Part One, Chapters 1-4
Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity
- official motto of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
There was only a bare, gray hint of dawn in the June sky when Simon parked his Jeep around back and slid out, but the day was already warm and humid, almost wet. It was just past five in the morning. Simon was so tired that he could feel a faint heart-deep quiver in his chest; Simon was so tired that he was wide awake, running on the edge, sliding into home on a rising tide of caffeine and pure nervous energy. The damp breeze moved sluggishly past his cheek and he glanced in that direction. The gray band of oncoming dawn was expanding in the east.
"Maybe today," Simon told the dawn. "Just maybe." He shut the door of the Jeep and headed for the entryway, sliding his ID from the back pocket of his jeans.
He let himself into a building so empty that it echoed. A janitor's cart was parked at the far end of the hall, with no janitor in sight. The entire length of the hall gleamed wetly, studded every twenty feet or so with little yellow CAUTION: FLOOR IS WET, STUPID triangles, and the entire place smelled not unpleasantly of ammonia and soap. Simon squeaked towards the saferoom, leaving faint sneaker prints on the slick vinyl, the complex patterns tinted a faint gray with dirt. He only vaguely noticed and couldn't bring himself to care. The janitors here had to deal with far worse than dirt smudges on a semi-regular basis, and after all, they were being paid to clean up other people's messes, much like Simon himself was. The metaphor broke down fairly quickly after that, but Simon didn't much care about that, either.
The inbox mounted on the wall next to Team Templar's saferoom was stuffed so full of paper that documents were cascading down over the front, hanging in huge curls like some kind of exotic plant. Simon scowled at the inbox and scooped the papers out, settling them into the crook of his arm like a load of schoolbooks while he went prospecting for that last little bit of paper that always got stuck under the lip of the inbox. Finally he found it and tweezed it out between his first two fingers, adding it to the stack before he let himself in.
Johnny, sitting at the conference table wearing a pair of headphones, glanced up at Simon and nodded, his face quirking into that little almost-a-smile of his. Simon waggled his fingers in greeting and caught the door behind him as an afterthought, easing it shut.
Johnny didn't exactly look tired, but then, Johnny was just about the hardest son-of-a-bitch to read that Simon had ever met. Dave, on the other hand, looked like he'd spent the last week being beaten by tiny elves with whiffle bats, which might have been true, for all Simon knew. His red hair straggled down across his forehead in damp spikes and the deep bags around his eyes looked puffy and bruised, like the elves had gotten in a couple of lucky shots. He hadn't looked up when Simon came in. He never did. It would take a good-sized explosion to make Dave notice his surroundings when he was glued to one of the three monitors in his corner, which he currently was, frowning at the largest and occasionally making little 'hm' noises under his breath.
Simon rolled his eyes at the back of Dave's head, prompting another near-smile from Johnny, and carried his armload of paper into his office, leaving a trail of rapidly-drying sneaker prints in his wake.
He'd barely put the pile down and booted up his own computer before Johnny appeared in the doorway, wielding a mug of coffee in each hand like a pair of six-guns. "Yo," Johnny said. "Coffee's up."
"Marry me," Simon said in automatic response. He started sorting rapidly through the pile of paper and dividing it into three piles: center of desk, edge of desk, and straight into the trash.
"Ain't gonna," Johnny said affably, putting Simon's coffee down on the corner of Simon's desk, where a pattern of interlocking ring-shaped stains waited for the mug like a helipad. He sighed and dropped into the visitor's chair with his own mug. "However, might not say no to a quick blowjob in the men's, you're offering."
Simon glanced up at him, then snorted and went back to his papers. "I'll keep that in mind, Mike. In case my mouth gets bored."
Johnny snickered and drank off about half his coffee, closing his eyes for a moment. "Forgot to bring in the daily crap," he said. "Sorry."
"It's cool." Simon waved a hand dismissively. "You've been busy. I'll blame Stonewall the next time he surfaces."
"Fair enough," Johnny said. He put a hand on the back of his neck and twisted his head sharply to the right, producing a series of muted crackling noises like a zipper being pulled down. "Haven't heard a peep all night. Got us transcribed up through about last Thursday while I was waiting."
"Thank Christ," Simon said, dropping into his own chair with a whoof of breath. "You are the man, or should I say, the secretary. How long have you been here?"
Johnny considered for a moment. "Seven last night?"
Simon whistled. "Okay. Sandy doesn't show up to relieve you by five-thirty, call her, bust her ass out of bed. Mike answers her phone, bust his ass out of bed and let him cover her shift."
"What he gets," Johnny said comfortably. "Inter-office relations are a bitch."
Simon nodded absently, picking up a pen from beside his computer and attacking the first stack of paper. Each one was, presumably, an important document that all the team leaders were required to read, sign, and send on; Simon slashed his name across the first blank line of every signature sheet, right under Hank Hall's completely illegible signature, and flipped the 'signed' documents into a new pile. He was done 'reading' approximately forty sheets of paper in just under two minutes. Johnny stayed where he was, working on his coffee and watching the papers dance.
Dave's chair screeched faintly out in the main room and Dave himself appeared in the doorway a moment later, weaving slightly from side to side. "Morning," he said faintly. "... I forgot to bring in the paper, didn't I?"
"Yep," Simon said, picking up the pile of signed papers and holding them out. "You're fired and also you suck. Go dump those in the outbox, will you?"
"Okay," Dave said, leaning forward and taking the pile of papers. He came within a hair of losing his balance and falling right into Johnny's lap; Simon was kind of disappointed when Dave managed to recover in the nick of time.
Simon held on to the pile for a moment after Dave caught on to it, just in case Dave's grip was as shaky as the rest of him. Eyeing this spectacle, he sighed. "How long have you been here, Stone?"
"Uh," Dave said, hugging the pile of papers to his chest and blinking sleepily. "Since... eight yesterday?"
"Uh huh," said Simon. "Which eight?"
"Which eight? AM or PM?"
"Oh." Dave thought about it. "AM."
Simon rolled his eyes at Johnny. "Jesus Christ, Stonewall," he said. "Okay, so you've been here for twenty-one hours, I think that entitles you to go home and get some sleep."
"I took a nap," Dave volunteered.
"He did," Johnny said. "In the mat room. Whole hour."
"Christ, that's almost a workman's comp claim, there. Texas, once someone gets here to relieve you, take Stonewall home, will you? I'm not going to unleash him on the roads in this condition."
"I'm fine," Dave said, blinking again. "I pulled longer all-nighters in college."
"And just as you are not in college any more, you are not on the clock any more, either. You are not allowed to kill yourself via overwork. I've already replaced one dead tech and I don't plan to go through that shit again." Simon pointed at the door. "Go put those in the outbox and then go lay down in the mat room until Johnny's ready to take you home. That's an order."
Dave dithered in the doorway for a moment, glancing back at his computers. "Okay," he finally said, his narrow shoulders slumping. "I've just got to shut everything down"
"Texas, go save his progress and shut his computers down," Simon said, turning his attention to the second pile of papers. "If I let him do it himself he'll be fiddling with them for another five hours."
"Right," Johnny said, levering himself up and out of the visitor's chair.
"But!" Dave protested.
"Do not 'but' me," Simon said. "Outbox. Mat room. Home. Bed. In that order. Do not make me come over there and punch you out, because that's the only way I know how to make you go to sleep and I doubt you'd like it."
"But," Dave said again, and then thought better of it. He turned around and wove his slow way to the saferoom door, like he was already sleepwalking. Johnny followed him out.
Simon leafed through the pile of papers, scowling. These looked more important, deserving of at least casual scrutiny, but he was in no mood for it; he waited until Johnny came back and then pushed them across the desk. "Take a look at these, will you, Texas? Let me know if there's anything important in there."
