They get a flat within spitting distance of Arizona.
“I think this is a sign that we should give up for the night,” Chuck tells him, mid-stretch. There isn’t a part of his body that doesn’t feel stiff after spending nine hours cooped up in the car and for that reason, and that reason alone, he’s nearly grateful for the excuse to get out and walk around. “St. George seemed nice. Nicer than Colorado City.”
“Well we’re not doing anything until we get this car moving again,” Bryce replies, poking at one of the rear tires with interest. Usually, it’s fairly cut and dry what did them in. Shootouts and unconventional escape routes have a way of resulting in blown-out tires, among other things. “Any guesses where they hid the jack?”
“Probably under one of the seats,” he says and it’s as he’s rounding the car that he sees it. A flash of red barely visible from underneath the car. He thinks it’s just a trick of the light at first but thirty seconds later he sees it again, and then again after that. He swallows, unsure of what to do and momentarily stunned into silence by the part of his brain that’s screaming bomb.
Luckily, Bryce’s impatience is running uncharacteristically high and it doesn’t take him long to call out, “Today, Chuck.”
“Uh,” he starts, trying to remember what the hell the protocol for this sort of thing is, if there’s any protocol at all, and whether or not he heard the sound of a clock ticking before he looked down. “Just...come here for a second.”
Bryce does, albeit hesitantly, and Chuck grabs him when he gets within reach, lines him up in the spot where he himself was just standing and points. He can tell the exact moment when Bryce notices it because every muscle in his body tenses and Chuck’s still got a hand on his arm, grip too tight and entirely unconscious. For all that his body language says otherwise, he sounds unfazed when he says, “That can’t be good.”
“No, really,” he replies.
“Okay,” Bryce says, ignoring him. “That might not be what we think it is.”
Chuck gapes at him. “How exactly did you come to that conclusion?”
“We’re still alive, so we know that it’s not pressure sensitive. Nine times out ten, you stick a bomb under someone’s car and that’s what it’s going to be. Tied to weight, tied to speed, maybe remote detonated if you’re somewhere nearby. A timer is less likely but theoretically possible.” Bryce ducks down, intent on getting a better look. “They’re usually not so much with the flashing lights though.”
“And how do you know this much about bombs again?”
“Honestly?” His voice is painfully calm. “The movies, mostly.”
“Oh. That makes me feel so much safer right now.”
Bryce slides the better part of his upper body underneath the car, then, and Chuck has to look away. He finds a point on the horizon, where the sun is just starting to dip, and holds his gaze there until he hears a snap from below accompanied by a noise that can only be described as a satisfied chuckle. “Definitely not a bomb.”
“You’re going to elaborate on that right?”
He passes up a rectangular device the width of Chuck’s hand in lieu of an answer.
Chuck frowns down at it. “It’s still flashing, why would it be -- I mean, unless it’s transmitting, but why would you strap a transmitter to the bottom of someone’s car, all that would tell you is where the car -- oh.” The feeling of dread that washes over him is inexplicably worse than when he thought they were going to wind up blown to kingdom come. At least then there was a chance he was wrong. “Someone’s tracking us.”
“Yeah.” Bryce climbs to his feet, dusting off his pants. “I think I would’ve preferred the bomb.”
The landlord of the building on Saint Paul Street has no problem giving up everything he has on the occupants of apartment twenty-seven and then some. The lease is in the name of one Benjamin Stewart, age thirty, a veteran of two wars who does not appear to hold down a job yet always pays the rent on time, and whose criminal record lists a fraud misdemeanor charge that he was found guilty of when he was nineteen. He’s been living there for four years, three of them with a roommate whose name and background is a complete mystery as far as the landlord is concerned, and if Sarah was a betting woman she’d put her money on the roommate being the same guy who approached her in the sandwich shop.
Morgan has more for her, has speeding tickets and tax returns and running color commentary on every aspect of this guy’s life, but it’s nothing she needs and everything she doesn’t. She sends him home early and calls it quits not long after, leaving a note behind on Casey’s desk along with his keys, and commandeering one of the agency’s cars for her ride home. There are messages waiting for her on her answering machine, takeout boxes lined up on the counter next to a half-empty bottle of wine, and a pair of pumps kicked off in the hallway -- all signs of her abrupt departure last night -- and instead of dealing with any of that she draws herself a bath and spends the next twenty minutes actively not thinking about work, or anything else for that matter, until someone slides a key into a lock and sends her front door swinging open.
Then she’s mostly thinking about how she shouldn’t have left her sidearm lying out on the coffee table.
Sarah’s never been the type to leave a spare key with trusted neighbors. Hell, Sarah’s never been the type to have trusted neighbors. What she has is lock-picking skills and trust issues and two people in this entire world who she’s ever given that much access. The footfalls on her wood floors aren’t heavy enough to be Casey’s nor are they nervous enough to be Morgan’s, which leaves her grappling for a weapon, preferably one of the dozen knives she has stashed around her apartment, up until a familiar voice starts calling her name.
“Shaw?” She asks, and regrets it a moment later when he audibly turns to follow her voice. Naked and cornered is not her favorite way to have a conversation. “What are you doing here?”
