Carver glanced at his Omega and rubbed the crystal: eight-oh-five. Dever was late.
The bar was about ten-minutes by shoe leather express from the metro station at Roppongi Hills. An integrated urban center surrounding the landmark Mori Tower, it was situated in arguably the most famous of Tokyo's entertainment districts of the modern era.
Aside from the noise and pollution from the traffic congestion on Roppongi Dori, Ruben liked the walk―especially that time of year. Japan was down shifting to winter, with the late autumn air clear, cool, and dry. The seasonal trees had turned crimson a few weeks earlier and were shedding. The morning breeze scattered the leaves across the sidewalks, and drifted them against the superstructure of the Shuto expressway, elevated above the broad avenue.
As he thought about it, Ruben figured Henry was probably with Junior driving up from the Yokosuka Naval Station to Hardy Barracks. A small U.S. Army-run compound only five- or ten-minutes from the bar, the barracks was run like a hostel for military personnel who wanted to visit Tokyo on the cheap.
The rest of the facility housed detachments of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and Army Military Intelligence, a two-man office of NCIS, the Stars & Stripes newspaper production site, and the Japan base of operations for the Naval Research Laboratory. It was also the only place in central Tokyo were the American military could land choppers. For Junior, the site's most important feature was the free and easy parking.
Carver finished his grande Pike's Place before he came through the door and was jonesing for another. There was often coffee left in the pot behind the bar―the remnants of an after hours business―but not this morning. He hadn't checked the register; however, considering the ashtrays had been emptied and the beer tap couplers were laying disassembled in a basin of soapy water, the late-nighters must have gone home early.
He occupied his time waiting for Henry by shuffling through mail Yuki left stacked on the bar, which was mostly bills and adverts. He also scrolled through the lefty google news on the Internet, and checked his email―three times.
Email, or the lack thereof, was becoming an obsession. He never let it go more than thirty minutes without checking for any word from Rivka Levitan.
She was a former Shin Bet officer he'd shacked up with for several months until she'd called a time out. As far as he knew, she was back in Tel Aviv doing contract work for the Israeli security agency. He hadn't heard from her since they'd parted in Paris, near the end of September.
It wasn't like they'd fallen out of love or anything―no vapid drama or hoary romantics. Circumstances around one of her assignments she'd pulled him into forced the separation. It was also the reason he'd retired.
He'd had long term relationships before she came along. Marriage had even been discussed on occasion, but the job had always gotten in the way. A couple of family men he had the sometimes pleasure to work with always called it an excuse. Ruben liked to think of it as salvation.
Now, without a badge to lean on, he found himself feeling…vulnerable. It was like a reoccurring dream he had when he was a kid. The one where he was caught out in public in his underwear.
He assumed there was nothing extraordinary about the sensation. After all, he wasn't the first cop to toss in his shield. What was bugging him was the incessant pining over the Israeli. He'd really swallowed the hook.
He moved the cursor to the little red dot in the top left corner of the screen. The window closed to the desktop, which had a picture of Rivka he used as wallpaper. Oh, man I really need a distraction.
Two seconds later, the door swung open and in stepped Henry Dever. He was alone. Be careful what you wish for asshole.
With a tinge of irritation, Dever said, “Do you know how hard it is to find this place?”
“Good morning to you, too.”
Ruben slid off his stool and took five steps to the end of the counter. He and his longtime friend had never been into the man-hug thing. Even with all the shit they'd been through together, a greeting with embrace seemed queerly pretentious.
They did grip hands with enthusiasm, though, and Carver couldn't hide his pleasure in seeing the man. While Dever appeared no less ardent, Ruben knew him well enough to recognize a forced smile.
When their hands came apart, Carver couldn't help tapping Dever on the shoulder. “Come on in and grab a seat at the bar. I'll make us some coffee.”
Dever stood rooted for a second, looking around the space. “Wow, dude. This place is really yours?”
