6:05PM/EST Phil McDonough and I arrive at West 13th & Washington Streets, where The Standard straddled the High Line. As much as I was a Southern boy, I liked the hip, funky hotel with a chill vibe. Even the rooftop bar was cool—although it could get crazy from time to time. And that is exactly what Mack and I intended to do, once I climbed from McDonough’s traveling humidor and headed inside. McDonough is still talking on the phone, as we arrive. His hush talk had gotten annoying about twenty minutes ago. Now, as I reach for the door handle to get out, he grabs my arm. “Wait,” he says to me, then “Hold on,” to the phone. I look down at his hand on my arm and stare. He lets it go. “Sorry, Carter. I had to take this…and didn’t mean to be rude. Whaddya say we circle back around first thing, huh? I can have a car pick you up, if you’d like.” “Thanks, but I’m good. See you at Presbyterian, or, I don’t know…later in the day?” “I’ll be at Presby by 8, but have a court case at 10. I’ll see you then, or we can get together later. Whatever works for you. Happy to help any way I can.” “I’ll let you know.” He says, “Good” and is back on the phone before the door closes. I thank the driver for getting my door with a head nod. He was as expressionless as the moment we started. New York my ass. Time to see my pal and let my girdle down—as my grand mother used to say. While the amount of progress I’d made thus far was good, Mack and I needed to pick things up and knuckle down if we had any chance of catching the psychopaths who put this spectacle into play. And we had to start tonight. After a couple of cold beers to knock the road dust from the back of our throats, Mack and I started catching up on a few personal matters. “So, you can or you can’t see yet?” I ask. “I can,” Mack said, lifting the patch to show me his eyeball was in fine form. Mack had gone to wearing the eyepatch full time, as he said the ladies dug it. “You’re insane,” I say, smacking him on the back. “True. And while it’s not 100%, it’s 90.” He takes a drink, but fiddles with the cocktail napkin. I’ve known him long enough to know that was a clear sign for I’m trying to decide if I tell you something or not. I wait. Watch the crowd for a minute. Spot a few hotties. Ignore them. View the skyline. “So, I was thinking…about calling Teresa again,” he says. I grin—more inside my head than outside my face. “Really?” I say, playing coy but enjoying seeing him squirm. He knew I had my eyes on her, but then we both knew she was a fickle gal. “Mack, that’s an infatuation with no future,” I say. “Yeah, prolly so,” he says, swirling the last drops of beer in the bottom of his bottle. The second sign that he still has stuff on his mind. “And?” I ask. “And what?” “And what does she…think about that?” He finishes the last of the beer and motions to the bartender for another. “Look, let’s just get to talking about why I’m here,” he says, nervously. The beer arrives. He takes a gulp. I wait. “Go ahead. Enjoy that. Now…spill it.” He takes a gulp then leans forward. “Okay, smart ass. She told me that—and I quote here, ‘Her heart is with Carter, but my body is with you,’ unquote. I chuckle. I couldn’t help it. He had it so bad. But I knew exactly what I had. “Okay, okay. I get it. You play that the way you think’s best. Our friendship will outlast most everything else.” We clinked bottles and finished our beers. I toss a $100 dollar bill on the bar, wink at the overly-tattooed, yet underly-intelligent waitress with a skirt that left nothing to the imagination, and we made our way downstairs. The noise was too much, we were too tired, and despite the fact that we didn’t want to appear bromantic, we did want to be able to hear one another talk. Besides, I needed some food and I knew the Standard Grill served until 3am. And checking my watch, I figured we had just enough time to feed the beast within. Sliding into an oversized leather booth in the corner, we ordered Steak Frittes with extra mayo; otherwise known as meat & fries with a side of artery-clogger. On a more serious note, Mack went on to share that my dad had developed an infection from the scorpion bite he’d gotten over a month ago. The guy named Scorpion we met in Havana dropped his pet killer down my old man’s shirt. Needless to say, both scorpions disappeared shortly thereafter. The good news was that after some hefty antibiotics, Pops was mending nicely. As for his full-time bodyguard Mr. Black, he was walking with a limp, but walking nonetheless. We finished “family business” by wrapping up with an update on Xeon—the remaining soldier in our Cuban rescue mission. Word was she had been reassigned to an undercover gig back in Havana. This time, she was on point to intercept intel that was passing through town. We didn’t think it was about a group setting up shop. At least, that was the word under the street. We weren’t sure when we’d see her again. I mentioned we should get her up here to help and how cool it would be not only to see her again, but that we could use her help. She was an ass-kicking machine—like Gina Carano in the movie Haywire; a movie we shared as one of our favorites. The steak and fries were perfect. The beer was overly expensive, but deliciously cold. We both pushed away from the table, rubbing our bellies like two old men. We didn’t care—we were over-tired and underpaid. Okay, so we were paid well and who cared if we were tired; this is what we did. “How about you bullet point me what you have. And I’ll stop you when I need details. That work?” Mack says, cutting to the chase. “No other way, right?” We clink glasses. “Here’s what I know,” I begin. “First, the guy knows explosives. That puts him in one of several categories.” Mack nods. “Terrorist, military, demolition, or hobbyist.” “Right.” “It’s a team. I’d say anywhere between three and six…with the lead guy being either former military, and or really rich.” “Why do you say that?” “Which part?” “Well, I get the three to six. It would take at least three to orchestrate the park snatch. The screaming nanny,” he says, holding up one finger. “The clown,” he holds up a second finger. “And the blind guy,” he finishes with a third finger. “Yeah, first grade shit, right?” I joke. “Exactly. Plus, potentially another couple for transpo or surveillance puts it at six.” “We both know military would create this sort of precision. Timing’s everything, right?” He nods. “Also, being rich seems like a given. Takes money to make money, right?” He nods again, then adds, “This is not a hobbyist, or terrorist. Too big for a weekend warrior…and too small for a terrorist.” “My thinking exactly.” “Imagine that,” Mack grins. “Moving on. My money’s on one of three opponents. You’ll come to the same conclusion.” “Shoot.” “Close,” I