Chapter 3: No Surrender
Colby (as Don takes off at a dead run): I don't know what his plan is, but I guess we're backing him up.
--"Money for Nothing"
David let out a yawn and rubbed at his temples. It was well past dinner time, and the vending machine sandwich that had been a poor lunch had been digested many hours ago. The gnawing of his stomach was secondary to his driving need to get this done, to figure out where the weapons were so they could put an end to this case and show that they weren't the total screw-ups that their supervisors seemed to think they were.
Oh, it wasn't their immediate supervisors, he knew that. Nor was it even necessarily anyone in the L.A. office. The point was, the work of some of the finest agents he'd ever had the privilege of working with had been thrown into doubt, and it ticked him off.
Not to mention what it had done to his partner. The few glimpses David had gotten of Colby throughout the day were quick, but the grim set of his jaw and his downcast eyes were enough. The poor guy had finally opened up enough to let someone else in, the first person he'd been able to level with after the whole Chinese thing, and it looked like she was a spy of sorts herself.
The one bright spot in the day was that they'd gotten enough out of John Madreno to confirm that Marta Luz Moreno's information on the original source of the RPGs had been good. Don had quickly passed that info off to another team, and they were working on closing off that pipeline and ensuring that no more of the weapons would enter the country from that particular source.
Now all they had to do was find the ones that were already here.
Madreno had been useless on that front. He'd pointed them to a warehouse in Riverside, but the local cops did a drive-by and found it empty. Apparently that was where the previous transactions had taken place, but once Simeon got a hold of the weapons, he apparently had decided to store them somewhere else, which meant they were back to square one, with time running out.
Now, just like a few nights ago, it was only their team and the janitorial staff who were still wandering around the building. David thought bitterly that if their supervisors wanted to know how dedicated they were to their jobs, they needed to stick around after five o'clock and see how many hours Don and his people were working. It had to outdo the rest of the office by a significant amount.
Then again, since they didn't have anything to show for it at the moment, maybe the higher-ups were right.
David rose from his seat and made his way towards the war room. Charlie and Amita had barely left their posts all day, and although they were still churning out results that were going to be useful to a whole lot of other cases having to do with organized crime or gang activity, there was nothing of use for the current goal. Don was in there with them now, slumped back in a chair, eyes closed. David knocked as he entered, and the way Don's head jerked when he sat up indicated that he had actually been dozing, at least for a few minutes.
"What've you got?" Don asked, rubbing at his eyes.
Feeling guilty for disturbing him, and even more considering what he was about to say, David came forward. "Nothing new. Madreno claims he's told us all he knows, and so has the Salvadorean woman. So unless you have another idea about where to look…"
"Give us just another minute," Charlie said with a distant tone in his voice as he typed away at his laptop. "We are so close…"
"To what?" David asked.
"Pinning down a location for the RPGs," Amita said excitedly.
Don sat straight up in his chair. "Seriously?"
"Yeah." Charlie looked up and beamed. "We've tracked back the letters that indicate the weapons to today's date, and we have a location for them. Or at least we have a zip code in Chino, even though it covers a pretty large area."
Amita interjected, "It's where the original buy was supposed to take place, before Beachy was killed and Simeon didn't know who to sell the weapons to."
Don let out a frustrated sigh. "So you know where the weapons were supposed to be."
"It would make sense for them to be located close by," Charlie argued. "They wouldn't want to risk anything happening to them before they could be transferred."
"More than that, Don." David had been watching the three of them lob questions and answers back and forth, and something occurred to him in the meantime. "Unless the buyers found out that Beachy's dead, as far as they know, there's several crates of rocket-propelled grenades scheduled to show up tonight in Chino. Except Simeon doesn't know who they are or where to find them."
"Beachy might have told him before Kassim's men killed him for letting Liz go when they thought she was Megan," Don said.
"Then why would Simeon be out looking for another buyer?" David asked. He could almost feel the gears in his tired brain grinding as they turned, but they were working nonetheless. "I'm guessing that he doesn't know where to go."