“Yep, all fifty percent of it. Can you believe it? My partner Barry and I have had to pump a shit-load of cash into this little piece of heaven over the last couple years, but so far it's turned out okay.”
“That's cool, my man, but I wasn't kiddin' when I said it was hard to find.”
Carver took a half a minute to walk around the counter to the grind and brew. As he tore open a gold foil packet of coffee beans the lead bartender ordered in bulk, he said, “Yeah, well…that's kinda the idea. There was a time―back in the day―when this,” Ruben waved a hand at the dark side of the room, “was rated one of the ten best cocktail lounges in the world.”
He had to raise his voice over the grinder. “Hyperbole aside, it had overflow crowds on the weekends, and while it did great business, its regulars referred to it as the secret bar. That's 'cause first-timers invariably had to come with someone who'd been here before.
“It had a back alley, speakeasy vibe the monied clientele liked. You know…kinda like a clubhouse for local celebrities, pro athletes and rich ex-pats. It wasn't uncommon for politicians to wander in either. I used to come in here after source meets. It beat runnin' the gauntlet of Nigerian touts up at Roppongi crossing.”
Ruben could see Henry had no idea what he was talking about when it came to the Africans on the strip.
“Anyway, that's how I found out the owner died and it was available. When Barry and I took over, only a few of the regulars hung on. Since we turned it into a blues and jazz livehouse, we've had to rough out the last couple of years rebuilding the brand and customer base. We still make great cocktails, though. The martinis are the best.
How'd you find the place?”
“Your website. It has a google map linked to the address.”
Carver pulled a couple ceramic mugs from a dry rack next the wash basin. “So...you wanna tell me what happened to Junior and what kinda shit you're about to dip me in?”
Dever shifted on the stool. “How'd you know I was here about Junior? Did someone call you?”
“Hank, you and I have been friends for almost twenty-years. It's safe to say you probably know me better than anyone else in NCIS. It's one of those trusted relationships everybody covets so much.
“I checked out...what, six months ago?” He didn't wait for a response. “The only contact I've had with the Service, up until this visit, has been with Junior Prosser. When he didn't walk in the door with you, I figured it had to be about him. Especially after what happened a couple weeks ago. I'm assuming you know what happened?”
Henry nodded and Ruben continued. “Anyway, I'm bettin' he isn't dead. You wouldn't have bothered with the small talk otherwise. You always lead with bad news, Hank. You can't help yourself.
“So, since the organization wouldn't ordinarily send the global head of CI ops all the way out here to conduct a 2B, I reckon Junior, or someone close to his collection operation, must have fucked up big time.
So, what kinda jam is he in?”
Dever didn't answer immediately. He stared at Ruben with another expression the big Okie recognized. Henry was trying to decide how much he could reveal. Ruben was now convinced his reference to an NCIS internal investigation out of the Inspector General's Office, called a 2B, was on the money.
Ruben lifted the pot off the burner. “You still take milk in your coffee?”
Henry's response was a non sequitur. “What do you know about Prosser's operation?”
Ruben set a steaming mug on top of a coaster in front of Henry. “If you're askin' me did Junior get blabby about the particulars of his activity...the answer is no. I know a source meet when I see one, but I had the good manners to ignore it. He had the good sense not say anything to compromise it.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
Maybe I was wrong...wouldn't be the first time. Carver folded his arms across his chest and dipped his head right an inch. “Two weeks ago. He was in here with his asset. A couple ragheads got fresh with her on her way out the door. That's something Barry and I won't tolerate around here.”
“That's not exactly how Prosser described it in his ROI.”
“The way the report read, you and your partner really tuned them up. You also prevented an apparent kidnap attempt.”
“That sounds about right. The cops never came around askin' about it and I can't see what we did would land Junior in trouble. You wanna tell me what this is about.”
“Two days ago Prosser was medevaced to Trippler. He's in bad shape.”
Carver's arms fell to his sides as he studied Henry's face.
“I'm not sure coffee's the right beverage for what's comin' next.”