"There ever?" Johnny asked, but he picked up the pile and started sorting through it.
Relieved of his papers, Simon turned his attention to the computer and started going through the email that had piled up overnight. In blissful contrast, the email in his inbox was usually short, casual, and most of all, relatively important; Rich had disabled every 'Reply To All' button in the building three years ago (after one infamous email exchange about reserved parking spaces that had grown, like a tumor, to be almost a megabyte in size) and no one had bothered to fix it yet. Rich's legacy was Simon's mercifully uncluttered inbox. Simon was just tired enough to contemplate the idea of having someone go carve 'He Made Computers Not Suck As Much' on Rich's gravestone back in Seattle. It made him wince a bit, when he caught himself at it.
Simon started rattling out one- or two-line replies to his emails, one after another, taking a sip of coffee after each press of the 'Send' button. On the other side of the desk Johnny rustled papers, occasionally dropping one into the trash can. In the other room Dave collapsed onto a pile of mats with a soft whumpf sound and shortly thereafter started snoring quietly. He had an odd snore: short, quiet, almost ladylike snuffling sounds. It made him sound like something was startling him in his sleep, over and over. Possibly elves with whiffle bats.
"Professional Responsibility wants to see you," Johnny said after a moment, rubbing a pink message slip between his thumb and forefinger.
"Huh," Simon said, not looking away from the screen. "And we all know how much I love talking to the OPR. Wonder what Mike did this time."
Johnny put the message slip down on Simon's desk. "Doesn't say," he said. "Just says to come see, uh, Norton Fowles? At your convenience."
"Which is internal affairs-ese for 'right fucking now no matter what'," Simon said, rolling his eyes. "Christ, Mike. Okay, I'll deal with that when it's not five in the morning. Anything else?"
"Not yet," Johnny said. He went back to the pile of papers; after a moment Simon went back to his email inbox.
Simon was three-quarters of the way through his inbox and halfway through his coffee when Johnny paused, rattled a piece of paper in a meaningful way, and said, "Uh."
"Huh?" Simon said, his fingers pausing on the keys. "Something actually important in the daily toilet paper? Say it ain't so."
"Ain't rightly sure it's important," Johnny said slowly, "but maybe you ought to take a look just the same."
"You know what, I don't think I like the sound of that, Texas," Simon said. He sent off one last email, threw back the rest of his coffee, and kicked his chair around, holding out his hand. "Gimme."
Wordlessly, Johnny passed the stapled document over. Simon squinted at it. Upstairs had written FYI: Templar on the top in red pen, thencongenitally unable to use two words when more would dohad added Let me know if we need to involve ourselves in this in any way.
Simon frowned a little and scanned over the topmost sheet. Some kind of arrest report, nothing unusual about that; a glance at the top confirmed that it was from Scotland Yard, which was the only interesting thing about it. Some unlucky idiot named Jeremiah Harbottle, who had a name like that anyway
As tired as he was, it took Simon almost five seconds to figure out why that name sounded familiar. Once he did, thoughonce the coffee made a few more neurons start firinghis eyes jerked down to the 'Known Aliases' section of the arrest report. Unusually (yet unsurprisingly) it was jammed full, filled from edge to edge and capped off with a helpless 'cf. addendum, page 3' on the end, but the first line was all he needed to see:
"aka Jeremy Archer,"
Simon stared at that for a good five seconds, a sudden and useless burn of adrenalin tingling through his limbs and dissipating. "Well, shit," he finally said. Johnny grunted in agreement.
"Okay," Simon finally said, putting the arrest report down on his desk with care, like it might bite him. His stomach clenched once, hard, like a fist, and then relaxed again. "Okay. Not much I can do about it, really. I'll get Upstairs to request the full report, just in case, but... well, Archer's a criminal, and criminals get caught. Way of the world."
"Sometimes, anyway," Johnny said.
"Hey, I caught him," Simon protested. "I just didn't bother to keep him. He didn't fit with the rest of my collection." He turned back to his keyboard and hit the 'New Message' button, picking Upstairs out of the list of addressees. "Anything else important in that pile?"
Johnny rifled the stack quickly. "Don't think so."
"Okay. Trash it, then. I'll get Upstairs moving and then I'll take over monitor duty until Sandra gets here. Go pack up your stuff and wake Stonewall, will you?" Simon considered for a moment and then typed ASAP: Archer in the subject line. After a further moment of consideration he deleted ASAP and replaced it with URGENT.
"Will do," Johnny said, standing up with alacrity and dropping the rest of the papers into the trashcan. "Thanks, boss."
"No problem," Simon said. "Get out of here. Sleep. Come back at... let's say six."
"Six," Johnny agreed, picking up his mug. Simon let him go, turning his attention fully to his email program. Please acquire full arrest report with all the trimmings ASAP, he typed. I won't know if anything needs to be done on our end until I know exactly what happened.
He heard the murmur of voices from the other room as he sent off the email, coincidentally and pleasantly with the time stamp of 5:23AM on it. Simon would take his brownie points where he could. Johnny stuck his head back into the office, Dave bobbing sleepily along behind him. "We're out," Johnny said. "Doodad starts squawking, you wanna go listen."
"Great," Simon said, distracted. "Lemme just answer these last couple of emails and I'll go wear the headphones of shame until Sandy gets here. Go the hell home. Stonewall, if I see your face here before six PM I'll just send you home again, so you might as well stay there."
Dave blinked, a long, slow production in which his eyelids slid shut independently of each other. "Okay," he finally said.
"Ain't gotta tell me twice," Johnny said, his mouth quirking a bit. He vanished from the doorway. A moment later, the saferoom door swung to behind Dave, who dreamily caught it and eased it shut. The squeak of their footsteps faded away down the hall.
Alone, Simon quickly finished up his emails and shut his computer down. The clunky recording device in the main room was mostly quiet, although occasionally it emitted a tiny chirp that sounded unnervingly like birdsong. Disdaining the headphones for the moment, Simon picked up the arrest report again and read it from front to back, flicking through the pages. The actual arrest summary was short, factual, and mostly uninformative; like most police everywhere, Scotland Yard agents apparently didn't like to write any more than they had to.
Simon dropped the report onto his desk and made a single, jerky, frustrated gesture that encompassed not only the arrest report but the rest of his office, the saferoom outside, and, in a general sense, the entire world. "Jesus, Jeremy," he said, his voice hurt and angry. Maybe a little too hurt. He subsided, now grumpy at himself as well.
Outside, in the other room, the recording device made or transmitted a low rumbling sound. Simon's head jerked up, and he pushed himself up and out of his chair. What was happening across the Atlantic would happen with or without him and wasn't really any of his business anyway; what was happening here was his job.
Simon was sitting at the conference table wearing the oversized headphones and listening to three men have a conversation in a language he didn't speak when Sandra arrived, banging in through the saferoom door bearing a carry-tray with four paper Starbucks cups on it. Upon finding only Simon, she stopped in the doorway, started to say something, and then closed her mouth.
Simon pushed the headphones down around his neck. "It's cool. The doodad is set to record and they're talking in Martian again anyway."
"Portuguese," Sandra said patiently, but she stepped into the room and let the door close behind her. "Where is everyone?"
"Sent 'em home before they died," Simon said, unplugging the headphones. The room immediately filled with the low sound of conversation. Sandra glanced at the recording device and then came over and sat down, wiggling a paper cup free of the carry-tray. Simon held out a hand for it.
Sandra checked the label on the cup and then put it down by her side. "You don't want this one," she said.
"You are vastly underestimating my ability to tolerate unnecessary frills if there's coffee at the bottom, but I'll take your word for it," Simon said.
"It's not even six in the morning. I need frilly coffee," Sandra said defensively. "Some extremes require sugar and that's all there is to it."
