He picked up his microphone
"Caruso to Birmingham Base."
"Yeah, Dominic," responded the agent on the radio desk. The FBI radios were encrypted, and couldn't be listened into by anyone without a good descrambler.
"The white van. How solid is that?"
"An elderly woman says that when she was out getting her paper, she saw a little girl, right description, talking to some guy next to a white van. The possible subject is male Caucasian, undetermined age, no other description. Ain't much, Dom, but it's all we got," Special Agent Sandy Ellis reported.
"How many child abusers in the area?" Caruso asked next.
"A total of nineteen on the computer. We got people talking to all of them. Nothing developed yet. All we got, man."
"Roger, Sandy. Out."
More driving, more scanning. He wondered if this was anything like his brother Brian had experienced in Afghanistan: alone, hunting the enemy... He started looking for dirt paths off the road, maybe for one with recent tire tracks.
He looked down at the wallet-sized photo again. A sweet-faced little girl, just learning the ABC's. A child for whom the world has always been a safe place, ruled by Mommy and Daddy, who went to Sunday school and made caterpillars out of egg cartons and pipe cleaners, and learned to sing "Jesus loves me, this I know / 'Cause the Bible tells me so..." His head swiveled left and right. There, about a hundred yards away, a dirt road leading into the woods. As he slowed, he saw that the path took a gentle S-curve, but the trees were thin, and he could see...
. . . cheap frame house... and next to it... the corner of a van... ? But this one was more beige than white...
Well, the little old lady who'd seen the little girl and the truck... how far away had it been... sunlight or shadows... ? So many things, so many inconstants, so many variables. As good as the FBI Academy was, it couldn't prepare you for everythinghell, not even close to everything. That's what they told you tootold you that you had to trust your instinct and experience...
But Caruso had hardly a year's experience.
He stopped the car.
"Caruso to Birmingham Base."
"Yeah, Dominic," Sandy Ellis responded.
Caruso first radioed in his location. "I'm going 10-7 to walk in and take a look."
"Roger that, Dom. Do you request backup?"
"Negative, Sandy. It's probably nothing, just going to knock on the door and talk to the occupant."
"Okay, I'll stand by."
Caruso didn't have a portable radiothat was for local cops, not the Bureauand so was now out of touch, except for his cell phone. His personal sidearm was a Smith & Wesson 1076, snug in its holster on his right hip. He stepped out of the car, and closed the door without latching it, to avoid making noise. People always turned to see what made the noise of a slammed car door.
He was wearing a darker than olive green suit, a fortunate circumstance, Caruso thought, heading right. First he'd look at the van. He walked normally, but his eyes were locked on the windows of the shabby house, halfway hoping to see a face, but, on reflection, glad that none appeared.
The Ford van was about six years old, he judged. Minor dings and dents on the bodywork. The driver had backed it in. That put the sliding door close to the house, the sort of thing a carpenter or plumber might do. Or a man moving a small, resisting body. He kept his right hand free, and his coat unbuttoned. Quick-draw was something every cop in the world practiced, often in front of a mirror, though only a fool fired as part of the motion, because you just couldn't hit anything that way.
Caruso took his time. The window was down on the driver-side door. The interior was almost entirely empty, bare unpainted metal floor, the spare tire and jack... and a large roll of duct tape...
Reprinted from The Teeth of the Tiger by Tom Clancy by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2003, Tom Clancy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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