Burying the Past
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
As she’d suggested, Taylor and Whitaker found themselves available the next morning as agents continued to run down leads. While Taylor was glad that they were able to keep their appointment, he was also somewhat disappointed.
While he hadn’t lied when he told Whitaker that he was confident one of the people working for Qasim would make a mistake, he also wasn’t as sure as he’d made it sound. While it was true the young people most of these groups recruited to do their dirty work were inexperienced - and, thanks to the somewhat short lifespan of many terrorist leaders, poorly led - there was always a chance Qasim had managed to drill some discipline in the people he found to carry out his current plan.
On top of that, Taylor wasn’t a big fan of meetings in plush offices. It wasn’t something active duty sergeants had to deal with very often in the army, and his post-army life had been less formal than even that. This was more the environment that Whitaker was familiar with, than he was.
Not that he didn’t want to be here. He’d meant it when he told Kara he already thought of her as his family. It surprised him how quickly he’d grown to care for the young woman. Some of it was their experiences in Russia, which had bonded them, and a part was a shared pain of a damaged past, but it was more than that. Taylor wasn’t big on destiny and predetermination, but it felt right for her to be in his life. Inevitable. The same inevitability permeated his feelings about Whitaker, and he couldn’t imagine his life without either woman, although in very different ways.
They were here as part of the steps to honor his promise to get Kara citizenship, but he would have wanted to make their connection official even without that promise. This was, in fact, the happiest he’d felt since walking off that Afghani mountain, even with Qasim back in the States. In fact, it was almost a perfect circle. He’d found the family he thought he’d lost in the desert.
“Is this guy going to make us wait forever,” Taylor said out loud, not letting his thoughts slip into his voice.
He had a reputation to maintain, after all.
“A little while longer, probably,” Whitaker said. “Guys like this like everyone to know how important they are.”
“This ridiculous office does that well enough. I swear, the more important a person gets, the worse their rates get.”
“Mrs. Caldwell’s office isn’t like this,” Kara said from her spot in between Whitaker and Taylor.
“That’s the problem with John’s formula. This kind of ostentation isn’t about power, it’s about insecurity. The Senator is a lot of things, but insecure isn’t one of them.”
“Khvastovstvo,” Taylor translated.
“Ahh. Many of the ... I’ve seen weak men pretending to be strong. You think this lawyer is such a man?”
“Not in the same way. This is less about wanting to feel important and more about wanting to be treated as someone important, although the difference is small. Part of it is also, what’s expected by people at certain levels. Mr. Towsen is a very respected lawyer.”
“By respected, she means expensive,” Taylor offered.
“No, but that’s true too. If the Senator hadn’t offered to cover the expenses of this, we’d be in a very different kind of office.”
Taylor opened his mouth to speak when the door opened, and a man in a suit came in.
“Sorry for the delay, I had a conference call that ran long.”
“No problem,” Whitaker said.
They’d all agreed, or rather Whitaker had instructed, and Kara and Taylor had gone along with, the plan that she would do all the talking. Taylor guessed that was for the best anyways since he didn’t suffer fools gladly anymore. Not that this guy was a fool. He’d been professional and courteous in their previous meetings, but something about him rubbed Taylor the wrong way.
“You said on the phone we’d been granted approval for the adoption by family services?”
“Yes. I have to say, I’m pretty astonished. I know Suzette has her hand in parts of this; but even with her prodding, I expected more hurdles on this. I’ve never seen a case of foreign adoption get approved in just six months. It’s even more amazing, considering you two aren’t married. You two must have some kind of pull.”
“Some people owed us favors,” Whitaker said noncommittally.
“I’ll say. We have this stack of paperwork to fill out, but there are a couple of things I’ll point out. I know we’ve discussed it before, but since you’re signing off that you understand all of it, I need to make sure you do, so you don’t come back and sue me out of my Jag later.”
He smiled with what, to Taylor, seemed like an impossible number of brilliantly white teeth.
“First, since you’re unmarried, the adoption is technically only being done by Mr. Taylor. Like I said, under the current law, you could have filed for a civil union instead of marriage, which would have granted you the right of joint adoption, but we went with your decision to have it be a single adoption. I’ll say that makes the approval of this adoption even stranger since family services usually aren’t that big of a fan of girls being adopted by single men. The caseworker I first talked to sounded like she was willing to reject it out of hand, in fact, until she suddenly changed her mind the next day and gave us the sign-off.”
