Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 4

By midnight, the FBI offices had been abandoned, as everyone but the janitorial staff, a few agents on night duty, and Taylor, had headed home for the night. Not that he had noticed. He’d been engrossed in his research since shortly after he arrived in the office, making pages of notes as he cross-referenced reports and case files against one another, slowly building a theory that actually fit the circumstances instead of trying to make the circumstances fit a theory like Sullivan had been doing.

It wasn’t until he glanced up, after scribbling one last note, that he noticed Whitaker sitting one workstation over, her feet up on the desk, staring at him.

“Jesus, I thought you only got that intense searching for Bonnie. You were really into it.”

“How long have you been here?” Taylor asked.

“Almost ten minutes. I was about two minutes from interrupting you if you hadn’t finally looked up. I hope you found something.”

“Maybe. What happened at the crime scene?”

“Not much. Almost everything we saw looks to be residual damage, fires, and whatnot. The blast was intense but actually not that large. Unfortunately, there’s nothing left of the car or the driver, as far as we can tell. We’re going to have to bring in DMORT to get at least an ID on some of the agents who died, so their families can get some closure.”

“That bad?” Taylor asked.

The Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team was a federally funded group that deployed to disaster areas to identify victims and had some of the leading experts in DNA identification, who were able to identify people from very small samples.

“Yeah. Most of the agents working there were killed by shrapnel, but there were two, one near the bomb car and one near the car in the other bay, plus the drivers of the second vehicle and whoever drove the bomb car, that are all damaged so badly, or in so many pieces, that it’s impossible to know who’s who.”

“So no ID on the driver, no ID on the car, and no idea why it was blown?”

“That more or less sums it up,” Whitaker said. “Have you had any luck with whatever you ran out here to do?”

“Maybe,” Taylor said, sliding a map he’d been adding notes and pins to across the desk towards Whitaker. “Take a look at this.”

She leaned over the map, taking in the marked locations, tracing her finger across them before looking up and asking, “These are all the bombings so far, right? And maybe a few other things; like I think this was a murder on the Mexican side. I’m not sure what you want me to see here.”

“See this,” Taylor said, tracing his finger on an arc from the border, along a series of events, ending at the end of the arc with the bombing in El Paso. “These didn’t happen in order. It was one here, one there, back and forth in a non-repeating pattern, all different kinds of targets. The only thing that did stay the same is nothing happened in this zone. This dead zone where no bombings, no killings, and basically nothing of note happened at all. Except this recent bombing, of course.”

“Why bomb the checkpoint then?” Whitaker asked. “As you said, it doesn’t fit the pattern. If they’ve been so methodical in their bombings, why the sudden change?”

“I think it might be us,” Taylor said.

“Us? Why would us being here suddenly make them change targets?”

“A couple of reasons. Keep in mind that they’re looking at this from a different perspective. This kind of pattern can’t be random. You don’t have attacks up and down an arch and leave the middle area untouched without a reason. The difference is, they are aware of the reason and aware there is a pattern to the bombings. We were brought in from the outside after El Paso to look at things differently, which would give them cause to re-evaluate their plans. When they did, I’m sure this pattern stood out. Like I said, they know why they’re doing things, while we have to make a bunch of guesses to see a pattern. Maybe they realized someone new might spot this and felt like they needed to do something to break the pattern. That’s all speculation, of course, but why would they change things right when we got here?”

“It was right after El Paso, which was a change in itself. Maybe they started changing the pattern then, and this is the continuation of a new pattern, or maybe something else caused them to break the pattern before we got here.”

“Maybe,” Taylor said with a shrug. “Like I said, it’s all just guesswork at this point. What I’m confident about is that the pattern exists, and inside of it, sits a circle almost two miles in diameter and a dozen miles in from the border where nothing has happened. That’s significant to me.”

