Burying the Past
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
It was still dark outside when Whitaker’s cell phone rang. Taylor, who was usually the first of the pair to wake up thanks to being a light sleeper since his first deployment, found he couldn’t get his arm around to pick it up. Whitaker was all but lying on top of him, her head nestled on his chest almost up to his chin.
After several tugs, he finally got one arm free and grabbed the phone.
“Agent Whitaker’s phone.”
“Taylor,” Crawford’s voice said through the line. “A plane is standing by to take you to Hagerstown as soon as you two can get to the airport. You need to get up and get a move on.”
“In Maryland?” Taylor said, confused.
“Yes, in Maryland. The Bennett girl’s been spotted by locals. They’re keeping a loose tail on her until you two get there, but every minute we wait she could slip away.”
Taylor’s brain kicked into gear as he worked through what Crawford was saying.
“Do they even have an airport?”
“A smaller regional airport, yes. We’ve got a charter sitting in a hanger now with the pilot on board waiting for you. Get it in gear.”
“Right,” Taylor said, rolling Whitaker off him and pulling himself out of bed. “We’re on our way.
The push finally started to wake Whitaker up, who weakly picked up her head and looked at him as he hung up the phone.
“They’ve got eyes on Bennett, and a plane waiting of us. Get your ass outta bed.”
Taylor punctuated the last words with a light slap to her exposed butt cheek, eliciting a yelp of surprise.
“Paybacks are a bitch,” she said as she also pushed herself out of bed and began pulling on clothes.
“Promises, promises,” he said with a smile.
The combination of elation from the night before, and adrenaline beginning to pump as he was finally back on the chase and done with the waiting for something to happen, had him fully awake.
As groggy as Whitaker was in the mornings, she was enough of a professional to push through when things got serious. She was up and dressed by the time Taylor had gotten their bags together. They were out the door and on the way to the airport, ten minutes after Crawford’s call.
On the short flight into Maryland, they looked over what little information Crawford had sent over. It wasn’t much. While the BOLO put out after Amberville hadn’t been specific beyond listing her as a person of extreme interest to federal authorities for incidents of domestic terrorism, it wouldn’t have taken much for departments to work out the details for themselves.
In this case, that probably worked in their favor, since it made it more likely her face would be remembered. They had purposefully kept her face off the TV for the time being, since they didn’t want her to go to ground. Besides the kid from Michigan, she was their only viable lead to Qasim at the moment. Whitaker thought it would only be a day or two more before someone tipped off a reporter, and her picture ended up on the evening news; but they needed locals to actually know her face, which is how she ended up on wanted boards and not just in a database. In this case, it had worked out.
Apparently, Bennett had been supplied with a fake ID and had checked into a local motel the same day as the events in Amberville under the name Jennifer Baker. A local was there on a call. He saw her briefly and recognized her. Hagerstown wasn’t a major city, but it wasn’t Amberville either. They had enough manpower to put her under surveillance and call in the Feds.
As soon as they had the name of the identity she was using Crawford had run it, hoping it would give them some clue what she’d been up to since leaving the University of Tennessee. Unfortunately, the search got them nowhere. The ID she was using was a physical forgery only. Taylor knew some people managed to get IDs using stolen Social Security numbers that would let them get past cursory checks, up to running them through some law enforcement databases. It was common enough among regular criminals, and even some illegal aliens, who used them to get around employment verification systems. Taylor would not have been surprised if Qasim had managed to supply Bennett with one. The fact that she was using just a simple fake ID, suggested Qasim was working fairly low tech, which would limit some of his options.
Of course, that wouldn’t help narrow the investigation, since Qasim could be saving more useful supplies for himself or more important flunkies. Even if it were true, there were a lot of ways to move around off the grid. As he’d kept reminding himself, every piece of information helped. None of that helped Bennett, though.
The flight into Maryland took just over an hour, and a police cruiser was waiting for them at the hanger when they landed. Crawford had dispatched additional personal from DC, but they were a few hours behind Taylor and Whitaker. On the flight over there’d been some debate over whether they should wait and follow her, hoping Bennett would lead them to Qasim or more clues; or if they should grab her now, and see what they could get out of her.
Taylor, as usual, advocated grabbing her now, never being a huge fan of the ‘wait and see’ method. To his relief, he was able to convince Whitaker that the chance she slipped away, losing their only lead at the moment; was a bigger danger than picking her up now, and getting stonewalled. Even if she totally clammed up on them, there were dozens of ways a suspect gave themselves up without saying a word.
“Where is she now?” Whitaker asked.
“She went into Ed’s Diner about ten minutes ago.” The Hagerstown PD officer serving us our driver said.
“You’re on the team following her?”
“What has she been doing since the tail started?”
“Not much. Except for a couple of meals, she’s been mostly holed up in her room, with no calls and no visitors.”
“She could have a cell phone,” Taylor offered.
“Probably, but we don’t have the equipment to scan for that.”
“We’ll check her and her room after we grab her,” Whitaker said. “Once we have the phone, we can always check the call log.”
“Qasim knows his trade-craft. He knows what we can do with a little intel and is religious about scrubbing devices.”
“Even if he recruited her several years ago, she’s never traveled out of the country to any of their training camps, and he hasn’t been here long enough to do much training here. Even if she did get training and it’s a burner phone, once we have the device we can get call logs and info from the provider and tower records. It might not get your text messages or app data, but it would still be a big boost for our case.”
“I’m not worried about prosecution, I’m worried about stopping the attack before it happens.”
Whitaker gave him a look and said, “We want to catch him just as much as you do, but we also want to make sure we can hold onto him once we catch him.”
“Just send him to Gitmo.”
