Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan: New Excerpt
By Crime HQMarch 22, 2021
Thursday, May 20
MATT COSTA, HEAD OF the FBI’s new DC-based mobile response team had been in his old office in Tucson for the last month to investigate two possibly connected cases: the murder of college activist Emma Perez, and possible illegal toxic dumping by a copper refinery plant that was the major employer in the small town of Patagonia.
Matt hadn’t expected the cases to be over quickly—he’d told his boss that it would take six to eight weeks—but he thought he’d have more information by now. Truth be told, he was antsy. The more time that passed, the less likely they’d find Emma Perez’s killer or evidence of Southwest Copper’s duplicity.
If the copper company were guilty.
Christine Jimenez, the supervisory special agent in charge of the Tucson Resident Agency, knocked on his open door. “Marshal Wyatt Coleman just arrived. I have him in the break room getting coffee.”
Matt glanced at his watch—11:00 a.m. Wyatt was right on time. “Frank here?”
At the beginning of the investigation, AREA assistant director Frank Block had been grateful that Matt and his team had taken over the case. But for the past week Frank had grown impatient and adversarial. His attitude irritated Matt because Frank, more than anyone, should understand how difficult it was to build a case against a company for illegal dumping—it didn’t happen overnight. They needed evidence, of which they still had very little. Until they found the location of the actual dump site, and a witness or something else concretely tying an alleged offender to the physical evidence, their hands were tied when it came to warrants.
Then there was the murder case.
Matt’s cell phone rang with a familiar number. “Chris, can you please tell Wyatt I’ll be in as soon as I can? We’ll give Frank a few more minutes.”
“You know why Frank’s upset.”
Knowing why Frank was upset didn’t mean Matt was going to put up with his open frustration and increasing unreliability. Frank blamed himself for his intern Emma’s death, and nothing Matt said could change his mind on the matter. But grief coupled with guilt made for bad decision-making.
He held up his phone. “Mind closing the door while I take this?”
Christine nodded and left while Matt answered his phone. “Costa here,” he said.
“It’s Joe Molina,” the caller replied. Molina was the son of Southwest Copper Refinery’s owner. “We need to meet.”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
Like clockwork. Every week for the last three weeks, since Matt convinced Joe that it was in his best interest to cooperate with the FBI in their undercover investigation of his father’s refining plant, Joe had second thoughts.
“You don’t understand. I can barely look my dad in the eye. It’s eating me up. Why can’t you just arrest David Hargrove and make him talk?”
Hargrove was the assistant manager in charge of waste disposal at Southwest Copper, and the primary suspect in their investigation.
“Where are you right now?” Matt said.
Joe was going to blow this investigation if he kept talking about the case over the phone. Matt had repeatedly told him how to reach out to him, what to say over the phone—and what not to say.
“I’m at my house. I’m going to the plant in a minute, but I could hardly sleep last night. You know Hargrove is behind this, right? That’s what you said.”
Matt forced himself to remain calm. “Joe, I explained to you that we suspect David Hargrove is involved, and the information you provided about the company’s contracts with A-Line Waste Disposal and Trucking has helped us tremendously. But everything we have can be explained away by human error or mismanagement—to bring this to court I need to find the actual illegal dump site or someone willing to turn state’s evidence.”
“But Hargrove’s involved—you can make him talk!”
“How? Put him in an interrogation room and wait for him to spill his guts?” Matt couldn’t bite back his sarcasm. That wasn’t like him, especially with a civilian. Especially a civilian who wanted to do the right thing even if it hurt someone he cared about. Joe had made it clear when Matt first approached him that he was helping solely to clear his father’s good name. There was no evidence that his father, John Molina, knew about any illegal dumping. But because it was his company that officially contracted with A-Line—the trucking company that handled the disposal of their copper slag—the father could be held liable if his employee was found guilty of illegal doings under the company’s name.
Matt continued. “I explained to you early on that if Hargrove gets any hint that we’re looking at him for taking kickbacks from A-Line—or worse—he could destroy evidence.”
“I think I need to talk to my dad.”
“We discussed that option, and you said your father would never work with the FBI again after the fallout from the fumbled AREA investigation two years ago. I concurred. Your father is not under investigation, and the agreement between you and me is that your father will have limited immunity, so if an overzealous prosecutor thinks he should have known what was going on, he’ll be okay. I’m not interested in going after your family business. I just want to put a stop to the serious environmental damage and loss of wildlife that I suspect your manager David Hargrove may be responsible for.”
“I know you’re right, Agent Costa. I’m just not cut out for this.” His frustration was clear in his tone. First Frank, now Joe.
“You’re doing fine,” he assured Joe. “If I’m right, and the trucking company A-Line is responsible for illegal dumping, we’ll be able to trace the shipment and arrest everyone involved—including David Hargrove. And your father will be cleared.”
“I’m heading to the refinery now. We have a staff meeting, and the next slag pickup should be scheduled.”
“Call or text me when you get that information, and we’ll plan accordingly. This is good news, Joe.”
“I hope so.”
Matt ended the call. It had taken longer than he thought, but ultimately it was necessary to keep Joe on task.