“You weren’t returning my calls,” he says, as if that’s all the excuse he needs to let himself in. “I got worried.”
He’s right, though; she hasn’t been returning his calls. Not the ones he left on her machine, not the ones he left on her voicemail, and certainly not the ones he had his new secretary leave for her at work. The word overkill doesn’t even begin to cover it and she’s having a hard time seeing a point to all of this when it had been her trying to initiate contact in the first place. Theirs had been an amicable breakup, followed by a long stretch of mutual silence peppered by brief glances across conference rooms and nods of acknowledgment at social functions. They don’t have unfinished business. No one is pining.
“I’ve just been busy,” she replies, not quite a lie but not the whole truth either. She hears his hand settle against the bathroom door but the knob remains still and she exhales, slow and controlled, relieved. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here.”
“I don’t mind. I was hoping we could talk, actually.”
She sinks lower in the tub, leaning her head back against cold porcelain and letting the water rush up around her shoulders. It would be so much easier to just tell him to go. Feign a headache, admit to exhaustion, promise to call tomorrow, and make use of that deadbolt. Easier but not necessarily safer. Time and power have turned him into a man you don’t say no to. “About what?”
He opens the door then. First a crack, then further. Doesn’t ask. Doesn’t apologize. Doesn’t do anything but step through and stay standing over her. She blinks and holds herself perfectly still otherwise. He doesn’t leer but his eyes bore into her in a way that doesn’t make her entirely comfortable and it takes some amount of willpower not to shrink down under his gaze. “I heard about what happened to your partner.”
“News travels,” she says, with a shrug. It’s been over a month and fast isn’t a word she would use. “But you didn’t come here to talk about Casey.”
Shaw smiles, faintly. It isn’t kind. “No, I didn’t.”
“So, what then?”
“Straight to the point. Looks like he’s rubbing off on you after all. You know, people were taking bets on how long you two would last before someone was on the receiving end of some friendly fire. I always knew you were better than that.” He closes some of the space between them as he speaks, takes a seat on the closed lid of the toilet and leans forward in a way that might look conspiratorial if she believed for a second that this was a simple social call “Who’s got you looking into Orion?”
She drops her eyes, instinctively.
It’s her first mistake.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says.
“Of course not. I’m sure Casey’s favorite lackey left that virtual paper trail purely of his own accord. You should probably teach him to cover his tracks a little better if he wants to stay out of trouble.” It sounds like a threat. It sounds like a threat from a man who just entered her apartment uninvited with a key she didn’t give him and any previous feelings of goodwill and trust that she once harbored towards him vanish in the face of that. “He’s barely a year out from being a civilian. Too green, too many liabilities. He’d do well to listen to you.”
“I wasn’t aware you had any long-standing interest in old men who make a living off of manipulating people’s memories.” Her voice doesn’t shake and it’s the opposite of what he wants, she can tell, because he sits back and his mouth turns downwards at the corners, not quite a grimace but not quite anything else. “Because that’s what it was. This man, this Orion, he destroyed people’s lives. He experimented on people like they were animals in a lab and then they -- they just what, they just buried it? I don’t know what this top-secret project they have locked down is, and I don’t want to know, but I’m not dumb enough to believe that one has nothing to do with the other and it has your name written all over it.”
Her hand has moved to grip the edge of the tub, dripping soapy water onto the floor at his feet. His face is blank. “I could have you both arrested for espionage.”
She laughs, humorlessly. “I could have you arrested for trespassing. Hell, with the number of messages your secretary’s left on my answering machine I could have you arrested for harassment too.”
“Yeah? Let’s say you tried that. Who do you think they’d believe? Me or you? A deputy director or some woman who fucked her boss to get ahead and then screwed up so bad she almost lost her job?” She sets her jaw, bites down on her tongue so hard she’s surprised when she doesn’t taste blood. “Nevermind how it happened; just think about how it looks. You really think you’d last five minutes against me?”
There’s a moment here, while her nails are biting into porcelain and she’s mentally taking inventory of the literally dozens of ways he could bury her professionally, where she forgets that this is a man she ever shared a bed with. Where she forgets that she was ever stupid enough to think that this would turn out alright when he wasn’t her boss but he wasn’t her co-worker either, and there’s a reason she doesn’t do these things, will never do these things again.
She likes that moment.
She doesn’t much care for the one that follows.
“That’s what I thought,” he says, smugly.
“What happened to you?” She asks, because she’s having a hard time sorting it out for herself. She’s missing context. She’s missing the space between now and two winters ago, when he’d given a premature go order to a team not entirely under his command and the next thing they both heard was gunfire, his complete lack of surprise written clear as crystal on his face. He didn’t have proper authorization or an answer for why when she asked and she had thought, then, that if she loved him, even a little, she would have been able to forgive it as a simple misjudgment. Instead, she’d been appalled. Instead, she’d stood outside of her apartment three days before thanksgiving with her coat buttoned up to her throat and told him that they were different people with different ideals and this was really for the best. He’d agreed without a fight and kissed her on the cheek as he left; they didn’t speak for months after that.
He was dangerous, then, but he wasn’t cold. Not like this.
