MONDAY, 8:30 A.M.
MARCH 7, 2016
HARRISON ‘HAWK’ BENNETT ENDURED fifty years tormented by nightmares of Vietnam. Until a moment ago, killing the man now standing before him was one of those blood-soaked memories.
Recognition, denial, and rage ricocheted through his brain. He leaned against the edge of the desk, steadying himself.
Before him stood the incarnation of his darkest nightmare. A man he’d spent months tracking in Vietnam. An enemy he thought obliterated until a moment ago. A specter, risen from the dead, stared back at him.
How could this be?
The saffron-robed Buddhist Monk smiled. “It has been a long time, Lieutenant Bennett, since our time in Dalat.”
“Why are you here, Colonel?” Hawk said, stepping toward the monk. “Or better yet, how is it you’re still alive? Whatever the reason, I want no part of it. Get out, or I will kill you. This time.”
Hawk spun around, saw the disappointment on his paralegal Kendall Hahn’s face, then stormed into his office. Kendall jumped at the sound of the slamming door. A picture frame fell to the floor.
Nothing in her experience working for Hawk prepared her for this.
The monk stayed in place. Uncertainty and sadness painted his face. After a moment, he walked over and rehung the picture.
Kendall came around the desk. “I’m sorry, Thuan. I’ve never seen Mr. Bennett behave this way.”
“No need, Ms. Hahn. I had no right to expect his help.” He walked to the window, touching the leaves of an orchid.
Kendall moved to stand next to him. “It won’t bloom for me.”
Thuan smiled, touching her shoulder.
“An orchid reminds us of the beauty of the universe. Beauty, like all things, exists when someone sees it.” He lifted the plant, turning it in his hands, then placed it back on the sill. “I believe it is waiting for you.”
“I look every day.”
“Looking is not seeing, my child.”
She hesitated a moment. “I’m sorry, Thuan. I don’t know what else to do for you.”
“No matter. Life will decide.” Thuan started toward the door.
“Wait,” she touched his sleeve, “I know someone I can call. She might help you. Please, let me try.”
“Won’t Mr. Bennett be angry with you?”
“Let me worry about him.” She reached for the phone. “Thuan, why did Hawk call you Colonel?”
The monk bowed. “A lifetime ago, during the American War in Vietnam, I commanded a Viet Cong unit. I fought against Lieutenant Bennett and his men.”
Kendall stared for a moment, trying to digest the words. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The monk nodded, returning to his seat. He closed his eyes and waited.
CHRIS HAMLIN CHECKED HER phone. Two missed calls and a text from Hawk’s office.
The man cannot give me five minutes’ peace.
Chris put her leg on the bumper and stretched, massaging the lean, but achy muscle. Her heart rate slowed to a steady resting rate. She made it a habit of staying in shape. Closing in on sixty-five, she still looked in her forties. Not even a hint of gray showed in her short-styled hair. Although, as time marched on, the aches and pains of running took longer to stretch away.
She sat in her car and played the first voice mail.
Chris, Kendall. Call me ASAP. Thanks. Chris hit delete, then listened to the next one.
Chris, Kendall. Please call me right away. Thanks. The text reinforced the voicemail.
I miss the days when we weren’t so connected.
“Hi Kendall, Chris. What’s the emergency this time, he out of adult diapers?”
Kendall laughed. “Nope got plenty. I’m the one who called. I need you to come here.”
“You? Where’s Hawk?”
“Please come, Chris. It’s important.” The urgency poured through the phone. A tone Chris never heard from Kendall.
“I’ll be right there.” She tossed the phone on the seat and headed downtown.
Always an adventure.
Just before 9:00 a.m., Chris walked in the side door of the Turk’s Head Building. The triangularly shaped landmark pointed like a spear into Providence’s financial district. The namesake turban-wearing, mustachioed facade kept a watchful eye over those on the street.
Chris walked toward the elevator, waving at the security guard. He waved back then tilted his head toward the lobby directory. Two men in suits examined the business list.
Chris’s problem radar came alive. Cops develop this sixth sense for survival. Most lose it when they retire; she did not.
Running Aries Investigations and working cases from Hawk Bennett demanded it.
Chris pushed the elevator button several times, willing the door to open. She watched one man tap his finger on the listing for Law Offices Harrison Bennett.
The elevator chimed. The agents started toward her. She squeezed in as the door opened. Ignoring the shouted pleas for her to wait, she punched the button for the 7th floor. The door slid shut. It took all her willpower not to smile.
Time slowed until the door reopened. She pushed the buttons for every floor then sprinted to Hawk’s office.
Once inside, she slammed the door shut and locked it.
Kendall’s eyebrows rose as she cocked her head. “Hi, Chris. Thanks for coming, is something wrong?”
“Two Feds on the way. I’d bet FBI. Not sure wh–.” Her eye caught sight of the monk.
Chris raised an eyebrow at Kendall.
“Meet New… new–”
“Nguyen Duc Thuan,” the monk rescued Kendall. He bowed to Chris. “Pleased to meet you.”
Chris’s eyes darted between the monk and Kendall. “Are you why the FBI is here?”
“They wish to arrest me.”
The monk opened his mouth to speak. Chris held up her hand. “Never mind. Where’s Hawk?”
Kendall pointed to the back. “He’s in there. I’ve never seen him so… so… angry.”
