The packing didn’t take Taylor long, considering he had only the one duffle bag and he’d just thrown out one set of clothes he’d brought with him. Even with that, he was only a few steps behind Whitaker when they checked out and both were on the curb when yet another non-descript black SUV pulled up with a male agent Taylor hadn’t met, driving.
He and Whitaker made a bit of small talk, but that quickly fell off. It seemed there was little secret being made of Whitaker being yanked home by her supervisor, although from the prying questions their driver made, the actual reason wasn’t known. Whitaker dodged his questions and before long they were being dropped off at the airport again.
Taylor was a bit surprised at that. He got why they’d flown them out the first time. The FBI was a bureaucratic institution first and foremost, and the self-preserving nature of bureaucrats is to protect their careers. Taylor knew this was the main reason he’d gotten so much push back from his path of investigation. It proved the FBI’s theories wrong and by inference put the blame of that misguided investigation on the agent leading it. In their world, being blamed for being wrong was worse than actually being wrong.
It wasn’t a failing unique to the FBI. He’d seen it often enough during his time in the service. And that of course didn’t apply to the guys in the trenches. Like Whitaker, they took their duties seriously, even if they needed a nudge from time to time.
So when a voice from several rungs up the bureaucracy demanded they assist him, they did just that. But their being called back either meant Dorset was willing to push back against the people above him, either because he thought they were wrong or, more likely, he thought there would be blow-back from what had happened today and he didn’t want any of it landing on him.
Either way, Taylor would have thought that would mean a long car ride to Dallas, not a hop on the company plane. And yet, here they were at the small airfield they’d arrived at with the same plane, or one just like it at least, waiting for them as they pulled up.
Which Taylor was having a hard time deciphering.
“Why send the plane?” Taylor asked Whitaker when they got airborne.
“It’s Tony’s way of intimidation. When he’s going to come down hard on someone, he likes them off balance. And he wants us to remember that he has the balance of power between us.”
“Seems a little petty.”
“I used to think it was just strategy for managing problems. But you’re right. It’s petty.”
“I’m not sure what exactly we’ve done wrong. We know there’s explosives’ missing and we know that Samar’s girlfriend was kidnapped and murdered by a bunch of home grown radicals with a serious hate for the US government. It doesn’t take a genius to map this out.”
“That’s what we think’s happened, but we’re going to have a harder time proving it. All we have is the murder of a girl who may or may not be connected to Samar. On top of that, my car being shot up and the stuff at the farm was all done in chasing a murder case we were specifically told to back off from. During which events a deputy sheriff was killed. Basically, we have theories with no support and a clear cut case of insubordination.”
“I don’t work for him,” Taylor said.
“Yeah, I know.”
Whitaker turned away from him, staring out the window of the plane for the rest of the flight. Taylor left her alone to her thoughts. She was a good person, but she was still a Fed and by following him, she’d put her career in jeopardy, which mattered to her. Taylor understood that and even felt bad about it, but at this point there wasn’t much he could do.
Taylor had a moment to wonder why he was still chasing it. True, Dorset was still focused on Samar, but that wouldn’t last much longer no matter what Taylor did. The Sheriff down there knew the connection between Samar and Julie, and had made some noise about it. Taylor would be shocked if the farmhouse shootout didn’t make the news as far as Dallas and Houston. A radical militia, a gun battle and a dead hero, in the form of Wade, was going to be too good for news stations not to pick up. And once they started looking they’d make the connection with Samar and the armory. Dorset’s case against him would fall to pieces in days, Taylor was pretty sure.
But that still left the question, why keep going? He’d done what he’d promised to do, more or less. Of course, Taylor knew there wasn’t much chance of him walking away. Not with whack jobs running around with a mountain of high explosives. Years ago he’d taken an oath. He might not be in the service any more, but that still meant something to him.
When they landed, Dorset had another car waiting for them, with another nameless Fed behind the wheel. Whitaker didn’t even make a pretense of small talk this time, and shut down every effort the guy made at finding out what was going on.
Gone was the confident woman he’d first met. Even when she was a hard-ass “Yes woman”, she had an air of security around her. Now she seemed on edge. He couldn’t help but wonder how much this crisis was professional and how much was personal. She hadn’t actually said anything, but he had a strong feeling that things had gotten personal between her and Dorset.
The driver pulled into the FBI building’s parking garage and escorted them all the way to a meeting room. Taylor supposed Dorset didn’t want to chance him convincing Whitaker of ignoring more orders and go off on some other fool errand.
The room was the same conference room they had briefed at just two days ago, although it seemed somewhat more ominous as the light through the windows quickly faded from day to night. Taylor took a seat at the conference table facing the door, but Whitaker just paced up and down the other side of the table like a caged lion.
Considering the effort that had been spent getting them back as quickly as possible, Taylor would have thought they’d see Dorset as soon as they arrived. It seemed, however, Dorset subscribed to just about every petty power move a person could make, and left them stewing in the room for over an hour. Taylor wondered how anyone could be this big of a jackass, but considering some of the commanders he’d met in the military, he knew there was nothing exceptional about Dorset.
