Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
It took more than an hour for the fire department to okay anyone returning into the building. The fire damage was actually very limited and easily put out. The longest part of the delay was getting an engineer to confirm the building was still structurally safe. Several of their neighbors were also going to be homeless for a while, which Taylor felt bad about. While it was almost unheard of for law enforcement to be retaliated against at home by a criminal they were chasing, they had accepted some risk when they signed up. Their neighbors hadn’t.
The explosion had completely gutted their apartment. They would have to wait until the arson report came back, but looking it over, Taylor could work out the gist of what happened. Taylor couldn’t help but think that when the arson investigator did start snooping around, he was going to be in for some surprises. The fact that only their apartment had been destroyed was going to be unusual, mostly because it was clear Hubbard had wanted it that way. He’d shut off the gas to the building before setting off the explosive to keep the fire and damage localized.
Taylor wasn’t an expert, but he was also pretty sure from the blast patterns that the explosives had been laid out and designed in such a way as to push the force of the blast towards the outside wall of their apartment. That explained the fireball and concussive blast that shot out of the windows. Hubbard had purposefully set the explosives to limited collateral damage. That made sense. Hubbard was willing to kill bystanders if he had to, but he wasn’t just wantonly destroying everything to get at his target.
Eventually, most of the building was given the okay to go inside. Taylor and Whitaker, along with the upstairs and downstairs neighbors, were the exception because of damage to the floor and ceiling. Having spent a good part of his adult life untethered to any single location, always moving from one base to another, Taylor wasn’t particularly sentimental about the things he owned. He could replace pretty much everything he’d had.
Whitaker, however, had lived a more traditional life and had keepsakes and mementos that were surely lost. She maintained her composure but Taylor could tell she was upset. Eventually, they had to stop watching their devastated apartment and move on to the next thing. Taylor guessed it would be several days before they could get back inside and start looking around for anything salvageable, and they still had a deranged bomber on the loose to deal with. Luckily, they’d had some stuff on them, like cell phones, and Taylor still had his wallet, so they weren’t completely untethered. Taylor was just looking for a local hotel on his phone when it rang.Chapter 8
“John, I just heard. Are you and Loretta alright?” Caldwell’s voice said when he picked up.
“Yes, ma’am. We managed to clear the building before the bombing, so no one was hurt other than some cuts and small injuries from falling debris.”
“They said your apartment was bombed. Was it him?”
“We think so. He called me when we were in Rochester and knew who I was, although no one actually saw him.”
“I feel responsible for this. If I hadn’t asked you and Loretta to look into him, none of this would have happened. I’m so sorry John.”
“Ma’am, we’ve only been on this case for two days. For him to have as much information on me as he had, he would have had to start looking into me earlier than that. This guy’s obsessed with you and thinks you’re building forces to bring about the end of the world. He’s done his research into you and everyone around you. He might have eventually tried this even if we weren’t chasing him, since Whitaker and I would be the easiest people he could connect to his fantasies.”
“Still, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be in danger.”
“Maybe not from him, but we’d still be in danger. It comes with our jobs and we’ve accepted the risk to do what we do. This is no different.”
“I still feel bad about this.”
“I appreciate that ma’am. I’m more worried about him escalating, branching out to go after the people around you. I think it’s best if you have Mary Jane come stay with you for now. I know she has her own detail, but they’re small.”
“Do you think he’s going to try and hurt Mary Jane?”
“No, I don’t think he’ll go after her, since she doesn’t present a danger to him, but he’s unstable. It’s impossible to tell what he’ll actually do and his delusions extend out to the people around you. I’m just suggesting it as a precaution.”
“Okay, I’ll have her and Kara come stay with me until this is over. What about you? Your apartment is gone. Where are you going to stay?”
“We’ll get a hotel, probably.”
“No, I won’t have that. You and Loretta will also come and stay with me until we figure something out.”
“Ma’am, we can’t...”
“John, I’m not taking no for an answer. Think of it like this, I’ll have both Kara and Mary Jane here. I know how you are. If they’re going to stay here as a precaution, then I know you’d prefer to keep an eye on them, even if I have Secret Service protection. If you stay here too, it’ll be easier to do that.”
Taylor sighed and looked back at the hole in the side of the building, “Fine. We’ll have to make a stop to buy some basic supplies since everything we owned is charcoal now, then we’ll be by.”
“Good, I’m glad you decided to see things my way.”
Taylor got off the phone to find Whitaker looking at him questioningly.
“The Senator has offered us a place to stay until we find a new place to live. I tried to say no, but you know how insistent she can be.”
“Good, that’ll be better than staying at a hotel.”
“Good? Won’t it be weird staying in someone else’s house?”
“First, you’ve seen her house. By D.C. standards, it’s massive. We won’t be underfoot, I promise. Second, and more importantly, we got lucky this time. I don’t know if that package was an attempt to get everyone outside or just a distraction, but we could have easily been back upstairs when that explosion went off. I’m not sure he won’t try again, and I’d prefer to have the Secret Service watching our backs, just in case.”
“I guess. Let’s finish up here then and get going. We still have to stop somewhere and buy clothes and essentials and it’s starting to get late.”
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
As much as Taylor was ready to get to Caldwell’s and put this day behind them, it took another thirty minutes at the apartment clearing up questions from the arson investigator and local police. Whitaker had put in a call to their homeowner’s insurance, who had informed them that, since this happened as a result of their job, it wasn’t covered, meaning they had more headaches scheduled for them tomorrow.
Shopping, even as rushed as they’d done it, took a while longer making it almost two hours since his call from Caldwell when they showed up at her door. She was, of course, gracious as always, welcoming them inside. She directed them to a spare bedroom that was apparently next to the room Kara was staying in.