But Joe wasn’t the only person Matt had on the inside.
He grabbed his case folder and walked down the hallway to the main conference room. He was relieved to find everyone was waiting there.
On Matt’s recommendation, Christine had replaced him as the SSA when he moved to the DC office five years ago. They’d always worked well together, so there was no jurisdictional pushback when Matt was called in to run these cases as head of the recently formed mobile response team. The team’s mission was to step in to help solve cases that local agencies might not have enough investigative resources to manage.
Other than Christine, there were four other people in the room.
Zack Heller, a white-collar-crimes expert, was the newest member of Matt’s team. The jury was still out on him: Zack was originally from the New York office and a brilliant accountant, the only one of them who truly understood the financial end of hazardous-waste disposal. He’d previously investigated several cases involving graft and corruption in that industry, so he understood the issues. But his communication style was lacking, and his overeager personality grated on Matt. At thirty-seven, he was tall and skinny, with a shaggy mop of blond hair. The FBI had personal grooming requirements, but Zack’s hair wasn’t quite long enough for Matt to compel him to get a haircut.
Ryder Kim was the team analyst and Matt’s right hand. He was young—twenty-six. He’d served in the military for three years, then went to college and immediately joined the FBI as an analyst. Matt recruited him straight from the Academy, where Ryder had achieved the highest scores across multiple classes. The kid was a logistics expert and was serving as the liaison between the undercover team Matt had placed in the refinery and the town of Patagonia, and Matt. Ryder was also responsible for research. If Ryder couldn’t find something, it couldn’t be found.
Patagonia’s marshal, Wyatt Coleman, was an all-around good cop, but he wasn’t experienced in multijurisdictional investigations. As marshal he worked under the sheriff’s department. Few towns had local marshals anymore, but Patagonia was a remnant of the Old West. At first Matt had been hesitant to bring him in, but Chris assured Matt that he could trust Wyatt. Matt knew it was important to have someone on the team who personally knew all the parties involved. Wyatt had even agreed to keep the investigation quiet because one of his own deputies had a brother who worked for Southwest Copper, and Matt wasn’t positive that Hargrove was the only individual involved in the alleged dumping scheme. As far as anyone outside of the task force was concerned, Wyatt was helping Matt solely with the Emma Perez murder investigation.
And Frank Block, the assistant director who ran the southern AREA office. Matt had casually known Frank for more than a decade. It wasn’t until a week after Emma’s death that Frank learned she’d collected and sent several dead birds to Game & Fish under his name without his knowledge. Game & Fish performed a necropsy on the birds and determined they’d died of both lead and arsenic poisoning—byproducts of copper refining and other manufacturing processes. The amounts had been too large to occur naturally. AREA immediately inspected Southwest Copper property but found no on-site violations in their storage of hazardous waste.
Frank didn’t look at Matt when he stepped in; the dark circles under his eyes told Matt that he wasn’t sleeping well.
“Sorry to keep you,” Matt said as he closed the door behind him. “I appreciate you making the drive up here again, Wyatt.”
Matt didn’t want a formal meeting in Patagonia. It was too small a town, and locals might remember him from his time in the Tucson office. Even though Matt had gone down there a few times as the face of the Emma Perez investigation, it would be better not to draw too much attention to himself—especially since he had two agents working undercover.
Wyatt nodded. “Well, you have better coffee.”
Christine said, “One of my old army buddies started a coffee business and gives me a hefty veteran’s discount. I wouldn’t drink the crap headquarters ships us.”
“I only have three full-time deputies,” Wyatt said. “Maybe you can get me into that program.”
“You’re a vet, not a problem.”
She made a note on her calendar. One of Christine’s strengths was building coalitions.
Matt said, “I know everyone is frustrated by the lack of movement the last couple weeks. Joe Molina just told me that the next scheduled A-Line Waste Disposal and Trucking shipment will be discussed at today’s staff meeting. I’m going to work on getting a warrant to track the truck. In open terrain it would be nearly impossible to follow the truck and avoid being seen, even if we worked a tag team. If I can get a tracker on the truck, then we can discreetly follow.”
“How soon?” Wyatt asked.
“Most likely early next week. Zack, you have some new information?”
“I need to go to Vegas,” Zack said.
Matt stared at him. This was exactly the kind of communication problem he had with Zack. Without showing his frustration, Matt said, “Why?”
“I need to pull A-Line’s financial documents on-site, and they are housed in Las Vegas.”
Because Matt rarely worked financial crimes, the reasons eluded him.
Christine said, “Is A-Line based out of Vegas?”
“No, they’re out of New Mexico, but I traced ownership to a shell corporation that was established in Las Vegas. And that shell corp is under a second shell corp.”
Matt waited for more, but Zack was silent.
Excerpted from Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.
About Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan:
Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the mountains just south of Tucson. When a college intern turned activist sets out to collect her own evidence, she, too, ends up dead. Local law enforcement is slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and its copper refinery in search of possible leads.
Quinn and Costa find themselves scouring the desolate landscape, which keeps revealing clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking and more death. As the body count adds up, it’s clear they have stumbled onto much more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.