This is something different, at least in the sense that it isn’t self contained. This is the first part of a longer work, featuring the characters from Item 19. I won’t be posting the entire work right now, partly because it isn’t done, and partly because I don’t want to overwhelm you with a giant thing that you have to scroll through. Expect Part 2 in two weeks time (October 11, 2014).
I hope you like it, because I’m going to be writing these two for a while.
Debriefs, she decided, were so much worse than ops. Even ops that went sideways on the way to going to shit. Jeanette Reese could feel the ache in her bones, the ache that could only get better with eighteen hours of uninterrupted sleep, but that was not going to happen.
Instead, she went through the shitshow that was Redding again, this time with Flynn.
“Probationary Agent Reese, I know that you’re tired, so I only have a few questions.” His tone was bland, like he dealt with agents who had been awake and bleeding for two and a half day all the time, which he probably did. He wasn’t technically in charge of field ops, but he might as well be. He reported directly to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, she knew. The DAS handled all the political BS, so that Flynn could get shit done.
“Sir, I appreciate that. I’ve gone over this several times, and in between debriefs I even managed to file my preliminary report.” She took a long drink from her coffee mug, bone tired to the point that horrid break room coffee seemed like the lesser evil. “I don’t know that I’ll be good for answers at this point.”
“Fair enough. Why did you attempt to neutralize Dr. Avalos?”
She had to give him credit. Everyone else at the home office had been pretty judgmental about her putting two rounds in the guy. He made it sound more like he was asking why she liked the color blue.
“Sir, it had become apparent at that point that Dr. Avalos was being targeted for extraction. In my judgment, he wanted to be extracted. When I started shooting, we couldn’t stop them anyway. I made a call.”
She’d been over this. It was in her damn report.
“You made the call to attempt to kill one of the foremost geneticists that the INR has ever worked with. With zero authorization and no solid intel that he was going with them willingly.”
Again, no judgment, which was freaking her out a bit.
“Yes, sir. The guy had been gushing about mashing up people and animal DNA, and complaining that we weren’t giving him enough funding. I did not him to go with an armed extraction team that mostly spoke Russian.”
“Explain why you believe that Dr. Avalos was an active participant.”
“Several things. When we got hit, every other lab monkey managed to remember the basics and kept their heads down. Avalos didn’t. He ignored protocols and disregarded orders. I can cite a few examples.” She looked up, expectantly.
“That won’t be necessary.”
“It was really a combination of small things, sir. The protocol thing, complaints that sounded like the kind someone has when they know they’re quitting a job soon. The clincher was trigger disciple.”
“Elaborate on that, please.”
“Before we took out the servers, Avalos and his ‘captors’,” she made quotation marks with her fingers, “were trying to copy something over the network. Thank god for whoever decided to make putting files on external storage so goddamn slow. Everything we’d seen about the team that came for him screamed pro.”
She took a moment, collecting her thoughts. When the men supposedly guarding Dr. Avalos didn’t know she had eyes on them, they had been relaxed. Too relaxed to be worried about him rabbiting. It had felt wrong.
“They weren’t acting in a manner consistent with their previous observed behavior. Their body language indicated boredom with the wait, not concern that a prisoner might attempt to escape. The guys watching doors kept their fingers near the triggers, but the guys on him didn’t.”
“Thank you, Probationary Agent Reese. That will be all.” He gathered up what little he’d brought to the briefing room.
She took her cue, excited for the chance to finally get some rack time.
“Probationary Agent Reese,” he said, without looking up when she was a step away from the door, “that was a hard call to make. I know agents who wouldn’t have been able to make it. Get some rest.”
She’d never met the man, before, but she got the feeling that he might have just given her a compliment.
May Drumlin was not, by nature, a patient woman. She had cultivated patience, grown it like a rare violet, fed it with specially formulated nutrients and rewards, but it never got easier.
Fortunately, ADAS Flynn was the most punctual human being she had ever known.
