Burying the Past
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
Memphis FBI Office
It had taken them a while to get back, with a two-hour stop at the hospital so the kid’s cuts and scrapes could be cleaned and the one broken leg set in a cast. He also had a broken rib and some nasty bruises, but considering he’d been literally blasted out of a second story window, he’d gotten off lighter than he could have.
They’d used the time well, pulling fingerprints and all the records they could find on him, from his visa and schooling in the US to online purchases and phone records.
Crawford kept saying he wished they had a little more time to work up more information before interrogating him since we hadn’t even known this kid had existed till right before the traffic stop on his roommate. Taylor wasn’t one to object to thorough planning. In Special Forces training, they’d spent as much time teaching operators how to plan as they did teaching tactics.
Qasim, however, was out there and planning something, and right now this kid was their only lead, which didn’t allow them the luxury for long prep times. As soon as the docs released him, with a suggestion of bed rest that all of them knew wasn’t going to happen, they headed straight to the local Bureau offices.
A pall hung over the FBI offices. People were still bustling back and forth, working on whatever it is the Bureau’s foot soldiers worked on in the middle of a case, but the way they did it was very telling to Taylor.
While none of the Bureau guys had died, one of the ESU guys hadn’t made it. Taylor was reassured to see they were taking the death and injuries among the locals so seriously. In the Army, if another unit, even an allied nations unit, took casualties when on joint ops, it would affect all the soldiers involved regardless. From how territorial the various law enforcement agencies he’s seen so far were, he hadn’t been sure that would be the case here.
They followed one of the local guys through to a row of windowless doors, each with a number on it, interspaced with other doors without numbers. Their guide pushed the kid into the room and shut the door behind them as Crawford held up a hand for them to wait outside.
“Who’s gonna go first,” he asked, looking at Whitaker.
“Let me and Taylor take a shot at him.”
“You sure,” he said, looking sideways at Taylor.
While he’d been warming to Taylor since they’d gotten back from Tucson, Taylor wasn’t surprised he still wasn’t considered fully part of the team. This was closer to how he’d come to expect agents to act.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
One last glance in Taylor’s direction and Crawford shrugged, saying “Ok, go ahead.”
Crawford headed to one of the unlabeled doors while Whitaker and Taylor headed for the door the kid had been pushed through.
The kid was at the table, one arm cuffed to the table top. The agent who’d come in with him was leaning against the wall next to the door, arms crossed over his chest. Once Taylor and Whitaker walked in, the Agent headed out and closed them in the room.
“John, this session will be videotaped for use in a trial, so...” she said to Taylor, letting the sentence drift off suggestively.
Not that he needed much explanation. She’d seen him interrogate people before. While Taylor knew his methods were more realistic in getting the answers they needed, he also knew it wasn’t the Bureau’s way. Despite this kid killing US citizens, they had to make nice with his rights. Taylor understood the basic principle behind that, but he found the idea of interrogations being limited just to protect the life of someone who’d shown contempt for the society offering those protections a little silly.
“I’ll be a good boy,” Taylor promised.
“Uh-huh,” she said doubtfully, turning to the kid.
“Ali, I’m Special Agent Loretta Whitaker. You were informed of your rights by the other agent?”
The kid just stared at her. We’d already confirmed he spoke English, so he was just playing tough, which wasn’t surprising.
“I see,” she said, settling back in her chair. Taylor took a spot on the wall behind the kid, not blocking the mirror he was sure Crawford and maybe one of the local agents were observing through.
“Don’t worry about him,” she said when the kid turned and looked at Taylor over his shoulder.
Taylor knew exactly what the kid was thinking, and it’s why he chose to stand behind him. Where he came from, this interview would have gone very differently. A lot of these kids were hammered away at with the idea that America was way more brutal, disappearing people into CIA torture chambers, and told the stuff they saw on American TV and movies was just propaganda.
“So you’re name’s Ali Al-Amari. You’re here on a student visa and were Saeed Antar’s roommate and attend the University of Tennessee, right?”
The kid still said nothing, just glared at her.
