Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C.
It was late, even by D.C. standards. Randy Mottern sat at his desk in the EEOB, taking a moment to stare out the window and reflect. Like most agents, his ultimate goal was to work in the building he could see across the street. For a Secret Service agent, working in the White House, and on the President’s detail, was the dream.
They didn’t take just anyone. You had to have the experience of years in the agency, working in multiple departments. You had to show the skills they needed, with good recommendations and evals from your previous supervisor. Lastly, and most importantly, you had to make it past the screening by the agent in charge of the Presidents detail.
At the moment, that was William Baily. Mottern had never met a more serious, by the book, no-nonsense agent in his entire career. No one could even remember the man ever cracking a smile. Mottern had six years in with the agency, including two years in the counterfeiting section. Last year, he’d managed to move to the personal protection section; but, like everyone, he started by working as an advance agent. With enough experience and the right opening, agents who showed promise usually moved from there to being on a team that protected one of the primaries themselves. One year was clearly not enough.
He would have settled for one of the President’s family members, or even one of the candidates, since after the parties pick their candidate, they each get assigned their own secret service detail. Baily had heard out his request and told him no. He hadn’t been mean about it, but he hadn’t sugar-coated it either. Besides experience, Baily had said that Mottern hadn’t shown the right amount of personal initiative and focus on detail to make the move. Baily counseled him on ways to improve and left the door open to a place if future evals showed improvement in those areas.
It all meant that, instead of standing a post in the most recognizable building in the world, he sat across the street in a building most Americans didn’t even know existed.
Very few agents worked out of the White House itself. Even with expansion over the previous two-hundred years or so, the building was still too small to house everyone supporting the President.
Not just the Secret Service, but parts of each of the executive departments themselves, from speech writers to operations people worked across the street in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It had originally been built to house the departments of State, War, and Navy back in the eighteen hundreds, and was even called the State, War, and Navy Building. Not catchy, but exactly the sort of thing a bureaucrat would name a building, at least when they couldn’t think up a clever acronym. Eventually, the State Department and various departments of the military moved to their own facilities, which was a good thing since the office of the President continued to expand, outgrowing the confines of the White House itself.
By the time the War Department moved over to the Pentagon in 1943, The White House was bursting at the seams, and shifted a fair number of its personnel into the now-empty building across the street, renamed the Executive Office Building. It added Eisenhower’s’ name in fifty-seven when he kept his administration from tearing down the famous French-style building in order to replace it with something more modern.
Mottern thought this was a good thing, since of all the names it had up to this point, EEOB was by far the easiest to say. Working nights had given him a lot of time to ponder stuff like the name of the building he was in. If he really thought about it, that was probably exactly what Baily meant when he said he needed to have more focus on the task at hand.
Mottern shook himself and looked away from the window, getting back to what he was doing, which in this case, was going through the mail. The President, his family, and the candidates all had their mail checked before an internal team took it to them at their respective places. If they were out of the city, the mail was carried to them on a weekly basis, or sometimes bi-weekly depending on the urgency.
It needed to come here because the process for clearing a protectee’s mail was more than just looking at it. The mail was x-rayed, irradiated, and put through chemical analysis before human hands touched it. If all those precautions said it was okay, the next step was for an agent to open the mail and check it. This might seem invasive to some people, but politicians at this level seemed fairly used to living under a microscope.
Besides checking for actual dangers like anthrax or a bomb, the secret service also scanned the President’s mail for threats. Presidents get a lot of mail, most of which they never actually look at. Most of the mail sent to the white house is looked at and replied to by secretaries or support staff in the President’s name. The President himself only sees those items he’s either asked for specifically or that his staff thinks he needs to see.
While most of the mail a President receives is citizens requesting something, from signed photos to political action, there was a not-insignificant portion that contained possible threats. Most were harmless, simply citizens angry about something and venting their frustration at the most visible person in the government. There were, however, genuine threats. To find them, the Secret Service had to look at every piece of mail, so they could investigate those actual threats and, hopefully, preempt an attack on the President.