“Tom, why am I here?” she asked, before he could even get his case opened. “I’ve been shot at, stabbed at, blowed up at, and debriefed at for the last two days. I need to check on my people, take an unhealthy number of painkillers and sleep, ideally in that order. I do not need another talk.”
The bastard just smiled his bland smile and pulled out some paperwork.
“May, I appreciate your cooperation, here. But there are questions-”
“Read the report. Or the reports of the three debriefs that already happened. I have wounded and no one is telling me anything useful.” She added the edge to her voice, the one that made agents from other, lesser agencies weep.
“May, your people are fine. Waller is in recovery, they expect she’ll get full use of the arm back. Ramzi is stitched up, but there is concern about hearing loss from the IED, but that will take time to determine. Nachreiner is physically fine, but pending psychological evaluation based on his responses in debriefing. I wouldn’t be too concerned, this is his first real up close with this level of violence.”
“What about Reese?”
“That’s where my questions come in. She shot an asset. Twice. Without remorse, and on what can be generously described as a hunch.” He let that sink in for a moment. “I’m sure you can guess what my questions are.”
“She made the right call, Assistant Secretary. I say that on record and without hesitation.”
“We’ve been taking a closer look at the good doctor, and Probationary Agent Reese’s assessment was on target. I appreciate the statement, but it is not necessary. Your report indicates that you came to the same conclusion at roughly the same time, while getting your injured to cover.”
“Is she ready?”
“They’re all ready, Flynn. You read my report.”
“For every other member of your training team, you had specific recommendations. Do you recall what your recommendation for Probationary Agent Reese was?” He was smiling, now. Well, as much as he ever did on the job. It was mostly a slight twitch at the corners of his lips.
“Tom, I was really tired.” He just kept that tiny smile pointed at her. “The field medics were pulling shrapnel out of my leg.”
“Can I suggest that you not allow your team to construct improvised explosive devices? May, your exact wording was ‘PA Reese. Recommend just let her be a bad ass.’”
“I stand by that assessment. She needs some time to process this op, but once she does, she’s good to go.”
Flynn didn’t say anything, but the glimmer of his smile disappeared.
“What’s going on, Tom?”
“This is a rapidly evolving situation. We may not have that kind of time.”
It turned out that she only needed sixteen hours to be more or less functional. After a bagel, a shower and some routine body maintenance, she upgraded herself to ready for the day.
Of course, that’s when she got the call to report for briefing.
Briefing room two was small, room for maybe six people if they didn’t have personal space issues. When she turned up three minutes before the scheduled time, it was occupied by Agent Drumlin. She looked better than she did on the evac chopper, but still pretty banged up.
Without preface, Drumlin handed her a mug of coffee. It didn’t smell burnt, and didn’t taste like motor oil, so it must have come from the senior agent’s office. They sat in comfortable silence, neither quite ready to talk.
ADAS Flynn walked through the door at 0900 sharp. He looked fine, but the details were just slightly off. She guessed that he hadn’t slept much in the last day or so.
“Agent Drumlin, Agent Reese, thank you for coming.” Jeanette’s head shot up. She hadn’t dealt with the man much, but he always used full titles. He must have been running on fumes.
Flynn took the offered coffee from Drumlin, tasted it, and seemed to find it acceptable. He opened his case, took out some paperwork, handed it to her.
“Congratulations, Agent.” he said, actually smiling. “Please fill this out at your earliest convenience. Remember, call signs stay with you for life, so choose carefully.”
Before she could stammer out a thank you, Flynn had pulled up an image on the display at the front of the briefing room. At first glance, it looked like a somewhat shitty building in a small town’s historic downtown district.
“This is the LaFlesch Building. It is a popular meeting place for people in the MOGII community in Missoula, Montana and the surrounding geographical areas. The establishment opened just over a year ago, after a private club closed following a fairly predictable scandal.
