Chapter 6: All Or Nothin' At All
Charlie: I love...working with my brother.
--"Money for Nothing"
By the time Don pulled into the FBI garage, he had cooled down. But it had taken most of the hour-plus drive to do it. He'd been wary when Megan planted herself in the passenger seat of his Suburban, but thankfully, she had kept her mouth shut during the drive back about the blowup between him and Liz.
When he thought about it, it still galled him. He hadn't been overprotective of Liz -- of Agent Warner -- back there, he knew he hadn't. He had to make sure they would have adequate cover before sending them in the back door, and he'd seen one or maybe two guys with a clear line of sight. Okay, so their guns and their aim had been towards the front of the building, where his part of the team was; it didn't mean they couldn't have heard the door opening and turned around to open fire. Besides, they'd accomplished their objective; five men were in custody, and all of the cargo on the original manifest -- some super-secret kid's toy for the Christmas season -- had been recovered.
Of course, the RPGs hadn't exactly been on the original manifest, and the director of Lytle Trucking was still insisting he had no idea where they might have come from. On the other hand, they now had five people to interview regarding said RPGs. Coincidentally, that was one for each member of his team. He was sure he wasn't the only one feeling a little aggressive at the moment. He almost pitied the man who ended up in an interrogation session with Liz right now.
As he climbed out of the vehicle, he noticed two figures disappearing into the stairwell across the garage. Right, he had six people on his team now, with the temporary addition of Theresa Pennington. On the other hand, she'd been on duty for a long time, and he had no idea as to her capabilities in interrogation. Probably better to get her on the paperwork and then send her home.
He voiced the thought to Megan in the elevator, and she agreed. "I think her sleep deficiency matches ours by now," she said, pushing the button for the ninth floor. "And eagerness can only compensate for so much."
"Yeah?" He leaned against the back wall and rubbed a hand tiredly across his face. "What's your take on her?"
Megan shrugged. "She's four years out of Quantico, but this is her first posting away from DC. So she's used to the big office and having to prove herself, but on the other hand, this is kind of her first time away from home. Based on what we've seen so far, I think she'll fit in just fine."
There was something about the profiler's tone that caught the remnants of Don's usually sharp observational skills. "And what aren't you telling me?" he asked.
He got a sharp look in response, followed by a grudging, "There is something, but I don't think it'll be a problem." He raised his eyebrows in a query, and she went on, "Let's just say both she and Colby have been making inquiries about the other's dating status."
Don leaned his head back against the wall with a soft thump. Was this the FBI or match.com? "Well, it better not be a problem, 'cause I can't exactly say anything about it, you know?"
"Of course you can say something about it if it's interfering with the team's work," Megan replied. "That's part of your job."
He looked over to see her giving him that probing, analyzing look that she favored suspects with. "Yeah, I suppose it is," he replied more sharply.
The elevator dinged their arrival, and he levered himself away from the wall and out the door. Don walked about three steps before he stopped in his tracks. "Well, I'll be damned," he said softly.
In the war room across the bullpen, scribbling away with a yellow marker on one of those clear chalkboards that the latest wave of technological upgrades had brought to the office, stood the familiar curly-haired figure that he had half-expected never to see here again.
Don knew that if he straight-up asked Charlie what had caused his change of heart, his brother would clam up and he'd never hear the reason why. So instead he strode into the room as if nothing unexpected was happening and said casually, "Hey Charlie, what's goin' on?"
The look he got in response was one part relief, two parts apology. What the mathematician said was, "I've got a start on tracing Beachy's network, but there's way too many numbers to do it all by hand. Amita's been entering the dates and the zip codes from the sheets that Colby found into the computer, and I'm working on a divide-and-conquer algorithm to determine what the letters in between mean."
"Divide and conquer, huh?" Don perched on the edge of the nearest table, taking advantage of the chance to just sit for a moment. "Sounds like a good strategy."
