Burying the Past
Chapter 10

Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy

“You’re...” Kara started to say as Taylor and Whitaker walked into their apartment and stopped, staring at them. “What happened?”

“We had a very bad day,” Taylor said, not wanting to talk about the tragedy in Amberville or worry Kara.

“Clearly.”

“Come on, you’ve gotta get cleaned up. The person picking you up should be here soon.”

“What are you going to do while I’m at this thing?” Taylor said as he followed her into their bedroom.

“Go to the office. I know Crawford wants us to take the day off, but I want to make sure they aren’t missing anything.”

“I really should be with you working on finding Qasim before he kills anyone else, instead of answering a bunch of pointless questions.”

“No, you need to help the Senator. We have enough people following up on leads, one more won’t matter.”

“If there are already enough people, why are you going?”

“Because I’m a perfectionist. Let’s be serious though, you hate this part of the work. Until we get more, there isn’t much for you to do unless some epiphany comes across. I’ll make sure we get the leads we need, so we can get back on Qasim’s trail, and you make sure reporters aren’t going to be chasing us around the country while we chase a terrorist.”

By the time Taylor was out of the shower, Whitaker had left for the office already. Helpfully, she’d laid out a suit for him to wear, probably thinking, correctly, that he’d have ended up in jeans and a t-shirt if she’d left it up to him.

“You look good,” Kara said when he came out to the living room. “Loretta makes good choices.”

“Yeah, she does okay.”

“Should I go with you?”

“No. While it’s probably a lost cause now that they’re digging into my background, just in case, I’d like to keep them off your trail as long as possible.”

“I can handle myself!”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Just don’t be punching anyone.”

“That’s what Lola said.”

“We both know you.”

“Yeah,” he said and reached out to tousle her curly red hair. She was just preparing to launch herself at him when the intercom buzzed.

“Saved by the bell,” she said, jabbing him in the stomach with a finger.

Taylor chuckled and headed out the door. Photographers swamped the front door of the apartment building, with the doorman trying in vain to hold them back as Taylor walked out and into the waiting car. He made a mental note to leave a big tip for the man at the end of the month, to make up for all the trouble this nonsense was causing.

He was spared the same scene at the hotel where the press conference was scheduled, thanks to a private area in the hotel’s parking garage that only let in authorized vehicles. Loren Dashel was standing by the door when the car pulled up.

“You’re late, Mr. Taylor.”

“It’s your driver, Loren,” Taylor shot back.

While Taylor didn’t directly hate Loren, he found the man stiff-necked and annoying at times. Taylor knew Dashel thought of Taylor as some kind of knuckle-dragging Cro-Magnon who had no business being within five miles of the Senator.

“Of course,” Dashel said, looking around the parking garage avoiding Taylor’s gaze. “We need to hurry, now. The Senator’s waiting for you and the press is already seated.”

“Let’s go.”

“You’ll go on stage with the Senator and stand to the right of Mariah; she’s the Senators’ press secretary, while the Senator stands to her left. Mariah will give a brief introduction and then step away from the podium. The Senator will step up and make her statement, then open the floor for questions. You should remain silent, even if asked a direct question. If the Senator wants you to answer, she will step aside and make a gesture for you to step over to the podium. Give as short of a response as possible. The more words you say, the easier it is for the press to take something out of context. Once you’ve answered, step away so the Senator can step back up to the podium. Above all else, it’s important to remember to not lose your temper or have an outburst. Is that all clear?”

“I promise I won’t pee on the stage, either.”

Dashel made a face but didn’t respond. They passed through several winding corridors past hotel employees before Loren led Taylor through a small door. The room was very small, with one door to the right of where Taylor entered.

Senator Caldwell, as meticulously dressed as ever, stood in the center of the room speaking with an equally well dressed, and much younger, woman with light brown hair.

“John, excellent,” Caldwell said as he walked up to her.

