This story is by Joy Burke and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
She was found face up with a bullet in her liver. She bled out. Based on the proximity, it wouldn’t have taken long.
I walked toward the side door of the administration building and shook the image from my head. The smell of her blood was still potent in my nose. Her bright eyes gone dark, staring into the endless night. Murder happens all the time, but not to someone training to be on my team. Not someone who reminded me so much of myself.
Lieutenant Garvy opened the door.
“Good evening, Special Agent Rathbone.”
I nodded at the tall young man and slipped through the door. “Lieutenant.”
We walked in silence through the dark halls until we came to Vice Admiral Kaine’s office. The severity of what we were doing weighed heavily on me. If I were caught, it didn’t matter. They’d already forced me to retire because of this case, but Garvy had his entire career. He was the most brilliant man with computers I’d ever met. Which is why I needed him.
“There’s still time to walk away. If we’re caught, it’s a court martial.”
Lieutenant Garvy pulled out a key and handed it to me.
“She was my friend too, sir, and you got the sack for trying to get to the bottom of it.”
I took the key from his steady hand and opened the door.
Vice Admiral Kaine kept impeccable records. His office oozed navy orderliness and smelled like a men’s club but just enough like fresh laundry, that women wouldn’t be offended. Pictures of his family and accomplishments decorated the walls and shelves. Even last month’s birthday party photo made it to a filing cabinet. A casual observer would think he was a dedicated officer and family guy. But thanks to Oliva’s unsent text before she died, I had a strong suspicion that wasn’t the case.
That’s all her text said. It was never sent, there was no addressee, but the blood on her smartwatch told us what we needed to know: she knew we would find the code and we needed to figure it out.
I scanned drawer labels searching, but not finding any clues. Lieutenant Garvy started on the computer.
“Do you think he’ll have kept anything here, sir?”
It was a good question. One I was betting our freedom on.
“The Vice Admiral has been around a long time and I’ve known him my entire career.” I thought back to our broken friendship and the different paths our lives had taken. “He believes he’s impervious to scrutiny – especially at this stage in his profession. It’s here.”
We both continued digging and in my mind’s eye, I replayed my team’s conversation the night Olivia’s body was found.
“Alright,” I said passing coffees to my agents in the NCIS lounge. “Let’s stay focused. What do we know?”
Sam spoke first. “Off duty junior Field Agent Olivia Warren, 22, was fatally shot in the abdomen at close range.” She held the coffee close.
“She wasn’t shot on base.” Lance continued, adding copious amounts of sugar to his coffee. “She was discovered at the shipyard within 12 hours of her shooting.”
“And there were no witnesses.” Craig, our lab tech added with a frown. “Aside from those partial footprints, there’s no evidence.”
Plus, the cryptic message on her smartwatch. Throw that in with the rest of what we knew, which wasn’t much, and we still had almost nothing.
“When was Vice Admirals birthday?”
We all looked at Mitchell like he was crazy.
“April 12th,” Sam answered with a slight edge in her voice. “Could we stay on topic, Mitchell?”
Mitchell just stared at her over his steaming coffee.
“April 12,” he said. “04-12…” Mitchell looked at me. “How old would you say the Vice Admiral is, sir?”
“Maybe 55 or so.”
None of us said anything.
I thought of Olivia bleeding out and having the wherewithal to remember the Vice Admirals birthday. It could only mean one thing.
“Sir,” Lieutenant Garvy brought me back to the present. “Look at this. He created an Easter Egg in the program.”
On screen was a list of dates, names, and details of weapons sold. All to foreign entities.
Arms. The missing piece of the puzzle. Olivia was spot on.
“Email what you can to this address. Save the rest.” I handed him an email address and a thumb drive. Then, I made the call.
It was starting to fall into place. I knew there was no botched investigation. I rarely make mistakes, and I wasn’t going to make one when one of my team was the victim. The Vice Admiral must’ve been the one who leaked the misinformation to the media which made the case get out of hand thus justifying my forced retirement.
“You should have stayed away, Rathbone.”
The light came on and Vice Admiral Kaine stood in the doorway, gun in hand, looking a mix of remorse and contempt. I could feel my blood pressure rising. “You think I would sit back and let Olivia’s murder go unpunished?” Kaine shrugged.
“She shouldn’t have followed me – and you should have enjoyed your early retirement.” Walking a step closer, he continued. “I should have known this base couldn’t handle two of you.”
He saw the confused look on my face and smiled like a child at Christmas. “You don’t know, do you? Your own daughter tracked you down and you didn’t even know she existed.” He laughed. “Right in front of you this whole time.”
I felt sick at the loss of her life, and a lost lifetime together.
“Vice Admiral Kaine,” The MPs joined Kaine in the doorway. My contact at security came through. “You’re under arrest for the sale of US Arms to foreign powers…”
I thought about Olivia. My daughter. The girl who reminded me so much of myself. As Admiral Kaine was led away, I felt the pride only a father could feel.