Taylor felt himself being bumped around and a hand pressing down on his shoulder as he came to. Opening his eyes, he could see the sterile white interior of an ambulance, as the paramedic pressed down on him to hold Taylor steady when the vehicle swerved around a turn.
“Whitaker?” he said, trying to sit up.
The paramedic pushed him gently but firmly back down.
“Your friend is in another ambulance. You’re both ok, mostly cuts and bruises, but we want to check both of you out for concussions.”
Taylor lay back down and stared at the ceiling. They had been too late to stop Brooks. And what’s worse, they didn’t even have solid evidence it was him. And considering the conversation they had with Dorset before the explosion, it seemed unlikely he’d have any kind of resources to get that evidence.
Taylor was in a foul mood at the hospital, snapping at the nurses and generally being uncooperative. Eventually, he’d had enough and, over the objection of hospital staff, he got dressed and hunted down Whitaker. He found her in a room by herself, asleep in the hospital bed.
She had a large bruise on one cheek and a bandage on the opposite side of her neck, presumably covering a cut caused by all the flying glass. Considering what happened, she actually looked peaceful, her face slack as she slept.
Pulling up a chair next to the bed, he sat down. He didn’t have long to wait. Either because he had been making a noise or because it was just time, Whitaker stirred after a minute and opened her eyes.
“Hey,” she said, looking over at him.
“Hey. How do you feel?”
“Like I got hit by a car.”
“I know what you mean.”
She lapsed into silence and stared at the ceiling.
“We were too late,” she said eventually, not looking over at Taylor.
“I know. We tried everything, though. I’m not sure what else we could have done.”
She didn’t give a response. They sat, neither speaking for some time until the doctor showed up. After giving Whitaker another exam, he decided she would be fine, and allowed her to be discharged.
The paperwork, however, took a lot longer, since Taylor hadn’t actually been discharged yet. They both had to get all the paperwork signed.
“Where do we go from here?” he asked as they waited for the nurse to come back and tell them it was all set and they could go.
“Honestly, I don’t know. We’re at the point where we really need the Bureau’s resources.”
“I might be able to help,” a voice said from the doorway.
Taylor looked up and saw a man he didn’t recognize. The voice, however, seemed familiar.
“Rollins?” Whitaker said as she turned to look at who had spoken.
“Dorset’s deputy on the task force?” Taylor asked, connecting him with the guy who Whitaker had put on the call when she tried to get Dorset to evacuate the post office.
“Leading the task force, now, actually,” he said. “Ruiz relieved Dorset, pending an investigation.”
“Really?” Whitaker asked, surprised.
“Yes. Reporters have already figured out there was an FBI agent on the scene. It’s not going to take them a long time to figure out we had some idea this was coming. Even if we say nothing, there’s going to be a lot of speculation that we dropped the ball.”
“We did drop the ball,” Whitaker retorted.
“I know. Really, I do. You were right, he was wrong.”
“So what’s next? You know Tony removed me from the task force?”
“I know, but that was then, and this is now. I’ve only had a few hours to get up and running, but I spent the plane ride reading through all of your reports. Ruiz agrees with me that we’ve been on the wrong track, and we both think you’ve been right all along. We have our guys going over the data from the blast site, but we are going with the assumption that you two were right, and destruction of the armory was all a cover for stealing the explosive. The lone wolf self-radicalized extremist just doesn’t fit everything that’s happened. We want you back on the task force. Taylor, too.”
“So we go grab Brooks?” Taylor asked, sounding hopeful.
Whitaker shook her head, but Rollins beat her to respond, saying, “Not yet. We have enough to get a wire on him, but there isn’t anything directly tying him to the post office bombing yet. At least nothing that would stick. We need to get some concrete evidence before we pick him up.”
“So, what are we going to do then?”
“We set up a command post at the Sheriff’s office. I want you two to come brief the team. We already have the warrant, so hopefully, by that point, we’ll be up on his phones. Then, we wait. So, let’s get you two checked out and get out of here. We have some work to do.”
Rollins actually turned out to be very proficient with bureaucracy and had them through the discharge process in no time. Ten minutes after he showed up in Whitaker’s hospital room, Rollins had dropped Taylor and Whitaker at her car.
They took a moment to go over to the post office and see how much damage was actually done. The fires were all out, and the smoke had stopped. Taylor was a little amazed that the destruction was so limited. The front of the building was a shambles, with most of the area around the post office boxes gone completely. You could now look through the holes created by the explosion, and see into the part of the post office where they had been doing all the packing to ship mail. There actually seemed to be more damage caused by the secondary fires than by the explosion itself, which only destroyed the front area of the building.
Taylor wondered if Brooks had realized his attack wouldn’t even shut down the post office long term. In a few weeks, they’d be back up and running, at least as a distribution center. It would probably only take a month or so to repair the damage and have things back to the way they were before. As blows to the government go, this one seemed rather ineffectual.
They found out that only one person had died in the explosion and less than ten had been injured. Most of those injured were about the same as he and Whitaker, with cuts or burns. Only two people were seriously injured.