Eventually however, Dorset ended up joining them. He burst into the room and slammed the door behind him. Storming to what Taylor thought of as the ‘head’ of the table, Dorset tossed a thick file folder on the table in front of him and grabbed the back of the chair, standing behind it.
Considering he’d only been on the case for two days with little direct contact with the FBI outside of Whitaker, Taylor couldn’t imagine their exploits had generated as much paper as filled the file folder sitting on the table between them and Dorset. He thought there was a chance he’d open it and find a stack of random memos pulled from the bottom of someone’s desk or to-go menus. Having a thick, official looking file to point to from time to time, regardless of what was in it, was straight out of Management for Assholes.
“What did I say?” He said after giving the meanest stare he could manage.
“To me? Nothing. You did hang up on me, once though,” Taylor said.
He knew Dorset was talking to Whitaker, but Taylor had already decided he wasn’t going to back down. He didn’t like bullies, and incompetent ones even less so.
Dorset ignored him and looked at Whitaker, “Loretta? Was I unclear about what I expected from you?”
“What?” he said, finally acknowledging Taylor’s presence.
“I said, ‘bullshit.’ Here, in this office, you told her to offer whatever assistance I needed in my investigation. I assume from the fact that we’re sitting here having the riot act read to us, you gave her a second set of instructions. I mean, you had to’ave. Because if all you told her was to offer me assistance, then there’d be no reason for this little show. And I’d say giving your subordinate two contradictory sets of instruction is the very definition of being unclear. Hence ... bullshit.”
“Taylor,” Whitaker said in a warning tone, circling round the table and coming up behind him.
“No, Mr. Taylor’s right. It’s possible you were confused about what I wanted from you. Is that what happened here?”
“No, sir. I was clear.”
“I’m not clear. I was told I had the support of your task force.”
“Ohh, you did, Mr. Taylor. But that was before you decided to interfere in a local murder investigation, and start a gun battle that left five men dead, including a law enforcement officer.”
“So you still think this is all some wild theory, and Abbas was a fundamentalist extremist.”
“We’re working on a lot of angles, but that is still the working theory.”
“And his girlfriend dying just before the explosion was, what, a coincidence?”
“I’ve seen nothing to say she was in any way connected with Samar Abbas. And even if she were, there is no evidence her murder was in any way connected to the events at the armory.”
“You have his phone records. I’m betting it’s filled with calls to her.”
“Like I said, there’s nothing saying her murder was connected.”
“So you’re going with it being a coincidence that she was murdered by anti-government radicals just after someone blew up a US Military installation?”
“We’re looking at it, but we need more than your guesses before we move away from our prime theory.”
“And the stolen munitions.”
“Yes, I saw that in Loretta’s last update. Our technicians disagree with your conclusions. We believe all of the material stored at the armory was destroyed there.”
Taylor looked at Whitaker, who’d moved to stand more or less parallel with him, out of the corner of his eye. He hadn’t been aware of her sending Dorset regular reports and couldn’t help but wonder what had been in them.
“Have your people look again. How’s your career going to go when another government building is blown up by these explosives? This stuff is tagged at the molecular level. That makes it possible to trace residue from expended munitions to be tracked back to the source. You won’t be able to sweep it under the rug.”
“Let us worry about the safety of US Government property.”
“You probably don’t even have that long, Dorset,” Taylor said, continuing. “Has the local news picked up on Julie’s murder? Do you think it’s going to take them long to tie into Samar and your investigation?”
“You should be more worried about that than me, Mr. Taylor. I didn’t leave some podunk small town deputy dead in someone’s front yard.”
Taylor stood up, menace in his eyes.
“Tony,” Whitaker said to Dorset.
“What? You don’t think the news is going to pick up on that? A guy who got booted from the military on a psych discharge leads a botched raid that leaves a law enforcement officer dead. That’s some good stuff. It’ll be even better if the reporters can get their hands on your file and find out how screwed up you are.”
“You need to pull your head out of your ass,” Taylor said, trying to ignore the man’s taunting. “You’re going to get a lot of people killed.”
“I’m not the one getting people killed. Thank god it was just some Barney Fife wannabe and not Agent Whitaker who got hurt by your carelessness. There’d be hell to pay if one of my agents had been hurt.”
Taylor started moving forward. He hadn’t reasoned it though yet, since attacking a supervising FBI agent would make things harder, not easier, but at that moment, he didn’t care. Only the strong grip of Whitaker on his shoulder stopped him cold.
“Tony,” she said to Dorset again.
“We’re done, Mr. Taylor. Go ahead and call your friends, but I’m going to tell you now, you’re going to find your calls going unanswered. This kind of public disaster has a way of making favors disappear. You can leave.”
Taylor stood there, still wrestling with himself to keep from going across the corner of the table at Dorset.
“Taylor,” Whitaker said in warning.
Finally, he turned and looked her in the eyes. Then walked around the table, away from Dorset, and out of the room, shutting the door behind him. He didn’t leave the floor however, but found a place on the wall to lean and wait for Whitaker.