Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Because they weren’t sure what the gas actually was yet, Taylor and Whitaker couldn’t just walk into the crime scene. The entire EEOB was still shut down, which was probably causing all kinds of chaos in the White House, since the Secret Service was only a very small part of the expansive building. Somewhere Taylor was certain that hundreds of staffers were being set up to work from home or crammed into other workspaces inside the White House itself.
To go inside, they had to get into protective gear. Like most modern-day soldiers, Taylor had trained in and worn chemical protective suits before, although not something this elaborate. The military’s version erred on the side of mobility over protection, while whoever supplied these suits to the Secret Service had gone the other way.
He had to keep from chuckling at Whitaker, who’d never worn anything like this before. Even with someone helping her get into the suit and get everything attached, she was really struggling.
Finally, they were both suited up and headed into the EEOB, feeling like astronauts on the moon. The scene felt like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Things were left exactly where they were when a fellow agent had noticed the agent lying against his desk, with foam around his mouth.
While they were getting suited up Taylor had asked about the agent, who’d been taken to the hospital on a precaution as soon as they realized it was some kind of poison gas. He hadn’t gotten close to the dead man and wasn’t showing any signs of anything wrong, limiting what type of poison killed the man.
There wasn’t much to see at the scene. The body and the packaging had been taken away. Scattered around the desk were other letters and mail intended for the Senator, which had probably been an organized pile that got knocked over when the agent was thrashing around or by the people who came in to collect the body.
Taylor looked out of the window at the White House while Whitaker poked around some more. There wasn’t much to see here and Taylor was ready to go talk to the lab techs about the device and see the letters, which was where the real clues would be. Taylor was pretty certain that the device itself wasn’t going to lead them to the suspect. Between the Internet, homegrown militants and reactionaries, and people with military training, the list of people who could make something like this wasn’t small.
On the other hand, the letters were a direct look at the suspect, which is why he was puzzled as to why the Secret Service wasn’t focusing on them as much as they should be. He understood their priorities were different, but they seemed even more locked into a single way of doing things than even the FBI had been. It was the failing he hated the most with federal agencies. They all got institutionalized.
“There’s nothing here,” Taylor said, tapping Whitaker on the shoulder so she could turn and hear him better.
She gave a nod, made awkward with the suit, and the pair left the building. While they needed to see the scene, it had been a waste of time. Decontamination took more time, but Taylor’s memories of the chemical attack earlier in the year were firm in his mind. Mental images of people stumbling and frothing at the mouth were enough for him to patiently go through the entire decontamination process.
Finally, they were done and on their way to the Secret Service’s D.C. headquarters. Taylor had just assumed they would have worked out of the EEOB or the White House itself, but it made sense they’d have their own office, considering they did more than work protection details. Mixed in with hotels, the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, and a slew of restaurants, their headquarters were a completely non-descript office building that most people probably had no idea held a major federal law enforcement agency. More so considering how in-your-face the FBI was about their headquarters.
Cole had ditched them before they went to the EEOB, assigning them an apparently mute guide to shepherd them through the evidence. They seemed willing to give Taylor and Whitaker access to everything as Caldwell had requested, but that was the end where their cooperation was concerned. The agent assigned to them hadn’t said anything while they were at the EEOB and gave non-committal one-word answers on their way to see the letters. Taylor would have bet money that any questions beyond basic directions would get them the same response.
They were led to a fifth-floor conference room with documents already laid out on the table. The letters themselves were sealed in clear plastic evidence bags, so they could read them without touching or disturbing anything inside.
“I assume you checked these for prints and whatnot, right?” he asked their minder.
“Yes,” was the man’s one-word reply.
The first letter was short, comparatively, and took up the front and back of one sheet of standard paper, with small, very precise handwriting. Taylor knew it was a junk science, but if he had to guess, he’d say the handwriting was from a man, even though it was neat and easily legible. The blocky printed text, instead of something more flowy or cursive, felt masculine to him. Of course, he’d seen women with similar print and men use clean, easily legible cursive, so it could go either way. It was just his gut reaction to seeing the first letter.
The later letters got steadily longer, with the second letter taking up three pages, again front and back with the same small, blocky handwritten text. The fourth was practically a manifesto at fifteen pages front and back.
