Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Taylor and Whitaker were almost outside when their next obstacle showed up. He’d heard Cole mention Caldwell’s campaign manager, but he’d hoped Packer had just talked to Cole over the phone since Caldwell wasn’t home. As usual, Taylor’s luck hadn’t held.
“Mr. Taylor, a word please,” the man said, stomping up to Taylor and Whitaker.
“Packer, we don’t have time for this. Hubbard almost got your boss tonight, and he’s still close.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I heard what you said to Agent Cole just now, and I want you to know I won’t stand for it. I’ve spoken with the Senator again tonight, and we’ve agreed we can’t just hide away in some bunker and do remotes. People need to see her if she wants to be the next President of the United States, to prove that she won’t be scared out of doing her job.”
“It’ll be a lot harder to be President if she’s dead.”
“I don’t get you. You military people were all about standing up to the enemy, never backing down, not letting the terrorists win. What did you think you were doing in the Middle East? Hell, I just heard you argue that we should go after Hubbard, instead of just putting guards up everywhere.”
“Being proactive in stopping Hubbard is not the same as using your boss as bait. I’m all for stopping terrorists where they live, but you’re arguing we should have rebuilt the twin towers in downtown Kabul. There’s going after them and then there’s stupid. He’s looking for any break in security to get to her, and every new location you put her in is a new chance for him to find one.”
“You just don’t get it. We can’t promote the Senator as the best choice to lead America and then show her hiding from danger. American’s don’t back down and we don’t let the terrorists win. She has to show she’s the best this country has to offer.”
“That’s insane. There are fences around The White House and a permanent perimeter everywhere the President goes. How often do you see the President in an active war zone? People understand the difference between standing up, and being stupid.”
“I knew your reputation for being some big hero was bullshit. Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean the Senator is.”
Taylor ignored the comment. Packer was looking for some reason to get Taylor pushed out of the way. It wasn’t beyond him to force Taylor into a rash action so he could press charges on him, and get Taylor sidelined.
“Packer, you are about the stupidest piece of shit I’ve ever met. I’ve never said I was any type of hero, and anyone who’s been in combat and says they weren’t terrified is either a liar or an idiot. I’ve talked to the Senator and she’s on board with my being part of this investigation.”
“And I’ve talked to her and she’s agreed with me that we aren’t canceling any of her appearances.”
“Gentlemen,” Whitaker said, interrupting them, “this is getting nowhere. We have work to do, so if you’ll excuse us, Mr. Packer.”
Whitaker didn’t wait for Packer to respond. Grabbing Taylor by the arm she pulled him around Packer and out the door.
“John, you’re not going to win that fight. He isn’t doing this on his own. I know you think the world of the Senator, but she’s a politician. She’s not going to stop campaigning this close to the election, no matter what danger she might be in. She’s almost certainly rationalized it to herself, probably something along the lines of, once she becomes President, she’ll be able to help so many other people and save lives, which makes it worth the possible sacrifice. There’s a reason she isn’t here arguing the point and Packer is. She doesn’t want to have that conversation with you and left it to him.”
“Then she’s an idiot.”
“Maybe. Does that mean you’re going to walk away and let the Secret Service handle it?”
She looked at Taylor hard, holding his gaze, until he looked away.
“That’s what I thought. For all your ‘we have to deal with things in the real world’ way of approaching life, you have a bad habit of putting people in boxes, seeing them as one thing or another. She can both be our friend and a good person and be a politician focused on her own goals, willing to put others at risk to achieve them. Hell, that’s what the President does every time we send soldiers into the field. We may think they’re wrong, but we’ve got to accept things as they are and do what we think is right.”
Taylor just looked at Whitaker, his mouth tight, before saying, “I really hate it when you remind me you’re smarter than I am.”
“I know,” she said with a little laugh, patting him on the cheek. “Now, what’s the plan to find Hubbard?”
“We need to step back and take another look at him. We need to understand him better, and the way he operates, if we’re going to find him.”
“Why? We know he’s in the area?”
