Saturday, December 11, 2010

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 10

wild car

Carl and his team have been called in to interview the witnesses of the Park Slope disaster. But everyone's mind is on Andrew. How did he get in? How did he get Matthews out? And which interrogator will get the glory for cracking him?

*This chapter contains strong language, no violence, some smoke and a lot of posturing.

10. An Iron Block 


Even though I hadn’t been near the still-smoking main building I managed to have a long smear of soot on my jaw when I got to the men’s room. I had no idea what they had been keeping in that place besides a bunch of nuts, but it was now floating through the air in big fluffy pieces of ash that stuck to everything. Even me. I washed my face in the sink and had to pick bits of paper towel off my cheeks after I dried off. I’d been at the scene for twelve hours already, had the stubble to prove it, and we were only through the first group of guards.
I didn’t have to hear the massive shoes pounding down the hall to know that a ball of anxious energy was about to burst into the bathroom. I picked another bit of towel off my chin and turned to face the door. “Three, two, one…”
The door slammed open, hitting the wall and bouncing back into Hal’s shoulder. “Hey boss, they’re starting in the conference room. They want the update on the guards that brought Steadman in,” he panted, leaning on the doorframe. Freda looks really upset, he told me with a nervous little shudder he got every time we had to work with her.
I rolled my eyes. “She looks upset if her latte isn’t hot enough. The world isn’t going to end if we start a few minutes late.” I pulled the door away from his arm and slid past him.
He trailed behind me, still anxious. Jerome looks pretty grim too, shouldn’t we hurry up?
Hal, don’t let the other departments push you around. It makes me look bad, I snapped. I glanced back at him. It wasn’t like he didn’t do his job well. “Sorry man, three hours of sleep isn’t helping me here.”
He shrugged, but there was a wordless feeling of gratitude that I’d apologized. “They want to bring more people in. Maybe we’ll get some sleep.”
I smiled at his optimism. “Maybe.” Are they keeping coffee anywhere down here? I asked, looking in the small windows set in the doors we passed, they seemed empty or full at random. At this end of the building it was mostly guards and emergency personnel in casual clothes. It could almost be a school with the industrial tile and the windows in the doors. Except no school I’d ever been to had this kind of chatter, even on this side the vibe the patients gave off was intense. Low and anxious one minute, sharp and urgent the next, never in any pattern, just a jarringly irregular rise and fall that put everyone on edge.
“It’s over here.” Hal jogged ahead of me to open a door on our left and point to the coffee machine. It’s lucky they had all these outlying buildings. Can you imagine if we’d had to transfer all these patients? He stood behind me, tapping his foot against the floor while I got my coffee, trying not to seem anxious.
“We’re lucky that the projector wing is separated from the main building. I don’t want to think of what would’ve happened if they’d been evacuated at the same time.” We wouldn’t just have one missing patient to deal with, we’d probably have half the staff and the rescue crews suddenly turned into patients, I reminded him with a shudder. Nothing had relieved me more about this crappy assignment than hearing the projector ward hadn’t been compromised. I stirred powdered cream into my coffee and didn’t say anything when Hal bolted out of the door in front of me and led the way to the conference room.
He held the door with a slightly embarrassed expression. Don’t want to spill your coffee.
Thanks. Everyone knew we were coming so no one was looking at the door when we came in. Giving me or Hal too much attention would make us seem more important than them. With everything that was going on I had thought they’d drop the power play crap. The buzz in the room was almost as tense as what we were all getting from the crazies. “So what’d I miss?” I asked.
Heads turned to my side of the table and I kept my expression even in the wake of all the irritation directed at me.
“We haven’t really started yet, we wanted to get an update on the guards first,” Freda said crisply, her penciled eyebrows drawn together in a disapproving look. Getting anywhere with that, Agent Childers? Her undertone was sharp. She was coming from the State Telepathy Department and that put her in a blurry line between state and federal official, she was the de facto leader of this operation and there was no mistaking her determination to have things go her way.
I took a sip of my coffee and tried not to take her attitude too personally. Getting along. There are over a hundred staff members, not including the cops and firefighters who were here. “I’ve only got six agents on my team including me. Since none of us are magicians, I’d say it’s going slow.” I turned to Alan, who had been watching us with the end of his pen firmly in between his teeth where he could gnaw on it. “We’ve gotten through all the guards that handled Steadman except the one on vacation and the one that was hospitalized. Where’s your team on the patients?”