say. “I get it,” Mack laughs. “Very funny.” “Thanks. My gut says it’s someone he knows; either someone he’s worked with, or works with. Could’ve been someone in the force with him, someone he stepped on—or over, but most likely pissed off.” “Revenge. Logical.” I nod, finishing the last crumbs of fries on the dish in front of us. “Something keeps nagging at me: Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary?” I purposely punch those three words—either for effect, or because that fifth beer on an earlier empty stomach was testing my dexterity. “Copy,” he smirks, enjoying my theatrics. “I get that it’s a park, but it’s Central Park. Yeah, yeah…nobody wants to get involved, but there’s always someone who comes forward with some cellphone video.” “Nothing?” I shake my head. “Whoever it is or was, had or has, is jonesing to hurt Burton.” “Makes sense.” “Hurt Burton,” I chuckle. “Sounds like Halliburton.” Mack is deadpan. “The briefcase maker? Never mind.” “Losing your mind,” Mack smirks. “Nah, just sleep.” “Why don’t we say, for the sake of argument sake, it’s a group outside the country: Taliban, Isis, the Chinese—someone with plenty of money and or position, who wants to get even. Or something to gain.” “Okay, let’s think. What’s Burton really got, besides money and potential future power.” “Right,” Mack affirms, but with a questioned look. “Meaning, there are plenty of other rich politicians to hit. Richer, even.” “Copy that. I’m sticking with local.” “Agreed,” I say. “Also, according to Abigail, we know she was in a tower.” “Oh, that so helps,” Mack grins, “We’re only in the city of towers.” “And there was water. Smart ass.” Mack laughs. “Again, there are two rivers: East and Hudson.” “I know. But this is more than we had 24 hours ago.” “I’m going with the East River,” Mack says. “Going with the proximity factor. Sounds like they’re watching the Burton’s every move.” “I can see why you’d say that. But I’m going with the Hudson.” “Of course,” he frowns. “He wouldn’t shit in his own backyard. And, it would double the danger.” “Okay.” “Let’s also talk about the surgery technique.” Mack leans forward. “Yeah, tell me about that.” “Could be a surgeon…” “A disgruntled doctor wants to get even for his botched tummy tuck,” Mack jokes. “Or, one on his staff. The perp could also just be a seamstress,” I say, joking. “And we’re back to military. Remember, you can sew.” “Yeah, buttons,” I say. “Fuck that. Remember the time we were in Wrightsville Beach following that East Coast drug dealer and one of his jokers came at me with a knife, and opened my thigh?” “Yeah, but that…” “But nothing,” Mack interrupts. “You took out fishing line, a hook and sewed me up.” “Point is: this guy’s precise,” I lean in. “The opening on that little girl? It was ruler straight…razor thin…and meticulously precise. We’ll know more what lies beneath…” I look at my watch, “In a couple of hours. “Okay. Got it,” Mack holds up his hands in surrender. “What else?” I get the attention of our bartender, who raises his eyebrows to see if we needed anything, and I scribble in the air, asking for the check. “We gotta crash. I’m toast. And we gotta start early,” I slur. “Anything else we’re missing?” he asks. I let out a big exhale, sit back and stretch my neck from side to side, trying to loosen my shoulders. “Well, we know the team, or someone inside the team, has got to be pretty tech savvy. Or connected.” “Why’s that? The screens in Times Square?” Mack asks. “Yep. While certainly not impossible, that shit takes tech, planning and again, large money.” Mack nods, “Making it local. That’s a strong possibility, right?” “Reading my mind, brother.” The waiter brings the check. I’ve retrieved and tossed my gold Amex, pushing the check toward the waiter before he can move, or before Mack can even touch his pockets. “Thanks.” “Whatever.” “Let’s go back to Lukas himself, getting away from the who…and hit the why.” “Solid call. We know he’s an asshole.” Mack snorts. “How’s that?” I cut him a look. “Really? Marines? Top of his class? Leader of his pack? Clawed and scratched his way to the top of the financial markets the second he bounced from the Corps. Everyone knows he’s the first guy to do whatever it takes to turn his opponents…or even his teammates, into a freakin’ ladder…catapulting him to whatever top he’s aiming for.” The waiter returns with the bill then disappears. “Yeah, I was reading up on him on the flight up. Notorious businessman, making millions upon millions.” “Uh, try billions.” “Okay. And from what I read, he didn’t make those bucks by making friends.” “Copy that,” I say, tucking the receipt in my pocket, motioning for us to leave. “Hold it. Let me just finish this beer,” Mack says. “Oh, sorry. Sure.” “I got something,” Mack grins, while finishing his beer. “What?” “Could be a shooter, except I haven’t heard any mention of guns except when you called the other day. You thought you saw a sniper in the window across the street.” I shake my head. “Yeah, no. That was a fluke. Probably some old lady watching to see what was happening at the Mayor’s home.” “Okay, just a couple last things,” Mack says, rolling a cocktail napkin into the shape of a cigarette. “Okay?” I half ask. “Why his daughter? Why not the wife?” “Go on.” “Wouldn’t his wife be a stronger target? She’s from old money and quite the socialite, right?” Mack scrunches his face like a little boy trying to pronounce something tough. “Yes. On both counts.” “Also, why two asks? I mean, why have the $100-million and then a $500-million? Why not just a billion…and be done?” “Funny, Phil McDonough said the same thing,” I reply. “It’s something I’ve also thought.” “And lastly…” “Good, there’s a lastly,” I say, standing to make my way toward the door. It looks so far away, I think. “Lastly…” Mack stands, taking the patch from his eye and tucking it into his shirt pocket. “Lastly, why a bomb, if…” he says, stumbling on the table leg. “IF…there really IS a bomb.” We both stop. We look around to see that we are among the last people in the place. “I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about the potential of there not being a bomb. I just assumed so. Well, we won’t know until tomorrow morning, but…” “See?” I swatted the air, trying to push aside his idea, as it had merit. Motioning for him to join me, we made our way toward the tower where our rooms were located. The lobby had a convoluted arrangement to it, causing us to have to pay close attention. At the elevator, I punch the button and turn to Mack. Putting up consecutive fingers, just as before, I start to make my points. “My gut? One, it is a bomb. Two, it’s someone he knows. Three, someone in his office, likely close to him, helped set the whole damn thing