Burying the Past
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
Crawford broke off from them at the Tuscon airport, saying he still thought there was something to investigate there, and seemed pretty confident that Qasim or his men weren’t still in town. Whitaker seemed to want to agree with Crawford but eventually sided with Taylor, who was certain the trail at this end was cold.
It wasn’t an easy decision for her. Her experience clawing her way up the through the bureau told her it was a bad idea to go against a high ranked agent, even one from another agency. In the end, it came down to a feeling that Crawford’s reason was partially just to be contradictory to Taylor. One of the reasons she’d fought against Taylor being involved with the official investigation was this exact reaction he tended to provoke in people.
Her instincts told her Taylor was right, and she had enough faith in both his experience with the terrorist and his track record over the past several years when it came to tracking people down.
Taylor was fairly quiet on the flight back, putting off most of Whitaker’s attempts to talk about the case. While he was confident that he was right and Qasim had already passed through, he had no idea what the man’s actual goal was. The reports he’d read on the flight out were light on Intel on Qasim and his group, which wasn’t that surprising.
Qasim had always been one of the smaller groups that had sprung out of Al Qaeda. US intel tended to focus on the big, noisy groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Considering how successful ISIS had been, for a while at least, that made sense. Taylor knew first hand that the US military was more comfortable with organized, territory-based opponents. Its institutional memory still tended to reach back to WWII and had trouble with guerrilla-style conflicts.
There had been movement of course. Patreaus had surprising success during the surge with his ‘clear, hold and build’ strategy. Soldiers operating inside the same communities, working day after day with the same people eliminated several of the insurgents best tools.
That, however, was a one-off. Again and again, he’d seen leaders going back to ‘hit them hard with overwhelming force, and we’ll win’ ideas that had worked poorly in Vietnam and continued to work poorly. Sure, it was going to let them shut down ISIS, who made the mistake of picking up territory and becoming something the US knew how to fight. That, however, was unique to that group and left less formally structured groups unidentified and untraceable.
Again, that was understandable. You had to deal with the big threat first, but it lets those looser groups build up resources and make plans. That was bad enough, but it got worse when one of those groups had a man like Waleed Qasim in charge of it.
Taylor had seen firsthand how organized his band was. They took operational security seriously, doing no planning or coordination electronically. Everything was person to person contacts, which made tracking them a lot harder. The US was the master at pulling information from the air and analyzing it, but all that expertise meant that old school techniques were ignored or overlooked.
The file Taylor had seen had nearly zero recent information on the group, in fact. He couldn’t help but notice that, aside from information that looked to be more rumor than a real source, the file’s most up to date info had come from Taylor himself. Which meant no one knew what Qasim had been up to for almost three years.
The plane landed, and Taylor pushed it all to the back of his mind. He wasn’t going to figure it out today, and he had other things he’d prefer to focus on. Qasim was in action, and Taylor knew that there’d be something new breaking soon. All he needed was a little more data to get a whiff of what the man was up to.
“So you’re back with me,” Whitaker said as they took the tram to the parking lot to collect their car.
She’d become good at reading his moods, which he actually appreciated.
“Yeah. I was trying to work out what Qasim’s next move is, but I’ve got nothing.”
“No. All we have is the border crossing. We know he’s got some assets already in the States, but that’s not enough. I need a few more pieces of the puzzle before I can start figuring it out.”
“Joe had been hoping you’d lock on to him quickly.”
“I know. I hadn’t said anything before, because there was always the chance that the crossing would have left more detail for us, but I was pretty sure we’d end up here. We have some feelers out, and Qasim’s already started on whatever his plan is. Something new will pop up soon, and then we’ll have a direction to go.”
“See, you need us methodical, plodding bureaucrats with our procedures and policies after all.”
“Never said I didn’t, Princess. I’ve never had a problem with your methods when it comes to tracking down pieces. It’s the hesitation in putting the pieces together that I have a problem with. There will be a point where methodical investigation stops, and you have to roll with what you have, work the rest out on the fly.”