“What the hell made you like this?”
“This is how it is, Sarah,” he says, without a hint of regret. “I’m not here to make friends. Reel him in, keep out of my way, and we’ll be just fine. I can’t make any promises otherwise.” He has the nerve, then, to reach over and pat her hand, like one does to a child. There’s a smile, just this side of friendly, playing at his lips as he adds, “It’s just business.”
She inhales, deep. “For you, maybe.”
“Yes, well,” he gets to his feet, “maybe that’s why I’m here and you’re not.”
April 01, 2009 00:20:48 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
why did i just take the exit for glendale?
April 01, 2009 00:23:57 AM
Callback Number: 555-702-8181
no idea. looks like they’re heading north.
April 01, 2009 00:24:21 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
what the fuck is north?
April 01, 2009 00:28:52 AM
Callback Number: 555-702-8181
most of the west coast
April 01, 2009 00:29:46 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
wow thank you so much that was super helpful
April 01, 2009 00:31:23 AM
Callback Number: 555-702-8181
just follow them and try not to get killed in the process
They drive straight through ‘til morning.
Bryce doesn’t give him an exact destination but tells him to figure on a nine hour trip, to wake him up in five, and gestures in the direction of Reno before he passes out cold in the passenger’s seat. Not even the radio raises him for the next few hours and Chuck knows because Chuck tries, selfishly, before he settles in for the long haul. Outside of Tonopah, they switch and Bryce does the rest of the drive blind, abandoning maps for memory and taking an exit several dozen miles north of their supposed destination that eventually drops them out onto an uneven dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
Well, middle of nowhere with housing.
“Isn’t this the set up to like every horror movie ever made? Weary travelers take shelter in the old unassuming cabin completely cut off from civilization and fall prey to X, Y, and Z.”
“Except we’re in the desert, not the woods,” Bryce points out, which, semantics. Zombies may not exist, in the desert or elsewhere, and crazed murderers may not faze him being that he himself is a professional taker-of-lives with a sometimes tenuous grasp on sanity but there are coyotes and possibly mountain lions out here, both of which could spell doom for him in an unfortunately grizzly fashion. “Besides,” he puts the car in park, “this place is already a crime scene.”
If that’s meant to be reassuring, it fails.
On the other hand, he’s not wrong. There’s police tape stuck to the columns of the tiny covered porch and a big yellow pile of it out back, strewn over enough firewood to get anyone through even the worst New England winter. It’s faded, been left out too long at the mercy of the sun and the elements, and he thinks it has to have been years since anyone’s touched this place, or at least he does until Bryce jimmies the door open and walks right on in like he knows the floorplan by heart, not the least bit apprehensive, and Chuck remembers that he rerouted them here deliberately.
Whoever was here before left no trace of their demise but plenty of their existence. The cabin is furnished, though much of it is worn and by now covered in a fine layer of dust save for an area about two feet wide that lies directly below a matching hole in the roof, loosely patched with black tarp. Everything looks as though the owner just got up one day and left. There are cups lined up on the shelves above the sink and a half-empty bottle of bourbon sitting on the mantel above the fireplace. Four chairs sit around a table in the main room, a man’s flannel shirt slung over the back of one of them, and venturing into the adjoining room reveals an unmade bed, a laptop with a cracked screen resting at the foot of it.
The broken laptop is what draws his attention, the laptop and the power strip on the nightstand, the half a dozen extension cords just lying around, the twin monitors set up on the tiny desk. High tech gear for a decidedly low tech life.
“Hey,” Chuck calls over his shoulder, toying with what appears to be the guts of some sort of camera, “what is all this stuff?”
Bryce’s footsteps carry until he’s standing in the doorway looking perturbed. By what is anyone’s guess. Lack of sleep. Knowledge that they’re wandering around a dead guy’s house. Knowledge that they’re about to come face-to-face with someone, or possibly a group of someones, who found it necessary to stick a tracking device under their car. Take your pick, really. “The guy who lived here before was a little,” he searches for the word, frowning, “paranoid.”
He looks at all that gear -- surveillance tools, he realizes now -- and thinks about the kind of power that would be required to run it all the way out here. It’s doubtful that the man would’ve met with much success for very long without making some serious personal sacrifices but those are the lengths people will go to when it comes to buying time. He understands that better now. He understands thinking in weeks rather than years. “Yeah, well, I’m beginning to appreciate a little paranoia.”
If Bryce detects the edge to his voice there, the anxiety that’s started to creep back in only hours after being abated, he ignores it. There are, as always, more important things to concern themselves with. “We should sit tight. Make ourselves look like easy pickings and hope they get cocky.”
“Just so I’m clear, what happens after that?” He asks. “I mean, sure, they get cocky and we get the drop on them, I get that, but then what do we do with them? We can’t just say nice try and let them walk, can we?”