They both took showers, cleaning off the remnants of their home that had showered over them and the rest of the crowd after it exploded. By the time they made it downstairs, they could hear raised voices.
“Ma’am, I’m telling you this is a problem.”
“I understand your concern Edward, but I’m not budging. These are my friends and I will not throw them out into the cold, politics be damned.”
“I...” Packer started to say before noticing Taylor and Whitaker.
“You two look much better, now. The miracle of a nice shower, right?” Caldwell said, smiling at them.
“I do feel so much better,” Whitaker said. “Ma’am, I know Taylor already said it, but I really appreciate you putting us up while we figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Don’t even mention it, sweetie.”
“Mr. Taylor, can I speak to you outside, please?” Packer said as Whitaker and Caldwell continued their conversation.
While Taylor didn’t want anything to do with Packer, especially after their last run-in, he knew Packer’s type and knew the man wouldn’t leave him alone until he got to say what he wanted to say.
Packer walked out of the front door, Taylor behind him, and stopped on the porch. Taylor took a moment to look around. While this house was probably worth several million, knowing how expensive homes in Georgetown could be, it wasn’t what he’d expect. He’d been to Caldwell’s mansion in South Carolina which sat on enough land that you couldn’t see the road from the main house. The entire property was surrounded by a large fence and high-tech monitoring. By comparison, Caldwell’s D.C. home was right on the street, as was pretty much everything in D.C. It boasted an impressive fence, but that was about it.
From a security perspective, it didn’t seem as secure as the Secret Service would usually prefer. Of course, this was a private neighborhood that allowed for controlled access to the streets themselves, but that didn’t mean much. Enough other people lived in the neighborhood that agents couldn’t just patrol the streets, stopping anyone they encountered. Even if they had records for everyone who lived here, they’d still end up regularly questioning Caldwell’s neighbors’ visitors, which would lead to discontent. He knew Caldwell well enough to know that she would have put her foot down about that. Even without the need to appeal to rich voters like these, she was the type of person who didn’t want to upset those around her without a good reason, which her own safety was almost certainly not.
“What can I do for you?” Taylor said, turning back to Packer.
“I know we got off on the wrong foot, and I wanted to apologize for that...”
“Great. Apology accepted. Let’s get back inside,” Taylor said, knowing there was a ‘but’ coming and hoping to avoid it.
“Wait. While I apologize for how I presented my concerns to you, I think we still need to deal with the situation. I’ve spoken to Agent Cole and he’s not happy to be distracted by more protectees.”
“He doesn’t have to worry about us, we can protect ourselves.”
“Apparently not, since you’re staying here after your own apartment blew up. You have a target on you, and you’re bringing additional danger to the Senator. It would be best if you and your partner found someplace else to stay, for the Senator’s safety, of course.”
“You’re joking, right? The person who blew up our apartment and who’s trying to get to the Senator? Why would us being here make it more dangerous for her or not? She’s his goal; we just got in the way.”
“We don’t actually know that, Mr. Taylor. As I understand it, there hasn’t been any official finding as to why your apartment blew up. I give you it’s probably not an accident, but remember I’ve looked into you and Agent Whitaker. The two of you have made a fair number of enemies over the last several years. It’s highly possible that the person who blew up your apartment is not the same person after the Senator. If that’s true, then you’re making the Senator a target for multiple madmen.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Besides the fact that we received a call from Hubbard directly threatening Whitaker and me, you’re trying to tell me you think it was someone other than the trained explosive expert that set an explosion that destroyed only our apartment? Get real.”
“I’m saying you have to consider the chances. That’s also not the only issue at hand. While I may have been a bit abrasive about it yesterday, I still think you need to step out of this investigation. I’ve spoken with Agent Cole and there are concerns with you and Agent Whitaker operating outside of his task force. They’ve got officers from most of the other agencies involved now, even from the FBI. Hell, by FBI rules, you’re not even supposed to be assigned to this case, since you’re close with one of the participants.”
“Let me guess, you’ve called Joe Solomon and reminded him of that point, didn’t you?”
“Come on, of course you did. It’s exactly the kind of behind-the-back play you’re so good at. Why deal with something head-on when you can call the manager.”
“Look,” Packer said, pushing past Taylor’s insult. “I get it, you’re invested now. You’re mad that your apartment was blown up. Don’t you see that makes you less of an asset here, not more of one? If the Senator’s your friend, you should recognize this and realize anything that makes the task force trying to catch this madman makes her less safe. Do the right thing. Call your boss and tell him you’re off the case and go work on something else.”
“You’re joking, right? If Whitaker and I weren’t on this, we wouldn’t even know Hubbard’s name. Hell, we’re the only ones making actual progress here.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. You basically blundered into him by accident, so let’s not pretend it was some kind of detective work on your part. We both know that one of Agent Cole’s teams would have found that information soon, and they might have been better prepared instead of just jumping from one clue to the next. Hubbard got away from you, remember, and was able to put the people around you in danger. The last thing the Senator needs is someone like you near her with this lunatic on the lose.”
“Maybe he did get away and Cole probably would have found him eventually, but how long would it have taken. A day? A week? They didn’t know what he looked like, who he was, anything. Hubbard could have walked up to that gate over there and no one would have known who he was. So yeah, he got away, but now we know who we’re looking for. That’s a lot further ahead than where we were. As for making things more dangerous for her, that’s ridiculous. Whitaker and I are obstacles, that’s it. Caldwell is his actual target. Our being here isn’t making it any more dangerous, and having two additional armed agents in the house with her adds an extra layer of protection. Now, you can feel free to tell the Senator how bad of an idea it is for me to stay here all you want, but for now, we’re staying. You don’t like it? Tough shit.”