“That’s how innocent people end up getting killed.”
“Sometimes that’s true, but always going with procedure and working the system instead of following what’s in front of you is how planes end up flying into towers.”
Her head whipped around and she glared at him. Nine-Eleven was still a sore subject in the Bureau, even after almost two decades. It was their biggest institutional failure, pretty much since its founding. They took their missing the plot personally and didn’t like being called on it.
She didn’t speak to him again as they got to the car, and Taylor could feel her seething beside him.
After putting the keys into the ignition, Taylor stopped and looked at her.
“Sorry, that was too far. I apologize.”
“But you don’t take it back?” she said.
“No. I believe what I said, but I know you and the people you work with try to do what you think is best. You know I have problems with your methods, I won’t pretend I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I should throw it into your face. You were right. Right now I need your way of doing things.”
She glared at him and then rolled her eyes. She knew Taylor well enough to know that was as much of an apology as she was going to get out of him. One of the things she liked most about him was that he always told you what he thought. It was also one of the things she hated most about him.
“Fine,” she said as he turned the engine over and pulled out of the parking lot.
“At least this way, we get to be here tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I was worried we’d have to reschedule.”
“Have you told her how much you’re looking forward to it?”
“You know Kara. She hates talking about ‘silly emotional stuff.’”
“That’s what she says, but it’s a front. It means a lot to her, but she still has trouble letting anyone see what she really feels. She had to hide for a long time. It’s a reflex at this point.”
“Has she said anything to you?”
“Some, but I’m also better at reading her. Even though she won’t say it, she’s looking forward to the finalization of the adoption.”
“Really?” Whitaker asked, turning to look at John’s profile.
“Yeah,” he said, reaching out to hold her hand. “I know you’re looking forward to it too, even though you haven’t told her, either. I was serious, you know, before we left. Your and Kara’s biggest problem is you’re too similar. You both need to be so strong, that sometimes you limit yourselves when you should be vulnerable.”
“You’re one to talk,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, I guess. Still, something to think about.”
“I need to go to the office for a bit,” she said as they neared their apartment. “I want to follow up on some of the warrants, make sure all the paperwork’s filed and that we’ve got feelers out everywhere we need to.”
“Don’t trust your people?” Taylor said with a smirk.
“Don’t be a dick.”
“I’ll hop out at the curb and bring our bags inside.”
He put the car in park in front of their building, and both he and Taylor hopped out. She dropped her bag on the curb while he pulled his out of the back seat. As she pulled the driver’s side door open, Taylor grabbed her by the hips and spun her around, pinning her to the SUV.
“Sorry for being a dick,” he said, pushing his body into hers.
“No, you’re not.”
“In general no, but this time I am. You know I appreciate you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, but her hands snaked around his waist, belying her annoyed attitude.
Taylor leaned in and kissed her hard. She returned the gesture, hands tightening on his side.
Taylor pulled back and looked into her deep brown eyes, “Drive safe. Hurry home.”
She leaned in and gave him one more peck then planted her hands on his chest and pushed him back, giving him a grin as she slid into the driver’s seat and pulled away from the curb. Taylor picked up the bags and headed up to the apartment.
Taylor found a smallish, mousy looking woman with brown hair sitting on the couch when he went through the front door. Dropping his bags, he stepped towards her, reaching out his hand.
“You must be Lily. I’m John.”
“Great, you’re finally home. Now I can get the hell out of here,” she said, ignoring his hand and grabbing her purse from the couch.
“Is something wrong?” Taylor asked.
It would be easy to assume she was just being rude, but the exasperated sound in her voice told him there was probably more to it.
“I’ll just say this has been the longest day of my life. That girl is just, well, she’s not a very nice person.”
Taylor sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry about that. Kara has ... I know she can be a trial sometimes.”
“A trial? She’s basically only cursed at me since I got here. That is, when she spoke English. Most of the time she just stared at me, speaking in Russian. I’m positive she wasn’t being kind, and she found it pretty funny. She was rude, cruel, and all around a bitch.”
