Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
It turned out the wait for the subpoena was longer than the wait on the lab. Taylor had spent most of the day out, tracking down leads on his own, and it was already fairly late by the time they started hunting around for a judge to sign off on their subpoena. They knew where they needed to check next, since only one company made Dinitrophenol, but that was only the starting point. Once federal law enforcement starts asking questions companies tend to shut down all communication and direct everything to their lawyers. That went doubly for companies that sold a controlled substance that ended up in the hands of someone who then used that product to murder multiple people. When the lab called back with their checks on the chemical analysis of Hubbard’s previous explosives, they were still waiting on the subpoena.
Taylor’s first instinct was to say screw it and head down to the company’s offices and knock some heads together. Whitaker, however, convinced him that would be counter-productive. U.S. chemical manufacturers weren’t exactly lowlifes that could be beaten into telling them what they needed to know. Besides, there wouldn’t be anyone at the offices that late anyways. Showing up at empty offices wouldn’t do them any good.
Instead, they caught what sleep they could in Whitaker’s office, her on a couch and him lying on the floor. Caldwell’s house was still more or less off-limits since Hubbard’s attempt on her life, and Taylor wanted to be at the company’s offices the minute employees started arriving. Besides, he’d slept worse places than a carpeted office floor.
On the positive side, the lab results confirmed their hypothesis. Dinitrophenol was found in each of the explosives Hubbard had set off since they began looking into him. While the results didn’t surprise Taylor, it at least confirmed they were on the right track. More importantly, it also allowed them to give Whitaker enough probable cause on the subpoena application to convince a judge.
They were at the manufacturers’ offices first thing in the morning, subpoena in hand. Of course, as with everything when dealing with the law, it still wasn’t that easy.
“Agent Whitaker,” the lawyer said, “We appreciate you have a public service need for assistance in this matter, but we still believe it is in the best interest of our employers that we avail ourselves fully of the legal process, including our right to appeal this subpoena.”
“You haven’t been granted a stay yet,” Whitaker said. “As of right now this subpoena is in effect, and if you don’t start bringing up the documents we’re asking for now, I’m going to start putting people in cuffs for obstruction of justice.”
“Agent Whitaker...” the lawyer started to say.
“No. This is a matter of life and death. As of right now, I’m just looking to track shipments of Dinitrophenol to our suspect, that’s it. I’m not looking to come after you or your employers. I assume everything was done on the up and up on your end. If someone else dies while I’m waiting on you, however; then everything changes. While you have all kinds of checks and procedures to keep stuff like this from going where it shouldn’t, we both know those only work as long as no one cuts corners for the sake of ‘efficiency.’ Someone will not have done something they were legally required to do. Do you really want us to go through your records with a fine-toothed comb?”
In the end, the lawyers decided to be reasonable, although not without another hour delay while they got promises in writing that the Justice Department wouldn’t go after them for anything they found while looking into the companies transactions short of a major felony.
Taylor couldn’t help but think that if Cole had listened to them instead of sticking his head in the sand, they wouldn’t have wasted almost half a day with this nonsense. The man had an entire task force including ATF agents whose agency was one of the ones that tracked this chemical.
Getting the records was, however, just the first step. It was unclear how long Hubbard had been at this or if he’d stockpiled at some point in the past. The most they could safely guess was that he’d taken a fondness to this particular company while still in the Army, so they could use that as a start date. Even with two employees who understood the companies systems helping them go through the records, it took hours more to find what they were looking for.
“That’s weird,” one of the assigned clerks said looking over a dense spreadsheet.
“What’s weird?” Taylor asked.
“After the last few hours of looking through these orders and shipping records, I’ve started seeing some patterns to the orders. Except for a few years where this was used in diet pills, before it started getting people sick and you guys started handing out fines, there aren’t a lot of orders for this stuff. A lab will order some here or there when they need to test something out, but that’s all pretty small quantities. A couple of years ago though, there was this fairly large shipment to an address in South Carolina. Levels we haven’t seen since the diet pill days.”
“Y’all shipped it out?”
“Yeah. I just cross-referenced the purchase orders and it went to you guys.”
“The FBI?” Taylor asked.
“No, but the federal government. The only listing I could find was for the DOD, which hadn’t ordered it for some time. It stands out as unusual, but there wouldn’t be any reason for us not to ship it.”
“Can you get me those purchase orders?” Taylor asked.
“Get me those and somewhere we can make a quick call. If everything checks out, we’ll be out of your way.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
It took a little longer, but they were given printouts of the purchase orders and shown to an empty office.
“Did the guy at Fort Hill give you what you need?” Watson said when he answered.
“Yes. We found something we can use to track him down, but I need your help with one more thing.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“I just texted you a picture of a purchase order for a chemical called Dinitrophenol. The DOD had been ordering this stuff for a project, but stopped for a while and then placed this random large order for it. Could you check out these purchase I.D.s for me?”
“Sure, hold on.”
The one benefit of calling Watson is he didn’t have to go and call anyone else. With his clearances and being inside the Pentagon, he had access to a wide range of DOD paperwork. It didn’t take Watson long to come back with an answer.
“This isn’t one of ours.”
“The I.D.s aren’t?”
“No, the coding tracks back to a black bag account used by the DIA, which is why the company thought they were real, but this purchase order was never made. At least, not by us.”