Whitaker and Taylor both knew that Suzette had been behind that, with support from the State Department, who’d been provided by several Russian officials that they’d appreciate it as a sign of appreciation to Taylor, for his ridding them of a criminal organization the higher-ups of their foreign service had been trying to exterminate. Coupled with favorable letters from the current President, several sitting senators - all thanks to Suzette Caldwell - and the Attorney General. They’d been provided by Joe Solomon on Whitaker’s behalf.
Taylor wasn’t a fan of the system playing favorites like this, but considering what he owed, and more importantly how he felt about Kara, he accepted the bigfooting of the situation on his behalf. He simply nodded at Townsend when the man looked up at them. He was fishing, trying to figure out for himself why a private detective and an FBI agent, even a rising star like Whitaker, got such preferential treatment.
“Anyway, we also filed paperwork listing Miss Whitaker as Kara’s legal guardian, in addition to the adoption paperwork. Of course, should you two ever get married, Miss Whitaker can apply for adoption separately to become Kara’s legally adopted mother, rather than just a step-parent and guardian.”
“I understand,” Whitaker said.
“Now, for the name. I wanted to make it clear to Miss Kara that she has the option to keep her current last name, or take John’s last name. I know you indicated the latter, but I wanted to make sure you understood, since our filing will include a name change as well. It is, of course, possible to change it back; but, you’d have a bunch of hoops to jump through.”
“I want a new name to go with new life. I’m not that other girl, anymore.”
Townsend frowned at the mixture of anger and sadness in Kara’s voice, but looked down and made a note. Taylor placed a hand on her arm. She shot a glare at him, which softened once they made eye contact.
“Yes, I understand,” she said much more calmly. “I want a new name, thank you.”
“Uhh ... right. So that will take a few days to process, but since your visa was issued temporarily and you have no current records, it’s actually easier to register everything under Kara Taylor, rather than the other way and then alter it. Now, I’ve marked off all the places you need to sign or initial. Anything with the blue tab is for Mr. Taylor, anything in yellow for Miss Whitaker, and anything in pink for Kara. Let’s do this from left to right, and we should have everything signed off shortly.”
He handed a page to Whitaker, who signed off in the indicated place and passed the document to Kara, who did the same. After Taylor signed on the page, he put it to one side, which quickly became a stack in its own right. Towsend’s ‘shortly’ turned out to be just over thirty minutes, but finally they were done.
“This finishes up the adoption process. It’ll be official once we submit the finalized paperwork to the court, since they have already signed off on our petition.”
Taylor looked down at Kara who, he was surprised to see, had tears in her eyes.
“Now that this is cleared up, the only thing left is getting this all signed off on, and, since you’re old enough, taking your citizenship oath,” Townsend continued. “There’s one scheduled at the end of the week, and we should be able to get Kara’s name on the list.”
They’d hired him - or rather Suzette Caldwell had hired him - to represent Kara in getting her citizenship, as well as the adoption process. His primary experience had been as an immigration attorney, but they’d had an attorney specializing in family services who’d handled most of the legwork on the adoption.
“So I’ll be a citizen at the end of the week?”
“Yes. You’ve taken all the tests needed and, thanks to an unusually helpful FBI, you’ve passed the USCIS checks. I understand they had some concerns based around your ... previous guardians, but after a conversation with both the FBI and State Department, they discounted those concerns and approved your application. Again, the fact this is happening so fast is more than just unheard of. Had someone asked me before I met you all if Kara’d be able to get her citizen in just six months, especially when an adoption needed to happen first, I’d have said you’re crazy. I know you folks know Suzette, but this seems beyond even what I’d expect her to be able to push through.”
“John’s done a few things that’ve earned him some goodwill,” Whitaker offered.
“I see,” Townsend said, looking over at Taylor.
For his part, Taylor kept his face impassive. While not much of what they did was secret in any way, it was best not to advertise some of the stuff he’d been up to. Especially the business in Russia.
“Well, I need to get my secretary to get all this sent over to the court, so they can process it by the end of the day. I’ll be in touch about the swearing-in ceremony.”
After a few handshakes, the three were hustled out of the office.