up.”6:05PM/EST Phil McDonough and I arrive at West 13th & Washington Streets, where The Standard straddled the High Line. As much as I was a Southern boy, I liked the hip, funky hotel with a chill vibe. Even the rooftop bar was cool—although it could get crazy from time to time. And that is exactly what Mack and I intended to do, once I climbed from McDonough’s traveling humidor and headed inside. McDonough is still talking on the phone, as we arrive. His hush talk had gotten annoying about twenty minutes ago. Now, as I reach for the door handle to get out, he grabs my arm. “Wait,” he says to me, then “Hold on,” to the phone. I look down at his hand on my arm and stare. He lets it go. “Sorry, Carter. I had to take this…and didn’t mean to be rude. Whaddya say we circle back around first thing, huh? I can have a car pick you up, if you’d like.” “Thanks, but I’m good. See you at Presbyterian, or, I don’t know…later in the day?” “I’ll be at Presby by 8, but have a court case at 10. I’ll see you then, or we can get together later. Whatever works for you. Happy to help any way I can.” “I’ll let you know.” He says, “Good” and is back on the phone before the door closes. I thank the driver for getting my door with a head nod. He was as expressionless as the moment we started. New York my ass. Time to see my pal and let my girdle down—as my grand mother used to say. While the amount of progress I’d made thus far was good, Mack and I needed to pick things up and knuckle down if we had any chance of catching the psychopaths who put this spectacle into play. And we had to start tonight. After a couple of cold beers to knock the road dust from the back of our throats, Mack and I started catching up on a few personal matters. “So, you can or you can’t see yet?” I ask. “I can,” Mack said, lifting the patch to show me his eyeball was in fine form. Mack had gone to wearing the eyepatch full time, as he said the ladies dug it. “You’re insane,” I say, smacking him on the back. “True. And while it’s not 100%, it’s 90.” He takes a drink, but fiddles with the cocktail napkin. I’ve known him long enough to know that was a clear sign for I’m trying to decide if I tell you something or not. I wait. Watch the crowd for a minute. Spot a few hotties. Ignore them. View the skyline. “So, I was thinking…about calling Teresa again,” he says. I grin—more inside my head than outside my face. “Really?” I say, playing coy but enjoying seeing him squirm. He knew I had my eyes on her, but then we both knew she was a fickle gal. “Mack, that’s an infatuation with no future,” I say. “Yeah, prolly so,” he says, swirling the last drops of beer in the bottom of his bottle. The second sign that he still has stuff on his mind. “And?” I ask. “And what?” “And what does she…think about that?” He finishes the last of the beer and motions to the bartender for another. “Look, let’s just get to talking about why I’m here,” he says, nervously. The beer arrives. He takes a gulp. I wait. “Go ahead. Enjoy that. Now…spill it.” He takes a gulp then leans forward. “Okay, smart ass. She told me that—and I quote here, ‘Her heart is with Carter, but my body is with you,’ unquote. I chuckle. I couldn’t help it. He had it so bad. But I knew exactly what I had. “Okay, okay. I get it. You play that the way you think’s best. Our friendship will outlast most everything else.” We clinked bottles and finished our beers. I toss a $100 dollar bill on the bar, wink at the overly-tattooed, yet underly-intelligent waitress with a skirt that left nothing to the imagination, and we made our way downstairs. The noise was too much, we were too tired, and despite the fact that we didn’t want to appear bromantic, we did want to be able to hear one another talk. Besides, I needed some food and I knew the Standard Grill served until 3am. And checking my watch, I figured we had just enough time to feed the beast within. Sliding into an oversized leather booth in the corner, we ordered Steak Frittes with extra mayo; otherwise known as meat & fries with a side of artery-clogger. On a more serious note, Mack went on to share that my dad had developed an infection from the scorpion bite he’d gotten over a month ago. The guy named Scorpion we met in Havana dropped his pet killer down my old man’s shirt. Needless to say, both scorpions disappeared shortly thereafter. The good news was that after some hefty antibiotics, Pops was mending nicely. As for his full-time bodyguard Mr. Black, he was walking with a limp, but walking nonetheless. We finished “family business” by wrapping up with an update on Xeon—the remaining soldier in our Cuban rescue mission. Word was she had been reassigned to an undercover gig back in Havana. This time, she was on point to intercept intel that was passing through town. We didn’t think it was about a group setting up shop. At least, that was the word under the street. We weren’t sure when we’d see her again. I mentioned we should get her up here to help and how cool it would be not only to see her again, but that we could use her help. She was an ass-kicking machine—like Gina Carano in the movie Haywire; a movie we shared as one of our favorites. The steak and fries were perfect. The beer was overly expensive, but deliciously cold. We both pushed away from the table, rubbing our bellies like two old men. We didn’t care—we were over-tired and underpaid. Okay, so we were paid well and who cared if we were tired; this is what we did. “How about you bullet point me what you have. And I’ll stop you when I need details. That work?” Mack says, cutting to the chase. “No other way, right?” We clink glasses. “Here’s what I know,” I begin. “First, the guy knows explosives. That puts him in one of several categories.” Mack nods. “Terrorist, military, demolition, or hobbyist.” “Right.” “It’s a team. I’d say anywhere between three and six…with the lead guy being either former military, and or really rich.” “Why do you say that?” “Which part?” “Well, I get the three to six. It would take at least three to orchestrate the park snatch. The screaming nanny,” he says, holding up one finger. “The clown,” he holds up a second finger. “And the blind guy,” he finishes with a third finger. “Yeah, first grade shit, right?” I joke. “Exactly. Plus, potentially another couple for transpo or surveillance puts it at six.” “We both know military would create this sort of precision. Timing’s everything, right?” He nods. “Also, being rich seems like a given. Takes money to make money, right?” He nods again, then adds, “This is not a hobbyist, or terrorist. Too big for a weekend warrior…and too small for a terrorist.” “My thinking exactly.” “Imagine that,” Mack grins. “Moving on. My money’s on one of three opponents. You’ll come to the same conclusion.” “Shoot.” “Close,” I