“That device wasn’t CIA issue,” Bryce says, simply, which isn’t telling Chuck anything he doesn’t already know, but is reminding him of something else. Whoever this is that’s tracking them, they aren’t agency. Whatever back up they may have is likely to be limited, if it exists at all. You kill a cop and the whole damn precinct comes down on you. You kill a CIA agent and their partner makes it their personal mission to ruin your life. You kill some lone wolf amateur and it’s just another charge on a laundry list of them. They’re not agency; their life means precious little in the eyes of anyone who matters. “But we don’t need to think that far ahead right now.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, perhaps a touch too hastily. “Of course. Who knows, maybe they’ll chicken out and we won’t have to deal with it at all.”
He tries for humor, efforts which Bryce rewards with a small smile that never reaches his eyes even as he reaches a hand out to pat Chuck on the arm, something reassuring in the gesture, before he turns to set up shop at the front of the cabin. That leaves Chuck in the back with the bed and as he works the old shuttered window beside it open he tries not to let his body sag too heavily against the mattress, counting the hours since the last time his mind had quieted enough for that.
Sarah doesn’t sleep much that night.
She calls out to have someone come change the locks in the morning, in case Shaw decides to try that trick again, throws a change of clothes into a duffel bag and drives herself to Casey’s townhouse just after midnight. Her partner’s down for the count, anticipating a five a.m. wakeup call, but she’s got a spare key and a standing invitation and when she lets herself in it’s to find Mike Randleman snoring away on the couch, remote still firmly in hand, Craig Ferguson on the television.
She turns the tv off along with the lamp next to Casey’s favorite armchair, and then she traipses upstairs in bare feet and puts four walls and a large wooden door between herself and the rest of the world for the next few hours.
Casey’s guest bedroom smells like freshly laundered sheets and her body wash, undeniable proof that she’s been spending too many nights here. He likes simple furniture and neutral colors, prefers wide open spaces to clutter, but there’s a throw she stole out of his linen closet the last time the temperature dropped below freezing laying at the foot of the bed and a cocktail dress she discarded hung over the back of a chair right where she left it. A hairband on the nightstand. Her extra phone charger sticking out of the wall outlet. Her things. Her clutter. He hasn’t touched any of it.
Mike’s sleeping on the couch downstairs and the guest bedroom is covered in her stuff.
She tries not to read into that.
For the first few hours, she sleeps in fits and starts. Then, not at all. She hears Casey’s footsteps come to a stop outside her door sometime after four, long enough for him to try the knob and figure out that she locked it behind her, before he disappears back down the hallway into his own room. Half an hour later, an unfamiliar cell phone chime starts up incessantly downstairs, Mike’s undoubtedly, and she gives up the ghost and pulls on her sneakers.
Runs a circuit up twenty-third street and past the Lincoln Memorial before dawn and keeps going even after it’s started to drizzle. Her fingers have gone numb from the cold by the time she returns and it takes three tries before she gets the door open but she doesn’t feel ready to jump out of her skin anymore and she’ll take her wins where she can find them. She strips in the entryway, kicks off her shoes and leaves her damp socks inside of them, hangs her jacket on one of the hooks next to the closet, and is thisclose to thoughtlessly peeling off her shirt on the way up the stairs before she hears a throat clearing from the kitchen and doubles back to find Casey sitting at the table with a cup of coffee raised about halfway to his mouth and an unreadable expression on his face.
For a moment she just stands there, her hair drip-drying on his wood floor and her cheeks flushed pink from exertion, somehow surprised to find him there, before she wills her mouth to work around a vague question about the availability of his shower. He nods and goes back to his newspaper. She takes the stairs two at a time on the way up and doesn’t come back down until ten minutes after she’s found clean clothes and pulled herself together.
“Arlington PD wants us,” he says, the second her feet pad across his floor, and she’s never been more grateful for the reprieve of shop talk in her life.
So grateful, in fact, that she chooses not to mention the open box of cereal left abandoned on the countertop, presumably in the same spot that Mike had been perched in not very long ago judging by the vaguely warm spot on the otherwise cold granite. She’s not even going to pretend to understand what’s going on there. “Do I want to know why?”
“One of their detectives flagged a dead guy as being one of ours. Apparently, he was trying to rule out a robbery gone wrong and went digging through the guy’s safe, which was open I might add; came up with multiple passports and a load of foreign currency, so he called Langley. Turns out Bartowski’s old partner took a bullet to the head about three or four days ago and no one noticed until the neighbor called the cops last night.”
“They found him at home?”
“All nice and tucked into bed. No signs of struggle. Forensics guy I talked to said it was one of the neatest homicides he ever had the pleasure of dealing with. Clean shot, minimal splatter, likely done by a professional.”
She liberates the coffee pot whilst mulling over what he’s not saying. “It’s not him, you know. He’s not anywhere near that stupid and even if he was, they’re contract killers. They don’t do this.”
“But it would be easier if they did,” she sighs. “Any leads so far?”
“Neighbor’s husband saw him getting out of a cab with a leggy blonde around 2AM Sunday morning, which makes him the last one to see Agent Hudson alive. Couldn’t tell us much else about the girl but if she’s in the system her prints will turn up and it’s likely that she’s just some one-night stand he picked up at a bar in Georgetown. Drunk college girls are a dime a dozen around here.” As an afterthought, he adds, “The detective was also fairly adamant that we be informed about the eighth of marijuana they found in his nightstand.”
