Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 9

Taylor gave one last look at the body and pulled out his phone. Matthews might have escaped, but he’d made a mistake. Until now, Taylor had been focused on accomplishing the goal they’d been sent out here to do; find out about the bombings and stop whoever was behind them. For him, it had just been work. Matthews had now made it personal, and he was going to make sure his “friend” paid for his betrayal.

“Did you get what you needed from the wife?” Sullivan asked, sounding wide awake in spite of the long day and early morning hour. That wasn’t a surprise. The idea that there was a leak had been confirmed by the motel attack, and he must have been feeling the same kind of betrayal that Taylor now felt.

“We found your leak,” Taylor said.

“Really? Who?”

“Matthews. I’ll explain everything later, but right now, I need you to get a forensics team out here ASAP. Matthews escaped and is in the wind, and we need to pick up his trail,” Taylor said, and read off the address of the warehouse.

“Mathews. I can’t believe it. Okay, I’ll get everyone out of bed and headed your way, but I want details when I get there.”

“Sure,” Taylor said, and hung up.

Whitaker was looking annoyed when he looked up from his phone at her. Cupping a hand over the receiver, she said, “They’re trying to find him.” Although Whitaker was normally able to get Solomon on his cell, being director meant there were times he had to go without it, handing his devices over to an aide while he went into secure hearings or a SCIF. Or he might just have been asleep. It was almost three in the morning, after all.

“Forensics team’s on the way,” Taylor said.

“Good. We’ll ... Yeah, I’m here,” she said and then pressed the speaker button on her phone.

“What’s happening?” Solomon asked.

She sent regular updates to her boss; the last one had been while they were on the drive back to El Paso from the tunnel site, when they’d informed him that Sullivan had asked them to stay around to find the possible leak in his task force.

“We found the leak,” Whitaker said. “It is the head of the security contractors the DOJ hired to assist Sullivan’s task force, before we were brought in. Ryan Matthews.”

“Are you sure?” Solomon asked.

“Positive,” Whitaker said. “We found out that the shooter we identified was contacted by a former cellmate, probably to hire him for that job. We traced the friend’s cell phone to a warehouse here in town, and when we walked in, we found Matthews standing over the guy’s body, smoking gun in hand.”

“He killed your lead?” Solomon asked.

“Executed him just as we arrived,” Whitaker confirmed. “And then he opened fire on us before we could say anything.”

“Did you get him?” Solomon asked.

“No. He had a car waiting and got away,” Taylor said.

“Dang it. If he’s compromised, the entire task force is blown.”

“It has been,” Taylor said. “Considering how long it took to build the tunnel, they probably did that before buying him off. It’s unlikely they would have enough pull to get Matthews hired for the job, so they probably bought him off after the fact. Maybe they had reason to believe he was a weak link, I don’t know. He was almost certainly behind the bombings, trying to keep anyone from getting too close to the cartel’s tunnel.”

“All supposition, but it makes sense,” Solomon said. “What’s your next move?”

“We’ve got two options,” Whitaker said. “One, there might be a tangible connection between Matthews and the guy he shot. If he was the contact that Matthews used to hire the other motel shooters, then Matthews learned about him from somewhere. They might have a link we can use to track him down. Two, this warehouse wasn’t picked at random. The doors don’t look jimmied open and the place, while mostly empty, isn’t vacant, cluttered, or covered in debris and there are no signs of vagrants or anyone else squatting in it that I can see. Matthews, or our connection to the motel shooters, knew about it and knew to meet here. So there might be something here we can use to find him.”

“Forensics is already on the way, and we can start working on tracking Matthews and the guy he shot,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure what the point is, though. Matthews knows he’s blown, and he’ll start covering his ass. He’ll probably shut everything down and get out of the country. He was just the cartel’s errand boy, anyway. Their tunnel op might be blown, but they’ll just go back to moving stuff across the border like they always have.”

“You’re right, you’re not going to stop them, but that was never your mandate,” Solomon said tersely. “You weren’t sent there to end the drug trade. Your job was to deal with the bombings and bring those responsible for them to justice. It’s clear Matthews orchestrated the bombings, so he’s your target. Your job is to find him and bring him in.”

“We need to consider the possibility that the rest of Matthews’ men, or at least some of them, are compromised, too,” Whitaker pointed out.

“Possibly,” Solomon said. “At least, you can’t leave them in place and take the chance. I’ll have them picked up for questioning and hold them long enough to give you a chance to chase Matthews down. We’ll also freeze any accounts connected to his organization to make it harder for him to run.”