Simon held up both hands in surrender. "I fully support your right to drink fifteen hundred calories' worth of fancy-ass coffee-flavored dessert if that's what floats your boat," he said. "Especially if one of those others is plain black."
Sandra checked the various cups, then wriggled a second one free. "Quintuple espresso," she said, putting it down in front of Simon. "The barista made me say it four times. I think she wanted to make me sign a waiver."
"I forgive you for every wrong you've ever done me," Simon said generously, and picked up the cup. "Unless you got that soy milk shit in yours, in which case I am totally going to call you a girl."
"Simon, I am a girl."
"Really? Huh. You don't say."
"That's Boss Fuckhead to you, woman."
Sandra flipped him off lazily and flopped back in her chair, sucking at her coffee. Her upper lip came away from the to-go lid with a little spot of whipped cream on it; Simon decided not to mention it. "So what's been happening?" Sandra said.
Simon ripped the lid off his cup. "Well, let's see. Our Martian friends"
"were apparently quiet all night, so Texas got the English bits transcribed right up until Thursday night. Stonewall forgot to go home again. What's his current record?"
"Uh." Sandra thought about it, her eyes flicking right. "Twenty-six hours?"
Simon blinked. "Jesus, how did I miss that one? Anyway, he only managed to go twenty-one before I sent him home, so his record remains unbroken. Uh, let's see, next, apparently OPR wants to see me."
"What'd Mike do this time?" Sandra asked.
"I have no clue. Figure I'll ask him before I head down that way." Simon pulled the headphones off from around his neck and dropped them onto the table. "And, last and least, Jeremy Archer got himself hauled in by Scotland Yard yesterday."
Sandra, in the process of pulling the two extra cups free of the carry-tray, went still. "Oh," she finally said. "Whoops."
"Yeah, so much for that stellar career arc, huh?" Simon snorted out a laugh or something like it and promptly burned the roof of his mouth on his coffee.
"I guess so." Sandra studied Simon's face for a long moment. "Are you going to do anything about it?"
Self-conscious and kind of irritated about it, Simon shrugged one shoulder, looking down at his cup. The cardboard sleeve was starting to come unglued and he picked at the loose corner with his thumbnail. "Upstairs is requesting the full arrest report for me now, just in case, but I doubt there's much to be done. I mean, I can probably fix it so that he doesn't get extradited to the US, but the list of his alleged crimes is as long as my arm whether or not we get in on the party. Hell, he could spend the entire rest of his life just paying for his crimes against the French, not that anybody else cares what he did to a bunch of snail-eaters."
Sandra was quiet for so long that the Brazilians finished their conversation and wandered away from the listening device. "Oh, well," she eventually said. "Guess it was nice while it lasted."
"Guess so," Simon said. The sleeve abruptly gave way and fell to the table, a useless curl of cardboard.
It was almost eight before Simon heard Mike incoming, whistling his way down the hall in that weird tuneless way of his. The whistling stopped just outside the saferoom door, and Simon was already rounding the corner of his desk when Mike booted open the door and announced (in a suspiciously cheerful voice) "Holy shit, mah peeps, but it is already like living in someone else's mouth out there"
Simon stuck his head out of his office. "Mike!"
Mike's mouth snapped shut with a click. Without a further word he spun on his heel, caught the closing door, and marched right back out into the hallway. The door slammed shut behind him.
Snickering a little despite himself, Simon cupped his hands around his mouth. "Miiiii~ike," he called.
No response. Sandra pushed down the headphones and glanced at Simon. "Want me to go get him? You know I always relish the opportunity to put him in a headlock."
"Nah, shouldn't be necessary, as funny as it might be," Simon said, pulling out his cellphone and punching in Mike's number. After a brief pause (in which, presumably, distant satellites were doing their thing) he heard The Imperial March blaring tinnily on the other side of the saferoom door.
After a moment, it stopped. "Yo, boss," Mike said, eerily echoed by his own voice out in the hallway. "Just calling to let you know that I'm totally sick and might be a little late"
"Ohh, I see," Simon said, nodding. "When do you think you'll get in?"
"Uhhh, well, how's Thursday for you?"
Still holding his phone to his ear Simon crossed to the door and yanked it open, revealing Mike, who blinked. "Get in here, slackass," Simon said cheerfully, snapping his fingers and pointing to the ground at his feet. Now it was his voice that was oddly doubled, coming both from his own mouth and from the speaker of Mike's phone.
"On my way, boss," Mike said, grinning, and then closed his phone and scuffed on in.
Folding his own phone shut, Simon stood aside for Mike and then let the door swing to behind him. "So!" he said.
"Aw, shit, I hate that tone of voice," Mike said, scuffing to a stop and hunching his shoulders. "What'd I do this time?"
"See, actually, that's what I was about to ask you," Simon said.
"I need to know what you've done that has OPR wanting to see me," Simon said.
Mike's eyes went round. "Aw, shit, boss," he said, and then stopped to think about it. "Actually, I can't think of anything?" he finally said. "I mean, shit, we've been working this surveillance bullshit for like three weeks, I haven't gotten near enough a criminal to break anything of his except maybe a restraining order"
"does anyone have a restraining order out on you?" Simon asked, just to be safe.
"Last one expired back in March," Mike said happily. "That one was totally bullshit in any case, just some lawyer trying to 'fluence a jury."
"Yeah, okay," Simon said. "Huh. Wonder what this is about, then. Sandy, you haven't started knocking over convenience stores in your spare time, have you?"
"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids," Sandra said dryly, putting the headphones back on.
The hours crept by at a snail's pace. Once people who spoke English started coming within range of the four listening devices that Simon's team had planted almost three weeks ago, it claimed everybody's attention. Now Sandra and Mike were both wearing their headphones and staring off into space, occasionally taking notes.
Simon, headphone-free by dint of being the boss, sat in his office staring blearily at his monitor and wishing he could just put his head down and take a nap. Despite the ridiculous amount of caffeine in his system keeping his body going, his mind was bogging down. Three weeks on short rations of sleep were starting to take their toll. If Rappaport would just show up, they could notify the NYPD, wait until Rappaport had been arrested and/or shot, and then all go home and sleep for twenty hours. Gosh, that would be nice.
His somnolent musings were interrupted when Nate pushed open the door and stuck his head in. "Morning," Nate whispered, edging in and shutting the door carefully behind himself.
Simon heaved himself out of his chair with an effort that nearly made him grunt. "Morning, Specs," he said, not bothering to whisper, although he kept it down a bit. "Hey, you haven't been out curbstomping bad guys again, have you?"
Nate blinked at him owlishlythe poor guy looked just about as tired as Simon felt, and abruptly Simon felt a little bad about teasing him. Only a little, though. "No," Nate finally said. "And there's an Aryan Nation joke in there somewhere but I'm too tired to frame it properly. Why?"
Simon shrugged. "OPR wants to see me and Mike swears it's not his fault this time."
"He's probably lying," Nate volunteered. "Covering his tracks. Very clever. As soon as you leave to go talk to OPR he's going to bolt and fly to some country without an extradition treaty."
"Yeah, that was my first thought."
"Hey," Mike said, injured. "I heard that, seeing as how I am sitting right here listening to a couple of bent-nosed guys very seriously debate whether Subway or Blimpie has better sandwiches."
"Christ, how stupid can you get?" Simon said, rolling his eyes.
"No kidding!" said Mike. "Blimpie. No competition."
"Uh," said Nate.
Simon cleared his throat. "Anyway," he said. "I'm starting to run out of ideas, unless Stonewall has been hacking into people's bank accounts or something. ...what time is it?"
Sandra checked her watch. "Just after ten."
"Huh. Okay. Nate, go empty the doodad and run last night's recordings up to the translator guy."
"Yeah, okay," Nate said. "Also? Subway, totally."