say. “I get it,” Mack laughs. “Very funny.” “Thanks. My gut says it’s someone he knows; either someone he’s worked with, or works with. Could’ve been someone in the force with him, someone he stepped on—or over, but most likely pissed off.” “Revenge. Logical.” I nod, finishing the last crumbs of fries on the dish in front of us. “Something keeps nagging at me: Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary?” I purposely punch those three words—either for effect, or because that fifth beer on an earlier empty stomach was testing my dexterity. “Copy,” he smirks, enjoying my theatrics. “I get that it’s a park, but it’s Central Park. The lobby had a convoluted arrangement to it, causing us to have to pay close attention. At the elevator, I punch the button and turn to Mack. Yeah, yeah…nobody wants to get involved, but there’s always someone who comes forward with some cellphone video.” “Nothing?” I shake my head. “Whoever it is or was, had or has, is jonesing to hurt Burton.” “Makes sense.” “Hurt Burton,” I chuckle. “Sounds like Halliburton.” Mack is deadpan. “The briefcase maker? Never mind.” “Losing your mind,” Mack smirks. “Nah, just sleep.” “Why don’t we say, for the sake of argument sake, it’s a group outside the country: Taliban, Isis, the Chinese—someone with plenty of money and or position, who wants to get even. Or something to gain.” “Okay, let’s think. What’s Burton really got, besides money and potential future power.” “Right,” Mack affirms, but with a questioned look. “Meaning, there are plenty of other rich politicians to hit. Richer, even.” “Copy that. I’m sticking with local.” “Agreed,” I say. “Also, according to Abigail, we know she was in a tower.” “Oh, that so helps,” Mack grins, “We’re only in the city of towers.” “And there was water. Smart ass.” Mack laughs. “Again, there are two rivers: East and Hudson.” “I know. But this is more than we had 24 hours ago.” “I’m going with the East River,” Mack says. “Going with the proximity factor. Sounds like they’re watching the Burton’s every move.” “I can see why you’d say that. But I’m going with the Hudson.” “Of course,” he frowns. “He wouldn’t shit in his own backyard. And, it would double the danger.” “Okay.” “Let’s also talk about the surgery technique.” Mack leans forward. “Yeah, tell me about that.” “Could be a surgeon…” “A disgruntled doctor wants to get even for his botched tummy tuck,” Mack jokes. “Or, one on his staff. The perp could also just be a seamstress,” I say, joking. “And we’re back to military. Remember, you can sew.” “Yeah, buttons,” I say. “Fuck that. Remember the time we were in Wrightsville Beach following that East Coast drug dealer and one of his jokers came at me with a knife, and opened my thigh?” “Yeah, but that…” “But nothing,” Mack interrupts. “You took out fishing line, a hook and sewed me up.” “Point is: this guy’s precise,” I lean in. “The opening on that little girl? It was ruler straight…razor thin…and meticulously precise. We’ll know more what lies beneath…” I look at my watch, “In a couple of hours. “Okay. Got it,” Mack holds up his hands in surrender. “What else?” I get the attention of our bartender, who raises his eyebrows to see if we needed anything, and I scribble in the air, asking for the check. “We gotta crash. I’m toast. And we gotta start early,” I slur. “Anything else we’re missing?” he asks. I let out a big exhale, sit back and stretch my neck from side to side, trying to loosen my shoulders. “Well, we know the team, or someone inside the team, has got to be pretty tech savvy. Or connected.” “Why’s that? The screens in Times Square?” Mack asks. “Yep. While certainly not impossible, that shit takes tech, planning and again, large money.” Mack nods, “Making it local. That’s a strong possibility, right?” “Reading my mind, brother.” The waiter brings the check. I’ve retrieved and tossed my gold Amex, pushing the check toward the waiter before he can move, or before Mack can even touch his pockets. “Thanks.” “Whatever.” “Let’s go back to Lukas himself, getting away from the who…and hit the why.” “Solid call. We know he’s an asshole.” Mack snorts. “How’s that?” I cut him a look. “Really? Marines? Top of his class? Leader of his pack? Clawed and scratched his way to the top of the financial markets the second he bounced from the Corps. Everyone knows he’s the first guy to do whatever it takes to turn his opponents…or even his teammates, into a freakin’ ladder…catapulting him to whatever top he’s aiming for.” The waiter returns with the bill then disappears. “Yeah, I was reading up on him on the flight up. Notorious businessman, making millions upon millions.” “Uh, try billions.” “Okay. And from what I read, he didn’t make those bucks by making friends.” “Copy that,” I say, tucking the receipt in my pocket, motioning for us to leave. “Hold it. Let me just finish this beer,” Mack says. “Oh, sorry. Sure.” “I got something,” Mack grins, while finishing his beer. “What?” “Could be a shooter, except I haven’t heard any mention of guns except when you called the other day. You thought you saw a sniper in the window across the street.” I shake my head. “Yeah, no. That was a fluke. Probably some old lady watching to see what was happening at the Mayor’s home.” “Okay, just a couple last things,” Mack says, rolling a cocktail napkin into the shape of a cigarette. “Okay?” I half ask. “Why his daughter? Why not the wife?” “Go on.” “Wouldn’t his wife be a stronger target? She’s from old money and quite the socialite, right?” Mack scrunches his face like a little boy trying to pronounce something tough. “Yes. On both counts.” “Also, why two asks? I mean, why have the $100-million and then a $500-million? Why not just a billion…and be done?” “Funny, Phil McDonough said the same thing,” I reply. “It’s something I’ve also thought.” “And lastly…” “Good, there’s a lastly,” I say, standing to make my way toward the door. It looks so far away, I think. “Lastly…” Mack stands, taking the patch from his eye and tucking it into his shirt pocket. “Lastly, why a bomb, if…” he says, stumbling on the table leg. “IF…there really IS a bomb.” We both stop. We look around to see that we are among the last people in the place. “I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about the potential of there not being a bomb. I just assumed so. Well, we won’t know until tomorrow morning, but…” “See?” I swatted the air, trying to push aside his idea, as it had merit. Motioning for him to join me, we made our way toward the tower where our rooms were located. The lobby had a convoluted arrangement to it, causing us to have to pay close attention. At the elevator, I punch the button and turn to Mack. Putting up consecutive fingers, just as before, I start to make my points. “My