No one ever quite knew where Danny Macmillan came from, but I remember the first time I ever met him. It was in Seattle back in 1997.
In the winter time along the Puget Sound, it rains constantly and when it stops raining the fog sets in creating a dismal picture. At first when I saw Danny Mac I had just taken my dog Willie for his walk and was sitting on a park bench when out of the fog came a man dressed in black carrying a suitcase of all things and smoking a pipe. He reminded me of Sherlock Holmes on vacation. Just why I don’t know, I guess it was that stupid Sherlock Holmes hat that he had on that gave me my first impression.
As he approached me, he spotted Willie and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. I remember him coming over and without asking knelt down, took Willie’s head in his hands, and kissed him right on the nose. In his heavy Scottish brogue said, “When I was but a wee lad my father gave me a Border Collie that looked just like this feller here.”
I said to him, “Then by all means let me introduce you to Willie. He was my son’s dog. He trained him in the military.”
Danny Mac looked up and said, “He is a fine looking dog. My dog’s name was Henry VIII. My father said that he came from royal English blood. He lived to be fifteen years old and died just before I left to finish my schooling at Columbia University. You said that he was your son’s dog. Is your son away at university now?”
I stared down at the ground mometarily and then replied, “He, aha…I mean, err.. Well he was just killed in Afghanistan two months ago. I just picked up Willie boy down in Tacoma at Fort Lewis Army Base where they have been holding him until I got back into the States. I work for IBM. Oh, by the way, I am Charlie Stratton, and you are?”
“I’m sorry lad, my name is Danny Macmillan, but my friends call me Mac. Oddly enough, I’m an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times. I have only been here in Seattle now for three days. I just discovered this delightful park only this morning when I went out for a paper.”
“An investigative reporter huh, what kind of things do you investigate?” I said with a smile.
“Well Charlie, mostly I investigate suspicious activities at Washington State University. They seem to be having a drug problem, and of all places in the music department.”
“Sort of like Mozart on LSD,” I said with a wry smile. “Is it something that the Seattle drug task force can’t seem to handle? I know Jim Smith very well who is the head of the task force and he has never mentioned anything about it.”
Danny Mac took several steps backward, give me an anxious look, and said, “Charlie me boy with that I think I had best be getting back home. My wife will have me supper ready about now. I always seem to be the inquisitive one.”
I noticed that he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and said with a smirk, “Did you forget to wear your wedding ring today? I notice that you don’t even have a band mark on your finger. Are you in some sort of trouble or did Willie and I do something to insult you?”
He gave me a long look and then said, “For a stranger, you ask too many questions and you are terribly observant for an IBM salesman. Just as a matter of observation, I notice that you are carrying a weapon on your right hip. I saw it when I stooped down to kiss Willie. Me thinks that something stinks in Seattle and it isn’t the dead fish here on Lake Union. Remember, I told you that I was an investigative reporter.”
Without even a sideways glance, he disappeared into the fog. I didn’t see him again until the next morning when on the news, I saw him laying face down just in front of the park bench I had been sitting on the night before. There was a knife in his back and a note pinned to it that had written on it, “…Be careful, Charlie Stratton, some things are best left alone.”
Just then the door bell rang and Willie ran to the door barking like a wild dog. Something was very wrong. I opened the door to find my friend Jimmy Smith who had a very grim look on his face as her forced his way in handing me a search warrant.
“Charlie, have you seen this morning’s news? How is it that the first time you meet the guy he ends up dead on the same spot you were standing on while talking to him last evening?”
I was taken aback. “How…did you know about that?” I asked
“Charlie, he said, just answer the damn question. What do you know about Henry Owens, and what were you talking about that caused him to be murdered in such a tragic and brutal manner?”
“Who in blazes is Henry Owens, and how did you know I was talking to him last night in that park?”
“Henry Owens, AKA Danny Macmillan, has been working on my drug taskforce now for the past year, there at WSU. We tailed him when he said he was going to meet an informant concerning the drug investigation that is ongoing. We suspect that someone from the Times is the head of a drug ring that goes as far up as the state senate. So now Charlie, tell me just exactly why were you in that park at the same time as Owens?”
“Jimmy, what the hell? I was taking Willie for his walk. He had been cooped up in here all day, and acted as though he needed to go out. What is wrong with that, and you still haven’t answered my question as to how you knew I’d be there?”
“Okay Charlie, Here it is. I think you had better sit down. Willie is a Drug enforcement Task Force dog. Your son’s untimely death served as a way to get him into your home without a lot of suspicion. He was trained in Afghanistan by your son Michael. When he was killed in action it proved to be a blessing in disguise. The Army followed up on our request for a drug taskforce dog to be used in the private sector. How fortunate for us that it was your son, Charlie.
“I have known you for a very long time now, and we also know about your ties to the CIA. Henry was wearing a wire. We had our suspicions of what your true identity was, but until Henry spotted your weapon last night, we were not able to connect the dots. We checked with IBM, and they told us in private that you were on loan from the Justice Department to look into illegal computer hardware being sent to Iraq with sensitive nuclear weaponry information. It is all very confusing, but I need to know Charlie, what did you do after you left Henry last night?”
I indeed had to sit down, and sat there dumbfounded. Finally after what seemed to be an eternity I said to Jim, “Jimmy, you have to understand what I am about to tell you is highly classified. Come into my study. It is a safe room. I will not talk about this case unless I know there aren’t any bugs or listening devices. You have stumbled into a hornet’s nest. There are things at hand that you need to know, and need to know now.”
We started into the study when Jimmy’s lieutenant, Howard Bates started to follow. I turned to see him pull his weapon and put it to the back of Jimmy’s head and motioned with his free hand to go in. Once inside he spun Jimmy around and backed into the room. “Shut and lock the door, and if you do anything stupid, I’ll blow his head off, and then kill you. Take your weapons out and throw them into the corner. Lock the damn door Charlie, NOW.”
We did as he said, and with my hands pressing downward, I said, “Come on now Howard, take it easy. You’re in enough trouble without this crap. What makes you think we can trust you to not kill us any way? You did poor Henry last night, so we know you aint afraid of a little blood, but how are you going to explain killing the two of us to the twenty cops outside the house? You have to know this is a non-win situation.”
Just as Howard was about to tell us what the hell ever it was he was going to say, Willie attacked him and viciously grabbed him by the throat and took him down. In the process, the gun went off putting a dime sized hole in Jimmy’s right ear, and making him deaf in that ear for the rest of his life.
I had noticed Willie quietly go into the study when Jimmy had me sit down. His bed is there in the dark corner. Howard never saw him and never would again. Willie took his left jugular out in one quick motion.
Well the paramedics came and took Jimmy to the University Hospital for overnight observation. The medical examiner hauled Howard’s remains off to the state examiner’s office in Seattle, and it was just Willie and I left there to clean up the mess in the study.
That evening as we took our walk in the park, we stopped there at the bench and looked down the way into the fog. For a moment I swear I saw Henry appear, wave a friendly gesture, and then disappear back into the fog. They say the mind can play crazy tricks on a man right after an incident like the one we went through that day; however Henry did look so real there in that moment as I stood in the lamp light peering into the fog I thought…What if?