Matthew McKean had joined the bureau later in his career, mostly by accident, and still wondered sometimes if he’d made the right choice. In fact, he was pretty sure he hadn’t.
It was times like now, especially, when he was answering questions before a disciplinary panel about the tactics used in their latest botched investigation that he thought maybe he should have just stayed a detective in the Baltimore police department. He could have been a sergeant by now.
After years as a beat cop, he’d finally been promoted to detective and was working a brutal drug case in Baltimore – a violent, vicious triple murder – that had been linked to organized crime further up the coast in Atlantic City and New York. Having traveled back and forth from Baltimore to Atlantic City three times to establish a connection, he’d been jointly approached by his boss and the FBI to be a liaison between the police investigation in Baltimore and the FBI.
The FBI’s larger target was one of the major crime families running drugs – among other things – out of New York City. Which family was it? Genovese? Anastasia? Or was it Gambino by then? He didn’t remember much anymore. The Cosa Nostra families changed hands and names like regular people changed underwear, and for all the bluster, they all seemed to be the same. He didn’t understand how some of the guys working the mafia cases managed to keep all the information straight. They all had interchangeable – mostly Italian, occasionally Jewish – names, and all seemed to run the same schemes and commit the same crimes.
But he was able to link two of the three murder victims to Frank Delvecchio, a Murder Inc. leftover who escaped prosecution and the electric chair, and who still earned his living as a hitman-for-hire for whichever mob family offered him the best deal that day.
Not that Delvecchio’s capture had gone smoothly. The raid had been spoiled when he realized, too late, that another detective was being bribed by the syndicate to spy on the Baltimore police. He’d only managed to catch Delvecchio by accident, when Delvecchio was pulled over, just before crossing state lines, for driving with a taillight out. The cops who’d pulled the car over were both shot, and the only reason Delvecchio didn’t get away was that, from the ground, one of the wounded officers had the presence of mind to shoot out Delvecchio’s back tires, sending the car careening into a ditch and knocking Delvecchio unconscious.
When Delvecchio woke up, he was handcuffed to his hospital bed with McKean doing a crossword in a chair next to him.
It had gone so poorly – one of the officers shot by Delvecchio was killed, while the other had to take a desk job, and McKean’s own partner was nearly killed in an escape attempt – that he and a couple of other guys in charge of the investigation has been suspended for 30 days while internal affairs determined whether or not the whole thing had been kosher.
His suspension was why he was home to answer the door when the FBI came to his house to recruit him. The FBI didn’t seem to mind that three police officers had been shot or that a detective had been taking bribes, and he was offered a job, which his wife encouraged him to take, as an agent investigating, ironically, public corruption. It was the kind of good old fashioned police work, they said, that was valued in the bureau, and that would really help his country.
His wife was thrilled with his new position. Along with being able to tell everyone her husband worked as a special agent for the FBI, the job had included a rather large pay raise and a much better pension. They had moved from their four room apartment in Baltimore to the suburbs of Washington DC. The house, for all its space and beautiful yard, seemed to cost a lot more to maintain than he’d ever dreamed, and his wife seemed to spend a lot more on décor than she ever used to for their apartment. The Christmas tree seemed bigger every year. The furniture changed more frequently than he thought was necessary. The kitchen seemed to have a new appliance every other week – although even he had to admit that he really liked the refrigerator.
But McKean, who had become a cop to help regular people, found that he wasn’t helping the everyday people as much as he thought he would be. He found that politicians, for all their talk of helping the little guy, spent a lot of time helping their big time mates get bigger.
He was frustrated by the sheer number of cases that fell apart due to technicalities. He was tired of wealthy politicians avoiding jail time because their lawyers were all friends with the judges. He was tired of putting away little guys who passed an envelope under a bathroom door but who didn’t actually know anything about whose envelopes they were delivering.
It also felt like his career had stalled and paperwork was now his main job. He spent more hours at a desk doing paperwork for the FBI than he ever had as a cop in Baltimore. It was becoming the bane of his existence. And he hated that every time he made a typo on a carbon paper form he had start again. There never seemed to be a shortage of new forms to fill out, either, with most of them seemingly asking the same thing in different words.
Their last case had gone sideways as well. It was a big one. McKean was part of a task force investigating a member of the Baltimore mayor’s staff for extorting local businesses through an old neighborhood friend of his, who had become a low level criminal. He was using the money to finance his boss’s high campaign costs and keep his mistress in a lifestyle to which she believed she was entitled.
But the whole thing went south when their informant ended up dead at the hand of another low level mobster, who believed McKean’s informant was skimming money off his racketeering business.
By far his greatest successes in the FBI had been two cases where he’d been asked to infiltrate small criminal enterprises. One was a drug running ring and the other was a prostitution ring. Playing addicts and business men looking to expand their interests was easy stuff for him. He’d been in school plays in high school, and had thought about going to California to get a job in Hollywood before he’d met his wife, but ultimately went the safe, respectable route of police officer, like his father, and his grandfather, and both of his uncles.