She straightened his tie and gave his arm an almost motherly pat before saying, “This is Mariah Russell, my press secretary. Did Loren walk you through what’s going to happen?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Good, good. Now, John, before we go out, these people have already dug some dirt up on you. They’re going to ask questions specifically chosen to get a rise out of you. Please just remember, as a veteran, they assume you’re a barbarian. Don’t give them the satisfaction of losing your temper.”

Taylor could only imagine what everyone else thought of him, since Caldwell was the fourth person to remind him to not lose his temper.

“I’ll try my best, Senator.”

“I know you will, John. I appreciate you being here and helping us out.”

With a nod to Russell, they all headed out the other door of the room, which lead into sheer chaos. The door opened into one corner of a much larger room. Directly in front of them was a small stage with a light blue curtain as a backdrop. In front of the stage were several rows of chairs, each with a reporter sitting in it. The walls were lined with photographers, and TV cameras along the back wall were shining their blazing white lights. The room erupted into noise as soon as Caldwell entered. Camera flashes began going off as what had to be hundreds of pictures of them walking to the podium were taken.

Taylor had a brief moment of internal panic, as the barrage of lights and sound caused a brief flash-back to the convoy firefight in Afghanistan that lead to his three-year imprisonment by Qasim. He hadn’t had a nightmare or flashback to that awful day in almost a year, ever since he and Whitaker began their relationship in earnest, and the experience left him off balance. Taylor stumbled briefly until Dashel, who was behind him, put a hand on his back to keep walking. After a glance back Taylor walked up to stand in his place next to Russell and wait. Caldwell, glanced at him briefly, a worried look crossing her face for just a second as she noticed the sweat start to spring up on Taylor’s forehead.

“Thank you for coming,” Russell said into the microphones on the podium.

The words had an almost magical effect as all the noise from the reporters instantly died down. The cameras continued to flash, but at a much slower rate, bringing the level of chaos down to a point where Taylor could regain his composure a bit.

“Senator Caldwell has a brief statement to read and then we will open the floor for questions. I know many of you have been with us for several months and know the drill, but as a reminder to any new people. We will only answer questions if you are called upon. Any shouted questions will be ignored. If everyone starts shouting questions, we will end the press conference. So please, try to remain calm, and we will try to get to as many questions as we can. Senator.”

The last word was said as Russell backed away from the podium to make way for the Senator.

“Thank you, Moriah. Six months ago, while at a local DC nightclub with friends, my daughter was kidnapped by criminals’ intent on trafficking American girls. She was a target of opportunity, and they were not aware of her connection to me. Despite the quick response and best efforts of law enforcement, her captors managed to get her and several other younger girls out of the country. While the State Department was in contact with several Eastern European countries, which is where law enforcement believed they were being taken, about finding the girls, as a mother I was not willing to wait and hope for the best.”

“Based on multiple recommendations, I hired Mr. Taylor to help find and bring my daughter back to me. Mr. Taylor, a retired and highly decorated member of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces, had been working across the country to help find abducted or lost family members, nationwide, including the successful rescue of Samantha Brown and the capture of the man I believe you in the press dubbed ‘the substitute snatcher’, which I’m sure our Idaho colleges will have heard of.”

“My daughter was taken to Russia, where they planned on selling the girls.” Caldwell took a moment, placing a hand to her mouth as she tried to hold composure, before continuing. “Mr. Taylor and the Russian national police were able to find Mary Jane and the other missing girls and rescue them, along with more than a dozen other girls of various nationalities. Since then, I have remained in contact with Mr. Taylor, who I consider a personal friend, and to whom I owe a debt that can never ever be repaid.”

Caldwell reached out and gripped Taylor’s hand, giving it a brief squeeze. Knowing Caldwell as he now did, he knew that, while she absolutely meant every word she said, that this was also performative and for the benefit of the onlooking press.

“With ongoing counseling, Mary Jane is home safe and has recovered well from her ordeal. While I will answer questions on the subject, I ask for you to show respect to my daughter on this subject in the future, and remember that the trauma of an event like this never goes away. We will have the names and information of US Law Enforcement and Russian officials who can answer additional questions for you about the abductions here, and the operations in Russia. Now, I’m sure you have questions.”

