Forty Eight

Carlton sat quietly in the interrogation room and stared miserably at the cold tiled floor between his feet. He had not seen the others, but knew they were probably being kept isolated as well to prevent them from concocting a story about their activities. Not that they would be able to come up with something convincing. The reality was that they were guilty of two counts of kidnapping and imprisonment. Nothing could alter that fact or justify it.

The only bit of furniture in the interrogation room was a pair of rather uncomfortable chairs positioned on either side of a small square table. He was not thinking about the discomfort of the chair, however. The only thing on his mind was his wife and children, who would be ashamed of him once word got out of his illegal and very cruel activities. They believed he was on a business trip. And if he ever got out of prison, he suspected his wife would not welcome him back into the family fold, but would most likely divorce him. He would not blame her if she did.

The door opened, and he looked up to see the identity of his visitor. No one had been to see him since he had been isolated from the others and taken to the stark room. He knew he was about to be questioned extensively about his activities.

Shane Donovan stood just inside the door, ramrod straight with the quietly self-assured nature that set him apart from most of the other I.S.A. agents that Carlton had known. The door closed behind him, and they both heard the key turn in the lock, securing them both inside.

Carlton broke eye contact and looked away, focusing on a mirror on the wall that he knew was probably a two-way with other officers there to witness the interrogation. He wondered who was behind it. American detectives, most likely. Perhaps even a few I.S.A. agents. All of them there to witness his testimony and use it against him in a court of law. He wondered where he would serve out his prison term; in the United States, or in Britain. Perhaps both, successively, since he had broken laws in both countries.

"First off, Mr. Carlton, I just want to say how disappointed I am in you," Shane said calmly as he approached the prisoner and sat down in the empty chair across from him. "I took the liberty of looking into your background, and by all indications, you were once a good agent. I cannot imagine why you decided to follow Vaughn down the road he had chosen."

Carlton was quiet for a moment, turning over the admonishment in his mind. In his younger days, he might have taken angry offense, but at the moment he just felt tired and defeated, convinced that there was no point in defending his behavior. "You're no more disappointed in me than I am in myself."

That was not the answer that Shane had expected, and he gazed at the prisoner for several moments. Carlton thought he saw a trace of sympathy in the older man's dark eyes.

"I have some questions for you, and I hope you'll answer them honestly," Shane said.

Carlton hesitated, concerned that he should obtain legal counseling. "I don't know much about the American legal system, but I know I should have a defender. A lawyer. Someone to speak for me." He lowered his eyes and cringed at the words he had just spoken. Never in a million years did he ever believe he would require the services of a criminal attorney.

"You can have a lawyer if you wish, but you should know that I've been in touch with our offices in London. They're willing to offer you some concessions, and the American authorities are agreeable, provided you give them useful information."

Carlton's head snapped back to look at Shane's face, as if to determine if he was serious. "What kind of concessions?"

"They're more interested in Vaughn and the architect of this operation than they are in you, and in exchange for your complete and honest testimony in this case, both here and at trial, they are willing to defer prison time in favor of probation. I'm not saying you'll get a slap on the wrist. You have a lot to answer for. But if you cooperate, you can return home to your family sooner rather than later and live a relatively normal life, provided you stay on the straight and narrow."

Carlton felt his heart leap in surprised reaction to the unexpected offer. It was far more than he could have even hoped for. "Why me? Why not Jennings or Harding? Or Vaughn, for that matter. He knows a lot more about all this than the rest of us."

"We'll question Vaughn once we catch him, but it's fair to say that he won't be receiving the same offer of clemency. Steve Johnson suggested to us that you were the one most likely to cooperate with us. He also said you were kinder to him, and that he felt you regretted much of what they did to him."

He nodded. Steve Johnson must have realized that his heart wasn't in the things he had been forced to do.

"How did Johnson know we had put a tranquilizer in his food?" he asked, curiously

"The drug you used has a mild but distinct bitterness. It might be overlooked once as bitter coffee, but he obviously recognized it from the previous time it was used."

"And he flushed it."

"Yes. And then pretended to be unconscious until you went upstairs, leaving Harding alone long enough for Steve to overpower him."

Carlton nodded again, slowly, thinking about that, then heaved a deep sigh. "I'm very sorry for everything we did to him."

"Everyone is always sorry when they get caught," Shane said.

"No, I really mean it. I could see that he was an all right guy. All he wanted was to go home to his family. He was always talking about his wife and his little girl; said that his wife, Kayla, was the one good thing that ever happened to him, and how his little girl was the light of his life. God, that made me feel bad, knowing that Vaughn was eventually going to . . . " His voice trailed, reluctant to continue. With a sigh, he looked down at the table, focusing on the scuffs and scratches that marred the top.

"Kill him?" Shane prompted.