Yeah, did anyone get a clear crack at Steadman yet? Jerome interjected darkly. He wasn’t happy that the local cops were getting first shot at Steadman. He felt the whole case was under federal jurisdiction and something his team should running.
Alan didn’t respond directly to Jerome. It was hard to tell if he did it to rile him up or not, Alan was a pretty closed off guy. “We’ve talked to half of the patients that had contact with Steadman. So far all we’ve gotten is that he was interested in meeting Matthews.” But I think that’s pretty clear by now.
There were grim nods around the table. That’s for damn sure, Freda commented, rubbing her temple with the tips of her fingers. “The question right now, since what we are dealing with is the first patient escape in the history of this facility, is how we’re going to get enough information to find Matthews fast.” I don’t think I need to remind any of you what things were like the last time there was a statewide manhunt for a telepath.
Beatings and random attacks, like witch hunts without the organization, Jerome offered sardonically. Everyone shifted in their seats.
“Well, there’s at least one person that knows. Tell us you got something from Steadman,” I said to Alan with forced optimism.
He shook his head, but we all knew he didn’t have anything. He’d have trumped Jerome with it already if he had. For now we all had to endure Jerome’s undercurrent of gloating pleasure about the lack of progress. “Nothing yet except that he’s got a block like nothing we’ve ever seen. It just turns everyone we’ve got into jello.” He shook his head with a wordless feeling of dread, saying without saying, that he’d tried it himself.
Jerome made an impatient sound. “So it’s a block, get four or five people in there to dig.” Then we wouldn’t be wasting time interviewing every damn person in this place.
“We aren’t exactly a bunch of slack-jawed hicks out here Deputy Director Rawls,” Alan snapped, his sharp features drawn into hard lines. He took a deep breath. His small force was being stretched to the limit and the pressure from being in charge of the reluctant federal shrinks from Jerome’s group was starting to show. “We put four guys in with him this morning. They’re all sitting in the break room trying to put themselves back together. We’ve got a tac coming in to see if she can get through by contact, but-”
I cleared my throat. “What’s this block he’s got?”
All eyes turned to Alan who sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t think I can really describe it. It’s like this overwhelming wave of, well not exactly fear, but maybe shame? You get in there and it just rebounds on you, you sit there for five or ten minutes sure that you could never do anything right again.” Flashes of the effect were coming off of him in waves and no one, not even Jerome, could doubt the seriousness of it.
“Who’s the tac? Won’t he just waste that one too?” Freda asked with more compassion in her eyes than I thought she was capable of.
“We got Diane Fallows in from the 22nd precinct in the city.” She’s been around a lot of criminal cases and we have a few others in there with her, just in case, Alan told us with forced determination.
“Fallows? Is she really up to that kind of thing?” I hadn’t meant to say it; I was mouthing Maggie’s dislike of the other doctor.
Alan and Jerome both gave me strange looks. “You’ve worked with her, you don’t think she’s up to it?” Alan asked. You never said anything in your reports.
“I’ve heard she was never very subtle about digging. I don’t think anyone’s going to get at this guy through the front door.” Maggie always said she was better with fives, I elaborated, uncomfortable voicing an opinion I couldn’t back up with my own experience.
Freda shrugged not able to hide a spike of interest when I mentioned Maggie. “Those two never got along,” she said dismissively. She never had much patience for professional rivalry even when it came to Maggie.  “I’m sure Dr. Fallows will do just fine.”  If we could get Maggie it would be another thing, but she’s out of state now isn’t she? she commented with forced calm, like Maggie’s location was irrelevant.
Actually she’s in New York. “I’m sure Dr Fallows will crack it,” I added quickly.
Too late though--Freda was watching me with her dark hawk’s eyes.
“Who’s Maggie?” Hal said, looking around the table.
Freda didn’t look away from me. “Dr. Maggie Lochlan, one of the top path psychiatrists in the country,” she said. You should have told me she was back in town. That remark was aimed accusingly at me.
My jaw went tight. I had to stop this before it started. “Was the top psychiatrist. She doesn’t do that anymore.” I don’t think she’s up to this kind of thing right now.
Jerome was leaning forward looking interested. “I never got to work with her but Phil Wright said she was very good. She used to do a lot of consulting with our group.” He was actually excited. She could crack Steadman like an egg.
Alan was already nodding his head in agreement, not quite as excited as Jerome, but getting there.
No, I projected hard enough to make them all jump.
