so it was easy to find its website with a Google search.
It was lunchtime, and I asked Colt, using the name Logan as I’d been doing since we’d arrived so as to accustom him to it, to put on his jeans outfit so it wouldn’t look so new. We went to the hotel’s lunchroom. It was set up with brilliant white tablecloths and what looked like fine silver, although a surreptitious check showed it was stainless steel. There was a buffet—$24 a pop— that was unbelievable. Most of my life was spent on assignments where the standard fare was often of breadline quality or worse. I think I enjoyed it more than Colt did. He seemed to prefer quantity to quality.
He seemed to like me calling him Logan. He seemed to enjoy calling me Dad even more. He threw that in wherever he could. I tried not to roll my eyes too much.
We both took naps after lunch. I waited till it was past 5 PM to call the golf course. I asked for the membership chairman. I got his secretary instead. “I’m sorry, sir, but he’s gone for the day. You might try him after 9 tomorrow morning.”
Just why I’d waited. “I’ve got a couple of appointments tomorrow, a breakfast meeting and then a seminar. Could you have him call me, perhaps, when he’s got a free moment sometime between 10 and 10:30? I can make myself available then.”
I lowered the phone and spoke as though I were giving instructions to someone using an authoritarian voice, then was back with the secretary. “Sorry about that. My name is Logan Fairchild. I’m VP of Sales at Tawnley Enterprises. I’m looking to perhaps get a corporate membership so I and some of my salesmen can entertain clients at your club. I have a hectic schedule this week but wanted to visit you down there and would like to talk membership costs and yearly fees and such. If he could call me then, I can pull away from the breakout session I’ll be chairing in my suite. I’m at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, room 866. Logan Fairchild.”
“I’ll give him the message, Mr. Fairchild.”
“Thanks, dear,” I said and disconnected. I hated people who called women they didn’t know ‘dear’—just as I hated waitresses calling me ‘honey’—but figured it went with the image.
That left the time open till 10 AM the next day. We had a dinner to rival lunch; I wasn’t that hungry, but the teenager beside me seemed to be. I took him to a steak house, and he had a filet mignon for the first time in his life. He didn’t say a word during the meal. He was too busy eating, with a look of awe on his face, especially when he took his first bite of the steak. He looked like he was dreaming and hoping to never wake up.
After the meal, I took him to a Braves game. Another first for him: a major-league baseball game. After the game, I wanted to show him Underground Atlanta. But even with an afternoon nap, he was wiped. We went back to the room, he took Fitz for a walk on the hotel grounds, and then it was a shower and bed.
I used the time while he was gone to make some phone calls. Then, when he was back, I had an early night as well. Big doings coming up, and I’d always found it best to enter the fray with fully charged batteries.
Driving back to Caverton County was nerve-wracking for Colt. I thought it was more than just the chance he’d be recognized by someone and his father would be back on his trail again. I thought he felt like this might be the beginning of the end of the grand adventure he’d been living for the past several days. There wasn’t much I could say to bring him out of his funk. That was OK, though, and maybe even an asset. A big shot dragging a sulky teenager along on a business trip during the teen’s summer vacation was not exactly a unique thing, and was possibly something the membership chairman had seen before. I could have left Colt behind, but I liked his company and knew my time with him was limited. Also, I had a chore in mind for him that might be useful, and I didn’t think he was in any danger at the golf course. He’d never been there, never met anyone who was part of that world. His father rarely went there himself, I suspected. Simply kept a close eye on the books. And, I was sure, a tight fist on the cash flow and profits.
We were driving in a rented Cadillac Escalade, a top-of-the line, shiny, black monstrosity with tinted windows and every upgrade known to civilized man—a car that was to be part of my image. A VP of Tawnley Enterprises wouldn’t be driving a Ford, even if it were a Crown Victoria. And it was possible the state cops were on the lookout for that car. Kent Lewis, dressed as a low-income construction worker, driving a beat-up truck when they’d seen him, wouldn’t be driving an Escalade.
Mr. Fielding had called me in the morning within the timeframe I’d set for him. He’d been polite and expansive, and I’d arranged a meeting with him in the afternoon. If he was impressed by calling someone who stayed at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead, he didn’t mention it, but people in jobs like his had hearts that began beating a little faster when money was in the frame, and the Ritz name certainly had caught his attention.
We pulled into the parking lot a little before four in the afternoon. The place looked magnificent. The parking lot was paved with immaculate blacktop, all the parking spaces looking like their white lines had been painted yesterday; the cars parked there, though there weren’t that many, were reflective of the surroundings as well. Mercedes Benzes, Porsches, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Lexuses, and the like. The lawns surrounding the parking lot and fronting the clubhouse were lush green, mowed professionally and lined with white brick. The clubhouse itself was stunning. Without question, the place reeked of money.
Inside, the air was cool, the rooms large and comfortably decorated. There were very few people about, it being late afternoon on a workday, but the ones who were there were wearing the sort of casual clothes that cost much more than their appearance would suggest. Casual elegance.
