Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 3

Taylor, Whitaker, and Matthews found a small, out-of-the-way Mexican place. Taylor always preferred somewhere quiet, over crowds, so it was perfect for him.

“You really think there’s more to all this, don’t you?” Matthews asked after the waitress took their order.

“I do. It just doesn’t feel right. I agree that the drugs and the violence are related, but I don’t think the bombings are targeted at the task force or anyone else in particular.”

“Then who do you think they’re targeting?” Matthews asked.

“Don’t know yet. Like I said, we need more information. We’re also going to have to start talking to the Mexicans more. The violence over there has the same weird pattern as on this side, but they aren’t matched up, so it’s not just being done on both sides simultaneously. They have different goals or maybe different targets, I don’t know. Once we figure that out, we’ll be closer to an answer. Hopefully, Chavez can come through with a contact and make our lives easier.”

“So you’re just going with your gut?” Matthews asked.

“He always does,” Whitaker said. “It hasn’t failed us so far.”

“Well, things are complex down here. Don’t go harrowing off too far. One of the first things they warned me about when they hired us to assist after the first couple of bombings was that a lot of eyes are on us, and to not get too far ahead of ourselves.”

“That’s what they always say when they’re more worried about how things look than actual results. Trust me, I’ve heard it before,” Taylor said.

“Maybe,” Matthews replied, noncommittally.

The silence lingered for a few minutes before Taylor said, “So, your own company doing government contracts. How did that happen?”

Matthews shrugged. “After I got out, I couldn’t see myself settling into civilian life. Missed the action too much. Turns out, Uncle Sam was missing us too. They pulled private contractors in from all over the place, trying to get fewer boots on the ground so a politician somewhere can say he’s pulling troops out of the forever war. I figured if they needed people who knew how to work in those places, I could provide the solution. I didn’t figure it would end up with me in El Paso, though.”

Taylor frowned. “You should be careful who you work with. Some of the groups out there give everyone a bad name. They have no accountability and hire the dregs, who got the big chicken dinner, ‘cause they were cheaper and won’t say no, regardless of the op.”

“Big chicken dinner?” Whitaker asked.

“Bad conduct discharge,” Matthews explained. “And I know the people you’re talking about. We’ve had a few run-ins with them, and you’re right, they’re shit. We’re not like those pricks. My guys aren’t like that. We follow strict rules of engagement, make sure we have oversight on all contracts, and we turn down any jobs that feel like they might be over the line. My guys are soldiers, not mercenaries.”

“How can you afford to keep your men equipped if you’re turning down the bigger dollar jobs?” Taylor asked.

“We buy surplus direct from the manufacturers with DoD approval. It limits some of our capabilities but helps keep costs down.” Matthews leaned forward. “Look, I know you’ve seen PMCs overstep, but we value integrity above all else. My men save lives.”

He had to hand it to Matthews, the man sounded sincere. Still, Taylor couldn’t imagine that they’d be able to keep their hands as clean as he tried to make it sound.

“You have concerns, I get it,” Matthews continued. “But we’re one of the good ones, Taylor. Doing work that needs to be done while keeping our moral code intact.”

“And when the job calls for bending the rules?”

“Then we refuse it, like I said.” Matthews’ gaze was unwavering. “Some contracts aren’t worth the price. We’ve built our rep on getting the job done right. If a client wants us to cross lines, they can find another outfit.”

Taylor made a face, unable to hide his doubt.

“Man, you really aren’t a fan. What, did one of us sleep with your old lady or something?”

While it was not a secret that Taylor and Whitaker were married, they normally didn’t advertise that fact and had agreed a long time ago to just keep it to themselves.

“Had a run-in with a dodgy outfit last year,” Taylor said. “They were unprepared, things went sideways, and a bunch of people died. It was a complete disaster.”

Matthews frowned. “Like I said, those are the bad ones. We train our men right, and only take on missions we’re equipped to handle.”

“Ohh, I haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Had things not fallen into the crapper, their plan was to ‘fail’ at rescuing the hostages, kill them along with the terrorists, and kill me to make sure everything stayed quiet. It turns out, while the company whose employees were being held hostage hired them to get their people free, someone else in the company was actually working with the insurgents and their deal had gone south. They paid off the PMC to cover up any evidence of it.”

“Jesus.” Matthews paled. “No wonder you’re skeptical of us. Who was it?”

“White Mountain.”

“Ohh,” Matthews said, a sudden look of clarity on his face. “Those guys were all the rage and suddenly disappeared into nowhere. I wondered what happened to them.”

“Almost completely wiped out.”

“Okay, those guys were bad news, sure. And I can see why you’d lump us all together after that,” Matthews said. “But our outfit doesn’t operate like those sociopaths.”

“I hope not,” Taylor said.