Mike made a gagging sound. Simon, trying not to smile, retreated into the safety of his office and, after a moment of thought, picked up the desk phone and punched one of the white buttons in the bottom row.
Danielle, Upstairs' secretary, snatched up the phone on the first ring. "Simon, I only sent off the signed request an hour ago," she said, mildly irritated. "Scotland Yard probably hasn't even had a chance to fetch it off the fax machine yet."
"What?" Simon said, unable for a moment to figure out what in hell she was talking about. "Oh! Nah, fuck a bunch of him, actually. This is about something elseDanielle, go ask the big guy if he knows why OPR wants to see me, will you?"
"Professional Responsibility wants to see you?" Danielle said curiously. "It's news to me. Anyway, he's over in the main building right now, but I'll ask him when he gets back and give you a call. Okay?" She paused. Simon could hear her writing something down. "And I'll send down the arrest report as soon as it comes in over the wires, since it's apparently so urgent."
"That'd be great," Simon said. He shut his eyes and leaned back in his chair. "You're so good to me, Danielle. Why don't I treat you better?"
"I ask myself the same thing every day, Simon," Danielle said primly, hanging up on him a moment later.
Whatever Danielle had promised, eleven o'clock rolled around without a word from her on either subject. Simon checked his watch, thought about it for a moment, then shut his computer down and strolled out into the main room. "I'm going to go drop in on OPR before I get lunch," he said, surveying the room. "You guys stagger your lunch breaks, okay? I want someone on the headphones at all times, as I have no doubt said four thousand times in the last three weeks. If Rappaport turns up, hit the panic button."
Sandra looked up at him, followed shortly by Mike. Nate remained where he was, hunched over the recording device, frowning and muttering to himself. "Okay, boss," Sandra finally said, tugging her headphones down. "Good luck with that."
"Yeah," Simon said, pushing a hand through his hair. "Wish I knew what this was about. You sure you haven't kicked anyone's ass lately, Mike? I encourage you to share it with the class, if so, because bottling up your rage is unhealthy."
"Honest and for true, boss, I ain't done nothin'," Mike said, crossing his heart.
"Ha ha!" Nate cried, his head popping up fast enough to make his shaggy blond hair explode out into a halo. He pointed a dramatic finger at Mike. "You have incriminated yourself via double negative, good sir!"
"What?" Mike said, blinking.
"Yeah," Simon said. "What?"
Nate (and his hair) deflated a little. "See, when he says he 'ain't done nothin' the two negatives cancel each other out, so that means he has done something, and also this was slightly funnier before I had to explain it."
"Oh," Simon said. "A grammar joke. Yeah, I've totally had enough sleep to appreciate that sort of rarefied educational humor."
"Sorry," Nate muttered, wilting further.
Simon rolled his eyes. "Aw, jeez," he said. "I was just teasing you. Sandy, ruffle Nate's hair for me, will you?"
Sandra switched her pen into her other hand and reached out, smoothing down the remnants of Nate's halo. "You need a haircut," she noted.
"Yeah, I know," Nate said. "I haven't had time to go get one. What with the stuff."
"Yeah, the stuff," Simon said. He pivoted on his heel and headed for the door. "Which you guys should get back to. I'm off to see the wizard."
"What?" Mike said. "Drain the lizard?"
"Jesus, the quality of humor around here has sure gone downhill lately," Simon said, pausing with one hand on the open door. "We catch Rappaport and I'm signing you all up for remedial stand-up comedy lessons, swear to God."
"So a terrorist, a Klingon, and a gay guy walk into a bar" Mike yelled after him, but fortunately the saferoom door swung shut quickly enough to cut off the rest.
The Office of Professional Responsibility occupied its own floor, partitioning it off from the rest of the building; just hitting the button for the seventh floor was enough to make people edge away from you in the elevator, as if whatever you had was catching. It was not a comfortable place to be under any circumstances, and when Simon didn't know what he was walking into, doubly so. "Hey," he told the receptionist, flipping open his ID folder and successfully quashing his urge to park a hip on her desk, as she did not look like the kind of woman who would appreciate that sort of familiarity. "My name's Simon Drake, I'm supposed to see, uh..."
"Norton Fowles," the receptionist supplied, barely glancing up from her keyboard for long enough to check his ID. Her voice was markedly cool. "He's waiting for you in Interview Room H. Down that way." She pointed down the left-hand hallway.
"An interview room?" Simon said uncertainly. "Seems awfully formal. I don't even know what this is about."
"Mr. Fowles tends to prefer them," the receptionist said. She hadn't looked at Simon since that initial swift glance. After a moment, the speed of her typing redoubled, as if to prove that she had better things to do than pass the time of day with a field agent, even one as ruggedly handsome as Simon generally considered himself to be.
Simon waited for a second or two, just to prove that he would not be dismissed so easily, and then headed down the left-hand hallway. He didn't like any of this. Private interview rooms were for ongoing investigations, extremely serious matters, and formal questioning, not for initial meetings. Simon himself had only been inside private interview rooms on a few serious occasions, and as one of those times had been the dim and blurry hours just after he'd shot Rich, it was no wonder that this place was giving him the heebie-jeebies.
The hallway itself was carpeted, a rare touch of class for headquarters. While it was the same industrial gray-brown carpeting that graced the management floors, here in OPR it had been padded, thickly enough to swallow Simon's footsteps entirely. The lighting was dim in a way that was probably meant to be peaceful but came off as ominous instead. The walls were battleship gray and slightly too close together; the doors were plain steel, marching down the hallway in matched pairs. All in all, it was so mundane as to be somewhat surreal, and so quiet as to make Simon's ears ring. He couldn't hear anything from behind the doors. If there were other agents in there, having the metaphorical thumbscrews applied, he'd never know. If there were other agents in there, they'd never know he was out here. It was a thought that was comforting and disquieting all at once.
Interview Room H was on his right, a steel door just like all the others. Simon eyed it in distaste. An interview room, Jesus. Most OPR agents had the common decency to start out at their desks, playing a round or two of 'we're-all-on-the-same-side-here' before the gloves came off and the interview rooms came out. If this was a ploy of some sort to throw him off-balance, Simon was irritated to discover that it had worked, to a certain extent.
Quashing his paranoia, Simon vowed not to be led along like he had a ring in his nose. Thus, instead of knocking, he grabbed the knob and opened the door, revealing the dimly-lit room beyond it and the man sitting at the plain steel table in the center.
Simon's first blurred impression was of a white shirt and tie, and right away he knew this wasn't going to go well. Norton Fowles himself was so ordinary a man that Simon's eyes slid right off him. In his forties somewhere, with plain steel-rimmed glasses, light brown hair receding back from his forehead, a neck that was just starting to thicken, and that damned white shirt and muted, professional tie; Norton Fowles couldn't have announced that he was an FBI agent of the old school more clearly if he'd had a sign that said so. Simon, a card-carrying member of the new school, knew that he tended to inspire disdain in men like Norton Fowles. Disdain, or worse.
Norton Fowles regarded Simon blankly for a moment before he smiled, a automatically-friendly smile that left his eyes as hard as bullets behind his glasses. "Mr. Drake," he said, gesturing to the chair opposite him. "Please, come in, have a seat."
Simon entered the room warily, automatically reaching back to catch the steel door and ease it shut. He didn't bother holding out his hand; Fowles hadn't risen or offered his own, and that made it clear that Simon's initial impression had been correct. "Mr. Fowles," Simon said instead. "What's this about?"
"Hm," Norton Fowles said absently, looking back down at the papers strewn in an arc about him. Simon crossed to the other chair and sat down, leaning forward to get a look at them himself; the light was in his eyes, though, and he couldn't make out much. "Let me see," Fowles said, plucking a single sheet of paper from the mess and consulting it. He paused after a moment and showed Simon that friendly smile again. "Ah, here we go, Mr. Drake. You've been in charge of your own team for... hm, hm... four years now, if I'm correct?"