With their eyes on me I realized that I couldn’t afford to overreact. Not unless I was planning on telling them all about Maggie’s current condition, something she’d kill me for discussing. I held my hands up, stalling comments. “She hasn’t practiced in almost two years and she’s never officially come back from disability leave, so I can tell you right now the answer is going to be no. Besides, I don’t think we’re giving Dr. Fallows a fair shot.” Let’s not jump to any conclusions until we hear from Alan’s team.
Freda gave me a shrewd look. She’s a grown woman Carl; you can’t decide what’s best for her. “We’ll work with what we’ve got now.” She turned her eyes to Alan, mentally giving me her back. “When do you think we’ll hear something from your team?”
Alan looked between Freda and myself and settled on her, pushing his curiosity aside. “She just went in with him, so we’ll know soon.” Until then I guess we should take a look at what we can do next.
Jerome cleared his throat. “I was thinking that our biggest problem right now is that there aren’t enough of us. Even with my team working with Alan’s to interview patients, there are hundreds that could have heard something. The staff goes quicker because they want to cooperate, but even if we add Carl’s team to patient interviews it’ll still take at least three weeks to get through them all.”
“You want to call in more people,” Freda said with interest. “If we got the governor behind it, we could probably get another ten or so psychiatrists from across the state.”
I shook my head. “If we head straight to the federal level we could probably get forty.” And I think Senator Gates would do it.
That surprised everyone enough that their minds skipped right away from Maggie.
“You think he’d get us that many?” Alan asked, skeptical but curious. Jerome aside, it was clear he appreciated the idea of some real numbers helping out.
I wasn’t sure he’d feel the same way when the cavalry came in and federal jurisdiction was established. “Election year. He wants the path vote. What better way than to get this resolved fast?” I can call him after we’re done and see what he’s willing to do. If Gates was going to use me for his campaign I didn’t have any qualms about using his campaign for me.
Freda sat up in her seat, pleased by the numbers. It wouldn’t do her career any harm to be in charge of something that size. “Well then, I suggest we get back to what we were doing. Carl, Alan, whichever of you has news first should get that to the rest of us. We should meet again at six regardless to discuss interview schedules. I don’t think we’re going to be much good for this if none of us gets any sleep.”
We all nodded in agreement, thinking wistfully of sleep. “We should probably bring Dr. Whitnail in on this as soon as he arrives.” He’s still a few hours out, so we could fill him in at six. Alan suggested, always conscious of jurisdiction and the territorial nature of administrators. We were only able to cut out interference with the staff now because they were all suspects. Once their boss arrived we were going to have to include them and the whole operation would get a lot messier if he thought we were excluding him.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said, heading for the door with my shadow. I could feel Freda’s eyes boring into my back even with Hal between us. When the door closed I turned back to business. “Get over to the team; tell them that we’re going ahead with the interviews until we hear different. I’m going to find a quiet spot and call the Senator.” Let Marsh know I’ll be back in less than an hour and we’ll be getting some kind of relief after six at the latest.
Hal’s head bobbed. “Sure thing sir.” There’s a good spot near the projector wing if you’re looking for privacy to call Gates.
I glanced over at him. Near the projectors?
He nodded. No one likes to go over there even if there is twenty full feet of steel blocking them. Can you imagine if you were the only person inside? It’d be like those sensory deprivation chambers or something. Too quiet. His shudder was from the idea of not being able to hear thoughts. Mine was from the thought of going anywhere near that place, even if it had a hundred feet of steel.
It was irrational and probably the reaction of every other path that didn’t already work at the facility. “You’d make a good tactical agent, Hal.” I’ll give it a try, I told him, veering down a side hall to get outside.
I could feel the lift in his step and the way he put back his shoulders as he absorbed the compliment. Outside things were less cheery. It was bright, not a cloud in the sky to mix with the plume of smoke coming out of the main building. Just a black column marching up into the sky leaving a coating of gray over everything around it. I gave the building a wide clearance as I walked across the grounds. The faces and minds of the firefighters and other rescue personnel were grim. There were five people, four staff and one patient, besides Carol Matthews, that were unaccounted for. We were pretty sure they had nothing to do with the breakout, but no one expected to find survivors at this stage. The teams were also looking for the source of the explosion. Considering the professional breach in the security fences and the way the extraction had gone I expected to find a well constructed explosive, not the broken gas line bit we were feeding the press.