“Which is great, except the district is a pretty huge place. You’re not going to go around knocking on doors and just stumble upon him. The Secret Service has checkpoints up and they’re keeping an eye on any camera they have access to, but that’s not going to work. Hubbard’s smart enough to realize that and avoid it. Hell, they knew he was heading here from Rochester and weren’t able to find him. If he could slip them once, he’ll do it again.”
“I’ll give you that,” Whitaker said.
“No one operates in a vacuum. All of our decisions are made up of our experiences and our training. If we know Hubbard’s, we can work out what he’s most likely to do. It’s a lot of moving pieces, but short of waiting to get lucky or for him to pop up and take another shot at the Senator, I don’t see what our options are.”
“Okay, so what are you thinking?”
“I was going to look more into his background in the service. Look over his deployment records and any after-action reports I can get my hands on. Maybe track down some of his battle buddies, see if they can offer up anything.”
“That sounds right up your alley. Beyond looking over your shoulder, I’m not sure I could help much with that.”
“I thought we could split up. You go with your area of expertise, maybe look at his post or pre-service records. Has he been in any legal trouble or popped up in any databases. He might have learned to kill people in the Army, but that isn’t all he is. Hell, his obsession with this conspiracy theory started pre-army, right?”
“That might work. I’ll head back to the offices and start looking.”
“Be careful. Hubbard is closer, but he took a shot at us once. If he thinks we’re in the way of whatever his next plan is, he won’t hesitate to come after us.”
Taylor dropped Whitaker off at the Hoover building before turning south towards Arlington and the Pentagon. The sun was just rising, so he knew he’d have to wait until the person he needed to talk to got in. Thankfully, the badge he’d been issued once he’d started working with the FBI, even if no actual agent considered it real, turned out to be useful. It wasn’t enough to get him beyond the entrance checkpoint, but it was able to get him into the parking lot.
While he waited, Taylor pulled out Hubbard’s personnel file again, looking over the man’s records. Even with Whitaker’s clearances, the record they’d been given still had a lot of redacted sections and, to Taylor’s eye, missing sections, which was something the military did when they didn’t want to even acknowledge events had taken place. Redacting sections was all well and good until a congressman on the arms services or intel committees decided to push for more info in secure briefings. Easier to avoid those questions entirely by just leaving them out of the record altogether.
People who hadn’t served probably wouldn’t have noticed the gaps, not understanding the culture and way things actually worked in the military. Taylor could see the steps not taken and spots that should otherwise have some kind of record. Their missing sections spoke volumes.
Of course, even with his current status with the Bureau, the army wasn’t just going to hand over those records. Even his friends could only give him so much access since there was a point where it went from being a favor to becoming an actual federal crime. Even had they been willing to take that risk, Taylor wasn’t going to put them in that situation. Besides, there were other ways to find out what he needed that didn’t involve time in Fort Leavenworth for anyone.
After his fourth pass of Hubbard’s records, Taylor’s watch dinged, telling him he’d waited long enough. Setting the file aside, he dialed the Pentagon extension he’d looked up earlier. Thankfully, he’d managed to find the direct number for the person he was looking for, allowing him to avoid the byzantine structure the Army loved.
“War Plans, Lieutenant Colonel Watson speaking.”
Lt. Colonel Watson had been Captain Watson leading ODA 235 when Taylor had first gotten out of Bragg and been assigned to his first team. Watson hadn’t been around long, getting promoted out of the field shortly after Taylor had rotated in. In fact, they’d only been on one deployment together, but Watson had been a good CO, working with his new guys to get them up to speed and integrated. Taylor hadn’t had much contact with Watson since then, so this was more of a long shot, but what he needed wasn’t something he could go to the retired NCO network for. He needed someone with more access that was still in the service, which was becoming harder to find the older Taylor got.
“Colonel Watson, I’m not sure if you remember me, I served with you in ODA 235 a long while back. Sergeant Taylor. I was on my first deployment as a bravo right before you rotated out.”
There was a pause before Watson replied.
“Yeah ... John, right? Sure, I remember you, or at least that warehouse we hit where the Russians had already cleared out, and Sergeant Jacoby almost dropped that one guy taking a dump before we realized who they were.”