"Almost five," Simon said.
"Ah, yes, almost five." Fowles put the piece of paper back down, picked up a pen, and made a brief note on it. "That would have made you... hm... twenty-five when you were first given the responsibility? That's quite impressive, Mr. Drake."
"Thank you," Simon said. "I don't see what bearing that has, though"
Norton Fowles held up his hand like a traffic cop and Simon subsided, more out of habit than anything else. "Please bear with me, Mr. Drake," Fowles said, still smiling. "I promise it will all become clear in good time."
Simon didn't dignify that with a response, merely crossed his arms on the table and waited. Fowles shuffled through his papers again and came up with a different one, holding it up to be squinted and frowned at in its turn. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, Mr. Drake, but you have been questioned regarding shots fired on seven different occasions, three of which resulted in fatalities"
"and one of which was a member of my team, yes, Mr. Fowles, I'm aware of that," Simon finished for him, nettled. "Do you have a problem with that number? Because if so, I feel that I should point out that I was fully exonerated by the Office on all seven occasions and commended twice. If there was an issue, it should have been dealt with at that time."
"Hm," Norton Fowles said again, putting that piece of paper down and picking up his pen. "It's a bit too early to say that there is a problem, Mr. Drake" The piece of paper skidded underneath his pen and Norton Fowles broke off there, ticking his tongue off his teeth in irritation. He brought up his left handno, Simon noticed with a jolt, he brought up the stump of his left arm, propping the stub of his elbow on the paper to hold it in place while he made his note. His half-empty left sleeve was neatly folded up and pinned in place. "but a few minor issues have recently come to light and, well, I'd wanted to ask you a few questions. Just to clear things up, you understand. The Office of Professional Responsibility answers to the American public, after all, and therefore we must have those answers."
"Huh?" Simon said, belatedly twitching his eyes up. Norton Fowles was regarding him with an unpleasant little smile on his face, one that made his eyes glitter; abruptly Simon would have liked nothing better than to punch the man straight in that smirk. He cleared his throat instead. "I'm more than willing to answer your questions, Mr. Fowles, but I assure you my answers haven't changed. Could you be more specific about these new issues, maybe?"
"In a moment, perhaps," Fowles said, his voice offhand again. He put his pen down and shuffled through his papers once morethe constant shifting and rustling was starting to get on Simon's nervesand finally picked up yet another, consulting it in its turn. Having already used his shock tactic, he left the stump of his left arm resting on the table in plain sight. "Hm. In regards to the shooting of Mr. Richard Story"
"Hey," Simon said, putting his hands on the table and leaning forward.
Norton Fowles blinked at Simon mildly. "Yes?"
"Get to the point, Mr. Fowles. Is this about Rich? Because that whole mess was vetted by the OPR six ways to Sunday, thanks to the international implications of Rich's little fuck-up" Fowles winced at the profanity, Simon couldn't help but notice "and I was assured at that time that everything checked out. If something new has come up regarding Rich's death or his illegal activities, I should have been one of the first people told."
Fowles sighed. "No, Mr. Drake, nothing new has come up regarding Mr. Story of which I am aware. I just have one question."
"One question," Simon repeated. "All right. What's your question?"
Fowles looked back at his piece of paper. "It says here that during the interview you were initially vague as to how long you had spent attempting to negotiate with Mr. Story before you pulled your weapon, and you eventually settled on 'ten minutes or so'. Do you still stand by that, Mr. Drake?"
"Yes," Simon said, gritting his teeth. "And if I was vague during parts of the interview, I might point out in my defense that I had just killed a man who I considered to be my closest friend."
"Of course," Norton Fowles said absently, putting his paper down, pinning it with his stump, and making a brief notation. "It's been well over a year by this point, however, and I thought that perhaps you might have a different answer now that you've had some time to think about it."
"Actually, I try not to think about it," Simon said flatly. "But my answer hasn't changed."
Fowles made another note. "Mm-hm, I see," he said. "I might point out that you have, technically, been trained in negotiation, Mr. Drake"
"I was, yes," Simon broke in. "So was Rich. Christ, he and I took that course together. Richard Story remains the smartest man I have ever met, he had a gun on me at that time, and he was, furthermore, hysterical. Standard negotiation techniques were useless in that situation, Mr. Fowles!"
"There's no need to shout, Mr. Drake," Norton Fowles said, looking mildly wounded.
"I wasn't shouting," Simon gritted out.
"Hm," Fowles said. "Very well, then. Let's move on, shall we?"
Simon exhaled hard. "Yes. Let's."
Fowles did his paper-shuffling dance again. "You are aware that you currently lead the agents in your section in official Professional Responsibility audits, Mr. Drake?" he asked, offhandedly, like this was his idea of small talk.
"I wasn't aware of that," Simon said, striving to sound neutral. "Are you counting the times that I've interceded on Mr. Takemura's behalf?"
Light sheened off Norton Fowles' glasses as he glanced up. "No, Mr. Drake, I was not."
"Ah," Simon said. "Just checking."
"You were one of the youngest team leaders ever appointed and at this time you are the youngest team leader in your section, Mr. Drake, and yet you still have been officially questioned by the Office of Professional Responsibility more times than anyone else in your section. Including, since you brought it up, Mr. Takemura." Norton Fowles shuffled his papers. "Some people might point to that as evidence that you are somewhat... free... in your methods. Hm."
"Yes, and some people believe that tiny monsters suck out the brains of goats through straws," Simon said.
"Really," Fowles said. The papers stilled.
"If this wasn't so serious an interview, I'd be tempted to tell you that I read it on the internet." Simon laced his fingers together. "I'd appreciate it if you'd get to the point, whatever it is, Mr. Fowles."
"Hm, hm," Fowles said again. "I'm glad you appreciate how serious this is"
"Actually, I don't," Simon said. "I don't, because I don't know what's going on here. Enlighten me."
Norton Fowles sighed, dropped his truncated left arm onto the stack of papers with an audible, fleshy thump, and crossed his other arm over where his forearm might once have been. His hand curled protectively over the stump of his elbow. For a moment Simon could almost pretend the man had two normal arms. "You're aware that about three months ago, legal action was officially brought against the Bureau for the wrongful death of one Cole Farraday, a man whom you do not deny shooting and killing."
"Yes, I'm aware of that," Simon said, some sixth sense making the hairs on the back of his neck rise. "The suit was brought on behalf of one Diana Fontaine, the deceased's lawyer and long-time lover, then as now serving serious prison time as the deceased's accessory both before and after the fact. The last I'd heard, the suit was bogged down in negotiations because Ms. Fontaine is too personally involved with the case to see that there is, in fact, no case."
"She is somewhat emotional about it, isn't she," Norton Fowles noted. His little commiserating women-are-so-irrational smile gave Simon the contrary urge to say something in Diana Fontaine's defense, which would have been difficult, as Simon considered Diana Fontaine to be generally indefensible. "In any case, Mr. Drake, I was heavily involved in preparing the Bureau's defense at the time. While our case is not quite watertight, owing in part to the, er, unusual eyewitness to the shooting, I feel that it is safe to say that the evidence is firmly on our side."
"There's a 'but' coming, isn't there," Simon said.
"However," Fowles said, with a faint flash of smile, "I will admit to some... misgivings about the evidence at hand."
"The time to bring up your 'misgivings' was during the official OPR investigation," Simon said shortly. "I was fully exonerated by a panel of your peers."
"This isn't an official interview, Mr. Drake" Norton Fowles started to say.