gut? One, it is a bomb. Two, it’s someone he knows. Three, someone in his office, likely close to him, helped set the whole damn thing up.” 6:05PM/EST Phil McDonough and I arrive at West 13th & Washington Streets, where The Standard straddled the High Line. As much as I was a Southern boy, I liked the hip, funky hotel with a chill vibe. Even the rooftop bar was cool—although it could get crazy from time to time. And that is exactly what Mack and I intended to do, once I climbed from McDonough’s traveling humidor and headed inside. McDonough is still talking on the phone, as we arrive. His hush talk had gotten annoying about twenty minutes ago. Now, as I reach for the door handle to get out, he grabs my arm. “Wait,” he says to me, then “Hold on,” to the phone. I look down at his hand on my arm and stare. He lets it go. “Sorry, Carter. I had to take this…and didn’t mean to be rude. Whaddya say we circle back around first thing, huh? I can have a car pick you up, if you’d like.” “Thanks, but I’m good. See you at Presbyterian, or, I don’t know…later in the day?” “I’ll be at Presby by 8, but have a court case at 10. I’ll see you then, or we can get together later. Whatever works for you. Happy to help any way I can.” “I’ll let you know.” He says, “Good” and is back on the phone before the door closes. I thank the driver for getting my door with a head nod. He was as expressionless as the moment we started. New York my ass. Time to see my pal and let my girdle down—as my grand mother used to say. While the amount of progress I’d made thus far was good, Mack and I needed to pick things up and knuckle down if we had any chance of catching the psychopaths who put this spectacle into play. And we had to start tonight. After a couple of cold beers to knock the road dust from the back of our throats, Mack and I started catching up on a few personal matters. “So, you can or you can’t see yet?” I ask. “I can,” Mack said, lifting the patch to show me his eyeball was in fine form. Mack had gone to wearing the eyepatch full time, as he said the ladies dug it. “You’re insane,” I say, smacking him on the back. “True. And while it’s not 100%, it’s 90.” He takes a drink, but fiddles with the cocktail napkin. I’ve known him long enough to know that was a clear sign for I’m trying to decide if I tell you something or not. I wait. Watch the crowd for a minute. Spot a few hotties. Ignore them. View the skyline. “So, I was thinking…about calling Teresa again,” he says. I grin—more inside my head than outside my face. “Really?” I say, playing coy but enjoying seeing him squirm. He knew I had my eyes on her, but then we both knew she was a fickle gal. “Mack, that’s an infatuation with no future,” I say. “Yeah, prolly so,” he says, swirling the last drops of beer in the bottom of his bottle. The second sign that he still has stuff on his mind. “And?” I ask. “And what?” “And what does she…think about that?” He finishes the last of the beer and motions to the bartender for another. “Look, let’s just get to talking about why I’m here,” he says, nervously. The beer arrives. He takes a gulp. I wait. “Go ahead. Enjoy that. Now…spill it.” He takes a gulp then leans forward. “Okay, smart ass. She told me that—and I quote here, ‘Her heart is with Carter, but my body is with you,’ unquote. I chuckle. I couldn’t help it. He had it so bad. But I knew exactly what I had. “Okay, okay. I get it. You play that the way you think’s best. Our friendship will outlast most everything else.” We clinked bottles and finished our beers. I toss a $100 dollar bill on the bar, wink at the overly-tattooed, yet underly-intelligent waitress with a skirt that left nothing to the imagination, and we made our way downstairs. The noise was too much, we were too tired, and despite the fact that we didn’t want to appear bromantic, we did want to be able to hear one another talk. Besides, I needed some food and I knew the Standard Grill served until 3am. And checking my watch, I figured we had just enough time to feed the beast within. Sliding into an oversized leather booth in the corner, we ordered Steak Frittes with extra mayo; otherwise known as meat & fries with a side of artery-clogger. On a more serious note, Mack went on to share that my dad had developed an infection from the scorpion bite he’d gotten over a month ago. The guy named Scorpion we met in Havana dropped his pet killer down my old man’s shirt. Needless to say, both scorpions disappeared shortly thereafter. The good news was that after some hefty antibiotics, Pops was mending nicely. As for his full-time bodyguard Mr. Black, he was walking with a limp, but walking nonetheless. We finished “family business” by wrapping up with an update on Xeon—the remaining soldier in our Cuban rescue mission. Word was she had been reassigned to an undercover gig back in Havana. This time, she was on point to intercept intel that was passing through town. We didn’t think it was about a group setting up shop. At least, that was the word under the street. We weren’t sure when we’d see her again. I mentioned we should get her up here to help and how cool it would be not only to see her again, but that we could use her help. She was an ass-kicking machine—like Gina Carano in the movie Haywire; a movie we shared as one of our favorites. The steak and fries were perfect. The beer was overly expensive, but deliciously cold. We both pushed away from the table, rubbing our bellies like two old men. We didn’t care—we were over-tired and underpaid. Okay, so we were paid well and who cared if we were tired; this is what we did. “How about you bullet point me what you have. And I’ll stop you when I need details. That work?” Mack says, cutting to the chase. “No other way, right?” We clink glasses. “Here’s what I know,” I begin. “First, the guy knows explosives. That puts him in one of several categories.” Mack nods. “Terrorist, military, demolition, or hobbyist.” “Right.” “It’s a team. I’d say anywhere between three and six…with the lead guy being either former military, and or really rich.” “Why do you say that?” “Which part?” “Well, I get the three to six. It would take at least three to orchestrate the park snatch. The screaming nanny,” he says, holding up one finger. “The clown,” he holds up a second finger. “And the blind guy,” he finishes with a third finger. “Yeah, first grade shit, right?” I joke. “Exactly. Plus, potentially another couple for transpo or surveillance puts it at six.” “We both know military would create this sort of precision. Timing’s everything, right?” He nods. “Also, being rich seems like a given. Takes money to make money, right?” He nods again, then adds, “This is not a hobbyist, or terrorist. Too big for a weekend warrior…and too small for a terrorist.” “My