I was puffing when I made it to the top of the hill where the projector wing sat overlooking the rest of the grounds. Only the top story of the building was above ground, four more floors continued straight down.  The portions that were visible didn’t have windows and I had to remind myself that what I was looking at was probably just solid steel. Actual rooms, patients and staff started at least twenty feet down. Still, I eyed the air vents warily as I opened up to check the area.
Hal was right. No one in any direction. I had to push to get the chatter from the emergency crews. And not a thing from the building next to me. Almost as quiet as inside, I thought to myself, checking my watch and pressing one on the speed dial.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Lynn answered on the first ring.
“I could ask you the same thing,” I leaned against the wall and jumped away the next second, looking around to see if anyone saw me. It’s just a damn building. I stepped further away anyway.
“Hmm, you know I have a free period or you wouldn’t have called. Am I going to see you tonight?” she asked in a low tone that made me take a deep breath and wish I was home already. For a second I could forget about the interviews and Gates and everything else.
Don’t I wish?  “We’re doing the schedule in a couple of hours but I don’t know when we’ll be getting more people.”
She sighed into the phone and my shoulders bent forward, picturing the frown she was wearing and what that meant when I did get home. “Well I’d better let you go work, if you stay away much longer you’ll forget where the house is.”
There was accusation there but I didn’t let myself rise to the bait. Why in the hell did I call before I had the schedule? “I’ll be home some time tonight, I promise. We won’t interview all night,” I told her, almost sure it was true.
“I have some finals to grade, I’ll be up late,” she said, tone hovering near conciliatory.
I smiled to myself and then frowned. “Not too late. I want my girls to take care of themselves.” Especially when I’m not there to make sure you stop at a decent hour.
There was a pause and I wondered what she was thinking. “Maybe late enough to catch you. Sandra and I are going to lunch, but maybe you can call me on your dinner break?” she asked in a small voice.
My irritation disappeared and I made a mental note to see I took a dinner break early. “I’ll do that. Wish me luck, or, wish me speed.” Wish that Gates says yes and we can have a new shift of people start today.
“Work fast and come home.”
I cast another quick look around me. No one anywhere near the hill. “I will. I love you, tell our little girl I love her too.” See, I didn’t use a name that time. I can learn.
“I love you too. I’ll talk to you tonight.”
I heard her phone snap shut before I pulled mine away from my ear and dialed again. I had my fingers crossed in my pocket as I hunched against the wind that was just picking up and cutting through my thin jacket.
Gates picked up on the second ring. “Carl. I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon with all that’s going on at Park Slope.”
The man didn’t miss a trick. He always answered the phone like he’d read my dossier. Next he’d mention taking time out of work to call the wife.
“I’m out there now and I’m telling you it’s a real mess,” I squinted into the distance, yellow tape roped off the area around the trees where Matthews had escaped.
There was no pause on his end. “I understand you’ve got a lot of interviews to get through, and nobody cracking on how Matthews was able to get out.”
Or maybe it was like he had me bugged. Sometimes it felt like that.
I took a deep breath, he was going to make me ask. “It does have all of my attention right now. I’m worried that if we don’t make a breakthrough soon we’re going to see something a lot like the Shipman case from last year.” He had to remember that manhunt and all of the negative publicity the state had gotten. I paused to let him interject but he didn’t say anything. “We could use some back up sir.”
I flexed my crossed fingers in my pocket while I waited for him to reply. Gates wasn’t stupid. He knew he wouldn’t get what he wanted on Breaker if I was tied up with another case and he wasn’t going to get anywhere with the path voters if they started getting hung from trees in the search for Matthews. Despite all that I had a sinking feeling that I was going to pay for calling him about this.
“I was just talking with Dr. Whitnail a few minutes ago and I told him I’d be giving your team and Rawls’ authorization to pull in more support, contractors, agents, whatever you need.” He delivered all this in a pleasant matter of fact tone and when he did pause I knew he was getting to the real point. “Have you given much thought to who would want Nurse Matthews out in the world?”
I blinked and kicked at a clump of clover next to my boot. What kind of hack operation does he think I’m running? I was careful to keep the annoyance out of my voice. “We’re looking into it. This guy that was helping her, Steadman, no one’s been able to read him and if the fire was started by explosives it’s almost impossible that he planted them-“