“What about El Paso then? It wasn’t just blowing up empty buildings and unused storage lots. It was massive and was bound to get more agents involved, especially by using C4 stolen from the Army. There have been enough programs, true crime or whatever, that have covered the fact that it can be tracked, that I’d assume a group like the cartels would understand that and know we’d track it back to where they got it. They had to know this would generate some kind of response. If this change was about throwing us off so we didn’t recognize the pattern, what was the El Paso bombing about.”

“That’s one of the things that has bothered me since the beginning, and why I wanted to come here and do some research. Even before I found the pattern, it was pretty clear from the case file that, like you said, El Paso was a major escalation, and it just didn’t fit any of the explanations we’ve heard. What I found going through the task force’s daily logs is that Sullivan was about to change his deployment. He’d had no luck tracking down or stopping the bombings, and his superiors were getting frustrated. Instead of running from bombing to bombing, he’d decided to redeploy the men he had available to him, spreading them out along the area where the bombings had been taking place, I guess hoping they would be closer to an event when it happened and might catch someone.”

“His plan was to spread his people out and hope they got lucky?” Whitaker asked, sounding surprised and maybe a little offended by such a weak plan.

“Yeah. From the messages I saw going back and forth between him and his bosses, he was trying to play the individual bombings off as a small thing considering the low level of damage, financially, that was happening. He was trying to convince his bosses he could still manage it with the men he had available.”

“How did you see the messages he was sending?” Whitaker asked, suspicious.

“I might have called a friend for help. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he actually did get lucky, after the fact. I don’t think he even picked the places he wanted his men to cover on purpose, but one of the areas was smack in the middle of this dead zone. Three days after he told his bosses he was changing the deployment of his team, the El Paso explosion happened.”

“That sounds a whole lot like you’re saying someone is on the inside and knew what Sullivan was planning.”

“Not necessarily. Sullivan had already started the revised deployment two days before the explosion, and he wasn’t being all that discreet about it. The cartels wouldn’t have needed that much time to drive the truck in. Mexican records suck, but it seems like it came from a warehouse area only about nine hours from El Paso. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I called my friend in Germany who has some contacts with the Mexican state police, and they gave him access to some records. The people who owned the truck ran loads out of that warehouse for several years as kind of a transshipment place between further into Mexico and the border. So it stands to reason that it came from there. If they were paying attention, there’s a good chance one of their people saw the redeployment and worked out what was happening.”

“But that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone on the inside?”

“I guess. I’m just not sure we should jump to that conclusion yet. Looking over the other bombings, if they were to keep Sullivan’s men out of the dead zone and they had someone on the inside who knew what the task force was doing, I would think they’d have acted sooner than they did. Several times, they waited until the last possible moment before setting off a blast to pull the men back. A few times, agents actually got into this area before being turned around to deal with a blast. They could have stumbled across whatever the cartels are trying to hide there. I’m not saying it’s not possible, just that we shouldn’t jump to that conclusion yet.”

“So do we take this to Sullivan? He has the manpower to blanket that area. On our own, we either have to hope we get lucky, override Sullivan, which has its own problems, or call in reinforcements from Washington, which will take time.”

“Do you really think Sullivan’s going to listen to this? I feel it’s right, but there’s a lot of guesswork here. You know his type; they don’t move on anything that’s not rock solid and hate hunches, which is mostly what this is. You’re only listening to me because you have to.”

Taylor said that last part with a crooked smile, leaning back in the chair.

“I don’t have to do shit,” she said, matching his smile. “I’m listening to you because I know your hunches usually pan out and I trust you. And no, I don’t think Sullivan’s going to listen, but we still need to give it a shot. When he brushes us off, we’ll decide what the next step is.”

“Great,” Taylor said, hopping up. “Let’s go wake him up.”

“Taylor!” Whittaker yelled, chasing after him.

She tried to tell him to leave it until morning, but he was already halfway out of the office and wasn’t slowing down for her. For someone who’d spent his adult life in one hierarchical organization or another, he loved tweaking the noses of people who thought their place in that hierarchy gave them some special status. He wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity!

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