"Yeah, probably. He never said it, but we all knew that would be the eventual outcome. Why would they keep him around after getting what they were after? Everyone already believed he was dead anyway; they would have just made it reality, and no one would have been the wiser."

"Is that why they kept him alive and in captivity all this time? They felt no pressure about holding him because they knew no one was looking for him?"

"Yeah, but there was pressure from someone, whoever is running this show. He wanted a faster resolution, but like you said, he was willing to wait because no one was looking for him."

Even without an agreement to the clemency proposition yet, Carlton was already providing useful information, but it was information that might be thrown out by a judge if Carlton did not agree to the terms. "Before you say anything else, I need your answer. Are you interested in the deal, or do you need some time to think about it?"

Carlton was quiet for several moments, considering the offer, but there really wasn't anything to think over. His choice was to tell them what they wanted to know or take his chances in court, where enough evidence would come out to put him behind bars for a long time. He nodded. "I'm not sure my wife will want me back after this, but yeah, I'll throw myself on your mercy and tell you everything I know."

Shane presented him with a sheet of paper and a pen. "I'll need you to read and sign this waver. Make certain you agree to everything that's on it. This just states that you are giving up your right to an attorney in exchange for clemency."

Carlton picked up the paper and read it carefully. Finding it agreeable, he signed it with the pen, then pushed both back across the table toward the agent.

Shane folded the paper and returned it and the pen to his pocket and glanced at the mirror, just a fleeting surreptitious glimpse, but it was enough to confirm Carlton's assumption that it was a two-way. "Would you mind if we record our conversation? That way we can keep everything straight, and it is for the protection of both of us."

Carlton shrugged. He knew the polite inquiry was merely a formality. If he did not agree, a stenographer would be taking down every word he said anyway. "Sure, go ahead."

Shane gave a nod, and he knew the recording unit was being activated by someone behind the mirror. "All right, state your name for the records, please."

"Lance Raymond Carlton."

"Age?"

Thirty-four."

"Mr. Carlton, you have informed me that you are willing to forgo your right to an attorney and answer the questions I am about to put before you regarding the kidnapping and illegal imprisonment of Steven Earl Johnson in exchange for the concession of probation and community service. Is this true?"

"Yes."

"And you have agreed to this willingly, without duress?"

"Yes."

"Where do you currently reside, Mr. Carlton?"

"Loughborough, Leicestershire, England."

"I'm familiar with it. Nice community," Shane said in a pleasant conversational tone.

Carlton sighed, heavily, hoping he would one day get to see it again. And that he would still have a family when he got there. "Yes, it is."

"You seem like a nice fellow," Shane observed. "Why did you decide it would be a good idea to step outside the law?"

Carlton's face colored somewhat, and Shane realized that it was embarrassment rather than anger. "I . . . Well . . . " His voice trailed, and he lapsed into uncomfortable silence for several moments before continuing, "I lived in London at the time working out of I.S.A. headquarters, but . . . "

"But?" Shane prompted.

"I . . . had acquired some debts." He hesitated, then shrugged. "Quite a lot of them, actually."

"Gambling?" Shane posed the question as a casual guess, but Carlton suspected he was already aware of that fact.

He folded his arms on the tabletop and lowered his head over them, ashamed. "Horseracing and the casinos. I guess I'm addicted to it. I . . . I get excited just thinking about it."

"How much were you in for?"

"About $200,000 pounds."

Inside the viewing room, Steve gave a low whistle.

"I wiped out our savings," Carlton continued. "I kept thinking if I could just win one big one, that would get me back in the black, and then I would quit, but it just never happened."

"Seldom does."

"I know. My racing bookie and the casino pit boss were demanding payment, but I didn't have any money left. I had a wife and child, and another on the way! That's when Vaughn found me. He knew I was desperate enough to do almost anything to get myself out of that mess."

"So his offer was too good to turn down?"

"He said he had a well-paying job for me, and that he had the authority to pay off all my gambling debts. All that was required of me was discretion. In other words, I could not reveal the nature of my employment to anyone, not even my wife."

"What did you tell her?"

"That I was working for a local private security company. She was so happy to have me away from the I.S.A. that she didn't even question the size of my salary."

"How long ago was this?"

"About seven or eight years, I think."

"What did he tell you would be your responsibilities in this job?"

"He said I would be a guard for a special international prisoner, and that my background as an I.S.A. field operative made me highly qualified. He stressed the confidentiality of the case, and impressed upon me that I was to ask no questions in regard to his crime. Nor was I to answer any questions that Johnson might present to me."

"And you didn't find all of this to be just a little bit odd that he was holding a man in a remote location that was not an actual prison?" Shane asked.