“How about we go out for dinner and celebrate,” Whitaker said.
Kara had her first real, American steak the month before, and since had become insatiable. Lately, it had been her only suggestion when they talked about dinner.
“For tonight, sure.”
“Can I invite Mary Jane?”
“Sure,” Taylor said.
Kara squealed and clapped her hands, seeming like any average American teenager. Taylor couldn’t help but smile as she pulled out her cell phone and dialed. A rapid-fire conversation ended with Mary Jane agreeing to meet them at the restaurant.
Of course, both Taylor and Whitaker knew it was more than that. They were within the last six months before the election, and the Senator had gone under Secret Service protection when she picked up the Republican nomination. That included protection for Mary Jane, which meant they’d have to send an agent into the restaurant a few minutes ahead of time. It wasn’t as bad as if they’d been with the Senator, who had a whole army of suit-wearing people swarming around her. Mary Jane came with a couple of agents when she was out of the house, and places she went didn’t need to be highly vetted.
Still, Whitaker gave the restaurant a call, both to get a reservation and a heads up about the circus they were about to inherit. Taylor thought the reservation was a little redundant, once they’d heard it was Suzette Caldwell’s daughter coming. Places in Washington prided themselves in serving the highest political names they could manage, and the daughter of a candidate for President was a pretty good get. Taylor doubted they’d have trouble getting a reservation.
They got to the restaurant before Mary Jane, although an agent was there, who they recognized from the few times she and Kara socialized outside of the Senator’s townhouse. The manager hustled them to a table in one corner of the fancy steakhouse, away from the windows and able to be partially secluded by her agents.
Mary Jane showed up a few minutes later, with the rest of her security detail. Whitaker and Taylor let the girls catch up on their day, chatting away. Mary Jane was four years older than Kara; but she’d missed out on a lot of her teenage years to partying, and delinquency, which is how she’d ended up crossing paths with Taylor the previous winter.
Taylor wasn’t sure if it was the shared experiences - although much less so, in Mary Jane’s case - or Mary Jane feeling an obligation to the girl who’d helped save her, but she’d accepted the younger girl without question. As far as Taylor could tell, she genuinely cared for Kara, which Taylor thought was good, for both their sakes. Both girls benefited from their friendship; getting past not just their trauma, but in Mary Jane’s case, also getting over past poor choices.
They chatted on throughout their meal. Whitaker, and Taylor were looking back and forth as if it was a tennis match until dessert arrived, and the girls turned their attention back to the adults.
“So, it’s official?” Mary Jane asked.
“Yep. I am now officially Kara Taylor.”
“That’s great. I’m so happy for you, K.”
“Thanks,” Kara said, looking quickly at Taylor before looking away just as quickly.
Taylor knew enough about Kara that he knew she really wanted the adoption to happen once she’d gotten comfortable with him and Loretta. He knew one of her dreams when she’d been in the hands of those monsters, was that her family would show up and take her away from everything. He’d bet she’d told Mary Jane about that dream.
“Don’t be so happy. Now that she’s officially part of the family; she’s gotta clean her room, and wash the dishes, and...”
A wadded napkin whacked him in the nose as Kara laughed.
“I was thinking next time the old people are out of town I’d ... what was the word you said, throw a rager?”
“Is someone being a bad influence?” Taylor asked Mary Jane.
She saw the twinkle in his eye and knew he was kidding.
“Ohh, I don’t have to be a bad influence on K. She’s her own bad influence. Like, last week...”
Kara threw a hand over Mary Jane’s mouth, making the rest of the sentence just mumbles. She then quickly withdrew her hand, and wiped it on her jeans. Her friend was grinning wickedly at her.
“I don’t think this old person wants to know the rest of that sentence.”
“Psssht,” Mary Jane said with a wave. “You’re not old. You should see the fossils who come by to see my mom. Now those people are old.”
“So have you signed up for classes this semester, Mary?” Whitaker asked.
“No. We talked about it, and Mom agreed to let me start back in the Spring semester. She wouldn’t say it, but I talked to her campaign manager. Fred said they could use me campaigning for her as it gets close to the election. Plus, I’d like to take a little longer to get my head straight.”
Kara reached across and took her friend’s hand, giving it a squeeze.
“How’s that going?” Taylor, who definitely didn’t follow politics, asked.