“It’s possible that it was done by a team. Which matches some of the incidents we discussed before. I’d like you to look into that angle. It’s very important that this patient, Steadman, be thoroughly questioned as soon as possible. I’m going to make sure Rawls is authorized to move him to a more secure facility by tomorrow night at the latest but you might want to make sure that you’re there to see what happens,” he suggested.
Only I knew it wasn’t a suggestion and I knew what he was implying. He was telling me this was related to the files he'd sent me. The disappearances. The MOs were nothing alike, but I knew better than to think he was guessing. “The cops are with him now, they’ve brought in a tac to try and get to him. It might work,” I said cautiously. He wasn’t going to want to hear that I might get the information second hand. Not when he'd just authorized Jerome’s group to use psychotropic drugs on the suspect. It wasn’t going to be admissible in court, but it was possible he wasn’t worried about a trial.
“That may happen. If it does I’d like to be kept abreast of any developments,” he agreed with the slightest edge in his even tone. “We need to get to the bottom of this. This patient, Steadman, he’s just an arm. I want the head.”
Christ he’s doing classical metaphor again. When the Senator started on about anything Greek it was a sure sign that he thought he was being clever. Clever for him didn’t always work out for everyone else. “I’ll make sure I’m on top of it. About this support, how many extras are we authorized to bring in?”
He hummed for a second, thinking. “I’d like to see this done by the end of the week. So let’s say three interviews per team member per day and four days left in the week. That’s twelve each and you have how many left to do?”
“One hundred and seven, including the firefighters and cops.” I felt dizzy at the implications. Was he really going to let us bring that many people in?
“Well, I think you’ll manage with about fifteen more bodies. Do you know how Jerome’s numbers look?” he asked, as though qualified interrogators grew on trees and he could pick up a few at the grocery store.
“Between him and the cops they’ve been stuck on Steadman. I’d say they have at least three hundred left to talk to and only eleven qualified shrinks.”
“But they don’t burn through uncooperative patients like you can through the staff.” He hummed gain. “Let’s say two patients a day and we want to be done at the same time. Better tell him he’s authorized for sixty more bodies. He’ll probably have to dip into the private practices, but he should have his numbers by tomorrow night.”
I was feeling dizzy again. Jerome wouldn’t want to work with private or cop shrinks if he could help it, but even he wouldn’t be able to turn down commanding a force of over eighty doctors. “I’ll let him know.”
“Good. I have a meeting in a few minutes so you’ll have to excuse me. I’d like an update this evening,” he said, dismissing me.
“Yes, sir. Thank you.” I snapped the phone shut after I was sure he’d hung up. The phone went back in my pocket and I rubbed my eyes with my fingers. How in the hell could this be related to the other missing paths? It didn’t make any sense. The rest of the disappearances looked like disappearances. The only thing conspicuous about them was that they were all on the highly classified Unregistered List. Not only was Matthews a registered telepath, she was institutionalized. In a fucking path psycho ward. You couldn’t get much more registered than that. And the break in itself. It was sloppy. Blowing up a whole building to get her outside? Leaving the operative behind in a crowd of paths? This didn’t look like any of the other hits. But maybe it wasn’t supposed to. Maybe it was supposed to look like another group. I shook my head. There was no point in over thinking it now. I had to get back in case Diane got anywhere.
I hurried across the gray lawns this time. Inside I skirted the corridors hoping to catch Jerome alone. He was nowhere in the halls and I didn’t dare open up around so many patients. I decided I’d hit the common break room and hope Alan was interviewing someone. He wasn’t going to like the transfer order for Steadman.
Freda came out of the break room just as I touched the door handle. “Any news?” I asked immediately. She was supposed to be overseeing movement of the patients and staff to and from their interviews, meal times and all of that. There was no reason to be down here in the shrinks’ break room.
“I was checking up on the Steadman situation.” Diane didn’t get anywhere. She’s recovering but it’s taking a while. We need to get someone in here to do this properly, she told me without a trace of guilt.
“We’ll find someone who can get him, Jerome’s got another tac he can call in,” I said shortly, not willing to get into it.
She grabbed my arm before I could get around her. Her small hands were strong. “You got the go-ahead from Gates.” It wasn’t a question. Her eyes searched my face and her expression turned hard. “Bring her in as a consultant Carl. We don’t have time to sit on our hands here.” Unless you’re keen on getting bottles thrown at you? Or maybe you have some secret desire to swing from a tree?