“I guess we’ll just have to prove you wrong,” Matthews said with a grin.

“I hope you do,” Taylor said, his expression still doubtful. “I hope you do.”

It was late when they got back to the hotel. Taylor had meant to call it a night early, but the conversation had drifted off of PMCs to talk about their days in the service. There’s nothing two old vets could spend more time doing than spinning war stories. Whitaker had looked slightly bored, but even she hadn’t seemed to want to leave.

One of the things they don’t tell you when you become a parent of a small child is that your social life evaporates. You spend the first six months in a fog of exhaustion and have little time for anything but feeding and caring for the small life you created. It was rewarding, but it did make you crave other companionship with someone who wasn’t always spitting up on you.

“He seems to have done well for himself,” Whitaker said as Taylor flopped down on the bed.

“I guess. I’m still not crazy about working with one of these outfits, even if it is run by an acquaintance. Once war becomes for profit, shit gets weird.”

“Does it always have to be like that?” Whitaker asked. “He sounded like he was doing a lot more oversight and providing for some accountability, at least. There’s a chance he could change things.”

Taylor frowned, “We’ll see. I mean, yeah, he was a decent guy when we knew each other and I never caught a whiff of corruption from him, but the amount of money that swirls around these groups can turn a lot of good people bad. Power and profit are the two greatest sins we ever invented.”

“I thought that was people putting pineapple on pizza and trying to convince you it wasn’t nasty?” Whitaker replied with a grin.

“That’s just below power and profit. But only by a little bit,” Taylor said, grabbing her arm and pulling her down onto the bed next to him.

They both lay like that for several minutes, just existing in comfortable silence. Taylor turned and looked at her. He’d thought she’d just been peacefully thinking, but he recognized the look on her face. It was the same one she often had when a case wasn’t going well. She was frustrated, worried, maybe even a little angry.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said, not looking at him.

“I know that look. It’s not nothing. You’re worried about something.”

She was quiet for a full minute, not answering. Just staring at the ceiling. She blinked hard twice, and a tear trickled down her cheek.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this. It’s only been a day, and I’m already a wreck.”

Taylor rolled over to face her and pulled her into his arms. She buried her face into his chest. She’d held it together all day, through travel, talking to the task force, looking at the forensics, even dinner with Matthews. He knew she could compartmentalize, but he hadn’t had a clue she was struggling this hard.

“I miss her too,” he said into her hair.

She shook her head, not pulling away from him. “She’s just so little, and she needs me. I know my sister will take care of her, but I’m her mother. I just ... I can’t stand her not being with me.”

Now she pulled back, wiping away the tears that had started flowing as soon as she started talking.

“I feel so stupid. I love my job, and what I do is important. And I’m good at it. This is what I wanted, to get back in the field. I was driving everyone crazy, practically climbing the walls to get back out here. Twelve hours later, I’m crying just like Grace does when she wants her bottle.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s normal. You’re allowed to feel like this.”

“Am I? How many other women would go out in the field with a six-month-old at home? How many other agents would go out in the field and immediately want to go back home again? I don’t want to quit my job, I’m just...” she trailed off, gathering her thoughts. “I’m frustrated. I want both, and right now I don’t feel like I have either.”

Taylor fell silent. He was good at a lot of things, but this wasn’t one of them. Besides, he couldn’t fix what was going on. He could offer words of encouragement, but he wasn’t sure that’s what she wanted. The two things she wanted couldn’t happen at the same time. Either she’d find a way for her family and work to coexist, or she’d have to pick one. It was an age-old battle.

In a way, Taylor wondered if he should feel the same way. Of course, he’d worked through the entire pregnancy and being a father was different than being a mother, but he wondered if he should be more bothered by being away from their child.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sagging slightly. “I know this is an important case. I just ... I’m having a hard time.”

Taylor rolled on his back and didn’t say anything for a moment, thinking.

“What if we quit?” he asked abruptly.

Whitaker’s head snapped up. “What?”

“The FBI. What if we quit and focus on the security company full-time?” Taylor propped himself up on his elbows. “Business is picking up. We’ll need to hire more guys soon. We could run the whole show and be home whenever we want.”

Whitaker shook her head, fresh tears pooling in her eyes. “I can’t. I’ve worked my whole life to get where I am. I won’t throw that away.”

“Even for Grace?” Taylor pressed.

“It’s not that simple.” Whitaker wiped angrily at her cheeks. “This job is important. What we do matters. I want to be there with her, but I want to be here too. I can do both. I have to do both.”

She was silent for a second and then, in a whisper, she pleaded, “Please tell me I can have both.”

Taylor put his arms around her and pulled her back into him. “You can have both. I think we just needed to hear you say that out loud. I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard, but we can figure out a balance. Maybe we cut back on the kinds of cases we work. Maybe you start focusing on something more administrative and I go in with the company full time. Maybe we take Grace on every case with us. Who knows?”