Picking up a bulky envelope from the top of the pile, he slid a letter opener into the top corner and sliced it open. Reaching in, he pulled on the bundle of papers inside, but they seemed to be stuck, friction or something holding them to the envelope. Mottern had had that happen enough times, especially when the paper had become damp from humidity and then dried. He yanked harder to free the papers from the envelope and stopped, looking around. There had been a small pop sound, like when someone opens a bottle of wine, only much fainter. It was soft enough that, had there been other people in the office, he probably wouldn’t have heard it at all.
He listened a moment longer, sure that he hadn’t imagined it. He was distracted again by a strange smell, almost antiseptic. Looking at his hands he saw a light blue wisp of smoke, or something, coming out of the envelope.
Mottern was a good agent with several years of experience under his belt. Within seconds he worked out what had happened, and fear boiled up inside of him. His brain only had time to realize that the sound had been the delivery device or capsule hidden in this package going off.
He held his breath and tried to stand, to get away from the letter and the vapor rising from it, but his legs gave out. Dropping back into the chair, he began to cough, quickly rising to violent hacks as he tried desperately to get air.
The last thought he had as his body began convulsing, was that he’d never make it across the street now.
“ooofff...” Taylor said as he was slammed violently onto the mat.
Kara still held his arm crooked under his and was grinning down at him.
“I think I got it that time,” she said.
“Yeah, that was pretty good,” Whitaker said from somewhere behind Taylor. “You were good on the grab, but a little slow on the twist. It still worked because he was going with it, but if it was a real attacker, he would be fighting against you, and you wouldn’t have gotten the power needed to pull him off his feet. It has to be a continuation of the power, making sure you explode out when you twist, using your waist and core muscles to really put power in it. Remember when you’re trying to throw a male, he’s going to outweigh you by quite a bit. If he’s moving into you, you can use some of his momentum to help, but you need to make sure you have enough power on your own to get him off his feet.”
“Okay, we can try again?”
“Ugg,” Taylor said. “Maybe Whitaker can be your test dummy this time.”
Kara released him and Taylor popped back up, his back feeling slightly stiff. He’d lost count of how many times Kara had slammed him down on the mat. When he’d agreed to come in and help, he’d been looking forward to it. Whitaker and Kara’s practice time was usually girl bonding between the two of them, and Taylor never came along.
He thought it would be fun, spending more time with his fiancee and adopted daughter. Now that Kara lived with Mary Jane Caldwell, they didn’t see her as much as they had for the previous year when Kara had come to live with them. Taylor had missed her, even though they had their own bonding time every week when Taylor took her to the shooting range. Had he known the only reason he was needed was to be a training dummy, he would have had second thoughts.
“Sorry, old man,” Kara said. “Whitaker is being too light to be real practice.”
Taylor noticed Kara’s word choices were getting better. Ever since she started living with Mary Jane, her English had begun to improve rapidly. She’d taken on some of the older girls’ vocabulary, which still sounded strange with her Russian accent. Considering how much it had changed in the last two months since the girls had moved in together, by the time Kara graduated high school, it might be completely gone.
While Taylor liked her accent and how she occasionally used the wrong word, it was probably for the best. She’d fit in better without the thick Russian accent she’d had when they’d first met.
“I don’t know, if she keeps eating those chocolates,” Taylor mumbled under his breath.
“What was that?” Whitaker asked.
“Nothing. Can we take a break?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Yes, we can take a break.”
“How’s school,” Taylor asked as they sat in chairs off to one side of the gym floor.
Taylor looked around again, still amazed by the size of this. The place was usually used for gymnastics, with well-padded floors and an incredibly high ceiling. Various gymnastic apparatuses were spread out around the room. As he watched, a young girl took off down one of the mat sections and threw herself over a pommel horse, flipping and twisting as she went head over heels. It was pretty impressive. Taylor hated to think about what this place cost, even though they weren’t paying for it. Kara’s roommate’s mother, Senator Suzette Caldwell, had paid for memberships for her daughter and Kara.