"It isn't?" Simon said. He pushed his chair back and stood up. "In that case, I'm wasting my time here and I have a job to get back to"
"but I've been given a certain amount of latitude by my superiors in order to clear up my issues with the statements," Fowles said, talking right over him. "I'd like to do this off the record, Mr. Drake. If you can satisfy my misgivings, this need go no further than here and now. Won't you sit down?"
Simon wavered, shifting from foot to foot, the door only a few steps behind him. This was a bad idea, he knew it was a bad idea, and yet the idea of keeping this off his official record was definitely a lurean obvious one. He knew better than to fall for it. "Why don't you start by telling me what your misgivings are," he said, sitting back down.
Norton Fowles looked back down and went into his interminable paper-shuffling routine again. Simon kept his mouth shut, resisting the invitation to fill the silence. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt," Fowles finally said, reluctantly. "Essentially, my primary issue is with how very similar the wording of your statement is to that of the eyewitness, a Mr. ... hm, hm... Jeremy Archerwho, I might add, is an associate of yours despite being a known felon"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Simon immediately said, holding up both hands. "It sounds uncannily like you are accusing me of something. If that's the case, this interview is over."
"No one is accusing you of anything, Mr. Drake," Norton Fowles said reproachfully. The 'yet' went unsaid and yet Simon heard it as clear as day. "I'm just curious."
"I'm not here to satisfy your curiosity, Mr. Fowles," Simon said. His stomach clenched. "Given that we were both testifying about the same incident, I wouldn't be surprised if our official statements were similar. In fact, I'd expect it."
"Hm, of course," Fowles said, his voice once again absent as he picked up his pen and made a note. "So you haven't anything to say about it...?"
Simon knew a leading question when he heard one. "I stand by my official statement made at the time," he said shortly, standing up. "And as I have not read Mr. Archer's statement, I can't possibly be expected to comment on it."
"Mr. Drake," Fowles started to say, already making another of his damned little notes.
"No more questions," Simon said, cutting him off. "We're done here. If you have an accusation I expect you to make it through official channels."
For a long moment Norton Fowles stared silently up at him, as if willing him to rush forward into the silence and blurt out something incriminating. Simon gritted his teeth and waited it out. Finally Fowles sighed gustily and looked back down at his papers, tapping his pen on the table. "I'd hoped you'd be a little more cooperative, Mr. Drake. I'm sorry that we couldn't clear up this little matter."
"Yeah? As far as I'm concerned there is no matter," Simon said. "You're chasing shadows instead of doing something productive with your time."
"It is my job to clear up any potential holes in the Bureau's defense in this suit," Norton Fowles said, just a touch of steel in his voice now. His assessing gaze was suddenly not very friendly at all. "I would call that 'something productive', Mr. Drake."
"If that's the case, Mr. Fowles, that's all the more reason to do this officially and on the record," Simon said. "You'd damned well better be wholly on the up-and-up if you're going to produce this stuff in court."
"Yes. Well." Norton Fowles swept up all the papers on the table, shoving them into his waiting hand with the stump of his arm. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Drake."
"Goodbye, Mr. Fowles," Simon said, heading for the door. Norton Fowles said nothing else, shepherding the papers into the waiting folder.
As soon as the heavy steel door whuffed silently shut behind Simon, leaving him alone in the dim, narrow, gray-and-steel hallway, he hissed out a short breath between his teeth and willed his stomach to settle. Once it had, Simon strode out of the Office of Professional Responsibility as fast as he could go without actually running, heading for the elevators and a simpler place.
Once in the elevator Simon punched the button for the first floor and slumped back against the wall, staring blindly up at the unfriendly fluorescent lights. Of all the things to come back and bite him in the assit had been six months since the Office of Professional Responsibility had officially exonerated him of any wrongdoing in the matter of Farraday's death. Of course, as only Simon and a few other trusted people knew, he was innocent of any wrongdoing in the matter of Farraday's death. He was, quite frankly, innocent of Farraday's death, period.
The elevator was empty, this close to noon. Simon shut his eyes. He knew all too well what had driven him to shoulder the official blame in the matter, and even now, he couldn't quite kick himself for it, as much as he would have liked to. "Damn him anyway," Simon muttered under his breath, uncertain whether he was referring to Farraday, Fowles, or Jeremy. It didn't really matter.
Simon changed his intended destination the instant that the elevator doors opened onto the first floor. Instead of going back to the saferoom, he went right past the door and out to his Jeep. Lunch first. Then he'd go back and face the afternoon.
Actually getting some food in his stomach did a good deal to restore his equilibrium. By the time he finished his lunch, he felt, if not one hundred percent better about things, at least a good forty-six percent better. He doubted that any of Fowles' misgivings, no matter how strong, could possibly force the man to swear out an official complaint; Professional Responsibility agents, like rats and mushrooms, tended to prefer lurking in dark and shit-filled environments.
If Norton Fowles did overcome his aversion to the light of publicity and attempt to reopen the case based solely on his misgivings, he would be laughed out of his boss' office. Upstairs swam in the murky waters of the old-boy network like they were his home. Simon was about ninety percent sure that he'd heard the last of it.
Ninety percent was not one hundred percent, of course, and a faint, stray bit of doubt still niggled at the back of Simon's mind, but he was tired enough to be able to ignore it.
As for the Archer thing, well, he'd been right this morning. Jeremy was a criminal, first and foremost, and as a criminal he had only gotten what was coming to him. It had nothing to do with Simon at all. Jeremy would just have to look after himself. Simon was sure that he could. Ninety percent sure.
When he got back to base, only Sandra was still there, wearing the headphones and picking at the remains of something that had once been a nasty-looking fast-food salad. "Hey, boss," she said, pushing her headphones down. "How'd it go? What was it about?"
"As well as possible, given that it is, in fact, Professional Responsibility," Simon said shortly, pausing in the doorway to pluck a brown interoffice envelope out of the inbox. "It's probably nothing anyway."
"Which means that it's something but you don't think I need to know about it," Sandra said. She stabbed a limp bit of lettuce with her plastic fork and scowled at it. "Well, I hope you're right."
Simon stuck his thumb under the sealed flap of the envelope and ripped it open. "Yeah," he said. "Me too. Any news?"
"No, nope, and nothing," Sandra said. "Unless you count a bunch of earnest talk about horse-racing to be news."
"Huh. Any hot tips? Should I call my bookie?"
"You don't have a bookie, boss," Sandra said patiently.
"I don't? Why don't I have a bookie, Spring? This is a serious lack, and one I should look into" The phone in Simon's office rang. "later," Simon finished, carrying the envelope into his office and picking up the desk phone. "Yello, Templar."
"Simon, the big guy's still over in the main building, but he called over for his messages just now," Danielle said, her voice unnecessarily brisk. "He said to tell you that under no circumstances are you to go to Professional Responsibility until he's had a chance to look into this. It's the first he's heard of it, and you know how he gets when he's been cut out of the loop."
"Yeah," Simon said, "buuuut unfortunately, he's a bit late."
"Oh, Simon. You've already been?"
"Afraid so," Simon said, upending the envelope onto his desk. A folder slid out, marked FYI: TEMPLAR in Danielle's handwriting. "And let me tell you right now, something is fishy in the District of Columbia. I don't think Mr. Norton Fowles is very fond of me, Danielle. Can you put me on Upstairs' calendar? I think I may need some preemptive clout."
Danielle sighed. "Already done, Simon. You're due up here to be shouted at at 4:15."
"Great," Simon said absently, flipping open the folder. A full-length Scotland Yard arrest report stared him in the face, the name Harbottle, Jeremiah typed neatly at the top. "Oh, hey, and here's that arrest report. Thanks, Danielle. You are truly a marvel of modern efficiency."
"You make me sound like a washing machine, Simon," Danielle said. She banged the phone down.
Simon hung up and collapsed into his desk chair, which groaned in complaint. For a moment he allowed himself the luxury of simply doing nothing, staring off into space and trying not to think about anything. A minute or two later he got bored and picked up the arrest report, paging through it.