At that, he turned and pulled a bottle of Jameson from the second shelf, and then grabbed two whiskey tumblers from a stack on the counter. He poured two fingers in each and pushed one toward Dever, who stared at it.
“It's okay, Hank. You're still on DC time and the bars around the Navy Yard already have happy hour crowds. Cheers.”
They touched glasses, and Henry sipped enough to wet his lips. “There're only a couple of people who know I'm here talkin' to you. Our Director for one. The other is Art Sheppard.”
Carver reacted to this news by knocking back half the whiskey in his glass. Hearing the name of the Deputy Director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, did not give him comfort. And for good reason.
His first encounter with Sheppard was on a hilltop fire support base in Vietnam on Thanksgiving, 1972. Sheppard was a young first lieutenant leading a Marine Corps mortar platoon. They'd been assigned to support an ARVN weapons company dug in five-kilometers from the Laos border.
Carver had walked out of the jungle in the morning with only two surviving members of his Army Rangers squad. Sheppard's hospitality included a dust-off for his wounded man and a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
That night, it turned into a major dustup and turkey shoot. The ARVN company, along with Sheppard's platoon, were overrun by a North Vietnamese Army battalion. Causalities were high on both sides, with Sheppard taking a 7.62mm in the ass.
Thirty-three years later, their paths crossed again in China. Sheppard was the CIA Station Chief in Beijing. Carver was on the trail of a hacker who'd been picking the DoD's pocket of classified military critical technologies. The American computer genius had been coopted by an international cabal known as The Board.
The completion of that mission saw Sheppard get a promotion to head up the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division in the newly established NCS. Carver suffered one his many 2Bs, a slow knitting bullet hole that still ached when it was cold or rainy, and a phobia towards bald Chinese women.
The last time he had to deal with Sheppard was over a year ago. A DARPA scientist, who'd also fallen prey to the siren song of The Board, was living large in Istanbul. With a proclivity for bio-weaponry and genocide, he'd weaponized a bacterial agent that was a potential planet killer.
He may have met Rivka on that mission, but he was still having nightmares about a giant Corsican who could have doubled for Leatherface.
Ruben picked up the bottle and poured another ounce of who-hit-John into the tumbler and said, “Goddammit, Hank...did you drive a dump truck of shit to my door?”
“Now wait a minute. Just hear me out.”
“I don't know that I want to. Junior wasn't flow to Hawaii 'cause he stubbed a toe. You wouldn't be here on the qt, with the blessing of the Director of NCIS and a CIA Deputy Director, to tell me a one-time coworker got his ass kicked.”
Henry rolled the whiskey glass between his palms. “That's right. He didn't just get his ass kicked. He was tortured and is now in a coma. The doctors who examined him said it looked like whoever had him used a hammer and pliers. He also had burns from a blowtorch and a few fingers removed.
“Apparently, what saved his life is they shot him in the forehead. It was a small caliber subsonic that didn't penetrate the skull. When it hit bone, it ricochetted around the cranium beneath the dermis and exited out the back of his head.
“It seems they didn't realize they hadn't scramble his brain, and left him for dead on a backstreet behind the New Sanno hotel.”
Ruben moved to the other side of the bar to mount a stool next to Henry. It wasn't often, these days, he'd hear something that would cause a papillae reaction. The goosebumps on the back of his neck had caused the hair to rise and he felt a chill.
“Ya know...with the amount of time Junior spends everyday on the JWICS terminal, reading top secret message traffic, I reckon he's got a fair bit of actionable intel between his ears. But what could he have possibly known to warrant that kinda interest.
“I mean, torture is a risky business. It takes time, and a secure location. I don't suppose it's possible he was bangin' the wife of a Yakuza boss...”
Carver paused a few seconds to take a sip, but before he got the glass to his mouth, something dawned on him. “He was found on a backstreet behind the New Sanno?”