Taylor still had some problems with letting the Senator pay for so many things. She may be rich, but Taylor didn’t like being in anyone’s debt. Caldwell was something of an exception, however. Even though he’d asked her for favors dozens of times over the last year and a half, the Senator continued to claim she was the one who owed Taylor.
While Taylor had traveled to Russia to rescue the Senator’s daughter, the same trip had brought Kara to him. In hindsight, he was the one who owed the Senator. He and Whitaker weren’t engaged at that time and hadn’t talked about kids, but now that Kara was in his life, he couldn’t imagine life without her. He watched the two ladies laugh together at a joke Kara had made, probably at Taylor’s expense, and was amazed once again by how lucky he’d been.
He was thrown out of his thoughts when his phone rang. Taylor got up and went over to the table where they’d piled their stuff.
Digging his phone out of his coat pocket, he said, “Taylor.”
“John,” the Senator’s voice said back.
“What can I do for you, Senator? Is this about that veteran’s thing tonight?”
The Senator was running to be the next President of the United States, and Taylor had been acting as one of her surrogates, speaking to veterans groups around the country. He’d achieved some small measure of fame a year ago when he’d stopped a terrorist on U.S. soil and had become a less than willing poster boy for the FBI.
“No, we have a problem and I need your help.”
“You know I’ll do whatever you need Senator.”
“One of the agents who clears my mail was murdered last night. A letter meant for me had some kind of poison gas thing inside of it that went off when he opened the letter.”
“I thought they did all kinds of scans on these things.”
“They do. Apparently, this device was designed specifically to get past those.”
“Isn’t the Secret Service all over this?”
“They are, but ... I know this isn’t your area, but I’d feel better if you and Loretta could come out and look into it.”
“They won’t like us interfering in their case. They’re going to push back on any attempt to step in on their investigation.”
“I’ll take care of that. Will you please come to help me?”
“Of course, Senator. We need to drop Kara off at home, and then we’ll be there.”
“Thank you, John. Please hurry.”
Taylor hung up and turned to the Kara and Whitaker, who looked concerned at hearing his half of the conversation.
“What happened?” Whitaker asked.
“One of the Secret Service agents assigned to opening Caldwell’s mail was killed by some kind of poison gas that was mailed to her.”
“A candidate’s mail goes through irradiation, x-ray, and chemical analysis. How did a chemical get through all that?”
“I don’t know, but she wants us to come in and help with the investigation.”
“The Secret Service isn’t going to like that. Those guys are really territorial. I better call Joe and let him know he’s going to be getting some angry phone calls. I can almost guarantee he’s going to suggest we’re too close to Caldwell for any investigation to be appropriate.”
Joe was Joe Solomon, the current director of the FBI. While he was both Whitaker and Taylor’s boss, Taylor’s position with the FBI came with a giant asterisk. He was, if anything, considered a contractor rather than a member of the Bureau.
“Fine, he can tell the front runner for the next President that her request can’t be approved.”
“Ha, he’ll never do that. He’ll just give us shit about it.”
“Let him. Let’s get Kara home and get going.”
Russell Senate Building, Washington, D.C.
It was instantly apparent that something had happened when Taylor and Whitaker arrived. A uniformed agent was stationed outside her senate offices, which was unusual. As a candidate for President, Caldwell rated personal protection, but they usually kept it fairly low-key. Taylor had been in and out of her offices multiple times since she started campaigning, and this was the first time he could remember being stopped and ID’d before being allowed inside.
The second clue was the lighter staff in the front office. Normally, a senate office was a bustle of activity, with staff assigned to a dozen different jobs following up with constituents, researching laws, interfacing with other members of the legislative branch, and handling P.R. Instead of the hive of people Taylor had encountered previous visits, there were only four people in the Senator’s office, including Loren Dashell, her personal assistant.
“Loren, the Senator called us.”