Charlie nodded, adding another series of Greek symbols to the board. "In this case, it means breaking the problem down into smaller subproblems. For example, everything with the same string of six letters probably refers to the same action: a drug deal, a cargo theft, something like that. So if we isolate everything with that string, and then compare the dates and locations to the FBI databases, we can figure out what that code means." He paused to erase an exponent and replace it with a bigger number. "And then on to the next one, and so on, and so on."
"All right, sounds good." He paused for a moment, then said, "We caught some of the guys this morning, so I'll be around the rest of the day trying to get something out of them."
The yellow marker faltered for a moment. "Did, uh, did everything go okay?"
"Yeah, everything went fine," Don said in his most confident voice. Everything with the raid had gone fine, it was true. It was just his personal life that was showing blemishes. "I got lots of good people watching my back, you know."
"I know," Charlie replied quietly. He finally turned and met Don's eyes. "I hope I can be considered one of them."
"Of course you are," he replied, his brow furrowing slightly. "Don't ever doubt that, Chuck."
"Don't call me Chuck," came the muttered reply, but it was delivered with a grin.
Don smiled back in reply and hopped off the table, clapping his hand on his brother's shoulder as he passed. "You keep dividing and conquering. I'll be back to check on you."
David had been surprised, though pleased, when Colby suggested they team up to question Francisco Perla Ortega. His former partner seemed to be willing to give him another shot after the uncomfortable standoff of the last few weeks, and he was willing to give it a try, too.
He'd temporarily been put off by Colby's reluctance to let him take the lead until he remembered that this Ortega brother was the one who had captured Colby the other night at the U-Stor-It. As it turned out, when the tables were turned, the kid wasn't nearly as full of bravado. He was slouched in the metal chair, arms folded in front of him, staring at the floor as if he could burn a hole through it and escape. David planted his rear on the tabletop a foot away from where Ortega sat, Colby taking up a position at the far end of the table. "We got you and we got your brother, Francisco," he started. "One of you is going to rat the other one out, given enough time."
"No way, man," came the quick reply. There followed some half-muttered Spanish words that caused Colby to snap back, "Watch that mouth, wise-ass."
David cast a questioning glance over his shoulder, but Colby gave a quick shake of his head. He turned back and said, "Kidnapping a federal agent. Imprisoning a federal agent. Multiple counts of those, by the way." He went on, ticking items off on his fingers, "Cargo theft, also a federal crime. Also multiple counts." He paused and added in a lighter tone, carefully watching the young man before him, "Oh, and then there's the terrorism charges."
He got a loud snort in reply. "You're making that up, man. Freakin' federal agents make up crap like that all the time."
"No, for real," Colby piped up. "You know what we're talking about, Francisco."
That got him a look, although the response was still, "I got no idea what you're talking about."
"We're talking about the goods that aren't on the cargo manifest." David lowered his tone of voice. "You were right there when we were carrying those boxes back and forth -- you know damn well what we're talking about. If we don't find them in time, you're probably going to end up with your brother someplace nice and warm, like a little piece of Cuba known as Guantanamo Bay."
Ortega shifted slightly in his seat. "Those boxes had toys, man. That's it."
On another occasion, David wouldn't have been able to hold back a grin at how the suspect had just cracked open the door on his own confession. But the stakes were too high here for him to celebrate. "What about the weapons?"
Another slight shift in the chair. "What weapons?"
"Damn it, Ortega!" David stood up and loomed over the guy, hands on his hips and baritone voice at near full blast. "We are not playing games here. If you know where those RPGs are and you don't tell us, you're as liable for their use as the guys who actually launch them."
"RP whats?" There was a shade of hesitancy in Ortega's voice for the first time.
David pounced on it, speaking slowly and clearly. "Rocket Propelled Grenades, Francisco. Definitely not toys."
Now their suspect was shaking his head. "No, that's not right. There might have been some guns or something, but nothing that serious." He looked at Colby and then back at David. "You're making this up," he said again, but with less conviction in his voice.
"I saw them, Francisco," Colby said from across the room. "There's no way you didn't know they were there, too."
"Swear to God," Ortega replied, spreading his hands wide. "Hector told us there were guns, but that's all."