That said the world for Watson’s memory, and probably part of the reason he’d ended up in War plans. While that had been quite the memorable operation, that felt like a lifetime ago. Taylor had completely forgotten it until just now, in fact.
“Ha, yeah. God, I haven’t thought about Jacoby in forever. The look on his face was priceless.”
“I remember. What can I do for you, Sergeant Taylor?”
“I know you’re probably pretty busy, but I was hoping to get your help with something pretty important. I got out of the service a few years ago and I’m currently working with the FBI. I’m in the middle of a case that involves a guy who served with the 5th before moving over to EOD. I know because you’re busy you might not be able to give me much, but I promise you it’s important.”
“Give me a hint by what you mean by important.”
“It’s life or death and it’s been discussed by the President and Attorney General. It might not be on SecDef’s desk yet, but once my guy’s name goes public so will his record. The less havoc he can cause, the better this will look on the Army. I’m not looking to jam you up Colonel; I just need a little help. I promise to keep your name out of it and make sure nothing tracks back to you.”
There was a long silence before Watson spoke again.
“What’s his name?”
“Peter Hubbard. Separated as an E-6. Last deployment was with EOD.”
“Okay, I’ll have a pass waiting for you at the gate. You’ll probably end up cooling your heels for a while, and if I don’t like what I hear I’ll throw you out on your ass. Clear?”
“Lima Charlie, Colonel.”
“Five minutes at the front gate.”
Watson didn’t wait for a reply, hanging up as soon as he finished speaking. Considering how distant an acquaintance they were, things had probably gone about as well as Taylor could have hoped. Packing his files up in his backpack, Taylor hopped out of the SUV and headed towards the closest entrance to the building. As promised, there was a pass waiting for him when Taylor signed in.
He checked his sidearm with security and had his bag searched thoroughly before being lead through several twisting turns, deeper into the Leviathan that was the Pentagon. Taylor knew enough that they didn’t take him very far in, since each level of the Pentagon was segmented by additional security checkpoints. Taylor remained in the outermost section of the building, which was as far as most civilians would ever get.
His escort led him to a room with no identification other than a room number set into the plain wooden door. Inside, the room turned out to be a small conference room, featuring a table with chairs enough to seat six. Small enough for very small conferences.
Taylor moved to sit facing the door, but not at the head of the table. Watson was a decent sort when Taylor knew him, but anyone who’d made it as far as the general staff would be aware of the small slights and positioning that constantly happened around them, the Army being one of the most fraught political arenas you could fight in, once you got far enough up the food chain.
They also never made it to meetings like this quickly, so Taylor wasn’t upset when almost an hour passed before the door opened and a much older and graying version of the man he remembered walked in.
“Sorry for the wait, Sergeant, I wanted to do some research on your guy before we talked.”
“I take it what you found in his file convincing?”
“Yep, I also found your file pretty interesting,” Watson said, tapping one of the two file folders he’d sat on the table. “You had a rough time of it, there at the end.”
“If you compare my psych file to his you’ll find one of us is a bigger problem.”
“I’m not judging Sergeant, especially after looking at your FBI file.”
“You have my FBI file?”
“What, you think you’re the only one with contacts in other organizations? Plus, it’s not like you’ve kept a low profile since you separated.”
“Since you haven’t kicked me out yet, I’m assuming I passed muster?”
Watson didn’t answer directly; instead, he opened one other folder and looked at the front page. Even upside down, Taylor could recognize the picture of a younger Hubbard attached to the top left corner.
“You said this was life or death. How is Hubbard connected?”
Had Whitaker been there, Taylor was sure she would have demurred, claiming need to know, but that wasn’t how Taylor operated. He was asking for intel on Hubbard that the Army had gone to some lengths to keep from going public. If he was going to ask Watson to show his cards, then Taylor had no problem doing the same.
“He’s trying to kill Senator Caldwell, and he’s gotten pretty close, three dead Secret Service close.”
“Do we know why?”
“He’s gone off the deep end. He’s got some kind of delusion that features Caldwell at the center of it. He’s convinced Armageddon or whatever will happen if she becomes President, and apparently, he’s some kind of warrior for God or whatever, sent to stop her.”