Don's eyes lit up. "So if we get someone in there pretending to have the RPGs, we can get whoever was intending to buy them."
David felt a smile spreading across his face. "That's almost as good as getting the actual weapons."
"Almost, but not quite," Don said. "Charlie, where exactly is that zip code?"
"Here," Charlie said, gesturing to the screen where a map displayed the expanse of Los Angeles's sprawl with a jagged polygon outlined in red to the right of center. The view zoomed in until they were looking at the eastern side of the metro area, criss-crossed with freeways. "It's about thirty square miles, but much of that is mountainous."
"We can overlay a map of land uses in the area and calculate probabilities for meeting locations if you give us some parameters," Amita said.
"Not residential and near the freeway," Don replied, standing up. "Start with that."
"On it," she replied, turning back to her laptop.
David was about to ask what Don wanted him to do when the door to the war room swung open and Liz came in, Colby on her heels. "We've got something," Liz said eagerly, holding up a piece of paper. "We found the Customs agent who was letting goods through uninspected for Lytle, and he let two containers through this morning."
"State Police have them waiting at a weigh station on the 15 south of Riverside," Colby said. His earlier dejection wasn't gone entirely, but David could read that he was funneling it into determination to get this done and the bad guys put away.
"More weapons?" Don asked sharply.
Colby nodded. "Hidden among the electronics in the back. The drivers swear they have no idea what was in the containers, but they do have a delivery location." He looked down at his notepad. "Somewhere in Corona."
"That's it," Charlie said excitedly. "That's next door to Chino. Follow the trucks and you'll find your buyers."
"And maybe the rest of the weapons," David added, excitement starting to rise in him. This was the break they'd been waiting for for days.
They gathered around Don's desk as he shuffled through some papers and then turned to face them. "We don't have a specific time for the delivery, but that's okay. All we need to do is ride along with the truck drivers and arrest whoever shows up to buy the weapons."
"How do you want to do this?" David asked quietly, hoping that his confidence in Don and in their team was showing.
Don pursed his lips for a moment. "State Police will have to turn them over to us because of jurisdiction. You take one vehicle and I'll take another, with Liz driving behind as backup."
"What about Colby?" David asked as neutrally as possible.
Don blew out a breath and turned to face the younger agent. "Colby, I need you to be our control center in the field. You'll be in a delivery truck and in contact with all of us and Control at all times."
Colby looked hesitant. "Don't take this the wrong way, Don, but—can we do this? Shouldn't we be drawing on some other teams for backup?"
For answer, Don spread his arms wide to indicate the office, empty except for a custodian emptying out the recycling bins. "For all we know, the buyers are already there waiting. We have to move on this now, and by the time anyone else gets their ass in here, it'll be too late. And yeah, I think we can do this."
Colby quickly looked at David, and David gave a slight tilt of his head and lift of his eyebrows as if to say, I agree with you, but he's the boss. The corner of Colby's mouth quirked up, and he turned away.
"You're right, though, Colby, we do need some extra assistance," Don went on. "Megan called this afternoon and wanted to know if she could help, especially after I filled her in on our eventful morning. I want her in on this, and I want her to be with you, Colby. That way if the three of us need backup, you can duck out and leave someone still in communication."
"She's out of the hospital?" Liz asked in surprise.
"Since noon," Don said. "And she's raring to go."
"Won't it take time to pick her up?" Colby asked.
"That's why you'd better get moving," Don said. "Pick up a communications van from the motor pool and get on the way. I'll be in contact with the radio frequencies."
David exchanged another look with his partner, this one a little more uneasy. Don didn't usually go off half-cocked like this, making up plans on the fly. But they all wanted to get this done, and they were all on the same page, and he was sure it was going to go fine.
He ignored the voice in his head whispering, Famous last words, as he followed Don and Liz out of the bullpen.
The back of a "delivery van", AKA mobile field station, was never a comfortable place to be. It was crowded, hot, and unless you really got along with the person working right next to you, uncomfortable.