Now they were starting to get somewhere. "Hector tell you who those guns were for or where he got them?" David asked.
Francisco shook his head.
"Well, isn't that convenient," David replied, leaning back against the table. "Unfortunately for you, that means you're still on the hook."
"Man, Hector doesn't even know!" Francisco replied, a slight whine in his voice. "So how'm I supposed to know?"
"You mean he's just stockpiling them?" David asked.
"No, he has a buyer, but the gringo's the only one who knows who it is."
"Who's that?" Colby asked.
Francisco shrugged one shoulder. "Some dude. I don't know his name."
"Would you recognize him if you saw a picture?" David asked.
The shrug again. "Maybe."
Colby was already moving towards the door. David cast a questioning glance his way, but it was brushed off. He moved back to Francisco. "And where'd he buy them from?"
"Marta's the only one who knows."
"Okay, so who's Marta?"
Ortega let out the same disbelieving snort he'd started out with. "Like you don't know."
David leaned forward a foot or so, looking Ortega straight in the eye. His voice nearly a growl, he repeated, "Who's Marta?"
Ortega looked back at him for a few seconds, and David held his gaze firm. Finally the kid's lip turned up and he looked away. "You must have disappeared her pretty fast if you can't remember who she is."
David furrowed his brow. "Disappeared her?"
Ortega answered, slowly enough for David to make out the words, but not to know what they meant. "Ella es una desaparecida." His dark eyes showed the first sign of emotion, which David was surprised to read as sorrow rather than fear or bravado. He added more quietly, "Como en mi país." And with that, he clammed up.
David tried for another five minutes, but could get nothing more out of their suspect than variations on the theme. He looked up as Colby re-entered the room and dropped a photo on the table. "Is this him?"
Ortega cast a quick glance at the picture. "No se," he muttered.
Colby rested one hand on the tabletop and one hand on the arm of the chair. "Is this him?" he repeated more slowly and forcefully.
This time, the kid gave the picture his full attention. David could see the flicker of recognition on his face before he grudgingly said, "Yeah, that's him."
He looked at the photograph, and then up at Colby, both of them clearly thinking the same thing. The man in the picture was Joseph Beachy. If he was the only connection between Hector Simeon and the buyers of the RPGs, why would Simeon have had him killed?
Something didn't make sense.
Don leaned his elbows on the railing and looked towards the skyscrapers of downtown. Sometimes his job really sucked. Like now: they had plenty of information in their hands in the form of six suspects, but none of them were saying enough to be useful. Charlie was plugging away at his work as fast as he could, but it still left Don with nothing to tell the Assistant Director when he met with him in -- he checked his watch -- twenty-five minutes. He let out a gusty sigh and dropped his head. On the sidewalk below the walkway he was standing on, employees were exiting the building, some of them no doubt headed home, given that it was nearly five o'clock. He wondered when he'd be heading home, and if anyone would be coming with him.
There were footsteps behind him, and he turned to see the object of his thoughts approaching. "Hey," he said quietly, turning his head towards her.
"Hey." Liz came up next to him and mimicked his position. She had her sunglasses on, and as she lifted her head, he could barely make out her eyes flicking towards him before shifting to stare at the skyline.
"Anything new?" he asked. He hadn't heard anything from his teammates all afternoon, but they were supposed to meet him here to give him updates before his briefing with A.D. Wright.
"We finally ID'd the woman they apprehended in the raid the other night." When he nodded, she went on, "Marta Luz Moreno, native of El Salvador, illegally in the U.S."
"For how long?"
Liz shrugged. "She's still not talking."
"If she's afraid of what Simeon will do to her--"
She shook her head, ponytail bobbing back and forth. "We're the ones she's afraid of, Don. Where she's from, the government 'disappears' people they don't like. She thinks that's what's happened to her and that there's no point in cooperating."
He ran a hand over his face. Considering the woman was facing potential criminal charges and almost certainly deportation, she would be "disappearing" in a certain sense. "Well, we'll keep talking to her."