“Angry?” Chris checked the door lock.
“Kendall, stay here. Ignore the agents. I’ll find out what the hell’s going on.”
She gave the monk a brief smile and dashed to Hawk’s office.
Chris Hamlin knew Hawk Bennett better than any other human. His strengths, his weaknesses, his fears, and his secrets.
But not all of them.
Hawk sat at his desk, face buried in his hands. An open bottle of scotch sat next to an empty glass. He lifted his head when Chris came in.
The tears frightened her.
“What the hell is going on?”
Hawk filled his glass, offering her the bottle.
“Bit early for me. Should be for you too.”
Hawk ignored her, draining his glass. “Is that son-of-a-bitch still out there?”
“Son-of-a-bitch? He’s a Buddhist Monk.”
Hawk leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes, head resting against a torn and stained Viet Cong flag. A faded US Army Green Beret hung from a hook, partially covering the flag’s yellow star.
Acknowledgements of his time in the war.
Hawk swung his feet onto the desk, catching the bottle with his foot. Chris grabbed it before it spilled.
“Hawk, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Hawk opened his eyes and pointed. “Go make sure the gook prick leaves.”
Chris stared at a familiar face in an unfamiliar condition.
“What the hell, Hawk? A monk comes looking for help, and you crawl into a bottle? The FBI is heading here, and you’re crying like a goddamn baby. Since when do you fear the Feds? Or anyone?”
The glass flew past her head, shattering on the wall, forcing Chris to backpedal to the door. Hawk sprang up, knocking over his chair. He slammed his hands on the desk.
“That monk is a fraud. His name is Nguyen Duc Thuan. He’s a—.”
“Hawk, stop acting like a two-year-old. What’s the problem?”
“I’ll tell you the problem. That man is a former Viet Cong Colonel. I spent the better part of a year tracking him in ‘Nam. Until five minutes ago, I thought I killed the son-of-a-bitch. Now, he’s asking me for help. Says he killed someone.”
“No idea, nor do I care.” He yanked open the drawer and laid the Glock on the desk.
“Get rid of him or–.”
“Put the damn gun away. You’re not shooting anybody. Aren’t you the least bit curious why Thuan came here?”
“No.” He tossed the gun back in the drawer. “Leave me out of it.”
Chris snatched the bottle off the desk.
She closed the door to Hawk’s office and hurried back to Kendall.
“Go in there and keep him calm. Don’t let him drink anymore.”
Kendall nodded, but her eyes gave away her uncertainty.
“Go, don’t worry. I got this.” She turned back to Thuan. “Hawk told me a story about you being VC. There’s—”
“I was VC,” his gaze shifted to the floor, “and I fought against Lieutenant Bennett’s unit.”
Chris let his words to filter through, trying to make sense out of chaos.
“Okay, no time for war stories. Who does the FBI think you killed?”
“The man’s name is Samson Armstrong. He was—”
For the second time in five minutes, Chris was stunned.
“Christ, Samson Armstrong is a goddamn hero. Why do they think you killed him?”
“We have a history. A friend told me the FBI was looking for me. He sent me here to speak to Mr. Bennett.” Thuan’s head drooped again. “I hoped he could tell me what to do.”
“Did you think he’d welcome you?”
“No, but I thought he’d want to hear the truth about Samson Armstrong and what happened in Vietnam.” His chin touched his chest.
“And I did not kill him.”
“Whether you killed him or not is the least of our concerns.” She glanced back at the door. “Let me talk to Hawk. Stay here and be quiet.”
She paused before the door, gathering her thoughts. How the hell am I gonna get him to listen? Do I even want to?
A loud knock startled her. The FBI was here, blurred shapes moving outside the door. A distorted face appeared against the translucent glass.
Kendall leaned on Hawk’s desk. He looked around Kendall at Chris.
“Is he gone?”
“Not yet. There’s something you need to hear.”
“Look, seeing him knocked me silly. The memories overwhelmed me. I’m okay now. Just send him to another lawyer. I’ve no interest in this case.”
“Not even if it involves Samson Armstrong?”
Hawk stood, his face betraying his confusion. “Armstrong? What’s he got to do with this?”
“Armstrong is the homicide victim.”
“Nguyen killed Armstrong?”
“He says not, but who knows? We need time to sort this out. That banging you hear is the FBI. What do you wanna do?”
Hawk rubbed the back of his neck. “What did he say about Vietnam?”
Chris shook her head. Odd he didn’t ask about Armstrong, just Vietnam.
“No time. Either we let the FBI take him, or you buy us time to find out.”
Hawk stared at the ceiling. “What do you think?”
“Vietnam was a long time ago, Hawk. I don’t know enough to decide. But there’s something… hard to explain.”
“I think you should talk to him,” Kendall said. “I don’t care what he was before, he strikes me as a kind old man now. What if he didn’t kill Armstrong? You always told me not to let people’s past affect finding the truth.”
“From the mouth of babes…” Hawk shook his head. “Okay, I’ll handle the Feds. Chris, bring Nguyen in here and wait for me. Kendall, go sit at your desk like nothing’s wrong. Can you do that?”
Kendall nodded. “It’s what I do every day.”
“Okay, let’s do this.”
Chris let out a laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Hawk said.
“Gary Gilmore said those same words, right before the firing squad shot him.”
Hawk grinned. “Let’s hope they’re not prophetic.”