"Of course I did, but Vaughn told us that Johnson was an international prisoner of some importance, and that was the reason he was not in the regular prison system. At first, I had no reason to doubt him. And by paying off my debt, Vaughn made it clear that he essentially owned me. I was young and stupid, and by the time I wizened up and realized that something was terribly wrong, that he was lying, I was in too deep. There was no turning back."

"He didn't own you, Carlton, and it's never too late to turn back," Shane told him. "You owed him no loyalty. You should have come to us when you realized what was going on. You could have been an informant in this case. You probably would have gotten off scot-free, and Johnson would have gotten home to his family a lot sooner."

Carlton averted his eyes again and sighed, regretfully. "You can't make me feel any worse than I already do."

"I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I'm just trying to understand how an otherwise good agent could do such a thing."

"I was young and scared. Vaughn sort of hinted at the fact that if I backed out for any reason other than death, something might happen to my wife and kids. And I can't deny, the amount of money he was offering was very attractive, and my wife was thrilled to get me out of London, away from the casinos and race tracks."

"So there were a lot of incentives for you to do this," Shane concluded.

"It was a well-paying job that left me with no debt, so yes, there was a lot if incentives."

"After you had been on the job for a while and proved yourself a loyal employee, did they ever volunteer any information as to why Johnson was being held prisoner?"

"No, not at first. Eventually, as the years went by and Vaughn became more comfortable with us, he was less inclined to be as secretive. We started finding out a few things by listening to his phone conversations and such."

"We?"

"Me, and the other guards. We talked among ourselves, sometimes."

"And what did you find out?"

"That Johnson had not committed any crime at all, but was the key to some kind of treasure trove or something that Vaughn's employer wanted so bad that he would do anything and spend any amount of money to get it."

Shane's eyebrows lifted, intrigued. "Treasure trove? What kind of treasure? You mean like a pirate's treasure, or buried jewels, or a government stash? Something like that?"

Carlton shrugged. "I don't know. I used the word 'treasure' rather ambiguously for lack of a better word. All I know is, it must be something of great value and it's believed to be hidden on the property that was owned by Johnson and his family. This person who hired Vaughn is not just eager to get his hands on it, he's desperate, even frantic, to get it."

"Frantic. That's an interesting choice of words. How do you know he was frantic?"

"I overheard Vaughn on the phone with him once. Vaughn was trying to calm him down. You know, giving him assurances that he would get the information he needed. I could hear this guy's voice on the other end of the line, he was talking so loud."

"Really? What did he say?"

"I couldn't hear many of the words, not really. Just the desperation in his voice. He was angry and frustrated that things were not moving along faster."

"But you have no idea what it might be that he wants so desperately?"

"None at all; not a clue." He shifted in his chair and glanced at the mirror again, wondering once again who was on the other side of it. "You should know something though," he said, hesitantly. "Vaughn has an active contact within the I.S.A."

Shane felt a jolt of interest. He had not yet mentioned a contact inside the I.S.A. and would have gotten to it later in the interview, but Carlton had laid it at his feet with no prompting. "Go on," he said.

"He's playing on both sides of the fence, and was probably the one who told Vaughn about me, about my problems. Word is, I was going to be fired or placed on suspension for my gambling addiction. I was considered a liability, someone whose behavior and preoccupations might be dangerous for other agents. He knew I would be an easy touch."

"What office does he work out of?" Shane asked.

"I'm pretty sure he works out of the London headquarters. I don't think he would have known about my addiction if he was a field agent."

Shane gave a slight nod of agreement. "Thank you for volunteering that bit of information. You just earned yourself some bonus points, and I assure you, that effort will help you in the long run."

"Thank you. This person also provided the security devices that were installed in the building. I think his name is Carroll."

There is was, the information he had been assigned the task of obtaining. Shane felt an inner jolt of elation along with a twinge of disappointment. He had met Bob Carroll several times, and his high placement inside the organization made the items easily accessible.

"Are you absolutely certain of the name?"

"I overheard Vaughn talking to him, and he called him by that name. Yes, I'm sure."

"So he's in pretty deep as well." Shane leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully. "Sounds like an awful lot of people on the payroll. Will everyone be getting a cut of this treasure?"

"It isn't really as many people as it seems. Most people were paid in a lump sum for information or useful items. Kickbacks. That sort of thing. I can't say for sure, but I think this guy, Carroll, was paid per item delivered, and was not on the regular payroll. The only full time salaried employees were the guards, including me."

"Steve tells me there were three guards."

"Yes. Jennings and I were the ones who brought his meals, while Harding covered us with a dart rifle."

"The mastermind must have some bankroll. Steve was held for 10 years with all of you either on payroll or getting kickbacks, as you say. Do you know his name?"

"No. Again, only Vaughn knows that, and he was very careful to keep it from us."

"Have you ever heard the name 'Alamain' mentioned at any time during the last fifteen years?"

