*This chapter contains strong language, astonished looks, more politics and cheeseburgers.
13. Cloak And Dagger
When I came to the Senator with almost nothing to show for a week’s worth of research I expected a lecture and a pay cut. I didn’t expect Gates, leaning back in his padded leather chair, beaming at me. “Does anyone else know about this?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, well, George knows I went out to talk to Harding, but you asked us to report to you first.” I felt like I was treading on thin ice but I wasn’t sure why anymore.
He nodded, still smiling. “Good. I don’t want you to report this at the meeting this afternoon.”
My eyes widened. Shaun would be merciless if I showed up with nothing. “Can I ask why?”
His expression sobered. “I have a lead on Breaker that might not turn into anything so I want to put everyone else on other strategies. This one we’re keeping between you and me,” he said with a meaningful look that I knew better than to question.
“So, I’ll just say I have nothing this afternoon?” I asked cautiously. I’m going to get eaten alive.
He tilted his head, thinking. “Tell them Harding wouldn’t cooperate. None of them have anything either so it’ll be a quick meeting.” He leaned forward across his desk. “And after the meeting I'd like you to do two things for me.” He paused and tapped two fingers on his blotter until he was sure he had my attention. “I would like you to get together whatever you can about this Craig character, add it to the report on Harding, make three copies and bring them by my house at eight o’clock tonight.”
“Well sure,” I began, “your house?” What the hell?
He pointed one thick finger at me. “You’re coming for dinner. You and another guest who will be working on this lead with us.”
I wanted to know what Craig had to do with anything, he and Breaker hadn't been associated in over twenty years, but I knew from the Senator’s expression that the subject was closed. I hope this makes more sense later. “Ok, I’ll get what I can on Craig.”
He nodded. “Good, get to it. And Elise?” he added when I was at the door.
I turned to look at him. He sat with his hands linked over his stomach, the smile on his face made him look less like anyone’s grandfather and more like a lecherous old man. “Senator?”
“Quiet on this Craig business. If anyone asks, you’re working on Breaker.”
I nodded and wondered if this was how he did all of the cloak and dagger stuff back in his FBI days. If he was this ham-handed, how did he ever get promoted? “Of course.”
At least he was right about the meeting. I spent most of the afternoon tracking down Stuart Craig, where he worked now, what projects they handled, that sort of thing. I didn’t have time to worry about Shaun.
Until I was back in the conference room.
“So.” Shaun stood at his end of the table and drew the word out. “Four days later and we have what now?” He glared hard at everyone but Gates himself and ended on me. “Nothing from Miss Atwood, whose brilliant idea had us wasting so much time.” I willed myself not to shrink in my chair. He glared at me for an extra beat and I thought he’d say more but instead he turned on George. “And you, you’ve got records of him donating money to The Human League whose last open action against telepaths was to support Registration. Which, happened when George? When was that act passed?”
I didn’t know how Shaun could look like he was bearing down on someone more than halfway across the table, but George felt it too. “1967,” he said, eyes on the papers in front of him.
“Right. Late-breaking news, that stuff.” He turned on Mark who looked so surprised I had to fight a laugh. “And what did you have to offer? That he’s family friends with that telepath-hating governor from Virginia. Explain to me how he has any control over who his Dad’s cronies were. Explain to me how this helps us,” he demanded and loomed toward Mark.
Mark sank in his chair, his tie bunched under his chin, but he didn’t have time to stutter up an apology.
“Enough,” Gates said, loud enough to get our attention away from Shaun. Then he dropped his voice into the deep disappointed tone that was the worst part of his grandfather image. And it was directed right at me. “It was just an idea and I was the one who decided we should run with it.” He turned away from me to address the whole table. “For now we’ve got other things we need to take care of. Mark, I want you on campaign contributions. Who’s funding him right now and what does that say? George, you’re on his current position. What’s his department been doing in the last year? Shaun, I want you making sure someone’s got an eye on Whistler. We’ve got the first debate this week, let’s at least look prepared.”
They all sat up straighter, even Shaun had been cowed when the old man starting laying into them. They looked determined, they were going to get their assignments done and were just waiting for Gates to release them. No one commented that I didn’t have an assignment, no one even looked in my direction.
Gates pinned me with that disappointed look again, it didn’t help to know I wasn’t in trouble, I wanted the floor to swallow me up. “You’re going to see if there’s anything to that suggestion of yours. I’m not expecting much, but try for something we can use.”
He glared until I dropped my eyes and said, “Yes sir.”