“The building was purchased by Sergei Kozlov and re-purposed. The main floor is called ‘Bomb Squad’ and is the region’s only MOGII bar. The upper floors house the Western Montana Queer Center, an outreach organization for the MOGII community.”
The image on the screen changed, now featuring a young looking man wearing a sleek suit. His hair was styled just enough to look like it hadn’t actually been styled. He had a small scar beneath his right eye.
“Mr. Kozlov has been active in the MOGII community for several years, following his coming out while at the University of Montana. He studied business, had rather bland grades and expressed interest in opening a quote ‘decent gay bar’ end quote in Missoula.
“He came to our attention because the analysts in Terrorism, Narcotics and Crime believe that the purchase of the building was funded, at least in part, by elements of Russian organized crime. However, it doesn’t seem to be acting as a money laundry, so we haven’t been paying it much attention.”
The image changed again, this time displaying what looked like a sketched map of some sort.
“Missoula is somewhat unique in that there is an extensive tunnel system in the downtown area. This system has never been fully mapped.”
Several images in series, shipping manifest, pictures of equipment. Flynn just kept talking, somehow making it seem like the most important thing in the world to absorb the information.
“TNC has been tracking several pieces of equipment that could conceivably be used to manufacture bio-threats. A number of them have been shipping to Hamilton, Montana, which is 47 miles south of Missoula and is home to Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a level four biosafety facility.
“Normally, this wouldn’t concern us, except that the trucks that delivered the equipment all stopped in Missoula for a mandatory rest period before continuing. In several cases, the weights of the trucks indicate that material had been removed in Missoula, but none of the trucks were scheduled for any deliveries there. The missing weights are consistent with similar items being shipped to the lab.
“We need a team to go in and determine if the LaFlesch building is being used as a cover for potential terrorist activities.”
Drumlin rapped her fingers on the table, thoughtfully.
“Why a gay bar?” she asked, finally.
“The ACLU and several other agencies have been pressuring Missoula to treat MOGII citizens in a manner similar to the cisgender, heteronormative population. Police, especially, have been failing to respect the rights of MOGII people. Unfortunately, most local officials feel that simply ignoring them is the same as respecting them.”
“So, what? Local P.D. is just blowing off things happening?” asked Drumlin.
“Unless it directly affects someone, yes. Internal communications at the Missoula Police Department indicate that they are aware of a number of recreational drug suppliers operating out of the bar area, but officers have been told to avoid engaging the suppliers at the bar itself.”
“Are we assuming that a gay Russian mobster is setting up a bioterrorism factory in some podunk town in Montana?” Reese asked. “Or are we going in with open minds?”
Flynn paused for a moment, checking something in his briefing packet.
“Bisexual, actually. And no, we are not making that assumption. Kozlov has no indications of being directly involved in unlawful activities. However, the building is an access point to a labyrinthine underground base of operations that local authorities are unwilling to look closely at, and most federal law enforcement are too uncomfortable being perceived as anything other than cisgender heterosexuals to even try and get close and take a real look. The likely explanation is that Kozlov’s family are taking advantage of the situation, but I expect my agents to go in without preconceptions.”
“It is a good cover, though.” said Reese, thoughtfully. “How did we put this all together?”
“It was your observation of the strike team in Redding, actually.” Flynn said mildly. “You noted that the team was speaking Russian, but with American accents. I’d seen reports from TNC about the possible equipment move in Missoula, and unrelated reports about the possible money laundering through the Russian mob. I did some digging, and Kozlov’s family has members who received Spetznaz training in the former Soviet Union. Rumors persist that the family uses those members to train their current soldiers.”
“So, what, you want one of us to go in and figure out if it’s the Russian mob selling drugs or something more sinister? Then, collect intel on who is doing the sinister, without tipping them off.” interrupted Drumlin.
“In essence, yes. However, specifically, I need both of you to go in.”
“Why?” Reese asked, skepticism apparent.