Silence fell, at first what could have been a break between topics of conversation, but as it stretched out, it became an awkward stillness that brought to mind the angry way they'd parted company earlier that morning. Don fidgeted a little, watching Liz and wondering how to frame the words he wanted to say.
Then the silence was shattered when both of them spoke at once. "I'm sorry."
Don let out a soft snort. At least we're still on the same wavelength, he thought. Aloud he rushed on to say, "I've been thinking about it all day, and you were right." He took off his shades and hung them over the V of his shirt collar. "I've been trying to picture what I would have done if it had been Colby with David instead of you, and I think I would have given the command to go in earlier." He nibbled on his lower lip as she turned to face him. "I didn't want to admit it to myself this morning 'cause I didn't like the implications. I still don't. But yeah, you were right to call me on it."
Liz slowly took off her own dark glasses. "But I shouldn't have called you on it in front of the team."
He shrugged one shoulder and looked down at the concrete walkway. "If we're gonna work together, we gotta be honest with each other. No matter where and when."
"If we're gonna work together," she echoed softly.
His head whipped up, his internal antennae going on alert. "What do you mean?" he asked slowly.
Liz crossed her arms over her chest. "When we were in the storage facility and they were threatening you." He could see the shadow of remembered fear in her eyes as she went on, "I think that I would have done anything they asked to keep them from hurting you." She paused. "Anything."
Silence fell again, and he digested her words. He wanted to say that he knew exactly what she meant; hell, he'd been willing to sacrifice his own life for her and the rest of the team. But before he could say anything, Liz drew in a deep breath and added, " I can criticize you for being overly cautious this morning, but I would've done the same thing in your place. And I know as an agent that that’s not right."
Then he understood what she meant, and his mouth went dry. "So what are you saying?"
"I don’t know." She bit her lip. "I do know that I don’t want to lose you. In any sense of the term. But I don’t know how to reconcile that with both of us being able to do our jobs."
Don didn't know what he could say to that; he didn't know how to reconcile those two things, either. It was one thing to balance the tricky politics of having one of your co-workers sharing your bed; that happened in offices everywhere. What was special to them was the danger that their jobs involved, the danger they'd been all too forcibly reminded of a few days ago and again this morning. If you couldn't do your job because you were too busy worrying about a loved one, whether that was a family member or an intimate acquaintance, something had to give.
He couldn't stand to think of what that might be.
Liz cleared her throat and looked up at the skyline. "The thing is," she said quietly, "if I were to transfer to another team, that would reflect poorly on both of us."
"Same if I requested a transfer for you," he automatically added, his heart thumping. "Liz, I don't want--"
She put her hand over his. "I don't want it either," she replied. "I think we can get through this. But it's going to come up again, given the jobs that we have and the time we spend in the field. And we are not prepared for it. But we don't have the time to deal with it right now." She cleared her throat. "Given what you said to me the other day--"
"Forget I said it," he cut her off. Confusion and hurt flashed across her face, and he hurried on, "You're right, we don't have time to deal with it right now. I--I was just so relieved to hear your voice, you know, so glad that you were okay, that I…." Don mentally crossed his fingers as he went on, "I said what I thought I was supposed to say. I'm sorry if I confused you."
She blinked for a moment, then looked almost relieved. "No, it's okay. Heat of the moment and all, I understand."
"Right," he agreed, his heart sinking. So he hadn't misheard the half-hearted tone of her response to his impulsive "I love you" the other night. He ran his hand through his hair. Clearly, it had been the heat of the moment on her part, an automatic response that she hadn't really meant.
It hadn't been automatic on his part, had it?
There was movement off to his right, and he looked up to see Colby, David, and Charlie approaching somewhat warily. "Sorry to interrupt," Colby called out.
"No problem," Liz said, giving Don's hand a squeeze before letting go and turning around. "What's up?"
With one final exchange of glances, the two agents came forth, Charlie trailing slightly behind. "We finally got something out of the Ortegas," David said excitedly. "Bought ourselves some more time."