The top two pages had Jeremy's vitals and particulars. The next two pages dealt with the actual arrest, then there were six or seven pages of the transcribed interrogationsJeremy was being fairly closemouthed, but the arresting officers sure weren'ta two-page precis of Jeremy's career to date that Simon put aside to read at his leisure later, the black-and-white mugshots...
Simon seized up for five seconds and then burst out laughing, crazed relief blooming in his chest like the opposite of a heart attack. "Oh, Jesus," he said, picking up the paper and carrying it to the doorway. "Spring, who's this look like to you?"
Sandra squinted at the paper. "I don't know. Some rodent's third cousin. Why?"
"According to Scotland Yard, that's Jeremy Archer," Simon said, turning the paper over so that he could look at the mugshots again. "I don't know, the hair's right..."
Sandra held out a hand. "Let me see that," she commanded.
Still grinning a little, Simon sauntered over and gave her the paper. Sandra took it and stared at it for a moment, then shook her head. "Definitely not Jeremy," she said. "Unless Jeremy had extensive plastic surgery and is wearing a set of novelty teeth."
"And I don't think Archer would be caught dead in that jacket, either," Simon said, taking the paper back. "Christ. I don't know what Archer's up to over there, and I guess I ought to feel bad about laughing at the woes of fellow law-enforcement officers, but: ha!"
Sandra shook her head sadly. "Taking the side of a known felon, Simonit's the first step on the road to ruin."
"Aw, Sandy, I took the first step on that road ages ago," Simon said cheerfully. He felt better than he had all day.
Mike came back fifteen minutes later, carrying a Blimpie bag so pointedly that Simon had to laugh. "Specs is still out somewhere," he said, toasting Mike's effort with his mug. "Guess you went to all that trouble for nothing."
"What, this?" Mike clutched the bag to his chest, outraged. "I just got in the mood for it, hearing those guys talk about it this morning, that's all."
"Uh huh," Sandra said, pushing her headphones down again. "And I'm sure you weren't planning to moan your way orgasmically through that sandwich if Nate had been here."
Mike eyed the bag, then shrugged and dumped it on the table. "Maybe a little," he admitted. "Little bitty pants-dampener."
"Man," Simon said, grinning a little. "You better watch what you say, Mike. No chick with any taste is going to sleep with a guy who gets off on fast food."
Sandra pursed her lips. Mike just looked hurt. "Damn, boss, it was a metaphor or some shit, you know?"
"Sure," Simon said. "Tell you what, though, if Nate comes in here with a Subway bag, I am not going to referee the cage match that will follow."
Fortunately for everybody's sanity, Nate came back without any food at all, and Simon was able to whip them all back to work with minimal trouble. Once everyone was quiet, Simon headed into his office and sent Upstairs a second email:
He sent the email, smiling faintly, before sitting down to look over Johnny's painstaking transcription of seven days' worth of tapes. The transcription job was dull, mindless, repetitious work, studded with thousands of notations of [street noise] and [footsteps]. Reading it wasn't much more interesting. Poor Johnny. Still, there were occasional nuggets in the mountain of dreck, some of them fascinating in their sheer retardedness; the next time Simon looked up, it was three. He ambled out into the main room. "Spring. Go home."
Simon held up his hand and tapped the face of his watch. "It's three. That's nine hours of day shift. Go home."
Sandra hesitated, then took off her headphones and stood up. "I wouldn't argue, except that I know you've been here longer than I have."
"Yeah, but I have a meeting with Upstairs at four," Simon said. "I'll go the hell home after that, believe me. Wild horses with guns could not keep me here."
"See, you say that, but we all know you're lying," Sandra said. She picked up her purse and slung it over her shoulder. "Right, I'm out. I'll come back tomorrow morning at the asscrack of dawn," she said, heading for the door.
Mike watched her go with longing naked on his face, although whether it was for Sandra or for the opportunity to leave, Simon couldn't tell. "Man," Mike said once the door had shut behind Sandra, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. "When's Texas due back?"
"Six," Simon told him. "Hang in there. You can go home as soon as Texas gets here."
"Yeah, I'm cool. I'm just sayin'." Mike slumped down in his chairs and readjusted the band of his headphones. "Shit, I wish Rappaport would turn the fuck up."
"You and me both," Simon said. "Specs, how much longer, do you think?"
Nate shook his head, emerging from his computer trance, one of the big tapes from the recording machine in one hand. "Um, what time is itI'm guessing the backups will all be done by seven?"
"Gotcha. Far as I'm concerned, you can go at any time after Stonewall gets here, but, you know, finish up your stuff first."
"Yeah," Nate said, already distracted. "Scuse me, I gotta..." The rest of his sentence faded off to nothing as Nate fell back into the rhythm, plunking the tape he was holding into the tape reader by his side. It whirred up. Nate was gone.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Simon said, rubbing his eyes.
"What?" Dave said, confused. He was down on one knee in his lair, frozen in the light of Simon's glare, plucking at the handle of his briefcase. He'd been in the middle of slotting it into place when Simon came out, and he was still hunched over it.
"He asks me 'what'," Simon told the room in general. "Dave, what time is it?"
"Um." Dave let go of the briefcase's handle to check his watch. "Just after four. Why?"
"And now he asks me 'why'," Simon added. "What did I tell you this morning?"
Dave cringed a little. "Um."
"You don't remember, do you."
"Um, no?" Dave twiddled the briefcase's handle back and forth, staring down at it, abashed.
"Think that has anything to do with you having been here for twenty-one hours?" Simon said.
Simon sighed heavily. "Stone, I told you that if you came back here before six PM, I'd just send you home again."
"Oh," Dave said, the light dawning. "Yeah, I kind of remember that now. But, um, if I go home now, I'll barely be there for an hour before I have to come back..."
"Am I going to have to put a cot in the mat room for you? Is that it? Hell, there's a cafeteria and showers down in the gym, Stonewall, why don't you just move in here? Then you could always be close to your precious computers."
"Uh," Dave said, hunching his shoulders. "I don't know where I'd keep the rest of my stuff..."
"That was sarcasm!" Simon threw up his hands. "I am being sarcastic to keep from coming over there and throttling you! And in case you're wondering, that was hyperbole!"
"Templar is a master of the forms of the English language," Nate said with great gravity.
"What?" Simon said, swiveling to look at Nate askance. "Seriously, I don't know what that has to do with anything, you need more sleepand I'm going to be late for my meeting with Upstairs. Fine, Stone, stay, but if you're still here when I get back tomorrow morning at five..." He trailed off there, threateningly.
"Yes?" Dave said, unable to avoid walking right into it.
"Then I will kill you," Simon said with great satisfaction, backing towards the door. "Because if you don't listen to your boss, you deserve to die. I'm out of here. Honda, go home as soon as Texas gets here. Specs, go home as soon as you're done with that, and someone shut down my computer for me" Simon spun around and hit the door running, shaking off the lethargy of a long afternoon by sprinting for the elevators.
"Hey, Danielle," Simon said cheerfully, jogging past her desk, breaking left to avoid her as she rose to her feet. "Bye, Danielle"
"You're late," Danielle called after him, her hand glancing off his arm a second too late.
"Best not make me any later, huh?" Simon said, flashing her a grin over his shoulder before yanking open the door and more or less diving in.
It was dim in hereit always was, since Upstairs loathed fluorescent lightsand almost as quiet as the seventh floor, except for Upstairs' heavy, stentorian breathing from behind his desk. The sepulchral atmosphere served to damp the last Simon's burst of energy nicely. "Sir," he said, pulling up just inside the door and making himself walk instead of jog to the visitor's chair.
"Simon," Upstairs said, resigned. "One of these days you're going to burst in on something you really shouldn't hear, you realize."
