Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy
Taylor made plans with Graf for the red-eye flight to Germany at seven-thirty. He left the German officer to take care of the details, so Taylor could take care of things before he had to go out of town. While the Germans had agreed to pick up Taylor’s tab for the time he was on loan to them, he had been warned that they had a much lower budget than the FBI when it came to travel. The idea of flying coach all the way to Germany did not sit all that well with Taylor, who had managed to get rides on one of the FBI’s private planes several times over the last few years and found himself spoiled.
His displeasure over the upcoming trip and his preparations to get any urgent cases he was currently working on transferred over to other agents were both displaced by his worry for Whitaker. Everything about this situation smelled bad to Taylor. Whitaker’s belief in following both the letter and the spirit of the rules was the biggest source of tension they had, and the ultimate cause of the current hold placed on their engagement.
The very idea that the same woman would walk into a murder scene and then, a few minutes later, turn and walk away from it did not sit well with Taylor at all. Her going into hiding, or at least operating enough below the radar that the German authorities could not find her, was just icing on the top of a particularly disturbing cake.
The problem was, those were the very actions Whitaker had taken. The Germans had very convincing video of her entering and then leaving the crime scene and no one had been able to get a hold of her since, including Solomon, who had been trying to reach her since word of the incident hit him, yesterday.
To the Germans, and possibly Solomon to a lesser degree, that said she had done something wrong, or at least had something to hide. To Taylor, her actions meant something was very wrong, and she was most likely in danger.
All that together made it hard to keep his mind focused on clearing his schedule for a few weeks. He did manage to get it done, though. Taylor was not the ideal hire for the FBI by any length, but he was conscientious about making sure his cases were handled properly. Taylor wished that he had been the type of person to just take all the files and make them someone else’s problems, but it just was not how his brain was wired.
Taylor picked up his cell phone as soon as he finished the last file to take care of one more responsibility he had to push off.
“Senator Caldwell’s office,” Loren, the Senators trusty if someone priggish assistant said.
“Loren, its Taylor. Is the Senator free to speak for a moment?”
“May I ask what this is regarding?”
Taylor resisted the urge to sigh. He had the Senators’ personal cell number if he really needed it, but he knew she was always busy and did not want to bother her if she was actively busy. He also knew that calling her official number meant he would have to deal with Loren. While the man did not seem to actively hate Taylor, he clearly thought of him as some kind of throwback Neanderthal and also disliked anyone stepping around him to get to the Senator directly.
What that meant was that, even when the Senator was not actually busy, Loren always made Taylor jump through hoops to talk to her.
“I need to cancel my appearance at tonight’s event.”
“I’ll let her know.”
“I’d like to tell her myself, Loren. I’d like the chance to offer her an explanation and apology since I’d promised I’d be able to do the event.”
“I’d be happy to pass those along.”
Taylor did let out a sigh at that.
“Loren, if she’s in the office, please let me talk to her. Otherwise, let her know I called but that I’ll be on a plane early tomorrow morning.”
Taylor thought that one day, Loren would decide he had enough of dealing with Taylor and actively pretend to give a message he never planned on passing along. Thankfully today was not that day.
“No need,” Loren said, sighing in return. “I will put you through now.”
Taylor once again resisted the urge to complain about Loren when the Senator picked up the phone.
“Is everything alright, John? Loren says you have to cancel for tonight.”
“Joe called me into his office this morning. The great-aunt that Whitaker went to see was murdered a few days ago, and Whitaker’s gone missing.”
“Oh, God! Do they think something’s happened to her too?”
“No, they have video of her leaving the scene and they want to talk to her. For whatever reason, Whitaker’s dropped completely off the radar and no one knows where she is. A German police officer asked for me to go back with them and help find her.”
“They don’t seriously think Loretta was involved with her aunt’s death, do they? Joe should know her well enough to know that isn’t who she is.”
“No, he doesn’t, but the Germans don’t seem sure. They made it a point to tell me she was only a witness, but the whole thing smells bad. Whitaker had a good reason to go dark. I’ll help them as long as it keeps me in the loop, but that’s it.”
“Please let me know what’s happening. I know the Chancellor a bit and might have some pull.”
“I think it’s best if I don’t go straight to the big guns, but I’ll keep that in mind. Besides, you have a race to run, and you don’t need me getting you involved in another scandal, especially this close to the election.”
“While your last big splash pushed me five points ahead in the polls, you know me well enough to know that isn’t a consideration. I still owe you for that business in Russia and I consider both you and Loretta friends. Even if I think it’ll cost me, I’ll still be there to help.”
Taylor had no doubt she would also think of a way to turn the facts to benefit her no matter what they were, but he knew she meant what she said. Senator Caldwell was nothing if not a believer that loyalty was a two-way street.
“Do you want me to look in on Kara while you’re in Europe?”
“Please. I’m calling her next, but I’d appreciate you keeping an eye on them. I’m nervous enough about her living on her own, even if it is officially under Mary Jane’s supervision. If this wasn’t about Whitaker being in trouble, I’d find a way to put it off or let someone else handle it.”
“I understand completely. Don’t worry, the girls will be in good hands, I promise.”
“Thank you, Senator.”
“Of course. Okay, I have to run. Please keep me updated on what’s happening over there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Taylor said.
His next call was to Kara, who surprisingly picked up just after the first ring.
“What, are you sitting beside the phone waiting for me to call?”
“Besides phone, yes. Waiting for you, no.”
“Who are you waiting for, then?”