Hands shot up across the room. Taylor was surprised it didn’t come with more shouting, but apparently, Caldwell had the press well trained by this point.

She pointed at a woman, who stood up and said, “It was public knowledge that your daughter liked to party, and she’d had several run-ins with police over drunk driving and drug possession. Several months ago she began appearing at campaign stops with you and all reports of her more extreme behavior vanished. Is this the reason for her sudden change?”

“First, I’ll remind you that she has never been charged with any crimes related to drugs. To answer your actual question, yes. She saw her ordeal as a wakeup call and has made great strides in bettering herself. While I would not wish what happened to my daughter on anyone, we are glad she has been able to use this traumatic event to strengthen herself. Next question.”

“Has anything been done about the criminals who kidnapped your daughter? We hear about human trafficking a lot, but this sounds much larger and more organized than anything we’ve heard about before.”

“Human trafficking is a scourge, and I’m sad to say is still actively happening, especially along our southern border. I know all of our Law Enforcement agencies continue to fight against these monsters, something I would hope you in the press would remember when writing about ‘heavy-handed’ tactics. In this one case, I can say that the organization involved has been completely shut down, with its leaders either dead or no longer with us. I commend both American and Russian law enforcement agents for their quick and valiant efforts to bring these criminals to justice. Next question.”

“Mr. Taylor’s DD-214 says he was given a medical discharge from the service on psychological grounds. Should voters be concerned that you’re friends with someone the military says is psychological no longer fit to serve?”

“While much of John’s record remains classified, I have prepared for you a brief background of his service that will be available to you at the end of this press conference. During his last deployment, he was part of a convoy that was ambushed. During his actions in defending this convoy, for which he received multiple commendations for bravery, he was knocked unconscious and captured after a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near him. He was held in captivity, and tortured by insurgents for three years. He was finally able to escape, on his own, and make his way back to US forces.”

“After extensive medical treatment to correct damage from years of physical abuse, and dealing with the fact that he’d been officially listed as dead by the DOD, the Army followed its policy that soldiers who’ve come under extreme psychological stress be discharged. John never once did anything that would suggest he was unfit to serve and was discharged solely as a precautionary measure as part of official policy. I want to take a moment to remind you that we’ve been at war in all but name now, for more than fifteen years and we have thousands of veterans returning to civilian life every year suffering severe mental trauma. When I become President, one of my first goals will be to ensure veterans have the services and support they need to make that transition to civilian life successfully, and to treat the unseen damage they’ve endured in our name. Too many of our veterans end up on the street, no longer capable of functioning in society because they went in our place and for us. The current administration has let these men and woman down, and I will not let that betrayal continue once I’m in office.”

“I’ll step off that particular soapbox now, but I’ll say that I trusted John with my daughter’s life, and he delivered. I’m completely aware of how and why John was discharged from the service, and I’d trust him with mine and my daughters’ lives again in a heartbeat. This man is an American hero, and deserves your respect. Next question.”

“I have a question for Mr. Taylor.”

Caldwell nodded and stepped aside, motioning with one hand for Taylor to take the podium.

“Mr. Taylor, you are currently living with an FBI agent and working with the FBI on cases. Your business as a security expert is now profiting from a relationship with Special Agent Loretta Whitaker. Is this something federal inspectors should be looking at?”

“I’m not really sure what inspectors are supposed to be looking at, but they’re welcome to investigate me. My work with the FBI started before I met Agent Whitaker. In fact, it was during my work that we met. We didn’t start dating until after that case was finished. So, if anything, my personal life profited off of my business as a security expert. Hell, meeting her was better than the paycheck they gave me.”

The last comment elicited a chuckle from a few reporters.

“A follow up question,” a man in the back row said, standing up.

After getting a nod from Russell, the man continued. “There are reports of an incident in Virginia involving a gas leak of some kind. I’m hearing rumors that it was a terrorist attack, and your name popped up in one account.”

Taylor was stunned for a second. While he knew the public would learn about the attack, finding a reporter knew about it already, knew it was terrorist-related, attached his name to it, and made it to an unrelated press conference was stunning.

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