“The MOGII community in the area is quite small. A single outsider is unlikely to gain enough trust to do a thorough job. A team, covered as a couple, is much more likely to successfully complete the mission.”
“Wait,” said Reese, slowly, “you want us to go in as a couple?”
May Drumlin had not been shocked often in her career. Rolling with the weirdness was a point of professional pride. Flynn’s announcement marked the second time, and the first time the shock had actually stopped her from doing something.
She heard Agent Reese ask something else, but her mind couldn’t quite focus. Really, the only thing she could focus on was the fact that Flynn was bastard. That thought finally galvanized her.
“We had an agreement, Flynn. It’s in my file.” Both of others stopped and stared, Reese openly, Flynn more covert.
“I’m aware, Agent Drumlin. I assure you-”
“Shut it, Tom. You made a promise. Okay, and I get that sometimes you have to break a promise.” she added, before Flynn could start talking. “You know that this is a terrible idea.”
“Agent Drumlin?” Reese was calm, like seeing the woman who had been her training officer until 15 minutes before freak out at her boss was some kind of normal thing. “Is this a problem?”
Drumlin took a breath, counted back from ten. It didn’t really help, but the effort was obvious, and Flynn and Reese let her gather herself.
“ADAS Flynn is aware of why this is a bad plan. I want you to know, Agent Reese, that this has nothing whatsoever to do with your gender or orientation. This is about me.”
“Agent Drumlin, I understand your reluctance, but-”
“Tom, I am the worst possible choice for this. You know that. You were on the ground in Berlin.” She shook her head. “I can’t pull it off. I don’t do hand holdy crap.”
Reese, to her credit, got it immediately. Her body loosened up, and she put her hand on Drumlin’s in support.
“This situation is different. In Berlin, your partner was unaware of your romantic orientation. He expected you to be able to read the signs he was giving. I believe, that if you and Agent Reese of you can communicate, we can avoid any problems.”
Drumlin took a breath, but before she could say anything, Flynn cut her off.
“It’s your call, Agent Drumlin. But you should be aware that INR is short on manpower at the moment, what with the recent armed attack on one of our facilities. This mission is a long shot, and I’m offering it to you because every other agent I have is either in Medical or doing something that we can concretely explain as in the national interest. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has signed off on the two of you going in the field, even though protocol says you need time off.”
He took a moment to collect himself. Somewhere in his speech he had stood, and began pacing.
“They hit us, May. We’re at war, now. I wouldn’t ask you if I had any other option.”
“ADAS Flynn? May we have a moment to discuss this? I think Agent Drumlin might need a few assurances before we discuss this further.” asked Reese suddenly.
Flynn nodded, packed his case. As he walked to the door, he stopped where Drumlin was sitting. He put his hand on her shoulder, gently.
“Whatever you decide, May, I’ll have your back. I know how much Berlin hurt. If there was any other option…” He let the sentence fall away, and quietly left the room.
May expected the feelings part to start as soon as Flynn left the room. Agent Reese seemed to have other ideas. She kept her hand on May’s, but didn’t insist on saying anything. It was a surprisingly effective strategy.
“Look. Berlin was a disaster.” she started, without really meaning to. “We were posing as newlyweds. I hadn’t really figured things out. About me. I thought I could fake it.”
Reese gently slid a thumb under her hand, squeezing lightly.
“Cover IDs, you have to sell them. Not just to everyone else, you know, you gotta sell it to yourself.” She shook her head, bad memories that she tried not to think about rearing their ugly heads.
“My partner, he maybe sold himself the story a little too much. Doing things, saying things, even when we were off the grid, in the safe house.”
Another deep breath.
“I couldn’t sell it to myself. And he started overselling it. The people we were tailing figured it out. We got out, but the whole op was blown. The guy I was teamed with took a long time to figure out what happened, why shit had gone so far south.