Colby could only imagine how much worse it must be for Megan, a cast wrapped around her calf and ankle, leg propped up on a spare swivel chair. At least he could get up and stretch his limbs a little in the cramped confines of the van without it being a major operation involving crutches and the danger of toppling over. But she'd insisted on being there, and Don had backed her up, even if it seemed to Colby like she would be better off resting up after her ordeal.
Then again, he could understand the need to dive back into work in order to forget about what had happened to you—and the worse stuff that had nearly happened.
"Status report," Colby said, raising the radio to his mouth for what might be the last time for a while. Don, Liz, and David all had well-hidden radio transponders, but they were about to go dark while Don and David started the deal.
"Team Leader here, ETA of five minutes," came Don's voice with a slight crackle.
"Roger that. You're not under power lines again, are you?" Colby asked.
"No, all clear. Just interference," Don replied.
"Team Two here, leader's vehicle is in sight," David said. "ETA six minutes."
"Roger that," Megan answered.
"Team Three, One and Two are in sight, but I am pulling over to maintain distance." Liz's voice came through with no static at all. "Ready if needed."
"Copy," Don and David said simultaneously. Then Don spoke up again, "Going silent until I give the word."
"Roger," Colby said, flicking off the microphone so he wouldn't accidently send a signal audible to someone on the other side. The receivers were designed to only be heard by the person wearing them, but a burst of static or other noise could blow someone's cover if the wrong party happened to be too close. This operation was iffy enough, he didn't want to risk anything going wrong.
When he looked over, Megan was chewing on a fingernail. "I hope he knows what he's doing," she said.
Rarely did Colby hear her voice doubts about Don, and he looked at her quizzically. "You don't think he does?"
She sighed. "I think he always knows what he's doing, but I'm worried that he's trying too hard to prove something here."
"You noticed that too, huh?" Colby asked wryly.
Megan returned a rueful smile. "If I thought there was any chance of talking him out of this, I'd've tried. Thing is, he needs this to go right, and if we can pull it off, it'll make everyone feel a lot better."
"Us and the guys upstairs," Colby said, cynicism creeping into his voice.
Her tight smile showed her agreement, and Colby turned back to looking at the screen in front of him with three blinking red dots indicating the locations of their agents. The receivers had GPS capabilities as well, so their locations were known down to the meter. As he watched, the lead two dots slowed and then came to a stop. "Here we go," he said, mentally crossing his fingers.
In Colby's pocket, his phone rang, and he frowned. The rest of the team should be communicating by radio, and any other call was extraneous right now. When he checked the display, though, it was from the FBI office, so he flipped it open. "Granger."
"Colby, it's Theresa. Please, listen to me."
He paused with the phone already on the way to being shut. Her voice was businesslike and urgent. "What?" he ground out.
"You have agents out in the field tonight, right?" she asked. "One of them is Don, and he's meeting the buyers for the missing RPGs."
He could feel his shoulders tense. "How did you know that?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Megan's head swing around at the sharpness of his tone.
"Because I've been talking to the man who told Hector Simeon where your people were going to be."
His blood instantly ran cold, and he reached over to grab the nearest map. "Where are you?"
"I'm on the 60 coming up on Chino. Where are you?"
He traced the route of Don's truck with one finger, then noted their own location with another. "We're parked just off the 60 in Corona. Don's already in position."
"You need to tell him that they know he's coming." Theresa paused and then added, "I'll explain to you later, but please trust me on this one."
Colby hesitated only a second. "Fine, I'll call you back." He flipped the phone shut and called Don through the radio, but got no answer. His heart starting to pound, he hit "2" on speed dial. A few seconds later, his stomach dropped as the call went to voicemail. That's not right. When the message ended, he said only, "Don, it's Colby. Abort the operation and call me immediately."
When he hung up, Megan said, "Colby, what's going on?"
He shot her a quick look. "Apparently Simeon and Co. are on to us, or at least on to Don." When her eyes widened, he added, "The only question is how."
He dialed Theresa's number and put the phone on speaker. She answered on the first ring. "It's Granger," he said. "There's no response."
"Can you stop him from going in?"