“You should talk to me, Ali. I don’t think you realize how much trouble you’re in. We have you at the scene making bombs. Your friends killed a police officer. Any Judge in the country will agree you’re a terrorist. I could put you on a plane to Gitmo right now, and no one would say a word.”
The kid snorted.
“That’s funny?” she asked.
He said something in Arabic, a sneer on his face. Whitaker looked up at Taylor.
“He says our prisons are a joke.”
“I think you’ll find Gitmo a different story. The current administration has ok’d several more rigorous forms of enhanced interrogation.”
The kid just sneered again.
“After they get as much as they think they can get out of you, of course, you’ll be tried for the murder of a police officer. You know Tennessee has the death penalty, right?”
The kids sneer sagged. He’d signed up to be some kind of suicide bomber, or something similar, but in Taylor’s experience, that was abstract to many of these kids. They didn’t put actual thought into it when they first signed up. It’s why they had to be really worked up into a frenzy before they were sent off to actually blow themselves up.
“I can’t remember how Tennessee does it these days,” she said, looking at Taylor. “Are they doing just the shot, or do they still do gas here? Also, didn’t one state bring back the electric chair as an option?”
“I remember reading that,” Taylor added helpfully. “Although for his sake I hope that wasn’t this state. As I understand it, it takes a bunch of seconds for it to actually kill you. Before then, you can feel yourself cooking from the inside out. There’ve also been those cases where it didn’t actually kill the person, and they had to throw the switch a few times.”
“I mean, even the shot isn’t so great. They ‘say’ they put you to sleep first, but I heard really they just paralyze you so you can’t yell out or complain. Really though, you are apparently awake the whole time, as your heart and lungs are stopped, and you slowly suffocate.”
The kid’s face was now completely blank.
“When did you meet Qasim?” Taylor asked in Arabic.
The kids head started to whip around to look at Taylor, only to stop halfway as he checked himself. He turned back and stared straight ahead again.
They kept hammering at him for another hour, but the kid didn’t say anything else and wouldn’t respond to any questions. Taylor tried to surprise him a few more times, asking about Tucson, about Saeed, about Qasim’s group of terrorists, Aikhtar Al’Islam, but nothing else sparked a reaction again. Whether that was because he didn’t actually know anything, or he was just ready for it this time it was hard to say.
Eventually, Whitaker waved for them to both go outside. Crawford came out of the observation room as they exited the interrogation room.
“We’re getting nowhere,” Whitaker said.
“Not nowhere. You caught him off guard on that first question,” he said, looking at Taylor. “We have confirmation these guys were working with Qasim. That’s something.”
“We already knew that before,” Taylor said.
“No, we thought that might be true, but we didn’t have confirmation. We would have worked as if it was true, but we’d also have had to expend resources on avenues if it wasn’t true, just in case we were wrong.”
“I guess that’s policy,” Taylor said, eliciting a grumble from Whitaker, who knew he meant that as a complaint.
“Yes, it is. Now, we don’t have to waste that manpower on dead ends, and can put it towards tearing this guy’s life apart. You know as well as I do that this kid, and probably none of his roommates, were the point man on their cell. They’re all canon-fodder, meant to blow themselves up for the glory of whatever. Someone set them up here, and someone gave them their instructions. Any interaction they had with Qasim or any of his men was through someone else. We just have to find that connection and follow it.”
“You make it sound easy.”
“This is what we do,” Whitaker said. “The FBI is the best in the world at tearing apart someone’s life and digging through everything and everyone they’ve ever known. If there’s a connection, I guarantee we’ll find it.”
“I hope so.”
Taylor sounded doubtful, but in actuality, he agreed with Crawford’s assessment. His ability to dig through someone’s life and find that one clue that leads you to the next one that leads you to who he was looking for was what had allowed him to close all the personal cases he’d taken since he’d started his new gig.
“Some of the locals will take a swing at your friend in there while we get started,” Crawford said, turning and heading to another part of the offices.
Taylor wondered if all FBI offices were laid out the same or if Crawford had been here before since he seemed to know where he was going. What was stranger is Crawford had been introduced as being from Homeland Security, not the FBI, which made his knowing the layout stranger. Taylor started to follow him when his cell phone buzzed.