And he’d never regretted that choice. He liked being a cop, but he was beginning to regret his life in the FBI. He was making more money but almost no difference, and a lot of the resources that had previously been allotted to his department were now being used to fight the spread of communism in the United States, which made doing things like paying guys overtime to eavesdrop on a dirty cop a lot more difficult.
“Not that there seemed to be a great deal of Communists,” he thought bitterly. “Most of them seem to just be people Senator McCarthy doesn’t like.”
“Thank you, Special Agent McKean. You’re dismissed,” said the man who had asked most of the questions for the panel. “You will have the results of our investigation in 30 days time.”
McKean wasn’t worried about the investigative panel’s findings. He wasn’t aware of any time when the FBI had investigated and found the FBI guilty of any wrong doing in accidental deaths. In fact, he didn’t remember the FBI finding the FBI guilty of any wrong doing in anything. Ever.
Letting the FBI investigate the FBI. What a joke. Even he knew it, although he wouldn’t have said it out loud.
He was just about to finish some paperwork about an arrest he had made earlier in the week when his supervisor, Tompkins, called him into his office. Tompkins was a little man with a round belly and a contagious laugh. He took his job seriously, but liked to have fun, and was perceptive of the world around him, as well as the agents under his supervision. He was fairly well liked by McKean and the rest of his department for being fair. Plenty of supervisors were petty tyrants. Tompkins wasn’t like that.
“McKean,” Tompkins said, coming over to his desk. “I need you to sit in on a meeting, please.”
“Now?” McKean asked. “I’m kind of in the middle of something–”
“Now,” Tompkins said.
McKean ran a hand through his hair and put his pen down. He compulsively straightened his tie and followed his supervisor back towards his office.
“What’s going on? McKean asked.
“You’ll see,” Tompkins said.
McKean nearly tripped over his own feet when he found J. Edgar Hoover sitting in one of the chairs in across from his supervisor’s desk. The infamous FBI director occasionally came through to see what was going on, but McKean had never seen him in this office before. He had certainly never expected to be called into a meeting with the man.
“Good afternoon, Agent McKean, how are you doing?” the FBI director said, standing up and putting out a hand for him to shake.
McKean held his hand out and shook the director’s hand. He struggled for words for a moment. “I, uhm…I’m doing well, sir, how are you?”
“Fine, fine,” Hoover chortled, sitting back down in his chair, “Have a seat.”
McKean sat down in the other chair facing Tompkins’s desk. Nobody for a spoke for a moment.
“Well,” said Tompkins, “You have a new assignment, Agent.”
“Oh?” said McKean, still watching Hoover out of the corner of his eye, shocked this was happening at all. “What?”
“I’ve been told you do particularly well in undercover work,” Hoover said, and McKean turned to face him fully. “You helped shut down the Massey gang’s cocaine ring as well a sex slavery circle.”
“I – well, yes,” McKean said, “But I don’t have that much experience undercover.”
“This will be perfect for you, then,” Hoover said. “We’re investigating a senator’s wife for taking bribes, but we think there may be something bigger going on as well. She’s going to a dinner party next weekend in New England at the home of one Dr. Black, alias Mr. Boddy. The guest list is quite interesting. And you’re on it.”
“Does the FBI usually investigate senators’ wives, sir?”
“No, but this is a special case. Her husband has a lot of influence of government defense contracts. And you know, in these times…” Hoover shook his head significantly. Tompkins nodded his silent agreement to the unfinished sentence. “You can never be too ridiculously paranoid” seemed to be the motto of the United States government when dealing with potential soviet spies.
“You said I was on the guest list for a dinner party?” McKean pressed when the silence lingered more than a couple of seconds.
“Well, not you, actually, but one Michael Covill is, and you’ll be going as him,” Hoover explained.
“Yes. Mr. Covill was part of Mr. Boddy’s spy ring, working at the restaurant where the senator’s wife conducted business, but turned informant for us when we picked him up for soliciting a prostitute.”
“I, um, see,” said McKean, whose head was spinning. “Why me and not the actual Mr. Covill?”
“The senator’s wife has seen him before, and we need someone else to go in his place, as another party guest.”
“And you, erm, picked me?”
“Yes. Tompkins here highly recommended you for the job, said your talents were being wasted investigating petty criminals in the Washington area.”
McKean blinked for a moment. A chance to nail a senator on the defense committee for corruption? That was the kind of thing that could completely restart his career. He could hand the paperwork off to someone else. He could do important things again. He glanced gratefully at his boss, then back at Hoover. “All right, so what’s my cover?”
“Tompkins said you’d be interested right away,” Hoover nodded wisely. “Well, we’re having a meeting tomorrow morning, where you’ll be fully debriefed, but I can tell you that everyone at the party has been assigned aliases.”
“And mine is?”