Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy
Once Graf’s backup arrived, but before the ambulance that they then called to tend to Graf’s wound, Taylor moved to check out the scene while they dealt with their brother officer. The new arrivals seemed concerned at first that Taylor, a civilian, was wandering around the scene until Graf waved them off. The only thing Taylor understood of their brief conversation was the use of the agency abbreviation FBI, which Taylor took to mean Graf was explaining why Taylor was there.
The first thing Taylor looked at was the body of the two fallen gunmen. Taylor knew better than to check the bodies, something Whitaker had reminded him on multiple occasions was a giant no-no at a crime scene, at least until the coroner or someone from the medical examiner’s office and forensic teams had a chance to go over the area. This left Taylor with only a visual inspection, which did tell him a few things.
Both men were middle-aged and looked weathered with a collection of scars, one of which Taylor recognized as a healed over bullet wound. Something did catch Taylor’s attention, however. One of the men had a tattoo on his right hand that Taylor recognized as a symbol used by the Bratva, a group that Taylor had several less than pleasant run-ins with in the past. The tattoo was a circle with four non-symmetrical points coming out of it, kind of like a star if the person drawing it didn’t care about balancing the image. The symbol identified the man as a soldier for the Bratva who had killed someone under orders, with each point of the star representing a successful hit.
While it seemed a far-fetched coincidence that either the shooters themselves or all of the events surrounding Whitaker’s relative’s murder and her subsequent disappearance would be connected to the group, Taylor couldn’t rule it out. While not known for elaborate planning, he’d messed with their operations twice, including killing the son of a fairly major figure in the organization. That level of enmity could lead some members of the organization to change their normal tactics.
Taylor looked back to make sure the officers were all otherwise engaged before pulling out his cell phone and taking pictures of both the tattoos and scars on the men as well as their faces. He didn’t have a definite plan of what he’d do with the observation yet, but since he couldn’t take fingerprints or look at their IDs without touching the bodies, it was the best he could do.
In the States where, thanks to connections, he was able to get away with bending the rules from time to time, he might have risked it, he was only here at the invitation of one mid-level German officer and couldn’t afford to piss off the Germans without losing his access.
The pictures taken, Taylor gave the bodies another once over, but nothing else stood out to him. The weapons they’d used were fairly standard models, one an H&K and the other a SIG Saur and both could have been purchased legally or off the black market fairly easily. Their clothing was also fairly nondescript falling into the average blue-collar type apparel.
Taylor moved away from the bodies as an ambulance pulled down the alleyway between the storage lockers, a couple of paramedics hopping out to look over Graf. Taylor joined the other officers gathered near Graf and watched the paramedics work. While he and Graf didn’t know each other well, he seemed a good enough sort and Taylor wanted to see how bad the injury was.
Once they’d cut away his jacket and shirt, Taylor could see Graf was going to be fine. He’d had enough opportunities to see wounds to recognize a wound that wasn’t life-threatening. The bullet fragment had cut along his skin rather than digging inside of it, making a long, jagged gash.
The cut was deep enough that Taylor could see into the muscle along its length, which went across the entire shoulder, but not bone, which was a good sign. Graf would need a bunch of stitches and it would probably hurt like hell for a while, but Taylor would guess he wouldn’t even lose any functionality.
“Looks like you’ll live,” Taylor said to Graf as the medics bandaged him up.
“That doesn’t make it hurt any less,” Graf said but seemed more relaxed once he’d seen that the wound wasn’t as bad as it might have felt.
As they helped Graf off the ground and into the ambulance, Taylor started to move towards the locker, only to pull up short when Graf called out.
“The contents of the locker are evidence. My men will look over it and I’ll let you know what they find.”
Taylor frowned but wasn’t surprised. He was nearly certain Whitaker would have done the same thing if she’d been in Graf’s position. Graf might have invited Taylor and granted him some access, but he wasn’t going to let Taylor have an active hand in the investigation as they turned stuff up.
“Einhard,” he said, gesturing at one of the gathered officers, “will take you to a hotel near here. I’ll be in touch once I’m out of the hospital and have a chance to look over the evidence.”
“I’m still going to do some digging, just in case that locker doesn’t have a note with Whitaker’s current address on it.”
“As long as you don’t interfere with the investigation, go ahead. If you have to talk to any of the immediate witnesses or come across any new evidence, however, I want you to call me first.”
“Fine,” Taylor said as the paramedics finally got Graf to give in and let them help him up into the ambulance.
After getting dropped off at an affordable chain hotel by a rather annoyed police officer being forced to play taxi service, Taylor started making some calls back to the States. While there were lots of reasons for the Russians to be after him after what happened the previous winter, it seemed strange that it would happen now.
True, this was the closest he’d been to their normal stomping grounds since the incidents in Russia and Belarus, but they hadn’t been shy about operating in the States before, and they weren’t well known for their patience when it came to revenge. It also seemed unlikely that they would have found out about this last-minute trip that hadn’t even been planned the previous morning, gotten men in place, and attempted a hit on him the next afternoon.
While all that made the involvement of the Russians unlikely, it didn’t entirely rule it out. Taylor had considered saying something to either Graf or one of his men at the scene, but he didn’t want to make his standing with them any weaker than it already was. He didn’t want to hand them a reason to freeze him out of the search for Whitaker unless there was actually something to the Russian angle.
He also decided against calling anyone at the Bureau. While he didn’t expect even Solomon of going against his natural distrust of anyone who wasn’t part of the FBI, considering their rocky relationship, there was always a chance the Director would make a one-time exception to screw Taylor over.
