Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
Taylor made calls on the drive back to D.C. He was familiar with Northbridge Services Group as they were a major defense contractor back when he was in. They specialized in basic equipment like body armor, harnesses, weapons mountings, and the like. Half the shit Taylor carried on him in the field had been manufactured or at least sub-contracted out by Northbridge.
Taylor hadn’t actually dealt with the company before, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out they weren’t going to be very helpful. A call to the company itself ended up with a short and very terse conversation with one of the company’s many lawyers who made it clear the only way Taylor would get any information was with a court order. Taylor planned on handing the information off to Whitaker, since she actually knew about getting subpoenas. He wasn’t particularly hopeful that would actually work, since even he could figure out they didn’t have enough to convince a judge.
That left back channels, which was fine by Taylor, since that was an area where he was more comfortable, anyway.
“Bryant Haushaltsgeräte Reparaturservice?” the person who answered said in badly accented German.
“Bryant, it’s Taylor.”
As with most of Taylor’s contacts, he and Dave Bryant had served together in the army. These days Bryant ran a small repair shop in Berlin, which was also a front for his other business as a private contractor specializing in government and military intelligence. Bryant had helped out Taylor briefly earlier in the year, albeit less than happily.
“What the hell do you want?”
“I need a favor.”
“Of course you do. You know, I’m not the Salvation Army, I don’t owe you any favors, and I’m not looking to pick up IOUs. I helped you out with your girl because we served together once, but you’ve used up that goodwill up. You need something, you can pay for it.”
Taylor grimaced. He’d been playing fast and loose with favors, especially over the last year during the business in Berlin. He knew that would only go so far, but he’d hoped he hadn’t reached that point yet. He’d also been playing off his connection with Caldwell, which didn’t sit well with him. While he was certain the Senator would back him up, especially since he was doing it to help her specifically, he was already picking up a lot of favors he’d have to pay off one day. Of course, he felt less bad about spending Caldwell’s money when it came to protecting her.
“It depends on what you need. I’m not saying I’ll do it, mind you. I work mostly through official channels these days, more or less. I’m not going to do something that burns me with my clients.”
Considering those clients were the more clandestine sides of governments and private security companies, Taylor assumed that covered a pretty large swath. Taylor didn’t think Northbridge would fall under that umbrella. Defense contractors tended to be pretty closed up, not wanting to do anything that might get them knocked off the government’s Rolodex.
“Several years ago Northbridge Services Group was doing R and D on a new EOD explosive and drafted some personnel. I’m trying to find out what specifically they were working on or someone that actively worked on the project I can talk to, without having to go through channels.”
There was a pause, presumably while Bryant worked out if getting that information would blow back on him, and how hard it would be for him to get what Taylor needed.
“Five K, plus any expenses.”
“I can do that, but I need it fast. Info on the explosive or a name, whichever you can get first, I’ll take.”
“I’ll start making some calls,” Bryant said, hanging up.
The next phone call Taylor wasn’t happy to make, but he knew it needed to be done, especially since he could see he would need more help from people like Bryant before this was all over.
After the normal hoops he had to go through, Caldwell answered.
“John, any news?”
“Not yet Senator. How’s Mary Jane?”
“Shaken but happy to have Kara here with her. This girl of yours is such a treasure.”
“Don’t I know it. I’ve been working on alternate ways of finding Hubbard, but it’s required some ... less than official calls that definitely don’t fall inside what I could requisition from the Bureau.”
“John, you know I trust you completely. You’re out there trying to keep my daughter and me safe. I’ll cover any expense you need to find this man.”
“Thank you, Senator. I don’t normally like to ask about this kind of thing so I wanted to...”
“John, I will always back you. Just don’t go getting me in something that’ll come back to haunt me. I’ll want to be reelected, you know.”
“I’ll do my best,” Taylor said with a laugh.
They chatted for a few more minutes over less weighty topics before she needed to go handle one of the hundreds of things that needed her attention. Thankfully, the drive back to D.C. was faster than the one to get down to Fort Hill, and Taylor was back at the Hoover Building by early afternoon. He found Whitaker in her office, hunched over a computer terminal, looking focused.
“Any luck?” He asked.
“Yes. Hubbard’s been a busy boy since he got out of the service.”
“He was cited in an FBI death investigation the year after he discharged involving a gas explosion.”
“How did the FBI get involved?”
“The person who died in the explosion worked at the V.A. Hubbard was noted as a suspect, but was later cleared. The incident was eventually listed as an accidental death caused by a gas leak, and the case was closed.”
“Considering blowing shit up seems to be how he deals with his problems, I’m guessing we’re thinking there’s more to it than that, aren’t we?”
“Yes. The guy who ran the investigation retired last year but lives not far away. I’ve already asked him to come in and talk to us. Hopefully, something in that case can give us a clue on what Hubbard might be up to now.”
“Good. I also might have a lead.”