“Taylor,” he said in a somewhat quiet voice, trying to not break the library like quiet that was this part of the FBI offices.
“Mr. Taylor, it’s Loren Dashel. Do you have access to a secure line?”
Taylor’s mental antenna snapped. The only reason Dashel would call him is because the Senator was looking for him, and her wanting to talk on a secure line meant this was serious.
“I’m in the Memphis FBI offices at the moment. I’m sure they’ll have something set up here.”
“Great. I will text you a number now. Could you call back on that secured line as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, I’ll call as soon as I can find where to do it from,” Taylor said, hung up, and half jogged to catch up to Whitaker and Crawford. “Hey, Crawford, do you have a secure phone around here?”
The man’s eyes narrowed as he paused in answering. Taylor had already figured out the big man was sharp, in spite of being a bureaucrat. He knew Crawford was putting together the thoughts of Taylor having some kind of high-level connection and the need for a secure line. He wondered how much he should try and keep the Senator’s identity secret, or if that was possible. Loren’s calls to Taylor’s cell was enough for Crawford to work it out unless Dashel had called from a secure line on his end or one not connected to him or the Senator.
Still, he’d make Crawford work for it, at least.
“Yeah, follow me.”
They turned and headed towards another area of the office, where Crawford opened a door and motioned Taylor in.
“Ask one of the people out here when you’re done, and they’ll bring you to where we are.”
Crawford gave him another appraising look, gears turning, before he closed the door, leaving Taylor along.
Taylor looked at his text messages and dialed the number Dashel had sent.
“Mr. Taylor?” the cheery assistant’s voice said after a single ring.
“Hold for the Senator.”
Taylor had dealt with secure lines in the past, so he wasn’t surprised by the drawn-out silence while he waited. He remembered the first time he’d had to make a secure call while still in the service, and he’d hung up on their colonel, thinking the line had gone dead.
“John,” the Senator said when she finally picked up.
He heard a soft snort from her end at what had started to become their own private joke.
“We have a problem, John. The person who took your picture the other day sold it to one of the papers, and they’re digging into you. They probably won’t get everything, since so much of your record is classified, but they’re going to get something. By the end of the week, they’re going to know who you and Loretta are.”
“I see,” Taylor said, his mind trying, and failing, to come up with what his options were. He was trained for a lot of things, but this definitely wasn’t one of them. “What should I do, Ma’am?”
“There’s not a lot you can do to stop it, John. You’re going to end up with reporters showing up at your doorstep at some point. Loretta’s a public servant, so there’s going to be a lot they can find on her. You’re going to be a bit of a black box for them, since so much of your background will be closed off. It’ll make them want to dig into you even more. I’m sorry about this, I really am.”
“It’s fine, Ma’am. I knew it was a possibility when we stayed in touch with Mary Jane, and considering your job and what job you’re running for. What about Kara?”
“That’s my big concern. It’ll be hard for them to get any actual information aside from her visa and adoption and citizenship proceedings. Her life before then will be even more of a mystery than your background. Which, again, will wind them up even more.”
“Do you think they’ll find out about her past?”
“I’d like to say no, but ... it’s possible. They can track her back to Russia. If they ask enough people the right questions, then yes. They might.”
“I see,” Taylor said, his voice going flat.
“I’m really sorry about this. I will do what I can for you, but it’s going to get rough I’m afraid. For now, anyone who talks to you, just refer them back to my campaign and walk away. They’ll chase you. Please ... please control your temper. Trying to physically stop them will make things much worse and make it harder for me to protect you.”
“I’ll do my best, Ma’am.”
“Ok, well, I just wanted to give you a warning of what’s heading your way.”
“Kara’s at home alone while Loretta and I are out here working on this thing, do you think you could...”
“Yes, of course. We’ll take her in until you get back.”
“Do you think it’d be better if she stayed with you until this blows over?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll think about it and talk to some of my people about it. I promise I’ll do whatever I can to help her.”
“I know you will, Ma’am. We trust you.”