“Matthews is too smart to keep all his money where you can get at it,” Taylor said. “I guarantee he’s got some accounts you can’t find.”

“Perhaps we can still make it harder for him to get away,” Solomon replied. “Keep me posted if any new leads develop.”

“Will do,” Whitaker responded before ending the call. “I wish we’d get an easy case every once in a while.”

“It wouldn’t be as interesting that way,” Taylor remarked. “So ... would you like me to begin looking into Matthews?”

“No, I think I’ll take that task,” Whitaker decided. “With my fresh perspective on Matthews, I may notice something you’d overlook. You coordinate with the forensics team since you were present when we discovered the crime scene. With Matthews’ assets frozen and his men in custody, he’ll be desperate and possibly sloppy. Let me know if you find any clues regarding his next moves or contacts.”

“You’ve got it,” Taylor agreed. “I’ll check in after going over the evidence collection process with the techs.”

Sullivan was a man of his word, and the first patrol cars showed up almost as soon as they hung up. More surprisingly, the FBI techs and the coroner’s van weren’t far behind. As Whitaker stepped outside to start making calls, Taylor watched the techs work, staying out of their way.

His instinct was to just start ripping crates open and searching for anything that might be a clue to what Matthews was up to, but that wasn’t how the technicians worked. Everything had to be photographed, cataloged, fingerprinted, and who knows what else before they opened a crate. It was slow, meticulous work, but he grudgingly admitted that their way was probably for the best, and he’d witnessed them pull tiny fragments of evidence from what seemed like nothing in the past.

So he watched them work, moving slowly around the warehouse, staying out of their way but close enough to see what was happening. For almost an hour, he watched them work. It had been a very long day, and he was exhausted, but he didn’t want to call it a day until they had some idea of what their next step was going to be.

While he waited, he had one of the techs pull him records of the building, half hoping that the building had been bought by Matthews at some point. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was currently owned by a bank that foreclosed after the metal fabricating business that had used the building for storage of raw materials went under almost five years ago. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of demand for spaces like this because it had been listed as unoccupied and empty since then.

Of course, it wasn’t empty. He could understand the pallets being left behind and ignored by the bank when they foreclosed on the property, but the crates, most of which seemed to be full of stuff, would surely have been auctioned off at some point. An even bigger question was the machinery. Besides the fact that the bank would have sold it off as well, it shouldn’t have been there to start with. The company that owned this place before it was foreclosed on had used it for storage for their nearby machine shop, which made the somewhat high-tech-looking machines out of place.

He’d directed some techs to look over the machines and figure out what they were, and after watching them crawl all over them for what seemed like ages, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“So, what is all this equipment?” Taylor asked.

“It covers a pretty wide range. Laser welding machines, automated test equipment, 3D printing, and what looks like testing equipment for electrical and computer systems, although we’ll have to get into the software to see what exactly they’re designed to test. There are a few other pieces that are most likely specialized, which we will have to research,” the tech replied.

“So, they were manufacturing something?”

“I’d say assembling. If they were actually manufacturing anything, I’d expect to see CNC equipment: mills, lathes, grinders, and the like. What you’ve got here is for putting pre-manufactured pieces together. Which makes sense considering what we found in the crates.”

“I saw some of it. Looked like large sheets of metal,” Taylor said.

He’d seen the techs pulling stuff out of crates and opening some of the drums, but he’d spent most of the time waiting on the techs to finish looking over the machines and going through the warehouse records. There were a lot of crates and containers, and he didn’t want to be in the techs’ way, slowing the process down. He’d worked with their type enough times, since teaming up with Whitaker, to know how they got if someone interrupted their step-by-step procedures trying to get quicker answers. Admittedly, they did it that way to preserve evidence for trial and to ensure it didn’t get contaminated, or whatever, but he still found the process too slow for his liking.

The stuff he had been close enough to see, however, looked fairly new. Or at least not like it had been left to rot away in a warehouse five years ago.

“Yes. Some of it is a kind of carbon alloy; others are lightweight aluminum that looks like what we’d expect to see in small aircraft. A little of it has some kind of sprayed-on coating, which we also found in some of the drums.”

“I saw that too, spilling out of the ones that got hit in the crossfire. It looked odd to me, though.”

“That’s because it’s not just paint. It’s got some kind of added filament or minuscule filament in it that gives it an odd texture. We’ll have to get samples in a spectrometer to be sure, but first guess, the stuff in the drums was being applied to the sheets of metal.”

“Is it possible all of this was left behind when the warehouse foreclosed five years ago?” Taylor asked. He’d already worked out that it probably wasn’t, but it was better to confirm than take action based on his hunch.

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