Megan's eyebrows went up as she recognized the voice, but all she said was, "This is Reeves. We're in a delivery truck about a mile off the freeway, and as far as we know, he already went in with David."
"Damn it." Through the phone, Colby could hear the faint screech of tires. "Can you go after him?"
"We can't move this thing too quickly," Colby said, "but we can call for backup."
"Do it," Theresa said. "Give me seven minutes and I'll be there to pick you up." Now he could hear the faint wail of a siren through the phone; Theresa must have activated it on her vehicle. "There's a team behind me, so hang tight."
"Roger that." Colby flipped the phone shut and looked at Megan. Forestalling the question on her lips, he said, "You know as much of what she's talking about as I do."
"And yet you believe her." It was a question as much as a statement.
Colby faltered for a moment, dropping his gaze to the floor of the van. He thought about the brisk tone of Theresa's voice, the way she had called him out of the blue, knowing what his reaction to hearing from her was likely to be, confirming that this was, in fact, something serious. "Yeah, I do," he finally said quietly. "I don't know how she knows this, but she sure as hell has better connections than either of us, and there's no reason to make something like this up."
"Can you trust her in the field?" It was the pointed question of someone in command, and he realized with a jolt that with Don apparently unreachable, Megan was the agent in charge at the moment.
Colby swallowed hard. "She was here to report on us, not to sabotage us." Then he added in a lower voice, "I don't exactly have any right to complain."
Megan swiftly reached over and grabbed his wrist with considerable strength. "That's not what I asked," she said tightly. "God knows we've been through a lot lately, no one more than you. I need to know if you can put that aside and work with Agent Pennington in the field when another agent's life may be at stake."
He met her gaze straight on and barely refrained from saluting. "I can do it," he said firmly.
Her probing gaze changed to a smile, and she squeezed his wrist before letting go. "I thought so," she said. "Now let me tell Liz what's going on and get her to wait until you and Theresa can get there. If it's a trap, there's no use in sending her after them on her own."
"You think she'll wait?" Colby asked dubiously, already reaching for his vest and preparing to go as soon as Theresa arrived.
Megan frowned. "You think she's going to go charging in there after Don?"
Colby thought for a moment. "No, she's smart enough to wait. I mean, we don't even know how many of them there are, and she's not going to risk it when backup is minutes away."
"That's my read on her, too." Megan reached for the radio and paused. "But I still might wait until you're on your way."
There was a screech of tires outside, and Colby's eyebrows shot up. "That was a fast seven minutes," he said, grabbing his gun and holster and heading for the back of the van.
"Be careful," Megan said, her voice uncharacteristically sharp.
He nodded and jumped out of the back, shutting the door behind him.
Their delivery van was parked in a strip mall parking lot, off to the side of a dry cleaners. The shining silver Corvette that had pulled up behind them was incongruous in the dimly lot parking lot, but Colby thought wryly that it fit its driver, or at least what he knew of her. He could hardly believe that it was only that morning that he had woken up next to Theresa, and only that morning that he found out she was only there to spy on them all.
Shaking off his emotions, Colby climbed into the front seat and barely had his hand on the seatbelt before they were squealing out of the parking lot and back onto the freeway. "It's the next exit down and then two miles on the left," he said. "Liz is going to wait for us before going in, but David and Don are already there."
"The rest of the backup is about five minutes behind me," Theresa said. She accelerated smoothly onto the freeway, weaving around traffic, and Colby could believe that she'd learned driving in the Secret Service. If she had, actually, given that she was never who she'd said she was.
But there would be time for that later. "How did you know?" Colby asked. "That this is a trap?"
Theresa sighed and punched the accelerator a little harder. "You know I'm with Internal Affairs. The thing is, there's been more than one occasion in the past three months where someone outside the FBI has gotten information they shouldn't have. It started looking like there was a leak in the field office." She shot him a quick glance. "To some people's minds, it coincided a little too well with your return to the office."
Colby set his jaw and stared straight ahead. "What, I didn't get enough out of pretending to be a spy, I had to try it out for real?"