thinking exactly.” “Imagine that,” Mack grins. “Moving on. My money’s on one of three opponents. You’ll come to the same conclusion.” “Shoot.” “Close,” I say. “I get it,” Mack laughs. “Very funny.” “Thanks. My gut says it’s someone he knows; either someone he’s worked with, or works with. Could’ve been someone in the force with him, someone he stepped on—or over, but most likely pissed off.” “Revenge. Logical.” I nod, finishing the last crumbs of fries on the dish in front of us. “Something keeps nagging at me: Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary?” I purposely punch those three words—either for effect, or because that fifth beer on an earlier empty stomach was testing my dexterity. “Copy,” he smirks, enjoying my theatrics. “I get that it’s a park, but it’s Central Park. Yeah, yeah…nobody wants to get involved, but there’s always someone who comes forward with some cellphone video.” “Nothing?” I shake my head. “Whoever it is or was, had or has, is jonesing to hurt Burton.” “Makes sense.” “Hurt Burton,” I chuckle. “Sounds like Halliburton.” Mack is deadpan. “The briefcase maker? Never mind.” “Losing your mind,” Mack smirks. “Nah, just sleep.” “Why don’t we say, for the sake of argument sake, it’s a group outside the country: Taliban, Isis, the Chinese—someone with plenty of money and or position, who wants to get even. Or something to gain.” “Okay, let’s think. What’s Burton really got, besides money and potential future power.” “Right,” Mack affirms, but with a questioned look. “Meaning, there are plenty of other rich politicians to hit. Richer, even.” “Copy that. I’m sticking with local.” “Agreed,” I say. “Also, according to Abigail, we know she was in a tower.” “Oh, that so helps,” Mack grins, “We’re only in the city of towers.” “And there was water. Smart ass.” Mack laughs. “Again, there are two rivers: East and Hudson.” “I know. But this is more than we had 24 hours ago.” “I’m going with the East River,” Mack says. “Going with the proximity factor. Sounds like they’re watching the Burton’s every move.” “I can see why you’d say that. But I’m going with the Hudson.” “Of course,” he frowns. “He wouldn’t shit in his own backyard. And, it would double the danger.” “Okay.” “Let’s also talk about the surgery technique.” Mack leans forward. “Yeah, tell me about that.” “Could be a surgeon…” “A disgruntled doctor wants to get even for his botched tummy tuck,” Mack jokes. “Or, one on his staff. The perp could also just be a seamstress,” I say, joking. “And we’re back to military. Remember, you can sew.” “Yeah, buttons,” I say. “Fuck that. Remember the time we were in Wrightsville Beach following that East Coast drug dealer and one of his jokers came at me with a knife, and opened my thigh?” “Yeah, but that…” “But nothing,” Mack interrupts. “You took out fishing line, a hook and sewed me up.” “Point is: this guy’s precise,” I lean in. “The opening on that little girl? It was ruler straight…razor thin…and meticulously precise. We’ll know more what lies beneath…” I look at my watch, “In a couple of hours. “Okay. Got it,” Mack holds up his hands in surrender. “What else?” I get the attention of our bartender, who raises his eyebrows to see if we needed anything, and I scribble in the air, asking for the check. “We gotta crash. I’m toast. And we gotta start early,” I slur. “Anything else we’re missing?” he asks. I let out a big exhale, sit back and stretch my neck from side to side, trying to loosen my shoulders. “Well, we know the team, or someone inside the team, has got to be pretty tech savvy. Or connected.” “Why’s that? The screens in Times Square?” Mack asks. “Yep. While certainly not impossible, that shit takes tech, planning and again, large money.” Mack nods, “Making it local. That’s a strong possibility, right?” “Reading my mind, brother.” The waiter brings the check. I’ve retrieved and tossed my gold Amex, pushing the check toward the waiter before he can move, or before Mack can even touch his pockets. “Thanks.” “Whatever.” “Let’s go back to Lukas himself, getting away from the who…and hit the why.” “Solid call. We know he’s an asshole.” Mack snorts. “How’s that?” I cut him a look. “Really? Marines? Top of his class? Leader of his pack? Clawed and scratched his way to the top of the financial markets the second he bounced from the Corps. Everyone knows he’s the first guy to do whatever it takes to turn his opponents…or even his teammates, into a freakin’ ladder…catapulting him to whatever top he’s aiming for.” The waiter returns with the bill then disappears. “Yeah, I was reading up on him on the flight up. Notorious businessman, making millions upon millions.” “Uh, try billions.” “Okay. And from what I read, he didn’t make those bucks by making friends.” “Copy that,” I say, tucking the receipt in my pocket, motioning for us to leave. “Hold it. Let me just finish this beer,” Mack says. “Oh, sorry. Sure.” “I got something,” Mack grins, while finishing his beer. “What?” “Could be a shooter, except I haven’t heard any mention of guns except when you called the other day. You thought you saw a sniper in the window across the street.” I shake my head. “Yeah, no. That was a fluke. Probably some old lady watching to see what was happening at the Mayor’s home.” “Okay, just a couple last things,” Mack says, rolling a cocktail napkin into the shape of a cigarette. “Okay?” I half ask. “Why his daughter? Why not the wife?” “Go on.” “Wouldn’t his wife be a stronger target? She’s from old money and quite the socialite, right?” Mack scrunches his face like a little boy trying to pronounce something tough. “Yes. On both counts.” “Also, why two asks? I mean, why have the $100-million and then a $500-million? Why not just a billion…and be done?” “Funny, Phil McDonough said the same thing,” I reply. “It’s something I’ve also thought.” “And lastly…” “Good, there’s a lastly,” I say, standing to make my way toward the door. It looks so far away, I think. “Lastly…” Mack stands, taking the patch from his eye and tucking it into his shirt pocket. “Lastly, why a bomb, if…” he says, stumbling on the table leg. “IF…there really IS a bomb.” We both stop. We look around to see that we are among the last people in the place. “I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about the potential of there not being a bomb. I just assumed so. Well, we won’t know until tomorrow morning, but…” “See?” I swatted the air, trying to push aside his idea, as it had merit. Motioning for him to join me, we made our way toward the tower where our rooms were located. The lobby had a convoluted arrangement to it, causing us to have to pay close attention. At the elevator, I punch the button and turn to Mack. Putting up consecutive fingers, just as before, I start to make my points. “My