I didn’t look up again until he dismissed everyone. He left first and I kept my seat, watching the others file out. George gave me a condescending grin, Shaun was smiling to himself and Mark shot me a worried look.
Maybe he isn’t so bad at this cloak and dagger stuff. Even I felt like I’d been demoted, and no one was going to want to be anywhere near what I was working on.
I was the last one in the office when I printed out the file I’d put together on Breaker and Craig and bound it into three separate folders. It made for a heavy bag out to the car and wondered if I should have left myself time to change before I went over to the old man’s house. I always felt underdressed when I spoke to his wife, another layer on the feeling that the woman didn’t like me. There was no time now, but this was business and with any luck Mrs. Gates would be scarce.
I parked on the street in front of the Senator’s house. There was a tan metallic Cadillac in the driveway next to Mrs. Gates’ white one and the Senator's BMW. It was an older model but well preserved and nothing I recognized from the office. It had to belong to whoever the extra files were for. I was still looking at it when I rang the doorbell.
I heard heavy steps in the hall and then the door opened to the Senator in a blue polo shirt and loose khakis with a beer in his hand.
He smiled, either at my surprise or at some private amusement before he stepped aside to let me in. “You’re early, but so was Carl. We’re out back.” He shut the door and led the way out to the back porch. His feet made a strange slapping sound on the tile floor as we passed through the kitchen and I looked down to see that he wore flip-flops.
“I’m afraid the Missus is out of town, you’re going to have to get by on burgers,” he warned me as he held the door open to the covered porch.
It was warm, almost as warm as the house. There was a large patio table, a grill stuck half in and half out of the door that led outside to the covered pool and an agent sat in one of the chairs with a beer in front of him. His ruler-straight side part and perfectly knotted tie made me feel less overdressed. Which agency?
Gates moved over to the grill, lifted the lid and nudged the burgers with his spatula. He spoke without looking at either of us. “Elise, this is Carl Childers, he used to work with me in Special Questioning. Carl, Elise Atwood is my good right hand in this campaign. One of Neil Atwood’s kids.”
The agent stood. His face was round and cheery, almost boyish topping off his thick frame. He shook his head at the Senator's introduction and reached across the table to offer his large hand. “So it’s not just me he’s dragging into this. I’ll be glad of the help.”
I shook his hand; he didn’t have the subtle flinch before or after that would make him a tac, but from the Senator’s blunt introduction I knew he was a path. The only non-paths in Special Questioning were the directors. “I think I’m the one who’ll need the help.” He hasn’t told me what this is about.
Carl’s eyes widened and then he smiled. “He hasn’t told me much either.” But he loves keeping people in the dark. Perks of command.
I grinned back. Working with a projector made things easier. Can he keep that much from you? I asked, thinking of what Dad said about Gates.
He shrugged, sitting back down. You wouldn’t believe-
“Enough meeting of the minds. Use your mouths in my house,” Gates said with a tone that was more amused than stern as he set a fresh beer in front of each of us. He took a seat between Carl and I where he could see the grill.
“Well it’s rare I get to work with non-path who knows how to think.” Carl winked at me. The Senator isn’t always one of them.
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing.
Gates ignored the comment and waved a hand toward my bag. “Why don’t you bring Carl up to speed with what you have? He can show you what he’s been working on and we can get this meeting in motion.”
I retrieved the files, passed Carl a copy, set one in front of myself and left the third in the center of the table for Gates who’d gone back to the grill. I twirled my beer bottle in one hand and flipped open my notes with the other. “I don’t know how much you know about what we’re doing,” I prompted.
Carl had opened his mouth to reply but Gates broke in. “He knows Breaker is on our agenda and he’s heard a few names. Fill him in on the interview,” The Senator said from the doorway where he carefully flipped the burgers. I watched him add slices of cheese to each one.
I looked back at Carl who was also watching the Senator and drinking his beer. “Do you want me to talk it out for you or do you want it the easy way?” I asked loud enough for Gates to hear.
Not afraid of the old man. That’s good. Carl nodded. “Short way if it suits you, the curiosity’s been eating me up since he called yesterday,” he answered in the same audible tone.
“Ok.” I sat back in my seat and let my eyes half close. I concentrated on Harding, the details of his face, his height, his grim expression when he opened his door. Ready?
Carl gave a thumbs up, eyes intent on my face.
I walked him back through the interview, remembering the cadence of Harding’s speech, the taste of cookies in my mouth, the almost physical sensation of the incident channeled through his angry wife. Everything I could remember until I was back in my car driving to the office to write the report.
