They took the SUV back to the Sheriff’s office and picked up Whitaker’s car. Even though the sun was already down, she drove them all the way back to Dallas. Neither of them spoke the entire trip. It felt like they were back to the first day they met, and Taylor didn’t care for it at all. This silence wasn’t like when Dorset had come down on her.
That silence had been caused by concern that she’d made a mistake and thrown away everything she’d worked for, up to that point, away. It wasn’t directed at Taylor and really didn’t have anything to do with him. That, he knew how to handle. The supportive, strong silent type was something he had down.
No, this was directed at him. He knew Whitaker blamed him for the case going to shit, and he agreed with her. He understood her career would always come first, but he had started to really like Whitaker. Sure, they hadn’t known each other long; but she’d pulled him out of his shell, and had been the first person he’d connected with since he’d gotten back to the States. Before her, everything had been superficial.
He hadn’t realized he’d missed it, to be honest. He’d developed callouses over his feelings, to the point where he’d almost forgotten what they were like. Whitaker had broken through that hard exterior, reminded him what it was like to feel something again. Now that he was reminded of it, he wasn’t sure he wanted things to go back to the way they were.
He’d spent the entire ride just staring out the window, lost in his thoughts. Thoughts about the case and where to go from here. Thoughts about his past, which was never far from his mind. But mostly, thoughts about Whitaker.
He was so lost in thought that he was surprised when the car finally pulled to a stop and the engine was turned off. He looked around, expecting that she was dropping him off at a motel of some sort. He was surprised when he recognized the parking garage of her building, where they’d been just a few days prior.
“You’re not dropping me off somewhere?” He asked.
It was possible she was pissed enough at him that she wanted him to find his own way to a motel.
“Ok,” he said, pulling his duffle bag out of the back seat and looking around for an exit to the street.
“Come on,” she said.
She didn’t say anything more and he didn’t ask. He followed her up the elevator and into her apartment. Once inside, she pointed him to the couch. Considering the alternative, this was all right with him. He took off his boots and put them neatly next to the couch, and lay back. She returned a minute later with a pillow and blanket.
“Thanks,” he said, taking them from her.
“Sure,” she said, turning off the lights and disappearing into her room.
He closed his eyes and thought again for a while until he drifted off to sleep.
The dreams came again. They were never far away and always had the same flavor, if somewhat different. This time he was in Miami, but instead of the witness he’d helped back then, it was Julie Jones. And instead of the Marshal that had died to protect her, it was Whitaker lying on the Florida street, staring blankly at the sky.
Once again, he woke up suddenly, covered in sweat. He blinked looking around the room in the dim moonlight coming through the blinds. Whitaker was kneeling next to him, shaking his shoulder. Her hair was down from the ponytail or bun she usually kept it in, laying on her shoulders, slightly curly from having been wet when she went to bed. She was wearing a gray t-shirt that said “FBI” across the front and a pair of black sweat pants.
“Sorry,” he said, realizing he must have woken her up.
She stood up and took his hand, pulling him to his feet and leading Taylor towards the bedroom. She crawled into bed with her back to him, facing the wall. He pulled off his shirt and pants, not wanting the clothes he spent most of a day in to get her bed dirty and climbed in after her.
For a few minutes, he lay on his side, watching her. She eventually reached back and pulled his arm over her. They never spoke, but soon both were asleep.
When Taylor woke up the next morning, Whitaker wasn’t there. He smelled coffee and something cooking. Throwing on his t-shirt, so he wasn’t walking around in just his boxers, he walked out into her living room. She was in the small efficiency, cooking eggs.
Hearing him coming in, she pointed at him to sit at the table. A minute later she was bringing coffee for both of them, and then a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast for each of them.
Taylor was confused. Things were going very differently than he predicted. Instead of resetting things back to square one, he was eating breakfast she’d made him and seeing a weirdly domestic Whitaker. Not wanting to break anything by saying something stupid, he just ate his eggs quietly. However, he couldn’t stop glancing over at her, trying to read past the impenetrable mask she’d put up. The entire breakfast went this way, with Whitaker eating silently, looking at her plate, and Taylor stealing constant glances at her.
“Just because I’m pissed at you,” she said, setting down her fork, “doesn’t mean I don’t want you around.”
She snorted and went back to eating.
“You know I’m sorry for what I said.”
“I know,” she said. “You were pissed, so was I. Still am, but ... look ... I like you, Taylor. I don’t know why, but I do. I like spending time with you, and I like you being here. So that’s out there, this is in here. Ok?”
“Good. Finish up your eggs. I washed the clothes from your bag. They should be done drying in a few minutes. Get changed so we can go sort this shit out.”
She got up, put her plate and cup into the sink. On the way past the small table, she stopped next to him, leaned over, and kissed him. Then she disappeared back into her room.
Taylor shook his head. No matter how old he got, he told himself, he was certain he’d never figure women out!
By the time he pulled his clothes out of the dryer, got dressed, and shoved the rest in his bag; she was back out, in her FBI armor.
Clipping his gun to his belt, Taylor said, “Ready?”
“Yep,” she said.
She was sliding her own gun into her holster when her phone rang.
