October 12th, 1963- evening
“This is Mockingbird. An unidentified person has just entered the Karamazov residence,” a voice called out over the radio.
Powell leaped over his desk to pick the radio transponder up. Pressing down the “transmit” button, he blurted out, “Roger, cruisers inbound. Sit tight.” He burst out of his office and shouted to a nearby cubicle, “Solomon! Stake-out’s picked up something!”
The surrounding office workers started at Powell’s outburst. People stopped typing into their green and black monitors to look up from over their cubicles like Serengeti meerkats at the sound of a lion’s roar, or, in Powell’s case, the full-throated warble of an overweight suburban father.
Rockwell vaulted over the rows of cubicles and jumped into Powell’s office within seconds of the radio hail. Captain Powell had a neat office, by most standards, filled with perfectly stacked piles of files he’d never read: just enough to look official. He kept a bobbing-bird desk toy to let people know he was a spontaneous, fun guy. The day before, he and Rockwell had set up a makeshift long-distance radio beacon (the parts bought from German exporters at the Ashford Mall) in order to communicate with a ranger from Kent they had stationed outside the residence of Vladimir Karamazov.
Rockwell picked up the radio transmitter, pressed the talk button, and said, “This is Rockwell. Come in Mockingbird.”
The voice on the radio replied, “This is Mockingbird, reading you loud and clear.”
“Mockingbird, tell me what you saw.”
“One unidentified figure, tall, likely a male man, entered the premises just a moment ago. I’m too far away to make out any details, but I’m sure something just jumped over the Karamazov estate front gate.”
“Was he carrying anything? Electronic devices? Weapons? Was he with anyone?” Rockwell demanded.
“He was alone, sir. As far as I could tell, he was not carrying anything. I could make out something that looked like a jacket, but it’s late, sir. I’m not even sure it’s a man, could be a woman.”
“That’s good enough. See you in 5. Over and out.”
“Over and out.”
Rockwell turned the radio off and put the receiver down. Powell turned to him and said, “Sol’, I hate to admit it but you were right. Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that Bogdan Ivanov didn’t commit suicide. Same goes for the others. But I trust instincts. Something wasn’t right with these deaths. Be they the Tsarists, the Commies, or the Chinese, someone’s been meddling with my town, and I cannot let that go.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, Frank, but you really can’t spare me more officers? How about Lenny? Not even animal control?”
Powell, crestfallen, gestured to the cubicles around him. The place was nearly empty, except for a few lingering desk-jockeys typing up reports on clunky electronic typewriters and flipping through manila folders. The department diver had been let go. The traffic-patrol department had been all but abolished. Only a handful of salary men and bumpkins in blue uniforms remained, and even they were hard to come by. Rockwell knew the answer to his question before he asked it: the Ashford County Police Department was stretched bone thin, and there was nothing he or Powell could do about it.
“We could ask the military for help,” Powell suggested.
Rockwell shook his head despondently. “They’ll turn it into a shit-show. A crime hasn’t been committed yet. Think about the optics. U.S. military on the estate of prominent Tsarist without a warrant, hell, even a shred of valid evidence…”
Powell protested, “But you have evidence, you have…”
“I have a piece of paper and a hunch, and a hunch isn’t good enough to call in tanks and green berets. Military action could worsen America’s case for breaking the embargo; Hell, it could trigger an invasion. Who do you think is going to get the flak if things go wrong, if I’m wrong? Not the military, I’ll tell you that. They’ll sell you and me down the stream, revoke your pension, take your house, kill your dog and put me in hard labor.”
“Kill my dog…” Powell mused, fear simmering out of from his gut. “Optimistically, Sol’, the guy we have on stake-out was wrong and mistook a bear or a cougar for a person, or perhaps the nasty’s just a friend that Karamazov didn’t have on his dossier for today.”
“Frank, I need to move now, bear or no. Tell your man I’m on the way.”
“Then I guess there’s nothing more for me here,” Rockwell said, walking out of Powell’s office to drive to the Karamazov estate. Powell sat down in his chair and bit his nails. He mulled over the situation, the radio, and the department’s lack of manpower. Suddenly, he got up and hailed the stakeout.
“This is Captain Powell. Come in Mockingbird.”
The radio roared with static, and a voice replied, “This is Mockingbird. What is it Captain?”
“When Rockwell comes, tell him to wait. I’m on my way.”
Powell threw the radio transponder down and left the room, leaving the receiver dangling by a rubbery cord like a clock pendulum. Empty static filled Powell’s empty office, consuming the silence.
As Powell slammed his car door outside the department, the radio in his office let out a piercing screech. It was so loud that a secretary nearby had to let himself into Powell’s office just to turn it off. However, when the secretary opened Powell’s door, the screeching suddenly stopped. All that remained was silence, and, somewhere, in all the cosmic, radioactive background noise, there was slow, quiet laughter.