"Hasn't happened yet," Simon said, sitting down. "Besides, I was already late, so I figured you were waiting on me. Did you get my email?"
Upstairs coughed, gently. "I did," he said. "I tend to agree with you, but that's not why we're here."
"No, sir," Simon said. "So what's up with this Norton Fowles character, anyway?"
Upstairs was silent. After a moment he heaved himself out of his office chair and went over to stand in front of the window, gazing out at the back parking lot and, behind it, the rest of Washington. "Danielle tells me you went to see him before I could get hold of you," he said.
"Yes, sir," Simon said. "I can't say it went well."
"No." Upstairs sighed ponderously. "I'm not surprised. Tell me everything you can remember."
Simon complied. Recounting his adventure with Norton Fowles killed the last of his good mood and a great deal of his optimism; by the time he finished, with Upstairs still staring silently over the back parking lot, he felt somewhat hunted all over again.
"Is that all?" Upstairs finally said.
"Yes, sir, as best I can remember."
"Hm." Upstairs was quiet for a moment, ruminating. "You did about as well as possible under the circumstances," he finally said. "Although the chupacabra joke was probably uncalled for."
"Yeah, I know," Simon said, looking away. "I couldn't resist."
"Well, hopefully it won't matter," Upstairs said, with an air of finality. "Any Professional Responsibility business that involves youor any of my subordinates, for that mattershould have been gone through me, and both Mr. Fowles and his superiors know that. Something shady is going on, and I intend to personally shine a light upon it. If Mr. Fowles should get in touch with you again, cut off contact and inform me immediately. Have Danielle page me if necessary."
"Yes, sir," Simon said, feeling a bit better despite himself. "Any chance of finding out what this is all about?"
Upstairs sighed, his breath forming a little white circle on the glass. "Office politics," he said. "I won't bore you with the details."
"I wouldn't mind"
"That should be all, Simon," Upstairs said. He didn't look away from the window until Simon stood up and saw himself out.
By the time Simon finished kidding around with Danielle and said goodbye, it was 4:45. The mass exodus had already begun, headed by the less-dedicated agents who were trying to get a jump on the horrendous DC traffic; Simon joined it without a word to anyone else, letting the flood of humanity carry him out to his Jeep and out into the world. It was like living in a wet sock. Simon had never been much for summer.
He drove home on autopilot and went inside, kicking off his sneakers inside the doorway. "Jesus, what a day," he muttered under his breath, shaking his head.
He ate, showered, wasted an hour in front of the television, and was in bed by shortly after seven, reluctantly setting the alarm for four AM and turning his back on the sun still streaming in through the blinds. For a little while he stared at the far wall, watching the sunlight's slow progress across it and brooding over the day. Jesus, I'm never going to get to sleep after all this shit, he thought. He passed out a moment later.
The next thing he was aware of was jerking awake in the darkness, his hand landing on his ringing cell phone before the rest of him hit consciousness. He flipped it open, squinting against the miniscule glare of the phone's screen, and checked the time. 2:12 AM. Jesus. "'lo," he rasped, flopping back down onto his pillow and scrubbing his eyes. "Simon Drake."
"Simon," Jeremy said pleasantly. "I do apologize if I woke you."
Simon's eyes flew open in the dark, a ripple of shock washing over him. The last vestiges of sleep shredded away, leaving him awake in the darkness. Wide awake, and chilled: after the events of yesterday, it was weirdly like getting a call from a dead man. "Archer. Jesus." Simon cleared the frog from his throat. "It's two in the morning! What kind of hours do you think I keep? No shit you woke me!"
"And I apologized," said Jeremy. "I'm afraid I haven't much time before my transport leaves, however, and I need to beg a favor."
"Guess you do," Simon said. Abruptly the covers started to feel hot and itchy and he kicked them away, scratching idly at his chest with his free hand. "Seeing as how you've been arrested and all, although I can't say I remember you looking quite so much like a rat with bad teeth."
Jeremy was quiet. Behind him Simon could faintly hear the sound of traffic, layered with a thin covering of transcontinental static.
"Archer?" Simon prompted, after a minute.
"I suppose I should have expected you to notice a little detail like that," Jeremy said, laughing a little. It sounded forced. "I'm afraid your information is currently more up-to-date than mine. I've been arrested in England, then?"
Simon took the phone away from his ear long enough to raise his eyebrows at it, then put it back. "Yeah, by Scotland Yard, early yesterday morning local time. Somebody apparently tipped them off as to your locationsince you can't see me, you'll just have to imagine that I'm doing the fingerquote thing around 'your'and also gave them your real name. No fingerquotes."
Jeremy hissed in a breath. Simon heard that very clearly. "Oh, dear," Jeremy said a moment later, a bit shakily. "So much for that identity, then. And they're less than a day behind me..." Jeremy paused, took a single deep breath, and then reclaimed his opaque good cheer with an effort that was clear to Simon, halfway around the world. "I'm indebted to you for the information, Simon. I imagine you must have been quite pleased, however briefly, to think that I'd beenoh, how would you put itbrought to justice at last?"
"Yeah, well, I am an agent of the law and all that, and as such, I totally root for, for the home team when it comes to you," Simon said, his brows knitting in consternation. "And because of that, whatever favor it is that you were meaning to ask, the answer is, and I quote, 'ha ha ha no'."
"Oh, it's nothing like that," Jeremy said. "I'm not asking for your help in your professional capacity, as it were. I just need you to call someone and pass on a message."
"I'm afraid I only have time for the one call to America," Jeremy went on. "And, well, I'll admit that it wasn't very sensible to choose you, but I do always so enjoy the comfort of your manly voice..."
"Archer," Simon said warningly.
"Oh, indulge me, Simon," Jeremy said, laughing a little. "After all, I've recently been arrested. It must have been very traumatic for me."
"Christ, fine," Simon said, giving in. "Who am I calling?"
"Just call my service, as usual," Jeremy said. "When the operator answers, ask for Annabelle."
"Annabelle," Simon repeated. "Right. Got it. What's the message?"
Simon struggled up onto one elbow. "That's it?" he said suspiciously. "What is this, some kind of, of advanced thief code?"
"In a sense," Jeremy said.
"In a sense," Simon repeated, on full alert now. "In what sense, Archer? You'll forgive me if I've never actually learned to trust you any further than I can throw you. Spit it out. What sense?"
Jeremy hesitated. "Well, if you must know, it's a red-alert code," he finally said. "She needs to drop everything and get out"
"Ohhh no," Simon said, sitting up and swinging his legs out of bed. "I am not your accessory and I am not going to help your little accomplice evade the police, Archer"
"it's not the police"
"who the hell is it, then?" Simon shoved his hair out of his eyes. "What's going on, Archer? Something's going on over there and I want to know what it is. Don't try and tell me this shit is normal, even for you."
On the other end of the line, Jeremy was silent. Simon heard a plane taking off in the distance, and someone speaking rapidly in a language that he didn't understand. "I'll be right there," Jeremy said, his voice muffled, and then he came back. "I've got to go, Simon," Jeremy said. "I'll call again if possible"
Jeremy sighed. "All right," he said, defeated. "If I must. You and I have a certain Russian friend in common who very much wishes to have a few words with me. And since I'm quite unwilling to speak with him, he's gotten very insistent about it."
"What? Russian friend? We have Russian fr" Simon's eyes went wide in the dark as it struck him. "Wait, you mean Kar"
"Don't," Jeremy said urgently. "Just in case, Simon. Don't. But yes, I'm afraid so. It's a long story and I promise that some day I'll tell you the entire thing, but right now I must go. Please, Simon, I'm begging you, call and ask for Annabelle. And please don't worry about me" His phone clicked off.
"I wasn't planning on it," Simon told an empty line.