“Thing is, I don’t do love, not that kind, anyway. So I swore off cover IDs that involved romance. I didn’t have a word for it at the time, but the kids these days would say I’m aro. Which was funny, when I finally heard the term, because I’d picked ‘Arrow’ as my call sign way back when.”
She and Jeanette shared a laugh. The agent was still cradling her hand.
“Anyway, full disclosure, I am a sexual person, I just don’t go out romancing. It’s earned me a reputation, but I can look myself in the mirror.” It came out harsher than she meant it, but Reese just smiled.
“Agent Drumlin, believe me, I get where you’re coming from. I don’t do sex, but I want romance. But this is big.” She squeezed gently. “I know, going in, that you don’t have the instincts to do romance. I can lead, if we need to, and if you want me to. If we have to fake the kissing stuff, I promise, I’ll follow your lead.”
“This is a terrible plan.”
“It’s the best we’ve got. Plus, you can do the hand holdy crap.” She squeezed again, smiling.
May just shook her head.
“I am a trained field agent. I can tell the difference between you physically showing support and two kids head over heels for each other.”
“I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of the world is not a trained agent.”
The thing that bothered her, she decided, was that Tom was right. The highly trained American sounding Russian speaking commandos that attacked them at Redding had been declaring war. Drumlin was good at reading between the lines when being briefed, and it sounded like the INR was short on solid intel. Tom had an uncanny knack for finding patterns, and if his gut said this was where to be, she trusted that.
“Agent Reese, if this is going to work, we’re going to need to talk about ground rules and boundaries. Not just for me,” she added quickly, “but for both of us. I don’t want to accidentally push any of your buttons.”
“Agent Drumlin, I think we can work something out.”
Flynn didn’t ask, and neither of the agents explained what they had discussed. Drumlin just nodded, muttered ‘I’m in’ and they went on with the briefing. Flynn pulled two large files out of his case.
“Agent Reese, you’ll be posing as Terri Owens. You’ve recently extracted yourself from an abusive relationship, which should cover for your injuries and help explain your lack of obvious physical affection. You have a restraining order against your ex-boyfriend, the details are in the packet.”
He placed the file in front of her, and the other in front of Drumlin.
“Agent Drumlin, you’ll be posing as Sonya Castillo, a freelance programmer. Your injuries aren’t as obvious as Agent Reese’s, so I leave any cover details up to you. Your family is new money, recently relocated to Chicago’s north shore. They tolerate your lesbianism so long as you keep it out of sight.”
Drumlin nodded, Jeanette was fairly certain that the attitude was familiar enough from the agent’s home life. Flynn had given her some small details so she could sell herself on the ID.
“Because of Sonya’s relative freedom of movement, you’ve relocated to Missoula to avoid Terri’s ex and for a fresh start. Your IDs show that you’ve known each other for twenty six months, I’ll leave it up to you to decide on the details of your relationship.
“We’re flying you to Bozeman where you’ll pick up a rental truck with your belongings. Your housing details are in the packets. The community is small enough that you’ll have to unpack things yourself, I’m afraid. Any questions?”
“Are the ridiculous cover IDs intended to be stereotypes? Because I need to know if I should pack my flannel.” Drumlin asked, deadpan.
“Pack what you like, Agent Drumlin. The details of your identities are not as stereotypical as the generalization I provided. The broad strokes are stories that should evoke understanding. Think of it this way, Agent Drumlin, you get to have the tragic back story that I know you secretly desire.”
“Yeah, but Reese gets to play the abusive ex card. All I get is my family hates me.”
“Agent Reese and I don’t have enough history for me to push her buttons.”
“Your flight leaves in six hours. Good hunting, Arrow, Agent Reese.”
“Sir?” Reese looked hurt, “If I’m going hunting, you might as well call me Ace.”
“Good hunting, Ace.” said Flynn, solemnly, leaving the room.
“Ace?” Drumlin asked.
Drumlin just shook her head.