“What are we going to do, charge him with possession? He’s dead.”
“The detective apparently thinks it may have been a contributing factor,” he replies, dryly, which might as well be code for the detective is an idiot. Most of them are, in her experience, at least the ones they tango with, and if they aren’t completely incompetent then they regard federal agents as magical creatures who show up, sprinkle fairy dust, and then leave having solved all of their problems for them. She isn’t sure what they’re supposed to do at the actual crime scene, even if the deceased is one of their own, but she’s also not planning on being there to find out. She has a lead of a different sort to follow up on.
Breaking that to him is going to be easier said than done, though, so mostly she’s just stalling when she asks, “Do you think they’re going to turn it over to us?”
He shrugs. “It’s not like we’re doing anything but sitting on our hands. At least with this we could pretend it’s tangentially related to the job they hired us for.”
She drops her eyes. Tries to think of a good cover story that isn’t i need to pick up my dry cleaning and says, “Well, he sounds delightful. I’m almost sad I’m going to have to sit this one out. I’ve got a few errands to run.”
Casey has fewer tells than she’d like. There’s a muscle in his jaw that flutters when he’s annoyed, a brief faltering in his gaze that precedes a curt nod when he’s upset. She got to see what total bewilderment looked like at last year’s non-optional NSA Christmas party where, drunk off of too much spiked punch, she told him i have a first name, you know in a way that suggested he use it and maybe she had leaned in too close when she said it or maybe it was the act of saying it at all that threw him, but he had stood frozen in place for a beat, like he didn’t quite know what to do with her when she wasn’t alternately trading barbs with him across the office and shooting exasperated looks in his direction, like he didn’t know what to do with her when she was this easy. He caught her elbow, and with it some semblance of control, and put her in the back of a cab sometime later, told the driver her address and told her Merry Christmas, Walker before he closed the door. He watched her leave, standing outside in the bitter late-December cold with no hope for snow; she watched him disappear from view with her breath fogging up the window and woke up in her own bed with a hangover and wrinkles in her three-hundred dollar dress. She stopped fighting him in the new year, before Colorado and that truce they called on his couch, and started cataloguing these things, what she could and couldn’t get away with, what mild irritation looks like compared to real genuine anger and how to avoid the latter, how to see it coming in that split second before everything goes south, but in this moment she can’t see his face, can’t read him at all.
Last night, she locked herself up in his house because she couldn’t deal and not volunteering a reason why is the same as expecting him not to ask, for their purposes; she knows this, knows it’s not fair to him, knows just how much he hates it when people go behind his back, but she’s already gone and done it and there’s no coming back from it without a damn good reason. She thinks she might be coming up on one. She just needs time. She just needs him not to ask one more time.
He folds that newspaper he’s been playing at reading and sets it to the side, his hands flattening against the table, and when she breathes in it sounds too loud to her own ears. She doesn’t know what she expects exactly. Being withholding doesn’t really warrant rage, short tempered or not, and even if it did the angrier he gets the quieter he gets, but she thinks that she’s due to get the what for about secret keeping between partners and maybe she should spill hers, maybe she should tell him why the fuck she’s showing up at odd hours of the night and abandoning him during actual murder investigations when their professional life has been nothing but a wasteland of meetings and dead ends, maybe she should tell him why she doesn’t want to pursue what they’ve got against Carina and why Morgan’s suddenly not at his desk but instead down in the library or in storage sorting through old case files from the ‘80s. And she is, due for it that is, but that’s not what happens because instead he asks, “Is everything alright?”
Her world view tilts a little on its axis.
“Of course,” she replies, suddenly frazzled, and she brings up a hand to run through her still damp hair but he’s turning to look at her, to watch her, and he knows her tells too, knows what normal looks like on her, so she drops it back down to her side and inhales and says, steadier now, “Why wouldn’t it be?”
It’s a bit like slamming a door shut in his face, she realizes later. The outright denial of the obvious. The rejection of his attempts to open the lines of communication. Casey doesn’t just initiate conversations about feelings, his own or anyone else’s, and where maybe she should see kindness she sees the potential for motive. She dances circles around the question and he locks that door behind her, leaning back as he says, “I’ll be fine on my own. Take care of what you need to do.”
He leaves her standing alone in his kitchen.
April 01, 2009 07:12:03 AM
Callback Number: John Casey (Mobile)
April 01, 2009 07:12:59 AM
Callback Number: Mike Randleman (Mobile)
you sure you wanna go down this road?
April 01, 2009 07:13:43 AM
Callback Number: John Casey (Mobile)
just do it
April 01, 2009 08:42:03 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
target in sight
April 01, 2009 08:42:59 AM
Callback Number: 555-702-8181
be quick about it. barker’s in the area
April 01, 2009 08:44:17 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
don’t we have someone to take care of that?
April 01, 2009 08:45:23 AM
Callback Number: 555-702-8181
she’s on assignment but if you want to try your hand at it i hear he likes being tied up
April 01, 2009 08:45:51 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
April 01, 2009 08:48:35 AM
Callback Number: 555-775-3240
i’m going in
So they wait.