The Defense Intelligence Agency was similar to the CIA, its more famous cousin, but specifically focused on gathering military intelligence. It was lucky Hubbard had used their codes and not the CIA’s. Since the DIA was part of the DOD, Watson had access to some of the agency’s records from inside the Pentagon.
A black bag was slang for areas inside highly classified areas of the Department of Defense. Money and men would go into those organizations, but no one knew for what. The people assigned were never allowed to talk about what they did on those assignments and the money was never fully accounted for. They tended to pull personnel from the various branches of special operations and Taylor himself had been assigned to a few black bag operations run by the CIA. While the DIA wasn’t as prolific in their use of black bag assignments as the CIA, it was completely believable that Hubbard would have been assigned to an operation run by them at some point in his career. Given the nature of most black bag assignments, it also made sense why it wouldn’t have shown up on even the unredacted version of Hubbard’s files. Despite the Army’s love of paperwork, many of those assignments were never recorded or even written down.
More importantly, for Hubbard at least, no one would have double-checked those accounts to make sure he was actually ordering for something official. A purchase order like this could have easily sailed through channels without anyone second-guessing it.
“What about that address. I’m assuming it isn’t a DOD site, even an off-the-books one.”
“I looked that up and no, not that I could find.”
“I didn’t think so. That’s what I needed, thanks, Colonel.”
“Sure thing. Good hunting.”
Hanging up, Taylor turned to Whitaker and said, “We need to go check this place out.”
“Yeah. While you were on the phone I did a couple of checks and this address isn’t a lab or anything. It looks like it was a small warehouse but I can’t find any records of who owns it now. The last company to actually use it went bankrupt ten years ago, and since then it’s been empty, sitting in receivership with the bank.”
“So before this order happened then?”
“So I guess we need to go check it out then.”
Thanks to their technically being part of the task force, they could take a government jet, avoiding the hassle and additional time spent waiting for a scheduled commercial flight. A few hours later they were standing in a warehouse district at Charleston port, looking at a fairly dilapidated warehouse.
“I still think we should have backup,” Whitaker said.
Charleston, South Carolina
On the flight down Whitaker had wanted to call in local police and agents from the Charleston offices to secure the scene before they got there, but Taylor talked her out of it. He was certain that Hubbard would have booby-trapped the place, and the last thing they wanted was someone blundering around the site. Besides the chance that it would have cost the life of a fellow law enforcement officer, Hubbard would have made sure that any explosion would have erased anything he was working on.
For the moment, Hubbard was in the wind and this was their only lead at the moment. They’d gotten lucky so far, both in finding him the first time and finding this lead. Taylor didn’t want to keep pushing that luck and having to find yet another lead to track the man down.
“They could have their demolitions team come out and check the building over. These guys deal with explosives for a living. They’ll be better at finding and deactivating any devices we find than either of us.”
“Yes, but they’re trained not to take chances. They’ll blow any device with countermeasures in place before trying to disarm it. I guarantee Hubbard will have thought of that and made sure if they went off, they’ll set off a chain reaction. It’s what I’d do.”
“If we’re not going to defuse them, then what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to leave them alone completely. We’ll go around them. Once we find what we need, we’ll call in the locals, who can deal with the explosives.”
“You’re taking chances.”
Taylor turned and put his hands on Whitaker’s shoulders, “I know, but we don’t have a choice. Our friend’s in danger and Hubbard isn’t going to stop. We’ve already taken too long. We need to put an end to this. Not just for her sake, but for the sake of anyone caught in the middle. We got lucky with Kara and unless we tell her she can’t associate with Mary Jane until it’s all over, she’s one of the ones most likely to get caught in the middle.”
“She wouldn’t listen to us anyway, if we told her to keep away.”
“No, she really wouldn’t.”
“Fine. You lead the way, but if you blow us both up, I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Taylor said with a lopsided grin.
Taylor moved slowly around the outside of the building. While he hadn’t been specialty trained for explosives, Special Forces operational detachments were small. No one did anything in a vacuum. Everyone member of a team drafted off the other members when their specialty came up. Taylor might not have had the formal training, but he had a mountain of field experience. Especially serving in the sandbox where insurgents set IEDs constantly, not just on roads but wherever they thought they’d find U.S. soldiers to trap.
He found his first one on the front door, which was wired. Taylor couldn’t see the actual explosives, but he knew they were there. Hubbard probably had a way to deactivate them when he needed to get inside, but Taylor didn’t want to chance trying to figure that out. The windows were likewise wired, as was the back door.
“Everything’s locked down, we can’t get in without blowing the whole place,” Whitaker asked.
“Maybe,” Taylor said, standing back away from the building, thinking.
“We can’t use any of the doors or windows. We could check the roof I guess, but what are the odds there’s an entrance up there he hasn’t wired?”
“So we call in the locals, see if their bomb techs can get one of these defused and get us in intact?”
“Too risky,” Taylor said, still staring hard at the building.
Taylor didn’t answer right away. He could feel Whitaker getting frustrated by his silence, but she knew him well enough to know how he was when he was working a problem.
“What?” She asked after several minutes, when his expression changed, a small smile creeping onto his face.
“Hubbard had been thorough, no doubt, but he’s been out of the teams too long. EOD has its own way of doing things. Thorough, meticulous, and always by the book.”
“He’s gone a little far off the page.”