“Whitaker ... Yes, Sir ... Where? ... I understand ... ok, we’ll be in the office in a few minutes.”
“What happened,” Taylor asked when she hung up the phone.
By this point, those calls had been happening all too frequently; and they almost always meant something bad.
“An IRS office in Wichita was bombed late last night. The offices were closed, so no one got hurt, but the bomb squad is saying they think it might have been C4.”
“Wichita? What the hell?”
“I know. This is making no sense. Rollins wants us to go to the office and start mapping this out and see if we can make some sense of it. He’s leaving some guys at the Amarillo scene and taking the rest up there, pulling in some additional support from the Oklahoma City offices.”
“We’re missing something.”
They headed out the door and made their way to the FBI offices. Thankfully they weren’t far away. Compared to his earlier visit, the offices were surprisingly empty. They had agents still out finishing up at the armory, checking into the ALP farmhouse trying to see if Whitaker and the Sheriff had missed anything, in Amarillo still dealing with the post office, in Lubbock going through Brooks’ home and office, and now headed to Wichita. They were spread thin.
Taylor pulled out a map and folded it so he could see North Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. He put a pin in each place something had happened. Stepping back, it still made no sense.
“I don’t get what their end game is. This is making no sense. They aren’t going for the body count. The armory was at night, the post office was before it opened, and the IRS office was in the middle of the night! That can’t be a coincidence.”
“But, don’t they have ... I don’t know, some kind of plan or goal? Do they usually just go around blowing shit up?”
“They don’t normally have either. Most of these groups are non-violent, or at least not extremely violent. Some of them are just nuisances. Even those that are violent, aren’t, to this degree.”
They spent the next hour going through all the possibilities they could think of, bouncing ideas off of each other, but nothing felt right. They only stopped when the office phone rang, and Whitaker put it on speaker.
“Whitaker,” she said.
“Is Taylor with you?” a voice asked.
Taylor recognized the voice of Robles, who he hadn’t talked to since this whole thing started.
“I’m here, Trevor.”
“Things are getting intense out here. Rollins had to divert to a small airfield outside of Oklahoma City. He’s headed for the FBI offices there, and wants to know if you two have anything?”
“We’re still working the problem, but no, nothing yet. Why didn’t Rollins just fly into OKC?”
“That’s part of what’s going on out here. Five substations around the city went down about two hours ago. Someone set charges and blew the hell out of them. Took down towers and caused the entire node to fry itself. The entire city’s dark and the airport went on backup generators and started diverting anyone not on final approach. It’s f•©king chaos around here.”
“What the hell,” Taylor said, filing the information with everything else that had happened so far, and not making sense of it. “Are you already at the Oklahoma office?”
“I was. I’m headed to Tulsa. Five armed gunmen in masks went into a federal credit union. We’d already pulled a lot of manpower out of the Tulsa office for Wichita, so they had to send a bunch of us that way to back them up. These guys are holding hostages and are making some wild demands.”
“Like what?” Taylor asked.
“Well, they started with abolishing the constitution and the creation of a new constitutional convention.”
“So, just little stuff then.”
“That’s not all of it. There was another incident in Wichita Falls. A truckload of guys with automatic weapons and f•©king hand grenades shot the shit out of the main police station there, four officers are dead, dozens wounded. The gunmen got killed about ten minutes later a few miles away in a shootout with locals, but they killed two more.”
“Holy shit. We’re all thinking these are the same guys, right?”
“We’ve confirmed that one at least. A van parked in a lot next to the police station was apparently packed with old school ammonia fertilizer-based explosives. They set it off shortly after rescue crews showed up at the police station. A dozen more killed in that. When our guys arrived, we were able to recover enough pieces of the van to identify it as the missing AC repair shop van Mullins used.”
“We’ve pulled agents from every federal agency in Oklahoma, plus most of the state law enforcement agencies; but with all this, plus the massive blackout in Oklahoma City, we are spread really thin out here. We’ve called into Washington for some backup, but they need at least a day to get the ball rolling. I’m on my way to Tulsa. Call Rollins in an hour when he lands. I hope to hell you guys figure out something, ‘cause we are just scrambling right now.”
“Sure, Trevor. Be safe man,” Taylor said.
“So that’s how you got into this,” Whitaker said, leaning back, looking at him.
“I’ve been trying to work out why you’re here. You never made sense to me. I know someone with some juice got you access, but the more I’ve seen you in action, the more that doesn’t seem your style. And you had zero connection with the family. I couldn’t figure out how you fit into the puzzle. But it’s Robles, isn’t it. He’s the one who brought you in?”
“Look, it’s not like that. He wasn’t trying to mess with the investigation. He’s a good soldier. But he saw something that wasn’t right, and he felt sorry for the kid’s mother, so he gave her my name. We met during that thing in Miami, and he thought I might be able to help since he couldn’t do anything official without Dorset shutting it down.”
“I get it. Don’t worry, I won’t sell him out. Especially since he was right and we were wrong. I’m just glad you are starting to make a little more sense to me.”
“None of this makes sense,” Taylor said, sticking another pin in the map. “A half dozen bombings, a gun battle and now hostage taking at some random federal credit union. They’ve started escalating pretty damn fast after Amarillo.”