I was led to Mr. Fielding’s office and escorted in without having to wait. He was a large, florid man exuding bonhomie. He shook my hand and Logan’s as well. The two of us sat in front of his desk at his bidding.
I started the conversation in tune with the aggressive nature I was projecting. “I’m scouting locations. This one is a little closer to Atlanta than Augusta, and I imagine memberships here are easier to get than at Augusta National. There’s a waiting list there, and it’s invitation only. My company is just getting started, and we want to get off on the right foot with customers, so I want a membership at a club that supports our elite image. I’d like to get this settled quickly. I assume you’re still taking membership applications for immediate instatement?”
“Oh, yes, certainly, sir.”
I rushed on. “All right, that’s good. Now, membership cost and yearly fees. What are those?”
“The corporate membership is $50,000, just like private memberships, and yearly fees if you want golf privileges are $8,000. There’s a dining minimum fee of $2,000 a month.”
I made an impatient face, indicating the amounts were unimportant. “That’s fine. There is one thing, however. As I just said, my company is very concerned about image. Augusta National has a published membership list. We would have no trouble associating with any of the people or businesses on it. They are the sort of people we want associated with our company. Do you have a membership list so we can check if the members here are people we want our company representatives to be rubbing shoulders with?”
“Oh, I’m afraid not.” He managed to look distraught. “We keep that sort of thing very private. Your name and that of your company would be kept private as well. Many of our members appreciate that.” He gave me a very warm smile. I didn’t like the look in his eyes, though. They reminded me of a shark’s eyes—no emotion at all. Only hunger.
“Well… we can probably live with that,” I conceded, “because if the names are private, no one can learn we’re a member here, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? Another thing. We aren’t a company that wishes to be taken for a ride. So, we don’t wish to pay the up-front costs only to find that each year they go up and up. I don’t want a guarantee from you that they won’t rise. What I want is to know how long these costs have been in effect. That will give me my answer.”
“That’s no problem, Mr. Fairchild. Our cost structure hasn’t changed in ten years, and there are no plans to change them in the foreseeable future. The economy, you know? No, we don’t squeeze our members that way. We’re built for relaxation and privacy and personal service and getting away from the turmoil outside our perimeters. We have rooms for staying here at the lodge, and we have private cabins on the property. We provide all services for our members at a nominal fee. You don’t have to worry about being gouged. You’ll be well taken care of any time you’re here.”
I caught the scent of something more than a comfortable room being included in what he was saying but felt no need to explore it. I did need to verify one point, however. “You didn’t really answer my question. Your membership costs haven’t risen at all since the club’s inception?”
He looked a little put off by my insistence but answered anyway, as it appeared I would soon be joining them and paying through the nose for the privilege. “The membership fee has been the same since the club’s been in existence.”
“OK, fine, moving on. With our corporate membership, I expect I or my salesmen can bring guests to stay here, eat here, and play golf here. Is that correct?”
“Yes, if they’re your employees and your employees’ guests, that’s right. However, they’ll have to pay playing fees each time. Only one member plays free, the member whose name is listed with the golfing fee each year. I would guess that might be you?”
“Possibly. I’m pretty busy. But, well, I’ll have to think about that. Now, how many members do you have?”
Logan, fidgeting beside me, spoke up in a whine. “Dad, you promised!” That was the one chore I’d assigned him, to be delivered right after I’d asked about the number of members they had, and he’d done it perfectly. Mr. Fielding now knew we’d be going soon and was distracted because his chance at roping me in was coming to an end.
“Son, keep your britches on,” I said rather sharply, then turned back to Mr. Fielding. “Number of members? We want to enjoy a certain exclusivity, if you see my point. We want to be able to get tee times when we want them on short notice.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t be a problem. We have just under 150 members, and only half of them are playing memberships. The course is beautiful and a fair test of golfing skill and available most anytime except when tournaments are being played here, and that’s only once or twice a year.”
I nodded at him. “OK, then. Everything sounds fine. If you’ll give me an application form, I’ll fill it out and send it back with a check. The lad here is getting restless and has forgotten his manners. We’ll deal with that outside. First, however, I’d like to stop at the bar. I need to see what that looks like.”
“Oh, of course. I’ll tell the bartender that whatever you want is on the house today. In fact, I’d be happy to show you around the bar and dining room and some of the guest accommodations upstairs, perhaps even introduce you to some of the girls, uh, women, who take care of the rooms.”
He looked like he was going to wink at me, but didn’t. I frowned. “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Fielding. I like to see what a place and the people who work in it are like without their boss looking over their shoulders. But I appreciate the offer.”
I stood up, and Logan did, too. Mr. Fielding used his intercom to tell his secretary to give me the forms I’d need for joining the club, then stood with us. We shook hands again, and this time he didn’t bother with Logan, who again was sulking. Logan was a sulker. Colt never sulked.