“Yes! Thank goodness you’re here. She’s in with agents now, but she asked for you to be sent right in.”
Now Taylor knew this was serious. Dashell had always been standoffish to him in the past, at the best tolerating Taylor’s existence in the Senators’ orbit.
They followed Dashell through the front rooms and staff room into the Senator’s personal offices. Taylor could hear raised voices through the thick wooden door as they got close to it. Inside, besides the Senator herself, were four Secret Service agents. They were distinctive in the dark suits and ear-pieces, exactly what any American would picture when they think of a Secret Service agent. As they walked in, the argument stopped, with everyone turning to look at them.
“Ohh, John, thank you for coming so fast.”
“Sorry for our rough appearance. We were at the gym, and it sounded urgent, so we didn’t get changed,” Whitaker said.
“It’s quite alright. I appreciate you rushing over.”
“Ma’am, we’ll be outside,” the man who’d been standing closest to her said. Turning to Taylor, he said, “I want to say right now I tried to talk the Senator out of bringing you in on this. We will be outside. When you’ve finished with the Senator, I need to speak to you about the ground rules of ... this.”
He walked out. Taylor was impressed he controlled himself so well. The man was clearly unhappy, but he didn’t storm out like Taylor had seen people from other agencies do when their authority was challenged. Taylor could appreciate the amount of self-control that required.
As soon as the agents left Caldwell rushed forward and gave both him and Whitaker hugs.
“What happened?” Taylor asked. “How did anything get as far as an agent opening a letter with something inside?”
“They aren’t sure. They’ve only just now managed to get everything from the scene collected. They’ve cleared out the entire EEOB while they sterilize everything.”
“Do they know what the poison was?”
“They said it’s some form of sarin gas, but that there was something different about it. They didn’t go into details, and I’m not sure I’d understand it even if they did, but they seemed excited by the fact that it was an unusual form of the gas.”
“Probably because it was something homemade, which means there might be a way to track the chemicals,” Whitaker said.
“Maybe,” Caldwell said.
“Do they know who sent it?” Taylor asked.
“Not yet, they’re working on it. They told me this morning that this wasn’t an isolated incident. There has apparently been a series of letters that contained threats. They hadn’t told me yet and had been pulling those from my mail so I never saw them. They think this package came from the same person.”
“Do you know what kind of threats were in the letters?” Whitaker asked.
“No, they haven’t let me see them yet. I was going to demand access to them, but I’m not sure what I’d do with them if I looked at them. Instead, I told them I was bringing you in, and you’d need access to everything.”
“You know this isn’t our area of expertise,” Whitaker said. “The Secret Service trains for exactly this kind of thing.”
“I know that, but I’m not happy they were hiding things from me. I get the impression that, until now, they weren’t even taking this seriously. I’m not asking you to protect me; I know the Secret Service can do that. My concern is they aren’t as proactive in finding this person as they should be. This isn’t that far from that terrorist you dealt with last year, and I trust you and John to do the job right. I’m honestly not worried about myself. I’m worried about the people around me, including my daughter. I would like you two to look into this, find out what’s really going on, and find this person before he kills anyone else. What I really want is someone I trust looking into that. There’s no one in law enforcement I trust more than you two.”
“I appreciate that, Senator,” Taylor said. “I have a feeling that the Secret Service will not agree with you.”
“No, they have been very vocal in their disapproval of me bringing you two in. I ultimately had to call the President and have him step in, but this is important to me. They’ve made it clear that your investigation will be completely separate from theirs, and that theirs takes precedence, but they will share whatever information they have and will allow you access to areas that you need to get to, in order to investigate. If they cause you too many problems, please come to me and I will make sure you get what you need. They might be difficult on some things, but they’ll work with you. Besides, I know you will be harder on them than they’ll ever be on you. John, please tell me you’ll look into this for me.”
“Of course, Senator.”
“Thank you so much. I knew I could count on both of you. They’re letting me keep my normal schedule, but I’ll make sure my staff knows you will have access to me no matter where I am.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Taylor promised.