And wait and wait and wait.
Bryce isn’t much of a conversationalist when he’s working and this long arduous process of waiting for the enemy to make themselves known apparently qualifies as such. He manages to dig out the case with the sniper rifle in it, an M25 that only sees the light of day when absolutely necessary given that neither of them has any real aptitude for it, but leaves it disassembled on the long wooden dining table. It’s clear that he’s contemplating the merits of shooting on sight, before the enemy has a chance to return the favor, but what’s not clear is whether his hesitation has more to do with doubt that he could pull it off or desire for information over, or perhaps before, bloodshed.
At any rate, Bryce settles near the front door while Chuck takes the back window and for a good while there’s nothing but the occasional gust of wind or creaky floorboard to hold his attention so it’s not really surprising when he nods off twice only to jolt back awake seconds later when he feels his grip go slack or his body start to lean, and its even less surprising when the third time's the charm and his eyes stay closed, falling asleep sitting up with his body contorted in such a fashion that his legs are pointed straight out towards the window while his back is flat against the wall behind the bed.
He sleeps for ten dreamless minutes and then slams back to consciousness at the sound of boots hitting the ground in the next room. There is a strangled sound and then the sort of heavy thud that could only be made by a body, and his hand is on his gun before his brain has had time to catch up to the idea that there is someone else in the cabin.
The door between the two rooms is cracked and as he creeps towards it he gets a brief glimpse of the sole of one of the Bryce’s shoes, which answers the question of whose body had made that thud. He can’t see anything else without opening the door further and he’s going to guess that, since he hasn’t heard anything in the way of movement in the last sixty seconds, in the event that he does open it he’s going to end up with a gun in his face.
Short of climbing out the back window and circling around the building, he doesn’t see any other options at the moment, and he’s pretty sure that they would hear him try that. Stealth is still not his strong suit.
He kicks the door open because it seems particularly heroic and shock-inducing but also because he knows that if they wanted him dead they would’ve riddled the door with bullets before he had a chance to even think about making such an overstated entrance. He still ends up with a gun in his face. A gun that is held by a hand that is attached to an arm that is attached to a body that belongs to none other than his motorcycle loving friend from that bar in Wyoming.
Greta does not look impressed.
Chuck doesn’t know what he looks like but he would assume dumbfounded sums it up.
“Cute,” she remarks, “now drop your gun or I crush his windpipe.”
That’s a very realistic threat being that Bryce is lying unconscious on his side and her foot is against his throat, applying what is probably not an insignificant amount of pressure to a very sensitive area. Bryce’s gun is somewhere across the room, likely kicked out of his reach, and the flimsy tarp that was previously covering that hole in the roof is now on the floor. It’s a sure sign that she came in from above, completely undetected. He’s got to hand it to her, as far as creative entrances go hers takes the cake.
“You, uh,” he stumbles, because he’s not the smooth talker, he’s not the one who charms them out of situations, and she’s got the clear advantage here. She picked him out in that bar, she placed that tracker -- he sees the where of that now, sees her making him laugh on the hood of the car that night and all the gaps in his memory where inebriation could’ve overrode his better judgment -- and she knows his weakest point lies in the company he keeps. That means she’s got information on him, enough to make her go to these lengths. He knows nothing about her. He doesn’t know her name or why she’s here and he certainly doesn’t know if he’s anywhere close to the truth when he says, “You really don’t want to do this.”
“You’re right, I really don’t, which is why I said drop your gun.” His trigger finger is unsteady and her mouth quirks, faintly amused and painfully confident. “Look, you have two options here. One: we all walk out of this alive. Two: you shoot me, but not before I kill him, and you get to spend the rest of your life wondering what would’ve happened if you would’ve just cooperated.”
Generally speaking, Chuck understands that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. It’s just that option two is so very not enticing and Chuck doesn’t have a lot of faith in his ability to make a kill shot from twenty feet away without her making good on her promise. He doesn’t know if he would want to make that kill shot even if he could. The potential for information will always win out over bloodshed, as far as he’s concerned.
So he does the cowardly thing. So he does the thing Bryce would, and hopefully will, kick his ass for. He lowers his gun to the ground, standing back up with hands held up in the universal sign of surrender, and she takes her foot off of Bryce’s neck even if she leaves her gun trained on him, distrustful.
“Good plan,” she says.
Ball’s in her court.
Right where she wants it.
April 01, 2009 09:17:04 AM
Callback Number: Morgan Grimes (Mobile)
there’s a guy from homeland security who wants to see you
April 01, 2009 09:19:38 AM
Callback Number: Sarah Walker (Mobile)
tell him to wait
April 01, 2009 09:20:29 AM
Callback Number: Morgan Grimes (Mobile)
he won’t, says he’ll meet you at turner bldg, 5pm
April 01, 2009 09:23:01 AM
Callback Number: Sarah Walker (Mobile)
April 01, 2009 09:23:59 AM
Callback Number: Morgan Grimes (Mobile)
wouldn’t tell me
The situation in Arlington does not go as smoothly as anyone had hoped, which is how she comes to find herself sitting in the parking lot of the apartment building on Saint Paul Street, answering Morgan’s inquiries about when exactly her and Casey would be back in the office. Never mind that they’re in different geographic locations and she hasn’t said word one to him since she evidently pissed him off in the kitchen, judging by his hasty exit. Never mind that Morgan is the only person on this earth that knows where she is right now.