Carlton shook his head. "No, never heard it before. Wait a minute," he added quickly. "I think Johnson asked me several times if Alamain was the one who kidnapped him. He's the only person I've ever heard mention it, though."

"We suspect him to be the architect of this whole operation. Apparently Steve did as well." Shane sighed, heavily. "I still can't understand how this treasure could be so valuable that he was willing to pay all three of you over the course of 10 years."

"I have long been under the impression that he's so wealthy that our salaries are barely noticed by him. And besides, Johnson wasn't supposed to be held as long as he was; nowhere near that long."

"So things weren't going according to plan?"

"Very little went according to plan, actually. On the surface, the operation appears brilliant, almost flawless, but underneath, I think it was pretty sloppy."

"Explain."

"Well, for starters, Johnson nearly died. I wasn't there at the time. I came after that, but Jennings told me about it. He said that when Johnson was in the hospital here in Salem, they had given him some sort of new I.S.A. drugs that made him appear dead. They had to be re-administered several times to keep him under, and he apparently did well with the drugs until the final dose. I guess they gave him too much or something."

"Those drugs had never been tested on a human before," Shane told him. "They were still in the experimental stages, and had been used with only limited success in laboratory animals. The production and testing were abandoned as being too dangerous for human use."

"I'd never heard about it, even when I was with the I.S.A., so I guess it wasn't common knowledge among the rank and file. Plus, they tampered with the hospital monitors in his room. Although the drug mimicked death in a lot of ways, the monitors could have detected a heartbeat, so it was adjusted so that it would flatline even though there was a shallow pulse. Anyway, Johnson was unconscious or semi-conscious for a long time, and when he finally started coming out of it, he was not very responsive. Almost like an Alzheimer's patient would be. He had a lot of trouble with short term memory loss, and couldn't even remember his guards from one day to the next. He spoke very little and was in sort of a daze or a stupor for much of the time. Jennings told me he just sat wherever they put him, never speaking, and his eye was sort of unfocused. They weren't sure he would ever come out of it." He cleared his throat and coughed. "Could I have a glass of water, please?"

"Certainly." Shane glanced at the two way mirror, and Roman nodded to one of the detectives, who left the viewing room to get the water.

With the lull in the interrogation, Roman turned to Steve. "Do you remember any of that?"

Steve shook his head, thoughtfully. "No, none of it, but it explains why I didn't realize how long I had been held captive by those people. I thought it was more like five or six years at the absolute most. Kayla and I were talking about it the other night, that so much of my life is missing."

"It also explains why Alamain purchased the property, so he could search on his own. He wasn't sure you were ever going to recover enough to be of help to him."

The detective entered the interrogation room with a paper cup filled with water. Shane met him at the door, then carried it to Carlton and waited while he drained the cup.

"Thank you," Carlton said, gratefully, as he lowered the cup. He placed it on the table and focused his attention on it, sliding it back and forth between his hands. "I was brought in about the time Johnson started to make some improvements. Vaughn decided he needed additional supervision."

"What happened when Steve started to recover?" Shane prompted.

"Well, at some point before I was hired, a doctor was brought in to monitor his condition. I don't know where they found him or how much they told him, but he monitored Johnson frequently for a while, then as he started getting better, he came once a year for a physical. It took years for him to recover completely. I felt bad about that, knowing he had a wife and child."

"But not bad enough to notify the authorities," Shane pointed out.

"I was in too deep. I told you, if Vaughn or his employer found out, I or a member of my own family would have been found dead somewhere. When this mastermind, as you call him, finds out that I've told you as much as I know, he'll probably do it anyway."

"I'll have an agent assigned to protect your family."

Relief swept across Carlton's face. "Thank you."

Watching through the mirror, Steve muttered, "Now you know what I felt like worrying about Kayla, you bastard."

"What do you know about the mortician that was found in Steve's grave in Salem?" Shane asked.

Carlton's expression was one of genuine surprise. "I knew that Johnson was believed by his family and friends to have died and that a coffin would have been buried by them, but I never asked about it, and no one ever volunteered any information about it to me. I know nothing of this mortician, or anyone else who might have been place in the coffin in Johnson's place. That would have been well before my time"

Shane nodded, indicating that he believed him. "I knew it was a long shot before I asked, but I was hoping maybe you had heard something."

"No, sorry."

"All right, then. You've been very helpful, Mr. Carlton. We may have more questions for you later, but I think we're finished for the moment. I will advocate for you with both Salem PD and the British officials, but I think it is accurate to say that everyone on both sides of the Atlantic will be very pleased with the information you've provided. It will be necessary to keep you in custody until everything has been processed, but I expect you should be back home in a few weeks' time."

"Thank you."

Rising from the chair, Shane went to the door and tapped on it. It opened from the other side, and after the agent had stepped through it, it was closed and locked again, leaving Carlton alone.