gut? One, it is a bomb. Two, it’s someone he knows. Three, someone in his office, likely close to him, helped set the whole damn thing up.”6:05PM/EST Phil McDonough and I arrive at West 13th & Washington Streets, where The Standard straddled the High Line. As much as I was a Southern boy, I liked the hip, funky hotel with a chill vibe. Even the rooftop bar was cool—although it could get crazy from time to time. And that is exactly what Mack and I intended to do, once I climbed from McDonough’s traveling humidor and headed inside. McDonough is still talking on the phone, as we arrive. His hush talk had gotten annoying about twenty minutes ago. Now, as I reach for the door handle to get out, he grabs my arm. “Wait,” he says to me, then “Hold on,” to the phone. I look down at his hand on my arm and stare. He lets it go. “Sorry, Carter. I had to take this…and didn’t mean to be rude. Whaddya say we circle back around first thing, huh? I can have a car pick you up, if you’d like.” “Thanks, but I’m good. See you at Presbyterian, or, I don’t know…later in the day?” “I’ll be at Presby by 8, but have a court case at 10. I’ll see you then, or we can get together later. Whatever works for you. Happy to help any way I can.” “I’ll let you know.” He says, “Good” and is back on the phone before the door closes. I thank the driver for getting my door with a head nod. He was as expressionless as the moment we started. New York my ass. Time to see my pal and let my girdle down—as my grand mother used to say. While the amount of progress I’d made thus far was good, Mack and I needed to pick things up and knuckle down if we had any chance of catching the psychopaths who put this spectacle into play. And we had to start tonight. After a couple of cold beers to knock the road dust from the back of our throats, Mack and I started catching up on a few personal matters. “So, you can or you can’t see yet?” I ask. “I can,” Mack said, lifting the patch to show me his eyeball was in fine form. Mack had gone to wearing the eyepatch full time, as he said the ladies dug it. “You’re insane,” I say, smacking him on the back. “True. And while it’s not 100%, it’s 90.” He takes a drink, but fiddles with the cocktail napkin. I’ve known him long enough to know that was a clear sign for I’m trying to decide if I tell you something or not. I wait. Watch the crowd for a minute. Spot a few hotties. Ignore them. View the skyline. “So, I was thinking…about calling Teresa again,” he says. I grin—more inside my head than outside my face. “Really?” I say, playing coy but enjoying seeing him squirm. He knew I had my eyes on her, but then we both knew she was a fickle gal. “Mack, that’s an infatuation with no future,” I say. “Yeah, prolly so,” he says, swirling the last drops of beer in the bottom of his bottle. The second sign that he still has stuff on his mind. “And?” I ask. “And what?” “And what does she…think about that?” He finishes the last of the beer and motions to the bartender for another. “Look, let’s just get to talking about why I’m here,” he says, nervously. The beer arrives. He takes a gulp. I wait. “Go ahead. Enjoy that. Now…spill it.” He takes a gulp then leans forward. “Okay, smart ass. She told me that—and I quote here, ‘Her heart is with Carter, but my body is with you,’ unquote. I chuckle. I couldn’t help it. He had it so bad. But I knew exactly what I had. “Okay, okay. I get it. You play that the way you think’s best. Our friendship will outlast most everything else.” We clinked bottles and finished our beers. I toss a $100 dollar bill on the bar, wink at the overly-tattooed, yet underly-intelligent waitress with a skirt that left nothing to the imagination, and we made our way downstairs. The noise was too much, we were too tired, and despite the fact that we didn’t want to appear bromantic, we did want to be able to hear one another talk. Besides, I needed some food and I knew the Standard Grill served until 3am. And checking my watch, I figured we had just enough time to feed the beast within. Sliding into an oversized leather booth in the corner, we ordered Steak Frittes with extra mayo; otherwise known as meat & fries with a side of artery-clogger. On a more serious note, Mack went on to share that my dad had developed an infection from the scorpion bite he’d gotten over a month ago. The guy named Scorpion we met in Havana dropped his pet killer down my old man’s shirt. Needless to say, both scorpions disappeared shortly thereafter. The good news was that after some hefty antibiotics, Pops was mending nicely. As for his full-time bodyguard Mr. Black, he was walking with a limp, but walking nonetheless. We finished “family business” by wrapping up with an update on Xeon—the remaining soldier in our Cuban rescue mission. Word was she had been reassigned to an undercover gig back in Havana. This time, she was on point to intercept intel that was passing through town. We didn’t think it was about a group setting up shop. At least, that was the word under the street. We weren’t sure when we’d see her again. I mentioned we should get her up here to help and how cool it would be not only to see her again, but that we could use her help. She was an ass-kicking machine—like Gina Carano in the movie Haywire; a movie we shared as one of our favorites. The steak and fries were perfect. The beer was overly expensive, but deliciously cold. We both pushed away from the table, rubbing our bellies like two old men. We didn’t care—we were over-tired and underpaid. Okay, so we were paid well and who cared if we were tired; this is what we did. “How about you bullet point me what you have. And I’ll stop you when I need details. That work?” Mack says, cutting to the chase. “No other way, right?” We clink glasses. “Here’s what I know,” I begin. “First, the guy knows explosives. That puts him in one of several categories.” Mack nods. “Terrorist, military, demolition, or hobbyist.” “Right.” “It’s a team. I’d say anywhere between three and six…with the lead guy being either former military, and or really rich.” “Why do you say that?” “Which part?” “Well, I get the three to six. It would take at least three to orchestrate the park snatch. The screaming nanny,” he says, holding up one finger. “The clown,” he holds up a second finger. “And the blind guy,” he finishes with a third finger. “Yeah, first grade shit, right?” I joke. “Exactly. Plus, potentially another couple for transpo or surveillance puts it at six.” “We both know military would create this sort of precision. Timing’s everything, right?” He nods. “Also, being rich seems like a given. Takes money to make money, right?” He nods again, then adds, “This is not a hobbyist, or terrorist. Too big for a weekend warrior…and too small for a terrorist.” “My