“We might end up doing that but we’d rather actually convict him of specific crimes. Just sticking him in a dungeon is a PR win for the extremists. More importantly, we are a country built on laws. How we act shouldn’t be informed by what others do. We should stay true to our values. In this case, we arrest criminals and try them fairly in a court of laws and hand down the appropriate punishments.”
“Ok,” Taylor said, not wanting to get into the argument again.
While one of the things he liked about Whitaker was her strong sense of moral character, he continued to think she was naive when it came to the real world. The rest of the planet was not the US, and Taylor knew that tying their hands just made some of those other places stronger. In the end, letting the bad guys play by a different set of rules would just get more Americans killed.
They pulled into a parking lot with six other squad cars sitting in it, two marked as Hagerstown PD, one unmarked, and three Maryland State Trooper cruisers. Since this was still far enough out of a major city, Taylor was pretty sure this was the vast majority of law enforcement for the surrounding area.
Everyone shook hands and introduced themselves before the Hagerstown sheriff got down to business.
“You’ve all seen the picture of the girl we’re after. I know she looks pretty harmless, but our federal friends here tell me she’s involved with some very bad people, and we should consider her dangerous. This wasn’t in the alert they put out, but I’m to understand that she was somehow involved with that thing in Virginia.”
“When we pull up I want Johnson and Valdez, you two go around and cover the door in the back in case she rabbits. Michaels and Connors, you get the fire exit on the west side of the building. The rest of us and our two federal friends here will go in the front door. Agent Whitaker?”
The sheriff turned toward Whitaker, indicating it was her turn.
“It’s very important that we take this girl alive, so that she can be questioned. Safety is, of course, our top priority, but if at all possible we want to turn her into custody intact, and able to be interviewed.”
“Any question?” the sheriff said, looking around.
“Do you have anyone in the restaurant with her?” Taylor asked.
“No. We have an unmarked car in the parking lot, but your boss said he did not want any plain clothes officers near her unless they were very convincing. Looking at who we have available, I wasn’t confident any of them fit what he asked for.”
“Ok,” Taylor said.
“Any other questions?”
When no one asked anything, the sheriff nodded once and said, “The car with the feds will take the lead. Let’s go.”
Everyone split up and went to their vehicle, with Taylor and Whitaker heading to the Cruiser that brought them. They pulled quickly out of the parking lot and down the one block that separated then from the diner. While all the vehicles had their flashers on, none turned on their sirens. Taylor guessed they’d decided that the flashing lights were enough to clear the fairly light traffic, and they didn’t want the sirens to spook their target.
The group pulled into the diner parking lot, with the cruiser Taylor and Whitaker were in stopping inch from the front door, while the two vehicles behind them tore around the building. Taylor and Whitaker were out of the car in a flash, while the rest of the patrol cars were pulling into the lot.
Taylor saw movement through the window as Mary jumped up from the table she was at, and vaulted over the counter that separated the dining area from the kitchen.
Taylor was surprised by how fast she’d moved with no warning. By the time Taylor was through the front door, she was already in the kitchen. He didn’t look back as he followed her path over the counter, making sure he also cleared the waitress that Bennett had knocked down. She was fast, clearing the back door of the restaurant as Taylor’s feet hit the ground.
Taylor pushed against the back exit without breaking stride, exploding out the door. He got his second surprise when the police cruiser that was supposed to be behind the restaurant was missing. Taylor did notice one of the officers that had been assigned to cover the back door come around the building as he turned in the opposite direction to follow after Bennett’s retreating back. He only gave a brief thought to wonder where the man’s patrol car and partner were. He didn’t look back as the rear restaurant door slammed open behind him, presumably with Whitaker a few steps behind him.
Taylor followed Bennett as she ran diagonally across the alley behind the diner, and deftly pulled herself over a chain-link fence that separated two buildings behind the diner. They used similar obstacles on some courses during both basic and more advanced training in the service, and she managed to get over the fence with less difficulty than many soldiers he’d seen.
Taylor, however, wasn’t one of those people. He reached the fence and jumped up, just grabbing the bar that ran along the top. Sticking a foot in one of the sections of the fence gave him enough leverage to push himself over, letting go as his legs cleared the top and dropping down, bending his knees as he landed to cushion the fall. It wasn’t an ‘all in one’ fluid motion, but it wasn’t far off, either. She was still moving fast, turning right at the next street that this small side alley led to. He’d picked up ground and was moving after her as soon as he hit the ground.
He could hear the fence rattling behind him as he also cleared the alley and turned. He briefly wondered if Whitaker would make it over, or have to go around the block to reach them. He’d warned her about her shoes in the past and wasn’t sure they were going to do her any favors in this chase. While perfectly serviceable and she could run in them, they weren’t the best option when it came to jumping over barriers in an all-out chase. She’d quipped at the time that the FBI rarely ended up in extended foot pursuits.
Bennett was just crossing the street as he exited the alley. She dashed into an open warehouse, brushing past a surprised guy checking off a delivery. Luckily the street wasn’t busy and Taylor didn’t have to worry about getting hit by a car as he dashed after her.
The light difference between the warehouse and the street was enough that it was a black void until he was almost in the entryway. That was enough for him to lose her. He turned at the sound of footsteps pounding on the pavement, and saw the officer who was supposed to be on the back door just catching up to him.
“Stay here and make sure she doesn’t double back,” he said.
The officer gave a nod as Taylor dashed into the warehouse. He went down the aisle closest to the rolling door in the front, with his head swiveling back and forth. At the end of the aisle he hadn’t found any sign of Bennett. Looking to his left, he saw an exit sign with a small work desk next to it, that had a man sitting at it, writing on some kind of work order.