I opened my eyes to see Carl’s face locked in astonishment, his light eyes wide. “The rest is some background that I looked up on that Craig guy this afternoon,” I added with a shrug.
Carl pinched the bridge of his nose between his broad finger and thumb, his eyes tight shut. He was quiet for a long beat. When he opened his eyes the smooth planes of his face looked hard and he stared at Gates. “You knew? You knew who Craig was all this time?” You just let us fumble around in the dark and you knew? he demanded, projecting loudly.
The old man looked back at him from the grill where he was piling the burgers onto a plate. “Only this morning. Tell Elise what you’ve got on Craig’s lost agent.” His eyes were hard on Carl’s and he must have thought some further comment because Carl broke eye contact and flushed a deep red.
Carl cleared his throat and turned his eyes to me. He looked almost sheepish for a second before he spoke. “I’m going to skim a few things you don’t have clearance for,” he said as though he expected me to argue.
I nodded. I knew I didn’t have clearance for anything.
He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Ready?
Yeah. I closed my eyes. I wanted to focus on whatever he was going to show me.
Either he had trouble deciding what I could know or he wasn’t used to projecting clear memories to a five. His thoughts come to me in fits and bursts that had no kind of regular interval between them. The uncertainty made me sit forward in my chair, tensed in expectation. As strange and clumsy as it was I found myself shocked and winded, clinging to my chair when Carl was done. Gates was sitting again, regarding me over the hamburgers, buns and condiments piled in the center of the table.
“You think Breaker had a hand in the Park Slope fire, in all of those abductions?” I asked, needing the Senator to confirm it.
He nodded and spread relish on one of the toasted buns. “I do. And I’m counting on you to work with Carl to dig deeper. I think I’d do better to have some distance from the investigation until we have something concrete.”
It wouldn’t have taken a path to read my shock. Everything Carl showed me was true and the Senator had just promoted me. I wonder if I get a raise too. “Shaun and George have a lot more experience working with agents,” I said, offering my token resistance. From the corner of my eye I could see Carl watching him closely.
Gates shook his head, added a slice of onion and a tomato to his burger and gestured for us to follow suit. “They both worked for non-telepathic departments in their day. You’ll do fine,” he said with a ghost of his grandfather tone.
“So you want me to relay my findings through Elise?” Carl broke in. His eyes were hard again and it made his face look much less pleasant.
The Senator turned to look at him, his expression patient. “And she’ll pass on anything I have for you. Try and tell me you would’ve found out about Craig on your own.” There was something like a dare in his voice and I wondered why he was baiting the other man in front of me.
Carl’s teeth clenched and made the muscles stand out along his jaw-line. He let out a brief sigh. His tone was forced brightness. “Right. Well, I know Jerome is going to be thrilled to have this much of a lead-”
“You won’t be sharing this, or anything else gleaned from this investigation with your department or any other agency,” Gates said, his eyebrows forming a severe line over his eyes.
Both of us stared at him. Holy shit, I swore to myself.
Carl looked furious, his wide face red. “You can’t seriously be asking me to sit on this lead. It’s all we’ve got from Park Slope and-”
Gates held up a hand. “Where will you say you got it? How did you make this leap from a name picked out of a criminal’s brain to the head of a Geological Survey Center? Tell them my name and I’ll deny it until the cows come home. I have my own sources to protect.”
Carl’s expression was grim even if some of the color had left his face. He folded his arms over his chest. “I can’t help you on this case. I’m not ready to go back on my oath or lose my job.”
Something in the Senator’s expression softened and I was certain Carl had projected something to him. “What if I hire you as my private investigator? You’re allowed to take outside work and as long as you’re on my payroll the PI-client privilege means you don’t have to disclose anything.” He paused and drummed his fingers against the table, a sure sign he was changing tactics. “The Park Slope investigation isn’t going to catch these people. There isn’t enough evidence to figure out where this agent of theirs came from. Hell, there isn’t even enough evidence to point them toward Craig, let alone Breaker at the top. I want you two to help me tie it together. When we have enough we can go to Deputy Director Rawls.”
Carl tensed even more and looked like he’d storm out but then he sat back in his seat and polished off his beer. “You’re a manipulative bastard, Tom.” He turned to me. “You’d better ask him for that raise now, since he’s handing out money.” Looks like you and I will be seeing a lot of each other. He pulled the plate of burgers toward him and forked one onto a bun.
Looks that way, I agreed, sure I had missed something.
The Senator was watching me with his eyebrows up. “What raise?”