"They know where the RPGs are?" Don asked. Recovering the stolen weapons had to be their first priority, no matter what else was going on in this complicated case.
"Not exactly," David admitted, his enthusiasm lagging a little. "But at the moment, it doesn't matter."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Turning to face his teammates meant Don was looking directly into the sun, and he slipped his sunglasses back on.
Colby took over. "According to our guys, as of this morning, Hector Simeon was still trying to get in touch with Joseph Beachy."
It was a sign of how tired Don was that it took a few seconds for him to make the connection. "So Simeon wasn't the one who had Beachy killed."
"Nope. And apparently Beachy was the only one who knew how to contact the buyers."
Again, it took a little longer than it should have, and Liz was the one to fill in the gap. "So Simeon has a bunch of RPGs and no one to sell them to."
"Doesn't mean he won't find another buyer," Don interjected.
Charlie cut in, shaking his head. "Don, this kind of operation is new to Simeon. According to the divide-and-conquer algorithm, he's never done something like this before, at least through Beachy."
"The Ortegas thought they were smuggling guns," Colby added. "This is new stuff for Simeon, which means he won't have a buyer lined up right away, which gives us some time to find him."
"Well, that's something," Don agreed. "Anything else?"
"We found out that our mystery woman is named Marta Luz Moreno," said David with an air of triumph.
Don hated to burst his bubble, but he said it anyway. "We know that already."
David's face fell, but he went on, "Do you know why Simeon was so pissed that she's in custody?"
"That much, we don't know," he admitted.
"If Beachy was the link to the buyer, she's the link to the supplier," David explained. "One of the other guys we got this morning told us that she's the contact to where the RPGs came from. Apparently Simeon's been looking to get into some more serious arms dealing, and now this pipeline's been cut before it can really get started."
Don turned to look at Liz. "You've got to get more out of her than her name," he said. "No matter who she thinks we are, we need to find out what she knows."
She nodded tersely and made to move towards the building. He reached towards her for a second, then remembered they weren't alone. "Talk to you later," he said instead, hoping she caught the double meaning to his words. All he got in reply was a short nod, and then she was gone.
When he looked back, Colby and David were exchanging glances. "We'll, uh, go and help her out," Colby said.
"No, you two head home before you have to start mainlining caffeine," Don replied. "Seven sharp tomorrow."
"Look who's talking," Colby muttered, but he turned and headed inside without disagreement. David paused for a moment, but Don gave him a look over the top of his sunglasses, and he went off without further comment.
"Boy, if you ever do have kids, you'll have no problem disciplining them," Charlie said, his tone slightly amused.
"Yeah, well, the odds of that are probably too small for even you to calculate," he muttered.
"I thought you and Liz were, well, not like you're going to have kids any time soon, but I thought things were going well."
Don pursed his lips. "Things are fine, Charlie," he said in a tone intended to brook no further discussion.
Charlie opened his mouth, then must have seen the look on his face. "Right. Leaving the comments about kids to Dad. Not a problem."
That brought a small smile to his face. "How 'bout you and Amita?" he asked, turning around to lean his back against the railing. "You don't have any office politics to deal with there, do you?"
Charlie gave a small snort. "You got a few hours?"
He checked his watch. "Actually, I got five minutes. So, no." He went on, "But maybe when this case is over, yeah?"
"Yeah, maybe so." There was a pause, and Charlie said, "I, uh, I'd better get back to working on that algorithm."
"Yeah, okay." He had to organize a few thoughts before his meeting with Wright, and out here was probably easier than in the chaos of the bullpen. "See you later."
Charlie lifted his hand and turned on his heel. He was a few steps away when Don called after him, "Hey, Charlie?" When his little brother turned around, he said, "Thanks for coming back."
The smile he got in response was enough to power the FBI building for the long night ahead. He returned the smile and watched Charlie walk away. Well, at least one relationship isn't screwed up. He shook off the melancholy thoughts. Back to work, Eppes.
End of Part 2
Part 3, Chapter 1