“Hubbard was part of a team looking into a new explosive that he apparently got obsessed over. Normally that wouldn’t mean much, but what we’ve been told about his mental illness...”
“So you’re thinking if he was obsessed with it then, he might still be obsessed with it?”
“Pretty much. He doesn’t seem to give these things up easily. I’m hoping it gives us something we can use to trace him. The only hitch is, the defense contractor he was outsourced to isn’t big on sharing.”
“I can get a subpoena drawn up. It might be a bit shaky, but we might be able to find a judge to sign off. Of course, defense contractors come with armies of lawyers who will fight it tooth and nail before handing anything over, so it could take some time to actually get the information we need.”
“I thought of that and decided to get the information another way.”
“What did you do?” Whitaker said, her hands pausing over her keyboard.
“Don’t give me that look, you just said yourself going through channels would take forever, if it happens at all. These guys would be just as happy to keep any request tied up in appeals for as long as possible. All I did was call a contact and asked if they could find out the details of what Hubbard was working on or if he could get us the name of someone who would talk to us.”
“Passing it off to someone else to do the actual dirty work doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something wrong. Most of what those companies are working on is classified. Just ‘cause you don’t ask how they do it doesn’t mean they aren’t breaking the law.”
Taylor didn’t respond, just met her look. This was the age-old argument between them. They’d managed to find a middle ground now that they were back together, but that didn’t mean she was happy with his method or that he felt compelled to paint inside the FBI’s limited lines.
Finally, Whitaker held up her hands and leaned back, “Hey, I’m not going to stop you. I want to get this guy just as bad, and I care about the Senator’s wellbeing just as much as you do. What I don’t want is to get him and have our evidence against him thrown out because we obtained it illegally. Hubbard needs to be off the street for good, not out on a technicality.”
“Do you really think that’s going to happen? He murdered someone before we ever got involved, threw an explosive device at me, blew up our apartment, a van, and murdered two more secret service agents before I ever called anyone about anything. Even if nothing from this point on is admissible, there’s no chance he’s ever getting out of prison.”
“You’re probably right, but that doesn’t mean we need to be creating additional hurdles. Just, talk to me first next time. I know how much of a pain getting a subpoena would be, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be other ways to get that.”
Taylor dropped into the chair across from her desk and leaned his head back. She had a point. He’d thought about the subpoena but had basically given up at that and gone looking for something easier. It wouldn’t have taken that much time to call Whitaker first and at least see if she could think of something else before he went straight to skirting the rules.
“Okay, next time I’ll talk to you first.”
“That’s all I ask. So now we wait for my guy to show up or your guy to call?”
“Pretty much. Short of following the Senator to her events and hoping to see him coming, chasing his past is our only option right now.”
“There’s nothing we can do there that the Secret Service isn’t already doing. This could be a bust, but I’m not sure what else we can do at this point.”
“I’m confident we’ll find something. No one does stuff for no reason. Even if he’s trying to be random to keep from being found, no one can eliminate everything that makes them who they are. I know you think he’s too smart and well trained to make a mistake, but he’ll be doing something to give himself away. Even with everything the Bureau trains us to do and all of our hard work, most cases are broken because the suspect overlooks something or screws up. It’s impossible to account for everything.”
“Probably. We’re only trained on how to do the proper preparation to carry off an objective, not to cover our tracks afterward.”
They didn’t have to wait long. After a fruitless half an hour of looking through more records, Whitaker’s retired FBI agent showed up. A grizzled man in his sixties with a well-lined face, Taylor couldn’t help but think he must have been right at retirement when he’d crossed paths with Hubbard.
They made introductions and exchanged brief pleasantries before Whitaker got down to business.
“Can you walk us through the case, Agent Macey?”
“You read the file,” Macey said. “There wasn’t much to it. We were called to the scene of an explosion at a residence when the locals determined the victim, a guy named Steiner, was a Veterans’ Affairs OIG investigator, which made his death investigation federal. Our techs traced the explosion to a ruptured gas line and a spark caused when the vic turned on a light switch. They said everything looked on the up and up.”
“You still had to investigate though.”
“Yep. Procedure, ya know, especially since Steiner was an investigator. We looked at his open cases, talked to people he was looking into, but when the M.E. declared it an accidental death, we shelved the case.”
“Hubbard stood out to you?” Taylor asked.
“Yeah. There wasn’t anything specific and once the case was closed there wasn’t any reason to keep looking into him, but something about the man didn’t sit right.”
“Why was the V.A. Inspector General looking into Hubbard?”
“There was an incident at a research lab run by the V.A. Some stuff went missing, and his name showed up as one of the people in the building at the time, so the investigator was looking at him.”
“What went missing?” Taylor asked.
“Dinitrophenol. It was used in some kind of research the lab was experimenting in and was tracked by the FDA, so they had to account for their supply. When some turned up missing, the Inspector General’s office got involved.”