There’s been an escalating sense of urgency to his texts over the course of the morning and she can only imagine what work is going to look like whenever she gets there. She tells him soon and makes vague allusions to her complete faith in his ability to handle it, whatever it is, while pretending to mean it for about as long as it takes her to type it. Then she goes inside and starts knocking on doors.
The man who answers at apartment twenty-seven takes up the entire door frame, somehow, despite not being an abnormally large human being. He’s tall and lean, muscular without being bulky, but he looms over her in such a way that suggests he takes up far more space than he actually does. It’s not threatening so much as commanding and if she didn’t already know that said man had spent quite a long time in the armed forces she would’ve been able to guess from his body language.
There’s very little she doesn’t already know about Ben Stewart.
He sighs something long-suffering and asks, point-blank, “DEA or FBI?”
The question might as well be chicken or fish for all the concern he’s radiating.
“Neither,” she tells him, as she pulls her badge.
Ben takes a long look at it, like he’s carefully considering whether or not he’s done anything to warrant the CIA’s attention, and then apparently comes to the conclusion that he hasn’t because he turns and yells for someone named Jay to wake the fuck up.
Jay is probably the roommate.
Jay is also probably not having a very good morning because the noise that follows from inside the apartment is unmistakably the sound of someone falling out of bed. There is a yelp. Ben smiles in a way that might be considered fondly, although whether that’s a fondness for his roommate or for his roommate’s pain is up for debate.
“Come in,” he says, stepping aside, “he should be right out.”
He’s not right out, though he does make enough noise to indicate that he is at least up and moving, but Ben pays it no mind, choosing to let her wander around their living room while he returns to his laptop and the relative comfort of a couch that may be older than she is. He doesn’t ask why she’s there. He doesn’t act like he cares why she’s there. She watches him stick one earbud in his ear, the other hanging down the front of his shirt and bouncing against his chest with each rise and fall, and wonders briefly whether he’s actually forgotten that she’s there. The presence of an armed government agent is just that dull to him.
If she gets apathy from him, then she gets outright excitement from the roommate. His face cracks into a smile like she’s his old buddy from high school or whatever he almost graduated from and that is just not a range of reactions she was entirely prepared for. She expected more panic. From someone. Anyone.
“Dude, I expected you to show up way earlier than this,” the roommate, this Jay unknown-last-name, her special lunchtime stalker, says, giving her a quick once-over before dashing into the kitchen in his boxers, pulling a t-shirt that may or may not be clean over his head as he goes. He is an exercise in contrasts when compared to Ben, short and wiry with far darker features and the boundless energy of a preschooler on a sugar high despite having just rolled out of bed. Literally. She has him pegged for a junkie of some sort; the mention of the DEA at the door was kind of a dead giveaway for that, nevermind his demeanor.
“Sorry to disappoint,” she replies, watching him root through cabinets only to turn up a loaf of bread. There are about a million dirty dishes in the sink, a mass state of chaos that carries over to the rest of the apartment save for about six feet of meticulously organized space on all sides of Ben. The calm center in the midst of the hurricane. She recognizes that for what it is; the bare minimum that he needs in order for them to coexist peacefully. No database could’ve told her that but it’s the sort of information that’s far more valuable to her than any list of accomplishments or parking tickets could ever be when it comes to learning how to handle people. “You mind telling me why I’m here?”
“I have something for you, courtesy of our mutual fucking friend who won’t stop treating me like her own personal carrier pigeon.” He slots bread into the toaster and turns half his body towards the couch so he can ask, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know where I put that super important file you kept telling me I was going to lose would you?”
“Bedroom,” Ben offers. Then, “I don’t want to smell anything burning.”
Jay smiles, wickedly, before he dashes off in the direction he came from, pulling the door closed behind him and Ben goes back to ignoring everything not currently confined to his laptop screen, even as whole minutes pass and the smell of rapidly burning food begins to make itself known. He returns, eventually, with a file folder that he thrusts into her hands with nothing more than a somewhat biting, “you’re welcome.”
The first thing she recognizes when she opens it is Carina’s handwriting.
The rest slots into place fairly easily after that.
“You’re one of her moles, aren’t you?”
“We have an agreement,” he replies, around a mouthful of blackened toast. Carina has this nasty habit of outsourcing the boring parts of her job to small time dealers who have their ears to the ground. They tell her where the competition is doing business and she looks the other way while they go about their own. It’s old school in that it’s entirely corrupt but Baltimore is a big city and a lot of product passes through those streets. It’s not a bad place to network if you’re DEA. “You’re a hard person to get alone, by the way.”
She frowns, flipping past the handwritten cover sheet -- thought i would save you the trouble -- to find herself staring at the late Stephen Bartowski done up in the grainy grayscale typical of surveillance footage, a handful of photos scattered over documents she doesn’t think were ever supposed to see the light of day. Jay clears his throat, clearly perturbed at her lack of acknowledgement and she closes the folder and refocuses, deciding to put any further investigation aside until she’s alone. “Sorry. Not especially.”