“There's at least a half dozen embassies within a quarter mile radius of the New Sanno. I know for a fact, Iran and Pakistan have their diplomatic missions within easy walkin' distance.”
Henry nodded. “Uh-huh, that's right.”
“You still haven't told me what you're doin' here Henry. Why aren't you out mobilizing the other military criminal investigative organizations, and the US Embassy country team. They live for this kinda shit. Even the assholes over at Army MI would fall in for a chance to showcase their intelligence collection prowess.
“You'd get coverage from the cops to the Coast Guard. Shit...you might even receive a cooperative nod from CIRO and the PSIA. Not that any of them would actually lift a finger to help find the jagoffs.”
Dever shook his head. “To the extent headquarters is comfortable in bringing in our counterparts to help find the culprits, we've done that. And you're right again. Our window sources at the Japanese National Police and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department have been very sympathetic. They've even done some door knocking in the neighborhood where Prosser was found.
“The Public Security Intelligence Agency and the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office have also expressed concern, but little else. We have almost zero confidence the Japanese will do anything more than check traffic cams.”
Carver set his whiskey down and plugged the hole in the mug handle with an index finger. The coffee was tepid and stronger than expected. “What do you think I can do for you?”
“In their last meet, Junior's asset provided information the CIA is not prepared for us to share with anyone outside their headquarters and ours. It's important to note, however, that the intel, while significant, couldn't be why they worked him over as hard as they did.”
“I don't get it.”
“Come on Ruben, it's simple. Do you think even for an instant, Junior wouldn't have given up everything he knew, when they were gonna take a pair of pliers to his nuts. Fuck no.
“He knew just enough to make them think he might know more. When they finally came to the conclusion he didn't, he was shot in the head and dumped at a garbage pickup point.”
“No Rube. We'll cover all your expenses, whatever hourly rate you're charging and a bonus. We want you to find out who did this, determine what it is they thought Prosser knew, and since we can't depend on the Japanese justice system to work in our favor, we want some payback.”
Carver set the mug down and straightened his back. He squeezed his shoulder blades together until he felt a few thoracic discs crack into place and then rotated his delts.
“Okay...a couple things first. I wanna read Junior's report. Most of my clearances are still active, so that won't be a problem. My retirement creds should get me on the base.”
“I'll give you whatever support I can, but going on the naval base is problematic. The SAC of the Field Office in Yokosuka can't know about you for now. Since the report is marked SECRET, I can't let you read it outside a secure space.”
“Pfff...you're probably already in violation of some security protocol just talkin' to me.”
“How 'bout the Embassy?”
“Nah, the same holds true for the station guys.”
“There's the two man NCIS office at Hardy Barracks. Tell the SAC you need the space for an afternoon. You can come up with some scenario to clear the place out.”
“That might work. I'll see what I can do.”
“I also need you to set me up with a hardware vender on an open account.”
“Now that will be difficult.”
“Then tell Sheppard. He'll make it happen. I'm gonna brief my partner Barry in as well. I'll likely need his help. He's former OSI and a good hand.” Carver went silent for a few seconds thinking. “I also wanna talk to the asset. What's her name?”
“I figured you would. Her name is Lisa Chin."
Ruben twisted on his stool. "The name sounds familiar, for some reason."
Henry shrugged and continued. "Makin' an introduction will be tough without your involvement becoming known. She's scared and pissed and she wasn't happy about being placed in witness protection.”
“Witness protection? Have you got the Marshall's involved."
"No, it's not official. The SAC in Yokosuka made a few arrangements with the base CO. She got a new ID last week, and we've created some thin backstopping.
“The day Junior was medevaced we put her on an AMC flight down to Kyushu. She's got a room at the Navy Lodge aboard the Fleet Activities in Sasebo.
"We're gonna put her to work with our cyber guy as part of her cover. The RAC in Sasebo has been requesting additional support for a while anyway, so it fits.”
Ruben drained his whiskey and chased it with a draw on his cold coffee. “Looks like we're goin' to Nagasaki.”