I put the paper in my pocket and relocked the car. Checked the trunk. It was completely empty.

I put the key in my pocket with the rental paper and headed across the street to the bar. The music got louder with every step I took. Ten yards away I could smell beer fumes and cigarette smoke from the ventilators. I threaded through parked vehicles and found the door. It was a stout wooden item and it was closed against the cold. I pulled it open and was hit in the face by a wall of sound and a blast of hot thick air. The place was heaving. I could see five hundred people and black-painted walls and purple spotlights and mirrorballs. I could see a pole dancer on a stage in back. She was on all fours and naked except for a white cowboy hat. She was crawling around, picking up dollar bills.

There was a big guy in a black T-shirt behind a register inside the door. His face was in deep shadow. The edge of a dim spotlight beam showed me he had a chest the size of an oil drum. The music was deafening and the crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder and wall to wall. I backed out and let the door swing shut. Stood still for a moment in the cold air and then walked away and crossed the street and headed for the motel office.

It was a dismal place. It was lit with fluorescent tubes that gave the air a greenish cast and it was noisy from the Coke machine parked at its door. It had a pay phone on the wall and worn linoleum on the floor and a waist- high counter boxed in with the sort of fake wood paneling people use in their basements. The clerk sat on a high stool behind it. He was a white guy of about twenty with long unwashed hair and a weak chin.

“Happy New Year,” I said.

He didn’t reply.

“You take anything out of the dead guy’s room?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No.”

“Tell me again.”

“I didn’t take anything.”

I nodded. I believed him.

“OK,” I said. “When did he check in?”

“I don’t know. I came on at ten. He was already here.”

I nodded again. Kramer was in the rental lot at Dulles at one thirty-two and he hadn’t driven enough miles to do much of anything except come straight here, in which case he was checking in around seven-thirty. Maybe eight-thirty, if he stopped for dinner somewhere. Maybe nine, if he was an exceptionally cautious driver.

“Did he use the pay phone at all?”

“It’s busted.”

“So how did he get hold of the hooker?”

“What hooker?”

“The hooker he was poking when he died.”

“No hookers here.”

“Did he go over and get her from the lounge bar?”

“He was way the hell down the row. I didn’t see what he did.”

“You got a driver’s license?”

The guy paused. “Why?”

“Simple question,” I said. “Either you do or you don’t.”

“I got a license,” he said.

“Show me,” I said.

I was bigger than his Coke machine and all covered in badges and ribbons and he did what he was told, like most skinny twenty-year-olds do when I use that tone. He eased his butt up off the stool and reached back and came out with a wallet from his hip pocket. Flipped it open. His DL was behind a milky plastic window. It had his photograph on it, and his name, and his address.

“OK,” I said. “Now I know where you live. I’ll be back later with some questions. If I don’t find you here I’ll come and find you at home.”

He said nothing to me. I turned away and pushed out through the door and went back to my Humvee to wait.

Forty minutes later a military meat wagon and another Humvee showed up. I told my guys to grab everything including the rental car but didn’t wait around to watch them do it. I headed back to base instead. I logged in and got back to my borrowed office and told my sergeant to get me Garber on the phone. I waited at my desk for the call to come through. It took less than two minutes.

“What’s the story?” he asked.

“His name was Kramer,” I said.

“I know that,” Garber said. “I spoke to the police dispatcher after I spoke to you. What happened to him?”

“Heart attack,” I said. “During consensual sex with a prostitute. In the kind of motel a fastidious cockroach would take pains to avoid.”

There was a long silence.

“Shit,” Garber said. “He was married.”

“Yes, I saw his wedding band. And his West Point ring.”

“Class of Fifty-two,” Garber said. “I checked.”

The phone went quiet.

“Shit,” he said again. “Why do smart people pull stupid stunts like this?”

I didn’t answer, because I didn’t know.

“We’ll need to be discreet,” Garber said.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “The cover-up is already started. The locals let me send him to Walter Reed.”

“Good,” he said. “That’s good.” Then he paused. “From the beginning, OK?”

“He was wearing XII Corps patches,” I said. “Means he was based in Germany. He flew into Dulles yesterday. From Frankfurt, probably. Civilian flight, for sure, because he was wearing Class As, hoping for an upgrade. He would have worn BDUs on a military flight. He rented a cheap car and drove two hundred ninety-eight miles and checked into a fifteen-dollar motel room and picked up a twenty-dollar hooker.”

“I know about the flight,” Garber said. “I called XII Corps and spoke with his staff. I told them he was dead.”


“After I got off the phone with the dispatcher.”

“You tell them how or where he was dead?”

“I said a probable heart attack, nothing more, no details, no location, which is starting to look like a very good decision now.”

“What about the flight?” I said.

“American Airlines, yesterday, Frankfurt to Dulles, arrived thirteen hundred hours, with an onward connection nine hundred hours today, Washington National to LAX. He was going to an Armored Branch conference at Fort Irwin. He was an Armored commander in Europe. An important one. Outside chance of making Vice-Chief of Staff in a couple of years. It’s Armored’s turn next, for Vice-Chief. Current guy is infantry, and they like to rotate. So he stood a chance. But it ain’t going to happen for him now, is it?”

“Probably not,” I said. “Being dead and all.”

Garber didn’t answer that.

“How long was he over here for?” I said.

“He was due back in Germany inside a week.”

“What’s his full name?”

“Kenneth Robert Kramer.”

“I bet you know his date of birth,” I said. “And where he was born.”


“And his flight numbers and his seat assignments. And what the government paid for the tickets. And whether or not he requested a vegetarian meal. And what exact room Irwin VOQ was planning on putting him in.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, why don’t I know all that stuff too?”

“Why would you?” Garber said. “I’ve been working the phones and you’ve been poking around in a motel.”

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