thinking exactly.” “Imagine that,” Mack grins. “Moving on. My money’s on one of three opponents. You’ll come to the same conclusion.” “Shoot.” “Close,” I say. “I get it,” Mack laughs. “Very funny.” “Thanks. My gut says it’s someone he knows; either someone he’s worked with, or works with. Could’ve been someone in the force with him, someone he stepped on—or over, but most likely pissed off.” “Revenge. Logical.” I nod, finishing the last crumbs of fries on the dish in front of us. “Something keeps nagging at me: Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary?” I purposely punch those three words—either for effect, or because that fifth beer on an earlier empty stomach was testing my dexterity. “Copy,” he smirks, enjoying my theatrics. “I get that it’s a park, but it’s Central Park. Yeah, yeah…nobody wants to get involved, but there’s always someone who comes forward with some cellphone video.” “Nothing?” I shake my head. “Whoever it is or was, had or has, is jonesing to hurt Burton.” “Makes sense.” “Hurt Burton,” I chuckle. “Sounds like Halliburton.” Mack is deadpan. “The briefcase maker? Never mind.” “Losing your mind,” Mack smirks. “Nah, just sleep.” “Why don’t we say, for the sake of argument sake, it’s a group outside the country: Taliban, Isis, the Chinese—someone with plenty of money and or position, who wants to get even. Or something to gain.” “Okay, let’s think. What’s Burton really got, besides money and potential future power.” “Right,” Mack affirms, but with a questioned look. “Meaning, there are plenty of other rich politicians to hit. Richer, even.” “Copy that. I’m sticking with local.” “Agreed,” I say. “Also, according to Abigail, we know she was in a tower.” “Oh, that so helps,” Mack grins, “We’re only in the city of towers.” “And there was water. Smart ass.” Mack laughs. “Again, there are two rivers: East and Hudson.” “I know. But this is more than we had 24 hours ago.” “I’m going with the East River,” Mack says. “Going with the proximity factor. Sounds like they’re watching the Burton’s every move.” “I can see why you’d say that. But I’m going with the Hudson.” “Of course,” he frowns. “He wouldn’t shit in his own backyard. And, it would double the danger.” “Okay.” “Let’s also talk about the surgery technique.” Mack leans forward. “Yeah, tell me about that.” “Could be a surgeon…” “A disgruntled doctor wants to get even for his botched tummy tuck,” Mack jokes. “Or, one on his staff. The perp could also just be a seamstress,” I say, joking. “And we’re back to military. Remember, you can sew.” “Yeah, buttons,” I say. “Fuck that. Remember the time we were in Wrightsville Beach following that East Coast drug dealer and one of his jokers came at me with a knife, and opened my thigh?” “Yeah, but that…” “But nothing,” Mack interrupts. “You took out fishing line, a hook and sewed me up.” “Point is: this guy’s precise,” I lean in. “The opening on that little girl? It was ruler straight…razor thin…and meticulously precise. We’ll know more what lies beneath…” I look at my watch, “In a couple of hours. “Okay. Got it,” Mack holds up his hands in surrender. “What else?” I get the attention of our bartender, who raises his eyebrows to see if we needed anything, and I scribble in the air, asking for the check. “We gotta crash. I’m toast. And we gotta start early,” I slur. “Anything else we’re missing?” he asks. I let out a big exhale, sit back and stretch my neck from side to side, trying to loosen my shoulders. “Well, we know the team, or someone inside the team, has got to be pretty tech savvy. Or connected.” “Why’s that? The screens in Times Square?” Mack asks. “Yep. While certainly not impossible, that shit takes tech, planning and again, large money.” Mack nods, “Making it local. That’s a strong possibility, right?” “Reading my mind, brother.” The waiter brings the check. I’ve retrieved and tossed my gold Amex, pushing the check toward the waiter before he can move, or before Mack can even touch his pockets. “Thanks.” “Whatever.” “Let’s go back to Lukas himself, getting away from the who…and hit the why.” “Solid call. We know he’s an asshole.” Mack snorts. “How’s that?” I cut him a look. “Really? Marines? Top of his class? Leader of his pack? Clawed and scratched his way to the top of the financial markets the second he bounced from the Corps. Everyone knows he’s the first guy to do whatever it takes to turn his opponents…or even his teammates, into a freakin’ ladder…catapulting him to whatever top he’s aiming for.” The waiter returns with the bill then disappears. “Yeah, I was reading up on him on the flight up. Notorious businessman, making millions upon millions.” “Uh, try billions.” “Okay. And from what I read, he didn’t make those bucks by making friends.” “Copy that,” I say, tucking the receipt in my pocket, motioning for us to leave. “Hold it. Let me just finish this beer,” Mack says. “Oh, sorry. Sure.” “I got something,” Mack grins, while finishing his beer. “What?” “Could be a shooter, except I haven’t heard any mention of guns except when you called the other day. You thought you saw a sniper in the window across the street.” I shake my head. “Yeah, no. That was a fluke. Probably some old lady watching to see what was happening at the Mayor’s home.” “Okay, just a couple last things,” Mack says, rolling a cocktail napkin into the shape of a cigarette. “Okay?” I half ask. “Why his daughter? Why not the wife?” “Go on.” “Wouldn’t his wife be a stronger target? She’s from old money and quite the socialite, right?” Mack scrunches his face like a little boy trying to pronounce something tough. “Yes. On both counts.” “Also, why two asks? I mean, why have the $100-million and then a $500-million? Why not just a billion…and be done?” “Funny, Phil McDonough said the same thing,” I reply. “It’s something I’ve also thought.” “And lastly…” “Good, there’s a lastly,” I say, standing to make my way toward the door. It looks so far away, I think. “Lastly…” Mack stands, taking the patch from his eye and tucking it into his shirt pocket. “Lastly, why a bomb, if…” he says, stumbling on the table leg. “IF…there really IS a bomb.” We both stop. We look around to see that we are among the last people in the place. “I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about the potential of there not being a bomb. I just assumed so. Well, we won’t know until tomorrow morning, but…” “See?” I swatted the air, trying to push aside his idea, as it had merit. Motioning for him to join me, we made our way toward the tower where our rooms were located.Putting up consecutive fingers, just as before, I start to make my points. “My gut? One, it is a bomb. Two, it’s someone he knows. Three, someone in his office, likely close to him, helped set the whole damn thing up.”