“That last one was a terrible idea,” she said, although her voice sounded lighter.

“I know, I was being ... I don’t know what the word is. Stupid.”


“I’m not fat,” he said, and got a playful but not overly soft punch in the gut.

“You’re not funny.”

“I am, a little,” he argued.

“Fine, a little. Okay, we can start looking at alternatives as long as none of them involve me working away from home all the time or quitting the Bureau.”

“See, a starting point. That’s all we needed. Feel better?”


“What if we FaceTime your sister and she points the camera at the baby?”

“Yes. That would help.”

Taylor pulled out his phone and handed it to Whitaker, so she could be in the front for the call, while he positioned himself behind her, so he could see the screen and they could see him. After a couple of rings, her sister answered, holding a happily gurgling Grace in her arms.

“Heyyy,” Whitaker said, sounding completely different as soon as their daughter was on screen. “How’s she been doing?”

“Good. She just ate and she’s about to get a bath,” her sister said from off-screen, keeping the phone focused on the baby.

“She’s been spoiling her rotten,” Kara’s voice came from off-screen.

Her sister panned the phone up. To their surprise, Kara and her best friend Mary Jane were standing over the chair, looking down at Whitaker’s sister and the baby.

“Hey, what are you guys doing there?” Whitaker asked. “I thought you had a big test this week that you needed to study for?”

“I have been studying; I’ve just been doing it over here. I thought Aunt Jess might need a hand.”

“Don’t let her fool you. Both of them have been over here, sleeping in her room. You’re catching me in a rare moment where I actually get to hold Grace. She’s very territorial.”

“You get to hold her while I’m at school, though,” Kara pointed out.

“You are studying though, right?” Whitaker asked.

“She has been,” Mary Jane added. “I’ve been quizzing her so she doesn’t need her hands. Grace is soooo cute. I can’t believe someone like Taylor made such a cute baby. It must be all your good genes.”

“I’m right here,” Taylor said, defensively.

“I said what I said,” Mary Jane retorted, trying to keep a straight face.

Taylor was happy to see her doing so well, and was grateful that she and Kara were as close as they were. Both girls had wild streaks in them that, oddly enough, each controlled better when they were around each other.

“If you’re staying at our place, where’s your security detail staying?”

“Mostly down in the van. They beefed up the security here when Mom sold the place to you because they knew we’d be here sometimes. I have my panic button if anything goes wrong, and they come in a couple of times a day to check on us. I’m at school too, as much as I am here.”

“Okay. Just, don’t get in Jessica’s way too much,” Whitaker chided.

“They’re not. They’ve been a big help. Plus, it would be a lot quieter if it was just me and the baby.”

“Okay, as long as you’re having a good time.”

“How are things going out there?” Kara asked.

Kara had started taking more of an interest in their cases ever since Taylor got back from Africa. He’d never gotten a straight answer about what happened here while he was gone, but he knew it had lit a fire under her. He, of course, couldn’t tell her everything, but he told her what he could. She had a really solid grasp on his process and how he worked, and if she continued on the career path she seemed to be focused on they were skills she’d be able to put to good use.

However, she wasn’t the only person there, and this wasn’t a secure way to talk about those kinds of things.

“We’re just getting started, so it’s hard to tell yet. We’ll probably know more in the next day or two,” Taylor said.

“Okay. Well, you two be careful. We all know how these cases go sometimes. At least the ones you’re involved with,” Kara said.

Whitaker let out a deep sigh as they disconnected.

“Better?” Taylor asked.


“Maybe this will get better with time. I mean, it’s the first time you’ve been away since he was born. Maybe we should wait and see how things go before we rush into any decisions.”

“Yeah, maybe,” she said, but she didn’t sound completely convinced.

As they went to sleep that night, Taylor’s mind was split, which he knew wasn’t good. Part of it was on the case, where it needed to be. He always found it helpful to chew over information, let it sit in his brain and give his subconscious a go at figuring out the things that were bothering him about a case. There was a lot of that to consider with this one. He’d dealt with resistant law enforcement and investigations where everyone else was looking in the wrong direction, often at the same time, but here, he felt it even more. Nothing in their report made sense, and he knew he was missing the key that would unlock all of this for him.

Unfortunately, the other half of his brain was on Whitaker and the baby. He missed Grace, and he was worried about Whitaker. While he wanted to chalk it up to hormones left over from the pregnancy, he knew it went beyond that. He hoped it wouldn’t hinder their mission here, but it already was. Their focus needed to be on the job, and it wasn’t right now.

They didn’t need to wait long for something to help them focus, however. The sun was barely up when Taylor’s phone started ringing.

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