“Says the woman with her own bodyguard.” He takes the remains of his breakfast with him as he crosses the room to hover over Ben’s shoulder, chewing happily while rambling incoherently at him about douchebags he could totally wipe the floor with. He sets his sights back on her, momentarily, as he adds, “Not to mention that hulk of a dude you’re always running around with. He’s pretty high on the list of people I wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley and I hang out in a lot of dark alleys. But at least he leaves eventually. Your security detail, on the other hand, just sits there and tries to look intimidating.”
Baffled, she asks, “My security detail?”
“Yeah, the guy in the Buick who sits outside your building all night and follows you around all day. I didn’t even notice him until I got in between the two of you one day and he almost ran me off the road. Dude needs to chill and maybe learn to part with his Ray-Ban’s every once in awhile like after the sun has already set.” He keeps treating Ben’s laptop like a touchscreen, leaving fingerprints from unwashed hands behind, and the other man keeps surreptitiously inching it away from his reach only to have him infringe on his personal space that much more to make up for the distance. He taps and Ben clicks and he starts to look about as confused as she feels. “Huh.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says. “I am my own security detail.”
“Well, then, you’ve got bigger problems. Like a tail. Or possibly multiple tails. Who the fuck is this shady ass looking motherfucker?” He asks that last to Ben, who doesn’t seem to have an answer for him, and it’s about that time that she decides it might be worth getting a better look at just what the two of them are doing. What they’re doing turns out to be dicking around with the building’s security cameras -- and possibly some of their own -- and it starts to dawn on her that Ben Stewart’s fraud misdemeanor charge had a little something to do with him hacking databases and stealing credit card information for, as it turns out, the challenge rather than the financial perks.
Jay’s pointing at a car in the lower left corner of the screen and it happens to be a car she recognizes, mostly because it was in Casey’s driveway when she pulled out this morning. She doesn’t know what to do with that. She doesn’t know what to do with most of the events that have transpired in the last three minutes but somewhere in between trying to figure out why Carina wants her to have the records of a dead man and why Mike Randleman’s car is currently idling on the screen, parked several dozen feet away from her own, she gets stuck on, “You were following me?”
“It’s not like I was peeking into your windows at night. Just on and off, a couple hours a day.” Off her look, he adds, “If you want to take it up with someone, take it up with Agent Miller. They were her orders. I just work here.”
“Fuck if I know. I hadn’t heard from her in months before she picked my ass up right in the middle of a deal. There’s a customer I’ll never hear from again, thank you very much.” He laments this like he would to a friend rather than someone capable of arresting him. She won’t. But. “Anyways, she gave me some background on you, photos, make and model, address, that shit and then went on her merry way. Told me to call her if I saw anything suspicious, whatever the fuck that meant.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Oh, and she told me to give you that about a week ago.”
She tries, and fails, to hide her dismay at that. “But you’ve been following me for longer?”
“About a month,” he looks to be doing math in his head, “maybe six weeks. I don’t know. A few days before those guys jumped your partner.”
“Which you know about how...?”
He shrugs. “I’ve got moves, baby. Well, actually, Ben’s got moves. You don’t need no stinkin’ badge when you can just pop some popcorn and pull up the surveillance feeds from the comfort of your own home. It’s like dinner and a really fucking boring movie that never ends. Like Benjamin Button.” He slaps Ben on the shoulder with a little more force than necessary; he grimaces, though she doesn’t think it has anything to do with pain so much as the intense desire to make his roommate shut the fuck up. “Right, pal?”
“There aren’t any cameras there,” she tells him. “Trust me, I asked.”
“And it’s not like anyone ever lies in the intelligence community. I mean, that would just be ridiculous and completely out of character for them, don’t you think?” His look is withering. “If you don’t believe me, you can see it for yourself. No skin off my nose. But before we do that, you should probably tell me if you know who this dude is,” he gestures towards the screen, “and maybe sit down. You look like your head’s about to spin off.”
“I’m fine,” she lies. She is not fine. She’s overwhelmed, among other things, but not so much that she doesn’t remember where she is. They may be outwardly friendly but they’re still criminals and she’s still a federal agent. Natural enemies. She’ll stay standing, thanks. “Don’t worry about him; he’s my problem. Just find me that footage.”
“To be clear, ma’am, you’re ordering me to do this,” Ben says, the first words he’s spoken to her since he let her in. “In an official capacity.”
She knows what he’s getting at. Regardless of whether he’s done it before, and he obviously has, she’s asking him to hack the security of a major government organization for her own benefit and he wants an excuse at the ready should he need to cover his ass down the road. He won’t need it, of course, because if he was the kind to leave a trail he’d be locked up already, but it’s honestly like she’s trying to bring about a premature end to her career these days. “Yes. I’m ordering you to do this.”
He nods, satisfied, and Mike disappears from the screen half a second later, replaced by a mess of code that he explains away with, “I’ll need about fifteen minutes.”
It only takes him ten.
PART ONE // PART THREE