Taylor couldn’t help but think how much worse this would have been had they done it when the Post Office was open and full of customers. As with the armory, terrorism didn’t seem to be the actual goal. Taylor, however, couldn’t tell what the real point of this had been since they did it at a time that would cause minimal casualties and didn’t use enough explosives to cause widespread destruction. There seemed to be a distinct plan in place, but it still made no sense to Taylor. And that bothered him.
By the time they made it back to Lubbock, the Sheriff’s office was already packed with Feds. They had taken over the conference room, and spilled out into the central area of the police station. Taylor and Whitaker stopped by to talk to Sheriff Goodman for a few minutes, and to thank him for everything he’d done for them.
The Sheriff seemed a little harried, having all these strangers taking over his station, but was still polite with everyone. He did seem happy to see Taylor and Whitaker, the only two people in the group he knew and was also pleased to hear they were in favor again.
After talking to the Sheriff for a few minutes, they headed for the conference room, pushing through the suits. Taylor took up a place in the back of the room, being an outsider, while Whitaker took her place up front.
“Alright everyone, let’s get started. Agent Whitaker has been here in town for several days now and has the best grasp on what we’re really doing here. She’s going to give you a quick briefing on what we know so far. Agent?” he said, stepping aside, giving Whitaker the floor.
“Thank you. We all know about the explosion at the armory. The original theory that Samar Abbas was directly behind the blast and was following some form of Islamic extremism looks to have been wrong. We now know that he was dating a college student here in Lubbock by the name of Julie Jones. Five days prior to the explosion, Jones was abducted by a man named William Mullins along with at least two accomplices.”
“Mullins has ties to an extremely violent ‘sovereign nation’ organization called The American Liberation Party. The current theory is that Ms. Jones was abducted in order to force the cooperation of Abbas. He was on the night shift when the least number of soldiers would be present at the armory, and he had a code to deactivate the security systems in and around the building. While we are still waiting on additional corroboration, it appears two-hundred pounds of C4 were removed from the building just before the explosion. We believe the plan was to steal the explosive and use the blast to hide the fact it was missing, at least for some time.”
“We believe a local business owner, and the employer of Mullins, named Art Brooks, is connected to this explosion. Since just before the robbery, Brooks began mailing numerous letters from a post office in Amarillo. It appears that Brooks was making regular trips to mail letters as a pretense for being at the post office. We believe those trips were used as a cover for bringing in some of the missing C4 from the Guard armory.”
“What we don’t know yet, is the end game of this group. It seems likely that the ultimate goal of this group is not the destruction of small government buildings, and that the second bombing is a continuation of a larger plan.”
She looked over at Rollins, who stepped back up in front of the group.
“What we need now is leverage on Brooks, to get him to tell us what their goal is and where we can find the remaining stolen explosives. Right now he is our only link. We have a wire up on his home phone, office phone and two cell phones currently listed in his name. There will be a revolving four-man tail on him continuously for the time being. Now, let’s get to assignments...”
Rollins began calling off names that meant nothing to Taylor and giving instructions as to what their role in the operation would be. Deciding he didn’t need to be here for that, Taylor slipped out of the conference room and walked outside the Sheriff’s office.
After he had sat on a bench in front of the station for about ten minutes, guys in suits started coming out, headed this way or that. Whitaker also made her way out and sat down next to Taylor.
“We aren’t part of the official team or the team listening in at the wiretap. We’re assigned as one of the two mobile command teams. While the other team will be coordinating the surveillance, Rollins wants us on hand to call audibles as needed.”
“So, more sitting in cars watching a guy do nothing?”
And that’s what they did. On and off for two days they would sit and watch Brooks go to work and go home. He didn’t seem to have much in the way of hobbies or friends, at least not that he was in contact with over the two days Taylor watched him. Most of the time they were just out of view, with pairs of agents switching off on who were watching him so there wouldn’t be the same car around all the time.
Everything was very similar to the day he and Whitaker spent watching Brooks, with two exceptions. They had two rooms now. With other agents around, they had agreed it was best if they kept things more professional. Whitaker didn’t want to tarnish her professional reputation, and Taylor was fine with it. He enjoyed the physical closeness and Whitaker had really grown on him, but he understood it had always been casual. The other change was that they parked Whitaker’s car and switched back to an FBI vehicle.
By the end of day two, it was getting close to the time Brooks would be closing up the shop. The wires had picked up nothing useful, and Taylor was getting bored. They were in a grocery store parking lot down the street from the AC shop, and Taylor had switched to driving.
“Subject is leaving his shop, heading for his vehicle,” a voice said over the radio.
“Car three taking primary on the tail.”
“Jim, give him a second, let him get some distance.”
There was a pause, and then more urgently, “Jim, you’re too close. Back off.”
Another pause and the voice came back a third time, “Dammit. Car three. You’re too close.”
“He’s made me. Subject accelerating, we’ve been made. Someone inform the locals.”
From where he was sitting, Taylor had a partial view down the street, and after another moment Brooks’ car came into view, weaving around a minivan. Taylor didn’t hesitate; he pulled the SUV out of the parking lot, nearly side-swiping a truck, and whipped into the street behind Brooks.
Whitaker woke up with a start as she was slammed into the passenger door when Taylor made the first wild turn out of the parking lot.
“What the hell,” she yelled as they cleared the truck by inches.