“I’m sorry again. Loretta and I really appreciate your helping out. I promise Kara isn’t a bad person, she just has a lot of anger issues. I’ll let you get out of here, and I’ll tell Loretta to call you.”
“I’d say I was happy to do it, but after today that’d be a lie. Lola told me some of the stuff Kara’s been through, so I understand why she’s difficult, but it’s hard spending a whole day on the end of that difficulty.”
“Well, thanks again for helping out,” Taylor said walking her to the door.
The woman gave one last glance to the back of the apartment and fled out the door. Taylor shut it behind her and leaned his forehead on the smooth white finish, banging against it twice in frustration.
“She was an idiot,” Kara said behind him.
“No, she wasn’t. You just felt like messing with her and showing her you were boss. The woman came to do us a favor, and you took a dump all over her.”
“She wanted to ‘get to know me’ and ‘be friends,’ bah, what do I want with tiny weak girl as friend.”
“Yeah, that sounds awful. What a horrible person she is, trying to be nice to you.”
“I don’t need fake nice. She felt sorry for me, I could see in her eyes.”
“So, what? You’re just going to attack everyone who tries to be nice to you? Sounds pretty damn lonely.”
“Whatever,” she said with an eye roll and turned to go back to her room.
“No, not whatever, Goddammit,” Taylor boomed, stopping her in her tracks. “You can’t keep running, and you can’t keep attacking everyone in sight. I know you can never put it behind you completely, but you have to find a way to stop your past ruling your life or you’re going to end up miserable and alone. Is that what you want?”
“No, but I don’t need sympathy.”
“I get it. You don’t want people to feel sorry for you, because maybe it means you’re weak. It doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t make you less than you are. It’s also not what the person you’re mad at is trying to say. I guarantee you most of the time, it’s someone who hasn’t experienced what you have, and usually can’t even really understand what you experienced, trying to reach out to you. You don’t have to be afraid of the hand they’re offering.”
“I’m afraid of nothing,” she said, moving towards Taylor angrily.
“Bullshit. You’re terrified.”
“You don’t know shit.”
“I know what it’s like, escaping Hell and scared every day you’re going to end up back there. Looking at everyone else around you, thinking ‘these people don’t have a clue’ as they drink their coffee, confident that nothing bad will happen to them today. I know what it’s like waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. I know most people wake up from a nightmare and say ‘it’s all a dream’ and we wake up knowing it’s real and it could happen again. I know the anger. I know the feeling of just giving up. I know the thoughts, when no one’s around, that maybe you actually deserved it. Most of all, I know the fear.”
She broke eye contact with him, looking at the ground. Taylor moved closer to her, lifting her chin with a finger and wiping away the tracks left by her tears. Kara threw her arms around him, buried her face in his chest, and sobbed. He held her, one hand on the back of her head, slowly stroking her hair as her body clenched with each gulp of air as she cried.
While he whispered softly to her, in the back of his mind, he realized this was the first time she’d really cried in front of him. She’d shed a tear or two, and he knew she’d cried some in the doctor’s office, but as far as he was aware, she hadn’t really broken down, until now.
Eventually, she stopped, wiping a shirt sleeve across her nose.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sniffle. “I shouldn’t”
He switched to Russian, wanting to get his point across without the language barrier getting in the way.
“Hey, it’s ok to cry. I definitely did when I got home. I spent hours sitting in a small motel, crying like a baby. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.”
“You never really talk about, your thing.”
“Do you like talking about yours?”
She shook her head no, her red hair falling in front of her face as she looked down at her shoes. Taylor led her to the couch and eased her down, grabbing a box of tissues.
“How do you get past this?”
“You don’t. It never goes away. You just find a way to deal with it.”
“How did you do that?”
Taylor stopped and thought about it. He knew he had dealt with it, mostly. He still had the nightmares, but they only came once or so a month now, instead of every night. That alone was a good sign that he’d put some of it behind him.
“I guess part of it is what I’m doing. I found a way to get some control back. Finding people has let me use some of that pain into something useful.”
“How do I do that?”