"Look, it didn't make any sense to me even before I went in, not after what I'd heard about what you went through." In the irregular glow of the lights flashing on top of the car, he could make out enough of her expression to see it become more nervous. "And then I got to know you better, and the rest of your team, and there was no way." She shrugged one shoulder. "Not that 'gut instinct' is something you can base reports on, you know, but I reported it anyway, and they suggested I start looking at other agents in the office."
He could see where this was going. "And then we let two crates of RPGs slip through our hands, and 'someone' figured it must be one of us."
They blew past a couple of semi trucks like they were standing still. "It might have made sense from a desk in Washington, but not from what I saw. I watched your team for a couple of days, decided that none of you were to blame, and told my superiors that." Theresa shrugged one shoulder. "Then Don found me out."
Colby leaned his head back against the seat. There would be time later to review this conversation in his head, to hash out how sincere he thought she was and what the implications were for what had happened between them. But right now, he still needed to know something. "And what about tonight?"
She pursed her lips and spoke like she was reciting from a press release. "In an effort to cut costs, the FBI has contracted some of its non-essential services to third parties who are closely screened to ensure the security of all operations within the field office." Then she let out a short breath. "Except when they aren't."
"What kind of services?" Colby asked.
"Janitorial. Short story is, they hired a company out of Lakewood to do the cleaning in our office. Every employee is supposed to pass a background check, whether directly hired or contracted, but once in a while, they're short-handed and have to call in a brother or a friend or something to fill in the gaps. Turns out one of these friends recently moved here from El Salvador and has a cousin named Luis Garcia Esteban."
His eyes widened, and he turned to stare at her. "We've had a member of this cartel working in our office? For how long?"
"Apparently he's only been on the premises a few times: once a couple of weeks ago and once the day your team went to the storage units in Fontana." Theresa's mouth twisted. "And tonight, which is when we caught him phoning Esteban."
"Son of a bitch." He pulled out his phone and called Don again, no longer expecting to get a response, but still holding on to the hope that he might. It only took four rings of the phone and Don's voicemail to dispel that hope. "How much farther?" he asked in a tight voice.
"There's the exit," she said, slipping past another pair of semi trucks and darting across four lanes of traffic, narrowly missing the green-and-white sign as she took the tight curve of the exit. "Two miles, you said?"
"Yeah," Colby replied, one leg bouncing up and down.
"Then we're almost there." There was silence as she negotiated the car, roof lights flashing, through a red light and down the nearly-deserted streets of an industrial park. "Colby, you need to know that last night had nothing to do with my assignment here in L.A."
He grimaced. "Can we talk about this later?"
"Yes, but I need to know that you can work with me." Theresa's tone was as brisk and businesslike as it had been on the phone, a sharp contrast to the easy-going woman he'd gotten to like over the past few days. "I understand if you can't, and there's no hard feelings, but I need to know that now."
"Megan asked me the same thing before she let me walk out of the van," he replied. "And yeah, I don't have a problem with working with you in the field."
Theresa was silent for a moment. "Good," she finally said. "Anything else we can talk about later."
"Right," Colby replied, not quite able to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
Theresa let out a short sigh. "Look, Granger, the worst thing about my job is that you have to go into an office assuming the worst of your fellow agents. Depending on what's being investigated, all of them are suspects until proven otherwise, and it can take a long time to do that." She paused. "Thing is, I like you. All of you. You're good people, you're doing an amazing job of dealing with some pretty heavy stuff, and there's no way you should be subjected to anything as lame-ass as an Internal Affairs review."
The corner of his mouth turned up in spite of himself. "You always speak of yourself so highly?"
"No one likes me once they find out who I am," she replied bluntly. While driving seventy down the street, she still managed to put up on hand to forestall anything he might say. "I'm not saying that to get sympathy. It's just the way it is."
Colby could see a black SUV parked on the side of the road. "That must be Liz," he said as they approached, and sure enough, a moment later lights flashed on on the top of the vehicle.
"Nearly there," Theresa replied.
Anything else between them would have to wait until they came out the other side.