While that left him fewer choices, there were still a few options he could try. His first call was to an old friend and one-time team sergeant of his ODA who’d retired before Taylor’s ordeal in the desert.
“Franklin Auto Repair,” Albert said when he answered.
Taylor was glad Franklin answered since he hadn’t been sure his old teammate and boss would be there. The time difference meant the shop would have only been open for an hour or so. Franklin tended to let his employees open the business and most days didn’t show up until almost lunchtime.
“Hi, Sarge, it’s Taylor.”
“Taylor? Things go bust, and you need a job again?”
“No, I just called for a favor.”
“Thank God. You’re a good man, but you were shit as a mechanic. What can I do for you?”
“I’m in Germany and ran into a little trouble. I was hoping you knew someone over here who could look up a few names for me.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“A couple of guys came gunning for me this morning. I got two of them, but the third got away. I need to track down who these guys are and figure out why they came after me.”
“Shouldn’t the police be looking into it?”
“They are, but if this was because of something personal, which it might be, I don’t want to screw up my deal with the Germans while I’m in the middle of this investigation.”
“Well, let me think. Do you remember the old battalion S2?”
“Captain Bryant? Yeah. Actually, I was his duty sergeant for a little while when I was on light duty recovering from one of the joint ops with the Spetsnaz.”
“Ahh, right. I’d forgotten about that. He got out a year after I did, and I hear he’s gone private and is working out that way. I’ll need to make a few calls but I bet I can find his numbers. He should be able to track down what you need.”
“Great. Thanks, Sarge.”
“Any time. Just try and stay safe out there.”
Taylor gave Franklin his email address for when he got Bryant’s address and hung up. While it was still early, he’d been up for two days with only one fitful nap on the plane in between. Taylor was used to pushing himself hard when working on cases, but at this point, he was starting to wear a little thin. Before he went to sleep, he had one more thing to do, however.
It took several rings before Kara answered, her voice thick with sleep, “Hello?”
“Did I wake you up?”
While he’d expected Albert to still be at home in bed, he’d expected the exact opposite for Kara. She wasn’t exactly a morning person, but she didn’t usually sleep the day away.
“I had long day unpacking and needed catching up for sleep. It okay, I’m glad you call. Have you found Loretta?”
“Not yet. We just started looking, so there’s a lot of places still left to check. I’ll find her.”
“I know you will. Aunt Deborah called me this afternoon. It was weird, she ask if I want to stay with her for a few days.”
“I stopped and saw her before my plane left. I should have guessed she’d try to call you after I talked to her, sorry for not giving you a heads up.”
“No problem. I tell her no Mary Jane is taking me to school tomorrow to get my schedule and meet teachers. Class starts soon and I have much work to do. I agreed to have dinner tomorrow night.”
“Good. Don’t let the problems between me and her get in the way, she’s generally a pretty nice person, and she’s trying to do right by her new niece. Give her a chance.”
“Okay, I am wiped out, so I’m going to try and get some sleep and pick up looking for Whitaker tomorrow. You can call me at this number if you need anything. I’m in room 218.”
“Okay. I love you. Be careful.”
“Love you too, kiddo. I’ll call you tomorrow night.”
Taylor hung up and decided he’d made the right call in not mentioning being shot at already. Kara was playing it cool, but he could hear the worry in her voice. He wanted her focusing on school, and there wasn’t much she could do now anyway.
His last task done, Taylor lay back on the bed and started working over what he could do while he waited for Bryant’s information. He managed to work through all of two options before sleep caught up with him.
Franklin had come through while Taylor slept and supplied him with a business address where he could find Bryant, which led to a small electronics shop nestled in one of the seedier parts of Berlin. From the disorganized front windows to the poorly lit entrance, a passerby might think this show a front for something, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
It was run by a former Special Forces officer named Dave Bryant that Taylor had gotten to know during his second deployment when he’d been moved to an office detail while recovering from an injury. While they hadn’t kept in touch, they’d always been friendly. Taylor had heard through the old soldier’s network that Captain Bryant had taken the skills he’d learned as a battalion intelligence officer and applied those skills in the private sector, mostly for friendly governments that needed intelligence work done off-book.
Not that this store was just a front. Bryant had graduated from West Point with a degree in mechanical engineering and had always been tinkering with something in his off-time. When Taylor had known him, Bryant had been in the process of fully restoring a ‘57 Plymouth Fury. Looking at all the stuff on the shelves behind the counter with tags on them, it seemed he was doing a fair business in just repair. Bryant was sitting at the counter when Taylor walked in, hunched over something that was opened up and strewn across the counter’s surface.
Looking up, Bryant squinted at Taylor for a second before going back to his repair work.
“Sergeant Taylor, long time no see.”
It didn’t surprise Taylor that Bryant remembered him. The man had been legendary for the sheer volume of information he seemed to be able to keep in his head.
“Glad you remember me, Captain.”
“I always remember my duty sergeants, although the fact that you can’t seem to keep yourself out of the newspapers back home makes it easier.”
“I promise you I don’t do it on purpose.”
“No doubt. You never could keep your nose out of stuff when you thought something needed doing. I told you that one day your habit of going all Dudley Do-Rright would get you in trouble. I’m going go out on a limb here and guess that’s why you here.”
“Pretty much. I need some information, and I heard you were still in that business.”
“I keep my hand in. Tell me what you need, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Taylor pulled out his phone and brought up the pictures he’d taken of the dead gunmen.