Taylor and Whitaker read through each carefully, going through the text multiple times. He was looking for a few specific things, beyond the content of the letters themselves. He hadn’t discussed it with Whitaker, but he’d bet she was looking for some of the same things.
First, he was looking for things that would indicate it was written by the same person. That was almost certainly done by the Secret Service, but Taylor wasn’t one to accept it without checking for himself.
Second, was his use of language itself. It was subtle, but every region in the US had variations in word choice and sentence structure, and if he was an immigrant the differences would be much less subtle. While a suspect might try and mimic another region’s language usage, it was impossible to do that accurately. Language was an internalized thing that was impossible to completely fake. It’s why, even with years of living in another country, people still could be spotted as a non-native speaker.
As for the context of the letters, Taylor tried to get into the head of the suspect. He wasn’t looking to psychoanalyze the suspect or diagnose him, but rather try and see things from the suspect’s perspective, no matter how diligent and crazy he was. People, even crazy people, don’t do things randomly. While it might be incomprehensible to others, the things they did made sense to them. Crazy people rarely knew they were crazy and bad guys never thought of themselves as bad guys. Criminals usually thought they were in the right, even if they had to rationalize their actions. That went doubly for crazy people, whose warped way of thinking would seem rational to them and would be confused by sane people just as much as sane people would be confused by them.
These letters definitely fell into crazy person territory, making it difficult for Taylor to get into the mind of the writer. The first problem is they did something that people deep in conspiracy theories or mental illness often do, which is to use language and ideas that are part of those thought processes without explaining it to people who aren’t meshed in whatever delusion they’d latched onto.
In multiple places, the letters called Caldwell Alloch, a word that meant nothing to Taylor but presumably had important meaning to the writer. It spoke about ‘The Great War,’ which from the context it didn’t mean World War I, and ‘the coming battle.’ In multiple places, he called himself one of the warriors of God and made threats to kill Caldwell before she could summon her armies.
The text of the first letter was dense and only got worse in the later letters, with whole paragraphs invoking names that meant nothing to Taylor along with names that did. Michael and Gabriel, angels that Taylor recognized from his childhood trips to church, were alongside names like Zedith, Anson, and Toran, words Taylor had never heard. There were other gibberish names that seemed to be demons or servants of the devil, or maybe of Caldwell. It was hard to tell if the suspect actually thought Caldwell was the devil or some kind of servant of the devil.
After reading through all of the letters Taylor reached a few conclusions.
First, the suspect had an elaborate mythology with Caldwell at the center. The mythology was uniform across all four letters and didn’t sound like something the suspect was making up independently. It didn’t sound like something someone just sat down and made up at once, but closer to mythologies that built over time, such as conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar or gray aliens. He’d internalized these ideas to the point where he didn’t feel he needed to explain what any of it meant. He just assumed everyone knew what he was talking about.
What all that meant was he was almost certainly not the only person who believed this. Taylor was fairly certain that the suspect had latched onto an existing belief structure, which meant there were people out there they could talk to and get a context for what all this meant. Knowing what the suspect believed was a big step in finding him.
The second conclusion was that the Secret Service should have taken these letters more seriously, especially after the third letter. It wasn’t said straight out, but Taylor was almost certain that the guy had a copy of Caldwell’s schedule from the time period where the letter was mailed. In that letter, the suspect talked about a speech to her horde, where she apparently gathered her demons in preparation for the coming war. He went on to make descriptions of the speakers and the building, finding things that were clear indications of some kind of religious prophecy. While most of it was gibberish, in describing the speakers and the building where the speech happened, Taylor was almost certain he was referring to a speech to veterans Caldwell had given nearly a month ago in Atlanta. Taylor had been with her on that trip and was one of the speakers, although not one important enough to show up in the suspect’s fantasies.
The troubling part was that the Secret Service received the letter almost two weeks before the event happened. Because of all of the events Taylor had gone to as one of the Senator’s surrogates, he knew how the process worked. The Senator had an internal calendar of events that had both events made public and possible events, which allowed her campaign staff to plan out her schedule and work out strategy. The possible events included planned events where the location, speakers and agenda were decided on but not yet finalized.