We checked out the bar. There were more people there than in the other rooms I’d passed, but not many. They were mostly men, all white, and mostly in groups. There were a few men sitting at the bar by themselves. I ordered a Coke for Logan; he sat at a table looking out over the 18th green while I stayed at the bar. They had a bottle of Highland Park 18-year-old single malt. I had a glass of that, neat, and managed to trade business cards with each of the men at that bar while extolling the virtues of the malt and buying each of them a glass. Well, the house bought them the drinks, but I initiated it.
We drove away happy. I’d been more than successful, and Colt was giggling about his performance. He was a bit sad not to be Logan any longer, but when I tore up and discarded all the IDs and peripheries in that name, he disposed of his ID as well. When we were outside the grounds, he asked what came next.
I didn’t want to tell him.
Instead, I asked him about the county east of Caverton. Colt didn’t know much about it other than its name, Brooklyn County, which to me meant his father hadn’t spoken much about it. That implied it was probably safe. Safer than Caverton, obviously. Most anywhere would be.
The golf course was in the northwestern part of Caverton County. I preferred to head north out of the county, then cross to the east. But the highways, such as they were, would have taken me a long way out of my way. I decided we would be safe enough driving east. We were a long way from Fredericksville. The roads were mostly empty. And we were in a vehicle they weren’t looking for.
I was halfway across the county when I passed a sheriff’s car sitting on the shoulder across the road from me. When I passed it, I watched in my rearview mirror as it pulled out onto the highway, doing a 180 and following.
“We’ve got company,” I told Colt.
“They like to hassle foreigners,” he said, not sounding too troubled. With what we’d been through already, I suspected he thought I could get out of anything.
“We’re not foreign,” I complained. “We have Georgia plates.”
“Whatever,” he said, still a bit subdued. “He hasn’t seen this car before, so to him you’re foreign.”
The car was too far back for me to be able to see the driver, and I didn’t want Colt turning around to do that.
“Do all the deputies know you by sight?” I asked.
“Probably not. Although I’ll bet Dad’s sent a picture out to all of them by now.”
“Even with how you’re dressed now, your face still looks the same. If he stops us, we may be in trouble. Unless…” The Escalade I’d rented had three rows of seats. I knew that sometimes seats could be folded down for more cargo space.
“See if you can crawl back there without being seen and fold that back row of seats down. Then they should be able to be slid forward. Slide them forward so there’s just enough room for you and Fitz between them and the row in front. Then lay our suitcases and our jackets over you two. I don’t think he’ll be looking too hard, and we should get away with it.”
I knew the deputy hadn’t seen more than the driver when we’d passed him, due to our windows being tinted. We were still several hundred yards in front of him, and he might have been just following us to pass the time. Colt crawled into the back and didn’t seem to have much trouble moving the seats as I’d said.
Then suddenly the light bar on the deputy’s car came alive.
“Get hidden!” I said, and Colt squeezed into the opening, pushing Fitz in ahead of him. I kept going until they were set, then pulled to the side of the road.
The car stopped just behind me, and the deputy got out. He was a large man. Colt had said his dad liked large, intimidating officers. This one was an example of that. He walked up to the car. I had the window down and my hands on the steering wheel.
“License and registration,” he said in a tone of voice that contained a hint of menace.
“The registration is in the glove compartment. So is my gun.”
At that, he lowered his hand, unstrapped his sidearm, and rested his hand on its butt. “Step out of the car!” he said.
I didn’t lower my hands from the steering wheel. Instead, I asked, “You want me to open the door, or do you want to do it?”
He didn’t answer, but he did reach down and opened the door for me. Doing so, he took his hand off his gun. I shook my head. This one either wasn’t very bright, or his training wasn’t sufficient. Maybe he just hadn’t been tested and had gotten lazy.
“Why do you have a gun?” he asked, his voice now menacing, when I was standing facing him, my back against the car. He hadn’t bothered to search me. After all, my gun was in the glove compartment!
I ignored the question. “May I show you my ID?” I asked.
He nodded, and I extracted my wallet. I opened it and showed him my identification. John Brooker. Special Agent. FBI.
He looked at it, then at me, then at the picture ID, then handed it back to me. “Why are you in Caverton County?” he asked. His tone was slightly less offensive.
My voice was hard when I answered. “I’m afraid you’re not authorized to know that, and you certainly have no reason to ask. But I will answer in part as a courtesy. I’m just passing through. This delay—without cause, I might add—will most likely make me late for an appointment. I should be out of your county and out of your hair in an hour. My conference is in Brooklyn County. If I’m late, I’ll mention your name, Deputy Marberry,” I said, reading the marker pinned to his chest, “and also mention the marvelous job you do stopping people for no reason at all. Please make a note of my name and the time you stopped me and released me. It may be needed. The Georgia State’s Attorney is a hard ass and doesn’t like being kept waiting.”
The deputy wasn’t easily intimidated; he still had the moxie to briefly glance in the windows of the Escalade, but didn’t see anything. Thank God for tinted windows.
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