“No one, I am just next to phone. I did bet Mary Jane that you would call me today. I tell her you worry like old woman.”
“Only about you and Whitaker.”
Taylor could see her expression in his head. The way she hung her head down to let her curly red hair cover her face to hide her embarrassment, but which didn’t quite hide the smile she couldn’t suppress. Over the last several months, their relationship had only strengthened. The first month after Whitaker left had been really tough on both of them. Not that Whitaker had pulled away from Kara the way she had with him. She had worked hard to maintain a good relationship with Kara, trying to limit the damage her and Taylor’s separation would do to the teenager.
While Kara might not have lost Whitaker, she did have to deal with seeing the pain Taylor was in. He had tried to hide it from her, but she knew him well enough now to see past the brave face he tried to maintain.
Kara still did not like most people touching her. She had pushed past that completely with Taylor making sure to give him hugs every time they were forced to be apart. Her shrink said that was a manifestation of her own fears that this new life was temporary and she would end up back in the hell he had pulled her out of, and that Whitaker’s leaving had intensified those fears. She had said Kara’s desire for physical contact was a way of reassuring herself that Taylor would not leave her too.
While he felt ashamed that the impasse he and Whitaker had ended up at had caused Kara more pain, he was glad that her way of coping with it helped him over his own pain. He had made sure to spend as much time as he could with her even with his busy schedule, and talk to her every day regardless.
Which made him worry a little bit about how the latest news would hit her.
“Are you checking to make sure we have no big parties?”
“No, although now I am.”
“I joke. Mary Jane say no parties.”
“Good. No, I wanted to let you know that I have to fly to Germany today. Senator Caldwell has agreed to look in on you two while I’m gone.”
“You have job?”
Taylor thought for a moment of not telling Kara what was actually happening, but that moment passed quickly. He had made it a point to never lie to her. Trust was the one thing Kara had lost the most of over the years, and Taylor planned on never giving her a reason to not trust him. He wanted to avoid that even if the lie came with the best of intentions.
“Something’s happened with Whitaker. She might be in trouble.”
“Is she hurt?”
“I don’t know. She’s missing. I’m going over there to find her and bring her back.”
“Good. I know you will find her.”
The total confidence with which she said that worried Taylor a little. She rarely asked details about the cases he worked, just assuming whatever it was he would be successful at. He had assumed that, since this involved Whitaker possibly being in danger, she would want to know more, but apparently not. He loved that Kara had that much faith in him, but he knew one day he would not live up to the expectations that faith set, no matter how hard he tried.
On the other hand, he was glad she was not digging deeper into what was going on with Whitaker. He had only barely acknowledged the level of trouble Whitaker was in to himself, and he was happy he could spare Kara from the same worry.
“I’ll call when I land and then every night. I’m pretty sure my cell will work over there, but if it doesn’t, I’ll give you a number you can reach me at when I call. If you can’t get hold of me or if it’s urgent, talk to the Senator. Knowing her, she’ll have ways of reaching me I couldn’t even predict.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I have Mary Jane, I have Senator, and I even have Aunt Deborah. She’s been asking me to have lunch with her since she learned of apartment. I promise I will get into no trouble while you’re gone.”
Taylor grimaced at the mention of Whitaker’s sister. He had met her before he and Whitaker split, and she was nice enough to him then. She was younger than Whitaker, married, and lived in Baltimore. She had been hesitant about Taylor and Whitaker bringing Kara into their home before they were even engaged, let alone married, but she had been nothing but supportive of her unexpected niece, especially once she learned of how Kara had ended up with them.
Unfortunately, she also rallied around her sister when Whitaker had left him, not that he blamed her.
Actually, he was happy she was supportive of her sister and Kara; he just wished that support did not come in the form of hating Taylor so much.
“That’s good to hear. I love you.”
“I love you too,” Kara said and hung up.
Taylor’s next task could not be done over the phone. Kara’s mentioning of her aunt had been more on point than she knew, because that was Taylor’s next stop. He needed her to hear him out, which he knew she would not do over the phone. While she was not openly hostile to him, she was still hostile, and he needed her to get past that and answer a few questions to help him in his task to find her sister.
By the time he hit the outskirts of Baltimore, Taylor had thought through what he would say to her and made a list of everything he needed to find out from her. He did not have any illusions that his test conversations with her in his head would be anything like how she would respond, but he wanted to have a game plan going in. Besides, it was hard to not dwell on unpleasant tasks.
Taylor was inwardly thankfully when her husband answered the door. He was less openly hostile towards Taylor than his wife, although their interactions had been even more limited than those with Whitaker’s sister.
“John,” Russell Tuttle said with surprise. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, but I need to talk to Deborah. It’s about Loretta.”
“I’m not sure that’s a great idea.”
“It’s not like that. She’s gone missing in Germany, and I need some information about their great-aunt.”
“Oh, no. Is she okay?”
Taylor did not know why that was the phrase everyone asked when they learned Whitaker was missing. How was Taylor supposed to know if she was okay or not if no one could find her? He did, however, manage to refrain from saying the comment aloud.
“I don’t know. Can I come inside? It’ll be easier if I explain it to both of you at the same time.”
“Ohh, sorry. Sure,” he said, stepping aside to let Taylor in and then rushing past Taylor to intercept his wife.
“Deborah,” Russell said as they walked into the living room.
She started to stand up the instant she saw Taylor, her brow furrowing.
“Wait,” Russell said, holding up a hand. “He has news. Please hear him out.”