She barely came up to my shoulder but I wanted to hit her. She didn't care what kind of effect Steadman might have on Maggie, she only wanted Maggie to come in so she could see her. I wanted to call her on it but I knew she’d deny that she’d ever been involved with one her colleagues. And knowing her, she still wouldn’t drop it. I thought about the implications fast. If Freda made the call herself and tried to bully Maggie into it Maggie would refuse. Maggie needed to work, real work, and when she got back to it she would need Freda’s contacts to ease her way into contracting. “I’ll call her after we meet tonight. We’re going to need as many locals as possible.” I was only giving in because by the time Maggie got to the site Steadman would already be on his way to the federal facility in Seneca. If I had anything to say about it she’d never get within a mile of the guy. 


1 comment:

  1. I like the way you have the conference and the level of fear/tension about the block, it is very well done.

    Blogger strikes again and changes the font of your last paragraph :).

    I also like how this is all playing out.

    My main concern at this point in time, and it may be because it is coming out episodic, is that it is hard to keep the characters straight and i don't think the POV is helping with that. Don't get me wrong, what you are doing works, but whereas in a book, it might be a matter of 15 minutes/an hour/a day between reading the chapters and following the characters, this is weeks between seeing the same characters again.

    I will have to revisit this thought after I have access to the whole story.


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